Michigan Policast for Monday, April 20, 2020In this episode:
Cover photo: Newsweek Cover, April 17 2020
- Segment one: Congratulations Riley Beggin – Young Journalist of the Year
- Segment two: Selfish, ignorant, Typhoid MAGAs surround the capitol building in Trump – COVID rally
- Segment three: Elissa Slotkin – Buy American, save lives
- Segment four: Trevor Thomas of Fair and Equal Michigan on gathering electronic signatures for ballot drive
- Segment five: Nancy Wang of Voters Not Politicians on redistricting, voting by mail, and the 2020 Census
- Segment six: There’s still a Presidential campaign going on …
- Bridge Capitol reporter Riley Beggin named Young Journalist of the Year
- Riley Beggin page on Bridge Magazine
- SPJ Detroit announces Journalist & Young Journalist of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Awards & scholarship winners
- Riley Beggin Journalist – personal site
Work that garnered Beggin the award included:
- “Poisoned Michigan,” an in-depth examination of Michigan’s handling of the PFAS environmental crisis and a similar disaster in the 1970s. Beggin co-authored the project with Jim Malewitz, and this article in the series written by Beggin was included in the contest entry.
- A profile of Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield.
- A story revealing that Michigan prisoners were being denied access to books on technology that could help them find employment upon release.
Riley Beggin, Bridge Magazine
Judge comments: “Riley’s environmental project was excellent. Strong writing. ‘Library books for inmates’ shows smart enterprise reporting. Her versatility puts her at the top of a lot of very strong candidates.” ~Source
🥳 Thanks so much!
Sounds like a good opportunity to re-up this story I was lucky enough to work on with @Jmalewitz. Grateful for all the people in St. Louis, Kent County and Oscoda who shared their stories with us. https://t.co/oZ3cW6PjMa https://t.co/HcTHeLVrEw
— Riley Beggin (@rbeggin) April 16, 2020
- Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Strict New Social Distancing Rules May Save Lives But At a High Political Price
- Most Americans Say Trump Was Too Slow in Initial Response to Coronavirus Threat | Pew Research Center
- Trump’s Job Rating Slides; U.S. Satisfaction Tumbles
- Whitmer to work with Midwest governors on reopening economy
- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Midwest governors team up on plans to reopen state economies | Bridge Magazine
- As coronavirus continues spread, GOP wants to strip power from Whitmer
- Growing opposition spoils unity behind Whitmer’s COVID-19 response
- Michigan Senate Republicans unveil plan for reopening economy during coronavirus pandemic – mlive.com
- ‘Depression-level’ Michigan unemployment tops 1 million from coronavirus | Bridge Magazine
- Infection rate at Michigan prison exceeds New York, Chicago jail hotspots
- For Some on the Right, No Rumor Is Too Outlandish About Michigan Gov. Gretcher Whitmer
From a Michigan hospital employee who couldn’t reach the hospital yesterday because of “Operation Gridlock”. pic.twitter.com/uKCCX7CsWw
— Chad Loder (@chadloder) April 16, 2020
Following “operation gridlock” protest at the Michigan Capitol, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor promises future citations/warnings for violations of social distancing order or city ordinances amid #COVID19 pandemic pic.twitter.com/60c6rcAjnU
— Jonathan Oosting (@jonathanoosting) April 17, 2020
This is Mike Detmer who is running for US Congress in the 8th District of Michigan. In the selfie he posted today he is with the Michigan Proud Boys while attending the #operationgridlock protest in Lansing. This is a disgrace to our democracy by demonstrating hate and racism. pic.twitter.com/F1pbUjXUcD
— Zach J. (@Zach_J) April 16, 2020
- Rep. Slotkin introduces legislation to help U.S. manufacturers produce critical medical supplies
- Slotkin Announces Made in America Medical Supply Chain Initiative
- ‘Baptized by fire and virus’: How a historic freshmen class in Congress has been tested by constant crisis
- Rep. Slotkin Plan Treats Medical Supplies As National Security Imperative
- ELISSA SLOTKIN ON FOX: BUY AMERICAN MEDICAL SUPPLY CHAIN INITIATIVE
- Slotkin proposes “buy American” provision meant to bolster PPE supplies | Michigan Radio
The Made in America Medical Supply Chain Initiative includes:
- The Buy American Medical Supplies Act: Designed to improve domestic manufacturing capacity for vital medical items.
- The Strategic National Stockpile Reform Act: Shifts the management of the Strategic National Stockpile to the Defense Logistics Agency, which Slotkin says has proven ability to maintain supply stockpiles.
- The Emergency Medical Manufacturing Library Act: Would help prepare a last line of defense for emergency supplies by creating a repository of FDA-approved plans and specs for improvised manufacturing of critical items during a crisis that could then be built by non-traditional makers in times of crisis.
Our nurses & doctors have been dependent on a supply chain for equipment that starts in China.
I’m introducing the Made in America Medical Supply Chain Initiative to harness U.S. manufacturing power so that we never again send front-line health providers into battle unarmored. pic.twitter.com/orGG3db7Hp
— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) April 15, 2020
As a national security professional, I find it unacceptable that we were so unprepared for #COVID19.
As a Michigander, I find it unacceptable that we’re losing lives b/c we lack equipment U.S. manufacturers can make.
It’s time to do something about it. https://t.co/mEKWHr9Qki
— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) April 9, 2020
Our health care providers are at war without armor to protect them.
— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) March 30, 2020
- Michigan LGBTQ ballot initiative goes digital for remaining signatures
- Fair and Equal Michigan to collect electronic signatures to keep safe from COVID-19 and campaign moving forward | Fair and Equal Michigan
- Gay rights group goes electronic in pandemic test of Michigan election law | Bridge Magazine
- Statewide petition campaign plans to gather signatures electronically
— Trevor Thomas (@TrevorThomasMI) January 8, 2020
— Shelley Jeffcoat (@Shelleyjeffcoat) April 16, 2020
- Voters Not Politicians official site
- Nancy Wang page on Voters Not Politicians
- Who Votes by Mail? There is little reason to believe that mail ballots would uniformly help Democrats in November.
- Michigan sending absentee ballot applications to all May 5 election voters because of coronavirus outbreak
- Opinion: Michigan needs to mail ballots to every voter for all upcoming elections (By Nancy Wang and Robert Logan)
- Opinion | Michigan, what are we waiting for? Vote by mail is next logical step
- Census seeks delay on delivering data to states
- Appeals court refuses to block Michigan redistricting panel
- US Postal Service warns Congress it could become insolvent amid coronavirus
“We can put safeguards in place to make sure that no Michigander will have to choose between exercising their democratic right to vote and protecting their life. We must start now.” #VoteSafe Read more in @MLive: https://t.co/9pEdKovuTo
— VotersNotPoliticians (@NotPoliticians) April 18, 2020
BREAKING #FairMaps: A federal appeals court has upheld that #Michigan‘s voter-approved Independent Redistricting Commission is constitutional. We represent @NotPoliticians in defending the IRC. #MIpol
Here’s the story of how the Michigan IRC came to be: https://t.co/Sps8220aAs
— Campaign Legal Center (@CampaignLegal) April 15, 2020
ICYMI: A federal appeals court unanimously upheld a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff to deny an attempt by the Michigan Republican Party and special interests to undermine Michigan’s #redistricting commission by delaying its implementation.https://t.co/08BTkPaD6U
— VotersNotPoliticians (@NotPoliticians) April 16, 2020
— U.S. Postal Service (@USPS) April 16, 2020
- Why Biden’s endorsement wave matters (From March)
- List of Joe Biden endorsements
- Justin Amash Should Not Run for President (In 2020)
- Justin Amash discussing ‘potential campaign’ for president and will make decision ‘soon’
- Transcript: Barack Obama endorses Joe Biden – The Washington Post
- AP Interview: Sanders says opposing Biden is ‘irresponsible’
Americans who believe in limited government deserve another option. https://t.co/c7P2vOTyOe
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 13, 2020
Walt Sorg 0:00
The presenting underwriter of the Michigan Policast is Progress Michigan, providing a strong, credible voice that holds public officials and government accountable and assists in the promotion of progressive ideas.
Gretchen Whitmer 0:16
I do hope to have some relaxing come may 1, but it’s two weeks away and the information and the data and our ability to test is changing so rapidly. It’s hard to tell you precisely where we’ll be in a week from now much less to, but we are looking very carefully at making sure that each decision we make is supported by the science by the facts and is in the best interest of the health of the people because that’s ultimately, what matters to our ability to ramp up our economy again and avoid a second wave which would be devastating.
Walt Sorg 0:46
The state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a political rallying point for Republicans, even as polling shows overwhelming support for governor Whitmer is go slow science and fact based actions. This is the Michigan Policast, we’re all about Michigan policy and politics and the national stories impacting our pleasant peninsula. I’m Walt sorg.
Christine Barry 1:05
I’m Christine Barry. As the president reverts to form with tweets egging on the protesters, legislative republicans decide it’s time to play Russian Roulette with our health, and a bipartisan group of Midwest governors push back in the name of protecting our health.
Walt Sorg 1:21
Also on the pod this week, we’ll talk with Voters Not Politicians president Nancy Wang about that group’s efforts to expand mail in elections and the co chair of Fair and Equal Michigan. That group’s groundbreaking efforts to change state law using an online petition. I’d like to begin though Christine with a shout out to one of the Friends of the pod Riley Beggin she’s the capitol reporter with the Bridge Magazine. Riley has just been named the young Michigan Journalist of the Year but the Society of Professional Journalists. I hate that young journalists thing to such a kid yet she’s still in her 20s versus the top source in Michigan for capital coverage. Riley’s work is superb. Our congratulations go out to Riley,
Christine Barry 2:01
She’s been recognized for a few specific pieces in, in general, Poisoned Michigan about how Michigan’s handling PFAS, a profile of Lee Chatfield and a story on Michigan prisoners being denied access to books on technology that could help them find employment upon release. So some really substantive stuff there. There’s much more to her body of work than that, and she’s been super helpful to us. So thank you, Riley and congratulations.
Walt Sorg 2:27
Yeah, I offered to buy her a drink to celebrate and I figured it would probably be 2022 before she could take me up on the offer. Now from the sublime to the ridiculous a Trump campaign rally in downtown Lansing focused on what seemed to be helping spread the COVID-19 virus. Several thousand people showed up many ignoring social distancing, Honking their car horns and complaining about the state’s efforts to protect them from the deadliest pandemic of the last century. And they gotten a lot of national attention for days, including some of the probably didn’t like from home based comedians Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel.
Stephen Colbert 3:05
Angry Trump supporters were also in Michigan State Capitol where they block traffic and honk their horns in a protest called Operation gridlock. Who are you grid locking? There’s nobody else out there blocking empty streets is like streaking in your shower. It doesn’t count. The event had the feel of a free floating Trump rally. Protesters carried Trump flags magga signs, even Confederate flags because nothing says never surrender like a confederate flag.
Jimmy Kimmel 3:35
At the Michigan State Capitol yesterday there was a major demonstration. And if you’re wondering why specifically these people are so angry that they would gather and risk extending this pandemic. I’ll let this guy explain it to you.
Typhoid Mary 3:49
I can’t tell between those houses. You can’t buy paint, can’t buy lawn fertilizer grass seed or whatever I’m Come on.
Jimmy Kimmel 3:59
Come on, the lawn isn’t gonna paint itself. He’s got the need for seed.
Walt Sorg 4:04
Christine, it was it was bizarre. Now I gotta say a lot of these people did have legitimate concerns about losing their income about losing the ability to do some basic things that we’ve all had to give up in society, but a lot of them are they’re basically just because it only grows from work.
Christine Barry 4:19
That’s right in to your first point, I think everyone can agree there is some real suffering in play here in Michigan, not just for people affected by COVID in a medical way, but for the people who are in you know, they’re sheltering in place in abusive homes or they’re living paycheck to paycheck and they’re just freaking out about financial stability and even folks who maybe struggle with, I guess we call it spring fever, but like seasonal affective disorder, for whatever reason has to be outside or close to nature or whatever, and they just can’t do what they want to do or what they need to do. So I kind of feel for them in that way. But this this COVID rally thing was just a dick move. They didn’t promote Liberty there. And they didn’t do anything to raise awareness of any of the issues that you and I just talked about. They just promoted Trump and open carry and that kind of thing. And you know what Walt, Colbert made a comment about who are you blocking? Well, what they were blocking was the hospital. If only the essential services are at work, then you are blocking the essential services, like the ambulances being delayed, hospital workers were delayed, it interfered with the shift change there. So there were some consequences from them all being there, and they weren’t, I think the political consequences that they protesters might have wanted.
Walt Sorg 5:43
Well, the irony of it was pointed out by Governor Whitmer. In one of her briefings that she did, that the people who were there protesting were actually raising the possibility of making this last longer in Michigan.
Gretchen Whitmer 5:55
We know that this rally, endangered people, this kind of activity, We’ll put more people at risk. And sadly, it could prolong the amount of time we have to be in this posture.
Walt Sorg 6:07
Amen to that. The other thing, too, I think we have to put in perspective. The polling shows consistently that the governor is supported by the vast majority of people in this state, even though it’s been very strict. The last Pew poll nationally showed that the overwhelming majority of people are afraid that the government is going to move too fast and reopening the economy.
Christine Barry 6:27
Well, like always, this really loud, obnoxious group of people are just a very small group compared to the rest of Michigan. They’re very angry. I think they’re driven by a lot of fear and a lot of feeling of being victimized. They’re just a bunch of hairy back, typhoid Mary’s running around increasing the attack surface for the virus now, and it’s not representative of Michigan in general, but it damages the rest of the state because what they did is so reckless. I mean, you saw the selfies of people cuddling up together so they could get all their stupid little faces in one picture. And no masks or anything like that it’s just so irresponsible.
Walt Sorg 7:11
Yeah, one of the people who did one of those selfies cuddled up with a lot of people is running for congress against Alyssa Slotkin. He’s one of the multitude of Republican candidates in the primary. And he defended himself saying that was the only time that he took his mask off, was well, yeah, it’s, it just made no sense. The irony of this, too, is I think, Whitmer really had the ultimate response, she’s formed a coalition with other Midwest governors, bipartisan coalition to republicans and three Democrats to work as on a regional basis on reopening the economy. So she’s working with the republican governors of Indiana and Ohio, the Democratic governors of Illinois and Wisconsin, so that they work in conjunction to do it in an orderly fashion. So you don’t have people just crossing the border because one state’s got different restrictions on the other. And I think that bipartisan response is really what was needed, but let’s talk about our friends in the legislature. Apparently Mike Shirkey has decided that he is going to be taking his medical advice from Donald Trump and he wants to reopen the economy a lot quicker than the governor. Her authority to have an emergency declaration in Michigan or emergency powers expire at the end of the month and all the mutterings from Shirkey especially, but also from the speaker, Lee Chatfield, lead me to believe they’re not going to extend her powers into May. And we could very well be in a situation where the Republican legislature forces the end of these emergency measures at the end of the month. And I think all Hell’s gonna break loose at that point.
Christine Barry 8:37
Well, again, you know, it’s the minority that really wants this. The Republicans in the legislature are just beholden to the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce. They want their the members want their businesses open. So there’s been a lot of lobbying from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. That’s the Chamber’s job. The Chamber’s job is not to Look out for public health and safety. The Chamber’s job is to work for its members and to make the most to help its members make the most profit, right? That’s not Lee Chatfield and Mike Shirkey’s job. But they’re, I mean, they’re just in lockstep, lockstep with the chamber. So we’re kind of stuck with that. I don’t personally know how to fix that. I wish I did. I wish I had a solution for, you know, finding a way to communicate with these people and getting them to understand the majority of the people do not want this, but it’s just based on ideology and not science or anything else.
Walt Sorg 9:37
And adding into this as well as the continuing national swell of support for Gretchen Whitmer as a possible vice presidential candidate, just on Sunday alone as we record the program. This morning, she was on both NBC Meet the Press and on CNN with with Jake Tapper. She’s on the cover of Newsweek this week talking about what is going on in Michigan as well. Well, this national attention is getting the republicans attention. They’re trying to knock her down. Now they’re already trying to compare to Sarah Palin, which I find really offensive, comparing Whitner with Palin. They’re both women. And they’re both first term governors. And that’s probably the only two things you can compare them on.
Christine Barry 10:16
You know, the fact that she’s so high profile does give them an easy way to attack her by saying she’s only doing this to audition for the VP job. I don’t think that’s true. This whole thing has me thinking back to the Y2K thing. And I was I mean, I’m kind of dating myself, but it doesn’t matter at this point.
Walt Sorg 10:36
Hey we’re old, go with it
Christine Barry 10:37
Yeah, we’re old. So I was in basically tech support, right. So I was an IT consultant. And we did so much work to prevent problems. When the clock hit January 1 2000. And very few things happened. It was just kind of like a little beep, you know, and that was it. Everybody said, Oh, that was no big deal. And the reason it was no big deal was because we all worked our butts off. It was a very big deal. But we prevented something, you know, we prevented what everybody was talking about, which was the worst case scenario. And so I think that these preventative measures are kind of the same thing, but they’re just out in the open more. And people are like, well, it’s, it’s not so bad. We don’t need them. They don’t really understand. I think, the good that’s actually being done because they just don’t see it.
Walt Sorg 11:30
Yeah. And the partition debate really doesn’t help because it’s all about positioning yourself for November, which really does nothing to solve the problem. Debbie Stabenow was interviewed on msnbc on Friday, and she talked about what’s going on in our state legislature, something she knows real well, she was in our state legislature for more than a decade, both in the Senate and the State House, and she’s just not happy with what she’s seeing right now.
Debbie Stabenow 11:52
Unfortunately, the actions coming from the Republican leadership in the state legislature that appeared to want to fuel this on a partisan basis, you know, we don’t need this right now. We cannot afford this. We are losing lives. We are losing livelihoods. We cannot afford anybody to be playing partisan games with this right now. And so I see this coming together, people legitimately frustrated, getting wrong information, I believe from the president, but then underneath that are those that are, I think, trying to use it for political advantage at a time that to me, it’s shocking, actually, that anybody would be doing that when we’re talking about American lives on the line.
Walt Sorg 12:35
And of course, adding gold, the partisanship is the Great Pumpkin himself, the man in the Oval Office on Thursday, Donald Trump is saying, well, it’s gonna be up to the governors and we’ll provide backup support and all that. And on Friday, he’s tweeting free, Michigan, free Virginia, free Minnesota, just so happens three swing states that are run by Democratic governors.
Christine Barry 12:56
Seriously, what the hell is with this guy, you know, we’re dealing with a while Life and death situation here. You know, it’s bad enough that ideology is playing a role here. And these fringe elements are out there saying things like people are willing to die to keep this economy going. I don’t really think that’s true for a lot of people. So that’s one thing. But then you have this enabler in office who’s saying things like that liberate Michigan, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s dog whistles, it’s just causing more problems than it’s helping and he’s, unfortunately, the president. He should be. You should be better than that. Of course, he never has been but you still can’t believe. I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by this idiot.
Walt Sorg 13:42
Well, you’ve also got a two-tier situation with the economy right now. You’ve got one group of people, white collar workers, basically, who can telecommute for the most part, which is 35 40% of the economy. And then you’ve got people that have to show up at a job in order to collect a paycheck. I think a lot of this will be tamped down at least a little bit temporarily, as unemployment checks start showing up. A lot of people actually in lower income groups will make more money on unemployment than they did in their jobs at least through July. So that’ll help a little bit. But you also have the situation of a lot of people that have to go to work because they have to have a check. They don’t have any money in the bank. They got to pay the rent, they got to get they’ve got to take care of their kids. They’ve got to buy food. They’re being put into the situation of they’ve got a sacrifice for the rest of us. It’s not just the health care workers. We’ve got grocery workers dying in terrible numbers. We’ve got people that are in public services of all sorts, keeping our society operating while people that are in white color, perfect. You know where you and I are sitting in our houses right now doing a podcast. We’re socially distant as we can get right now. We’re about 90 miles apart. That’s nice and distant and even on TV. You see the the late night comics that we had on earlier. They’re all doing their show from their homes. You had the special Saturday. Night on all the networks with all the entertainers performing from their homes. It’s one thing for people that have some money in the bank and have the ability to work from home, if they are working. It’s completely different if you got to go to the grocery store and be exposed to all those shoppers.
Christine Barry 15:14
That’s right. I am so appreciative, grateful, thankful for the for the people who are doing that work to help protect me and the woman who delivers my groceries, most of the time I get the same person and I just, I just make sure that I keep telling her, you know, make sure that you stay healthy. And when it gets to where you’re not comfortable, then you’ve got to stay at home and I wish I could tell them all that I’m so grateful for what they’re doing.
Walt Sorg 15:43
And a ridiculously large tip as well.
Christine Barry 15:45
Yeah, they just deserve that. And we’ve we’ve done what we can do as well like we’ve we’ve cut way back on the frequency of the shopping. We do bigger orders, again with much bigger tips and we do the contactless order. So we do what we can. But yeah, they’re out there doing the work for us. And I’m so grateful. And I want to go back to something you said earlier about the people who can’t work right now. But we, you know, the unemployment checks will come in, there’ll be a little bit bigger. Nolan Finley had that ridiculous column about how people are incentivized to stay home because their unemployment checks are bigger. And I think in this case, while the people that you just talked about, it’s good that the unemployment checks are bigger, because there’s gonna be a lot of, I mean, they’re gonna be backed up on their bills, you know, just because you can’t evict anybody right now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t owe money for the time that they didn’t get evicted. I mean, I don’t know exactly how that’s going to work. But they’re still going to get behind on their bills. It’s going to take people who are living paycheck to paycheck, a while to dig themselves out of this. If they have good credit. They’re going to get into debt, probably just trying to move forward. So it’s, you know, it’s a tough situation and I don’t think that the stimulus and I don’t think that unemployment checks are enough for people who are going through this right now.
Walt Sorg 17:06
One person who’s kept her eye on the ball completely and is really thinking forward is been congressman Alyssa Slotkin, who is thinking about, well, how do we avoid situations like we’ve got right now in the future, specifically the lack of resources to take care of our medical needs right now. We’re so dependent on imported goods, especially goods from China, which are hard to get. And she says, it’s really simple. We got to do it, like the military does it and that’s by American.
Elissa Slotkin 17:34
It won’t help us with today. But the the goal is that we will never again be hamstrung by all of our supplies coming from foreign country when it’s really so important for certain items. So I think this is absolutely an area where there’s overlap. There’s a bunch of Republicans interested in co-sponsoring my bill. I want it to be bipartisan, because I don’t think anyone wants to be beholden to another country in order to Get our nurses the masks that they need. That’s crazy. And I’m from the Pentagon, right. I used to be at the Pentagon. And there’s a very clear buy American provision in law on military equipment, because we never wanted to depend on another country for our military hardware, we should have the same by American provisions on medical supplies.
Walt Sorg 18:19
Christine Barry 18:20
Well, and I think, you know, another point to that is that our health in this country and our access to health care and just the state of our health care providers in general, that is also a national security issue. And it’s kind of being framed that way, by Alyssa Slotkin right now, and I really appreciate that. But I would also add that we need more than just buy American make American we also need redundancies in that supply chain because we’ve had times when there’s been only one supplier in the United States who could provide something that was a key component and it wasn’t because they had the contract, it was simply because they were the only one manufacturing what we needed. And so that’s another thing to consider. As we look at how how do we really tighten up our, our position here and make ourselves stronger against things like not only foreign actors but also things like these pandemics.
Walt Sorg 19:20
And a quick shout out to to the automakers for quickly retooling. To produce the things that we need, especially the ventilators, the General Motors is beginning to churn out already, which I find remarkable. I’ve just spent only like three weeks since they decided they’re going to start making ventilators and they’re already shipping them. Absolutely amazing for an automobile company and the UAW workers that are making that happen, so congratulations to them.
COVID-19, better known as Coronavirus, has spread throughout the world. There are a few ways to help lower the spread of this respiratory disease. Wash your hands avoid touching your face. Including mouth, nose and eyes. Cover your coughs and sneezes, monitor your symptoms and consult with your doctor. Stay at home and away from other sick people except for medical care, clean and disinfect high touch surfaces. For more information, please visit cdc.gov/covid19. Thank you.
Christine Barry 20:25
COVID-19 pandemic has sideline several citizen petition drives, but one campaign is moving forward by trying to bring direct democracy into the internet age. Fair and Equal Michigan which is attempting to amend the state’s Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act to provide employment and housing protections for LGBTQ citizens of our state. Since the campaign can no longer collect petition signatures on paper due to social distancing. They are now asking supporters to sign an electronic petition. It’s never been done before and if they get the 340,000 plus signatures they need, they’ll no doubt face a court fight. We’re joined by the campaign’s co chair, Trevor Thomas,
Walt Sorg 21:07
difficult times require some creative solutions and you’ve come up with one, at least you think you’ve come up with one for a petition drive that can’t go out and talk to people with this electronic petitioning. Where did the inspiration come from has ever been done before you’re working? totally new ground in Michigan?
Trevor Thomas 21:23
Well, well, first, thanks for having me to be able to help spread the word. You know, COVID-19, of course, has impacted Michigan and the people and the citizens in so many different ways that we can’t imagine. And so while Fair and Equal Michigan in an effort to initiate law to finally protect LGBTQ people for the first time in Michigan history. While we need 340,000 signatures, we’ve always had a plan that was determined to mitigate risks. We had a plan to capture 542,000 signatures through the canvassing model. Due to COVID we had to adjust plan, and you know, I would have said we were prepared for some of the biggest emergencies. But that’s just not the case here. Nobody could have imagined. And so we immediately piloted through automated targeted calls and through word of mouth and social media, the ability to sign a petition in the mail, just with those in your own home. That has worked, okay. But we need to scale bigger and so we thought differently in digital is the direction we went as another option.
Walt Sorg 22:41
Now the system you’re using is not unique. I have to change insurance carriers for my home and car last week. And when I signed up for the policy, I did exactly what you’re doing now with this petition was the same safeguards, and I am now legally contracted with the insurance company to pay them and they’re contracted with me to provide this insurance, you’re using the exact same vendor.
Unknown Speaker 23:03
Yeah, we are so focused on getting it right the first time and one of those key decisions was the choice to go with DocuSign. The company contracted for the electronic signature process. You know, what I love about them is they have moved more than 200 million process signatures while meeting all the global security standards. And so if they can be trusted by the US government to which they’re contracted with, I think that they can be trusted in this process. And they meet all these requirements such as the federal esign act, or ueta, which you know, nobody’s ever heard of, but the uniform electronic transactions act were these set a standard, and they are met every day by the team at DocuSign. So it was so important when you think about privacy and when you think about the potential of fraud that we go with a company that gets it right every day.
Walt Sorg 24:01
The irony of this is actually DocuSign, I think would be less subject to fraud than the system that we’ve had in place traditionally of paper petitions with signatures that is ripe for fraud, although they do every make every effort to keep it clean, but the reality is, with DocuSign is almost 100% clean.
Trevor Thomas 24:18
I think that’s absolutely right. I completely agree. You know, what we can do that is harder to do in traditional canvassing, is that almost instantaneously Walt, we can know ourselves. if someone is registered to vote, which is, you know, to be able to sign a citizens petition, you’ve got to be 18 or higher. You got to be a US citizen, you got to be registered to vote in Michigan. And so to know that those are confirmed immediately. Well, we’re reducing waste, lowering costs and making it better for the citizens. But I want to be clear here. I am not interested in changing elections for the future. I know there’s a lot of discussion. I know a lot of people have concerns on perceived both sides of the aisle. We at Fair and Equal Michigan are nonpartisan. And I just want to comment that we’re making a legal argument that Fair and Equal Michigan was impacted due to COVID-19. And this is what we’re doing to make sure we stay on time. And we get the required number of signatures.
Walt Sorg 25:25
How’s it working? so far? You’ve only rolled those out in the last few days. Are you beginning to get results?
Trevor Thomas 25:31
Yeah, we’re gonna be doing some updates. You know, we announced this prior to COVID that we were at 100,000 signatures. So let’s say that was around May 9, I think we are now at 150,000 signatures and growing. That doesn’t mean we should slow down. We have five weeks here to be able to come up with another 250,000 signatures. So we have a little bit of safety room. And so anyone listening if you could make Sharing your social media that you share out there, the importance of what Fair and Equal Michigan is doing. And they just have to go to our website fairandequalmichigan.com, it’s mobile friendly. And the entire experience to esign will take you less than three minutes.
Walt Sorg 26:16
On the other side of the campaign, of course, as the support structure, and you picked up three major, major endorsements in the last few days, the Big Three automakers are with you. How did that come about? And what’s that going to mean for the campaign?
Trevor Thomas 26:28
You know, the automotive sector has been important in Michigan for some time, we put the world on wheels one in three jobs directly linked to the big three and the automotive sector and so having General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the Ford Motor Company with us and supporting Fair and Equal Michigan, but also taking a stand for the first time in a joint statement that they believe Elliott-Larson, the state’s Civil Rights Act should be amended to prohibit discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. It is a significant step forward and cannot be undervalued. Look, they know that employees should be judged for the job they do, and not who they are and who they love. That is their focus. They see this. They know this. They know Michigan needs to compete for talent. This is something they can take off the list when we’re all successful by getting this done for the first time in history.
Walt Sorg 27:31
Okay, once again, the website is that people want to sign or they want to share it on their social media is
Trevor Thomas 27:36
Walt Sorg 27:38
And that’s all spelled out. There’s no abbreviations, no punctuation or anything. Just Fair and Equal Michigan all spelled out to every time. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you. Good luck and be well.
Trevor Thomas 27:48
Walt thank you, appreciate it.
Walt Sorg 27:51
Or thanks to Trevor Thomas for joining us. And just for the record, I did do some paid consulting for fair equal Michigan. I’m not doing it anymore. People should know that I did have a financial connection to that campaign
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Christine Barry 28:47
Grassroots group Voters Not Politicians came into being to run the successful petition drive ending gerrymandering in Michigan. Now the group is focused on the upcoming redistricting process and also a couple of COVID related developments that could impact the process. One is making sure that we don’t repeat the Wisconsin experience of holding an election where you have to risk infection in order to vote. And the other is a possible delay in conducting the US Census.
Walt Sorg 29:13
To shed some light on both issues. I talked with Nancy Wang, she’s the president of voters, not politicians. Nancy, let’s start with first of all your efforts to expand voting rights in November, you’re calling now for having the Secretary of State mail out ballots to every registered voter, needs a change in state law. How do you read the prospects of that in the legislature?
Nancy Wang 29:34
Yeah, well, I think right now, we’re kind of mapping, you know, all the different options, right. And that’s certainly a path that I think would be the easiest one and it’s within the authority of the legislature and I’m hoping that they’ll come together at this time of, you know, extreme crisis and and work to change state laws so that we can implement the most health protective way for people to vote in November
Walt Sorg 29:59
As a results of proposal three in 2018. Which Voters Not Politicians supported very strongly. A lot of people are already voting absentee, but they’re just requiring them to apply for a ballot. The clerk say they’re ready for it for the most part. Is this next step Do you think vital for the state of Michigan, given the fact that right now in some cities I know in Lansing, we have 70 – 75% AV voting already?
Nancy Wang 30:21
Yeah, but I think the problem is that it kind of that number will vary from, you know, municipality to municipality. And what we’re looking at what we saw in Wisconsin, is that you know, you might not have a lot of people having to go vote in person in one precinct, but then you might, you know, in other areas of the state, right, and so what we were looking at was just a real significant concern about the health and well being of all Michiganders. So we want to see the state do everything it can to make it as easy as possible for people to vote by mail and that means just you know, getting mailed a ballot and then you can return it however you want. You can like, put it back in the mailbox, you can submit it to a Dropbox, you know, or in person at your clerk’s office. But just to eliminate that, that extra step of having, having people have to return application for an AV ballot, I think will bring in, you know, more people into the mail-in voting and so that could potentially save a lot of lives. And and so that’s the way we think the state should go.
Walt Sorg 31:26
Let’s switch over to the issue that Voters Not Politicians really was created for and that is redistricting and petition drives. You’ve had a situation now where you have another group with a petition drive that is trying to go to an electronic signature collection. If there’s one thing you and I learned during that campaign in 2018. It’s tough collecting those signatures on paper, electronic signatures makes it a lot easier. Is this something that you’re going to be fighting for?
Nancy Wang 31:53
I don’t know about fighting for about where hundred percent behind them and I think it’s a really exciting development. You know, one of the things we were lamenting as You know, during prop two is just how archaic our citizen initiative process is. And I think, you know, moving that whole process into the 21st century will allow people to exercise direct democracy, you know that much more efficiently in our state. And I think that’s a great thing.
Walt Sorg 32:19
One other issue on redistricting that has just come up and that is the Census Bureau is asking that they be given a delay of three months in their whole process, which would delay the reporting of state census figures back to the States until July of 2021 instead of april of 2021. That obviously directly impacts the redistricting process. Does it leave enough time for the new commission which has yet to be created to actually get his work done in time for the 2022 election?
Nancy Wang 32:49
The short answer is yes. You know, and I will say I saw that announcement also and i and i have different feelings about it. On the one hand, I’m really excited that they asked for this extended extension of time because you know, the complete getting A complete count is so important for so many state programs and then the COVID pandemic and the fact that we are all you know, staying at home puts, it puts a huge wrench in the in the census program, right? Like you can’t do in person kind of door knocking to get people to fill out their census. So I think I’m all for them having more time to get a complete count of people. On the other hand, as you point out, it has rippling effects. So you know, if we don’t get our census data for 2020, back until July now of 2021, that only gives our citizens commission something like three months to draft the maps to have public hearings on them, and then to finalize the maps. And, you know, I will say, though, that that is enough time and the California 2011 Commission’s show that they can do it in that kind of compressed timeframe. But what that means to me, what that tells me is that groups like VNP you know, the Commission, the Secretary of State will have to do a lot more prep work to get the public in the place where they can meaningful, meaningfully Participate once we’re in that kind of that sprint that homestretch in late 2021. And to me, that means like, getting out in the public and doing a mass public education campaign to tell people, okay, this is how the process is gonna work, once we get the final census data. And here, you know, these are the software tools that you can use. We can use, you know, 2011 or 2010 census data and kind of practice, you know, for many months to kind of get everyone comfortable with, you know, the concept of what it means to have a community of interest, what it means to draw your own. And, and so that everyone, including the public will be, you know, really ready to have that kind of sped up process of drawing our maps using the 2020 census data.
Walt Sorg 34:46
Right now voters, not politicians is really focused on the census. You’re very concerned about a complete count. What are some of the things that you’re doing towards that end?
Nancy Wang 34:53
Yeah, so we’ve been working, you know, we’ve been kind of had close communication these many months with MNA, the Michigan Nonprofit Association that’s really kind of spearheading, like kind of organizing the statewide effort to get a complete count. They’re working with, you know, census hubs around the state, I think there’s 13 of them. And then you know, which are in turn working with your, you know, local community organizations. And what we’re doing is we’ve been trying to coordinate our messaging so that in our town halls, when we talk about prop two, for example, we’ve been trying to emphasize the importance of everyone filling out their census in order to for us to get that complete count so that communities have, you know, their, the their maximum, they maximize their voting power, right? Since districts are drawn around whole populations of people, not just your voting population, and then you know, that that data then goes into your registering process. And then ultimately, it’s important that people exercise the right to vote. So just kind of, you know, weaving in the importance of filling out your census in order to exercise your franchise and then just recently, we put a call out to VNP volunteers to help with a phone bank so that we can reach out to 30,000 Michiganders to encourage them to fill out their census. This is just another example of what why how like VMP volunteers are so amazing. We put the cow out. And then three days later, we had gotten pledges from our volunteers to make those 30,000 calls. So, you know, it’s like,
Walt Sorg 36:26
it’s not a surprise, though.
Nancy Wang 36:27
Yeah, it’s not a surprise. But it’s still like, it’s just it’s, it’s amazing to me, and so heartening, and, and people really are their home, they’re looking for a way to make a difference. And this is one way that we could help the effort. We’re really happy to do that.
Walt Sorg 36:42
You were under a lot of pressure both internally and externally, to have another petition drive for this current election cycle, and ultimately decided not to do it. As it turns out, that was probably a really good decision because whatever you did would probably have been stopped in mid track, right? But before COVID-19 you don’t already made the decision not to get involved into a petition drive this cycle. Why?
Nancy Wang 37:04
Um, yeah. So, you know, in 2019, we were able to go kind of through a long term strategic planning process. And we were trying to figure out, okay, like, what role do we play in Michigan? You know, how is VNPs strengths? How can we, you know, put them to greatest use? And definitely, I think we are really, really strong with mobilizing people from all across the state and doing something like you know, a successful ballot initiative, but that doesn’t mean we should undertake one every single cycle. And so I think we’re definitely looking at 2022. We were looking to take on an issue that is nonpartisan, that results in structural democracy reform. I think we felt that for lots of reasons, there just wasn’t that singular issue that we could do with success that really motivated our volunteers and that we could do with kind of like The landscape that we’re playing in for 2020. And like you said, As it turned out, it was the right decision.
Walt Sorg 38:05
Yeah, absolutely. It would have been a moot point. After what happened in Wisconsin. Do you see the sense now that maybe the issue you might take on is a universal vote by mail?
Nancy Wang 38:16
Well, yeah, we’re taking that on right now. And not know, for 2022. I mean, for 2020. You know, we’re going to do everything we can to, again, to maximize the number of people in Michigan that can vote by mail, and our first choice and the choice that we think our state should go in because it would protect the most lives is to mail every single registered voter a ballot.
Walt Sorg 38:37
It’s always a pleasure to see you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Nancy Wang 38:40
Really appreciate it. Thanks so much Walt, it’s really nice to see you.
Walt Sorg 38:43
After our discussion with Nancy, a federal appeals court panel voted unanimously against a republican party lawsuit, which was aimed at overturning Michigan’s landmark anti gerrymandering constitutional amendment. No word yet on whether they’ll appeal to the US Supreme Court, but I would guess that they probably will. A personal side note, Nancy’s husband is a trauma surgeon at the University of Michigan hospital. So he’s dealing with COVID-19 every day, or thanks when our thoughts are with him and all his colleagues.
Christine Barry 39:12
As for vote by mail, there’s another potential major complication, no mail service, post office is running out of money. Republicans have been trying for years to privatize the post office by imposing ridiculous requirements regarding the funding of retirement benefits. And now the post office says it could be insolvent by the end of September. Senator Gary Peters is working to keep the Post Office Open.
Gary Peters 39:36
We’re going to have to make sure that we’re providing resources as well as working with restructuring of the postal service so that it continues to be vibrant. You know, I agree. We have to have a postal service. It’s absolutely critical for this country. It delivers valuable medicines and information to folks and when you think about people who particularly rely on the Postal Service, it is in our rural communities, many of the commercial services they like to take packages into suburban areas or urban areas, but it’s not as profitable for them to go into the rural areas and our rural residents, that’s their connection is through the Postal Service.