The year 2021 was filled with big news. Whether it was the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or infrastructure improvements across the state, the year was full of firsts. Now as 2021 comes to a close, One Detroit contributors Nolan Finley, Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit News, and Stephen Henderson, host of American Black Journal, get together to reflect and talk about some of the biggest stories from the past year and what we might news stories we might expect to see in the new year.
The two discuss where we are now, and look ahead to new topics like redistricting, the 2022 election, and how Michigan will spend its once-in-a-generation influx of federal funds.
Nolan Finley, Editorial Page Editor, The Detroit News: We’re sitting here at the end of 2021, not much better off than we were at the end of 2020.
Stephen Henderson, Host, American Black Journal: Yeah. Well, a little better in terms of like prospects, I guess. But you know, I mean, we start the year, six days into the year, with a rabble of insurrectionists trying to overturn the election and destabilize the democracy, and it kind of went downhill from there, I guess.
Nolan Finley: Let’s talk about Washington for a minute. I think this promise we had for President Joe Biden that he would get control of the virus, that he would revive the economy, that he would raise our stature on the world stage and put us together so that we would stop fighting. Not much of that has happened, or at least not happened the way he promised it would. I think it’s been very disappointing year for the president and his numbers show it.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah. Well, I mean, again, first year for president, coming in after an incredible run of chaos, everything was left pretty destabilized. I think he’s done all right. I think in terms of getting control of the virus, we were already starting to see the vaccines take hold when he took office. They have— if you leave Michigan and go elsewhere, things are in much better shape than they are here. And we have our own problem that I still can’t figure out what we are doing wrong in particular, but things are much better in terms of the number of people nationwide that have gotten vaccinated. The economy is back.
It’s not as much back as maybe we would want it to, but that’s because we have some inherent problems that we couldn’t have anticipated. The disappearance of the labor force is a huge destabilizing influence in the economy, that’s going to go on for a long time. You know, I think the president’s done what he could with that stuff. I was not expecting that he would be able to bring us together. Half the country didn’t vote for him and thinks he stole the election. So good luck getting people to work together under those circumstances.
Nolan Finley: We’ve got something here that we never dreamed we’d have a year ago, and that’s inflation. And the administration seems to have, at first, had no grasp of how serious inflation was and how real that was to the American people and now have no answers for it. It was a complete bungle in Afghanistan, and so I think next year we’re looking ahead, with all of this going into an election year and we know what happens in an election year, everything grinds to a halt except for the fighting, and we’ve got some very real problems that need to be solved.
Stephen Henderson: I think the election, that will be really hotly contested, but I also think we have this existential threat now. You have a party that has a large number of people now who are concentrating on gaining power in places where they can decertify votes or decide that elections don’t matter. And that’s going to challenge us, not just next year, but in two more years when the presidential election swings back around. But let’s talk about locally. Whatever went on this year to kind of remind us of our challenges.
That wild summer we have just sticks in my mind. And of course, we had this December windstorm as well, unusual in its intensity and its consequences, reminding us again that we have not invested in our infrastructure in the way that we should have, and that we aren’t planning to in many ways. I mean, there are some things on tap. We’re replacing all the lead lines in the state. That’s a start. But we have major, major problems beneath the ground, above the ground, that we aren’t even acknowledging at this point.
Nolan Finley: We’ve got a huge pool of money we’re sitting on for infrastructure, billions of dollars, no real plans to spend it or how to spend it, no seeming will to spend it. We know what’s going on in Benton Harbor. Another big story of 2021. We got to get those lead pipes out of the ground. But we also have to secure our electricity— our electrical grid. We can’t have these major power outages like we had last summer. We’ve got to do something to move water out of these freeways and out of people’s basements. We also have COVID relief money and there’s no reason hospitals are waiting for these monoclonal antibody treatments that many places say ‘We just can’t afford…’ or ‘We don’t have the staffing to administer.’
That’s what that money was for. Why is it it’s sitting in a huge bucket in Lansing still? They’ve got to come together and figure out how to invest that money and also how to invest that money to make sure our schools are safe. We now have Oakland County students saying, thousands of them, ‘We don’t want to go back to school. We don’t feel it’s safe.’ Got to use part of that money to secure those schools.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah. Well, you got to talk to your friends in the Republican Party about both those issues. They don’t…
Nolan Finley: The Governor hasn’t exactly been a leader on this, either…
Stephen Henderson: She has a plan to spend all of the money and they don’t want— like her plan, so they’re not spending it.
Nolan Finley: I’m not sure her plan addresses these issues fully that we just talked about. But you know, we’re sitting on the biggest windfall, biggest amount of cash we’ve ever had, and we have no clue how to work together to spend it. That’s got to change in ’22, but the prospect of it doing so in a year when she’s going to be running for re-election and the legislature is going to be re-elected— running for re-election, I don’t think there’s much hope. (inaudible) Happy New Year!
Stephen Henderson: Well, and to throw everything even more into political limbo. You know, the new maps that this redistricting commission has been working on are really going to spin people’s heads. They should, because that was the point, but I’m not sure that everybody will be content with what we have. That will cause another big fight early in the year. To determine whether those maps hold— everyone, it seems like, will want to go to court to try to overturn them. I do still believe that this is incredible progress that we’ve been able to see this process up front. We’ve been able to hear what they’re doing and why we can criticize the maps. They change them. It’s way better than it was, but there are a lot of people who are really nervous I think about that outcome.
Nolan Finley: Well, I wish we could see all of it and their delve into closed meetings, and lack of transparency. Inexcusable for a group that needs people to trust its work. I think these maps are headed right to court. It’s going to be a difficult election year while we wait for the courts to decide what the real districts are. People are going to get a late, late start campaigning. It’s going to be a mess on a lot of fronts. And you know, you and I will be here talking about it, Steve, and doing so civilly, right?
Stephen Henderson: That’s right.
Nolan Finley: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah, to you too.
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