OPINION

Why you should (maybe) care about Whitmer’s plane flight

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer flew on a private jet two months ago to check on on her dad in West Palm Beach, Fla., who has some chronic health issues.

This month-long story isn’t Watergate, but it’s trickled out longer than necessary. It’s given Republicans material to use against her for as long as the focus groups show its resonating.

At face value, the trip is defendable.

She’s pulled sunup-to-sundown days for a year, helping steer Michigan through its first pandemic in 100 years. She’s been on the national networks nonstop holding former President Donald Trump accountable.

She’s made few, if any, trips in a year, even though she has a personal cottage in Elk Rapids and a nice place on Mackinac Island that governors have used for years.

If she wants to check on her 81-year-old pop and she has some money left over in an administrative account, why not?

She isn’t the first Lansing politician to hop on a private jet for personal benefit and she probably won’t be the last. Whitmer was the victim of a kidnapping plot last year. Of course, she’s leery about flying commercial. 

It wasn’t a vacation. She helped Dad clean up his place. Cooked some meals. Did some dishes. Tidied up the place. She did her day job while there, too. Monitoring the pandemic, etc.

If this is what you’re thinking, you’re not alone.

You should care because Republicans do and they’re going to make sure any COVID-weary voter in this state does, too.

Here are the basic facts. At 7:27 a.m. Mar. 12, the governor took an Air Eagle twin jet IAI Gulfstream to West Palm Beach, Fla., landing at 9:37 a.m. Security detail went with her. 

She visited her snowbird father, Richard “Dick” Whitmer, the retired Blue Cross Blue Shield executive. He had started complaining of pronounced fatigue and shortness of breath, and the governor was concerned.

The senior Whitmer was vaccinated at that point. The governor was not. After the governor’s visit, the upshot was that Richard Whitmer needed to return to Michigan for a more thorough evaluation. The governor left 4:37 p.m. March 15 and returned at 7:01 p.m. the same day.

Earlier this month he underwent a procedure that apparently was successful.

In normal times, this probably isn’t news. What makes it news is the following:

 — In March, Michigan was still operating under the COVID-19 presumption that we shouldn’t be traveling much. Running around here and there, exposing yourself to others spreads the virus. That’s what were told,

A Zoom Mother’s Day 2020 was followed by a Zoom Thanksgiving, then a Zoom Christmas and a bunch of Zoom get-togethers, if they happened at all. The state was not in lockdown in March, and the governor didn’t recommend that Spring Break plans should be canceled.

But the state certainly was left with the impression that travel would be frowned upon. So, the Republicans have a “What’s good for me, is not good for thee” argument.

 — Who paid for the flight? This is probably the biggest and most legitimate issue. On Friday, the Governor’s Office disclosed that the $27,500 flight was paid by the 501(c)4 that covered the costs of her inaugural celebrations.

The governor paid for her seat out of pocket. That was $855. One could argue that covering a personal plane flight is not the mission of Michigan Transition 2019, the 501(c)4, and it could be an IRS violation if someone wants to file a complaint.

Also, Air Eagle does not have a charter license, which means it can’t take passengers who aren’t connected with its corporate owners. Could they and its owners be in trouble with the Federal Aviation Administration?

The story isn’t over. The Republicans have a ready-made political argument that the jet-setting governor used corporate money for a personal trip at a time when everyone else was left with the impression they weren’t supposed to travel.

Should you care? To the extent it’ll be used against the governor politically? Yes.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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