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Indiana billboards mock Michigan's response to COVID-19 pandemic

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An Indiana billboard poking fun at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been adjusted after protests from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. 

The digital billboard along Interstate 69 just a few miles south of the Michigan border, in Angola, Ind., showed a picture of Whitmer alongside a graphic that announced her as "Indiana Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year," suggesting the Democratic governor pushed business south with her restrictive pandemic response.

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Steve Swick, president and CEO of Swick Broadcasting Co., changed the wording to "Indiana Business Person of the Year" after receiving a cease and desist request from the Indiana chamber. 

“The Indiana Chamber of Commerce had nothing to do with this," said chamber President Kevin Brinegar. "Someone used our name to help garner attention. We are not in the business of attacking other states or individuals. We found this completely inappropriate and demanded it be taken down immediately.”

Billboards just south of the Indiana, Michigan borders have critiqued Michigan's pandemic-inspired restrictions on businesses over the last several months. Steve Swick, president and CEO of Swick Broadcasting Co., said the billboards are not meant to be malicious but to make people think.

A second billboard asks drivers to decide whether the current state of Michigan business is "Half Full" or "Half Empty.” 

Michigan has the lowest rate of new average COVID-19 cases in the Midwest, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, Whitmer's office said. The state also has distributed about 546,000 more vaccines than Indiana, which ranks No. 16 for vaccines administered while Michigan ranks ninth, Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said Tuesday.

“Gov. Whitmer continues to lead our state by putting the health and safety of Michiganders first, and the results speak for themselves," Leddy said. Whitmer will continue to work "across the aisle" with fellow governors including Republican Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, he said. 

The governor "hopes the Michigan Legislature will work quickly to pass the MI COVID Recovery Plan, which includes billions of dollars in much-needed funding for Michigan families and small businesses, so that we can get back to normal life and grow our economy," Leddy said.

Swick, who has Michigan-based business properties, said the billboards are not meant to be malicious but ask drivers to think about the impact of pandemic-based restrictions. From dining to hair cuts to bars, Indiana has benefited from Michigan residents seeking to escape harsher restrictions, he said. 

"People want to get back to a sense of normalcy," Swick said. "They’re all flooding over the borders to Indiana.

"I think her overreaching restrictiveness has put Michigan businesses and industries behind the eight ball," he added.

Last year, Swick also was responsible for other billboards critiquing Michigan's response. 

One pictured an image of the Indiana flag and a caption that said, "The Great State of Indiana Welcomes Michiganders to a Free-to-Roam State. We thank you for the revenue!"

Another pictured a Michiganian as an unkempt, long-haired caveman alongside a well-groomed Hoosier holding a pair of scissors. The billboard said "Current look at the border. Indiana salons & barber shops are open."

A third billboard showed actor John Candy playing a guard at Walley World in "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie, warning drivers, "Sorry folks...Michigan is closed again!"

eleblanc@detroitnews.com