Robocalls, money in politics, Shirkey’s Senate sexism. Nick Occhipinti of Michigan LCV is our guest

February 17, 2020

Michigan Policast for Monday, January 17, 2020

  In this episode:

  • Cracking down on robocalls
  • Money in politics – John James, Aarlan Meekhof, DeVos
  • Money in politics – Trump, Bloomberg, Sanders, etc.
  • Michigan Democratic primary 2020
  • Quick takes
  • Interview: Nick Occhipinti, League of Conservation Voters
  • Transcript


Jump to:

Cracking down on robocalls





Money in politics – John James, Aarlan Meekhof, DeVos

Money in politics – Trump, Bloomberg, Sanders, etc.


Michigan & the Democratic primary 2020

Quick takes

Interview: Nick Occhipinti, League of Conservation Voters



Walt Sorg  0:00

The presenting underwriter of the Michigan Policast is Progress Michigan providing a credible voice that holds public officials and governments accountable and assist in the promotion of progressive ideas.


We get them every day at best a nuisance at worst expensive scams.


Robocalls  0:20

The warranty on your vehicle has expired.


And this is the final call for you to renew before we close the file to inform you that you may qualify for zero to 6% interest on your credit card debt.


If you still owe more than $3,000 and your combined credit card debt press one now to avail this offer.


Do you now qualify for a zero percent interest rate on your credit card account? This is a limited time offer and you must respond immediately.


We offer policies from top tier providers that are best ranked in the country for health insurance such as Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield,


we are trying to reach you to let you know that your social security number has been used for Some kind of fraudulent activities in the south border of Texas. So please in order Go ahead, get more information to speak with officer press one. Thank you and have a great day.


Walt Sorg  1:12

The Attorney General is taking note of all these robocalls that are driving us nuts and she's taking action. This is the Michigan podcast. We're all about Michigan policy and politics and the National stories impacting our pleasant peninsulas I’m Walt Sorg.


Christine Barry  1:25

I'm Christine Barry. Also on this week's podcast the countdown to Michigan's presidential primary is turning into a battle between Bernie's minions, and Bloomberg billions. And the flow of huge money isn't limited to just presidential politics. The DeVos family has opened its bank account to support Senate candidate John James  and a former state senator has benefited from a half-million dollar dark money gift.


Walt Sorg  1:50

And we'll talk climate change with Nick Occhipinti of the League of Conservation Voters with new legislation in Lansing accelerating the switch away from using fossil fuels to generate our electricity. But let's begin with the scourge of robocalls and the response from Attorney General Dana Nessel. Christine, I get dozens of these a day I had gotten to the point where I don't even answer my phone anymore. If I don't recognize the number I know a lot of people do that. As a result, I miss a lot of calls that actually want to get, but what can the Attorney General do?


Christine Barry  2:19

What she has just announced is an update on the momentum and the and the progress of the robocall crackdown she launched in November last year. So the progress that she's made is about 1700 people have signed up to be part of the crackdown team. They've got about 1800 robocall complaints submitted. I think that's where a lot of the audio that we just played came from were from these complaints.


Walt Sorg  2:44

They're actually off of my personal account.


Christine Barry  2:46

Oh, Lord, did you make complaints? She's got she's got a form there on the website for you to submit your complaint.


Walt Sorg  2:53

There's a word out for my wife's arrest right now in Texas,


Christine Barry  2:56

right because she didn't pay back that payday loan. I knew that


Christine Barry  3:00

well, there are legal and illegal robocalls. And one of the things that the ag is able to do with this effort is educate people. In fact, the initiative on the robocalls, is four prong. There's education, legislation, enforcement and partnership. And the partnership piece is kind of like working with FTC and different agencies. But the education piece, I think, is the one that has really taken off because we have this wonderful website that has samples just like what you played. It has information on what calls are legal and what aren't, because there are legal robocalls. And obviously, she's focused on the illegal ones.


What you should really consider is that this this website has so many resources on it. First of all, it's the most used and visited web while section of the Attorney General website, because everybody is just hounded with robocalls, so this is a great resource for them. Think about this at the FTC says that individuals lose an average $500 for every impersonation scam and really robocalls or impersonation scams, right? Like you just played, they all said that they were somebody important. So these are impersonation scams. The FTC says people lose about $500 to that and the most people are senior citizens and most people who are losing out to these scams are seniors. This website I think, is very friendly for people to help educate people who aren't so tech savvy. That is really good progress I think on the effort all by itself.


Walt Sorg  4:28

It's amazing how these scams keep going and going and going despite the publicity they get. Just for giggles I went into my junk mail folder to see how many junk mail pieces I got in one day and yesterday I got 163 pieces of junk mail all of them scams that ended up in the junk folder, ranging everything from Viagra to loans to suppose with gift cards from Amazon, etc. etc. But with these phone calls, you talked about that there are legitimate robocalls. It's making life very difficult for pollsters, for example, to get good samples because so many people In fact, won't answer their phone if they don't recognize the number. Or if they get a phone call from somebody who's doing a poll. They think they're being scammed there. It also can clog up the phone lines for emergency responders for hospitals and other places where it is really important that people be able to get through if they're getting a whole bunch of these robocalls at hospitals tying up all of their phone lines. What does that do for the people that are sick or for the doctors of the need to get through? It's real, it's very, very dangerous, and it's very hard to crack down on because they're all originating overseas.


Christine Barry  5:31

Right? Well, that's kind of where the other three prongs I think, come in, and we talked about the four-prong approach. She's taking legislation she's working with the Michigan legislature, but here's something senator Peters has already sponsored two bills one of them became law at the end of last year that was the TRACED Act which makes it easier to identify robocalls so that people can avoid answering them which doesn't do anything about the volume of calls that are out there but at least helps protect the individual. The other one that Peters co-sponsored is the Anti Spoofing Penalties Modernization Act and that's sitting in committee and I don't know why the enforcement piece is something that is difficult to do if you can't get to the actual criminal. They're still doing investigative work into potential targets. They're working with the telecom industry, and some technology solutions and approaches to tracing them. You know, they just keep taking these steps forward. They may be baby steps, but I think we're getting there. It's going to take more than a year for sure.


Walt Sorg  6:29

Yeah. Meanwhile, our Nigerian prince keeps writing to us as well about how he wants to transport some money to the United States, but


Christine Barry  6:36

he's a rank amateur compared to these people.


Walt Sorg  6:38

Yeah, his his English his English is better though in some cases.


Christine Barry  6:47

All right, money in politics. The story is never-ending and we'll get to the flood of cash in the presidential race in a moment. But at the state level, a couple of new reports shed light on how government is still for sale.


Walt Sorg  6:59

First of all, we've got the latest and political largest from the DeVos family, and their report shows the Amway heirs have already dumped $800,000 into the so far invisible campaign of John James for the United States Senate. The contributions according to Democrats show that the Peters alleged opponent stands with Betsy DeVos and also that she's in a lot of trouble that he needs the money. But six members of the DeVos family gave a total of $800,000 to better future Michigan Fund, which is a super political action committee on December 9.


Under federal election law, super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money trying to persuade voters as long as they act independently, quote unquote, of the candidates’ campaigns. The candidates themselves have limits on how much money they can take. But these PACs are where the action is now they're literally dumping millions into it. And this is just a part of the contributions that have lost family. They give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the State Senate Republicans and State House Republicans as well. The contributions come from virtually everybody in the family except for Betsy, she agreed when she was appointed secretary of education that she wouldn't make donations, but it's really kind of a hollow gesture. It's like Donald Trump saying he wasn't going to be involved in his business, but his kids still run the businesses. It’s the same sort of thing. And it's a real indication of big money in politics, not just at the national level with Uber billionaire Michael Bloomberg spreading the wealth and Tom Steyer, spending a whole bunch of money as their last family which has literally spent millions of dollars for the 2018 election, DeVos family members spent a combined $11.3 million on federal and state-level contributions. That according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network,


Christine Barry  8:38

yeah, half a million of it was for John James last time, too.


Walt Sorg  8:42

Yeah. And they could have bought another yacht with that to add to their fleet.


Christine Barry  8:46

You know, Jennifer Granholm put out a tweet said she said she once heard a DeVos spent like $35 million running for governor and it was really funny.


Walt Sorg  8:55

Okay, then we've got this really suspicious looking contribution of a nonprofit that is tied in with Arlan Meekhof, the former Senate Republican leader in the State Senate. The West Michigan Community Preservation Fund. It raised in 2018 $541,000. half million of that came from one anonymous donor according to its filing in 2018. And of course, that's a nonprofit that is closely aligned with the former senate majority leader.


Christine Barry  9:24

Yeah, his relatives and staffers serve on this fund this PAC, like you said it received a half-million from one donor, we don't know who that is, and he refuses to say anything about it. That's a 541,000, like you said, so that's pretty crazy. But if you go back a couple of years and look at this thing, it really gets crazy in like 2016, the president of the West Michigan Community Preservation Fund was Meekhof's Chief of Staff,


Walt Sorg  9:51

and the treasurer is his wife.


Christine Barry  9:52

There's a really good write up on this on an older blog, West Michigan politics. I'm going to link to it because it also gets into the Meekhof Administrative Fund. That was another interesting story Walt, that Switch gave a huge donation to that fund right after Meekhof delivered on the mega tax break for that company.


Walt Sorg  10:10

And in fairness, this is not the only super PAC that is doing favors for politicians. We have a brand new one that is a nonprofit that is doing advertising on behalf of the governor's $3.5 billion bond program for the roads. And you've already seen the TV as a started running for that. It is being run by Mark Fisk, a longtime Democratic operative and a business partner of Diane Byrum, the former Senate Democratic leader, their funding I would assume is coming from the road building industry. Those folks have a pretty big bank book and clearly have a vested interest in getting our roads fixed more so than the rest of us. However, it's it is still a dark money fund being used to promote a political agenda. And it's just one of those things. It's been under attack by a lot of citizens groups, but they haven't been able to put it together yet to do anything about it in terms of transparency.


Christine Barry  11:00

That citizens united just keeps getting in the way of everything, as long as that's there. And as long as you think of money as speech and corporations as people, it's just going to be difficult to get past that roadblock. Even psychologically,


Walt Sorg  11:14

there is a nascent Citizens Committee out there that is working on a package of legislation that would go into a petition drive that would basically spread sunshine or all of these nonprofits and force them to divulge where they're getting their money. So at least we know where the big money is coming from. But they've had a really tough time putting together the combination of money and grassroots support necessary to put something on the ballot. I would think that in 2022, you're going to see a really concerted effort to put something like that on the ballot.


Christine Barry  11:41

Well, we might, but if we have, if you need money to do things, and the people who have money, don't want any sunshine, and that's not necessarily because they have, you know, all these dastardly plans or anything it they might just not want people to know what they're doing. You might find opposition from your friends. On that kind of thing,


Walt Sorg  12:01

Absolutely. now at the national level, it's not like they aren't spending money there. It is absolutely insane. And various stories that have come out so far. Let's start with a fundraiser that was just announced for the Trump campaign. It is $580,600 a couple to have dinner with Donald in the vote and the boys. Half a million bucks.


Christine Barry  12:22

Yeah, I was about $580,000 short, you know, or I was gonna go,


Walt Sorg  12:29

are you gonna pop for the $600. That's an interesting number, by the way, five at 600. But it's going to be held. It's a fundraiser at the Palm Beach State of billionaire Nelson Peltz, which is just down the beach from Donald Trump's place, Peltz’  place is worth millions and millions and millions of dollars. It's in Palm Beach, one of the biggest mansions down there. And it gives special access to people who have really, really, really big money. And it's interesting Trump ran in 16 on the idea that he wouldn't need other people's money he'd pay for his own campaign which was a lie from the beginning, but he would shun the big money contributors. Well, he loves the big money contributors. Now he's piling up a huge war chest. But he could need it because Michael Bloomberg win or lose, is prepared to spend literally billions to defeat Donald Trump.


Christine Barry  13:16

Yeah, I love this so much. Let me back up real quick to Trump because part of the conversation around these big fundraisers is that, you know, people say, well, that's giving these big donors access to the president that other people don't have. And the and the donors and the Trump team are saying, No, we just we just hang out and talk. And it doesn't necessarily mean that policy issues are discussed there at the table, but it doesn't mean that when they call Trump picks up the phone, and that's the important thing about the big money fundraisers and second, getting back to Bloomberg. You know, he's doing a few things. It's really interesting. He's paying his field organizers like one and a half times what everybody else is paying. Now, of course, he can because he has that money, and he got in late, so he has to pay more. If you want To get people who otherwise they're already in with campaigns, right. But what that's doing is creating a buzz around the campaign with the young people who haven't worked campaigns before, or maybe only have one or two under their belt. I mean, I think it's really creating a story that hey, this guy cares about me. Not only is he paying more for salaries, but he's feeding them for free. He's giving them perks. I mean, he is just going all out


Walt Sorg  14:25

there getting free laptops and things with the numbers that are absolutely mind-blowing, though, if you look at the spending on social media, these are numbers from one week of spending February 2 through the eighth compiled by acronym, Mike Bloomberg in one week at Google and Facebook combined, spent just under $13 million. Number two in spending was Trump at two and a half million dollars. Third was Bernie Sanders right at a million and then you've got Tom styer, another billionaire, but he's barely a billionaire. He's only worth what 2-3-4 billion dollars. He spent just under a million dollars. The next one amongst the more normal People is Pete Buttigieg who spent $850,000 at a touchdown to Joe Biden is in sixth place at 327, Amy Klobuchar, about the same Elizabeth Warren about the same. And then Tulsa gathered down there in ninth place with just under 70,000. But $13 million in a week. And that is just a continuation of the spending so far by Bloomberg will put some links to the website, we should take a look at the numbers, they're just absolutely mind-blowing. Bloomberg doesn't care. He could spend $5 billion and still have $55 billion.


Christine Barry  15:32

There are a few other things that I think are happening because of his money. In one of the articles I read, one of the organizers says I can't tell you how wonderful it is. When somebody calls me to say who are the important people in the community. I don't have to think about who can give money, I can think about who the important people are. So it's kind of changing that culture that it's different to work for somebody who has money, it just truly is. And the other thing I really like, well is that he's forcing Donald Trump to spend money I don't like I didn't look up when incumbent Presidents normally start spending their money, but he's pushing Donald Trump spending I'm pretty sure of it. And the more that Trump spends, the more Bloomberg has to attack because it's Trump saying stuff.


Walt Sorg  16:16

He's able to hire the very best talent. And what he's doing on social media is not just running ads, the kind of thing that you and I might come up with. He's hiring people who are social influencers, on media makers are sending out means really work well. And he's hiring people to do memes and spread them on Instagram, promoting his presidential campaign. And very influential Trump's campaign is very sophisticated as well. They have produced literally hundreds of specialized ads that they're running on Facebook, and then they targeted to very specific audiences. And there is a database now on Facebook that database Zuckerberg was forced to create so you can look and see what Trump is saying to various audiences, but it's different messages to different people and it is very well targeted. This is a whole new game in politics, the online game that's being played. It's a very high stakes game with huge amounts of money involved and huge opportunities in the types of channels that are open to reach voters directly.


Christine Barry  17:13

But you can't do it. If you're somebody like Bernie Sanders, who are, you know, I know he's raising a bunch of money in small donations. And I kind of appreciate the work he's put into that. But it if you're not a billionaire, you can't do all of these things. You have to be creative in different ways,


Walt Sorg  17:30

which is why I think it really impacts how things are going to move forward in the democratic race, because there is going to be a real challenge for a lot of these campaigns just to pay their bills, because you have huge expenses just for the core staff, you need to compete, especially for Super Tuesday, which is coming up the week before our primary. You have literally a dozen states where you really need to have staff and if you haven't got those resources on the ground, you're probably going to be out of the race and to sustain all the way to the convention is going to cost so much money. Sander can do it because he's got this incredible grassroots network of supporters that have haven't even come close to maxing out. Bloomberg could do it because he's got his own support staff of himself to raise money. And all of the rest of them have a real problem. They've got to figure out how to raise the money.


Christine Barry  18:20

Well, the voting in Michigan is underway. The bulk of the delegates to the national convention will be selected in the next four weeks. What's your theory of the case at this point?


Walt Sorg  18:30

I've been thinking a lot about the Bloomberg campaign and I'm not necessarily a Bloomberg supporter. I'm not a Bloomberg opposer either at this point. What I see with Bloomberg is somebody who's running to be president who's really kind of nonpartisan. We would be our first nonpartisan president since George Washington, who was not a member of any political party. Bloomberg’s been a Republican. He ran as an independent in New York as well. He has supported republicans he gave a lot of money to Rick Snyder for his reelection campaign, because Rick Snyder actually mirrors a lot of what Bloomberg is all about which is business and spreadsheets and running government very methodically. But he also gave an awful lot of money to Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin to help them get elected to Congress. He's invested millions of dollars into social causes, which are dear to the hearts of Democrats, including gun safety legislation and climate change. So he's really kind of a mixed bag when it comes to politics. I don't think he really has an allegiance to any political party. And I think that's his theory of the game. That combined with what we were talking about before with just the financial resources that he can outlast everybody else.


Sanders is going to be in until the end, he has got such a high-level base. But I think his ceiling is probably very low. He's running about 25% in the national polls has been pretty consistently and I don't see him growing that base, even though he's been running for president really for six, seven years. He has got his core with the Democratic Party, but it's a minority of Democrats. It's about a quarter to a third at best and some of the Warren vote would probably bleed over to him if she dropped out of the race. But you look at the vote totals so far, admittedly in two very white states. In both states, the moderate lane of the Democratic Party has gotten the majority of the votes, the combination of Biden Buttigieg and Klobuchar has outpolled the combination of Sanders and Warren. So I think we're going to be very acrimonious. I think it's Bernie against whatever of the moderates survives and right now I think it's probably going to be Mike Bloomberg, just because of money.


Christine Barry  20:28

Well, 538 is forecasting Sanders to win Michigan and Sanders to win the national. EPIC-MRA has Sanders speeding by five and has Bloomberg beating Trump and Michigan by seven? And that really doesn't surprise me Bloomberg seems like the kind of guy who would resonate in Michigan and I say this because Michigan also fell for Rick Snyder.


Walt Sorg  20:46

Yeah, but Rick Snyder was running as a really weak candidate to Virg Bernero the first


Christine Barry  20:51

Oh God,


Walt Sorg  20:52

he almost lost. He almost lost the second time.


Christine Barry  20:56

I guess like what I was really getting at though is that the They fell for Rick Snyder's branding, his marketing, whatever you would call it this one tough nerd thing. My spreadsheets are my things I care about his money, Michigan people are customers, you know, that kind of thing. When behind the scenes, all of these horrible things are happening. And he didn't seem to be interested in that on, you know, what was happening with environmental quality and what was happening with wage disparity and that kind of thing. So he did things that even Engler didn't try to do. He was just awful in terms of, you know, handling the people of Michigan.


Walt Sorg  21:33

Well, I think it's the Gretchen Whitmer approach that is what's going to sell in the Midwest, not just in Michigan, but in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and even Ohio, possibly in Iowa. First of all, you got to exude decency. And I think that's one of the things that's going to hurt Trump in the long run. People just don't like the guy, the ones who love him love him. But the independents who are going to decide this election are kind of appalled by all of the stuff that he's pulling, and it's just getting worse. Now that he beat the impeachment situation. He's just getting more and more authoritarian and going further and further overboard because the guy's really got no sense of restraint at this point and he's taking full advantage of it. And I think somebody like Klobuchar whose project strength I saw a complaint on Facebook to one of my posts. I will Amy Klobuchar is basically he was saying she's a nasty woman. Well, you need a little nasty in there and she's a strong woman. And she doesn't take any baloney but at the same time, she has proven that she can win in a moderate progressive state. Overwhelmingly, she's been very popular in Minnesota, which almost won for Trump last time. It she as she points out when every congressional district in Minnesota, even the ones that are represented by Michele Bachmann, and one of the most conservative members of the House,


Christine Barry  22:43

also a nasty woman. Like what, what is the deal with that word nasty when it comes to women?


Walt Sorg  22:50

Well, that's that's it. That's a Trump ism.


Christine Barry  22:52

Yeah, exactly.


Walt Sorg  22:53

Which reminds me of the other rumor that was coming out which I thought was just absolutely hilarious. They were licking the story that Bloomberg wanted Hillary Clinton is running mate. I love Hillary Clinton. But boy, would that be stupid?


Christine Barry  23:04

Who was that? Who said that? That was babble. That wasn't anything real.


Walt Sorg  23:08

Yeah, that that would just be I cannot believe that the Clintons would want to go through another campaign or the attacks that they have undergone now for what 30 years of people attacking them?


Christine Barry  23:18

No, I think I think with Bloomberg, you'll see somebody really different. Maybe, you know, Stacey Abrams, would be interesting. Andrew Yang. Well, I don't think Andrew Yang would be a good


Walt Sorg  23:29

I would put my money on Klobuchar or Julian Castro is being the running mate because of what they bring to the ticket.


Christine Barry  23:35

Those would both be good. Yeah.


Walt Sorg  23:37

Well, we try brings the Midwest in and that Midwest ethic. And of course, Castro really makes life interesting in Texas, New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, and could really help flip a couple of Senate seats in the process.


Christine Barry  23:50

That's true at Texas has got some interesting numbers going on right now. Real Clear says what is this Texas Tribune poll. So Sanders is up by two there, but that's just in the primary. You know, they predict Trump taking the state but it looks a little weaker.


Walt Sorg  24:05

And to show how things change them and how much more they can change, I was thinking the other day, whatever happened to Beto O'Rourke. He was the hottest thing in politics just a matter of months ago. And now he has completely disappeared from the map. And that can happen to anybody.


Time for some quick takes issue number one, a little sexism in our stage set. It could go a long way. Christine, you're our sexism expert.


Christine Barry  24:34

Thank you. Well, the Senate on a party-line basis blocked Anna Mitterling from an appointment on the Natural Resources Commission, which oversees fishing and hunting. It's a shame. Anna Mitterling is politically independent. She has a master's in fishing and wildlife from MSU. She has a bunch of experience. A lot of people have said she was overqualified for the position. And she was blocked, like I said on a party-line basis. Let me back up When governor Whitmer was elected, when Mike Shirkey was made Senate Majority Leader, he started the Advice and Consent Committee to oversee gubernatorial appointments. And so this went to that committee which is chaired by Peter Lucido.


Walt Sorg  25:15

Who's under investigation for being a sexist pig.


Christine Barry  25:18

Yeah, total creeper. If he's a creeping you ain't sleeping. That kind of guy. It went through the committee and she didn't make it Shirkey said this was because Anna Mitterling does not understand the intensity of the Commission, and she was unwilling to make tough decisions. Now prior to this Shirkey had already called Whitmer and asked for a second appointment that she had made. His name is George Hartwell. He was appointed by Whitmer as well. He asked Whitmer to pull him on the basis that in 2013, George Heartwell said he didn't want guns at a city council meeting. I don't know what to say about that. But when Shirkey was asked was Heartwell, the reason that you block this overqualified person Shirkey said. Well, we tried to find middle ground with the governor, you know, a couple of things. First of all, it's gonna be a long, long year with this guy again, you know, instead of learning from last year, he's leaning in on these attacks on the governor, you know, he's leaning in on that batshit crazy attitude he has towards these people.


Walt Sorg  26:21

It's just amazing that they decided to use a woman who's incredibly qualified for the appointment that she received to use her as leverage against George Heartwell, who's not exactly chopped liver. He was the former mayor of Grand Rapids. He's certainly qualified to be on a volunteer state commission. It's just the kind of games they're playing that ever had this problem with unqualified appointees under the previous governor, but that's the way the game is being played and showcase its power politics again, and I think part of it's a lack of respect with the governor's office. The governor has a right now unless somebody is blatantly unqualified for an appointment, regardless of whether it's a republican or democratic governor. They should get their way Which,


Christine Barry  27:00

yeah, the last time they did this was when Jennifer Granholm tried to make some appointments and they blocked hers. And then in fact, like I said Shirkey just created this committee. He didn't have it when Rick Snyder was appointing all his buffoons, and so here we are, it's going to be just another year of political games. And I'll tell you what, what I saw in George Heartwell he's not a quote unquote, gun-grabber You know, he has a seems to have a respect for firearms and people's right to have firearms. He just didn't want them at a city council meeting. And that is not unreasonable. Those things get heated. I don't want them at Board of Education meetings. When we talk about we talk about anything, that's not an unreasonable position. But if you will have if you're opposed to one person, why block the other one, other than to just show off your power just to be a bully.


Walt Sorg  27:48

Issue number two, another petition drive kicks off this week. We talked earlier this year about our proposals to tighten state laws regarding lobbying in Lansing on Wednesday, this coming Wednesday, the State Board of canvassers will decide whether to approve the petition that puts a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. The proposal would prohibit lobbyists and their clients from giving anything of value to public officials and their immediate families mandate a cooling-off period of two years for state officials before they can become lobbyists after leaving office, prohibit contingency pay for lobbyists, where they're paid depends on whether or not they get their bills passed, and a lot of other requirements around record-keeping as well. The proposal is being promoted through our friends at Progress Michigan signature collection is already underway, of course for a second proposal, which I'm working on to expand the Elliot Larson civil rights act to include LGBTQ people and I've got to put in a plug for the petition drive I'm working on if you can help us out go to fair and equal Michigan all spelled out the previous a non-paid political message for me


Christine Barry  28:50

and don't forget the websites and for more information on the closing the lobbying loopholes


Walt Sorg  29:00

Issue three organized labor versus pot, the marijuana industry. Christine,


Christine Barry  29:06

I don't even get this at all. So the state regulatory agency is trying to add what's called a labor peace agreement into the rules for licensing, marijuana distributors. That's how I'm understanding this. The rules would be that the business owners would not stand in the way of the workers organizing and forming unions, but then the workers would have to agree not to pick it stop, work, boycott or engage in any other economic interference with the applicant’s business. Of course, the business community and the Chamber of Commerce and everybody is like, this is terrible. We should not engage in anything like this labor peace agreement. I think it's terrible because I don't see the point in telling people that we're not going to stop you from organizing but you can't do anything with your organized labor. It's a really strange conversation, especially with Right to Work in the background where that's really the big argument from the business community is that this, this weakens right to work.


Walt Sorg  30:06

I find it really interesting that it's an alliance between the Republicans in the legislature and the republicans at the Chamber of Commerce and the marijuana industry.


Christine Barry  30:16

The biggest thing that this says to me is that labor is at a point where they're asking for permission to pick it if they organize, labor does not need permission for that, I realized that this you know, we're in a different era than we were in the 1930s and through the 70s, and even early 80s, but labor does not need permission to picket or to stop work or to boycott or engage if they're organized, that is what their tools are.


The top three issues in the presidential campaign or the Academy, health care and climate. We talked healthcare last week. This week, we take a look at climate change and what Michigan government and each of us can do in the battle to save the planet. 30 Lansing lawmakers have introduced a bill requiring the state's utilities to ramp up the transition to clean energy with a goal of 100% clean electrical generation by 2050. Walt talked with Nick Occhipinti of the League of Conservation Voters about that bill, and the battle against time that we all face,


Walt Sorg  31:18

Nick, with the discussion over cleaning up our environment in the carbon footprint, what are the things that the League of Conservation Voters believes are doable? What kind of goals can we set that actually can be achieved?


Nick Occhipinti  31:31

There are multiple ways in which Michigan League of Conservation Voters believes we should be cleaning up our environment and protecting drinking water and addressing climate change. And I think one thing to point out is that while the state has been quiet for some time, we have an exciting announcement from the governor in her new executive budget recommendation for $40 million for climate resiliency planning and infrastructure investments and that planning component is critical in important because climate touches so many pieces of our life, our economy, our well-being, and cities notice.  Local governments across the state, hodgepodges of them have taken proactive action to start to think about how climate change impacts our daily life. Grand Rapids Traverse City, Detroit, just to name a few. So we're excited about this proposal from the governor to extend that climate planning to have more local governments and it really take a deep dive because once you do you find out it impacts just again every facet of life and in a day to day way, I had actually had the opportunity of leading the Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report research project. And what we did is on the local level, we said, okay, climate change is happening. It's happening now. But what does that mean? City of Grand Rapids to your police department, what does it mean for your water infrastructure? What does it mean for your energy, infrastructure and actually walk through with perfect In their day to day work, what the anticipated climate impacts what impact that would have on their day to day jobs. And we found out quite a lot, quite a lot that we hadn't necessarily anticipated and other pieces that we had, that community climate planners, and just everyday municipal officials will realize kind of, for the first time that you know, this is something that should be watching for and planning about. And we're excited to continue to work on clean energy, energy efficiency, and kind of clean water-related projects that all touch climate, those are kind of the big three for us. Anything we can do to remove carbon from the atmosphere and reduce the emissions headed into it. And that first and foremost is transitioning our economy to a clean energy economy, and one that is constantly more efficient. We're only scratching the surface on energy efficiency, we can build buildings that are so much more efficient that Oh, by the way, have are much more comfortable and build a more quality of life. There's better daylight, the air is cleaner inside those buildings when their school students learn better and are more comfortable in that environment. And so just a whole lot of that, you know, pieces of this equation, but really it's about reducing climate emissions responding to the impacts that are already occurring. And that making sure that our governments up and down the levels right everywhere from your local city council or county commission up to the federal government are taking this seriously. Because while the impacts have already started occurring, they can be so much worse if we don't address them. Now.


Walt Sorg  34:35

One of the big sources of course of carbon in our air is the generation of electricity. The last major action that was taken by the state of Michigan was during the Granholm Administration to set standards for the utilities for cleaning up their emissions. And now there's new legislation which you're supporting, introduced by Representative Yousef Robbie in the house with 30 sponsors to make it much more ambitious. How ambitious is Compared to what we've got now in state law when it comes to the conversion to a clean energy generation?


Nick Occhipinti  35:05

gosh, you know, even two or three years ago, I would have said this is very ambitious legislation but achievable. But the pace of technological innovation, where the conversation has moved because of climate impacts were experiencing every day. In Michigan. This was the wettest year on record with something like MDARD said something like 900,000, unplanted acres, you know, that impacted the bottom line of farmers across the state. We of course, we know Australia, just experiencing this horrendous wildfires Australia is burning. California and the West are burning. And Michigan is flooding. And I think those two pieces together the fact that innovation has driven down the cost of renewable energy, and more and more Michiganders, more and more Americans and people citizens globally are experiencing the climate impacts have really mainstreamed this legislation you just referenced. So a version of it was introduced two years ago with just two sponsors. Rep. Robbie and representative, hopefully, this time we had 30 sponsors in the house sign on to that more than half of the Democratic Caucus. And then on the Senate side, it was also by cameral. Senator Chang sponsored it in the Senate. And we had nine co-sponsors there as well. So really moved from, you know, what might be viewed as kind of a single-issue interest to something that we argue is mainstream. And oh, by the way, we have commitments now from our major utilities to achieve very, very similar goals. So DTE wants to go neutral carbon neutral by 2050. And I believe Consumers Energy is right around that 90% target, in the same timeline. So


Walt Sorg  36:47

you're very close to what's on the bill already, in terms of their voluntary commitment.


Nick Occhipinti  36:51

Yeah, that's right. And, you know, an advocacy group our responsibility is to make sure that those commitments are met and that we're planning and building the infrastructure. Sure, and in a way to enable us to achieve those, you know, and I want to add one more thing, right? The IPCC and its latest report has showed, hey, you know, we have to get aggressive by 2030 is kind of the inflection point. You're when folks are saying, hey, if there's not a serious reduction in emissions built into this system by 2030, Planet Earth is going to be in a whole lot of trouble. So not only is we think this is achievable, you think it's absolutely critical.


Walt Sorg  37:30

It also seems to fit in with the economic plans of our major employer, our major manufacturer, the auto industry, they are going electric bigly, General Motors, just announcing the huge investment in Hamtramck Ford is also making a huge investment in electric vehicles. And Chrysler the same. So it seems like it's kind of the perfect storm.


Nick Occhipinti  37:50

Yeah, you know, that's absolutely right. And not to go political on here a second, but we think all the presidential candidates should be talking about climate in Michigan for a number of reasons. Some of which I've already mentioned. But second because of what you just mentioned. And that is the economic opportunity here, the number of different vehicles coming out from Detroit's Big Three, that will be the electric all-electric, you know, hybrid electric. It's just incredible. And the economic opportunity here, when you think of that whole new fleet of vehicles plugging into a increasingly smarter, cleaner grid. This is the economy of the future. And, you know, to keep up with countries like Germany and China, we have to fully embrace this where we are going to be left behind. And you can frame it in both ways, right? Well, if we don't move now, we're going to be left behind. But I like the way you put it much better, because this is all opportunity. There's all upside here. If we get in front of it, if we advance the batteries and the automobiles and then plug them into the smarter grid of the future, you know, just all upside And oh, by the way, do in a way that decreases emissions, decreases pollution because we talked about climate change. And that's huge. important, but it's also air quality, right? The carbon emissions are loaded with all sorts of dangerous toxins when they're coming out of the tailpipe of a car when they're coming out of a coal and natural gas fired facilities. And that impacts air quality on the ground and a daily basis in the communities, the impact of communities. And I might add often, that are in low income and minority neighborhoods. So it's something that we think about is critical to address now. And Michigan LCV is consciously going out of the way to meet with candidates for office on the presidential side and all the folks that touch those campaigns and say, Hey, if you're coming to Michigan, you have to be talking about climate change, you have to be talking about the impact on our drinking water and our air quality. Because this is just a critical time. And of course, our economy because it's all opportunity. It's all upside.


Walt Sorg  39:50

I would think that you would get some support from the right side of the aisle as well. Just because over on the Lake Michigan shoreline, you've got multimillion-dollar mansions falling into The lake and except for the science deniers, they've got to admit climate change is playing a part in the erosion of the shoreline of Lake Michigan. And those beautiful multimillion-dollar mansions are going right down the tubes.


Nick Occhipinti  40:12

Yeah, that's absolutely right. And, and as part of our campaign to make climate a focal message point of the next presidential election, we're calling on President Trump to do the same. You know, it's funny, you mentioned I'm not going back to the state level. But just yesterday, I was reading about Kevin McCarthy on the national level, introducing climate legislation on behalf of a number of congressional Republicans. So we're starting to see some movement there. on the state level, you're absolutely right, the high-water levels from Lake Michigan, the Michigan Huron system in the lakes and streams are just impossible to ignore. And while water levels are certainly cyclical, the speed at which the lakes rose this time is just you know, I don't want to say unprecedented because the data doesn't go back very far into history and specifically on that But it's certainly a surprise and it's causing all sorts of havoc on homeowners. I'm public infrastructure along these water bodies, right? It's, it's not just folks in their vacation homes that are suffering the impacts on the high-water levels. It's also State Park infrastructure. It's also public roads and thoroughfares, public beaches. So this is impacting all of us. And it's absolutely I think, a piece that illustrates the impact right now. And Michiganders from climate change. I already mentioned the impact on Michigan agriculture and having the wettest season in recorded history. A little less known there is the taxpayers stepped up, you know, rightly I think on behalf of Michigan farmers and say, Hey, here's $15 million just to subsidize a small piece of, you know, the damage that you suffered in the farm loan origination program to make their terms a little bit better for dealing with that hit because it's A perfect storm for Michigan's farm community as you know, the climate impacts from extreme weather. And the of course, the tariff situation and international trade and just the macroeconomy in general has been really tough on the farming community


Walt Sorg  42:12

We've been talking macroeconomics. But we've been thinking a lot here with environmental group, I'm a part of something that individuals can do something as simple as plant a few trees.


Nick Occhipinti  42:21

Yeah, this is a favorite question of mine, there's almost nothing better you can do on the individual basis than planting native trees in their native habitats and doing that in a way that will sequester carbon there. So they're not only important for mitigation, pulling those emissions out of the air and hardening them into two wood fiber and pushing that that carbon underground and the root system, but they're great for stormwater management, you know, sucking up and absorbing the rain that's going to fall in a more extreme way with extreme weather coming from climate change. And oh, by the way, if they're next to urban infrastructure, they lower that increased the island effect that cities across Michigan are experienced from climate change. provide shade directly to home. So you have to burn less energy less right now carbon and dense energy to heat and cool home. So they're looking at very important and they look nice, they're beautiful. They breathe more oxygen into the communities that they're planted. Although I do have to mention that we do have to be a little bit careful about encouraging people just to take into vote individualized actions. Take the plastic straw debate, for example, I hate it, I can't stand it doesn't matter what you do with your straws. It really doesn't. Don't think that switching your straw over has any impact whatsoever on the environment because it does not. We need systemic level change. Our environmental problems have gone beyond the point of what any individual can do on a personal basis. It doesn't mean you should have bad habits, vis-a-vis the environments, but it doesn't mean you need to engage the political system. You engage your local, city, state, federal governments on how to change the macro-level issues because this is more than about individual habits and responsibilities. They're important, but they're not going to solve the problem.


Walt Sorg  44:06

Nich Occhipinti from the League of Conservation Voters, thanks for joining us on the pod.


Nick Occhipinti  44:10

Thank you.


Walt Sorg  44:11

And that's it for this week's Policast Our thanks to Nick Occhipinti for being a part of the pod. As always, we welcome your comments, suggestions, complaints, compliments and fantasy league tips, just send us an email at


Christine Barry  44:26

and head on over to for links, videos, tweets and sort of background goodies on today's topics. We will be back in a week. Live long and prosper.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *