Last night, Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivered her third State of the State speech. Instead of speaking before a full room at the Capitol, Whitmer gave a virtual address from her formal office. The governor’s message last night may have been one of unity and bipartisanship, but her relationship with Republicans in the state Legislature — especially during the pandemic — has been fraught.
On January 27, state Senate Republicans blocked 13 of her appointees for state positions, and House Republicans announced they would withhold federal funding for schools unless Whitmer releases her executive emergency health powers and gives that power to local counties.
“It takes two to dance. I believe that the Senate and the House are willing to dance, but there has to be a dance partner, and so far we haven’t seen much of that partnership. And that’s not something I’m happy about or proud about, but we need to have a dance partner,” said Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who spoke with Morning Edition host Dough Tribou Thursday morning.
Shirkey said the most important part of the speech was Whitmer taking off her mask while delivering the State of the State. Taking off the mask, according to Shirkey, reinforced the symbol of trust and hope instead of fear and control.
“Masks have a purpose. Masks can help. And we need to be respectful of those who are especially vulnerable to this contagious and insidious virus. But to me, the most important thing about what she did last night, was she took her mask off so we could see her,” Shirkey said.
Ben Frederick, a Republican state Representative from Owosso, was mentioned in Whitmer’s State of the State address for his work on the bipartisan Michigan Reconnect Program — a tuition-free job training and community college for adults looking for postsecondary certification. But though Frederick was honored to be mentioned, he still believes that the governor should do more to actively promote bipartisanship.
One of the highest priorities for Frederick is to pass a bipartisan school re-engagement plan. As a father with children in elementary school, he says he understands the challenges associated with online learning. And he believes that local districts are best suited to determine whether or not to hold in-person classes.
“That needs to be honored as we move forward--that we continue to have the administration of education as a key community priority that is determined more by local prevailing conditions than by a statewide one-size-fits-all kind of restriction,” Frederick said.
Frederick explained that there was conversation between the legislature and executive branch during the first stay-at-home order, but that partnership abruptly stopped.
“What we’ve seen from the administration, unfortunately, is that bipartisanship is welcome on just their terms. And the most pressing issue before our state, COVID, and how we respond to COVID, and the myriad challenges that have come from COVID, that has seemed to be an area that has had no interest in partnerships as far as the governor is concerned.”
There needs to be a balance between the economic risks and public health risks, according to Frederick. He believes having strong businesses to reopen when the pandemic ends will be crucial in bouncing back from the economic turmoil many retailers have experienced.
“Is there true value in shutting down the economy by fiat, and then declaring victory at some point and having nothing left to reopen? There has to be a practical reality of that. And the idea is, do we reach a point where we talk about what is truly safe and what is unsafe? And what decisions, what personal utility do people themselves in their own decision making have in this equation?” Frederick asked.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan