GOP congressman launches group to limit Whitmer's emergency powers

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, has formed a ballot committee aimed at collecting signatures to restrict the unilateral emergency powers that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to combat COVID-19.

A week ago, Mitchell, who was first elected to the U.S House in 2016, announced a lawsuit against Whitmer, alleging her executive orders had violated his rights. Now, he's formed a ballot committee, Say Yes to MI Constitution, which could initiate a proposal to go before the Legislature.

If the group collects more than 340,000 signatures, its proposal could gain the approval of the Republican-controlled Legislature and wouldn't need Whitmer's signature to become law.

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, are pictured.

"Michiganders elect members of the Legislature to represent them in our government," Mitchell said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Gov. Whitmer is misusing her powers to rewrite laws, court decisions and insists she can dial up these powers whenever she sees fit. 

"That is not the way our Michigan Constitution works and I am forming this ballot committee to make that crystal clear. The Legislature and the people of Michigan should always have a voice."

Whitmer has said she's using her executive powers to protect people's lives "whether you agree with me or not." And Democrats have labeled discussed attempts to change the state law that grants the governor emergency powers "playing politics."

According to a press release, Mitchell will announce coalition members and specific ballot language in the future. It usually takes campaigns about six months to gather the needed signatures for such an effort.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, called for a petition drive to repeal the 1945 law that allows Whitmer to declare a state of emergency but doesn't appear to give the Legislature input on the matter.

The emergency declaration allows the governor to issue unilateral orders, like the stay-at-home restriction.

"I think it’s probably the No. 1 priority right now," Shirkey said during a radio appearance. "That allows true representative government ... to take over."

Republicans in the Legislature filed a lawsuit Wednesday, challenging Whitmer's emergency powers in state court. Mitchell's new ballot committee, Say Yes to MI Constitution, officially formed Tuesday, according to state records.

Mitchell, a businessman by trade, spent nearly $3 million self financing his 2016 campaign for the U.S. House. He led a group in 2015 that opposed a statewide ballot proposal to increase the sales tax to boost road funding. That proposal was championed by former GOP Gov. Rick Snyder

"Just as I did in 2015 with Proposal 1 when there was a Republican governor, I will again lead the charge to inform Michigan voters about policies that are unconstitutional," Mitchell said Monday.