The Gongwer Blog

by Alyssa McMurtry, Staff Writer

Barrett, Slotkin Putting It All Out There In Tight 7th District Race

Posted: October 24, 2022 3:01 PM

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Sen. Tom Barrett are fighting for one of the most contested seats in the country, and both candidates are feeling the heat.

Mr. Barrett (R-Charlotte) is hoping to win back the seat for Republicans after Ms. Slotkin (D-Lansing) flipped it in 2018 and held onto it in 2020. The tossup, redrawn 7th U.S. House District includes the state's capital city of Lansing and Ingham County, as well as Livingston and parts of Eaton, Genesee and Oakland and all of Clinton and Shiawassee counties.

The district on paper has a slight edge for Republicans, but Ms. Slotkin is an incumbent who has won the previous district with a similar GOP tilt twice. Ms. Slotkin is a prolific fundraiser while Mr. Barrett is a well-known commodity as a former state House member and current state senator. This race is likely to come down to the wire with the winner potentially prevailing by a slim margin.

Mr. Barrett told Gongwer News Service Friday there has been a lot of time spent raising money to fund the campaign. Multiple outlets reported that the 7th U.S. House District is expected to be one of the most expensive races in the state, with more than $25 million anticipated as each party vies to win the seat.

"My opponent is sitting on, I think, $4 million in her last campaign report," Mr. Barrett said. "As the challenger in the race, I need to continue to grind away at raising the resources to keep our message up on the air, so I spend a chunk of the day trying to build the resources we need to remain competitive and get our message out."

Gongwer asked Mr. Barrett if he was intimidated by the millions Ms. Slotkin is sitting on.

"No, I don't get intimidated," Mr. Barrett said.

Ms. Slotkin reported another quarter where she raised more than $1 million (see separate story). She told Gongwer Monday that whether she liked it or not, this race is one of the most expensive in the country.

She said her opponent has Republican super political action committees making up the difference for him, with Ms. Slotkin saying he does not have to fundraise very much for himself thanks to the super PACs.

Mr. Barrett said there is no typical day of campaigning for him, saying it largely depends on what the priority is at that particular moment. Mr. Barrett said he'll do stops for voter contact, including forums at conferences and visits to local restaurants.

Ms. Slotkin (D-Lansing) said a lot of her days consist of going back and forth between campaigning and her congressional duties. Campaigning for Ms. Slotkin includes a mixture of knocking what she calls "persuasion doors" (voters who could go either way) and attending large public venues and small campaign events, most recently a rally at Michigan State University with Attorney General Dana Nessel and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing).

On the trail, Mr. Barrett said the number one issue he hears about is the cost of living, whether it's inflation, groceries or gas. He said the country got into the inflationary crisis because of endless spending, saying there was "no way to ignore" that inflation is as high as it is because of the trillions of dollars the federal government has spent so far.

"Most recently what we see with their Inflation Reduction Act … I mean there ought to be some truth in legislating to say that you can't name a bill something that it demonstrably does the opposite of. It's not going to reduce any inflation," Mr. Barrett said. "No economist said it's going to reduce inflation, Elissa Slotkin herself said it's not going to reduce inflation, but they call it the inflation reduction act."

He also pointed to the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to try and "dry up the money supply," saying Congress is dumping more money into the supply at the same time.

"Interest rates are going to continue to climb and interest rates are going to continue to be high," he said. "We have to stop dumping more and more money into the economy to bring down the rate of inflation."

To combat rising gas prices, Mr. Barrett promotes developing and exploring oil and gas resources within the U.S. He said the Democrats are currently encouraging the president to deplete the Strategic Oil Reserves now so gas prices are not high when residents go to vote in the midterm election.

Mr. Barrett is also opposed to shutting down Line 5 – the 70-year-old pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac that critics fear could leak oil any day – and other pipelines, for that matter. He called Line 5 a "critical pipeline" for gas and propane. His family heats their home with propane in the winter, saying "if Elissa Slotkin had her way, it would be unaffordable for us to heat our home."

Ms. Slotkin was asked if she was concerned about Democrats this upcoming election, especially since the party that does not hold the presidency typically fares better during the midterms. The matter is also more complicated with the rising inflation, and Ms. Slotkin said it is one of the top three concerns she hears about.

"I think the question when it comes to being a leader, what is the approach one should take when you got this big economic situation happening," Ms. Slotkin said. "For me, if there was a silver bullet, I would have fired it, but there's not so we have to constantly work on finding something that affects people's lives."

For Ms. Slotkin, that includes "attacking" the price of gas, what she calls the underlying issue causing inflation. Ms. Slotkin was an original sponsor of legislation to suspend the federal gas tax, something Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer also called for earlier this year.

She also discussed how she is displeased with the decisions made by Saudi Arabia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut back on the number of barrels produced. Ms. Slotkin said she felt that Mr. Barrett was almost cheering at the announcement made by OPEC which led to rising gas prices in the U.S., saying that is not the behavior of someone who wants to lead.

Gongwer asked Ms. Slotkin about the Inflation Reduction Act and criticisms that the bill would do nothing to reduce inflation. She said it is a bill that is paid for, especially since it requires the top 150 businesses in the country that have revenues over $1 billion to pay at least 15 percent tax.

"It's paid for, so I don't think it's going to add to inflation, but I think it's a bridge too far to say that it's going to reduce inflation," Ms. Slotkin said.

She hailed the recent legislation that capped the price of insulin at $35, capped how much seniors spend on medication per year and allowed for Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

"That's trying to take those costs off the books," Ms. Slotkin said.

However, Ms. Slotkin said the price of health care and prescription drugs are still way too high for Michiganders, saying there needs to be major reform of the system. She said insulin alone costs about $5 to produce a vial and many Michiganders with insurance are still paying $300 per vial.

"I'm not talking about putting everyone on a state-provided health care, I'm talking about there has to be some guardrails for what this company can charge us, and nothing is more perfect personification than insulin," Ms. Slotkin said.

Michigan is the only state in the country where citizens are not allowed to sue drug companies for dangerous or defective drugs and Ms. Slotkin said residents should be allowed to hold these companies accountable for statewide problems such as the opioid epidemic.

During one of the two debates with Mr. Barrett and Ms. Slotkin, he shared that he did not appreciate the mischaracterization that he was against bringing jobs to his district, a reference to his votes as state senator against the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve.

When asked if he would have preferred General Motors establish their plant in a different district, Mr. Barrett said no.

"I welcome every business, every corporation, every small business, every medium-sized business, to come to Michigan, to come to my district, to grow, prosper, compete provide a livelihood for the people they employ," Mr. Barrett said. "To suggest that any legislator would not support jobs in their district is absurd."

Mr. Barrett said he has a very "pro-rural, free market" voting record, but he does not support taking money "out of the back pocket" of taxpayers and giving it to private, global corporations that he called "highly profitable."

"Our corporations are at a 70-year profitability high right now. Families are at a 40-year low because of the rising cost of living, inflation and other expenses that they're encountering, so why are we taking working families' money and giving it to global corporations?" Mr. Barrett said.

He recounted how fellow legislator Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said the bill related to the SOAR fund was "stuffing the stockings of corporate America." Mr. Barrett said other Democrats who supported the bill, and the subsequent fund, were doing so with the intention of picking "winners and losers."

Mr. Barrett said it was not incentives that typically brought corporations to certain states. Site Selection Magazine produced a Top 10 list for reasons why corporations pick locations, Mr. Barrett said, adding that talent and talent development were the top two factors. Others included infrastructure and energy costs, saying at the bottom of the top factors list was incentives.

"When Ford made their decision to move from Tennessee to Kentucky, one of the leading factors they cited was the cost of energy," he said. "And Michigan is one of the least competitive states for energy in the Midwest."

He called the SOAR fund a "billion-dollar slush fund," saying the state has already given GM almost $4 billion in prior incentive deals, excluding the newest incentive they just received from the state.

On top of that the jobs they're creating under this plan are going to cost taxpayers $166,000 for each job and the jobs are only going to pay the positions $46,000 and they're not UAW positions, Mr. Barrett said.

Ms. Slotkin was also brought up a mischaracterization she strongly disagreed with during the debates. News broke in September that Ms. Slotkin was renting the condo of a campaign donor. Ms. Slotkin has slammed what she calls implications from the Barrett campaign that she was sharing the residency with the donor despite both of them being married.

Gongwer asked Ms. Slotkin why she chose rent from someone who had contributed to her campaign. Ms. Slotkin said neither she nor the lessor had done favors for the other, saying she pays fair market value for the condo's rent. She said Mr. Barrett has a "fledging campaign," and that "he is trying to pick an issue that he thinks he's won.

"What I find offensive is that I asked him on live television to please stop him and his allies from putting my address online," Ms. Slotkin said. "As someone who has had someone convicted for following and threatening me for a year, maybe he doesn't understand the security risk that goes along with being an elected official, if he wants to be an elected official he should smarten up on these things."

Ms. Slotkin said Mr. Barrett or possibly a supporter had a truck placed outside her home that followed her to an event at MSU, saying she has had to change her security protocols.

"I think it really shows more about his character than about any substance of an issue," Ms. Slotkin said/

"If my staff or allies ever did that, I would get on the phone like a leader and require them to be taken down and all it takes is one phone call from him and he hasn't done it," Ms. Slotkin said.

Gongwer asked Mr. Barrett about his stance on a national abortion ban. He said with the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the matter will in fact be determined by the states.

"I don't want to over or under assume any potential policies at the federal level, but I will say to me this is something that will predominantly be decided by the states," Mr. Barrett said, adding that Proposal 22-3 would "radically allow for late-term, taxpayer funded abortions with no parental consent for minors."

Mr. Barrett said he believes in life-affirming options and is a supporter of crisis pregnancy centers, saying they are simply organizations to help women at a true time of need.

He blasted Ms. Slotkin for calling pregnancy crisis centers "fake clinics" and that she only supports abortion as an option for women facing crisis pregnancies. Many Democrats have condemned crisis pregnancy centers as duplicitous health centers that encourage a woman to carry a child to term without properly weighing all their options.

Ms. Slotkin, a supporter of Proposal 3, has asserted the proposal would be aligned with the standard set by Roe. She said those that claims the proposal would allow for an abortion up until the day of birth is completely "untrue," and that her campaign is putting out a post including the language verbatim so people can read it for themselves.

"It talks about abortion up until the point of viability just like Roe," Ms. Slotkin said. "There is no such thing as abortion on demand or abortion up until the ninth month. It says very clearly in the amendment that the only people who can get an abortion after viability are the ones where the mother's life is at risk and it's a medical professional that deems that mother at risk."

She said the proposal does not change or get rid of parental consent and any minor who wants to get a medical procedure of any kind including an abortion must have the consent of their parents unless they take it to court and get a judicial bypass, which she added happens typically if the parents are abusive or incestuous with the child.

Ms. Slotkin said she met with Republican women in Brighton to talk about proposal. While many of them identified as pro-life, Ms. Slotkin said the women felt the 1931 abortion ban is too black and white and does not account for "real women's lives."

"When we get out of looking at this issue as a political issue and just look at it as a human being issue, most women no matter what their private views, no matter what they would do with their life, whatever their relationship is with God, they don't believe they've walked in another woman's shoes and would never tell another woman how to live," Ms. Slotkin said.

Compared to his campaigns for the state Legislature, Mr. Barrett noted that many issues such as border security are issues, he can deal with at the federal level. He also said the campaigning style is different, especially door knocking, with Mr. Barrett estimating he would need to knock 800,000 doors.

"I'm doing this because I think it matters. We're on the wrong track, the country is simply on the wrong track, and I can't ignore what's going on in America today and sit on the sidelines and watch what happens," Mr. Barrett said.

For Ms. Slotkin, she said compared to the last two candidates she was up against, Mr. Barrett is not as "forthright" about his stances on issues such as abortion and exceptions for rape and incest.

"Instead of just owning his positions with decency and character, he tries to hide, but we know what he will do when he's elected," Ms. Slotkin said. "I wish he had the strength and character to just own his positions like a real leader."

With only a few weeks to go until Election Day, Mr. Barrett said he felt similarly now to how he felt in 2014 running against an incumbent for state House.

"It's a very uncomfortable feeling. There's a lot of uncertainty in these elections," Mr. Barrett said. "But I also know at the end of the day, I'm very confident and I rest easy knowing come Election Day the people of my district will have a choice to make – to continue on the same path we're on with a member of congress who has directly enabled Joe Biden and stood behind him on 100 percent of the votes in Congress, or do we have somebody that's going to go to Congress to be a check against the Biden administration."

Ms. Slotkin said she is one of five Democrats left who is represents a 2020 district won by former President Donald Trump, saying she it is a "shrinking breed." She said she was still proud of the fact that she has always ran in such a competitive seat, saying it means she works for and the work that she's done really matters.

"There's no such thing as an easy race in this district so it'll be a nailbiter and it always is," Ms. Slotkin said. "The Michigan State students will be critical, and they weren't here in 2020 because of COVID, so their role is really important. So, we're just going to run through the tape and do the best we can. I hope to earn people's votes."

School Board Races Highlight Statewide Tension

Posted: October 10, 2022 7:57 AM

Contests for local school boards this November have gained statewide attention as those opposed to discourse surrounding LGBTQ issues and racism in the U.S. are seeking seats in various districts as part of a movement that seems to have morphed from anger at coronavirus restrictions.

Decisions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 were tolerated at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, however as the months went on, many parents struggled to understand why their children were still learning virtually, especially as initial studies and anecdotal evidence showed strictly virtual learning was not beneficial for students.

Months into the 2020-21 school year, some parents and many conservatives were adamantly opposed to masking and vaccination requirements in schools. These same masking requirements and online schooling were also blamed as the reason for fewer students attending public schools.

COVID-19 has since been pushed to the back burner, but there is no question that schools' decision for the health of students has sparked an anger for some and has led to questioning decisions made by school boards, particularly from Republicans. In addition to a lack of transparency, many Republicans are incensed by the notion that public schools are indoctrinating students with a "Marxist agenda" that includes critical race theory; social and emotional learning; and gender and sexual orientation ideology.

However, some who are part of this movement say it is apolitical even if conservatives might be more accepting of the message. Republicans, though, made a concerted effort to recruit school board candidates heading into the 2022 election.

While CRT is currently not taught in schools, many districts include literature that advocates for diversity and inclusion, and as far as gender ideology, educators have discussed the possibility of students coming out as members of the LGBTQ community, even if their parents are not made aware.

With the election less than 40 days away, the usually sleepy and hyper-local seat of local school board member has become a political minefield. "Parents Against Whitmer" has labeled itself a grassroots group, however it caused some speculation as to who is behind the grassroots movement when the coalition was launched by the Michigan Republican Party in June (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 15, 2022).

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon has also made parental involvement and issues in schools, such as book banning and the so-called indoctrination of students a key part of her campaign.

Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield) in a recent interview with Gongwer News Service said she personally felt it was a grassroots movement of parents and community members who have advocated for taking more of a role in their children's education.

"Now that we're two years in, a lot of people are much more organized," Ms. Hornberger said.

The focus on school boards has been seen nationwide, starting with anger at mask requirements and then turning into an uproar about books at school libraries and seeking to get some banned.

In Michigan, the increased focus can be seen at State Board of Education meetings where public comment at times has lasted for hours with individuals calling in with a seemingly coordinated message related to culture war topics.

The Legislature and Governor Gretchen Whitmer also pivoted to school districts to determine if individual districts would be open in person or virtually at the start of the 2020-21 school year. Districts were also in charge of determining mask requirements as the pandemic started to wind down.

A source with connections to local school boards speaking on background said school boards are very aware of the highly politicized candidates on the ballot this fall.

"Some members are worried about who does win and what direction they could take the district," the source said.

While school boards have been highly aware of the target on their backs since COVID-19, it seems to have only become bigger, the source stated.

Many of these candidates, the source said, are running on a single issue, such as opposing critical race theory, social and emotional learning and diversity and inclusion.

Even more concerning to the source was that many of these candidates are not fully aware of how these districts are run.

Ms. Hornberger, a former school board member, also echoed these same concerns. The former public school teacher said she felt almost hypocritical about sending her child to a private school rather than a public school, and opted instead to run for school board to see if she could implement some changes.

She called the experience "eye-opening," and said change is slow in politics no matter what level. Ms. Hornberger said because the school boards are so intertwined with the public, many on the boards are afraid to make decisions in fear they could upset at least half of the community.

"I think a lot of people, if they do get elected, and they just keep the kids, our students as their focus … I think that they'll do a good job, but I hope that they don't just go in and just start being divisive on either side," Ms. Hornberger said.

Regardless of party, Ms. Hornberger said it was important that more voices are involved.

Republicans ahead of the 2022 election made an effort to recruit candidates for school board. In an April email to supporters, the Oakland County Republican Party announced an event for interested individuals to learn what running for school board entails and what would happen if elected.

Ms. Hornberger was a part of that event along with Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) and an organization called the Huron Valley School Parents Advocates.

"Leftist extremism has ventured far too deep into our schools, and our children deserve better from their educators," the email from the Oakland GOP said. "We need more common-sense, conservative citizens on our school boards throughout the county."

Matt Wilk is the director of the Get Kids Back to School PAC, which supports candidates who "will push back the tide of erosion on the traditional curriculum," particularly candidates who push back against "wokeness."

Mr. Wilk said the candidates he is endorsing advocate for an increase in transparency, authentic parental engagement and parental choice. He mentioned how over time, teachers have been asked to take on situations that they "aren't good at," asking why there were COVID clinics in schools, saying that's not schools' purpose.

"Schools were asked to hand out free lunches all summer, free food all summer. We're acting as a food bank. Inappropriate," Mr. Wilk said. "Now you saw this last cycle, schools were asked, were pushed into demanding that their parents make medical decisions on behalf of their kids. Those are parent decisions, not school decisions."

Mr. Wilk mentioned Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," and a scene in the book depicting "graphic incest." This book and many others like it have been brought before the State Board of Education during public comment, with many saying they found the book too inappropriate for their school-aged children.

Mr. Wilk said there were parents coming in while he was serving on a local school board who voiced their opposition and their support of the novel. He said they ultimately decided to post the pages for parents to read and choose between that novel or "Fahrenheit 451."

All of the candidates endorsed by Mr. Wilk's PAC are in contested races. Mr. Wilk said some interesting feedback he has heard from his endorsed candidates when they talk with constituents and parents is that people's opinions about school operation do not align with party politics.

"There are some on the right who wouldn't agree with me and there are some on the left who would," Mr. Wilk said.

One of the areas that saw considerable angst about COVID closures was the Ann Arbor Public Schools, which remained in a virtual learning mode well into the 2020-21 school year, and a large number parents in the state's most liberal city were furious.

He said there are candidates who identify themselves as apolitical, but care about their schools. Mr. Wilk pointed to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, reading scores, saying just because a student was a B+ before and tested at a B+ now, doesn't mean there was no learning loss since the test is graded on a curve.

"There's almost more enthusiasm around fixing schools than there is in any other sort of political issue that's going on right now," Mr. Wilk said.

As to issues related to the coronavirus and schools, Mr. Wilk said he took issue with schools trying to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated kids and most of the candidates he endorsed would disagree with this decision.

"That's not their job, they're not in the public health field," Mr. Wilk said of school administrators.

While it is not politically affiliated, Mr. Wilk said Republicans are typically more sympathetic to their message, especially parental choice and parental engagement. He said Ms. Dixon is definitely aligned with the PAC's message of parental involvement.

"The tough part for the sitting governor is that most parents know that she had the ability to make changes and she chose not to," he said. "For example, she could have eliminated virtual classes for the districts that really struggled getting back online."

Mr. Wilk expressed his disapproval of virtual classes going on past the end of the 2019-20 school year, saying the learning loss in the Detroit Public Schools Community District was massive.

Mr. Wilk also said he was taking steps to make sure his candidates understand how schools work and what they can do if they are elected to school boards. As a former school treasurer, he said many of the functions are challenging, but "slicing it up into little pieces" can make the work more manageable.

In 2020, the Northville School Board voted to remove Mr. Wilk after he posted on social media that the coronavirus was a hoax.

Still, Mr. Wilk recounted how his district was one of the first to post its check register online, saying every check per month the school district sends out is available to the public. Mr. Wilk said the board encouraged onlookers to alert the school district to a cheaper alternative if they saw something the district could save money on.

Gongwer asked Mr. Wilk about his endorsed candidates' stances opposed to critical race theory and gender identity and sexuality education, asking if this would also be key issues that could garner a Get MI Kids Back to School endorsement.

"I feel like a vast majority of my candidates feel that you have to meet children where they are and if a child presents to you gender confusion, as a school you want that kid to be educated you have to work from where they are," Mr. Wilk said. "When the school's belief for how these non-educational issues should be handled is different than what the parents think and that's where the problem is."

It's not up for the schools to say that they don't approve of how parents are raising their kids, Mr. Wilk said.

The Freedom of Information Act has also been a subject of debate for parents. Many have requested curriculum and school expenses, sharing online they have struggled with receiving the information. Mr. Wilk said FOIA should be unnecessary when it comes to curriculum and parents should have ready access to their child's reading material.

Schools counter that the curriculum is generally available online.

There is a feeling that parents have that schools are almost a bureaucracy, Mr. Wilk said.

He also said FOIA is "not a maximum, it's a minimum," and a school district can always provide more information than the FOIA requires.

Becky Olson started an organization along with other mothers called Support Forest Hills Public Schools in the 2021-22 school year when a recall attempt against five of the seven school board members began, initiated by the group Forest Hills for Just Education. She said this group tried to gain momentum in the community by advocating for more regular bus services during the bus driver shortage.

"They very quickly pivoted to this whole anti-CRT message in schools and what we started to see happening very clearly alongside the national narrative of trying to attack public schools," Ms. Olson said, saying the Michigan-based group started to follow along with what was happening in Texas and Virginia.

"To me, one of the most telling things that occurred (was) in December 2021, they were approaching the deadline for the recall petitions that they had hoped to advance, and they held a campaign signing event at a location with Ryan Kelley," Ms. Olson said. "That sort of opened the door of what was really happening here, that this was not about school bus service."

Mr. Kelley was a Republican gubernatorial candidate best known for participating in anti-COVID regulation demonstrations and participating in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Ms. Olson said it was an attempt to have a "clean slate for hyper partisan or America First" candidates who want to rebuild public education from the ground up.

She recounted that when the Forest Hills for Just Education group launched the recall attempt, the community was "horrified." It started with a private Facebook group called "Stop the Attacks," and it had more than 1,100 members in its group. In October 2021, they decided to file as a political action committee at the state level, citing former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' plan to bring tax monies to parents who send their children to private schools.

In an attempt to raise money, Ms. Olson said they sold two versions of yard signs, one saying "We love our public schools," and a few variations of car stickers. Their Facebook page also has almost 1,000 followers and is available on Instagram, where the group shares information combatting political rhetoric.

"What we tried to do all along is share factual information not just about, not just 'hey this stuff you're hearing about CRT, let's take a look at where it actually came from. It came from a think tank and here's the guy who tweeted about who said he's going to make this a thing,' and let that guide you," Ms. Olson said. "This isn't something that some kids came home from Forest Hills Public schools with assignments that were labeled CRT on the headline."

The group is now working on a proactive approach for the upcoming election year. In her district alone, Ms. Olson said 13 candidates have filed to run for local school boards. Ms. Olson stated how in years past, parents who were involved in their communities would run for school boards. Now, she said groups like the Forest Hills for Just Education have their own candidates running on a more political platform.

To help educate voters, the Support Forest Hills Public Schools organization sent surveys to the candidates, specifically asking the candidates what their goals are for the district. Ms. Olson said nine of the 13 candidates responded to the survey, with the candidates who called for the recalls the year prior failing to respond to the survey.

They also hosted a community forum for the candidates, moderated by a third party and sent out a survey for the community, gauging what parents and residents felt was important in terms of education and what matters to them in this election. They endorsed three candidates based on the information provided to them via the survey, finding candidates who were welcoming to diverse students and supported the social and psychological safety were top priorities. She also said that funding the district rather than limiting it was a key priority for survey takers.

"I really think the recall sparked a lot of activism in people," Ms. Olson said about the past year. "People were just so offended."

There was no reason for this at all, she said of the vitriol schools her school district has faced.

Controversies Cloud Karamo Campaign

Posted: September 26, 2022 9:16 AM

Republican Secretary of State nominee Kristina Karamo has endured one controversy after another since becoming her party's de facto nominee in April, many of them self-inflicted, and is struggling to get any traction against Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Ms. Karamo has long been at the vanguard of those advancing false claims about the 2020 election, and that has damaged her ability to raise funds from traditional Republican donors, but what especially appears to be derailing her campaign is a cascade of personal controversies and conspiracy-laden claims out on the fringe.

Ms. Karamo entered the race for secretary of state in May 2021 and went from unknown to favorite for the Republican nomination when former President Donald Trump endorsed her in September 2021. In his endorsement via his Save America PAC, Mr. Trump said Ms. Karamo is "strong on crime, including massive crime of Election Fraud," and asked her to "check out the fake election results that took place in the city of Detroit." Audits and other investigations have repeatedly shown there was no fraud in Detroit or anywhere else that would have come anywhere close to overturning Mr. Trump's 154,000-vote loss to now-President Joe Biden.

Since then, Ms. Karamo has made a name for herself by continuing to push election conspiracy theories while also undergoing an onslaught of additional controversies. She has stated several times that individuals across the country, including Michigan, stuffed thousands of absentee ballots into the ballot boxes to give now President Joe Biden his victory. Again, there is no evidence of such activity.

Republicans are largely quiet on her comments and points of view. Gongwer News Service reached out to more than 10 individuals either elected as Republicans or working in Republican politics seeking comments and thoughts on how Ms. Karamo was doing as the Republican secretary of state nominee. Several declined to comment, listing reasons including that they did not know enough about the campaign or simply wanted to stay out of the matter.

Gongwer also reached out to the Karamo campaign seeking an interview with the candidate for her take on the campaign so far. The campaign did not respond by the time of publication.

One former Republican lawmaker who has raised alarm about the direction of the party is former Rep. Aaron Miller of Sturgis, who served in the House from 2015-20, was a reliable conservative vote and strongly opposed attempts to block certification of the 2020 election.

When asked how he thought Ms. Karamo was doing as the nominee and if voters had an understanding of the policies Ms. Karamo wanted to enact if she were elected, Mr. Miller first said that there is usually very little interest in people that are running for lesser-known offices, especially during a gubernatorial election cycle.

In his view, even if the average liberal voter was asked who the secretary of state is in Michigan right, few would get the answer right, Mr. Miller said.

"That said, I don't think she's doing well at all," Mr. Miller added.

Mr. Miller sent Gongwer an Associated Press news article in which Ms. Karamo called out other Republicans for not supporting her and other like-minded secretary of state candidates. He asked, "is she trying to run a general election or is she trying to play lead trumpet for the crazies? She's trying to play lead trumpet for the crazies."

Republicans may have little to say publicly about the situation but privately there is acknowledgement that Ms. Benson will win, perhaps by a wide margin.

The situation is all the more remarkable considering a year ago there was some thought Ms. Benson had vulnerability given issues at branch offices in 2020-21 though those seem to have abated.

The following is a timeline of some newsworthy moments of Ms. Karamo's campaign:

  • Oct. 22, 2021: Ms. Karamo spoke at a conference, For God & Country: Patriot Double Down, in Las Vegas that also included a slate of speakers who openly supported QAnon conspiracy theories. There was suspicion that Ms. Karamo was a believer of QAnon herself, but her team sent out a statement to media two days prior to her appearance that Ms. Karamo does not support QAnon theories (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 20, 2021).

  • March 30, 2022: Ms. Karamo faces some heat from Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) – who was also a secretary of state primary candidate – after he speculated during a candidate forum with the Birmingham and Bloomfield Republican Women's clubs that Ms. Karamo was given the questions ahead of himself and then candidate Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 30, 2022).

  • April 25: Media Matters For America in a piece stated that Ms. Karamo on an August 6, 2020, episode of her podcast, "It's Solid Food," said that certain celebrities are tools of Satan, saying "'super craft' Satan is behind Beyonce pulling 'Black Americans into paganism.'" She also called rapper Cardi B a 'tool of Lucifer because she peddles filth in the culture,'" and people practicing yoga are doing a "demonic ceremony."

  • July 18: Ms. Karamo shares a video online showing a woman dropping off ballots at a drop box. However, it is unclear how many ballots she is dropping, if it is even more than one, and whose ballot it is. She would show this video again during a press conference in August.

  • August 10: Ms. Karamo hosted a press conference about what she viewed as the dangers of the Promote the Vote 2022 constitutional amendment ballot initiative, which among several changes would include nine early in-person voting days. She appeared to confuse the state's voter ID and provisional ballot processes, saying then that what is Proposal 22-2 would remove the voter identification requirement when voting in person, which the proposal does not do. She also claimed her Twitter was hacked when a tweet included a link to a post on Truth Social that claimed Mr. Trump could be expected back in the White House by the end of the year. The tweet was deleted, and Ms. Karamo said any tweet made within the last 24 hours of that incident were not from herself or a member of her team (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 10, 2022).

  • August 31: Susan Tabor, a former state representative and a longtime Republican, criticized Ms. Karamo's comments on various subjects, most notably that those who support the right to an abortion worship Satan (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 31, 2022). Ms. Tabor in an op-ed published by Detroit Metro Times took a jab at the candidate, saying "apparently, anybody can win the GOP nomination for secretary of state, no matter how deranged they are."

  • September 2: Online magazine Jezebel wrote an article that states Ms. Karamo said "I'll kill us all" during an argument in the car with her now ex-husband Adom Karamo and with her two daughters in the back seat. Mr. Karamo alleged she tried to grab control of the wheel and crash the car when he asked for a divorce. She responded to the article saying it was "categorically false," and that her ex-husband made false accusations in court documents.

"Since I filed for divorce in 2014, I have had FULL physical custody of my children. My ex-husband, making false allegations in 2021 on social media and in court documents, was an attempt to exploit the fact I am a public figure, using it as leverage to change the custody agreement he became dissatisfied with."

  • September 7: Ms. Karamo tweeted that the media was "spreading false claims about me" because she was suspected to be out of state campaigning to raise money. "Our team never stated that because I'm not." However, the report in Axios was sourced on the record to a Karamo campaign spokesperson.

  • September 11: While Ms. Karamo asserted she was not out of state campaigning to raise money, she was at a conference in West Palm Beach Florida with other America First Secretary of State Coalition members. The coalition hopes to nominate secretaries of state who believe the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump. In the article from the Associated Press, Ms. Karamo tells conference goers that, "you see people in our own party, claiming to be Republicans, trying to silence us and stop us. Even though we are the Republican nominees of this office, we have people in our own party trying to make us lose."

  • September 12: The Detroit News runs a story that states Ms. Karamo once said on an episode of her podcast in 2020 that "participants in the 2017 Women's March protests were 'addicted to porn.'" The News wrote that she cited statistics from Pornhub, a free pornography website, that "'female traffic across the United States' dropped 8.2 percent at one point during the day of the Women's March when compared to the average Saturday."

  • September 14: Ms. Karamo said she would not do sit-down interviews with the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, saying the outlets have "constantly revealed their bias in protecting SoS Benson's corruption threatening the Great State of Michigan."

"Additionally, they attack my personal beliefs which have nothing to do with the position of Secretary of State which, when elected, I will depoliticize and then manage per the rule of law while serving Michiganders of every worldview equally," she said.

  • September 15: Ms. Karamo continues to go after members of the media, asking if they will show up to her events or continue to not do so and "lie" when they say she won't talk to them. "These people are propagandists," she said on Twitter.

Through those moments, there have been noteworthy tensions between the MIGOP grassroots wing and its establishment class, most notably during the state party endorsement convention on April 23 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 27, 2022). Top donors in the Republican Party attempted to route their funds to candidates who did not agree with the election conspiracy. Even the DeVos family, which has proudly backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, has remained silent on the more fringe candidates, absent on lists of contributors to Ms. Karamo and the campaign of attorney general candidate Matt DePerno.

Money appears to be a serious problem for her campaign. Her pre-convention campaign finance report showed a total of $695,577 raised for the election cycle as of August 11. Her competitor, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, significantly outraised Ms. Karamo, bringing in $3.76 million for the 2022 election cycle as of August 5. Ms. Benson had $3.2 million on hand as of August 5 compared to $277,251 as of August 11 for Ms. Karamo.

Ms. Benson already is on television. Unless something drastic changes, Ms. Karamo will not be on television. She has placed several billboards along freeways in Detroit but otherwise there's little public evidence of a campaign.

Mr. Trump is coming back to Michigan to campaign for Ms. Karamo, Mr. DePerno and Ms. Dixon on October 1.

Matt Resch, owner of Resch Strategies, told Gongwer on Monday that his visit could give Ms. Karamo a boost among his adherents in the Michigan Republican Party, but given the resources of Ms. Benson and other Democratic incumbents, the three candidates will need more than another Trump campaign stop to get ahead.

From a public relations perspective, Mr. Resch said he hasn't really seen any evidence of a campaign.

"She seems to be focused entirely on talking to a very small base of folks who helped her win the nomination and the convention but not the larger group of people in the state who are going to be making the ultimate decision when it comes to the election," he said.

Mr. Miller also told Gongwer that during a general election, especially since Michigan is a blue state shading purple, candidates should focus on winning moderates and independents, like former Governor Rick Snyder did. He said Ms. Karamo should not be at a conference elsewhere and should instead be out talking to voters.

"I think the Matt DePernos and the Kristina Karamos of the world are very content … for their home crowds," he said. "That's a recipe for losing an election."

As for Ms. Karamo's comments that there are people in her own party who are trying to silence her, Mr. Miller was asked if moderate Republicans were aware of her statements. He said there are lot of similar types of purges happening across the state and nation, where more fringe candidates call out their moderate counterparts.

"I chuckle at who is called a RINO nowadays," Mr. Miller said, adding that when speaking with colleagues, they joke that the staunchly conservative former House Speaker Tom Leonard had also being called a RINO during the attorney general nomination race. "It's really a changing of the party … it's almost a party of loyalty to one person."

He mentioned how Mr. Trump had to send out a release in support of Republican lieutenant governor candidate Shane Hernandez to get grassroots delegates behind him at convention. Former gubernatorial candidates Ryan Kelley, Garrett Soldano and Ralph Rebandt expressed their desire to run for the running mate position in the leadup to the Republican nominating convention in August. Mr. Rebandt was the only one to follow through on his attempt but failed to spoil Mr. Hernandez's chances and the candidate was chosen after only one ballot.

The one wild card could be a red wave, though at present the political environment seems more neutral, and Michigan voters historically have reelected secretaries of state even if the challenging party is doing well at the top of the ticket.

"I think it would take a lot to overcome the statistics that stand in their way, but that is not of course impossible," Mr. Miller said. "There could be a giant red wave."

He also said if Ms. Karamo focused on the bureaucratic failures of Ms. Benson's time in office, such as the fury that erupted in 2021 regarding wait and appointment times at the branch offices, she would stand a better chance of being elected rather than to "hammer on the election over and over."

Mr. Resch similarly said Ms. Karamo would fare far better with moderate voters if she focused on the numerous problems individuals faced while at the branch offices. He said Ms. Benson was not a popular figure when first elected, saying the promise to get wait times down in branch offices was not one that was kept for a very long time. Ms. Benson in 2019 said it would take three years to achieve her promise of 30 minutes for residents to conduct business but not long afterward said the goal had been met via online actions.

That would have been easy pickings for the Karamo campaign if she had the desire to focus on them, he added.

The election conspiracies also appear to satisfy only Ms. Karamo's most loyal base but would drive the majority of the needed electorate away. Gongwer asked Mr. Miller where he thought the party was heading, and Mr. Miller said, "there are going to be many years spent out in the woodshed."

Mr. Resch said that Ms. Karamo appears to not only be failing to sway moderate voters, but her campaign does not appear to have the resources to meet the "middle of the road voters."

"I'm not sure that The Detroit News editorial board would be entirely a friendly venue, but certainly the most probably friendly venue that she's going to receive from an editorial board in the state," Mr. Resch said of Ms. Karamo's decision to not speak with the Detroit Free Press or The Detroit News editorial boards. "To not take advantage of those easy earned media opportunities is going to hurt the campaign, as well."

Though many Republicans do not wish to openly criticize Ms. Karamo, there has also been some hesitancy in endorsing her.

The Michigan Farm Bureau's AgriPAC, which endorsed mostly Republicans for office this year, save for a few Democrats, endorsed Ms. Benson even as it also endorsed Mr. DePerno.

Mr. Resch said a candidate needs to make themselves endorsable and the continued spewing of conspiracy theories has made her hard to back.

"I think the Michigan Republican Party needs to start asking itself some questions and the first one is, 'Do they want to win again?' Because they're not going to win statewide races by electing and nominating people from the fringe who don't represent the state of Michigan and focus on these conspiracies of the past," Mr. Resch said.

To that, Mr. Miller told Gongwer he would not be voting for Ms. Dixon, Mr. DePerno or Ms. Karamo. He also said he would never vote for anyone endorsed by Mr. Trump, anyone who believed the 2020 election was stolen or anyone who participated or supports the actions of January 6, 2021, insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol.

Mr. Miller further said he wants other Republicans to know there are people out there like him who are "opposed to the opinion out there."

MSHDA Director Still Awaiting HUD Approval

Posted: May 13, 2022 4:33 PM

Amy Hovey, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority's pick for its new executive director, has yet to start the job despite the board selecting her in late 2021, her approval contingent on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's assent.

Approximately eight months after MSHDA selected Ms. Hovey, her appointment is still pending HUD approval. A statement provided Wednesday from MSHDA board chair Susan Corbin, who is also the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity director, confirmed HUD is still reviewing MSHDA's request.

"Following a national search for a MSHDA Executive Director, Amy Hovey's exceptional leadership skills and knowledge made her the ideal candidate for the position. I am hopeful she will be able to join the MSHDA team," Ms. Corbin said. "She passed the first hurdle when the State Ethics Board accepted the conflicts wall arrangement. HUD is now considering MSHDA's request for the exception for the HOME Program and waiver for project-based vouchers."

It is currently unknown when HUD will approve of the exception and waiver request. A message was left with the Detroit field office and was not returned last week.

The HOME program grants states and local governments funds to be used with the goal of increasing homeownership and affordable housing for those with lower incomes. The project-based vouchers are HUD-funded rental assistance that local housing authorities like MSHDA make available to affordable housing developers.

Ms. Hovey currently serves as the special project coordinator at Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. It is her spouse's work with the agency, however, that raised some red flags. Mr. Hovey has loans with the agency and there was concern his work may be a conflict of interest for Ms. Hovey.

In October 2021, MSHDA board decided her appointment can only be confirmed upon approval from the State Board of Ethics and HUD (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 21, 2021).

By December, the board of ethics unanimously approved her appointment and said the anticipated conflicts are not pervasive enough to keep Ms. Hovey from doing her job. It also said the conflict walls proposed by MSHDA were sufficient (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 3, 2021).

Ms. Hovey's offer can still be rescinded if HUD rejects MSHDA's requests.

Republican SOS Candidates Get Heated During Forum

Posted: April 2, 2022 9:46 PM

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP -- An event for the Birmingham and Bloomfield Republican Women's clubs meant to showcase the knowledge of the three Republican secretary of state candidates hit a snag when Rep. Beau LaFave expressed his frustration for the underlying favoritism of fellow candidate Kristina Karamo on Wednesday.

The forum was moderated by Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), who served as secretary of state from 2011-18.

Mr. LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) was visibly angry that the questions which were meant to be sent out to candidates prior to the forum failed to reach him in time. He seemed to be under the impression that Ms. Karamo received the questions days ahead of the forum.

Ms. Johnson replied that a colleague intended to give out the questions before the forum, but her husband had passed earlier in the day, and she was obviously preoccupied with those matters. Ms. Johnson said they would look into why Mr. LaFave did not receive the questions and he simply replied it was totally fine, indicating his understanding that personal matters take precedence.

Speaking with Gongwer News Service, Mr. LaFave reiterated that he did not care too much that he failed to receive the questions, however he did take issue with Ms. Johnson allegedly endorsing Ms. Karamo earlier in the day.

"Having the moderator having already endorsed one of the candidates and then not getting the questions, I thought it was fair to point out to the group," Mr. LaFave said. "I answered those questions as well or better than other candidates who got them days in advance. I knew that the moderator had endorsed one of my opponents. I came here anyway."

A request for comment was left with Ms. Karamo on the status of her endorsement from Ms. Johnson but was not returned by the time of publication.

While an endorsement from Ms. Johnson remains to be made public knowledge, Ms. Karamo has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock, the latter of the two drawing much controversy. As a co-chair, it is not necessarily in Ms. Maddock's job description to endorse candidates prior to the official endorsement convention.

Mr. LaFave told Gongwer members of the state House, Senate, MIGOP and former presidents have a "First Amendment right to make a mistake and endorse somebody that's going to lose."

"I also have the right to win at convention," Mr. LaFave added.

There was no clear winner of the forum, but several of both Mr. LaFave's and Ms. Karamo's comments were met with avid agreement from the luncheon. The three candidates, which includes Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry, discussed election integrity; opening branch offices and getting rid of appointment times; voter identification – specifically state IDs and driver's licenses as proof of residency and persona – stopping absentee ballot applications from being sent to homes if not requested and removing the deceased from the Qualified Voter File sooner.

All three largely agreed on the topics, but Mr. LaFave did not agree with opening more branch offices, saying this would cost voters more money and the secretary of state already has too much.

Ms. Johnson made some policy proposals herself, including her desire to require residents who move to another state to turn in both their driver's license and voter identification at the same time and effectively remove themselves from another state's voter registration immediately. The three candidates agreed with this idea.

Ms. Karamo had a different tactic for working with voters, emphasizing the need to open more offices in underserved communities and rural areas. She said those communities often do not have reliable internet access and online services would not be a reality. She has also already had more than 200 campaign events across the state and said she has been speaking with moderates and Democrats to vote for her in the fall.

Ms. Karamo said she left her position teaching public speaking at Wayne Community College to run for office. She told Gongwer that her perspective of the everyday person and her background in education bring a fresh perspective to the race.

"I've been an active Republican for years. However, one of the biggest complaints I've had has been effective messaging and that we don't have to change our positions as conservative, but just effectively communicating (our ideas) to people who don't come from the conservative world," Ms. Karamo said.

She said having Mr. Trump's endorsement gives her a level of credibility to her fellow Republicans that she is conservative and will not "stab them in the back" like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

"Most people you talk to, most Americans, don't trust our Congress. They don't trust our news media," Ms. Karamo said. "Our institutions have habitually lied to us. So, people like an outside person."

Mr. LaFave did not think Ms. Karamo could win against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. He mentioned Ms. Karamo's attendance at a Las Vegas conference in October 2021 which featured prominent figures who openly support QAnon conspiracy theories, saying this would not fare well in November 2022 among moderates and independents (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 20, 2021).

"She's going to lose to Jocelyn Benson because every ad from August until November is going to just say, 'Karamo, QAnon lead speaker of Las Vegas.' How are you going to win a moderate with that?" Mr. LaFave said. "How are you going to get somebody that's mad that the offices are closed, and he or she couldn't get their driver's license? How are we going to put QAnon up against closed offices?"

He concluded if Ms. Karamo does get the Republican nomination, Ms. Benson will likely secure another four years.

Levin, Stevens Forum Discusses Voting Rights, Ukraine Conflict

Posted: March 25, 2022 12:06 PM

The Democratic candidates for the redrawn 11th U.S. House District, U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens and U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, talked domestic and foreign policy during a Jewish Democratic Council of America forum on Thursday, with the two representatives largely agreeing on the issues.

It is the first such joint event involving the two incumbents facing off in the August primary. It was held virtually with the two taking turns answering questions. Unlike a debate, however, they did not engage each other directly or respond to what the other said.

The forum before a Jewish organization comes as Mr. Levin, who is Jewish, has not seen the unified support from the area's considerable bloc of Jewish voters that he might have expected. The conservative American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee endorsed Ms. Stevens, who is not Jewish, and some Jewish leaders were quoted in a recent Detroit News story complaining that Mr. Levin had been a less than resolute supporter of Israel, a charge Mr. Levin and his supporters disputed.

Mr. Levin (D-Bloomfield Township) and Ms. Stevens (D-Waterford Township) highlighted their work as co-sponsors on Voting Rights Act bills. Both have received endorsements from key members of the Congressional Black Caucus due to their personal relationships and allyships. Ms. Stevens, however, recently received the endorsement of the Michigan Democratic Party's Black Caucus.

Mr. Levin said, however, the nation needs to go beyond simply co-sponsoring legislation and introduced the Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act with Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia) which was introduced in October 2021. He also said he was an advocate for ending the Senate filibuster though as a member of the House he has no say in that.

Ms. Stevens said an effective way to improve voting rights was getting younger people involved, saying she firmly believes that politicians need to engage with the next generation to ensure they are "enshrining voting rights law throughout the nation."

As Russia continues to wage war in Ukraine, President Joe Biden announced Thursday the U.S. will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and others fleeing Russia.

The U.S. continues to place economic sanctions on Russia with supporters believing it will cripple the Russian economy and opponents questioning if sanctions are enough. Ms. Stevens and Mr. Levin were asked what additional steps the Biden administration should take to "establish a red line" for Russian President Vladmir Putin's actions that would lead to direct U.S. military involvement.

"I am not in the business of telling (Mr. Biden) what decisions to make, but I do want to support the efforts that we've taken with sanctions, which he said, 'listen, the sanctions aren't going to necessarily stop them in their tracks but it is going to squeeze Russia over a period of time and impact their ability to even be successful' in this brutal, unprovoked wholly unacceptable war that they have started with Ukraine," Ms. Stevens said. "And the other thing is that we do have to look at red lines, like chemical weapons that might be used, as well as some of the threats that Mr. Putin has made."

Ms. Stevens added she is working to free one of her constituents, Paul Whelan, from Russian imprisonment. Mr. Whelan remains in Russian custody more than three years after Russian officials arrested him on espionage charges.

Mr. Levin is a member of the Ukraine Caucus in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and said he has used his platform to advance Ukrainian-American connections. However, he said he was not for the U.S. or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization going to war with Russia.

"That risks taking an unspeakable tragedy and magnifying it many, many times, including increasing the threat of thermonuclear war," Mr. Levin said, adding he has three main principles for guiding his thinking on the matter.

The principles are making sure Ukraine maintains its sovereignty, providing military and humanitarian assistance on an unlimited basis and staying the course on sanctions and accountability.

The two representatives also answered a few questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, with both being in support of a two-state solution and continuing to provide aid to Israelis for national security and economic development. They also supported the reinstatement of humanitarian aid to Palestine that was terminated during former President Donald Trump's administration.

Other areas of concern included climate change and abortion bans. On protecting abortion, Ms. Stevens highlighted her work with U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), who endorsed Ms. Stevens, for the Women's Caucus at the congressional level which includes her co-sponsoring of the Women's Health Protection Act and also her work with state House candidates.

"We will be all-hands-on-deck. It is an all-hands-on-deck moment in this Congress, and I really do see this as a big reason why I am Congress," Ms. Stevens said.

Mr. Levin said if abortion is banned at the federal level, this revert Michigan back to a law dating to 1846 when abortion was criminalized in the state. He credited his Jewish faith for his fervent dedication to reproductive rights.

"Through those teachings and the Jewish spirit of community in care, my faith deepens my commitment to support abortion providers and patients alike," Mr. Levin.

He is also a co-sponsor for the Women's Protection Act and shouted out his support for the ballot initiative Reproductive Freedom For All which seeks to protect women's access to all matters relating to pregnancy.

Fertility Bills: Punish Docs For Lying, Using Different Sperm Samples

Posted: February 18, 2022 2:44 PM

Legislation prohibiting health professionals from using an embryo, sperm or egg in an assisted reproduction procedure that is not the one to which the patient consented was discussed by the House Health Policy Committee Thursday, with victims of such circumstances telling lawmakers about the trauma they experienced.

HB 5716, sponsored by Rep. John Roth (R-Traverse City), would also prohibit providing false or misleading information related to an assisted reproduction procedure and provide that it is third degree criminal sexual conduct for a health professional who does so.

Included in the package are HB 5713, HB 5714, HB 5715 and HB 5717 which make changes to the statutes of limitations, civil liability, heath professional sanctions and sentencing guidelines.

HB 5717, also sponsored by Mr. Roth, would amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to add felonies that would be created under HB 5716. False representation would be a class E crime with a max imprisonment of five years, knowingly using a human embryo or gamete other than the one agreed upon would also be a class E crime with max prison time of five years and criminal conduct in the third-degree would be class A crime with a maximum term of 15 years in prison.

He and fellow sponsor Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) spoke before the House committee Thursday. Mr. Roth said when he came to the Legislature, this was not the first thing on his agenda. However, hearing the story from one constituent was enough for him to sponsor the legislation.

"To feel the pain of misinformation they've been given as their genetic material was supposed to be a certain type, it's terrible," Mr. Roth said. "It's the essence of who we are. I'd say misinformation but they were flat out lies actually that were told to these people. They were told their biological material was different than what they got."

HB 5715, sponsored by Ms. Breen, amends sections of the Public Health Code requiring the Department of Licensing and Regulatory affairs to investigate an allegation against the accused health professional and would include sanctions such as license revocation or suspension.

Ms. Breen, who has two children of her own, told a personal anecdote of her sister-in-law who used reproductive assistance to conceive a child. Her bill would require LARA to hold a disciplinary hearing even in the absence of a criminal conviction.

"We all know somebody who has tried for years to desperately conceive a child and the magnitude of emotions that can occur when a pregnancy does not take, where the sheer joy and bliss that comes when that child is finally delivered into the mother's arms," Ms. Breen said. "And we are here today because a few physicians out of the many that practice within the scope, purposefully and egregiously violated that hope and faith and trust. And unfortunately current Michigan law is inadequate to address these sever violations."

HB 5713, sponsored by Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) would amend the statute of limitations in the Code of Criminal Procedure, allowing victims to press charges within 15 years after a health professional used their own human embryo or gamete to assist in reproduction. It also allows those who have found DNA evidence to identify the individual to press charges within three years of the identification.

HB 5714, sponsored by Committee Chair Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian), would amend the Revised Judicature Act to provide that a person who engages in false representation in assisted reproduction is liable to economic and noneconomic damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorney fees and costs. Victims who can bring action under this bill include the patient, the patient's spouse, the child conceived or the donor whose gamete or human embryo was used without their consent.

A constituent brought by Mr. Roth, Jaime Hall, was a child of such circumstance. Her mother was a patient of Dr. Phillip Peven. Mr. Peven worked as an OBGYN in the metro Detroit area for decades and news broke in 2020 of Mr. Peven's activities fathering multiple children by using his sperm in place of the one provided or consented by his patients.

Ms. Hall and her now half-sister discovered their father was not biologically related to them after conducting a 23 and Me test because of health concerns related to their father's contraction of scarlet fever earlier in life. Ms. Hall discovered she was Ashkenazi Jewish rather than 100 percent Scottish as she and her parents previously believed. Her now half-sister was a child of another doctor within the facility.

Their mother had brought in a donor who was a close family friend only to find out through the DNA test that his sperm was not used.

"I wasn't my father's. I was my mother's own doctor's child," Ms. Hall said. "I went to go meet him in person and I asked him, I said, 'so my mom brought a donor. What happened?' He goes, 'yeah, I disposed of it.' I'm like…'why would you do that? Why would you dispose of her donor?' He said, 'well, because I didn't know if it was viable or not. You know, we had timing on these things. We knew…this was a time that your mother would be able to become pregnant and so I disposed of his sperm and I used one that I knew was viable.'"

Others shared similar stories. One woman, Lynne Spencer, said her mother used a sperm donor to conceive her and her sister. Her parents were told the donor was a medical student and Ms. Spencer later discovered he was an individual with a 9th grade education and a GED.

"Parents receiving donor gametes have a right to accurate information about the donor and the donors' characteristics and donors also have a right to know how their gametes are being used," Ms. Spencer said. "There's stories coming to light of couples who go in for fertility treatment and the father has to give a sperm sample and his sperm sample is used to impregnate someone else. Physicians have been practicing behind closed doors with no legislation or oversight."

No action was taken on the bills.

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