Voter suppression, regional transit, future work, water quality, and more. Guests Lou Glazer and Justin Onwenu

February 24, 2020

Michigan Policast for Monday, February 24, 2020

  In this episode:

  • Shirkey and Lucido go after George Heartwell's appointment to the Natural Resources Commission
  • Swing state polls – things are tight in the rust belt
  • The RNC doubles down on voter suppression efforts
  • Debbie Dingell on Iowa / New Hampshire (WDET Interview)
  • Interview: Lou Glazer on Future Work and the importance of “place making”
  • Legislative battles around the expansion of the Regional Transit Authority
  • Support for Public Education – Launch Michigan
  • Interview: Justin Onwenu of the Sierra Club on green slime, polluted waterways, and more
  • Transcript


Jump to:

Shirkey and Lucido go after George Heartwell's appointment to the Natural Resources Commission


Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said last week Senate Republicans demanded the governor pull Heartwell’s appointment in exchange for keeping Mitterling on the Natural Resources Commission. ~ Source

Swing state polls – things are tight in the rust belt


“Three different states, three different scenarios, one constant – the economy. It's a top issue for voters, and it's giving President Trump a strong tailwind. Wisconsin voters give him a job approval rating above 50 percent, higher than what he receives nationally and in Pennsylvania and Michigan. These Wisconsin numbers are a red warning sign for Democrats that rebuilding the ‘blue wall' in 2020 may not be so easy. But it's a long way to November,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow.  source

'In the Michigan Senate race, incumbent Democrat @SenGaryPeters leads Republican John James, 45 - 39 percent.' ~@QuinnipiacPoll To Tweet


The RNC doubles down on voter suppression efforts

'Donald Trump and the Republican party are doing everything they can to suppress the vote and silence Michiganders’ voices for their own political gain' ~ @LavoraBarnes @MichiganDems. To Tweet

Debbie Dingell on Iowa / New Hampshire (WDET Interview)

“Michigan would be the perfect state to kick off the Democratic primaries,' she said. Given our diversity and critical role in the general election, it just makes sense.' @RepDebDingell #DemPrimary @wdet @SHDetroitClick To Tweet


Interview: Lou Glazer on Future Work and the importance of “place making”

'In a world where generalists are what increasingly is being rewarded, the emphasis on occupation-specific skills in our education and training systems is not good for either students or the economy. ' ~Lou Glazer of @michiganfuture Click To Tweet
Michigan’s core economic challenge is there are too many low-wage jobs. It is the primary reason for the @miunitedways finding that 43% of MI households in a strong economy cannot pay for basic necessities ~Lou Glazer @michiganfuture To Tweet


Legislative battles around the expansion of the Regional Transit Authority

'#Transit is a priority for our region and offers a potential pathway to a regional solution ... we need to move forward with a coalition of the willing and the urgency this issue deserves.” ~ @CountyExecEvans Click To Tweet


Support for Public Education – Launch Michigan

.@launchmich offers a full set of thoughtful and aligned recommendations that have the great potential to truly move the educational needle for our children and our state. @tdwatkins88 @DomeMagazine #k12 Click To Tweet

Justin Onwenu of the Sierra Club on green slime, polluted waterways, and more

“It is unclear if our leaders truly understand the importance of this moment and how it connects to people’s larger concerns about the responsiveness of government, the willingness of government to take proactive steps to hold industries accountable, and the urgency of protecting our water sources, especially the Great Lakes.” ~Justin Onwenu source




Walt Sorg 0:00
The presenting underwriter of the Michigan polycast is progress Michigan, providing a strong, credible voice that holds public officials and government accountable and assist the promotion of progressive ideas or debates, more polls and more petty politics. In other words, it's business as usual. This is the Michigan polycast. We're all about Michigan politics, policy and the National stories impacting our pleasant peninsula. I'm Walt sorc.

Elizabeth Warren 0:26
I like to talk about who we're running against a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horseface lesbians. And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg.

Bernie Sanders 0:38
You should also ask how many of Bloomberg in 2004 supported George W. Bush for president,

Joe Biden 0:44
the mayor says that he has a great record that he's done these wonderful things. Well, the fact that fact and the fact of the matter is he has not managed his city very, very well when he was there.

Walt Sorg 0:54
But even as Mike Bloomberg was taking heat from all sides in his first presidential debate, new polling showed his strength growing in Michigan and nationally, and the January spending reports explained why as the mega billionaire showered money in record amounts nearly a half billion dollars already. Will it be enough to overcome the growing strength of Bernie Sanders, now riding a three state winning streak. Can anyone catch Larry David's doppelganger?

Christine Barry 1:19
I'm Christine Barry. The Senate Democrats continued their assault on governor Whitmer his appointees to the state Natural Resources Commission. Apparently deciding that to serve you absolutely must be an avid hunter. And you probably shouldn't be a woman We'll look at the latest and petty partisanship from our state senate will also talk economic development with Lou Glaser from Michigan future will explain the importance of attracting talent through making Michigan a better place to live. We'll also be joined by the Sierra Club's Justin Onwenu new who explains that green slime is just as bad as Michigan's plethora of potholes.

Walt Sorg 1:54
But let's begin Christine with the latest person sniping in the State Senate that you were talking about republicans Continue to attack governor Whitmer his appointees, I think mostly because they're governor Whitmer, his appointees. Last week they rejected biologist Ann Mitterling's appointment because apparently she just doesn't get it what ever that means. Next into the barrel, the former Grand Rapids Mayor George Hartwell. What the hell's going on?

Christine Barry 2:18
George Hartwell was mayor of Grand Rapids. While mayor of Grand Rapids he supported a city ordinance that prohibited guns in public buildings. He did recognize that that was an unenforceable ordinance. But the city council and Mayor Hartwell recognized that they felt it was inappropriate for guns to be there. They recognize that it's problematic for first amendment rights of others who'd be intimidated by that. So that's the background of how he got the NRA's attention at this point. Now, he's the second appointee that Governor Whitmer made to the Natural Resources Commission and the hearing that they just had on him focused on a couple of things and the first one is that Heartwell isn't the hunter. Being a hunter is not a qualification for the position. But if you have people like Shirkey and Lucido in the way they can put up whatever requirements they want through that advice and consent committee, and it just just make up different things that are concerned, they say is that he isn't a hunter. And of course, they say that supporting the ordinance that you couldn't have a gun in a city building.

Walt Sorg 3:25
I find it intriguing that the rationale is that if you do not hunt, you can't be on the Natural Resources Commission. Thus the outdoors of Michigan is only for people who want to shoot things. There are a lot of people that like to go on hikes, they like to do birdwatching. They like to just enjoy nature. And that's an all all a part of with the DNR supposed to be about. It's To me, this whole thing is just an excuse to do the will of the NRA and just flex their muscle a little bit and at the same time stick it to the governor one more time to continue this war that's been going on ever since the budget from last year.

Christine Barry 3:58
Yeah, I agree. I mean, Clearly the people the voices of the people who do not hunt should also be heard. I do understand the importance of hunting, hunting and fishing are both on the decline in Michigan hunting more so than fishing and they're both important to state conservation efforts because of the fees and and how big of a contribution the fees make to the Department of Natural Resources budget. So if the issue of hunting and fishing itself is important, I kind of get that but clearly this is not why they're messing around with her appointees.

Walt Sorg 4:35
Heartwell made it really clear he's not against hunting, it's just not something he does. And that seems perfectly reasonable. I don't hog I don't oppose hunters. I have friends who hunt relatives who hunt and I've got no problem with that at all. It's just something I don't do personally. And so what does that make me unqualified to use the outdoors?

Christine Barry 4:54
Yeah, same here. I every year somebody you know all my friends, my family hunt and every year I benefit from the hunting. Somebody will get me some venison or something. I don't do it myself. I don't have the patience. It's too cold out there. I don't want to do it. We've developed so many alternatives now to hunting and fishing if you want to get out in the outdoors and you don't want to hunt or fish you certainly can be. And those people deserve a voice too. And I just don't see the problem with this particular appointee.

Walt Sorg 5:23
Yeah, I get it's just an excuse to score with the governor. And that's the game they want to play their apparently going to continue to play it right up to the election.

We open the pod with a sampling of the incoming mortars lofted Mike Bloomberg as he made his presidential debate debut last week. The five non billionaire candidates didn't take kindly to Mayor Mike, and what easily was the nastiest, most contentious two hours of the 2020 campaign, and Bloomberg added a few shots of his own. He took dead aim at the current leader of the polls, the man who's now one in three straight states, self declared dumber critic socialist Bernie Sanders

Michael Bloomberg 6:02
the best non-socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses what I miss here?

Bernie Sanders 6:07
Well, you missed that I work in Washington, that's house one, live in in Burlington house two, and like thousands of other Vermonters I do have a summer cabin. Forgive me for that. Which tax haven, where's your home?

Michael Bloomberg 6:22
New York City Thank you very much.

Walt Sorg 6:24
There were other volleys aimed at other candidates by the others people to judge upbraided, Amy Klobuchar and forgetting the name of the President of Mexico. Elizabeth Warren was going after everybody. she slammed both Mayor Pete and Senator Amy on a lack of detail on their health care plans. Bernie yelled about billionaires and insurance companies like he always does. And of course, Joe Biden was also there.

To me the whole thing was good news for Donald Trump and he got more good news. First, we learned that he's again earned the active endorsement of Vladimir Putin. And then there's more polling in the swing states, the most recent from Quinnipiac University shows that he is running pretty strong in the Midwest still and it's really kind of a toss up in the states the tip the election last time. In Wisconsin Trump leads everybody the strongest candidate against him is Bernie Sanders who trails by seven points as does Joe Biden in Wisconsin. And Pennsylvania is two different story. You've got Biden ahead by eight points, Klobuchar ahead as well as Bloomberg Sanders, Buttigieg within the margin of error, but ahead and Warren also within the margin of error. In Michigan, it's a little bit tighter, but again, a slight edge to the Democratic candidates for the most part, with all them topping Trump, but most of them within the margin of error. Bernie Sanders nearly is ahead of Trump 48-43 that is outside the margin of error. Bloomberg also the five point lead Biden with a four point lead. Then it's four points for Warren 1% for Buttigieg and Klobuchar 1%.

The thing that is driving Trump's popularity and his approval ratings right now in all these stages the economy, and that is the gift that give us the gift that can take it away very quickly. If the economy goes south in the next three or four months, which so many economists say it could, it certainly is already slowing down and it could go further south. That could spell the end for Donald Trump, because that's, that's what he's riding on. Nobody likes him for anything else. But the economy, they see their 401k is doing well. They see the stock market doing well. They see low unemployment, and even though it's a very uneven recovery, they still think the economy is doing pretty well.

Christine Barry 8:33
If Bernie Sanders does end up being the nominee and he's surging right now, he's the front runner for sure, then you've got an entirely different demographic coming out to vote for a different economy than what we have right now. That would be an interesting competition between those two.

Walt Sorg 8:52
You have people on both sides of the Bernie Sanders question right now. Some say he would be a disaster for the Democratic Party, that he would cost any chance for this. Senate that he might lose the house as well. And on the other side, you have people saying he's the most exciting candidate of all them. What I find intriguing about Sanders is he's actually working towards the nomination in the same way Donald Trump did. It was Trump against the field. And even though he didn't get a majority of votes in most of the primary elections, he got the plurality and because of the way the rules were set up, that got him the lion's share of delegates, the same with Bernie Sanders going into supers Tuesday, because if people don't crack 15% of the correctional district or nobody else does, he gets all the delegates from that congressional district and you've got so many of them at stake, just Texas, and California alone is a huge chunk of what it's going to take to get nominated. And he could get an inordinate number of those delegates to the convention, just by being the only one who consistently cracked 15% and all the congressional districts.

Christine Barry 9:51
I think the last poll I saw he is leading in Texas. You know, he represents such a different vision for America that I think he'll activate a lot of voters who haven't been out before. On the other hand, he might push some of the moderates over to the other side. I mean, I'm going to support the Democratic nominee regardless, you know if it's Sanders, but I'm not on board with Sanders because of the health care issue. So if it wasn't Medicare for all, I really don't mind a lot of his policies. Elizabeth Warren's vision for health care is more in line with what I want. But I'm going to support him anyway. But you see a lot of people saying, look, if Sanders isn't the nominee, I'm not going to vote at all. And there's a lot of people like me who don't find what Sanders stands for it to be good enough to stick with him, regardless of whether they voted for the democrat last time.

Walt Sorg 10:42
We've also got the soft voters are going to be influenced inordinately, I think, by the $1 billion or more that the Trump campaign is going to be spending on social media and on advertising. And they've got a really sophisticated first class social media operation. They're doing it way better than the democrats have ever thought of doing it. They micro target everything. And from their perspective, the beauty of it is they can lie through their teeth, which they will do, what the heck, they've got a candidate who lies through his teeth every day. And they will send stuff out there to specific targeted audiences who are ready to believe that Bernie Sanders got married in Moscow something that Trump has already said, which isn't true. He did go there after he got married on a business trip. They will say things about his health remember what they did to Hillary Clinton just because she had a fainting spell because she had the flu. And the next thing you know, in the National Enquirer, Hillary Clinton was at death's door. And the last time I checked you, so walking through the woods of Chappaqua just fine, and they're going to take Bernie Sanders and any side at all, or even make up signs of poor health. They're going to go after him and then it's going to be a billion dollars, and they're the only one who's got the money to fight back is Bloomberg and that is his, his redeeming quality as far as I'm concerned because on the issues that are a lot of other things, he's got real problems, but he has already Spent $400 million of his own money on this campaign, which is more than the other candidates combined have spent just in January. He spent $220 million just last week. I think he spent $14 million on Google and Facebook.

Christine Barry 12:16
And what is this role going to be after we have a nominee? I'm really interested in how that's going to play out his his operations are in place through November. His staff is on contract right through November.

Walt Sorg 12:31
Yeah, everybody's signed his contract through the election and it's the only way he could lure the talent, quite honestly to that he wanted for his campaign was to promise they get paid regardless of what happens in the nominating process. He also I ran through a couple friends of mine that are working for him, and they showed me their brand new MacBook Airs, computers, laptop computers, they showed me their brand new iPhone elevens that they got for the campaign. He is just throwing money at all these consultants and all these political operatives to the tune of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. It is absolutely insane what he's doing. It's unprecedented. But Trump, on the other hand has $200 million already in the bank. And he's doing fundraisers now where his people are being charged more than a half million dollars for a couple to show up at one of his fundraisers. Trump is a money generating machine for the Republican Party. If he could have done this well with his casinos, they might not have gone bankrupt.

Also in the money game, the Republican Party is investing $10 million in fighting lawsuits that are basically voter suppression efforts throughout key states, including in Michigan. And what they've they're fighting in Michigan is a suit that was filed by Priorities USA, which is the super PACs set up by President Obama after he left office. That organization is fighting a state law that makes it harder for voters to deliver absentee ballot Applications and hiring people to bus voters to the polls. The lawsuit was filed November 12. Ronna McDaniel God bless her, alleges In a statement, Democrats are trying to rig the game with frivolous lawsuits to do nothing but create electoral chaos. Of course, all democrats are trying to do is make it easy for people to vote, especially for people who find it difficult to vote because economically, they're not as well off as Ronna McDaniel and the other Republicans. As for the voter suppression tactics, they use state after state after state.

Politico is reporting that in Michigan, there's part of they're going to spend a lot of money on a massive Election Day operation as well, that Democrats are fighting back in Michigan, they are actually setting up a voter protection mechanism throughout the state is unprecedented at the state level. We've done it here in Ingham County for many years, because of Michigan State University having problems with voting but now it's going to be done all over the state where basically the rights of voters are going to be protected at the polls by teams of attorneys and poll watchers so that the Republicans can intimidate people into not voting or forcing them to vote with provisional ballots. One thing I really like about Michigan's proposal three is it's a lot harder to intimidate voters if they vote with an absentee ballot.

Christine Barry 15:10
And Michigan democrats aren't exactly asleep at the switch, the party is well into expanding the 2018 organizing efforts that proves so successful in flipping two congressional seats, as well as about a dozen state legislative elections. Michigan democratic party chair Lavora Barnes talked about it in an interview on Grand Rapids WOTV.

Lavora Barnes 15:32
we hired organizers to work on the ground in our communities around the state in 2017. And we've been working there ever since we never stopped and that's the result you saw in 2018 is due in large part to the ground game we built starting in 2017. And we continue to build in 2018. And we're building 2020 in 2018's image. We understand how important it is to have offices all over the state. We had 50 plus in 2018. We're looking to do the same. We had hundreds of organizers on the ground. We're going to do that again because We understand that the way we win this is with a grassroots movement of folks who are ready to get on the phones, get on the doors and then get out to vote.

Walt Sorg 16:06
This is pretty significant too, because in the past, Democrats have done this, but they didn't really get it together until just before the general election campaign, they would organize really until after we had a nominee. And now basically, they're taking the structure that was built for the 2018 campaign and simply expanding on that effort so that they've got a solid organization going into the 2020 campaign, regardless of who the nominee is, offices are being opened all over the place. The Lansing office, I know just opened in the last couple of days. And before that wouldn't even get opened until September, after the convention and now it's open and functioning and is already staffed seven days a week. So it's a big step forward in the organizing fight, but it does mean an awful lot of money has to be raised a part of the funding for this, by the way is coming out of Georgia, the efforts down there to get out the vote and to protect voter rights in the swing states. Stacey Abrams campaign.

One other note relating to the current political climate, the buzz is really growing regarding ending the Iowa New Hampshire monopoly on being the first voters to weigh in on the candidates. The idea being the to basically all white states shouldn't have such an undue influence on the campaign. The latest to join in the discussion. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan,

Debbie Dingell 17:23
I think there's an opportunity as system has to change. These two states have a disproportionate impact on who becomes the candidate. And we just need to have I mean, every state deserves to have the right to candidates look and talk about their issues. We need a rotating system that gives every state that right that opportunity. Dingell was interviewed by Stephen Henderson on WDTV Detroit today program this week.

Christine Barry 17:56
The top issue in virtually every political campaign is jobs and the economy. Most people think of that in terms of taxes and business incentives and maybe even improving worker skills. But a new white paper from the think tank Michigan future points to another major factor in building an economy, attracting talent to a region through what's known as placemaking. creating communities where the best and the brightest want to live, wealth explore placemaking. And what goes into it with the head of Michigan future, Lou Glazer.

Walt Sorg 18:25
Lou Glazer, when we talk about placemaking what is it exactly that we're talking about is in economic development terms.

Lou Glazer 18:32
We use placemaking as sort of a term to describe places where people want to live and work particularly young professionals since they're the most mobile part of society and also are the asset that employers are sort of value the most So, you know, if you look at the Amazon headquarter competition, Amazon basically said two things to regions across the country that were sort of interested in their sort of 50,000 high paying jobs, and they were talented and transit, right? So talent being those with a four year degree, particularly young people with four year degrees and transit and the reason why transit was on their list is that it's where you have good transit system. That's where young professionals are concentrating. So the real change in economic development that's occurred over the last 10 – 20 years is that capital is now following talent rather than the other way around. So talents what's attracting capital. You know, we used to think of economic development is where jobs are located. People will fall increasingly where talent is concentrated once again, talent meaning those with a four year degree is where companies are locating so that's, that's why placemaking becomes a priority.

Walt Sorg 19:59
Let's start The transportation component that you're just talking about, in some cities now Kansas City being the first major city to do so, mass transit is now becoming no fare. That is a trend that seems to be starting at least in large cities. The theory being that having a free mass transit ultimately contributes to the economy of an area. does that fit in with your studies?

Lou Glazer 20:23
Sure. So here is, I think, the most important part of of transit and why it was important to him Amazon and you get things like what Kansas City is doing, the millennials and it certainly looks like the generation that is following them Generation Z are the first generation sort of since the invention of the automobile, who are less interested than their parents and driving. You know, people are getting driver's license later. Fewer and fewer people are driving, there's increasing so so having places where you do not need to own a car, particularly before you have kids becomes sort of a critical component of attracting young professionals. So free transit fits right in. What's interesting about that is Portland, Oregon in the 70s. When they develop their original streetcar system, which was largely downtown Portland, they had a free transit zone, which is basically their downtown and they did it explicitly to attract new residents to the downtown area. And sort of the rest is history with Portland. I mean, Portland is sort of the poster child for transit Driven Development kind of thing. So Kansas City sort of using a you know, 50 years later is taking the Portland playbook and trying to do it on a more citywide basis than Portland did it just in their downtown area. And of course, secondly, there is you know, we tend to think about this from a place making perspective is transits role in retaining and attracting young professionals. I mean, the other role it plays is helping lower income people actually get to work. Sort of not having a car is a major barrier for a lot of people getting the job. So it's kind of like two roles that it plays and sort of helping the economy.

Walt Sorg 22:20
When you talk about place making for young professionals, is the focus really on the 80 hours a week that they're not working as opposed to the 40 hours a week when they are working?

Lou Glazer 22:31
Sure. So the simple answer to that question is yes, but I think even more fundamentally, it is this notion that young professionals are before they have kids are way more concentrating both in big metros but but in those big metros and high density, high amenity neighborhoods. We don't have to own a car, largely central city neighborhoods, but some sort of inner ring suburban neighborhoods as well. And then They are locating their first and then looking for a job, not the other way around. So it's these high density, high amenities sort of walkable sort of transit friendly neighborhoods, which are the characteristic of places that have high talent concentrations. And absolutely it is. They're thinking about sort of what kind of environment they want to live in when they're not working certain that that what they're looking for, as it relates to finding a job.

Walt Sorg 23:31
There is a petition drive underway right now, which I'm involved with that you're aware of the fair and equal Michigan campaign that wants to put LGBTQ civil rights into the Michigan civil rights law. And it is being supported by a lot of business groups. I would assume that's the reason why they it's it's about place making it's about attracting talent.

Lou Glazer 23:51
Exactly. So talent is the asset that matters to high wage employers the most there is nothing that is a close second. So we say in this creating places where people want to live and work report that we did, which everybody can find at Michigan that in addition to creating sort of these high density, high amenity neighborhoods, the other essential ingredient to concentrating talent is being welcoming all. Talent comes in all human varieties, places that concentrate talent are welcoming to people of any background. So welcoming becomes just as important, if not more important than place making in terms of concentrating talent and concentrating talent is the most essential ingredient in being a place that is retaining and attracting high wage jobs. It's as simple as that.

Walt Sorg 24:50
You look around the Midwest so that we are comparing apples and things in terms of things like the weather, what city has transformed itself. The best in your view

Lou Glazer 25:01
The place that is the prime talent magnet in the Great Lakes is still Chicago. But that's been true for decades. They continue to, you know, make the kinds of investments in placemaking, including transit that really matters. They've become, you know, they're sort of at the leading edge of becoming sort of bike friendly, which is something that matters as well. They've done a spectacular job with their outdoor recreation spaces, which matters so Chicago's at the leading edge, Minneapolis is probably second, for smaller metros, Madison certainly fits the bill. Those are sort of the three leading Midwest places, you know, but there are other places that around the Great Lakes that that are certainly doing a better job than Michigan like Indianapolis and Columbus come to mind that are trying to figure out how you make the kind of public investments that are necessary to retain the attract talent. And and God only knows. I mean, that's one of the reasons for the petition drive, that there's all sorts of places, Minnesota being the leading example of places that are way out in front of Michigan in terms of being welcoming.

Walt Sorg 26:13
One thing you didn't mention was cost of living, does that really play into it?

Lou Glazer 26:18
You know, it's it's almost counterintuitive, although I think when you if you think about it a bit young professionals are over concentrating and high cost places. And it's not because they're dopes it's because they think they're getting something for their money. So we tend to always focus on the cost side man on the benefit side, and people are willing to pay for not needing a car people are willing to pay for high density, high amenities. I mean, there's a there's a whole you know, I keep saying to parents who complained to me about their kids moving to New York or Chicago or Seattle or whatever in the costs being to I keep saying is and what they're paying for is the neighborhood, not the house. And so they see real value in the neighborhood and are willing to pay a higher price for that. So low cost is not winning. It's sort of high amenity that's winning

Walt Sorg 27:11
Lou Glazer from Michigan future. Always a pleasure to talk with you. Thanks for joining us.

Lou Glazer 27:15
Thank you.

Christine Barry 27:16
Lou Glaser mentioned high quality public transportation is a vital part of placemaking. And right on cue, some legislative republicans are fighting high quality public transportation.

Walt Sorg 27:28
Yeah, a couple of legislators republicans from Oakland County have introduced bills that would allow governing bodies and municipalities to opt out of any joint transportation endeavor, within 30 days of that plan being proposed, and 60 days before the proposal was placed on the ballot. They are basically fighting a comprehensive Regional Transit plan for Detroit, Washington, Oakland and Wayne counties. And it's their view that that's something that only benefits Detroit, a very kind of a tunnel vision approach to the whole thing because you know, as Detroit goes, so goes that whole region that is the fight that they are fighting and I think it's kind of backwards.

It was introduced by Ruth Johnson, the former Secretary of State who's now a member of the State Senate and Representative Andrea Schroeder of Oakland County, in response to a bill that was introduced by Representative Jason Shepherd of temperance another republican that would allow for regional transit agreement between Detroit and Washtenaw, Wayne and Oakland counties ahead of a ballot proposal which comes to be asked voters to approve of property tax increase to fund the agreement, as I mentioned with Lou some cities are talking about and in fact implementing an elimination of fares on the buses so that the transit systems become more ubiquitous, they become a true public service just like rose it because they're so vital to the economic health and urban area, and I looked at the books for the Lansing Area Transit System, and found that only about 6% of its total revenues came from the farebox anyway, so eliminating fares could have a major impact on ridership without having a major impact on their budget,

Christine Barry 28:59
As well as the transit equality that we talked about last week, which was an interesting topic.

Now, you know what i what i find a little bit disturbing about what's happening here is so this Regional Transit Authority would link Detroit with Oakland, McComb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. Oakland being by far the the highest average income, I guess you would say, I don't want to say the wealthiest county but certainly the highest average income. It's the representatives of Oakland County are trying to say, okay, when our county wants to join into an agreement with other counties, the townships and cities and so on within that county can opt out before that even goes to the ballot, they're not even going to let people vote on it. If the leadership of those municipalities say they don't want to and what that that concerns me because that type of legislation with I mean, if you vote on a 911 tax if you vote on some kind of counting anything right medical facility anything would that allow those municipalities to say now we're not going to participate in it, even if the county wants to put it up for a vote.

And I'm not sure that it does, but it's questionable territory. And it's going to be I think it's going to lead to litigation if it passes.

Walt Sorg 30:18
It's part of a larger strategy by Republicans in Lansing to eliminate the voice of voters at the local level. They all the time are passing are talking about local preemption laws where they basically say a municipality can't do this or that you can't ban plastic bags or straws or something like that. You can't have different gun laws. You can't do this or that. You've got to let the state decide what's good for your community. And it's a real reversal for Republicans who for decades used to scream local control over everything, and now its state control over everything.

Also the subject of economic development. There's a really good article in the current edition of dome magazine online by former state school superintendent Tom Watkins on the other major component of community held in the workplace. That, of course, is our education system. And we'll have a link to that on our website.

Christine Barry 31:06
Yeah, they have a really interesting take on the future of education. And fundamentally, I agree with them. They talked about the importance of partnerships with, you know, nonprofit sector and the business sector. And I agree with that. In fact, when I worked at one school system I worked at had CAD program that was actually heavily supported by a local manufacturer. If you did well enough in there, and you were as a student, you would be able to secure an internship when you graduated. And I thought that that was great. There are a number of other examples of that that I could give. But ultimately, what I'm saying is these partnerships are important, and we should be more open to them. But I will say that some of the things that are included in these ideas for the future of education, there's just no political will to get that done. So that would be I mean, that's going to be a decades long. effort if we were to really pursue something that comprehensive.

fix the damn roads. That's the governor's mantra for investing the billions needed to restore Michigan's basic infrastructure. But it's a lot more than potholes. Something brought to the forefront by the son of parents of green slime along one of Detroit's freeways.

Walt Sorg 32:25
The Sierra Club is partnering with a multitude of organizations to take on the growing environmental challenges that could cripple our urban centers. And the effort is centered around that green slime incident in Detroit. I talked with Justin Onwenu new about green slime, polluted waterways and the Trump administration's retreat and environmental protection.

Justin, when we think about the state's infrastructure problems, we think mostly about the roads. But the city of Detroit especially has shown that it's much more than roads and it's not just Detroit, it's all over the state with things like PFAS, but in Detroit, you have some really Special problems come up in the last few weeks that are pretty frightening.

Justin Onwenu 33:04
Yeah, you're absolutely right. So it was cancerous and toxic green ooze flowing on two freeways. So fix the road can be an inclusive message to also fix the green ooze coming out of businesses that have been negligent. There also was a contaminated site that collapsed into the Detroit River. There was an oil spill and a nearby river. This is a Detroit problem. It's a regional problem. It's a problem for our state. And something that we need to be focusing on.

Walt Sorg 33:36
We've got a lot of legacy problems too for urban centers all across Michigan, because this is an industrial state. And 50 – 100 years ago, the environment wasn't something that people were thinking about when they were building things. And as a result, we got a lot of garbage in the ground.

Justin Onwenu 33:50
Yeah, you're absolutely right. Especially in Detroit along the river we're seeing you know, and doing the research we're seeing that so many of the parcels of land have some Industrial history and you reference our history, which is absolutely correct. Shipping the auto industry, of course, our role in World War Two. So we do have a deep industrial history. I do think now, we have to try to change the narrative to say that yes, you know, we're happy. We're proud of that, that history, but wouldn't you know better, you should do better. And now that we know the impact that a lot of these industries are having on people's health, we have to act accordingly. Now that we know the impact that a lot of these industries are having on our climate, we have to do better.

Walt Sorg 34:36
You know what the problem is and the Sierra Club which you represent, along with a lot of other groups actually have an action plan to take this on? What is it that you're proposing be done in responses environmental crisis?

Justin Onwenu 34:48
specifically for the collapse of contaminated land into the Detroit River, the Sierra Club and collaboration with Great Lakes environmental law, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, a lot of other groups have been engaged in this but as a coalition, what we're proposing is a Detroit River protection ordinance that would hold companies accountable for their bad behavior. It would protect our shoreline so that no companies actually are having to go through inspections to make sure that they're taking the proper precautions to protect our water.

And then in general, we think it would prevent future situations like the collapse that happened in November from happening again, this is a Detroit city council effort, but this is really an issue that that impacts Canadians and millions of Michiganders. A lot of people depend on the Detroit River for drinking water. So we're trying to take comprehensive action and make sure that we're protecting our drinking water, the Great Lakes and our communities.

Walt Sorg 35:48
What do we do about the legacy costs that are the result of actions by entities companies manufacturers that no longer exists? bankruptcy is sometime used to avoid environmental responsibility. The other times it just happens. And 20 years down the road, we find out that the company that's no longer there is in fact responsible for a big problem. What do we do about that?

Justin Onwenu 36:09
If we're taking, what do we do moving forward approach? I think you can look at a lot of different businesses that have to have different forms of insurance to operate. If you think about a bar, you have to have insurance just in case you get saved because some somebody does something and drive drunk. If you're amusement park, you have to have certain types of insurance cover liability cost. If you're a business and you're operating with hazardous material, we should be acting under the assumption that some of that material may have it may have been exposed to the soil to water. And so we have to we have to look at companies not just you know, on a year to year basis, so they were operating this year. Therefore they take responsibility but you're operating a business that is having an impact. 20 years down the road. We We have to make sure that we're we're holding this companies accountable. I think that's something that you know, needs to be discussed more on a policy level.

Walt Sorg 37:07
How do things like the green ooze and the problems with the Detroit River, or how much of that is the responsibility really of lacks enforcement around total lack of enforcement, by state government in the past,

Justin Onwenu 37:19
it's a combination of lax enforcement and also just how a lot of these industries have zero regard for the communities that they're operating in. And so it's the role of government to make sure that that businesses are operating in a way that's responsible. So you could place the blame completely on our lawmakers. We haven't done enough to protect communities on these issues. You can also place the blame on businesses who have acted just with impunity on a lot of these public health and environmental matters. It's a little bit of both and I don't think any entity should should be absolved of blame. But it certainly is an issue of enforcement. I think

Walt Sorg 37:58
this is also an economic development issue. For the future two, I've talked with developers who simply prefer Greenfield development going out into the country and developing because it's less expensive. They don't have to worry about cleaning up past environmental mistakes. Is that as a big problem for Detroit now with all you've got a lot of vacant space there, but a lot of it's contaminated?

Justin Onwenu 38:18
Yeah, I mean, people are pushing back on the on the bacon Detroit narrative. There are a lot of other cities in the US who have more land mass, fewer people. So I don't I don't know if I would accept the idea that you know, we, we have so much vacant land to give away and to develop, but I will say that it is definitely a challenge. The fact that we have this industrial history, and the fact that a lot of the land is contaminated. The approach that I would like to see taken as you know, where are those contaminated parcels, a lot of the public, we don't have an understanding of where those parcels are in relation to our communities and relationship to relation to the water sources. Would one of the things that we're proposing is for the city of Detroit to maintain a list of where those contaminated parcels are so that so that the public so that business owner so others can see the impact of our communities.

Walt Sorg 39:14
I'm old enough to remember when downstream from the Detroit River in Lake Erie, it was basically an open sewer that would catch fire. And a lot of progress was made there, although it seems now like there's been some backsliding downstream as well. are we keeping up with it now at least? Are we not going backwards?

Justin Onwenu 39:31
It definitely feels like we're going backwards. I mean, look on the federal level. You're hearing a lot of conversation out of the Trump administration that it seems like they're basically throwing darts at, you know, list of public health regulations and saying, All right, let's get rid of that one and just randomly, so they're cutting Clean Water Act. Enforcement procedures are cutting Thin Air Act, enforcement procedures, until it seems like you know, We have a coal lobbyists is running the EPA and this is the result. So on a national level, it certainly seems like we're going backwards on a state level. You know, after Flint, environmental justice and public health issues are, you know, higher up on people's priority lesson in people's mind. But we're still not getting at the central tension of making sure that taxpayers aren't having to pay for the behavior of bad operators. So I definitely think we're not moving forward as a state on on these issues. We'll see what the next year with the next two years looks like in definitely on the on the national level where we're moving backwards,

Walt Sorg 40:43
Justin Onwenu new thank you so much for joining us on the Policast.

Christine Barry 40:46
Thank you for having me. And that's it for this week's Michigan Policast. Our thanks to Lou Glazer of Michigan future and Justin Onwenu of the Sierra Club for joining us.

Walt Sorg 40:55
For more on this week's topics head on over to Michigan polycast calm for blogs videos, tweets and assorted other good stuff.

Christine Barry 41:03
And if there's something you want to say to us just drop us a line at we close the pod with some brilliance from the orange one Mr. Make America Great Again finally revealed the formerly Great America to which he refers apparently it was an era when happy slaves because like taking care of their benevolent massuh's. And era that some would say is gone with the wind.

Donald Trump 41:23
By the way, How bad was the academy awards this year? And the winner is a movie from South Korea What the hell was that all? We got enough problems with South Korea with train a top of it they give him the best movie of the year. Was it good? I'm looking for like Wait, wait. Let's get God with the wind. Do we get like Gone with the Wind back please?

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