The Importance of Voting in a Primary

It seems that 80 to 90 percent of family and friends I encounter outside of the Capitol loop have something negative to say about Lansing and Washington. Complaints range from it being too liberal to too conservative, and even too much in-between. But yet, only 15 to 20 percent vote in legislative and congressional primary elections.

It turns out that often, the target of criticism is not even elected on Election Day in November, but on primary day, in August.

I know the problem of low voter turnout in primary elections is oft repeated, but I still run into people who don’t realize the fact that the way districts are drawn, most elections are decided by the winner in August, because the demographics in so many districts lean heavily toward one party or the other. It seems you could almost run the family dog in November and win, if Rover or Fluffy has the right party designation in front of their name.

Right now, Republicans are in control, so their version of district lines (which are redrawn every 10 years) favor the GOP. But Democrats also were given many slam dunk districts. The only solution is to get out and vote on primary day. Otherwise the fringes of the parties, who do vote on primary day, will have their way with the outcomes.

This I believe has clearly been evident with some recent Republican victories. When reasonable people vote, reasonable people generally make at least fairly good decisions. And if candidates and officials know the full spectrum of voter is out there, they also can become more representative of their entire district. But you’ve got to vote.

And you also have to do your homework on candidates. I still hear from people who say they don’t know the candidates so they don’t know who to vote for. But it’s never been easier to do backgrounding on virtually all candidates by just searching the internet. There are voter guides, background stories, biographies, you name it. Be careful of the social network sites. They’ve been infiltrated by party minions and low level attack dogs ready to toss unsubstantiated salvos at every turn.

As for voting, you can find examples of times when primary turnout was higher in years when there was no internet. Current primary turnout levels of 13 percent or 20 percent is frankly, an embarrassment. And I admit that I did not vote in the last two primaries, so I’m part of the problem.

Remember, the primary system began to grow many years ago because of complaints from the public about “smoke-filled, back-room deals” cut by party power players to nominate candidates.

Premature Birth Rate Down, More Improvement Needed

The state’s premature birth rate is down, but Michigan still isn’t scoring well in the effort to improve.

The March Of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card shows Michigan with a “C” grade for 2012, no improvement from the 2011 report card.

Michigan did get a star for reducing the percent of uninsured women of child-bearing age and for lowering the late preterm birth rate. However, improvements were generally seen in most states. Thirty one, along with Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C., along with Michigan, saw improvements in preterm birth rates from 2011 to 2012.

Preterm births are considered the leading cause of newborn death. Even those who survive are often beset with health issues throughout their life, including cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and breathing problems.

Update on the Health of Michigan Residents

Michigan’s obesity problem also continues to linger. Two out of three Michiganders were overweight or obese last year, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Behavioral Risk Factor Survey.

Michigan’s obesity rate — which includes those with a body mass index of 30 or higher — was about one out of three residents (31.1 percent). The national rate is 27.6 percent.

Saginaw and Chippewa were among the counties with the highest obesity rates in the state, at 39.7 percent and 37.9 percent, respectively.

Washtenaw County had the lowest rates (23.3 percent) based on a 2010 report, the latest available local data for that category.

The overall Behavioral Risk Survey is based on things like medical condition, preventive health care, leisure time, physical activity, smoking, binge drinking, flu shots, asthma, heart attacks, diabetes and weight.

Other findings say that about one in four Michigan adults are smokers, however, more than 41 percent of uninsured adults are smokers.

Twenty-five percent of Michigan adults report a sedentary lifestyle. And the prevalence of diabetes also continues to increase.

Is FOIA Fair?

In the 1970s, the Michigan Legislature put the Freedom of Information Act on the books. It was designed to allow the public to have access to the information they owned, the public information connected to the activities of elected and appointed officials in state and local government. But in recent years, that information often has not been that public.

The Michigan Coalition for Open Government says all too often, the law is being undermined by officials who block access to public information by concocting delays in releasing information, imposing exorbitant charges for copies, charging for simply viewing material and even denying requests, in violation of the intent of the law.

Why does this happen? First, local governments often don’t have the personnel to act quickly. But increasingly it seems, the high prices they sometimes charge for copies effectively makes FOIA requests a sort of cash cow, according to Kathy Barks Hoffman of MiCOG. And sometimes, a delay or refusal to turn over the public information could be to hide (or at least delay until after an election) something certain people may not want to be made public.

An effort designed to ensure the public has a fair shot at gaining public information affordably and in a timely manner is (as of this writing) before the legislature. And so is a proposal to set up an appeals process for those who believe their FOIA request has been wrongly denied or delayed.

Love of Fast Food May Lead to Increase in Minimum Wage

Union leaders and many members may have thought they suffered a big setback with the new Right to Work law, but a major union cause, the minimum wage, is doing just fine thank you. And maybe we can credit — at least in part — our love of fast food.

A recent Marketing Resource Group poll showed nearly 60 percent support for a minimum wage increase to $10 per hour. But that survey did not look at one new element. In New Jersey this past November, voters not only approved a minimum wage increase to $8.25, they also included a guaranteed cost-of-living increase each year.

Indeed, Democratic Gubernatorial hopeful Mark Schauer here in Michigan is pushing for $9.25 (phased in over three years), as well as the indexing to inflation.

A lot of Republicans, including many business people, may not like it, but this is one populist issue that may be tough to fight, especially since (I believe) our addiction to fast food has led to the surge in the number of ‘non tipped’ fast food workers who qualify for the regular minimum wage, including an increase in the number of workers who are helping to support basic family needs. And that growth is clearly linked to this recent move toward a minimum wage increase.

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