In defense of the Legislature's governing role in coronavirus crisis response

This column first appeared in Crain's Detroit Business.

For the strength and safety of our state and its citizens, the partisan handwringing over the Michigan Legislature meeting this week and anytime in the future should end.

The Legislature has both important functions to perform, and very real constraints on how they can operate.

They also have a remarkable plan in place to mitigate risks, practice broad physical distancing and limit the number of people in the same area at the same time.

The loud drumbeat from Democrats and their apologists that the Legislature is not needed – that the governor should just act with unfettered, unlimited, and unending unilateral control – isn't just shortsighted, it's dangerous. They'd never suggest offering the same unchecked control to the president (nor should they).

The Michigan Legislature has the constitutional responsibility to extend Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders, if needed, beyond 28 days; and they should be involved in negotiating what steps the state will take with that extended authority.

Huge decisions are being made that dramatically impact the lives of 10 million Michiganians — legislators' constituents; and typically, the best decisions are reached with varied views, strong debate and, indeed, compromise.

You may not be surprised that when reacting to a governor of the opposite party, Gov. Whitmer was not advocating for a single-party solution to the Detroit bankruptcy, Medicaid reform or the Flint water crisis. Her view was right back then and applies today.

The need for additional voices and the constitutional separation of powers is more important today than ever. There are differences of opinion from public health officials. Differing views inform a variety of actions and produce more effective solutions.

The Legislature should be approached as a partner helping govern the state, not gum on the bottom of a shoe the governor tries to scrape off with whatever tool she can find.

The governor needs to do her job, and that includes interacting with many other staff in her administration. Reporters need to do their jobs, and while they're adapting and minimizing contact, the crisis should not be an excuse to shut them out.

The Legislature is certainly capable of adapting in similar ways. Those suggesting otherwise expose themselves as nakedly partisan — or gullible.

There are many valid questions to ask right now: what limits the legislature convening in alternative ways? How could, or should, these limits be changed? If they have to meet in person under current rules, how can the legislature operate while mitigating risks?

The Senate majority leader and House speaker have laid out unprecedented protocols to fulfill their constitutional responsibility, to stand up for their constituents, and to do their jobs while minimizing risks this week. They should continue to do so for the future.

Instead of ceding to a government operated by a single person, let's think critically and find solutions that don't discard representation of all Michiganians at the state Capitol.

Legislators need to be encouraged to ask tough questions, not shamed for raising issues.

Michigan is a Top Five state for new unemployment claims. But, is this keeping us safer?

Unfortunately, Michigan is also a Top Five state for infections. And, tragically we're a Top Five state for deaths.

Alarmingly, we're leading all of the wrong lists. Again. Why? Should there be questions about ways to improve policy to have the best effect on the public's health, safety and security?

What is the governor's plan to protect health and empower families to provide for their economic security? Should all areas of the state follow a one-size-fits-all approach?

What do the models show that she relies on when she makes her decisions, why does she choose them instead of others, and what specific metrics does she need to see to lift her lockdown?

Should the Legislature require this information, more effective solutions, and other transparency measures with the extension of emergency powers of the governor? How are other states providing workers and patients with more information and producing better health and safety?

All of those seem far more important questions to ask right now than echoing calls to eliminate the people's voice. They're also questions that might most effectively be asked by lawmakers.

Let's all hope that's not why so many on the left want them to sit down and shut up.

Jase Bolger was first elected to the state legislature in 2008 and served as speaker of the Michigan House from 2011-14.

 

 

 

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