Lawmaker inboxes spammed with anti-’quarantine’ emails from group

By: - April 28, 2020 6:18 pm

Conservative protest at Michigan’s Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 15, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

At least 1,000 Michiganders spent their Tuesday jamming up legislator inboxes with copies of a draft resolution that would reject another extension of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency and disaster declarations over the COVID-19 pandemic that’s killed more than 3,500 Michiganders. 

Whitmer has asked the Legislature to extend the emergency declaration, which expires Thursday. President Donald Trump last month approved Michigan’s disaster declaration.

State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) was the first to tweet about the calls Tuesday afternoon.

“Today has been disappointing. The offices of all Democratic State Reps were flooded with roughly 1000 emails from a group closely associated with a colleague of mine from across the aisle. My office is still sorting through them, but at this point, very few are constituents,” Pohutsky wrote.

In subsequent tweets, Pohutsky declined to name the representative she believes is responsible but said they “should be ashamed.” She described the barrage of emails as “petty games” that were “meant to overwhelm our offices’ staffs, who are already working around the clock to provide assistance during this crisis.”

Pohutsky told the Advance that the effort turned responding to constituent emails into an all-day event.

“It’s been a process the entire day to try to respond to constituents, on both the matter the email referenced and others, while being constantly inundated with more,” Pohutsky said. “There’s also emails coming in that require immediate attention, and my staff has had to be very vigilant that those emails don’t get sandwiched between what amounts to a political stunt.”

On April 15, hundreds of protesters flocked to Lansing and flouted social distancing rules in defiance of Whitmer’s stay-home order. The “Operation Gridlock” event was facilitated by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which was founded by state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), and promoted by the DeVos family-funded Michigan Freedom Fund.

Maddock chosen for national ‘Women for Trump’ group

Michigan has 39,262 COVID-19 cases and 3,567 deaths as of Tuesday. The state is seventh in cases in the United States and third in deaths, per New York Times tracking.

The email effort was orchestrated by admins of the “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine” Facebook group, which made a “call to action” post earlier Tuesday with step-by-step instructions and a list of every Michigan legislator’s email address.

Members were instructed to copy and paste all 148 of those email addresses and send each lawmaker a copy of the group’s “Move Michigan Forward” concurrent resolution, which was apparently penned by a new group called “Stand Up Michigan” connected to the Facebook group.

Individuals were also asked to call up their own state representative and senator to urge them to pass the resolution.

The document lists all of Whitmer’s executive orders since March 10 pertaining to her emergency powers, before claiming that she “did not provide scientific data to justify the state of emergency being declared equally across all 83 counties.”

It claims that EO 2020-42 and 2020-59 “placed arbitrary and inconsistent restrictions, without reasonable scientific justification” on people’s activities, “sometimes resulting in oppressive consequences,” and unfairly placed restrictions on some businesses but not on others.

Michigan reports more than 39K COVID-19 cases, 3,500 deaths

The document also wrongly asserts that there have been restrictions on places of worship and on Michiganders’ ability to take care of family members. It goes on to demand more detailed hospitalization data from the state before rejecting any further extension of the states of emergency and disaster.

Many legal experts have agreed that Whitmer has the authority to use most emergency powers without input from the Legislature.

State Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) quote-tweeted Pohutsky’s initial tweet and thanked her for “putting it far more graciously” than he could.

“Yesterday, my staff was complimented for their speed in returning constituent calls; today they spent a significant portion of their day trying to find the constituent calls. There is a wrong way to protest,” Koleszar wrote.

State Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) also said the emails got in the way of helping constituents, like with unemployment claim problems. He didn’t hesitate to name names. In a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon, Elder alleged that a “[U.S. Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos funded astro-turf group” was behind the effort.

“Please note that my office has received over 1000 cut-and-paste emails from the Betsy DeVos funded astro-turf group in the last 2 hours,” Elder said in the post. “Unfortunately, that has made it more difficult to respond to legitimate requests for assistance, including help with unemployment claims, which my two staffers and I are working diligently to prioritize. Thank you for your understanding.”

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.