Opinion: Whitmer should put politics aside and focus on Michigan

Tori Sachs

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has spent the last several months raising her national profile in a bid to become Joe Biden’s running mate. She recently admitted at least one conversation with the Biden team about the job after participating in more than 70 national media, cable news and late-night TV appearances to boost her chances.

It remains to be seen if Whitmer will get the nod, but she is certainly making campaigning for the former vice president a priority, saying in an interview Thursday she will “work like heck to make sure” Biden wins Michigan.

The governor should change her focus from politics to five key issues to help Michigan residents: Protecting people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, fixing the broken unemployment system, creating an opening plan with clearly defined metrics, providing a plan for schools, and addressing the state’s budget deficit. 

According to an analysis from the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, 42% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide are associated with nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Michigan’s true percentage is still unknown due to a lack of data collection, but partial data released has the total close to 25% at this time.. 

More:Nursing home residents account for 1 in 4 COVID deaths in Michigan

Whitmer likes to say she is using “facts,” “science” and “data” to inform her decisions. How can we take that statement seriously when the state still doesn’t have data or a plan to keep the most vulnerable populations in Michigan safe?

Both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers have been critical of the policy that places COVID-19 patients into the same facilities as non-COVID-19 nursing home and long-term care facility residents. 

The vulnerable residents living in nursing homes cannot afford to wait any longer for the Whitmer administration to enact new safety measures and a holistic plan to stop the spread of COVID-19 to the population who is most at risk of dying from the virus. 

Meanwhile, workers are suffering, too. With over 22% currently out of work, the state is likely suffering from its highest unemployment rate ever recorded. 

Two weeks ago, 134,000 Michigan residents were still waiting for their unemployment check — many in dire straits after being out of work for weeks.

At this point, it should be all-hands-on-deck for non-essential state employees who are working from home to get training and assist the unemployment agency with ensuring the people who deserve unemployment insurance payments receive them. 

Around the country, states are implementing phased opening plans that are based on metrics like testing results, contact tracing, hospital and ICU capacities, deaths, etc. 

Michigan does not have any measurable metrics for reopening, and many small business owners who feel they could operate safely are reaching their breaking point. Gatherings of fewer than 10 are permitted, but many of our small businesses remain shuttered by Whitmer’s order.

Governor Whitmer shouldn't be concerning herself with helping Biden win the election while her state is in such disarray, Sachs writes.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel hasn’t been shy about his frustrations with the lack of a commonsense plan. In a Detroit News article, Hackel said Whitmer’s orders are pretty vague and undefined, and that “All we hear from the governor’s office is they need more information, more data and more testing before the state is completely opened up. But no one can say if they are looking for specific numbers. Or percentages. It’s frustrating.”

Beth DeShone, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, recently wrote that Whitmer and the department still haven't offered word one on a plan to get teachers and students safely back to classrooms, to discuss remediation for students who the bureaucracies leave behind, or to address parent and teacher concerns.

Our kids have essentially been out of school for months, summer break is fast approaching and it’s time for the state to have a serious plan for what education will be for our students in the fall. 

Some of the education consideration may depend on the state’s budget — which is facing a $3.2 billion shortfall this budget year, a consequence of Whitmer’s economic shutdown. House Speaker Lee Chatfield has stated he would like to work with the governor on the state’s budget and that she should propose an updated budget to reflect the financial reality the state is now in.  

It’s time for Whitmer to put politics aside and focus on what matters for the people of Michigan.

Tori Sachs is executive director of Michigan Rising Action.