For many years, one of the truly “Isn’t it great to be alive?” moments in Lansing was in April-ish when the crab trees that lined Capitol Avenue bloomed and permeated the air with this lovely perfume that would actually make someone walking into Capitol Square stop and smell the flowers.
But as part of improvements to the Capitol grounds, the trees were removed in July.
Axed. Shredded. Treated like Steve Buscemi’s character Carl in “Fargo” (look it up, though the video clip is not for the faint of heart).
It turns out there were some legitimate reasons for the slaughter.
Several of the crab trees on the northern edge of the square had died long ago, and arborists concluded the surviving trees had effectively reached the end of their useful life. Leaving the remaining trees in place would compromise the desire for a uniform look, Rob Blackshaw, director of Capitol Facilities said.
And removing all the trees gives the view of the square a cleaner a look too, Mr. Blackshaw said.
I hate to admit it, but he’s right. Taking out those trees does give the eastern edge of Capitol Square a nicer look. Less cluttered. And this is all about trying to bring the Capitol grounds closer to the original master plan for the Capitol from the late 1800s. It’s hard to argue with that goal.
The renovations also resulted in the installation of historic lamp posts at the center walkway of the square near the statue honoring former Governor Austin Blair. The lamp posts evoke those installed when the Capitol was first built and that were removed in the 1920s. Those look great.
But when spring arrives, and the only smell in the air on the Capitol grounds is the air itself, those crab trees will be sorely missed.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump visited mid-Michigan last Friday with a variety of messages for his thousands of supporters, but one that I wasn’t expecting at all was his question to African-American voters: What the hell do you have to lose?
I and numerous others could probably talk for hours about that question and its answer. But let’s boil it down to the most simplistic: The atmosphere of the event.
While the national Republican Party has raised the issue here and there about the need to attract a more diverse audience generally, the reality is African-American voters will take many election cycles and the type of realignment that occurred from the 1930s through the 1960s that caused African-Americans to leave the Republican Party for the Democratic Party. Mr. Trump hardly seems suited to be such a transformational figure.
Mr. Trump’s feigning ignorance during the spring about David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, in the days prior to a series of primaries in the South was not exactly the formula to win support among African-Americans. That’s on top of a long history of statements and alleged statements that clearly would cast him in a negative light among African-Americans. Leading the charge to question the citizenship of the first African-American president probably didn’t score him any points, for example.
When Mr. Trump spent a significant portion of his speech trying to make this appeal, the head scratches from the print media were rather visible, and when his speech ended, it was the highlight among broadcast media – the latter is a point we’ll get to in a minute.
The thing is, U.S. Census Data will tell you that Windsor Township, where the speech was held, had a mere 2.7 percent African-American population when the census last reported in April 2010. A July 1, 2015, estimate is “not applicable,” the page shows. And even if we’re generous and include the 2010 census data for those reporting as two or more races (forgive for a minute the fact that, of course, not all two-or-more race folks are, for example, black and white), that’s another 1.8 percent, the data shows.
So all told we can maybe say 4.5 percent of Windsor Township would consider itself not solely white or solely Hispanic. The community’s reported population from 2010 census data was 6,838, so our estimated black population, albeit using six-year-old statistics and some generosity in stats, suggests that maybe some 307 people in the community are African-American.
I promise you, not nearly that many were at the Trump rally on Friday. Not even close. Not even a little bit.
By comparison, Lansing, which is a mere 15-minute drive from the location of the rally, has a significantly larger percent of its population that is African-American. Again using just the known 2010 statistics, Lansing’s African-American population is 23.7 percent, or more than 27,000 people.
But to the broadcast point: national networks like CNN and Fox News were there, naturally. The rally start time was pushed to 5 p.m., which makes his speech a potential top story for the 6 p.m. news (given he took about 40 minutes to speak overall). Mr. Trump did rearrange his schedule so he could visit Louisiana, which has suffered devastating floods.
If Mr. Trump wants to make an appeal to African-American voters, he has a long ways to go, and making the case in Windsor Township did not seem the place to get started on his goal of winning 95 percent of the African-American vote if and when he runs for re-election in four years.
Donald Trump turned 70 in June. It’s a good thing for him he is running for president, because the Republican presidential nominee could not run for judge in Michigan. At 68, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, could run for judge in Michigan, but she wouldn’t have the chance to do so again after she turns 70 in October 2017.
Then, Mr. Trump also could not run for judge in his home state of New York because there too the maximum age for judges seeking office is 70. If Ms. Clinton chose to run for judge in New York , she would face the same age limit there that she would here. If she ran for judge in her birth state of Illinois she could run as often as she wanted because that state’s age limit on judges was declared unconstitutional.
But if she ran for judge in her former state of Arkansas, oh boy. In the Razorback State there is no technical age restriction on being a judge, but if a judge older than 70 runs for re-election they forfeit all of their earned retirement benefits. I don’t know but I suspect Black’s Law Dictionary would define Arkansas’ law as “vos screw” (the translation of which is roughly “screw you”).
The question of age limits on judges has come to the forefront in Michigan because of Appeals Judge Peter O’Connell’s fight to run for at least one more term on the Court of Appeals.
His approach is certainly novel: At 68, Mr. O’Connell’s current term ends when he turns 70, meaning he cannot run for re-election under Michigan’s Constitution in 2018. So he filed to run as an incumbent judge against fellow Appeals Judge Michael Gadola this year.
The legal argument in his case has focused more on whether Mr. O’Connell can run as an incumbent.
But his point, he has said numerous times, is to end the age discrimination against judges. It would be best for the Constitution to be amended, he said, but until then he is making his arguments in the courts.
It is a weird fact in American politics and government. There are minimum ages to run for office, 35 for president, 30 for governor in Michigan and U.S. senator for example.
But virtually the only office that has a maximum age limit is that of state judge. A total of 33 states, including Michigan, have such age limits. In most states the age limit is 70, others it’s 72 or 75. In Vermont, it’s 90.
Moreover, this is a development that came in the second half of American history. The U.S. Constitution says nothing about it. Michigan’s constitutions of 1835 and 1850 had no judicial age limits.
But then age limits showed up in Michigan’s 1908 constitution, and set at 70. Why? Well, candidly this reporter did not have time to search out the arguments in the journals for that constitutional convention. However, Michigan’s age limit is one of the longest on record.
And in the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention, Robert Danhof (himself a distinguished judge in Michigan history) chaired the committee that proposed the new constitution adopt the 1908 judicial qualifications, including the age limit. He said nothing about the age limit for judges, and so far as I can tell nor did any other member of the convention.
Why did this practice begin in the first place? The only explanation I have been able to find is that states saw it as a way of getting rid of judges viewed as no longer effective. But that is a thin argument.
Perhaps it was concern about the ability of one to serve at what was once seen as an advanced age. Life expectancy was much lower then, and until people started getting more serious on issues like smoking and diet it was very common up until the 1970s and 1980s to see people – men mostly – die in their late 30’s and 40’s.
Former U.S. Sen. and astronaut John Glenn, now 95, was 40 when he orbited the earth in February 1962. He said people worried that he was too old to make the flight and that it might be cruel to subject an older man to those rigors.
But of all the miracles of science, one of the most astonishing is the overall improvement in the health and ability of older individuals. It’s not just due to pharmaceuticals. Diet, exercise, intellectual pursuits, growing social communities and technology play a major role in this. Consider, this blog is being written on actor Robert Redford’s 80th birthday. At 80, he looks better than most men did as teenagers.
Consider as well, while it is clear companies try to help older, more experienced workers out the door in favor of younger, cheaper workers, age discrimination is illegal in Michigan under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Except, of course, for judges. And that is something so many judges at all levels, including former Supreme Court Justices Michael Cavanagh and Marilyn Kelly as well as former Appeals Judge William Whitbeck, have said should be changed.
Would the state’s voters change that provision? It’s a long shot anything could go on the November ballot, and whether anyone would try to mount a petition drive for 2018 is uncertain.
If nothing else, Mr. O’Connell’s efforts have brought the issue back to public consideration. And that question really is why in Michigan and most other states is it acceptable for older intellectually active persons to run for president of the United States but not for state judge?