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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

A Young Voter’s View of Election Day: The Future in my Hands

August 4, 2014 — As I searched Michigan State University’s giant resource fair for the “golden club” that would help me “find myself” during freshman year, a voice in all the promotional speeches caught my attention.

“Hey! Do you want to register to vote?”

In all the commotion, a short, red-headed girl from the MSU Democrats’ booth held out a pen and a clipboard toward me with a voter registration form on it.

She was not asking me to vote Democrat. She was not asking me where my values align. She was asking me to become a part of my own future. She was giving me a chance to share my voice in elections.

Without a doubt in my mind, I knew that I wanted to register, to have the ability to vote, whether I used it or not. I did not hesitate when I took the pen from her outreached hand and started to fill out the form.

Almost four years later, that feeling has not left. I am still excited to go into the booth Aug. 5 and Nov. 4, to stick my voice to the “Man” with my vote, and to choose who I think will represent my community’s best interests.  I can never repay what that girl gave me.

Actions like hers, being there and putting the thought in our head that — “Oh right! I am a student, but I am also an American citizen!” — encourages people my age to vote. And there are multiple shared issues at stake that we need to be vocal about. Among them:

School cuts: Youths still have a decent memory of what we left in high school. Cuts to school funding prevented some of us from receiving the best education possible and maybe even from getting into the college that we wanted. Some struggled worse than others, but I remember when we were still using history books a decade old.

Student debt: When coming to college, sometimes all we can see are dollar signs, and not in a good way. First school cuts, than glaciers of student debt! Compared to other states, Michigan ranks 45th in college affordability, as found in the 2013 “Trends in College Pricing” report. The Senate Fiscal Agency reports that Michigan higher education funding is down $500 million from 2000.

Between underfunded schools and skyrocketing tuition, education these days seems more like a game of pick your poison. Everyone’s future will feel these effects.

Marriage Equality: College is about being exposed to new cultures and people, and we get to know friends and people with diverse sexual orientations. They are people, your children, no better or worse than any other person. We care about our friends and we want them to be just as happy and treated just as fairly as heterosexual citizens. Whether if you agree with it or not, marriage equality is supported by 81 percent of 18 -29-year-olds, according to a 2013 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News.

It’s our future. It feels far away and we may have no clear idea where we see ourselves in it yet, but we shape it to the way we want it with the proactive actions we take today. This week, it starts with who we choose to elect.

-Marlee Sherrod

Marlee Sherrod is working as a summer intern for Michigan’s Children while attending Michigan State University. She is studying Comparative Cultures and Politics at MSU’s James Madison College of Public Affairs, and English. Her opinions are her own, and are not intended to represent Michigan’s Children.

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

Registered to Vote? Election Advocacy 101: Learn Candidates’ Positions on Children’s Issues.

Voter registration deadline is quickly approaching and the presidential debates begin this week.  It’s a perfect time to get swept up in the excitement (assuming you’re not already turned off by all of the rhetoric) and get engaged in election advocacy to make sure that children’s issues are a top priority this November.

Obviously registering to vote is the perfect first step.  It is critical for all eligible voters to go out to the polls this November 6th.  Efforts to drive voters – particularly voters of color – away from the polls are just scare tactics with no legal basis.  Ensuring that those most affected by public policy decisions – children and families from low-income communities and communities of color – have the power of their vote is critically important.  Be sure to register to vote by the October 9th deadline and check out the ACLU of Michigan’s Let Me Vote campaign for more information to ensure your vote counts!

After you register to vote, learn the candidates’ positions on children’s issues.  This Wednesday marks the first in a series of four presidential candidate debates.  The debates provide an opportunity to learn about the candidates’ positions on various issues to help you make an informed decision on November 6th.  Watch the debates and listen to the candidates’ positions on issues that will affect children and families in your community and those most challenged by their circumstances.

Here are a handful of children’s issues that are critical to ensure that all children – particularly children of color and those from low-income communities – have equitable opportunities to succeed in life.  Listen for the following topics to come up during the debates; and if they don’t come up, what does that tell you?

  • A Healthy Start: Too many young children do not get a healthy start in life.  Nearly 1,000 Michigan infants die in the first year of life, and African American children are three times more likely to die before age 1.  Ensuring all children have a healthy start in life by increasing access to infant mortality prevention and parent support programs like home visitation can help reduce Michigan’s unacceptable infant mortality rate.
  • Access to Basic Needs: Michigan experienced a 64 percent increase in childhood poverty between 2000 and 2009, with nearly one of every four children in the state now living in poverty.  High poverty rates are even more prevalent for children of color. Access to poverty-prevention programs such as cash assistance, food assistance, and housing assistance protects children from the detrimental impacts that poverty may have on child development.
  • Child Abuse/Neglect Prevention: The number of victims of child abuse and neglect has grown by 21 percent in the first decade of this century. Family preservation and child abuse/neglect prevention programs can help turnaround these figures and keep Michigan kids safe.
  • Early Education:  A 2009 survey of Michigan kindergarten teachers found that one-third of children entering their classrooms are not ready to learn, and the lack of opportunity to attend a preschool program is a primary reason that kindergartners are trailing behind their peers.  Access to high quality early learning programs can help young children be prepared for educational success.
  • High School Completion:  Nearly 35,000 Michigan young people did not receive a high school diploma in the spring of 2011 – more than one-quarter of the students who began high school four-years earlier.  Young people of color or those from economically disadvantaged families remain the least likely to graduate “on-time” with their peers.  Expanding access to strategies outside of the traditional four-year high school experience can help many students reach graduation and prepare for the workforce.
  • Access to a Consistent Source of Medical Care: Too many Michigan families have lost their employer-sponsored health care or are under-insured resulting in more children becoming reliant on public insurance programs like Medicaid or MIChild. Unfortunately, too many children are being denied access to services that keep them healthy due to chronically low Medicaid reimbursement rates.  Luckily, due to the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, Medicaid rates will go up in Michigan starting in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, increasing access to a consistent source of medical care and keeping Michigan kids healthy.

See Michigan’s Children’s Election Advocacy Toolkit and stay tuned for regular blogs between now and the elections to learn more about how you can get engaged in election advocacy.

-Mina Hong

Will Kids Benefit From the 2012 Elections?

Elections are an opportune time to ensure that elected officials prioritize the needs of children and families.  Decisions to vote for one candidate over another can change or maintain the trajectory of the government and the decisions that will take place over the next two, four, or six years – decisions that may have significantly longer implications.

Televised debates provide an opportunity for large portions of the population to hear from candidates on key issue areas.  Thus far, televised debates for the 2012 elections have been among the Republican Presidential candidates and priorities related to children have been practically nonexistent from the conversation.  A recent report by Voices for America’s Children – Michigan’s Children’s national affiliate – found that in the first twenty Republican Presidential debates, of the over 1000 questions asked by moderators, less than two percent have focused on child policy issues.  This is despite the fact that the federal budget includes over $374 billion in investments in child health, safety, education and security.

Why should candidates be talking about key children’s issues like high quality early childhood education, K-12 education, high school dropout prevention and recovery opportunities, access to health care, and family security?  The single best predictor of economic prosperity is a state’s success in educating and preparing its workforce.  Growing educated and skilled workers and leaders in the 21st Century starts at birth and extends through young adulthood – from cradle to career.  The right mental, emotional and physical supports make all the difference in preparing children to succeed in school and life.  Unfortunately in Michigan, we struggle to do this.

Twenty-two percent of Michigan children live in poverty and even more devastating is the one in ten children who live in extreme poverty – this means that in an average size classroom, about three students are living in households with an annual income of $8,784 or less (for a family of three).  Child poverty rates are even higher for children of color and the correlation between poverty, race/ethnicity, and child outcomes is clear – low-income children and children of color have less opportunities to access a consistent source of medical care, high quality early childhood programs, and a high quality K-12 education and are more likely to struggle in school and life.  Improving child outcomes for all children by strengthening public policies is critical to Michigan’s economic recovery and should be a top priority for elected officials.

So how do voters learn about candidates’ positions on key children’s issues?  Candidate information is everywhere during an election year – on TV, on billboards, in the news, on the radio, and even at your door as they and their supporters canvass neighborhoods.  But the best way to learn candidates’ positions is by talking directly to them to learn their views and policy priorities; and once elected, the relationship is already in place to continue to have conversations with elected officials on issues that matter to constituents.  Unfortunately, this level of relationship building isn’t an option that’s feasible to many individuals – particularly children and families of color most affected by public programs – who for a variety of reasons are disengaged from the process.

In the upcoming months, Michigan’s Children will work with our federal, state and local partners to keep you updated on election advocacy opportunities.  We’ll be working with our national partners to ensure that child policy issues are included in televised debates, we’ll be providing you with an easy-to-use to toolkit on how to get engaged in election advocacy and we’ll work with our partners to inform you of opportunities to engage with candidates in your local communities.  And most importantly, Michigan’s Children will continue to promote your routine engagement in policy discussions after the elections and beyond.

Stay tuned for more!

-Mina Hong

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