State of Fear

Henry Payne, Detroit – For over a year, Michigan has lived under authoritarian rule.

In response to the coronavirus epidemic Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer claimed emergency powers on March 10, 2020. A series of long legal battles ultimately led to an October 2 state Supreme Court ruling that nixed her orders as unconstitutional and urged engagement with the state legislature.

“Our decision leaves open many avenues for the governor and legislature to work together to address (the coronavirus) and we hope that this will take place,” wrote Justice Stephen Markman for the majority.

Within days, Whitmer simply re-issued her orders via her health department.

With police authority, an army of citizen spies, a media chorus, and a militant, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel enforcing her edicts – Whitmer has ruled with an iron fist. She ignored the legislature – issuing orders on mask wearing, limitations on public gatherings, restaurant shutdowns, school closings, and more that she now says will finally end July 1.

She’s presided over the shuttering of a national-high 32% of state businesses, the highest job-loss rate in the country in April, and the loss of population to free states like Florida and Texas. She repeatedly ignored her own edicts with out-of-state travel and restaurant visits. She made national heroes of 78-year old Owasso barber Karl Manke and Polish emigre and restaurant owner Marlena Pavlos-Hackney, 55, who resisted arbitrary edicts.

The daily toll on Michiganders under a despot’s thumb has been widespread. A few examples from around the state (in some cases names are withheld to guard against retribution):

Novi, Michigan. A Novi man was taken seriously ill with COVID-19 in April, 2020 and admitted to a Metro Detroit hospital. His concerned family held a prayer vigil outside on their lawn.

A neighbor snitched on the sober gathering and police arrived to send everyone home. Their violation? Under Whitmer’s orders, no more than 10 people were allowed to gather.

Williamston. Golf course owner Dave Mahaney followed Whitmer’s re-opening rules at his Brookshire Inn and Golf Club. He kept equipment clean, encouraged social distancing, even enforced one golfer per cart (after Whitmer lifted her golf cart ban).

But he couldn’t abide with the governor’s ban on selling beer. Especially since convenience stores were allowed to sell alcohol. “I took a chance,” he told The Detroit News in June, 2020. “I just sold beer to my leagues. I try to keep my leagues happy; that’s my bread and butter.”

Someone snitched and an undercover staffer with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission – posing as a golfer – busted him with his first license violation in 34 years of operation.

“She never explains herself,” he said. “People in business in this state think she’s a dictator.”

Belding. An auto race at rural Grattan Raceway, 25 miles outside Grand Rapids, in August, 2020, had to adhere to a strict set of Whitmer rules.

Race-car tow rigs had to be “socially distanced” by 60 feet in the paddock. No cars parked between rigs. Masks mandatory outside. No spectators. A monitor enforced the orders under threat that a state inspector could drop by and cancel the event.

Lansing. In the defunct Soviet Union, elites played by a different set of rules. The nomenklatura shopped at special stores, traveled to exclusive homes. Michiganders know the type: Whitmer repeatedly violated her own rules.

Memorial Day weekend, 2020: Whitmer warned her constituents against traveling to Michigan’s lakes. “If you don’t live in these regions … think long and hard before you take a trip into them,” Whitmer warned, citing – without evidence – that gas handles could spread the virus. Then her husband was discovered visiting their second home in Elk Rapids to go boating.

June, 2020: the governor marched through Detroit with hundreds of Blacks Lives Matter protesters after condemning public protests against her own state shutdown orders as super-spreaders.

January 20, 2021: After telling Michigan residents to stay home, including over the holidays, Whitmer traveled to President Biden’s inauguration with her two daughters. The visit also contradicted Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s appeal for Americans to stay away from the inauguration.

April, 2021: Whitmer continued to urge residents not to travel as state COVID cases rose. She singled out Florida in particular, blaming snowbirds for bringing the virus back home. Then she and an aide were caught traveling to Florida.

May, 2021: Whitmer was caught dining out with 12 friends – in violation of her order that only six people could gather in a restaurant.

Pontiac. A popular restauranter had to lay off 35% of his staff as Whitmer’s orders dragged through 2021. Not allowed to seat his customers inside – even as studies indicated the virus was not being spread by restaurants – he had to build extra, heated seating capacity outdoors during Michigan’s frigid winter months.

“I have never seen more anger towards a politician than my fellow restaurateurs currently have towards Governor Whitmer,” he said after operating month-to-month in fear of shutdowns.

Of course, it’s nothing like the fear in Detroit. Fear of crime in America’s #3 most violent city pre-dates COVID-19. But it accelerated during the pandemic as police have come under assault and the governor encouraged “the spirit” of Black Lives Matter’s #DefundPolice mantra.

Non-fatal shootings were up 53 percent in 2020. Homicides increased 19 percent.

Payne is The Detroit News auto columnist and is a syndicated cartoonist with Andrews McMeel.