Vaccines, fake anti-Whitmer scandals, GOP incompetence. Mark Brewer on FOIA and transparency.

March 22, 2021

Michigan Policast for Monday, March 22, 2021

  In this episode:

  • #StopAsianHate #StopAsianHateCrimes
  • Michigan pandemic and vaccine updates
  • Fake anti-Whitmer scandals
  • MI GOP withholds federal pandemic relief from Michiganders
  • Mark Brewer on transparency in Michigan
  • Political notes
  • Transcript

Shameless plug for our friend:  Listen to Tom Watkins on the new podcast Beyond the Classroom

Jump to:

#StopAsianHate #StopAsianHateCrimes

The guy on the left might actually be more racist than the guy on the right.

Michigan pandemic and vaccine updates






Fake anti-Whitmer scandals



MI GOP withholds federal pandemic relief from Michiganders


Mark Brewer on transparency in Michigan


Political notes








Gretchen Whitmer  00:06

Last week's numbers are a reality check that COVID-19 is not yet behind us. We may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel and the only way out sooner forward and to do it together.


Walt Sorg  00:21

Is it a fourth wave in Michigan? The numbers are not encouraging is infection sore in public schools statewide? I'm Walt Sorg.


Raphael Warnock  00:32

One person one vote is being threatened right now. Politicians in my home state and all across America, in their Craven lust for power, launched a full fledged assault on voting rights. They are focused on winning at any cost, even the cost of the democracy itself.


Christine Barry  00:51

The newest member of the US Senate, Reverend Raphael Warnock uses his first senate speech to warn that our democracy is at stake. strong words from the man who was John Lewis' pastor and preaches from the church once headed by Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm Christine Barry.


Announcer  01:09

This is Michigan Policast with Walt Sorg in Christine Barry, Michigan politics and policy and the National stories impacting our pleasant peninsulas.


Walt Sorg  01:20

Also, on today's pod, an open government package moves through the State House with critics saying it's got too many loopholes. Our guests will be former Democratic party chair Mark Brewer, who has been part of a petition drive to put some teeth into Open Meetings laws. Christine, before we get into the meat of the pod today, I did want to say something about what's going on in Atlanta with these hate crimes and the horrific murders. In Atlanta, there's not much we can add to it other than to say, it just shows me to the bone. I have many friends who are Asian Americans. I know they're all very worried right now, here in the Lansing area. We've got a lot of Asian Americans because of the number of Asian American students in Michigan State University plus a lot of immigrants. And my heart goes out to all of them right now. It is absolutely horrible, this hatred that's being extended to them. And like most hatred, it's totally irrational.


Christine Barry  02:12

It is and it has many layers to it. There's the misogyny of it, not just the racism. And then there is the response by the police who are like, Oh, you had a bad day. Like, I don't even know how to respond to that. But I will add to what you said and just assure my, my Asian American friends, that you know what, I don't care if you're American. I see you and I am an ally. I do not. I do not believe in this racism. And I know that it's at least partially driven by the rhetoric around COVID. It's disgusting.


Walt Sorg  02:49

Before we move on one note out of my life before I got married, I was dating a woman who is a first generation Japanese American, her parents had actually been locked up in the internment camps in California during World War Two. And the story she told me about that the stories that were relieved for relate from her parents really made me cringe to be an American, because that kind of official government sanctioned discrimination is something that really hasn't left us. You know, we had it when they were building the Transcontinental Railroad, which was mostly a lot of Chinese workers, right through World War Two, and it continues into today. And the fact that they look a little different from your typical white American is something that just it's wrong, which is simply wrong. Okay. Let's begin the regular problem though. With the first week of year two of our virus laden hell. The focus is shifting both at the state national level to ending the pandemic by getting everyone vaccinated, which is proving to be a hell of a challenge. But it happens even as the numbers move in the wrong direction. Your state health director, Dr. Janae Khaldoon,


Joneigh Khaldun  03:58

what we are seeing now is very concerning data that shows that we are going in the wrong direction with the key metrics that we are tracking for COVID-19. Case rates are now at 173 cases per million and have been increasing for the past four weeks. Case rates have increased 77% since mid February, and cases are increasing in all age groups. But the 10 to 19 year old age group has seen the largest increase


Walt Sorg  04:28

and we saw evidence of that increase among young people with high school sports right here in the Lansing area. There is a cluster of 49 infections from the the UK variant, all of them appearing to trace back to a basketball game just outside of Lansing four weeks ago. The governor has tightened the testing requirements surrounding high school sports, but stop short of curtailing competition. She's also raised the capacity limit for outdoor sports events to 20% with proper precautions taken just in time for Tigers Oh Opening day, when you see what's going on right now in Florida where things are wide open, and they've actually got a state of emergency in Miami Beach, they shut down the beaches there because it is just gotten totally out of hand people when they don't have the restrictions, some people just go way the hell too far are we loosening up too quickly as the governor getting into political pressure and against what makes sense from a health standpoint,


Christine Barry  05:24

I kind of feel like she did when it came to high school sports. It was extreme pressure, though. And I understand it coming directly from the families. And not necessarily going through the legislature, but going directly to the governor saying, Let us play sports. And that's coming from school boards as well. So I understand that. But I mean, like, like we've we've always said all along, this has to be a balance of what we can do to stop the spread of the infection. But what we can also do to make sure that, you know, people live a normal life, and you want to make sure that high school kids have their opportunities and everything she had what I thought were reasonable restrictions. But as you sit here, and when we listen to Dr. Khaldun. And actually, and people can't see this, but I'm sitting here nodding my head, because this is not a surprise to me at all. Does this surprise you that we're seeing this kind of these kind of numbers?


Walt Sorg  06:22

No, not really, you especially we're going over the weekend, we had a tournament game in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, where one of the teams had to forfeit because of COVID infections that obviously has never happened before in the NCAA Tournament. They are living in a bubble in Indianapolis. But despite that, a team still couldn't feel a team to compete in the tournament. So if they can't control it under in that environment, how in God's name, are we going to control it in the schools where the kids may not get sick, but they'll carry that virus home and make mom and dad sick or make grandma and grandpa sick? It is we're a long ways from having this over. Too many people I think are taking a victory lap.


Christine Barry  07:04

Yeah, the variants are a little bit scary. Who knows where those variants will go and how they'll change again, I don't know maybe maybe having stuck our toe in the water and gotten this result will pull back a little bit.


Walt Sorg  07:17

It's spring. And people want to get out I'm, you know, somebody has been vaccinated, I can understand it. And you've you've now gotten your first shot. I've had both of mine. And I feel relatively immune. But I'm still masking up. I'm still avoiding people. My wife and I last night talked about it. We were going to go out to dinner. And we decided we would do order takeout because we just didn't want to take the risk even though both of us have been vaccinated.


Christine Barry  07:42

Yeah, well, speaking of vaccinations, both the governor and President Biden are taking a cautious victory lap as you mentioned in the accelerating rate of vaccinations. Nationally, the President's goal of 100 million initial vaccinations in 100 days was met weeks ahead of time. In Michigan, the number is 2.2 million. And that's more than 30% of the adult population


Joe Biden  08:07

using the power given to a president under the defense production act. We expedited critical materials in vaccine production, such as equipment, machinery and supplies. We work with vaccine manufacturers to speed up the delivery of millions more doses, and broker to historic manufacturing partnership between competing companies who put patriotism on public health first.


Gretchen Whitmer  08:34

And the most critical thing you can do to help Michigan get back to normal is to get vaccinated. That means as soon as you're eligible, sign up to get your shot. On April 5, all Michiganders 16 and up will be eligible to get vaccinated. The Safe vaccines are the most effective way to protect you, your family and others from the virus.


Walt Sorg  08:54

But both of them emphasize the words of the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, and ate over until it's over and ain't over


Joe Biden  09:02

scientists and made clear that things may get worse as new variants of this virus spread. getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do to fight back against these variants. While millions of people are vaccinated, we need millions more to be vaccinated. And again, I need you to get vaccinated when it comes when you get your term and you're able to do that. I need your help. I need you to help not just the country, but your family, your friends, your neighbors, get them vaccinated as well. If we keep our guard up, stick together and stick with the science. We can look forward to a fourth of July that feels a bit more normal, with small groups able to gather for cookouts and backyards. And when we would be where we begin to declare our independence on Independence Day from the virus, look together. Together we're going to come through this stronger with renewed faith in each other and our government that fulfills is most important function protecting the American people.


Walt Sorg  10:05

Part of the problem is we've still got a handful of people who say the rules simply don't apply to them. Exhibit one probably nationally is a place called Mar a Lago where they had to shut down a portion of Donald Trump's resort because nobody wears masks there. And everybody's getting exposed all the time. And they don't do social distancing. And then here in Michigan, you've got this pizza parlor over in Holland, where the restaurant owner basically said, I don't have to obey health rules that I don't agree with. That's what it boils down to. She would operate at her restaurant, even though she was told she had to do some certain things to protect her customers and her staff. She said, I'm not going to do that I'm going to stay open under my rules, because I decide which health rules are important and which are not, which are enforceable and which are not. And right now she's in the Ingham County jail because she disobeyed a court order to shut down and cease operations. And they found her in contempt of court. And what I find ironic is that somebody who came up from Texas to represent her in court claiming to be an attorney, only ain't an attorney. He's in jail too.


Christine Barry  11:10

Oh my gosh, we're talking about Marlena Pavlos Hackney of Marlena's Bistro and Pizzeria in Holland.


Walt Sorg  11:18

Where I will never go by the way,


Christine Barry  11:20

for sure. Because her food establishment license was suspended in January. That's what happens if you have like a salmonella break out.


Walt Sorg  11:31

What other health? What other health regulations are she ignoring? ignoring the COVID-19? Maybe they aren't wearing hair nets. Maybe they aren't washing their hands after they go to the restroom? It could be a lot. Maybe they've got rat turds in the in the kitchen. Who knows?


Christine Barry  11:45

Yeah, and and you know, people will think that that's outlandish, but there are so many other things like cross contaminations and not properly identifying one chemical from another, which can cause problems. There are a ton of regulations that go into play here. And when there's a Health Inspection, those things are checked. And now, I'm not saying that this is a bad restaurant, but if you're willing to operate without a license, there's no reason for anybody to trust that you're willing to follow the regulations that are required for licensing clearly. So she continued to operate without a license, then one of her diners tested positive for covid within two days of eating there, and yeah, so she's in jail. Her place is boarded up because her supporters came along, I think and boarded it up so that they could prove that the business was not operating, so she could get back out of jail. But either way, I think now she is qualified to run for Congress on the maga ticket.


Walt Sorg  12:45

Look out Bill Huizenga


Christine Barry  12:46

I think she probably has a really bright future with the Republican Party. Yeah,


Walt Sorg  12:51

yeah, she probably does. It's it's funny. I remember we pre COVID when I was running a cookout, a barbecue is a fundraiser for the local political party. And the East Lansing health department inspector came over there to make sure that we were keeping our food hot enough that we were obeying all the rules, even though it was a cookout in a pavilion in a park. those rules are important because it's what keeps people from getting food poisoning quite simply. And if you don't like the health rules, challenge them in court, but you've got an obligation as a citizen, either obey them or suffer the consequences. She's in jail. She's gonna go fund me she'll probably write a book and like you say she's probably got a political future, although she is an immigrant, so she leaves you can't run for president. Between that and the people that are refusing to take the vaccine because they don't trust it is a real problem. This pandemic is going to continue longer than it has to because people don't trust government. They don't trust when you get right down to it. Even Donald Trump who has said get the vaccine. They certainly don't trust Joe Biden. They don't trust Dr. Fauci. They don't trust anybody. What they trust is the crap they read on the internet. I actually had a relative I found out yesterday, who won't get vaccinated because she was absolutely convinced In fact, that if she gets vaccinated, she will be microchipped by Bill Gates.


Christine Barry  14:08

Jesus Christ.


Walt Sorg  14:10

Yeah, exactly. That's what we said I couldn't and she's an educated woman. But she believes this crazy queue and on theory that for some reason, George Soros and Bill Gates are in cahoots to microchip us all. And what you're gonna end up with is a lot of very sick right wingers.


Christine Barry  14:27

Well, alright, well, let's move on.


Walt Sorg  14:30

Yeah, please. Let's move on.


Christine Barry  14:31

Republicans are trying to find a scandal to pin on Whitmer. One effort surrounds the resignation and termination settlement with the former Health and Human Services Director, Robert Gorden. Now, if you remember, he's the one who left and signed the confidentiality agreement and he took the severance pay was like 155 grand. So the chair of the House Oversight Committee Representative Steve Johnson is trying to get a subpoena to force Robert Gordon to come in and testify before the committee, he says Gordon was paid off with taxpayer dollars. And, you know, while you and I have talked about this, we don't know what happened. Frankly, it looks like he wanted more restrictions than what the governor was willing to go with. I don't know if the subpoena if he'll get his subpoena or not. But Robert Gordon and Governor Whitmer both agreed to relax some of the restrictions on that confidentiality agreement. So I believe he could talk if you wanted to, but he's come right out and said he doesn't want to talk about it.


Walt Sorg  15:32

It's simply a disagreement on policy. I think it's been made very clear by both Gordon and the governor that there wasn't any animus there, there was no misconduct there. They just didn't agree. And Gordon said that the governor had a right to have a health director who was in convergence with the governor. And he disagreed. So he did the honorable thing and resigned he got a payout, which is not unusual for top level executives in the private sector, a little more so for top executives in government, but nonetheless, it has been done in the past. But it the republicans are desperate I think to to pin something on the governor. They're continuing as well to try to turn Michigan's early experiences with deaths in the nursing homes into a new york Cuomo style scandal. The claim which is being echoed on social media repeatedly as the CI forced nursing homes to mix COVID infective seniors with other residents of nursing homes, leading to a lot of unnecessary deaths. It simply isn't true.


Gretchen Whitmer  16:29

If nursing homes brought patients back from the hospital. That was an educated choice that they made individually, with all of the protocols in place to keep them separate from the rest of the nursing home residents.


Walt Sorg  16:44

The governor followed the guidelines that were in effect at the time from the CDC, those guidelines have changed from time to time as they learn more but she was doing exactly what the guidance showed there's no evidence of any malfeasance misfeasance or failure to perform her executive duties. The fact remains that Michigan actually has a pretty good number when it comes to nursing homes as tragic as it is 31% of Michigan's Coronavirus deaths have come from nursing homes that puts Michigan 38th in the country out of 45 states that report their death rate as it relates to nursing homes.


Gretchen Whitmer  17:19

I know that a lot of people have tried to rewrite it. But in fact, the nursing home policy was this. We follow the CDC guidelines. We never mandated a nursing home, take a patient back into their care. But if they did, we made sure that they follow the protocols that modeled after the CDC so that we could keep people safe. We worked incredibly hard to support our nursing homes, through PP through testing through and now through vaccinations. Michigan's experience in this space is better than most states can look at a U of M study that bears that out and says our policies saved many lives and nursing homes. And also look to the former president of AARP who weighed in on this and acknowledge that our work saved a lot of lives as well.


Christine Barry  18:06

Yeah. And how many times do we have to go through this constantly correcting them on the facts, constantly pointing to sources that say that the response in Michigan was appropriate and legal. It's just that either they didn't understand it, or they just don't like her. And so it's a political,


Walt Sorg  18:23

they don't want to understand it, then they want an issue to take her on. They see an election coming. They recognize the fact they have no credible candidate for governor and their only chance to win the governor's office is to totally discredit the current occupant.


Christine Barry  18:37

Yeah. And here's another way they're trying to, to, I guess win an election. The legislature continues to take the our way or the highway approach to spending the federal COVID relief funds. The Republican controlled Michigan house and senate moved closer Wednesday to sending $652 million in vetoed spending initiatives back to Governor Gretchen Whitmer. for reconsideration. The Senate and House approved two bills that feature $405 million in financial assistance for businesses impacted by the covid 19 pandemic $87 million in federal relief money for private schools and 150 million for the state unemployment fund. Senator Curtis Hertel the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee said it was time for Republicans to stop grandstanding and get serious about solving problems and actually negotiate the solutions rather than just presenting the governor with ultimatums


Curtis Hertel Jr  19:35

We will be partners at any time to sit down and work together and help solve problems. That is what I expect from everyone here. And that is what we will be partners, but I will not be partner to this. I ask. I request I know I demand that we get in a room soon. Down, negotiate and solve these problems. The people of Michigan deserve that.


Walt Sorg  20:09

When Curtis Hertel speaks it's got extra weight, not just because he's ranked very high on the Appropriations Committee. His father was the Speaker of the House, Curtis Hertel Sr. and was co speaker of the house with Paul Hillegonds when it was a 55-55 state house. And you know what happened with that house, they got stuff done. They figured out how to make it work on a bipartisan basis, in large part because of the leadership of Hillegonds and Curtis Hertel Sr and it absolutely discussed Curtis Hertel Jr, who was there at the time as a as a young man, watching his father operate and watching his uncle Dennis, who was also a member of the House at the time. And his uncle john, who was a member of the Senate, I mean, was like our Hertel family business. That was the time when the legislature got things done, because you didn't have these huge partisan divides, which I think is the result of gerrymandering. You know, we've talked about that on and off for two years, that you have extreme politics, because a lot of legislators are only concerned about the next primary, they don't care about the general election, because the outcome of that by party label is already decided, thanks to gerrymandering, it's the primary they worry about. And that tends to drive members of both parties to the extreme left and right. And there's very little room in the middle for somebody who's willing to make a deal.


Christine Barry  21:26

Well, and term limits are a big part of that as well, because people tend not to think 10-20-30 years down the road, they tend to think, okay, you get this through, I've got the legislation already written from this legislative exchange, or some other hate group that I'm, you know, in bed with. And I'm going to, I'm going to introduce this, I'm going to get a few bills under my belt, and then I'm going to go into a private career in six to 10 years, whatever. But anyway, you know, Senator Hertel is right, obviously, but the Republicans aren't interested in negotiating. They just want to force the governor to her  knees, and they're withholding over $2 billion of assistance to do this. Now, the state budget director David Massaron sent a letter on March 9, asking the chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees, to quote again, officially request a formal meeting so that we can jointly negotiate and work together on on March 10, the very next day, that house chair, the House Appropriations chair, Republican Tom Albert said that they will not meet to discuss the funding until the governor agrees to reduce her role and the pandemic response. Now, isn't that though they're not withholding her allowance, anyway. And then last week, the Senate Appropriations Chairman, Republican Jim Stamas, says the governor refuses to get meaningful input from the legislature. And she has to change that. And the Senate stands ready to work with the governor in addressing the pandemic. So, you know, all these conflicting messages, but their position is clear, no money for rent, no money for food, until the governor changes the way she does her job. So let's, let's quickly review what this what this looks like what we're talking about, we're just over a year in to the pandemic, right. In April of last year, they refused her request to extend the state of emergency by 28 days. And that was, that was 11 months ago, they put in, instead of voting to extend the state of emergency, they voted to sue the governor, they voted on a package of bills that would replace almost every emergency order she had in place. And like I said, they said no to a state of emergency. And this is one to two months into a nationwide pandemic that's now gone on for over a year. Okay, so then what happened, the governor went back went back to the emergency powers of Governor act of 1945. and used that to govern so they sued to stop that which they were able to do with the Supreme Court majority they had at the time. And that majority opinion, and that decision has been widely criticized by the legal community is having no actual basis in law. And I think in fact, Mark Brewer who will have on later in the show actually talked about this at length when it happened. And then after that, the governor turns to what she can do with the Department of Health and Human Services. And now they're out of ideas. So all they can do is withhold relief funds. And that's, I mean, I'm just talking about what they've done legislatively, Walt.  On top of this, they refuse to support a mask mandate. Many refused even wear masks. They've supported and attended super spreader events. they brag about breaking the pandemic related rules, the ones who've recovered from COVID a COVID infection, brag about it and discourage others from being so cautious. And now Shirkey wants to go Texas on us and open the state completely. And you know, they started the nursing home anti Whitmer marketing campaign. And you know, all the while that this is happening, Republican after republican after Republican in the legislature has disparaging things to say about urban versus rural Detroit versus not Detroit, everything north of Flint, we all know what they're saying. And then they rally against using social vulnerability to help guide the vaccine distribution. So at the end of it all, they throw their hands up, and they say, why can't we have more input on this process? Why won't the governor work with us?


Walt Sorg  25:36

there's gonna be another $10 billion at stake in the near future, as a result of the beiden $1.9 trillion American rescue plan, state governments gonna get another $5.9 billion, which is a ton of money. That's the estimate from the House Committee on Oversight and reform. And on top of that, more than 4.4 billion being distributed amongst every city, township and county, in the state, with as much as 1000, that 13 $100 per resident, it's going to really stem the flow of tax money that has disappeared from local units of government that have been really impacted. And it's going to help create jobs, too. I know here in Lansing, for examples, I would suspect a lot of that money, not all of it, but certainly a good portion of it is going to go into fixing our horrible roads, which people think Well, what's that got to do with the pandemic, it's got everything to do with jobs. It is really important, both for making Lansing a better place to work. But more importantly, it creates direct jobs, good paying jobs for people fixing all the damn roads. But it's going to have to a lot of it's gonna have to get through the legislature and get through this incredible fiasco. That is the legislative process where they just decide how they're going to do it. And they don't care what the governor thinks. And they really don't even care if it makes sense from a policy standpoint, as long as it sounds good to their core constituency.


Christine Barry  27:03

It's unfortunate, I don't understand. Well, you know, really, again, it goes back to what you said earlier about the hyper partisanship and term limits and not having that long term thinking that you need to have 10 or 20 years down the road. What does it look like if these billions of dollars are actually put into our economy? Much, much better? But well, Governor Whitmer get a second term out of it if our recovery looks good? Yeah, probably she's already had really positive results in every poll that we've looked at. So that's what they're thinking about. And, again, they want to know why they can't have more input or why they shouldn't have more input. This is why.  They're badly behaved, their philosophy sucks. To hell with these people. And you can't take them seriously.


Walt Sorg  27:50

Well, let's talk about something where we actually had not only bipartisan agreement, but unanimous agreement of the House of Representatives in the last week. And that is on a package of bills for transparency.


Christine Barry  28:01

Yes, it's a long debated transparency package that is advancing in the Michigan legislature right now. But it's riddled with loopholes that would limit access to documents that should be public, according to liberal critics who are urging revisions. And Michigan is one of only two states that fully exempts the governor's office and the legislature from public records requests. And that has helped the state earn a failing grade, a failing grade for ethics and transparency. The bipartisan legislation would end that distinction by extending the Freedom of Information Act to the executive branch and creating a new Legislative Open Records Act. And look, you know, the dark money, the secrecy, the exemptions, employees, these are all embarrassing for the state. They foster a lack of competence, a lack of trust, they make no sense. And people equate this with corruption, which is not really something that is being measured here. But the legislation in motion does leave some huge dark holes,


Walt Sorg  29:03

We'll talk about those in just a moment with Mark Brewer. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is weighing in to on the debate over ethics. She called for a much more comprehensive governmental ethics and transparency plan.


Jocelyn Benson  29:16

It calls for legislation to extend the Freedom of Information Act to the governor and the legislature and require personal financial disclosures from all state elected officials. To shine light on the dark money in our political system. The state should require all PACs super PACs and committees to report all of their expenses require reporting by indirect political campaigns and tighten requirements to ensure secret and foreign money does not influence our elections. To stop public corruption. Our laws should require a two year period between state legislators leaving office and working as a lobbyist and banned companies and their owners from making political contributions if they received If state grants,


Walt Sorg  30:01

you can bet that very little that's going to happen. Benson, by the way, is going to launch a website, making it far easier for everyone to look at campaign finance reports, which will help some but in some campaigns, especially for the Supreme Court, the real spending isn't even reported through campaign finance, because it's all indirect spending.


Christine Barry  30:20

Well, there's a lot in that sunshine agenda that she's laid out that wasn't mentioned there in her audio. So as usual, we'll have link to the details on the website. But I really like the idea that she has there. It even includes expanding what the kind of work that you can do that needs to be reported as lobbyist work. So that that two year gap actually has some teeth to it, you can't just call yourself something other than a lobbyist. And, you know, go to work in that job right from the legislature. So there's there's a lot in there, and it's exciting. I don't, I don't know how likely it is this time. But maybe in two or four years, it'll have a chance.


Walt Sorg  31:04

As we discussed last week, the liberal group Progress Michigan is not happy with what's going through the legislature calling it just not nearly enough. They are working on a petition drive for much stronger laws and open records as well as financial disclosures by public officials. Working hand in glove with Progress Michigan is their attorney, former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer. Mark is also co host of our sister podcast, A Republic, If You Can Keep It, along with former Michigan Republican Party Executive Director Jeff Timmer.


Walt Sorg  31:36

Mark, you've been working on freedom of information issues and related good government issues for a long, long time. You're deeply involved in the Freedom of Information debate right now through Progress Michigan, what is your take on the package of bills that has gone through the house and is now sitting in the senate?


Mark Brewer  31:52

Well, they are really miss named as Freedom of Information Act bills, because they do not apply the existing Freedom of Information Act to the legislature or the governor. There are an enormous number of loopholes and exemptions and so forth. So it's really not accurate to call it Freedom of Information Act extension at all.


Walt Sorg  32:17

What's fascinating about it is that it passed unanimously in the house, no objections were raised from the left or the right, as to the contents of the bill. And yet in the Senate, the fate is pretty uncertain.


Mark Brewer  32:30

Yeah, no, you know, there's I think there are a lot of things going on. I appreciate the reform interest that, in principle, people say yes, FOIA should be extended to the governor and to the legislature, it's long overdue, exists in virtually every other state. But these bills, as I mentioned, have such large loopholes. And for example, in the bill regarding the legislature, the caucuses, the political caucuses in the legislature are exempt. And as anybody who practices and uses FOIA knows, anytime you create a place where records can go and can't be disclosed, that's where they will go. There's also a provision which allows the destruction of records in their first 14 days of existence, that's going to be used. That bill also says you can't go to court to enforce it. You have to go to an internal agency of the legislature, well, that's not going to work because that agency works for the legislature. So a citizen is not going to get a fair hearing through that process. So there are a lot of problems with let's say, to build the gubernatorial bill. while it subjects the governor to a court action, if the response is not satisfactory, is also full of a lot of new exemptions that don't apply to any other level of of government. Look, there are a lot of executives in the state, county executives, mayors and others who have complied with the FOIA. In that regard, the governor is simply another executive and should not get special treatment. In terms of exemptions from the FOIA like that bill does.


Walt Sorg  34:16

Now the ballot proposal that you're helping put together for Progress Michigan, does that eliminate virtually all of the loopholes or leave some exceptions?


Mark Brewer  34:26

yes, we do leave a couple of exceptions. The first of all, everybody recognizes that you have to provide some kind of privacy for communications from constituents, right. Have a constituent comes in says I have a particular issue I want to talk to my legislator about or I need some government service. Those should not be publicly disclosed for a variety of reasons. Nobody disagrees with that. But beyond that, the proposal of Progress Michigan allows people to go to court and the only other exemptions really relate to some things that are unique to the Governor.  For example, we provide residences for the governor. That means that that residence is a family home, as well as an official place of doing business. So there are a couple of limited exemptions that go to the fact that people shouldn't be prying into the private life of the governor and her or his family. But other than that, these large exemptions, these large loopholes that exist in the current legislative bills are not there. There's no need for those.


Walt Sorg  35:32

We want to welcome you to the wonderful world of podcasting, you're just off and running with your new podcast now, A Republic If You Can Keep It, where you go head to head each week with the former political adversary from the Republican Party, Jeff Timmer.   There are two ways to argue about politics. There's the way you're doing it. And there's the way they're doing it in Washington right now, and they're very different right now.


Mark Brewer  35:55

Yes, and I think we need to go back to a healthy disagreement over over politics, but not make it personal. I've tried in my career, never to make it personal. I mean, I'm very partisan Democrat. But I've always tried to restrain myself, I'm doing anything that's personal, that's vitriolic that you can't come together afterwards, and work things out. And that's what I expect of our elected officials have a vigorous campaign, but then govern, you know, after you're elected, don't regard the two or four year period, you're in office as simply a continuation of the campaign. That's not productive, and the citizens don't deserve it.


Walt Sorg  36:36

Right now, we've got the standoff in the legislature between the Republican leadership and the governor over the budget, and the related powers for dealing with emergencies. I suspect if you and Jeff went into a room and tried to work it out, you'd probably figure it out.


Mark Brewer  36:50

Well, I think we'd give it a good try. And because what you're doing those situations is you try to find some common ground and start there. There's got to be something that they can agree on, and start there. And I think mostly, this is a problem of trust, that we've gotten into this vicious circle, where neither side trusts the other. And we need to rebuild that trust, perhaps in baby steps. But my gosh, the state government they have  huge budget responsibilities, ongoing pandemic responsibilities, they've got to figure out a way to work together because neither side can do this by itself. The Constitution prevents things.


Walt Sorg  37:32

One of the things you're doing on your podcast that's different from any of the other Michigan based podcast on politics, you're bringing in national perspectives on Michigan issues. You've had a very good array of guests already. And that seems like you're ready to continue that.


Mark Brewer  37:46

I hope so. Those are sometimes difficult guests to get because their time is in such great demand. But yes, I think that makes our podcast unique. In terms of providing that perspective, we always try to bring it back to Michigan, and make sure it revolves around Michigan. But these Michigan is not separate from the rest of the country. We have many of the same issues here. We're a battleground state. And so there's a lot of national focus on us. And I think it's a good mix to have a Jeff and I who are longtime Michigan political operatives, but then leaven that mix with national perspectives as well.


Walt Sorg  38:21

You both have pretty good phone directories.


Mark Brewer  38:26

Yeah, they used to call him Rolodexes


Walt Sorg  38:28

back back in the day now it's just you scroll them up on your phone, but you got a lot of cell phone numbers that most of us don't have access to.


Mark Brewer  38:34

And email addresses and the like are ways of getting to people even if you don't have a way to contact them directly.


Walt Sorg  38:40

That's right. Your guests so far have included bill kristol, the the great conservative national political columnist, Molly ball, the chief political correspondent at the national level for Time Magazine, and Stan Greenberg, who is a legendary democratic pollster. And coming up this week, you've got Michael Lee, and they most people don't know. But they know about the Brennan Center for Justice. And Michael is their leading expert on voting rights.


Mark Brewer  39:03

Now people should know Michael Lee, you know, incredible expertise, incredible experience in the whole area of voting rights redistricting, as he's a big fan had the privilege of working with them on occasion. And I'm looking forward to our conversation this coming week.


Walt Sorg  39:20

A Republic If You Can Keep It, named in honor of the phrase from Ben Franklin, stolen right out of Hamilton. And every Wednesday morning, there's a brand new edition. You can subscribe on Apple iTunes, Google podcasts and a variety of other places as well. Mark, thanks so much for joining us on the Michigan Policast.


Mark Brewer  39:38

Thank you. Well, great to talk to you.


Christine Barry  39:45

All right, well, let's get into some quick political notes. Michigan's newly inaugurated program providing free community college opportunities is a huge it. We have over nearly 170,000 people have applied we're talking about the Michigan Reconnect program, which is a scholarship program that pays for you to attend an in district Community College. Or if you want to go to an out of District Community College, it pays the in district amount for you and you would have to pay the balance. So it's a large tuition discount also pays things like the mandatory fees and whatnot. It's to be used for an associate's degree or a skill certificate program. Many people who are eligible for this would also have been eligible for Pell grants that could have provided the same benefits, and one of the bridge articles that will link to notes that the popularity of these state programs, which by the way, have marketing and navigators tied to them, so you get more awareness and more assistance. that illustrates that many residents probably weren't familiar with the financial aid systems of colleges, or maybe they didn't want to, they couldn't get through the complex complexity of them.


Walt Sorg  41:00

I think it's gonna lead to a huge expansion of our community college network in the state, it'll make it financially feasible. And we have really one of the nation's best community college programs, there are a lot of trades and skills, and advanced learning you can get with a two year degree that lead to a really good job, whether it's a nursing or as a welder, or electrician, a lot of the skilled trades trade and through the Community College network. And it can lead directly to a very high paying job, which is going to be important in the transition as jobs are shed, especially as a result of our transition to green energy. You know, the jobs that go away from green energy could be replaced, and then some many times over with these new jobs. And we have a tremendous need right now, for a lot of the skilled trades, the construction trades are just begging for new people to get involved. Nursing. It's the same way we can't get enough nurses into our healthcare system. So it's it's a win, win win type of situation. And probably one of the best things that state government has done for our economy in a long time. I'm really delighted to see that it's working out as well. Speaking of medical costs, there's a new poll from Epic MRI that shows widespread opposition to letting nurse anesthetist supervise surgical anesthesia. It's the latest in a long standing battle within the medical professional, over what procedures require a physician and those that can be handled by nurses, physician's assistants, chiropractors, etc. It's especially heated when it comes to surgical anesthesia, which is one of the highest paid specialties for both doctors and nurses have is one of my college roommates as the former president of the Society of Anesthetists. I said that right to Well, that's a tough word, the Society of anesthetist. And this is a very pitch battle for them, they really do believe that it is important to have a trained MD anesthetist in the operating room supervisor supervising all anesthesia. And I don't know where I come down on this, I've had too many surgeries. And because of my friend from college, I have my personal anesthetist anytime I have a surgery


Christine Barry  43:12

of Well, you know what, this is not a new conversation. I, you know, we have some articles on the website that go back to 2013. I think that was like sp 500 or something then 2015 and 2017. It just keeps coming up. And the conflict is focused on access to health care versus patient safety. And I don't know what the right answer is for this. But I do think the conflict is in the wrong place because access to healthcare should not be the problem. Just because not having the MD lowers the cost. I think that is the wrong problem to have. But in some of these places, let's see, there's about I think 17 states who have decided to opt out of the Is it the Medicaid or the Medicare requirement that you have a physician present, and that is to support the rural hospitals that can't afford it. There are other rules that say you don't have to it can be any MD it doesn't have to be somebody trained in anesthesiology. So there's a lot to this, to be honest that I just don't get. But I do know that access to health care versus patient safety. That's not the conflict that America should be having.


Walt Sorg  44:27

it is a tough debate. I don't know where I come down on this thing either. Because I've seen a lot of physician's assistants, I see a lot of our ends and nurse specialists. And I don't know enough to really make a judgement on it. And I'm gonna have to probably have to take a pass on where it comes down.


Christine Barry  44:43

Yeah, yeah, I agree. Well, the governor and the legislature have also come to an agreement, but this time to follow the lead of the IRS and give taxpayers an extra month to file their state income tax returns. The Michigan Department of Treasury announced last week that tax returns and payments are now due on May 17 2021. The IRS had already extended the filing date to may 17. And there was bipartisan support in Michigan to do the same at the state level, so that the beginning and the end of the income tax filing season are the same for federal and state.


Walt Sorg  45:18

Still in limbo is the issue of paying taxes on a portion of unemployment compensation from 2020, Congress decided that the first $10,400 of UI from 2020 would be tax exempt on your federal return. I don't know at this point, and I checked with a CPA and she didn't know either, what this means on the state tax return. But because this change came in the middle of the tax filing season, a lot of people have already filed their tax return and paid the taxes on this. The IRS is on the verge of making a formal announcement that you're not going to have to file an amended return, they will simply calculate the difference and refund the additional amount of money. And if you've already gotten your refund, they will just simply mail you a check or make an electronic deposit, reflecting the change in the tax law. Given all the stress the IRS is going under and the massive understaffing of the IRS. I really feel for those folks, you know, as Mr. T used to say, I pity the fool, because they've just got an incredible amount of work to implement change a tax law after the tax season starts and make it retroactive is something that's above and beyond the call for those poor people in the IRS. Never thought I'd heard that phrase.


Christine Barry  46:34

There's so much work to be done here. You know, and then I started thinking about, Oh, my gosh, all the municipalities and every every single level, has a lot of things to do to make things are right for people after this pandemic.


Walt Sorg  46:51

Crazy. Well, the arguments we had last November of a rigged elections and voting machines continues amazingly, in Michigan. Despite all of the studies, all of the recounts all of the court rulings that have said there was nothing hinky about the election at all everything went off as planned. Antrim County was kind of the center of this because somebody made a clerical error. And for a few hours on their website, they had very bad numbers, which the conspiracy theorist wanted to pin on the voting machines, when in fact, it was just a human error, and very explainable and it was examined by the courts, and there was nothing wrong that did a recount. And it turned out that the machines did perfect count of the ballots. But as a result of that phony controversy, the county commissioners have turned down a request from the county clerk for $5,000 a measly five grand to prepare Dominion voting machines for the upcoming may 4 primary. As a result, they're gonna have to count all the ballots by hand initially, and it's all because of the superstition, and the internet meme and all of that, that there's something wrong with the Dominion voting machines and the software. What is incredible about this is the county clerk. Sheryl Guy has been the county clerk for 30 years she's been doing it she's a Republican, by the way, she is not one of those liberal that you're not going to find a liberal democrat in Antrim County any office and certainly not running the elections. This is just stupid, stupid, stupid times 15


Christine Barry  48:24

that's that's the only way Republicans can win election is to have these these wedge issues these hot button things This time, it's you know, it was stolen from us the presidency was stolen from us. It's not all the election, because they obviously have majority still in different levels of the state. So it's just it's just the presidency was stolen from us and, and, you know, so here's an issue that people get emotional about, and that's how they get their voters worked up.  They can't talk about policy because their policies suck. They can't talk about how well they've done on being fiscal conservatives because they've spent like a bunch of drunks who just got paid. I mean, I can't talk about anything other than wedge issues or something like this that is just really emotional.


Walt Sorg  49:12

Here we rigged elections is now official republican mantra. It's nationwide as the GOP works feverishly to stop the wrong people as they see it from voting. This Sunday was the 56th anniversary of the Martin Luther King led march from Selma to Montgomery 3200 civil rights activists marched in support of voting rights, leading directly to passage of the Voting Rights Act. We'll wrap up today with a little more from Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock on the battle over voting rights 56 years after the March the battle to save democracy.


Raphael Warnock  49:48

Some politicians did not approve of the choice made by the majority of voters and a hard fought election in which each side got the chance to make its case to the voters and rather than a justing their agenda rather than changing their message, they are busy trying to change the rules. We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights, unlike anything we've ever seen since the Jim Crow era. This is Jim Crow in new clothes.


Christine Barry  50:18

Well as the great West Wing press secretary CJ Cregg would say, that is a lid for this week. As we leave though a recommendation for another podcast, former state school superintendent and friend of the pod, Tom Watkins partnered in a new podcast focusing on the challenges to education, something that predates COVID but has certainly been exacerbated by the pandemic. You'll find a link to this podcast on our website, and you'll also find other links and assorted tweets, videos and means and I might even put up a transcript.  This podcast is called Beyond the Classroom Podcast and we will have a link at the top and the bottom of the show.


Walt Sorg  51:01

As always, we welcome your comments you can email us at or comment via our Facebook page or Twitter. And make sure you subscribe to A Republic If You Can Keep It with longtime Michigan political insiders Jeff Timmer and Mark Brewer, their guest on this Wednesday's podcast will be one of the nation's leading experts on voting rights. Brennan Center for Justice senior counsel and Michael Lee. You can find their podcast on Apple podcast, Google podcast tune in and I Heart Radio. But till next week.



That's all folks.


Announcer  51:40

Michigan Policast with Walt Sorg and Christine Barry is a production of Michigan citizens for a better tomorrow.

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