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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Whitmer’s latest flap: breaking her own Michigan rules about indoor dining

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
“No one should work a full time job 40 hours a week, and still struggle to take care of their family,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday. “We can help Michigan's businesses raise wages and attract more applicants for open positions.” (Courtesy)

LANSING — Critics say Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has violated her own COVID-19 rules. Again.

For the second time in five weeks, Whitmer is answering questions about whether she ignored policies meant to prevent coronavirus, following a photo published Sunday by the conservative site Breitbart that showed Whitmer and others at The Landshark Bar & Grill in East Lansing.

According to a Facebook photo obtained by the site, Whitmer’s table at some point had at least 13 people, more than the current state restrictions which limit the number of indoor diners to six per table.

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Whitmer has apologized for the flap, which comes as she also faces criticism for her handling of a private plane trip to Florida in March that she took weeks to disclose.

“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been committed to following public health protocols,” Whitmer said in a statement. “As more people arrived, the tables were pushed together. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn't stop to think about it. In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”

 

Among the guests were Tricia Foster, the state’s chief operating officer, and Michigan State University trustee Renee Knake Jefferson. Foster faced criticism last month for posting photos on social media of herself visiting Florida, despite Whitmer’s warning against traveling.

Neither Foster nor Jefferson returned Bridge Michigan’s requests for comment.

Whitmer’s gaffe comes two months after California Gov. Gavin Newsom posted a Tik Tok video in which he appeared inside a restaurant during a time where indoor dining was not allowed.

Tori Sachs, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, criticized Whitmer for what she called a double standard.

“Over the last 15 months, Whitmer’s administration has issued violations, levied penalties, and publicly ridiculed restaurants, individuals and small businesses accused of violating Whitmer’s orders,” Sachs said. “Michiganders deserve more than a hollow apology after a year of ‘rules for thee but not for me’ from their governor.”

Sachs called on Whitmer to end all restrictions and “pardon every individual accused of a similar offense, rescind every violation issued by state and local officials, and refund every fine the state’s collected.”

Talking to reporters in Grand Rapids on Monday, Whitmer said her administration “has specifically not gone forward and penalized businesses that are trying to do the right thing.”

“It's those that have flouted and put people's safety at risk that are the most concerning,” Whitmer said.

“I don't know that there's a lot more for me to add at this point in time, other than, those former Spartans … should be aware that it's now a restaurant and they have pretty good pizza."

The controversy comes five weeks after MIRS News first reported on Whitmer’s trip to Florida to visit her father when she wasn’t vaccinated. The trip came as her administration encouraged people not to travel to the state amid the third wave of Michigan’s COVID-19.

Whitmer’s trip was not initially disclosed, and she initially refused to provide details of the travel, citing security concerns.

But, after pushback from reporters, her administration recently released a memo from a senior official in which the administration confirmed that Whitmer used a chartered plane to visit her father in Florida in March.

Bridge Michigan and other outlets have reported that the private jet in used is co-owned by three wealthy Detroit families: The Cottons, former owners of Meridian Health; the Morouns, owners of the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit to Windsor; and the family of James Nicholson, which owns PVS Chemicals in Detroit.

According to Deadline Detroit, Whitmer solicited the flight from the plane’s owners. Representatives for the Cottons and Morouns have told Bridge Michigan they were unaware of the flight, while a spokesperson for Nicholson didn’t return a request for comment.

According to documents posted online, a nonprofit established to pay for Whitmer’s inauguration, Michigan Transition 2019, paid $27,251 for the jet that flew from Lansing to Palm Beach, Florida, on March 12 and returned March 15.

The documents, posted voluntarily by the nonprofit, show that the organization paid for the flight sometime during the first two weeks of May. 

According to Whitmer’s Chief of Staff JoAnn Huls, Whitmer paid $855 for her ticket. Whitmer spokesperson Robert Leddy told Bridge Michigan that amount “is on par with the cost of a first-class commercial flight ticket.”

Huls took the blame for the incident.

“As chief of staff, I acknowledge we could have done a better job of answering questions about this trip with more clarity while also balancing the need to protect the governor’s security, and for that I take responsibility,” Huls wrote the staff in a memo.

The revelation has not ended Republicans' questions about the trip.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, said last week that Whitmer has until Thursday to answer 43 questions regarding her trip or his committee could launch an investigation.

“These questions are both reasonable and important to giving the people of Michigan certainty that their governor is following proper procedures and acting within the bounds of the law,” Johnson wrote in a letter to Whitmer.

Meanwhile, conservative political group Michigan Rising Action has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service for the federal agency to investigate whether the nonprofit’s funds were misused.

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