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Community Advocacy Organization

MSU Board of Trustees Tables Voting Rights Resolution

MSU Board of Trustees Tables Voting Rights Resolution With mounting pressure from DBV Coalition, half of Trustees speak passionately in favor of need for corporate accountability for political spending of university contractors LANSING, Michigan - In the hours before the Michigan State University Board meeting Friday morning, a resolution meant to address university contractors funding extremist state lawmakers backing a voter suppression effort disappeared from the agenda. In a June meeting, several trustees spoke out on the issue of voter suppression after the Defend Black Voters coalition (DBV) spotlighted university vendors such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) and Delta Dental of Michigan (Delta Dental) for their political contributions. Since then, a majority of trustees committed to backing a strong resolution calling on university vendors to align their political spending with support of free and fair access to the democratic process at the September 9th meeting. But today they failed to bring the resolution to a vote. A column in the Detroit News released Thursday evening, the night before the scheduled vote, quoted Senate Majority leader Mike Shirkey threatening to defund MSU over news of the resolution. BCBSM and Delta Dental both gave $10,000 and $4,000 respectively to opaque leadership PACs controlled by Sen. Shirkey since 2021. The two companies (including affiliated entities) have given $313,250 to the Michigan Senate Republican Campaign Committee that Sen. Shirkey now oversees since the 2016 cycle, including $38,750 in the first half of 2022. Yet, with mounting pressure from DBV, four of the eight trustees spoke passionately about the issues in the resolution and spoke out against the threats. “It's just disgusting to me that the agenda item was removed today. It is distressing to me that we weren’t able to move forward,” said Trustee Brianna Scott as the board’s meeting came to a close. “I think that it is right for us to discourage people from purposely doing anything to impede the ability of Black and Brown voters to vote, which is their constitutional right.” The measure would have called on vendors to align their political and financial support of candidates and office holders with their professed values to support free and fair access to the democratic process. It was aimed at companies like BCBSM, the number one corporate contributor to the extremist lawmakers poised to pass the “Secure MI Vote” voter restrictions proposal that would have a disproportionate impact on Black and working class Michiganders. BCBSM (including affiliated entities) has given $837,000 to these lawmakers, directly and through political committees, since the 2016 cycle. On July 29th, the so-called “Secure MI vote” initiative submited signatures in the hopes of empowering the state legislature to pass the voter restrictions over Governor Whitmer’s veto by the end of the year. Such contributions, the resolution states, violate many of the University’s deeply held values and negatively impact students. “MSU is a land grant institution committed to the freedom of democracy,” said Trustee Dr. Rema Vassar, the board’s most vocal proponent of the resolution. “Our vendors, contractors and relationships must share these fundamental commitments. I look forward to working with my fellow board members to ensure that our contractors stand on the right side of history.” In the press conference following the meeting,Vassar responded to Sen. Shirkey’s threat by saying, “Throughout the history of Black voter suppression, there’s also a constant threat of harm to those who have fought for freedom and fair access to the ballot,” said Vassar. “There have been beatings, lynchings, massacres, and now, threats to eliminate funding to MSU. It’s abhorrent.” “The MSU Board of Trustees had an opportunity to take a principled stand for Michigan’s democracy, but sadly, in the face of predictable opposition they faltered, leaving Black, brown and working class people to fend for themselves while university dollars are used to fund the attack on their voting rights,” said Ponsella Hardaway, Executive Director of MOSES Action and Co-Chair of the Defend Black Voters steering committee. “We hope the reason why it was removed from the agenda was simply to take more time before they pass a meaningful resolution holding vendors accountable for funding the attack on our voting rights at the October 28th meeting and not because they felt bullied by threats from Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.” The MSU resolution was parallel to one recently passed by the Wayne County Commission. In July, Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch introduced a resolution directed at companies that do business with Wayne County. “We are living in extraordinary times and MSU Trustees still have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history,” said Kinloch following the board meeting. “We want MSU Trustees to be remembered for their integrity upholding the university’s core values and not as the last speed bump on the road back to Jim Crow.” “There have been efforts throughout history and today in Michigan that do nothing but discourage residents from free and willful participation,” said Trustee Kelly Tebay in her closing comments. “I found those acts to be in direct conflict with the fundamental rights our institution has sought to promote for the past two and a half decades. It is my intent and hope this administration and us as trustees will exercise all political and business relationships and means we have at our disposal to stop efforts such as these that fundamentally weaken the strength of our democracy.” Trustee Renee Knake-Jefferson also stated, “I encourage our students, faculty, vendors, anyone who is a part of our Spartan community to come together and to resist voter suppression, to actively call it out, and to ensure that not only we each have our individual plan to vote but that we’re opening up the way to everyone else.” MSU Board of Trustees Tables Voting Rights Resolution With mounting pressure from DBV Coalition, half of Trustees speak passionately in favor of need for corporate accountability for political spending of university contractors LANSING, Michigan - In the hours before the Michigan State University Board meeting Friday morning, a resolution meant to address university contractors funding extremist state lawmakers backing a voter suppression effort disappeared from the agenda. In a June meeting, several trustees spoke out on the issue of voter suppression after the Defend Black Voters coalition (DBV) spotlighted university vendors such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) and Delta Dental of Michigan (Delta Dental) for their political contributions. Since then, a majority of trustees committed to backing a strong resolution calling on university vendors to align their political spending with support of free and fair access to the democratic process at the September 9th meeting. But today they failed to bring the resolution to a vote. A column in the Detroit News released Thursday evening, the night before the scheduled vote, quoted Senate Majority leader Mike Shirkey threatening to defund MSU over news of the resolution. BCBSM and Delta Dental both gave $10,000 and $4,000 respectively to opaque leadership PACs controlled by Sen. Shirkey since 2021. The two companies (including affiliated entities) have given $313,250 to the Michigan Senate Republican Campaign Committee that Sen. Shirkey now oversees since the 2016 cycle, including $38,750 in the first half of 2022. Yet, with mounting pressure from DBV, four of the eight trustees spoke passionately about the issues in the resolution and spoke out against the threats. “It's just disgusting to me that the agenda item was removed today. It is distressing to me that we weren’t able to move forward,” said Trustee Brianna Scott as the board’s meeting came to a close. “I think that it is right for us to discourage people from purposely doing anything to impede the ability of Black and Brown voters to vote, which is their constitutional right.” The measure would have called on vendors to align their political and financial support of candidates and office holders with their professed values to support free and fair access to the democratic process. It was aimed at companies like BCBSM, the number one corporate contributor to the extremist lawmakers poised to pass the “Secure MI Vote” voter restrictions proposal that would have a disproportionate impact on Black and working class Michiganders. BCBSM (including affiliated entities) has given $837,000 to these lawmakers, directly and through political committees, since the 2016 cycle. On July 29th, the so-called “Secure MI vote” initiative submited signatures in the hopes of empowering the state legislature to pass the voter restrictions over Governor Whitmer’s veto by the end of the year. Such contributions, the resolution states, violate many of the University’s deeply held values and negatively impact students. “MSU is a land grant institution committed to the freedom of democracy,” said Trustee Dr. Rema Vassar, the board’s most vocal proponent of the resolution. “Our vendors, contractors and relationships must share these fundamental commitments. I look forward to working with my fellow board members to ensure that our contractors stand on the right side of history.” In the press conference following the meeting,Vassar responded to Sen. Shirkey’s threat by saying, “Throughout the history of Black voter suppression, there’s also a constant threat of harm to those who have fought for freedom and fair access to the ballot,” said Vassar. “There have been beatings, lynchings, massacres, and now, threats to eliminate funding to MSU. It’s abhorrent.” “The MSU Board of Trustees had an opportunity to take a principled stand for Michigan’s democracy, but sadly, in the face of predictable opposition they faltered, leaving Black, brown and working class people to fend for themselves while university dollars are used to fund the attack on their voting rights,” said Ponsella Hardaway, Executive Director of MOSES Action and Co-Chair of the Defend Black Voters steering committee. “We hope the reason why it was removed from the agenda was simply to take more time before they pass a meaningful resolution holding vendors accountable for funding the attack on our voting rights at the October 28th meeting and not because they felt bullied by threats from Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.” The MSU resolution was parallel to one recently passed by the Wayne County Commission. In July, Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch introduced a resolution directed at companies that do business with Wayne County. “We are living in extraordinary times and MSU Trustees still have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history,” said Kinloch following the board meeting. “We want MSU Trustees to be remembered for their integrity upholding the university’s core values and not as the last speed bump on the road back to Jim Crow.” “There have been efforts throughout history and today in Michigan that do nothing but discourage residents from free and willful participation,” said Trustee Kelly Tebay in her closing comments. “I found those acts to be in direct conflict with the fundamental rights our institution has sought to promote for the past two and a half decades. It is my intent and hope this administration and us as trustees will exercise all political and business relationships and means we have at our disposal to stop efforts such as these that fundamentally weaken the strength of our democracy.” Trustee Renee Knake-Jefferson also stated, “I encourage our students, faculty, vendors, anyone who is a part of our Spartan community to come together and to resist voter suppression, to actively call it out, and to ensure that not only we each have our individual plan to vote but that we’re opening up the way to everyone else.”

Photo courtesy of Erik Shelley Photos from the press conference available here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/nNtiXa13Ltkty8wQ7 The Defend Black Voters Coalition–a multi-racial coalition with the shared value that we must build a democracy in which everyone, regardless of race, gender, or income, has the right to an equal say in what happens in our communities–is standing up against the corporate attack on democracy for all. Members of the Defend Black Voters Coalition include: Michigan People’s Campaign, MOSES Action, Detroit Action, Mothering Justice Action Fund, Emergent Justice, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Community Change Action and Color of Change.

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