Reopening schools, closing businesses and how to balance the budget – do you see them as short-term decisions or generations?
I don’t know how many governors have children who would graduate this year, but I did. I canceled my own child’s graduation. And I have another child in high school and we don’t know exactly what the future holds.
I just know that I have to make decisions that are based on saving lives and that center on epidemiology and science. That has now put Michigan in a much stronger position and no doubt saved thousands of lives. We must do what needs to be done now to reduce the intensity and depth and length for which we confront Covid-19.
I think that’s the best we can do for this generation of Americans growing up now. To get our arms around this and not see that it definitely lasts longer and destroys more lives than it already has.
Good management in 2020 may not be a good policy on the road. Does that play a role in your decision-making?
This virus does not matter in which state you live or in which party you are. That is why we have to make decisions about science. Not becoming aggressive will undoubtedly carry a political price. And being aggressive certainly sparks a reaction, but I think that way we shorten the time we get through this. And in the end, I think doing science right will be politically smart. Not because that was a calculation, but because people will understand that it had to be done.
How did you deal with the recovery versus the pandemic?
Executive orders are important and states with aggressive governors are now in a stronger position. But we are always aware that many sacrifices have been made. I think every governor in the country wants to involve our economies, but those who pay attention to science will also get a stronger economy in the long run because you can’t solve economic problems if you don’t get your arms around the health crisis .
And how do you balance a state budget during a pandemic?
We have a recession. We have the worst recession since the Great Depression due to the mismanagement of the public health crisis at the national level. And every state in the country is struggling with the implications for our state budgets. And the sad thing about it is that the dollars we have discretion about are generally devoted to public health, public safety and public education. And in the midst of a pandemic, where there are racial differences, public health, public safety and education are the places where we need investment most. So if the Trump administration doesn’t get this [federal bailout] done, every state in the nation will struggle to do the basics.
How did you deal with the most unexpected governorships?
A global pandemic was not on the radar when I ran to the governor. I am very grateful to the people I serve, the incredible experts I am surrounded by, and my fellow governors. We all build the plane while flying it with a vacuum of leadership in Washington, DC It has been some of my fellow governors that I have found most helpful in talking things through. We shared our strategies.
We took advantage of each other’s experiences and knowledge. Illinois Governor JB Pritzker is one of the first people I speak to when we struggle with a big decision, along with Mike DeWine (Ohio), Larry Hogan (Maryland), Tony Evers (Wisconsin), and Tim Walz (Minnesota) ). I talk to democrats and republican governors because we all face the same problems and we all try to get our states in a place where our people are safe and we can get our economies on the right track.
This article is part of The Fifty, a new POLITICO series that explores how state and local leaders respond to current national challenges, from the pandemic to the economic crisis to race settlement. More information about these problems can be found here.