Jacques: Grassroots backlash grows against Whitmer's excessive stay-home order

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Perhaps “the woman in Michigan” has let all the attention get to her head. 

The fawning interviews and puff pieces from cable news networks and progressive media outlets happy to carry the Democratic Party’s water have helped frame Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as a shoo-in for Joe Biden’s running mate.

Just look at how harnessing the media quickly shaped Pete Buttigieg — an unknown mayor from South Bend, Indiana — into a serious contender for president. That helps explains why Whitmer brought on Buttigieg’s former press secretary, Chris Meagher, shortly before the state went on a hiring freeze. 

Trevor Noah and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speak together on "The Daily Show."

While Whitmer is basking in the national spotlight, things at home in Michigan are a little less rosy. 

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Michiganians are starting to question the governor’s decisions as the state responds to the coronavirus. Her latest stay-home order is rubbing many citizens the wrong way, given the seemingly arbitrary stipulations. Garden seeds, paint and golf? Not OK. Alcohol, pot and lottery tickets? Go for it.

And Whitmer’s unwillingness to listen to the concerns of Republican legislative leaders and business groups about the negative impact the shutdown is having on the economy has contributed to a growing backlash. 

Case in point: On Wednesday, the Michigan Conservative Coalition is hosting an event in Lansing called “Operation Gridlock.” Think of it as a drive-in rally. The Facebook event page has garnered more than 3,500 “going” responses and 15,000 are interested.

Participants are asked to stay in their vehicles as they circle around the state Capitol, letting their concerns about Whitmer’s executive order be known while adhering to social distancing. 

Meshawn Maddock, a coalition board member, says she had thought the governor was going to listen to the fears of businesses and workers and ease some of the mandates last week. But after she instead doubled down on the restrictive measures, Maddock knew it was time to do something. 

Meshawn Maddock

And when Whitmer took a swing at the planned protest during her coronavirus briefing Monday, interest in the event exploded. In talking about the protest, she smirked and made a false insinuation that Betsy DeVos — the U.S. Education Secretary from West Michigan — had bankrolled the protest. 

“The governor has made the job easier for us,” says Maddock, noting her group has never received money from the DeVos family.  

The Michigan Freedom Fund, which has helped spread the word about the protest, has benefited from DeVos generosity, but the group’s executive director Tony Daunt says he only contributed $250 to promote it on Facebook. 

“It was a cynical play by the left to insert a boogeyman into a grassroots effort,” Daunt says. “Whitmer simply emboldened people.” 

Similarly, another grassroots endeavor has formed on Facebook. The “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine” group has attracted more than 300,000 members in a short time frame and describes itself as a “place for Michiganders to organize and work toward a reasonable solution to the COVID-19 crisis” that preserves liberty and the economy.

People are worried, but not just about the virus. They are worried about their livelihoods. Their freedom. 

Don’t expect Whitmer to budge, though. As one Lansing insider told me, the governor has a history of such behavior, which played out last year in her unwavering bid for a 45-cent gas tax hike that no one supported, even Democratic lawmakers. She takes an aggressive — yet simplistic — policy position and a win-at-any-cost approach. Remember, she used autistic children and charter school students as pawns in her disastrous budget feud with lawmakers.  

No one wants to put the health of Michigan residents at further risk, but as other states start more seriously looking at how to get people back to work and their normal lives, Whitmer should be open to reasonable approaches.

“Let’s look at this with a little more of a nuanced approach,” Daunt says. 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques