Michigan

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.

Needed: A Budget for Children, Youth and Families

June 27, 2014 — According to the recent release of the 2014 Children’s Budget from one of our great national partners, First Focus, we’ve spent right around eight percent of our federal budget resources on children in this country for the last five years. Because of overall cuts to federal spending, this has resulted in decreasing investment, particularly in the areas of child welfare and education. According to the report, since its peak in 2010, total federal spending on children has dropped 14 percent after adjusting for inflation, while overall federal spending decreased just 8 percent during the same period.

What do federal investments have to do with Michigan policymaking? Remember the state budget process that we’ve been talking about? Well, many of those decisions are dictated by the resources that Michigan receives from the federal government. Eighty percent of funding for the Michigan Department of Human Services comes from the federal government, which funds critical safety net programs, and virtually all of the state’s efforts that support nutrition, prevention of child abuse and neglect and the care for children and youth who have been removed from their families due to maltreatment. Two of every three dollars in the Michigan Department of Community Health budget comes from federal sources, much of which helps to fund the Medicaid program serving hundreds of thousands of Michigan children and youth, and supports school- and community-based health services for the most underserved children, youth and families. The Michigan Department of Education receives 71 percent of its funding from federal sources, much of that resource dedicated toward closing achievement gaps for the most challenged young people. Click here for more about the impact of federal spending in Michigan.

Included in the release were polling results, conducted by American Viewpoint. Polls have found that virtually all voters believed that protecting basic investments in children like health, education and nutrition was important. Three-quarters of those polled believe that the protection of these investment was highly or extremely important – the same share as those feeling similarly about the importance of debt reduction.

So, what’s the problem? Why do we have stagnant investment? The same polls revealed that voters don’t focus very much on children’s issues when they are voting, or later, when they are holding elected officials accountable for their decisions once in office. Even among parents, when asked to list the issue most important to them in deciding their vote for U.S. Congress, only 10% put children’s issues at the top. Of course, we can certainly tie the issues that voters do list first to our success or failure in investing in children and families. The number 1 priority: economic issues like jobs and the minimum wage (think career and college ready young people); and number 2: fiscal issues like government spending, taxes and the national debt (think return on wise investments).

The 2014 election in Michigan will be the most impactful in decades. We will again be electing the people who will be determining spending priorities in our state and our nation. Let’s make sure that they all know that we are expecting them to focus on making more young children ready for school, more children of all ages safe and secure, and more young people ready for college and career. Let’s make sure that they know that when they do that in proven effective ways, more young people are able to access family supporting career employment. When they target public spending on those programs with proven return on investment, public resources have more bang for their buck.

Find out more about how to get involved yourself and how to help others get engaged this election season by visiting the Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party website.

– Michele Corey

State of the Polarized State

Last night, Governor Snyder presented his third State of the State address to a Legislature that is still recovering from a bitterly divisive lame duck session.  The Governor attempted to provide some hope for reconciliation to get things done in a bipartisan fashion in 2013 by saying in his address “I appreciate that  people have different perspectives … I’m going to work hard to find common ground where we can work together and I hope all of you join me in doing the same thing.”  But, the partisan ways of lame duck haunted the State Capitol in last night’s address.  In a time when too many Michigan children and families continue to struggle, the Governor and legislative leadership must take steps to move past the polarization to build effective public policies for a better Michigan future.

So what did we hear in Governor Snyder’s State of the State?  Last week, we laid out what we hoped to hear in his State of the State and were disappointed that none of the items were addressed, nor did the Governor lay out any real details pertaining to the needs of children and families.  One silver lining was his mention to expand funding for Michigan’s Great Start Readiness preschool program to eventually ensure that all children who are eligible for the program can access it.  This program has proven to reduce the school readiness gap that affects too many children entering kindergarten and can help reduce the achievement gap throughout a student’s K-12 experience.  But, Governor Snyder did not discuss how this expansion would be funded nor did he discuss the role that early childhood education beginning at birth can play in reducing the achievement gap as well as other strategies throughout K-12.

The Governor must work with both our Republican and Democratic leaders to identify a feasible way to pay for an expansion of early childhood education programming that doesn’t jeopardize other important funding streams.  Both sides of the aisle must come together to discuss what Michigan needs to address the academic achievement gap in an effective way that better prepares Michigan’s future workforce.  Our legislators must have some honest conversations about how the partisanship of the lame duck session has built significant distrust among the legislature and begin to find ways to rebuild that trust for the betterment of Michiganians.

Policymakers must build on the fact that caring about children is universal.  This means continuing to invest in school readiness programs for young children from birth to age five; expanding support for effective strategies, like increasing access to before- and after-school programming, that move more young people to a high school credential; and continuing to ensure that education reform conversations focus on evidence-based best practices to reduce the achievement gap.

The Governor and legislative leaders must work together in 2013 to ensure that public policy decisions benefit Michigan children and Michigan’s future.

-Mina Hong

Strengthening Michigan’s Voices

Dealing with the implication of the federal fiscal cliff, overhauling Michigan’s educational system, implementing health care reform, all with a new legislative session that includes new members, new committee chairs, new caucus dynamics.  Whew!  How will we know how changes are impacting the large and growing equity gaps we see in this state?  How will we know how the changes are impacting the children and families most vulnerable to public policy shifts?

Even in the best of times, this is a challenge for those of us trying to give voice to children, youth and families around the state.  Unfortunately, this is not the best of times.  Michigan’s Children is about to celebrate its 20th year, and in some ways, we are in our own adolescent phase.  We are glad that like the public policies that give young people and families second chances that we’ve advocated strongly for throughout our existence, we have also been given a chance to reflect and review.

We need some help with that reflection and review, so we are also glad that some of the best advocacy minds in the state are going to help us.  Over the next five months or so, our Transition Task Force will be convening.  This Task Force will be evaluating our role, credibility, capacity and viability.  This evaluation will be bolstered by data about the impact we have (and have not) made over the last 20 years, and the effectiveness of our current advocacy strategies.  The Task Force will also have access to information about the most effective advocacy organizations in our state and around the country as it evaluates our role as the independent voice for children in Michigan.

The Task Force will be making recommendations about the best way to strengthen advocacy work for children, youth and families in Michigan and the role that Michigan’s Children and others can play in that work going forward.   I’m looking forward to being part of this important process in Michigan, and am excited about the future of advocacy in our state.  We all know that all of the policy challenges we will face in 2013 and beyond need the strongest advocates to face them.

-Michele Corey

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