Vaccine resolution nothing but a politically motivated move by commissioners

Yesterday’s Livingston County Board of Commissioners meeting was one worth watching. I speak from having attended many of them in my three decades of covering Livingston County, and yesterday’s was something special.

First, there were charts and charts and charts — and then more charts. It felt like our elected officials spent their entire weekend crunching numbers and making charts to support their assertion that the state is putting Livingston County’s senior citizens on the fast train to COVID-19 hell. The commissioners are angered that Michigan — along with the majority of states in the U.S. — is using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index to determine where the scant vaccines in the state should go.

I am left with the suspicion that had this well-established tool of the CDC been called “Aid Determining Tool,” or “Risk Assessment Index,” our uber-Republican commissioners would have found far less wrong with it. But the words “social” and “vulnerability” seem to to be triggers for Republicans, who interpret them as some sort of liberal conspiracy attempt.

The majority of people spoke against the resolution during call to the public — including a really creative video piece —  but a Green Oak Township man seemed to embrace the pandemic. He talked about the health problems of his parents, aged 79 and 81, despite which they attended a Thanksgiving dinner with 58 family members who make no effort when together to social distance or wear masks.

“We do get COVID,” he said, sharing that he himself suffered from a “mild, mild case.”

“I might get it again, with or without the vaccine,” he said. “I choose not to live in fear.”

Later, in a cringe-ily entertaining monologue, Commissioner Doug Helzerman — who represents all of Conway, Handy, Iosco and Unadilla townships, as well as Putnam Township Precinct 1, and the Village of Fowlerville — grabbed the mantle of “stereotypical old, white, conservative man proving that he’s just that” with great gusto.

Helzerman was indignant because some who spoke during the call to the public implied the commissioners were racist for opposing the Social Vulnerability Index. Helzerman defended the board:

Now, I don’t know if the commissioners are racist or not. Even if they are, racism has nothing to do with the resolution they passed; the move was purely political.

This resolution is all about going after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as the 2022 election approaches.

Make no mistake, from now until the election, the Livingston County Board of Commissioners is going to function as a taxpayer-funded, de facto Whitmer-bashing machine. That’s how tight the stranglehold of the state and county GOP is on the board.

That is partially why the commissioners spent entirely too much time making all those charts: They needed desperately to prove that the state is conspiring against Livingston County’s old folks in as many ways possible, and they twisted and highlighted multitudes of categories and numbers into spreadsheet-pretzels to prove their theory.

To put an exclamation point on the whole thing, Chairman Wes Nakagiri then added an amendment to the resolution directing the county manager and legal counsel to investigate all avenues of appeal — and legal action — against the state.

Take that, Gov. Whitmer.

Pay for that, Livingston County taxpayers.

All this huffing and puffing as the vaccines are starting to flow, and COVID-19 numbers are trending down. Makes one wonder where all this COVID concern was months and months ago.

County Democrats need to get hip to what motivates this board; they need to quit lecturing and educating and using what Republicans swat away as “liberal talking points”; none of it moves this board an inch. Dems need to quit being the smart ones. Instead, they need to fight fire with fire; they need to be as nakedly political as the Republicans; and they really, really need to develop a war plan to get at least one of their own on the board to at least hold the others accountable.

The commissioners aren’t doing these things because they’re selfish or racist or in need of education; in reality, they are in thrall of a Republican party desperate to remain in power, which to me is a whole lot worse. Lots of Republicans in counties like Livingston fear nothing more than a primary challenge, so they knuckle under. Dems need to figure out how to trump that.

So stay tuned: I predict our local Republicans will start attacking Michigan’s all-important redistricting efforts next.

In the meantime, folks need to buckle up for what is sure to be a bumpy and ultimately fascinating election season.

You can view the recording of the Feb. 22, 2021, Livingston County Board of Commissioners by clicking here.


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Journalist Maria Stuart worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. These days, she runs The Livingston Post.

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