House Speaker Lee Chatfield is open to a statewide plan to address the surge of COVID-19 in Michigan but hasn’t gotten the engagement he needs from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to move forward with one, he said in an interview Wednesday.
“Negotiations work by having conversations in good faith, rolling up our sleeves, being at the same table, whether literally or figuratively, and figuring things out,” Chatfield, R-Levering said. “That has not been happening. And that shows a real lack of interest from this administration to work with us.”
Republican leaders criticized the unilateral actions from the Whitmer administration after Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon issued an order this week banning indoor dining, in-person high school instruction and gatherings of more than two households to try and curb the spread.
Chatfield being open to statewide control measures is a contrast to his counterpart Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who has instead focused on public service announcements and told the publication Bridge Michigan on Wednesday the state does not need mandates to address the virus’s surge.
“I don’t think having PSAs and statewide mandates are mutually exclusive. And I think they can partner with each other, can be effective,” Chatfield said.
Shirkey did not respond to requests for an interview.
Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown was dismissive of Shirkey’s plan for public service announcements and his earlier statement to MLive that the plan needed “an element of herd immunity.”
“At a time when hospitalizations and deaths are rising fast, the only ‘plan’ we’ve heard so far involves PSAs and ‘herd immunity,’ which is a dangerous concept that medical experts say would be a death sentence for tens of thousands of Michiganders,” Brown said.
Chatfield responded to MLive’s recent article about the legislature having no plan to address the virus’s surge in Michigan.
Related: A lot of bluster and a stark reality: Michigan legislature has no plan to stop surge of COVID-19
“I would push back on that a little bit on that, that we haven’t presented a plan,” he said, citing two long-term plans for regional economic re-opening that do not address the current COVID-19 surge.
Those plans — one from the spring and one released last month — instead set data-driven goals and allow regions to reopen when they meet positive metrics.
The sponsor of the most recent proposal has said it’s a mid- to long-range plan not designed to address the immediate surge in cases. The plan from the spring notes in its text the state would need to develop plans to tighten restrictions if the virus resurges, and does not do so itself.
One idea Chatfield has given a chilly reception to is a mask mandate. He said he sees most people wearing masks in public and the virus is still spreading.
“So I don’t think a mask mandate is an end-all solution, though it can be effective. But we need to do more than that,” Chatfield said.
He pointed out that a mask mandate is already in place through MDHHS, and said he sees the governor’s ask as a political talking point. He did not name other potential mandates the state could consider and noted he hasn’t heard from the governor’s office about other measures.
“What I find the most disappointing though… is not one of the things that was just initiated by the health director was ever requested of the legislature to do,” Chatfield said.
Chatfield said Whitmer hasn’t been forthcoming with a plan, herself.
“So when you say what’s your plan, I point to some long-term plans that we’ve introduced. I would ask you, has the governor released a plan? No. It’s always been a press conference saying ‘these are my restrictions,’” Chatfield said.
It’s a frustration that mounted across the state as case counts were decreasing over the early summer months. Whitmer outlined “MI Safe Start” phases but repeatedly declined to set data benchmarks that would indicate when parts of the state’s economy were safe to reopen.
Related: Gov. Whitmer’s plan to reopen Michigan keeps residents in the dark with murky targets and limited transparency
Asked why the Republican-led legislature didn’t come up with its own plan and send it to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Chatfield pointed to budget process 2019. The negotiations between the legislature and administration fell apart, lawmakers sent it to Whitmer at the last minute and she responded with a series of line-item vetoes and funding shifts.
Chatfield said he has not had a single one-on-one phone call or meeting with the governor since the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the law underpinning her emergency orders on Oct. 2. Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said legislative Republicans have joined her for data briefings for the past several weeks.
“The governor is ready to collaborate with the legislature once they return from their hunting break, and once they start passing serious legislation to address the urgent public health crisis facing our state,” Brown said.
The legislature resumes meeting Dec. 1.
Meanwhile, Michigan’s coronavirus numbers are surging. The state’s seven-day average of new cases is 6,965 per day, more than four times its earlier peak of 1,626 cases per day this spring.
More on MLive:
Michigan reports 5,772 new coronavirus cases, 62 new deaths
Here’s what changes in Michigan under new COVID-19 restrictions, in place for 3 weeks
A lot of bluster and a stark reality: Michigan legislature has no plan to stop surge of COVID-19