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In Case You Missed it | Advocacy in Action: Meet Michigan’s Quad

On Friday, April 30, the Chamber brought together state legislative leaders for Advocacy in Action: Meet Michigan’s Quad, for a discussion on the state and region’s most pressing issues as Michigan continues to battle COVID-19 and works to propel further economic growth. Joining the conversation were Mike Shirkey, Senate Majority Leader (R-16), Jason Wentworth, Speaker of the House (R-97), Jim Ananich, Senate Minority Leader (D-27), and Donna Lasinski, House Minority Leader (D-52). The leaders were joined by Rick Pluta, senior Capitol correspondent for Michigan Public Radio, who moderated the conversation.

Vaccination Rates and Plans for Reopening

The town hall came a day after Gov. Whitmer announced her “Vacc to Normal” plan with four benchmarks that will see a phased reopening of the state’s economy. The stages are tied to 55%, 60%, 65%, and 70% of the Michiganders 16 and up getting at least one shot. As of Friday, 48.6% had done so. The announcement of the plan and the push to get people vaccinated dominated the first half of the conversation between the lawmakers.

Speaker Jason Wentworth and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey shared some praise for the governor’s willingness to move towards opening, but expressed concern with the plan, saying they did not want vaccinations to be the only metric for reopening. Speaker Wentworth, in particular, cautioned against “vaccine shaming”, even as inoculation rates start to “plateau”, given vaccine hesitancy among some segments of the population, including their fellow Republicans.

“What if we don’t ever get to 70” percent, Wentworth, R-Clare, said Friday in a virtual roundtable hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber. “That’s a possibility, so how do we give some more sense of hope and certainty in that plan?”

Are Vaccines a Collective Responsibility?

Senator Shirkey said that he “strongly” encouraged anyone who wants a shot to get one but would not call it a patriotic responsibility. That sparked the Democratic leaders to call on their GOP counterparts to do more to encourage vaccine hesitant Michiganders to get inoculated.

“This is about our collective responsibility,” said Michigan House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township. “The voices of leadership matter. We’re not just putting ourselves at risk when we choose not to be vaccinated. It’s like looking at a red light. The reason we have them is because we’re all better off when we all stop at red lights.”

“We’re in a moment here in our state and our country where inspiration, where encouraging folks to think about the we, not necessarily the me, is a much stronger way to do things,” Senate Minority Leader Ananich said. “I’m very confident we’re going to reach that 70 percent.”

Budget, COVID-19, Emergency Powers

As the state continues to push for 70% vaccination rates, the legislature and the governor also are working on the billions of dollars in unspent federal COVID-19 aid. Speaker Wentworth wants to focus on working together but believes that the governor must do a better job collaborating with and making deals with the legislature related to the budget and COVID-19 emergency powers. He did not want to fully hamstring the administration or future administration.

“I want the administration at the table when we’re negotiating the budget,” he said. “At the same time, the Legislature has to be at the table” to help create the “path of how we’re going to get out of this pandemic.”

Accountability for Actions antithetical to Democracy/ Voting Rights and Restrictions

Near the end of the panel, the conversation switched to voting rights as a result of the 39 bills introduced in the Michigan Senate following the 2020 election. The Detroit Regional Chamber released a statement calling on leaders not to restrict voting access and to work together to address voting security and expand access simultaneously. The Chamber also joined 40 of the largest business in the state in a statement on voting laws.

Leader Lasinski was particularly vocal in applauding the Chamber, our members, and Michigan businesses for standing up for voting rights.