Poll: Slim majority opposes drive to limit Michigan Gov. Whitmer’s power

A paid petition circulator for Unlock Michigan collects signatures at a Traverse City farmers’ market in July.  Organizers need to collect 340,047 valid voter signatures to send the initiative to the Legislature. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

August 21: Whitmer wins another round over executive powers. On to the Supreme Court

LANSING — A slim majority of Michigan voters oppose a new petition initiative to  limit the emergency powers Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to shut down the economy and issue public safety orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new statewide poll conducted by EPIC-MRA for Bridge Michigan.

But that may not matter much, because “Unlock Michigan” organizers need only to persuade about 8 percent of likely voters to sign the petition in order to send the measure to the Legislature, where Republican majorities could enact it without the governor’s signature.

Fifty-two percent of Michigan voters oppose the initiative to repeal a 1945 law Whitmer has used to extend an emergency declaration first issued in March, while 43 percent support it, according to a survey of 600 likely voters conducted July 25-30 from EPIC-MRA of Lansing. 

Five percent of respondents were either undecided or declined to weigh in on the proposal, which would require legislative approval to extend a state of emergency beyond 28 days. The live operator survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Emergency powers

POLL QUESTION: In Michigan, the governor has the authority to declare a state of emergency, such as the one for the coronavirus. There is a ballot petition circulating that would require a governor to obtain legislative approval to extend that emergency declaration beyond 28 days. Do you support or oppose the petition that limits a governor’s authority to extend a state of emergency? 

[IF SUPPORT/OPPOSE, ASK: “Would that be strongly or somewhat?”]

  • 31% Strongly support
  • 12% Somewhat support
  • 14% Somewhat oppose
  • 38% Strongly oppose
  • 5% Undecided/Refused

The results are consistent with voter attitudes about Whitmer’s job performance during the pandemic, said pollster Bernie Porn. Most voters continue to give her high marks for her response to COVID-19, but “there are people out there that would sign [the petition], clearly.”

They already are – and at a fast clip, according to Fred Wszolek, a spokesperson for the petition committee. Unlock Michigan collected more than 100,000 valid signatures in the first three weeks after beginning to circulate the last month, he said. 

“I’m not fazed at all by poll data,” Wszolek told Bridge. “We don’t think this will end up on the ballot. We believe the Legislature will enact this, and this won’t be something that voters are facing.”

Successful petition proposals often end up on the statewide ballot, but the Michigan Constitution also gives lawmakers 40 days to approve and enact initiatives on their own. 

If organizers collect the 340,047 valid voter signatures required to send the measure to the Legislature this year, GOP leaders will have to decide whether taking up the measure is worth the political risk given Whitmer’s popularity, Porn said.

“They are not winning on the issue. So the question is, are they willing to just plow forward and take the action?” he asked. “My guess is they probably are given the positions they’ve taken in the past.”

Whitmer’s emergency declaration, and her 161 executive orders that have followed since March, have sparked partisan debate in Lansing over pandemic policy and gubernatorial power. The new polling suggests a partisan divide among voters as well.

Eighty percent of Democrats oppose the initiative to limit the governor’s powers, but nearly 3 in 4 Republicans support it, according to the survey. It is also supported by 76 percent of voters with a favorable opinion of GOP President Donald Trump, who has clashed with Whitmer over government responses to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield have signaled support for the petition drive to repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945.  The GOP-led Legislature is also fighting Whitmer in court, arguing she violated a separate 1976 law by continuing to extend her emergency declaration without legislative approval. 

A Michigan Court of Claims Judge disagreed, siding with Whitmer in May, but the Legislature has appealed. The case is expected to eventually reach the Michigan Supreme Court. 

Chatfield contends Whitmer is relying on a “novel misinterpretation” of the 1945 law to continue the state of emergency even though Republican lawmakers refused her request to approve an extension beyond April 30. 

“While I believe the law itself is sufficient and merely disagree with the governor’s interpretation of it, I am supportive of any effort to curtail further abuses of power,” Chatfield, R-Levering, wrote on Facebook. “And so if the initiative is presented to the Legislature, I will support it.”

Whitmer has criticized the effort, calling it “irresponsible, dangerous and foolish” given the ongoing pandemic. Her campaign committee has cited the petition drive in fundraising pleas to supporters, including a recent mailer seeking donations to help Democrats regain control of the state House in the November election. 

Tiffany Brown, a spokesperson to Whitmer, released a statement saying "this poll shows continued public support for our efforts to slow the spread of the pandemic and get our economy moving again."

"Gov. Whitmer will continue to rely on the advice of medical experts and strategies based in science and public health to keep families safe and Michigan families clearly support this approach," the statement continued.

The Michigan Constitution sets signature thresholds for petition drives at 8 percent of the total turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election. While there are 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan, about 4.25 million cast ballots in the 2018 election that Whitmer won by nearly 10 percentage points over Republican Bill Schuette. 

That’s why organizers need to collect 340,047 valid signatures, a benchmark Wszolek said he is confident they will meet as Whitmer continues to issue executive orders.

“Everytime the governor does something new on this subject, another group of people become extremely motivated,” he said. “The level of activity this weekend in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula [where Whitmer recently tightened regulations] was breathtaking.”

Michigan law gives petitioners 180 days to collect signatures, meaning Unlock Michigan has until early January to file with the state. But organizers hope to beat that deadline and get the initiative to the Legislature this year while they are still guaranteed a GOP majority in the state House. 

Unlock Michigan appears to be well funded, but the source of that funding is largely unknown. The committee’s largest contributor — responsible for $660,200 of the $765,024 the group had raised through July 20 — is Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a mysterious nonprofit that is not required to disclose donors. 

The funding sparked a campaign finance complaint from an unlikely source: Bob LaBrant, a retired GOP attorney who spent decades working to loosen political spending restrictions and has been called an “unsung genius of the super PAC age.”

LaBrant argues Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility is acting as its own ballot committee because it has made several large contributions to Unlock Michigan. That suggests the nonprofit is focused on raising funds for the petition drive, he said, and therefore should be required to file disclosure reports under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

Beyond the legal arguments, LaBrant acknowledged he has a personal motivation to challenge the petition drive: As a 73-year-old who has survived a heart attack and cancer, he’s concerned about the coronavirus and its impact on those with underlying medical conditions.

“I happen to think the governor’s done a good job in trying to deal with the COVID-19 crisis,” LaBrant told Bridge.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office is reviewing the campaign finance complaint and will ultimately decide whether it has merit. 

Wszolek dismissed the complaint as “nonsense on stilts,” arguing that LaBrant is relying on a “wacky presumption” that the nonprofit donor is behaving illegally because it made more than one contribution. 

“Obviously, he needs a new hobby in his retirement,” Wszolek said of LaBrant.

Unlock Michigan now has more than 1,500 unique donors, Wszolek added. “We get $5 donations online, we get $100,000 donations online. It’s been remarkable the number of people who are finding us and chipping in.”

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 6 with a response from Whitmer's spokesperson.

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Thu, 08/06/2020 - 1:42pm

Unfortunately, Michigan is full of dimwitted politicians and voters who make Louis Gohmert and Trump look like geniuses. I would not let these people make any decisions concerning my health let alone vote for them for any government office. The governor has done a great job in spite of the imbeciles who don't care if we all get sick and die from this virus.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 08/06/2020 - 2:35pm

Isnt EPIC-MRA a democrat-leaning polling firm?

Gosh! I'm shocked at their results.

Yellow Journalism
Thu, 08/06/2020 - 2:52pm

Bridge, what kind of joke is this headline, clickbait????

(1) ONLY 43 percent support initiative to repeal a 1945 law !!!!

(2) A statistically valid surveys must be more than 1,000 likely voters!!!!!

31% Strongly support -- Very small minority
12% Somewhat support -- Luke warm at best
14% Somewhat oppose
38% Strongly oppose
5% Undecided/Refused -- Afraid of guns?

Sorry, yellow journalism.

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 2:59pm

"How many people were surveyed? The fewer respondents, the higher the statistical uncertainty in results. Generally speaking, 100 respondents is the minimum sample size necessary for a reportable result. But note that a poll result based on 100 respondents will have a margin of error of at least +/– 10 percentage points."

So 600 polled means a margin of error of at least +/– 6 percentage points.

Get real
Thu, 08/06/2020 - 3:04pm

Nevertheless, majority rules, but a better question would be: Do you think the legislature should make day to day pandemic decisions?

The legislature took off on vacation because ONE member tested positive! Whitmer has been working essentially nonstop since the beginning of this epic disaster. I can't even think of one good thing the legislature has done this year. How could they as a group captain the ship?

Karen Dunnam
Sun, 08/09/2020 - 11:25am

"Do you think the legislature should make day to day pandemic decisions?"
As led by the likes of the Shirker, Skippy Chatfield, Lucido, and LaFave?

Yes, mine is a rhetorical question.

Mon, 08/10/2020 - 10:52pm

Honest question - what exactly is a "day to day pandemic decision" that a single person would need to make at this point? Do you have an example? Also, a pandemic only means it is in more than 3 countries, not really even indicating it is the one that you are currently in, but I digress...

middle of the mit
Thu, 08/06/2020 - 5:29pm

[[[“I’m not fazed at all by poll data,” Wszolek told Bridge. “We don’t think this will end up on the ballot. We believe the Legislature will enact this, and this won’t be something that voters are facing.”
Successful petition proposals often end up on the statewide ballot, but the Michigan Constitution also gives lawmakers 40 days to approve and enact initiatives on their own. ]]]

But isn't that how Republicans Govern by Fiat? Get their gerrymanderd officials to override the voters and their wishes to enact their rule on everyone by adding a little spending onto the bill?

The funny thing is that all across the nation, when Republicans get control of the legislatures of States and then the Governors office, they pass off a lot of what he legislature does to the Governor, but if they lose that Governor, what do they do?

They did it here, NC, WI, PA and a whole host of States. They take those powers away.

Why do we allow this to happen and still call it Law and Order?

Chuck D.
Thu, 08/06/2020 - 6:52pm

Blah, blah, blah. And as we well know by now, polls are always tilted in favor of the left so this supposed slim majority is almost certainly a significant majority.
Bridge, can you please stop writing such partisan garbage? This is why we stopped donating to you. This ORANGE MAN BAD stuff is out of control. We would never vote for Trump but we would also never stoop to your level.

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 10:12am

I was approached by one of those circulators to sign the petition. They have been given a misleading script to secure the signatures. They say "are you worried about small businesses during the pandemic?". Of course, most people are.

So, I read the ballot wording, and it's to rescind the powers of Governor Whitmer under the Acts mentioned in the article. So I asked the young lady "do you believe Gretchen Whitmer is doing everything she can to keep the people of Michigan safe?". She said of course. Then I asked her if she understood what the petition was trying to do, that the GOP wanted to eliminate her right to make good decisions on the behalf of the people, when she has all the facts? She didn't understand what she was getting signed, and with the lead in script, most people probably signed without reading it.

My husband had already signed it, and he went back and crossed off his name.

If you have been approached with an incorrect script, whether you signed or not, let the state know. The link below, which I filled out, tells them the inaccuracy of the script being used. Sadly, in a state that has kept the most citizens safe, the Greed/Germs Over People party wants to turn us into Florida, Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina............states that have all passed Michigan as having the most cases. Most of those states have smaller populations than we do. We were in the top 4 for number of cases and deaths in April/May. Now we are 18th in the number of cases and 9th in the number of deaths.

Don't let them turn Michigan into one of the states that have passed us. There are GOP Governors suing, and the Trump administration has joined the case, to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, along with the Medicaid expansion (which Michigan implemented), and coverage for pre-existing conditions. The one and only chance to remove it in the Senate was defeated. There are lifelong health issues from some who have survived COVID-19, and that will be a pre-existing condition for which health insurance companies won't pay.

Report inaccurate scripts for those circulating the petition here:


Mary S
Sun, 08/09/2020 - 8:01am

Thanks for letting people know how misleading the petition is. I have not been approached but if I am, I’ll make sure the petition circulater knows what they are asking people to sign. Good info!

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 3:38pm

The petition text is two sentences long. You or your husband should have troubled yourselves to read what you were signing before you signed it (it is just above the signature block)?? This concept behind this petition is so simple, repeal the 1945 law and let the state fall back to the 1976 law. Which means the governor would have to coordinate with the legislature if she wants to continue the state of emergency (which she is unwilling to do). I've circulated the petition and it is sooooo simple to explain. And I'd encourage you to think about the whole subject again if it were a republican governor and a democrat majority legislature. Would you want that governor to be able to issue EOs without limit or checks? Federally we have limits on EOs like the President initiating military action and our state constitution requires checks and balances, but the governor is using the 1945 law as a loophole around those checks and balances... (Which the judge at Court of Claims acknowledged, but did nothing about. She found Gov. Whitmer in violation of the 1976 law and at the same time in accordance with the 1945 law. How is that a coherent ruling???)

Dr Mike
Fri, 08/07/2020 - 11:02am

A survey of 600 people. Blahaha. In a state of 10MM this means nothing. News worthy? Well done Bridge

Mon, 08/10/2020 - 3:19pm

Do you not know how polls and surveys work? A typical political poll is anywhere between 500 and 1000 people surveyed.

Sun, 09/06/2020 - 9:22am

I took statistics in college, yes I know how surveys “work”. Easy to manipulate surveys by who is surveyed, what questions are asked, what order they are asked, etc.

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 11:12am

The desire to limit any Michigan governor' authority to address emergencies is absolutely stupid. If the current governor had not instituted emergency rules during the current epidemic, Michigan would have way more deaths than the current numbers. Just look at Florida, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas where the governors took no action. At least Texas' governor finally got off his butt and did something. But...the others did nothing. Thank heavens that Whitmer took the action she did. Just imagine if Snyder were still governor. Deaths would abound just like the lead poisonings in Flint given his inaction.

Wed, 09/23/2020 - 6:26pm

Wait, Michigan's death toll per capita is still lower than than that of Florida, Texas, and Georgia. So, how exactly did she do so much better than they did?

Paul Jordan
Fri, 08/07/2020 - 12:34pm

This petition is extremely short-sighted, unless its Republican promoters think that no Republican will ever serve as governor during a catastrophic emergency in the future. The repeal of the 1945 law would eliminate the power of ANY governor to appropriately respond to it.

In addition--of course--it is further evidence that the Republicans do not really believe in the democratic process. They act as if they are absolutely convinced that their judgement is superior to that of the People of Michigan. Those constituents who, like Mr. LeBrant, believe that Governor Whitmer has been doing a good job guiding the state through the pandemic should demand that their Republican representatives pledge to put this initiative before the People if indeed enough signatures are collected. If they refuse, we have an election coming up in November...

Sun, 09/06/2020 - 9:28am

In a nutshell, the 1945 law allows a figurative Dictator. What if Snyder figured that out, would you be in support of keeping the 1945 law?

John Q. Public
Fri, 08/07/2020 - 1:58pm

Regardless of what one thinks of Whitmer's responses to COVID-19 and the corresponding problems, (s)he would be wise to refer to Federalist 10. The words were written to apply to a different circumstance but are applicable here, too.

"It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all, without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another, or the good of the whole."

People currently willing to defer to the judgment of someone they consider an enlightened statesman would do well to remember those words. They have seen the rope with which they will be hung in the future and refuse to set it afire.

Unfettered power vested in a single person is a bad idea. Liberty is dying to thunderous applause.

Sun, 08/09/2020 - 4:50am

Whats up this is kind of of off topic but I was wondering <br>

if blogs use WYSIWYG <a href="https://www.scarfage.com/user/aliyahgpittman">view our editors post</a> or if you have to manually code <br>

with HTML. I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding <br>

experience so I wanted to get guidance from someone with <br>

experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Jake K
Fri, 08/07/2020 - 3:50pm

No single individual should have the unilateral ability to enact "executive orders." Not on the State level, and not on the National level.

MI Thinks
Sun, 08/09/2020 - 6:40am

And the poll takers think they can tell what the people of the state will do with 600 likely voters. The article says there are 4.25 likely voters in total. That is a very small sampling. Not to mention that by carefully choosing where one gathers data said data can be manipulated to say or prove whatever preconceived agenda they wish to promote.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 7:03pm

How can polling 600 people even come close to representing how an entire state feels? I’m not impressed with this reporting.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 9:13am

Our current legislature would have in the same position Florida is in, their concern is only about $$$ we the people choose life!!