Racism, protests, nasty politics. Chris Gautz on managing the pandemic in MI Corrections

June 1, 2020

Michigan Policast for Monday, June 1, 2020

  In this episode:

  • American racism: Systemic, just not codified
  • Opening Michigan's economy the right way
  • Trouble ahead for the Michigan budget
  • Shirkey, Trump, and GOP: distractions, fake controversies, gish gallop, amplification
  • Chris Gautz of Michigan Dept of Corrections on pandemic management in Michigan's Prisons
  • Political notes: voting by Mail, Fair and Equal Michigan ballot initiative, Gary Peters' latest work
  • The world is on fire. Here's what John James has to say.
  • Transcript


Jump to:

American racism: Systemic, just not codified








Opening Michigan's economy the right way



Trouble ahead for the Michigan budget

Whereas, It should not be incumbent on the federal government and American taxpayers to bail out states for their fiscal irresponsibility. Bailing out states that have failed to budget responsibly will incentivize this type of behavior to continue in the future. By telling states that the federal government will not step in to save them in times of economic stress, there will be no reason for these states to continue to be irresponsible with taxpayer money in the future; ~Source



Shirkey, Trump, and GOP: distractions, fake controverseys, gish gallop, amplification



“How can the citizens of Michigan trust the governor?” Shirkey, R-Clarklake, asked during a speech on the Senate floor. “What else is she willing to lie about if she lied about putting a boat into water?” ~Source



Chris Gautz of Michigan Dept of Corrections on pandemic management in Michigan's Prisons

'$2b of the #MiBudget general fund goes to prisons and we would love to see that come down because that means we're doing our job. We're releasing people from prison, and they're not coming back' @ChrisGautz @MichiganDoC Click To Tweet
'It’s hard to overstate the extent to which the #TruthinSentencing law has impacted @MichiganDOC’s ability to respond to #COVID19 ... it has helped fuel the spread of COVID-19 inside.' ~ @johnscooper1983 @safeandjustmi https://bit.ly/2XRoE9R @ChrisGautz Click To Tweet

Political notes: voting by Mail, Fair and Equal Michigan ballot initiative, Gary Peters' latest work


“We will pursue our case to Michigan’s highest court to protect our progress, honor our financial support and ensure our volunteer energy proceeds unabated,” said Trevor Thomas, the campaign's co-chair and president. “Even, and especially, at time of great difficulty, such as our current public health crisis, our precious constitutional rights must be upheld.” ~Source


Senator Gary Peters supported this. “Our guardsmen in Michigan and across the country who have risked their personal safety to help their communities through this pandemic not only deserve our gratitude, but also the benefits they have been promised,” said Senator Peters. “Ending their mobilizations early would have hampered our COVID-19 response efforts, while shortchanging our troops. I am relieved the Administration will not prematurely end active duty status for these soldiers, and I will continue working in a bipartisan manner to ensure they are provided the benefits they have earned and that we give states the much-need certainty they need during this crisis.” ~Source



The world is on fire. Here's what John James has to say.

While James largely continues to hide from Michiganders – his refusal to speak with Michigan TV stations “at one point surpassed 300 days” – he’s shown he’s unwilling to get into the substance of his out-of-touch positions and his record of being “all for” Trump’s agenda. ~Source



Walt Sorg  00:00

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.

Gretchen Whitmer  00:16

George Floyd's death and the deaths of many others, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin Renisha McBride. They're not isolated incidents, but they're a part of a systemic cycle of racial injustice in our country. The events of the last couple of weeks have really sent a clear message that black lives are under threat every single day, whether it's the fear of law enforcement or fear of this pandemic. And we cannot live in a society in a country where our rights and dignity are not equal for everyone.

Walt Sorg  00:51

A nation already stressed by the deaths of more than 100,000 people from a still uncontrolled virus. More than 40 million lost jobs. Pretty much a lack of leadership from the president once again is confronted with the ugly face of structural racism. This is the Michigan Policast. We're all about Michigan politics and policies in the national events impacting our pleasant peninsulas. I'm Walt Sorg.

Christine Barry  01:13

Hi, I'm Christine Barry. Also on this week's Policast, the state's budget in shambles. The debate continues over how quickly to reopen our economy. The LGBTQ petition drive comes up short but throws a hail mary in the courts, and Michigan is ready for Vote by mail.

Walt Sorg  01:31

We'll be joined later in the pot by Chris Gautz from the Michigan Department of Corrections on how the department is working to contain COVID-19 spread in our prisons. And we'll talk about the politics of distraction, creating faux controversies for purely political gain. But Christine, we've got to begin with what's happening in Minneapolis and dozens of cities across the nation. I'm old enough to remember the widespread urban unrest of the 1960s Detroit riots, LA after the Rodney King beating The nationwide demonstrations of grief in the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. Sadly, it's more than 50 years later, but still, the underlying racism is still with us as the criminal exploitation of legitimate grievances, to justify or abet, looting, and arson. very ugly pictures. Obviously, we're recording on Sunday. It's still an ongoing situation. What you see on television right now is just amazing. Of all the video I've seen so far, the one that amazed me the most was the arrest on live television of the CNN reporter who basically was arrested for reporting while black.

Christine Barry  02:35

I don't even understand that one. I watched the video and I listened to the audio of it. I was trying to figure out why he was being arrested. He was telling them, we'll move to wherever you tell us. We're standing where we were told and we'll move to wherever you'll tell us and

Walt Sorg  02:52

his tone of voice was not at all threatening. He was very, very quiet and calm. I would have been going apeshit nuts and he was being very calm.

Christine Barry  03:01

I really don't understand why that team was arrested. And people were quick to point out that there was another white reporter close by maybe within a block or two, who was not arrested.

Walt Sorg  03:13

There was another CNN crew.

Christine Barry  03:15

Yeah, right. I don't know if that was, I just don't know if that's even relevant. I don't know what made them arrest that CNN reporter but other reporters have been being harassed as well. It wasn't just CNN.

Walt Sorg  03:32

I think it illustrates the underlying tone that really sparked this whole crisis. You see this horrible video George Floyd, basically being suffocated to death by a police officer who could care less and has been charged criminally. Three other officers standing around him who I suspect will be charged criminally. You know, even Chris Christie, I saw him on one of the Sunday shows, saying that, as a former prosecutor himself, he'd be charging all of the cops with aiding and abetting the death of a man who clearly there's no reason to do it. He wasn't struggling or anything else. It's just hard to watch. But the outrage sparked in city after city, you combine that with the opportunists that have come into town. And you combine that with a president who's decided to politicize it right away, he lashing out at democratic mayors and democratic governors and saying it's all Antifa and radicals on the left, when in fact, it's just hoodlums on the left and the right and the center and people who want to cause trouble. And they are being aided and abetted by foreign governments, especially the Russians, who are spreading the hatred on social media as well. You put it all together, and it's just an incendiary situation. And you'll wonder if it's going to end anytime soon, if this undercurrent is going to be there all summer.

Christine Barry  04:41

And on top of that, you have just this stress that crosses the political divide and the racial divide because we have the stress of the pandemic, unemployment, the pandemic has disproportionately affected the black population. And I think that there's, we all know this, there's no argument over this The economic hardship, you know, is hitting the white people, black people. I mean, that's, that's just across all races. So I can see people lashing out because they're just angry at the establishment and those elements are joining these protests. You look at what starts out as a peaceful BLM protest. And that might not have been the case in Minneapolis, those people were pissed. So I get that. But if you're looking at Detroit, you could see these videos that are on Twitter, these videos by people who were there and just kind of watching everything, the cellphone video videos that are being uploaded, you can see peaceful protesters trying to get white vandals to stop. Everybody's just coming to these protests to express themselves. You can't tell whether that's somebody who's angry because they're just so frustrated over everything that's happened over the last couple of months, or if they're actual white nationalist coming in and using the protests as cover We had talked about earlier, you know, there are true believers out there who want this large scale race war so that they can purge other races. And it's like they have this holy creed of racial purpose. And I, I studied this actually about 10 years ago or so because I just could not understand this. And so I was listening to people like Hal Turner and I was reading these books like how to build a whiter planet or some ridiculous thing. And they truly believe that it's their job to purge the planet of non-white people. And that's not just black people. I mean, that's, that's everybody who's not pure white, which is, which is just silly. There are different layers of this and it's a bigger topic than what we can talk about but

Walt Sorg  06:49

and it's really ironic in Minneapolis, which has a Jewish mayor and a black police chief, and they would like to purge both of them from the face of the planet

Christine Barry  06:58

and Trump is kind of encouraging them.

Walt Sorg  07:00

He's using all the dog whistles in his tweets, talking about vicious dogs and ominous weapons protecting him at the White House earlier talking about when the looting starts, the shooting starts, which echoes a phrase that was used decades ago by a racist sheriff in Miami to threaten the looters. And he says, Oh, no, I wasn't threatening the people. I was saying that you should be careful because this is what's going to happen to you. And as we record this, he doesn't even know or they haven't announced whether or not he's going to address the nation from the White House to talk about what is going on. This is a time that calls for leadership. And as usual, he's just sitting back and letting others take the lead, most notably, the local leaders plus also Joe Biden has been a very outspoken and very calming influence as best as he can be working from the outside Barack Obama the same way and Trump's just fanning the flames and especially politicizing it. That is what is really disgusting. I was watching interviews with his spokespeople on the Sunday shows and they're talking all about how these are all left-wing radicals that are starting all the trouble. And it's the Democratic leadership at the local level that is irresponsible. This is not a time to play partisan politics. We'll talk more about that a little bit later. But this is a time that calls for leadership to him to heal the nation. And we've got anything but that from a man in the White House is simply incapable of anything relating to empathy or pretending to be empathetic. He talked to the brother of George Floyd on the phone. And afterward, the brother said he couldn't get a word in edgewise. Trump just kept talking on top of him and saying what he had to say it didn't listen worth a lick. He also talked later with Joe Biden who talked with him for about a half-hour and they had a conversation to discuss grief and to discuss loss, not to talk politics and not to just put on a show of having made a phone call

Christine Barry  08:46

You know, there are so many things in what you just said. First of all, Joe Biden does understand loss is he's had a lot of it and his background. So you get that. As for Trump, addressing the nation, Trump has always left the nation out, just hung us out to dry every time we've needed strong federal leadership. And that's been clear through the whole pandemic. It's clear now. And as for him, whether he speaks to us or not, I don't know if anybody in his team wants him to speak, that almost always makes it worse.

Walt Sorg  09:19

You know, they don't want him speaking from the Oval Office necessarily, because it seems like every time he does, he puts his foot in his mouth, which is incredible, considering he's working off of a script and a teleprompter. But he manages to do so and they have to walk back things that he says. Yet when he gets into the White House briefing room, which is his other option, Barack Obama did that after one of the shootings. But he gets into the briefing room and he immediately gets into a sparring match with the reporters, because he loves irritating them and he loves taking shots at them. And again, it's not the tone that is needed. But this whole thing is really emblematic of his lack of a leadership style if you want to call it that. What he does is he sits back and he lets other people make the crucial decisions that provide the leadership and then he sits on the sidelines and acts like a commentator at a sports event and takes potshots at the decisions they made. He second-guesses them. And this leads really right into our next subject, which is what's going on regarding the reopening of America's economy. You remember back a month or so ago, he said he's gonna leave it up to each governor on how they reopen their economy.

Donald Trump  10:22

governors will be empowered to tailor approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states. Every state is very different. If they need to remain closed, we will allow them to do that. And if they believe it is time to reopen, we will provide them the freedom and guidance to accomplish that task and very, very quickly, depending on what they want to do.

Walt Sorg  10:49

Well, no, he's not.

Christine Barry  10:51

Obviously Trump didn't have a clue as to the seriousness of the pandemic. He was talking about being back to normal by May 1, but it's June and the pandemic still isn't under control.

Gretchen Whitmer  11:02

I'm incredibly proud of our state. When I look at how we rank compared to other states in this country, we have pushed that curve down. We have saved thousands of lives in Michigan, we have made it more, you know, more likely that we can keep turning this dial and reengage, which means it's a shorter economic pain. I'm not minimizing the anxiety that people are confronting. But the fact of the matter is, we've got to keep doing the next right thing.

Walt Sorg  11:30

And yet, despite the success of Michigan to the people of Michigan in getting this virus under control, the Justice Department is stepping in and supporting some businesses. They're suing basically to take away. The governor slow and careful approach to reopening the economy. A strategy that's supported by the vast majority of Michigan citizens has been split the business community as well as their customers. Yet he said he was going to leave it up to the governor's now but when the governor has made a decision, he sends the Justice Department in to fight it. That is typical Trump and it is very counterproductive on so many levels, it's a distraction is something that will be in the courts for a long, long time. It's not going to be decided to the next week by the thinking to get to the Supreme Court next week and have them say, oh, Gretchen Whitmer, you're a bad person or Gretchen Whitmer, we support what you're doing. It's just something to pander to his base. So yeah, I agree with you, it's time to go back to normal. We're gonna wish away this virus.

Christine Barry  12:24

Well, it's like Jeff Timmer said last week, this is going to be a numbers election. This is not going to be a persuasive election. So Trump has to do everything he can to keep his base riled up so that they will come out and vote in big numbers. And if he has to intervene in what's going on here in the state between the governor and the business community or the governor and the legislature. It's not really his place to do that, then that's what we'll do.

Walt Sorg  12:53

And he's really treading a very narrow path to re-election as a result because the numbers clearly are against him in terms of the likely voters, he's down now in a new Washington Post ABC poll 10 points to Joe Biden nationally. He's trailing in most of the key swing states that he won last time, the only one where he's still ahead and it's only by a pointer. So I think is Florida and all the others, including Michigan, he's trailing badly. But the one number that still favors him in this poll by ABC is the enthusiasm poll. The people that say they're going to vote for Trump are much more enthusiastic about their choice, and much more committed to their choice than the people who say they're going to vote for Joe Biden. And that's the wedge that he's going to keep driving and driving and driving is to turn down the turnout for Joe Biden just as he did for Hillary Clinton by making Joe Biden as unacceptable as possible to those that are soft Biden's supporters or people that are sitting right on the fence right now.

Christine Barry  13:48

Well, when you have people wearing t-shirts that say, you know, Hillary calls me deplorable, and Obama called me a racist, spelling out all of these things that people have labeled you and then says Trump calls me in American, you're going to do whatever you can to support this jackass because he's as bad as you are. And you want the company, you want the enablement and people who are angry will do what they can to justify that anger. And that is his base.

Walt Sorg  14:16

You've got a lot of people that are angry right now, we taught you you brought up the term jackass, which takes me right to Owosso, and the barber Karl Manke who has been now ordered by the courts to shut down he's had his license suspended. So he can't cut hair legally in Michigan anyway. He's been ordered to close down by the state and by a court and he says I'm going to stay open. I don't care what the court says he's going to be in contempt of court as well as violating the state laws regarding licensing. And you and I discovered before we recorded he's actually monetizing this whole thing. He's he's trying to make as much money as he can off this whole controversy. Set up a website, where he's selling merchandise. You know, you can buy yourself a Karl Manke t-shirt for 40 bucks lionizing This guy for cutting hair against the law. You can buy his books you can make a donation directly through PayPal to his legal defense fund. He's just like Trump, he's a grifter

Christine Barry  15:11

He is, he doesn't need to be open to make a living. And I think a big part of the problem with Karl Manke like the Mankes have been divisive in Owosso for a long time. They're polarizing you either like them or you don't. There's no middle ground, and you can't get away from them. So Karl Manke when he came out and he said, Look, I have to work to put food on my table, if you do anything at all about the Mankes or well, I shouldn't say that about Karl, you would know that that was not true. And that's what turned off a lot of people. He didn't come out to say, look, it's my right to work. And I like cutting hair because I think Karl genuinely likes what he does. And he likes to talk to these people. So he wants to be there doing it. But he lied and said that it was economic hardship. There was no economic hardship in that picture. And that's what made a lot of people mad. But going back to our original point, you know, he's he's not an angry man. He's just an attention seeking guy he can live comfortably with or without his barber shop. Frankly, I question whether he would have all of this support by the same group of people if he was a black business owner, rather than an old white guy. And I say old only because people tend to think of, you know, a 77 year old man as just this harmless guy trying to eke out a living, you know, put in a middle aged black guy owning that barber shop and see whether people say he should be respecting the law.


Walt Sorg  16:39

He's a little bit like the looters in the situation's rushing around the country. He's somebody who is taking advantage of a legitimate dispute policy dispute and a legitimate societal dispute and monetizing it.


Christine Barry  16:52

Yeah, it's, it's gross. It's gross as he's getting a lot of attention for it, which is what he wants. And, you know, and I don't know the man personally I so I don't want to be nasty towards him. But oh god disingenuous about why he's there. And his GoFundMe is and he's stupid America's barbers merchandise stuff shows you really what this is all about. And he said it. He said I'm, you know carrying the flag for so many people. No, you're not. No you're not you don't know anything about economic hardship dude. He's not feeling that stress other than the stress of being kind of a lightning rod for this issue right now.


Walt Sorg  17:32

Yeah, related to this, too is the reopening on a limited basis of retail across the state of Michigan and who's going to enforce the requirement that you wear masks in these situations who's going to enforce the limits on the number of customers inside the stores that has the force of law right now under the emergency order, and the fact remains that people are ignoring it right and left depending on the community. I was in a gas station yesterday to get my monthly fill up because that's about what I'm doing right now. I'm measuring my mileage In a week per gallon, but I finally did need to get some gas and about half the people inside the gas station getting getting food and getting drunk and paying and everything. Half of them weren't wearing masks that I made mentioned to a couple of them in fairly unheated tone, which for me, no sarcasm is almost amazing that I've said basically you forgot your mask, they would look at me and give you that evil. I'd say no, I didn't forget and just keep going on their business. And I asked the clerk I said, I wish you to enforce the state regulations requiring masks and the people in this area too many people in the store and half of them aren't wearing a mask. You shouldn't be serving them and she says, Well, I there's nothing I can do about it. Who's going to enforce this when you've got so much of this going on? People that are just following the lead of their president who says even though my health guidelines say you should be wearing a mask. I don't have to wear one because I'm above that.


Christine Barry  18:51

People think that wearing the mask is meant to protect them. They wake up in a free country. This is what one this guy in this one video said I woke up in a free country this morning. That's why I don't have a mask on that, you know, it's about protecting other people. It's not about protecting you. And it's not about either one of us staying home because we're afraid of a virus. I don't know why it's such a sticking point for some people. But expecting minimum wage clerk at whether it's a quality dairy or a 7-11 or a Speedway, you know, a lot of times these people work one or two people at a time. They are just they're making a little bit of money. expecting them to confront people about masks is a little unrealistic. They're taught not to confront people who steal, you know, we just saw in Flint, a security guard who was killed for trying to enforce the mask, these people a lot of them just want to get in and do their shift and get out and just say there's nothing I can do about it because the fight is not worth it for me. I'm just here for you know, my shift. I'm an hourly I don't make very much money. I'm not gonna fight with these people because so many people have already contaminated the area does Isn't matter if this person's wearing a mask. That's why so many people can, can buy alcohol and cigarettes while they're under age. Now, I'm not excusing that by any means you always ID people. But that's why a lot of people get away with it because you pay these clerks minimum wage or a little bit above that, it's not worth it.


Walt Sorg  20:16

They've been told you, you'll lose your job for doing this. Just as if they were told you will lose your job if you serve somebody who's not wearing a mask. Or if there's too many people in the store, you put a sign in the front door saying that you will not be served and our employees have been told not to provide you service without a mask. leave it up to the owners to more strictly enforce the laws give the clerk's the higher authority line that they can use look at I've been told I'm sorry, I would like to serve you but I cannot or I will lose my job. I would like to organize a protest for some of these stores that aren't enforcing it and are in blatant violation of the law. Where a bunch of us get together we all put on our masks to go in and shop but we take off our shoes and our shirts. And go in there. And if it's no shoes, no shirt, no service was always the standard. Well, if you're not going to enforce the mask, you're not going to enforce the shirts either. And see what happened?


Christine Barry  21:09

Well, if there are enough of you doing that, that would work. If there's only one of you doing that. It's very easy for somebody to say get out and try to enforce it. But


Walt Sorg  21:19

if you're standing next to somebody work who's not wearing a mask?


Christine Barry  21:22

Yeah, because that's a freedom issue. Whereas not wearing a shirt is I don't know, a public health issue. And there's a distinction when


Walt Sorg  21:30

Well, the mask is a public health issue, too.


Christine Barry  21:33

I know but we're not idiots. Walt, we're talking about idiots


Walt Sorg  21:38

are people that would argue that point with you too, as well?


Christine Barry  21:40

Yeah, the other that they're idiots.


Walt Sorg  21:43

The other thing that bothers me too, and there's a Rich Studley at the Michigan chamber has an interview in bridge magazine in the last week in which he sort of raises this issue of the governor being oblivious to the pain that is being caused by her executive orders. And she responded directly to that at one of our news conferences this week, and I thought it was worthwhile for people to understand if they don't already understand. She knows what's going on. And she knows how painful it is. But she also knows how necessary it is.


Gretchen Whitmer  22:09

This has been really hard on our state budget. And this has been hard on our people. This has been hard on our family budgets. It has been a stressful time. And I'm as worried as anybody about our economy. But I know that our economy will not be strong if we don't get the public health side strong as well. And so gotta keep following the science


Walt Sorg  22:31

in a punctuating her true concern over the pain caused by the health safety restrictions is what is happening to the state budget. The state budget director Chris Colb was very plain in comments over the last few days. Without massive federal assistance Michigan and every other state is in very deep, deep trouble


Chris Colb  22:49

with a general fund that has been flat for more than 20 years. There's very little left to cut from state government without impacting essential and critical services and programs. over 80% of the state general fund and school aid fund support schools, local communities, public safety and health care. I believe that our legislative leaders agree that this is an unprecedented challenge. unlike anything we've seen in our lifetime, we will need to work together and find common ground to solve the budget challenges in front of us.


Walt Sorg  23:25

One of the things that Colb has said too, is that they need to have another revenue estimating conference before they can finalize the state budget, which means the budget will come in late, which is kind of a problem for the state. Of course, not having the money is a huge problem for the state. But I would assume as a local school board member, this is going to be making you crazy because you've got to come up with a budget with absolutely no clue of how much money you've got coming from the feds or from the state.


Christine Barry  23:49

Right? We've we're probably putting together four budgets again this year, and the worst case scenario is very, very, very bad. I don't even know how How we're gonna do that? I mean, I don't put the budget together, obviously. It's, it's scary. Well, I'm not gonna lie, it's it's scary. And I don't know what it means for school districts like mine, which are somewhat small and we have a high rate of really low income families in the district. I don't know what it means for our ISDS and RESDs. I don't know what it means for the charter schools that are in urban areas that are like self managed, or they actually have pretty good companies running them, and not carving up the budget to benefit like one family or whatever. It's a terrible situation that we're looking at, in terms of how we're going to open and we don't even know how we're going to open. I've seen some people say on Twitter that schools should be open now because this doesn't affect children. And they seem to completely forget that there are faculty and staff in these buildings that interact with the children all the time, and they don't know how difficult it is to deep clean a school. And deep clean a bus. And to do that every day, I don't know how we pay for that and work with this budget. It is not a good that like the we had. I don't remember how many cases of flu we had in like a one or two day span. So we had to close one of our elementary schools for deep cleaning. And it took us two days to do that. But the thought of being able to do that at a time when before the pandemic, teachers would bring in their own supplies, so they could do their classrooms more often than we could provide with the custodial staff. Now we're looking at an even more reduced budget,


Walt Sorg  25:37

which means laying off people.


Christine Barry  25:39

there's so much lack of understanding of what goes into these schools. And you know, you mentioned Rich Studley earlier and I'm going to say right now, I want to have a nice relationship with rich because we have had some productive conversations on Twitter and I want to understand his position as the CEO of the Michigan Chamber, but he says some things That really tells me that he's either lashing out or he doesn't understand the issue fully. And one of the things he did was he promoted a Great Lakes Education Project article about the schools and it just really, really attacked, in my opinion attacked the public education system and the people who are working to make sure that the kids are safe in the in the adults in the families are safe. I think there's just too much of our leadership, whether it's Mike Shirkey or Rich Studley or Lee Chatfield, or just the MI GOP in general, saying stupid things that are going to get people hurt because the people who are listening to them don't know any better. It's really very frustrating. You know, how many of these kids in schools will go home to an immuno-compromised parent, or grandparent or a sick little brother or sister?  Just shut up about these things that you're not informed on?


Walt Sorg  26:57

One of the ironies of all of those is that This whole budget situation really makes the governor's roads proposal where the state bonds to fix state roads over the next several years is really even more important that we need the roads fix. There's no question about that. But also, this body proposal will create 10s of thousands of jobs with the construction trades. And right now we need jobs in the state, we've got probably 25% unemployment, if not more, any jobs that can be created in this way, doing something productive like that is really very helpful. It's certainly better to have people doing something productive, like fixing the roads than sitting at home collecting unemployment through July. at an increased rate. Yes, it's useful to have that money circulating in the economy, but it would be nice to get something for it rather than having people just sitting at home and collecting that $600 federal check plus up to $360 in state money.


Christine Barry  27:47

Yeah, one of the things I wanted to mention, while we were on the topic of of reopening is that you see so many narratives about how the governor's executive orders have been arbitrary or vague or inconsistent, and how she's had so many of them. I think last week was the week they really started tearing into how she's had over 100. And the states surrounding us have been in the 30s. And that's why things are so confusing. She's not micromanaging the economy, and therefore there are spaces in this where there's going to be some confusion. And that doesn't mean that her order is vague or inconsistent. I'm going to give you a quick example, a friend of mine owns a construction company. And in the office, they have administrators and sales staff, not very many people. It's maybe like 25 people who work there, but it's a small office and they have a few people in the office every day. They have a few people out at construction sites everyday supervising those projects. And then they have a few project managers and engineers and architects that go back and forth between sites. So when she opened construction, there was no specific order that said the office people can do this, and the field supervisors can do this, and the other people can do this because she's not micromanaging the economy. But what that does is it opens up a space for people like Rich Studley, and Mike Shirkey to say look at how inconsistent it is that this office can be open but that one can't. It is so irritating to deal with such ignorance. I just can't I don't even know how to respond to it. How you can't possibly explain to these people. Yes, there is a consistency in how these orders are going. And yes, there are a lot of executive orders because she took bold action in the beginning that everybody agreed even Rich Studleyh even Mike Shirkey agreed that she had to take in terms of getting this under control. And now little by little as we open up, she expands testing she makes certain resources available to these different groups. She opens this region, like we talked with Amy last week as a as an experiment to see That goes. So these things that they're attacking her on are nothing. And it's really frustrating to see that get traction just because there's so much of it being amplified all over the place.


Walt Sorg  30:13

Which brings us to the issue of distractions as a political tactic.


Christine Barry  30:18

Yes, it's a long standing political tactic. When you don't like what's being discussed, you come up with some bright, shiny object to distract the media and the people. Donald Trump is the master of this diversion. Right now, he barely acknowledges that 100,000 plus deaths and the 40 million newly unemployed because he knows if that's the discussion he loses in November. So he spent last week on a Twitter tear even tearing into Twitter, along with reviving a totally fraudulent murder conspiracy built around msnbc joe scarborough, attacking Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Stacey Abrams Gretchen Whitmer, Nancy Pelosi, the mayor of Minneapolis and states who promote vote by Mail. And he's also posting assorted lies and an effort to rewrite history of his catastrophic failures on the virus pandemic.


Walt Sorg  31:07

But it's not just Trump. In Michigan the latest faux controversies for republicans naturally focused on governor Whitmer because she's in the spotlight. First we have this feigned outrage over a $200,000 state contract to initiate COVID-19 contract cracking in the state of Michigan. Remember, $200,000 is the total contract, a company with ties to democratic party politics signed a deal with health department bureaucrats, a contract that had virtually no profit built into it for the contractor. Virtually all that money went right out for expenses. To here folks like GOP state chair Laura Cox tell it it was the outrageous looting of the state Treasury that virtually warranted a grand jury investigation. This is from party leaders who have no problem with Donald Trump giving 10s of millions of dollars in contracts to his political supporters, owning a hotel where they have to stay in Washington DC and handing out $500 billion There's two big businesses with no independent oversight. They always plant media have jumped onto this with multiple stories. Even our friends at bridge magazine have overplayed it with multiple lengthy reports that probably caused board reporter time. The actual contract is would have cost the state of Michigan. The latest foe outrage comes from an admittedly dumb move by the governor's husband, who by the way is a dentist, not a politician. He tried to get his boat launch for the Memorial Day weekend a little early. Mark absolutely has played no role in the governor's political career. They've been married for nine years. She said he was joking. Which by the way, is how republicans excuse a lot of the stupid shit that comes from Donald Trump. Whether it was a joke or not, it was a dumb thing for the governor's husband to say, but it was the governor's husband it wasn't the governor, and it absolutely is of no consequence, other than being something dumb. But Senate Republican leader Mike Shirkey, the master of the crude insult has to go on the state senate floor and accuse the governor of lying about The whole thing. This is the same Mike Shirky, who in the past is called whimper, batshit. Crazy and drunk with power.


Gretchen Whitmer  33:07

And I was very distressed to see his comments on the Senate floor yesterday, to be honest, not only were they just wildly inaccurate, that was incredibly inappropriate to he and has my phone number and could have called me if he had a question about the veracity of any of the statements or actions that I have taken or my staff or even if he had simply listened to his own staff, he would have known that what he said was totally inaccurate. We have serious issues to confront, and to be successful, requires every one of us to stop politicizing what's going on and to focus on getting this right. I really believe what Michelle Obama said, which is when they go low, we go high and so I'm not going to go allegation for allegation. He called me names earlier on, you know what I did? I sent him a cake. That's what going high looks like, I'm going to keep doing that in hopes that eventually these emotions will stop getting the better of him. It'll come back to the table and start to work with me to really make sure that we've got a great agenda that supports the economic rebound we all want to see.


Walt Sorg  34:17

Exactly. We're facing three of the greatest crises in the history of our state of nation. A once in a century pandemic, massive economic disruption, and skyrocketing racial tensions. It's time for the adults to start acting like adults and focus on what's important in time to cut out the crap. This just as is of no help at all.


Christine Barry  34:38

You know Shirkey is the worst and I'm going to tell you something. I'm going to bring back and bring us back to like the end of April, I think, when Governor Whitmer staff leaked those emails those internal communications between Shirky and Chatfield and the governor's office, and it showed that Chatfield and Shirkey were willing to extend the state of emergency for a week at a time or two weeks at a time I forget the details, but in return, the governor had to make a public commitment to not make whatever any decisions, whatever without the legislature. I remember this specifically because Chad Livengood of all people called it a bush league move and regardless, what do you think about leaking internal communications, the following week Shirkey was on with Nolan Finley talking about how he's been trying to work with the governor. They didn't want control of anything. They just wanted to have input and she could make her own decisions. And the emails that she leaked the week before proved that that was not true. Shirkey is not being honest here and he's calling her a liar. And he's just acting like such a child. And it's just like the examples you mentioned. drunk with power. batshit crazy, calling her a liar, calling her a dictator at a time when people are threatening to kill her as well. And then he says out of the other side of their mouth, oh, no, that's not appropriate. He's just as bad as Trump in that way. He really is.


Walt Sorg  36:08

I look at this and remember something I went through many, many years ago in the 1970s, Michigan was facing a huge budget crisis. The House of Representatives was controlled by Democrats. Bobby career my boss was the Speaker of the House. Republicans control the State Senate. Robert Vander laan, from Grand Rapids was the majority leader. And Republican bill Milliken was the governor. They got together a lot with the minority leaders from the two chambers. And it was basically the four leaders and the governor, the budget director and a couple of staff people sitting in a conference room trying to work on this problem. I had the privilege of being one of those staff people. And as soon as the door was closed, the politics ended. They sat there and they honestly to a person discussed how are we going to fix this together and that is something that's totally lacking now. They put their party politics aside other than to figure out how each of them was going to come up with the votes in their chambers. within their respective caucus to resolve the problem, and that's the kind of attitude we've got to have now and right now it is totally lacking in the battle against the Coronavirus of them. The biggest challenges are places where people live in close quarters. That includes prisons. Michigan has 38,000 people locked up, plus thousands of corrections officers and support staff in the prisons. So far Michigan's death hole in prisons has been kept relatively low 62 inmates plus two staff members, but it's not just an issue for those inside the prisons is also critical to the surrounding communities, especially in Chippewa County in the Upper Peninsula, the Ionia county complex and Jackson County for an update on continuing efforts to prevent a hotspot at the Michigan prison from breaking out again. I talked with Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Coutts. Chris we've seen around the country that the new hotspots that are developing for the COVID-19 infections include correctional facilities around the country, a lot of prisons. The Michigan Department of Corrections has taken a lot of steps so far. But still you're having a problem as well. What is the status of your preventative steps?


Chris Gautz  38:11

The department has been really proactive. And in Michigan in general, as you've seen under Governor Whitmer's leadership and under director Washington, the department has done a lot to help try to slow the spread. First, obviously, trying to keep it out. But once it was in,  to try to slow the spread, and so we've done a lot too, and those efforts continue mostly around social distancing. We had we provided masks to every prisoner, we provided masks for every prison employee, and they're required to wear them at all times. Again, in everything we can to try and keep it out. And that as well as doing the mass testing at all of our facilities so that we know exactly who's positive and who's negative.


Walt Sorg  38:51

You have had everybody tested at this point. Everybody who's incarcerated, are you going to be continuing to do the testing because obviously, people get sick after the fact.


Chris Gautz  39:02

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Because obviously, testing is a snapshot in time. And so it tells us at that point, but what it does do is right now the science is telling us that, you know, if you've been positive before right now, the science says you're not you can't get positive, you can't be reinfected or you can't reinfect others after a certain amount of time. So if there was ever a second wave, which we hope there's not, we would know exactly who's already had the virus, and that will help a guide guide us I think down the road. The everyone has been tested and then so after that everyone who has tested positive is retested again. So that way, once they test negative, then they could be moved back to general population and can go back to trying to live as normal a life as possible.


Walt Sorg  39:51

Now you've had as of this weekend, 62 prisoners perish as well as two corrections officers, as a result of the virus. Is there any clues? Are there any clues available to the department as to why they've been concentrated really to about three facilities Lakeland with 20 to one third of the deaths in one facility?


Chris Gautz  40:10

Yeah, it really I think just speaks to how insidious and how contagious this virus can be. And what we've found, especially at Lakeland, as you mentioned, which is where we've had the largest number of positive cases, that's really kind of our nursing home prison where the the rooms have extra wide doorframe so they can accommodate wheelchairs. Because with Michigan, you know, Michigan has the longest sentences in the country, we have the oldest prisoner population because of that. These are people who we can't release because they've been sentenced to a long period of years in prison or life sentences. And so what we found there is that we had almost to a man 80 90% of the cases that we found that were positive there were asymptomatic, which means that they had no symptoms had no idea that were positive And we're potentially unknowingly spreading it to other prisoners to the staff who could then be going back and forth with prisoners. And so that's why we wanted to do the mass test. And we wanted to find exactly that. And then that way, we could immediately separate those who were positive and contagious and didn't know it from those who thankfully had not gotten it yet. And so doing that testing really helped save a lot of people from some very dire circumstances


Walt Sorg  41:25

of concerns to the communities as well as you've had 360 officers who have tested positive for the virus. Fortunately, only two so far have have passed away as a result of the virus. But obviously, they can bring it back home, they can bring it into their community pretty quickly. Is the trend going down or both of these infections from early in the pandemic?


Chris Gautz  41:47

Yes, so thankfully, and they're not just officers, the staff who have contracted at our office staff, their parole, probation officers, their their offices, office staff, as well as you know, office staff in the prisons as well. Well as officers who have who have tested positive, but we are seeing somewhat of a downward trend right now, I was just looking at the numbers. On the on the staff side, you might see a small uptick only because we've started doing a regional voluntary testing of our staff. And so far, about 2000 or so of our staff have taken advantage of that, as well, as you know, they can still obviously, get tested out in the community. But you know, if you look at the prison population, I was just looking at the numbers this morning. And over the last seven days, we've had 80 prisoners who have tested positive in the last seven days and we've had 9105 of the tested negative. So we're starting to see that downward trend. We're starting to see it slow down, which is a really great sign.


Walt Sorg  42:45

Are there moves to reduce the prison population by releasing non violent prisoners as quickly as possible?


Chris Gautz  42:53

Yeah, the board the parole board has been working overtime. They've been working six days a week. They've been working nights they've been working, we can doing everything they can to process as many cases as possible. We've been setting records in terms of programs and parole decisions. We've had we hold just over 800, just about 800 prisoners and April, with just slightly up from my super upset to do that or higher this month. And so that's continued. But as you know, I'm sure you know, Michigan has a law called truth in sentencing, which says that someone has to serve 100% of their minimum sentence before they can be eligible for release from prison. And so in Michigan right now, we've got a population of about 36,500 prisoners, and of those 36,500, about 28,000 of them have not served their minimum sentence so we have no legal authority to do anything to release them. Another roughly 5000 are serving life sentences. So again, another slice of that population that we can't touch. So we only have the ability to pull about 4000 prisoners total out of our entire President population, and the board has been going through those cases actively starting with the prisoners who are elderly, and those who have chronic medical conditions, and then working their way down from there. And they've been making a lot of parole decisions in the last two months.


Walt Sorg  44:16

I'm sure most of our listeners don't think in terms of the needs of the prisoners who are going to be remaining there, but what's happening in terms of visitation, so can their family and their friends still visit with them?


Chris Gautz  44:27

So not right now. So, back on March 13, we suspended visitation in person visitation at all of our correctional facilities as pretty much every state Department of Corrections in the country. And so that's been continuing. We're looking at plans right now, and how we can reopen that safely. You know, and we're thinking through all the policy and all of the ways in which we can do that, you know, do we have to schedule visits, are we going to have to have the visitors wear masks, they're going to have to have the temperatures taken. We can have to limit the amount of time, how are we going to handle bringing their children and all those kind of things that we're have to think through how to do that safely. Because we want to have visitation again, we want, we understand how important it is for families to have that physical interaction and have that connection with their families. That's one of the key components to success. When we talk about recidivism. If people can maintain that family connection, maintain a connection to their community, they're going to be far better off when they're released. And so we want to do that. But also one of the things that we're doing in the meantime, is we're looking at the possibility of video visitation. That's something that we had resisted in the past for a variety of reasons. But in this new reality, we're looking at ways in which we could supplement making that making that an option. So if you have a family member who's maybe in prison in the up and you're from Battle Creek or you're from Detroit, or Jackson or wherever downstate, maybe rather than taking that 10 hour car ride, having to get a hotel room. Maybe you'd want to do a video visitation instead, you could certainly still come and visit. And maybe that's an option. You could do that, in addition to making that personal trip. So all those things are things that we're thinking about and trying to do going forward.


Walt Sorg  46:13

Let me ask you about a side issue to the Coronavirus. And that is the state's budget, which is in shambles. Every state agency is going to take some sort of hit. Where does the Department of Corrections have room to bend on the budget? You're one of the more expensive parts of state government, just by the nature of the work that you do. Is there room for cuts?


Chris Gautz  46:33

I think it'd be very difficult to find, you know, that kind of large scale. I mean, everybody comes and looks at us, you know, when when the budget season comes around, and when we get that, you know, we $2 billion out of the state's general fund goes to funding prisons and you know, we would certainly love to see that come down because that means we're doing our job. Well. We're releasing people from prison, and they're not coming back. And that is how happening, judging by the fact that recently, we had our lowest ever recidivism rate in the entire state 26.7%, which means we're pulling at a very high rate, and people are not fewer people are coming back. So that's a good thing. But when we look at our operations, out of that $2 billion, about 75% of our budget is personnel. And so the only way that which you could really cut out cut the budget is by cutting employees. And that would be come from closing prisons. And obviously, our prison population has gone down. But that doesn't mean it's going to stay down forever. And so we're going to continue everything we're doing, to educate prisoners, to put them through vocational training, to put them through secondary education to help them set them up for success. And if we ever get to a point where we could close a prison, that's certainly something that we've not shied away from, and we have done with several prisons over the last five years. But right now, I think that would be very difficult. So really, To everything we can do, everybody's trying to tighten up and we've, you know, hiring freezes and making sure that we're not spending where we don't need to be. Obviously right now we're all solely focused on Coronavirus and making sure we're doing everything they can to keep the public safe. But just looking at the budget and just thinking you can cut, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars, that just it's very impossible to do just given the law. Like I said, we can't just wholesale release large groups of prisoners, just just because the truth and sentencing law.


Walt Sorg  48:34

And just to put that budget into perspective, that's about one fifth of the general fund budget is going into corrections.


Chris Gautz  48:40

Yeah, that's right. Yeah. And certainly we would love to see that number come down again. We are not in I hate the term note the you know, the prison industrial complex and people think that prisons that we want to keep people in prison because we're we're making money. We don't make money. By having people in prison. We are a money suck. We We all we are is a black hole in the budget, we take money from the general funds. So everything that we do in the prison system, that's why we're called the Department of Corrections. We're not called the Department of lock them up and throw away the key. We spend resources and we spend taxpayer dollars to help educate, and we reform prisoners so that when they come out, they don't commit crimes. Again, they don't create more victims, and they go back out, and they become taxpayers rather than tax burdens. And so that's what our focus has been. We've been doing a really good job of that. And I think starting to cut, you know, the education budget in our prisons or to cut some of the other functions that we're doing, simply to save some money would have a much harsher, longer term impacts on down the road.


Walt Sorg  49:40

Chris, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate the update on what's going on with our correction system.


Chris Gautz  49:45

Thank you.


Christine Barry  49:50

All right, time for this week's political notes. Number one, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's national profile continues to grow a week after being attacked. wrongly by the White House great pumpkin. She featured in the widely read slate online newsletter promoting vote by mail. And she sums up the argument as on one side, the President of the United States, who has taken to Twitter to denounce a practice that is time tested, insecure and has backed up these denunciations with threats to withhold funding. And the other side is the vast majority of voters, millions of whom have voted by mail for decades, and several governors and secretaries of states on both sides of the aisle, who in recent months have embraced voting by mail as a way to ensure democracy is preserved amidst the current pandemic. And she also noted that 99% of the ballots in the May elections were by mail, and there are exactly zero claims of irregularities.


Walt Sorg  50:50

Also on our agenda this week, the petition drive to amend the state's Eliot Larsen civil rights act to protect LGBTQ citizens has fallen far short of the threat Hundred 40,000 plus valid signatures needed to move the issue to the legislature. And then the valid, fair and equal. Michigan tried to overcome the COVID-19 Challenge by launching a groundbreaking online signature collection, but it just didn't work. It was costing them like $15 per signature. That didn't come up with nearly enough. Now the group is going to court seeking to have state requirements for petitioned drives relax, because of the emergency. I did some consulting work for Fair and Equal Michigan, I did get paid for that. I hope they succeed. But I see this as a real Hail Mary legal move. I fear this issue is going to probably have to wait for a democratic legislature. That can't happen until at least 2023.


Christine Barry  51:39

Well, it's been ongoing for 10 years. I mean, remember, a couple months ago, we did like 10 years of Elliot Larsen and tweets and you see like, every year there were people saying it's time to expand the Elliot Larsen. So,


Walt Sorg  51:53

yeah, and it's supported by like 75% of the people to stick.


Christine Barry  51:56

It is is just one of those. It's just an act. Political cowardice they just won't put it through. And in the campaign for the US Senate, Gary Peters was busy. He introduced some legislation to provide federal aid to hard hit nursing homes to protect the most vulnerable from the coronavirus. He worked on getting federal policy changed so that the National Guard members who have been working on Coronavirus assistance have their tours extended, which will make them eligible for service benefits that they otherwise would have lost. And he introduced some legislation establishing a program to provide Community Investment institutions like the CDFIs MDIs community banks, credit unions, that kind of thing in historically underserved communities with critical direct capital investments and loans.


Walt Sorg  52:45

He also took a tour of the midlane disaster as well as the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee. He's in a position to really help out the folks of Midland county who really really really need help. Meanwhile, Republican candidate john James came out hiding briefly to spend some time in the safe space of Fox News, taking on a series of softball questions from Tucker Carlson. As for interactions with Michigan media, who might actually hit him with a card question about Trump threats to withhold funds for Michigan, or the George Lloyd tragedy, or the 100,000 plus COVID-19 deaths, or the thousands of Michiganders who have lost their health care coverage, or the efforts of the Trump administration to repeal protections of the Affordable Care Act.


Christine Barry  53:36

And that's it for this week's Michigan Policast. For more information on today's subjects, head on over to our website, www.michiganpolicast.com


Walt Sorg  53:46

as always, your comments are welcome. You can email us at mipolicast@gmail.com or reach out through the Michigan Policast page on Facebook or the headquarters for Donald Trump's rants, raves and lawsuits known as Twitter.  Try that to get Jack Dorsey of Twitter angry with us as well.


Christine Barry  54:01

Well we'll be back in a week and until then, please be safe, wear your mask in public and do not come to Owosso to get a haircut #typhoidmanke

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