One Detroit Managing Editor, Christy McDonald, spoke with Governor Whitmer about her response to Republicans in the legislature’s comments on her executive orders as well as the citizen-led petition drive to change the rights that she has under the 1945 constitutional law. Whitmer says she doesn’t want to play politics with the health of Michiganders.
She also talks with Christy about carrying guns at the capitol building and how she believes they should be banned and also responds to the shooting at the Family Dollar in Flint over wearing a mask.
Read full transcript:
Christy McDonald Governor Whitmer, it’s good to see you. Let’s go ahead and start off with some litigation and some threatened litigation to some of your emergency orders that Congressman Paul Mitchell just filed a litigation saying that your actions have violated his constitutional rights and the separation of powers in the government. What is your response to that?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI) If I had a chance to look at the complaint, but the summary is that I’ve heard of just sound, you know, as though there’s not a lot of basis to the claims. I think every action that we’ve taken has been driven by the science on that buddy mythology and frankly, the facts on what we’re seeing on the ground. We know that we are in the midst of a global pandemic that is absolutely ravaged our country. We’ve lost over 4000 people in Michigan in the last eight weeks in a 24 hour period. They’re anticipating we’re going to have a 9/11 every 24 hours as this month wanes on. This is a moment unlike any of us has ever experienced. And I believe that we can both protect the public health and be on the right side of people’s constitutional rights. And I’m confident every order that I’ve executed has done exactly that.
Christy McDonald And there is some skirmishing as well with the Republicans in the legislature. We just talked to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey a short time ago, and he said that, “It’s our firm belief that the 1945 law does not give power to the governor to rule an entire state on her own for as long as she likes. And we will be asking the courts to affirm our belief very soon.” What’s your response to that, as well as the thought of having some kind of a petition drive to change the rights that you have under the 1945 constitutional law?
Christy McDonald Well, I think it’s unfortunate to see politics seep into a public health crisis. I think the most important thing is that we stay focused on what the facts are, what the best science is, and the work that I’ve done with the Michigan Economic Recovery Council to help drive thoughtful decisions about when it’s safe and how it’s safe to reengage sectors of our economy. I’m not going to get distracted by all of these political maneuverings, and I’m still going to continue reaching my hand out because I’d love to have some more partnership out of the legislature.
But I can’t let all of these distractions change what we know to be the right thing to do on behalf of the public health of the people of Michigan. There’s no question this is a stressful time. It’s hard. There are a lot of people who are hurting, people who’ve been isolated for a couple of months now. People who have been mourning the loss of their job, are worried about whether or not their small business will reopen. And not to mention, a lot of people are mourning the loss of loved ones. COVID-19 is still very present in Michigan. The fact that we’ve been able to push our curve down means we’ve saved lives. But the fact of the matter is it could crop back up if we drop all of the hard work and the hard decisions that we’ve made along the way. We’ve got to see this through so we avoid that second wave and that’s in everyone’s best interest in our economic interests, and then most critically, in our health interests.
Christy McDonald Legislators say that they want to be able to have input in helping you make some of these decisions. How would you characterize your relationship with the Republican leadership right now?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI) Well, you know, I think tenuous. I you know, I’m not–I’m very clearly listening to what they have to say. But the fact of the matter is, we have really reached out often during this process to get input. I’ve made some changes to executive orders based on that input. I thought it was helpful, and I thought it was good. And so we continue to welcome it. I had a quadrant call that I hosted earlier today and made available Dr. Joneigh Khaldun to answer questions as well as my chief operating officer and Jeff Donofrio, the head of Labor and Economic Opportunity Department. I am. Despite all of the things that are said in the press, I’m continuing to do the hard work of governing and trying to make sure that as often as possible we stay connected and that I share information with them. I’ll always do that.
Christy McDonald So there some news out today that the Michigan State Capitol Commission is considering a move to ban guns inside the Capitol building. Do you have any response to that or would you like to see that happen?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI) I would. I think that’s the wise thing to do. I’ve heard from a number of legislators who felt very threatened last week, and I don’t think anyone should have to go to work under those, you know, under those conditions. And I think that it’s the right thing to do. So I hope the Capitol Commission does that.
Christy McDonald Let’s talk a little bit about the unemployment, the unemployment department and people still having some difficulty in trying to get their benefits. What kind of update can you give us on that and if that is going a little bit more smoothly for people?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI) So, we have made it even easier just in the last 24 hours. I’ve issued additional guidance on executive orders to cut more of the red tape. There are we have served over 1.26 million people in unemployment, and that’s I mean, that’s an incredible amount, especially when you compare to what other states have been able to do. We have served three times more people than the state of Florida has.
And yet, we know that there are still tens of thousands who have not been able to get through. And so, it’s cold comfort to them to know that we’re doing better than other states when we haven’t gotten everyone. And that’s why we have quintupled the number of people at the UIA. I believe that we’ll be moving through tens of thousands in the coming days before the end of this week, and we will get to everyone. We’ve made great strides. It hasn’t always been as fast as I’ve wanted it to be, but we’ve made strides and we’re going to keep working until everyone’s gotten the benefits that they’re entitled to.
Christy McDonald You know, you referenced taking a look at what Florida has done in terms of their unemployment. I wonder what states are you looking at specifically this week as you see people rolling back the executive orders to stay in and people are now out and about, what places do you have your eye on that you’re watching to see what happens next?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI) Well, you know, it’s interesting. I mean, we’re taking information from lots of different sources and watching what’s happening across the country. Michigan being the 10th largest, most populous state in the nation, still has the third highest number of deaths. And so there where you have we’ve had a uniquely hard story when it comes to COVID-19. And so, we can learn and watch what others are doing. We can continue to move along as we turn the dial here in Michigan and measure and increase our testing every step of the way.
But I think, you know, as you look to what’s happening in other states, you can’t help but see that in Georgia, people are very hesitant to come out. They don’t believe that they’re safe to reengage in the way that the governor has determined. And so, small businesses in Atlanta are really struggling. They no longer have the protections of the state of emergency, the stay home order, and yet they don’t have the customers to bring in the business. And that’s–I think they’ve been putting a even worse position because of this. And so, part of this getting it right is making sure that the general public and that the employees of businesses feel that it’s safe to come back. And that’s why promulgating the best practices, making sure that the PPE is available, and continuing to ramp up on our testing and tracing are all components of that, because confidence in your safety is essential to us reengaging sectors of our economy.
Christy McDonald My final question to you is obviously you saw what happened at the Family Dollar in Flint and the frustrations that exploded in some kind of violence. And obviously, we don’t know all the details are there, but what is your response to that? And also, maybe can you give us an update on some of the mental health services that the state has been providing and what some of the numbers have been?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI) Yes. So, it’s just heartbreaking that the violence that was perpetrated over the wearing of a mask ended someone’s life. A man who was a–had a number of children, as I understand. And yet we know that it’s really important that as in this time of crisis, that each of us is taking it upon ourselves to do what we need to do to protect ourselves and everyone around us. That when you are struggling, there are resources at the state level to get some help, that we have created a hotline that people can call. We’ve got a text messaging service that you can go on to and get some assistance as well. Christy, I’ll make sure that we share that with you so maybe you can include it maybe at the bottom of the screen.
Christy McDonald All right. Thanks so much, Governor. It’s good to see you. We will check back in with you. Have a good rest of your day. OK.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI) Thank you. You, too.