Opinion: End lockdown in Northern Michigan, Upper Peninsula

Jack Bergman

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state and local governments have been faced with hard — if not impossible — decisions affecting lives and livelihoods of nearly every American. Our frontline workers across the state have courageously kept our supply chains, emergency services, hospitals and so many integral parts of our society operational while thousands have fallen ill to the virus across Michigan.

Yet, our state faces a unique challenge that many states do not — the road to the White House in 2020 comes directly through the Great Lakes State. In 2016, a mere 10,000 votes in Michigan helped President Donald Trump win the White House. Now, as the coronavirus rages on, Michigan has become a hotspot for political nonsense. While our governor has been auditioning for a vice presidential coronation on the late night talk shows, thousands of my constituents were losing their jobs and waiting weeks just to get through to the unemployment office.

As a Marine, I’ve experienced failed state government response to crisis — shortly after pinning on my third star and taking command of Marine Forces North/Marine Forces Reserve, Hurricane Katrina struck a devastating blow to the Gulf Coast. I saw firsthand the failed state leadership in the storm’s aftermath. But as Michigan residents, we expect and deserve better than the totalitarian tendencies our constituents have been exposed to in recent days.  

A photo of downtown Escanaba

We know Lansing rarely remembers Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Just a few short months ago, our governor cut $13 million for sheriffs’ secondary road program, $27 million in state PILT funding, and attempted to eliminate funding for the Pure Michigan campaign — a move seemingly aimed at punishing anyone living north of US-10.

Once again the governor’s actions have shown blatant disregard for rural Michigan during this crisis — failing to provide adequate COVID-19 testing in my district, limiting MEDC funds for UP businesses, and cutting non-emergency procedures at rural hospitals — crippling them financially. 

We’ve seen maps explaining there will be a regional approach as opposed to statewide decisions — yet another week and another press conference have gone by, and the very same broad-brush lockdown remains in place as hundreds of small businesses and hospitals across the First District now face a likely terminal projection. Leaders must understand that in times of crisis, plans must constantly be revisited and revised to reflect the reality at hand.

Building on the strongest economy in history, we can recover from this crisis and re-ignite the engine that drives our nation. The choice is not binary — we don’t have to sacrifice lives for the economy or vice versa. Through hard work and real hands-on leadership — a localized, bottom-up plan following Trump’s Opening Up America Again Guidelines can put the First District on track for an unprecedented comeback.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lansing have a history of ignoring the needs of the U.P. and Northern Michigan, but acting on a plan to immediately and safely open up our economy would serve as a real olive branch to the tens of thousands of disenfranchised constituents that call the First District home. While all have handled the crisis differently, the measures taken to fire up the economy in many rural states is working — proactive leadership counts and could save both lives and livelihoods.

Congressman Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, serves Michigan's First District in the U.S. House of Representatives.