New census question threatens Michigan’s federal funds, voice in Congress

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — If a “citizenship question” is added to the 2020 U.S. Census, an undercount of noncitizens and communities with immigrant-heavy populations might worsen the negative impacts of Michigan’s population decline, immigration experts say.

Critics of the question, announced in March by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, claim that asking if someone is a citizen means fewer people will complete the census. And that will lead to underreported local governments receiving less federal aid and other resources and could threaten the size of Michigan’s representation in Congress.

The Commerce Department said it’s adding the question to more accurately enforce the Voting Rights Act by learning more about the percentage of the population eligible to vote.

But a question about citizenship could drive some people away from the census. Undocumented immigrants or their families might fear deportation, while those with legal immigration status might worry that their status doesn’t protect them from other consequences, said Susan Reed, the managing attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows nearly eight out of every 10 travelers stopped when President Donald Trump’s travel ban was in effect were legal permanent residents.

An undercount could further reduce Michigan’s congressional delegation, Reed said. And if populations are undercounted, local governments could lose portions of $675 billion in federal funds for public programs, which is divided among communities across the nation based on census data.

“That funding is there, and the question is whether or not a community will get its fair share,” said Reed, whose center has offices in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. “Representation and resources really are the question, and really are at stake.”

Reed said the question was proposed during a period of harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration, which is also running the census. That context means non-citizens might not feel safe disclosing their status.

“The (citizenship) question has not been asked since the 1950s, and the reason why is because it’s been shown to depress participation by non-citizens,” Reed said.

People with legal immigration status, non-citizens and members of households that include non-citizens are reluctant to have contact with the government involving questions of their citizenship, Reed said.

Few people have a good handle on the language of citizenship, so many people don’t understand what it means to admit they’re non-citizens, Reed said.

People who would classify themselves as  “non-citizens” can be undocumented immigrants, those with a student or other temporary visa or legal permanent residents — someone with a  green card who isn’t yet a citizen, said Victoria Crouse, a senior policy fellow at the Michigan League for Public Policy, a nonpartisan policy institute that focuses on social issues.

Immigrants made up 6.3 percent of Michigan’s population in 2015, compared to 5.3 percent in 2000, according to the league. Michigan had an immigrant population of 622,875 in 2015.

“That’s something to keep in mind,” Crouse said. “We’re talking about this group of non-citizens, but it’s people with all sorts of different immigration statuses.”

The state’s population growth has slowed since 1970, shrinking by roughly 55,000 between 2000 and 2010, according to census data.

The reluctance of immigrants to answer the proposed citizenship question can be magnified by a lack of a visible benefits to people responding to the survey, Reed said.

Families might disclose their citizenship to receive benefits they’re entitled to based on immigration status, but in the context of the census, it might be difficult for them to see benefits that would offset potentially negative consequences, Reed said.

“The benefits for the community of a complete count are tremendous,” Reed said. “But the benefit of an individual filling out the census form is almost impossible to detect.”

If Michigan population trends continue, the Census Bureau predicts the state will lose a congressional representative following the 2020 census, dropping from 14 to 13 seats, according to Carolina Population Center, a population research group at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Michigan has lost five House seats since the 1970 census, when it had 19.

Too much information? Not enough trust?

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — It sounds counterintuitive that most Americans claim that the “plethora of information” around us makes it increasingly difficult to be well-informed citizens.

After all, there’s a 24/7 flow of information from mainstream and legacy media – think CBS News, the Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and National Public Radio – to cable news giants Fox and CNN to reputable easy-to-access international media – BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. among them – to magazines, e-zines, blogs, alternative weekly papers, websites and Internet platforms such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google.

But by a 58 percent to 38 percent margin, that’s what our citizenry claims. In other words, most assert that having more information isn’t conducive to being informed.

Whether that makes sense or not, that’s what the new “American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy” Gallup/Knight Foundation survey found.

On the positive side, 83 percent said they felt “very knowledgeable” or “somewhat knowledgeable” about important issues facing the United States – although that figure is two points lower for Midwesterners. The national figure was 72 percent for issues facing their local communities.

We political and policy groupies may have more simpatico confederates across the country than we thought.

Thirty-one percent of those surveyed “very closely” follow news about events in Washington and political leaders. One-quarter “very closely” follows issues affecting their own communities. The comparable figures drop to 20 percent for international news, 18 percent for sports news, 16 percent for state government news and only 11 percent for business and financial news.

Not all information is created equal: equal in accuracy, equal in context, equal in credibility and equal in fairness and balance.

Half of those surveyed – down from 68 percent a generation ago – expressed confidence that they’ve got enough sources of information to separate facts from bias in news reports. Two-thirds asserted that most news media “do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion.”

How easily can the public detect the difference between information and misinformation? As for their own ability to make that type of separation, only about a quarter felt “very confident” that they themselves can identify when sources present factual news rather than opinion or commentary.

Trust the press to be impartial? Not for many.

The survey found 43 percent hold a negative view of the media, and only one-third hold a positive view. Here in the Midwest, the average score on media trust was lower than on the West and East coasts.

“Those holding favorable views are much more likely than those with unfavorable views to believe more information makes staying informed easier,” the report found.

Only 44 percent could name a news source they believe reports objectively. Among those who could do so, Republicans overwhelmingly named Fox News, while Democrats, young adults, Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to name CNN first.

TV news programs remain the most popular news sources, followed by Internet news websites.

But popularity isn’t synonymous with trust. Respondents place the greatest trust in national TV network news and in national and local newspapers.

As for “fake news,” – like beauty – it’s in the eye and mind of the beholder.

The survey used this straightforward definition: “Inaccurate information presented as an objective news story and designed to deceive people in some way.”

It then asked whether the following four situations fit that definition: knowingly portraying false information as true; journalists reporting stories before verifying all the facts and sources for accuracy; slanting stories to promote a particular viewpoint; and accurate stories that negatively depict political groups and politicians.

Here, too, the results showed partisan differences.

For example, 42 percent of Republicans but only 17 percent of Democrats said accurate stories portraying political leaders and groups in a negative light are always “fake news.” They were closer to consensus on whether knowingly presenting false information as true always constitutes “fake news”: 43 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans.

Overall, 56 percent considered fake news to be a “very serious” threat to democracy, including two-thirds of Republicans and half of Democrats.

There are many variables in assessing the attitudes of 19,000-plus respondents. They include political leaning, education level, household income, age, race and whether someone lives in a large city, rural area or suburb. Each of those women and men has a unique combination of those and other relevant variables.

Thus statistics such as these can tell only part of the story about Americans, trust, the press and democracy – but they can teach us lessons about the critical need for journalists and news organizations “to fulfill their democratic responsibilities of informing the public and holding government leaders accountable,” as the Gallup/Knight Foundation report puts it.

And while the citizenry believe the news media still have an essential role in our democratic society, the press must strive to convince them that it’s fulfilling that responsibility.

Eric Freedman is director of Capital News Servcie. This column originally appeared in Domemagazine.com.

Proposed constitutional amendment would streamline voter registration

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING – Voter advocacy and civil rights groups are petitioning for a state constitutional amendment that would make it easier for Michigan residents to vote.

The campaign, called “Promote the Vote,” seeks to give military members more time to vote, automatically register citizens when they conduct business at a Secretary of State office and allow absentee voting without the need to give a reason. It also would allow same-day voting registration with proof of residency and straight party voting.

Under current state law, you need to be registered at least 30 days before an election  to vote. Military operating from an overseas installation are advised to send back their absentee ballot 35 days before election day, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

“We just want voting to be accessible, convenient and everyone’s vote to be counted and secure,” said Judy Karandjeff, the president of the League of Women Voters.

The proposal which is targeted for next November’s election, is backed by the league, the American Civil Liberties Union and the state and Detroit branches of the NAACP.  

The Secretary of State’s office is confident in the state’s current voting process, said Fred Woodhams, the elections agency’s director of communication.

“We believe that Michigan elections system does an excellent job of allowing voters to cast a ballot and have their voice heard.”

“Michigan saw the most registered voters ever in 2016,” he said. “Recent elections have seen near-record turnout.”

The Board of State Canvassers has approved the petition language, “and people will be able to sign the petition shortly,” Karandjeff said.

Backers of the proposal must get 315,654 valid signatures of registered voters to make the November ballot.

Only 15 states and the District of Columbia allow same-day registration, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. The organization says there is strong evidence that election day registration increases voter turnout.

Promote the Vote isn’t the only campaign seeking to reform Michigan’s elections laws. Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, a group of activists introduced a constitutional amendment proposal called Voters Not Politicians.

It would establish an independent commission to oversee the drawing of Michigan’s electoral districts. Elected officials would be ineligible to serve on the commission.

In December the group turned in more than 425,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State, where the petition is under review. The redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years, was controlled by Republicans in 2011 and the party has since maintained legislative majorities in elections.

Unions seek to organize charter schools, but only nine have them

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Teachers at  only a few charter schools in Michigan have joined a union because, leaders say, the schools may be violating their labor rights.

The 294 charter schools in Michigan have about 10,000 teachers and 1,500 administrators, according to Buddy Moorehouse, the vice president of communications at the  Michigan Association of Public School Academies. The association represents operators of charters, which are taxpayer-funded.

Only about nine charter schools are unionized now, according to Nate Walker, a K-12 union organizer and policy analyst at the AFT Michigan, the state organization of the American Federation of Teachers. The most recent charter to unionize is Southwest Detroit Community School. Its staff voted in October to unionize.

The Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Michigan ACTS), a local union affiliated with AFT Michigan and represents nearly 200 members in Metro Detroit Charter Schools, has won contracts that improve job security, protect educator voices and ensure fair compensation, Walker said.

Some staff at charter schools prefer a union-free environment, Moorehouse said. “All workers have the legal right to form a union. They have the choice. There’s nothing that prohibits the teachers at a charter school from unionizing.

“The fact that only nine schools out of 294 have decided to form a union speaks volumes,” Moorehouse said.

Union organizers say employees at charter schools face special obstacles.

“The biggest challenge for staff who are forming unions is the opposition they face by the private companies that manage their schools,” said Walker. “Oftentimes employers violate the protected rights of staff by retaliating against them for trying to speak up about working conditions at their school.”

Some charters were formerly unionized but no longer are. In 2015, for example, the staff at a charter in Northwest Detroit voted overwhelmingly to form a union, but the private company that managed the school chose to leave.

“Because they did not want to negotiate with their staff,” Walker said. “They decided to destabilize the school and walk away from students rather than respect the choice the staff at the school made.”

Some companies are aware that once their staff has negotiating power, it will require them to be more transparent and accountable to their school communities, he said.

But Moorehouse says charter schools are accountable not only to their school boards, but also to the public body, which is usually a state university, that authorizes it.

Michigan’s charters are among “the most heavily regulated in the country,” and every dime that a charter spends must be publicly reported, he said.

One way to ensure the money spent for students actually go towards students is hearing from charter school workers, said Paula Herbart, the president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA). It is the state’s largest union of public school employees.

The MEA represents four units in three charter schools: West Michigan Academy of the Arts teachers, Macomb Academy teachers and job coaches (which have two separate units), and Old Redford Academy ITS teachers.

A unionized workforce gives teachers and staff the security to speak out against injustices in the classroom, “especially in for-profit charter schools,” Herbart said.

Charter schools are difficult to organize because of a “high turnover rate” among teachers, Herbart said.

If the staff of a school unionized one year and more than half of them are teaching elsewhere the next year, the new replacements “didn’t start the union, and they don’t want to be a part of it,” she said.

Most charter school teachers are young and “they arrive at their first job (at a charter) and quickly realize they have no voice in their workplace, no collective bargaining to determine wages, benefits and working conditions,” said David Crim, the communications consultant at the MEA.

“They also realize quickly that, in the vast majority of charter schools, turning a profit is the number-one goal. Educating students is not,” Crim said. “They become disillusioned and look for a job in a traditional public school where 99.9 percent are unionized which provides them with better wages, benefits and working conditions and whose top priority is education, not profits.”

Walker said several charters have hired law firms to “dissuade workers from organizing a union.”

“It disrupts the learning environment and promotes a culture of fear among the staff,” he said.

Michigan ACTS has settled a grievance with a charter school that terminated several teachers from speaking up at a board meeting. Those teachers received back pay and had the option to return to the school.

“The message to the rest of the staff was clear — you may have the right, but it does not mean we won’t violate it,” Walker said.

Herbart said that MEA still believes that if it can organize workers, “it allows them to have a say-so in their own workplace and benefits, not only their own conditions, but students they serve.”

Political corruption knows no party, history shows

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — The recent FBI and State Police search of Sen. Bert Johnson’s office in Lansing and home in Highland Park serves as a reminder that illegal conduct, corruption and scandal don’t carry party labels.

Details of the federal-state investigation of Johnson, D-Highland Park, remain incomplete, but news reports suggest it may relate to questionable staff payroll practices. Evidence in Michigan and elsewhere in the country demonstrates that some politicians — regardless of party affiliation — don’t respect the law, the public or the oath they swore

Think about recent history in the state: Continue reading

Gender imbalance in Michigan Legislature persists

By ISAAC CONSTANS
Capital News Service

LANSING — There are 148 members of the Legislature. Just 34 are women. One is in a leadership position.

“You’re not getting kind of that balance between who your representatives are and who your constituents are,” said Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, the House minority floor leader. “That is a problem, and I think that’s what skews the issues that get talked about.”

The House includes 15 Democratic and 15 Republican women, while four women — three Republicans and one Democrat — are in the Senate. Much of the diversity in both gender and race comes from the southeastern region of the state.

As imbalanced as gender representation is in Michigan, policy can be even more male-dominated. Continue reading

Severe impact predicted in Michigan if new health care bill passes

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — About 2.5 million Michiganders could lose health care coverage under the Republican-proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The study comes on the heels of a Congressional Budget Office projection that the recently introduced American Health Care Act(AHCA)  would cause 24 million people to lose their insurance over 10 years, while reducing the federal deficit by about $337 billion.

The Republican proposal jeopardizes the Healthy Michigan Plan, the Michigan Medicaid expansion that has insured 650,000 residents under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The ACA would be repealed and replaced with the AHCA. Continue reading

New Adrian representative is working for her community

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Bronna Kahle’s campaign for state representative came full circle when she was sworn in at a ceremony in her hometown of Adrian, rather than the state capital.

“A lot of people do that in Lansing,” said Kahle, R-Adrian. “But I just had to do it in Adrian. I’m representing Lenawee County.”

Over 100 people watched as Kahle took the oath of office administered by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in an Adrian College lecture hall in mid-December. Looking into the audience, she said it was humbling to recognize everyone in the room who helped with her campaign.

“I remember when I did that with that person, I remember when they made phone calls — oh, they hosted a coffee with me,” Kahle said in her Lansing office, gesturing toward the community members she recalled sitting in her swearing-in crowd. “I am honored to serve these people.” Continue reading

State Senate: Make February about taking care of you

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — If taking time for yourself often feels like an impossible task, now you have a reason to be a little more selfish.

A  Senate resolution promoting healthy lifestyle choices was adopted at the end of January. Introduced by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, the resolution recognizes February 2017 as Self Care Month.

The resolution’s sponsors include Sens. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage; John Proos, R-St. Joseph; and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

According to the resolution, self-care is a lifelong commitment to good hygiene practices, monitoring changes in health, knowing when to consult a healthcare practitioner and preventing infection and illness.

While there are many types of self-care, the resolution highlights knowing when it is appropriate to self-treat physical health conditions with over-the-counter medications.

Schuitmaker said Perrigo, an over-the-counter pharmaceutical company in Allegan, asked her to propose Self Care Month.

Continue reading

Women’s marches inspire increased activism across Michigan

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Amy Shamroe felt proud to hear Traverse City recognized in a speech by Michigan filmmaker Michael Moore at the Women’s March on Washington.

“Michael Moore said Traverse City is a place where people are active and engaged and you can find people there who make a difference,” said Shamroe, a Traverse City city commissioner and president of the local American Association of University Women (AAUW) chapter.

Though she was pleased by the shout-out, Shamroe wasn’t surprised: Since Election Day, she has seen increased engagement with AAUW Traverse City, which focuses on empowering women and girls. Shamroe has always had to recruit members, but now they’re coming to her.

“It’s something I haven’t seen in my six years in this community,” she said. “People are showing up and saying, ‘Where do I sign up?’ and ‘How can I help?’”   Continue reading