Susan J. Demas: Republicans are putting us all at risk. Maybe I don’t get how this whole pro-life thing works.

April 7, 2020 6:18 am

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Monday showed us the most deadly picture of COVID-19 in Michigan to date, with a staggering 110 deaths in a 24-hour period.

Michigan has the third-most cases in the nation — more than California with four times our population — as we’re north of 17,000 cases. And 727 people have lost their lives. Emergency rooms and intensive care units in Southeast Michigan are jammed. Health care workers lacking proper protective gear are getting sick and some are dying. We’re building a field hospital like it’s the Civil War at the TCF Center in Detroit.

It’s not just a metro Detroit problem, though. Seventy-one of Michigan’s 83 counties have cases and 35 have reported deaths. Testing in rural areas is sorely lacking, which means COVID-19 is likely far more widespread than we think.

In the midst of this surreal carnage, Republicans are trying to quash Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s power — something they’ve tried repeatedly, before she took office and after last year’s budget battle. Now House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) are actually arguing her request to extend a state of emergency and disaster for 70 days in Michigan is “too long.”

I’m not kidding.

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A few years ago, the Legislature extended a state of emergency over a sinkhole for 56 days and no one batted an eye. But 70 more days to deal with a global pandemic that’s wiped out 75,000 worldwide and 11,000 in America is too long? This is an argument that we’re somehow supposed to indulge?

And wait, it gets worse. Republicans even have an unnecessary session planned for Tuesday based on a (likely deliberate) misread of the law.

Why? They need to appease their big-money corporate donors and slap down the Democratic governor who’s made a bumbling and vindictive GOP president look bad.

Business lobbyists tried to pressure Whitmer not to issue a stay home order on March 24 and failed miserably. Now Republican lawmakers are whining endlessly that they can’t play golf or hire a landscaper and that’s trashing the economy (seriously, this is the best they can come up with).

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Republicans also are blithely flouting health guidelines. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging people not to go out in public unless it’s absolutely necessary during the crucial next two weeks — even to the grocery store — and to limit meetings that require close contact. Obviously, the Legislature meeting violates that.

Since Republicans insisting on this ill-timed partisan power play, you might assume the disease just hasn’t touched their lives. But you’d sadly be wrong.

On March 29, state Rep. Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit) died after having coronavirus-like symptoms. He was 44. Two other state representatives, Tyrone Carter and Karen Whitsett, have tested positive.

I don’t know how GOP leaders look at a colleague dying of a highly contagious disease and decide it’s a good time to hold session, putting hundreds of people in the Capitol at risk — lawmakers, building staff and media — and consequently, their families and anyone else they come in contact with afterward. It’s worth stressing that you don’t have to feel sick to have the virus. A Science Journal study recently found that asymptomatic people were responsible for 86% of COVID-19’s spread.

So is this how being pro-life works? I would really like to know.

Because over the last two decades, I have sat through more impassioned floor speeches than I can count from conservatives who tear up about the sanctity of life. And yet Shirkey just declared that calling back lawmakers to marinate in an infectious disease stew is “far safer than going to Walmart.”

It’s not. And health officials have repeatedly warned that we likely won’t be at the peak of COVID-19 for weeks. I want to stress this point, because the majority of coverage has cast this as a partisan fight: “Democrats say there’s a problem, but Republicans say there’s not, and who are we to judge (shrug emoji)?”

Nope, we can judge. All things aren’t equal. Shirkey, Chatfield and the GOP lawmakers I’ve seen churning out endless attack press releases are not qualified to make health assessments. Whitmer’s orders have been done in consultation with top epidemiologists in the nation. Republicans are just parroting talking points from Michigan Chamber CEO Rich Studley’s emoji-laden Twitter account.

It’s fascinating that most of Lansing spends hours on end complaining about how term limits breed dangerous inexperience. But when faced with a deadly health crisis, we’re now going to trust lawmakers who have barely been around long enough to find the bathrooms instead of health experts? Please.

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When we in the media decide that business lobbyists should get an equal voice to public health experts on COVIDー19, that’s an editorial choice that reflects deep biases. It’s a good time to question them — especially as covering today’s session in person carries big personal health risks.

You may be lucky enough to love your job, as I do. But you might want to ask yourself if it’s worth dying for it or inadvertently causing someone else to, all because Republicans played partisan games during a pandemic.

This isn’t anywhere close to documenting the harrowing scene in your local ER to show people what COVID-19 is really like. This isn’t spending time at a homeless shelter to show how people who have lost everything are fighting to survive a plague. Sitting in session and writing a stereotypical he said-she said story is enabling the worst kind of hubris and political theater — and at the worst possible time for our wounded and grieving state.

Sorry, I read “The Lottery” in middle school. That’s not a risk I’m willing to subject myself or my staff to. And that’s not something I would wish on anyone.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.