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Democrat Governors Facing Re-election Back Off on COVID-19 Orders Ahead of 2022 Election

Blue state governors are being put to the test to see how far they want to want to take COVID-19 orders in the wake of a late fall surge in cases and a warning by the World Health Organization that the omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to spread more easily.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) wasted no time reissuing pandemic restrictions. Despite no cases of the new variant, Hochul signed an executive order postponing all elective surgeries in the state to expand hospital capacity, on November 27. The order applies to hospitals with capacity at or below 10 percent and will be reevaluated on January 15.

Other Democrat governors have been more reticent. On November 23, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) announced she would sign a bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature giving businesses broad exemptions to President Biden’s vaccine mandate on companies with 100 or more employees. Kelly is the first Democrat governor to speak out against Biden’s order. On December 6, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told business owners the vaccine mandates could cause employees to leave their jobs, including those working for the state government.

“That why I haven’t proposed a mandate,” said Whitmer.

Governors Keep Low-Profile

Considered one of the most pro-lockdown governors in the nation in 2020, Whitmer has held the line on lockdowns and mask mandates. On November 22, the Great Lakes state had the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the United States. Whitmer gave no hint of new orders and told reporters lockdowns were unnecessary because of the vaccine. Unlike 2020, the state has issued a mask advisory, not an order.

Likewise, Democrat governors in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Colorado have kept a lower profile in the wake of new COVID-19 cases in their states. A Google search of recent pandemic responses in those states found no recent announcements.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak launched “Healthcare Week” on November 29 with no mention of COVID-19. Sisolak faces re-election next year after a tight race four years ago. His most recent announcement on vaccines was October 7, in which he praised the federal government’s help through FEMA to increase vaccine rates. Nevada’s rate at that time was 53.64 percent for fully vaccinated individuals, close to the national average.


The Re-election Factor

One factor that could be at play is politics. Kelly, Whitmer, Sisolak, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, and Maine Gov. Janet Mills are all seeking re-election in tight races in 2022. Polls have indicated Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, where incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf will not be running due to term limits, will be battleground states.

Some 200 state lawmakers, who don’t signify their political party, signed a letter to Biden on November 25 demanding he immediately rescinds his vaccine order on private employees, stating it is in direct violation of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“Please know that we will use every lawful means at our disposal to obstruct, frustrate, and reject your illegal mandate,” wrote the lawmakers, which included individuals from Kansas, Maine, and Pennsylvania.

States Prohibit Mandates

States have every right to act, says Matt Dean, who served seven terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now a senior fellow for Health Care Policy at The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Health Care News.

“Every governor and every state legislator should know the U.S. Constitution prohibits them from enacting the Biden vaccine mandates,” said Dean. “Biden of course understands this, and that is why he is forcing companies to do his dirty work by making an unspecified series of injections a condition of employment.”

Kansas Resists

Dean says Kelly made a smart move by giving businesses exemptions to refuse the vaccine mandates. “Kelly, a Democrat, once again is standing up to the administration on behalf of her constituents,” said Dean.

“The Kansas legislature is providing an exemption to the Biden vaccine mandate for any employee who believes the shots pose a health risk or violate a religious belief,” said Dean.

“Gov. Kelly has promised to sign the measure, and every other governor in the country should promise to do the same.”


AnneMarie Schieber (amschieber@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.


This article was updated on December 8, 2021.

AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform.


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