Phil Power | Searching for balanced political solutions in reopening Michigan

Phil Power is founder and chairman of The Center for Michigan.

I’ve been in the news business for nearly 60 years, long enough to realize how difficult it is to report on complex events – particularly those tinged with politics – in ways that are accurate, fair-minded and helpful to readers’ understanding of what’s really going on.

“It ain’t necessarily so,” goes the old Gershwin song.  And I’ve found generally it’s wise to take the time to reflect on what’s really going on underneath the surface before jumping to conclusions.

A good case in point is the latest kerfuffle over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders for Michiganders to shelter in place.  

She’s become a major target for partisan outrage over her stay-at-home orders over the past month.  Last week saw several thousand people blocking the streets around the Capitol protesting “nanny government” and infringement of personal liberties.  The protest apparatus included a bunch of Tea Party and Trump 2020 flags, making the whole thing look a bit like an organized demonstration at a political convention.

President Trump then on Friday called for his partisans to “liberate Michigan” — whatever that might mean. The governor has repeatedly criticized the president for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis; in turn, he’s called her “Half Whitmer,” among other things.

Needless to say, much of the energy in all this comes from the possibility that Michigan’s governor might be picked as a vice-presidential candidate by Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and that Michigan will be an important swing state in this fall’s election.

Michigan has ranked high among all states for COVID-19 cases and deaths for weeks. Gov. Whitmer’s first order in March, urged residents to stay home and distance themselves and closed “nonessential” businesses.  It mostly earned praise from public health authorities and some bipartisan support.  Her second, tougher order, which lasts through the end of the month, also forbade citizens from traveling to their second homes up north and restricted the sale of seeds and plants.  

It has now become a political issue.

Republican Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield argues that wise policy wouldn’t make an arbitrary blanket distinction between “essential” and “nonessential” activities, but rather between safe and unsafe ones. The GOP-controlled legislature passed resolutions of opposition.

Now I’m getting phone calls from friends in west Michigan and the U.P., pointing out that the numbers of people from those areas who were infected by the virus were nowhere as high as the rates of infection from the Detroit metropolitan area.  “Why”, they argued, “should a single statewide order place differing regional rates of public health risk of exposure under the same uniform statewide policy?”

A commonsense blended policy, they maintained, would recognize regional differences and therefore be much less likely to be regarded as an edict from on high. 

Everybody wants the economy to be restarted quickly and for things to get back to normal.  But that’s not going to happen until we get far, far more widely available and accurate testing for the virus than we have now.  That’s not likely to happen quickly.  

As calls grow for prompt reopening of the economy, we’re at risk of being caught between the dangers of uninformed urgency and partisan conflict that pits region against region and people against people.  

Maybe the compromise “political” solution — blended as it might be — is the best way to bring most people together at a time when that’s what we need so much.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Michael Pergiel
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 8:28am

The corona virus problem should not be regarded as political. It is a scientific problem. There is a wealth of scientific evidence to support drastic measures to shut down communicability, which have to date not been implemented.
"Non-essential" vs "Safe" is a difference without distinction, brought up only by the Republicans in order to gain some political hand during a crisis in which their party leader has shown himself to be merely opportunistic and pandering.
Until worksites have monitoring equipment and testing can be done on demand, the strictest shutdown orders are reasonable.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 10:32am

At best you delude yourself when you claim anything that is dependent on human's choices and action, especially in the a country built on freedom, does not involve politics [not necessarily partisan politics, but the politics of human response]. We don't have definitive science for the Covid 19 or on any infectious diseases that require human actions in prevention or mitigation.
I suspect even you response to such politics, especially if you reviewed the Governor's proclamation and weighed each element and judgement for expected effectiveness in changing the direction of the Covid 19 spread.
It is the ignoring of that core human politics that feeds the resistance to prescribes action.
Mr. Power's by advocating "— blended as it might be — is the best way to bring most people together at a time when that’s what we need so much." is both recognizing this level of politics and is encouraging its application.
Where you seem to see an insertion of partisan politics, I see a venting of frustration with the exclusion of the human politics.
As for you for you belief that monitoring/testing is necessary to open up worksites, I offer that for generation that have been people working safely/healthily in worksites that were/are highly hazardous and toxic, and the has been/is achieve by the work practices. Whether it was the 'scientists'/industrial hygienists/toxicologist that defined the level of protection necessary it was those knowledgeable in the tasks/activities and means of protection and working with the people at risk have been able to establish worksites that have had been safe/healthy measured in decades [from day one thru current].
I encourage you to let go of the belief that how we open up the economic side of our state is one way or not at all, ['black' or 'white'] and consider it can be the 'grey' of managing risks not trying to eliminate it.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 11:16am

I think the phrase you mean to use is " a distinction without a difference". Essential vs safe activities are very different categories. Not sure how one could miss that. Temporary shutdowns can slow transmission, but will not prevent it. It will spread again once activity resumes, regardless of when that is. Remember that shutdowns also have costs, both economic and health wise. It appears that Covid 19 will be with us for some time. High risk individuals will need to be isolated, but shutting down the economy longer will, in my opinion, cause more harm than good.

Leroy Brown
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 4:32pm

Name a single study that demonstrates that mass quarantines enforced long-term will lead to less deaths. Show me the science. You know what- you claimed there was a "wealth of of scientific evidence to support drastic measures to shut down"- let's see at least 3 studies that show it. I'll check back, because for every one you'll find, I'll find states and nations that didn't lock down that have lower death rates. At the end of the day, we'll learn that the lockdowns do not conclusively lower the total number of deaths from the virus, but they do conclusively break civil liberties and destroy jobs and cause a Great Depression and lead to higher suicide rates and delays in cancer treatments. That's why sensible, logical, and responsible people oppose them- not because of partisanship, but because opposing these insane draconian lockdowns is the right thing to do.

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 9:14am

It seems that those wanting to continue forced stay at home and closure of non essential businesses/employers aren't willing to consider the impact of unemployment. Why won't they look at what happen as businesses closed as the Great Depression and unemployment grew, it reached 23% and that was over years. We are already at 13% after only a couple of month of closures. When to zero risk crowd recognize that there is great risk of human suffering with the closure of America?

Bryan Watson
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 8:51am

There is a sadly widespread view that we live in small geographies, each ensconced in an impenetrable bubble that prevents outsiders from entering our space. We look at infection and death rates by country, by state, by county, by city, even by Zip Code and say "We're not nearly as bad here as 'they' are in that city over there. So we don't need the same precautions."

If there were some evidence that viruses respected political boundaries, that would be relevant. But viruses don't care where the boundaries are.

Nor do people care. Unless your town is in a bubble - a real, protective, impenetrable bubble - people are going to come and go from elsewhere. We have roads and people have cars. Someone will drive from Livonia to Kalkaska, from Imlay City to the Soo, from Wisconsin to Benzie County. And they will bring with them whatever virus they happen to have picked up somewhere else.

To think that you're okay in your region without wrapping your region in a protective bubble just doesn't make any sense. When we say "we're all in this together", we mean that exactly. There is only one boat, we're all in it. And if the other end of the boat is sinking, you'd better be hanging on to your life vest.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 7:26pm

One of the more nauseating and yes stupid clichés from our Gov and others is that ,"the virus" doesn't see political boundaries. This cliché ignores the fact that people in different political boundaries do in fact live in markedly different manners from each other which like it or not, can and yes have drastically effected relative infection and death rates experienced in different political units. So the virus might as well have a Garman attached to it!

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 8:57am

Mr. Power is EXACTLY correct in suggesting that different measures are appropriate for the four or five counties where 80% of our current “problem” exists - and for the rest of the state!

Many - MANY - businesses could be permitted to open with the simple mandate that a face covering be worn whenever one is in a public situation where proximity to others is at a distance of less than six feet. (The face covering doesn’t protect the wearer so much as protecting others FROM the wearer. A sneeze can spread aerosol droplets TWENTY-SIX feet but a face covering will drastically reduct that.)

Relaxing the restrictions in the “stay at home” order - in a reasonable and rational manner - would go far to restore my very positive opinion of our Governor.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 8:58am

The "compromise political solution" to which Mr. Power refers can't exist. One side sees a public health and economic crisis: businesses must re-open, but in ways which minimize sickness and death as much as practical. The other side's goal is to support Trump; the economy must be opened up to improve his chances of being re-elected; public health is irrelevant. There's no way to reconcile those points of view.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 9:01am

How about this for compromise: Those of us who subscribe to the notion that as Free Americans, we can go about our own lives, get back to work and take what we feel are the necessary precautions to protect ourselves are free to do so.

Those who are legitimately concerned for their safety (i.e. elderly and comorbidities) can continue to lock themselves away.

Granted it takes away the control that our governor absolutely loves wielding with little to no rationale behind her decision-making (or even with actual Constitutional Authority for that matter), but hey, that's compromise, right?

Matt G.
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 12:16pm

Those of you who claim to love freedom in this situation are liars. I don't know if you're lying to the rest of us or lying to yourselves.

Don't you realize your freedom ends when your freedom impacts the freedom of others? Freedom isn't unlimited. So, what you personally view as "necessary precautions" might be totally inadequate because you are misinformed. Your "freedom" might actually impact far more people than just you, so you don't get to do just "go about your lives" and do whatever you want. That's why if your life is going around murdering people, we put you in jail. It's an extreme example, but it's the same concept.

I know that's hard to understand when your ego depends on you not understanding it, though. Motivated reasoning is a hell of a drug.

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 2:18pm

Can you describe the level of impact on the wellness of others the ends the rights on an individua? Is it when one's actions will kill another or is it when they could kill another or is there some level of discomfort that actions do or could contribute to? I heard from one Governor claim that protesting will kill others and yet there is no consideration for how the protests were don't, why should I trust the judgement of people that claim others must live as that those people proclaim?
What if the mortality rate for Covid 19 is similar to that of the influenza [which has a vaccine every year and spreads across America every year for decades] and no there are no restrictions imposed on America, why should the Covid 19 restriction be so extreme and distrust the public to manage their risk?

Bryan Watson
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 12:44pm

I can agree with this compromise, but it raises a few questions:

(1) What exactly are the "necessary precautions"? When the virus can be carried and spread by asymptomatic carriers, with whom do you interact and whom do you avoid?
(2) Who should avoid you, for exactly the same reason? Should we identify those who are going about their own lives so we know who is a potential risk to others? Or can we just ignore that risk and take our chances?
(3) Are there precautions to be taken by those whose concern for their safety isn't among the "legitimate" concerns? Using current science and experience, the legitimately concerned are the elderly, those with comorbidities, the immuno-suppressed, the young, the middle-aged, the adolescents. Should we be concerned about interacting with these legitimately at-risk people?
(4) Where should the Free Americans be permitted to travel? If you're in a "safe" county, should you be able to cross the line into a Tier 1 county? And then, should you be able to return? Would that change your safe county to an unsafe county? How would that work exactly?

Kevin Grand
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 7:06pm

Mr. Watson,

1.) What we have in the workplace right here and now. Things like people keeping space between one another. People frequently cleaning work surfaces. People wearing gloves/masks. People staying away if they feel ill.

2.) & 3.) The elderly, those with comorbidities/immuno-surpressed should still self quarantine. It's already been acknowledged (begrudgingly, I may add by the "professionals") that the younger the patient, the more likely they will be asymptomatic. THIS is what needs to be done right now. More on that below.

4.) Anywhere they want to. Most people don't travel that far in the course of their daily lives anyways (about 10-15 miles), either going to and from work or running daily errands.

Forceably keeping people within their homes does nothing to stop the spread of the Huwan Virus. It also creates new problems that the media is reticent to acknowledge. And the longer this continues, the worse those problems will get.

Waiting for a vaccine is not the answer. Not only will it take months to even develop one, but if you use the influenza virus as a metric, a vaccine will have little to no effect when this one mutates.

Building up herd immunity is the only thing that will place the virus in check.

Doby Joe
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 4:24pm

Phil Power in 2019 described the Republican nominee as a "loud-mouthed business guy with a bright orange combover" and as "being a narcissistic, often embarrassing politico-entertainer". He was the owner of group of media publications and today lives off the money he made in selling those. He was a University of Michigan Regent- as a Democrat. He and his family have a long history of backing and supporting solidly liberal Democrats. And he spends an entire article bashing his political opponents while pretending to be non-partisan and balanced. Why is it that calling for the shutting down on Michigan and the loss of jobs for over a million Michigan citizens is 'commonsense', but asking for the Governor to follow federal guidelines and respect the rights of citizens is somehow extreme? This guy is a partisan hack and so was this article.

Tom S
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 6:40pm

Wow, intelligent discussion, for the most part. Thank you! There's hope!

Eric Snow
Thu, 04/23/2020 - 7:30pm

If Phil Powers is really searching for balanced political solutions in reopening Michigan, maybe he should talk to people and associate with people other than partisan left-wing liberals. His biography, history, associations, and past articles indicate a strong and persistent bias.

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 9:18am

Good way to start would be if wrote and article the described a concerned and asks readers for their ideas to address it going forward [nothing about the past or people].

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 2:37pm

I think if Mr. Power truly has a desire to hear new/innovate approach he should post an article describing a specific concern of his and ask readers for ideas to address that concern, nothing about what is in the past and no personal comments about others, only about actions in the future.

Bob Dunn
Fri, 04/24/2020 - 9:49am

In reading these comments and some other replies to other articles there seems to be a concerted effort to discredit Bridge. Seldom are these replies rational or based on facts. My thinking is the articles are a threat to their thinking.

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 5:39pm

I think three reasons for offering criticism; one is to discredit, another is to improve, a third can be to help others to be aware of pattern allow for accommodation.
I feel Bridge provides an important service by offering a means for reader to voice their thoughts [that is especially valuable to me by expanding the diversity of perspectives], I support Bridge by reading and commenting and donating and by identifying opportunities for Bridge/editors/reporters to enhance their impact.
The risk of discounting or disregarding every comment that is not glowing praise is that the kernel of concern feeding the comment will be lost and an opportunity to improve/succeed.

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 10:07am

We want a politically "balanced " response to public reopening after this coronavirus pandemic now that we have a democratic governor???? I have a two-word response for this self-serving idiot and his troll organization: &=@> [%×!