GEORGIA vs. MICHIGAN: A TALE OF TWO GOVERNORS
For her part, Whitmer has chosen the route of a near-total shutdown, sacrificing significant elements of her citizens’ constitutionally protected civil liberties at the altar of health and safety. Kemp, meanwhile, with a background in the private sector, wishes to protect and extend his citizens’ liberties to the greatest extent possible and has taken steps to reopen his state’s society sooner rather than later. This has earned him brickbats even from President Trump himself, heretofore widely recognized as the nation’s foremost societal opener-upper.
From the cheap seats, it’s an entertaining exercise. But from the more serious aspects of public policy development and implementation, it’s an important experiment that could help our nation emerge from the crisis sooner and, perhaps, stronger for it.
That our federal system offers interested observers the opportunity to compare and contrast differing approaches to similar public policy problems is not new. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, writing in a 1932 dissent, wrote, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” And ever since, thanks to our federal system, states have been seen as “laboratories of democracy.”
Michigan and Georgia offer a good comparison. They’re about the same size, with regard to population (each boasts 14 congressional districts), and each state has been hit hard by job losses over the last several weeks. A full 27% of Michigan’s workforce has now filed claims for unemployment insurance and tops the country in related rankings; in Georgia, 24.1% of the workforce has filed claims, ranking the state in seventh place.
So what do the laboratories in Michigan and Georgia reveal?
In Michigan, Whitmer used her edicts to impose the heaviest hand of government possible: She banned the sale of “carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint;” she prohibited travel to and from other homes, including one’s own homes; she banned the use of motorboats and decreed that golf and landscaping “are not necessary to sustain life” and were, therefore, banned.
A week ago Friday, Whitmer announced an easing of her more draconian restrictions, but she’s still got some of the toughest in the country. And on the last day of April, she extended her state of emergency order through May 28. Under that declaration, state law gives her the power to issue executive orders related to the coronavirus, including a stay-at-home order that’s in effect until May 15. The state’s Republican-led legislature opposed Whitmer’s moves, and both chambers passed resolutions authorizing their leaders to take legal action against the governor.
Not surprisingly, as of Friday, a Change.org petition to recall Whitmer had received 325,000 signatures. And as of Friday, Michigan had 41,347 confirmed cases and 3,788 deaths.
In Georgia, by contrast, Kemp was late to the shutdown game, and when he arrived, he seemed only to want to tap the brakes on his state’s economy gently. Rather than go draconian and shut down everything in sight, he left most businesses open as long as they followed a set of guidelines designed to mitigate the spread of the virus. He left golf courses and landscaping businesses open, and when he issued orders two weeks ago to allow owners to reopen nail and hair salons, gyms, massage parlors, and the like, he explained that he chose to reopen those particular businesses because, in his words, “those are the ones that are closed.” Not surprisingly, as of Friday, fewer than 3,000 had signed a petition to recall Kemp.
As of Friday, Georgia had 25,444 confirmed cases (only 62% of Michigan’s caseload) and 1,121 deaths (just 30% of Michigan’s death toll).
What’s interesting about the experiment is that Whitmer’s actions mandate action (or inaction) on the part of individuals — “thou shalt not travel” — whereas Kemp’s actions will allow individuals to do what they want. If they want to go back to work, they may. If they want to go to a hair salon, they may. But if they do not want to go, they are not required to.
Kemp’s approach, in other words, grants individual liberty while Whitmer’s takes it away.
At this moment, Georgia and Michigan are competing with one another and with the other 48 states. In the short term, governors are looking at their colleagues to see who’s got the most sensible plan going forward. In the long term, the competition is the same — except the stakes are citizens themselves as they look around and make decisions on where to live.
It’s still too early in the experiment to draw any hard and fast conclusions. But I’m betting that when all is said and done, Kemp’s model will prove more attractive to more people.
Rob Huth says
Interesting and spot on. I’m pulling for GA to have good results.
Barbara Helen Baker says
I agree and support Whitmer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Barbara Helen Baker
Robert Nelson says
Draconian? Very objective reporting there Bill. Whitmer’s actions have been designed to save lives. Kemp
would allow people to preserve their constitutional right to die alone.
Bob Costello says
I would bet that the data will prove you wrong Robert. In the end any one looking at the evidence will see that Sweden had the right approach. Whitmer is destroying people’s marriages, lives and the Michigan economy. People know how to take responsibility for their lives – they don’t need big brother locking them up in their homes.
A marriage destroyed by a few weeks of togetherness might not be worth saving, at the risk of the whole family getting infected.
Why is it everyone else’s responsibility to save everyone else?
My grandmother was born in 1911 and was a young girl living in Pittsburg during the 1919 pandemic…her family survived because they were intelligent and took care of each other.
Janet Shroyer says
I find MI approach, while rather tough, smarter and based on some sound scientific direction. While some areas (possibly UP) could had done with less, it only takes one to bring it into an area.
Personally, I find the comparison of the two states in the limited number of ways named here to be insufficient to really support a direct parallel. The devastation on the economy and people is real and most regrettable, but still pale by comparison to the horrors of the experiences and deaths caused by Covid 19. Only time will tell, but even reports about some in MI who are flocking to beaches and not observing the distancing and large groups is disappointing.
As a Georgia resident I feel compelled to say that it appears Governor Kemp’s approach is working. People are cautiously going back to work, businesses are slowly moving to pre pandemic activity, and there has not been a spike in cases. Any loss of life is an extreme tragedy but reopening has not led to the widespread devastation predicted by so many in the media.
Eric Petersen says
I want to trade governors with Georgia!
Better yet, I want Biden to pick Witless for a running mate and get her the he’ll out of Michigan.
Umm…I don’t think you’d want her LT Gov as Gov. Be careful what you wish for….he’s more radical than her AG
Excellent observations, well worth reading.
J.Dallas Winegarden Jr. says
Junk Science Drives Trump and Georgia ! Putting Money ahead of people has become a Republican
Way of Life! It is Winston Churchill so profoundly put it you judge the nature and character of a civilization by the way they treat the poor and the sick and the downtrodden. I would add how you treat people in a pandemic.
I am of the opinion that government’s number one priority is to protect and defend its people. . . and it sounds like you feel the same way. How, under what circumstances, and in what form it protects and defends its people is the point of contention, of course.
With that said, I am surprised that you would ascribe such humanitarianism to Churchill, an ardent conservative, rather than to many others, like Gandhi, who said essentially the same thing but fit your ideology. You are granting credit to the man who famously said “if you are old and liberal, you are foolish”.
Guy Beales says
We certainly know where Pascoe is going when, in paragraph two, writes, “For her part, Whitmer has chosen the route of a near-total shutdown, sacrificing significant elements of her citizens’ constitutionally protected civil liberties at the altar of health and safety.”
david wyler says
This is a false comparison. The virus has hit the two states differently. Detroit has been much harder hit than any city in Georgia. (check # of deaths per 100,000 in NYT.) Lockdown is the only way to slow an ongoing pandemic.
Let’s check back in 6 months and count the dead… then we’ll see who was the wisest. But that’s a horrible way to determine who ‘wins’. Any bleating about “sacrificing significant elements of her citizens’ constitutionally protected civil liberties” is short sighted. Without adequate testing of millions per day we will never stop the virus without a vaccine.
Ed Haynor says
Why is it when republicans want to compare ideals/policies, etc., they want to first rig the race? Michigan and Georgia might be two states of comparable thoroughbred horses, but Michigan’s horse had a much heavier saddle to bear. Out of the starting gate, Michigan had far more COVID-19 cases than Georgia did, therefore, a comparison of remedies between states, which winds up being better, i.e., winning this horse race is based on two sets of rules, one for republicans and one for the rest of us.
It’s hard to understand why any person would support the current republican party, who doesn’t agree to play by rules of equality and equity. Whether it’s charters vs. traditional schools; gerrymandering vs. fair elections; or tax policy of the rich vs. the rest of us, republicans have to cheat to win.
Steve Mitchell says
Excellent analysis, as always!
Margaret Currie says
This is a most interesting article. Yes, Michigan has strict requirements and they are not enjoyable. However, Georgia’s governor allowed the beauty shops to open as well as the nail salons, haircuts, gyms, and massage parlors. Really now, are those necessary to our well-being? I’m willing to wager if a few of those who participate in the previously named activities get the COVID 19 virus they will wish that they had stayed home and looked somewhat shaggy. Maybe they will be like the lady who sued McD’s because her coffee was hot and she got hurt when SHE spilled it. Will anyone sue Governor Kemp if they get the virus after a haircut and etc?
The world doesn’t revolve just just ME, ME, ME, or YOU, YOU, and YOU. It revolves around US, US, US and what is best for all of US even though it is tough going. Let us act responsibly and tolerate what may seem harsh and affect our rights for what works really well for the masses and have positive results for ALL.
David Sparks says
On the surface, a great comparison (had no idea Georgia was that populous). Lots of other factors to consider; weather, ethnicity, population density, median age, health indicators and, as you note, months if not years to see the result of the “experiment.” Thanks for getting me thinking, Bill.
I have for decades found Michigan and Georgia to be a compelling comparison because of their similar population levels but their obvious differences in climate and history (The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery in Michigan, whereas Georgia was a “King Cotton” secessionist slave state). Also, even though Georgia laments the Lost Cause (Margaret Mitchell was from Atlanta, and her “Gone with the Wind” casts no stones upon the south’s former slaveocracy) it is also one of the leading examples of the “New South” trending away from agrarianism and towards industry, whereas Detroit and Flint in their heyday were the poster boys for industrialism). Fascinating contrasts!
Pamela Bartel says
The majority of people contracting the virus don’t have any symptoms or recover from it like the regular flu. The people dying, for the most part, have other health issues (diabetes, obesity). To put the while state under lockdown is ridiculous.
We have a better idea of who the vulnerable are and how to treat them. Those people can self isolate. It is not the government’s job to keep everyone alive.
The reality is that once we resume life as we knew it, more people will contract this virus because it’s a VIRUS-just like the flu. Have we eradicated the flu yet? Exactly.
It’s unrealistic to think we’ll be “safe” once mommy lets us out of the house!
Recall Whitmer, she’s bad for Michigan.
CHRISTOPHER M THOMAS says
MI and GA started at different places. As you note GA has not had the cases and deaths that MI has. Had they experienced in Atlanta what MI did in Detroit, even Kemp may have moved differently.
Not everyone in GA is free to choose whether to go back to work. By opening the economy, many who chose not to return to work will lose their unemployment benefits. The choice isn’t as easy as portrayed.
Dana Blake says
I think Michigan was hit wicked hard, way before Georgia. Why is that not pointed out? Kind messes up the numbers, dont you think?? Climate matters too. Really lousy reporting!!