By Paul Rozycki
This past year was supposed to be the year when we put the COVID pandemic, the 2020 election, and the turmoil in the Flint city council behind us. So far only one of those three things might be true, and even that remains to be seen.
The Jan. 6 insurrection and the inauguration
After the 2020 election, the year began with traditional plans for the formal certification and inauguration of the new president, as has happened for over 200 years. But the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol set the stage for the most unusual inauguration in our history. For the first time, a losing presidential candidate refused to concede, and spent much of the year claiming the election was stolen from him. Because of the pandemic, the inauguration was socially distanced, and many traditional events were virtual.
COVID and its variants
At the beginning of the year, with the arrival of the COVID vaccine, there were hopes that the pandemic would be history, and that we could return to something like normal by the summer. We thought July 4 would be the time we could put COVID behind us. In spite of the resistance of some to get vaccinated, that seemed like a realistic plan.
Then along came the delta variant, which led to another pandemic spike in the fall, as students went back to school, and many stopped wearing masks in public gatherings. By the end of the year, hospitalizations and infections returned to their peak numbers, and more people died in 2021 than in 2020. The emergence of the omicron variant in Nov. made the future look even more challenging and worrisome.
The Flint City Council
The Flint City Council, which was the center of conflict and contention for most of the year, saw a dramatic change as the voters elected six new members in November. Eric Mays, who had been as the center of much of the earlier conflict, was elected council president and, to the surprise of many, the first meetings were more civil and effective than expected. Time will tell if that pattern continues.
The Flint School Board
The Flint School Board paralleled the Flint City Council as they faced their own divisions and wrestled with declining enrollment, falling test scores, and empty buildings. By the end of the year, they appointed the eighth superintendent in the past 15 years in the midst of conflict and lawsuits.
Those we lost in 2021
In 2021 we also lost three major civic leaders in our community. Former congressman Dale Kildee, former councilman and state Rep. Jack Minore, and former Flint Ombudsman Terry Bankert all passed away during the year. On the state level, we lost former U.S. Senator Carl Levin as well.
After a year of dashed optimism, what can we look forward to in 2022?
Politically it will be a challenging year. The 2022 midterm elections will be critical for several major reasons. First, in most midterm elections, the party in the White House typically loses seats in Congress. Since the 1930s, there have been only three times when the president’s party gained seats in the U.S. House and Senate during a first midterm election, — 1934, 1998 and 2002. The average loss is about 30 seats.
When the president’s popularity ratings are low, it’s even worse. Today, the Democrats have only a 221 to 213 majority in the House, and are tied in the U.S. Senate. After the 2020 census, most of the states gaining seats were Republican leaning, and most of those losing seats supported Democrats. The odds of the Democrats keeping their majority in Congress are not good.
That is one reason why most Republicans in Congress are trying to delay the investigation into the events of Jan. 6 when a mob invaded the Capitol, and threated to hang the vice-president. There isn’t likely to be much of an investigation of those events if the Republicans are in charge.
That’s also the reason why Pres. Biden and the Democrats are trying to pass the Build Back Better bill now. It will be much more difficult in the next year.
The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hand down its decision on a major Mississippi abortion case by mid-year. There is speculation that it could overturn, or greatly limit, the abortion rights laid out in the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973. Whatever the court’s ruling, it’s going to make abortion a key issue in the 2022 election.
New election districts
After the 2020 census, 2022 is also the year when there will be new election districts created for the U.S. House, state Senate, state House and other local offices. In Michigan, a non-partisan commission is completing its work, and most districts are expected to be more competitive than in the past. Those maps are to be completed by the end of December. However, legal challenges could delay the final maps even longer, making for a confusing year for both voters and candidates.
One major change in our area, will be with Dan Kildee’s district, which will expand into more Republican counties. It’s likely to be much more competitive. With Flint’s population loss of over 20,000, there will also be significant changes in the state Senate, state House, and County Commission districts within the city.
The governor’s race
2022 will also be the year for Michigan’s gubernatorial election. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer received both praise and criticism for her response to the COVID pandemic. Earlier she faced physical threats as one group attempted to kidnap her and put her on trial for her response to the pandemic, and a rally around the state Capitol seemed to be a rehearsal for the events of Jan. 6 in Washington.
There are at least 11 Republicans in the race for the nomination to run against her in November. Though Michigan usually gives its governors a second term, it may be a very competitive race in 2022.
The Flint City Council
After a contentious year of bickering and endless meetings, the voters elected six new members to the Flint City Council. During the campaign all of the candidates expressed a desire to work with others on the council in a more civil and effective manner. After a few meetings, the hope remains alive that with the new year, the new members will change the image of Flint’s council, and begin to work together more productively.
The Flint School Board’s challenges
After much conflict over the a Memo of Understanding put forward by the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Flint School Board has opened the door to discussing the wide-ranging proposal that would rebuild and revitalize the Flint schools with an investment of close to $200 million and a partnership of 17 other organizations and institutions.
Whatever misgivings there are over the influence of the Mott Foundation and its allies, it may still be the best way to assure the survival of the Flint schools as they continue to lose students and face major financial challenges.
The COVID pandemic threat
Perhaps the biggest challenge may be the omicron variant of the COVID virus. There is a lot we don’t know yet, but there are worries that it may be more infections that the earlier variants, and possibly resistant to the vaccines now in use. One additional worry is that, while many in the U.S. and Europe have been vaccinated, in third world counties very few have been, and the virus can continue to mutate and spread globally in the future.
This variant may not be the last one. More than anything else, getting the pandemic behind us is critical to returning to anything like ‘normal’. Let’s hope that the experience of the last two years will motivate more people to get vaccinated, and science will be able to respond quickly to any new challenges.
The Cultural Center revival
One very positive project that seems to be on track is the rebuilding of the Flint Cultural Center. After delays due to the pandemic, both the Flint Public Library and the Sloan Museum, which have been temporarily located at the Courtland Center Mall in Burton for two years, are scheduled to open with new facilities at their Cultural Center locations during the spring of next year.
Let’s hope that the likely success of the new Cultural Center will be a sign of things to come for all of our areas of concern, and that it can be just one of the many positive things we can celebrate in 2022.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.