April 14, 2020
By Mike Brownfield

Want some rules for life? Read the Ten Commandments.

Interested in learning about our fundamental freedoms? Study the Bill of Rights.

Looking to comply with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ever-growing collection of coronavirus-related executive orders? Consult her list of 454 “frequently asked questions” on the state of Michigan website.

Answers are certainly long overdue. In the few weeks since the governor first put Michigan on lockdown, her administration has issued an ever-growing list of orders to instruct citizens on how to safely live their lives amid the ongoing pandemic. The orders are ever-evolving, and at times contradictory. Boating was allowed, but recently has been banned. Auto dealerships were shut down, but now can operate online. Public gatherings are prohibited, but religious services are exempt, though the governor advised people to stay home on Easter.

Whitmer’s FAQ attempts to put the confusion to rest by answering questions including: How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19? How can I get a hunting license? Can I still run the Happy Little 5K? 

Michigan residents are, apparently, frequently asking a slew of questions. But one of the most critical queries that people are posing is whether they are considered an essential employee — that is, can they continue working in this time of crisis. It’s a question that has implications for landscapers who wonder why they’re restricted from working, even though they can safely practice their profession outdoors and away from others. It’s a question for construction workers who have been forced off their jobs, even as state road construction continues. And it’s a question for all Michigan residents whose work might not be “critical” under the governor’s definition, but whose work is essential to their families’ well-being.

For the answer to the question of what’s “essential,” Whitmer’s FAQ refers readers to her 2,300-word executive order, the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s guidance on the question, the state attorney general’s website, legal counsel, an industry group, and/or the state’s COVD-19 email address. It’s a circular answer to a straightforward question, but that’s what happens when the government decides to pick winners and losers based on shifting standards rooted in neither law, precedent or even logic.

Michigan residents are also concerned about their civil liberties, particularly in the wake of the governor’s decision last week to ban citizens from visiting their relatives and traveling to vacation homes in other parts of the state. A reporter asked Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office to comment on the issue of civil liberties. Nessel’s spokesperson referred the reporter back to the state’s FAQ web page.

It seems that the most pertinent questions are the most difficult to answer, even for the state’s top lawyer.

But the most basic questions are causing confusion and consternation, too. Last week, a mom from the Lansing area tweeted a photo from a Michigan Walmart store showing that baby car seats are “non-essential” under Whitmer’s order, and therefore not available for purchase. The tweet went viral and even drew the attention of Meghan McCain, co-host of “The View,” who chastised the governor via Twitter for her overly broad ban.

McCain, who resides in Arizona, got a personal reply tweet from Whitmer herself. She told McCain that she’s wrong. For more information, the governor directed McCain to consult the state’s FAQ web page.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Michigan are left with plenty of questions and not enough useful answers.

First appeared at the Detroit News.

Mike Brownfield is Communications Director for the Goldwater Institute and resides in Royal Oak.

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