The Gongwer Blog

by Alyssa McMurtry, Staff Writer

MSHDA Director Still Awaiting HUD Approval

Posted: May 13, 2022 4:33 PM

Amy Hovey, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority's pick for its new executive director, has yet to start the job despite the board selecting her in late 2021, her approval contingent on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's assent.

Approximately eight months after MSHDA selected Ms. Hovey, her appointment is still pending HUD approval. A statement provided Wednesday from MSHDA board chair Susan Corbin, who is also the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity director, confirmed HUD is still reviewing MSHDA's request.

"Following a national search for a MSHDA Executive Director, Amy Hovey's exceptional leadership skills and knowledge made her the ideal candidate for the position. I am hopeful she will be able to join the MSHDA team," Ms. Corbin said. "She passed the first hurdle when the State Ethics Board accepted the conflicts wall arrangement. HUD is now considering MSHDA's request for the exception for the HOME Program and waiver for project-based vouchers."

It is currently unknown when HUD will approve of the exception and waiver request. A message was left with the Detroit field office and was not returned last week.

The HOME program grants states and local governments funds to be used with the goal of increasing homeownership and affordable housing for those with lower incomes. The project-based vouchers are HUD-funded rental assistance that local housing authorities like MSHDA make available to affordable housing developers.

Ms. Hovey currently serves as the special project coordinator at Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. It is her spouse's work with the agency, however, that raised some red flags. Mr. Hovey has loans with the agency and there was concern his work may be a conflict of interest for Ms. Hovey.

In October 2021, MSHDA board decided her appointment can only be confirmed upon approval from the State Board of Ethics and HUD (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 21, 2021).

By December, the board of ethics unanimously approved her appointment and said the anticipated conflicts are not pervasive enough to keep Ms. Hovey from doing her job. It also said the conflict walls proposed by MSHDA were sufficient (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 3, 2021).

Ms. Hovey's offer can still be rescinded if HUD rejects MSHDA's requests.

Republican SOS Candidates Get Heated During Forum

Posted: April 2, 2022 9:46 PM

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP -- An event for the Birmingham and Bloomfield Republican Women's clubs meant to showcase the knowledge of the three Republican secretary of state candidates hit a snag when Rep. Beau LaFave expressed his frustration for the underlying favoritism of fellow candidate Kristina Karamo on Wednesday.

The forum was moderated by Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), who served as secretary of state from 2011-18.

Mr. LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) was visibly angry that the questions which were meant to be sent out to candidates prior to the forum failed to reach him in time. He seemed to be under the impression that Ms. Karamo received the questions days ahead of the forum.

Ms. Johnson replied that a colleague intended to give out the questions before the forum, but her husband had passed earlier in the day, and she was obviously preoccupied with those matters. Ms. Johnson said they would look into why Mr. LaFave did not receive the questions and he simply replied it was totally fine, indicating his understanding that personal matters take precedence.

Speaking with Gongwer News Service, Mr. LaFave reiterated that he did not care too much that he failed to receive the questions, however he did take issue with Ms. Johnson allegedly endorsing Ms. Karamo earlier in the day.

"Having the moderator having already endorsed one of the candidates and then not getting the questions, I thought it was fair to point out to the group," Mr. LaFave said. "I answered those questions as well or better than other candidates who got them days in advance. I knew that the moderator had endorsed one of my opponents. I came here anyway."

A request for comment was left with Ms. Karamo on the status of her endorsement from Ms. Johnson but was not returned by the time of publication.

While an endorsement from Ms. Johnson remains to be made public knowledge, Ms. Karamo has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock, the latter of the two drawing much controversy. As a co-chair, it is not necessarily in Ms. Maddock's job description to endorse candidates prior to the official endorsement convention.

Mr. LaFave told Gongwer members of the state House, Senate, MIGOP and former presidents have a "First Amendment right to make a mistake and endorse somebody that's going to lose."

"I also have the right to win at convention," Mr. LaFave added.

There was no clear winner of the forum, but several of both Mr. LaFave's and Ms. Karamo's comments were met with avid agreement from the luncheon. The three candidates, which includes Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry, discussed election integrity; opening branch offices and getting rid of appointment times; voter identification – specifically state IDs and driver's licenses as proof of residency and persona – stopping absentee ballot applications from being sent to homes if not requested and removing the deceased from the Qualified Voter File sooner.

All three largely agreed on the topics, but Mr. LaFave did not agree with opening more branch offices, saying this would cost voters more money and the secretary of state already has too much.

Ms. Johnson made some policy proposals herself, including her desire to require residents who move to another state to turn in both their driver's license and voter identification at the same time and effectively remove themselves from another state's voter registration immediately. The three candidates agreed with this idea.

Ms. Karamo had a different tactic for working with voters, emphasizing the need to open more offices in underserved communities and rural areas. She said those communities often do not have reliable internet access and online services would not be a reality. She has also already had more than 200 campaign events across the state and said she has been speaking with moderates and Democrats to vote for her in the fall.

Ms. Karamo said she left her position teaching public speaking at Wayne Community College to run for office. She told Gongwer that her perspective of the everyday person and her background in education bring a fresh perspective to the race.

"I've been an active Republican for years. However, one of the biggest complaints I've had has been effective messaging and that we don't have to change our positions as conservative, but just effectively communicating (our ideas) to people who don't come from the conservative world," Ms. Karamo said.

She said having Mr. Trump's endorsement gives her a level of credibility to her fellow Republicans that she is conservative and will not "stab them in the back" like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

"Most people you talk to, most Americans, don't trust our Congress. They don't trust our news media," Ms. Karamo said. "Our institutions have habitually lied to us. So, people like an outside person."

Mr. LaFave did not think Ms. Karamo could win against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. He mentioned Ms. Karamo's attendance at a Las Vegas conference in October 2021 which featured prominent figures who openly support QAnon conspiracy theories, saying this would not fare well in November 2022 among moderates and independents (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 20, 2021).

"She's going to lose to Jocelyn Benson because every ad from August until November is going to just say, 'Karamo, QAnon lead speaker of Las Vegas.' How are you going to win a moderate with that?" Mr. LaFave said. "How are you going to get somebody that's mad that the offices are closed, and he or she couldn't get their driver's license? How are we going to put QAnon up against closed offices?"

He concluded if Ms. Karamo does get the Republican nomination, Ms. Benson will likely secure another four years.

Levin, Stevens Forum Discusses Voting Rights, Ukraine Conflict

Posted: March 25, 2022 12:06 PM

The Democratic candidates for the redrawn 11th U.S. House District, U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens and U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, talked domestic and foreign policy during a Jewish Democratic Council of America forum on Thursday, with the two representatives largely agreeing on the issues.

It is the first such joint event involving the two incumbents facing off in the August primary. It was held virtually with the two taking turns answering questions. Unlike a debate, however, they did not engage each other directly or respond to what the other said.

The forum before a Jewish organization comes as Mr. Levin, who is Jewish, has not seen the unified support from the area's considerable bloc of Jewish voters that he might have expected. The conservative American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee endorsed Ms. Stevens, who is not Jewish, and some Jewish leaders were quoted in a recent Detroit News story complaining that Mr. Levin had been a less than resolute supporter of Israel, a charge Mr. Levin and his supporters disputed.

Mr. Levin (D-Bloomfield Township) and Ms. Stevens (D-Waterford Township) highlighted their work as co-sponsors on Voting Rights Act bills. Both have received endorsements from key members of the Congressional Black Caucus due to their personal relationships and allyships. Ms. Stevens, however, recently received the endorsement of the Michigan Democratic Party's Black Caucus.

Mr. Levin said, however, the nation needs to go beyond simply co-sponsoring legislation and introduced the Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act with Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia) which was introduced in October 2021. He also said he was an advocate for ending the Senate filibuster though as a member of the House he has no say in that.

Ms. Stevens said an effective way to improve voting rights was getting younger people involved, saying she firmly believes that politicians need to engage with the next generation to ensure they are "enshrining voting rights law throughout the nation."

As Russia continues to wage war in Ukraine, President Joe Biden announced Thursday the U.S. will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and others fleeing Russia.

The U.S. continues to place economic sanctions on Russia with supporters believing it will cripple the Russian economy and opponents questioning if sanctions are enough. Ms. Stevens and Mr. Levin were asked what additional steps the Biden administration should take to "establish a red line" for Russian President Vladmir Putin's actions that would lead to direct U.S. military involvement.

"I am not in the business of telling (Mr. Biden) what decisions to make, but I do want to support the efforts that we've taken with sanctions, which he said, 'listen, the sanctions aren't going to necessarily stop them in their tracks but it is going to squeeze Russia over a period of time and impact their ability to even be successful' in this brutal, unprovoked wholly unacceptable war that they have started with Ukraine," Ms. Stevens said. "And the other thing is that we do have to look at red lines, like chemical weapons that might be used, as well as some of the threats that Mr. Putin has made."

Ms. Stevens added she is working to free one of her constituents, Paul Whelan, from Russian imprisonment. Mr. Whelan remains in Russian custody more than three years after Russian officials arrested him on espionage charges.

Mr. Levin is a member of the Ukraine Caucus in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and said he has used his platform to advance Ukrainian-American connections. However, he said he was not for the U.S. or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization going to war with Russia.

"That risks taking an unspeakable tragedy and magnifying it many, many times, including increasing the threat of thermonuclear war," Mr. Levin said, adding he has three main principles for guiding his thinking on the matter.

The principles are making sure Ukraine maintains its sovereignty, providing military and humanitarian assistance on an unlimited basis and staying the course on sanctions and accountability.

The two representatives also answered a few questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, with both being in support of a two-state solution and continuing to provide aid to Israelis for national security and economic development. They also supported the reinstatement of humanitarian aid to Palestine that was terminated during former President Donald Trump's administration.

Other areas of concern included climate change and abortion bans. On protecting abortion, Ms. Stevens highlighted her work with U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), who endorsed Ms. Stevens, for the Women's Caucus at the congressional level which includes her co-sponsoring of the Women's Health Protection Act and also her work with state House candidates.

"We will be all-hands-on-deck. It is an all-hands-on-deck moment in this Congress, and I really do see this as a big reason why I am Congress," Ms. Stevens said.

Mr. Levin said if abortion is banned at the federal level, this revert Michigan back to a law dating to 1846 when abortion was criminalized in the state. He credited his Jewish faith for his fervent dedication to reproductive rights.

"Through those teachings and the Jewish spirit of community in care, my faith deepens my commitment to support abortion providers and patients alike," Mr. Levin.

He is also a co-sponsor for the Women's Protection Act and shouted out his support for the ballot initiative Reproductive Freedom For All which seeks to protect women's access to all matters relating to pregnancy.

Fertility Bills: Punish Docs For Lying, Using Different Sperm Samples

Posted: February 18, 2022 2:44 PM

Legislation prohibiting health professionals from using an embryo, sperm or egg in an assisted reproduction procedure that is not the one to which the patient consented was discussed by the House Health Policy Committee Thursday, with victims of such circumstances telling lawmakers about the trauma they experienced.

HB 5716, sponsored by Rep. John Roth (R-Traverse City), would also prohibit providing false or misleading information related to an assisted reproduction procedure and provide that it is third degree criminal sexual conduct for a health professional who does so.

Included in the package are HB 5713, HB 5714, HB 5715 and HB 5717 which make changes to the statutes of limitations, civil liability, heath professional sanctions and sentencing guidelines.

HB 5717, also sponsored by Mr. Roth, would amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to add felonies that would be created under HB 5716. False representation would be a class E crime with a max imprisonment of five years, knowingly using a human embryo or gamete other than the one agreed upon would also be a class E crime with max prison time of five years and criminal conduct in the third-degree would be class A crime with a maximum term of 15 years in prison.

He and fellow sponsor Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) spoke before the House committee Thursday. Mr. Roth said when he came to the Legislature, this was not the first thing on his agenda. However, hearing the story from one constituent was enough for him to sponsor the legislation.

"To feel the pain of misinformation they've been given as their genetic material was supposed to be a certain type, it's terrible," Mr. Roth said. "It's the essence of who we are. I'd say misinformation but they were flat out lies actually that were told to these people. They were told their biological material was different than what they got."

HB 5715, sponsored by Ms. Breen, amends sections of the Public Health Code requiring the Department of Licensing and Regulatory affairs to investigate an allegation against the accused health professional and would include sanctions such as license revocation or suspension.

Ms. Breen, who has two children of her own, told a personal anecdote of her sister-in-law who used reproductive assistance to conceive a child. Her bill would require LARA to hold a disciplinary hearing even in the absence of a criminal conviction.

"We all know somebody who has tried for years to desperately conceive a child and the magnitude of emotions that can occur when a pregnancy does not take, where the sheer joy and bliss that comes when that child is finally delivered into the mother's arms," Ms. Breen said. "And we are here today because a few physicians out of the many that practice within the scope, purposefully and egregiously violated that hope and faith and trust. And unfortunately current Michigan law is inadequate to address these sever violations."

HB 5713, sponsored by Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) would amend the statute of limitations in the Code of Criminal Procedure, allowing victims to press charges within 15 years after a health professional used their own human embryo or gamete to assist in reproduction. It also allows those who have found DNA evidence to identify the individual to press charges within three years of the identification.

HB 5714, sponsored by Committee Chair Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian), would amend the Revised Judicature Act to provide that a person who engages in false representation in assisted reproduction is liable to economic and noneconomic damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorney fees and costs. Victims who can bring action under this bill include the patient, the patient's spouse, the child conceived or the donor whose gamete or human embryo was used without their consent.

A constituent brought by Mr. Roth, Jaime Hall, was a child of such circumstance. Her mother was a patient of Dr. Phillip Peven. Mr. Peven worked as an OBGYN in the metro Detroit area for decades and news broke in 2020 of Mr. Peven's activities fathering multiple children by using his sperm in place of the one provided or consented by his patients.

Ms. Hall and her now half-sister discovered their father was not biologically related to them after conducting a 23 and Me test because of health concerns related to their father's contraction of scarlet fever earlier in life. Ms. Hall discovered she was Ashkenazi Jewish rather than 100 percent Scottish as she and her parents previously believed. Her now half-sister was a child of another doctor within the facility.

Their mother had brought in a donor who was a close family friend only to find out through the DNA test that his sperm was not used.

"I wasn't my father's. I was my mother's own doctor's child," Ms. Hall said. "I went to go meet him in person and I asked him, I said, 'so my mom brought a donor. What happened?' He goes, 'yeah, I disposed of it.' I'm like…'why would you do that? Why would you dispose of her donor?' He said, 'well, because I didn't know if it was viable or not. You know, we had timing on these things. We knew…this was a time that your mother would be able to become pregnant and so I disposed of his sperm and I used one that I knew was viable.'"

Others shared similar stories. One woman, Lynne Spencer, said her mother used a sperm donor to conceive her and her sister. Her parents were told the donor was a medical student and Ms. Spencer later discovered he was an individual with a 9th grade education and a GED.

"Parents receiving donor gametes have a right to accurate information about the donor and the donors' characteristics and donors also have a right to know how their gametes are being used," Ms. Spencer said. "There's stories coming to light of couples who go in for fertility treatment and the father has to give a sperm sample and his sperm sample is used to impregnate someone else. Physicians have been practicing behind closed doors with no legislation or oversight."

No action was taken on the bills.

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