COVID-19, voter suppression, obstruction. Curtis Hertel Jr on gridlock in the Michigan Legislature

April 19, 2021
  Michigan Policast for Monday, April 19, 2021

  • Michigan COVID-19 updates
  • Voter suppression in Michigan
  • American Jobs Plan and Senator Curtis Hertel on federal funds waiting on Michigan
  • Political notes
  • Transcript

Cover photo tooootally stolen from this tweet by Samantha Steckloff.

Jump to:

Michigan COVID-19 updates

“This variant seems to me like a whole new pandemic because it is more virulent, it is highly contagious and it causes serious illness,” said Dr. Teena Chopra, a professor of Infectious diseases at Detroit's Wayne State University Medical School. ~Source

Health care officials attribute Michigan's case surge to a combination of COVID variants, including B.1.1.7, a United Kingdom variant for which Michigan has the second-highest number of cases in the nation; a lack of herd immunity; hesitancy to get the vaccine; and Michigan's cool weather driving more people indoors. ~Source

Voter suppression in Michigan

“Our elections are fair and safe and that has been the case under Republican administrations and Democratic administrations,” Ananich said. “The fact that Republicans didn’t win as many races as they wanted to does not justify their attempt to silence voters.” ~Source


Luke's full thread isn't showing up 🙁 it's worth clicking through ^^^

American Jobs Plan and Senator Curtis Hertel on federal funds waiting on Michigan

Political notes



Jocelyn Benson  00:04

We're here today to condemn the effort of some of our state legislators to take away the voting rights of Michigan citizens. It is an American and an affront to every voter in this state.


Walt Sorg  00:14

That’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on the battle over voting rights escalates in Michigan, with civil rights groups and business leaders joining democrats in opposing republican voter suppression efforts, I’m Walt Sorg.


Gretchen Whitmer  00:30

We still have public health laws in place to mitigate the spread of covid, including a mask mandate, capacity limits on indoor gatherings, and mandatory testing for sports. These are some of the strongest public health laws in the Midwest. The most important thing you can do, of course, is to get vaccinated. The Safe effective COVID-19 vaccines are the most effective way to keep yourself and your family safe and help us return to normal.


Christine Barry  01:00

Michigan continues to lead the fourth wave of COVID infections. But the governor decides against following the CDC his call for a statewide lockdown. I'm Christine Barry.


Walt Sorg  01:11

Also on the pod this week, the first steps towards bipartisan compromise on the American jobs and infrastructure plan and its impact on Michigan and how to best invest billions in new federal aid for the state. We'll talk with the top democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee in Lansing senator Curtis Hertel Jr.


Announcer  01:30

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


Christine Barry  01:39

The numbers continue to be bad. state health director Dr Joneigh Khaldun's concern is growing as hospitals again approach 100% of beds filled thanks to COVID.


Joneigh Khaldun  01:49

Right now, Michigan has 574 cases per million people, five times where we were in mid February. And data indicates we have broad community spread. The burden of tests they're coming back positive is around 18%. Five times where we were in the middle of February mdhhs is tracking about 1152 outbreaks in counties across the state, including new outbreaks in K through 12, schools, manufacturing and construction, long term care, childcare, retail, restaurants and bars. Since January, we've identified 291 clusters associated with youth sports teams. Since last week, we've also seen 52 new outbreaks in restaurant and retail settings.


Walt Sorg  02:40

The CDC and Governor are no longer fully on the same page with the CDC saying Michigan needs to take drastic short-term action, CDC director Rochelle Walenski.


Rochelle Walensky  02:52

So when you have an acute situation, extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccine. In fact, we know that the vaccine will have a delayed response. The answer to that is to really close things down to go back to our basics to go back to where we were last spring, last summer. And to shut things down to flatten the curve to decrease contact with one another to test to the extent that we have available to contact truth. Sometimes you can't even do it at the capacity that you need. But really what we need to do in those situations is shut things down. I think if we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work to actually have the impact.


Walt Sorg  03:39

But thanks to the legislature and Republicans on the state Supreme Court, it's just not that simple. The governor doesn't have the emergency powers for another shutdown like she had a year ago. The best she can do is urge everyone to do the right thing and shut down voluntarily. At the same time the state is accelerating early treatment for high-risk populations infected with COVID with widespread availability of the drug regimen that probably saved Donald Trump's life.


Gretchen Whitmer  04:06

Currently, people with preexisting or underlying health risks qualify to receive these therapeutic antibody treatments. This includes all seniors, anyone with high blood pressure, asthma, lung issues, heart issues, cancer or anyone who is immunocompromised. Ideally, both monoclonal antibody infusions should be administered as soon as possible after a qualifying patient tests positive for COVID-19.


Walt Sorg  04:33

Christine, I think the governor is right we have a political problem in this state. And it's not of her making. The problem is coming from the other side where there is reluctance to do what needs to be done. You know, I think back to the history books, what we did during World War Two, when we had rationing, we had wage controls. We had limitations on our activities. We had a draft for crying out loud you talk about an infringement on your liberty getting drafted to Without your liberty, if you don't want to go, but people went, the nation is simply not willing to make that kind of sacrifice. And republicans are egging them on for short term political gain. And I think it's killing people.


Christine Barry  05:12

Yeah, and there are multiple angles of this, there are different kinds of pressure being put on the state right now. So we talked about how we had variants that are new that we haven't seen before that are more transmissible and so on. That's not something the governor can control. She mentioned she has limited tools to work with now, because the republicans have taken most of them away. That's not something that she can do anything about. And to your point about the Republican Party, opposing everything that she wants to do have to consider the fact that we've got a budget battle going on. And if she wanted to step in, and put in place some stricter measures, so that we would slow the community spread here, it would probably make that budget battle harder, because she's dealing with people who won't even confirm her appointments, because their feelings are hurt. And you mentioned, you know, that, that people are discouraging compliance that Republicans are saying, you know, they're having these super spreader events, and they're proud of it. They flaunt it, they flaunt their noncompliance, it's really disturbing. And this is this is what they wanted.


Walt Sorg  06:32

There's a great example of how this all backfires and how self-defeating it is. involving a guy named Jason watts. He is the treasurer of the sixth district republican committee lives down in allegan. County, he contracted COVID-19, after being required to attend a meeting of the officials of the sixth district who wanted to talk to him, because he had been quoted in the New York Times giving comments critical Donald Trump saying the party needed to move on from the former president. At that meeting, nobody was wearing masks, nobody was socially distance, they were openly flaunting the requirements on restaurants as put in place by the state health department. And he contracted COVID. And what he is saying is that masks and social distancing, and all of this should not be a political issue. You know, Matt Johnson from the Public Health Department said that the incident has been on their radar, as well as all facilities that hold meetings in violation of mdhhs epidemic orders. But again, it's voluntary compliance is really the key to all of these orders, no contact tracing going on, you know, a lot of people still denying that COVID is real, it's all a hoax. And it's not that serious, and on and on, and on and on, or that because everybody's getting vaccinated, we don't need to worry about it anymore. All of these things just prolong the pandemic. And how long is it going to take it for the non-believers to recognize how self-defeating this is all going on? It just it blows the mind that people are by their actions prolonging this year long agony we've been going through.


Christine Barry  08:14

And you know what? Well, I think there's another point in that story about with Jason watts. So this was the county party, right? The Republican Party of Kalamazoo, I think, has their regular meeting at this cafe, travelers cafe and pub. And in Jason's story that you were talking about, I think about 70 people showed up to this thing, maybe three people had masks on eight people have now tested positive for COVID. From that, and looking at the business side of it, travelers cafe and pub is a regular host to these republican events. And so they came out with this statement that said, oops, sorry, we didn't police it well enough. But we were following all of the, you know, Governor's rules, while the governor's rules are masked, social distancing. I forget what the other ones


Walt Sorg  09:08

Limiting the size of meetings.


Christine Barry  09:10

Yes, thank you. That was the important one. And, and that actually is in question. It sounds like there are too many people there but I've never been there so I don't know. And, you know, the odds that travelers cafe and pub which is coming off a year of you know getting its ass kicked by shutdowns. I mean, it's a restaurant. It's it gets 70 ish people a month or so from this Republican Party. They're not gonna step in and say okay, all of you freedom loving Republicans have to go because you won't wear a mask. And the chair of this party went on, I don't know zoom or something. He gave an interview about Yeah, our people, a lot of them just don't believe in the vaccine. You know, they just don't believe in masks, whatever. It's a Liberty thing and they're committed to freedom and it's just It's ridiculous. And I think this is where the business side comes in where you're gonna see a lot of noncompliance from even people who mean Well, it's a matter of survival for some of them.


Walt Sorg  10:10

I know that Ingham County Democrats were having their meetings at a couple of restaurants in East Lansing and Okemos. And those meetings have been suspended. And I haven't heard a peep from the owners of either of those restaurants complaining about the meetings being canceled. In fact, I do know the the owner of the alchemist restaurant who's a friend of mine, wouldn't have them in there if they wanted it. Because he believes thoroughly in doing what needs to be done, although his business is really hurting. As a result of all these restrictions. There are some positive things that I saw in the news, at least it was it was unbridged, not necessarily covered by a lot of places. First of all, that most of the teachers in Michigan have now been vaccinated, there's the FDA is saying more than 80% of teachers have received the vaccine. And that is really good. That's going to help a lot with the pandemic because at least now, they're not at risk and our kids can get back in school and the kids are lower risk, if they socially distance properly, which I'm sure the teachers will have them do. It makes it more possible that we can get back to normal, at least in the schools. Although right now is not the time it's still too dangerous for most of the communities. So that's good news. The other thing I thought was really ironic a story in the New York Times, which they did a survey county by county and it's becoming very clear that the number of people getting vaccinated pretty well mirrors the vote for President of the United States, the more Trump voters, the fewer people that are getting vaccinated.


Christine Barry  11:40

I mean, Trump has such sway over the ignorant that even what he says out of his mouth when he says you should get vaccinated. They don't hear that.


Walt Sorg  11:50

he wants credit for the vaccine, but at the same time, he gets vaccinated in secret, and he doesn't talk about it a lot. And when his daughter Ivanka, who's not exactly my favorite person in the world, but when she got vaccinated and posted a picture on Twitter, she got slammed by the Trump faithful the MAGA people just we're not having it out there princess Ivanka, get that terrible Fauci juice into her veins. Yep, well, that's the father wants to take credit for it. But Fauci gets word credit for it. And then you had this display in Congress this week, a hearing on the never-ending hearing on COVID. And an exchange between Dr. Fauci who I believe is an American hero, and jacketless Jim Jordan, aka the human jackhammer, the sex abuse adjacent Ohio wrestling coach who specializes in yelling at 100 miles per hour,


Anthony Fauci  12:47

what you're going to see as more and more people get vaccinated, and we get over 3 million people a day, you're going to see the level of infection come down and down. And gradually there will be more flexibility for doing the things that you're talking –


Jim Jordan  13:02

where does it get to when it comes down? What number do we get our liberties back? Tell me the number tell me the number


James Clyburn  13:06

When 90% of the members of Congress get vaccinated, but


Jim Jordan  13:11

you're not a doctor, Mr. Clyburn he is, what is the number?


Maxine Waters  13:15

Thank you for recognizing me Mr Clyburn. Thank you


James Clyburn  13:18

The Chair now recognizes for five minutes – Mr Jordan you're not recognized.


Maxine Waters  13:22

Reclaiming my time when claiming my order, regular order.


Jim Jordan  13:28

Mr. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I don't want you to answer my question the American people want Dr. Fauci to answer the world.


Maxine Waters  13:33

Your time expired sir.  You need to respect the chair and shut your mouth.


Walt Sorg  13:39

God bless you it Maxine Waters Shut the fuck up. That's the problem. It's people like Jordan, just ranting and raving Rand Paul doing the same thing over on the Senate side. to a lesser extent, you've got a few other jackasses in Congress, who are fanning the flames of this disbelief in vaccines and in social distancing and everything else and denying that we even have a problem.


Christine Barry  14:00

Yeah, I mean, what's to say that, I guess Jim Jordan gets Best in Show because that's all that was, was him being a little show dog running around his little, his little track so he can get attention.


Walt Sorg  14:14

And that little show is gonna kill people. People are gonna die because they believe Jim Jordan, it is a violation of my liberties to put a piece of cloth in front of my mouth for a few hours when I'm out in public. So violation of my freedoms to not had the bars open right now because I might get sick.


Christine Barry  14:32

And the problem is, people Americans have been raised we've we our culture is that we're willing to die for our freedoms, we're willing to die for the liberty that you get in America. And so tying a mask or a vaccine or social distancing to the word liberty is I mean, that's what's killing people right there.


Walt Sorg  15:00

All laws infringe on your liberty to do something. That's just the reality of life. Anything that says you can't do something is an infringement on your liberty. I do not have the right to murder you.


Christine Barry  15:10

Well, I can't walk into a 7-11 barefoot. I have to have shoes on,


Walt Sorg  15:15

among other things.


Christine Barry  15:16

Why I'm not touching any food with my feet. I mean, I wouldn't do it. It's gross, but just


Walt Sorg  15:21

I've always said I was gonna walk into the speedway wearing nothing but a speedo. If people weren't wearing masks and saying well look good, it's my liberty. I feel uncomfortable in clothes.


Christine Barry  15:30

Paint like a flag on your chest.


Walt Sorg  15:33

Oh, yeah. And on the back maybe tattoo richard nixon just to show that I really am a true American. One final thing on this issue before we move on to the things that make a little more sense. And that is we'll link on the website to an article from the detroit news that is behind their paywall, you need a subscription to read it. But public health experts are saying uniformly that even though you've been vaccinated, you still need to mask up and they explain why. And it makes tons of sense. And it's not an infringement. I wear a mask everywhere, it doesn't hurt. fact, I've gotten to the point now where I don't even notice that I'm wearing it half the time. So just get used to it. It's the thing to do. And I'm sure most of the people listening to this podcast are already doing that.


Christine Barry  16:16

Yeah, I agree. I agree. And, you know, keep in mind, too, that we have new variants coming that we haven't experienced before.


Walt Sorg  16:23

And the longer the pandemic goes on, the more variants we're going to get. And the pandemic goes on longer and longer if we continue to avoid taking steps to end the pandemic.


Christine Barry  16:33

Well, let's talk about voter suppression.


Walt Sorg  16:35

Let's talk about some fun.


Christine Barry  16:38

Yeah, yeah. The combatants in the war over voting rights in Michigan has expanded. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is taking the lead among Democrats calling out republicans for the Sham claim that their 39-bill package is designed to make voting easier and more secure.


Jocelyn Benson  16:57

And yet here we are witnessing state legislators acting as if their anti-American effort to take away citizens freedom to vote is somehow the right thing to do, following an election cycle that saw unprecedented levels of voter engagement and participation in any disagreement over the policies as a mere political squabble over details, but that is just another attempt to deceive the public about their true intentions. Instead of doing what is best for our state and our voters, instead of following the facts and the truth in the data, Michigan legislators are choosing to be a part of a national coordinated partisan effort to restrict your freedom to vote.


Walt Sorg  17:34

As we noted last week, one of the changes would actually make individual voter fraud a little easier. Instead of using signature match to verify absentee ballot applications, the republican package would require including a photocopy of your photo ID with your ballot.


Jocelyn Benson  17:51

This bill you mentioned that requires citizens who want to request to vote absentee by mail, to attach a photocopy of their driver's license to their requests, serves no other purpose than to make it harder for them to vote absentee. That's it. There's no security provision, there's no evidence or data, or even precedent to suggest that that somehow would prevent voter fraud. It's much more difficult for someone trying to impersonate a voter or commit voter fraud. It's much more difficult to forge a signature than it is to create a fake ID photocopy it and send it in.


Walt Sorg  18:25

And now we've got CEOs from a lot of businesses saying Thou shalt not to the Republicans, do you think it's gonna make any difference? Are they real about these threats?


Christine Barry  18:35

No, I don't think so. But, you know, again, I need to see where the corporate pac money goes. I do appreciate what they're saying words matter. I get that. And I'm not trying to be dismissive of it. But, you know, Toyota has already started their campaign contributions back up to the people who they said they weren't going to contribute to because they want they voted against certification of the election. And their statement on that was well, it's just one issue out of many. And we agree with these, these congressmen on many other issues, and I think that's what we're going to see with, with these other companies with the CEOs. You know, when it comes time to put that corporate pac money somewhere, it's going to go to the same people. It doesn't matter what they say, Now, they might donate to some of these grassroots efforts, but it's still just going to be grassroots efforts that does the work. So I don't think it matters that much what they say until they start moving some people in the legislature and we start seeing some campaign dollars go elsewhere. I just don't think it matters.


Walt Sorg  19:47

You're right. It's like Rachel Maddow likes to say watch what they do, not what they say. And that's important. Watch what the lobbyists do for these large corporations for Ford for General Motors, Blue Cross Blue Shield, that dow, and on and on, what are they actually doing the legislature? What did they fight for? And that's that will be very telling. We'll be talking more about campaign finance a little bit later in the pod. Because there are some very interesting numbers in the first quarter reports, watch what they do, not what they say.


Christine Barry  20:18

Okay, exactly. And let me speak one minute to this copy of having your ID attached to your application for an absentee ballot. This is a poll tax. We, I mean, it's a poll tax that is harder and more expensive for people who are less likely to have technology like, for me, it's, it's not that costly for me to take a picture or to scan my ID print it out on a printer over here and send it in. But for somebody who doesn't have the ability to print, then there is a hardship there that they have to go through in order to apply for a ballot, as is the right under, under the law that was passed, overwhelmingly supported a few years ago. And just looking at this entire package of bills. This is the republican Hail Mary pass, because what we saw in this election was that turnout was easier, voting was easier. And that's something that's going to cost republicans the game, especially if they don't have gerrymandering to protect them anymore. So their response is to put poll taxes in place, add cost to elections, so that poor communities can't participate as fully as well as wealthier communities. And by that, I mean things like making sure you have your cameras on your drop boxes, and all that some poorer communities can't afford that. You add obstacles and deadlock in front of routine decisions, like the locations of Dropbox, you automatically cancel voter registration for people who haven't exercised their right to vote in a certain amount of time, like over several years, you don't vote and then you finally decide you're going to, which is what happened for many people with Trump, many people with Bernie Sanders in the in the primaries. This this package of bills wants to take away those people's right to vote in that take away the registration. So they would have to re register. You can do that with any other right? Well, you know. So I mean, this is, this is like well Jocelyn Benson put it so well, a national coordinated partisan effort. And it and I don't think all of it is even constitutional, because I don't see how that copy of my ID attached to a application for a ballot is not a poll tax. And I wouldn't do it anyway, because it actually exposes my private information in a new way, by making me put all that information in the mail.


Walt Sorg  22:54

And on top of that, it may be self-defeating. Because the core constituency right now for the Republican Party in the polling backs this up is non college, white, lower income families. Those are the people that are the most likely to vote Republican. They're also part of a larger group that's least likely to have the technology readily available to them to make a photocopy. And they are also the least likely to vote. So you take those two together, and it's self-defeating for Republicans, because they're discouraging a lot of their own voters. And again, what's the problem that you're fixing? And the answer is, of course, the problem we're fixing is a perception that we created with a bunch of lies after the 2020. Before and after the 2020 election.


Christine Barry  23:39

Yeah, and, you know, to your point about the core constituency, what about the retirees up in the Upper Peninsula? How many of them use absentee voting? I actually don't know, it's just a question I'm throwing out.


Walt Sorg  23:58

More than 50% of the voters statewide were absentee last election.


Christine Barry  24:03

I don't know how it's gonna look when it comes out of the legislature, if it does come out of the legislature when it comes out of committee, whatever. But it's clear what this is. And, you know, I will say again, to Ron Weiser and anybody else who is saying these things, if you think that going around Governor Whitmer is like, if you think Governor Whitmer is your only obstacle, you're wrong. There are millions people opposed to this. We know exactly what you're doing. There's going to be a fight.


Walt Sorg  24:29

Amen. Amen.


Christine Barry  24:33

All right. Well, speaking of fights, President Biden's American jobs plan would invest billions of dollars in the nation's economic future. To nobody's surprise at all. There is a partisan divide on the issue. Everyone wants to invest in infrastructure, but Republicans have a problem paying for it, or at least paying for it through corporate taxes. And there's a debate over what constitutes infrastructure. Now talks have begun in Washington on the possibilities for compromise. Let's compromise that might split the President's proposal into multiple bills and pay for the bills with something other than higher taxes on major corporations and billionaires. You know, Walt, it's gonna be interesting to see exactly how they do that. And the Wall Street Journal that we're going to link to in the show notes has a great breakdown on how it might happen. You know, they could split up some of it and move it through is bipartisan. And then take the rest of it and move it through by reconciliation, if that's even possible considering the makeup of the Democratic Caucus.


Walt Sorg  25:37

Yeah Joe Manchin is the Senate Majority Leader. Yeah.


Christine Barry  25:42

So it should be interesting.


Walt Sorg  25:44

There the report, a lot of the republicans are talking about gasoline tax instead of corporate income tax, which is one not nearly as popular. So that's self-defeating politically, but also it's stupid economics. Because our use of gasoline as a percentage of total funding for highways is going down every year is the cars get more efficient, especially as we move now towards more and more electric vehicles. The gas tax is just a dumb way to pay for it. There is talk about having a mileage tax where the government would be tracking your mileage. And I'm sure that'll go down real well with the civil libertarians. When you have major corporations that simply are not paying federal income taxes, even though they're highly profitable. that pisses off a lot of people for good reason when Amazon's paying no federal income tax when Donald Trump is paying no federal income tax, when FedEx which is just booming during the pandemic is paying no federal income tax, and on and on and on and on. The share of corporate support of business tax support for our federal and state governments has consistently gone down year after year after year beginning with Ronald Reagan. That trend has not made us any more prosperous at the lower end is made for a lot more billionaires and multimillionaires but it has not led to an increase in the average income of the average worker. The median income for families has not changed in decades. Because the money is all flowing to the top. It's not trickle down. It's flood upward


Christine Barry  27:18

And hoard and hide. I’ve got to challenge you on part of that though. And I'm a little disappointed you didn't know this. Trump paid like 350 bucks.


Walt Sorg  27:29

I'm sorry. I apologize.


Christine Barry  27:31



Walt Sorg  27:31

I mean, please, the chair stands corrected.


Christine Barry  27:34



Walt Sorg  27:36

The Congressional Record is amended


Christine Barry  27:41

well, key to any infrastructure bill is our transportation network. There's pressure growing to place more emphasis on our oldest form of mass transit, which is rail. Among the advocates is former Massachusetts governor and 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis speaking our sister podcast, a republic, if you can keep it, Dukakis said the industrial Midwest would benefit by reviving a plan for rail that dates back to the Clinton administration,


Michael Dukakis  28:08

go back to the Clinton years take his rail plan off the shelf, and it was a damn good one. We need a National Rail strategy. What's happened to rail transportation is a disgrace. It's gotten worse front needless to say was a disaster on the subject. That plan is as good today as it was then now it's not a super high speed rail plant with rains running at 250 miles an hour. But it as I recalled 12 or 13, relatively high-speed corridors part of a national system. All of these folks who say well, everybody's going to stay home and work at home. And we're not going to deed first rate ground transportation system. You guys need it, we need it. The West Coast needs it, the South needs it and the faster we get on with the better.


Walt Sorg  29:00

He makes a good point environmentally rail is a good deal, too. It's the least polluting form of mass transportation that we've got by far, both for moving freight and for moving people. And of course, we've got in the White House, somebody who loves trains. I mean, he's the Sheldon Cooper of politics. When it comes when it comes to trains, having been a commuter for literally decades going back and forth to Delaware. By the way, I want to say it was a treat talking with Governor Dukakis I produce the other podcast and so I do get the opportunity to talk with the guests. He's 87 years old, and he is as sharp as he's ever been. And just a delightful man. It was really quite a quite a privilege to get to meet Michael Dukakis.


Christine Barry  29:42

I was not familiar. I couldn't remember much about Clinton's rail plan. I knew it was a major component of his economic plan. So anyway, I went back I looked it up. I went to the congressional archives and pulled out the bills and everything and here's a little bit of trivia. John Dingell introduced Clinton's High Speed Rail Development Act in the house


Walt Sorg  30:02

Well, he should have, I would think that we really need that high-speed rail For starters, and that the I 96 and 994 corridors would make an awful lot of sense for Michigan. And maybe it would help the North Country if we had one going up by 69, as well. And maybe I 75 just mirror the interstates get people off the roads or keep them off the roads, because traffic is down and put them into rail cars, I think it can be very profitable for the state, the state does have a ton of money coming in from the American rescue plan, more than $18 billion in federal funding is coming in to state and local governments problem we've got which we'll be talking about with Senator tell in a few moments is the legislature is so intent on making a point politically with the governor about her powers versus their powers, that we're likely or at least we're facing the possibility of not being able to use all of this money because the legislature can't get it together. And that's just outrageous, you've got $5.7 billion in additional federal funding coming into the state, in addition to the 4.4 billion directed at local governments, and 3.9 billion to K 12 schools. But most of this money can't be spent, unless it's appropriated by the legislature. And this legislature is so focused on the politics of it, that it's losing sight of the policy of it, this money could have a huge impact on the state and things like shoring up our infrastructure, helping our small businesses, for crying out loud, all those restaurants, especially that are hurting so bad, and the restaurant workers that still haven't gotten their jobs back. These are all things that would make our state a more prosperous state and a more sustainable state economically. And yet, they're sitting on their thumbs and just go on playing tennis back and forth with the governor over things that she's going to veto.


Christine Barry  31:54

They are so determined to fight her that they've already approved a lawsuit. Should things not go their way. At least that's my understanding of it. Now, this money could already be at work for us. It could already be out and doing things for us. But there it sits.


Walt Sorg  32:14

And they're not even sitting down. They used to be quadrant meetings all the time where the four legislative leaders to from each party would sit down with the governor, and they'd figure out how to actually get something done. Now they don't have meetings, all they do is they swap tweets or they swap press conferences. And occasionally they may even talk on the phone. But there's no real dialogue going on between the governor and the Republican leadership, especially the Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. And until they get past that, we go nowhere.


Christine Barry  32:45

You know, when you have a senate majority leader who is more of a political activist than he is a member of the legislature, it's easy to see why talks don't go anywhere. Because his big thing is about perception to show that he's fighting the governor to show that he's out there on the side of these people, I struggle to call them people anymore. I just think of them as subhumans, Walt, I'm so mad at them. But he's just out there being involved more in activism, I think than he is in government.


Walt Sorg  33:22

Is this back and forth of the legislature going to ever end? Will those federal funds get appropriated to help Michigan get out of the financial hole created by the pandemic? To find out more I talked earlier this week with the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. My own state senator East Lansing's Curtis Hertel Jr.  Senator Hertel we have billions of dollars already designated for the state in relief from the federal government. We've got billions more that are part of the new package that the President got through Congress. Yet, it seems like we're in this perpetual tennis match between the legislature, legislative Republicans and the governor over her powers that seems to stall the whole thing, are we gonna be able to get this thing worked out?


Curtis Hertel Jr  34:03

Well, but I'm optimistic that we will I think it's insane that we're where we're at. We don't need COVID relief dollars, six months from now we need them now. Other people that need food assistance and rental assistance, need them now the money for vaccines and testing are needed. Now. I pray to God that four or five months from now, you know, we're past this pandemic, at least largely, but the fact that we've been in his political quagmire, this idea that they will hold the hostage money as if that's their money, this is funding for the federal government that is directly to do things for people. The fact that they're willing to hold that hostage in a political fight is just unconscionable. And that's really then incredibly frustrating. Not just as a legislator, but as a citizen, to watch all this help that’s available for people to get us through this pandemic, to get it through the people that are hurting, and to watch the legislature do absolutely nothing, except for complain, and try to use it to try to take away the powers of the governor to protect people is it's just unconscionable.


Walt Sorg  35:21

One of the things that occurs to me having watched the legislature through decades, literally, is that when you're in an urgency like this, you need to be nimble, you need to be able to react quickly. And the legislative process, by almost by definition, is not nimble, it is designed to be a little bit slow. And really, it has to be something that the executive can do unilaterally.


Curtis Hertel Jr  35:43

That's why they passed the original epidemic powers for the governor. That's why those that saw the first pandemic, and saw other threats, pass that and it's why every public health department in the country as these kinds of powers, because the legislature is not a body that does that. But here's the other thing. Well, they've been saying that they want the power to be involved in this. And they've done nothing. We haven't had a passage of a mask mandate. We haven't had anything other than a bill that would open up restaurants and take powers away. They have no interest in actually doing anything that actually will protect the public health. So that's a frustrating thing. If you wanted to be part of the process, then put out your ideas of what you're willing to do. But they haven't done that. And so we've had a ton of bills attacking the governor, we've had a supplemental that was a bribe to prosecutors that were willing to investigate the governor, we've had all kinds of nonsense, but not a whole lot of actual work done to protect the public health. I've been a lover of the legislative branch for my entire career. My father spent 18 years in the legislative branch, if you added up the service of, you know, my family, the legislature, it's almost 100 years of service. I think the legislature is the exact place that should do and be involved in these things. But if they failed to do so. And if they failed to be part of protecting public health, then somebody has to stand up and do the politically hard thing. And that's what this governor has been willing to do. Would I like the legislature to be more involved. Sure. And if they are reasonable humans there, that would be a great solution. But they haven't there's only one person state who politically has been willing, who’s had the political will to do hard things. And that's the Governor. And that's what I really respect about the governor. Well, I mean, you will look at what the governor has been able to do, in terms of protecting the public out what she was willing to do the first real road plan on the table. She's been willing to do all the tough decisions, and all the responsible governance, and they want to act like they're in the minority.


Walt Sorg  38:01

You have an unusual perspective on those that you kind of raised when you talked about your family service, your father served as co speaker of the house when the membership was tied. And despite the fact that it was a 50-50 House of Representatives. He and Paul hooligans managed to get an awful lot of things done.


Curtis Hertel Jr  38:20

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that a lot of people forget that, that that wasn't easy to get. There was tough politics, then. You know, they spent the first three months trying to steal each other's member and try to use you know, it started out vitriolic, but they found a way to work with each other for the betterment of the people in Michigan. That's our job. And at the end of the day, at least I hope nobody runs for office to be part of gridlock. You run for office because you have a perspective and you believe you can make the world better. and whatnot. Unfortunately, I see too many people in the legislature that don't want to get anything done but didn't run for office to change things. They didn't run for office. You know, they want to just, you know, stand up and scream and cry. Now, there are there are there are good people on the Republican side of the aisle. Jim Stamas is the appropriations Chairman, we’re good friends worked together all the time on things. But at some point, you got to tell these other people that they're not serious legislators. They're not actually there to get things done. And we need to put them aside and treat them you know, like, what they are that you know, they want to decide shows that we've always had the size shows in Lansing, but they can't be the ones running government. At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to the 80,000 people that we serve. The good thing is that the fact that it's taken us three months to get all those federal dollars is should be embarrassing. Other states are already working in already. Getting out the second round of COVID funding, and we're still sitting on the first,


Walt Sorg  40:05

let's shift briefly to the other major bone of contention right now politically in Michigan. And that's voting rights. There's a package of bills, as you're well aware that the republicans want to push through. And after the governor vetoes, have them do a petition drive. But now you've got the corporate structure in Michigan, pretty well lined up against these bills. What do you see as the future are some of your colleagues now a little reticent, perhaps on the Republican side to push these things through, given the widespread opposition, not just from Democrats and from democrat leaning groups, but from business groups as well?


Curtis Hertel Jr  40:41

I hope so. I mean, these bills are, effectively a second attempt to Jim Crow. And what they're trying to do is make it harder for people to be part of our democracy. I think that, you know, we had a fair election, and they lost. And I think they're worried because we’ll have a more fair election with redistricting. And they don't want to lose again. But you don't try to change the rules and try to make it harder to believe part of the process. That's not how you actually are supposed to win elections. When I look at what they're doing, you know, I think they should be embarrassed to this idea that they're the only people that are going to be able to vote absentee, or people that have access to a photocopier. I mean, how many people have photo copiers and scanners at home in today's world? It's silly. And I think it's been a bad firewall. Nobody ever won an election by telling their people that elections don't matter. I think they're trying to win the next election based on this election, historically speaking, actually more republican vote absentee than Democrats. I don't know if, if next cycle, what that will look like. This is a very strange year because of COVID. So I think it might be politically being dumb to if you really want to get into it. But they're terrible laws. All it's about this trying to keep more people out of process, trying to make it harder to vote. And to me that's unconscionable.


Walt Sorg  42:04

Underlying this issue, as well as several others that have come up in recent years, is the whole idea of voter petitions for initiatives, which is really being distorted by this issue where you can get 350,000 valid signatures and completely bypass both the governor and the voters of Michigan. Is this something that needs to be looked at long term?


Curtis Hertel Jr  42:29

Absolutely. I think that it is a, you know, back in the day, when this was thought of it wasn't thought of as being easy process. Now anybody with a few million bucks, you get anything in front of the legislature and by the governor. And we have no laws in Michigan, that prevent somebody from lying about what those petitions someone signing, circuits are going to use people. We have a very little regulations on who those people are. And we've seen over and over again, during prevailing wage under another petition drives a direct attempt to lie to people to confuse them to get them to sign up. And also, I think many people sign on to petitions, just because they believe that the people should have a vote. But these people, people are never gonna get a vote on these things. What's even more insidious, they can put an appropriation in there, that means that they can prevent another vote from happening in the future. To me, it's a very dangerous process. And I think that when you have a gerrymandered legislature that goes around, claiming they're the body of the people they have this amount of power is absolutely insane. And I think it's ironic, by the way, that they would complain forever, about the balance of power between the governor the legislative branch and then use this kind of tool. Hypocrisy is pretty darn common in Lansing.


Walt Sorg  43:57

I don't think you have to look far to find a lot of hypocrisy anywhere. You can just ask mitch mcconnell about corporate involvement in elections, and see what he has to say. Senator Curtis Hertel, always a pleasure. Thanks so much for joining us on the Policast.


Curtis Hertel Jr  44:14

Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it.


Walt Sorg  44:16

And thanks to Senator Hertel for talking with us. It's always a pleasure to talk with him. I have known him and his family for literally decades, and they exemplify what public service is all about. It's certainly good to have him in the legislature.


Christine Barry  44:29

Yeah, I really like him. Well, efforts to repeal the governor's emergency powers by going around both the governor and voters may face a court challenge. Now here's what this is the group unlock Michigan turned in more than half a million signatures in support of a ballot initiative to eliminate that 1945 law that Governor Whitmer was using to manage the pandemic response. And of course, the Supreme Court stepped in and told her she couldn't do that anyway, but this group still wants to eliminate that law. So the goal of This group is to get the republicans in the legislature to adopt the initiative. And of course, quote unquote, go around the will of the people. In other words, the elected popularly elected governor and not actually get it on a ballot. So this would certainly have the support of Mike Shirkey, who is a fundraiser for the organization that gave over $550,000 to unlock Michigan. The Republican Party gave more than $600,000 to unlock Michigan, and another group called keep Michigan safe has now filed a legal complaint and asked for a criminal investigation into how the signatures were collected. Some of the allegations are that there are forged and duplicated signatures, signatures of unregistered voters on attended petitions were illegally verified. Bob Brandt accused them of campaign violations, the Free Press published evidence that the canvassers were trained on how easy it is to break the law.


Walt Sorg  45:54

We should point out Bob Brandt is Mr. Republican in the state. He is He is an expert on Election Law inside out. But unlike some of the people involved with his petition, Dr. Bob Brandt, also a man of principle, and one of those principles is you follow the law?


Christine Barry  46:10

Yeah, I mean, and this this organization doesn't they are run by a convicted felon. And look, it's one thing to have an organization that is doing something that you don't, you know, that you're opposed to, I mean, we've been through, we've all been through that, that's what politics are all about. But this is a sketchy group. And they're funded in part by the republican party in part by the Senate Majority Leader. And that's kind of freaky. So anyway, the legal challenge to this is based on those accusations, as well as a few others, you know, we'll have details in the show notes. But and you know, maybe even after the legal challenges, does still have the 304 or 305,000 signatures they need. But these people represent the worst of grassroots activism. They really do. They're not even grassroots.


Walt Sorg  47:03

And as Senator Hertel points out in the interview that we just had, anybody who's got 2-3-4 million dollars can get the signatures to force an initiative in front of the legislature. And if their views are aligned with the majority of the legislature, they can effectively bypass the people and the governor to implement anything they want, with just, you know, a half million signatures and a lot of money. And that certainly is not democracy in action. And too often in Michigan lately, we've had examples of it being just the opposite, that it's the processes being abused to implement a minority agenda that is very end to theoretical to the views of the majority. And that's simply simply wrong, simply wrong. As we discussed earlier, this week, the pandemic is hitting urban downtown's very hard. And in Michigan, none of them is hit harder than Lansing. There's a real crisis in downtown Lansing, because of the major employer of people downtown is of course, state government with 1000s of state workers who normally would be coming downtown every day to work, meaning First of all, they're paying city income tax. And secondly, they're occupying office space, a lot of which is rental office space downtown. What we've got right now in Lansing, and more so probably than in any other city, is a lot of empty offices plus downtown businesses that are totally dependent on white collar workers who either work for the state or in state adjacent businesses like law firms and lobbying firms and the like. And they're working from home. And a lot of them don't live in Lansing, and it's having an impact of millions on the city of Lansing. It's impacting the parking revenues. It's impacting the viability of rental properties downtown to the point where that's going to be reimagined. And that is a huge, huge impact. There's a great article in Britta that we will link a link to that talks about the issues that are facing just regular people, as well as the big landlords and everybody else in downtown Lansing. And it's affecting transit systems nationwide, too, in terms of the patterns of where the traffic is on mass transit. In urban areas. It used to be that mass transit was all about bringing workers into town to work and taking them home at the end of the day. Now more and more mass transit is becoming critical for lower income residents of urban areas, because it's their best and possibly only way to get around. And so the urban mass transit systems are gonna have to reimagine themselves. My feeling has been with the transit because it's already so heavily subsidized in urban areas. It should be made free. You shouldn't be any farebox. When you get on a municipal bus. You just get on and go where you need to go. I know in Lansing the Lansing area system Cata only about 10% of the revenues come from the farebox everything else is grants and secondary income so The economic impact on the bus system wouldn't be that great and just make the subsidy 100%. And I think that'd be good for the community takes traffic off the roads. It's it's a lot safer. It's you can it's environmentally a lot cleaner than having all those cars on the roads. I think it's a real Win win. It's a good investment of money. And of course, when you do that they'll scream socialism


Christine Barry  50:20

at that's the answer to everything, of course, emptying out our urban areas, the way that the way that COVID did. You know, it's really hit small businesses pretty hard. And I'm thinking about some of the areas in Lansing in particular, where, you know, that avenue where you walk, you can't drive down that road, and there's like, I don't know Lansing that well anymore. But it seems to me like there was that pie company and you know, a bunch of other places where you could actually sit out in front of the place and eat and all of that. I mean, those places must be hit pretty hard.


Walt Sorg  50:50

A lot of the downtown restaurants would just shut down.


Christine Barry  50:53

Well, they probably Yeah, they're probably had to.


Walt Sorg  50:55

And yeah, we've gone out of business, others have relocated, and there's a lot of empty storefronts, as well. And yeah, we've both been in big cities that have great transit systems, London and Tokyo to where I've been, where I never even thought about taking cabs, because you didn't need to, they had tremendous urban transit between the buses in the subways. And it was the only way to get around. It was efficient. It was very inexpensive. And it was just worked.


Christine Barry  51:21

Yeah, it's less stressful. It's so it's so easy. I would totally go to Detroit on a regular basis. If there was some rail to take me there. I really would. But there's nothing like that here. And I would love to go down there and spend some time in Detroit. I love that place.


Walt Sorg  51:39

let's talk money for politicians.


Christine Barry  51:41

Money. campaign finance reports are showing that Michigan members of Congress in swing districts are doing just fine, including two Republicans who voted to impeach the former guy. And this is Peter Meyer and Fred Upton. As you remember, they both voted to impeach the other former guy, I can't say that I can't. But they both did really well. For the first three months of the year, Meyer reported over $519,000 in campaign contributions, upped and reported over 360,000. And what it's kind of funny, the Michigan Republican Party gave both of them the maximum contribution of 20 $900, which is what the Republican Party gave to all of the republican delegation. So it wasn't just Meijer or Upton, but it was the same amount for all of them. And by the way, the party did that one day before that joke about assassinating these guys. Anyway, the primary opponents of Meijer and Upton didn't raise much at all, none of them broke 15,000 except for Tom Norton, who was a candidate before he raised nearly 39,000 but he has almost he has over 79,000 in campaign debt. And looking outside of Michigan, I thought this was interesting. Liz Cheney leads them all with 1.5 million.


Walt Sorg  53:02

I don't like Liz Cheney on policy for anything but God bless her. I hope she just destroys her opposition in in Wyoming you'll never have a democrat elected in Wyoming was interesting too, that the two leading fundraisers in Michigan's congressional delegation were the two democrats who are in swing districts. Elyssa Slotkin is just a money machine. I mean, she's unbelievable. She hauled in during the quarter $848,000, which is was more than double what anybody else did other than Meyer. And Haley Stevens edged out Meyer for second place with $588,000 plus. And again, they both will have opponents but none of the people that are talking about running against them raise diddly squat. So that's going to make life a little a little more pleasant for both of them as they move on. They're really good. They never stopped fundraising, of course, but they're very good at it.


Christine Barry  53:55

Yes, they are both very impressive with their numbers. They always have been


Walt Sorg  53:59

President Biden's announcement regarding new sanctions on Russia have a direct tie in to Michigan. The story begins with the official government finding that Russia did in fact, work on behalf of the Trump campaign in both 2016 and 2020.


Joe Biden  54:14

During the campaign for my for the presidency, I was unequivocal that if I was elected president, I'd respond to any attempt to influence our elections last election. And because elections are sacred, or sovereign undertakings, an expression of the will of the American people. And we cannot allow foreign power to interfere in our democratic process with impunity. And I told him if it turned out that the invest as I thought that there was engagement in our elections that I would respond.


Walt Sorg  54:48

Now the Michigan tie goes back to the 2016 campaign. And there is a direct statement in the materials released by the federal government that Paul Manafort, who was the Trump campaign manager was giving confidential polling data about Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, the swing states that ultimately determined the election, giving that directly to a guy named Columbia cough. He's a Russian spy. He's one of the people who has vanished from the United States as a part of the sanctions. And he was giving it directly to the Kremlin, so that they had the inside information on exactly what they needed to do to try to influence voters in Michigan, as well as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to vote for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. collusion, I think that's what that's called.


Christine Barry  55:35

I think that the people who believe there was no wrongdoing, are still going to believe that no matter what, and the people who believe that there was wrongdoing, will believe that. And if you were kind of unsure, and you didn't really know, you'll look at this, and you'll say, okay, it was polling information. It's not that big of a deal. It's not just, you know, polling information like you and I get our hands on in the media, it was, you know, more sophisticated campaign stuff. But again, without a clearer picture of how it all works together. And what the Kremlin did with that information, I feel that it's going to be really hard to change anybody's mind.


Walt Sorg  56:13

Yet at the same time, Donald Jr. Can convene a meeting in Trump Tower, involving his brother-in-law involving his other brother and with with Russian spies to talk about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, and they don't seem to worry about that. But let's make sure we get hunter Biden's laptop which hunter Biden, by the way, doesn't even remember owning. He was so drugged out at the time he doesn't even remember having the darn thing.


Christine Barry  56:38

Yeah. And I'm sure those drugs would take him across the country to have a laptop repaired by one of Giuliani's friends. Yeah. Go figure. Right. Well, President Biden has committed to reversing the previous administration's virtual ban on admitting refugees into the nation and Governor Whitmer made it clear that Michigan would welcome new Michiganders, when that happens,


Gretchen Whitmer  57:03

we are proud to be a home to a very diverse population. This is something that has been a great strength for for our state. And something that has the auto industry drew people in from all around the world because you could get a good paying union job and raise a family. And so this is a place where we always want to be welcoming to people that are looking for an opportunity in a better life. And so Michigan will continue to do that.


Christine Barry  57:27

And that was governor Whitmer on Meet the Press. And can I just point out how different that is from Rick Snyder's messaging on how, yes, we welcome immigrants, but you have to have this much money. And you have to do this, this and this. And it was all about investing in Michigan, which has its place. But that's not what a refugee is. And it was really cool to hear her say that and it was cool to hear that popping sound that you get when a Republican’s head pops off, because he heard he heard her encouraging refugees, welcoming them to Michigan,


Walt Sorg  58:04

so many of them are small entrepreneurs, though just in my own neighborhood, one of my favorite restaurants locally, was started by a family from Myanmar. And it's just a wonderful restaurant, they started with nothing for the first year they were living in the restaurant, because that's all they can afford. It got to the point where they bought the building. They're rehabbing it, and they're continuing to rehab it even during the pandemic. And it's that kind of spirit that really builds America. And it's first and second-generation new Americans that are doing it. I always like to remind people that some of the greatest companies in America were started by first- and second-generation immigrants. Steve Jobs was the son of an immigrant.


Christine Barry  58:44

I mean, look, if you are fleeing a humanitarian crisis, coming to America, you already have shown that you have a tremendous amount of resiliency and determination. And you're coming here for a reason. It shows in the work that they produce, you know what they do for the country. So I, you know, I respect those people.


Walt Sorg  59:06

Let's end this all on a very happy note. And that is Twitter's becoming a little more tolerable these days. It's been 100 days, since the former guy was banned from Twitter. And that has been a huge relief. I think about it, as I'm preparing every weekend for this podcast, that I'm not worrying about what is going to be tweeted on Sunday morning. at the last second, that's just totally insane that's going to take over the headlines. And I love the fact and I get the White House daily press briefings, and every day they send out an advisor and what the president and vice president have scheduled for the following day. And generally for the weekend, it says they're not going to do anything publicly, except maybe go to church, and I love it. Now, Joe Biden did play golf this weekend for the first time in his presidency, so shame on him for playing golf. Although he didn't go to a golf course that he owns and charge the taxpayers for the privilege of letting them play. But it's so nice to return to normalcy. They say Joe Biden, John Cornyn was complaining to Joe Biden is too boring on Twitter. I say Thank God.


Christine Barry  1:00:12

That he's too boring on Twitter?  Is that like a tan suit controversy? I don't understand.


Walt Sorg  1:00:18

Oh it doesn't even rise to that level.


Christine Barry  1:00:22

That's ridiculous. Yeah. Well, that's wrap for this week. You can get more information on this week's topics on our website, Michigan We welcome your feedback on the podcast. You can email us at or comment on our Facebook page or on Twitter.


Walt Sorg  1:00:41

And make sure you subscribe to our sister podcast a republic if you can keep it with longtime Michigan political operatives as Jeff Timmer and Mark Brewer. Their guests this week are a lot of fun. The three brothers who launched the grassroots of Midas touch movement, happy warriors gleefully tossing guards and Republicans across the nation. You can find their podcast wherever you get your podcasts.


Christine Barry  1:01:04

And that's it for this week's episode. Thanks so much for listening. We'll see you next week.


Announcer  1:01:10

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

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