Finding purpose in policy

Spike Dearing

Spike Dearing

Have you ever read a bill in its entirety? If you have, congratulations, that can be quite a task. If not, let me explain a bit what it’s like. Bills can be complex. They can be long. They can have all sorts of details and clauses included, but have all the meat confined to one small section that makes all the difference. In a nutshell, there are times when a bill can appear to be written in a foreign language, traversed only by lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians.

But understanding bills, and thereby understanding the policies they aim to enact, is essential. While you may never see a hard copy of a bill, or hear much about what’s going on in the State House or Senate, what they pass or don’t pass ultimately impacts each one of us. It could be changes to Medicaid, the state income tax, or teacher pensions; regardless of what the topic is, in some way, somehow, the effects of various policy decisions will sift down to every individual. It is because of this inevitability, and the stake that each individual has in their society, that comprehension of policy is so important.

domeNow, most people are busy. Jobs, friends, kids, school … there are a million and one things going on in our lives that keep us moving, keep us working, keep us focused or even distracted. For the majority of us, policy is not one of those things. Luckily for society, there are a select few who have managed to make the interpretation of policy, and then the relaying of information to others in a direct and familiar fashion, their livelihoods. Such people can be found working at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

My own understanding of policy at the beginning of this year was limited. While I had kept up to date on the major legislative debates in Congress, I hadn’t ever done real research into the depths of any piece of policy. From day one with the League though, I was surrounded by professionals. Working here are the types of people who one would consider “policy wonks”. Here are the number crunchers, the data collectors, and the graph creators. The work that happens in this office day in and day out is painstaking, long, at times extremely frustrating, but done entirely with real passion and purpose. Through all that they do, the people at the League are dedicated advocates, policy experts motivated to promote equity and fairness, especially for those who have received the short end of the stick more often than not.

You can imagine that working with individuals of this caliber, I picked up on a few things. And while it is true that I now am more confident in discussing, researching, debating and writing about healthcare and taxes, perhaps more valuable was that through this process I have started to define why good policy is important to me. Policy is a reflection of society. The values of a people are exposed via the policies which they favor. Effective and equitable policy must then be a constantly sought, which requires that policies be backed up by facts and logic, and shaped with a vision towards a more just society. While I still have much to learn about both policy and my own value-based judgements, my experience with the League has put me on the right path.

I leave here having gained a great deal. The people I have met, and lessons I have learned will propel me towards future goals and help me with future endeavors. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, from the endless rounds of edits Rachel had me working on, to witnessing Tillie magically transform my excel graphs into something worth looking at, and smack talking this dreary Michigan winter with anyone and everyone who strolled by my desk. To all the staff here, and my fellow intern Alexa, it has been a pleasure. I wish the best to you all, and again, thanks to you all for making this an experience by which I have learned a truly substantial amount.

— Spike Dearing

Political theory meets practical public policy

Spike Dearing

Spike Dearing

First off, I know what you’re probably thinking: “there’s no way Spike is his actual name.” While I cannot fault you for thinking that (it is a rather odd, if not interesting name) it does in fact appear on my legal birth certificate (as a middle name, Jack is my first, but how can I not go by Spike, right?).

While my family now lives in East Lansing, I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in Denver, Colorado. What that means of course is that I spent most of my free time in the mountains hiking about, and enjoying the fantastic Tex-Mex food of the Southwest. Interestingly enough, I prefer the warmth of an indoor batting cage to the cold of a snow-covered slope, so I actually didn’t spend much time at all skiing or snowboarding. Hopefully that doesn’t discredit me as a Coloradan.

Upon moving to East Lansing and shortly thereafter graduating from East Lansing High, I enrolled in Michigan State University and chose to major within James Madison College. Currently, I am a junior, and my particular field of study is Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy. I am highly fascinated by the Constitution, the founding of our country, and the age-old debates of State vs. Federal authority, the role of civic participation in a democratic republic, the constant issues of class, and others, all pertinent at the conception of our nation and even now, as I write this blog.

Beyond my historicalMI Capitol and MI Flag and philosophical interests (which are numerous, and I love to discuss and debate these with anyone who is at all intrigued), I realize the importance and practicality of understanding policy, and the current political landscape. My knowledge of policy had been somewhat limited until debates really ramped up in early 2017 as the GOP set off on their first attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The press coverage surrounding the event caught my attention, as I’m sure it did for many, but what I got from CNN, the New York Times or the Washington Post wasn’t enough for me; I wanted to critically comprehend the elements regarding healthcare, and why it was such a divisive issue.

While the argument as to whether or not the government should have a role in determining the healthcare of individuals is extremely important from an ideological standpoint, I knew that I needed to know more about why costs were so high, the quality of the care, who was going to be adversely affected should the Individual Mandate be repealed, the state of the healthcare market, and why, in the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country in the world, there was an uninsured rate higher than any other developed nation.

My drive to learn and create a strong foundation rooted in a mixture of philosophy, ideology and strong policy knowledge, plus a little nudging from my friend and fellow Madison student Lorenzo, has led me here, to the League. I am incredibly excited to be a part of this team, to learn from everyone, and to contribute to the fantastic body of work of this organization.

With that longwinded introduction out of the way (thanks, James Madison), I’m ready and eager to get to work with the rest of the League and its partners and supporters, and am thankful for the warm welcome and exciting opportunity.

— Spike Dearing

It’s time to end racial inequity in education

My father, a man of Norwegian descent who grew up on a small farm in southern Minnesota, was one of many beneficiaries of the GI bill. As part of the first generation in his family to attend college, with public financial support he excelled and launched a career as a professor of economics. The opportunity given to my father changed the trajectory of my parents’ lives and mine.

While ostensibly race-neutral, the G.I. Bill did not have the same effect on educational attainment for Black and White veterans after the war, in part because of admission policies that limited access to colleges and universities. As a result, a public policy that appeared to increase equality and opportunity actually did little to overcome consistent institutional barriers and inequities in access to education and housing for veterans of color. (more…)