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Aug. 6 | This Week in Government: Prop P Fails Big; Disagreement Over COVID-19 Immunity of Recovered vs. Vaccinated

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

  1. Winfrey, Former Tlaib Aide to Battle for Detroit Clerk Role; Prop P Fails Big
  2. Tate-Bolden Team Up for Dem Leadership; Brabec, Brixie Still In
  3. Shirkey, Health Official Disagree on COVID-19 Immunity of Recovered vs. Vaccinated
  4. Wayne State Joins U-M, MSU in Requiring COVID-19 Vaccinations
  5. Proposed Maps From AFL-CIO Unpack Dem Voters

Winfrey, Former Tlaib Aide to Battle for Detroit Clerk Role; Prop P Fails Big

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey will advance to the November general election after hanging on to her current role with the city by a wide margin of votes.

With more than 75% of precincts reporting at the time of publication, Winfrey had received 42,470 votes, or 72% of all total votes cast. Next closest was Denzel McCampbell, former spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), who garnered 8,550 votes in all, meaning the two will face off in three months at the polls.

Should Winfrey be re-elected come November, it would be her fifth term in office, having served since 2006.

Another voting effort in Detroit also ended in a landslide, though not for a candidate.

An effort to revise Detroit’s city charter – resulting in changes to how residents would pay for amenities like water or sewer, how city’s departments are structured, and more – failed in a landslide vote. With nearly 76% of precincts reporting at the time of publication, the choice to not amend the charter had received 41,077 votes. The choice to adopt the revision, however, only received 19,445 votes.

The initiative had been decried by many politicians, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, as being too costly for the city but was allowed to be placed on the ballot due to a late-July Supreme Court order.

“Detroiters have spoken – and they don’t want to go back to bankruptcy,” the group Coalition to Protect Detroit’s Future, which rallied against Proposal P, said in a statement late Tuesday. “Detroit can continue moving forward.”

The Detroit City Council race for filling the District 4 seat, however, was much closer than either of the aforementioned races. At the head of the pack with almost 70% of precincts reporting was Latisha Johnson, former Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals vice chair, with 2,249 votes.

Close behind her was investigative journalist M.L. Elrick with 1,758 votes, Western International High School’s Dean Toson Knight with 1,375 votes then Virgil Smith Jr., a former state Senator and former judge, with 1,272 votes.

Only two will advance to the November ballot, though who among Elrick, Knight, and Smith will face off against Johnson remains to be seen.


Tate-Bolden Team Up for Dem Leadership; Brabec, Brixie Still In

Rep. Joe Tate and Rep. Kyra Bolden – running for House Democratic leader and floor leader, respectively – are viewed to have the edge in the race to head the caucus in the 2023-24 term, but Rep. Julie Brixie and Rep. Felicia Brabec are in the mix too and not backing down.

Still, some sources said Tate (D-Detroit), as minority vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee and key member of the Detroit Caucus, is tough to beat. Running with Bolden (D-Southfield), who is popular with lawmakers representing southeast Michigan, strengthens that resume.

The pair plan to show the support they have shortly after lawmakers return from summer recess.

While some have said the race is locked up for Tate, the camps for Brixie (D-Okemos), and Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township) disagree.

Some first termers feel burned by how the race was decided for House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) so early that they felt they were not part of the process.

There are disputing accounts of how many in the freshman class are holding out official support for a leadership candidate now.

Some argue getting the leadership race wrapped up early benefits the caucus in the era of term limits and after more than a decade in the minority, as the election and potentially getting majority can take all the focus.

With first termers hitting the six-month mark on the job, one source said that argument is starting to resonate.

Another source said they believe the race will go all the way to the 2022 election.

Brixie for her part has raised a significant amount of money, with nearly $200,000 sitting in several PACs. Still, one source said that isn’t necessarily the only piece to winning the race.

In recent terms, the caucus has gone with later term members as leader and Brabec would be the first person with the potential to lead the caucus for more than one term since Rep. Tim Greimel.

The downside comes from her fellow first-termers who may not want to cut themselves out of the race for future leader by choosing someone who would presumably serve for two terms if chosen.

While the House Democrats did wrap up their leadership race early last term – Lasinski had her leadership post cemented by March 2020 – before the 2019-20 term, former Rep. Brian Elder and former House Minority Leader Christine Greig had a race going until the end.


Shirkey, Health Official Disagree on COVID-19 Immunity of Recovered vs. Vaccinated

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey in a radio interview this week said he questioned some of the decision-making being made by officials and health experts related to the coronavirus pandemic while also pushing his belief that those that have recovered from the virus have equal or possibly more immunity than those who have been vaccinated.

The remarks made by Shirkey (R-Clarklake) during an interview Tuesday on WJR-AM’s Late Mornings program drew pushback from an Ingham county health official.

Shirkey repeatedly questioned the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently updated guidance that even vaccinated persons should begin wearing masks indoors in parts of the country where the delta strain of COVID-19 has prompted spikes in infections and hospitalizations. The CDC also recommended all students, faculty, and staff at schools wear a mask, regardless of vaccination, when schools begin in the fall.

The senator said he has reached the point of questioning anything coming from the CDC.

“It just seems like over the course of the last 18 months they’ve changed their minds more often than not,” Shirkey said. “I’m wondering now, just how far we go without starting to question back the sources of their decision.”

The senator also said he questioned the statistics widely reported recently of more than 90% of new COVID-19 cases being unvaccinated individuals. He cited what he said was recent data of COVID-19 cases in Israel from an outbreak of the more contagious delta variant of the virus, where a majority of cases have involved vaccinated individuals.

Medical experts in stories about the Israel outbreak have noted that with a larger percentage of the population vaccinated, this inevitably leads to the possibility of more cases among the vaccinated population. It was also noted by health experts in stories about the recent Israel outbreak that total case counts were only a fraction compared of the totals seen during the previous wave of COVID-19 in the country, when vaccines were just becoming available.

Linda Vail, chief health officer for Ingham County, said out of about 7,500 total COVID-19 cases since March in the county, about 215 to 220 were breakthrough cases. She added the vaccines were never going to be 100% but that the vaccines are highly effective. The vaccines also provide strong protection from a case of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization or resulting in death.

“When you have a highly effective vaccine, you … shut down the virus’ ability to infect,” Vail said, in conjunction with a high percentage of the population being vaccinated.

If you have both, she added, the virus cannot find human bodies to infect, and it dies off.

That’s why many sicknesses such as measles have largely been stamped out: high vaccination levels and a highly effective vaccine. Outbreaks can still occur, Vail added, but not on a scale one would expect otherwise. She noted that the flu vaccine has about 50% effectiveness and fewer people take it, which is a main reason why it still sickens and kills large numbers of people each year.

On the claim of the changing CDC guidance, Vail said that science “builds on itself, and you learn.” As an example, she pointed early in the pandemic when it was believed the virus could be easily transmitted on surfaces. This later was reversed over time when it was found not to be the case.

During the radio interview when asked about the recent vaccination mandates implemented at several of the state’s universities ahead of the fall semester, Shirkey also questioned what data was being taken into consideration.

“There’s no credence, no value, no consideration given to a growing percentage of our population who have been infected and recovered, and the science is becoming abundantly clear that they have equally or better, and more robust, immunity than those who have received vaccinations,” Shirkey said.

There have been conflicting studies on the science of immunity post-COVID-19 contraction, and the knowledge of this field is growing. Health experts are still recommending vaccination as the best possible means as combatting COVID-19, or lessening the effects of illness upon contraction, even for individuals who have previously been sickened by the novel virus. This is especially true given the rise of variants, which are considered more powerful than the initial COVID-19 strain.

Shirkey then repeated a claim he has made for months that combining the percentage of people who have been vaccinated with those who have recovered from the virus that the state has potentially already reached herd immunity. That claim by the senator has previously been questioned by medical experts.

“I think it’s also been proven with data and science that there’s no additional benefit for vaccine for those who have survived and in fact in some cases it’s actually detrimental,” Shirkey said.

As to the claim of natural immunity being as good or better among those who have recovered from COVID-19, Vail said: “All the studies have shown the opposite.”

She pointed to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health showing that the protective antibodies from an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine are more effective against a wider variety of variants of the virus than the protective antibodies from a person who has been infected by the virus and recovered.

The study, cited in a June 22 blog by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, noted that people who have recovered from the virus have differing levels of protection against emerging virus strains.

“More importantly, the data provide further documentation that those who’ve had and recovered from a COVID-19 infection still stand to benefit from getting vaccinated,” Collins wrote in June.

Shirkey spokesperson Abby Walls in a Wednesday statement defended the remarks made by the majority leader.

“In general, the SML is not attacking the vaccine itself, merely the ‘vaccine alone’ attitude. He uses information out of Israel that half of the delta infections in Israel were ‘breakthrough’ infections in vaccinated persons, suggesting that that vaccine is not a silver bullet,” Walls said. “He is making the case that vaccinated immunity should be compared against naturally acquired.”

She went on to say that Shirkey’s reference of value of scientific research that suggests the immunity by convalescent cases of COVID-19 “provides an enhanced immune response or is equal to vaccinated immunity.”

“The widely circulated Cleveland Clinic study is one example, but there are others,” she said.

The Cleveland Clinic study Walls referenced states that people who have already had the virus may not necessarily benefit from vaccination. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed for publication. Its results came from studying a large pool of health care workers and found few virus cases among those who had previously been infected and were not vaccinated, from those who previously contracted the virus and were vaccinated, and those who never contracted the virus and were vaccinated.

In the study, there was also an increase among unvaccinated individuals who had not previously had the virus. The Cleveland Clinic researchers concluded natural infection was providing similar immunity as that of vaccination. The clinic in a subsequent statement recommended all eligible individuals to get vaccinated regardless of whether they have previously been infected.

Shirkey said over the course of the pandemic he also believes that a lot of the information provided to the public has been “flavored and seasoned our information with a bit too much fear-mongering.”

“I think it’s affected people’s ability to accept some of the recommendations from government, and I think that’s very legitimate,” Shirkey said.

He also outlined what he said he believed has been a failure during the pandemic by public health officials. As an example, he referenced the regular advertisements urging people to get vaccinated.

“Tell me the last time you’ve heard a public service announcement coming from public health, either talking about how an individual can improve their own natural immunity or what are the treatments that are being used today to affect and help people recover if they are infected,” Shirkey said. “We’ve not heard either of those from our public health officials in this entire experience and I think that’s problematic as well.”

To the claims of fear-mongering, Vail said she does not do that, but is straightforward and honest about the dangers of the disease and the need to take precautions and be vaccinated.


Wayne State Joins U-M, MSU in Requiring COVID-19 Vaccinations

Wayne State University officials on Tuesday joined their counterparts at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan by requiring proof of vaccination against coronavirus in the fall for all on-campus students, faculty, and staff.

Meanwhile, Central Michigan University officials on Monday announced the university will not require students or employees to be vaccinated. That said, officials are keeping in place mask guidelines for several areas on campus through the month of September.

The University of Michigan – for all three of its campuses – and Michigan State University recently announced a mandate for students and staff to be vaccinated. Other private universities have similar requirements. Of the public universities, Oakland University announced earlier this year a requirement only for those living on campus.

A letter sent Tuesday morning to all WSU students and employees from university President M. Roy Wilson said the move to require the COVID-19 vaccine came in light of increasing Delta variant infections with the most recent positivity rate in the surrounding downtown and metro Detroit community rising from 2.5% to 3.3%. Coupled with a faster transmission rate and the rise of rare but no less worrisome breakthrough infections, Wilson said it was time to change course.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have been committed to following the latest science and responding in a manner that prioritizes the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff,” Wilson wrote. “I believe this mandate does just that, and will allow us to continue with plans for more in-person classes and events while still providing effective protection for our community. While this might slow our return to normal, it will not stop it. I remain hopeful for a great fall and a robust winter semester, but we also must remain vigilant.”

Proof of vaccination must be submitted to the campus officials online no later than Aug. 30 to be allowed on WSU’s downtown campus, Wilson said. Anyone can apply for a waiver based on legitimate health or religious reasons, and those requests are to be reviewed by the university’s Campus Health Committee. However, anyone approved for a vaccine waiver will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing once a week.

Those in violation of the rules will face consequences, Wilson said, without outlining what those consequences might be. Students and faculty learning and working in remote formats are not subject to the mandate at this time, Wilson added.

An indoor mask policy is in place at WSU through Sept. 15, at which time the university may revisit its mask policy once officials can be more confident in the overall vaccine status of its campus community, said university spokesperson Katie McMillan.

Wilson also said that full vaccination of the campus community would eventually eliminate the need for masks, providing “a renewed sense of normalcy in our interactions.”

“At that point, we will revisit the mask requirement, and hopefully eliminate it. Of course, masks will not be required if you are working alone in your office,” Wilson wrote. “We recognize that this is inconvenient, but it is temporary and more important, safe.”

On Monday, CMU President Bob Davies sent a similar letter outlining what mask guidelines will look like in the fall, which includes inside all classrooms, labs, and other instructional spaces; in communal areas like hallways, lobbies, and the university’s larger gathering facilities like its library, university center, and its main auditorium; and health clinic areas or areas of enclosed space with more than 25 people in attendance.

Mask wearing will not be required on CMU’s Mount Pleasant campus if fewer than 25 individuals are gathered indoors in a well-ventilated, noninstructional space. Vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear masks in those stances, yet the unvaccinated must remain masked and maintain proper social distancing.

Vaccinations against COVID-19 will not be required, Davies added, but he did encourage vaccination as a recent campus vaccine survey noted that about 34% of on-campus students are vaccinated. Rates of vaccination among staff and faculty were much higher, the study showed, with 60% of staff and 71% of faculty have received both doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Central Michigan University is not requiring students or employees to be vaccinated. However, we strongly encourage our campus community to be vaccinated and provide vaccinations at no cost to every community member,” said CMU spokesperson Heather Smith in a separate statement. “CMU is an authorized vaccination site, and we’ve vaccinated many students, staff, and faculty already. Getting vaccinated is ultimately a personal choice and we support everyone’s decision to make that determination for themselves.”


Proposed Maps from AFL-CIO Unpack Dem Voters

The Michigan AFL-CIO has developed suggested maps for the Michigan House and Michigan Senate that provide a dramatically different design from the Republican-crafted maps of 2011.

The AFL-CIO, which backs Democrats, formally submitted the maps for 110 House seats and 38 Senate seats to the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

One of the key differences between the new commission-led process and the 2001 and 2011 processes, when Republican legislators were in charge, is the opportunity for real outside input into the maps before they are officially drawn.

The AFL-CIO found that with its maps, 56 of the House seats were more Republican than the statewide average and 54 of the seats were more Democratic than the statewide average. They also found an even split of 19-19 in the Senate on that same metric.

For those accustomed to reapportionment based on a mix of the Apol standards (compact and contiguous districts that aim to preserve municipal and county boundaries as much as possible) and assisting Republicans by shading the districts to their advantage when possible, the AFL-CIO maps provide an interesting look into a much different way of drawing the political boundaries. They also give a look at one way of following the communities of interest requirement that is a high priority under the constitutional amendment that created the redistricting commission.

One of the criteria the commission must follow is not advantaging one party in the maps, though that falls below the communities of interest metric. The AFL-CIO said it sought to draw a plan that creates as many competitive districts as possible.

“Despite our best efforts to draw maps that are equally fair to both parties, our maps overall still have a very slight bias in favor of the Republican Party according to some accepted measures of partisan fairness,” the proposal says. “It is important to note that the commission is constitutionally required to draw maps with zero bias and that the Constitution as written and as approved by 61% of voters does not allow for wiggle room or excuses on this front.”

In its analysis, the AFL-CIO said the maps would likely deliver legislative majorities to the party whose candidates win a majority of the total vote for House or Senate.

The House maps have a variance of 9.73% in population.

A primary feature of the map is the splitting up of many larger, heavily Democratic cities into multiple districts in a way that makes more surrounding areas more competitive. Grand Rapids is split three ways in the House map, which the AFL-CIO plan says: “seems to be necessary to comply with the constitutional requirement of partisan fairness.”

It also says it can be done while respecting communities of interest. The same is true of Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and Lansing.

One of the hot topics going into redistricting is the Lake Michigan shoreline communities, which are more Democratic or at least more competitive than the heavily Republican inland areas. Currently, they are outweighed under the districts’ design by the Republican areas. The Democratic map proposes cleaving them from their inland and heavily Republican county neighbors and instead uniting lakeshore communities to create new, competitive districts, like one stretching from Niles up to South Haven.

Some Democratic cities, however, are not split, like Flint, which the AFL-CIO said needs a clear voice in the Legislature, and Muskegon.

Lansing and Grand Rapids also would be split in the Senate map. Another interesting feature of the Senate map is the unification of Bay City, Midland, and Saginaw, the Tri-Cities. That would create a competitive seat where one does not now exist that the AFL-CIO said tilts slightly Democratic.

“With our rigorous process and over 230 pages of analysis, we are seeking to show that it is possible to draw 148 districts that comply with the objective criteria of the commission and are statistically fair,” Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “We hope that these maps and the analysis provided can help to show the commission, and the general public, that we believe this is an opportunity for us to truly put people over politics and fight for truly fair maps. Michigan’s hard-working families deserve no less.”

As to whether one of the goals of the map was to unpack Democratic voters – who are heavily concentrated in clustered cities and thus prone to packing through the Apol standards – AFL-CIO spokesperson Josh Pugh said the goal was to comply with the constitutional criteria.

“Under Proposal 2018-2, municipal boundaries are sixth in the priority ranking of prescribed criteria, while partisan fairness is fourth,” he said. “Although we started from scratch, it’s understandable that some comparisons between this project and the 2011 gerrymanders are inevitable, and it’s accurate that one of the goals of the 2011 gerrymander was to pack Democratic voters together.”

As to keeping Flint together, Pugh noted the city’s population almost exactly matches the population of a state House district.