Macomb County's Hackel, a Democrat, backs petition to limit Whitmer's emergency power

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, the top Democrat in Michigan's third largest county, says he supports repealing the 1945 law that gives Gov. Gretchen Whitmer the ability to declare a state of emergency and keep the declaration in place without input from the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The 1945 Emergency Powers of Governor Act  gives one person, the governor, "endless ability to create law," Hackel said in a Wednesday night interview. He said he was surprised there wasn't more resistance to the Democratic governor's use of the 75-yer-old law to declare emergencies, which give her the ability act unilaterally to shutter businesses or require masks be worn.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel is pictured in 2018. Hackel said he supports a petition initiative to take away the unilateral power of Michigan's governor to set laws under state of emergency in perpetuity.

"No one person should have endless authority and ability to bypass another branch of government," Hackel said.

"I can't believe there isn't more of an outcry," the 58-year-old elected official said.

Michigan has been under a state of emergency since March 10, when the state confirmed its first COVID-19 cases.

The committee Unlock Michigan is seeking to collect 340,047 valid petition signatures to put its initiated legislative proposal to repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act before the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature, which has challenged the emergency powers of Whitmer in court.

If Unlock Michigan collects enough valid signatures, the Legislature could enact the repeal without Whitmer being able to veto the proposal.

"Any attempt to strip away the powers of the governor during this crisis is irresponsible, dangerous and foolish," the governor has said of the Unlock Michigan proposal.

Hackel's endorsement was first reported Wednesday night by Crain's Detroit Business. 

In an interview, the Democratic executive said counties across Michigan have discontinued their emergency declarations. There's no longer a need for the statewide declaration of emergency, but there's a need for the governor to work with the Legislature on COVID-19 being in communities, he said.

"We've flattened the curve. There is no surge in the hospitals," Hackel said.

School districts are able to decide whether to open to in-person instruction, he noted, asking, "If this is still a crisis, why would we let casinos open?"

Detroit's three large casinos were allowed to reopen in early August at 15% capacity.

Hackel questioned why Democratic state lawmakers aren't more upset about not having input on decisions. Some Democrats won't speak out because they're on the same "team" as Whitmer, said Hackel, who added that he doesn't plan to sign the Unlock Michigan petition because he simply doesn't sign petitions.

The Macomb County executive called on Whitmer to work with the Legislature going forward. A 1976 law that allows the governor to declare a state of emergency for 28 days before needing lawmakers' approval is "sufficient," he said.

As of Wednesday, Michigan reported 103,710 confirmed cases of the virus and 6,509 deaths linked to it.