Does governor have too much power?
Whitmer Elected Governor After Moving to W.Va.
Imagine that headline showing up in the paper sometime in the future. For many Mountain State residents, it isn’t a pleasant thought. After seeing how Gretchen Whitmer has handled her duties as governor of Michigan during the past few months, many of us in the “Mountaineers Always Free” state wouldn’t want her as governor.
But more people than you may think would be happy with her, or someone who thinks much like her. What if that someone happens to be governor when, say, the COVID-31 epidemic strikes?
Whitmer ordered Michiganders to obey much more severe lockdown rules than Gov. Jim Justice required here in West Virginia.
By June 12, when we in the Mountain State had been allowed to go shopping for weeks, Whitmer still required Michiganders to do so by appointment only. In early June, she relaxed her earlier ban on gatherings of people, allowing them for 10 or fewer individuals. By then, Justice was permitting crowds of 100 here.
Whitmer’s draconian orders earlier in the epidemic raised eyebrows all over the nation. You could mow your own lawn, but not pay someone to do so. Family gatherings were banned, except for those sharing a home. For recreation, you could paddle your canoe, but not take your motorboat out. Want to paint your Michigan home while you’re not allowed to go to work? Nope, said Whitmer. Home improvement stores weren’t allowed to sell paint.
Even worse was reported from other states. Perhaps the most outrageous came from Colorado, where a dad was arrested for playing with his daughter on a softball field.
None of that could happen here, right? Wrong.
State law gives governors exceedingly broad powers during emergencies. And the governor decides whether an emergency exists.
In addition to specific powers, Chapter 15, Article 5 of state code provides that during an emergency, the governor can “perform and exercise other functions, powers and duties that are necessary to promote and secure the safety and protection of the civilian population.”
So, yes, Justice could have exercised Whitmer-like power, had he chosen to do so. Interestingly, the one thing state law specifically prohibits a governor from doing is taking your guns away, except under very limited circumstances (such as if you’re using them to commit a crime).
Do we need more curbs on a governor’s emergency power in West Virginia? It’s worth talking about, especially considering the fact that a chief executive running amok could be stopped only by a concurrent resolution approved by both chambers of the Legislature. Getting a special session together takes time.
We’ve been lucky in the Mountain State. Justice has been restrained in his use of orders meant to battle COVID-19. So let’s talk now about how free Mountaineers should be during an emergency. It’s better to anticipate and prevent a problem you don’t have yet than to wait until you have a Whitmer in office.
Her defenders may insist COVID-19’s threat justified her actions, to save lives. Were they effective?
Judge for yourself: The COVID-19 death rate in Michigan has, to date, been roughly 12 times as high as that in West Virginia.