Budget updates, swing districts, and the Democratic primary. Jocelyn Benson is our guest.

October 14, 2019


Michigan Policast for Monday, October 14, 2019

  In this episode:

  • Michigan budget updates
  • GOP Congressional Leadership Fund SuperPAC uses impeachment support to target Elissa Slotkin, other swing-district Dems
  • Congressmen Justin Amash and Fred Upton also have tough races coming up
  • Democratic presidential primary debate – Oct 15 in Ohio
  • Craig Mauger of Michigan Campaign Finance Network is moving to Detroit News
  • Interview: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
  • Transcript


Jump to:

Michigan budget updates

One of the best articles out there on why the @MiSenate @mi_republicans @MiGOP faux concern over 'vulnerable populations' is an insult to the people of Michigan #MiBudget http://bit.ly/2B4SOM9 ~ @sjdemas @MichiganAdvanceClick To Tweet


GOP CLFSuperPAC uses impeachment support to target Elissa Slotkin, other swing-district Dems

'Instead of playing desperate partisan politics, @MiGOPChair Laura Cox should focus on deciding whether she will continue covering for @RealDonaldTrump' . ~@LavoraBarnes @MichiganDems ~ http://bit.ly/32dj7M0 @DetroitNewsClick To Tweet

Congressmen Justin Amash and Fred Upton also have tough races coming up

Democratic presidential primary debate – Oct 15 in Ohio

The October Democratic debate will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 15, and air live at 8 p.m. EDT from private liberal arts college Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. ~source

69% of Americans think @BernieSanders health is “a legitimate issue.”https://53eig.ht/318v9Vv #DemPrimary Click To Tweet
New polling from Ipsos and C-SPAN found that Americans are skeptical the 2020 election will be “open and fair.” https://53eig.ht/318v9Vv #2020 Click To Tweet



Craig Mauger of Michigan Campaign Finance Network is moving to Detroit News


Interview: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson



Walt Sorg 0:23
I love that legal analysis of what's going on right now from our commander in chief. In Washington, though the case for impeachment grows by the hour. And in Lansing. We've got a political cage match featuring the Democratic governor and Republican legislature over the budget. This is the Michigan Policast the home for great and unmatched wisdom. I'm Walt Sorg. Also on the pod this week, Christine Barry.

Christine Barry 0:45
The 2020 campaign for Congress is well underway in Michigan with TV ads already running in two swing districts and heavy-duty fundraising in two other seats now held by Republicans that can be flipped.

Walt Sorg 1:00
Also with us Amy Kerr Hardin

Amy Kerr Hardin 1:07
Oh, that's great. A shift in the Lansing landscape. The watchdog over political spending is moving to a larger platform. Craig Mauger, Executive Director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan, Michigan Campaign Finance Network is leaving to cover politicians in Lansing for the Detroit News.

Walt Sorg 1:24
And with the 2020 elections approaching, there are concerns nationwide over protecting our votes from foreign hackers and foreign influence. I think I have heard about that in the news. Even as new election reforms go into effect in Michigan. I'll talk with our very special guest Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who's really in charge of elections in the state of Michigan. But let's begin with the latest in the Lansing budget battles. Christine. First of all, I'm not sure anything is really changed, but it definitely is a political cage match. Right?

Christine Barry 1:53
Well, I do you think that's a good description for it because it's turned into this really ugly nasty fight with No rules. It seems like our people arguing over what the rules should be. The last time we talked about this, we were kind of at an impasse. The governor had vetoed things that she said she was willing to negotiate. The Republicans said, Nope, the budget is done, it's all on her. Well, we've had some progress. Last Tuesday, the Republican leadership did introduce some supplemental spending bills, which would restore about what about one-third of what she vetoed, and these were of their priorities and things that they felt it was very important to get back into the budget.

Their bills did not include everything that they wanted, like I said, it was only about a third, but they're calling it a starting point as a means to quote-unquote, correct some mistakes, which kind of a nasty way of putting it But nevertheless, they're willing to negotiate and that was ahead of a Thursday meeting that the Republican leadership had with the governor. Both the governor and the Republican leadership came out of that meeting, saying favorable things about the conversation. But did not comment on the details. However, on the same day, democratic senator Curtis Hertel introduced a supplemental omnibus bill that would fund some of the governor's priorities. But it also includes some of the Republican priorities just as sort of an olive branch. And significantly, this democratic bill would fix the structural problems of the Republicans. You know, that first budget they put through where she used her line-item veto, which was just unbalanced and based on incorrect numbers. So there has been some progress and they're coming back together on Tuesday.

Walt Sorg 3:35
Really interesting. I mentioned in the lead in that we're going to be talking about election security with Secretary of State Benson. The reality is that up one of these things that governor wants more money for is Internet Security cybersecurity for the state of Michigan, and a huge cut was made by the republicans in their original budget bill so she line-item veto the whole thing in hopes of getting the full funding again, simply to protect the state's computer system from hacking.

Christine Barry 4:00
It's very frustrating that they cut that in the first place because it demonstrates that they have just no. Either awareness of how important that is because they're really, if you look across the board, in the industry, everybody is spending is up on cybersecurity in the private sector, in government as well across the nation. I'm not that familiar with other state budgets, but a cut at this point in time a year before a major election is so irresponsible. It's hard to believe that they did it.

Walt Sorg 4:31
It's anecdotal, but I've got a friend who is working over in it at Michigan State University, and he told me that they have thousands of attacks on their system every week.

Amy Kerr Hardin 4:41
That's the point I was just going to make. It's not just about the elections. Some of these hackers actually do that and hold businesses and communities hostage until they pay up. And that's pretty scary too I mean, we could have our counties or our cities held hostage.

Walt Sorg 4:58
Another thing that the governor wants put back in is wanting to start up the redistricting commission. I don't think the legislature is going to give her that. I did talk with Secretary Benson about that. And she says there are ways she can work around that. But she's not very happy with that whole process as well. And the other thing that of course, is missing, really from both supplementals is anything about the damn roads.

Christine Barry 5:17
And that's somewhat by design because governor thinks that and is acting on this principle that you cannot fund the roads out of the general budget. It has to be something else its own plan. I do think she added some money back in though for certain infrastructure spending, though, but it was a small amount.

Walt Sorg 5:38
Yeah, there's still no bill though, for the overall transportation plan on the governor side. She's been talking about it a lot, but you can't get anybody to introduce it or decided that she doesn't want to introduce it because it'll just be used as a pin cushion for all the darts from the Republicans.

Amy Kerr Hardin 5:53
And she also exercised something that John Engler had exercised her executive authority to move funds within different departments that really pissed off the Republicans. And they're actually talking about some legislation to prevent her from doing that. Again, it was affirmed by the Supreme Court back in 1993. When Engler used it.

Walt Sorg 6:11
as you know, I obsess over the redistricting amendment and what it's going to do. But the reality is after the 2020 election with 2022, we're not going to have gerrymandered districts anymore. And that's going to have a huge impact on this whole balance of power issue. We saw it in Wisconsin where gerrymandered Republican legislature basically worked to take away as much power as possible from the democrats who won statewide office. The Republicans are trying to do the same thing here. Because really, I think they recognize this is their last chance.

Amy Kerr Hardin 6:39
Yeah, they're cornered rats.

Christine Barry 6:42
Yeah, I mean, basically a line from Rick Snyder. It's not that we don't like the Republicans, it's that this will make them better. And I'm pretty confident That's what he said about the unions when he signed that ridiculous right to work for less law. There is an opportunity for the republicans to do some self-reflection. here and to be a more Populist Party, but I mean, they're so beholden to their corporate interests. I can't see that happening for decades.

Walt Sorg 7:12
They've got a President who is saying the US Constitution is unconstitutional.

Christine Barry 7:15
I'd like to think he's an anomaly.

Unknown Speaker 7:17
You know, we know it's an idiot. Is anomaly a synonym for idiot?

Christine Barry 7:22
Well, is orange. I don't know.

Walt Sorg 7:25
One thing we got to point out, it's got nothing to do with politics, but it just intrigued me on Sunday. Amy, you noticed on Facebook, that in the face of a crisis in Turkey and Syria, with the rejiggering there the Trump did unilaterally. And on top of that at growing impeachment crisis, and on top of that, having his personal lawyer being investigated by the Justice Department for felony violations, Donald Trump is playing golf.

Amy Kerr Hardin 7:52
That's his go-to thing.

Walt Sorg 7:53
Well, it also makes him some money because he gets to sell all those ancillary services to the federal government so they can protect him while he's out there. cheating at golf.

Christine Barry 8:01
What I really liked was when he said he wasn't sure if Rudy Giuliani was still his attorney. I'm just you know, a regular person. But I know when I have an attorney.

Amy Kerr Hardin 8:15
We're still 13 months away from the 2020 election, but the TV ads have already started in earnest in two congressional districts seen as key to control of the US House. In one of those districts. Republicans don't even have a candidate. And in both districts, the newly elected Democrats are amassing big campaign war chest.

Walt Sorg 8:34
Yeah, we're talking about the eighth and the 11th districts in Michigan, which were flipped in 2018. by Democrats, Alyssa Slotkin and Haley Stevens. The Republican National Committee has spent nearly a half-million dollars in TV as attacking the two of them for supporting an impeachment inquiry instead of doing their job is what they're saying. A pack supporting House Democrats has responded with a quarter-million dollar TV campaign in response the House Majority forward Group and nonprofit align with the democrats is rolling out a seven-figure campaign with ads backing a handful of battleground Democrats. The as all very district, the district of many of them are focused on health care and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, which is exactly how Stevens and Slotkin were elected the first time.

One of the things that's been interesting to me in the last week or so Slotkin is really becoming quite a national figure as well. She's a regular on both CNN and MSNBC, talking about national security issues. The New York Times devoted one of their podcasts The Daily to Slotkin's constituent outreach following her decision to support the impeachment inquiry. And she's quoted extensively and regularly in the Washington Post as well. Here's the gamble though for the republicans, their attack ads are all based on defending Donald Trump against this impeachment inquiry, which is now supported by a majority of American voters as the evidence mounts against Trump and the poll numbers keep going up, or the republicans effectively defeating themselves by pointing out that they support a crook?

Amy Kerr Hardin 9:58
as a campaign manager. I feel that that is the case. Um, they're taking a gamble with this and they're going to have to backpedal on it.

Christine Barry 10:05
Well, I think they're doing it as smartly as possible for them based on what they've got to work with. Because one of the things they're doing, at least based on what I saw from the republicans congressional leadership fund super PAC, is they're focusing on instead of working across the aisle, she's pushing impeachment because she doesn't like the president. And that's it. That's their message. And it's the same message. I mean, it's just a template they've used for all of these other representatives that they've targeted. So they're just super focused on that, instead of working across the aisle, this is what she's doing. And if that's the only message that gets out to some of the lower information voters, then it might sway them a little bit. The other thing that the republicans are doing is they're trying to just delegitimize the entire Impeachment Inquiry by focusing on procedures focusing on Adam Schiff calling it a sham process. Like we heard in our opening, they're not really defending the Ukrainian business unless they have to. And then when they have to they pull out those talking points that they conveniently sent to the Democrats, they say, Well, everything is by the book, there was no this not that. That's not what they're talking about, though, unless they absolutely have to.

Walt Sorg 11:21
Well, you know, you're going to have Trump and peach by the house. I think that's probably a 100% certainty at this point. How does it play out for these campaigns after that, too, they just double down, the republicans double down on impeachment? Or do they try to shift the argument?

Amy Kerr Hardin 11:36
I think they're going to shift the argument. They will need some new messaging at that point. And so much can happen during the impeachment process and in the inquiry, that I mean, that they could come up with all kinds of new things to shoot at the Democrats.

Christine Barry 11:49
You can manufacture all kinds of crises, though, in the meantime, and maybe Amy, this is what your point was, that you know, the democrats instead of working on These things that came up focused on impeachment, you know, they should have been helping with foreign policy or they should have been helping with whatever problem. Trump is about to cause on purpose as a distraction. That's what they should have been doing instead of impeaching him. And so I think this is just going to be crisis management all the way up through the election.

Walt Sorg 12:23
You're also going to have I think, probably some new ISIS terrorist attacks, as the prisons in the Kurd control territory are opened up as a result of Trump's decision to basically bug out of that area and abandon the Kurds. If there are in fact some terrorist attacks in Europe. That's one thing but what if we have some ISIS terrorist attacks in the United States?

Amy Kerr Hardin 12:45
It is all concerned and I saw two articles this morning from credible sources, saying that some of these ISIS fighters have already gotten out of captivity. So yeah, and then it was utterly ridiculous for Erdogan and so forth. fence Trump that don't worry, we'll take care of the ISIS prisoners, because how are they supposed to? How are the Kurds supposed to transition that authority when they're being slaughtered right now? So it's just so ridiculous.

Walt Sorg 13:13
This also plays into Slotkin's hands, because she is that's her whole career has been in national security working for both the Department of Defense and the CIA, she's been fighting the bad guys, the Trump is now empowering. And she's it's easy for her to pivot into foreign affairs and couple that with health care and prescription drugs, and never have to deal with anything else. And I think she's got she's at that point. She's basically got a straight flush,

Christine Barry 13:39
and she really has credibility on this national security issue. And when he elevates national security, like what he's done with Turkey and Syria, that does kind of help her it gives her more to talk about

Walt Sorg 13:52
While all this is going on. sneaking up on Michigan republicans are two other races that aren't getting a lot of headlines yet in the third district. former republican Justin Amash is now running as an independent at least for now, after leaving the GOP because of Trump's corruption in a three-way race against a Republican and a Democrat, that opens the door to immigration attorney and first time candidate Hillary Shelton, who's raised a credible quarter of a million dollars or so in the third quarter. And longtime republican congressman Fred Upton has the toughest race in his career. The sixth district over on the west side of the state. State Representative john Hoadley hasn't filed for the third quarter fundraising report yet. I think that's due out later this week. But he'll likely have come close to a half-million dollars bag for the campaign up to know he's not gonna have any trouble raising money. He's personally very wealthy. His grandfather was co-founder of Whirlpool Corporation. And just to make things even better, he's got a very wealthy niece by the name of Kate Upton the supermodel and she's got a very wealthy husband by the name of Justin Verlander, the all-star baseball pitcher. So that's going to be a very high stakes expensive race in a district that really does not have expensive media markets. But I wouldn't be surprised to see $20 million depend on that race if Upton decides in fact that he does want to run for reelection, he hasn't officially announced yet, but it looks like he's going in that direction.

Amy Kerr Hardin 15:12
Yeah. And he's moved to a more moderate stance as a Republican so um, he is business positioning himself right now. So I suspect to build around.

Christine Barry 15:20
You know, the thing about Fred Upton's district, is it for me, it's a hard district to read, like you said, He's, he's become a little bit more moderate. He's going to have a ton of money, there's no question he's going to have the money. And I want to say that it's all just going to come down to who's going to get out the vote. But when I look at these other races we're talking about that's how it's going to happen. Anyway, they're all going to be about getting out the vote and each one of these districts so

Walt Sorg 15:46
Hoadley is based in Kalamazoo, that's his home district as a state legislator, very popular there and that's the population center the district.

Christine Barry 15:54
Well, again, if they maximize the vote in the key areas, then I think it's a squeaker for Hoadley. I what Jondo you think? I mean, just based on what we know right now,

Walt Sorg 16:06
I'm a little prejudiced. I really liked Jon Hoadley, he's a really sharp guy, young guy, very charismatic. What would be interesting would be if Pete Buttigieg is on the national ticket, which is right across the border, really from that district. And so you would have basically two gay men running at the same time on the same ticket. And I'm not sure how that would play over in Southwest Michigan, but my sense is it probably would work towards advantage.

Christine Barry 16:32
Yeah it good. Yeah.

Walt Sorg 16:39
In addition to the impeachment, Ukraine at all this week, we have a political spotlight on a small town in Ohio, where the top 12 Democratic candidates for president get together for a little chat, co-sponsored by CNN and the New York Times. What are we looking for? Okay, Christine, you want to kick it off?

Christine Barry 16:56
Yeah, I'll start I'm looking for fewer candidates. I can't believe we're still dealing with 12.

Walt Sorg 17:01
And I like that I wish they'd go away just because of my emails.

Christine Barry 17:04
I just feel like that grumpy old person who's shouting get off my lawn. You know, I just don't want to see 12 people talk anymore. I don't know if Tulsi is still out there talking about how she might boycott this debate or not. I saw that she said she was thinking about boycotting this debate. I didn't care. I don't know if anybody else cares if she comes to the debate, but she did qualify. Tom Steyer. I don't know what he brings. Everybody's already talking about impeachment. Maybe not. Maybe not at the debates. I don't know.

Walt Sorg 17:37
It'll come up. You know, the question is going to be asked.

Christine Barry 17:43
Yeah, for him, but I don't know that anybody else would bring it up affirmatively without being asked is what I'm saying. So he'll bring that Bernie's health. I don't know how people I think people are going to dance around that maybe not the moderators but the other candidates. Certainly.

Unknown Speaker 18:00
The moderators are also going to bring up hunter Biden, no question about that every candidate is probably going to have to answer that question, including Papa Joe. But all 12 of them will probably get a shot at it. I think the best answer for a lot of them was previewed on CNN over the weekend I saw Pete Buttigieg on the state of the union with Jake Tapper. And he immediately pivoted from Joe Biden son to Donald Trump's whole family. I think it demonstrates the difference in standards relative to the White House. I mean, here you have hunter Biden stepping down from a position in order to make sure even though there's been no accusation of wrongdoing, doing something just to make sure there's not even the appearance of a conflict of interest. While in the White House. The President of the United States is a walking conflict of interest. You got family members, you want to talk about family members in the white house right now. You got Ivanka Trump benefiting from patents from the Chinese you got the president's son in law texting with Mohammed bin Solomon, the the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, welcome While the President's sons go around the world, pretending like the fact that their father is the President of the United States has no impact on the international business dealings that they do. We don't even know whether Trump financial interest in Turkey contributed to the decision to betray American allies and American values and they want to talk about conflicts of interest. It is a radically different standard. And we cannot allow this president to be able to change the subject, especially with unfounded allegations.

Christine Barry 19:28
And Donald Trump's whole family's doing it right out in front of people. So I'm going to again echo Beto and say what the EFF members of the media

Amy Kerr Hardin 19:37
that's their mo they, you know, commit their crimes in public and inures the public to these crimes and they just get used to it. Personally, I don't put much you know, I don't put much stock in debates. They don't really get me revved up at all, so I'll probably just turn it into a drinking game.

Walt Sorg 19:54
Okay, how do the candidates handle Bernie Sanders' health? The man is coming right off of recovering from our Heart attack from what I've seen on TV He's doing well, you certainly can recover from a minor heart attack. A lot of people have done it. Dwight Eisenhower served an entire four years as president after having a heart attack.

Christine Barry 20:10
If it was me up there on stage, I would be like, Bernie, I'm so glad to see you here. I'm so glad to see that you're recovering. Well, I'm glad that you're here. And that would be it. And I'm sure that better campaigners would say, I am so glad to see senator Sanders here after his heart attack.

Amy Kerr Hardin 20:34
Think back on Dick Cheney, how many heart attacks did he have?

Walt Sorg 20:38
What about Elizabeth Warren she really hasn't taken any shots so far in any of the debates from anybody other than Buttigieg kind of going after Medicare for all which is something he is increasingly outspoken against. Are they going to finally take her on recognizing she is now the front runner

Christine Barry 21:03
Yes, I think that she's going to take some heavy hits for something because she does seem to be emerging as a front runner. She's doing very well. And she's probably given people a lot to work with. But what exactly is it going to be? It might be Medicare for all it might be something else.

Walt Sorg 21:21
Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are the two best debaters on that stage. If anybody goes head to head with her, it's going to be him again, because he's the best equipped to hit to take her on.

Amy Kerr Hardin 21:31
They both are very articulate on public policy positions, but they've been out she's been doing it for many decades and, and her message has stayed consistent over time.

Walt Sorg 21:40
Okay, now you mentioned earlier drinking game. What are the rules?

Amy Kerr Hardin 21:45
Oh, I guess you know, keywords. Ukraine, Hunter Biden. Things like the impeachment impeachment. There you go. Every time they say impeachment, I'll do a shot.

Christine Barry 21:56
I would like to see the climate play a role n this debate, I think that it should have a presence there. I think everybody should talk about it. Because really what we should have had it being the existential threat that it is, we should have a climate debate. I mean, if we're going to have 12 people running as hard as they can for the presidency, let's put them on stage and say, Now tell me specifically what you think we need to do, how much time you think we need, you know, who would you bring in with you to help you solve these problems?

Walt Sorg 22:30
I think that's something Steyer may bring up because he really needs to broaden his issue base away from a Hey, I'm a rich guy. And I've been teaching the president since the day he was born. Beyond that people really don't know a whole heck of a lot about him. And that is something that he can use to broaden his image. And it's something he has talked about.

Christine Barry 22:49
Well, I would like to see that issue covered. I just feel like we you know, we talked about the same things over and over and over again, and the only difference is what's happened between the debates Now that'll change the answer a little bit. I wanna I want to see some bolder things. Let's talk about that. Let's talk about what we're going to do to actually attack poverty to actually attack the fact that our people are getting dumber. You know, we need better education in the country but you can't really do it in a debate of 12 people, can you?

Walt Sorg 23:22
It's tough. Another thing that will be very important this week, and it won't get nearly the headlines will be the final filing of reports on campaign fundraising for the third quarter. And that may help winnow the field a little bit, too. We already know that Warren, Sanders Buttigieg had really good quarters, Biden, not quite as good, and we've still to hear from the rest of them.

Christine Barry 23:45
And speaking of all that money, and there's a big change in Lansing Of particular importance to people who care about the role of big money in politics. The head of a small but influential watchdog group is transitioning. Amy, you've been a huge fan. of Craig Mauger's work at the Michigan campaign finance network. What's happening?

Amy Kerr Hardin 24:05
The Michigan campaign finance network is a nonpartisan watchdog organization. That's a critical asset for our state. They've been cited countless times by journalists across Michigan for the work uncovering campaign finance violations and access to legal accesses. myself, I've sourced them many, many times. And I think that they're very important because as newspapers and other journalists are dwindling across the state and being stretched real thin, it's helpful to have organizations like this, to do some of this in-depth research.

Some of the recent reporting includes that we're working with Bridge, and they uncovered a deceptive ad that Enbridge is using to promote line five. In the ad there's a photo supposedly of an average employee placing a buoy in the Straits of Mackinac, but the person pictured in the ad is actually a government scientists who by the way, estimated that a breach in line five could result in damage to more than 700 miles of vulnerable shoreline. Neither the man pictured or his employer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave permission for the use of the image. And another recent story, Michigan campaign finance network found a new and disturbing trend in Republican lawmakers fundraising habits. They are blatantly saying they want, quote, corporate contributions only. corporate money is nothing new in politics. It's to specifically insist on only that kind of contribution is a bad bad precedent. The reason they're doing this is it shields the public from knowing who actually is behind these donations. It's a form of legal laundering of the funds.

A lot of important work gets done through this watchdog group. Currently, the network is looking for a new executive director as Craig Mauger steps down to take a position at the Detroit News. Craig has brought a lot of energy to the organization and has led elevated its profile in his tenure. They're using primarily social media platforms. And also I'm getting regular emails from them. And that's kind of fun. It I always know, when I opened up an email from him, that there's going to be something very interesting in there.

Walt Sorg 26:14
And fact-based too.

Amy Kerr Hardin 26:15
Yes, exactly. We had him on that as a guest back in June of this year. And we look forward to talking to a successor sometime soon.

Walt Sorg 26:24
I had the chance to work with both Craig and before him Rich Robinson, who was the first executive director of the organization and really built it up to the point where Craig could just build on that foundation. And they provide a tremendous service. And they are really a small operation. It's basically one person contributions to their tax-deductible contributions, by the way, if you're interested in helping them out to their nonprofit corporation, and a very small Board of very well-intentioned people, most of them from the political world who understand all the games that can be played to hide and move around money. It's a very, very important resource for the state and I Look forward to finding out as you do, who will be succeeding Craig, they won't be replacing him. But they'll be given the opportunity to make it even better.

Amy Kerr Hardin 27:07
It's a lot of work to sift through the Secretary of State's campaign finance reports. It's they're a little bit difficult to navigate. So I really appreciate the Michigan campaign finance network going through there and finding all those anomalies and interesting things.

Christine Barry 27:22
They really do provide a valuable service. They they deep dive into research topics that nobody else it really it notices, first of all, and then has the ability, either resources or skills, contacts, whatever to do that, and then they publish the information for everybody. And it's not just things that Republicans do wrong. Democrats are included in the scrutiny as well. And I think that over the years since since rich was there, the Michigan campaign finance network really is one of the big reasons why people now look at Michigan and say, okay, Michigan truly does have a huge problem. with dark money, and I really think that it's because of the MCFN's work in constantly talking about all of these things that happen that you and I and and just the voting people of the state just will never see otherwise,

Amy Kerr Hardin 28:14
especially as related to the Supreme Court. That's where a lot of dark money, Michigan goes.

Christine Barry 28:24
rigged elections, voter suppression, gerrymandering and making sure we can get past the TSA next year. Those are just some of the issues confronting Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Walt talked with Secretary Benson about the many challenges she faces in a job that for decades was taken for granted.

Walt Sorg 28:43
Secretary Benson, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. You know, but a half-century ago, a gentleman by the name of Jim Hare was the secretary of state and he used to laugh that his chief job was picking out the color of the license plates. And as long as he didn't screw that up, he was all set. Things are changed. A little bit since then.

Jocelyn Benson 29:01
Not quite the case anymore. But that is exactly how we got where we are now.

Walt Sorg 29:07
You've got a lot of really big issues on your plate right now. Yeah, the one that a lot of people probably haven't heard a whole lot about. And that's a project on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security.

Jocelyn Benson 29:18
Yes, the REAL ID. We're hoping that this time next year, everyone will have heard about it and have one because you're going to need one in order to fly domestically. And basically what it is is a state ID that meets federal security requirements. And that essentially, is requirements that confirms your identity, either as a legal resident or a citizen.

Walt Sorg 29:38
How does a person go about getting a REAL ID? Is it something you can do online or you can you do it by mail?

Jocelyn Benson 29:44
I wish you could you do have to go to a branch office. And that's one of the reasons why we've expanded the appointment option to every branch office. And one of the reasons you're seeing so many more people in the branch offices these days because everyone now this year, when they renew their license will have to come in in person In order to get a REAL ID, so by making an appointment ahead of time and planning ahead, you can guarantee you that you won't have to wait in line. And you'll also get an email with all the documents will need to bring with you so you've got that clarity when you go to the branch office and you can get in and out and on with your day.

Walt Sorg 30:17
At the same time you were elected the voters handed you two very big tasks, the implementations of a couple of constitutional amendments, proposals two and three. Let's begin with proposal three, the promote the vote amendment, you've already got some experience with it, and it looks like it's working.

Jocelyn Benson 30:34
That's right.  The promote the voter initiative, modernized our election significantly by making it by giving voters the rights to register to vote up to and on Election Day, and also the right to vote from home. We'd also created a number of other rights including a right to post-election audits. And we're working to ensure every voter now knows of those rights and every clerk is prepared to protect those rights. In advance of next year's elections.

But you're right, we've already seen evidence that it's working, in fact, in the local elections was held this year, even though there's very low turnout. Typically in these elections, we saw two things, one in elections where voters knew that they could register to vote up to and on Election Day, over 400 new voters registered to vote in the May election, and about 63 counties scattered throughout the state and very small local elections, over 400 people registered to vote and voted that day who are eligible to do so. And of those new voters, over 300 of them were 18 or 19 years old. So it's very encouraging for young voters and for the future of our democracy to see this reform in place.

And then the other thing we saw is that in precincts where voters were given information directly that they could vote from home without needing a reason. We saw turnout almost double, and we saw in in the May election and then we saw in the most recent election in August in places like Rochester hills. Over 80% of residents who voted in that those local elections choosing to vote from home, which will dramatically change voting in our state, if more people are voting by mail as opposed to in person.

Walt Sorg 32:11
There's been a lot of talk nationally about the possible intrusion, electronic or otherwise by foreign parties into our elections. The Mueller report warned against the FBI and the national security apparatus of all warned against it. What is the situation in Michigan? Where are our weakest links in election security?

Jocelyn Benson 32:29
Well, we really have three vulnerabilities to our election system. And of course, that I think is similarly important. The first your right is the voter registration files, making sure those are secure. We know that in several states, including Illinois, there were efforts in the past to tamper with those files, and we have increased the firewall as well as the access privileges around the qualified voter file to further protect and keep an eye on who has access to file and what happens when people access it.

And then the second vulnerability are the ballots themselves, making sure that when they're cast and the machines, making sure imbalance or cast through machines are counted accurately, and that there's no tampering with the machines to toward the will of the voters from being counted accurately.

And then the third vulnerability is the transmission of the results of the election from the machines to whoever is is gathering all of the data, making sure that transmission is secure, so that if a machine says, Hey, fifteen, people voted for this person, that's what is heard on the other side of the transmission and ultimately recorded. So making sure those three areas are secure is really our critical component.

But the fourth is really the responsibility. All of us have to secure our elections voters have have responsibility to secure their information that they're getting. Because the efforts to hack the voters mind have been just as pernicious as efforts to hack the system themselves. candidates have to ensure their campaign systems are secure. Local clerks need to secure their systems. So we're also working to inform all of those audiences as well at what they can do to secure our elections on their own.

Walt Sorg 34:05
Of course, voters are always being told that every vote counts. And it's really important that they get out there. And we've actually had some demonstrations of that in Michigan and are not so recent past. Several years ago, john Engler was elected governor over Jim Blanchard by 25,000 votes statewide. That's about three votes per precinct. And of course, in 2016, Donald Trump won the state by about 10,000 votes or a little more than one vote for precinct.

Jocelyn Benson 34:30
One you remember the congressional election primary up at the first congressional years ago? I think it was Jason Allen, lost by one vote to primary. And there was a recount and all the rest. So yes, absolutely. And you had a presidential election in 2000. in Florida that was decided by 535 votes, give or take. I mean, you may know there's lots of controversy around that. But at the same time, yes, every single vote counts, every voice needs to be heard. And as I've been going around the state talking to voters about the importance of their vote, and how much easier and more secure it is to vote in Michigan than ever before. What we've seen across the board is not voter apathy, but voter confusion about their rights and where and how to vote.

So it's been very encouraging because we can fix that we can make sure voters are educated about how you know how to cast your ballot, where to vote, all those details, and how to get information about what's on the ballot. And so that's my focus. That's my job. And doing that just by doing that I'm optimistic we can really change democracy for the better and our state,

Walt Sorg 35:33
also passed by the voters in 2018. Was proposal to which ends gerrymandering in the state setting up an Independent Redistricting Commission. The legislature has been very reluctant to give you money to implement that proposal. Are you going to be able to implement the Independent Redistricting division if the legislature doesn't give you the money to do it?

Jocelyn Benson 35:52
Oh, yes, the Constitution requires that we do and we have procedures and plans in place to do so. The unfortunate thing is that will require us to cut off aspects of the office including customer service to the residents of the districts that many of these representatives represent. So we're making the case to them that these are your constituents who will be injured by, you know, more challenging customer service options if you don't help us ensure the other constitutional mandates or office must meet, are met and are funded. we're optimistic and hopeful that the legislature will and grateful for the governor's support in saying the legislature, we need this basic, you know, in the grand scheme of the budget, you know, a small allocation in order for us to run the commission, which is, you know, getting the applications out processing the random selection of the commissioners, educating the commissioners and citizens about the process so that citizens can submit maps throughout the process.

And you can kind of cynically and I think probably accurately predict that the legislature has no interest in funding a process that ultimately takes away Their power and authority to draw their own districts, but the laws, the law, the voters has spoken. And we should all respect that and work to make it a success.

Walt Sorg 37:09
The amendment requires that you have a huge pool of applicants initially, to fill out the membership with the independent commission. How are you going about making that happen?

Jocelyn Benson 37:19
Well, we have to proactively send down applications to 10,000 residents throughout the state of Michigan, we plan to do that next year, we've already got the application design, and more or less ready to go. And now it's we and we've we've contracted with a firm to help us select randomly though it says 10,000 lucky we call it the golden ticket, Lucky residents who will get the application and be invited to apply. And so we're ready to go on that. And you know, yeah, it does cost money to mail, you know, to pass almost a quarter million dollars, just do that component of the redistricting, you know, application process. And so that's an example we have to find that money somehow because we're we're obligated to do this under the Constitution. And you know, just really wish that the legislature would recognize that and be a partner with us and making this a success as opposed to making it a lot more difficult for us all to do our jobs.

Walt Sorg 38:15
One of the issues you campaigned on during the election was a promise to get wait times down at the branch offices, no more than 30 minutes. What kind of progress Have you made on that so far?

Jocelyn Benson 38:26
We have a plan in place and in a few months, we'll be going into detail about the various different phases of that plan to get us to, to 30 minutes and it's been fascinating to really peel back the layers of the onion over the past 10 months to see all the different decisions that have been made over time. That has exacerbated wait times. Of course, the biggest one was when Secretary Terry Lynn Land closed 40 offices throughout the states, severely limiting and ability for persistence to get these services, putting more services online Help help in some way but a lot of citizens we found Want to go into the branch offices.

So one of our first things he did this summer was establish these appointments in every office to give people the option right now, to get in and out and under 30 minutes, you do have to plan ahead because a lot of people want these appointments, but they are available, they are available in every office. And they're usually in most offices with the exception of our 10 busiest available within a few days of you going online to request an appointment. So so that's what we recommend for everyone who wants to have that 30 minutes or less in and out right now.

And for everyone else and for every other transaction. Another thing just to give you a preview of what we're looking at, is really just taking transactions out of these branch offices, not just putting more online and more in self service kiosks, but partnering with local businesses and and other places where people already are going to see and have them deliver those services so that not everyone has to come to a branch office to get a plate or a license renewed, or you know, one of the other transactions that we've got there. So stay tuned. We've got you we're working to establish those partnerships as contracts now, but I'm I'm optimistic. What we say oftentimes, in doing this work and in planning this out is the solutions are there. It we've got the solutions, this question about implementing them, and working to implement them, and and seeking partners throughout the state to help make sure our services are better for for every citizen,

Walt Sorg 40:24
something that we don't have time to go into in detail today. But I'd love to talk with you about on another podcast, and that's going to complete mail-in elections in Michigan, similar what they've done in Colorado and Washington, effectively allowing everybody to vote from Home Instead of having to go to a place.

Jocelyn Benson 40:40
That's sort of the theme. Like we'd love to get there, but not today. So we've got a lot of work to do between now and then. But the former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams is on my security Task Force er because he implemented a lot of those reforms, as did Amber McReynolds, the former clerk of Denver. She's on our election modernization committee. So So we've we've seen the Colorado and other states have done and have brought the folks who have done that work here to Michigan to advise us on exactly what is possible here in our state.

Walt Sorg 41:08
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Thanks so much for joining us on the Policast.

Jocelyn Benson 41:12
Likewise, thanks a lot. Take care.

Christine Barry 41:20
Alright, we're done to this week. Our thanks to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for joining us and next week we'll be back with more great and unmatched wisdom.

Amy Kerr Hardin 41:30
If you want to fill your own very big brain, head over to MichiganPolicast.com and check out the links videos, tweets and memes on this week's subjects

Walt Sorg 41:40
and send us your comments, suggestions and subpoenas to MIpodcast@gmail.com. For Amy, Christine, and I'm Walt Sorg. Thanks so much for joining us.

The Michigan Podcast is a production of Michigan citizens for a better tomorrow.


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