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by Jordyn Hermani, Staff Writer

Will Trump Endorsing State House Candidates Work?

Posted: November 22, 2021 3:00 PM

In the last few weeks, former President Donald Trump has made several announcements regarding his support for Michigan House candidates.

Though he'd been issuing statements regarding his support for Republicans that kept in lockstep with his brand, it wasn't until earlier this month that he began inserting himself into Michigan's House races and doling out endorsement statements for individuals like Martin Township Clerk Rachelle Smit, Mick Bricker, Jon Rocha and Kevin Rathbun.

He'd even endorsed Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) for reelection, making him the first Michigan incumbent to earn a nod, touting that the lawmaker had what it took to not just be reelected but to serve as the next House speaker.

Outside of the House, Mr. Trump has endorsed Mike Detmer of Howell for state Senate – who is likely taking on Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) in a primary under certain maps put forth by the Independent Citizen's Redistricting Commission – Kristina Karamo for secretary of state, Matthew DePerno for Attorney General and Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) and John Gibbs for U.S. House.

Each person he has endorsed all fit similar molds: Continued supporters of the former president who believe that the November 2020 presidential election was stolen from Mr. Trump.

But in the long term will it matter?

In recent years, the outside organizations that have wielded influence with endorsements in legislative Republican primaries have tended to be groups like the Michigan Freedom Network and Great Lakes Education Project, as well as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. A nonprofit with ties to Consumers Energy also has spent big in a handful of primaries in recent cycles with some success. Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Farm Bureau remain influential endorsements as well.

The question that will arise is whether these groups endorse someone else in the Republican primary, and if they do, who prevails.

So far each statement of support for a state legislative candidate has been for a district in a solidly Republican part of Michigan. Looking at the counties Mr. Rocha, Ms. Smit, Mr. Bricker, Mr. Rathbun and Mr. Rocha list themselves as living in currently – Allegan, Barry, Ottawa and Shiawassee and Kalamazoo counties, respectively – Mr. Trump won all three jurisdictions (editor's note: this blog has been corrected regarding Mr. Rocha's hometown, which is Freeport in Barry County).

Just taking the temperature of a single county isn't enough to accurately portray a whole district, but given the fluidity of the mapping situation it is a mild indication as to whether there is even "hometown" support for the former president. If there is, an argument could be made that an endorsement for the candidate could prove beneficial.

Especially for Ms. Smit, whose county voted to censure U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Saint Joseph) for his vote to impeach Mr. Trump in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, a tip of the hat from Mr. Trump could be seen as a boon to her campaign.

In every case, including Mr. Maddock's, Mr. Trump has made a point to also tout how the candidate he is endorsing also believes the November 2020 election was stolen. (At the risk of sounding repetitive, to date, hundreds of state audits have confirmed that there was no widespread voter fraud in Michigan – nor anywhere else across the country.)

That said, how much a county bought into the misinformed belief that widespread fraud did occur could also play into how much this endorsement is actually worth. To some it could be the deciding factor in a primary race. For others it could be meaningless.

As seen in Virginia and New Jersey, though at the gubernatorial level, there is real momentum behind candidates who can court the Trump base without getting so close as to dissuade more right-of-center Republicans.

If any of these candidates are able do something like that, this could be a major political advantage.

But that's a tight rope to walk. And there's a lot of time between now and the 2022 August primary.

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Rising COVID Cases Unlikely To Prompt New Restrictions

Posted: November 16, 2021 4:03 PM

It's no secret COVID is rearing its ugly head again as we trudge into the winter months.

Already, Michigan is experiencing a slow but steady climb of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths. While we're not anywhere near what we saw at the peak of the third wave, yet, we are seeing a marked increase in our seven-day average for new COVID cases which has been a fairly good indicator as to whether cases truly are increasing or not.

In times past, if we saw a spike or a predicted uptick in cases, it would be up to the state to determine whether some restrictions were necessary to drive that caseload back down and alleviate any strain on Michigan's hospital system.

This time, however, it's not looking likely that aid will come.

Reaching out to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's office to ask if residents should expect possible restrictions, given the COVID case count keeps climbing, this was the response offered by Press Secretary Bobby Leddy: "We continue to encourage Michiganders to get vaccinated as this is the best way to keep people safe and ensure that businesses and schools can safely operate."

"The vast majority of Michiganders have done the right thing to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in indoor gatherings, getting tested and quarantining after exposure, or staying home if feeling unwell," he continued. "For those who aren't vaccinated, it's even more important to take these scientifically proven precautions to reduce the risk of catching the virus and minimize possible symptoms in the event of exposure."

The state has already declared victory on seeing 70 percent of the population, age 16 and up, vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. It's also been acknowledged by state officials – notably, Kerry Ebersole Singh, director of the Protect Michigan Commission – that some of those individuals holding out against the vaccine simply will not get one.

Further, the state has sat stagnant at some time hovering just under the 70 percent threshold prior to Monday's vaccination data announcement. So even if the answer to the lingering winter COVID problem is getting vaccinated (which certainly does help), it would be an absolutely glacial crawl to see that accomplished, and it certainly wouldn't be done in time to combat this already-occurring uptick.

There's also the reality that the 70 percent goal of those 16 and over vaccinated was set when vaccines only had been approved for those 16 and older. Now they are approved for 5 and older. The percentage of those 5 and older vaccinated is 59.9 percent.

While the governor no longer has the power to unilaterally declare restrictions or lockdowns on her own – as she had done at the beginning of the pandemic – she could call upon the Department of Health and Human Services to enforce gathering restrictions, as we've seen in the past. There's still the power of local health agencies to enforce their own local restrictions, such as requiring mask usage and limiting gathering sizes in restaurants.

But will she?

The move, unsurprisingly to anyone, could be harmful to the reelection hopes of Ms. Whitmer in 2022. While the push to lock down during the worst of the COVID pandemic last year was at first taken to with understanding, people are burnt out from the virus now.

And while we haven't had a government-imposed lockdown or any sort of restrictions in some time now, it's possible that even a whisper of the idea from the DHHS could spike negative backlash against the governor. That, in turn, could mean turning away potential voters.

So, is the governor considering any future lockdowns, if COVID gets bad enough? It's not known. But what is, is that she's certainly not considering them now. And if that's the case, while we're ramping up on what's looking like yet another surge, it seems unlikely that will change.

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Initiative Petitions Are Becoming Ace Up Republicans' Sleeve

Posted: November 8, 2021 12:03 PM

What once was a relatively uncommon phenomenon in state government is now becoming the go-to in Republicans' playbook: an initiative petition that doesn't go to the ballot, instead being adopted by lawmakers and circumventing the Democratic governor.

In the last year or so alone, a petition to limit the governor's state of emergency powers (Unlock Michigan), a petition to limit local health departments' state of emergency powers (also Unlock Michigan), a petition to alter Michigan's current voter laws (Secure MI Vote) and a petition to allow tax deductions for donations to student opportunity scholarship funds to defray tuition and other costs at nonpublic schools (Let MI Kids Learn) have all been launched by Republicans looking to enact changes would not be subject to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's veto pen.

This comes after initiative petitions to repeal prevailing wage (which evaded a certain veto from Republican Governor Rick Snyder) and making insurance coverage for abortions a separate rider (also avoiding a Snyder veto).

That's not to say Democratic groups haven't attempted their own initiative petition launching, the most recent of which being an attempt to align Michigan with the National Popular Vote effort – or awarding all of the state's Electoral College votes to the winner of the presidential national popular vote.

There was also an attempt to add protections for LGBTQ individuals to the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, through Fair and Equal Michigan, though that initiative did fail to gather the necessary signatures to make to onto a ballot.

Unlike Republicans' goal of having the Republican-led Legislature enact proposals, the goal of groups more aligned with Democrats was to have their initiative petitions go to the ballot, letting voters decide whether the topic at hand should be enacted.

Republicans have taken upon themselves – as shown in the case of the Unlock Michigan – to take the certified petition and vote to enact it rather than let it go to the ballot. It's all but certain Unlock 2, Secure MI Vote and Let MI Kids Learn will all go the same way, provided the signatures are there.

It's a rather odd provision in Article II, Section 9 of Michigan's 1963 Constitution. This portion of the Constitution is what gives citizens the ability to "propose laws and to enact and reject laws, called the initiative, and the power to approve or reject laws enacted by the legislature, called the referendum."

All fine and good.

But further down in the section is also this: "Any law proposed by initiative petition shall be either enacted or rejected by the legislature without change or amendment within 40 session days from the time such petition is received by the legislature. If any law proposed by such petition shall be enacted by the legislature it shall be subject to referendum, as hereinafter provided."

It's this portion of the Constitution where trouble lies for any one not part of the party in charge of at least one house of the Legislature. Since 2011 and for all but four years since 1999, Republicans have had sole control of both houses. It gives an absolute power to the Legislature to take an initiative petition and enact it. Or in the case of the minimum wage and sick time petitions circulated in 2018, adopt and amend them later, gutting the intent of the petitions.

The way the Constitution stands leaves a vast amount of power in the hands of a miniscule population of individuals (8 percent of the total vote for governor in the last gubernatorial election), provided the money and grassroots circulation efforts can carry an initiative that far.

If this is the case – why try to broker at all in good faith and bipartisan negotiations on any topic? Especially if it's known that the party in charge of both chambers could simply ignore a sitting governor, despite if it's what the average voter wants or not? Would Ms. Whitmer have agreed to sign the auto insurance law backed by insurers but opposed by patient advocates if Dan Gilbert wasn't planning to bankroll an initiative petition that would have left her on the outside looking in?

The only thing capable of ending this is a constitutional amendment which would remove the legislative enactment option and send all voter-initiated acts to the ballot. That would take a constitutional amendment and would likely be an expensive proposition for whoever attempts it. It looks unlikely in the near future.

In talking with a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, it seems it has its attention on 2022 elections, telling Gongwer the MDP is "focused on the elections tomorrow and the redistricting process that is happening right now, not on petition drives for the 2022 elections."

As for Republicans, who are presently benefitting from the system, it seems highly unlikely any lawmaker or party official wants to change the Constitution – particularly when it means this gives them a sort of leverage in any negotiations on any topic moving forward. Democrats have not had full control of the Legislature since early 1984.

A slow crawl to the finish line seems to be the future for any major legislative effort that runs counter to the will of a governor. Even more so while Republicans remain in control of both chambers and Democrats lack an appetite to do anything about it.

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National Popular Vote Petition Only Chance For Effort To Be Enacted In MI

Posted: October 6, 2021 3:12 PM

If Michigan is to align itself with the National Popular Vote movement that's taking hold around the country, then its only real chance to do so is by way of an initiative petition.

The National Popular Vote is an effort to award a state's Electoral College votes, however many that may be, to the winner of the (as the name implies) national popular vote in all 50 states. It's gained some traction in recent years, with 15 states – plus the District of Columbia – already signed on to the effort, totaling 195 electoral votes.

Should Michigan also align with this movement, that would bump the total to 210. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

But whether the state will join into that compact remains contingent on if – and, currently, only if – a group of bipartisan petitioners are able to succeed in gathering the necessary signatures from registered voters and then persuading a majority of voters. Because help won't be coming from the House, and likely not the Senate either.

Why? Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) announced last week the introduction of HB 5343, which would award Michigan's Electoral College votes to the candidate that wins the most votes in all 50 states.

The bill has been sent to the House Government Operations Committee. It's likely to die there as well, considering that House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) told Gongwer News Service that the bill is "dead on arrival in the House."

Which is interesting, namely, due to the fact Mr. Wentworth was a supporter of the idea as recently as 2018. He was one of several Republicans that signed on to either HB 6323 of 2018 and SB 1117 of 2018 and are still currently serving in the Legislature.

Others include Rep. Steve Marino of Harrison Township, Rep. Julie Alexander of Hanover, Rep. Jim Lilly of Park Township, Rep. Daire Rendon of Lake City, Rep. Joe Bellino of Monroe, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake, Sen. Jim Stamas of Midland and Sen. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City.

For Democratic lawmakers, that list is significantly shorter, only featuring Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint.

Each bill was introduced in their respective chambers though did not receive a hearing, leading neither to pass, and it looks like Mr. Koleszar's bill will trend the same way.

In the last eight presidential contests going back to 1992, the Republican nominee has won the national popular vote only once, in 2004.

Further, the scant times the Electoral College has gone to a candidate who did not win the popular vote – five in total, happening with former presidents John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush and Donald Trump – it was awarded to a Republican four of those times and a member of the Whig Party once.

Given recent history, Republicans stand to worsen their chances at winning the presidency by supporting the national popular vote concept – even with past support from state leaders leaning more heavily Republican than Democratic.

It would stand to reason, then, that there would be no appetite from either Republican-controlled chamber to approve of legislation that would serve to not benefit their national party.

That's not the tune being sung by Saul Anuzis, however, former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

Mr. Anuzis and former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer have fashioned themselves as the face of a petition movement which seeks to enact Michigan joining the National Popular Vote movement by way of initiative legislation (See Gongwer Michigan Report, September 27, 2021).

Both Mr. Brewer and Mr. Anuzis said they believed there was a bipartisan appetite for this sort of change, with Mr. Anuzis specifically referencing the wealth of Republican support for the 2018 bills when speaking to reporters late last month about the effort.

But that seems to not be tracking with what Republicans are actually saying of the idea.

Immediately after the announcement of the petition initiative, several Republicans or conservative-based groups came out to decry the attempt, believing it would serve to weaken Michigan's overall importance in a presidential race.

Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall), who is running to be the next House Republican leader, in a statement of his own called the petition attempt a "scheme to abolish the Electoral College."

"This radical effort to nationalize Michigan's elections should concern everyone who wants their vote to count," he said. "The Electoral College has been a reliable mechanism for presidential elections for centuries, and our founders realized its importance and purpose. The system ensures everyone who goes to the polls has a valued voice regardless of where they live."

Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tori Sachs also panned the move as something that would "immediately disenfranchise every single Michigan voter and silence working-class Americans across the nation."

The counter to this argument is that of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, only maybe a dozen are relevant to determining the winner. Voters from New York City to the smallest town in Oklahoma see no attention from presidential candidates in the general election because New York state is reliably a Democratic rout and Oklahoma is reliably a Republican blowout.

If this is the level of pushback Republicans are putting forward simply to the announcement of the petition effort, it's hard to see any legislation gaining enough traction to have Michigan join the National Popular Vote effort. That means any attempt for this to go through would need to be done through Mr. Brewer's and Mr. Anuzis' petition.

And you can bet that will see resistance as well.

But for the time being, it's the only hope for proponents of the ideology.

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Craig Campaign Claims Win From Rocky Gov Kickoff – But Will It Work?

Posted: September 17, 2021 4:59 PM

It would be hard to miss what happened this week with former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and his first major campaign swing as a Republican candidate for governor.

What one would expect to be the typical ceremonial pomp and circumstance of a campaign announcement was mired early Tuesday by Detroit Will Breath protesters at Belle Isle who overran any attempt Mr. Craig could have made to salvage what became a few-sentence announcement.

In later comments at a different location, Mr. Craig sought to save face by saying the protesters were paid, that the Michigan State Police should have responded to the protesters and blamed the Department of Natural Resources for failing to secure a perimeter for his event, as it was located on state grounds.

He capped the night with a showing on the Tucker Carlson Show, where he blamed Governor Gretchen Whitmer for the Belle Isle debacle, implying that she was somehow responsible for the lack of oversight exhibited Tuesday as – in her capacity as governor – she oversaw both the Department of State Police and the DNR.

Even as it had all the appearances of a remarkable debacle, the message from the Craig campaign and some Republicans was that Mr. Craig – a Black man and former police chief – displayed perseverance in the face of a liberal movement attempting to discredit his gubernatorial campaign. He was calm and attitude in the face of more radical leftism, and the B-roll from the day would make great footage as to how he could stand up to the lawless and disorderly.

Except, most of what Mr. Craig is alleging is either completely unfounded or outright untrue.

Multiple outlets including the Detroit News, the Deadline Detroit and Gongwer reported that DNR officials initially reached out to Mr. Craig's campaign, to make sure they had the necessary permits to have their event. Mr. Craig's campaign also confirmed with the DNR that it understood the agency would not be providing crowd control for the event and acknowledged liability.

A text exchange shared by DNR spokesperson Ed Golder between he and Craig spokesperson Ted Goodman and Scott Pratt, chief of southern field operations for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division, outlined as much.

"It was just commented on local 2 that your party told them that DNR was supposed to provide crowd control and that was never our agreement," Mr. Pratt told Mr. Goodman.

Mr. Goodman responded: "I did not tell them anything about crowd control. Not on you guys. We know."

Additional texts later provided by policical consultant John Yob shows that Mr. Pratt did acknoweldge the department "would be prepared" and was "used to handling these," going as far as to say that protesters "will not be allowed on your reservation site." When protesters did overtake the press conference just after 10 a.m., Mr. Pratt said that CO's were enroute as was state police, however the event in its entirety had broken up by the time of arrival.

As for the idea behind paid protesters, when pressed about his comments Mr. Craig acknowledged that he didn't know for certain, only that he had a feeling the people were paid.

"I don't have any hard evidence," he said, as reported by WDET, "but I feel like they were paid."

And regarding the idea that Ms. Whitmer ordered the State Police or DNR away from the scene, there's again no evidence to support that, as bolstered by Mr. Golder's remarks that the Craig campaign acknowledged and accepted the risks there would be no DNR security on premise.

State Police were also eventually called to Belle Isle due to a 911 call alleging out of control protestors, however as reported by the News, by the time officers did show up there was nothing more than 40 or so protestors which they deemed as acting peaceably.

The allegation against the State Police and DNR, based on no evidence, is extraordinary. Yes, their department directors are Whitmer appointees but for many decades the rank-and-file officers have never been accused of playing politics.

Depending on where you stand on the spectrum of media consumption, Tuesday ends up looking like a tale of two kickoffs.

Without the full details – and contingent on your preferred political lens – people will either see his kickoff as being woefully underprepared for protest efforts or unfairly overrun and shouted down by provocateurs. It will either end up being a showing of Mr. Craig being unprepared to the point that a handful of demonstrators could abruptly ended his announcement, or proof that higher political powers consider him enough of a threat to organize paid protestors and stymie police.

Even Republican consultants are split, with some believing yesterday to be poorly planned, poorly managed a poor reflection of Mr. Craig's talents. Others insist the media attention garnered from this is what's most important, generating controversy which guarantees continued coverage of his campaign and connects with the Republican base.

In any instance, it will take some time before we know whether this will serve as a blessing for Mr. Craig or the first sign he is not ready for prime time.

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'90 Day Fiancé' Star Settles Alleged COVID-19 Injection Scam With Nessel

Posted: August 18, 2021 3:53 PM

One taste of fame wasn't enough it seems. Except this time, for Stephanie Davison, it's more infamy than anything else.

Ms. Davison's name might be recognized by fans of the TLC show "90 Day Fiancé," where she was a contestant on season eight of the show. There, Ms. Davison was known for her somewhat kooky personality and 25-year age gap with the man – Ryan Carr – she'd been paired with for filming. (It later turned out the relationship was entirely fabricated, and the two broke up before filming even started.)

During filming, however, Ms. Davison also made a point to tout her business – Skin Envy, non-surgical weight loss centers based out of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids – which would later be featured on a West Michigan-based lifestyle show.

It was on that show Ms. Davison promoted her business' ipamorelin/sermorelin injections which she alleged helped her ward off illness from COVID. While she never explicitly said the injections would keep people from getting COVID, Ms. Davison did say that she "had people tell me in the medical field that it is probably due to" her using them.

She also encouraged viewers to receive her injections if they feared contracting COVID, though did note that there weren't "any studies" to back up her injections working in such a way. Similarly, her business' website claimed the shots "strengthens the immune system" though did not mention any negative side effect.

Well, those claims would earn Ms. Davison a notice of intended action from Attorney General Dana Nessel in May. Even still, Ms. Davison would continue to say she had been truthful about her product, did not lie about its uses and even offered $10,000 to "the person who can find words from my mouth saying what is being spread."

It wouldn't be until Wednesday that the situation would be entirely rectified.

In a statement from Ms. Nessel, Ms. Davison signed an assurance of voluntary compliance which said she would have a retraction of claims posted to her Instagram account for the next 30 days. The agreement also noted Ms. Davison would have to add language to the Skin Envy website warning customers of potential injection side effects, and that she would have to reimburse the Department of Attorney General $4,000 for investigation costs.

"I am pleased to see Ms. Davison take responsibility in this matter, and it is my hope it can serve as a reminder that my office takes misleading and false claims related to consumer products very seriously," Ms. Nessel said.

For her part, Ms. Davison issued a statement on her Instagram maintaining the agreement did not mean she was acknowledging any wrongdoing, nor did it serve as an admission of guilt.

"This has been the worst thing that I've ever endured," she wrote in the post's caption. "I'm grateful for their willingness to admit their legal conclusions."

Turns out that, much like reality television, some things are better off being explicitly labeled as fabricated.

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Nothing About Lucido, Cuomo Sexual Harassment Incidents Are Normal

Posted: August 4, 2021 3:45 PM

Whatever happened to a simple handshake, and when did kissing or touching become considered by some to be a normal part of workplace interaction?

Within the last 24 hours, two elected officials from opposite sides of the political aisle have waived off accusations of inappropriate conduct with women while in office: one at the state level and other at the local level.

While one is not native to Michigan (that being New York Governor Andrew Cuomo) the other is: Macomb County Prosecutor Pete Lucido, formerly a state senator as well. Both men have been accused of sexual harassment by women either under their station or in their surrounding political spheres; both have also been probed by independent bodies which found claims made by these women were, in fact, credible.

The issue is closer to home than we'd like it to be.

Mr. Lucido was stripped of his role as chair of the Senate Advice and Consent Committee and made to undergo sexual harassment training. Mr. Cuomo, due to the newness of his investigations' result, has yet to see a consequence.

But in the instance of Mr. Lucido, his accusations of inappropriate contact with women have not died down, despite his leaving the Legislature. More recently, he was photographed at a fundraiser where he appears to be cupping a woman's buttocks, continuing a pattern which was made public by other women who had similarly accused him of touching them inappropriately.

But what holds true in either instance is that both have denied any wrongdoing on the issue, in the matter of both past and present actions.

When initially confronted about his 2020 sexual harassment allegations, Mr. Lucido decried them as being "politically motivated." When confronted about his more recent contact with a woman's buttocks, he defended the photo by saying that those who were offended by the picture were "seeking to sexualize normal social contact."

In Mr. Cuomo's case, he defended himself by saying: "I do it with everyone: Black and white, young and old, straight and LGBTQ, powerful people, friends, strangers, people who I meet on the street." He, similar to Mr. Lucido, also believed his investigation to be biased against him.

It should not need to be said (and especially not to grown adults) that kissing or placing your hands on another person is not normal social conduct. You should not be kissing your coworkers in the workplace. You should not be putting your hands on a woman's breasts, butt, hair or elsewhere.

The excuse that this is somehow normal or that "I do it all the time" must be shut down by all genders, regardless of your political beliefs and regardless of who the perpetrator is. There is no room in the workplace – politics, or otherwise – to continue enabling individuals under the wrongful belief that all contact is welcomed by all people, simply because you believe it to be.

All talk of inclusion and a safe workspace go out the window each time this happens. They go further out the window when bystanders, especially those with the power to actually do something about the issue, also let the matter fly.

This problem seems cyclical. We've had this conversation before, and the topic is further complicated because, at the end of the day, we cannot be responsible for the actions of others. But we can work change the narrative. Like how societally we've begun getting better at calling out harmful comments couched in "oh, it's just a joke" or "I was just joking," we can also be better at addressing harassers and harassment as it happens and not letting verbal excuses get in the way of accountability.

No one deserves to expect to be harassed in the workplace. But that's what will inevitably happen if society continues to enable this type of behavior.

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Will 'MI Shot To Win' Result In COVID Vax Uptick? Data So Far Says No.

Posted: July 14, 2021 3:45 PM

Four Michiganders Wednesday received $50,000 as part of a sweepstakes looking to improve Michigan's COVID-19 vaccination rates.

But is the MI Shot To Win program – modeled after Ohio's lottery giveaway with the same goal of inoculating more residents against the new coronavirus, which saw that state's vaccination rates among certain groups skyrocket not long after the announcement – already maxing out on its usefulness?

Only looking at vaccination data, it would seem so.

With the first few names drawn from a pool of millions in the "MI Shot To Win" COVID-19 vaccine sweepstakes put on by the state, it looks as though those taking advantage of the program are people who didn't need any cajoling to get vaccinated from the start.

There is also a study claiming Ohio's program did not lead to increased vaccination rates that wouldn't have occurred anyway.

A study from the Boston University School of Medicine, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that the Vax-a-Million lottery launched by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine did not lead to an increase in COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

While vaccination rates did improve after Mr. DeWine announced the lottery plan in May, that same trend also was seen in other U.S. state that did not have vaccination lotteries, the study said.

When announced at the start of July, Protect Michigan Commission Director Kerry Ebersole Singh remained adamant when asked by reporters that there were enough individuals who had not received the shot in Michigan that would be willing to take the jab with a bit of fiscal incentive.

At that time, July 1, roughly 62 percent of Michiganders had received their first COVID shot. Ms. Singh believed about 20 percent of the state's population, no matter what, would not become vaccinated.

Still, 80 percent vaccination was more than enough to reach herd immunity in Michigan, and the Whitmer administration seemed positive that MI Shot To Win could move the needle.

But then again, maybe not.

On Tuesday, the Senate Fiscal Agency forecast that Michigan would not reach the 70 percent goal put forth by the administration until December 5, 2021, if the rate of vaccination remains the same daily.

As of July 13, per the state's COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, Michigan's vaccination rate sits at 62.4 percent.

If the state wants to hit a 70 percent vaccination rate, it will need to see at least 5.6 million residents over the age of 16 inoculated. When Ms. Whitmer jumped onto the sweepstakes winner livestream Wednesday for a message of encouragement, she noted that roughly 1.7 million individuals had signed up for the giveaway, with another 78,000 registrants signed up for the scholarship drawings.

Of course there are individuals vaccinated who simply haven't put their name in for consideration. But it's also likely that the same individuals who signed up for the drawings are people who didn't require fiscal compensation to convince them to get the jab to begin with.

As it's still early in the giveaways, the program ending August 3, there's still time to be proven wrong on the idea that the money isn't enough to improve upon Michigan's vaccination rates. But out the gate, it appears it will take more than cash to convince residents the vaccine is safe, effective and needed.

What it will take to convince the vaccine-hesitant of those facts remains to be seen.

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Ruling In Maine Pipeline Case Could Be Problematic For Enbridge's Line 5

Posted: June 30, 2021 6:04 PM

A filing made during arguments in a Maine court case could end up playing a role in determining the future of Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline within the Straits of Mackinac.

In Portland, Maine, the administration of President Joe Biden submitted a brief with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court Of Appeals on Monday arguing that an ordinance in South Portland – which prevents the export of crude oil from the city's ports – does not violate the federal Pipeline Safety Act.

That case is dealing with a World War II-era pipeline which is responsible for carrying crude from Maine to refineries in the Montreal area. There, Suncor Energy, Inc. – which owns the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line Corporation – is arguing for the pipeline's use, attempting to reverse a years-old decision which would allow for Canadian crude to be transported into American markets.

The city is seeking to bar this from happening, citing concerns that the oil could threaten waterways and effect air quality.

Sound somewhat familiar?

For some time now, Enbridge lawyers and supporters have argued that Governor Gretchen Whitmer overstepped her powers when she revoked a 1953 easement (which allowed let the Canadian oil company operate in the Straits), possibly violated international treaty and risked millions in revenue for Midwest states.

By determining that the act does not preempt state or local authority, the argument against Ms. Whitmer's authority and ability to do that suddenly looks less firm.

If anything, this may even signal that the federal government – and by extension, Mr. Biden – may side with Ms. Whitmer should arguments over her ability to revoke the easement and stop Enbridge operations in the Great Lakes go to an even higher court.

Oday Salim, staff attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, said in a release Tuesday that the Biden administration's filing "filing lays to rest the outlandish claim Enbridge Energy and its political allies have repeatedly raised that Governor Whitmer's historic decision to shut down Line 5 was not hers to make."

Yet, it appears Enbridge sees this filing as unimportant to the case in Michigan, with Bloomberg News reporting a spokesperson for the company called the two cases "radically different."

"The issue in the Maine case is related to the loading of vessels, not the transport of oil through a pipeline," Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said. "Line 5 continues to safely transport energy upon which U.S. and Canadian consumers, refiners and manufacturers depend."

With the case between Enbridge and the state ongoing, it's tough to tell what kind of impact this federal brief could have in the grand scheme of things. But even though it's dealing with somewhat different scenarios than what's playing out in Michigan's waters, it's tough not to see this filing as concerning for Enbridge.

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Can MIGOP Put Election Fraud Genie Back In Bottle?

Posted: June 23, 2021 2:52 PM

The idea that there could have been widespread improprieties during the 2020 election has been the impetus for a number of bills, hearings, stump speeches, lawsuits (and so on) spearheaded by many Michigan Republicans since last November.

There was an attempt to bring false electors to the Capitol during the Electoral College vote, fabrications about a combination of human and software error in Antrim County, false claims about votes in Detroit and much more.

Rallies were had. People fundraised off the idea of "stopping the steal." Five died while attempting to storm the U.S. Capitol under the belief that if the Electoral College vote wasn't tallied and affirmed, Joe Biden couldn't be sworn in as president.

On Wednesday, the Senate Oversight Committee a published 35-page report which concluded on its introductory page that "the committee found no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud in Michigan's prosecution of the 2020 election."

While the report did note that this did not mean the state couldn't strengthen its elections processes – and also that their findings should not be considered exhaustive due to the committee's limitations – it reaffirmed the opposite of what many have been beating the drum on for months: That somehow, someway, the 2020 election results were wrong or fraudulent. In fact, it was something of a remarkable takedown of the long list of conspiracies. Remarkable because it came from the Republican-led committee, and Republicans have been very cautious about their base, which believes the election was stolen.

It reaffirms the 250 audits done across the state that proved no widespread fraud. It gives credence to the recent court order that could see four lawyers involved with forwarding baseless conspiracies about the 2020 elections fined and disbarred.

Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), chair of that committee, even said that those continuing to push false claims were essentially committing fraud themselves given the conclusion of their report. In doing that, he added, that could make the person liable for investigation by the Department of Attorney General.

By publicly reaffirming that there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 elections, this signals that the Republican Legislature is looking to move on. The Michigan Republican Party's leadership, earlier this month, already noted it was not interested in a full audit of the 2020 election, MIGOP Executive Director Jason Roe telling members of the media that the party's "focus is on 2022."

But has public questioning from the very lawmakers looking to wash their hands of the idea of widespread fraud in the 2020 election done enough damage that this report won't matter?

Look no further than what's being discussed and done in Republican activist circles, and by not randoms either. Former Sen. Patrick Colbeck, MIGOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and Secretary of State 2022 candidate Kristina Karamo are among the many still pushing the idea that the state must do an audit of the November election to ensure no fraud occurred even though audits did occur.

Just last week, many of these same individuals gathered at the Capitol to deliver thousands of signed affidavits to lawmakers, which demanded that Michigan do an audit in the style of what is currently being done in Arizona. There, a private contractor is reevaluating the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County, which is the subject of scrutiny due to Mr. Biden being the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the jurisdiction in more than 70 years.

That audit, however, is being seen by many – including a number of Arizona Republicans – as a sham, a joke and likely to produce untrue results. Still, that isn't stopping some members of the party from attempting to bring that same spectacle to Michigan anyways.

Even now with the release of the Senate's report, activists aren't buying the results. As reported by the Detroit News, Mr. Colbeck's response to the findings Wednesday was that while states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were "poised to pursue audits" Michigan was "going on summer break and calling for an investigation of anyone seeking to investigate election fraud."

That doesn't sound like a resounding endorsement of "found no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud." And considering that individuals like Mr. Colbeck, who is continuing to tout the idea another audit is needed to prove no fraud occurred in 2020, are continuing to attract crowds of people when discussing these ideas – it should give the GOP pause.

Especially those who are now open about the fact they don't believe widespread fraud occurred.

Those continuing to question the accuracy of Michigan's elections are predominantly part of the Republican base. These are the individuals who might have been shoo-in GOP votes, but are now doubting the integrity of the state's elections.

These are people who, last week, could be heard on the steps of the Capitol publicly opining on the fact that talk of election fraud has made them wary as to whether their vote actually counts on Election Day.

This of course is one anecdotal example. And there are other anecdotal examples of how Republican activist anger at the 2020 election has prompted a wave of enthusiasm and interest in participating. One pollster, however, found that voter interest among partisans in both parties remains extremely high.

With 2022 getting closer every day, this rift in the party – establishment members looking to move on versus activists digging their heels in to continue pushing conspiracy – could very well hurt the Michigan Republican Party in statewide races. Trying to rescind former doubts about the election isn't appearing to do much good among the more fervent. Remember how Republican turnout dipped a bit in the Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs as President Donald Trump went on and on about how the election was stolen from him and the Democrats won both seats?

The genie of election fraud has been let out of its bottle. It could take years some in the party to move on.

In the meantime, what that means for the fate of Republicans seeking statewide elected office is anyone's guess.

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Jeff Daniels Pushes For Line 5's Decommission In New Ad – Will It Work?

Posted: June 9, 2021 3:18 PM

The push to see Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline – both the structure itself, as well as the tunnel the company has proposed building around it to contain a possible oil spill – removed from the Straits of Mackinac has seen many iterations over the past several years.

There's been radio ads, billboards, court battles, legislative tiffs – and now, there's an effort from Michigan celebrities.

Published Tuesday through the National Wildlife Federation, which has been a leading voice in decrying the pipeline's existence, was a 30-second advertising spot featuring Jeff Daniels – who grew up in Chelsea and has stared in numerous television shows, stage plays and films including Purple Rose of Cairo, Pleasantville and The Newsroom.

In the TV ad, Mr. Daniels portrays Line 5 as an "aging, dangerous pipeline" that, should it rupture, "would devastate our Great Lakes, our drinking water and our economy."

"From the Mighty Mac to the Great Lakes, water defines who we are in Michigan. But something lurking beneath our water is putting our Pure Michigan way of life at risk: an aging, dangerous pipeline called Line 5," Mr. Daniels reads, in a voiceover. "A Line 5 oil spill would devastate our Great Lakes, our drinking water and our economy. It's time to stand up for our Great Lakes. It's time to stand with Governor Whitmer and shut down Line 5."

The NWF also has a 60-second radio version of the ad, which also have gone out across the state. But have the ads come too late in the game to make a difference?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Department of Natural Resources revoked the 1953 easement in late 2020, which allowed Enbridge to operate Line 5 in the Straits. Enbridge retaliated by suing, arguing that there were no grounds to see the easement revoked and that it should be reinstated immediately.

The deadline for Enbridge to cease operations, May 12, came and went. The Canadian oil company did not comply and is still continuing to utilize the pipeline as the case plays out in court. Meanwhile, the twin pipelines still sit at the bottom of the Straits – unshielded, and still a potential spill liability – as this goes on, still ferrying thousands of gallons of crude oil a day.

Only a court decision will now decide how this ends – but when that will come is also unknown.

Using Michigan talent to establish a bond of trust between a viewer and whatever is being hawked is nothing new: the state does it in every Pure Michigan ad, which routinely features voice work from film star Tim Allen, who grew up in Birmingham. Chrysler did it when they used rapper Eminem to advertise the Chrysler 200 during 2011's Super Bowl XLV.

But whether it will have any effect in the public advocacy work being done to push for a removal of the pipeline, is yet unclear. Unlike the state's tourism industry or purchasing a car, there isn't much of a metric to measure how effective something like this Line 5 advertisement would be, outside the sphere of public opinion – which, in the end, is not responsible for whether this pipeline is decommissioned.

Republican lawmakers and union-backing Democrats have already chosen a side, to back Enbridge on maintaining existence of the pipeline. The governor, DNR and Attorney General Dana Nessel have made it clear they don't intend to back down from their view on the subject of decommissioning it, either.

Enbridge and its supporters have been making a heavy and sustained push, both in advertising and the larger realm of media, to position the pipeline as an absolute must for the region. Their biggest claim is that, should the pipeline shutter, the cost of heating a home in the Upper Peninsula will skyrocket and that it would fiscally injure the Midwest region through the loss of jobs and billions in revenue.

Environmentalists, and others supporting the decommission option, instead have taken to driving home the fact that – should a rupture occur – it would be catastrophic for the region because of Line 5's position in the Straits. It would make containing a spill all but impossible due to the water's currents.

Of late, Line 5 proponents have had the ability to steer the narrative: that the pipeline's closure would spell doom for many.

If groups like NWF – or other common, anti-Line 5 names like For the Love of Water, or Oil & Water Don't Mix – want to cut through the noise, so to speak, an effort outside of producing the same environmental focused points will be needed. Otherwise, the campaign becomes concrete concepts painted in broad strokes versus possibility.

While Mr. Daniels was a good choice for the NWF to use in its campaign, it remains to be seen whether reiterating the same messages – rather than tackling and dispelling claims from Line 5 proponents – will make much of a difference in swaying folks in the court of public opinion or those with the power to decide the question, for that matter.

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White's Departure From MDCR Again Puts Department In Idle State

Posted: May 19, 2021 3:51 PM

The Department of Civil Rights, for the third time in the last two years, has found itself in the position of looking for a director with the pending leave of current agency head James White.

Mr. White, a former Detroit Police Department assistant chief who took up the executive director mantle on September 21, 2020, joined after more than a year of searching for a director to replace the ousted Agustin Arbulu.

Mr. Arbulu was removed from his post in August 2019 after it became public that he had allegedly made an untoward comment about a woman to a male staffer.

Between Mr. Arbulu's firing and Mr. White's hiring, the Civil Rights Commission named Mary Engelman interim director. It also launched and concluded an executive director search which came down to an aide for Governor Rick Snyder – Harvey Hollins, who helped Mr. Snyder oversee the state's response to the Flint water crisis – and Conrad Mallett, Jr., a former Michigan Supreme Court chief justice and former president of DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital.

The two were named as finalists for the role in March 2020. Later that same month, Mr. Mallett would withdraw his name for consideration, leaving Mr. Hollins the sole finalist. The commission would go on to deadlock on whether to approve him to the role, resulting in yet another executive director search to commence.

That would conclude with the vote to confirm Mr. White to the role in August 2020. In an interview with Gongwer News Service in December of that same year, he would go on to talk about how he hoped to foster a better working environment within the department and increase MDCR's outreach and visibility across the state.

Yet just eight months after being named to the position, Mr. White would end up being tapped by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to become the interim Detroit police chief – replacing current Chief James Craig, who is retiring and has flirted with the idea of running for governor as a Republican.

Mr. White is currently slated to leave his MDCR role in less than two weeks, on June 1.

Being named chief of the Detroit Police Department is no small role and considering Mr. White's long tenure with the agency prior to becoming head of the MDCR, it makes since for him to honor Mr. Duggan's offer.

However, his leave continues a history at the MDCR of volatility in the executive director role. Since 2009, eight different individuals have filled the role of executive director, including Mr. Arbulu, Ms. Engelman and Mr. White. This constant churn within the executive director role has largely occupied the time of the Civil Rights Commission and keeps the MDCR from establishing a continuous culture focused on the goal of perpetuating civil rights in Michigan.

Staffers from within the department have compared the agency to a "rudderless ship," saying that the current climate fails to promote trust and transparency, one staffer going so far as to say that "(u)pper management is so concerned with retaining and maintaining fiefdoms, that the people MDCR represents, the people of the state of Michigan and its employees are overlooked/dismissed."

That culture will not get better unless a solid presence takes charge at the MDCR. But with the commission currently mum on when the next executive director search will commence, it's hard to see how that will get better any time soon.

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CO Governor Takes A Page From Whitmer, Says He'll 'Fix The Damn Roads'

Posted: May 5, 2021 1:26 PM

While there's been a number of Whitmer-isms that have taken off during her tenure as governor, there's none so notable as Governor Gretchen Whitmer's promise to "fix the damn roads."

And, apparently, others are taking note of that too.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis on Tuesday posted to Twitter a link advertising the state's attempt at a massive modernization of its transportation infrastructure, telling Coloradans – in not quite the same way that Ms. Whitmer did, though pretty close – that "it's time to fix our damn roads."

Almost immediately, Michiganders began pointing out the repurposed phrase, with one going so far as to joke that by Mr. Polis using it, it was an "appropriation of Michigan culture."

Many current and former Whitmer administration employees also took note.

It's not the first time that turn of phrase has been used by other politicians, either.

In 2019, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers used the same rallying cry when retweeting his state's Department of Transportation's call to find a sustainable revenue source to fix their deteriorating highways.

At this point, it seems like it may become the unofficial rallying cry for any state official looking to spearhead massive infrastructure change.

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What Does Michigan Have Left To Push The USAF On PFAS Clean Up?

Posted: April 28, 2021 4:26 PM

The state's ongoing issue with the U.S. Air Force over clean-up of PFAS at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base could be described by a number of words, and none of them good.

Arduous. Bureaucratic. Untransparent. Glacial.

Michigan has been aware that the former Air Force site has been a PFAS hazard since March of 2010. More than a decade later, nothing much has changed, save for the USAF having completed a PFAS Preliminary Assessment and site inspection, with promises to commence a remedial investigation under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

In the meantime, the state has completed rule promulgation for two chemicals in the PFAS family – PFOS and PFOA – and is motoring along on the process for promulgating standards for five others (PFNA, PFHxS, PFHxA, PFBS and GenX) as of Tuesday.

The rules that have fully gone through the process make Michigan one of the strictest in the country for PFAS clean-up rules, and state officials are doing their utmost to try and make that threshold the threshold to meet for the USAF.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) made it a point to include language in the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow for any governor or chief executive of a state to request that the federal body amend an existing cooperative agreement to "address testing, monitoring, removal and remedial actions relating to the contamination or suspected contamination of drinking, surface or ground water from PFAS originating from activities of the Department of Defense."

Governor Gretchen Whitmer, in using Mr. Peters' language, has even written to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in urging the Air Force to commit to Michigan's stricter-than-federal cleanup standards. And it's not the first time she's sent the USAF letters, having urged the same action when then-President Donald Trump were in office and U.S. Air Force Assistant Secretary John Henderson were in charge.

Others – like U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and U.S. Rep Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), alongside Mr. Peters – have tried to push the USAF in letters to commit to Michigan's stringent standards, accusing the federal agency of dancing around the issue of remediation at Wurtsmith and not being transparent with locals in how it plans to go about doing that.

Ms. Slotkin even made a point to introduce legislation in June 2020 which would mandate at the federal level that PFAS cleanup standards would have to adhere to the strictest possible level of enforcement in the country, regardless of if the chemical is found in state or federal jurisdiction.

Portions of her provisions did end up making it into the House-passed version of the NDAA, though inevitably stripped from the final iteration of the act.

And local groups have even pressed on the USAF, demanding for the Wurtsmith site to be remediated by 2023 and for greater transparency between the agency and localities to occur so that area residents would know what is going on in their backyards.

Yet, all of these actions have amounted to virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things, as the USAF continues to outwardly drag its feet on addressing the very problem it created in-state.

In recent weeks, USAF officials have said that it will likely meet Michigan's cleanup standards, though stopped short of outright committing to the goal for reasons that were not entirely made clear when speaking with the press. It claims it is doing its due diligence in conducting study after study and spending years working behind the scenes – out of Texas, no less – to address issues ongoing in Michigan.

When asked in early April when Michiganders could expect remediation completion, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety and Infrastructure Mark Correll told reporters that could occur anytime in the next eight to 12 years. Further, the current target for completing the remedial investigation – just one step in the process – would be about two years from now, he added.

If speed is the objective here – and given the health hazard PFAS chemicals pose to human and environmental health – then the USAF is earning no extra points for expediency.

However, it seems that there's also nothing left in the state's arsenal to encourage that swiftness.

Letter writing, attempted law making, public scolding campaigns – nothing yet, it seems, has dented the USAF's armor or given any cause for the agency to think that these pleas will result in negative consequences should it not quickly comply.

Gongwer News Service even asked Mr. Kildee last week if there were any consequences for not complying with the state's request, or if there were anything binding it to meet Michigan's strict standards.

He said the question was an interesting one, but one that shouldn't have to be asked – nor answered by the federal government.

"This is the federal government that polluted a community, and so the thing that's more offensive to me than this sort of technical, legal question as to whether they're required to meet the standard is that this is not only an agency of the U.S. government – that has a responsibility to citizens that transcends the normal responsibility that a polluter may have – but … this is actually the agency of government whose sole purpose is to protect the American people from harm," he said. "So, I would ask them if, in the service of their core mission of protecting the American people from harm, they can actually hide behind some of the technical legal interpretations as to whether the standard that the people of the state have set for its own health is something that the federal government should adhere to."

And while that is a noble thought, if there's nothing explicitly requiring rapid action from the USAF it's unknown whether we should expect that – even if it may be the morally right thing to do.

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Local Businesses Aiding In Effort To See MI Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Posted: April 15, 2021 3:02 PM

I got vaccinated for the coronavirus earlier this month thanks, in part, to a coffee shop.

In the run up to the day all eligible Michiganders 16-years-old and up were able to receive their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, I was desperate to try and find somewhere that would take my fiancé and me.

We're lucky: We're both young, with no underlying health conditions, and didn't fully fit into any of the priority health categories. But he manages a store and has been interacting with customers throughout most of the pandemic and wanted the shot so that he didn't have to worry every time there was a scare. And I wanted the shot because if he got virus, it was safe to assume that I was already sick with it as well.

Trying to register with any of the local hospitals was a nightmare. Signing up for the Ingham County Health Department notification just meant shooting our eligibility status into the ether and hoping that, eventually, we'd get an email back.

And even going independently to a pharmacy's specific website was a crapshoot. At the time, it seemed like some pharmacies had gotten the memo that Michigan was allowing 16+ individuals to get vaccinated, and was allowing for appointments (though, some time out) while others hadn't updated their availabilities yet.

Enter, Strange Matter Coffee.

Since the start of April, its Twitter – which has mostly always comingled with the Lansing political sphere – has turned into a hub of tweeting and retweeting information on how and where someone can get vaccinated. The company even turned a portion of its website (the link to which can be found in their Twitter bio as well) into a hub where people can check COVID-19 vaccine appointment availability at Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS.

It's because of them that the first day it was possible for non-priority Michiganders to get vaccinated, we could. While we would have found a way to get to being vaccinated, eventually, businesses like Strange Matter using their power of community and outreach helped us reach that eventuality faster.

And they're not alone. Businesses across the country – and Michigan – are using their power and outreach to either help people get the shot faster or use their business to encourage folks perhaps on the fence that the shot is worth it.

In Detroit, the seafood-Italian restaurant Oak & Reel is offering a large discount off their rather upscale menu for patrons who can show proof of vaccination. Everyone by now has probably heard of Krispy Kreme's free-donut-a-day, if you can show you were vaccinated, program. There's was even a marijuana dispensary in Walled Lake that offered "pot for shots" in March, to encourage folks to show they got their vaccine and receive a free pre-rolled joint in exchange.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't be getting vaccinated of our own free will, but if a discounted dinner or donuts or marijuana is what it takes for certain people to get off the couch and get their shot – or, even if it's something as simple as better streamlining the process for people to make their appointment – then power to the businesses that are making it happen.

They stand to gain something by Michiganders getting vaccinated and helping to return the state to business as normal. And if we stand to gain something, as well (outside the peace of mind that you're vaccinated, that is) – what's the harm in that?

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How Can We Change The Culture Of Workplace Harassment Reporting?

Posted: March 31, 2021 3:03 PM

The news of sexual harassment incurred by women who worked at or for Vanguard Public Affairs is no longer the "open secret" it was apparently billed as around Lansing, prior to last week.

That it was ever even considered an open secret, however, is almost just as big of an issue as the conduct of TJ Bucholz, Vanguard's president and CEO.

On March 24, nearly half a dozen women went public with their experiences with Mr. Bucholz alleged sexual harassment misconduct, which ranged from buying them lavish gifts, sending them lewd comments regarding their clothes or bodies and requesting nude photos from them. These actions spanned several years and women at the firm say they did their best to support one another amid a workplace environment that has since been dubbed a toxic stew.

In the days after these allegations were published, Mr. Bucholz's actions began being dubbed an open secret. Acknowledgement that people had heard of him being creepy or acting in an untoward manner – though, perhaps not rising to the level of sexual harassment – slithered through social media and social circles across the Lansing beltway, as it apparently had done so for years.

And while it would be easy to say that anyone who knew of the rumors about Mr. Bucholz's reputation is guilty of not doing anything about it – which would be a wrong conclusion to jump to regardless – the issue at hand isn't just about the harassment these women were forced to endure. It's about the greater culture of the political field. Of any work field.

I am one of those persons who was somewhat aware of Mr. Bucholz's reputation, though not to the level of detail which came out last week. A friend of mine had previously worked at Vanguard. She told our friend group that she had disagreements with Mr. Bucholz (over money, among other things) but had never expressed anything like what some of the women last week alleged.

We were there for her. We acknowledged, among ourselves, that it was a less than ideal situation. We empathized with her situation.

And then, we did nothing. Then again – what could we do?

To us, to me, it was a one-off situation of a friend having a poor experience with a boss. It was a mental note filed away that, should someone ask about working for him, I would bring it up at another time. And when the stories began coming out regarding the full extent Mr. Bucholz's conduct, I was forced to ask myself if there was anything I could have done.

This isn't an attempt at explaining myself or being self-flagellating. It's to make a point: There has to be a way that we can acknowledge the culture that surrounds sexual harassment complaints in a field like politics or business, or any other industry that is known for being somewhat male dominated. That women – or men, who too can have their own experiences with sexual harassment – can feel they can come forward about sexual misconduct forced upon them.

In the instance of the Vanguard situation, the women in question said they felt as if there was nowhere for them to report these happenings: Their boss was the cause of their harassment, and the second-in-command at the firm, Jen Eyer, is alleged to have minimized or dismissed reports by women of Mr. Bucholz's actions.

So, what type of recourse does that give them?

Their own company's human resources, which operated out of Texas and a few women said they did not feel comfortable going to, due to the official not being familiar with the Vanguard working environment?

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights, to file a formal complaint of discrimination? That's only good for if the harassment incurred within 180 days of reporting – and assuming the women in question even knew it was an avenue they could pursue at the time.

There must be some dialogue, some way, for individuals to know that they have the ability to lodge these sorts of complaints outside of a workplace environment where they feel they can't. And there must be some sort of buy-in from the state to push that these resources exist and explain how they can be utilized and what the result could be should that avenue be pursued.

Make no mistake – I am in no way blaming the women for not coming forward prior to last week. Workplace harassment, sexual harassment, is an incredibly unsettling and scary thing to experience and it can leave a person feeling like they are powerless to address it.

So how can we make reporting harassment easier? And what does making it easier look like, in the end?

Does that mean allowing the MDCR to keep a list of allegations by employees against their employer, so that a possible pattern of alleged abuse can be determined? Does it mean finding a way to support employees at companies of a certain size, so that no one feels trapped by the reality of having a very limited number of people they can tell of their harasser's conduct?

This is much, much easier said than done. But it must be done. We can't become complacent anymore with accepting the after-narrative that everyone knew but no one could do anything.

How that's accomplished, though, is another matter entirely.

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Ron Burgundy For Mayor? Stay Classy, Lansing

Posted: March 17, 2021 2:04 PM

The 2021 general elections are just around the corner for the city of Lansing, and already one candidate is making waves in the area for his mayoral campaign: the fictional television news anchor Ron Burgundy.

You might have seen his banners around REO Town, by the I-496 eastbound on-ramp or in other parts of the city, congratulating Lansing on "not being Cleveland" or promising to work for its citizens "60 percent of the time, 100 percent of the time" – nods to quotes from the 2004 Will Farrell comedy "Anchorman," from which the character derives– and other witty one-liners movie fans would associate with the boisterous broadcaster.

The effort to run for mayor of Lansing has even moved online, with the faux-campaign even creating a website, Twitter and Facebook page, as if Mr. Burgundy (incredibly weird to write, by the way) were a real person. Not just any person, but according to a "press release" put out by the fake campaign a "long hidden fixture here, calling Lansing his second home … amongst us for years, quietly sipping scotch in the shadows, watching and waiting for his time."

Apparently, "that time is now." So, what would he do for Lansing if elected?

In an interview with WKAR earlier this week, Mr. Burgundy's "chief political strategist" – a person going by the pseudonym "Dr. Kenneth Noisewater," another nod to one of the more raunchy quotes from the movie – said the candidate would work with the Humane Society and Preuss Pets to "make sure that no household is without a furry companion," call on Mr. Taco to establish regular business hours so that Taco Tuesday can become a permanent fixture at the restaurant and secure funding to build a space station in the city so that folks have the chance to become a real life "Lanstronaut."

And while it is a fun way to bring light to a fairly important local race, the satirical effort to "Make Lansing Classy Again" is actually attempting to do real community work, using its social media platforms to actually spotlight businesses and groups within the Lansing area.

Whether the crass comedy is your cup of tea or not – and even if you don't find the signs around town somewhat humorous – a push by community members to support community members is always something to appreciate.

Now, whether Mr. Burgundy (again, very weird to write!) ends up seeing any votes come August remains to be seen, but at the very least, his campaign can give folks a laugh while supporting local businesses which should be viewed as a win in anyone's book.

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Group Looking To Defund Jack Bergman Attempting Near Sisyphean Task

Posted: March 4, 2021 3:51 PM

In the northern most part of the state there is an effort brewing to defund, and eventually unseat, U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman for the role he played in perpetuating falsehoods surrounding the accuracy of Michigan's 2020 presidential election.

Mr. Bergman (R-Watersmeet) was one of three Michigan U.S. House Republicans, the others being U.S. Rep Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) and U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Township), who supported not certifying the Electoral College results. In early January both he and Mr. Walberg, in a letter, wrote that they had several issues with the way Michigan had conducted its November election and felt they could not back certification without proof no improprieties occurred.

But, to date, there has never been any proof of election fraud in either Michigan's November election or in any other state across the country. Instead, as Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson pointed out again this week, the 2020 general was the most secure in the state's history.

In the weeks and months following the eventual swearing in of President Joe Biden, those who did cry foul about the election have since gone back to business as usual in Congress.

One group in Mr. Bergman's own district, however, is looking to change that.

Calling themselves the Defund Bergman Campaign and categorizing their membership as "citizen accountability campaign," the group is looking to have Michiganders contact Mr. Bergman's donors and compel them to stop bankrolling his campaign. On their website, the group breaks down who donated to his campaign between 2019 and 2020 in increments of how much the organizations or individuals donated, ranging from $500 all the way to $9,999.

Group leader the Reverend Wendy von Courter said in a statement that the Defund Bergman Campaign is "speaking out to hold our congressman … and his donors accountable" over the lies Mr. Bergman perpetuated in the post-election period and the damage that has done to voter confidence.

But, while on paper the effort looks noble and sounds reasonable, it is unlikely to do any real damage to Mr. Bergman – and for several reasons.

First, there's the matter of the district Mr. Bergman holds. For nearly 15 years his district has been occupied by a Republican, the last time a member of the Democratic Party won this seat was in 2008 with former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak.

Since 2000, only once – in 2008 – has a Democratic presidential candidate carried the district.

Since taking the district in 2016, following the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, Mr. Bergman has trounced every Democratic challenger by margins of at least more than 13 points. In the most recent election, Mr. Bergman cruised to a third term in office with a 62-37 percentage difference over challenger Dana Ferguson.

If the Defund Bergman Campaign does wish to hold their congressman responsible for his role in spreading election misinformation, the issue lies more with matters of district makeup more than corporate funding. With the way the district is currently, and the positions Mr. Bergman supports that align with a vast majority of his constituents' beliefs, Mr. Bergman could run a campaign on a single dollar and likely see reelection.

And while the group maintains it is their intent to simply remove Mr. Bergman from office for anyone – not just a Democratic candidate – given his popularity among his constituents, it is still dubious as to whether their efforts will end up being fruitful.

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Do Chatfield's Qualifications Really Matter?

Posted: February 17, 2021 3:09 PM

If you follow state politics, it's impossible to miss that former House Speaker Lee Chatfield now has a new job: CEO of the business organization Southwest Michigan First.

Mr. Chatfield, who did not live in the Kalamazoo region prior to obtaining the role and does not have a background in business, quickly became the subject of criticism from many (but not all) Democrats and at least one Republican after the news spread.

Some charged he lacks the business abilities to lead a group dedicated to business start-ups, with Rep. Brad Paquette (R-Niles), who served under Mr. Chatfield, even saying that the hire was "extremely unfortunate for SW Michigan." Others looked it from the angle of Mr. Chatfield's gender, questioning if a woman would get "hired on 'potential'" and receive a possibly six times pay bump from his previous job (assuming he is making at least what his predecessor made) without any experience in the field.

In any instance, the question of capability and qualifications were the core of peoples' complaints.

And while they might be fair critiques – Mr. Chatfield having served, prior to his role in the Legislature, as an athletic director, teacher and coach at a private Christian school in northern Michigan – they're also not unique ones.

Mr. Chatfield being hired by Southwest Michigan First as CEO isn't the first time a former politician has transitioned to the private sector into a role they may or may not be suited for. He certainly won't be the last, either.

Would it have been better if he went the typical route of the lawmaker, transitioning from state politics to a lobbying firm that he'd worked with throughout his tenure in the House? Several term limited legislators, or those who lost reelection, did that just this past year and hardly anyone batted an eye.

Or, with all his work regarding no-fault auto insurance in Michigan, he certainly could have gone to a corporation who he felt might have owed him for his work done throughout his time in office.

Regarding leadership qualifications, leading the House isn't all that different from leading any sizeable organization. To be House speaker, you need charisma or at least greater interpersonal skills. You need the ability to network with people who both do and don't share your ideals. Further, you need results. A speaker incapable of passing legislation, fundraising for their party or taking care of members will eventually have major problems. Further, the House speaker is in effect the CEO of the House, ultimately responsible for the House's share of the $176 million annual budget to operate the Legislature, oversight of more than 500 employees and more.

Mr. Chatfield has, either directly or indirectly, shown he's capable of the aspects of being speaker that translate to CEO of a business organization. However, to the point of many, House leadership and business leadership is not a one-to-one comparison. So, where does that leave us?

The big take away here might be: Who does this hurt, but Mr. Chatfield himself, if he doesn't have what it takes to lead Southwest Michigan First? If he's bad at the job, he'll be fired, and everyone will move on. If he's good, everyone will still… likely move on.

Unlike the movement to stop lawmakers from seamlessly transitioning into a lobbying position once their time in the Legislature is done, there's no such effort to stop folks from moving into other portions of the private sector not inherently tied to politics. What could be done, even? Establish a law saying you cannot hire someone if they don't fit 100 percent of all qualifications?

Unless there's appetite to legislate something regarding cool-off times between political life and a private sector job – which is extremely unlikely – these things are bound to happen.

It may seem unfair, but that's the way of the world.

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Upton, Meijer And Shirkey: A Tale Of Three Censures And The MIGOP

Posted: February 10, 2021 4:04 PM

The word censure has been thrown around a lot by members of the Michigan Republican Party over the last three weeks.

First there was U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Saint Joseph), who saw himself twice censured by county parties from the district he represents over his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump on the charge of inciting the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The Allegan County Republican Party censured him on January 21, with the Cass County Republican Party following suit on January 28. Both parties, in separate but identical statements, pointed to Mr. Upton's impeachment vote as a "betrayal to his oath of office" and being against the core values of the county parties.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) faced the same possibility from the 3rd Congressional District Republican Party, however they deadlocked in an 11 to 11 vote on censuring the freshman congressman causing the resolution to fail. That didn't stop his constituents, however, from letting Mr. Meijer know that they looked forward to him being "primaried out in two years" during his first district town hall the week prior on February 4 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 4, 2021).

But the attempt still drove home a similar point, as it did in the case of Mr. Upton: That core party activists will not tolerate anything that breaks with orthodoxy. That the GOP wants leaders who, while they may have a difference in opinion behind closed doors, vote in line with the party every time.

Yet, just outright supporting the party isn't enough to avoid the possibility of being censured.

No one would accuse Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) of being soft on pushing Republican politics, yet that's exactly what the Hillsdale County GOP claims.

Mr. Shirkey was recently censured by the county party in a 14 to 5 vote over what they believed was a lack of effort on Mr. Shirkey's part to rail against Governor Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 measures, like shutting certain business sectors and stopping winter contact sports. An MLive article also said the party felt he wasn't doing enough to protect Second Amendment rights in Michigan, among other things.

For his part, Mr. Shirkey maintained he did all that was within his purview to rail against the governor – using powers like rejecting her state board appointments as a rebuttal to not being made a part of coronavirus-related decisions – and that he was not concerned by the censure from the county party.

Being censured is an entirely symbolic gesture that does not actually have an impact on a lawmaker, serving as more of a reflection of the temperature within a party or legislative body. The formal and public condemnation sets the tone for how the party at large wishes for things to be done.

A recent temperature check Gongwer News Service did on the party as a whole at the end of January indicated that it was at a crossroads (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 29, 2021). A portion of the party wished to move on from the last four years of divisiveness. Another, more vocal portion, said believed it was time to double down on the incendiary energy Mr. Trump brought to the GOP and the last thing it needed was leadership that didn't support the party line.

Is there still room for center-right Republicans like Mr. Meijer and Mr. Upton in the Republican Party?

They have overcome challengers from the right in previous GOP primaries. But if the new normal is that even someone like Mr. Shirkey – who is much, much farther to the right than either Mr. Meijer and Mr. Upton, and downright Trumpian in temperament compared to the gentlemanly approach Mr. Mr. Meijer and Mr. Upton take – is somehow mushy on core issues, one wonders what 2022 holds for almost any elected Republican in a primary, let alone those willing to break publicly with the party.

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You Could Soon Be Sharing The Road With A 'Plowy McPlowface'

Posted: February 3, 2021 11:02 AM

What started as a fun effort for the Department of Transportation to engender a little community outreach and have residents name the state's 330-plus fleet of snowplows has – forgive the pun – snowballed into a greater response than what the agency could have ever hoped for.

At least, that's how MDOT spokesperson Nick Schirripa tells it.

In recent months, someone reached out to the department online to ask if the state would ever be open to naming its snowplows. Scotland had done it the year prior – though they call their snowplows "gritters" over there – and gained high praise from across the internet for creative names like "License to Chill," "Grittalica" and "Snowkemon Go."

As it wouldn't cost the department, or the taxpayers, anything to rename Michigan's machines, the department figured, why not? In mid-January, the department quietly sent out a release on a Sunday, asking for people to submit names for the state's snowplows that were both kid-friendly and didn't violate any copyrights.

Mr. Schirripa said MDOT expected maybe a few thousand names turned in, when all said and done. As of Tuesday, however, the department is sitting on more than 12,600 submissions.

While some are duplicate suggestions – with Mr. Schirripa saying "Plowy McPlowface," a nod to that time the British government let their citizens name a polar research ship "Boaty McBoatface," and "Sir Salts-a-Lot" being two of the most common – the fact that there are more names than plows means the department may look into rechristening plows with new names every few years.

MDOT has no real intention of closing submissions at this point, Mr. Schirripa said, content to watch people flex their creative muscles in trying to find a humorous way to name the state's plows. Some submissions, a handful of which may not be able to be used unfortunately due to being names of punk, rap and rock groups include "Veruca Salt," "Plowthagrium Theorem" and "Snowtorius B.I.G."

It's likely that these names will be assigned to plows on MiDrive – the state's interactive map that lets viewers see where there's construction, closures and other road obstacles – before the next winter season. The agency plans to take the near 13,000 names suggested and break them down by region of submission before divvying them out to MDOT's seven regions for the actual workers that drive the plows to choose.

And while it's a fun way for the community to become more engaged with MDOT, Mr. Schirripa said opening up the state's snowplows for naming actually has a deeper meaning to it.

"This offers some levity. This offers a fun, creative distraction from what has certainly been a cruddy year, the past 10 to 11 months for most of us, I think it's safe to say," he said. "And while naming plows certainly has been a fun way to engage the public, it humanizes one of the most important groups of people in our agency and the jobs that they do – highlighting the importance of their safety, and the vital work that they perform every day for Michigan families and our guests."

He said it's his hope that by asking residents to name the plows, they'll realize that there's someone in that machine and perhaps be more cautious on the road as a result.

"Our maintenance folks are one of our most visible, but least recognized forces in our agency. Everybody in Michigan takes road workers for granted, and I think we fail to recognize the degree of personal peril they put themselves in just to do their jobs for the benefit of everyone on a personal basis." Mr. Schirripa said. "We wanted to highlight that in a creative in fun way, but in a very real way as well."

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The MI Messages To Take Away From Buttigieg's USDOT Senate Hearing

Posted: January 27, 2021 2:22 PM

While he may not be secretary of transportation yet, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is already making promises that – if the Senate confirms him – some of the policies he'd push would have a definite effect on Michigan.

Mr. Buttigieg came before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Thursday, January 21, for a roughly two-hour question and answer session, hitting on topics like electrification of vehicles, infrastructure rebuilding, the possibility of a carbon tax, the safety of oil pipelines and more.

In responding to a question from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), Mr. Buttigieg said he was enthusiastic about working with the Senate Transportation Committee in having America lead the way on the deployment of automated and electric vehicles.

"Infrastructure is key. Industry is increasingly bringing EV's to the point where they pencil out or represent a cost saving to a consumer, and the more that's the case, the more the real hesitation to acquiring one will be range anxiety – worrying about whether you can get to where you're going without having to stop and charge," Mr. Buttigieg said. "That's why the president's commitment to half a million charging stations is so important and I'm looking forward to working with you to try and deliver on that commitment."

Michigan has made it a point to champion the production of electric vehicles, both currently and in the future.

But the production of electric vehicles wasn't the only Michigan-adjacent topic Mr. Buttigieg touched on during his hearing. Responding again to questions from Mr. Peters, Mr. Buttigieg touched working with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – the agency responsible for overseeing the safety of Enbridge's Line 5 Pipeline.

Mr. Peters asked for Mr. Buttigieg's commitment to "continue a very close collaboration … with PHMSA as it relates to Line 5 and the federal government" until a final determination on the overall fate of the pipeline is reached by all parties involved. Currently, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Department of Natural Resources have notified Enbridge that the state has terminated the decades-old easement – which has allowed for Line 5 to continue operating in the Straits of Mackinac – with a halt date on pipeline operations as May 12, 2021.

Enbridge has long touted positive PHMSA reviews of Line 5 as a proof that not only is the pipeline fit for service, but that benefits of shuttering the structure is minimal and suggesting any positives for Michiganders is misleading.

"I'm committed to that cooperation and I know how important that is," Mr. Buttigieg said, adding that he would also commit to making sure PHMSA had adequate resources to recruit and retain personnel.

He did not say anything specific to the operations of Line 5 but has, in past remarks when running for president, previously called for its shut down.

Given that Republicans typically oppose any attempts to shut down Line 5 while Democrats are divided between their environmental and labor wings – Mr. Buttigieg's approach to this issue will be closely watched.

His commitment to transportation innovation is something Michigan's own Department of Transportation seems enthused about, the agency's weekly podcast touching especially on Mr. Buttigieg's push for safe driving and his commitment to get to a zero crash-death future.

Whether Mayor Pete becomes Secretary Pete remains to be seen. But if he does, and the possibility looks more and more likely by the day, Michigan is likely to see changes implemented under his tenure that directly affect its residents.

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Digging Into The Electoral Vote By Congressional District Concept

Posted: January 20, 2021 4:34 PM

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, many Republicans have turned to social media to vent that certain Democratic-leaning patches of the country seem to control the outcome of national races, and the current way of allocating Electoral College votes in most states seems to disenfranchise rural voters.

Usually this is accompanied by a map showing the United States as a massive red landmass freckled occasionally with blue-colored areas –the idea being that the country is mostly ruby red, save for clusters of Democratic voters.

At face value, it would seem Democratic votes have more weight than Republican ones and disproportionately control the outcome of major elections.

One of the ideas to come up as a method of combatting this problem? Allocating Electoral College votes on a congressional district-by-district basis, rather than have Michigan use a winner-take-all approach – as is used in 47 other states and the District of Columbia. Maine and Nebraska allocate two votes to the statewide winner and then one vote to the winner of each U.S. House district in the state.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) recently floated that thought in a Facebook post earlier this month as a possible way to better allocate votes so that half the nation, every four years, isn't offput by the outcome of the presidential election.

"If Michigan were to end the winner-take-all system of Electoral College votes and instead break it up by congressional district, it would make campaigning in our state much more balanced," he wrote. "This would remove Detroit's outsized influence and encourage candidates to compete for votes in each congressional district across the entire state, not just the big cities. The end result would make your vote here in West Michigan even more important."

What Mr. Huizenga – and other Republicans, as he certainly isn't the first and probably won't be the last to suggest this – offers seems (like the maps) on its face to be a good idea. It's an answer to the question: How do we make every vote really count?

The problem is every vote already counts.

Michigan's 14 U.S. House districts are, for the most part, already set in partisan stone. There is as much likelihood of a Democratic presidential candidate losing the 9th, 12th, 13th or 14th districts as there is a Republican presidential candidate losing the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th and 10th U.S. House districts. Only the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th and 11th Districts were decided by less than 5 percentage points.

That means had such a system been in place in the past three presidential elections, instead of 16 electoral votes at stake, there would have been seven (two for the statewide winner, five total for the five competitive U.S. House districts).

In the 2020 election, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump each would have received eight electoral votes. In 2016, Mr. Trump would have had 11 and Hillary Clinton would have had five. In 2012, President Barack Obama would have had seven votes to Mitt Romney's nine with a newly drawn map's Republican leanings having much greater force than once the map aged, considering Mr. Obama won statewide by nearly 10 points.

Even after a designed to be neutral system takes (theoretically) partisan considerations out of reapportionment this year, the clustering of residents by party in parts of the state has led to sharp partisan divides that do not seem likely to change, should the system Mr. Huizenga floats be put in place. Republicans would win traditionally GOP-leaning areas of the state, as Democrats would take traditionally Democratic leaning areas.

Any way that's sliced, it ends up an almost even split for our state's Electoral College votes between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidate, diminishing the importance of Michigan at the national level.

Further, changing Michigan's system it wouldn't force any more statewide campaigning than what already occurs.

In the 2020 election season, former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden did go across the state to get their name out. Mr. Trump, especially, crisscrossed Michigan in his final months on the campaign trail to fire up his voting base, visiting northern and western Michigan in addition to the Detroit area.

And we don't have to theorize whether candidates would or wouldn't spend more time campaigning across all areas of the state, should this be implemented: Look at Nebraska.

Of its three U.S. House districts, the only one to draw any political attention in 2020 was its 2nd U.S. House district due to its tossup status. Former President Barack Obama won this district in 2008, making him the first Democratic president to ever do so, though Mr. Trump won it back in 2016. Mr. Biden, however, became the second Democrat this past November to win it, and it gained him a singular electoral vote for his troubles.

Their system didn't encourage Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump to visit every corner of Nebraska, only focus on the one in play. It's reasonable to assume the same would happen in Michigan, with candidates focusing on the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th and 11th.

Mr. Trump spent time in places like Muskegon and Traverse City. Republicans might be disinclined to do so under Mr. Huizenga's proposal because both areas are within solidly Republican U.S. House districts. And what of Wayne County, usually a place Democratic candidates lavish with attention because of its enormous Democratic vote?

Instead of needing to work the whole state, candidates would likely camp out in Berrien, Kalamazoo, Kent, Genesee, Saginaw, Oakland, Ingham and Livingston counties. That's eight of the state's 83 counties.

How is that an improvement?

There will always be a winner and a loser. Those who win today may find themselves losing the next time around.

That's politics.

That's life.

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MDOC Survey Shows Some Want For COVID Vax Among Inmates, Staff

Posted: January 8, 2021 12:54 PM

While a coronavirus vaccine has not yet become available to prisoners in Michigan yet, as of Thursday roughly four out of 10 inmates say they will be vaccinated as soon as they are able.

Of the more than 23,000 inmates surveyed by the Department of Corrections regarding if they would be interested in taking a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available, 63 percent – or roughly 14,190 inmates – indicate they "definitely, or probably will" get it.

Another 18 percent – about 4,140 inmates – said they were unsure if they would be vaccinated, possibly needing more time or information before making the decision.

Even if two-thirds of those who answered they were still mulling vaccination do get inoculated, that would mean exactly half – about 16,950 inmates – of MDOC's prisoner population would be able to better fight off COVID-19 in an environment where social distancing measures are less realistic than outside facility walls.

Staff, too, have mostly been in favor of being vaccinated as soon as they are able. Although survey response numbers were less than that of inmates – only about 4,700 employees responded of the between 12,000 and 13,000 people MDOC employs – initial answers boded well: About 54 percent indicated they would also "definitely, or probably" receive a vaccine.

The survey is also ongoing, meaning a clearer picture of MDOC's vaccine needs could become more apparent as time goes on. But the key will come down to not just the agency being able to vaccinate but that inmates and staff will want the vaccination when the time comes.

MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz said there is a "continuing education piece" among staff to encourage taking the vaccine, but that it will not be mandatory. Still, if the agency hopes to stifle the disease then a hard push on education among prisoners must also be encouraged.

As of January 7, 121 inmates have died from COVID-19 and there are nearly 6,700 active cases of the virus among prisoners across all state facilities with two, the Carson City and Chippewa correctional facilities, seeing positive case counts of more than 1,000 inmates each.

On the staff side, to date, four have died and another 3,125 have been sickened by COVID-19. While some staff – mostly those who are health care providers within MDOC – can and have been vaccinated, it's still a waiting game for prisoners.

Elderly prisoners older than 75 fall under Phase 1B vaccination efforts with all other elderly Michiganders; those 65 to 74-years-old fall into Phase 1C, alongside prisoners of any age with health complications that put them at a highier risk of a negative COVID-19 outcome.

For all otherwise healthy prisoners older than 16, they fall into Phase 2 – just like the rest of the population without health complications seeking a vaccine.

Because a prison is, effectively, a petri dish for any virus at any given time, it is especially pertinent vaccine education for staff and inmates is continued so that those who are inoculated outnumber those who are not – suffocating COVID-19 out of MDOC facilities for the safety of all who work or reside there.

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School Support Staff Retirements Are Trending Up – What That Means Is Unclear

Posted: November 18, 2020 1:18 PM

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, a teacher shortage in Michigan was already a topic of concern.

At the start of 2020, the House heard testimony of how a shortage of properly certified educators – or just a lack of people in general – has caused schools to fill K-12 positions with long-term substitutes or teachers that lack the proper certification to teach the course they are instructing.

It was something the state had been warned of as a possibility the year prior, in a report from the Citizens Research Council, and has been talked of for years leading up to this point.

Now in November, nine months into the pandemic, that fear of shortage hasn't changed – though priority may have shifted some.

During the State Board of Education's October meeting, Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice noted Michigan had not seen a drastic uptick in teacher retirements from the onset of the pandemic until then. Year-over-year, he said, retirement rates had continued to trend as normal at the state level.

"There is not … a greater out migration from the profession that we would have expected, based on the last four years of data," Mr. Rice told board members. "Now, with respect to support staff, our retirements are up in the MPSRS system."

Data from the Michigan Education Association – one of the state's largest education unions – obtained Tuesday backs this claim, with the group indicating they are already starting to see a steady year-over-year rise in member retirements.

In September 2017, the MEA reported 421 member retirements. That number dropped to 408 in September 2019 but has leapt to 685 as of September 2020. Similarly, 242 members retired in October 2017, 288 members retired in October of 2019 and 440 members retired as of October 2020.

The organization did not provide specifics as to why these members retired nor who they were; the group allows membership for not just teachers but all education employees. But it's not just teachers we should be concerned with when weighing the possibility of a shortage.

It was a fear many had at the start of the year – that a pivot to distance or virtual learning would cause some educators to retire or simply leave the profession early for several reasons: inability to want to relearn how to teach on new technology, health concerns, added stress and so on.

As of November, it appears that while teaching staff are having their own issues – the number of educators instructing topics they were not endorsed to teach has increased or stayed steady in 14 subject fields, for one – they have not reported a dramatic increase in retirements.

It's not great, Michigan effectively treading water when it comes to net in-migration between out-migration of the teaching profession, but it's a problem the state can continue to address. However, if there is to be an uptick in support staff retirements? That is a different issue.

School support staff are teachers' aides, bus drivers and monitors, janitors, preschool care givers; they're receptionists, security guards, maintenance personnel, line cooks, before or after school care givers, playground monitors and much more to a school.

If teachers are the heart of a child's education, then these individuals are the blood that pumps to make sure things keep running smoothly. And if we're starting to hemorrhage these careers – possibly as a result of the virus, possibly as a result of a historic disenfranchisement of the education profession in its entirety – something has to be done before children pay the price.

The answer to "what," however, is still unclear.

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Numerous Whitmer Recall Efforts Doomed To Fail Sans Unified Movement

Posted: September 16, 2020 12:18 PM

In covering Board of State Canvasser meetings over the past few months, one thing has become abundantly clear: people love submitting recall petitions against Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Whether they're merited is beside the point. People have the right to petition a recall of an elected official whenever they choose and for whatever reason, so long as the language within the document is clear and factual, according to the guidelines the canvassers abide by.

It's not so much that people are attempting to recall the governor – it's the way they're doing it.

There are at least eight active recall petitions circulating against Ms. Whitmer as of September 16, 2020, by Gongwer's best estimates. An official list from the Bureau of Elections was due to be released sometime last week, but an official with the Department of State later amended that the list would be made public either later this week or early next.

Regardless of how many recall petitions are active, however, it stands to reason that any number higher than one is too many as to trigger a recall election against a statewide official organizers would need to collect more than 1 million signatures in 60 days.

If pro-recall individuals were serious about wanting to remove the governor, the only way they could hope to do that is through some sort of coalesced movement.

It's largely the reason why the Unlock Michigan petition is looking to be successful. Besides money, there is a pointed and unified movement behind attempting to rollback Ms. Whitmer's emergency powers through one citizen lead petition initiative. Were there multiple petitions seeking to accomplish the same goal, it's likely they collectively would be able to get the necessary number of signatures to file. Still, those signatures would mean nothing, as they'd be gathered on eight different documents that don't meet the threshold rather than one that does.

There was one known attempt to try and unify under a petition submitted by a Chad Baase, a former Republican candidate in the 62nd House District. That movement, however, fractured when parts of Mr. Baase's team accused him of attempting to embezzle funds from the recall effort for personal use – a charge which Mr. Baase has continued to deny, though has acknowledged money is missing from the campaign's coffers.

That same team has since submitted a new petition to recall the governor without Mr. Baase, submitting an exact copy of a recall petition Mr. Baase's had already approved on June 8 – except this time, without any mention of Mr. Baase's involvement. The petition saw no action, however, given the convoluted nature of trying to submit an already approved petition simply because a group had a falling out.

Clearly, uniting behind one recall effort is a bit more complex than it seems.

And while the signature threshold is significantly less when gathering for a petition initiative rather than a recall, and efforts have more time to collect signatures for a petition initiative, the fact there is no one movement attempting to recall Ms. Whitmer effectively is making it so that the plane has crashed before it ever left the runway.

Without a unified movement, there is no chance Ms. Whitmer – let alone any other elected official whose name has come before the canvassers within the past month for recall – will be removed from office. Whether there will ever be one, too, remains to be seen.

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As Universities Return And COVID Cases Rise, State's Hands Are Tied

Posted: August 26, 2020 2:28 PM

What, if anything, can be done regarding the rise in new coronavirus cases at university campuses across Michigan as some opt for a return to in-person, face-to-face learning?

At the state level? Largely nothing.

Despite a letter made public Tuesday from roughly 250 university students, faculty and staff across the state asking Governor Gretchen Whitmer for leadership and guidance regarding a push for virtual instruction, she does not have the ability to do much more than publicly recommend ideas from her position.

That's due to the separation of powers between state government and university boards of control in the Michigan Constitution, otherwise known as the autonomy clause, which grants to university boards "general supervision of the institution and the control and direction of all expenditures from the institution's funds."

Even if Ms. Whitmer wanted to use executive powers to force universities to close or try to use state appropriations to universities as leverage, she would have no power to do so. No executive orders could force these institutions to move to largely online schooling. Nothing, outside of perhaps a public shaming, could be done to force the universities that have opened to mostly in-person schooling to now pivot toward online, remote education.

Looking at the state of Michigan's public universities, it's a hodgepodge regarding approach. The reason being is that each university exists in an environment different from the next – that returning to school in person at Michigan State University, whose campus is basically fused with East Lansing's downtown, is very different than returning to in-person learning at Western Michigan University, which poses less of a risk to quickly infecting a greater population with the virus.

The one thing that has held true, however, is that regardless of if the institution has chosen a fully virtual, fully in-person or a hybrid approach of the two regarding back to school – it's unclear if that will make a difference if students choose to not follow COVID-19 prevention efforts off campus.

It's been a little more than a week since Central Michigan University has opted, largely, to return to on-campus, face-to-face instruction and since then the coronavirus case count of its home county has jumped so drastically that Isabella County has declared a public health emergency. That's because despite its best efforts on-campus, reports from students on social media continue to show widespread parties with little mask use and even smaller amounts of social distancing.

Indeed, the university Monday reported it's already grappling with three separate outbreaks of COVID-19 off-campus, one of which was traced back to a fraternity house which subsequently resulted in the halting of Greek life entirely at CMU.

At University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus – although classes aren't due to start until August 31 – photos of students partying at fraternity houses without masks and with little social distance are already making the rounds on social media. U-M has opted to taking a hybrid approach, though a spokesperson with the institution said roughly 70 percent of undergraduate students chose to take online courses.

And at MSU, which did pivot to largely online instruction a week ago in light of mass outbreaks of COVID-19 at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill – and whose return to school policy was similar to the one MSU intended to employ on its campus – it seems even that has not deterred students from moving into the downtown area, or areas around campus, and completely disregarding any virus-prevention efforts. Living in the area and having a partner who works in downtown East Lansing, it's not out of the ordinary for either of us to see gatherings at house parties in areas of the city known for student housing; and those gatherings rarely feature masks or social distancing.

And yet, because most – if not all – of these instances are occurring off campus, there's nothing these students' respective universities can do about it. Further, while all of the counties in which these universities reside – Isabella, Washtenaw and Ingham counties, respectively – have public health orders in place that limit the amount of people at indoor and outdoor gatherings, as well as mask use, it seems like there's been no effect on any of it.

So, again – what can be done? In talks with public health officials, again and again two topics come up: local police enforcing these orders and people observing them in the first place.

But for that to happen, especially the second topic, that would require people to buy into the idea that not only is the virus real and a threat, but that people may have to be inconvenienced for a little while if it means getting rid of the virus faster – rather than ignoring orders and all but welcoming in a second wave of COVID-19 in communities.

Will that happen? If history is anything to go by, it seems unlikely, whether the governor can intervene or not. Until people, students included, begin taking the virus seriously however – which seems to be the only way we'll all get through this – then the stories of outbreaks and deaths will continue.

And it seems the only people who can prevent that is us, and our choices, as individuals.

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This Is A Wild Lawsuit, Even For Robert Davis

Posted: August 12, 2020 3:47 PM

What's the best way to circulate political literature in the Wayne County area that anonymously urges voters not to support the reelection of county prosecutor Kym Worthy, out of fear you might see retaliation if your name is forced to be put on the document?

You file a lawsuit about it, with your full name, in the U.S. District Court in Detroit.

That's not a punchline. That's a fact.

Serial litigator Robert Davis filed suit against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett Sunday, alleging he feared revenge from high profile county officials should he be forced to put his name on literature encouraging people to vote Ms. Worthy out of office come November.

Mr. Davis, citing Michigan Compiled Law, says the state is forcing him to print his name on any form of campaign-related literature he wishes to distribute anonymously, which puts him at risk of retaliation from members of the Wayne County Election Commission, Ms. Worthy, Ms. Garrett and Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Kenny.

Mr. Davis states that he has received calls from persons associated with Ms. Worthy, who have "sent word and subtle threats … warning (Mr.) Davis that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is 'going to get him.'"

"Due to these threats and Kym Worthy's position of influence as the Wayne County Prosecutor, Plaintiff Davis does not want to have to put his name or be required to form a committee under Michigan's Campaign Finance Act," the suit reads.

But would it not be easier simply to send the literature anonymously, rather than put one's name on a court document, which very explicitly states who you are and what you plan to do?

The point is almost defeated by the sheer action of the lawsuit.

Nevertheless, Mr. Davis says he actively fears that Ms. Worthy and Mr. Kenny would seek to prosecute him under this law as he plans to send fliers regarding them specifically, which could result in a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or a 93-day jail sentence, at most.

"Because Kym Worthy currently serves as the Wayne County Prosecutor and has a legal duty under Michigan Election Law and Michigan Campaign Finance Act to prosecute violations of either statute, Plaintiff Davis has a legitimate fear of being prosecuted if he chose to exercise his First Amendment right to print, circulate and have distributed anonymous campaign literature that is critical of Kym Worthy, Defendant County Clerk and Chief Judge Kenny," the suit states. "Although Plaintiff Davis is prepared and able to commence printing and distributing the anonymous campaign literature, Plaintiff Davis cannot proceed with printing and distributing the anonymous campaign literature due to the provisions of Mich. Comp. Laws."

What's also bizarre is Mr. Davis could in fact distribute virtually anonymous literature attached to a shell organization – call it "Detroiters for a Better Detroit" or whatever – and publish positive or negative information about a candidate as long as it did not call for their election or defeat without running afoul of Michigan law.

That charge isn't all the suit contains. A second portion of the suit also claims Ms. Benson violated his due process rights when mailing Mr. Davis an "unsolicited absentee voter application," which he claims violated his right to choose if he wanted an absentee ballot.

Whether he'll see merits on either argument, but specifically the first count, remains to be seen. Mr. Davis doesn't exactly have a track record of winning in court.

Again – perhaps just sending out the literature would have been cheaper than a lawsuit.

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School Mask Wearing Enforcement Placing Trust In Good-Faith Actors

Posted: July 8, 2020 2:29 PM

A little more than a week ago, Governor Gretchen Whitmer released her return to school roadmap, which emphasized a high level of sanitation and, in some cases, mask wearing for eligible students and teachers throughout the school day.

It's a move everyone saw coming, as parents and educators throughout the state clamored for guidance on how a safe return to in-person learning come fall would be possible. And while some questioned the basis for frequent mask wearing for teachers and older students throughout the entire school day, it's in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Ms. Whitmer's administration has pointed through throughout the pandemic.

But what's still a matter of question is, possibly, the most important: Enforcement.

While districts must get their return to school plans approved prior to implementation, there's nothing explicitly stated within the guidelines how enforcement is meant to be handled. There are headings marked required and recommended throughout Phase 4 implementation, which then is cut down to just recommended and strongly recommended throughout the return to learning guidelines in Phase 5 and Phase 6.

A difference between a "requirement" and "recommendation," though, is not ever spelled out in terms of enforceability. There is no state law which requires students and teachers to wear masks throughout the day. Students and staff can forgo mask wearing entirely should it be found there's a medical condition in conflict with their ability to wear a face covering.

At this point, if people can get around the "requirement" through use of a doctor's note – which, school groups have noted, would be similar to how a person can receive an exemption for the requirement a student be vaccinated prior to enrolling at a school – and there's no real teeth behind the move: What is stopping anyone from simply not following it? From deciding that, because a parent does not believe masks effective, their child will not be wearing one this fall?

For some educators I've spoken with on the topic, the current answer is good faith and hope.

Faith in that, similar to vaccines, those who participate in mask wearing will far outweigh the risks of those don't. And hope that leading by example and encouraging mask wearing as a model thing to do will almost peer-pressure students into practicing safe social distancing and sanitary practices.

Is that going to be enough, though? For older teachers and substitutes, for children who are immunocompromised, for students who cannot wear a mask due to sensory issues or by virtue of being too young – is good faith and trust in people to do the right thing going to be sufficient?

It is still early in the process of fleshing out plans and getting children back in the classroom. And while returning to in-person learning is much needed, especially in both the rural and urban areas where a lack of broadband infrastructure or poverty makes distance learning difficult (if not impossible), how can the state make sure a return doesn't mean an exacerbation of the virus at the expense of teachers, administrators and staff who are at a higher risk of getting it in the first place?

Obviously, there is no one size fits all answer and schools will need to determine, at their own pace, what enforcement means for them. What works for the Bois Blanc Pines School District might not work in Grand Rapids Public Schools. But it also shouldn't be a question left unanswered.

Let's hope there's an answer by the start of the in-person school year. Or, at least, further clarification on how strict a requirement truly is.

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2nd Civil Rights Director Search Highlights Larger Agency Morale Issue

Posted: July 1, 2020 12:59 PM

In June, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights made the decision to – after nearly a year without an executive director leading the agency – start over in its search for the "right" candidate.

This was done despite months of internal meetings and reviews, which had the Civil Rights Commission landing on two candidates – Harvey Hollins, a former aide to then-Governor Rick Snyder during the Flint water crisis, and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Conrad Mallett.

Both had their own issues, according to agency staff: Mr. Hollins' name was still closely linked with the infrastructure crisis which sickened, and potentially killed, Flint residents; and Mr. Mallett was seen as being more interested as running the department like a for-profit business than as an agency focused on the betterment of civil rights in Michigan.

These characterizations come following a staff survey of MDCR employees, who were only officially brought in on the process after Mr. Mallett had dropped out of the running entirely to take up the position of Detroit deputy mayor (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 19, 2020).

And even with these responses – many of which called out the commission by name as having unfairly expedited the process at the expense of staff participation – the body still attempted, although failed, to vote Mr. Hollins through to receiving the position.

It's not a stretch to say morale is low at the department. It's also not a stretch to say that low morale is exacerbated by the lack of leadership in the department, which has seen multiple people fill the executive director role in the last decade alone.

This department, especially now, cannot afford a lack of leadership.

An agency tasked with investigating serious civil rights violations across Michigan – and more recently, having been granted a seat on the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards board – cannot afford to be considered by its own employees "a rudderless ship" or having "overall no accountability."

Should the commission have involved staff from the start – listened to the concerns of department employees rather than pushing onwards, convinced they had the best possible candidates based on their own assessment alone – it's possible the MDCR could have already placed an executive director in the role. But they didn't, and it hasn't, so now we must hope the commission lands on the right answer during this subsequent search.

The state could benefit from a strong civil rights voice now perhaps more than ever. Between conversations on police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affecting Black individuals more so than white, there is a need for Michigan to have a strong, unified department that is brought together by a leader who understands the values of the department and can forward the goal of civil rights achievement.

Hopefully, this body can get it right the second time around.

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COVID Tech Shift Allowing For More Accessibility To Gov't Meetings

Posted: May 27, 2020 10:40 AM

Since the stay home order has taken effect, government entities of all sorts are turning to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Live and other forms of livestream so their business can be observed in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.

It's been interesting to watch how different organizations and institutions are making that happen.

For some, especially non-journalists, it's allowing for the observance of things like the Enbridge Line 5 court hearing against Attorney General Dana Nessel, or an inside look into what the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is doing during its U.P. Energy Task Force meetings.

Suddenly, things that were hundreds of miles away and would take all day to attend have entered into our houses, onto our phones and computers, and given us the ability to stay informed about what our state, the courts and other organizations are doing during the pandemic – not just about the pandemic, but commencing with business as usual.

Even officials are taking notice of how this has opened up access to government proceedings. At one point during the livestream, more than 7,000 people tuned in to watch a May 15 Court of Claims hearing wherein the state Legislature sued Governor Gretchen Whitmer, alleging she is misusing her emergency powers.

No courtroom in the world would be able to house that many attendees.

While there are drawbacks to this sort of function – particularly for individuals with visual or audio disabilities – it shouldn't mean the state wholesale does away with online streaming services as soon as in-person meetings should commence. That goes for the federal courts as well.

Are there issues with conducting meetings this way? Yes. Buffering problems, audio failures, dropped calls – to name a few – abound when trying to use livestreaming services.

But because the state is being forced to use them during the ongoing pandemic, this is a chance to see these services be workshopped so that they can function in a more streamlined way. This is a chance for institutions – like the courts, like various government task forces – to invite the public in and help dispel that mistrust of bureaucracy, by allowing them first-hand to see what's discussed and how decisions are reached.

If anything comes out of the aftermath of this pandemic, it should be a commitment to more and better transparency when it comes to meetings that affect the average citizen. We should see embrace the power of technology and the accessibility it offers, not spurn it as soon as in-person meetings can recommence.

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SOS Asking Gov To Extend Filing Deadline To May 12 For November Ballot

Posted: March 26, 2020 9:35 PM

The Department of State is asking Governor Gretchen Whitmer to extend Michigan's April 21 candidate filing deadline to May 12 in light of social distancing concerns stemming from possible spread of the new coronavirus.

Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for the Department of State, said the department has asked Ms. Whitmer for the three-week extension when asked by Gongwer News Service if the idea was under consideration.

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said Thursday the office is reviewing the request and has no timeframe or additional information to share right now.

Filing candidacy paperwork is due to the Bureau of Elections by 4 p.m. April 21 to be eligible for a slew of November ballot positions, including appeals, circuit, district or probate court judgeships for non-incumbent candidates and partisan local, state and federal offices.

The most high-profile candidates potentially facing problems in ballot access are those for U.S. House, where candidates must submit valid signatures from at least 1,000 registered voters with a maximum submission of 2,000 signatures allowed. Signature-gathering requires the kind of person-to-person contact now considered verboten amid calls to socially distance to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Very few of the expected candidates for the state's 14 U.S. House districts have filed their petitions so far. The two major U.S. Senate candidates, Republican John James and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), filed their petitions long ago.

Many of the candidates running for Congress interviewed by Gongwer News Service indicated they were either finishing a once-over of the signatures gathered and planned to file well before the deadline, or that they planned to meet the deadline but still needed some additional signatures.

Michael Gerstein, campaign manager for State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder, who is running for Congress in the 8th U.S. House District, said the pandemic will create a struggle for those looking to file regardless of their status as an incumbent or not.

He pointed to judges, with their increased signature requirement rate, and incumbents running in uncontested races as being particularly vulnerable to the lack of face-to-face time with constituents. While the Snyder campaign isn't worried about their ability to file on time, as "we've been collecting signatures for a while," Mr. Gerstein said those who have waited until the last minute are now stuck in a never-before-experienced problem.

"I'm an advocate for the deadline being extended. I know right now, there's a large portion of signature collection that is volunteer base and there's no one right now volunteering to get signatures," he said. "Even your paid guys are basically taking this week off … no one is working because of quarantine, social distancing and everything."

Mr. Gerstein did emphasize that by not officially approving a deadline change, people could be spooked into signature gathering now and thus further exposing people to the COVID-19. By approving an extension, it would "at least put people a little bit at ease."

Candidates who have already filed their petition signatures include U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills), U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), and Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) who is looking to unseat U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Saint Joseph) in the 6th U.S. House District.

The campaigns of U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Grand Rapids business executive Peter Meijer in the 3rd U.S. House district, Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) in the 10th U.S. House District and Attorney Eric Esshaki in the 11th U.S. House District all indicated they would be filing according to the April 21 deadline at or above the signatory threshold.

Still, there are some candidates sweating making the deadline should Ms. Whitmer not approve the change.

Kimberly Bizon, a Democratic environmental activist running in the 10th U.S. House district race, has already circulated to her supporters that her campaign has cancelled the rest of its petition signing events for the year but still needed aid in reaching the mandated threshold.

The campaign is turning to email as a means to get paperwork out to interested individuals, who would then have to turn the packet back into Bizon campaign workers via mail.

Paul Junge, a candidate looking to unseat U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) in the 8th U.S. House District, filed his petition signatures Thursday. He said while he could see the need for a deadline extension for the signatures, due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, candidates who are looking at beginning signature gathering now are behind the curve.

"I think it's important to follow the law … I don't think these legal requirements are something that are about convenience. There's a reason why this law exists," Mr. Junge said. "Any candidate that really has their act together, they don't wait until the last minute."

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Pure Michigan Expands To Audio; Topped At No. 9 On New Age Charts

Posted: March 9, 2020 10:26 AM

Michigan has finally found a way to bring the state park experience into your own home.

Or car.

Or wherever you find yourself listening to music, really.

For the prominent Michigan travel advertisement campaign Pure Michigan, a stream isn't just a body of water anymore – it's a way to drive attention to the state on all platforms available. And it was so successful that the album Pure Michigan produced actually topped at No. 9 for a period of time on the Billboard New Age music charts.

The album Pure Sounds of Michigan, released by Pure Michigan in 2019, combines the ambient sounds of state parks with the musical interpretation of 12 different local musicians. It was completed in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources during its 100th anniversary.

This also makes Michigan the first state tourism office to ever put out an album.

"Sometimes, you really have to break through the clutter," said Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, told the House Commerce and Tourism Committee last week. "We wanted those noises to represent the experience at those state parks."

While it's the only album the campaign has released thus far, the Spotify playlist already boasts 422 followers and has notched more than 14 million impressions since its release, Mr. Lorenz said. Overall, it has around 4 million listens combined on Spotify and Pandora – and counting.

Whether Pure Michigan ends up putting out another album is still unknown; it's still a unique opportunity to take about an hour-long "virtual, sunrise-to-sunset tour of the state from coast to coast" (according to the playlist's description) that other states just don't offer.

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Captain America Includes Michigan Faces In His Political Civility Project

Posted: February 13, 2020 10:41 AM

Earlier last month, Captain America/Avengers star Chris Evans told the technology magazine Wired he has embarked on a journey which his on-screen comic book persona would be proud of: trying to get the American people more informed on what's going on with and within their government.

The website – called A Starting Point – allegedly is going to model itself similarly to Wikipedia, but instead of long slogs through texts on complex political terms and ideas, it would comprise video interviews with political leaders alongside easier to understand explanations. The thought, Mr. Evans to told Wired, was to get "a basic understanding, a basic history, and a basic grasp on what the two parties think" of any trending political hot topic. To be a database, not a platform.

While the website's not yet live, Mr. Evans has been gathering politicos to help film interviews for people who might use the site since as early as April 2019.

Who might some of those interviews be with? The film star hasn't said. But turning to Twitter, one might find two prominent Michigan political faces having recently posted photos of themselves with Mr. Evans: Governor Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Saint Joseph).

Ms. Whitmer has not confirmed that her meeting with Mr. Evans was for his Starting Point project, though it seems likely, especially with the onslaught of other politicians across the country sharing selfies with Mr. Evans and endorsing his project.

Mr. Upton, however, enthusiastically signed on to the idea in his own post. Upton spokesperson Josh Paciorek confirmed the two talked about climate change, tax cuts and the national debt in their interview.

Whether there'll be other Michigan political faces to join in, who's to say? Even if it's only Ms. Whitmer and Mr. Upton who have participated in A Starting Point, it's important to see our state leaders included in a conversation about bipartisan civility. It's especially important, considering Michigan's voting habits in the last four years – with President Donald Trump having narrowly won the state in 2016, yet Democrats dominating in 2018, sweeping the top of the ticket and flipping some long-time Republican districts in the Legislature.

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Speaking Up About Lucido Comments Was The Proper Response

Posted: January 15, 2020 3:39 PM

It's the worst kept secret in the world: If you are a woman, regardless of your age or profession, comments will be made about you – sometimes even to your face.

Comments made by Sen. Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Township) are in the national media spotlight after he told a Capitol reporter that a group of teenage boys he was showing around the building could "have a lot of fun" with her.

"You've heard of De La Salle, right?" Mr. Lucido is quoted by the Michigan Advance as saying. When reporter Allison Donahue said she hadn't, he continued with: "It's an all-boys school … You should hang around. You could have a lot of fun with these boys or they could have a lot of fun with you."

When she told him later the comments were out of line – and kudos to her for doing so – he said he didn't mean anything by it and that he was only joking. When asked later if he thought he owed Ms. Donahue an apology, Mr. Lucido told the Detroit Free Press he thought his comments – while he owned up to saying them – were taken out of context and did not rise to the level of needing an apology.

That was around 8 a.m. By 10:30 a.m. Mr. Lucido had sent out a statement, clarifying that it was a "misunderstanding" and that he apologized "for offending Allison Donahue."

But that's the thing: there is no misunderstanding about what a group of boys "having fun" with a woman could mean. There's no excuse for making that type of comment to a woman, not only in a professional setting, but for any reason at all.

Too often comments like these are made every day to women. They usually they go unaddressed, especially when they're made toward younger women who might occupy lower positions of power than that of the commenter. Further, there's many reasons why a woman might not speak up: fear of retaliation, disbelief from colleagues, getting reprimanded as a response.

By speaking up about her treatment, Ms. Donahue isn't just speaking for herself in her instance, she's giving the ability for other women to speak up too about their experiences in being diminished or demeaned in their line of work.

Today doesn't have to be all bad, however. If anything, it shows the amount of people ready and willing to work toward unlearning unprofessional comments such Mr. Lucido's and educating, both ourselves and others, about the harm our words and actions can have.

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Slotkin's In Demand And Under The Microscope

Posted: January 8, 2020 2:31 PM

The rise in visibility of U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin has been impossible to ignore.

She's been featured in The Washington Post and New York Times, even being the focal point of several episodes of NYT's podcast "The Daily." She's submitted op-eds to papers both in Michigan and in the beltway. Most recently, she's taken a key role in criticizing the recent airstrikes in Iran and offered commentary about what this could bode in the international theatre of war.

Regardless of personal party affiliation, Ms. Slotkin (D-Holly) has presented herself as an even-tempered and knowledgeable politician which makes her decisions difficult – though not impossible – to criticize. It's why, more than likely, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped her to help temper President Donald Trump's actions in Iran due to Ms. Slotkin's history as a former CIA operative with Middle East experience.

It's almost easy to forget that back in September she was one of seven freshman Democrats who came out against Mr. Trump's Ukrainian phone call, labeling it as "an impeachable offense" and later that same year ended up voting in favor of impeachment.

Data from Real Clear Politics even indicates that she only sides with the president's position on most bills less than 5 percent of the time. Further, the White House has even put out a statement on Ms. Slotkin's decision to vote to impeach, accusing her of selling out her constituents "for Nancy Pelosi's shame impeachment process" (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 17, 2019).

For any other Democrat, especially one that flipped a historically red district blue, it would have been a kiss of death. And Ms. Slotkin faces a difficult reelection. But her all-world fundraising, an estimated $3.3 million since beginning her reelection campaign, is a big deterrent to major Republican challenger emerging. So far, a large but unknown cast of Republican candidates has announced.

She's become something of both a media darling and a Democrat superstar on the national political stage. But that doesn't mean she's immune from seeing her seat flip back to a Republican in 2020, and there is a big Republican focus on keeping the heat on Ms. Slotkin.

As of time of publication at least four Republicans have announced their intent to face off against Ms. Slotkin in the general election, including a former immigration official within the Trump administration and a current serving member of Michigan's State Board of Education.

If Ms. Slotkin does win a second term, she faces a new challenge in 2022 assuming she runs again.

Michigan stands to lose a U.S. House seat after the 2020 census when the lines are redrawn in 2021. The lines will change significantly, especially in her home county of Oakland. She could wind up separate from her political base in Ingham County and have to contemplate running in a very different district, moving or both. Even if she keeps a favorable view among her constituents, it could be out of Ms. Slotkin's hands entirely as to whether she keeps her job or not.

The possibilities for Ms. Slotkin are about as wide-ranging as imaginable. In three years, we could be talking about a national Democratic superstar and future candidate for statewide office like U.S. Senate. Or we could be remembering her as a one-term wonder who was not sufficiently in sync with enough of her district to become an enduring political force.

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Why Have Prop G If We're Just Going To Ignore It When Inconvenient?

Posted: November 15, 2019 4:04 PM

With so many deer in the state, they tend to end up everywhere and anywhere – even the Legislature, it seems, is no exception.

Bills looking to lift the ban on deer baiting and feeding, enacted in all of the Lower and parts of the Upper Peninsula, advanced through the Senate on Wednesday. Earlier last week, they passed through the House. Each day, these bills creep closer to possibly undoing the work of the Natural Resources Commission, which put the ban in place to help quell the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in Michigan's deer population.

Reasons cited for needing to lift the ban boil down to two major things. One, the state will lose money from a lack of purchased hunting licenses, of which the Department of Natural Resources does make a decent amount of money that goes back to helping conservation efforts and; two, lawmakers aren't certain if the ban will actually stop the spread of CWD, so why penalize hunters on the off chance it could?

And therein is the problem.

The 1996 Legislature gave the NRC an ability to, in times of ecological need so long as that decision was backed by valid science, create rules that had to be enforced by the state up and until the initial issue passed or was mitigated. It was dubbed Proposal G.

For years, hunters have embraced Proposal G because anytime something arises in the Legislature that brings politics into a decision involving hunting, they can point to 1996's Proposal G that put the NRC in charge with a mandate to let the science rule as voters simultaneously repudiated a ban on bear hunting brought by animal rights groups. Because the NRC gave bear hunting the green light in the 1950s, despite the protestations from environmental groups, open season has remained at the commission's discretion since then.

Proposal G has continued to grant the NRC the power to open and close season as it saw fit.

So, what makes deer baiting so different? If the science is there, as much as it can be, why is it being ignored?

With the information current science provides, the NRC has found (through information gathered by a group of independent scientists) the best route for Michigan to take currently is to crack down on baiting. It's still possible for hunters to bait in the state, they just have to drive a little farther to do it. What's more, while the Lower Peninsula's ban has been enacted in perpetuity currently, it does not mean it will forever be this way.

During the most recent NRC meeting, one commissioner commented that people are angry because of the course it took to prevent CWD spread, yet if they did nothing, people would be angry at the body for its inaction.

To ignore the powers granted to the NRC through Proposal G is a major switcheroo from the position many of those opposing the banning of baiting have long taken since that 1996 vote.

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Mixed Response On Marijuana Reflection Of Uncharted Territory Status

Posted: November 7, 2019 5:00 PM

Elections Tuesday across the state sent two major messages to marijuana advocates, whether intentional or not: One, while legal at the state level, voters in individual local governments are hesitant to allow growers or businesses into their communities. Two, let's slow down a minute here.

In 2018, the state approved Proposal 1 – which legalized the possession and use of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older – with about 55.9 percent of the vote. On Tuesday, of the 10 marijuana proposals at bat, four proposals seeking to prohibit recreational marijuana facilities went two and two in Tuesday's elections while only one of the six proposals to allow the facilities won (See Gongwer Michigan Report, November 5, 2019).

As said in our coverage from Tuesday: it was a mostly bad night for marijuana. Yet, despite more than half the state giving an enthusiastic thumbs up to use of marijuana in 2018, at the local level it seems like voters in cities, villages and townships are hesitant to allow businesses to sell it in their jurisdictions.


Is it because of fear? Maybe.

Michigan is ahead of the curve, nationally. It's one of only 11 states that have legalized marijuana. As a result, adopting ordinances that would allow for marijuana facilities to begin building in local governments is largely uncharted territory. What could this open the door for? Would it impact property taxes? How would the business of marijuana affect the community?

There's a lot to still be considered, even a year out from Prop 1. You can't blame people for wanting to be cautious.

Proposal 1 passed during the November general election of 2018 when more than 4 million people voted statewide. Are the marijuana business proposals largely failing because these specific elections took place during low-turnout election days, therefore the people who would go out and vote are the ones who more likely than not felt passionately either for or against the issue?


Odd year election turnout is traditionally low. If voters in a city, village or township are looking to try and pass an ordinance on marijuana, trying in low-turnout elections increasingly looks like a bad bet. Even if there seems to be widespread support, there's always a chance it could fail. And maybe that's what happened in these instances. Or maybe the state just isn't ready to give marijuana businesses a go at the local level.

It could be an education issue. It could be a timing issue. It could even be a case of national stage fright, not wanting to greenlight too much too fast and run the risk of approving things without knowing what's instore for a community.

Whatever the case is – this isn't the last we'll see of marijuana on the ballot, that's for sure. And with next year having major elections in March and November that could truly be the gauge on where the state is at on the marijuana front.

Until then, it's all hazy.

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Benton Harbor Loan Refinancing Saves Money But Can't Buy Time

Posted: October 25, 2019 11:48 AM

The fight to keep Benton Harbor Area Schools open marches ever on.

It's an arduous process that seems to have made significant steps this month. But at its core, one question remains: Is any of this actually going to fix the problems the district has, or is this putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole?

Let's recap.

On Tuesday, the district was approved to have five of its seven loans refinanced so that it could avoid having to spend more than $1 million in general fund money starting next year.

The restructuring was unanimously approved by the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board. Benton Harbor officials said the move would "help the district as it continues to recover from a very sizable general fund deficit" acquired by more than a decade of loans which, at its peak, was around $16 million.

At 5:30 p.m. next Wednesday, the first meeting of the Community Engagement and Advisory Committee is scheduled to take place in the Benton Harbor High School Library.

The group – comprising members of the Treasury and Education departments, along with including Benton Harbor area parents and students – plans to put together a financial operating plan to turn into the state next year. During the next six months, the committee will check the district's finances, assess its facilities, take public feedback and more.

The goal is to give the state, effectively, a plan of attack for how to best save the district from financial ruin. Whether this will solve the district's problems or prolong its financial suffering remains to be seen.

It doesn't help the governor's office has remained mum as to what it views as the best way to proceed with the district. The last known signs of life on the subject came in July, when the district submitted a plan to the administration and officials acknowledged it was received.

It came after a ping-pong of plans back and forth between BHAS officials and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Could this be the plan – the creation of the committee and completion of a financial assessment – that was outlined by the BHAS in July? It's unclear.

What that plan entailed was never made public.

Previous reporting indicates the district could run out of money in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Speaking with Treasury officials earlier this week, they say the district "should be fine" in FY 2020.

Will the district run out of money in 2020-2021? Who knows? The entire timeline of this issue has been punctuated by question marks and ideas rejected by either Ms. Whitmer or the district. There has never been a concrete step forward after months of talks.

So, is this plan that step forward? Is this committee the first stride toward a plan that actually has the ability to save Benton Harbor's schools?

No one seems to know. And maybe that is an answer.

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MDOC Wellness Unit Must Succeed For Officers To Succeed

Posted: October 9, 2019 11:21 AM

With tomorrow, October 10, being World Mental Health Day, there's no better time to talk about the need for the Department of Correction's Wellness Unit than now.

Especially considering that as of May, two officers have taken their own lives. It's two too many.

Beginning back earlier this summer, the Wellness Unit was created to help address urgent needs within the department. It came on the back of a study which indicated more than half of Michigan's Corrections officers suffered with anxiety as caused by on the job stressors, one-in-six met the criteria for major depressive disorder and nearly one-in-four met the criteria for PTSD. One-in-five also met the criteria for alcohol abuse, which is almost triple the national average of 7 percent.

On Tuesday, MDOC Employee Wellness Unit Manager Lynn Gorski testified before the Senate Appropriations' Justice and Public Safety subcommittee and Senate Oversite Committee, telling lawmakers the unit has made 300 contacts with Corrections employees and that those connections could be the difference between someone getting help and suffering in silence.

It's a start, and a good one, but with a unit that only estimates itself to be five employees strong at its peak the question then becomes will it be enough to handle the thousands of officers who work with Corrections? Factor in the added stressors of staffing shortages, and it just seems like the problem compounds.

There's an issue within our culture, not just in Corrections, but within most lines of work, that to be upfront with your issues is to somehow be weak. That to seek out either a personal friend to confide in or a licensed therapist is somehow akin to giving up. It's a message that's changing – the American Psychological Association reported in 2004 that the stigma of seeking help was becoming less of a barrier to treatment than in years past – but it's an arduous, uphill climb.

Rome wasn't built in a day, they say, and the stigma around mental health won't be debunked in that timeframe either. This program must be given the resources it needs to succeed as it has a very real cost if it fails: human life.

During Ms. Gorski's testimony Tuesday, Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) read aloud anonymous responses to the survey issued to Corrections. These notes included men and women saying they had missed out on life events like birthdays or anniversaries, that being overworked was the cause of their spouse divorcing them, that anything – including suicide – would be better than to continue working for the department.

There are root causes to their unhappiness and unwellness, most of which stem back to the Corrections officer shortage plaguing not just Michigan but the country as well, which leads to more mandatory overtime, more days with family missed, more stress.

That, too, is an uphill battle, but it's one that will take time and recruitment efforts to address. But the Wellness Unit offers a short-term solution, a solution now, that could be the difference between life and death for some. While it won't solve the officer shortages, it could aid someone in choosing between self-harm and self-help.

And that could make all the difference.

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As Everything Everywhere Is On Fire, Here's Some Good News

Posted: September 25, 2019 2:13 PM

It's been one heck of a week and, reminder, it's only Wednesday.

From budgets here in Michigan to impeachment talks in D.C. (and please, don't get me started on the state of Detroit sports), it's easy to get swept up in the chaos of the 24-hour news cycle. Big item news bogs down our Twitter feed and blows up our phones; it makes it easy to miss the fun, little things that might not get as much attention.

For instance – did you know that Michigan, partly, took home an Emmy for Best Documentary on Sunday? We staked up alongside the likes of "Barry," "Chernobyl" and "Game of Thrones."

The HBO Documentary "I Am Evidence" dives into the reason behind why rape kit backlogs exist and what law enforcement officials are doing to try and pursue justice in these cases. Heavily featured within the piece is Detroit's own Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who accepted the award alongside documentary producer and Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay.

Or, did you know Miss Michigan was crowned over the weekend? Her name is Chanel Johnson and she works for the Department of Corrections in Troy. Already she's using her Twitter as a platform to raise awareness for voting rights, yesterday shooting out a video featuring Miss USA – who Ms. Johnson is seeking to dethrone come next year – about National Voter Registration Day.

And I know I said I wouldn't talk sports but this, particularly, is heartwarming.

Detroit native Wendell Brown is returning home after three years in a Chinese prison. Mr. Brown originally went abroad to teach football in China when he was caught in a barfight in Chongqing, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Earlier reports indicated Mr. Brown was awaiting trial for nearly two years in China before being sentenced to an additional four years in June 2018. His return home was announced on Instagram Tuesday by documentarian Matt Liston, who had been telling Mr. Brown's story both online and corresponding with him throughout his prison sentence.

Though it's important for us to stay informed on what's going on (especially as it relates to one's job or well-being as tied to whether we go into a state government shutdown) it's also important to not get swept up in the news as it comes out by the minute – ironic, considering the medium this is coming from.

Enjoy the little things, the not-so-life-altering-but-kind-of-make-your-day-better kind of things.

This week has been long. It's been emotionally tense. It's not even done yet and I'm sure Pandora can afford to give one more shake of her box to have something fall out before Friday. Who knows?

But until then try not to get bogged down in the minutia – you could miss other cool, interesting things that are going on around you if you do.

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Civil Rights Department Turmoil Can Stop – If Commission Wants It To

Posted: August 9, 2019 1:51 PM

It's been slightly chaotic for the Department of Civil Rights for the last week, to say the least.

Civil Rights Commission Chair Alma Wheeler Smith told Gongwer News Service on August 2 the commission held a special meeting on Monday, July 29, which lasted for several hours and included an almost three-hour, closed door session debating the fate of Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu for comments he made in May to a male colleague which objectified a woman.

That same night, the commission determined Mr. Arbulu's remarks in the complaint filed "did not rise to a violation of the law" and that prescribed punishment fit with the severity of his actions, Ms. Smith said. We, as did several other news outlets, only found out about it thanks to an anonymous tipster who alerted Gongwer that the meeting took place and that Mr. Arbulu was going to be disciplined.

Only after media outlets broke the news did the department send out a release, around 9 p.m. August 1, confirming what happened. The following morning, Governor Gretchen Whitmer sent the department a letter outlining the "serious concerns" she had regarding the decision to keep Mr. Arbulu on board and demanded to know the reason why this was (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 2, 2019).

Her concerns are based off a report completed on what it was Mr. Arbulu said. Details of what's in the report are still unknown. It's is with the Department of Attorney General and is protected by attorney-client privilege, according to Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokesperson for the attorney general.

Which leaves this situation in a tricky spot: The Department of Civil Rights is one of the few organizations that, due to power enshrined in the Constitution, does not have its leader appointed by the governor to avoid unnecessary politicization. It's worked this way for decades and is extremely unlikely to change – for good reason.

There would be nothing more detrimental than a department which handles issues on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, disability, national origin and more be subject to the changing whims of each administration.

As of Wednesday, a spokesperson for the governor confirmed she still has not received an answer (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 7, 2019) – and she's not likely to get one until the Civil Rights Commission convenes again, judging by a previous phone call with Ms. Smith who told Gongwer she would not have a response for Ms. Whitmer until then.

But a lack of forward progress on the issue is leading some lawmakers, like House Minority Leader Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills), to call for Mr. Arbulu to resign. There are murmurs from others in the Legislature that they, too, are inclined to believe the director should resign from his post.

Others around Mr. Arbulu, like department Director of Law and Policy Dan Levy, are stepping away from the situation entirely. In an email, Mr. Levy said that he feels "that I have no other option" than to take an extended leave from the department.

"I am simply not able to properly do my job under the present circumstances," Mr. Levy wrote in a letter, attached to the email. "I can no longer provide neutral counsel to either you or the commission during this period."

There needs to be some level of accountability, because if even the department's law and policy director is demanding to be removed from the situation and saying that he is also "aware of other occasions where (Mr. Arbulu has) been cautioned", then there is something more here than what the public is being led to believe.

It is incumbent on the commission to say why Mr. Arbulu is keeping his post. Mr. Arbulu has told multiple media outlets his comments were about a woman's appearance but would not go into detail as to what they were. He also said he can't recall any type of comments or actions made that would have risen to the level of making a gay staff member at the department feel uncomfortable, allegations of which were outlined in a memo sent to the governor.

So long as the Civil Rights Commission reaffirms its support for Mr. Arbulu, and so long as he does not make the personal decision to resign, then this poking and prodding of the department will continue.

The question isn't if this will continue, but how long? Pressure from other officials can only amount to so much when they aren't making the decision to retain the embattled director.

At this point we only have questions.

It's up to the commission to provide the answers – and the results.

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No GOP Challenge To Upton Despite Frequent Disagreements With Trump

Posted: July 25, 2019 2:33 PM

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton hasn't been incredibly vocal about his disagreements with President Donald Trump but sometimes, voting records speak louder than words.

His most recent example being the only Michigan Republican to vote with Democrats on a U.S. House resolution that condemned "President Trump's racist comments directed at members of Congress" – four progressive freshman women of color, including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit). Mr. Trump had tweeted the four should "go back" to the countries they came from despite all being U.S. citizens and three having been born in the U.S.

When U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Township), a former Republican, said the Mueller report showed Mr. Trump had committed impeachable offenses, several notable Republicans emerged to challenge him in next year's GOP primary though Mr. Amash then declared he would run as an independent. But since Mr. Upton's vote, there's been crickets about a possible challenge. I reached to most Republican current state legislators in Mr. Upton's district for their thoughts on his vote and to gauge whether they might challenge him and received no response.

Records compiled by the analytics group FiveThirtyEight shows that during the 115th Congress, Mr. Upton sided with Mr. Trump just more than 94 percent of the time on any given issue. This Congress? Mr. Upton, who never endorsed Mr. Trump in 2016, has only sided with Mr. Trump 61 percent of the time.

Granted, we're only about a year into the 116th Congress, but when you compare to every other Republican representative from the state, Mr. Upton has the of the lowest "agreement" ratings among his colleagues – not a single Republican dips under the 95 percent agreement threshold, giving an average of agreeing with the president about 96.2 percent of the time.

Except Mr. Upton. The outlier. If you factor in his 61 percent, that average drops down to just 78.2 percent making it sound like Michigan Republican Representatives aren't very receptive to the president.

Mr. Upton has a long history of sometimes bucking his fellow Republicans. He's drawn the ire of far-right conservatives in his district and the occasional primary challenge, but has always emerged victorious. Unlike Mr. Amash, Mr. Upton has worked hard for decades to elect other Republicans in his area and has the network of support that has kept him in office.

A Republican strategist who spoke to Gongwer News Service on background said the party is in wait-and-see mode, adding that Mr. Upton is a "man of his own convictions." Even though several Republicans have told him in private that they consider Mr. Upton a traitor to the party, they still plan on "holding their nose and voting for Fred" as the alternative might be to get saddled with a more maverick congressman than he.

While it's possible that Mr. Upton could see a challenger from his own party, it's very, very unlikely as many don't have the money or network to properly contend, this source said.

It should be noted that Mr. Upton has not officially declared an intent to run again, but second quarter Federal Election Commission filings show he raised $361,178, hardly the sign of someone planning to retire. He outraised presumptive Democratic nominee Rep. Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo by roughly $45,300, bringing his overall funds raised since the start of his campaign to $696,082.

Victor Fitz, chair of the 6th Congressional District Republican Party, reaffirmed the party's support for Mr. Upton in an interview earlier in the week saying that "Fred and the president have the same message, they just differ sometimes on the delivery of that message."

"In some ways, there's an effort to make a mountain out of a molehill," Mr. Fitz said. "If you look at the substance, and this is what's really important to us in southwest Michigan, we want a strong economy, we want jobs for all Americans including minorities and women, and I know the president – working with Fred – has worked to deliver that, and that's what we're thrilled about."

For the time being it seems that, in public, Mr. Upton has the support of the party. He's been a pillar for that side of the state since the 1980s.

But the cracks are there. It's just uncertain as to when those cracks might become fissures, sending it all crumbling down.

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Democrat Presidential Candidates Must Remember MI If They Want To Win

Posted: July 17, 2019 5:23 PM

This month, before the July 30 and 31 debates take place in Detroit, 10 of the 20-something Democratic presidential candidates will have visited the state in an attempt to reach out to voters and get to know the issues Michiganders are concerned about.

Through various events including two bus tours, a fundraiser and a forum at the annual NAACP Convention in Detroit, we'll hear from former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York).

It's an unusual amount of early attention for Michigan on the Democratic primary/caucus calendar, especially considering almost half the states will have held their primaries or caucuses before Michigan.

A large amount of criticism was levied at former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for this very reason: Not leaving the greater Detroit area in 2016 when she ran for the presidency. She even admits it herself in a memoir published after the election entitled "What Happened."

"If just 40,000 people across Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania had changed their minds, I would have won…some critics have said that everything hinged on me not campaigning in the Midwest," Ms. Clinton wrote. "And I suppose it is possible that a few more trips to Saginaw or a few more ads on the air on Waukesha could have tipped a couple thousand votes here and there."

So far, we have had or will have (pending the post of this blog) Mr. Sanders in Detroit, Mr. Biden in Detroit, Mr. Booker in Detroit, Ms. Warren in Detroit, Ms. Harris in Detroit and Mr. Castro in Detroit. Mr. Buttigieg has a private fundraiser planned for Saugatuck and reports late this afternoon say he will visit the NAACP convention in Detroit as well.

Are we seeing a pattern? The only candidate in the state prior to the debates who emphasized areas other than Detroit was Ms. Gillibrand who made stops in Bloomfield Hills, Flint and Lansing.

Come the end of the month, nearly all 20-plus candidates will pack into the city for what might be their first – and only – joint foray not only into the city, but the state as a whole.

There's a lot of name recognition across the state, and country, for people like Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders, Ms. Harris, Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren. But there was much, much more for someone like Ms. Clinton, who had been in and around the national and international political limelight since before many of these candidates ever contemplated holding public office.

President Donald Trump eked out a Michigan win by 0.33 percentage points in 2016 because he spoke to the issues that people outside of major metropolitan areas were passionate about. That's only 10,704 votes. If you look at a map dividing his and Ms. Clinton's battle for the state in votes, he won the state by 10 percentage points if you subtract Oakland and Wayne counties.

Michigan was one of the last states to hold out in 2016 and it was because of this state, in part, that Mr. Trump won the election. For Democrats serious about removing Mr. Trump from the office, it would do them well to remember there are other paths to winning the state outside of solely appealing to Wayne and Oakland counties.

Whether that's squeezing more votes from areas won by former President Barack Obama and then won by Mr. Trump – like Saginaw and Bay counties – or trying to reduce Mr. Trump's victory margin in place he won huge like Macomb or outstate counties, the choice is up to them and their campaigns.

But ultimately, it comes down to making their presence, and their policy points, known in those areas. It comes down to encouraging greater voter turnout in other areas that had lesser turn out than in the Obama era. It involves remembering that places outside the metro areas vote too, and their votes count just as much in those cast in Detroit, Flint or Ann Arbor.

It would only take a small shift from the purple areas to make the state blue. Or they could try again to get more blue votes from comfortably Democratic areas like Oakland and Wayne by convincing those who went third-party, or didn't vote at all, that they're the right one for the White House.

However, the candidates plan to do that is up to them – but the message is clear: Michigan took a chance on the candidate who bucked political norms last election because a plurality of voters felt listened to. So if the Dems want to take it back, they have to prove they're ready to listen to Michiganders throughout the state.

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Don't Burn Yourself Out On Election Season Just Yet

Posted: June 28, 2019 3:53 PM

This week marked the start of Open Season.

No, not hunting season: Presidential candidate season.

On Wednesday, in Miami, 10 Democratic hopefuls took the stage: New York mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Rep. John Delaney (D-N.J).

They got no opening statements but had a minute to respond to a moderator question and were allowed 30 seconds on a rebuttal a spectacle that, only mildly interrupted by five commercial breaks, began at 9 p.m. but didn't get over until around 11 p.m.

On Thursday – same time, same place – the other 10 candidates had their turn: author/activist Marianne Williamson, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).

Didn't get a chance to watch it? Don't worry – the same show is coming to Detroit in late July to do it all over again.

Then there's the Republican side to consider. President Donald Trump has technically been running for the Republican nominee since he took office in 2017. Currently, he only faces Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, but it's more than extremely likely Mr. Trump will take the nomination for the Republicans – though, in politics, anything can happen.

Feeling tired yet? That's my point.

As of Friday, June 28 – the time of writing this – there are 256 days until the Michigan primaries and 494 days until the presidential election. Less than a year until Michiganders must decide for who they want on the Democratic and Republican ticket but more than a year until they have to finalize that decision and pick the 46th President of the United States.

Every day we hurtle closer to needing to make a decision regarding who we want to represent us, as Americans, on a national stage. Right now, it's important to listen to issues candidates are talking about, the policies and proposals they're putting forward and the visions they could possibly have planned for the country.

But, it's also important not to get bogged down with knowing the intricate details of every politician or entrepreneur put in front of you. That's how you end up overwhelmed and unenthusiastic come March. It's what could lead to apathy and disenfranchisement.

There's nothing wrong with looking up people and trying to know your basics. Google searches for some of the candidates jumped more than 2000 percent between Wednesday and Thursday. And that's good! It's good to be informed. However, there's a difference between being informed and being obsessive.

After all, it's a marathon, not a sprint. A lot can happen in 400-plus days.

November 2020 is a long, long way away.

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Hi, I'm The New Reporter, I Cover Agencies, I Like Star Trek Too

Posted: June 13, 2019 6:22 PM

I've always found that when people ask you to write about yourself, you conveniently forget everything that makes you an interesting human being and default to talking about basic life facts. That's me right now. Maybe it'll help if I get it out of the way.

If you didn't already read the article sent out earlier this week – Hi! My name is Jordyn Hermani and I'm the reporter at Gongwer tasked with covering the attorney general's office and several state agencies. I'm 23 years old, originally from Troy and graduated with dual degrees in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University in May 2018.

Right now, I live in Grand Blanc with my boyfriend and our pet cat. I love hockey, can play the drums and speak a moderate amount of Russian due to living in Moscow for a short period of time. My favorite movie is "Reservoir Dogs," my favorite author is Victor Hugo and I have an uncanny talent of being able to tell what song is playing on the radio or in a restaurant after only hearing a few seconds of it.

Also, and probably most controversially, I prefer "Star Trek" over "Star Wars."

Prior to being at Gongwer, I covered breaking news and cybersecurity with Politico, state politics with the Indianapolis Star and have reported with The Ann Arbor News, Detroit Free Press, Midland Daily News and Mackinac Island Town Crier. I came to Gongwer not just because I enjoy writing about state politics (which I do, dearly) but because this job gave me the opportunity to come home and serve my community by writing about issues which will affect all Michiganders.

But I can't do that without your help.

It's the end of my first week here, so I've been slowly (but surely) reaching out to different agencies and people to introduce myself, set up a coffee date and talk one-on-one. And even if I'm diligent, which I try to be, I know I'll probably miss a few people due to them changing offices or filling vacancies.

This blog serves as a more informal introduction to who I am, but it also doubles as a sort of PSA: Please, feel free to reach out to me! I love meeting and talking to new people and learning more about the different lives we all lead. I'm most active on Twitter (@JordynHermani) but can also be reached via email at It doesn't matter what for: story tip, introduction, video game or book recommendation – shoot me a line.

I want to cover what goes on around here to the best of my ability. I want to help people stay informed and do that by getting them what they need to know. Help me to help you, so that we can help each other. (I promise, I don't actually sound like a Hallmark card in real life.)

Lansing is an exciting town where a lot is happening, so I appreciate any pushes in the right direction you can give. And – don't be a stranger! Feel free to say hello if you see me buzzing around the Capitol on the days I cover for Alethia or Nick when they're on vacation.

I have bright red, curly hair. You can't miss me.

In the meantime, a simple online hello will have to suffice.

So… Hello!

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