July 30 | This Week in Government: CDC Revises Mask Guidance; Push Continues for Hands-Free Driving LegislationJuly 30, 2021
- Gov: No Pandemic Orders Coming as CDC Revises Guidance on Masking
- Carl Levin, Intellectual Giant of Michigan Politics, Has Died
- Coalition Continues to Push for Hands-Free Law
- Supreme Court: Detroit Charter Prop Can Reach Ballot Without Gov OK
- Recalls Enable Massive Windfall to Whitmer Campaign Committee
Even with changing guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding who should be using masks, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Tuesday said she did not anticipate any new pandemic orders coming out “in the near future.”
The comment came at a press conference in Detroit regarding affordable housing, held inside a manufacturing warehouse. There, Gov. Whitmer stood masked for much of the event next to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who was not masked.
Gov. Whitmer later addressed her mask-wearing by saying Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Department of Health and Human Services’ chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health, had encouraged her to do so.
“As some of you might be wondering, what’s with the mask, right? We thought that we didn’t have to wear masks anymore. Dr. J has encouraged me to wear masks when I’m indoors and among groups,” said Gov. Whitmer, who is fully vaccinated. “The CDC is issuing additional guidance. … I wear it not because I’m worried about me, but because I’m worried about those who aren’t vaccinated. So, if you’re not vaccinated yet, please get vaccinated. It’s the best way to stay safe.”
The CDC Tuesday, after two months ago saying individuals fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer had to wear masks when indoors, is now urging vaccinated individuals to wear masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the country experiencing virus surges.
That change is largely correlated to the rise of cases attributed to the Delta variant of COVID-19. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told the Associated Press Tuesday that data gathered from the past 100 days “is concerning enough that we felt like we have to act” to get COVID-19 under control in the U.S. once again.
Walensky also later noted in a phone call with reporters that COVID-19 could be “a few mutations away” from potentially being able to evade vaccines. She also noted that K-12 schools should require masks indoors for everyone, no matter a person’s vaccination status.
Still, Gov. Whitmer on Tuesday was firm there would be no coming pandemic orders.
The CDC COVID-19 tracker shows most of Michigan has moderate to low transmission rates currently. The new recommendation is for vaccinated individuals in areas experiencing high or substantial spread.
Carl Levin, Intellectual Giant of Michigan Politics, Has Died
Carl Levin, whose intelligence, trustworthiness, ferocious investigative skills, elite constituent service, and common touch earned him a Michigan-record 36 years as U.S. senator, died Thursday. He was 87 and undergoing treatment for lung cancer.
He was a giant in Michigan politics, virtually untouchable, a liberal Jew from Detroit who would regularly crush Republicans in deeply Republican areas of the state to roll up big wins. He was a force in Congress who never lost his connection to his constituents, thanks to his unassuming manner, relatability, accessibility, and a constituent service operation that was the stuff of legend. Residents of the state knew that if they had a problem that involved the government, they could call Levin’s office and his team would fix it.
So feared and talented was he as an investigator that The New York Times headline on his obituary published Thursday night memorialized him as the “scourge of corporate America.”
It is impossible to overstate Levin’s status in the state’s Jewish community. The first Jew to win a U.S. Senate seat and perhaps the first Jew to win a major Michigan statewide election when he won his first of six terms in 1978, Levin helped pave the way for a generation of Jews, Democratic and Republican, to win office.
Levin’s look became legendary, punctuated by his ever-present combover and penchant for wearing his eyeglasses on the bottom of his nose so that he could peer over them.
Born in Detroit on June 28, 1934, Levin graduated from Detroit Central High School in 1952 and graduated with a bachelor’s in political science from Swarthmore College in 1956. Following that, he attended Harvard Law School and earned a juris doctor in 1959 where, shortly after, he was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan.
Levin would go on to use his knowledge of the law to serve as general counsel for the state’s Civil Rights Commission from 1964 to 1967, using that role to help form the Detroit Public Defender’s Office – now known as the State Appellate Defender’s Office. Eventually, he would serve as special assistant attorney general, as well as chief appellate defender for Detroit, shortly after his tenure with the commission.
It would still be some time yet before Levin would enter the career that would garner him the title longest-serving U.S. senator in Michigan’s history, holding that position for 36 years. After his time with the commission and Department of Attorney General, Levin would turn his sights to the Detroit City Council, where he was elected to the body in 1969.
Serving two four-year terms, which concluded in 1977, Levin was a formidable force for the council. As president – a title he held during his last four years in office – he would go on to be dubbed then-Mayor Coleman Young’s (the city’s first Black mayor) right hand man by Forbes magazine, due to their close relationship.
His 1978 U.S. Senate victory was remarkable.
As the former president of the Detroit City Council, it seemed improbable that he could topple U.S. Sen. Robert Griffin, appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1966 after the death of U.S. Sen. Patrick McNamara. Griffin then won two terms, beating a pair of Democratic legends, former Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams in 1966 and then-Attorney General Frank Kelley in 1972.
While the Levin name had become a presence on the statewide scene thanks to cousin Charles Levin, a Michigan Supreme Court justice, and brother Sander, a two-time Democratic nominee for governor in 1970 and 1974, Carl Levin did not seem to pose a major threat at first, particularly considering the unpopularity of Democratic President Jimmy Carter. He also had to get through a crowded Democratic primary that included three state legislators, a former member of Congress, and newspaper publisher Phil Power.
He won that primary decisively and then took on Griffin, who had made himself vulnerable in 1977 when he declared he would not seek reelection. He had just lost his position as Senate minority whip. He would eventually change his mind and decide to run.
Levin would put together a winning coalition that geographically looks utterly bizarre compared to the state’s current political map. Unsurprisingly, he ran up a huge margin in Wayne County. He also carried union-heavy working-class counties like Macomb, Monroe, Genesee, and Bay as well as the northeast Lower Peninsula and most of the Upper Peninsula. He won 52.1% to 47.9%.
Levin pushed for new blood in Congress (Griffin had served since 1950, including his time in the U.S. House) though he would eventually set the longevity record in passing Arthur Vandenberg as the state’s longest-serving senator. Levin had been prompted to run after his anger at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development while he was a member of the city council and HUD would not demolish blighted homes in the city they controlled.
His second-term victory in 1984 would be his last close race. He faced astronaut Jack Lousma and an impending Republican landslide led by President Ronald Reagan, who would carry the state with 59.2% of the vote. Levin, however, hung on, winning 51 to 47%.
From there, Levin would win increasingly easy victories. He won comfortably over then-U.S. Rep. Bill Schuette in 1990, Ronna Romney in 1996, state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski in 2002, and state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk in 2008. It was not until 1996 that Levin finally got the benefit of a Democratic wave at the top of the ticket. In 1978, 1984, and 1990, the Republican at the top of the ticket (Bill Milliken, Reagan, and John Engler) all won.
In his 2008 victory, when he finally had a major national Democratic wave at his back, Levin won 63% of the vote and an astonishing 77 counties.
Levin managed to thread the difficult needle of retaining deep roots in his state and becoming a powerhouse in Washington. He spent many years as the Senate Armed Services Committee chair. It was there he brought to bear his investigative skills and brought heavy focus on the Department of Defense’s purchase of routine items like a hammer for exorbitant prices. He was the sponsor of the Competition in Contracting Act to reduce federal procurement costs.
During his time in Congress, Levin would serve on a number of committees including the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Small Business Entrepreneurship, and chairing the Committee on Armed Services. Yet, even though he twice chaired Armed Services, Levin had never served – a fact that he admitted, telling CQ Roll Call that he joined the committee as he was interested in learning more and felt it was his own way of “providing service.”
With that said, Levin would go on to become one of the most powerful members of the Armed Services Committee, pushing for more transparency in government especially in regard to the Iraq War and on the subject of al-Qaeda. Levin opposed then-President George W. Bush’s push into Iraq post-9/11, and later said the administration handled the situation poorly.
Levin would eventually lead the Senate into probing the conditions of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, which eventually resulted in the Detainee Treatment Act that prohibited the use of torture on U.S.-captured detainees.
He would become instrumental, too, in weakening laws which prevented LGBT Americans from serving in the military, passing the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act which would ensure an end to the legislation which propagated the U.S. Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Armed services, however, was not the only topic Mr. Levin was well-versed in (or became well-versed in) during his more than three decades in the Senate. He was a strong supporter of the U.S. Department of Education (and its creation), was responsible for promoting energy policies that were beneficial for the environment, and pushed for the first effective disclosure requirements for federal lobbyists.
Fitting with his efforts on ethics, he authored the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 and the Ethics Reform Act of 1989.
Beyond the Armed Services Committee, Levin was a feared investigator. He became chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, digging into the 2008 financial crisis and much more.
Politically, Levin was a champion of ending Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s status as the first presidential caucus and first presidential primary. He never could succeed in dislodging them from their perches.
There were disappointments, of course. In his memoir, Levin noted he sought to be named the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan while he was on the city council. He did not receive the appointment.
And while Levin persuaded a lot of Republicans to vote for him, he could definitely get under the GOP’s skin. Some would mock him as the “self-proclaimed conscience of the Senate.”
He did all of this while looking as, inevitably, what would become his near-trademarked style: perpetually frumpy. So known for this look he was that comedian Jon Stewart occasionally referred to him as Grandpa Munster.
Brother Sander joined Levin in Congress in 1983 after winning a U.S. House seat in 1982, and they would serve together, perhaps Michigan’s most famous family political dynasty, for 32 years.
During Levin’s early years as senator, Michigan regularly voted Republican for president. But his accessibility and constituent operation meant voters trusted him and he became unbeatable.
In a 2013 interview with Gongwer News Service, Levin said the key to having a strong constituent service operation is “you really have to care about your constituents. It’s got to be kind of a genuine caring of people dealing with their problems in the federal bureaucracy.” Members of Congress cannot be cowed or intimidated by a federal department or agency, he said.
Levin’s nephew, Andy, is now a U.S. House member. In a statement on his uncle’s death, he summed up well the appeal he held with voters everywhere.
“Throughout my adult life, wherever I went in Michigan, from Copper Harbor to Monroe, I would run into people who would say, ‘I don’t always agree with Sen. Levin, but I support him anyway because he is so genuine, he tells it straight and he follows through,'” he said.
Near the end of his Senate career, Levin took a swing at loopholes in federal campaign finance laws, or what he called the “failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy.”
In 2013, at the age of 80, Levin decided not to seek a seventh term. He felt well then but worried about his fitness when his term would be over. And in fact, in 2017, he would be diagnosed with lung cancer. He also wanted to spend more time with his wife, Barbara, back in Michigan.
In his post-Senate years, Levin went on to join the Detroit-based law firm Honigman LLP and found the Levin Center at Wayne State University’s Law School. While working at the firm, Levin would also chair the WSU center and co-teach courses. His goal was to pass on what he had learned about how government bodies can investigate. He also helped mediate the Flint water lawsuits.
In an interview with Gongwer, Levin said the retirement decision was maybe hardest on his older brother, Sander.
“It’s very hard on my brother,” he said. “It’s maybe harder on him because we’re very close. Kind of life-long best buddies. We were together in law school. We were together as kids. Slept in the same room. We’ve played probably 15,000 games of squash together in Washington.”
Andy Levin recalled the connection between his father, Sander, and uncle, Carl.
“From my earliest memory to this moment, perhaps above all, he has defined with my dad how close two brothers, two siblings, two people can be. In the end, these two Jewish boys from Detroit, these grandsons of immigrants each served 36 years in Congress, 32 of them together, becoming by far the longest co-serving siblings in the 232-year history of this place,” he said. “As heartbroken as we are in this moment, I feel so grateful to have experienced this love and legacy.”
In the 2013 interview, Levin was asked where he and his wife, Barbara, would live. He had lived in Detroit virtually his entire life other than when he attended Swarthmore for his undergraduate education and Harvard for law school.
Coalition Continues to Push for Hands-Free Law
Advocates including the Detroit Regional Chamber seeking to make stronger the state’s distracted driving law launched the Hands-Free Michigan Coalition as legislation on the issue has failed to make it to the Governor’s desk in previous terms and most recently has stalled in the House.
The issue has been long-simmering with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer even addressing it at her State of the State in 2019.
Still, changes to the state’s laws, which currently only ban texting while driving, have been unsuccessful.
On Wednesday, Steve Kiefer, the founder of The Kiefer Foundation whose son died after being hit by a distracted driver almost five years ago; Bonnie Raffaele, whose daughter died in a car accident in which she was the distracted the driver; and Tammy Huffman, whose brother-in-law died after he was hit by a distracted driver, announced the creation of the Hands-Free Michigan Coalition.
The coalition will work to bring together businesses, industry, safety groups, law enforcement, and the public to implement effective and efficient programs to end the epidemic of distracted driving and make Michigan roads safer.
Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham), Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), and Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden) have introduced HB 4277, HB 4278, and HB 4279 this term to strengthen distracted driving laws. They cleared committee but have stalled on the floor.
Kiefer said a small but vocal minority is holding up the bills in the House.
“Part of our activity right now is really trying to bring some visibility to that issue,” he said, calling some of the reasons for opposition “illogical.”
Kiefer said the reasons for opposition have included the bills go against someone’s personal freedom to do what they want in their car, some related to racial profiling when individuals are pulled over and pointing to other situations, like a person eating or putting makeup on their car.
He said the civil liberties argument is illogical as distracted driving impacts others and can cause death and to the racial profiling argument, Kiefer said it is something the coalition is sensitive to.
To the final argument, Kiefer said it is the one that bothers him the most.
“It’s a bit of a smokescreen to try to muck up the whole discussion so that nothing happens,” he said. “There’s (other forms) of distraction, as well as even hands-free, talking on the phone. We know that there’s a cognitive distraction when you’re talking on the phone. We know people are paying less attention, even when they’re in hands-free mode. But we do know when you look over the last 10 to 15 years, the most significant increase in distraction is the cell phone. This is the thing that we’ve got to get people to put down stop and looking at it, keeping their eyes on the road. And we know it’ll save lives.”
Jennifer Smith, CEO of StopDistractions.org, said the legislation in the state is modeled after similar laws implemented across the country. She said in the nine states they have been adopted, the policy is reducing crashes and savings lives.
“We all do have to keep in mind with any type of law, especially one that’s this important and this life saving, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” she said. “No, we’re not going to get the perfect law and it’s not going to solve all our problems, but that’s why this coalition can help address those other issues. And where that legislation may have faults or shortfalls, we can work on addressing those through other efforts.”