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After Whitmer calls for collaboration, MI Senate Leader Shirkey says, "It takes two to dance."



Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivered her State of the State address Wednesday. She called on her fellow Democrats and the state's Republican legislators to work together to address the COVID-19 crisis and safely reopen businesses and schools.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) joined Michigan Radio's Doug Tribou on Morning Edition to share his reactions to the speech.

Doug Tribou: What stood out to you about the governor's speech last night?

Mike Shirkey: Well, this is going to be a surprise to you and all your listeners. But what stood out to me the most was not what she said, but what she did. And what she did was she talked to us without a mask. It's not that I'm saying masks are evil, but symbols and gestures matter. And I think it was a great opportunity for her to help us move from this notion of fear and control into a trust and hope mode. 

Masks have a purpose. Masks can help. And we need to be respectful of those who are especially vulnerable to this contagious and insidious virus. But to me, the most important thing about what she did last night was she took the mask off so we could see her.

DT: And just to be clear, for listeners who weren't able to watch the address last night, Governor Whitmer did not speak in a chamber at the Capitol with a live audience. She spoke from her office and mentioned that there were just a few people in the office with her.

The governor talked a lot about trying to work together. Yesterday, Senate Republicans blocked 13 of her appointees for state positions, and House Republicans announced a proposal that would withhold federal school funding unless emergency health powers Whitmer and the State Health Department have are cut back. Where do you see a road to collaboration in all of that?

"To me, the most important thing about what she did last night was she took the mask off so we could see her." -Sen. Mike Shirkey on Gov. Whitmer's State of the State address

MS: Well, I see a road to collaboration, but it takes two to dance. And I believe the Senate and the House are willing to dance, but there has to be a dance partner. And so far we haven't seen much of that partnership. And that is not something I'm happy about or proud about. But we need to have a dance partner.

And so things like the suggestions that the governor made with regard to education and other elements, there's plenty of room there for us to get together ... and get to a solution that helps some of the loss that has occurred over the last year. And so those gestures from the House and from the Senate were intended to send the signal that we're eager to engage in that regard, but we've got to have a partner.

DT: Well, let's dig into some of the specifics from the governor's speech, Governor Whitmer called for a permanent two dollar per hour increase for direct care workers. Those are people who provide care and nursing for seniors and people with disabilities. Would you be willing to try to find the money to increase wages for that category permanently?

MS: Can we agree that front line care workers maybe underpaid? Absolutely. But then can we talk about the best way to get them better paid instead of trying to just apply a government solution?

I'm not denying that there are plenty of people that we rely on for some of the most intimate care that we receive that aren't valued the way they should be valued. But what I'm saying is let's get together and talk about what are the various ways in which we can accomplish that goal and see if we can land on it.

DT: One of the things that has been very commonly criticized by yourself and other leadership in the in the Republican Party is the fact that the governor has gone it alone, in your view, in terms of her use of executive authority and the use of health orders after that. But I think one of the pushback points that we've heard from political observers is that the Republican Party hasn't presented its own comprehensive plan for responding to the covid pandemic. Do you expect to release that today, or is there a sense of what you would do differently on a on a broad level?

MS: I reject even the inference of what you [said and] how you characterize it. There's plenty of things that we have suggested, plenty of things that we've we've offered. But there has to be somebody who's willing to at least engage and listen to them. And that is what's been missing. Ideas and how to do it differently are not the problem. The problem is they're not being considered ... And maybe together we actually got to come up with a different solution.

DT: I don't mean to say that Republicans haven't presented any ideas. I just mean that I don't believe there's been sort of a comprehensive plan [made public]. "Here is what we would do across the board." I think it feels less [like something] presented as a cohesive counter plan.

MS: Well, on the topic of COVID, for instance, there's a number of challenges that it presents. And each one of those requires a conversation and a debate, a discussion of what is the root problem here, and what are we trying to do to have an outcome for? And like I said, we've had plenty of suggestions in specifics and very much specifics, but they just haven't been embraced.

DT: One of the governor's key points last night was increasing the vaccination opportunities in the state. She says she has a goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders. Is that something you support? 

MS: As long as the availability of the vaccines is there, and people are standing in line to get them. In other words, willing to do so, then I absolutely would support it.

DT: And I know you have recovered from COVID yourself. I hope you're doing OK. And I'm curious if you would also get a vaccine.

MS: Well, right now, I don't think I need a vaccine. I'd rather save that for somebody that needs it because I've got some self-developed immunity because of the experience I had. And so, when everybody else has got theirs, then I'll make the assessment on the risk equation and make that decision later.

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Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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