legislators

Cast Your Vote for Children, Youth and Families

November 3, 2014 – I came away from our youth-led candidate forums this fall feeling pretty optimistic about our democratic process. The candidates who attended our four forums around the state were well prepared, articulate, respectful and willing to prioritize the intense demands of an election season to spend 2-3 hours with groups of young people, their parents, the organizations supporting them and members of the communities where they live. Despite the fact that many of the young people weren’t of voting age, these candidates recognized that they were future voters and that their parents and other community members were voters or potential voters. The candidates also recognized, and articulated to us, the media and the young people themselves, that they had something to learn from the experience that would help them in the election and beyond.

That said, there are differences between the candidates for office. They have different opinions about the solutions to the concerns raised by the young people at our forums. They have different opinions about the role of government to be part of those solutions, and how much public resource should be invested. They have different priorities for their own work if elected, and different ways to keep in touch with their constituents to make sure that they are prioritizing what works.

I want to thank our local forum partners, who supported the young people in their preparation, facilitated the forum location, and helped Michigan’s Children convince the candidates to come and the media to cover the forums. We will be working with these partners after the election as well, to help the winners better understand critical issues and workable solutions, and to hold them accountable to make sure that their actions once elected match their commitments made.

I also want to personally thank the candidates who spent time with us at our forums. While I’m not endorsing them individually or as a group, we do want to recognize their participation. Many candidates who were invited did not participate, and those who did deserve our respect. The time that they took was so impactful to the young people involved, and helped their communities better understand their commitment to children, youth and families in our state.

Tomorrow is election day. As Matt Gillard said in his recent video on our Sandbox Party website, we are all tired or seeing all of the campaign ads, and getting the endless stream of fliers in our mailboxes and phone calls. However, decisions that will be made by the share of registered voters who show up at the polls to cast their vote will determine the path of our state for years to come. Don’t let those decisions be made by someone else, make sure that you are part of the process.

Find out more about the youth-led candidate forums, and about how you can get more information about your candidates.

Then, of course, come November 5, join us as we use our influence as voters and constituents to help and to guide the winners toward decisions that point us toward a better Michigan for children, youth and families.

– Michele Corey

The Questions No One Else is Asking

September 29, 2014 – The comment that struck me the most at the first of our series of youth-led candidate forums last week in Kalamazoo was echoed by all five candidates in attendance: questions they were being asked by the young people that night had not been asked so far on their campaign trails. The candidates were excited about this, and commended the young people on their thoughtful and thorough articulation of the issues that concerned them most.

There is probably no race in the state that is having more public forums, debates and other opportunities to hear from the candidates than the 20th Michigan Senate District. All three candidates for that office were present at our forum at Mt. Zion Baptist Church last Thursday, as were the two major party candidates running for the 60th House District. All were incredible – articulate, respectful and generous with their limited time.

The reason that these questions were unique is because Michigan’s Children is working with local youth partners to both develop and ask the questions of candidates at our four forums around the state. In Kalamazoo, three groups of young people were involved: Jeter’s Leaders, Calling all Youth at Advocacy Services for Kids, and the newly formed Douglass Youth Advisory Council. These groups developed and prioritized a series of questions that they were interested in hearing the candidates articulate. Then a group of about a dozen of their young people stood up in front of the forum audience and put those questions to the candidates.

The reason we decided to conduct a series of youth-led forums during this election season was to remedy the fact that we don’t often hear candidates talking about issues that really matter to children, youth and families. Turns out, it did the trick. The young people asked questions about access to services, including behavioral and reproductive health; they asked about candidate plans to address high school dropout and high unemployment of young people and their families and their perspectives on basic needs programs that serve families when they are at their most vulnerable. They asked how young people could get more informed about how our government works and how if elected, how the candidates would get consistent and substantive feedback from young people before they made decisions. Each of our five candidates was given equal time to answer each question, and answer they did.

If you can, join us for one of the remaining three forums in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Mt. Clemens. Get more information about the forums themselves, the candidates and our partners on the Sandbox Party website. And don’t forget to attend candidate forums in your area, we have our own questions for candidates on our What’s At Stake page. The general election is only a few weeks away – take all the opportunities you can to hear about what your candidates for office are saying and if they aren’t talking about the issues most important to you, take the opportunity to ask.

– Michele Corey

The Power of Our Vote

August 7, 2014 – Okay, I’ve admitted to you before that I love democracy – I love the power and the responsibility that comes with determining who will be making big decisions on my behalf, and assisting them make the best decisions possible along the way. For the past couple of months, we’ve been pestering folks as best we can to participate in the electoral process, beginning not in November, but beginning earlier than that in the Primary Elections that happened yesterday.

As we looked today at the winners and losers from yesterday and what that tells us about Michigan voters, candidates and their supporters, I was struck again by how close some of these Primary races were – several decided by fewer than 10 votes. Yes, you heard me, fewer than 10. I’ve had more people at my house for my book club! And many more decided by fewer than 100. We all know 100 people, and it is astounding to think that is all it takes to hand somebody success or failure at the polls. Now we know that turn out will be higher in November – typically we have about 20% (18% this last go round) of registered voters voting in the primaries and about 45% or so voting in the general election (okay, those dismal numbers are worthy of another blog another day), but contests will still be won often by small margins. Why would we put that kind of power into the hands of someone else?

The other thing that I was struck by was that once again, money alone doesn’t buy elections. Whenever I talk to people about getting more involved in policy advocacy, I always stress that even though the media never stops talking about the impact that money has in politics, it actually isn’t as impactful as some democratic system nay-sayers want to believe. That said, even I sometimes use the caveat that money makes more of a difference in statewide races, and in Congressional bids, then it does in more local races. Well, yesterday the people voting in the Republican primary of the 4th District Congressional seat, the one vacated by popular and powerful U.S. Representative Dave Camp, voted for the candidate who got outspent more than $5 to $1.

So what won that primary contest if it wasn’t money? Votes. Oh yeah, they always win. Candidates can get money from where-ever, and some of them do. You hear a lot about big monied interests funding campaigns that aren’t their own – campaigns in other communities, in other states. Well, that can get you advertising, staff and sometimes better strategy, but the only thing that gets you into office are the votes. Those can only come from the constituents in the district that you are vying to represent. They can only come from us, and we are all on even footing with votes – we each get one.

Now that we are moving into the general election, we have to take a closer look at how we decide which candidates are best to represent our interests – policy making in the best interest of children, youth and families. At Michigan’s Children, we’ll be focused on making sure that candidates are hearing about the issues that most concern constituents, and we’ll be paying close attention to what candidates are saying or not saying about the most critical investments needed in Michigan today:

1. Two-generation strategies that ensure children do well while their parents move ahead.
2. Earlier learning opportunities that optimize investments in 4-year old preschool.
3. Accessible, affordable, quality care for children and youth while parents can’t be with them.
4. Expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day.

Check back with the Sandbox Party and keep informed through our Sandbox Bulletin, our Early Learning Action Network and our Graduate Michigan Action Network. The power to move improved public policy for children, youth and families is, as always, in our hands.

– Michele Corey

Four Things We Learned from This Year’s Primaries

August 6, 2014 – This year’s all-important primary election has come and gone and four themes emerged from the results:

1. The battle for the soul of the Michigan Republican Party has not been decided. Establishment Republican interests took on Tea Party/Conservative candidates in numerous races throughout the state, and while both sides scored some major victories, no clear-cut winner emerged. With Todd Courser of Lapeer, Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell, and Gary Glenn of Midland all winning highly contested open GOP primaries in which establishment Republican groups spent huge money supporting their opposition, the Tea Party faithful can point to some impressive victories in the state House. Similarly, Congressman Justin Amash’s high-profile victory over establishment-supported Brian Ellis in the 3rd Congressional district was another big win for the Tea Party cause.

On the other side of the coin, the establishment-supported candidates emerged in the other three closely watched GOP Congressional primaries: Mike Bishop defeated Tom McMillin in the 8th Congressional district, David Trott bested Congressman Kerry Bentivolio in the 11th Congressional district, and John Moolenaar beat Paul Mitchell in the 4th Congressional district. The Republican establishment scored another impressive victory in the 37th state Senate district’s GOP primary with state Rep. Wayne Schmidt handily defeating state Rep. Greg MacMaster in a nasty northern Michigan battle.

This mixed bag of results from these Tea Party vs. Establishment fights ensures the ideological fight for control of the Michigan GOP will continue through at least the next Legislative session.

2. The power of incumbency remains formidable in state Legislative elections. With the notable exception of State Rep. Frank Foster losing in the 107th state House district, all incumbents from both political parties were successful in their state Legislative primaries. This trend has continued for several election cycles now where even well-financed and well-organized challengers have virtually no chance of knocking off incumbents in primary elections. This reality holds true in both Democratic and Republican primaries and ultimately discourages many potential candidates from pursuing Legislative office.

3. Strong female candidates making their gender an issue have success. Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence emerged from a tough Democratic primary in the 14th Congressional district at least in part by successfully articulating the need for more women in government and leadership positions in our society and by standing on her support from Women’s Rights groups.

4. Low-voter turnout equals incredibly close races. Statewide, overall turnout for the August primary came in at right around 18 percent of all registered voters. This abysmally low number, combined with the fact that most Legislative and Congressional districts have been gerrymandered to be not competitive in the November general elections, means a small minority of Michigan’s citizens actually elected our next representatives in our state and federal government. Also, the low turnout led to numerous races being decided by fewer than 100 votes and in some races even less than 10 votes separated the top finishers. If turnout continues to remain this low in primary elections, the extremes of both political parties will continue to have undue influence and the voices of the vast majority of Michigan’s citizens will go unheard.

With the primary election behind us, supporters of children, youth, and family issues can now turn our attention to the November General Election. With the candidates for Governor and the open U.S. Senate seat traveling around the state spreading their message to voters, as well as candidates for Congressional and Legislative offices out in your communities, everyone will have an opportunity to find out how the candidates feel about the issues that are important to them. Please use www.michigansandboxparty.org as a resource to become engaged in this critical upcoming election.

– Matt Gillard

Our Kids Futures Hinge on Getting Out the Vote

July 31, 2014 – It’s the height of the election season and we’re all hearing promising political rhetoric from public office-seekers about children being a priority in our state.  Yet, last week’s 25th annual KIDS COUNT Report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation told us Michigan continues to move down the national rankings of well-being indicators for kids.  Once again our ranking has sadly slipped, putting us in 32nd place and below the majority of states.

While it may be comforting to hear candidates and elected officials say they care about the future of Michigan’s children, words without action aren’t enough.  What we need — and the public should demand this election season — are policies and investments that decidedly move our children and state forward with clear vision and united resolve.  Failing to make progress is not good for our children, youth and families.  And it’s not good for the future security and vitality of our communities and our state.

This is not acceptable and needs to change now.  It is the best reason to become an active voter this election season.  Our most powerful tool to impact child well-being in Michigan is to vote in the August 5 primary.

Michigan’s Children has made it a priority this summer to encourage people who care about kids to take a serious look at who’s running for office in their communities, to learn where they stand on the issues most important to their children, youth and families, and to make it a point to vote in their primaries. (Our Sandbox Party website at michigansandboxparty.org is focused on the election with resources and tools to help voters.)

This year, the state will elect the next governor, all 110 state House members and 38 state senators, as well as members to Congress from across the state and the first new U.S. senator from Michigan in nearly two decades.  We are promoting election advocacy in earnest this summer because we know that redistricting and the manner in which political boundaries have been re-drawn have made nearly all primary races pivotal this year.   In many areas the winners in August are likely to become your representative in November.

When government representatives make children and families a priority, it increases the likelihood for investments in health, social and education supports children need to succeed in school and in life.  Particularly for challenged children – those from low-income families and families of color – these investments are critical for building a brighter future for Michigan as a whole.

While the stakes are high this season, we also know that most registered voters don’t come out in August primaries.  To that we say, don’t let other people decide who will represent you and your families for the next two and four years.

When voter turnout is high, candidates have to appeal to the views of the majority of the citizens they are running to represent.  When voter turnout is low and relegated to those only at the far ends of the political spectrum, candidates need only to cater to those on the far right or far left and the opinions of the majority of their perspective constituents are ignored.

This is an extremely important election for children, youth and families in Michigan.  If you care about children and want a government that makes children a priority, get out and vote.  Remember, kids can’t vote.  That’s why you should vote with them in mind.  Please vote August 5th.

– Matt Gillard

Portions of this blog were published as an opinion piece in the Detroit News on 7/31/14.

It’s All About Relationships

The elections are long over and the new Michigan Legislature was sworn into office last week.  The new legislature has quite a hefty task ahead of them with many unfinished business left from the previous legislative session and new challenges surely to arise.  If you haven’t already, now is the time to begin forming relationships with your elected officials.  Now is the time to begin holding newly elected officials accountable for the promises they made while campaigning to strengthen public policies on behalf of Michigan children and families.  And if children and families weren’t a top priority during their campaign, now is the time to begin educating newly elected officials of why they should be prioritizing children – particularly those from struggling backgrounds – to ensure that Michigan’s future is a bright one.

The best way to create change now is to strengthen your relationship with those who represent you.  Legislators are people, just like you and me, and are more inclined to listen to people they already know and trust.  Maybe you attended a town hall meeting during their campaign and have already begun to build that relationship.  Or maybe your representative is a neighbor you’ve known for years.  Or maybe your representative isn’t the person you voted for.  Regardless, here are a few easy ways to get engaged with members of the new legislature to build or strengthen your relationship with them so that when the time comes, the relationship is already established so that you can more effectively create change.

  • Congratulate them using mail, email, or social media.
  • Sign-up for their electronic newsletters to keep up-to-date on the issues at hand.
  • Attend their local coffee hours to get to know them and talk to them about the issues that matter to you.
  • Visit their office to chat with them or their staff about the issues that matter to you.
  • Be a resource to your elected official and give them your expert perspective on issues. You ARE an expert.  If you are a parent, you know about the struggles of expensive child care, the importance of a great teacher, or the challenges with navigating the health care system.  If you provide direct services, you see the struggles that the children and families you serve face on a day-to-day basis.  Share your stories and experiences with your elected officials and better yet, offer solutions that would help your family and your community deal with these issues.

Not sure who represents you?  Find out on the Michigan House of Representatives website; and while there, be sure to sign-up for your legislator’s email updates.

-Mina Hong

Much to Do About Something

Last week, Michigan’s Children took some time to honor the work of a handful of Legislators whose actions supporting children and families in Michigan warranted our recognition. At our annual Much Ado About Something Wonderful event, we honor Legislators for all kinds of different aspects of their work, since we recognize what an amazingly complex and difficult job they have to do. Some honorees were responsible, at least in part, for good legislation – good decisions through the budget process and elsewhere. Others worked really hard to thwart bad decisions by their colleagues, or to push a positive agenda that may, in the end, not have made it through our process. Others simply put the kind of time and energy into their relationships with constituents that create better policy decision-making.

We expect from our honorees, from all of the Legislature and from the Administration, that the decisions they make impacting the lives of children, families and communities in Michigan will be based always in research and evidence, and that they will be vetted by those most impacted – young people, their families, and those adults around the state who work to support them. We are glad for some of the past actions of our honorees, and we expect that their decision-making will continue to be consistent with the kinds of investments needed to rebuild and strengthen Michigan’s economy.

As I think about the six members of our state Legislature who received our accolades that snowy night, it is impossible not to move from the thanks they deserve to the challenges they will continue to face in 2012. Children across Michigan remain in dire circumstances with support programs vanishing, poverty rates increasing and inequities in outcomes expanding. Legislators will either take advantage of the opportunity that their leadership position grants them to better position children and their families, or fail to do so.

Education reform conversations in 2011 still failed to address the kinds of evidence-based, cradle-to-career strategies needed to improve student achievement. We expect some expansion of that conversation in 2012 to a cradle-to-career strategy that includes issues beyond those being discussed at this moment. We need a research-based conversation about core instruction and instructors that moves Michigan toward more well-trained and well-supported teachers and administrators. We need that conversation to include adequate and consistent support around the state for educational, cultural and workforce enrichment opportunities so critical to the relevance of education and the connections young people need to the world of work. Finally, we need that conversation to acknowledge the need to support those programs, practices and partnerships beyond the school walls that remove barriers to learning, including those that serve our youngest learners, ages 0-5.

Overall, funding and tax priorities in 2011 still failed to invest adequately in strategies shown to improve outcomes for children and families. We expect some changes to those priorities in 2012. The Governor and the Legislature will again face difficult choices in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget and will need to make sure that their decisions lead Michigan to smarter investments in our human capitol that pay off in the longer term.

For the sake of our state, we’ll be working to help legislators make decisions that will benefit children the most and thank them when they do.

-Michele Corey

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