Ignoring the people’s voice

By Sen. Rick Outman
33rd Senate District

I’ve always tried my best to work across the aisle. When working in the Capitol, I often think back to Abraham Lincoln’s quote: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I, like many others, was cautiously optimistic at the beginning of this term, as it was my first term within a divided government. As my new colleagues and I began our work, we were immediately ambushed by a 45-cent gas tax proposal from the governor. Road repairs were a major discussion throughout the entire 2018 campaign, and many of us took to Lansing to find a meaningful solution. It was only then that we discovered the governor had already moved forward with a plan of her own.

The gas tax increase was wildly unpopular from the start — though that came as no surprise to those of us who represent the people’s voice in the Legislature. We knew people back home wouldn’t get on board with such a drastic increase, and we knew many simply couldn’t afford it. Lawmakers and residents alike pushed back for months until the governor’s office stepped back from the gas tax and, via single-handed executive action, borrowed the money against every taxpaying resident of this state.

Then we had the budget debacle with record numbers of vetoes. Our budget included a plan to fix the roads with funding we had available. This is where we also saw the governor’s controversial transfer of funds, in which she moved money away from much-needed state programs to fund other items as she saw fit. This is not how the budget process works. The executive branch does not get to take on the budget by itself.

Despite this, I continued to do my job in hopes of finally reconciling these hostile gestures that mock our system of government to its core. Then COVID-19 hit.

Like many of my colleagues, I initially had high hopes for a swift, bipartisan solution. There was much agreement between the Legislature and the executive branch early in the pandemic.

However, we have not seen one ounce of cooperation from our supposed equal branch of government. The governor’s office lambasted state residents with executive orders — and at one point, we had more active executive orders than most of our surrounding states combined. As more and more restrictions came down from the executive branch, the cooperation dwindled, and our ideas were ignored. Constituents calling our offices with pleas for help increased while the information we had to give them decreased.

As we continued to put forth efforts toward mitigating the crisis, the governor chose a path of ultimate betrayal. During good-faith negotiations, Gov. Whitmer leaked private, confidential emails to the press — a move that in most jobs would be enough to remove someone from their position and also potentially carry legal consequences.

Since then, the governor has all but formally removed the Legislature, and the voice of the people, from the state’s response. Even after being instructed by the Michigan Supreme Court that her actions were unconstitutional, she simply claimed the court was playing politics and ignored their ruling. As an attorney, she should be ashamed of herself for holding the judiciary — especially the state’s highest court — in such disregard.

Unfortunately, the governor appears unfazed, and her health department simply picked up where she left off prior to the court’s ruling. Just recently the governor chose a Sunday, dinner-hour press conference to announce a series of new rules that Michiganders are forced to scramble to comply with. Again, she chose to pursue single-handed executive action and leave not only the Legislature, but the residents of Michigan — many of whom supported her election to office — in the dark. This three-week shutdown seems reminiscent of the previous shut-down orders it took several months and a court order to get out of.

The policies she and her executive agencies have unilaterally implemented failed Michigan’s nursing homes, failed at securing enough personal protective equipment and failed at preparing and operating the unemployment system, yet the governor continues her go-it-alone approach rather than collaborating with the elected voices of our state.

Our system of government was not designed to have one person at the helm controlling all residents, especially after that person’s actions have been ruled unconstitutional in a court of law. Our constitutional rights are critically important, and for our governor, who is an attorney by trade, to balk so freely at them, it’s not only disheartening, but shameful.

Sen. Rick Outman represents the 33rd state Senate District, which includes the counties of Clare, Gratiot, Isabella, Mecosta and Montcalm.