Pandemic restrictions, racial disparities, Biden’s VP, and guests Dean Sienko and Chris Swope

April 13, 2020

Michigan Policast for Monday, April 13, 2020

  In this episode:

  • Governor Whitmer extends stay-home order
  • Shirkey, Chatfield, and the Chamber push back on expanded restrictions
  • Racial and socioeconomic disparities highlighted by COVID-19
  • Interview: VP for Public Health at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Dr. Dean Sienko
  • Biden's VP: The field is wide-open but he has his favorites
  • Voting by mail
  • Interview: VP of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, Chris Swope
  • Transcript

Cover photo: A group of volunteers prepares to go door-to-door to help people afflicted with Spanish Flu in Brisbane in 1919

Jump to:

Governor Whitmer extends stay-home order

Shirkey, Chatfield, Chamber, Detroit News push back on expanded restrictions



Racial and socioeconomic disparities highlighted by COVID-19


In Michigan, the highest concentrations of cases are in largely black, largely poor counties around #Detroit. African-Americans make up a plurality of both cases (35%) and deaths (40%) in the state. @axiosClick To Tweet

Interview: VP for Public Health at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Dr. Dean Sienko

There's quite a bit of regional variation ... the best course is to allow the governors and other local officials to make decisions, and the federal government has to be there to support the states when it can. ~Dean Sienko @CarterCenter #COVID19Click To Tweet
What we're presently doing is fine as a short term solution to this issue. But it is unsustainable. ~Dean Sienko @CarterCenter #COVID19 Click To Tweet

Biden's VP: The field is wide-open but he has his favorites

The @uscensusbureau reports that 55% of eligible black women voters cast ballots in November 2018, a full six percentage points above the national turnout. @FortuneMagazine @JoeBiden Click To Tweet

Voting by mail

“Switching to voting by mail, even in states with no history of it, can absolutely be done, and quite likely it may need to be done ... It’s just a matter of how bumpy it is.” ~Judd Choate, state elections director in Colorado To Tweet

Interview: VP of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, Chris Swope

'We are trying to push it as much as we can ... it's helpful for the voters, they get a ballot about 40 days ahead of the election so they can review and study. No election will slip by and have them miss that occurred. @CityClerkSwope #votebymailClick To Tweet
'People vote honestly, by and large, it's so rare to see any kind of fraud. stuffing the ballot box is not the kind of fraud that really even happens that ... we just don't have examples of that' @CityClerkSwope #votebymailClick To Tweet
We see it as a long term trend that people are going to move toward voting from home. And we can reduce some of our expenses and needs at the polling places' @CityClerkSwope #votebymailClick To Tweet




Walt Sorg 0:00
The presenting underwriter of the Michigan Policast is progress Michigan providing a strong, credible voice that holds public officials and government accountable and assists in the promotion of progressive ideas.

Barack Obama 0:16
There may and likely will come a time in which we have both an airborne disease that is deadly. And in order for us to deal with that, effectively, we have to put in place an infrastructure, not just here at home, but globally, that allows us to see it quickly isolate it quickly respond to it quickly. So that if and when a new strain of flu-like the Spanish Flu crops up five years from now, or a decade from now, we've made the investment and we're further along to be able to catch it.

Walt Sorg 0:52
That was Barack Obama, not two weeks ago, but five years ago, December 2 2014, five years Before Donald Trump repeatedly said nobody could have predicted this. This is the Michigan Policast. We're all about Michigan politics and policy and the national events impacting our present peninsulas. I think we've got one of those going on right now. Christine, I will serve as a cheerleader for telling the truth to America, zooming from Lansing,

Christine Barry 1:18
and I'm Christine Barry zooming in from Corunna. And this week on the podcast COVID-19 keeps Michigan closed at least through the end of April, the general election campaign for president and reading the tea leaves over the vice president candidates and why republicans don't want to make it easier and safer for you to vote.

Walt Sorg 1:37
In a few minutes, I'll be talking with the nation's leading experts on public health management, Dr. Dean Sienko. He's been a county health director here in Michigan. He directed Military Medical operations in the first Gulf War, and is currently Vice President for health programs at the Carter Center. We begin though with the story that impacts all of our lives the most directly, the extension of Michigan's extraordinary emergency measures

Gretchen Whitmer 2:00
I have signed an executive order to extend and expand Michigan stay home stay safe order. Yesterday, Dr. Fauci who we've all come to see on our television with great regularity said we need to keep pushing mitigation strategies. Because there is no doubt that they're having a positive impact on the dynamics of this outbreak. Now is not the time to pull back at all. It is the time to intensify

Walt Sorg 2:31
The governor tightened the restrictions to further minimize person to person contact and includes prohibiting people from traveling between homes in Michigan, something that impacts folks with vacation homes up north. It puts limits on the number of customers allowed in stores, and expands at home food assistance for children. The most controversial though is a new limit on your in store shopping, especially at the big boxes.

Gretchen Whitmer 2:53
big box stores will also have to close areas of the store that are dedicated to things like carpet or flooring. furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint. If you're not buying food, or medicine, or other essential items, you should not be going to the store. your grocery stores will remain open, your pharmacy will remain open so you can get your prescriptions filled. Your banks and credit unions will be functioning, you can still fill your get your car with gas. This doesn't mean that everything's going to go back to normal on the 30th. However, we do know for the next three weeks, we have to take these important actions.

Walt Sorg 3:37
Okay, Christine, let's break this down. The governor is taking a lot of heat especially for people thinking that you can't go out and buy paint or buy seed or something. But really all she said was you can't go into Lowe's Home Depot or Manards because she wants to hold down the crowds at those stores. You can still go to your local store, you can get seeds at the grocery store, you can order all of this stuff online. The idea isn't to stop people from doing these things it just to have them do it in a safer way where people don't congregate,

Christine Barry 4:04
There's going to be imperfect execution of it. And I think that's where she's getting hit the hardest people are taking and sharing these pictures of like an end cap of burpee seeds, you know, at the at the end or in the center aisle of a Walmart or something. And it's it's saying that this section is closed. That's clearly not the intent of her order. And so I think the store in that case is taking it too far and people are using that to say, this is the stupidest order ever. I thought her order was quite clear. Most of the strictest requirements really were for the big box stores, over 50,000 square feet. And all she said was close the sections, particularly, you know, specifically dedicated to garden furniture, whatever, and don't advertise any sort of specials for those sections during the lockdown. You can still go into the rest of the store and get the essential items and

Walt Sorg 5:00
you can still order it online too. I think what's missing in the whole discussion is the fact that this isn't just about how it impacts you. It's how you as an individual impact other people. And even though you may be healthy and think you're operating safely, just the fact that you are out in the world can put other people in danger. And you can be asymptomatic and still spread the disease. There have been studies in other countries that are doing a lot more testing than we're doing in the United States that show that as much as 50% of the population is infected, and most of them don't even know it because they're just carriers of this virus. We don't know enough about it. The restriction on going to second homes in the north country really is something that the people in the north country wanted because they've got very limited medical capabilities up there compared to what you have in the urban areas and lower Michigan and they don't want people coming from Oakland County and Wayne County and Ingham county and going north and you safer up there, because if they get sick up there, they're gonna quickly overload the health care system, and the people who live there full time are not going to be able to get the health care that they need. So again, it's not about the inconvenience to you as the person who owns the home up north a vacation home up north. It's about the people up north who need to keep their resources available for themselves.

Christine Barry 6:16
Yeah, exactly. And, and they had been asking people not to come North for a while. I mean, early in the first stages, they said, Okay, don't come up north. We don't want your germs or whatever

Walt Sorg 6:30
That was brought to you by Traverse City Chamber of Commerce. Please don't come here.

Christine Barry 6:35
Yeah, exactly. So, and there, I did see some criticism, or some commentary, and I can't tell which it is, frankly, in the Free Press, about people from other states being able to travel into residences up north, but, you know, the governor can't create executive orders that affect people who don't live in our state. So I don't I don't know what she could have done about that. That's not on her. That doesn't make it an inconsistent executive order, which is what a lot of people are calling it. Now, you know, the other thing that we should talk about is how the republicans in the legislature are just going on and on and on about how we should talk about what's safe, not what's essential. And that's really frustrating for me. Walt, because what they call safe on paper, it could be created to be like a safe job like landscaping, you can say, Okay, this landscaping job is going to be safe because of A, B and C on paper that works out. In practice, it does not

Walt Sorg 7:36
It only takes one person to infect 20 people. And it doesn't take much contact for that to happen. And again, is about the other people. You and I are especially sensitive to this because we're in the high-risk group. We're older, we have other medical conditions that we have to deal with. And I've basically been hidden out in my home now for it seems forever. I feel like I'll never get out of here again. But still I'm very conscious of any contact that I might have with another human being face to face. I'm wearing a mask that stuffed with filters inside of the mask and doing everything I can to protect myself But still, I'm kind of at the mercy of everybody else.

Christine Barry 8:12
Yeah I am too and I you know, I'm thinking of some very specific scenarios of things that should be safe. I was watching some farmers come out and I think they're just getting ready for the season taking a look around but because their equipment's so loud, they stand closer to each other to talk I, you know, I know that these guys don't all live in the same house. They're not distancing. Farming is one of those things that the chamber or you know, Shirkey or Chatfield would say. The field is huge. They can stay six feet apart. Yeah, but people don't change. Human Nature doesn't change. I ordered a pizza the other day, just really just me being lazy. But I ordered a pizza and I said I wanted it contactless so that it would be left on the deck. The guy knocked on my door because he didn't read the note and his mask was in his pocket. And I just people just, you know, human nature is, is that old habits die hard.

Walt Sorg 9:06
I went for curbside service with a couple of restaurants. I'm trying to spend money at local restaurants because I really want them to stay open and to be open when all of this is over. And both times my food was brought to my car, which is great. But the worker who brought my car wasn't wearing a mask and they stood three feet away from me. In fact, they actually touched me as a hand and to me the bag.

Christine Barry 9:26
Yeah, and I know it's hard to do a job with a mask on I know it is, you know, I mean, medical people maybe get used to it, or people who have to wear masks like painters or whatever, you know, commercial or industrial painters, whatever have to get used to wearing that protective gear. But if you're in retail, or you're just a normal person, wearing even the lightest face max mask that just keeps out dust is something that's really inconvenient and uncomfortable and you forget to put it on. So I don't think any of these things are safe as they say they are, are as safe as they could be on paper. And this is, you know, this is just an agenda promoted by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which is the Michigan Chamber of Commerce's job but unfortunately the republicans in the legislature are kind of beholden to them. So they're pushing these really unsafe ideas onto the public,

Walt Sorg 10:22
you know, their chamber to is also promoting something through their mouthpiece, Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of The Detroit News, among others, saying basically that the unemployment benefits supplement that Congress voted in and as part of the $2.2 trillion bill, it's just too much because somebody can get up to $963 a week on unemployment. Finley says that's a disincentive to go back to work. I would say that's money, that's gonna go directly back into our economy and help keep some of these businesses alive during this pandemic,

Christine Barry 10:50
and keep some of these people alive. And you know, here's the thing, you know, I think we both know how we feel about Finlay's opinions but I mean He's saying he's saying things like, okay, people are reporting that some workers are asking to be laid off because unemployment exceeds their pay. He thinks that the problem is that the unemployment is too much. No, they should be paid more if they're risking their lives to work. I mean, his whole thing frustrated me and it was condescending. And I think in a certain in certain parts, it was a little bit mean spirited towards people as if, you know, people tend to be lazy and they'll take unemployment rather than work, if that's just the two options. But I mean, I'm sure he's telecommuting, and I'm sure they're all telecommuting. Shut up.

Walt Sorg 11:42
And it was really brought home very harshly over the weekend. As we record this five people now are reported dead from the virus, who work at Meijer and Kroger because they're on the frontlines of this. They're being exposed every day. They're at risk. I have friends and family that work at Meijer and they're very worried about it. But they continue to go to work. And believe me, they're not making anywhere near the kind of money that they could make if they're laid off.

Christine Barry 12:07
Yeah, exactly. I mean, you think about that. I read that as well the other day about the Kroger and Meijer workers and I thought, every time I get a delivery, I am so grateful. And even even without the pandemic, I was really grateful for it make us I just don't like shopping. But these people are just just working really hard. They're out there doing this job for us. They're essential workers, and they're still really on the I don't know the lower rungs of the economic ladder, I guess you'd say. And this guy, Nolan Finley is over here saying, you know people won't work because unemployment, it gives you more money. It's sick.

Walt Sorg 12:46
It's pretty sad. also said is the fact that it is hitting lower income socio economic groups a lot harder than others. Dan Kildee represents Flint, which is kind of had a double whammy,

Dan Kildee 12:57
they still don't have drinking water that meets The standard you would want it to meet technically it's safe to drink. But the reality is people in Flint don't drink it because they don't trust it and kill these worried that poor and minority communities are going to feel left out of the response to the Coronavirus community that is conditioned in some ways to feel marginalized, is worried that there'll be marginalized yet again, that the resources that will be broadly delivered across the country won't acknowledge that they are in disproportionate need in a place like Flint access to health care, access to a health provider, access to good nutrition, access to transportation or high quality education. All of those elements of the society that make it possible for us to come out of the worst circumstances are not present in a place like Flint.

Walt Sorg 13:51
Now the reality is the governor's appointed a task force headed up by Lieutenant Governor garland Gilchrist to take a look at why the day bulk of deaths from the COVID virus are disproportionately people of color. But I think we already know why. It's a socio economic issue. It's not a racial issue, per se, the virus doesn't care what color you are. But these are people that tend to have more hands on service jobs. So they've got more contact with the public, they're less likely to have access to health care, they're less likely to seek health care. And they're more distrustful of the system, especially in Flint, where the system has basically pop them right between the eyes now for five years,

Christine Barry 14:30
over and over a broken promise after broken promise, the infrastructure, there's poor, I remember, you know, up on the north side, there had been some some sewage problems where just because the infrastructure was really weak, and so it starts coming up on the street. You have, obviously the big one of the poison water, if you will. So it's difficult for a place like Flint. I mean, I think Dan Kildee nailed it when he said that they just don't have what it takes to bounce back like the other people. Because they don't have access to the things they need.

Walt Sorg 15:02
And I think one of the few bright spots in the federal response which has just been pathetic. First of all, have a listen to Donald Trump day after day after day, live from the podium in the White House press room is getting pretty farcical, to say the least. But something that's really working is the Army Corps of Engineers. They have just incredible work. They're turning convention centers, basketball arenas, and even a church into temporary hospitals. And they're doing it in a matter of days. In Michigan, the TCF center in Detroit, which is formally known as Cobo Hall is now accepting patients and will soon be joined by the suburban collection showplace in Novi, another huge Convention Center. And I really liked the guy who's in charge of the effort, general Todd Semonite. He's been on Rachel Maddow Show a couple of times. And this is just a little bit of what he had to say.

Todd Semonite 15:49
What we have learned is that we're able to build this out and you talked about Detroit in Chicago boy, what some phenomenal players up there. I met with Governor Whitmer, and we walked around and we looked at the Center. But we're able to go into that convention center, we got to seal a lot of the gaps, there's little tiny air gaps. And then you've got to be able to modify the HVAC system to be able to get to that pressure differential. And then you talked about the copper pipes. We didn't do this a Javits initially, but we came in and put oxygen. So instead of having to have little oxygen tanks, where everybody's bed, we actually brought in central piping with oxygen to be able to modify that center. So every single time we build one, we have a standard design, you and I talked about that. And then we continue to modify the standard design, and then site adapt it, power it down, and to be able to have decentralized execution at the point of need. So it's a it's been a very, very evolving concept, but as a result, we're getting better and better capabilities.

Walt Sorg 16:47
This guy is a no bullshit. Let's get it done guy and he is just tremendous. So I really appreciate the work that those guys have done.

Christine Barry 16:54
Yeah, the Army Corps of Engineers has always been amazing when they show up on the job. I think things tend to get better. Really well, I actually quite admire engineering in general anyway, the practice of, you know, the way that things are designed, and then the feedback system that goes into it. Okay, this was broken. Now we're going to see why it was broken. And we're going to I mean, it's like constant, you know, improvement, right? And I wish more things were like that.

Walt Sorg 17:22
This goes back to World War Two, the Navy SeaBees during World War Two. And the Army Corps of Engineers has been operating forever. These folks have been an established part of the military for a long, long time and they've got it figured out. They understand supply chain management, they understand construction, they understand deadlines, and more than anything else. They understand the concept of we've got to get it done. So let's get it done.

PSA 17:49
COVID-19, better known as Coronavirus, has spread throughout the world. Information about children with this disease is limited but they are known to have had mild symptoms many organisms Patients are responding accordingly depending upon their area. It's best to stay home and away from others, especially when sick and continue following healthy hand wash guidelines, covering mouth and nose and not touching your face or high touch surfaces. Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces regularly. And for more information, please visit Thank you.

Barack Obama 18:29
I cannot think of a better example of an area where we should all agree than passing this emergency funding to fight Ebola and to set up some of the public health infrastructure that we need to deal with potential outbreaks in the future. How do you argue with that, that is not a partisan issue.

Christine Barry 18:49
More from barack obama's speech of five years ago, or as George Lucas would say, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. thanks in large part to daily two-hour rant sessions in the White House press room. The arguments today are sharp and too often partisan with the air, quote, President and his friends on Fox offering medical advice that is contradicted by folks like the president of the American Medical Association. And the President who is champing at the bitter end social distancing and take a chance on a second wave of infections.

Walt Sorg 19:24
To get expert advice from someone who is outside the political storm. We're joined by the Vice President for public health at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Dr. Dean Sienko. his resume includes services Ingham County Health director here in Michigan, and later Associate Dean for public health at Michigan State University's College of human medicine as Major General Dean Sienko. He was head of the Army Medical Services in Iraq during the first Gulf War. Why don't we start with the governor's his latest executive order basically extending the stay at home order through the end of the month. She's getting a lot of flack because it's so tight, saying people can't go to their summer home. That they should stay out of the hardware stores and not being buying paint or seed or anything. How do you view the strictness of it and the feedback that she's getting the pushback?

Dean Sienko 20:10
Well, I don't know all the details of it to begin with. But I think there has to be an extension for some period of time, I think, I think through the end of the month was reasonable. I do have an issue with at least some of what I've heard. For example, I called my lawn guy and asked him to come out and see the lines that I can't do it. And I'm thinking, Well, what in the world risk? Are you posing to me or anybody else? By being out there on a tractor in my backyard? So I you know, is it essential or non-essential, that's one thing, you know, you could argue something is not essential. But if it's not a risk to anybody, why not let people go to work?

Walt Sorg 20:52
The counter argument would be basically to reduce to the greatest extent possible interaction between people, whether it's your sheet Picking up supplies or to talking with him to basically to try to stop it in its tracks by isolating us as much as possible. I think there's ways you can do that we're all going to the grocery stores or the pharmacies and other things. So it's not like we're totally isolated. You know, I'm wearing a mask whenever I go outside now, I think doing those sorts of things and trying to maintain good social distancing, you can accomplish both. So, and that's one example where I think it's a bit of an overreach.

Walt Sorg 21:31
You've been at the front end of public health issues at both the local and the federal level. How should this interface be working is the balance right right now between what the feds are doing and what they're leaving to the states and the local health departments.

Dean Sienko 21:46
I think if you look at what's happening across the country, you see that there's quite a bit of regional variation. So as I hear things and I'm not privy to all the information that puts me at a bit of a problem and trying to give some thoughts on this. But New York is getting hit pretty hard New York City in particular. It looks like New Orleans has had some problems. Certainly Detroit is having its issues. But other parts of the country appear to be relatively quiet. So I think allowing the governors and other local officials to make decisions. I was for a long time a local public health guy and we pride ourselves and we felt we're making the best decisions for our community. And I think the the federal government has to be there to support when it can states in it. So when we ran exercises, there always was the potential to call on the Strategic National Stockpile for support when you ran out. It appears that that's working reasonably well perhaps not as well as anybody intended, particularly when you hit these hired apexes cases as New York is experiencing what I think it's reasonable for governors to make decisions, for example, on social distancing or lockdowns, etc. and the federal government giving support as perhaps only the federal government can.

Walt Sorg 23:12
One of those areas of support that you hear a lot of the governor's talking about is basically management of the supply chain. Something is a retired general in the army, you know, an awful lot about especially when you're running the medical services over in the Iraq War, should the feds be doing more on supplies, running the supply chain, managing the supply chain, so we don't have all of these disconnections between the various states and the suppliers,

Dean Sienko 23:36
as well believe that the federal government is going to be the principal buyer of many of these items. I don't know if the states have the capacity. And if the states purchase it, and they don't need it, then what do they do with it whereas the federal government can buy these things and they can direct it to areas most in need. So I think it's reasonable to have the first government doing that, again, the vehicle that I was familiar with in which they would do that was through the Strategic National Stockpile in which needed, whether it's drugs or vaccines or supplies would be shipped as the demands required to various locations. I don't know I again, I don't have access to the information. And that limits what I can say or conclude about this, how well the federal government has been able to meet those deep those needs and those demands. I hear things in the press, as everybody does, about states wanting more resources. I just don't know what those shortfalls are, and whether the federal government has the capacity to deliver to what various localities seem to want.

Walt Sorg 24:50
In looking at the history of the two great crises that have some similarity what we're dealing with right now you've got the flu epidemic of 1918 And you've got the Great Depression. And in both cases, the government pressure to take drastic steps to combat it were led off prematurely. And we had a second wave of the flu in I think, was 1920 or 1919. And we had a second depression in 1937. Because the feds let up on some of the financial programs that they were doing. Is there a danger? We do that again, that we're going to get so irritated, so bored, so angry over those that we really say, okay, we've done enough of this. Let's get back to the regular life.

Dean Sienko 25:36
I think there is a risk that we could act prematurely. But having said that, I also think we need to find balance here. What we're presently doing is unsustainable. I mean, I heard a report on the news this morning that Michigan unemployment rate is expected to be well over 20% as I understand it, the depression Level unemployment was in the mid 20s. What we're presently doing is fine as a short term solution to this issue. But it is unsustainable. And we might be forced to look at ways we can try to do what we're presently doing, which is minimizing people from getting seriously ill or dying, yet allowing sectors of the economy to come back online, so that life can return to some semblance of normality.

Walt Sorg 26:34
There are reports that we're on the verge of having massive testing protocols in place so we can actually find out where we're at right now, as it stands, we've only had about what less than 1% of the population has been tested. how critical is that to you as a public health professional in combating the disease before we have a vaccine?

Dean Sienko 26:53
I think that is critical. And again, I don't have access to information but I certainly hope that people are doing this to try to get a sense of how much penetrance of this virus has already occurred in our populations. A lot of people were clamoring for testing and this drive by testing and some of these other things which didn't make sense much sense at all to me. If I had hundreds of test kits, let's say in Ingham County, what I would have done is I would have established a surveillance system where I would come back the people, whatever the sample size should be, and you'd work with statisticians on Well, let's say a few hundred people now would come back to them every week, and I would retest them. And that would give me an idea of how much penetrance was already occurring. This is critical to understand. You just talked about taking our foot off the gas a bit. Well, I would feel more comfortable doing that, if I knew that a substantial percentage of the population was already exposed and likely immune. But I don't hear anybody talking about that I hear some reports from other parts of the world where they're doing this sorts of thing. I certainly hope that CDC or the health department's or somebody out there has set up a surveillance system like this, to monitor how much penetrance of the virus has already. It's critical decision making for moving forward in mind.

Walt Sorg 28:24
What are the weaknesses that this pandemic is exposing is the unevenness of the supply of healthcare services across our country. I've been seeing stories increasingly rural areas, especially that are in dire straits, even though they have relatively low levels of infection, but they've got even lower levels of capacity. You worked on this at Michigan State University when you're the Assistant Dean there, what more can be done?

Dean Sienko 28:49
Well, I think there are multiple things, you know, you we talked about capacity and there's sort of physical capacity. So for example, ICU beds and ventilators and things like this But there's also personnel capacity. I mean, when I hear some of the talk about we're going to get another, whatever it is million ventilators into the system. The question that immediately comes to my mind is okay, well, who's going to run those ventilators? And when I was in the war, I sort of fell into that trap a little bit and saying, We need more ventilators. And my Chief Nurse looked at me and she said, Sir, I can take care of two patients a day on ventilators, how many nurses do you have to take care of ventilator dependent patients? How many risk parts or technicians Do you have to run these things? These are complicated pieces of medical technology. And it's not something you train somebody overnight. But getting back to rural areas, that you may not have the physical capacity to keep somebody in an intensive care unit like a big hospital in an urban area would but I think they're also Short of the critical personnel that you would need who typically gravitate the places where there's a lot of this, which is big city hospitals, where you see a number of patients who require these sorts of services. And you don't see as much intensity of these sorts of medical patients in rural areas, because oftentimes, if they get that sick, they're transferred to a larger Medical Center,

Walt Sorg 30:29
I'd like to wrap on a positive note, which is hard when we're discussing the subject. And that's very simply if you had the President's ear right now, what would you be telling him that he's not hearing?

Dean Sienko 30:39
Well, I mean, I have a lot of respect for Dr. Fauci. And so I think he's got some good people on his team. The thing I would go back to is, what are we seeing in terms of penetrance. We know that the majority of people are going to be either asymptomatic and Words no symptoms are mildly ill. I can't say right now how much how many people have been infected for all I know I've been infected. I haven't been sick. But I could have been infected. And I think it's it's critical that we know that and that will help us to make decisions about how much risk we're taking. If we begin to open up the economy again and get people back to work, or otherwise, step back a little bit from the hard social system.

Walt Sorg 31:32
Dr. Sienko Thanks so much for joining us on the podcast.

Dean Sienko 31:35
It's good talking. Same here well

PSA 31:42
COVID-19, better known as Coronavirus, has spread throughout the world. Symptoms of this respiratory disease may include fever, cough and shortness of breath. These symptoms may show up two to 14 days after exposure. If you are experiencing these symptoms and have come into contact Or are in an area with an ongoing outbreak. Please call a hotline and or consult with a physician, clean and disinfect high touch surfaces. For more information, please visit Thank you

Bernie Sanders 32:20
while we are winning the ideological battle, and while we are winning the support of so many young people and working people throughout the country, I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful. And so today, I am announcing the suspension of my campaign.

Christine Barry 32:40
And with that we're on to the main event, Biden versus Trump. And with the nominations settled, the speculation continues to grow over who Joe Biden should and will pick as his running mate. The names on the top of the list haven't changed. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar are obvious possibilities. But in the last few days, Gretchen Whitmer has moved up the list fueled in part by Joe Biden.

Walt Sorg 33:02
Biden started by telling Brian Williams on msnbc that Whitmer has been on his radar for months. Then the vice president launched his own podcast just what we need is competition in the podcast world from Joe Biden. But he's got that podcast going now. He wanted to campaign from his basement. And with social distancing, he was one of the things he could do. His first guest on the podcast, who was not a part of his campaign was governor Gretchen Whitmer. That was followed by Biden campaign email blast, in which the Vice President told supporters what he's been reading is he and his wife continue to quarantine themselves at home. The first article that he mentioned he was reading something written in the Atlantic magazine by Gretchen Whitmer, adding fuel to the fire there is a lengthy profile of Whitmer this week in Politico with the headline the woman in Michigan goes national in the profile Whitmer is praised by if you can believe it, the republican speaker of the Michigan house Lee Chatfield who says of her she resembles an older style of politics. She wants to get things done without tearing people apart. She's the only Democrat. I've seen placate the business lobby and the environmentalist. Seriously, nobody else can do it. I don't know Chatfield just trying to get rid of her if he's being sincere. But the buzz has been something I still don't think that she's the one because her resume compared with the two senators especially, isn't quite as thick. And you're gonna remember Joe Biden was elected vice president running against a person who was a score she hated, because she wasn't ready for the mainstage. You know, that woman from Alaska, Sarah Palin. And I know Gretchen Whitmer is no Sarah Palin. But still in terms of resume. It is not that much deeper than Sarah Palin's. I think he needs somebody with more national gravitas and more national presence.

Christine Barry 34:50
I think so as well. I like to see people who are more vetted, I think, than the governor. Although, you know, like her, her profile is rising now. So people are getting to know her and and they're forming opinions on her. But I have two reasons why I really don't want governor Whitmer to be the vp pick. One is because she has to stay here. We just do we already have not just the pandemic, if you if you take the pandemic away, and it never happened, we still have a crisis. You know, we still have the underserved minority communities, the have to fix the roads, the infrastructure or water broadband, we need her for all of that. And we need her really interesting partnership with the LG Gilchrist. He's working with these minority groups and the water warriors and so on to sort of address some of these disparities. I don't see a better team in the executive than Whitmer and Gilchrist right now. So that's one reason and the second reason is I just think by needs to choose a black woman as his vp pick at because black woman deserve the representation at that highest level, they're a core constituency, they've, they've been there for us. And you know what they just they just deserve it. I mean, people would call this identity politics and you know, kind of look at it like it's a negative thing, but I'll tell you what, well, and you've probably had this experience to where when Barack Obama was elected, the black people in your life, were really much more affected by that than you and you know, the non black people or the white people, whatever.

Walt Sorg 36:34
Your dog By the way,

Christine Barry 36:36
I needed some background music. You know, we're not really sharing the background visuals, which is a good thing. Yes. And Abby thinks she can sing. So

Walt Sorg 36:44
okay, well, that's what happens is they're learning on Late Night. Oh, Stephen Colbert had his dog on every night so we might as well do the same.

Christine Barry 36:53
Yes, I could bring Abby and she's my special girl. There must be a bunny or a shadow outside. Something for her bark at I don't know.

Walt Sorg 37:02
One question I would have to is garland Gilchrist has a really great talent, but I think he suffers from the same problem that some of the people we're talking about nationally, are having and that is I'm not sure he's ready to be number one. He's got a again, he's very raw to politics, and he's got a lot of talent, but he doesn't have that legislative background, the long standing relationship of working with the legislature, the same problem that Rick Snyder had really Jennifer Granholm had, they didn't know how to work with their legislation or hurt both of them.

Christine Barry 37:32
Yeah, he would have to choose an LG who does have deep legislative ties. I don't know. You know who that would be. It. You know, I really want to point this out, though, is that when Barack Obama won, I saw so many of my black friends just break down and cry. I mean, it was just, it was an experience that is beyond my understanding, or my my just being On the realm of what I can do what I could feel or you know, understand, I was glad he won. I didn't cry. But there was more to it than that. And I think there's something to be said for that kind of representation. A lot of people say it's identity politics, and you should be colorblind. I don't think that's true. So I really think Biden needs to choose a black woman, it's time for them to be at the top of the ticket.

Walt Sorg 38:23
Okay, well, I think the order of importance of the things that he has to weigh is, first of all, who's ready for the who's ready on day one to become president of the United States, the man is 70 use, what 77 years old, in great health and all that facility, 77 years old. Number two, it's going to be somebody that he can work with. I think because of his relationship with Barack Obama, he understands the importance of really being simpatico with number two, he wants to have a partner as the vice president united states. And then number three are the political considerations is the first priority to shore up the Midwest in which case you're talking about Klobuchar or Whitmer is to shore up his support in the African American community in which case you're right. He's talking in terms of Kamala Harris perhaps Stacey Abrams, although I think she probably fails on the ready for the office on day one count. I've heard named Susan Rice mentioned former UN Ambassador under President Obama as a possibility all up that would bring Benghazi back into the debate. Those are people that could be considered, but I think that's what's gonna go into his decision. I don't think he can make a bad choice. It's just a matter of what works best for him.

Christine Barry 39:33
Kamala Harris, I don't think would deliver any sort of electoral you know, advantage to them. I mean, Whitmer and Klobuchar, like you said, strong in the Midwest could help get those states back. But I, I really think that they can do that from where they're at. Now. You know, whether it's kind of Harris or somebody else has a completely different role to play in terms of showing base that we are committed to you, we are there for you. And we are going to have you represented at the highest levels.

Walt Sorg 40:07
Now the other thing you've got to think about with Senator Harris two issues, the first one who really went after Joe Biden in the debates going after him on the issue of school busing, even though when push came to shove, they really didn't disagree on the issue, but she made it sound like they did.

Christine Barry 40:20
Yeah. But people move past those things. And I think that the two of them working together, if they could hold different experiences and slightly different opinions on things, whether like you say, I don't really think they have different opinions on them now. You have to reach you know, she was reaching way back into her childhood. Right. Joe Biden's had a long career of service. You all grew. Yeah, long career and people evolved. And I don't think it's an entirely fair to say that he is a certain way now that he was then. But I think that if the two of them can work together and get their messaging, right, they It'd be a pretty powerful team. And it would help kind of unite some of the factions that are in the Democratic Party. Now.

Walt Sorg 41:06
It's interesting, I think back to the 1960 election, which I know it was 60 years ago, and I was just a kid. But still, that was an election where john kennedy picked the person who almost beat him for the nomination for Vice President Lyndon Johnson, because he wanted the gravitas and the political power within the Congress of Lyndon Johnson. And they somehow managed to work together even though Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy hated each other.

Christine Barry 41:31
I do know that they did not seem to be a good pick. I honestly thought it was more about delivering the south, but that makes total sense.

Walt Sorg 41:40
Who knows what's gonna happen? speculations fun, I hope it doesn't pick anybody for a while, just so we can keep betting this around.

Christine Barry 41:48
I just want the ticket to be settled. It just won't be done with it. Let's back this race. Let's go.

PSA 41:59
COVID-19 Better known as Coronavirus has spread throughout the world. There are a few ways to help lower the spread of this respiratory disease. Wash your hands. Avoid touching your face including mouth, nose and eyes. Cover your coughs and sneezes, monitor your symptoms and consult with your doctor. Stay at home and away from other sick people except for medical care, clean and disinfect high touch surfaces. For more information, please visit forward slash COVID-19. Thank you.

Christine Barry 42:37
Well, the Wisconsin election last week was a giant disgrace. Republicans in the state fought tooth and nail to make it as hard as possible for people to vote. Through a series of actions leading all the way to the US Supreme Court. They gave voters a choice if you want to vote, you have to risk catching a potentially lethal virus and or spreading it throughout your community. And it wasn't just voters It was also election workers. in Milwaukee, a lack of people willing to work at the polls for obvious reasons resulted in the number of polling places being reduced from the normal 180 to just five for a city of 600,000 people, and that's leading to calls across the nation to move to Universal vote by mail.

Walt Sorg 43:18
And Debbie agrees, as you can hear heavy is very strong supporter vote by mail. Currently, five states conduct all elections by mail Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Colorado. The first state to make the switch was Colorado it works well. Colorado Secretary of State Janet Griswold says not only does it save money for the taxpayers, it improves voter turnout and participation.

Jena Griswold 43:41
If you create access, you will create participation. Colorado has the highest number of eligible voters registered in the nation just over 90% and we consistently lead the nation in turnout. We also had a super tuesday presidential primary and we actually had more participation. In any other state so far, even before the virus hit, and that's because people get enthused when they know that they actually can shape the future of our nation. And they don't have to wait in five hour lines to do that.

Walt Sorg 44:12
Which is exactly why republicans don't like it. Republicans tend to lose in high turnout elections, at least that's their belief. So they've launched, say anything to kill a campaign LED, of course, by the wire in chief,

Donald Trump 44:25
and you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody's living room signing ballots all over the place. Mail in voting is a terrible thing. I think if you vote, you should go. And even the concept of early voting is not the greatest because a lot of things happen. But it's okay. But you should go and you should vote. I think you should go and you should vote. You look at what they do, where they grab thousands of mail in ballots and they dump it. I'll tell you what, and I don't have to tell you can look at the statistics. There's a lot of dishonesty going along with mail and voting,

Walt Sorg 45:02
everything he said, is untrue, proven untrue by the five states that actually have mail in elections. And in Michigan, we have moved a long way towards mail in elections with a proposal three in 2018. That allows for no reason absentee voting. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Jocelyn Benson 45:18
I think voters buy in to a trouble by mail system is key. But what we see in every state where it's available, voters are already buying into it because it's easy, it's secure, and it's convenient. So I I second and third, my colleagues emphasis on moving to some form of vote by mail for every state in our country. I believe every citizen every voter should have the right to vote by mail this November as we are in the midst of this pandemic.

Christine Barry 45:45
Although Benson is the state's chief election officer, the task of actually running elections falls to local clerks. How do they feel about going all the way we talked with the vice president of the Michigan municipal clerk's Association Chris Swope.

Walt Sorg 46:01
Chris, there's a lot of talk about vote by mail all across the nation, the President is really downplaying it. But the reality is for a lot of communities in Michigan, thanks to proposal three from 2018, you're pretty much already doing that.

Chris Swope 46:13
We are trying to push it as much as we can. We think it's really important. It's, it's helpful for the voters, they get a ballot, you know, usually about 40 days ahead of the session so they can review and study. No question will slip by and have them miss that occurred. And, you know, in the current circumstances, I think stay at home is a safe solution.

Walt Sorg 46:38
The President has complained that it's ripe for fraud and deceit that people can send in all Carver's ballots and send them in on mass. What has been your experience when it comes to the integrity of voting?

Chris Swope 46:51
People honestly, by and large, no, it's so rare to see any kind of fraud and, you know, stuffing the outbox is not It's not the kind of fraud that really even happens that, you know, we, we just don't have examples of that where where people are voting multiple times or in eligible people are, you know, non citizens, what have you are voting. The few cases where things happen, it's usually inadvertent or accidental people get registered to vote at the Secretary of State's because they had a piece of paper shoved in front of them. They're getting better about that, but it has happened and then it's a fraud. That doesn't happen.

Walt Sorg 47:35
You've had now three elections where you have had vote by mail since the passage of proposal three, all of them relatively low turnout elections, but how have they compared with comparable elections in the past in terms of turnout in terms of soil ballots, things like that.

Chris Swope 47:50
What we had was some city elections last year and then the presidential primary and we did see an increased turnout in in all of those elections. We had 25% increase compared to the similar election four years before and the November city council election. So you know that that's a pretty, pretty big increase and a huge increase in the ABS and T's. So the polling places were relatively light on Election Day, very light. So, you know, see it as a long term trend that that people are going to more and more move toward voting from home. And we can produce some of our expenses and needs at the polling places, which, you know, when you have a city like Lansing with 45 voting precincts in three locations, one machine going couplets you know can really cause an issue or problem with a building so many things can go wrong. When when you're spread out too far. It's nice to have those ballots already put together and ready to be counted on election day without So many different places and things to worry about.

Walt Sorg 49:03
In terms of election staffing, you are already having issues with getting enough people to staff polling places with elections bc as I call it before COVID. Now, I would think it's pretty much impossible to staff up in your case. 45 precincts,

Chris Swope 49:19
it's definitely going to be a challenge. You know, we're lucky we do not have a mayor election here in the city of Lansing. Voters obviously concerned I'm getting contacted by voters because they don't want to go to the polls. So they're applying for ballots for a male action that we don't even have, hopefully, be able to figure some things out before August. But I'm concerned about our pool of election workers especially, you know, they tend to be older, not all of them are in the greatest health. So I would I would be concerned having them out in the public Election Day with streams of traffic coming through, especially in a November election situation where no hunting People can come through a single polling location.

Walt Sorg 50:03
November's turnout, of course is going to be eons beyond anything that we've seen since the last presidential election. That's just the way it goes with presidential elections. As you talk with clerks across the state, do they had the capacity to handle the increased volume in mail and vote? And could they handle a system where it was all mail in vote?

Chris Swope 50:22
Well, we are set up for that right now. So it would be a challenge, if it were all male in votes. For example, in Lansing, I could use the 45 machines that I deployed in the precinct and so process some of my absentee ballots on a high speed tabulator and someone on that. So we could, we could probably figure it out. If we were all mail. This transition is going to be hard because I'm going to have more absentee ballots that I can process centrally. And yet I can't really capture any of the precinct resources yet because we aren't all male. So it's really going to be challenging for several years and now we've tried to get some, some movement from the legislature in terms of letting us start processing the absentee ballots earlier. So that it's not just that 13 hour a day. And we have so far been pretty unsuccessful in getting some additional time. So in lieu of additional time, need additional equipment, and we're going to find more election workers. So we're throwing money at a problem that in the long term just need a different solution.

Walt Sorg 51:34
I ran the numbers ones and it seemed to me that the state could easily save in a presidential election five to $10 million by doing away with polling places or going down to a system like they have in Colorado where you've got maybe one drop off or two drop offs in an entire area, but most people are just putting a stamp on an envelope or sending in a postage paid envelope.

Chris Swope 51:54
Yeah, I think that would be the way to go long term is looking at how Our whole election system works. And, you know, with proposal three, we do have constitutional rights to register up to an on election day. So there is still some live in person requirements. You know, that's clerk's office, you know, we need to make sure to accommodate that. But I think it could be done.

Walt Sorg 52:18
You talk with the members of the association, obviously, who are from big cities, small cities, townships, Republicans, Democrats, true independence, is there a consensus towards vote by mail amongst the people who actually run the elections?

Chris Swope 52:31
I wouldn't say there's a consensus there's definitely discussion about how we run elections and the trend of how it's going to go. But every community is different. So one size doesn't always fit everyone. And you know, if you think about every community, they think things are just fine the way they are. So I think when you get to the medium to smaller medium to larger communities, there's an understanding that voters are preferring to vote from home.

Walt Sorg 53:02
Chris Swope thanks so much for joining us on the podcast. Appreciate it.

Chris Swope 53:05
All right, thank you. Well,

Walt Sorg 53:06
that's gonna do it for this week's Polly cast our thanks to Dean cinco and Chris Swope for their contributions to the cause.

Christine Barry 53:13
For more information on today's subjects head on over to we've got links, videos, tweets means snark, we welcome your feedback, just email us.

Walt Sorg 53:25
Thanks for listening. catch you again next week. As we leave a note of caution about maintaining social distancing from our state's health director, Dr. Joneigh Kaldun, social distancing, she says it's hard for many it's costly, but it's necessary.

Joneigh Khaldun 53:40
All model predictions projections are clear that without sustained social distancing measures, meaning if we loosen up too soon, more people will die and hospitals will become overwhelmed. Today's extension of the governor's stay home stay safe order is the most efficient One thing we can do to slow the spread of this disease


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