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Letter: Legislature must check the governor's power

The Detroit News

When Gov. Whitmer presents her case for social distancing and asks for citizens’ cooperation, I think most people are willing and even eager to comply. We want to help protect ourselves and our fellow citizens.  

However, when she dictates the specifics of what we can do, where we can travel, and what we can buy without any regard for our ability to make responsible decisions, she engenders a feeling of resentment rather than cooperation.  

It is one thing to ask for a voluntary constraint of personal liberties. It is another to command and control. The difference is where political sovereignty lies. Under our Constitution, we the people are sovereign, not the governor — even when we temporarily grant her expanded authority. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks Wednesday.

I understand the uniqueness of these times, the seriousness of this virus and the need for emergency executive powers in certain situations (including this one), but witnessing the exercise of those executive powers is a jarring reminder of the need to limit those powers. An American political leader picking which businesses — and even which specific aisles — may open? That is not the language of liberty, and we must not allow ourselves to get used to it.

That’s why I am grateful that the Michigan Legislature is discussing oversight of the governor’s authority. Regardless of one’s opinion about the right way to address this pandemic, we must recognize and restore the critical role of checks and balances in our state government.

Nobody — no matter how well intentioned — is immune from the temptations that come with unchecked power. The first step to shielding oneself from corruption is to admit one’s susceptibility to corruption. That’s why leaders of integrity welcome accountability.

While delivering her latest executive order, the governor defiantly vowed to “not sign any bill that takes authority away from me or any future governor.” Again, emergency executive power has a role, but if it’s true, as she believes, that a 1945 law grants her this power without time constraints, then our legislators must move quickly to impose proper limits on that power.    

Let’s not forget that when she talks about the Legislature, she is talking about our elected representatives. Her characterization of their meeting (where they take even greater social distancing precautions than we observe in the grocery store) as an “unnecessary trip” to Lansing equates to calling our right to debate her actions “unnecessary,” as well.  

That mindset is exactly why her power needs to be checked.    

Scott Bahr is vice president of the Livonia City Council.