Finley: Hackel: Emergency over; restore democracy

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Mark Hackel is ending the state of emergency in Macomb County, and suggests Gov. Gretchen Whitmer do the same for the rest of the state.

The Macomb County executive says the threat from COVID-19 has subsided and the authority granted him under state law to deal with a life-threatening situation is no longer necessary. So he won’t ask the county commission for an extension when the current declaration expires Friday.

"The intent of a state of emergency is to regain control," he says. "At the time of the declaration in March, there were a lot of unknowns. Cases and deaths were on the rise. Testing was low. There was fear that hospitals would be overwhelmed.

"But today, I can’t make the case that the situation is out of control. Cases have fallen from 200 a day to 10. Deaths dropped from a high of 30 a day to less than one. We have enough personal protection equipment, and hospitals say they can handle any increase in capacity.

Mark Hackel

"I’m not about to continue to use a state of emergency as a matter of convenience to bypass the county’s legislative branch."

Which is exactly what Whitmer is doing to the state Legislature.

Hackel contends the governor is claiming more power than she needs to manage the current threat.

"I don’t know that anyone should have that unlimited authority to dictate what’s going on, and bypass the Legislature," he says. "No one should have the autonomy to say, ‘it’s still an emergency because I say so.’ "

Hackel declared the county-level emergency under the state’s 1976 emergency powers law, which provides for oversight by the county commission. Whitmer at first used that same law but, when she encountered resistance from the Legislature, switched to a murkier 1945 act to unilaterally extend her powers. In doing so, she exempted herself from the basic democratic principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. 

"The governor can make any law she wants," Hackel says. "No offense to the governor, but I don’t want any elected official with that much power, not even myself."

Hackel, in allowing the emergency to expire in Macomb, believes any additional threat from C-19 can be managed by directives from the county health department. But even as the local designation goes away, the county will remain under Whitmer’s emergency declaration, to Hackel’s chagrin.  

"Macomb is ready. We can handle our own affairs," he says. "I’d be surprised at this point if any county is not prepared. She has taken it upon herself to take away my ability to make decisions on behalf of my own county."

Hackel, who like Whitmer is a Democrat, is urging her to reengage GOP lawmakers and work jointly on a plan for managing the virus long-term.

"This should be the governor and Legislature working together," he says. "You can’t tell me that if it were a Republican governor doing this, and she was still in the Legislature, that she would go along."

Hackel is right. A state of emergency is designed as a temporary response to an extraordinary situation, and not intended to continue once the danger becomes manageable.

Despite a recent increase in cases, COVID-19 is nowhere near the unchecked threat it was to Michigan residents in March. The only thing out of control today is Whitmer’s disdain for constitutional governing. 

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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