Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit Free Press. Sept. 19, 2021.

Editorial: An appeal to vaccinated Free Press readers

About 51% of Michigan’s 10 million residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and if you’re reading today’s Detroit Free Press, you’re probably one of them.

The pandemic that has extinguished 660,000 American lives continues, but you’ve done the most important thing ordinary citizens can do to slow its transmission and limit its terrible toll. We’re all confronting a deadly problem, and you’ve chosen to be part of the solution.

Now, we need you to play a bigger part.

The impact of your initiative will be significantly diminished unless a significant number of the approximately 3 million eligible Michiganders who have so far declined vaccinations overcome their reservations.

And after nine months in which neither the manifest risk of death nor the pleas of epidemiological experts, elected leaders and mainstream media have turned the tide, it’s increasingly apparent that you, the vaccinated, are the last, best hope to overcome the hesitance and distrust of the unvaccinated minority.

That’s why we’re seeking to enlist you in a benevolent conspiracy — a team effort to persuade our unvaccinated family members, friends, neighbors and work colleagues to join in the unfinished war against COVID-19.

We’ve done the homework

For today’s special edition, more than a dozen Free Press journalists have collected, distilled and critically examined what researchers have learned about the vaccines most Michigan adults have already received. If you’re a skeptic with questions or lingering doubts about the safety, efficacy or side effects of the shots, you’ll find answers here. If you’ve been meaning to get vaccinated but just haven’t gotten around to it, we can help you find your free shot today: Text your ZIP code to 438829 for a list of vaccination sites in your area, a number you can call if you need more help, and information on getting a free ride using Uber or Lyft.

But we’re not naïve; we know that unvaccinated Michiganders are the least likely to take advantage of the data Free Press journalists have taken such pains to fact-check and elucidate, and the most likely to dismiss its validity. So we hope vaccinated readers will think of today’s Free Press as a toolbox designed to facilitate their own one-on-one campaigns.

Harnessing the power of example

In making this appeal, we’re attempting to replicate a successful campaign we undertook in 2018, when we asked Free Press readers to help reverse a steady decline in the number of voters participating in Michigan’s crucial primary elections.

Keenly aware that those in the habit of reading a daily newspaper were most likely to vote, we encouraged our already civically engaged readers to take what we called the 10-5-1 pledge. Those who took up the challenge agreed to send emails inviting 10 people they knew to join them at the polls that August, follow up with one-on-one conversations with five of those 10, and bring one voter with them to the polls on Election Day.

While no one can claim exclusive credit for the surge in electoral participation that followed, we believe our 10-5-1 campaign contributed to record turnouts in both the 2018 primary and the November general election — and in fact, research into the power of personal connection supports our belief. If we’re correct, our 10-5-1 initiative confirmed what election experts have long argued: Nothing is more effective in coaxing reluctant voters to the polls than a personal appeal from someone they know and trust.

When persuasion fails

That doesn’t mean President Joe Biden overreacted when he ordered federal workers to get vaccinated (without the testing option) as a condition of employment, or when he ordered private companies with more than 100 employees to enforce the same requirement or submit to regular testing.

It is always better when citizens agree to follow practices that serve the public interest without coercion. But democratic governments have never hesitated to mandate compliance with crucial wartime measures (such as rationing), even when most people were eager to observe them voluntarily. Biden has not only the legal authority to demand that today’s Americans bear their fair share of this pandemic fight, but also the moral obligation to insist on it.

This is not an impossible lift. Michigan will never achieve universal vaccination, but if a majority of its vaccinated residents each persuaded one unvaccinated acquaintance to get the shot, our state’s vaccination rate would vault into 80% of the total population, a level epidemiologists say provides everyone with a dramatically greater margin of protection from death and serious illness.

That’s an aspiration worthy of the recruitment campaign we’re championing today, and we urge our vaccinated readers to join it.

Your example can be the most potent weapon in Michigan’s fight against COVID-19. We hope you’ll use the resources provided in today’s Free Press to amplify its power.

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Alpena News. Sept. 18, 2021.

Editorial: Leave our election workers alone — or join them

We’ve read with great concern about ne'er-do-wells upset over the 2020 ballot box results accosting or threatening election workers and municipal clerks around the country.

Such actions have increased a yearslong trend of aging election workers — typically volunteers or paid small stipends — leaving the profession.

Too few younger citizens have stepped up to replace them, leaving the complex and time-consuming task of running elections and counting votes up to an ever-smaller pool of overworked folks, even as an impatient public demands more immediate reporting of results.

Say what you will about the flurry of new voting laws moving through legislatures around the country, those changes only add complexity to an already-understaffed job.

And many clerks say some of the laws too-harshly penalize workers for doing what would have been routine work before, such as an Iowa law that fines workers up to $10,000 for even “technical infractions” of election law. Such threats of a criminal record could further discourage folks from signing up as election workers.

To lawmakers, we say poll workers should not face criminal punishment unless prosecutors can prove they intentionally participated in election fraud, laws already on the books. Many poll workers are seniors and others simply giving their time because they believe in democracy, and they shouldn’t have to fear going broke or getting jailed for making a mistake.

Instead, lawmakers should invest heavily in recruiting more election workers and training them well.

To the bullies still believing the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and taking that out on poll workers, we say back off. Poll workers don’t deserve your ire, and no one deserves harassment.

Instead, we urge those bullies to sign up as poll worker, themselves. Then they can see how it works from the inside, and see — as so many audits, reviews, and investigations have proven over the past 10 months — how poll workers protect the integrity of elections.

Joining our poll workers would help our democracy. Accosting them only hurts it.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. Sept. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t tear down child services during a shortage

It makes no sense.

There really is no other way to interpret a move early last week by four members of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners to stop collecting the county’s voter-approved Early Childhood Services millage. The zeroing of the .253-mill property tax isn’t a done deal until an upcoming second vote at the board’s Tuesday meeting, but there isn’t much reason to believe a preliminary 4-3 party line vote won’t hold.

There are many problems with such a unilateral decision by a small voting majority of an elected board — the least of which is the lack of prior public discussion of the issue that smacks of extracurricular chats between a quorum of board members. Or the fact that four people seem to have decided to usurp the results of a lawful election — all to save about 38 bucks in annual taxes for each $150,000 taxable property value for each of their constituents.

No, setting aside the partisan politics that seem to pervasively steer the Leelanau board, effectively eliminating a tax collection meant to support services for young children and families at this moment betrays a stubborn obliviousness to the forces now impacting both families and businesses across the U.S., and especially in northern Michigan.

Early childhood care and services were decimated during the pandemic, and the lack of day care slots is hobbling the economic recovery both here and abroad. Prior to the pandemic, a 2018 report from the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C. think tank, found about half of American families lived in areas where they couldn’t find adequate child care services. Those findings have been echoed repeatedly by several examinations of conditions in the Grand Traverse region.

That shortage only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a trade group representing day care workers and operators, found four in five day care center operators are working at reduced capacity because of worker shortages.

The lack of day care slots caused by that reduced capacity is obliterating working families in our region. And if working families struggle, businesses struggle. We know this is happening because we’re witnessing and experiencing it firsthand.

Both as employers and as working parents, we know these problems are crushing many of the people whose work keeps the lights on in our communities.

What does this have to do with a tiny tax collection in Leelanau County? Everything.

Rather than engaging in tired ideological chest thumping and hacking away at a relatively small tax they don’t think has been well managed, why don’t Leelanau commissioners find a more effective way to spend that money?

They could be both creative and innovative. They could manage and build something instead of tearing it down. They could be leaders.

They could install a seed program to help startup child care centers get running and help fill the capacity gap in their community. They could launch training subsidies to get child care workers certified and qualified to fill open jobs in local centers. They could help existing day care and preschool programs expand.

They could wield their power, their authority, to help address a problem that is driving working families away from their county and the region.

They could do something constructive, something that makes sense.

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Detroit News. Sept. 16, 2021.

Editorial: Government response fails Flat Rock residents

Residents should have known immediately about last month’s gasoline leak from a Ford Motor Co. plant into Flat Rock’s sewer. Instead, it took days after a leak was suspected before the public knew about it and saw a coordinated response from emergency officials.

Such instances should be met with much more urgency. Officials should have plans in place should they arise to keep citizens safe.

Residents, some of whom are weeks away from being able to return home, should have been alerted right away about the possible danger of more than 1,000 gallons of gas leaking into the sewer.

Flat Rock officials first knew there was a problem on Aug. 30, when the odor of gasoline was reported. The city told state and federal agencies the next day, but residents weren’t notified until Sept. 2 when Wayne County Executive Warren Evans announced he had declared a state of emergency.

It was later revealed Evans had signed an emergency declaration the day before — at 5:32 p.m. on Sept. 1. Why wasn’t the public alerted?

Evans says the nearly 24-hour delay before informing residents about the emergency was not the fault of anyone working for him, and he doesn’t know where the holdup occurred.

“When I signed it that morning, we sent the order to the appropriate place,” Evans told The Detroit News Editorial Board after the spill. “And if somebody there sat on it or didn’t do something with it...we didn’t sit back at all. The public had a right to know immediately. I’m not sure personally where there was a roadblock, if there was one, about people getting the information on time.”

When asked if there was a plan in place, Evans hedged and said the response included federal and county agencies. He also said officials’ pettiness may have slowed the cleanup process.

“I think more than anything else, it’s personalities,” he said. “Who’s the point person for this? Who’s the point person for that one? Which pocket are we going to put the ego in?”

Personalities and ego should never come before the safety of residents. Public safety is one of the most fundamental roles of government. This is why local governments across the state should have emergency response plans for when unexpected hazards arise.

Cities and counties should train and prepare for a wide range of environmental and chemical threats.

For example, it took the Detroit Department of Public Works an entire day to alert residents of a suspected water main break that forced officials to demolish a marijuana dispensary and created a 10-foot mound in the middle of Dearborn Street.

Detroiters deserved to know about the possibility of danger from gas leaks and an immediate response. Instead, like Flat Rock, they say they were left in the dark.

City, county and state officials need to work together to imagine what can go wrong before it does — and be ready to respond when an emergency occurs.

END