Justin Amash, the census citizenship question, a sinister coalition, other states ftdr, and Tom Watkins on K-12 education

July 8, 2019

Michigan Policast for Monday, July 8, 2019

Segment one: Justin Amash declares his independence

'We were making progress ... toward limited govt, economic freedom, individual #liberty ... over the past few years, it has gone in the other direction. @realDonaldTrump is the culmination of many yrs of shift in this direction.” ~@justinamash ‏#MI3 Click To Tweet
“My oath is to support and defend the #Constitution, and that’s what I do. I didn’t run on an oath to support and defend a particular person. I am who I am, and I wouldn’t want to do this job if I had to be something I’m not.” ~@JustinAmash #MI3 Click To Tweet

Segment two: Trump tries to revive the citizenship question for political redistricting

The #gerrymandering expert behind the push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — on the premise that it would help Republicans and “non-Hispanic whites” — was paid millions by @GOP until his death last year. via @salon #USCensusClick To Tweet
Implementing @GOP political maps without adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census would be “functionally unworkable.” @Salon @realDonaldTrump #USCensusClick To Tweet
“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for districting,” ~ @realDonaldTrump on adding the citizenship question to the #USCensus Click To Tweet

Segment three:  Gas taxes go up around the country

“When the voters passed in the last election cycle, the theory of the locked box, meaning that if the gas tax were to go up, that money goes for nothing but roads, bridges and infrastructure. That’s what was passed,” Brady said.

Segment four:  The “Heartbeat Coalition” pursues an unconstitutional law

'The purpose of this petition drive is not only to protect babies with beating hearts in Michigan, it’s about far more than that,' ~Corey Shankleton @MIHeartbeatCoal @AyeVeeGee @mippadvocates @ppofmiClick To Tweet
.@MIHeartbeatCoal claims that its petition drive is 'about far more than' protecting babies, and they don't tell you what that is. @christinebarry @ppofmi @mippadvocates #prochoice Click To Tweet

Michigan law allows for what is called an Initiative Legislative Petition, simply put if 340,000 + valid signatures are gathered, then all that is required is a simple majority vote in the House and Senate for the bill to become law—completely bypassing the Governor! While collecting the signatures is a costly and challenging task, we believe with the help of churches and pro-life groups we can do it!

Interview:  Former state schools superintendent Tom Watkins on Benton Harbor and Michigan's K-12 system

Transcript (and other cool stuff)

Donald Trump 0:05
Our Army manned the air, it ran the ramparts. It took over the airports it did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHenry under the rockets red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came their Star Spangled Banner waved defiant.

Walt Sorg 0:26
I wish we were on television right now because we're all laughing so hard. Our ramparts have been rammed, our airports are secure, and we've started a GoFundMe for a new White House teleprompter. This is the Michigan Policast post- July 4, or as it's known now, Tank Thursday, I'm Walt Sorg.

Christine Barry 0:46
I'm Christine Barry while Donald Trump was mangling US history. Michigan's mercurial congressman Justin Amash was declaring his political independence.

Amy Kerr Hardin 0:55
I'm Amy Kerr Hardin. How many people live in Michigan? In the United States? We'll update the numbers next year, but the President is threatening to rig the census despite a Supreme Court decision

Walt Sorg 1:06
And in another unconstitutional effort, anti-abortion zealots have launched a petition drive to enact a virtual ban on abortion in Michigan and direct conflict with Roe v. Wade, and gas taxes are going up. Just not in Michigan yet. We begin with the congressman though from Grand Rapids who has called for an impeachment inquiry. And on Independence Day, he declared he was going to be independent and leave the Republican Party.

Justin Amash 1:30
Well, I get people sending me text messages, people calling me saying thank you for what you're doing great op-ed. When I was discussing impeachment, I had fellow colleagues and other Republicans, high-level officials contacting me saying thank you for what you're doing. So there are lots of Republicans out there who are saying these things privately, but they're not saying it publicly. And I think that's a problem for our country. It's a problem for the Republican Party. It's a problem for the Democratic Party when people aren't allowed to speak out.

Walt Sorg 1:59
Justin Amash, the libertarian Maverick in Congress announced in the Washington Post op-ed that he's left the Republican Party, he was immediately attacked by President Donald Trump and I gotta read this tweet. It's amazing. “Great news for the Republican Party as one of the dumbest and most disloyal men in Congress is quitting the party, no collusion, no obstruction, knew he couldn't get the nomination to run again, in the great state of Michigan, already being challenged for his seat, a total loser.”

In other words, typical Donald Trump. That's pretty much how Amash reacted to it in an interview on CNN.

Justin Amash 2:30
I don't have a response to it. It's what the President does. It's what he says. And I think most people understand. That's not how people are supposed to talk about each other and to each other. And I think he's really identified what I talked about in my op-ed, which is, he thinks that people owe loyalty to him. But people are elected to Congress with an oath to support and defend the Constitution, not an oath to support and defend one person, the President, who happens to be from your own party.

Amy Kerr Hardin 2:59
Christine, what are the implications for Michigan of Amash's decision?

Christine Barry 3:03
Well, the most interesting thing that happened, first of all, is that his district changed from ‘likely GOP' to ‘toss-up' for this upcoming election. I don't know what that means for a Democrat running against him. But I do know that it makes it more difficult for the Republicans to keep that seat, which means that if all things stay the same, Michigan has, for the first time in years more Democrats in their congressional delegation than Republicans because we went from being evenly split this time, now that Justin has left the GOP, now it's seven Democrats, six Republicans, and one independent. So that's kind of interesting.

I'm certain that it doesn't change the way that he will vote or the way that he serves his constituents. But he may lose some committee seats, he may be removed from the Republican conference. In that CNN interview that we just heard, he did talk about how he would still continue to serve district the best that he could, even if he was removed from some committees. And I think that he's being quite sincere about that. He talked about how people want to have open and honest representation. People want their Congress to serve them with integrity, and he doesn't feel that he can do that as a member of either party. So I think that he's saying the things that people want to hear, and I think he's going to have some support. But man, is he up for a tough, tough re-election against whichever Republican wins that primary. Right now we have Pete Meijer, who just has a bunch of money, because he's an heir, and we have Jim Lower, who jumped in early and was I think, a month or two ago leading in the early polls by like 12 or 13 points in the primary. And that was obviously before Justin left the GOP. He's going to have a tough run to be reelected. But I think that he could do it.

Amy Kerr Hardin 5:00
But what if he decides to run for president on the libertarian ticket? You can only do one or the other in Michigan, you can't run for both. The state law does not allow you to appear on the ballot more than once. What happens if he runs for president? Does that turn the state over to Donald Trump or does it make it easier for the democrat?

Christine Barry 5:17
I think that's a question based on who the Democratic candidate turns out to be. I'm pretty sure it was a May poll that had Joe Biden far and away leading in Michigan, and he led Trump in a head to head by 12 percentage points. If you put Justin Amash in that group. Biden's lead gets cut down to six, because Justin siphons off all of those anti-Trump voters who don't want to vote for a Democrat, you know, or maybe they genuinely like Justin. I mean, he is a unique individual and, and people genuinely like him. So that's quite a big chunk that he's taking away from Joe Biden. Imagine if it was somebody like Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris, who maybe doesn't have that huge margin over Trump. What does it do then? Well, well, then it does, you know, the state will go to Trump again, if that's the case.

Amy Kerr Hardin 6:10
Another part of the problem, too, is, Amy, you were talking about this before we started recording the podcast. And that is you don't beat somebody with nobody. Democrats can pick up the seat, but first, they've got to have a candidate. And right now, the only two names I've seen are people that are coming from basically out of nowhere, politically, I'm sure they're fine people, but they've got no base.

Amy 6:29
And Justin is a compelling political figure. He knows how to not just work the crowd, but you know how to play the media. And he does come across as honest in his opinions. Even if I don't agree with his opinions, I do believe that he's earnest and what he believes.

Christine Barry 6:46
He does, he explains every vote that he ever makes, that alone appeals to so many people, they almost don't care what his votes are. And here's the thing about Justin, I was looking at his voting record and how he with Trump and in this session, he aligned with Trump 93.3% of the time. You already see Jim Lower attacking him on not supporting Trump's policies. Well, that simply wasn't true. Now, he did oppose some pretty important things and things that are important to Trump. He said he opposed the funding for the wall and that kind of thing. But for the most part, he is the vote in Congress that Republicans would want. It's just that he doesn't like Trump and Michigan isn't really that strong on Trump right now either.

And that's how the census is supposed to work. The Constitution mandates that every 10 years, we count every breathing human being residing in these United States, but the president wants to ask people if they are citizens, which census experts say would result in significant undercount because non-citizens fear Trump's rabid anti-immigrant policies.

Donald Trump 8:10
We can start printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision. So we're working on a lot of things, including an executive order. $15 to $20 billion, and you're not allowed to ask them, are you a citizen. And by the way, if you look at the history of our country, it's almost always been asked. You need it for Congress for districting, you need for appropriations.

Amy Kerr Hardin 8:34
The Trump administration wishes to weaponize the census by scaring non-citizens from participating so as to further gerrymander voting districts to favor Republicans. Fair districts would be the death of the Republican party and many states democrats dominate the popular vote, especially here in Michigan, just to demonstrate that they could, you know, really do something even more evil with the census numbers. Census data was used to round up to Japanese citizens, and that's citizens, during World War II, and put them in an internment camp.

The Supreme Court remanded a successful challenge to the citizenship question back to the lower courts citing the dubious reasoning for the question in the first place. Trump could go back to the court again, but time is running out. So now he's threatening, via tweet, of course, to do it by executive order, which is illegal. The ACLU and other groups would immediately file an emergency injunction which would become a permanent injunction, no doubt which the Department of Justice may try to appeal. And as a side note, in terms of the Department of Justice defending Trump's question for the census, a lot of the DOJ officials went to this court, the lower court, and said that the census had to be printed by the end of June, that that was like a hard deadline. So they may potentially have committed perjury because apparently, it doesn't need to be printed by the end of June.

Christine Barry 10:01
Well, it's interesting that Trump came right out and said that they wanted this question on there because it was necessary for political redistricting. But they lied about it when they went to the Supreme Court to defend it last time they said it was to enforce the Voting Rights Act. It obviously was not. And of course, that's what Chief Justice Roberts said anyway, but it's crazy that Trump just said it right out loud now. It was supposed to be a secret. I think they were using it to disenfranchise people, but

Amy Kerr Hardin 10:34
He's not really good with secrets.

Walt Sorg 10:37
The audio we just heard, he said it right out loud. The thing that concerns me about it reminds me of a long-ago quotation from President Andrew Jackson, whose picture, by the way, is on the wall in the Oval Office. Back then there was a Supreme Court ruling that he didn't like, and he was reportedly said of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, “John Marshall has made his decision now let him enforce it.” In other words, Donald Trump may just ignore the Supreme Court and go ahead with it on an executive order. And to hell with the court.

Amy Kerr Hardin 11:08
Well, what I would like to see happen if that were to occur, I would like to see a push for all non-citizens to just flat out lie and say they're citizens, just give them permission to do so.

Christine Barry 11:20
I know that when there's there's this anti-muslim sentiment, everybody is a Muslim, and if there's an anti-transgender, everybody is transgender, you know, you try to take on those kinds of identities.

Walt Sorg 11:33
I am Spartacus.

Christine Barry 11:34
There you go.

Amy Kerr Hardin 11:35
Yeah, that's an interesting way to handle it to have all the non-citizens say they're citizens and all the citizens say they're non-citizens.

Christine Barry 11:43
Well, that was not where I was going with that!

I don't know. But it's very disturbing.

Walt Sorg 11:49
There has been a move in recent years in some legislators to apportion voters for legislative congressional districts based on the number of eligible voters rather than the number of people. And that is of dubious constitutionality, but it's something they want to do. But it's certainly something you cannot do, if you don't know who's a citizen.

Christine Barry 12:08
It is fundamentally impossible unless you ask whether someone is a citizen. Pro “question” people will say that we've always had this question on the census until 2010, when it was removed. That's not technically true. It's always it's been, you know, worded differently throughout the years as to whether somebody is a citizen or has been naturalized or foreign-born or whatever. But in this particular climate, it seems dangerous to say out loud that you're not a US citizen. I wouldn't want to do it.

Walt Sorg 12:41
It's never been asked in a circumstance at least since World War II, where people were afraid of the administration using the information to their detriment.

From our old-timey newscast a couple of news items from the last few days of note, first of all, while the Michigan legislature takes a summer vacation cruising on pothole-ridden roads, neighboring states are actually doing something about it. Several of our neighboring states have raised their gas tax to fix their stinking roads. They're not as high as what they would be in Michigan, but still significant increases. Ohio went up 10.5 cents per gallon effective July 1, bringing their total at the pump up to 38.51 cents. And then Illinois hiked this gas tax by 19 cents per gallon on July 1. So all those trips to Chicago, are going to get a little bit more expensive.

And then around the country drivers in California, South Carolina, and Tennessee started paying higher gas taxes over the last week with those states rising 5.6, two, and one cent per gallon respectively. By the way, California drivers now pay 61.2 cents per gallon in state taxes, which is the highest in the nation. Although if the governor's proposal goes through as written, which it probably won't, but if it does, Michigan would move into the number one position.

But I say it probably won't happen I'm thinking more and more this is going to end up as a ballot proposal petition drive, the governor is going to have to go around the legislature, because nothing is going to happen in this legislature. And nothing's going to happen until really the legislature flips, and that probably won't happen till 2022.

Amy Kerr Hardin 14:19
If we have a ballot proposal, we would really have to sell the electorate on the idea of paying more at the pump, and that's that's a hard sell.

Christine Barry 14:30
The really interesting thing about this is that this is a regional problem. This is a problem that is not unique to Michigan, you mentioned Ohio, Illinois, I didn't see anything about Indiana, but the whole region is suffering from decades of under-investing in infrastructure as well as seasonal damage to roads and so on. So this is something that's happening all around the area.

Walt Sorg 14:54
And all three of those states in the Midwest, they have toll roads, which supplement their gas tax signal differently.

Christine Barry 15:00
And what I wanted to get back to was when you talk about having to go to the voters, that's what Illinois did. And the voters voted on this concept of a lockbox, which meant that all of the gas taxes would go to the infrastructure that it was supposed to go to. And the representative that I'm going to quote in our show notes mentions that once the voters bought into that concept of the lockbox, everything else fell into place. But they had to be convinced first of all, that the taxes were going to go to the correct place.

Amy Kerr Hardin 15:30
And the trick with the lockbox is that the legislature could get very fancy with their budgetary shenanigans and say, okay, we've got this much money coming from this particular tax. So we're going to take this other money, robbing Peter to pay Paul, from roads from infrastructure funding and divert it to whatever corporate subsidies who knows what.

Christine Barry 15:53
I don't know enough about Illinois situation to know if that's the model for us or not, but it's sounded like the voters had to do the work. The voters went in and said, the money is going to go to what we say it's going to go and now we're going to give you the money that you want.

Walt Sorg 16:10
I find it interesting to local governments are attacking this problem without waiting for the state. A township outside of Lansing, Meridian Township has a ballot proposal on the August primary ballot, calling for a millage specifically earmarked for roads because they're tired of potholes and they're tired of waiting.

Amy Kerr Hardin 16:26
Here in Grand Traverse County Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians have really stepped up with the 2% fund, they're supposed to take 2% of their earnings from casino revenues and put it back into the community. And they've been doing that in terms of paving roads, difficult roads like secondary roads that are very low on the list to be repaved by the county or by the state. They've been getting in there and doing it.

The first of two petition drives aimed at restricting women's rights, reproductive rights is underway. And the one that's out there right now is the most restrictive of them all.

Walt Sorg 17:05
This is the more sinister of the two proposals because basically, it's unconstitutional. It says that as soon as there is proof of circulatory activity inside the mother, that you can't have an abortion. That comes at about six weeks, it's actually before there's a heart. So the heartbeat coalition is sort of deceptively named because the human heart does not form that early in gestation. And so they had to, they had to change the language in their ballot proposal a little bit, but they know it's unconstitutional. It violates Roe. And from the standpoint of somebody who wants to have an abortion, a lot of times women don't know after six weeks that they're pregnant.

Amy Kerr Hardin 17:45
Especially since the gestational age is measured from the first day of the last period. So six weeks is kind of a little bit of a misnomer.

Christine Barry 17:53
The organization itself is kind of scary to me. They don't even fully tell you who is they are or what they're about. They've come right out and said the purpose of the petition drive is to not only protect babies with beating hearts, but it's about far more than that. They want to put an arrow straight through the heart of Roe vs. Wade. And they have a section on their website, actually is just an FAQ, where they talked about how with the help of the churches, they're going to be able to do this. And so it gives it a kind of like a sick creepy feeling to me that it's a big cultural thing for them to just go out there and drum up as much support as they can for this unconstitutional thing that they want to do.

Amy Kerr Hardin 18:37
It's about controlling women's bodies. I don't really think it's about right to life at all.

Christine Barry 18:47
And our never-ending education crisis hit another low spot this week, Benton Harbor schools are broke. test scores are horrid and negotiations between governor Whitmer and the school district over what to do now have broken down. What now? Walt talked with former state school superintendent Tom Watkins about the crisis in Benton Harbor, and the long term deterioration of Michigan's K-12 education system.

Walt Sorg 19:11
Let's begin with the education crisis to your we seem like we have one every week this one now in Benton Harbor. What is the situation now? Exactly? What is the problem in Benton Harbor?

Tom Watkins 19:22
Well, it's bit to me, it's a lot bigger problem. The crisis, the focus, if you will, is on Benton Harbor. But once again, we're putting a bandaid on a malignant cancer. The education system in Michigan has been going downhill for nearly two decades. We, on any measure, we're not measuring up. And so we need to stop. And what happens is places like Benton Harbor become the canary in the coal mine. There are other school districts within financial difficulty across the state. We still haven't resolved the issues fully in Detroit, even though we've made some significant progress there. So we need to stop putting band-aids on a malignant cancer, which is a balance between appropriately funding our schools, particularly targeting resources for the most needy students, and accountability and reform.

Walt Sorg 20:26
The state during the Snyder administration actually took over a school district and abolished it. It was the Muskegon Heights School District was taken over by an emergency manager. And his determination was to shut down the school district and privatized it, and that didn't work.

Tom Watkins 20:40
No, it hasn't. And we need to come together. And as difficult as this time is, I'm probably more optimistic than I've been in the past decade or longer. I believe that there is an opportunity for the various players. labor unions with the Michigan Federation of Teachers, particularly David Hecker, who I've always found a reasonable thoughtful man that stands up for quality public education, but is reasonable and solving problems. The MEA, the Michigan business leaders, the Chambers in Grand Rapids and the like, have pulled together a group that they call launch Michigan, which has major business, the labor unions, the education community, coming together and trying to find a shared vision and a common agenda. That's about lifting up our schools, lifting up our teachers, and most importantly, lifting up our children, our students and making sure they get the education they need and deserve. I just wish there was a greater sense of urgency because that plan, which they've been working on for a better part of the year, isn't expected to be revealed until coming into the 2020 or late 2019. And that does not do anything for the children in Benton Harbor that are looking to get a year's worth of learning for a year's worth of effort.

Walt Sorg 22:14
Is the problem basically financial or is there also some underlying statutory and philosophical problems with our system?

Tom Watkins 22:22
Good questions, clearly, we need to invest dollars within our public on a whole system. MSU and others have done research studies over the years. So we've continued to disinvest in education, and we have that problem, not only with education but with an infrastructure. I spend a lot of time consulting in China and the US and the places, whether they're internationally, nationally, or locally, that are investing in what makes us strong, like infrastructure, artificial intelligence, education, workforce development, are soaring, those that are not are falling behind. And what's tragic about Benton Harbor, is it's not those kids. A child without a decent education today is an adult tomorrow without much of a future. And so if we think that somehow or another, that we don't have to worry about it, and Okemos or East Lansing or Northville or Novi or Birmingham, we're sadly mistaken.

Those children that do not get education aren't going away, we oftentimes reflect about the brain drain, you know, the great people from Michigan State, Wayne State, U of M, Western, Central, they get a solid education and then leave the state, we should be equally concerned about those young people that we are not educating, that are staying behind. And we need to get very serious addressing those needs, or we're going to continue to sink as the 21st century evolves.

Walt Sorg 24:07
It seems to be one of the other problems we're facing too, with urban school districts is their physical plants are much older, generally than in the suburbs. I know here in Lansing, for example. We have high schools that were built, one high school that was built 75 years ago, that is now just now being replaced. And with the emphasis now on technology, how can they compete?

Tom Watkins 24:29
Well, they can't. And they don't I mean, the fact that as many children do as well as they can, given the disinvestment, and a lack of investment, whether it's quality teachers, and making sure we have the best and brightest in front of our students, to take away anything from the good teachers that are there today trying their best. But you're absolutely right, we have some children in the state, we tell them they have to run the hundred-yard dash. But some kids have to start 150 yards behind others and not having the appropriate facilities, the technology. And it's not only in their schools, but imagine that child that has to go home and compete, not only with the kid in the next school district but to compete with the children of the world. And they don't have internet access at their home. And in some places, in fact, I was talking to a colleague in eastern UP that the kids have to go to the local McDonald's, to access broadband to access Wi-Fi in order to do their homework. That's unacceptable in the 21st century and the great state of Michigan.

Walt Sorg 25:39
What about the role of charter schools and how they've grown to Michigan, I think we've probably got the highest saturation of charter schools in the nation or close to it is that a net plus or negative?

Tom Watkins 25:50
Well, when you have a system after proposal A, where funding is based on a number of students are in the school, when you have declining enrollment, you're losing money. So for every hundred children, to leave a school district, you know, with federal and state funds, the $10,000 walking out of the school district 100 children disappear. And there are fixed costs of running a district. So losing students loses income for that district.

Yet that needs to be balanced out about providing high-quality choices. And there are some good charter schools. I wrote in 1995, for Ed Week, an education periodical, that there's, you know, three entities in the charter school movement and foreshadowing what's taking place today, that is entrepreneurial scoundrels that are out trying to scam the system and make a buck. And we see that in Michigan today. The kind of folks that are focused on teaching and learning. And those that really want to see something good happen for kids, we've got to get the focus back on teaching, learning and children and less on power control politics and ideology. Because when we focus on really engaging teachers, focusing on data, real data and evidence-based as opposed to ideology, good things can happen for our kids.

Walt Sorg 27:32
There's also the challenge of competition for resources. We have obviously a huge problem with our roads is going to require billions of dollars to fix. One of the so-called solutions that's been proposed by the Republicans in the legislature is basically diverting money away from K-12 education by redirecting the sales tax on gas to go to the roads instead of the schools. How do you build the political consensus to do both? In a time when people say our taxes are already too high?

Tom Watkins 27:58
Well, we're going to have to, again, spending time in China, let me assure you, they're not waiting for us to get our act together. Our children do have to compete with children across the state across this nation and collaborate as well. And so if we do not invest today, you know, a child gets one year of education, 12 years in total, but if we don't educate them, we're not going to do well. And the business community is beginning to step up and realize that these investments, whether it's an infrastructure, and I'm glad to see the business community stepping behind, to a greater extent and in the past, for investing in infrastructure, but also in education. These are things that are going to make a strong state and nation. And if we don't invest then we're just going to continue to slide behind. We've seen, the evidence is there, what has happened when we stop investing in our children. When we invest our people we thrive, and we don't, we sink like a rock.

Walt Sorg 28:22
Tom Watkins, former superintendent of public instruction in Michigan. Thanks so much for joining us.

Tom Watkins 29:09
Thank you.

Amy Kerr Hardin 29:12
That's it for our post 4th of July Policast. The fireworks are over, the tanks are back in their tank garages, and our ramparts continued to be rammed (ooh sounds dirty) Our thanks to Tom Watkins for joining us today.

Christine Barry 29:25
For background information, links, videos and all of today's topics. Head over to our website, MichiganPolicast.com

Walt Sorg 29:33
And you can send your comments complaints and congrats to us via the Google email machine, Michigan podcast at gmail. com for Amy and Christy and I'm Walt Sorg. Thanks for listening.




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