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New petitions initiatives, a redistricting time crunch and confusing budget language: The week in Michigan politics

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LANSING, MI — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state’s 2021-22 budget agreement this week, which included language inserted by Republicans that attempts to prohibit health departments from issuing mask mandates.

The provisions, which the governor has said are unenforceable and unconstitutional, has triggered some health departments to do away with health orders over concerns they may not receive state funding.

Meanwhile, two new Michigan petition initiatives have been launched, one to make Michigan voting laws more stringent and another to award the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote in presidential elections.

Here’s what happened this week in Michigan politics:

Nearly half of Michigan’s Republican candidates for governor believe fraud put President Joe Biden in office

Former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and President Joe Biden won it. But with the former president and his allies making unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, nearly half of the Republicans running to be the next governor of Michigan say they believe fraud reversed the results of the 2020 election.

Related: A car enthusiast, a mom of 10, a magician: Meet the 12 Republicans who want to be Michigan’s next governor

MLive interviewed all 12 Republicans who have formed candidate committees to run for governor between Sept. 24 and Sept. 27, most in person at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. One question on the list was whether they believed fraud had reversed the results of the 2020 election.

Five — Articia Bomer, Ryan Kelley, Evan Space, Bob Scott and Ralph Rebandt — said they did believe fraud reversed the results of the 2020 election.

“I think that if there was no voter fraud or anything like that, I think that there might have been a change to the election and that Trump might have won, yes,” Space said.

To date, no legal challenge or legislative inquiry has substantiated claims of widespread fraud in Michigan or nationally. Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes.

Two candidates — Rebandt and Bomer — cited their experiences at the TCF Center in Detroit as votes were being counted.

None spoke about Trump regaining the current office, saying instead Biden would likely serve out a four-year term.

Read more: Nearly half of Michigan’s Republican candidates for governor believe fraud put President Joe Biden in office

“I do believe that the 2020 election was a disrespect to our Constitutional Republic. I do believe it was fraudulent. But I don’t believe, there’s nothing that’s going to happen that’s going to put Trump back into office, he would have to run again in 2024,” said Kelley, a real estate agent and local planning commissioner who took part in the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C.

Only one candidate, Michigan State Police Capt. Mike Brown, offered a simple “no” when asked if fraud had reversed the results of the 2020 election.

“No, there’s very, there’s a lot of people concerned nationally about changes in election laws and 2020. That election is done. So, I know there’s people looking into voter fraud in different areas. I support them looking into that to make sure we have a safe and secure election,” he said.

James Craig, the former Detroit Police Chief who is considered a frontrunner in the race, also seemed to answer in the negative, saying he hadn’t seen any investigation that suggested fraud had swayed the election.

“However, I don’t take lightly the concerns of so many in our state, who’ve expressed that there was fraud,” he said, saying he would be open to an audit and supports requiring identification to vote.

Ford didn’t give Michigan shot at new electric plants, Whitmer says

Detroit may be the “Motor City,” but “Blue Oval City” is being built in Tennessee.

Ford is investing $11.4 billion and creating 11,000 jobs at new plants in Tennessee and Kentucky, which will build F-Series pickups and electric vehicle batteries.

The Dearborn-based automaker has invested heavily in Michigan facilities in recent years, but is catching heat for going south to build these “mega-sites,” as Ford calls them.

“Michigan is always going to put a competitive alternative on the table when we are given an opportunity to,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a budget-related press conference Wednesday, Sept. 29. “We look forward to future investments and looking to Michigan first and giving us the opportunity to put a robust package on the table, as we want them to grow in their home state first and foremost.”

This is Ford’s “biggest investment ever,” Ford President and CEO Jim Farley said in a news release.

Tennessee’s governor called it a “watershed moment” for the state and Kentucky’s governor said this is the largest investment in the history of the state.

“I’m always looking to make Michigan more competitive and always eager to put solutions on the table, but we need a real opportunity to do that,” Whitmer said. “And that really wasn’t the case here.”

Ford likely took a variety of factors into account, Whitmer said, including energy rates – as Michigan’s industrial electricity rate is higher than Tennessee, Kentucky and the national average.

“We always consider Michigan and have invested more than $7 billion in our home state since 2016,” a Ford spokesperson said in a statement. “Location decisions for our new mega campus were based on several factors — starting with site size, shovel-readiness, and proximity to other EV sites, transportation and other key services. Michigan did not have the type of sites needed for this project, so they were not part of the formal bid process.”

More: Ford didn’t give Michigan shot at new electric plants, Whitmer says

Michigan state Rep. Andrea Schroeder dies of stomach cancer

State Rep. Andrea Schroeder, 57, has died following a recurrence of stomach cancer, House Speaker Jason Wentworth said Friday.

Schroeder, R-Independence Township, was serving her second term in office and on Sept. 14 announced she was undergoing treatment for recurrent cancer. She was majority whip for the House Republican caucus.

Schroeder was originally diagnosed with stomach cancer in August of 2018, shortly after winning a primary election in the 43rd District that covers a portion of Oakland County. She underwent a total gastrectomy in 2019 and continued serving as a state representative, winning reelection to the seat in 2020.

In a statement, Wentworth said even during the worst days of her illness, Schroeder “was a tireless and selfless friend who always put the needs of others before her own.”

More: Michigan state Rep. Andrea Schroeder dies of stomach cancer

Whitmer signs Michigan budget into law, praises bipartisan nature of negotiations

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a new state budget buoyed by federal COVID-19 aid into law Wednesday, hailing the deal as a bipartisan win for residents despite a handful of line-item vetoes and provisions she said are unconstitutional.

The funding includes $50.7 billion in spending on state agencies and programs and $2.2 billion for higher education. Coupled with a $17.1 billion school aid budget signed into law this summer, the state’s upcoming budget will clock in at $70 billion.

The budget, which includes $2.7 billion in federal COVID-19 funding, funnels funds into child care eligibility expansion, a boost to direct care worker wages, additional funds for environmental cleanup and bridge repair and across-the-board increases to higher education funding. It will go into effect when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Joined by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, John Walsh of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, Michigan Reconnect student Mariah Lawrence and others, Whitmer signed off on the spending bills at Lansing Community College West Campus.

“All the legislators from both parties came together to get this done – it was overwhelmingly bipartisan,” Whitmer said. “In the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of a recession that accompanied it, flooding events, a divisive election…on top of all that, we got a great budget done, and it is a big deal.”

Read more: Whitmer signs Michigan budget into law, praises bipartisan nature of negotiations

In a statement, Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas, R-Midland, agreed with that assessment.

“We worked hard to finalize a responsible and effective state budget focused on protecting our families, supporting workers, educating our children, and helping our economy recover from the effects of the pandemic and government shutdowns,” he said. “I want to thank the governor and her team for their cooperation on this budget and hope that it is the framework for future bipartisan achievements to improve our state and the lives of the Michigan people.”

Facing time crunch, Michigan redistricting commission cuts back on public hearings

As deadlines loom and public interest in the process grows, Michigan’s redistricting commission is trimming back its original public hearing schedule and limiting public comment length in an effort to carve out more time to tweak maps.

The 13-member panel had previously agreed to a schedule of nine hearings to tour the state with a set of draft maps for the public to consider and weigh in on. But this week, the commission opted to scale back that schedule to five, the minimum number required by the constitutional amendment that created it.

The commission scrapped planned meetings in Marquette, Kalamazoo, Warren and Novi, approving the following schedule for public hearings in five other cities. Staff recommended adding back in a sixth meeting in Novi on Friday, but commissioners ultimately dropped that idea in favor of the following schedule:

  • Oct. 18: Grand Rapids
  • Oct. 19 or 20: Detroit
  • Oct. 21: Lansing
  • Oct. 25: Gaylord
  • Oct. 26: Flint

More: Facing time crunch, Michigan redistricting commission cuts back on public hearings

Whitmer appoints third state budget director in three years

Longtime Lansing fiscal hawk Christopher Harkins will take over as state budget director, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced in a press release Thursday.

“It is an honor to serve my State in this capacity and I want to thank Governor Whitmer for the opportunity,” Harkins said in a press release.

Harkins had been serving as director of the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. Previously, he worked in government relations for a financial company, as well as at the State Budget Office and the House Republican Policy Office.

“Budgets are the embodiment of the priorities of our citizenry, and I look forward to putting my state budget experience to work to once again find common ground with the legislature as we create another strong budget for next year,” Harkins said.

He is the third budget director Whitmer has appointed since taking office in 2019. He replaces Dave Massaron, who accepted a role at Wayne State University but stayed through the budget cycle. Whitmer signed the budget on Wednesday. Her first budget director was Chris Kolb, who left for a position at the University of Michigan last year.

Read more: Whitmer appoints third state budget director in three years

Whitmer on Thursday also announced Department of Technology Management and Budget Director Brom Stibitz was departing, and would be replaced by Julia Dale.

“I am so grateful to outgoing DTMB Director Brom Stibitz for his years of service at the department,” Whitmer said.

“Director Stibitz led the state through historic crises and facilitated a smooth transition to remote work for thousands of state employees to help ensure Michiganders got the resources they needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our families, communities, and small businesses are better off today because of the incredible work he did as director. I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”

Dale comes from the Office of the Attorney General, where she served as an Assistant Attorney general and Section Head of Business and Charities section. Prior to that, she worked at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Petition to tighten Michigan voting rules can begin collecting signatures after OK from canvassers

The Secure MI Vote committee can begin collecting signatures to tighten voter ID laws after the Michigan Board of Canvassers approved the group’s petition language Monday morning.

The Michigan Board of Canvassers unanimously approved the form of the petition 3-0 at a meeting Monday. The petition was submitted by Secure MI Vote, a Republican-backed committee looking to add steps and security measures to voting procedures.

Read more: Petition to tighten Michigan voting rules can begin collecting signatures after OK from canvassers

The board approved the 100-word summary of the initiative last week, but delayed a vote on the petition form itself due to typos and misspellings. The summary will appear on the petition forms, which need 340,047 signatures from registered voters to be taken up by the state Legislature.

Secure MI Vote will have 180 days to collect the signatures. If successful, the Legislature could enact the law without the signature of the governor, or it could send the proposal to the ballot for voters to decide.

Though Michigan already has a voter ID law, Secure MI Vote’s initiative would remove the ability to submit an affidavit for individuals without an ID to cast a ballot if they sign a statement of identity.

While the Secure MI Vote committee argues its proposed changes would make it harder to cheat, Democrats and voting rights advocates say the measures create more barriers to votes being counted.

If the initiative is adopted to the state Legislature, voters without an ID or who forget theirs would have to cast a provisional ballot that would only count if a they turn in a valid form of ID to their clerk’s office within six days of the election.

The petition form can be viewed in full here.

Michigan Senate approves Republican-led bills to tighten election security

The Michigan Senate passed a bill package Thursday meant to enhance voting security, though some of the proposed measures are already in place.

The bills are part of Republican-led legislation to tighten the security of Michigan elections. The efforts have come under fire from voting rights activists and Democratic lawmakers, who argue the GOP is pushing the bills in response to baseless claims that the 2020 election was compromised by voter fraud.

The bills would limit who can access Qualified Voter File, prohibit poll books from being connected to the internet, require specific training for poll challengers and change how municipalities decide where to hold polling locations.

HB 4837, HB 4838, HB 4528 and HB 4492 all passed the Michigan Senate Thursday 21-15 in a mostly partisan vote.

Read more: Michigan Senate approves Republican-led bills to tighten election security

The measures included in HB 4827 and HB 4838: denying third parties from access Qualified Voter File and banning poll books from being connected to the internet, are already in place, the Secretary of State’s Office has said.

Benson in August reiterated her claim that the 2020 election was the most secure in Michigan history, and that the department “appreciate(s) the Legislature recognizing this by codifying three practices we were already utilizing that contributed to its success.”

Michigan’s electoral college votes would go to winner of national popular vote if ballot initiative succeeds

Michigan would join an effort to award electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote under a proposed ballot initiative announced Monday.

Should the “Yes on National Popular Vote” initiative succeed, Michigan’s 15 electoral votes would be committed to the presidential candidate who won the majority of votes nationwide if enough states representing at least 270 electoral votes agree to participate.

Under the current system, candidates with a majority of the 538 total electoral votes wins the presidency, even if the other candidate wins the popular vote nationally. In 2016, President Donald Trump won the majority of electoral votes even though Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.

Read more: Michigan’s electoral college votes would go to winner of national popular vote if ballot initiative succeeds

Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar national popular vote legislation.

The effort is led by former Michigan Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzis and former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer, both of whom argued during a Monday press conference that tying the country’s electoral votes to the popular vote would give every state the opportunity to be relevant during the election cycle.

“The practical matter today is, we basically elect the president of the battleground states of America,” Anuzis said. “That’s not good for the process and that’s not why the Electoral College was designed.”

Brewer said the change could also make voters more confident in the election system by ensuring the candidate with the most votes wins.

ALSO ON MLIVE:

‘Sunlight is best disinfectant’: Bills aim to empower UM, MSU sex abuse survivors in lawsuits

From Detroit to Bay City: These were Michigan’s safest and most crime-ridden cities in 2020

Whitmer appoints third state budget director in three years

90% of Michigan teachers are white. State sets goal to fix ‘diversity shortage’ in schools



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