Blog Posts by Zachary Gorchow, Editor

Roads Redux On DPS As House GOP Squeezes Governor, Senate
Posted: May, 24 2016 2:10 PM

House Republicans are using the same tactic that worked so well for them on the road funding debate with the discussions on overhauling K-12 public education in Detroit.

On roads, Governor Rick Snyder wanted $1.2 billion in new revenues. The Republican-led Senate passed a plan with about $800 million in new revenue, and Mr. Snyder embraced it. But then majority Republicans passed a plan with $600 million in new revenue, and it was clear Mr. Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) were not happy.

Yes, the plan contained a promise of eventually pulling $600 million out of the General Fund in future years to bring the new commitment to $1.2 billion, but that looked shaky then and feels even more so in the wake of the Flint water crisis, Detroit Public Schools financial crisis and revenues for the 2016-17 fiscal year falling short of projections.

But the conservative House Republican majority caucus was adamant that it could approve no more than $600 million in new revenue. It hung tough and eventually Mr. Snyder and Mr. Meekhof concluded something was better than nothing and agreed to the basic contours of the House plan.

Now Mr. Snyder has requested, and the Senate has passed, a bailout for DPS with $715 million in funding over 10 years to retire the district’s crippling debt and assist the district that would replace DPS with transitional costs like critical infrastructure needs. The Senate also included a Snyder request for a new Detroit Education Commission that would have siting authority for all new public schools in the city, including charter schools.

The House has approved the funding to retire debt, but instead approved $33 million instead of the $200 million passed by the Senate for transitional costs. And it omitted the DEC with Republicans saying creating a DEC would be tantamount to declaring war on charter schools. They have questioned the need for the $200 million.

House Republicans are in a good spot strategically on this one, just like roads.

Absent a solution, DPS will start defaulting on its obligations in July. Just like roads, they can force the governor and Mr. Meekhof to choose between something or nothing. Perhaps they will have to concede $33 million is not enough, given the Department of Treasury’s analysis that DPS will run out of money in August under that plan. But it’s easy to see how House Republicans could declare victory if they can get a number smaller than $200 million and no DEC.

Mr. Snyder has always said his priority on DPS is to split up the district so that DPS exists only to retire the debt and a new district, debt-free, is created to run educational operations. He backs a DEC, but has made it clear it’s not mandatory.

So it seems likely that, provided enough money is there to keep the new Detroit Community School District financially sound, he would support a plan with no DEC.

The question is the Senate.

Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) won considerable plaudits from Democrats for his outreach and putting together a plan that passed with bipartisan support. Mr. Meekhof has strongly backed Mr. Hansen.

Neither has said a DEC is a must, but it’s also clear both think a solution that has the best chance of working is one with buy-in from local officials and Detroiters, not one foisted upon them by the Legislature. Mr. Meekhof could likely pull together the votes to pass a plan with support only from Republicans if he had to do so, but it would be an ugly scene in the Senate if it goes that way and leave in question whether the Detroit officials charged with implementing the changes actually believe they will work.

The closer July 1, the date when DPS will run out of money absent an overhaul, gets, the more pressure for a deal. Is taking action contrary to what their usual allies in the charter school industry want a line in the sand issue for Mr. Meekhof? Surely that is a question House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and his caucus have pondered extensively.

So will this end as the road debate did, with the House Republicans getting their way? Or is there a card Mr. Meekhof could yet play to shift the dynamic and put the House GOP in a tougher spot and avoid another high-stakes negotiation concluding as the roads one did. If Mr. Meekhof has a, er, trump card, it’s getting close to the time to play it.

A Curious Move By Melissa Gilbert
Posted: May, 10 2016 5:59 PM

Melissa Gilbert, the likely Democratic nominee in the 8th U.S. House District, committed an unforced error Monday when she decided not to attend a candidate forum hosted by the Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce because she did not want to answer audience questions.

Ms. Gilbert, whose celebrity and popularity since moving to Livingston County have energized Democrats about their chances of giving U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) some competition, botched this one.

Why wouldn’t she want to take questions? This is an uphill race. The district leans Republican, and the only way Ms. Gilbert has a chance is if she can persuade independent voters and soft Republican leaning voters to back her. What better place to make the case than Brighton, which still harbors some of the same middle of the road Republican voters that elected socially liberal Republicans like Susan Grimes Munsell and Judie Scranton back in the day though certainly they are diminished in number.

Maybe some think the Brighton chamber, which will clearly tend conservative, doesn’t seem like a good venue for Ms. Gilbert. But so popular has Ms. Gilbert become for her charitable efforts since moving to the area that when she and husband Timothy Busfield agreed to serve as grand marshals at the Howell Fantasy of Lights Parade last year, the president of the Howell Chamber of Commerce gushed to the Livingston Daily Press and Argus that “it shows their heart is in the community.”

Coming after several months of agreeing to only a handful of interviews (her campaign has not granted one to Gongwer News Service despite multiple requests), this incident only fuels the perception Ms. Gilbert is uncomfortable subjecting herself to scrutiny.

I am surprised not to see Ms. Gilbert all over television and the newspapers on a regular basis talking about her campaign.

How many other candidates nationally have the ability to call up any of the network television affiliates which cover their district and have the ability to get air time with relative ease? Very, very few. But Ms. Gilbert’s celebrity, from her days playing Laura Ingalls Wilder on “Little House on the Prairie,” can open doors closed to others. Yet her campaign has not (yet) played that card.

The Gilbert campaign’s strategy was similarly restrained after the Bishop campaign fired off a dagger in April, bringing to light her comments years ago on “The View” defending director Roman Polanski, who fled the United States while awaiting sentencing on child sexual assault charges in 1978. The Gilbert campaign issued a written statement from Ms. Gilbert in which she said Mr. Polanski’s actions were inexcusable and “the format of that show got the best of me and I said something I didn't mean and don't believe. I am sorry.”

Ms. Gilbert did an interview with “Michigan’s Big Show” but otherwise seemed to rely on the distribution of the written statement in response to inquiries from news outlets, including this one. Perhaps the Gilbert campaign did not want to call more attention to the attack by putting her out there more to offer a vigorous defense. But the attack seemed to get considerable coverage anyway and one presumes Mr. Bishop and the Republicans intend to hammer her with it until November.

The reason Ms. Gilbert became so popular locally is because she seemed to be everywhere, raising money for local charities, giving pointers at children’s drama camps (she was at one in East Lansing last year that my daughter attended), taking a lead role in events like the Fantasy of Lights parade and spending time with residents one on one. So it’s hard to understand, as Ms. Gilbert embarks on her campaign, why she would shy away from a prime opportunity to introduce herself to business owners in Brighton.

Here’s The Bellwether On How Much Trump Damages The Michigan GOP
Posted: May, 4 2016 12:09 PM

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, and it is safe to say any Republican candidate for the Michigan House in a competitive area is sweating what the candidacy of Mr. Trump, who just yesterday said something about Ted Cruz’s father having a link to the assassination of President Kennedy (wait, what?), means for their prospects in November.

The short answer: bad. Very, very bad.

No, it’s not impossible to overcome a tsunami in a competitive Michigan House race when the top of the ticket implodes. Continuing with a parallel I drew in February between Mr. Trump and the disastrous 1998 Democratic candidate for governor, Geoffrey Fieger, Democrat Doug Spade’s House victory in 1998 stands as an example. Mr. Fieger drew 36.7 percent of the vote in Lenawee County, but Mr. Spade, whose district basically mirrored the county lines, pulled 50.4 percent. So it can be done. But Democrats overall lost six seats in the House that year amid the Engler landslide and their House majority.

Mr. Trump is going to hurt his Republican ballot mates. The questions are how much and will his presence damage some House Republican candidates who otherwise would have won without too much difficulty.

There is one race that stands out as the obvious case study on the Trump factor. That’s the 61st House District in southwest Kalamazoo County.

Ever since this district became anchored by Portage starting in the 1982 elections, Republicans have never lost it. There was a close call in 2008 when President Barack Obama won the state in a landslide. And Democrats smelled an opportunity in 2014 with no incumbent running. They poured money into it, and the Republican candidate, now-Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Oshtemo Township), committed an unforced error, but ultimately Mr. Iden won, 48 percent to 42 percent over Democrat John Fisher with a Libertarian candidate taking a stronger than usual 10 percent.

Going into this cycle, Democrats had the positive of a presidential cycle to boost turnout, but not much else to help them in the seat. Mr. Iden won in 2014 after having the proverbial kitchen sink thrown at him, and for all the effort Democrats put into the race, Mr. Fisher pulled a lousy 42 percent of the vote.

But not only has Mr. Iden endorsed Mr. Trump, he was elected to serve as a delegate for Mr. Trump at the Republican National Convention. Democrats can now tie Mr. Iden to every wild and crazy thing Mr. Trump has said in the past 11 months and will say for the next six. They will do that with every Republican candidate, but while others can take steps to distance themselves, Mr. Iden cannot.

There’s another reason why Mr. Iden’s embrace of Mr. Trump could be problematic. While Mr. Trump won the Michigan Republican presidential primary, he actually finished third within the confines of the 61st District. Within the district, Ohio Governor John Kasich took 30.8 percent of the vote to 27.3 percent for Mr. Cruz and 25.2 percent for Mr. Trump. How that will play out is hard to say, but it could, emphasis on could, suggest a larger than usual number of Republican voters in this district dispirited about Mr. Trump’s nomination who decide to sit out the election or are disappointed with Mr. Iden for aligning himself with Mr. Trump.

Voters in the district have shown a willingness to split their tickets. Republican Larry DeShazor overcame Mr. Obama’s win in 2008, and in 2012, then-Rep. and now-Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) ran almost 10 percentage points ahead of Mitt Romney in the district even as Mr. Obama narrowly carried the seat over Mr. Romney.

All things being equal, Mr. Iden should be on his way to an easy win for a second term. And if Mr. Trump turns out not to be widely toxic to the Republican ticket, then the surest sign would be an easy win for Mr. Iden.

All things in this district, this year, are not equal. If the Democratic dream of Mr. Trump taking the Republican ticket down in flames with him is to become reality, then logically smoke will be visible November 8 from the communities of Portage and Oshtemo, Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft and Texas townships that make up the 61st District.

Snyder Facing A Difficult Decision On Lyon
Posted: April, 26 2016 3:57 PM

If the various inquiries into the Flint water crisis eventually lead to the departure of Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon from his post, it cannot be overstated what a cataclysmic loss that would be to the administration of Governor Rick Snyder.

Prior to the Flint water crisis, and the criticism the department has taken for initially botching the analysis of children’s blood lead levels and not doing more to combat a deadly Legionnaire’s disease outbreak possibly related to the water problems, Mr. Lyon was a star department director in the administration.

The enormous restructuring of the government in early 2015, merging the departments of Human Services and Community Health into one Department of Health and Human Services occurred in significant measure because Mr. Snyder and the key stakeholders all had confidence Mr. Lyon could pull the merger off. Yes, there were policy reasons behind the idea, but the Lyon factor was significant.

Community Health, which Mr. Lyon had helmed since August 2014 and been a deputy director for several years, was generally known as one of the best-functioning agencies in the state government. The expansion of Medicaid to those at 133 percent of the federal poverty level went off remarkably smoothly.

In the more than a year since Mr. Lyon has been in charge of Human Services, those who work with the department say they have seen a real difference in operations there.

The task force Mr. Snyder appointed to investigate what led to the water crisis seemed almost pained in some ways about the Department of Health and Human Service’s performance. What happened contrasted sharply with its usual operations, the task force said.

And yet, the water crisis errors were massive.

Had the department properly analyzed blood lead levels, the issue of lead in the drinking water would have been discovered sooner.

Had the department sounded a loud public alarm about a Legionnaire’s outbreak in late 2014/early 2015, that would have come at the same time as public concerns about the use of the Flint River as the city’s water source were escalating amid boil water advisories as well as discolored and foul smelling water.

The Office of the Auditor General, at Mr. Snyder’s request, is looking into what went wrong in the department, and when Mr. Snyder has been asked why he has not replaced Mr. Lyon, his responses have offered tepid – at best – support for him.

There are three schools of thought circling the Capitol on the fate of Mr. Lyon.

The first one, held by many Democrats, is simply that he has to go. This is notable in the sense that Mr. Lyon is something of a nonpartisan figure, having worked his way up from the State Budget Office during the administration of Governor Jennifer Granholm. He has had some Democratic supporters historically.

The second one, held by many of those sympathetic to former Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, who resigned at Mr. Snyder’s request, is to question how Mr. Lyon can remain in his post if Mr. Wyant had to go.

The third one, held by Mr. Lyon’s supporters, is that kicking him to the curb after he successfully executed Mr. Snyder’s merger of two huge departments would not only be a total betrayal, but also would severely undercut the still nascent merged department. No one is indispensable, they say, but Mr. Lyon is uniquely qualified to oversee such a complex operation.

For Mr. Snyder, it’s a decision sure to anger many and please few, no matter what he decides.

The Battle For House Control: Dems Have A Path, But …
Posted: April, 21 2016 4:49 PM

It is the question on everyone’s minds in and around the Capitol: Can Democrats gain the necessary nine seats in the November election to take control of the Michigan House of Representatives?

Control would mean the chance to stop six years of unfettered Republican control of state government. It would put Democrats in charge of committees to initiate all manner of investigations into the administration of Governor Rick Snyder. It would make Democrats relevant again in Lansing, which other than a couple of notable exceptions, they have not been since Mr. Snyder succeeded former Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2011 and their once mighty 67-43 House majority blew away in the Republican landslide of 2010.

It seems virtually certain that Democrats will gain seats. Republicans have a 63-46 majority with one vacancy in a reliably Democratic seat, so think of it as a 63-47 majority with Democrats needing nine to get to 56.

Why is it certain? Several reasons.

Number one, it is a presidential election year, and in the term limits era, Democrats have never lost seats in a presidential election year, averaging a 4.5-seat gain per election. They gained five in 2004, nine in 2008 and four in 2012. The one exception was 2000, when no seats changed hands amid close races for president and U.S. Senate at the top of the ticket, all the competitive seats taking place in districts with incumbents seeking re-election amid a booming economy and a set of highly skilled, well-funded Republican incumbents having scared off top-tier Democratic challengers.

Number two, a slew of seats in competitive areas have no incumbent running this year because of term limits, and such situations afford a much better opportunity for flipping a seat than ousting an incumbent.

Number three, some of these seats plainly already should be in Democratic hands because of their partisan leaning, but were won by Republicans because of a major edge in candidate quality over the Democratic candidate at the time. This time, in several of those seats, Democrats appear to have recruited top-shelf candidates.

Number four, the Republican pick-up opportunities are slim. They could make a play in the 52nd District held by departing Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline), but in a presidential year, that seems like a big hurdle. Republicans have raised the possibility of going after Rep. Tom Cochran (D-Mason) in the 67th District, but he has racked up big wins in the past, or Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) in the 76th District, but if they could not oust her in the Republican wave of 2014 after pouring money into an opponent, taking her out this year seems like a long shot. It appears after a major effort to oust Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights) in 2014, he faces a less onerous re-election battle this year.

So Democrats are positioned to gain seats.

But nine? Or even eight? Eight would get Democrats to a 55-55 shared power situation, and there’s no question that would be a massive victory for them, presuming a similar agreement on how to run the House as occurred in 1993-94.

It’s a big hill to climb.

Even assuming the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, blows out either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, can she top the 57.4 percent that then-Sen. Barack Obama won against John McCain in 2008 in this state? Democrats gained nine House seats that year, though they also had less low-hanging fruit to grab since they already were at 58.

Looking at the map, at this early stage, it is fair to say the Democrats are strong favorites to win the 23rd District now held by term limited Rep. Patrick Somerville (R-New Boston). It’s a Democratic seat and one of those the party let slip away thanks to Mr. Somerville’s retail political talent and a series of weak Democratic candidates as well as a botched move in 2012 to pull out of the race.

And Democrats appear the clear favorite in the 108th where Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) is out because of term limits. Democrats scored a blockbuster candidate recruit in Dickinson County Sheriff Scott Celello.

Democrats think Jim Haadsma of Battle Creek, a Calhoun County commissioner, is likely to beat Rep. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek) in the 62nd District. This is a Democratic seat that Democrats lost in 2014 after a primary resulted in a weak candidate for the general election, but with the presidential year, provided that Mr. Haadsma proves himself a strong candidate, this is a seat the Democrats probably should win, though ousting an incumbent can never be taken for granted.

Even giving the Democrats those three seats, they still need another six.

The next best opportunity appears the 91st District, which Republicans have not won in a presidential year since 2004. It’s Hughes-Lamonte III as Rep. Holly Hughes (R-White River Township) tries to fend off former Rep. Collene Lamonte (D-Montague). Ms. Lamonte ousted Ms. Hughes in 2012, and Ms. Hughes returned the favor in 2014. Both were incredibly close races, and this will be a coin flip again.

Democrats also are hoping that former Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge) can avenge her 2014 loss to now-Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) in the 71st District. Eaton County is trending Democratic in presidential years, and Democrats think Mr. Barrett has a voting record too conservative for the district, but he has an appealing profile and will be tough to beat.

There are the two open seats in Macomb County where both parties have highly touted recruits. Those look like coin flip races, and probably heavily dependent on what happens at the top of the ticket.

Tom Redmond (D-Lambertville) is waging a rematch against now-Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance) in the 56th, but rematches featuring a candidate who has yet to win a seat are tough for the nonincumbent.

Democrats are well-positioned in the 99th District where Bryan Mielke, a Union Township trustee who narrowly lost in 2014 to House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant), is back now that Mr. Cotter cannot run again because of term limits. That’s a time-tested formula for victory in the term limits era, but the 99th district has been in Republican hands since the 1930s and is like Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown for the Democrats. They have tried many times to win it and come away empty-handed each time.

There’s the 101st and 106th Districts, both open seats with a history of close races, but given the poor Democratic track record of winning House seats north of U.S. 10 in recent years, those are going to be tough battles.

That’s eight coin-flip type seats, and to keep outright control of the House, Republicans have to win four of them. The Democrats need six.

If, for example, Mr. Barrett and Mr. Sheppard win re-election, and Republicans keep the 101st and 106th Districts, then Republicans will do no worse than 56 seats. It’s not difficult to envision those four seats going to the GOP.

There are four seats where Democrats, at least for now, appear to have come up short in candidate recruitment (the 39th District in western Oakland County, the 41st District in Troy/Clawson, the 57th District in Lenawee County and the 64th District in Jackson County). The Democrats have credible candidates who could take advantage of a wave or Republican misstep, but none of them is giving Republicans the sweats.

November 8 should be a good night for the House Democrats, but so much has to go right for them and wrong for Republicans for it to be good enough for 56.

Snyder’s Post-Flint Message Changes
Posted: April, 12 2016 2:46 PM

In recent weeks, Governor Rick Snyder has spoken to a variety of groups, describing areas of current focus for him and taking questions. This is something Mr. Snyder frequently did during his first five years in office.

But since the Flint water crisis fully erupted in January with the declaration of a state of emergency, such events have been sporadic at most with Mr. Snyder fully focused on Flint. Now the governor is making the rounds again.

Mr. Snyder hits on the same themes.

The governor discusses the tragedy of Flint and blames “career bureaucrats” whom he says took an overly technical approach in the Department of Environmental Quality to enforcing the federal Lead and Copper Rule. He says he has taken responsibility for the catastrophe because those employees worked for him.

At a time when one survey shows a rising number of Michigan voters think he should resign, Mr. Snyder pushes back against that idea head on.

“You don’t walk away from it,” Mr. Snyder told a gathering of township leaders at a Michigan Townships Association event in Lansing today. “You do something about it. And you put a focus on problem solving.”

He has said something similar at other recent events.

Mr. Snyder also has tried to remind those attending that Michigan’s economy is humming along nicely with the lowest unemployment rate in 15 years, consistent growth in employment, growing housing values and improvement in personal income. While the governor says there is more to do, especially for those who have not felt the growing economy in their lives, he also throws in a reference to the “Lost Decade” from 2000-09 when the state’s economy went into recession, somewhat recovered and then totally collapsed during the Great Recession.

Mr. Snyder then moves through his major non-Flint agenda items – Detroit Public Schools, infrastructure funding and the overall education system.

The new message seems to have a trio of objectives: Make the case he has a moral obligation to stay on the job to fix Flint and that he has a plan in place to resolve the water crisis, remind those in the rest of the state that Michigan’s economy is trending upward and emphasize he has an agenda that goes beyond just Flint.

When the first poll came out in January asking whether Mr. Snyder should resign because of the water crisis, a small minority said he should (29 percent). That number has grown substantially to 41 percent in March. Even as the economy grows, the percentage of Michigan residents saying the state is on the wrong track suddenly spiked to more than 50 percent.

Those are two numbers Mr. Snyder needs to stop in their tracks and quickly. His retooled message and renewed efforts to stump for it seem targeted to do so.

Relatives Flooding House Campaigns
Posted: April, 5 2016 4:05 PM

Family dynasties have long held sway in state politics, but the number of relatives seeking a seat in the Michigan House this year currently or formerly held by a relative is astonishing.

The deadline to file for the election is still two weeks from today and already 13 such relatives are running. This is not a new phenomenon, but in the term limits era it has become more common.

Almost 20 years into the term limits era, House seats have turned over no fewer than three times, in some cases more, and the usual farm team of potential candidates in a district – members of city councils, township boards, school boards and county boards of commissioners, etc. – has been strip-mined.

That means a relative of the current or former office-holder, with the attendant built-in name recognition, above average understanding of campaigns from working on their relative’s bids for office and head start with their relative’s lists of supporters has a big leg up.

The family going for a rare hat trick this year is the Clementes in the 14th House District in the Downriver suburbs of Detroit. Ed Clemente held the seat from 2005-10. His brother, Rep. Paul Clemente (D-Lincoln Park), has held the seat since 2011. Now with Paul Clemente unable to run because of term limits, his wife, Cara Clemente, has filed to run for the seat.

A win would put the Clementes right there with the Roccas (Sal, Sue and Tory) and the Stallworths (Alma, Keith and Thomas) as recent examples, all within the term limits era (though Alma Stallworth and Sal and Sue Rocca also served pre-term limits) as families with three separate members to hold the same seat.

Combined with the seven current members of the House related to a current or former legislator from their area likely to win re-election this year, that means there could be at least 20 members of the House in the 2017-18 term with such a profile, or 18 percent of the entire chamber.

Many of the relatives will be solid members of the House with others less influential, just as is the case with the other members lacking a blood tie to an immediate or recent predecessor. Just because someone won a seat mostly because of their name does not make them a bad choice. In fact, if they used the relationship to learn the finer points of politics and lawmaking, then they could be a better pick than the alternatives.

But having almost one-fifth of the House elected in large part because of their familial ties was clearly not one of the selling points of term limits, billed as ensuring a citizen-led Legislature with regular influxes of fresh blood.

The blood may be fresh, but increasingly the DNA is not.

A Surprise Encounter With Virgil Smith
Posted: March, 28 2016 5:06 PM

I was chowing down on a slice of pizza at the original Buddy’s Pizza at Six Mile Road and Conant in Detroit on Saturday when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned around and was shocked to see Sen. Virgil Smith (D-Detroit), who about two hours ago was led away by Wayne County sheriff’s deputies to the Wayne County Jail to spend the next 10 months as punishment for shooting up his ex-wife’s vehicle in an altercation that occurred last May.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” he said cheerfully.

I was so surprised that all I could blurt out was a “Ohmygod, what’s going on?” in response.

We chatted briefly Saturday, and not about his case. The last time I tried to speak to Mr. Smith in person was when he returned to the Capitol after his arrest and I and other reporters trailed him from the Senate lobby down two flights of stairs all the way out the front entrance of the building. I asked him maybe 10 questions about the incident and he never responded.

Mr. Smith, clad in a navy Detroit Tigers sweatshirt, was curious what I was doing in town. I was with my in-laws for the annual Easter weekend dinner at Buddy’s following the blessing of baskets at the Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hamtramck.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law both grew up in Hamtramck, and the church is just a few blocks south of Buddy’s, which began serving its famous square pizza in 1946 at the 6 and Conant location and is a classic Detroit restaurant institution.

That was pretty much the end of the conversation though when he welcomed me to the neighborhood for a second time, I asked if we were in the 4th Senate District, which he represents (for now). We were not, he told me, and that made sense as the 4th District wends its way more through the west side of the city.

Mr. Smith was still there, sitting with friends, when we departed, with about 40 hours of freedom remaining.

Dissecting Candice Miller’s Surprise Bid For Macomb County Office
Posted: March, 25 2016 2:58 PM

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller has an incredible knack for surprise campaign announcements.

On August 11, 1999, Ms. Miller, a Republican from Harrison Township and then the secretary of state who was widely anticipated to challenge then-U.S. Rep. David Bonior in 2000, sent out a news release declaring she had decided not to run. It was a huge blow to the Michigan Republican Party, which loathed Mr. Bonior and had intently recruited Ms. Miller to challenge him.

I can still picture the scene in the Gongwer office. John Lindstrom, then the lead reporter on the Michigan Senate, pulled the release off either the printer or fax machine, and walked into then-Gongwer Vice President Larry Lee’s office.

“Well, this is a kick in the ass,” John said to Larry, holding the release in front of Larry’s face.

Larry’s response? “Oh my.”

A similar scene played out Wednesday when a release rolled into our inboxes from Ms. Miller declaring she would run for Macomb County Public Works commissioner. That’s essentially the drain commissioner but with a snazzier title.

The immediate question was obvious. Does this increase or decrease the likelihood Ms. Miller will run for governor in 2018? Ms. Miller and her spokesperson would only say that she is focused on the public works commissioner race.

But in talking with people well-versed on campaign strategy -- and to be clear, they do not have any inside information as to Ms. Miller’s thinking -- they say there is no question this week’s events mean she will not run for governor in 2018.

The analysis is simple. If Ms. Miller planned to run for governor, upon exiting Congress in early January 2017, she would be unencumbered to immediately begin campaigning. She could travel the state and visit every Republican Party function and more from Niles to Erie to Sault Ste. Marie to Ironwood in preparation for an expected epic battle for the nomination with Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, none of whom has said they are running, but all either expected to do so or seriously entertaining the idea.

Instead, if she wins the public works commissioner job, she would have to stick to Macomb County and, you know, do the job to which she was just elected. Ms. Miller assuming that office and then launching a statewide gubernatorial bid, as she would have to do relatively early in 2017 would look bad, not to mention make the task of running for governor much more difficult by having less time to spend campaigning.

If Ms. Miller indeed has decided not to run for governor in 2018, that is huge. Her entrance into the race would have made it more difficult for Mr. Calley, and to be clear he already will have the same inherent difficulty any lieutenant governor has trying to succeed their governor, let alone the issues the Flint water crisis will present, and would have created an epic match-up with Mr. Schuette for the GOP nomination.

It also would have complicated Democratic hopes of winning the race. Ms. Miller’s strength in southeast Michigan, tremendous popularity and residual name recognition from her years as secretary of state from 1995-2002 would be formidable if she won the Republican nomination.

The sense I get from Democrats is they would relish taking on Mr. Schuette. Yes, he has significant strengths, the Democrats would acknowledge. But I think Democrats feel confident about one of their top potential candidates, like U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) or former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), matching up with Mr. Schuette for votes in vital Oakland County. Ms. Miller, however, would be very formidable in Oakland and make the Democratic path to victory much harder.

Keep in mind, of course, that trying to project the political atmosphere in 2018 is tricky, and all we can do at this point is look at how candidates match-up on paper in the context of today’s political environment. If Hillary Clinton is elected president this year, for example, it stands to reason that 2018 will be an extremely challenging year for Democrats nationally after 10 years in the White House.

And in the end, we simply don’t know what Ms. Miller intends to do.

I do know this much: If Ms. Miller wins the public works commissioner job and sometime in the late winter/early spring of 2017, an email rolls into our inboxes declaring she is running for governor, it won’t be the first time she has made our eyes widen and prompted “wows” with a campaign announcement.

Smith Situation Puts Senate In A Bind
Posted: March, 22 2016 10:41 AM

Clearly leaders in both parties in the Senate were hoping for a neat and tidy conclusion to a terrible embarrassment for the institution, the allegations that Sen. Virgil Smith shot up his ex-wife’s vehicle following an argument that escalated out of control between the two.

It is now clear the Senate will not get that neat and tidy conclusion.

The hope was that the legal process would play out and Mr. Smith would resign. A police report obtained by The Detroit News at the time of the incident, almost one year ago, indicated that Mr. Smith himself admitted to police that he shot up his ex-wife’s vehicle. What was more in doubt was the nature of the altercation between the two.

Mr. Smith’s ex-wife said Mr. Smith attacked her and beat her up. Mr. Smith’s attorney said his ex-wife tried to attack the woman Mr. Smith was with that night, and he fought her off and threw her out of the house.

Mr. Smith has now accepted a plea deal in which he agreed to resign and plead guilty to one of the felony charges, the damage done to his ex-wife’s vehicle when he shot it up. He would serve 10 months in jail, but the other charges -- felonious assault, domestic violence assault and battery and felony firearm – would be dropped.

So there’s no doubt any more. Mr. Smith has admitted to a felony, that he opened fire in his neighborhood on his wife’s vehicle.

But Wayne Circuit Judge Lawrence Talon greatly complicated the situation insofar as it involves Mr. Smith resigning. Mr. Talon refused to include a requirement that Mr. Smith resign as part of the plea agreement, and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has said it will withdraw the plea agreement if the court refuses to accept it.

There will be a March 28 hearing on this matter, but Mr. Smith has yet to resign – and why should he when he can continue to collect his taxpayer-funded paycheck?

So what happens if the prosecutor’s office withdraws the plea deal and the case proceeds to trial? This saga already has dragged the Senate through the muck for 10 months. A trial almost surely would extend the mess through most of this year.

In the meantime, the 4th Senate District essentially has no representation when it comes to the development of legislation. Mr. Smith still shows up to vote on the Senate floor, but has been stripped of his staff and committee assignments (though Senate-controlled staff remains to handle constituent matters). Estranged from his fellow Democrats, Mr. Smith provides support on procedural votes for the Republican majority. Other senators who represent Detroit have said they are picking up the slack.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) still say they anticipate Mr. Smith resigning.

But what if he does not? Will the Senate tolerate having someone who admitted to spraying his ex-wife’s vehicle with gunfire in the middle of his neighborhood continue to serve?

At this point, it is no longer a matter of letting the legal process determine the facts of what happened. That chapter has closed. The question of Mr. Smith’s guilt or innocence in the eyes of the court remains unresolved, but the Senate now has all the information it could need to force the issue with expulsion proceedings – if it wants. So now the question is simply at what point the Senate decides it no longer can tolerate Mr. Smith’s admitted actions.

The Sanders Upset And The Great Polling Disaster Of 2016
Posted: March, 9 2016 11:57 AM

I kept waiting for Hillary Clinton to pull ahead of Bernie Sanders last night.

Mr. Sanders had a lead, but the votes from cities like Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek and more had yet to be counted and with their large African-American voting populations – a demographic Ms. Clinton has carried with 80-85 percent of the vote in other states – it was just a matter of time. Or so I thought.

Finally, most of the results from Battle Creek were available on the great Election Magic website. Mr. Sanders was leading. Hmmmm. Then, the shocker. Mr. Sanders routed Ms. Clinton in Grand Rapids by 7,000 votes, taking more than 60 percent. At that point, it finally became real to me that Mr. Sanders could actually win this thing. And he did.

In this space last week, I wrote that it was “hard to envision” how Mr. Sanders could overcome Ms. Clinton’s overwhelming advantage with African-American voters. I have written that the election was Ms. Clinton’s to lose. To friends who asked what I thought would happen Tuesday, I was unequivocal. Ms. Clinton would win.

And that was not based on polling (and I’ll get to that in a minute), it was based on Mr. Sanders’ horrendous performance to date with African-American voters in almost every other state and Ms. Clinton’s dominance there. Mr. Sanders has won states with almost totally white populations. Ms. Clinton has won those that are more diverse. Michigan definitely falls in the more diverse column.

Explaining what happened last night is pretty simple. Mr. Sanders greatly improved his performance with African-American voters and maintained his dominance with Caucasian liberals.

Exit polls showed Ms. Clinton winning among African-Americans in Michigan 65 percent to 23 percent. That sounds really good, and it is, but in other states, like Georgia, she won 85 percent to 14 percent.

Mr. Sanders’ margin over Ms. Clinton was 18,350 votes.

The difference between winning 65 percent of the African-American vote Tuesday and 85 percent is 54,944 votes.

Game over.

It will take time to understand why that was. That explains the difference between winning and losing, but Mr. Sanders’ total dominance of outstate areas also played a huge role in the overall outcome, and one has to wonder if the Clinton campaign should have worked more parts of the state.

But this result served as (another) reminder of how wonderfully unpredictable politics and elections can be. Michigan used to have upsets in presidential primaries somewhat regularly (1972, 1980, 1988 and 2000), but it had been a long time since John McCain shocked George W. Bush in 2000 and this was a wake-up call.

Speaking of wake-up calls, what happened Tuesday should serve as one to the news-polling industrial complex that there are serious problems with public polling in this state insofar as it involves horse race match-ups. Following major problems in 2014 (the total misfire where the polls had Paul Mitchell running away with the Republican nomination over, ahem, now-U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar and some weird numbers in the governor’s race), Gongwer News Service has been more restrained in our coverage of polls.

They are still a piece of information to be covered, but not breathlessly, should not be overemphasized and must be put into context with other factors happening in the race.

Some surveys had Ms. Clinton up by more than 30 points, most by more than 20. At best, Mr. Sanders was within 11 points, according to one poll. The “best” poll appears to have been the Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research’s numbers showing Ms. Clinton leading 52 percent to 47 percent among likely Democratic voters.

Instead, Mr. Sanders won with a margin of 1.54 percentage points.

Polling is inexact, of course. There is a margin of error, after all, but that’s usually plus or minus 4 percentage points, not, um, 20.

There is still a lot of good, useful polling done in this state and by smart people. Polls provide important insight into what the voters think about a given issue or elected official. But there is clearly a problem with horse race polling in trying to determine the state of the electorate on who is leading in a race, especially in primaries, where the composition of the electorate is much harder to determine.

I bombed statistics in college, so what do I know. And pollsters admirably must always face the music. Their successes and failures are out there for all to see and judge.

But it should be time for reflection in the news world about how we cover polls on the horse race.

The Primary Is Finally At Hand, Here’s What To Watch Tonight
Posted: March, 8 2016 4:31 PM

It may not be the remarkable battle of four years ago between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for Michigan’s Republican presidential nominating delegates, but there is still plenty of intrigue and excitement to watch going into tonight’s presidential primary in this state.

While Michigan will not represent a key turning point in the march toward the 1,237 delegates needed on the Republican side, it marks an important moment in the evolution of the race.

Did the previously Teflon Donald Trump suffer damage in the past week, as suggested in his disappointing performance in Saturday’s primaries and caucuses? Or was that a blip? Can Ohio Governor John Kasich deliver on his vow to score better on his “home turf” in the north after a furious retail campaign effort in Michigan? How well organized is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who has made little personal effort in the state?

And for the Democrats, today is the first legitimate presidential primary their party has held in Michigan since 1992, lest we forget the 2008 mess in which the state party jumped the national party’s calendar and there was not a real campaign here.

Here’s what I’ll be watching, in no particular order:

1. TURNOUT IN THE STATE’S CITIES: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support among African-Americans is overwhelming. She is beating U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the states that have larger numbers of minority voters and losing those that are mostly Caucasian. Ms. Clinton has spent time in Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids. She’ll need strong turnout in those cities, and others, to deliver on expectations of a big win.

2. THE DEQUINDRE LINE: In terms of cultural political differences, the one separating Macomb and Oakland counties along Dequindre Road is second only to Eight Mile Road. There are signs that Mr. Trump is going to play well in Macomb County, whose voters love a political brawler with a big personality. If Mr. Kasich is going to come closer to Mr. Trump than expected, he needs to score well in Oakland County, whose voters tend more toward the Republican establishment mold and prefer a more genteel brand of politics.

In 2012, for example, Mr. Romney beat Mr. Santorum by 8.7 percentage points in Macomb. He won by 21.3 percentage points in Oakland.

3. UNIVERSITY TOWNS: Mr. Sanders’ strength among college students is well-known. Will those voters show up today? Students at Central Michigan University, Michigan State University and Western Michigan University are on spring break. Did they vote absentee? Are they home with their parents and possibly better able to vote because of Michigan law that requires they register to vote at the same address listed on their driver’s license? The answers to those questions are critical to the Sanders campaign.

4. OTTAWA, KENT AND ALLEGAN COUNTIES: This triangle in western Michigan is the core of the state’s evangelical Republican vote. Here’s where Mr. Cruz has to score well. Mr. Santorum ran very strongly here four years ago. It was no accident that Mr. Cruz’s first visit in months to Michigan late Monday night was to suburban Grand Rapids. What kind of inroads can Mr. Trump make here? Mr. Cruz has had problems with evangelical voters, his presumed base, bleeding away somewhat to Mr. Trump.

5. 15 PERCENT: On the Republican side, candidates must win 15 percent of the statewide vote to qualify for delegates. Based on the polling, Mr. Trump, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Cruz seem in good shape to cross this threshold. Mr. Rubio appears in serious jeopardy of missing it.

6. BORDER COUNTIES: All things being equal, Monroe, Lenawee and Hillsdale counties would be a battle between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz. The voters there are socially conservative and blue collar, and Hillsdale has a strong evangelical component. But those are counties that pick up Ohio network television affiliates and where the Toledo Blade has a strong following. Part of Mr. Kasich’s hope for a strong showing rests on scoring well in these areas.

7. BLUE COLLAR DEMOCRATIC SUBURBS IN DETROIT: Mr. Sanders has made a big push against Ms. Clinton on her support for free trade agreements, and she countered by attacking a vote he cast against emergency loans to save Chrysler and General Motors. What happens in cities like Hazel Park, Madison Heights, Dearborn Heights, Dearborn, Allen Park, Melvindale, Lincoln Park, Trenton, Westland, Garden City, Warren, Eastpointe and Saint Clair Shores – strongly Democratic middle class suburbs of Detroit – will reveal who won the argument.

Michigan Primary Lacking Juice Compared To Florida, Ohio
Posted: March, 3 2016 4:25 PM

Most of the presidential candidates are descending on Michigan, but there is not a whole lot of drama headed into Tuesday’s presidential primaries.

Oh sure, perhaps tonight’s Republican debate could produce a surprise and tilt the race in a different direction, but right now the contest is Donald Trump’s to lose. On the Democratic side, it’s hard to envision how U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) overcomes former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming advantage with African-American voters

The Democratic contest is not officially over, but Ms. Clinton has a substantial delegate lead on Mr. Sanders, and it will be hard for him to catch up though he has the money to stay in the race to the end. And as long as he keeps piling up delegates and winning some states, he probably will.

It is a big difference from four years ago when Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum fought a death match for the ages on the Republican side. There were not many delegates at stake, but Michigan became the optics fulcrum in the Republican nominating contest, and everyone knew it.

Mr. Santorum realized if he could topple Mr. Romney in Mr. Romney’s native Michigan, it would grievously wound the frontrunner. Mr. Romney realized losing could cost him the nomination, so the state was treated to a two-week all-out blitz by both campaigns and their supporters, culminating in a narrow win for Mr. Romney that began the process of putting Mr. Santorum away.

This year, on the Republican side, the turning point in the contest is now the winner-take-all primaries in Florida and Ohio on March 15.

Michigan awards its delegates proportionally, so unless something dramatic changes – and so far there is no sign of that – Mr. Trump will emerge with a win, continuing his momentum and padding his delegate lead.

If, for example, Mr. Trump takes 35 percent to 20 percent each for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and 15 percent for Ohio Governor John Kasich, then Mr. Trump would take about 23 delegates to 13 each for Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio and 10 for Mr. Kasich.

With Mr. Trump, according to The Associated Press’ delegate count, leading now with 319 delegates to 226 for Mr. Cruz, 110 for Mr. Rubio and 25 for Mr. Kasich, that won’t fundamentally alter the current trajectory of the race.

But should Mr. Kasich win his native Ohio and Mr. Rubio win his native Florida, that would mean 66 additional delegates for Mr. Kasich and 99 for Mr. Rubio. That would still leave them well behind Mr. Trump, but it could mean that Mr. Trump cannot reach the 1,237 pledged delegates needed to win on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention.

If Mr. Trump wins those states, he would potentially knock both from the race and be well on his way to the magic 1,237 threshold with only Mr. Cruz remaining to stop him.

National media reports already indicate millions of ad buys taking place in Florida, where polls show Mr. Rubio far behind Mr. Trump, with plans to bombard Mr. Trump with negative ads. Mr. Kasich is in better shape in Ohio, but the race is essentially a toss-up there, and Mr. Kasich will have to count on his strong organization to put him over the top.

Most Republicans watching the Michigan race say the only thing that really matters is getting to 15 percent, the minimum needed to qualify for delegates. So if Mr. Kasich were to fall short of 15 percent, then a 35 percent finish would get Mr. Trump about 27 delegates with Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio each taking about 16. No one would especially benefit, but Mr. Kasich would lose out significantly.

Mr. Cruz seems content to get his 15 percent to 20 percent and try to win other states. He released a campaign schedule through Saturday that puts him in five states, none of which are named Michigan.

So the candidates are here, stumping and campaigning, at least for a day or two between now and Tuesday. But the race is not really here. To find it, take I-75 south.

Gongwer Unveils Upgraded App For 2016 Elections
Posted: February, 24 2016 9:33 AM

Gongwer News Service is once again making available a smartphone and tablet app that provides easy-to-use information and analysis of this year’s elections, with new features, improved functionality and a lower price from the first edition that debuted in the 2014 election cycle.

The app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, offers exclusive Gongwer analysis of all seats up for election in the Michigan House, the state’s 14 U.S. House seats, the presidential race and all other statewide contests.

The app gives users on-the-go access to detailed candidate biographical information, with options to review primary races and then general election campaigns once those races take shape.

Users can also see which U.S. House and Michigan House races are expected to be the most competitive and the seats where one party has a slight or strong edge via the Analysis feature.

On each candidate’s page, users will see links to the candidate’s social media accounts, district maps, campaign websites and ways to contact the candidate, as well as biographical information. If that candidate has run for state or federal office from 2002 onward, the app also displays his or her performance in those elections.

Users also can use the “Key Races” function to focus only on the primaries and general election match-ups that are legitimately competitive.

NEW FOR 2016: a push notifications feature. Gongwer will periodically alert users when new information has been uploaded to the app as well as provide some news.

Another significant upgrade from 2014 is a new search function that allows users to find a specific candidate by name, hometown or counties represented in a given district. And Gongwer now offers its analysis of the overall race for control of the Michigan House in addition to the race-by-race analysis it previously provided.

New timestamps also will assist users in knowing when new information has been uploaded for a particular race.

As the campaign season progresses, and as dynamics change, Gongwer will update the app. Look for more candidates to be added to the app as they file leading up to the April 19 filing deadline. And Gongwer will update its analysis of the races regularly.

The app will update with organizational endorsements of candidates as those occur.

Look for live election results on the app March 8 for the presidential primary and special Michigan House elections as well as the August 2 primary and November 8 general election.

Users of the iPhone and iPad can download the iOS version from the App Store:

Users of Android devices can download the app from Google Play:

The app is available for just $6.99 – 30 percent less than the 2014 app cost.

Quality. Speed. Portability. The vital information you need on the 2016 elections in Michigan.

Download the Gongwer 2016 Michigan Elections app today.

In Trump, Michigan GOP May Face What Buried Democrats With Fieger
Posted: February, 23 2016 12:33 PM

Donald Trump has not sewn up the Republican presidential nomination, far from it from a delegate perspective, but he has built huge momentum and if the polling is to be believed in upcoming states with primaries and caucuses, he looks awfully difficult to stop.

That would give the Republicans a presidential candidate who is a celebrity with a history of obnoxious comments and is a complete turnoff to vast swaths of the electorate who cannot possibly imagine him holding high executive office yet stunned party elites by winning the nomination through stoking anger and unleashing the furies.

It sounds a lot like what happened in 1998 when flamboyant attorney Geoffrey Fieger slugged his way to the Democratic nomination for governor, leaving his Democratic opponents helpless before uncorking a series of offensive and outrageous statements about Republican Governor John Engler’s family tree as well as his children, which I won’t rehash in detail. Suffice it to say that if you are a candidate for governor and are insulting your opponent’s children, you’re doing it wrong.

Mr. Fieger’s candidacy was a disaster for the Michigan Democratic Party. Mr. Engler took more than 60 percent of the vote and Democrats lost control of the House to Republicans, losing six seats overall, as well as the Michigan Supreme Court. This occurred despite a good year for Democrats nationally.

So if, at some point this spring and Mr. Trump obtains the necessary pledged delegates to prevail on a first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, or if he has to wait until the convention itself to clinch the nomination, where does that leave Michigan Republicans, who if they lose control of the House will see a six-year halcyon period of total Republican dominance of state government come crashing to an end?

They almost certainly will put on a brave face, much as most Democrats did the morning after Mr. Fieger won the gubernatorial primary.

Looking back at the coverage from that day, the spin from top Democrats is hilarious in retrospect.

The emphasis was on how Mr. Fieger had motivated nontraditional voters and had harnessed the anger in the electorate and would do the same in the general election against Mr. Engler.

Again, this sounds very familiar.

Mr. Fieger spoke of having launched a movement that would sweep the state.

Where have we heard that before, but for the entire country?

Democrats insisted their voters were so motivated to defeat their arch-nemesis, Mr. Engler, that they would come out in droves. There is a parallel there to what Republicans are saying about how their voters who loathe Mr. Trump would respond because of their antipathy to the favorite for the Democratic nomination, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But in 1998, Mr. Engler carried Bay, Genesee, Ingham, Muskegon and Washtenaw counties, which were (and still are) solidly Democratic. Mr. Engler made a point of thanking the voters of Genesee County when he met with reporters the day after the election.

There was one Democrat in Gongwer’s coverage at the time who early on publicly warned of the potential for disaster for the party inherent in Mr. Fieger winning the nomination, with the probability of losing the House. We’ll close with the late, great Democratic operative Ken Brock, whose thoughts surely are shared among some Republican strategists grappling with the increasing likelihood of a Trump nomination.

Mr. Fieger's nomination may be the catharsis the party needs to reorient itself, Mr. Brock said then, "but it's a hell of a price to pay if he's such a drag on the ticket."

Areas To Consider For A FOIA Revamp
Posted: February, 16 2016 1:51 PM

The pressure to end the exemptions for the Legislature and governor’s office in Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act is building in a big way in the midst of the Flint water crisis, and with a key legislator saying he is drafting a bill to do so the idea could actually see some serious consideration.

But there are many other areas in the 1970s-era FOIA that warrant consideration for an update.

There are two major areas in the law beyond the question of whether the Legislature and governor’s office should be exempt ripe for review – whether and how much governments should be able to charge compensation for having their employees respond to FOIA requests and the use of a one-size-fits-all timeline for governments to respond to those requests.

Government bodies must provide a response to a request within five business days and can ask for an extension of up to 10 additional business days.

The problem here is the law treats a simple request for a small document the same as one for thousands of pages of material. So a government can potentially take three weeks to release something that it could have handled in a day or it can be asked to produce records in three weeks when it understandably needs more time to pull together the records, vet them for exemptions and compile them.

There was an effort in the previous legislative term to address the cost issue and it succeeded in limiting what governments could charge for copying, ending the practice of some of charging 40 cents or more per page. But the labor is where the real costs get generated, and it’s why virtually every reporter can share a story about a government seeking tens of thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of dollars as compensation to process a FOIA request.

There is a section of FOIA that says, “A search for a public record may be conducted or copies of public records may be furnished without charge or at a reduced charge if the public body determines that a waiver or reduction of the fee is in the public interest because searching for or furnishing copies of the public record can be considered as primarily benefiting the general public.”

Public bodies do receive a number of FOIA requests from individuals with a proprietary interest, those seeking information on their competition.

That’s different from requests from the news media, where the overwhelming number of requests stems from pursuit of stories to inform the public about the workings of government.

In recent years, I have always put this section of the law into my FOIA requests. It almost always gets ignored.

To the credit, I suppose, of the Department of Environmental Quality, it was actually up front and just outright rejected the suggestion in a recent request I made.

“Although a majority of the DEQ FOIA requests pertain to records that may be considered as primarily benefitting the general public, the DEQ does not waive, reduce or exempt the fee solely on the basis of benefit to the public,” the response said. “The DEQ must utilize our monies and resources, entrusted to us by the taxpayers, in the most efficient manner possible to carry out our mission. The DEQ Special Projects FOIA Coordinator has denied your request for a waiver of fees.”

News organizations have the resources to pay FOIA charges, mostly, though depending on the size of the organization there are informal thresholds when the organization will push back.

But what about members of the public? Governments must waive the first $20 of a FOIA fee for those on public assistance or demonstrating they cannot pay because of indigency.

For starters, that $20 – unchanged since the law was first enacted in 1976 – would be $83 today adjusted for inflation. Plenty of people in Flint interested in obtaining records about the water crisis could benefit from modernizing that number.

But for requests that run into the hundreds of dollars or more, the waiver, even if adjusted for inflation, will mean nothing for those who qualify for it. And what about those who don’t qualify for the waiver and don’t have a few grand lying around to obtain the information?

The question ultimately boils down to whether a price should be put on public information. Otherwise, public information is only public for those with the resources to pay for it. Yes, governments have to expend resources to respond to FOIA requests, in the time of staff as well as paper and occasionally materials.

Is access to information about their government part of what residents fund with their taxes like police, fire protection, schools, prisons or is it a fee-for-service like paying for an inspection, using the courts or paying gasoline taxes for using the roads?

No, A Senate Bill Does Not Ban Sodomy (Michigan Long Has Done So)
Posted: February, 9 2016 11:11 AM

It started Monday with some Internet memes mocking Michigan, something about the state newly banning anal and oral sex.

Then, this morning, a friend from Florida emailed me with a link to a website I had never heard of claiming a bill that passed the Michigan Senate, SB 219*, would ban sodomy in the state, asking me if this was really happening. Then I began seeing Facebook friends posting the story, either to express outrage that the Senate would pass such a law or incredulous at the gullibility of some people.

I can’t tell exactly where this originated, but let’s get this out of the way quickly.

SB 219* does NOT make new law criminalizing sodomy in Michigan.

That’s because Michigan law has criminalized sodomy for more than a century.

Under the law, it is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison for anyone who commits an "abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal." That wording has been interpreted to include anal and oral sex by either gay or heterosexual couples. It also criminalizes bestiality.

That law was rendered null and void by a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring such laws unconstitutional, but the Legislature has never removed it from the books.

So why the confusion, and what does SB 219* do anyway?

The bill is part of a package of bills designed to protect animals from cruelty, in this case by prohibiting someone from owning an animal for at least five years as part of a sentence when convicted of certain crimes against animals.

The bill restates the anti-sodomy/anti-bestiality subsection in the law because under the bill that would become a crime leading to the prohibition on owning an animal for five years.

Some websites have claimed the bill adds “mankind” to the statute. That is false. If the language was new, it would be added in bold, capitalized letters. The word “mankind” has been in the law going back to the 19th century.

What is interesting about the bill though is it does grammatically clean up the anti-sodomy/anti-bestiality subsection, going from “Any person who shall commit” to “A person who commits” and so on. That is pretty typical housekeeping in almost any bill.

But the bill leaves the word “mankind” in the law even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said that part of the law is unconstitutional. Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), the bill sponsor, has told several of these websites taking out that word would have scuttled the bill, and he did not want that to happen.

USA Today reported almost two years ago that of the 14 states that had anti-sodomy laws on the books when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, only two have struck them from their laws since then.

There was an effort in 2003 after the court ruled to remove the law from the books in Michigan, but it went nowhere. Then-Rep. Leon Drolet, a Republican who is now openly gay but at the time was not, circulated a bill to strike the law and met considerable resistance when he went looking for co-sponsors.

I recall one House Republican member at the time, who was hardly a raging conservative, telling me on a not for attribution basis that supporting the bill would be tantamount to political suicide. The fear was how opponents would caricature it politically, and indeed Mr. Drolet’s opponents ruthlessly used the bill against him for years to come.

So in the final analysis, two things have not changed: Michigan’s anti-sodomy law and the idea of repealing it remaining politically taboo.

Following Iowa, A Look Back At The GOP’s Mackinac Conference
Posted: February, 2 2016 4:29 PM

Iowa has voted. And amid the celebrations among supporters of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and the lamentations of those backing Donald Trump, and, well almost everyone else on the Republican side, it seemed worthwhile to go back four months to the Michigan Republican Party’s Mackinac Conference and see how things have changed.

The most obvious standout is this: What a complete fluke it was for Carly Fiorina to land on the Island during the best two-week stretch of her campaign and captivate GOP activists there only to quickly lose all momentum and begin the slide to what will likely be an exit in the not too distant future.

I can remember some activists saying that no matter what, Ms. Fiorina had secured her place as at least the party’s vice presidential nominee with the way she had knocked Mr. Trump off-stride and developed a presence about her. She had the dining room in the Grand Hotel hanging on her every word and got the most enthusiastic response of the five candidates in attendance.

There was the massive, spontaneous throng that greeted her arrival at the ferry docks. She and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township) hit it off and Ms. Miller endorsed her a few days later.

Iowa, with its religious, socially conservative Republican electorate, was never seen as friendly turf for Ms. Fiorina, but she ended up at the back of the pack with 2 percent after having risen as high as third in the Real Clear Politics polling average just after the Mackinac Conference at 10.3 percent.

In New Hampshire, after the Mackinac Conference, the Real Clear Politics polling average put Ms. Fiorina narrowly into second place in New Hampshire at 14.3 percent. A long slide soon followed and now she sits in seventh place at 3.8 percent. Nationally, she went from third place at 11.8 percent to an afterthought at 1.8 percent.

How did the other participants in the conference fare?

Ohio Governor John Kasich put a ton of time and effort into the Island. He skipped Iowa and has put his resources into New Hampshire, where he has gotten some traction and has been battling for second. Nationally, however, he has never been able to move beyond the low single digits.

Mr. Cruz’s performance fit his campaign to date. Nothing flashy, just mobilizing his supporters, delivering his conservative, anti-establishment stump speech and moving on. At the time, he had yet to break through and was struggling with his potential supporters going to Mr. Trump. By November, he was on an upward trajectory, wooing away supporters of Ben Carson and eventually some of Mr. Trump’s.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) won the Island’s straw poll for the second straight conference, but has never really gotten traction.

Then there is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He arrived on the Island still with some hope as the top choice among establishment Republicans. And clearly many of those on the establishment side in Michigan were really hoping he could electrify the activists. He gave a good, but not great speech and eventually was overshadowed by Ms. Fiorina.

His polling has cratered nationally since the conference and now he has to hope for a revival in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The other two top finishers in Iowa, Mr. Trump and Mr. Rubio, did not attend the conference.

Did Michigan’s Republican activists get the chance to see their party’s next nominee in September on Mackinac Island? It is still a long ways to go to Cleveland and the Republican National Convention, but at this early read Mr. Cruz looks like the only one of the five with a plausible shot.

Water Coolers At State’s Flint Building Another Credibility Blow
Posted: January, 29 2016 5:57 PM

The bleeding continues for Governor Rick Snyder’s administration when it comes to the Flint water crisis.

No, Mr. Snyder did not personally order up water coolers with purified water in them for the Flint State Office Building a year ago even as his Department of Environmental Quality and Flint water officials were downplaying the significance of a carcinogenic chlorine byproduct in the water that required public notification.

At least, Mr. Snyder told WWJ-AM today he had no knowledge that water coolers had been placed on each floor of the building as an alternative in direct response to the presence of TTHM in the water beyond federal thresholds. And it strains credulity to think the governor of the state would get down the weeds low enough to be ordering up some Absopure, or whatnot, for an office building.

The Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which manages state property, handled the request, and there’s no reason to think it went anywhere beyond the DTMB’s Facility Services and Administration section, which is many levels removed from anything where the governor has direct involvement.

But this is a terrible look for the state, with its employees working in Flint getting purified water for months before the state conceded there were serious problems with the water and began mobilizing to provide bottled water and filters to residents.

Let’s just say Flint residents have little use for hearing much more from Mr. Snyder about him not knowing about something happening in the middle to lower reaches of state government a la the Legionnaire’s disease outbreak situation. The reaction from the #FlintWaterCrisis hashtag on Twitter on Thursday was uniform in declaring Mr. Snyder had ordered up the water for the office building.

There’s no evidence of that, but what this revelation definitely does raise anew is the question of whether the left hand knows what the right hand is doing in state government.

Someone at DTMB made the decision after getting the notification from Flint of the presence of TTHM in the water that it was only the right thing to do to provide state employees with a purified option to the drinking fountain at the Flint State Office Building.

And based on the documents and emails by Progress Michigan, which disclosed the existence of purified water at the building, there was a conversation between someone at DTMB and the DEQ about the situation in January 2015.

Did anyone at any point consider the possibility that if the water was enough of a concern to bring in water coolers for the state office building that maybe it was time to reassess what to do about the rest of the city? Did anyone in that building, even as Flint’s water crisis exploded in the summer of 2015, think about the ramifications of state employees getting purified water as the rest of the city moved into a full panic about the tap water? Did it occur to the DEQ that if it couldn’t even persuade its fellow state workers at DTMB that the water posed no immediate threat that maybe that wasn’t a tenable position for the rest of the city?

So it’s another round of bad headlines for the governor. And these ones cut deep because it portrays the state as taking care of its own on the downlow while publicly reassuring Flint residents and businesses the water was safe.

Sorry Cindy, Todd, There’s A Genuine Crisis To Cover Now
Posted: January, 26 2016 4:47 PM

Thanks to ABC’s “20/20,” former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat re-entered our lives Friday.

I have not yet watched the show’s one-hour look at how their extramarital affair and cockamamie attempt to manipulate the public into dismissing any eventual allegations about them carrying on with each other ended their political careers. Oh, I DVR’d it and will watch eventually. Two Capitol press corps colleagues were interviewed for the show, and if nothing else, I’d like to see what they had to say.

But I could not bring myself to watch it Friday, literally and figuratively. Literally because I was still putting to bed the Gongwer report for the day in the wake of an incredible influx of major news on one of the most momentous stories to hit Michigan in years, the Flint water crisis.

Figuratively, I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat had not self-immolated this year whether maybe more news coverage would have happened sooner on Flint.

It was not just the period from when The Detroit News broke the story about Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat on August 7 to Mr. Courser’s eventual resignation and Ms. Gamrat’s expulsion on September 10 that consumed a massive amount of our reporting resources at Gongwer.

It was from the time that rumors began to mount of an affair in the spring that most of the Capitol press corps began working this story, trying verify it. Oh, the time and energy spent trying to figure out what happened at the Radisson Hotel Lansing, scene of an altercation between Mr. Courser, Ms. Gamrat and Ms. Gamrat’s husband whose specter rivaled the fabled but never proven wild party at the Manoogian Mansion in Detroit.

We had meetings trying to figure out strategies on how to confirm the story, various sources were contacted and it went on and on until finally the News got the goods and broke the story, and good for them, because it was a heck of a story, one any reporter would love to break.

But thinking back on all the time and energy to report a story that while fascinating, salacious and significant in the sense that it led to just the fourth-ever expulsion of a legislator, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat had not destroyed themselves.

Maybe we would have sensed the seriousness of what was happening in Flint more quickly. It was in July when reports of lead in the water first started to surface and then those reports intensified in late August and early September.

Ron Fonger, the excellent Flint Journal reporter, has been on this story from the beginning and exhaustively reporting it going back to the early complaints about taste and smell, long before the lead angle. But beyond the hometown Journal, the key reporting came from Curt Guyette, the former Detroit Metro Times reporter who became the investigative reporter for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, and Lindsey Smith of Michigan Radio.

It really was not until September when the Flint water crisis began to register on my radar screen once people like Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) began making public requests of the state to act. Things moved quickly once Doctor Mona Hanna-Attisha declared lead levels had risen in the blood of Flint children and by then we were, finally, fully on the story.

Had we and others taken note of the reporting in July and built upon it sooner, maybe the state would have realized sooner than September 28 that it had grievously erred in its assessment of the water’s safety. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

This hurts on a personal level. I interned at The Flint Journal in 1997, and it was an enormously rewarding experience. I have fond memories of the city and its environs.

So to see Todd and Cindy claiming a few more seconds of fame was a stark reminder of what really matters.

Republican Backlash To Anti-Snyder Fury Appears Building
Posted: January, 19 2016 12:39 PM

Ever since the Flint water crisis exploded in September and escalated in December, Republicans have had little choice but to stand on the sidelines and watch Governor Rick Snyder get pilloried.

It is hard to defend the indefensible, and the task force he appointed to look into what went wrong pointed squarely at the Snyder administration, specifically at the Department of Environmental Quality.

Mr. Snyder ultimately has only himself to blame for the dysfunction in the Department of Environmental Quality under the director he appointed and the mindboggling communications strategy for two of his departments to attack, belittle and scoff at worries about lead in the water. He will also have to explain why he waited three months to take actions like calling up the National Guard and sending teams of people door-to-door to distribute bottled water and filters.

Now, however, as the story goes national, with Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tearing into Mr. Snyder and Democratic activists starting the hashtag of #ArrestGovernorSnyder on Twitter, some Republicans are signaling enough is enough, that the attacks have gone too far, and are rallying to Mr. Snyder’s defense.

In recent days, some Republicans have begun recirculating on social media a column written in October from The Detroit News in which former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, now the emergency manager for the Detroit Public Schools, denies any fault in the switch to the Flint River and pins the blame on local officials who supported switching Flint from the Detroit water system to a new authority.

That is a hotly disputed point. Flint’s city council cast an advisory vote backing the move to the Karegnondi Water Authority, drawing water from Lake Huron via a pipeline still under construction, but never voted on using the Flint River as an interim source. Still, many Flint officials hailed the switch to the Flint River, including Mayor Dayne Walling, as the city reclaiming its own destiny.

Nonetheless, one post of Mr. Earley’s column garnered a slew of likes from well-known Republicans, including some GOP legislators who vented about the invective directed at Mr. Snyder.

Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona), in sharing the post, said: “I wanted to share this article with everyone. The Legislature is watching closely as the facts surface regarding the Flint water issue. I ask everyone to use caution with what you believe. Many are using this issue as a fear mongering tool inciting emotional reactions for political gain.”

Also within this dynamic, Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) posted, without further comment as they say, a 2014 news story featuring Flint officials almost gleeful with excitement at the prospect of switching to the Flint River as a temporary source. Lt. Governor Brian Calley posted it as well, though he said he did so as a way to explain why the switch to the river occurred, not to deflect responsibility after some criticized him on comments about the post.

One of the great debates in this crisis is to what extent the existence of an emergency manager resulted in the decisions that culminated in lead going into the drinking water.

Democrats have said it was instrumental, that the decision to use the Flint River as an interim source was a pure cost-savings move made by the emergency manager instead of paying the Detroit system what it wanted for another year. As already noted, Republicans have said it is more complex than that, that many Flint officials also preferred to use the river rather than pay millions the city did not have to stay on the Detroit system.

Then there’s Mr. Snyder’s bipartisan task force, which in its preliminary findings said the central blame in the debacle goes to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for failing to ensure corrosion control treatment of the more corrosive river water. Had the water been treated properly, the lead service lines would not have corroded and leached lead into the water, regardless of the decision to use the river.

There’s also the Legionnaire’s outbreak, not (yet) conclusively linked to the use of the river, although some experts have said it is highly possible. Reporting from The Flint Journal shows the city of Flint refused to turn over information to the Genesee County Health Department, which was investigating the outbreak.

Did the stonewalling come from an edict passed down by the state-appointed emergency manager or was this a product of city employees acting on their own and essentially telling the county to mind its own beeswax? That is unclear. The city’s mayor, Dayne Walling, resumed power in April 2015 and has said he was made aware of the Legionnaire’s worry a month earlier. He could have disclosed the problem to the public, but did not.

The state had some culpability in this too. For some reason, the data showing an outbreak did not make its way up from the departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services to the Executive Office.

Mr. Snyder is under siege. From the public. From Democrats. From Democratic presidential candidates (!). From the #ArrestGovernorSnyder crowd. From newspaper editorials. But there is a group of Republicans, and maybe others, out there who think the governor is getting more than his fair share of the blame, and they are getting more vocal.

Whether that support can shore up the governor against the flood of fury rolling in against him remains to be seen.

WKAR’s Possible TV Demise Stirring Worries
Posted: January, 5 2016 1:20 PM

The potential for Michigan State University to put up for auction the spectrum space used by the Lansing area’s Michigan Public Television station, WKAR-TV, should attract the attention of those with an interest in government and politics as well as those who enjoy quality programming.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon has been given the authority by the university’s board of trustees to decide whether MSU should continue to participate in the process of potentially putting WKAR-TV’s spectrum space up for auction via the Federal Communications Commission. Ms. Simon must decide whether to keep WKAR in the process by January 12 although the university could still pull out prior to the auction taking place even if it decides to remain eligible.

Ms. Simon told WKAR-FM (the radio station, which would not be affected by the auction) on “Current State” last month that the school could fetch as much as $207 million at auction for giving up WKAR’s spectrum space. That would mean no more WKAR-TV on Channel 23 over the air in the Lansing region, nor would there be a spot for WKAR in cable and satellite packages.

Ms. Simon has said the university, which houses WKAR-TV in its College of Communication, Arts and Sciences building, would intend to continue the programming WKAR-TV now produces but instead distribute it online, positioning for what is a growing movement away from traditional cable and satellite television services in favor of streaming services like Sling, Hulu and Netflix.

The big program in question with this situation is “Off the Record,” the more than 40-year-old mainstay for state government and politics junkies, hosted by Tim Skubick. Full disclosure: I am an occasional panelist on the program.

From Ms. Simon’s comments, it sounds like the university has every intention of continuing programming like “Off the Record.” And for years, WKAR has posted “Off the Record” online Friday afternoon, hours or even days before it airs on Michigan Public Television stations, so in that sense, switching to an Internet model would be an extension of what already is happening.

Ms. Simon also told “Current State” that if the university does sell WKAR-TV’s spectrum space, then there would be a commitment on the part of television service providers to carry PBS programming in some other way. Perhaps that could include “Off the Record.”

Still, the possibility of WKAR-TV vanishing from television would pose difficulties, considering its prime viewership is in the Capitol region and the regular issues with getting WTVS-TV, the Detroit Public Television station, to stick with a regular timeslot for the program instead of moving it around during the weekend as it has done periodically through the years or pre-empting it in favor of other programming.

And the move would leave those who cannot afford a cable/satellite/other video service or Internet completely in the dark for programming from WKAR.

MSU hosted a public comment forum on the fate of WKAR on Monday and plans a second one for 7 p.m. January 11 in Room 147 of the Communication, Arts and Sciences building.

Fair Michigan Could Force Groups’ Hands If It Gets Signatures
Posted: December, 30 2015 9:57 AM

One of the bigger splits to roil liberal politics in Michigan in some time continues to fester with Fair Michigan set to soon begin collecting signatures for a ballot proposal to enshrine protections against discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation into the Michigan Constitution.

Leading groups that advocate on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, as well as elected leaders who are gay, have resisted the idea of a ballot proposal, spearheaded by Dana Nessel, the attorney who won the DeBoer v. Snyder case that legalized same-sex marriage in Michigan.

Publicly, the two sides have disagreed sharply. Privately, several sources say, this is war.

An attempt to bring the two sides face to face recently at the Jim Toy Community Center did not change the fundamental dynamic that the factions are dug in. Groups like Equality Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan have urged Fair Michigan not to go forward with the proposal, not without more discussion on whether a ballot proposal is the right strategy.

Ms. Nessel and the Fair Michigan camp have said they will go forward regardless. Ms. Nessel sees a parallel in the lack of support some of the same groups voiced for the DeBoer case.

The Fair Michigan view is the LGBT community needs protection now. Two men or two women can legally marry now, but could be fired, kicked out of their rental housing or denied the ability to patronize a business as a result. The polling is positive, and the chances of convincing the conservative Republican majorities in the House and Senate to act are less than zero.

The view from Equality Michigan, the ACLU and others is that a campaign could put LGBT persons, especially transgender people, at risk of violence once the opposition goes heavily negative. Current polls could collapse quickly once attacks like the ones used to defeat a similar measure in Houston start (opponents claimed men labeling themselves transgender would stalk women’s restrooms), they say. And there is a reluctance to put LGBT rights up for a public vote.

But if Fair Michigan succeeds in collecting the needed minimum 315,654 signatures of registered voters to put the proposal on the November ballot, it is hard to imagine how Equality Michigan, the ACLU and the entire LGBT community, along with allied groups, could do anything other than fully embrace the proposal and join the campaign for its passage.

A divided LGBT community without all groups and key donors aboard would almost surely lead to a massive, devastating defeat of the proposal.

As much as many in the LGBT community clearly want no part of this proposal, in several months, they will probably have to confront a choice between sticking to their principles or gritting their teeth and going all-in for the proposal to avoid crippling it before the campaign truly starts.

The Surprise In Wyant’s Resignation Is Timing
Posted: December, 29 2015 4:10 PM

From the moment the Flint water crisis first truly erupted as a statewide issue in late September, there was an undercurrent throughout the Capitol community that there was no way Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant would survive the ensuing fallout.

No, Mr. Wyant was not personally the one who failed to ensure proper corrosion controls were in place when Flint, under the direction of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched to the Flint River as its drinking water source, based on all the information now publicly available. The more corrosive river water, improperly treated, resulted in lead from old service lines leaching into the water, causing elevated blood lead levels in children in some locations.

But as director, Mr. Wyant is captain of the ship and, as an appointee of Governor Rick Snyder, the one in position to be held accountable. At a time when confidence in the DEQ has taken a major hit, and trust in the department in Flint is exceptionally low, the quickest answer is a change in directors.

Yet Mr. Wyant did seem to be hanging on. He survived the initial storm, and three months into the crisis, it seemed if Mr. Snyder was going to make a change, it would have occurred.

In an October 19 interview with the Detroit News Editorial Board, when Mr. Snyder was asked why Mr. Wyant still had a job, Mr. Snyder said Mr. Wyant had taken action on his staff, reassigning a key employee. Mr. Snyder also said the first people being addressed were those who had the knowledge and expertise on the issues.

“But Dan Wyant’s done a great job in responding to all of that. So I appreciate all of Dan’s hard work,” Mr. Snyder said then.

So what changed? Mr. Snyder’s task force sent some interim findings to the governor today. What those findings were, we do not yet know (though we should know yet today).

Whatever the task force found, it apparently came too close to Mr. Wyant for him to survive.

Projected Loss Of U.S. House Seat Underlines Redistricting Drama
Posted: December, 22 2015 3:41 PM

New population estimates for Michigan from the census suggest the state will again lose a U.S. House seat in the next reapportionment, and it only highlights just how intense the battle for control of the government going into the 2021-22 term will be.

So far, the town halls and discussions that the League of Women Voters have sponsored about redistricting reform – moving redistricting out of the Legislature to another venue, like an independent commission – have led to no discernible momentum toward an actual ballot proposal. If a group wanted to pursue a constitutional amendment for the November 2016 ballot, it would have until early July to submit signatures, so there is still time, but some type of concerted, organized effort will have to develop in the next couple months.

Unless and until that happens, the Legislature and governor will redraw the maps in the 2021-22 term following the 2020 census.

Democrats are in a massive sinkhole in the Legislature. To recap:

  • Republicans control the Senate 27-11, the most lopsided domination a party has had in the Senate in 62 years (and it might as well be 28-10 since estranged Democratic Sen. Virgil Smith functionally is voting with the Republican caucus);
  • Republicans will have controlled the Senate for 35 consecutive years when the Senate next stands for election in 2018;
  • Republicans control the House 61-46 (it will be 63-47 after March 8 special elections) and have held the House for 16 of the previous 22 years; and
  • Republicans hold nine of Michigan’s 14 U.S. House seats to five for the Democrats.

If there is no ballot proposal to alter who controls the power of the pen in redistricting, it will put that much more pressure on Democrats to win the governorship in 2018.

It also puts more pressure on Democrats to win as many open state House seats in 2016 as possible. Those who win their first term in 2016 will likely be safely in office through 2021-22, serving in their third and final term. The 2016 election offers the chance for both parties to bank some competitive seats and make their task in 2020 easier.

A Democrat in the Executive Office would assure that a plan cannot emerge from the Legislature. Even if Democrats are able to regain control of the House for the 2021-22 term, the Republicans, barring some type of historic, unprecedented shift in the 2018 elections, will still run the Senate.

A divided government would kick the redistricting question to the Supreme Court, and while the court likely will still have a majority of Republican justices in 2021-22, how they would handle the first court-led redistricting in 30 years is an open question. The court has nowhere near the partisan edge that it did in the previous decade (its decision to appoint two judges from Democratic backgrounds and two from Republican backgrounds to the reconstituted Court of Claims being a case in point).

Nonetheless, the loss of a seat in the U.S. House is a DefCon 1-type situation. And the possibility of watching Republicans again pit Democratic incumbents against each other in primaries, as happened in 2001 and 2011, only further underscores how important redistricting will be in 2021.

The Revised FOIA Law Has Yielded No Substantive Change
Posted: December, 15 2015 3:08 PM

Six months into life under revisions to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, the conclusion is that the changes have made no discernible difference in how public bodies charge the public for public information.

Those public bodies – local governments, school districts, universities, community colleges, state departments and agencies and authorities – that had long viewed the FOIA as a way to shield themselves against releasing public information or charging so much money that only those with means could access the information, continue to do so.

First, a shout-out to those governments that take the view the public has a right to information about the government they fund at little to no charge and with a quick turnaround time.

But they were not the target of PA 563 of 2014. The law, which took effect July 1, limits public bodies to charging no more than 10 cents per page. Many public bodies charged huge per page fees – 25, 35, 40 cents per page or more – when compared with the 8 cents per page at the local copying shop.

And another change allows a person filing a FOIA to file suit against the public body for how much it wants to charge for processing the FOIA request.

But the major source of charges in the FOIA law remains labor. Public bodies often will put requests through legal counsel, which means they can charge an enormous per hour cost to scrutinize the paperwork for any material that is exempt under the FOIA.

Notice I said “can charge,” not must charge. That’s right, under the FOIA, public bodies are under no obligation to charge one penny for releasing public information. The law even contains this clause: “A search for a public record may be conducted or copies of public records may be furnished without charge or at a reduced charge if the public body determines that a waiver or reduction of the fee is in the public interest because searching for or furnishing copies of the public record can be considered as primarily benefiting the general public.”

Needless to say, many public bodies see that non-binding portion of the law as, in fact, non-binding.

Not only does the FOIA law allow public bodies to charge the cost of whatever the hour wage is of the employee working on the request, it permits charging for the value of the employee’s health benefits when worked out to an hourly basis.

Again, the law does not require governments to charge for labor and include the cost of fringe benefits in the calculation, it only allows it.

I have had two recent FOIA requests come back with cost estimates of $200,000 and $40,000, respectively.

That’s absurd.

The idea that finding requested public records, vetting them for exempt material and copying them should be considered part of a public officer’s duties and thus part of the salary and benefits they already receive is a foreign concept in many public bodies.

Sunshine Week, the week when journalists stress the importance of freedom of information and open meetings laws (popularly known as sunshine laws), is usually not until March in Michigan.

But it won’t take another three months to realize that the revisions to the FOIA law have not fundamentally altered what the public has to pay for public information.

What The Dems Hope Comes Of The Ex-Staffer Lawsuit Against House
Posted: December, 8 2015 2:37 PM

If it seemed Monday like Michigan Democrats were ecstatic that the fired former staffers of ex-Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat filed a whistleblower protection lawsuit against the House, naming Speaker Kevin Cotter and multiple current and former staffers for retaliating against them for reporting wrongdoing, well, that’s because they are, in fact, ecstatic.

This is not about who wins or loses the lawsuit, the House or Keith Allard and Ben Graham, on the question of whether Mr. Cotter and his staff assented to Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat initiating Mr. Allard’s and Mr. Graham’s firings because they blew the whistle on a rat’s nest of wrongdoing or because, as the House and the former legislators contend, they were bad employees.

It was Mr. Allard and Mr. Graham who reported the use of official taxpayer-funded resources used for political purposes in the joint office operation Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat employed, as well as the legislators’ extramarital affair and their attempt to mislead the public about the affair with a phony email.

This is about what happens if Mr. Allard and Mr. Graham can persuade a judge at the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids not to dismiss their case, which the House will surely file a motion seeking, and let them proceed to trial with all the discovery rights to evidence that entails.

This is about the possibility that Mr. Allard and Mr. Graham will get their hands on emails, text messages, memos and all other types of documents written by Mr. Cotter, other GOP lawmakers and top House Republican staffers and file them with the court, making public documents the public now has no legal right to access.

This is about the possibility for Mr. Allard’s and Mr. Graham’s attorney to put Mr. Cotter and his current and former staffers under oath about what happened.

It would be a grand fishing expedition, and Democrats would dearly love for it to unearth information that would politically damage the House Republicans and aid the Democratic bid to claim control of the House in 2016 elections.

A settlement, of course, would shatter those Democratic dreams. And it was something of a surprise to see Monday’s filing of a lawsuit come to fruition. There was some skepticism in Democratic circles that a lawsuit would ever be filed because a settlement would come long before things could go that far.

Documents and sworn testimony may, in the end, prove nothing or everything with regard to the lawsuit and Mr. Allard’s and Mr. Graham’s ability to win their case.

But if there are documents out there that could harm House Republicans, the one sure winner in the case is the Democrats.

Three Months Until Michigan Primary, And, Yeah, No One Knows What Will Happen
Posted: December, 1 2015 1:25 PM

Ah, Thanksgiving. The turkey. The stuffing. The gravy. And a chance to talk politics with relatives.

One big question around the dinner table last week was the state of the presidential election, namely the Republican side. The consensus among a group of relatives whose political leanings stretch from strongly Democratic to reliably Republican was that no one has any idea who will win the GOP nomination for president.

Welcome to the club.

Michigan seems to be tracking the national climate on the Republican nomination and with some candidates, maybe several, likely to be out of the race by the time our March 8 primary arrives, it’s even more difficult to know what will happen here than in the states with the first nominating contests.

There are five candidates with at least some level of organization in the state: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ohio Governor John Kasich, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. But again, there are plenty of scenarios that could lead to any of these candidates leaving the race before Michigan arrives.

Donald Trump continues to enjoy strong support in the polls nationally, but will that translate when it comes time for Republican voters to show up at the polls or caucus sites to cast ballots? There is still some sense that Mr. Trump’s support includes people who will not show up to vote. Nate Silver has an interesting analysis – of course he does – on why some of Mr. Trump’s polling lead is suspect.

There is nary a hint of any Trump organization in Michigan.

Ben Carson remains hugely popular among Republican voters and is very much in the mix. His mellow style has gained him support. But there’s not much in the way of any major Michigan backing.

So far, Mr. Bush has assembled the most notable Michigan endorsements, followed by Mr. Kasich, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio. Overall, however, most major elected Republicans in the state have yet to pick a candidate.

Indeed, the confusion about the race extends far beyond the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Booth Newspapers Rises Again In State Government Communications
Posted: November, 24 2015 11:20 AM

Governor Rick Snyder’s naming of longtime journalist Meegan Holland as his new communications director cemented something that has been developing for some time now – many key state communications officials have significant experience in the old Booth Newspapers chain.

Now known as MLive, Booth was the former umbrella organization covering the Ann Arbor News, Jackson Citizen-Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Grand Rapids Press, Flint Journal, Saginaw News and Bay City Times.

Ms. Holland held a variety of leadership roles as a Booth editor over the years. She’ll be working closely with Dave Murray, the newly named press secretary for Mr. Snyder, who spent his career mostly with the Flint Journal and Grand Rapids Press as an education beat reporter.

In the departments, Chris Gautz handles the spokesperson role at the Department of Corrections. He had a stint at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot (and later worked at Gongwer News Service). Bob Wheaton, a former reporter at the Flint Journal and editor at the Citizen-Patriot, is a spokesperson at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Jeff Cranson, a former longtime deputy metro editor at the Grand Rapids Press, heads up communications now for the Department of Transportation. Ed Golder, a former editorial page editor at the Press, handles communications for the Department of Natural Resources.

Katie Bach, a former Flint Journal community news editor, is the media affairs manager at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. And Gisgie Davila Gendreau, a former reporter in the Booth Lansing Bureau, is the communications director for the Department of State.

Of the eight, five went straight from Booth to the state while the other two worked other jobs before landing in state government. Some of this is a sign of the terrible turbulence that continues to roil the newspaper industry.

The situation with Booth from 2009-11 was dire. The Ann Arbor News discontinued its print publication. Several other newspapers in the chain reduced print publication days. Once columnist Peter Luke left the Booth Lansing Bureau, which in the 1980s and 1990s and still into the 2000s was a journalistic force in this city, the chain had no state Capitol presence for a period.

Thankfully, Booth, upon rebranding as MLive, revived the Lansing Bureau and hired good people to restore a proud tradition. Still, it has not been all sunshine and rainbows since then. MLive laid off Ms. Holland and another talented journalist in the Lansing Bureau in cost-cutting moves about a year ago.

When that happened, Ms. Holland said she had no regrets and it was time for new adventures. She’ll be in good company with her fellow former Boothies as she gets started.

A Michigan Native Busted Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley
Posted: November, 20 2015 2:31 PM

There’s a compelling read available today in Politico featuring the first-person account of Zack Stanton and how he turned over evidence to ABC News of former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley’s lewd and sexually charged instant message exchanges with congressional pages.

Mr. Stanton, an Anchor Bay native who went to Michigan State University, worked on the 2002 gubernatorial campaign of Democrat David Bonior, the 2010 gubernatorial campaign of John Freeman and then was a speechwriter and policy advisor in the U.S. House, working with U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak).

But before those duties, he worked in the now extinct congressional page program, which placed young people in clerical roles, bringing documents to and from the House floor.

Without trampling on the piece too much, the basics are as follows. One of Mr. Stanton’s fellow former pages provided him with transcripts of instant message exchanges between that page and Mr. Foley after Mr. Foley’s office denied burgeoning allegations of wrongdoing.

That page did not want Mr. Stanton to share the information with the media, but Mr. Stanton decided to do so anyway and then was horrified when ABC News, after he insisted it redact any mentions of the page’s name, missed one and the name went public.

Confronted with the transcripts, Mr. Foley immediately resigned, but Democrats, who were on their way to taking control of Congress, had the final piece of ammunition necessary and won the House and Senate.

Mr. Stanton signaled he decided to out himself as the source in the wake of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s guilty plea to charges he covered up financial transactions that were hush money to prevent someone from revealing damaging information about him. National news reports have said the damaging information was allegations he committed child sexual abuse while a high school wrestling coach.

Mr. Hastert’s speakership imploded in large part because several U.S. House Republicans told him of allegations that Mr. Foley was coming onto pages and he apparently had done nothing. At the time, this was seen as incompetence. But Mr. Stanton – and others – now say they wonder if Mr. Hastert feared someone would expose his past if he went after Mr. Foley.

Mr. Stanton’s Facebook page was full Friday of friends, and many Michigan Democrats, commending him for doing the right thing and bringing the Foley scandal to light.

Blanchard Opines On Governors Trying To Stop Syrian Refugees
Posted: November, 19 2015 3:39 PM

It is hard to believe, but January 1 will mark the 25th anniversary of when former Governor James Blanchard’s tenure as governor ended.

If you were born in the mid- to late-1970s (as I was), Mr. Blanchard was the first governor to register on the radar screen. I have no memory of William Milliken as governor (I was 7 when his term ended).

Mr. Blanchard has had an interesting post-gubernatorial career. He was of course U.S. ambassador to Canada, and then there was his ill-fated 2002 comeback attempt to win the governorship in which he finished third out of three candidates in the Democratic primary. He has had a long run at the national mega-law firm, DLA Piper, in government affairs. He was a key voice of support in the new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

And he has remained an involved figure in Michigan politics. He got personally involved in the 2013 battle for Michigan Democratic Party chair and was on hand at the state party convention in Detroit to back Lon Johnson over Mark Brewer.

Mr. Blanchard was back in the spotlight Wednesday when his friend and political ally, former President Bill Clinton, received an award from Mr. Blanchard’s new institute at Michigan State University, the former governor’s alma mater.

Afterward, Mr. Blanchard was asked about so many governors rushing this week to try to stop Syrian refugees from entering their states in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Lebanon. Governor Rick Snyder has been less strident, but helped start the push when he said his administration would halt its efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Michigan unless and until the federal government reviewed its vetting procedures.

“I think they probably jumped too quick,” Mr. Blanchard said. “I think there needs to be a more thoughtful policy to protect our people. It’s always important not to overreact to things – sometimes your first information is the wrong information.”

But Mr. Blanchard hastened to add he was hesitant to second-guess those decisions.

“I’m not a governor. I’m no longer the governor of this state or any state, and it’s their call,” he said. “I’ll have to look at the information they have in which they base their decision. So I’m not about to critique anybody, but as a general rule, you don’t want to overreact too quickly to anything that goes on, you need to really be thoughtful about it.”

The key now, Mr. Blanchard said, is to work with U.S. allies to address both terrorism and the refugee crisis.

“This problem, this challenge is going to go on for a lot longer,” he said.

So in honor of the former governor’s return to the limelight this week, we’ll close with this ad from his 1986 re-election campaign in which he took an astonishing 68.1 percent of the vote. The graphics alone make this worth your time.

Tax Breaks To Lure Data Center Set Up Intriguing Switch For State
Posted: November, 17 2015 5:05 PM

One of Governor Rick Snyder’s signature initiatives since taking office was the elimination of tax credits to attract new businesses to Michigan in favor of a lower, flatter, simpler tax.

Remember, the mantra “simple, fair and efficient” Mr. Snyder used to sell the new Corporate Income Tax in 2011? At the time, there was a question as to what phrase he used more, that one or “relentless positive action.” Four years later, there’s no contest, “RPA” has prevailed over “SF&E.”

But now the prospect of the company Switch spending eleventybillion dollars to locate a new data center in Gaines Township, a Grand Rapids exurb, has raised the possibility that Michigan might dip its toe back into the tax breaks business. I kid about the investment figure only because the firm has claimed a $5 billion investment if it locates there, but this Detroit Free Press story suggests that is more the product of the value of the technology equipment located there than in jobs or a greater presence in the region.

Switch, however, has said that if it is going to locate in Michigan, it will need exemptions from the sales, use and property taxes.

Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to provide those exemptions (HB 5074*, HB 5075* and HB 5076* as well as SB 616*, SB 617* and SB 618*). The excitement among west Michigan legislators is palpable. And the House Tax Policy Committee plans to take up the legislation in early December, so there is some energy behind the move.

But what will Mr. Snyder do?

There’s no getting around it. Michigan attracting a business to the state by agreeing it does not have to pay sales, use and property taxes would be completely at odds with the governor’s business attraction philosophy.

Mr. Snyder has so far deferred questions about the project to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the MEDC sidestepped Monday any comment about the legislation, saying only it appreciates the public excitement surrounding the project but it does not discuss pending legislation regarding potential business attraction deals.

The benefits of agreeing to the tax break are obvious – more jobs in Kent County, and coveted high-tech ones to boot. Mr. Snyder could add it to his “Michigan is the comeback state” narrative.

But there are negatives. As a data center, it’s not clear yet how much sales tax and use tax Switch would collect. But if it purchases the huge parcel and “pyramid” building once used by Steelcase, as discussed, that would be a big chunk of lost potential property tax revenues for Gaines Township, Kent County and any other taxing jurisdictions.

And then there is the precedent-setting potential. How will Mr. Snyder and the MEDC respond the next time a business interested in locating to Michigan expresses an interest in tax credits and abatements? So far, using the new cash incentive program has worked reasonably well. There have been no stories of businesses fleeing the state after another state wooed them with a more lucrative tax break.

To this point, Mr. Snyder and the MEDC have been able to say Michigan treats everyone the same – no new tax breaks, just pay-as-you-go cash incentives. One wonders, though, if Mr. Snyder signs the Switch tax breaks into law, how that will play going forward.

Bloomberg PAC Ad Against Schuette Feels Like First 2018 Shot
Posted: November, 9 2015 11:56 AM

All year, the 2018 gubernatorial election has felt much closer than it actually is, thanks to the intense Democratic interest in recruiting strong candidates to win back the office, four big names in the mix on the Republican side and the general trend in politics to obsess about the next election.

The latest volley into this maelstrom of speculation is the ad from Independence USA PAC, the political action committee controlled by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, attacking Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette for joining the lawsuit with other state attorneys general against the new federal clean power rule.

Mr. Schuette is widely expected to run for governor in 2018. So is Republican Lt. Governor Brian Calley.

Mr. Bloomberg is a close ally of Republican Governor Rick Snyder, and Independence USA PAC aired millions of dollars’ worth of ads supporting him in Mr. Snyder’s 2014 re-election campaign. Mr. Snyder and Mr. Schuette are not close, and if Mr. Calley runs, it’s impossible to imagine Mr. Snyder doing anything other enthusiastically supporting Mr. Calley.

Now Mr. Bloomberg’s PAC is going to spend presumably a decent chunk of money accusing Mr. Schuette of siding with polluters and taking more than $150,000 from them for his campaigns. The ad closes with a charge that Mr. Schuette is “putting polluters and his campaign contributors ahead of protecting Michigan families.”

Officially, of course, this is all about the federal rule to curb carbon pollution.

But it doesn’t take much imagination to see this as a first shot against Mr. Schuette, who would start out in a very strong position to win the Republican nomination if (when) he runs for governor. A group like Independence USA PAC doesn’t drop potentially a couple million worth of negative ads on someone without evaluating long-term political considerations.

How the ads play out though, will be interesting.

All things being equal, Mr. Schuette probably would prefer not to have a group tearing into him on televisions across the state as in the pocket of polluters.

And yet, given the fierce opposition among Republican voters to just about anything from President Barack Obama’s administration – and certainly the rule to curb the use of fossil fuels has few supporters in the GOP base – Mr. Schuette has the ability to spin this to his advantage.

Mr. Bloomberg is a Republican, but about as left-leaning a Republican as still exists and is not exactly a fan favorite among Republican voters. So already Mr. Schuette is firing back about an out of state billionaire who wanted to tax pop while mayor of New York siding with the Obama administration’s effort to force states to impose burdensome rules on local businesses.

That’s a pretty decent play to Republican voters. And assuming Independence USA PAC isn’t planning to stay on the air more than a month or so, any hit to Mr. Schuette’s favorability should be temporary.

Still, while the ad itself mostly will be here today and gone tomorrow, one aspect of it that has to have grabbed the attention of everyone with a rooting interest in the 2018 election is what it might mean for Independence USA PAC’s role in a Republican primary. If this is in fact a first volley and not an isolated move, the possibility of it dropping millions into that race will seriously reshape the finances involved, both for the candidates running and their backers planning to assist from the outside.

Unpacking The Roads Proposal Headed To Snyder’s Desk
Posted: November, 4 2015 1:21 PM

It is alternately being called a triumph, a cave, financial time bomb, a sign that the legislators can make the difficult decisions on the big issues and evidence that the state government is broken.

More than four years after Governor Rick Snyder first called on the Legislature to raise annual revenues for roads by $1.2 billion, it finally sent him a package that will raise $600 million in new revenues and – depending on if future governors and legislatures agree – eventually dedicate $600 million out of the state’s General Fund toward roads.

Four months ago, the chances of any substantive action on roads this year seemed remote. The Senate had passed a substantial tax increase in July and the House passed a plan largely dismissed because it had little new revenue and appeared vehemently against a significant tax increase. Minority Democrats, eyeing the 2016 House elections, were content to lob grenades at Republicans, and Governor Rick Snyder was resolute about the need for substantial, real new revenue.

So what changed?

The first big change occurred July 23 when a group of unions popped a surprise with a ballot proposal to raise the Corporate Income Tax from 6 to 11 percent and dedicate the $900 million in new revenue to roads. Republicans, vehemently opposed to that idea, now had to consider the added consequences of inaction giving more impetus to the proposal. The proposal will continue, and how the Legislature’s action will affect its prospects in November 2016 is as yet unclear.

Then there was the shift among House Republicans in August to come off its resistance to much in the way of new revenue. Most of the House Republican Caucus decided to support a 600/600 plan much like the one that eventually passed, but at the time they could not marshal the votes, and Governor Rick Snyder warned that $600 million from the General Fund would cause problems without action to relieve other budgetary pressures.

That launched a new phase, one of bipartisan negotiations involving the top Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate as well as Mr. Snyder. This went on for many weeks only to collapse on the question of how much income tax relief to provide as an offset and how to provide that relief.

Once that happened, that seemed to impress upon Republicans a few realities:

  • The only way road funding was going to pass the Legislature was if they alone provided nearly all the votes;
  • The road funding debate was going to drag on and on until something, anything was done; and
  • They had reached the point of wanting to get this issue, which has sucked all the air out of the Capitol on other issues, off the table.

Into this environment came an interesting skirmish between Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) and House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant). Mr. Meekhof called for Mr. Cotter to put the bipartisan plan up for a vote in the House, and Mr. Cotter – realizing it would likely get soundly defeated – said no. Instead, Mr. Cotter revived the 600/600 framework and did what he was unable to do in August – find the necessary votes to pass it.

The exact dynamics of what persuaded enough of the House Republicans who balked in August to come aboard are not totally clear, but it isn’t hard to imagine some rallied around Mr. Cotter in the face of Mr. Meekhof publicly calling for a vote on a different plan and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) teeing off on legislative Republicans. There also was a sense that by using a vehicle registration fee model, Republicans voting yes might avoid some of the wrath that would have instead come from raising the gasoline tax. I don’t really understand that analysis, but that’s what many said the feeling was.

With the House Republicans passing $600 million in new revenue, Mr. Snyder’s resistance to using $600 million from the General Fund began to dissipate. And Mr. Meekhof, who had held back from publicly embracing a 600/600 plan to avoid jamming legislation down the governor’s throat, began to move toward embracing it (the Senate passed in July an 800/700 plan after all).

Mr. Snyder’s requests were met, to phase in the General Fund contribution over three years starting with the 2018-19 fiscal year, meaning the $1.2 billion in new funding will not be fully in place until the 2020-21 fiscal year (the second budget that will be proposed under the next governor). An income tax rollback also was delayed until 2023 and made less likely to occur under a complicated formula.

In the end, this plan was nowhere near what Mr. Snyder wanted when looking back on his past proposals. He wanted $1.2 billion in predictable, ongoing new revenue, be it from the gasoline tax, higher vehicle registration fees, or some combination of the two. He got half of that. Yes, the General Fund money is statutorily committed, but the road folks need only ask any of the other interests whose programs rely on the General Fund what happens to funding when the economy dips and takes revenues with it, even when it means changing a statute.

What’s that old saying about “half a loaf” being better than none?

The Latest Jam On Road Funding
Posted: October, 27 2015 4:50 PM

This morning, prior to the Senate convening for its 10 a.m. session, where it was expected to vote on a road funding plan, the mood among those who have worked for years to raise funding for roads was downright optimistic.

And this from a group that has come so close so many times over the years to its goal only to see the Legislature play the part of Lucy and yank the football away just before Charlie Brown can kick it. But there seemed real reason for optimism.

But Lucy struck again today.

The problem in a nutshell is that the new revenue in the plan House Republicans passed last week comes heavily from raising vehicle registration fees, and the Senate would prefer instead for most of the new revenue to come from an increase in the gasoline tax.

The pro-registration fee side sees it as a more stable source of revenue because as vehicles get more fuel efficient – or rely on energy sources other than gasoline – gasoline tax revenue based on cents per gallon purchased will continue to decline. It also can be labeled a fee instead of a tax. Theoretically.

Those favoring the gasoline tax hike approach say it goes much easier on motorists’ cash flow. Instead of paying all of the vehicle registration fee hike at once, when renewing registrations annually, motorists would just pay a little bit more with each fill-up and considering that the price of gasoline zig-zags more than a squirrel crossing the road, motorists would barely notice, if at all. Additionally, raising the gasoline tax ensures that out-of-state motorists pay more.

By noon it was readily apparent the votes were not there in the Senate. And with House Republicans basically telling Senate Republicans they were uninterested in big changes to the plan, which left the Senate adjourning just before 4 p.m. today with a decision not to vote and no signal as to what will happen next.

This much is clear though. This is the closest the Legislature and governor have been in the four years since Governor Rick Snyder made more funding for roads a top priority to actually agreeing on something.

Even if that thud emanating from the Capitol just before 4 o’clock was the sound of Charlie Brown’s back hitting the ground.

The Road Funding Debate And Michigan State’s Miraculous Win
Posted: October, 19 2015 2:35 PM

Here’s a new name to add to the list of those who would tell Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature to finally find a solution to substantially increase funding for roads: Saturday’s hero of Michigan State’s stunning win over the University of Michigan in football, Jalen Watts-Jackson.

Mr. Watts-Jackson, in case you just returned from a cave with no access to the outside world, is the Spartan who corralled a fumble on a botched Michigan punt attempt, raced 38 yards to the end zone as time expired, winning the game and suffering a fractured and dislocated hip in the process.

Mr. Watts-Jackson’s father was recounting the aftermath to the Detroit Free Press, which included this detail: “Watts-Jackson screamed in pain as the ambulance hit a bump on the way to the hospital … but his pain level went down dramatically when he arrived and doctors reset the hip.”

So there you have it. Mr. Watts-Jackson, already in unspeakable pain, forced to endure further agony thanks to Michigan’s lousy roads.

If it’s any consolation to him, his heroics probably have many people in East Lansing wanting to rename streets after him today.

The Presumptive Parole Fight: Schuette Vs. Everyone
Posted: October, 15 2015 3:12 PM

There’s something you don’t see every day.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, launches a go-for-the-jugular campaign to kill House-passed legislation – which has the support of Republican Governor Rick Snyder, the House Republican leadership and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, also a Republican – ensuring the parole of those prisoners once they meet their minimum release date if the Department of Corrections determines they are unlikely to commit another crime upon release.

Following a week of daggers from Mr. Schuette, labeling the legislation “early release,” “catch and release” and “autopilot parole,” House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) felt compelled to rebut the criticism in a statement defending the legislation, as did Mr. Snyder. Mr. Meekhof took it a step further, calling Mr. Schuette’s comments “over the top” and personally confronting the attorney general about the tone of his remarks.

And while “everyone” for the purposes of the headline on this blog means the top Republican leadership in state government, Mr. Schuette does in fact have the support of many county sheriffs and prosecutors. There was a news conference in metro Detroit on Monday with law enforcement leaders, and Mr. Schuette is making a point of noting the bipartisan roster of the opposition.

So to be clear, Mr. Schuette is not on an island on absolute basis.

But for him to be so viscerally attacking something supported by the Republican governor and Republican legislative leadership is extraordinary.

Already Mr. Schuette’s efforts seem to have had an effect in the Senate, where Mr. Meekhof said he heard considerable concern from his fellow Republican senators about the bill.

When Mr. Schuette ran for re-election in 2014, he called himself “Michigan’s voice for victims.” The events of the past week underline that theme.

The supporters of HB 4138* are almost slack-jawed in their amazement at Mr. Schuette’s attacks. Michigan still incarcerates more than 40,000 people and spends $2 billion on corrections. The presumptive parole bill is smart corrections policy, they say. Everyone released will have served at least his or her minimum sentence and have been judged likely to succeed on the outside. The state can save money without putting the public at risk, they say.

Here’s the (political) problem.

That took 58 words to explain.

“Voice for victims” and “tough on crime” are three words each.

The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending released a poll showing the public squarely on the side of presumptive parole and turning against long-term incarceration as an answer to crime.

Assuming that polling data is accurate, the question going forward is whether those numbers are soft and vulnerable to the type of negative messaging launched by Mr. Schuette and law enforcement.

How the Senate handles the legislation should provide the answer.

Flint Crisis Comes On Eve Of Mayoral Election
Posted: October, 13 2015 4:24 PM

Flint’s water crisis became a major story roughly one month from the city holding elections for mayor and city council, and the question is whether voters will determine that Mayor Dayne Walling bears some blame even though the major decisions regarding the issue came during a period of a state-appointed emergency manager when Mr. Walling had no authority.

Mr. Walling’s challenger, political newcomer Karen Weaver, has long been seen as an underdog, but she is pressing the water issue with the November 3 election looming ever closer.

Pockets of the city have shown lead levels in the drinking water above the federal threshold for remediation, and children have shown rising levels of lead in their blood. Water pumped from the Flint River contained a lack of sufficient corrosion control, allowing lead from old service lines and welds to leach into the water.

There is something of an opening for Ms. Weaver, if difficult, based on the primary results. Mr. Walling took 44 percent of the vote to 30 percent for Ms. Weaver. The other candidates captured the remaining 26 percent. So the obvious strategy for Ms. Weaver, a clinical psychologist who has held leadership roles at children’s health centers, is to unite the anti-incumbent vote and hope that gets her to the proverbial 50 +1 for victory.

Mr. Walling doesn’t need to pull as many votes from the supporters of the two candidates eliminated in the primary, but the crisis surely has cut back his time to campaign.

He has most of the key endorsements in the race, both in business and organized labor. He is well-known, having first won the mayor’s post in 2009 and losing a bid a couple years before that to an incumbent. Mr. Walling also is known as a Flint native who made good, so to speak, becoming a Rhodes Scholar and fulfilling his longtime goal of settling in the city and playing a major role in trying to turn it around.

And while Mr. Walling was not the one who issued the order to use the Flint River as the temporary source of water for the city, which decided to leave the Detroit system in favor of joining an authority to build its own system with other communities, he was the one who pushed the button – and there are photos of it – to shut off the water from Detroit and begin the switch to the river.

At the time of the switch, Mr. Walling is quoted in The Flint Journal about how it marks Flint reclaiming control of its water system and says the water will prove a reliable source for drinking.

If Ms. Weaver has any money, there’s more than enough material there for a devastating mail piece.

Two months ago, this race was a snoozer. Now it is the race to watch in the state in three weeks.

Flint Water Catastrophe Roils Snyder Administration
Posted: October, 9 2015 12:06 PM

In politics, just about any event or issue can be spun to favor one side or the other.

But there is no spinning what has happened in the last 17 months in Flint when it comes to its drinking water and the ill-fated decision to save the financially strapped city money by leaving the Detroit water system and instead pulling water out of the Flint River.

Not when it comes to excessive use of a cancer-causing chemical to disinfect the water. Not when it comes to rashes.

And certainly not when it comes to lead.

Lead in the drinking water at levels beyond federal thresholds requiring remediation, and in three schools no less. Lead in the drinking water of one Flint school at six times – six times! – the federal threshold for action. Data showing that some Flint children have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Only one word applies: disaster.

It’s a disaster for Flint’s people, especially its children, who are most susceptible to the consequences of ingesting lead. It’s a disaster for the city, trying to rebound – again – from a major financial crisis and economic troubles and persuade people to live and work there.

And it’s a disaster for Governor Rick Snyder, whose Department of Environmental Quality and to a lesser extent Department of Health and Human Services downplayed, dismissed and in one case initially mocked mounting evidence of a lead problem in Flint’s water. It also was an emergency manager appointed by Mr. Snyder to run the city who made the decision to switch from Detroit water to the Flint River with insufficient controls to prevent corrosion in the pipes, allowing lead to leach into the water from service lines.

Thursday, in Flint for the first time since the crisis erupted, Mr. Snyder refused to acknowledge mistakes. The closest he came to saying so was when he said he expected an “after action report” on the handling of the situation would show “opportunities” where different things could have occurred. The governor also sought to emphasize that he and his administration acted promptly to secure the funding to put the city back on Detroit water ($6 million from the state, $4 million from the Mott Foundation and $2 million from the city).

But that all seems to have landed with a thud. The Flint Journal, in a scathing editorial, called it a “another slap in the face” to ask the city to pay one penny given that it was Mr. Snyder’s emergency manager who made the call to switch water sources.

The state is now getting much more aggressive. It will pay for testing the water in all Flint schools, something Mr. Snyder and the DEQ have said federal rules do not require. DHHS staffers will work on determining how much lead children may have ingested.

The denials and dismissals of data from sources outside the state have been replaced with thanks, praise and respect.

But the fallout from this crisis will reverberate for some time to come – for Flint, its children, perhaps all children in the state if the state begins testing the water in all schools for lead, and also for the governor, who can expect a lengthy review in the months ahead about who knew what, when they knew it and what they did about it.

An Off-The-Radar Election Worth Following
Posted: October, 6 2015 5:11 PM

Macomb County tends to get all the attention when it comes to vicious campaigns, but an underrated corner of the state when it comes to go-for-the-jugular elections is among northwest Wayne County Republicans.

While most of Wayne County is Democratic turf, the populous, generally well-to-do communities of Livonia, Plymouth, Plymouth Township, Northville and the part of Northville Township in Wayne County still lean Republican. Let’s include Canton Township in the equation too, even though it is more southwest than northwest Wayne County and is trending Democratic, because it still has a strong Republican following. The intraparty brawls among Republicans in primaries in this region are a sight to see.

Ordinarily, a township supervisor primary would not warrant much attention in state political circles.

But the race for the Republican nomination in August 2016 for Plymouth Township supervisor should pique the interest of politicos. In the township, winning the GOP nomination will make the victor the strong favorite to win the general election.

The contest pits the incumbent, Shannon Price, a former Wayne County commissioner and longtime Republican operative appointed to fill a vacancy in the supervisor post, against Rep. Kurt Heise, a three-term Republican member of the House.

There are a few different layers to this race. One, the township board chose Mr. Price for the post over several other candidates, one of which was Mr. Heise. And Mr. Heise was none too pleased. The Plymouth Observer reported that Mr. Heise said the board “put politics ahead of people” and appointed Mr. Price ahead of “other candidates with superior public and private sector backgrounds.”

And when Mr. Heise announced his bid last week, he immediately came out swinging at Mr. Price.

There’s another interesting subtext to this race. Prior to becoming supervisor, Mr. Price had been on the staff of Attorney General Bill Schuette as a constituent relations director.

In the past year, one of the more notable Republican vs. Republican fights at the Capitol has pit Mr. Heise, the chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee, against Mr. Schuette on the subject of reforming sentencing. Mr. Heise is a key backer of bills to release prisoners at their first eligible date for release, provided that Department of Corrections staff determines the inmate has a high probability of success once released.

Mr. Schuette is a vehement opponent of those bills, and Mr. Heise fired back recently that Mr. Schuette’s approach may look good on a bumper sticker, but fails to address the issue.

When Mr. Price sought the appointment to the post, he had the help of some heavy-hitters in Republican politics with former Attorney General Mike Cox and Rep. Laura Cox, who live in Livonia, stumping for him. One wonders if the primary will see a repeat.

Then there’s the matter of Mr. Heise’s House seat, the 20th District. Don’t be surprised if that turns into a proxy battle between the Heise and Price forces unless there’s someone out there who can bridge the gap and run above the fray. That House seat, while it leans Republican, was won by a Democrat in 2006 and 2008.

So perhaps the Democrats will be keeping this seat on their board as one of their longshots in the event the Republican internecine battle damages their eventual nominee. Or at the very least, they can pass the popcorn and enjoy the show.

For Exiled Ex-Legislators, Offenses Preclude Usual Tributes Upon Death
Posted: September, 30 2015 1:34 PM

When a former member of the Legislature dies, the House, Senate, or both depending on where the legislator served, will approve a glowing memorial resolution and send it to the surviving members of the lawmaker’s family. The flag above the Capitol is lowered to half-staff.

It is a solemn occasion. The members of the House and Senate will stand in a standing vote to cast their votes for the resolution instead of a voice or recorded vote.

But in the past year and a half, two former legislators – one expelled by the House, the other who resigned just before the Senate was to vote on expelling him – did not receive the usual tributes upon their deaths.

Former Rep. Monte Geralds, whom the House expelled in 1978 after being convicted of a felony, died in April 2014 at the age of 79.

Usually, when a former legislator dies, it becomes widely known publicly because of the lowering of the flag above the Capitol and the subsequent memorial resolution. We only recently became aware of his death after former Rep. Marie Donigan, who represented roughly the same area as Mr. Geralds did during her tenure from 2005-10, sent a message to let us know amid all the news about the expulsion of former Rep. Cindy Gamrat and resignation prior to certain expulsion of former Rep. Todd Courser.

A few days after Ms. Donigan contacted us about Mr. Geralds, former Sen. Henry Stallings died. Mr. Stallings resigned in 1998 minutes before the Senate was to vote on expulsion following his conviction on a felony charge and generally troubled tenure.

Governor Rick Snyder ordered the flags lowered in the Capitol Complex in memory of Mr. Stallings, which triggered a few raised eyebrows in the Gongwer offices given the circumstances under which Mr. Stallings resigned from the Senate. But the executive order Mr. Snyder issued in 2013 on flag honors makes clear that flags will be lowered in the Capitol Complex for one day upon the death of a former member of the Legislature. There is no provision enabling the bypass of lowering the flags.

I contacted Amber McCann, the spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) to see if the Senate would undertake the usual memorial rituals for a deceased former member, and the answer was no. Ms. McCann said the circumstances of Mr. Stallings’ departure from the Senate had led to that decision.

So then I began to wonder about the House and Mr. Geralds. Was the House aware that he had died in 2014? Unlike Mr. Stallings’ death, there was no notable news coverage of Mr. Geralds’ passing, and while Mr. Stallings had served more recently and stayed in the public eye a bit with several subsequent failed bids for office, Mr. Geralds was almost 40 years removed from his time in Michigan politics.

House Clerk Gary Randall said, yes, the House was aware that Mr. Geralds had died and decided not to adopt the usual memorial resolution and perform the usual tributes because he had been expelled.

Mr. Randall said he was not aware of the House having bypassed the usual memorial for a former member in the past although he thought possibly it might have happened once for a member who resigned just before an expulsion vote. He said he approaches such situations similar to an honorable discharge or dishonorable discharge from the military. And that goes for those members who resign with expulsion imminent, he said.

The only time I can remember angst about a memorial resolution was for former Rep. Richard Friske, who served one term in 1971-72 and died in 2002. Mr. Friske, when he ran for office, had proclaimed he was a World War II veteran. What Mr. Friske failed to mention was that he was a veteran of the German armed forces and served with the Luftwaffe, the Nazi air force.

When Mr. Randall read the memorial tribute in the House, murmurs spread across the floor when he got to the part about Mr. Friske serving in the German air force in World War II. I can remember a couple members, unfortunately who they were is lost to memory, looking at each other stunned, saying, “Doesn’t that make him a Nazi?” Several members did not stand to support the resolution.

The difference there, Mr. Randall said, is Mr. Friske by all accounts served his office well, left the House fully of his own accord (he ran for the U.S. House in 1972 and lost) and never was under any kind of expulsion threat.

Mr. Randall said he is considering suggesting a more formalized process to handle such situations, given that decades from now, those running the House might benefit given the loss of institutional memory.

Secchia Returns To The Stage On Mackinac, And Leaves ’Em Rolling
Posted: September, 21 2015 2:09 PM

Attorney General Bill Schuette was slated to introduce former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to the dinner crowd at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference prior to Mr. Bush’s speech, but as a onetime quarterback, he declared to attendees he was calling an audible.

Instead, Mr. Schuette summoned longtime Republican uber-activist and donor Peter Secchia to the stage to do the introduction instead.

Mr. Secchia had the crowd roaring. What follows are excerpts from Mr. Secchia’s introduction.

“What a piece of work your attorney general is. The guy sits down with me. He says, ‘look I need you, I want you, to do this.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to get back into this rat race. I’ve been through it for 45 years.’

“And I want to tell all you new people, this is a very wonderful opportunity for all of you because I started, my first political event was a petition to sign to get a congressman on the ballot. Then he invited me down because he didn’t have a whole lot of friends to the 1968 (conference) three years later. You remember now, this is 50 years ago, ’65 when I started. And Dick Whitmer … he came up to me and said, ‘let’s go to a party. We’re going to have drinks and go to the Jockey Club.’”

A brief interruption to note that the Jockey Club is a restaurant and bar just east of the Grand Hotel on the first tee of a golf course. And also to make clear that Dick Whitmer was a former Milliken administration official who went on to lead Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (and is the father of former Sen. Gretchen Whitmer).

“I had never heard of the Jockey Club. I was lucky to have a tie. And the worst part about it was he turned to me and said ‘what are you standing here with him for?’ My congressman. He said, ‘he’s not going anywhere.’ Ten years later, I called him from Air Force One and said, ‘President Ford’s shaving, but I’m here with him.’ True story.

“That’s where you can go. Because I had no idea where I was going when I first got in politics.

Mr. Secchia then lamented trying to read from his notes while holding a hand-held microphone, wondering why he did not get the same wireless microphone Mr. Schuette used.

“I love our attorney general, but I’ve got to tell you, his logistics suck. He gave me the chance, sat down and wrote my notes. And then they take my microphone away. He’s wired. So I can stand here … He’s strutting around with his lapel pin on and they give me this schmucky microphone. …

“I’m up here because Barbara Bush called me. And she was very upset because Jeb admitted to smoking grass last week. So she asked me, you’ve got to help him out. …

“I believe that one of the best things you have in politics is respect, loyalty, honestly, integrity and courage. I thought that was so important that I’m self-funding a movie on Jerry Ford. And I’ve put a lot of time, a year into it, we’re in the second rough cut. Trying to tell kids about the qualities of the kind of president we ought to have – courage, integrity, loyalty, honesty, courage. It’s almost the Boy Scout credo all over again. …

“I’m here tonight because I’m loyal. I know there are some people that say Jeb’s got a problem, and we don’t have a candidate who doesn’t have a problem. But you know what, I don’t want to worry about our internal problems. I want to beat a Clinton. What do I want – a bigger liar than the last one? So we have no option folks. We’ve got to pick the best we’ve got. …

“Everybody knows that Bill Schuette likes to play cards, Euchre, this tough stuff. My wife plays Bridge and she taught me. I asked Jeb Bush what do you want to do he says I’ll play anything as long as there’s no Trump.

“We’ve got a lot of wonderful candidates, but we’ve got one special family (the Bushes). And I’ve known these people. They care, they love, they respect you, they will treat you right. The history of Jeb Bush as a governor was unbelievable. Unbelievable. And it’s a shame that he had to sit around and wait because he was probably ready to be president a long time ago. But he’s a young man still if you look at the rest of the world. …

“Here we go. The loyalty and the class and respect that I get with Jeb Bush. I knew him when he was a commerce minister in Florida. I first worked with him when I was working down there opening up factories for my company. I worked with him. I watched him. He’s good. He’s one of the best. He has that love of family, the quality of principle that we have to all value his past success. So ladies and gentlemen, that’s Jeb. Where are you Jeb?”

Mr. Bush then delivered his remarks, Mr. Secchia having more than warmed up the audience for him.

Fiorina, Riding High, Claims Mackinac Win
Posted: September, 20 2015 10:59 AM

MACKINAC ISLAND – At the close of the Michigan Republican Party’s biennial Mackinac Leadership Conference, the inevitable question is who had the best weekend politically.

The answer to that question, on this gorgeous Sunday morning on the Island, appears clear: Carly Fiorina.

Ms. Fiorina was not here long, arriving on the Island in the mid-afternoon Saturday, but for the few hours she spent, she had the rapt attention of the 2,000-some state GOP activists attending the conference.

When Ms. Fiorina was first announced as a speaker months ago, it seemed she would be a second-tier candidate, if that. Struggling in the polls and with no Michigan organization, it was hard to imagine she would be the focal point for the weekend.

But then Ms. Fiorina had two well-received debate performances with the second coming just days before the conference. All of a sudden, Ms. Fiorina arrived in Michigan amid a sudden national surge for her candidacy.

Upon disembarking from the ferry on the Island, there were about 1,000 people lining the streets near the ferry docks to welcome her and get a glimpse. Veteran Republican operatives were amazed. Keep in mind, she has no discernible Michigan organization, so that crowd was organic.

Then she attended a reception honoring U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township), and while Ms. Miller is a popular draw in her own right, it’s hard to imagine the fire marshal would have had to close the doors, as happened, had Ms. Fiorina not been there and drawn what observers said was a wildly enthusiastic throng.

And as for who won the “Ear Test” in the dining hall for the five speeches – the loudest applause and most excited atmosphere – that again was Ms. Fiorina. As I left the dining hall, many Republicans said she had plainly won them over and thought she was automatic for the party’s ticket, as either the presidential or vice presidential nominee.

A close second was Ohio Governor John Kasich, who hands-down was the most visible of the five Republican presidential candidates on the Island this weekend, arriving Friday, having some fun with Lt. Governor Brian Calley’s band and appearing in photos with anyone who asked at Governor Rick Snyder’s party. He was by far the funniest, had some fun with his status as an Ohio State University alumni and his folksy style played well with the attendees.

His remarks at a reception hosted by the Senate Republicans were especially Michigan-focused and made the case that he as a fellow Midwesterner could become the first Republican to carry Michigan since 1988. Then he received the endorsement of Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush had the advantage of having Friday night all to himself though his occasionally rushed speech never seemed to allow the audience to get into it. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul got strong reactions from their supporters, and Mr. Paul won the straw poll, but neither seemed to captivate the crowd.

The person who had the worst weekend on the Island? Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

He canceled his Saturday breakfast speech at the last minute, citing inclement weather that forced the cancelation of his charter flight. Of course safety comes first, but what seemed to leave some Republicans raw was Mr. Walker already had tried to cancel once, scrapping his plans to speak Friday night.

Michigan Republicans hustled to keep him on the speaking roster and reached an agreement with his campaign for him to speak Saturday morning. So when the word came down 40 minutes or so before the start of the breakfast that Mr. Walker had canceled, let’s just say there were a few Republicans on the Island who were skeptical as to whether the weather had been the cause.

So as we head for the ferry docks and buy the requisite fudge for family and co-workers, the biggest question now is whether this conference was a sign of big things to come for Ms. Fiorina or, as Whitney Houston once said, “one moment in time”?

Courser, Gamrat Opponents Will See Rare Attention
Posted: September, 19 2015 11:57 AM

State House campaigns in districts that lean sharply toward one political party are usually sleepy as far as media coverage.

The only calls for interviews the candidates usually get come from their local newspaper, Capitol newsletters like Gongwer News Service and in some cases from a local television station (shout out to WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids).

The races to replace resigned Rep. Todd Courser and expelled Rep. Cindy Gamrat will be a whole different animal. Mr. Courser served notice of this fact Friday when he announced he was running on CNN.

On Mackinac Island, where Michigan Republicans are holding their biennial conference this weekend, some were stunned and some were not by Mr. Courser’s decision to run.

But everyone was flabbergasted at the announcement coming on CNN.

And in a way, the CNN factor was appropriate because the races for the 80th and 82nd House Districts will draw the most outside media interest in a Michigan legislative race since 2004. In that year, John Ramsey, the father of a child beauty queen who was murdered years earlier, decided to make his summer home in Charlevoix his permanent residence and ran for the 105th House District.

It has been a long time, so for those who don’t remember, there was a national sensation about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey in Colorado. Local police suspected her parents, but never charged them and eventually they were totally exonerated. The case remains unsolved.

But in 2004, there was still a cloud of suspicion around the Ramseys and the case was still fresh in the national consciousness. So when John Ramsey ran for the Republican nomination in the 105th, there was a national frenzy. Mr. Ramsey and his wife were interviewed on CNN’s “Larry King Live” about his run. Seemingly every national publication descended on northern Michigan to cover the race.

The other Republicans, and there were several, suddenly found themselves inundated with media requests relative to what a House candidate would usually expect.

“We,” one of the other candidates said then, “didn’t expect the CNN cameras.”

In the end, Mr. Ramsey’s newness to Michigan proved too much to overcome and he lost to Kevin Elsenheimer.

The candidates today have such a short campaign calendar with just seven weeks until the primary. Every second will need to go toward door-to-door, fund-raising and messaging. It will get more complicated when the phones start ringing off the hook from weird-looking area codes that are not 269 or 810 with media requests from coast to coast.

Recalibrating Expectations In 1st Congressional With Benishek Exit
Posted: September, 15 2015 3:11 PM

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek has managed to pull two political surprises this year, first when he announced he would seek a fourth term in 2016 and today when he declared he had changed his mind and would instead not seek re-election.

When Mr. Benishek (R-Crystal Falls) declared he would run again earlier this year for the 1st U.S. House District, it was a surprise in part because he had promised to serve no more than three terms, but more so because various Republicans and others who have interacted with him during the last five-plus years have said he has not enjoyed many aspects of serving in Congress. Mr. Benishek always denied that speculation, but there was so much smoke surrounding the claim, it was hard not to believe there must be at least some fire there.

Nonetheless, he said he felt he had more to accomplish and was in the race. Meanwhile, two Democrats are running for the 1st, one of the most competitive districts in the nation – retired military general Jerry Cannon, whom Mr. Benishek comfortably defeated in 2014, and former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson.

Now, Mr. Benishek is out, and that has some pluses and minuses for both sides.

It is early yet to know what the Republican field will be, but already the focus is on three current or former state legislators – former Sen. Jason Allen of Traverse City, whom Mr. Benishek narrowly beat in a thrilling 2010 primary; Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba, who carried the GOP flag in 2008 in an unsuccessful bid for the seat against then-U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak; and Rep. Peter Pettalia of Presque Isle.

None has announced any intentions, but Mr. Pettalia had said long ago he was considering a run. There always has been an expectation that Mr. Allen and Mr. Casperson planned to run whenever Mr. Benishek decided to retire. There are other legislators who reside in the 1st, but for now the focus is on these three.

An early assessment if a three-way primary develops would have Mr. Allen with a fundraising advantage with the wealth in the district concentrated in his home turf. Mr. Casperson is the most proven retail candidate of the bunch with the longest history of winning competitive races. Mr. Pettalia, who like Mr. Casperson has won a competitive seat, could carve out turf to the right of Mr. Allen and Mr. Casperson.

For example, while Mr. Casperson opposed right-to-work and supported Medicaid expansion, Mr. Pettalia supported right-to-work and opposed Medicaid expansion. Mr. Allen piled up a fairly conservative record during his time in the Legislature from 1999-2010, but Mr. Benishek succeeded in poking enough holes in it in 2010.

Usually, when an incumbent in a competitive seat decides not to run, it is a break for the party challenging the incumbent, and that is sort of true here. The Democratic nominee will no longer have to make the case to oust the incumbent, always a tough sell. And for the Democrats, better to have Mr. Benishek retire now in a presidential year than wait until 2018 when lower midterm turnout would make their task more difficult.

However, Mr. Benishek was not exactly a political juggernaut. Unlike Mr. Stupak, who won re-election over the years with ease, Mr. Benishek never seemed to become an especially powerful presence in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan. He won his races, but never in blowouts. He was not a strong fundraiser.

In 2016, the Republican candidate will not have the advantage of incumbency, but likely will have more passion, superior fundraising, better grassroots political skills, or all three.

In any case, the Republican primary looks like another dandy in the making, much like 2010 when Mr. Benishek bested Mr. Allen by 15 votes in what became known as a “Danslide.”

As for the Democratic nominee, only time will tell whether he scored a break in Mr. Benishek’s retirement or been better off had he decided to move forward with a grudging bid for a fourth term.

All Eyes On Dems With Expulsion Vote Looming For Courser, Gamrat
Posted: September, 10 2015 11:40 AM

Sometime today, Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat will likely face a vote on the floor of the House to expel them from office.

The House convenes at noon. It will have a special presentation and then both parties will likely head to private caucus meetings.

The vote this morning of a special House committee reviewing their qualifications to remain in office signaled that the two tea party Republicans can expect little support among their GOP colleagues to remain in office. All four Republicans supported expulsion, and all four sharply criticized the pair for their actions.

As a quick refresher, both have admitted to concocting a falsehood-ridden email as a way of undermining any future allegations revealing they had been having an extramarital affair. Both have admitted to misuse of state resources and general misconduct.

On the first expulsion vote, 73 votes will be needed to satisfy the two-thirds majority requirement. On the second vote, presuming the House attained the necessary votes for expulsion for the first member, the threshold drops to 72 because the membership of the House will have fallen from 109 to 108.

The House has 63 Republicans and 46 Democrats with one vacancy. So presuming Mr. Courser (R-Silverwood) and Ms. Gamrat (R-Plainwell) do not vote for expulsion while all remaining 61 Republicans do, then 12 Democratic votes would be needed on the first expulsion vote. For the second expulsion vote, 11 Democrats would be needed to bridge the gap from 61 to 72.

And right now, there is a real question about what the House Democrats will do. The two Democratic members of the committee – Rep. John Chirkun of Roseville and Rep. Frank Liberati of Allen Park – both abstained on the expulsion resolutions. Both said they wanted the committee to subpoena the two fired former Courser and Gamrat aides who revealed the scandal to the public.

And both have criticized the committee for not delving into the question of why House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and his staff did not act more aggressively during the months of meetings in which the former aides brought complaints about Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat, including claims they were having an affair.

But now, the Democrats – presuming most if not all House Republicans support expulsion – face the moment of truth. If they decide to withhold their votes for expulsion or oppose it outright, they will have been the ones to spare Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat.

It just adds to the drama that has been building for the last 35 days.

Perhaps Gamrat Will Avoid Expulsion
Posted: September, 8 2015 2:02 PM

If what happened today at the House select committee reviewing whether Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat should retain their jobs is any indication, Mr. Courser is in big trouble and Ms. Gamrat may remain a member of the House.

It is too early to know exactly how this will play out in the coming days, but the decision by Brock Swartzle, the general counsel for the House Republican Caucus (and chief of staff to House Speaker Kevin Cotter), to recommend expulsion for Mr. Courser (R-Silverwood) and censure for Ms. Gamrat (R-Plainwell) certainly suggests how the final outcome will look.

The tone and attitude toward Ms. Gamrat has undergone a 180-degree shift since majority House Republicans released the summary report of the House Business Office investigation into the two legislators’ alleged misuse of state resources and attempt to cover up their affair by enlisting a joint staffer to help.

The House Business Office report labeled Ms. Gamrat (and Mr. Courser) as not credible. Ms. Gamrat in an August news conference declared she welcomed the House Business Office investigation and that it would vindicate her. She also launched a counterattack against the former staffers whom she and Mr. Courser fired (and who secretly recorded Mr. Courser discussing his plot to anonymously send a false email eviscerating himself and Ms. Gamrat to divert attention from their extramarital affair).

Ms. Gamrat said then that she had no knowledge of the email.

But Tuesday, before the committee, she testified under oath that everything in the report was true and admitted she knew of plans to send an “over-the-top” phony email. Her attorney, Mike Nichols, sidestepped questions about what specifically Ms. Gamrat acknowledged doing, saying repeatedly in response to questions that she agreed with all House Business Office findings. Ms. Gamrat tearfully apologized.

Will this admission be enough to persuade at least 37 members in the currently 109-member House not to expel her? It takes a two-thirds majority, or 73 votes, to expel.

Only time will tell, but even before Tuesday’s hearing there already has been plenty of talk among Capitol-watchers that the House lacked a strong case for expulsion on both members. However, now with Ms. Gamrat essentially flipping on Mr. Courser, the case against him gains additional heft.

Mr. Swartzle’s portrayal of Mr. Courser as the mastermind and Ms. Gamrat as mostly an accomplice also clearly was designed to frame the case for expulsion for Mr. Courser and censure for Ms. Gamrat.

And while the two Democratic committee members unsuccessfully sought to draw out more details from Ms. Gamrat about what exactly she did wrong, the House Republican members lobbed no hardball questions in her direction.

Add it all up, and the odds of Ms. Gamrat remaining a member of the House appear to have improved.

Michigan State 30, Western Michigan 9 (In Legislative Alumni)
Posted: September, 4 2015 12:22 PM

It is always an exciting moment for the state of Michigan when two of its universities play each other in Division I football, and so it is tonight when Michigan State University plays Western Michigan University.

The match-up between the Broncos and the Spartans formally opens the college football season in the state – wait, there was a game played in Utah last night? – and there is plenty of buzz surrounding the game.

Not only does it mark the first time that MSU will play at Western’s stadium in Kalamazoo, but the Spartans start out the season ranked No. 5 in the country and have lofty expectations. Western appears a well-coached program on the rise.

But we’ll leave the actual game coverage to the sportswriters. Here, we look at where loyalties in the game might lie in the Legislature. By our count, based on the information the members of the Legislature provided, so we’ll allow for a bit of variance, 30 of the 147 current members of the Legislature have a degree of some type from MSU. Nine have a degree of some type from Western.

And there are some intriguing examples, none more so than Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) and Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage).

Both represent Kalamazoo and the Western campus. They must bleed Brown and Gold, right? They probably dressed up as Buster Bronco, yes, back in their college days?


In fact, both obtained their bachelor’s degrees from … Michigan State. That’s going to be a bit awkward tonight. Maybe they should call Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing) and Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) for advice. Mr. Schor, whose district is next door to MSU, is a University of Michigan alumni. And Mr. Zemke has two MSU degrees.

Mr. Hoadley and Ms. O’Brien aren’t alone among legislators from southwest Michigan who have MSU degrees. Rep. John Bizon (D-Battle Creek), Rep. Ken Yonker (R-Gaines Township), Rep. Dave Pagel (R-Berrien Springs), Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville), Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) and Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph) do too.

Another legislator in an interesting spot is Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township). She received her bachelor’s degree from MSU, but obtained her master’s degree from Western.

So as the game commences tonight, remember that roughly one-quarter of the Legislature will have a rooting interest and be interested in bragging rights when they return to Lansing next week for the start of the fall session.

Appointment Of Plymouth Rep To Courser/Gamrat Panel Completes Circle
Posted: September, 1 2015 10:55 AM

House Speaker Kevin Cotter named Rep. Kurt Heise to the select committee considering whether scandal-embroiled Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat remain qualified to serve in the House, in part, because of his background as an attorney.

Besides his background as an attorney, Mr. Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) also chose Mr. Heise (R-Plymouth) because Mr. Heise is smart, focused, has done a great job with his committee assignments and is familiar with evidentiary proceedings, Cotter spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro said.

But the selection of Mr. Heise also completes a circle, and to be clear, this is purely my observation, not anything cited by Mr. Cotter or Mr. Heise as a rationale for Mr. Cotter’s appointment of Mr. Heise.

There was an incident involving Mr. Courser (R-Silverwood) and Mr. Heise early in the year that showed Mr. Courser was going to pose problems for his House Republican colleagues.

Mr. Heise is chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, and Mr. Courser is a member of that panel.

On February 17, the committee unanimously approved HB 4006*, which would require a wireless phone company to provide location information from a person's wireless device to a police officer upon request in certain emergency situations. The idea is to allow a police officer to request the location of the device if there was an imminent risk of death or serious physical harm to the user of the device.

Mr. Courser’s role in action on the bill was notable. On the surface, the bill seemed like it could prompt criticism from him about Big Brother.

But before he voted for the bill, Mr. Courser proposed four amendments. The committee rejected three of them, but approved, with Mr. Heise’s support, the one that would require the officer's supervisor to participate in the request for information.

After the meeting concluded, the inescapable feeling was perhaps Mr. Courser was quickly learning how to work within the Legislature.

Mr. Heise seemed to feel that way. I bumped into him and another person in an Anderson House Office Building elevator later in the morning, and Mr. Heise seemed ebullient, telling the other individual the legislative process had worked, that the committee had supported one of Mr. Courser’s amendments and then Mr. Courser in turn had voted for the bill.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Well, no.

A week later, with the bill possibly in the hopper to come up for consideration on the House floor, Mr. Courser uncorked one of his scathing missives, posted to Facebook and elsewhere, lambasting the legislation as an “Orwellian” privacy intrusion.

“Only a few times do you get a bill that will let you see cleanly if the person is up for defending our rights under the Constitution, a bill before the House of Representatives this week, HB 4006*, is one of those lines in the sand,” Mr. Courser wrote. “This bill is an unfettered trampling of our constitutional rights to due process guaranteed by the 4th Amendment. This bill is the next step towards unfettered government surveillance; it allows government to use its power to locate citizens through their cell phone providers without a warrant and all of these actions are kept secret from the person being monitored and the public.” (emphasis his)

To repeat, Mr. Courser voted for the bill, something he failed to mention.

The bill remains pending on the House floor, and to be sure, given how completely ostracized Mr. Courser is from the House Republican Caucus, there is no way his opposition alone is holding up the bill.

But when reviewing the predicament of Mr. Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell), whom the House could expel for various offenses, one of their problems is that they have alienated so many of their colleagues. Mr. Courser’s handling of HB 4006* could not have helped in that regard.

The Forgotten Scandal: ‘Daniel West,’ The Imposter Legislator
Posted: August, 25 2015 2:49 PM

The scandal involving Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat has prompted some entertaining look-backs at infamous Michigan political scandals.

The listicles from the Detroit Free Press and MLive are fun and helpful. Helpful because they serve to remind that while the Courser-Gamrat mess is bad, it really is nothing compared to the full-blown corruption seen with the Purple Gang and the House Fiscal Agency that enveloped vast swaths of the Legislature.

But while both pieces offer a great trip down memory lane and are well-researched, there is one doozy that lives on in Capitol lore that warrants inclusion: the scandal involving “Daniel West,” the imposter legislator.

The official House photo of the man claiming to be Daniel West

In 1962, voters in Wayne County’s 6th House District elected a Democrat calling himself Daniel West as one of three representatives for the district in Detroit (House elections worked differently then, a digression we will sidestep here). He had a sterling resume, claiming an undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College and law degree from Yale University. He was married with two children and a retired attorney.

Mr. West, according to his official biography in the 1963-64 Michigan Manual, had held various local offices and was at the time of his election a retail hardware dealer.

In 1964, he easily won re-election.

Then his scheme unraveled. According to The Associated Press (sadly, one of the few portions of the Gongwer News Service archives that is missing is from late 1964 and early 1965), a detective investigating a complaint against Mr. West discovered his fingerprints matched those of a felon who served time in three prisons under different names for burglary, larceny and forgery.

“Daniel West,” in fact, was a New York attorney who died in 1961. Whoever it was that won those two elections to the Michigan House stole Mr. West’s identity.

Once “Mr. West” was revealed to be a fraud, the House, in the only known time to have taken such action, refused to seat him when the Legislature convened for the start of the 1965-66 term, and the seat was declared vacant.

The man claiming to be Mr. West was indicted on 117 counts of income tax fraud in connection with a tax accounting service in which he allegedly had made false returns to unjustified refunds for his clients.

A warrant for the arrest of “Mr. West” was issued in July 1965, but he fled and did not show up in U.S. District Court. There were a couple of “Unsolved Mysteries”-esque sightings of the man who claimed to be Mr. West, both in Canada, once in 1965 and again in 1975. The latter reported sighting occurred in Windsor, Ontario, where a man who worked on Mr. West’s 1964 campaign insisted he had spotted him at a restaurant, according to the AP. The man reported that when “Mr. West” saw him staring at him, he got up and left without ordering any food.

Otherwise, “Mr. West” successfully evaded authorities. His exact age is unknown, but he presumably would be about 100 years old if still alive today.

The Capitol will surely see various scandals in the future. But it is impossible to imagine a repeat of what happened with “Daniel West.”

The Corpse Winks On Roads
Posted: August, 18 2015 1:44 PM

One month ago, the effort to secure legislative approval for more funding for roads was going nowhere.

The antitax House Republican majority appeared immovable on going for more revenue than the relatively small amount gained from bringing the tax on diesel up to the same level as gasoline. Governor Rick Snyder and the Senate Republican majority disdained many aspects of the House Republican plan. House Republicans were struggling to coalesce behind a new plan.

At that point, there appeared little chance of any action. I wrote as much.

They say a month is a lifetime in politics, and the past month is Exhibit A.

Two major, unforeseen events occurred that suddenly galvanized Republicans in the Legislature to make the most serious push on road funding the Legislature has made since last year’s lame-duck session. As former House Speaker Bill Ryan once said of another road funding effort thought dead: the corpse has winked.

The first, coming July 23, was an announcement by three unions to pursue a ballot proposal raising the Corporate Income Tax from 6 percent to 11 percent and put the $900 million in new revenue toward roads.

That jarred the business community and Republicans. One of the best arguments the Citizens for Fair Taxes group has is to pass its proposal because the Legislature has failed to solve the problem.

If the Legislature and Mr. Snyder can finally win agreement on a legislative-only solution (last December’s ill-fated agreement on the disastrous Proposal 1 doesn’t count), that would provide an important counterpoint to the ballot proposal.

Then there is the scandal that broke 11 days ago involving the extramarital affair between Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) and Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) and the bizarre attempt to cover it up with an anonymous email falsely accusing Mr. Courser of paying for sex with a male prostitute as a way of tainting any revelations about the affair.

The scandal has dealt a roundhouse to the image and reputation of the Legislature, which was not exactly sterling prior to the two legislators self-immolating.

Winning approval of a roads plan in the middle of that crisis would help show that, yes, the Legislature can accomplish big, serious tasks. It also would help to shift the nonstop coverage away from titillating details about the affair toward policy and legislative problem-solving. And after Monday’s news conference featuring a former staffer of Mr. Courser’s and Ms. Gamrat’s making grimy allegations about their affair, today’s talk of gasoline taxes, vehicle registration fees and other weighty matters serves almost as a much needed cleansing shower.

Defeat has been snatched from the jaws of victory too many times on this issue over the years for anyone pushing for more road funding to break out the bubbly, far from it.

But for Mr. Snyder, who has pursued more funding for roads in vain for almost four years, wouldn’t it be something if ultimate victory came in significant part because one of his main critics, organized labor, and the two most anti-tax members of the Legislature, finally compelled the Legislature to pass a tax increase?

Jimmy Fallon Enters The Fray On The Courser/Gamrat Scandal
Posted: August, 12 2015 10:36 AM

The scandal involving the extramarital affair between Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat, specifically their plan to anonymously circulate an email claiming Mr. Courser paid for sex with a male prostitute to taint any legitimate accusations about their affair, has garnered so much national attention that none other than Jimmy Fallon of “The Tonight Show” deemed it monologue-worthy.

On the show’s broadcast last night, Mr. Fallon can barely contain himself, which admittedly is not unusual for him, sharing the “crazy story” with the audience (the segment in the clip below begins at about the 2:30 mark).

“Well, I wasn’t having an affair, I was actually hiring a male prostitute,” Mr. Fallon says, pretending to be Mr. Courser explaining the situation to his wife, but speaking with an Elmer Fudd-esque voice.

The audience seemed to love the story and was laughing heartily throughout.

One can only imagine how Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat reacted if they were watching.

Melissa Gilbert Vs. Mike Bishop Looks Like A Brawl
Posted: August, 11 2015 4:40 PM

Democrats sprung quite the surprise Monday with the announcement from the actress Melissa Gilbert that she is running for the 8th U.S. House District against U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester).

And from the moment that announcement broke, it became clear that this race is going to be a slugfest.

Republicans immediately unloaded on Ms. Gilbert as a “tax cheat,” citing a lien the IRS filed against her (she says she has put together a payment plan). Today, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent around a statement referring to the “tax delinquent, dog-pampering” Melissa Gilbert.

Ms. Gilbert “parades her dog around in colorful tutus, rhinestone encrusted shoes, designer Louis Vuitton collars, pearl necklaces and brags that it has its own stylist,” the statement says.

Other than the fact that going after Ms. Gilbert for pampering her dog signals that the NRCC is suffering from off-election year boredom, the immediate and withering attacks on Ms. Gilbert also portend that this race is going to be vicious.

It’s clear that Republicans are horrified at the idea of Ms. Gilbert, who has never sought political office and only lived in Michigan for a couple years, having moved to Livingston County with her husband, East Lansing native Timothy Busfield, winning a seat in Congress. And it also seems they see a threat. Ms. Gilbert, while untested as a candidate, starts out with the advantage of celebrity, access to major donors and potential appeal to independents who remember her as Laura Ingalls Wilder on the popular “Little House on the Prairie” television program.

But for this race to get truly nasty, recall that Democrats absolutely can’t stand Mr. Bishop. He was the nemesis of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm while he was Senate majority leader from 2007-10, and there will be passion among Democratic activists to oust him after just one term in the U.S. House.

So really, the only question now is who in the race will play the role of Laura, and who will play the role of Nellie from this disturbing “Little House” scene, which hits the relevant point at the 2 minute, 11 second mark. Isn’t it amazing what happens when you search on YouTube for “Little House on the Prairie brawl”?

Courser, Gamrat Conflagration Threatens To Consume House
Posted: August, 10 2015 4:54 PM

Not since David Jaye was causing migraine headaches for various House speakers and Senate majority leaders has a legislator been as nonstop a problem for a legislative leader as Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat are for House Speaker Kevin Cotter.

Even prior to Friday’s revelation that Mr. Courser had ordered a member of his official staff to distribute an anonymous email to supporters and others falsely claiming he paid for a male prostitute and was addicted to drugs, alcohol and porn in an attempt to discredit any legitimate allegations he and Ms. Gamrat had an extramarital affair, the pair had caused all kinds of problems for Mr. Cotter.

There was the weird decision to share staff even though Mr. Courser (R-Silverwood) and Ms. Gamrat (R-Plainwell) represent areas on opposite sides of the state. There were Mr. Courser’s complaints about leadership predetermined seating assignments on the House floor. As we know now, their staff was complaining to leadership about their bosses for months. Mr. Cotter barred Ms. Gamrat from caucus meetings for allegedly leaking confidential information, and Mr. Courser repeatedly criticized him in sharp terms.

All along, those watching the situation suggested Mr. Cotter’s strategy was to dilute them. They were not put on the same committees, and Mr. Courser was kept off higher-profile committees where he could have caused problems. With 63 members in the House Republican majority, the thinking of longtime legislative-watchers was if Mr. Cotter just isolated them, he would limit their ability to cause mischief.

Well then.

Needless to say, Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat have gone from backbench freshmen causing heartburn for their caucus to unleashing a full-on crisis.

Mr. Cotter gamely insisted today that he still is working on a solution for road funding, but the Courser/Gamrat situation is not just a distraction, it is going to completely consume the House’s time and attention until resolved, whether resolution means they resign, are expelled, survive an expulsion proceeding or nothing happens at all.

In the six weeks that transpired between the time Mr. Jaye was arrested on a domestic assault charge and the Senate’s expulsion of him, work at the Capitol came to something of a standstill.

It is too soon to say whether the House will open an expulsion proceeding on the two legislators. But if one does take place, it will be a spectacle, presumably involving committee hearings making the case for removal.

Mr. Cotter has just 16 months and change left as speaker. There was little doubt when he won the job that Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat were going to cause him problems, but that was presumed to be more in terms of policy and strategy and how they might stoke tea party anger at him for not being sufficiently conservative.

That Mr. Cotter would be confronted with a scandal with these particulars? Like much with this fiasco, it would have been difficult to imagine.

DeRoche, The Speakership And Alcoholism
Posted: August, 4 2015 1:06 PM

Former House Speaker Craig DeRoche said last week on Michigan Public Television’s “Off the Record” that he would leave it to others to judge whether it was irresponsible for him to run for speaker for the 2005-06 term knowing as he did that he was an alcoholic.

Judgment can be harsh, but necessary. Given the economic struggles the state was undergoing at that time, and how that made an already complex job that much more difficult, the harsh judgment has to be: It was irresponsible.

Mr. DeRoche, a Republican who served in the House from 2003-08 and was the speaker in 2005-06 and minority leader in 2007-08, was on “Off the Record” to talk about his new book, in which he details his fall as a result of addiction to alcohol and rebirth fighting for criminal justice reforms after getting sober.

The book is a painfully raw look at Mr. DeRoche’s battle with alcoholism and how that affected him and his family. Thankfully, it appears Mr. DeRoche has in fact put his life in order.

"My heart tells me that everything happens for a reason, that I can't go back and change," he said on “Off the Record” when explaining why he would leave it to others to determine whether running for speaker, knowing he was an alcoholic, was irresponsible. "God put me on this path and without those experiences, I wouldn't have had the transformation that I had."

The job of speaker is extraordinarily important, developing and managing not only the legislative agenda, but heading up a multimillion dollar organization that employs hundreds as well as leading his caucus’s political operation and dealing with 109 different personalities. It is a wake-to-sleep job most days of the year. To take on all those duties knowing he had a 20-year addiction to alcohol was a bad idea. On “Off the Record,” Mr. DeRoche himself said his addiction and the speakership proved incompatible.

It is easy to understand why Mr. DeRoche ran. He had enjoyed great educational, family, business, financial and political success throughout his life despite the addiction. Why not take the next step, especially when there was a clear path for him to win?

But understanding how Mr. DeRoche rationalized a run for speaker in 2003 is not the same as looking back, 12 years later, knowing everything we know now and concluding he, and perhaps state government, would have been better served had he realized he needed to get help and left the speakership to someone else.

Mr. DeRoche’s non-answer to the question is similar to an evident hole in his book on how his addiction did or did not affect his work as speaker and then as minority leader.

Mr. DeRoche says in the book that he “hadn’t drunk much alcohol” between 2004-06 because he valued the confidence his colleagues had placed in him. “I also was not drinking most of the days while I was speaker of the House,” he said on “Off the Record.”

And yet, in the book, Mr. DeRoche says he went to rehab in 2005 – his first year as speaker. But he never mentions it in the context that he was speaker when this happened. There’s no discussion of taking time off, whether he informed his staff of the situation or if he paused consider whether he should remain speaker. At the time, there was zero public disclosure that Mr. DeRoche had a health issue.

So in the middle of what otherwise seems a heartfelt look at his life in the book, there is a contradiction. Mr. DeRoche says he didn’t drink much alcohol while he was speaker yet he went to rehab in his first year as speaker.

I asked Mr. DeRoche about it, and he explained this week that he did not want the book to turn into a daily recounting of whether he drank each day while he was speaker and when during the day, and from a standpoint of keeping the book readable, that makes some sense. But he also said it might be a good idea to clarify what happened. And it is.

“When I went into rehab the first time in 2005, I had chosen to drink very heavily for the two weeks we took off around Easter,” he said. “I chose to go in to rehab toward the end of the holiday break and actually missed a couple of days of session.”

Mr. DeRoche said he missed session on April 12-13, 2005, and indeed the House Journal shows he was not present those days. He returned to session Thursday, April 14, the same day as the Legislative Quadrant met on various matters with Governor Jennifer Granholm, and he was at that meeting.

Mr. DeRoche said he lied to his staff, Ms. Granholm and Ms. Granholm’s staff and claimed a college friend of his had died and he had to attend services. “I just didn’t feel like I could be honest at the time,” he said.

Of whether he paused to consider if he should remain speaker, Mr. DeRoche said he had simply chosen to go forward in his life like he always did and could figure out a solution after learning what to do from rehab. It was “selfish behavior, for sure,” he said, but he also asked how many members of the Legislature have some type of problem in their life and continue serving anyway.

Mr. DeRoche was far from the first elected official to have a problem with alcohol, and he will not be the last.

Hopefully, Mr. DeRoche’s story will serve as cautionary tale about the need to seek help first and put political ambition aside.

Pondering The Endgame Of Ballot Proposal Raising Corporate Income Tax
Posted: July, 28 2015 2:40 PM

A trio of unions made big news last week with a proposed voter-initiated act to raise the Corporate Income Tax from 6 to 11 percent and put the resulting $900 million in new revenue to roads.

If those unions and other supporters successfully collect at least 252,523 signatures from registered voters, then their proposal will go before the Legislature, which would have 40 days to enact it, approve a competing proposal or do nothing and let it go on the November 2016 ballot.

Once Citizens for Fair Taxes collects those signatures, and given the organizational and financial strength the group has, it likely will, the next actions will be fascinating to watch.

While there is no doubt that Democrats, unions and liberals remain incensed at how the 2011 tax changes reduced the amount of direct state taxation on business activity to almost nothing (the CIT raises about $900 million, but refunds paid out under the old Michigan Business Tax almost wipe out that revenue), this proposal is not happening in a vacuum.

No. 1, conservatives are in the process of collecting signatures to bring a voter-initiated act before the Legislature to repeal the prevailing wage law where all state construction projects pay union scale wages for that area. And No. 2, the discussions on road funding in the Legislature remain almost wholly contained within the Republican majority leadership with Democrats on the outside looking in.

When House Democrats proposed increasing the CIT to 9 percent as part of a road funding plan, House Republicans laughed them off.

Right now, Democrats have no leverage on the issue and are powerless to stop the prevailing wage repeal once it lands in front of the Legislature. The Senate already has passed a repeal, so the votes there seem assured, and House Republicans have made it a caucus priority, making passage there seem likely.

But if Citizens for Fair Taxes gets the signatures it needs, what happens then? Now the Democrats would have some leverage.

Would business groups, fearing the possibility that the voters would flock to a tax increase on businesses, be willing to deal to get the proposal dumped?

Could that mean an agreement to shelve the prevailing wage repeal in exchange for shelving the business tax hike?

Could that mean that business, similar to what has happened on the minimum wage in the past, would grudgingly accept a smaller increase to the CIT as part of a roads solution to see the ballot proposal shelved?

Recall that twice liberal activists have sought to increase the minimum wage via voter initiated act and both times Republican majorities in the Legislature decided to raise the minimum wage by a lesser amount on their own to ward off the more generous proposals.

And might the specter of a 5 percentage point business tax increase be what finally forces the Legislature to agree upon a solution to the road funding question?

Business groups, as would be expected, unleashed a torrent of criticism on the proposal.

The question they will have to decide sometime in the late fall or early winter is whether the risk of voters passing the proposal is too great and instead strike a deal of some sort or take their chances and go all-in to defeat it at the polls.

Democratic Activist/Strategist Ken Brock Has Died
Posted: July, 24 2015 12:23 PM

The outpouring of grief since word spread Thursday that longtime top Democratic strategist Ken Brock had died at the age of 55 has been immense.

In almost 17 years of following Michigan government and politics, I can only recall one other death that left so many so sad and that was when former Rep. Frank Fitzgerald, a Grand Ledge Republican, died, also at a young age. Then, as now, the tributes and grief were heartfelt and from those of both major political parties.

Given that, I thought it appropriate to make public the obituary Gongwer News Service published Thursday for subscribers, written by John Lindstrom. That follows in a bit.

First, I also wanted to include a link to an old story former Gongwerian Chris Gautz shared today that he wrote for the Jackson Citizen-Patriot that demonstrates just how honorable Mr. Brock was.

Additionally, one thing that really stood out to me as I looked over the tributes on Mr. Brock’s Facebook page was just how many Democratic activists and strategists he mentored going back to his first years with former U.S. Rep. Howard Wolpe’s campaigns. In sports, one term often mentioned is a “coaching tree” when referring to all the assistants of a high-profile coach who have gone on to become successes on their own.

There clearly was a Ken Brock Tree.

Rest in peace, Ken. Michigan politics will miss you.


Ken Brock, one of the state’s best-known Democratic activists and campaign strategists who worked with a number of gubernatorial and congressional candidates over his career, died Wednesday night.

A cause of death was not revealed by his family or former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, who announced Mr. Brock’s death through social media.

Mr. Brock was 55 but could have argued that he was 13. He was born February 29, 1960, and was, of course, a leap year baby.

He was an Ann Arbor native and studied politics at the Gerald Ford Institute for Public Service at Albion College, where he and Mr. Schauer met.

Mr. Brock was an energetic and passionate Democratic activist, but also able to objectively look at his campaigns and isolate where mistakes may have been made. He could slip in the knife to opponents when necessary, but never seemed to enjoy it. He respected his opponents, and maintained friendships with conservatives and Republicans. He could easily assess and rank the multiplicity of issues that could affect a campaign and explain what effect each could have.

He was the campaign manager for former U.S. Rep. Howard Wolpe’s gubernatorial campaign in 1994. He worked with former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, and when Mr. Schauer won election to the Senate in 2003 became Mr. Schauer’s chief of staff. He then handled Mr. Schauer’s successful U.S. House campaign in 2008, then was Mr. Schauer’s chief of staff in Congress (possibly the only time in his life he regularly wore a tie) and worked on the unsuccessful re-election campaign in 2010.

He was a top strategist on the pro-collective bargaining Proposal 2 of 2012 and then helped on Mr. Schauer’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

Always gregarious, Mr. Brock was a big man, who often struggled with his weight, but that seemed to have no effect on his energy or enjoyment of life.

Mr. Brock also mentored many an up-and-coming Democratic strategist, and that community in particular grieved his death.

A memorial will be held, but a date and time have not been set.

One Year Later, Dems Complaint Against Land Stuck In FEC Gridlock
Posted: July, 21 2015 12:29 PM

It was about this time one year ago that a serious question emerged during the U.S. Senate campaign in Michigan about whether the Republican candidate, Terri Land, had accepted a massive illegal contribution to her campaign from her husband, Dan Hibma.

The issue: Ms. Land had contributed $2.9 million in personal funds to her campaign, but based on her financial disclosure statements, virtually all of that income had to have come from Mr. Hibma’s deposits into a checking account jointly controlled by the couple. Federal campaign finance law limits family members to the same $2,600 per election contribution limit as other donors, but this matter fell into something of a gray area.

Ms. Land’s use of the joint checking account to contribute to her campaign would be legal, most campaign finance experts said, as long as Mr. Hibma had a history of making deposits into that account for a wide range of expenses. If Mr. Hibma only began deposits to the account as a way to fund Ms. Land’s campaign, then that could be a problem.

The Michigan Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, and Ms. Land’s campaign insisted it had followed the law. Ultimately, Ms. Land lost to now-U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) in a landslide, and the matter has mostly been forgotten and disappeared into FEC purgatory

Welcome to the dysfunctional world of the FEC.

The complaint against Ms. Land is hardly the only one in limbo.

Last week, one of the FEC commissioners drafted a memo calling for the commission to set a priority timetable on the many unresolved cases sitting before the panel. There are 78 matters, as the FEC calls them, pending before the commission, 23 of which have been awaiting action for more than a year (and of those 23 five for more than three years and three for more than two years and 15 for more than a year).

“If we are to bring the docket into a respectable condition before the end of the year, and if the decisional rate per meeting remains the same, there will be a need to hold between two or three times more meetings before the end of this year than the number held for the first six months of this year,” Commissioner Steven Walther, a Democrat, wrote in the memo.

The FEC keeps its work on specific cases secret until making a decision, and Mr. Walther’s memo redacts any identifying information about the 78 cases, so there’s no way to tell where Ms. Land’s case stands in the FEC process at this point.

There, incidentally, is a second Michigan Democratic Party complaint pending against Ms. Land, and while less serious, still interesting. This involves the rental payments her campaign had made to her brother-in-law for a pair of huge Ford CXT trucks.

Democrats claimed that perhaps the Land campaign undervalued the trucks and because her brother-in-law already had given her the maximum cash contribution, the supposedly discounted rent the campaign was paying for the trucks amounted to an illegal excess contribution. At the time, the complaint felt like a nitpicking stunt.

Now, almost 11 months later, with the Land campaign having filed several subsequent quarterly statements with no record of further payments to Ms. Land’s brother-in-law – despite insisting during the campaign it was making payments that would be reflected in upcoming statements – it seems very relevant.

The FEC, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, essentially refuses to police campaign finance where it is rare to see the commissioners of the same party as the accused punish that candidate. With the body split 3-3, unless a bipartisan consensus emerges, nothing happens.

Mr. Walther urged the FEC to prioritize the oldest cases first as a way of ensuring political considerations play no role in clearing the commission’s docket. The commission did not adopt his suggestion, but it appears it will try to meet more than expected for the remainder of the year. The three Republican commissioners said they would support more meetings, but also urged not to put speed ahead of finding the right result.

In the meantime, Ms. Land, the Michigan Democratic Party and dozens of others of complainants and respondents across the country will continue to wait.

Pondering The Voter-Initiated Act Process
Posted: July, 16 2015 11:38 AM

With conservatives turning more and more to the voter-initiated act process as a way of enacting new laws that Governor Rick Snyder opposes, increasingly I wonder what the framers of the 1963 Michigan Constitution were thinking.

In the past, the use of the initiated act process was relatively rare. Now, it’s frequent – laws barring insurance plans from covering abortions without a separate rider and assuring wolf hunting were enacted this way, and a prevailing wage repeal could happen as well. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Snyder’s continued veto threats of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act could prompt another petition drive on that topic.

The process allows a group to put a law before the Legislature if it can gather a minimum of signatures from registered voters equal to 8 percent of the total vote for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

With enough signatures, the Legislature can enact the law with affirmative votes in both houses. Inaction, or defeat of the measure, means it goes on the next November ballot of an even-numbered year for voters to decide. It is the ability of the Legislature to enact the law that I find puzzling.

Democracy in action, right? A mechanism to allow the people to work directly with their elected representatives to pass a law over the governor’s opposition, right?

Here is what I don’t get, and to be clear, this has nothing to do with the philosophical nature of the recently enacted initiated acts.

The framers of the Constitution essentially made 8 percent of vote for governor equal in power to the governor.

Put another way, the Constitution makes 252,523 voters (8 percent of last year’s total vote for governor) just as powerful as the 1,479,058 voters Mr. Snyder needed to beat Mark Schauer last year (Mr. Snyder received 1,607,399 votes and Mr. Schauer 1,479,057).

Maybe the abacuses available during the last Constitutional Convention in 1961-62 got stuck or something.

Roads: See You In Lame Duck 2016?
Posted: July, 15 2015 11:41 AM

It is hard to envision anything of substance on road funding becoming law anytime soon.

That is hardly news. In the wake of voters rejecting Proposal 15-1 by an overwhelming margin in May, the odds of anything going to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk in short order were virtually nil.

The reasons are simple:

  • The overwhelming anti-tax nature of the House Republican caucus makes any kind of a substantial tax increase extremely difficult;
  • House Democrats, and quietly some Republicans, are sensing 2016 could be a big Democratic year for gains in that chamber and thus the Democrats have zero incentive to do majority Republicans any favors; and
  • Mr. Snyder is unwilling to play hardball with the House Republican majority to get the tax increase he has advocated for almost four years through the chamber.

The Senate has passed a 15-cent per gallon gasoline tax hike and called for shifting more money out of the General Fund to pay for roads and thrown in a sweetener to the anti-tax crowd with a bill that would cut the income tax if the Detroit Tigers win the World Series, Michigan State Quarterback Connor Cook wins the Heisman Trophy and the new “Star Wars” movie grosses $1 billion.

No, actually the income tax would fall for other reasons, but the formula is so ridiculously complex it makes the fictitious scenario above – and believe me, the idea of the Tigers in the World Series right now is fictitious – seem comprehensible by comparison.

So right now, about nine weeks after voters rejected Proposal 1, things stand about where everyone following the issue expected.

The Senate passed a substantial tax increase. The House passed a plan without a substantial tax increase (relying instead on money from the General Fund, cutting business incentives and ending the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor). Mr. Snyder is laying low, generally urging action but declining to say publicly what he thinks about the various plans. Those following the issue say Mr. Snyder can live with the Senate plan.

The House sort of returned to session this week to talk privately about the Senate plan and unsurprisingly took no action.

It is even more apparent, as it was immediately after the Senate passed its plan, that (1) the House is nowhere near the 56 votes needed to pass that legislation, (2) there is no obvious path to finding those 56 votes and (3) a compromise between the House and Senate GOP is not near.

The acrimony seen Tuesday between House Democrats and Republicans after Democrats unveiled their plan made clear that Republicans are going it alone and Democrats are just fine with that.

The calendar trudges on relentlessly, and not in a positive way for action on this issue. There is no real deadline to force a final deal anytime soon, and once the calendar turns to 2016, the election year will take hold, and the chances for a tax increase passing the House will decline even further than they are now. That would suggest the next best chance for anything to happen on roads is after the November 2016 election in the lame-duck session.

Sure, there could be a deal yet this year. Maybe Senate Republicans decide even though they took that vote to pass a tax increase, something is better than nothing and cave in favor of a plan more in tune with the House. Maybe Mr. Snyder grows so desperate to claim something, anything on this issue, he does the same. Maybe House Republicans decide they have to raise the gasoline tax in a substantial way to solve the problem. Maybe there is a middle ground upon which the three sides can agree. Maybe House Democrats decide to let the House GOP off the hook and put up votes for a gasoline tax increase.

And maybe the Tigers win the World Series.

Redistricting Proposal Battle Would (Will) Be Epic
Posted: June, 30 2015 1:41 PM

It took about five seconds after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that commissions independent of state legislatures can draw the boundaries for U.S. House districts for seemingly every Democrat on my Twitter and Facebook feeds to say Michigan needs a ballot proposal to establish such a commission in this state.

And while nothing is definite, it seems highly likely that Democrats, their allies or some other entity will seek to gather the necessary signatures in Michigan for a constitutional amendment putting an independent entity in charge of drawing the lines for not only the U.S. House, but also the Michigan House, Michigan Senate and the Court of Appeals.

For decades, the Michigan Supreme Court produced the maps because no one political party had full control of the Legislature and the governor’s office in the term when redistricting takes place following the census (1961-62, 1971-72, 1981-82, 1991-92, for example). In the 1980s and 1990s, especially, this produced maps that led to fiercely competitive battles for the Michigan House and (gasp) the Michigan Senate.

That all changed in in the 2001-02 term. Republicans controlled the governor’s office and the Legislature, making it the first time in 70 years one party could control the map-making process. The impact on the U.S. House seats was enormous. The state’s delegation went from 10-6 Democratic to 9-6 Republican (though it eventually became 8-7 Democratic for a bit). The impact on the Legislature was more muted initially, with Democrats gaining seats in the Senate in 2002 and 2006, and in the House in 2004, 2006 and 2008 – even controlling the chamber from 2007-10. In 2010, however, the Republican tsunami produced big GOP majorities in both houses.

The 2011 map, also drawn solely by the GOP, has been more solid, though unlike the previous decade that featured a mostly unpopular Republican president for Democrats to use as a foil, there’s now been a mostly unpopular Democratic president, instead helping the GOP cause. Republicans have controlled both houses under the 2011 map.

Democrats can do the math on the next reapportionment in 2021. Even if Democrats elect a governor in 2018 and/or control the House in the 2021-22 term to prevent Republicans from having total control, the odds of the party somehow winning total control of the process are very small because the Michigan Constitution forbids the party from controlling the Senate the 27-11 Republican majority in the Senate is too steep to overcome in 2018.

So that means either Republicans would still have total control or a divided government would lead to an impasse, kicking the issue to the Michigan Supreme Court, which … has a 5-2 majority of justices nominated by the GOP now and will likely still have a GOP majority during the 2021-22 term.

That gives an “independent” entity – and just how any proposal defines independent would be its most important element – much appeal to Democrats and ignites worry among Republicans. The Arizona system, which was before the U.S. Supreme Court, uses a commission with two Democrats, two Republicans and has a chair that is supposed to be a political monk, totally independent of political ties. There are several criteria that the commission has to follow when drawing the maps.

Would the Democratic funders who care enough about this proposal to put millions into it be willing to put up all that money for a process that will likely only improve the party’s chances of legislative control to 50/50?

What kind of maps might an independent commission produce? The most intriguing aspect would be how it would handle the current boundaries, which are a mess that split communities of interest, for the U.S. House in metro Detroit. How would an independent commission maintain two majority-minority districts, as the U.S. Voting Rights Act requires, and clean up those boundaries at the same time?

No district in the state was drawn more weirdly than the 11th District, now held by U.S. Rep. David Trott (R-Birmingham) to maximize Republican voters and prune away Democrats. How would a commission handle that district?

As for the Legislature, the House districts in the Jackson, Port Huron and Battle Creek areas as well as the Senate districts in Genesee County – all carved up to improve Republican chances –could change considerably.

Who would lead the charge on a ballot proposal? That is a delicate matter. The Yes side will have to run a campaign for a proposal that has a political purpose using an apolitical message.

If it is unions and other Democratic interests that push the proposal, and it surely will be, it would make it easier for Republicans and their allies to paint it as a union/”special interest” power play.

The same holds true for the opposition, however. If business interests pour money into the campaign to defeat the proposal, and they surely will, the Yes side will counter that “corporate special interests” are trying to keep their hold on the Capitol.

Nothing is more openly political and ruthless as the redistricting process. Usually it happens every 10 years, and voters utter a collective yawn.

But in 2016, it looks like voters will have to confront redistricting in a big way.

A Sidenote To Another Ripple Effect Of Johnson Departing MDP
Posted: June, 25 2015 12:22 PM

Now that Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson has made it official that he’s resigning to run for Congress, and now that Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) has made it official that he hopes to succeed Mr. Johnson, there’s an interesting ripple effect to note.

One of the unknowns going into 2018, when the Michigan Senate is next up for election, was which Democrat – Mr. Dillon or Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) – would be the party’s nominee for the 29th Senate District. That’s the very competitive seat that covers Grand Rapids and several suburbs and other Kent County communities.

In 2018, Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell) cannot seek re-election because of term limits, and this seat will be a top priority for both parties.

Prior to the surprising decision of Mr. Johnson to resign and Mr. Dillon to eye the post, the seat might have presented Democrats with an awkward situation. Both Mr. Dillon and Ms. Brinks would have been first-rate candidates. Mr. Dillon would have been out of the House for two years, and Ms. Brinks can’t run for her House seat again in 2018 (presuming she wins re-election in 2016), so both would likely have been tempted to run.

And both have experience running and winning difficult campaigns, Mr. Dillon in 2010 in a much more competitive seat than the one he now has in a bad Democratic year, and Ms. Brinks in 2014, when she had to stave off a ferocious Republican challenge in another bad Democratic year.

Now that potential conundrum for the Democrats is surely gone. Mr. Dillon will be busy, presuming all goes as expected, with his new job at the Hart-Kennedy House (MDP headquarters), and Ms. Brinks has the right of first refusal for the Democratic nomination in the 29th.

As to the Republicans, there are now two House members who live in the 29th Senate District – Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township) and Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto). And there’s always the possibility of someone else from the area’s robust Republican network not currently serving in the Legislature deciding to run.

Shia LaBeouf Joins Snyder To Urge Road Funding… Wait, What?
Posted: June, 4 2015 12:57 PM

The sort of bizarre, perhaps serious, perhaps parody video of actor Shia LaBeouf giving an extremely loud motivational speech has become an Internet hit for its easy mashup ability with other videos, and the folks at the Truscott Rossman public relations firm have gotten in on the fun.

About a month ago, according to Vox, the video surfaced, but it has gone viral in the last 24 hours, and Vox has a lengthy foray into its meaning and just what Mr. LaBeouf might have had in mind with it. Mr. LaBeouf is probably best-known for his role in the “Transformers” movies (none of which were better than the 1980s television cartoon or accompanying movie, by the way) with a few unfortunate roles along the way including a turn on the old “Project Greenlight” reality program where he starred in the ill-fated “The Battle of Shaker Heights.”

Half the reason for this post is that I wanted to work in a “Battle of Shaker Heights” reference.

With that out of the way, Truscott Rossman wasted little time in mashing up the LaBeouf motivational video with a really dry speech from Governor Rick Snyder urging those watching to contact their legislator about the need for more road funding. The result is pretty funny.

Mr. LaBeouf has a long way to go however in the world of motivational speaker parodies. Over to you, Matt Foley and your van down by the river.

A Kildee Update To The 2018 Gubernatorial Talk
Posted: June, 2 2015 12:04 PM

Last week, I wrote about which Democrats stood as the next strongest alternatives to run for governor in 2018 with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan ruling out a bid.

Those names were Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner and former Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.

One name I considered and decided against including was U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint). And it wasn’t long after posting my blog that Kildee supporters contacted me saying he belonged on that list.

I had hesitated because Mr. Kildee could hold his 5th U.S. District seat for life if he wants. It’s solidly Democratic, and between his track record as the Genesee County treasurer, strong organization, the solid support of organized labor and his first-rate ballot name (his uncle Dale held the seat for decades before he did), anyone trying to challenge him for the Democratic nomination would be in for a world of hurt.

Why give that up for the uncertain prospect of a gubernatorial bid?

The reason would be if Mr. Kildee aspires to more than a lengthy congressional career. And it seems he does. Recall that he did run for governor, albeit just for 11 days, in 2010. In the wake of then-Lt. Governor John Cherry’s surprising withdrawal from the race, anyone and everyone in the party was considering running. Mr. Kildee, then the county treasurer, jumped in, but once it became clear organized labor was with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, he pulled out.

On Mackinac Island, Mr. Kildee told the Detroit Free Press’ Kathy Gray that he will consider it.

“The question I have to answer is: Where is the best place for me to make progress on the things that I think are important? I owe it to myself to really think about it," he told the Free Press. "It's not that time yet, but I certainly haven't taken it off the table."

Mr. Kildee also has gone out of his way to maintain some involvement in state government, coming to town last year for a news conference and taking on Governor Rick Snyder from time to time.

Should he run, Mr. Kildee would have a great chance to win the support of organized labor, always helpful in a Democratic primary. The Kildee name also is well known in Democratic politics because of his uncle’s nearly four decades in Congress. He could match his achievements as the county treasurer with his strong liberal positions in Congress.

The concerns would be his ability to raise enough money and whether he could excite the Democratic base that mostly is concentrated in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, where he is unknown. That latter point was a major problem for former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, who despite years of work in Michigan Democratic politics and plenty of effort in the 2014 campaign could not excite the base in Detroit and got throttled by Mr. Snyder in Macomb and Oakland counties.

Still, if Mr. Kildee runs, there’s no question he would be a major contender to win his party’s nomination, perhaps the favorite, depending on who else enters the race.

This is all a political eternity from now, of course. But the combination of the open seat with Mr. Snyder term limited, Mr. Duggan’s comments and the lack of a U.S. Senate race in the state in 2016 has pushed up the timetable for the usual chattering among the chattering class about the next gubernatorial contest.

If Not Duggan For Governor, Then Who For The Democrats?
Posted: May, 28 2015 1:42 PM

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan already had scoffed at the speculation he was eyeing a run for governor in 2018, but his flat declaration Wednesday that he will not be a candidate – and stop asking him about it, by the way – might finally put to rest any chance he will seek the Democratic nomination.

Might. Let’s not forget, Mr. Duggan presumably will seek re-election as Detroit mayor in 2017, and flirting with a gubernatorial bid more than two years from that election would be politically ill-advised, to say the least. If after the mayor’s race concludes in 2017 – and Mr. Duggan’s organization, name recognition among voters and first-rate fundraising ability allows him to wait much longer than other potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates – and Mr. Duggan still says he is not running, then it is safe to say he is 100 percent out.

But for now, let’s assume Mr. Duggan is out. Then what?

It deprives Democrats of their best candidate. No one can match Mr. Duggan’s combination of political strengths as outlined above and resume.

And winning the governor’s race is an absolute imperative for Michigan Democrats in 2018.

Democrats are in a position of permanent minority in the Michigan Senate with Republicans holding a 27-11 advantage. Just narrowing that gap to 24-14 would be a triumph for Democrats in 2018.

In the House, Democrats should narrow the 63-47 Republican majority in 2016 thanks to presidential year turnout and a slew of open seats though the odds are against them winning the eight seats needed for shared power to halt Republicans’ ability to pass legislation unimpeded. What will happen in 2018 is hard to say. A Republican in the White House, while surely a Democratic nightmare, would paradoxically enhance Democrats’ chances of mobilizing their voters for a better than usual midterm turnout, but history clearly suggests Republicans will have the advantage in 2018 with the House.

So that means if Democrats want any say at all in what happens at the Capitol anytime soon, they have to win the governorship. It also would mean in 2021, for the first time in 30 years, that Republicans do not have total control of redistricting.

After Mr. Duggan, the following names will get a long look: Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner, former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and … that’s probably it as far as candidates with a credible path to victory. Other than Ms. Whitmer, anyone not from Macomb, Oakland or Wayne counties need not apply. The outstate factor proved a major roadblock for the last two Democratic nominees, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer of Battle Creek.

Mr. Hackel clearly seems interested and toyed with the idea in 2014. There would be a couple complications, however. One, Mr. Hackel would have to give up the county executive post, which also is up for election in 2018. And his independent brand of politics that has seen him clash with some key Democratic interests could prove problematic in a Democratic primary. Still, he is hugely popular in a critical county and could have general election appeal to independents, who went heavily for Governor Rick Snyder in 2014.

Mr. Meisner could be in an interesting spot. Clearly a rising star in the party, holding a countywide office in the most politically important county in the state, having come up through the Levin machine, a former legislator and having strong fundraising ability, Mr. Meisner could be a player. But he will first have to make a decision about what to do in 2016. The county executive post will be up for election, and retirement speculation is running high on Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

If elected county executive, Mr. Meisner would face a difficult decision about a 2018 gubernatorial bid. It would require him to spend most of his first two years as executive campaigning for governor. And if Republicans move the date of the next county executive election up to 2018 from 2020, he would have to give up the job to run for governor.

Ms. Whitmer remains a player in the party though an unknown is how much being out of office will dim her star power. Had she run in 2014, the party would have cleared the field for her. In 2018, that won’t be the case unless Mr. Duggan, Mr. Hackel and Mr. Meisner all take themselves out of the running. If all three are out, there will probably be heavy pressure from party leaders to persuade Ms. Whitmer to run because after Ms. Whitmer, the options become a series of lesser-known current and former legislators or trying to find a business executive type who could self-fund a race.

But this all starts with Mr. Duggan. His comments Wednesday will stir the pot in Democratic circles. Come early 2017, when the other potential Democratic candidates will have to get serious about running, they will be watching for any change in tone on the subject from him.

The 23 Things That Went Wrong For Proposal 1
Posted: May, 7 2015 10:39 AM

Governor Rick Snyder and legislators are so focused on their vows to find an answer to road underfunding in the wake of the epic thrashing Proposal 15-1 took Tuesday and unwilling to dwell on just how badly the proposal performed that they sound like Frank Drebin in “The Naked Gun” after the missile hits the fireworks plant and he hilariously advises onlookers “please disperse, nothing to see here.”

There will be plenty of time to focus on what’s next. More drama. More closed-door meetings in which the participants offer bromides about making progress, and afterwards to describe how the meetings went.

But this week should not pass without a proper reflection on just what a disaster Proposal 1 was. When was the last time 80 percent of the people agreed on anything in Michigan politics?

So much effort went into putting the proposal together. Difficult negotiations. Heated disputes. An all-night session. Hard work. Compromise. A momentary crisis on the Senate floor when it fell short of the needed votes. Years of discussions finally culminated into a plan that had Mr. Snyder and leaders from both parties feeling like they had finally cracked the code to increasing road funding for the first time since 1997.

Sure, they had to convince the voters, but if they could find agreement among themselves, surely it could be done.

And yet, by 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, just 15 minutes after the polls closed, with a quarter of the vote counted in Oakland County and the No vote at 78 percent, it was quickly and convincingly over. When the final votes were counted, the Yes vote topped out at 19.9 percent, the worst performance for a constitutional amendment in 67 years and fourth-worst ever. Humiliating seems not a strong enough word to describe the magnitude of the defeat.

So with that in mind, in no particular order, here are the 23 things that went wrong for Proposal 1. Why 23? Because I couldn’t think of a 24th.

1. A POLITICALLY WEAK PLAN: Voters had a choice between raising their taxes or not raising their taxes. What did everyone really think would happen? Pile on layers and complexity and Mr. Snyder and top legislators were ignoring a cardinal rule about ballot proposals: uncertain voters vote no. You could almost see the characters in the old “Saturday Night Live” “Bad Idea Jeans” sketch coming up with the plan.

2. A REPUBLICAN REVOLT: While many Republican legislators voted for this plan, Republican voters hated it. Seemingly every grassroots GOP organization urged a no vote.

3. STAFFING SHAKE-UP FOR YES CAMPAIGN: On December 19, the day after the Legislature put the plan on the ballot with no groundwork laid for a campaign, getting a campaign structure in place quickly was paramount. It took a bit, but by early January, one was taking shape with Howard Edelson, Truscott Rossman, Glengariff Group and Joe Slade White ready to helm the effort. But disagreements between the firms and Mr. Snyder’s chief liaison on the proposal, Terri Reid, prompted a parting of ways. New firms, Martin Waymire and WWP were brought aboard, and while they are fine firms, the Yes campaign had essentially lost one-third of the campaign and was starting from scratch.

4. POISONED WELL: Expectations were so high for the Legislature to pass something that there was a big backlash to the proposal, seeing it as the Legislature shirking its duties in a republic.

5. TINFOIL HAT CROWD: There’s no way to reason with people who decide to vote no because they think the state swindled them when it started the lottery more than 40 years ago to help fund schools (and in 1972 the lottery was intended to raise revenue for all state government not just schools, but somehow quickly that was what people believed) or those who think the state should pay for roads by shutting down Eastern Michigan University. These were actual positions I heard actual people espouse. But their votes count.

6. SCHUETTE FACTOR: Attorney General Bill Schuette deciding to oppose the proposal stung.

7. OVERPLAYING THE SAFETY MESSAGE: Mr. Snyder had tried for years to make the case that Michigan needed to fix its roads to save lives. It never convinced the public to rally to his side, yet that was the overwhelming message from the Yes side in the early stage of the campaign, and the public reaction, if anything, was highly negative.

8. SNYDER PRESIDENTIAL FLIRTATION: Mr. Snyder’s flirtation with running for president could not possibly have helped the proposal’s cause among Democratic voters, who were loath to give the governor on a win on anything.

9. FAILURE TO COUNTER THE ANGER: The proposal became a vessel for voters to vent their anger about whatever particular problem they have with the government. This was always a long shot to pass it, so why not try to counter the anger with some humor from a non-political figure. Could Brad Keselowski, the famous NASCAR driver and Rochester Hills native, have been persuaded to endorse the proposal and cut an ad featuring him dodging potholes, saying Michigan’s roads were even too much for him to navigate? Failing that, even a regular Joe or Jane in a car dodging potholes might have at least offered a message with which voters could identify.

Or what about a social media campaign using the guy behind the hysterical Not So Pure Michigan parody ads and have him do one that mocks the state’s roads, complete with “Cider House Rules” background music? The f-bombs, a staple of his parodies of things like Lions fans and various regions of the state, sadly, would have to go, and they would have to be 99 percent less offensive, but again, get folks to take a second look. Make them laugh. Remind them of what bothers them most about Michigan’s roads.

Linking to one of the Not So Pure Michigan videos here would probably get me fired, so let’s move on…

10. SNYDER BLOWS HIS ACHILLES: Clearly when Mr. Snyder agreed to a ballot proposal on December 18, part of the plan did not involve him rupturing his Achilles tendon in January, effectively immobilizing him for weeks and then getting hospitalized with a blood clot for several days. Murphy’s Law came into play. This wasn’t like Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas blowing his Achilles in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament against Maryland and the Spartans still winning the game. The Yes side lost its most visible advocate for a key early stretch when the No side was just getting rolling.

11. LACKLUSTER DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT: It took a while for most top Democrats to embrace the plan in a full-throated way. By the time most did, it was too late.

12. PAUL MITCHELL: For the proposal to have a chance, there needed to be no real opposition. Republican Paul Mitchell put together a relatively low-budget operation that did enough to stoke a backlash to the proposal.

13. THE MICHIGAN CHAMBER STAYS OUT: Having the Michigan Chamber of Commerce on board would have meant more money and given a greater opportunity to make some inroads among Republicans. Instead, the chamber stayed neutral.

14. ILL-ADVISED DETROIT MOVE BY SNYDER ON EVE OF ELECTION: Days before the vote on Proposal 1, Mr. Snyder unveiled his controversial and mostly panned proposal to restructure public education in Detroit. For someone who has an incredible track record of staying on message, this was a startling error. Why unveil a politically unpopular proposal – that won’t even take effect for the upcoming school year – so close to Election Day?

15. NO REPEAT OF SPRING POTHOLE HYSTERIA: As cold as the winter of 2014-15 was, it did not match the historic cold of 2013-14, and the pothole hysteria supporters hoped would galvanize voters never materialized.

16. TERRIBLE HEADLINES FOR MDOT: From the controversial leased railcars sitting in a warehouse to audits finding some problems in Department of Transportation operations, the bad press the department has seen this year only helped make the case for those open to it that the state needed to get its house in order first before asking for new revenue.

17. ILL-TIMED CAPITAL PROJECTS IN THE CAPITAL CITY: The Senate’s decision to move to the Capitol View building and lease space provided plenty of ammunition to opponents who argued the state was squandering money that could instead go to the roads. A plan unveiled in late December for a new Capitol visitors center also took heat until officials shelved it.

18. THE ENTICEMENTS BACKFIRE: Remember how putting funding in the proposal for schools, local governments and tax relief for the working poor was supposed to help generate interest in the proposal for those less interested in roads? It didn’t. Even worse, a big chunk of voters seemed to recoil at the plan extending beyond roads even if there was a legitimate case for structuring the proposal in that way.

19. OVERSIGHTS IN THE PROPOSAL: Mistakes in the wording of the some of the bills meant there were at least three trailer bills that were going to be needed to clean up the plan if it passed. That’s not unusual for a major piece of legislation, but most major pieces of legislation also do not go before voters. And it only added to the criticism that Mr. Snyder and the Legislature threw the plan together at the last minute in the middle of the night without thoroughly vetting it.

20. THE EXISTING TRANSPORTATION FUNDING STRUCTURE IS A MESS: Mr. Snyder and supporters had a strong point in saying the proposal would lead to a simpler system with all taxes paid at the pump going to fund roads. But when even the head of the County Road Association of Michigan acknowledges that her own family members didn’t realize sales tax paid at the pump does not go to roads, it underscores just how difficult the task was for supporters to explain the benefits.

21. THE ‘NO PLAN B’ MESSAGE: As much some legislators are now promising swift action on a roads plan, the odds of pulling something big and substantive together in the near future are low. So when supporters urged passage because there was no “Plan B,” it wasn’t that they were wrong, but it only seemed to enhance voter anger at the proposal and the Legislature for failing to resolve the issue on their own without asking voters to finish the job.

22. THE PAY DOWN THE DEBT COMPONENT: The plan had a perfectly reasonable provision to focus much of the first two years of new revenue on paying down old debt to pay for years-ago road construction. The problem was it completely undercut the “your lives are in danger” message from the Yes side. If the problem is so dire, then why not put all the money into road work right away?

23. HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY: The spokesperson for Safe Roads Yes, Roger Martin, had a great line Wednesday during one of the Proposal 1 autopsies, lamenting how the Legislature and the governor decided to go for a ballot proposal without researching in advance whether the public would support their approach. It was “like shooting an arrow without aiming,” he said.

So there you have it. A defeat for the ages. Maybe “The Blue Note” from “The Naked Gun 2 1/2” can make room on its disaster wall for an image paying homage to Proposal 1 (yes, that’s two “Naked Gun” references for those of you scoring at home).

The Proposal 1 Defeat: Winners And Losers
Posted: May, 5 2015 9:20 PM

As most expected, voters overwhelmingly defeated Proposal 15-1 and decided against a complex plan to raise the sales tax as part of a way to raise more money for roads.

Here’s an early look at who won and lost in this rare statewide special election.


PAUL MITCHELL: Mr. Mitchell steadfastly denied that his decision to lead an opposition group to the proposal had anything to do with his own political ambitions, but most expect him to run for office again and his having put almost a half-million of his own money into the No campaign will only help burnish his credentials in the Republican Party.

HIGHER EDUCATION: It didn’t get a lot of discussion, but one part of the constitutional amendment would have prohibited the use of School Aid Fund money to fund higher education, something that has occurred the last several fiscal years. Passage of Proposal 1 coupled with a recession would have put the state’s 15 public universities in a difficult spot.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS WHO PASSED BALLOT PROPOSALS: Since the state picked up the cost of holding an election, local governments did not have to shell out the money as they usually would to hold local millage, bond and other proposal votes.

THE NO NEW TAXES CROWD: Remember how tortuous it was in Mr. Snyder’s first term trying to increase taxes to pay for more money for roads? Imagine how difficult it will be now with a more conservative Legislature emboldened by an overwhelming public vote against a tax increase.


RICK SNYDER: Governor Rick Snyder suffered the biggest defeat of his administration, having until now largely had his way in winning approval of his major priorities. Mr. Snyder’s mantra of “relentless positive action” has proven successful on much of his legislative agenda, but his decision to bend to House Republicans in 2014 and agree to a plan that did not legislatively raise taxes severely backfired. The governor also will take heat for traveling around the country in the days leading up to the vote.

ENDORSEMENTS: The Yes campaign had endorsements from almost every major group, liberal and conservative, business and union, Democratic and Republican. The hope was that these organizations would succeed in persuading their members to vote yes and carry the proposal to victory. That clearly did not happen.

GROUPS PUSHING ANY ISSUE OTHER THAN ROADS AT THE CAPITOL: There will surely be an attempt to find new funding for roads – how substantive and how serious remains to be seen. If it becomes a serious endeavor, it will likely suck up all the oxygen at the Capitol again and make it difficult for other issues to move until it is resolved, much like what happened in 2014.

THE FIX ROADS WITH A BALLOT PROPOSAL CROWD: Surely some will suggest a simpler ballot proposal, such as raising the sales tax by 1 percent with all money going to roads. That probably will cause road construction interests, who put about $6 million into Proposal 1, to throw up in their collective mouths. Good luck trying to convince anyone to fund a ballot proposal after what happened tonight.

Additionally, the Legislature took an absolute beating for the past several months for “punting” the issue to voters that helped poison the well on the proposal before the campaign even started. Sending the issue back to voters would provoke another backlash and probably doom a second proposal too.

The only scenario where a proposal actually would generate the revenue would be a Proposal A of 1994-style proposal that forces voters to choose between two different tax increases, but it is hard to imagine this Legislature agreeing to a complex plan that guarantees a tax increase.

Snyder Presidential Flirtation Prior To Prop 1 Vote Risky
Posted: April, 27 2015 2:31 PM

From the moment the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder decided to put the question of more funding for roads on the ballot for voters to decide, there was no question that, fairly or unfairly, Mr. Snyder would get the lion’s share of the blame if voters defeated it.

But as Mr. Snyder continues to fan the flames of the idea that he is considering running for president, and as Mr. Snyder continues a national swing – prior to the May 5 vote – that only furthers the speculation, the governor risks heavy criticism if voters reject the proposal.

The message against Mr. Snyder from his political foes, and maybe others, will be that he put his own ambitions ahead of the roads proposal.

Mr. Snyder will protest that vigorously, emphasizing all the many events he has held and the long series of interviews with virtually every news media outlet in the state to urge voters to pass the proposal. Last week, he personally filled potholes in Caledonia and Detroit in a show for the television cameras.

And yet, in a campaign, especially a compressed one like this one, every day is precious, especially so close to the election. But Mr. Snyder spent the last several days on the road, first in Nevada at the Republican Jewish Coalition, then the White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington, D.C., and now today is in California for the Milken Institute’s conference. He did two television interviews this morning, and at least one featured several questions about a White House bid.

So with 12 days until Election Day, Mr. Snyder spent four of them outside the state as part of his stated mission to sell Michigan’s story, but which also can serve the dual purpose of building interest in a possible presidential bid. If Proposal 1 loses in a close decision, it will be hard for Mr. Snyder to defend the wisdom of that time management. Of course, if it loses by a huge margin, then nothing Mr. Snyder did or did not do would have changed the end result.

Mr. Snyder has made it clear that refusing to take his name out of the presidential mix helps draw more attention to the state and gives him more cachet to sell the state’s story around the country. And that makes sense.

And I don’t think Mr. Snyder is going to run for president. I think the idea intrigues him, and I think he would like to translate what he has done in Michigan to Washington, D.C., given his complete disdain for the dysfunction in the nation’s capital. I think he looks at the other Republican candidates and thinks, “Why not me? I have a good story to tell too, maybe a better one.”

But as I have said in the past, I cannot imagine Mr. Snyder essentially deciding to spend the next nine months living in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. And as Republican strategist Greg McNeilly explained recently, he cannot replicate his 2010 strategy of letting the conservatives divide up the vote in the Republican primary.

Michigan’s 2010 primary was a one-shot deal that enabled him to beat four conservatives with 37 percent of the vote. Even if Mr. Snyder managed to win, say, New Hampshire using that same formula, the fight for the nomination is a series of contests that eventually would reduce it to Mr. Snyder against a more conservative candidate. Game over.

I think Mr. Snyder recognizes these realties. But the governor has a golden opportunity to get a bunch of national coverage for the state (and himself) using the presidential calendar as bait. And it does seem Mr. Snyder is at least loosely contemplating the idea (and really, what governor of a major state has never daydreamed about the presidency?).

So the governor has his toe in the presidential waters. It would be a surprise, however, if he wades in any further.

If Mr. Snyder forms a federal super political action committee, and if he starts scheduling meet ‘n’ greets in places like Keene, New Hampshire, then this Snyder presidential speculation moves into a more serious phase.

If Proposal 15-1 fails, however, and Mr. Snyder, decides against a presidential campaign, the question will be whether the pounding he takes on May 6 will have been worth the opportunity to put the state and himself in the national spotlight.

The Big Legislative Pay Increase, 14 Years Later
Posted: April, 16 2015 11:22 AM

Sometime soon, the State Officers Compensation Commission, a panel of gubernatorial appointees, will recommend pay levels for legislators and statewide elected officials starting in 2017.

One of the SOCC members, when the panel met Wednesday, complained that legislative leaders had provided no recommendation as to what, if anything, should change with their pay.

But for legislators to avoid anything to do with their pay level is no surprise. Ever since the SOCC, at legislative leaders’ behest, recommended a 38.7 percent pay increase for legislators for the 2001-02 term, and the Legislature allowed that increase to take effect, the subject of legislative pay increases has been taboo.

That pay increase has become comparable in the public mind to the old “what happened to the lottery money” saw as far as tainting opinion of the Legislature. Besides the remarkable increase in pay, from $56,981 to $79,650, it also had the effect of juicing the pension benefits for those legislators still in the old pension system.

The supporters of the raise did make a legitimate policy point, that in the era of term limits, it was becoming difficult to persuade those in their 30s, 40s and 50s, in their prime earning years, to take six to 14 years away from their careers, to serve in the Legislature at the pay level at that time. They feared a Legislature, mainly the House, dominated by 20-somethings and those in their 60s nearing retirement.

But the uproar predictably was massive. Under the system at the time, the Legislature only could reject a SOCC pay recommendation with two-thirds majority votes in the House and the Senate. The Senate, dominated by veteran members serving their last term under term limits who would never seek elected office again, made clear it would not vote on the issue. The House, with a membership still very much planning a future in politics and sensing a free pass with the Senate not planning to act, overwhelmingly voted to reject the raise.

The Senate, true to its word, did not vote, and the raises took effect.

But the fallout was significant. The Legislature, under withering attack from the public, put a proposal on the ballot to amend the Constitution, requiring legislators instead to vote affirmatively to approve any SOCC pay recommendations. Voters passed the change. Not only has the Legislature not approved a pay increase since then, it actually approved a 10 percent pay cut in 2009 in the midst of the Great Recession, dropping salaries to $71,685.

And, adjusted for inflation, the $56,981 legislators were paid in 2000 would now be $77,670 today. Yet, looking back at a 2002 Citizens Research Council of Michigan report, the old SOCC system did not keep legislator pay up with inflation either, though it did mean some type of increase almost every year or two.

Certainly, at $71,685 a year, serving as a legislator remains a more than financially viable endeavor, though most would say that’s not the reason why they run. But it’s hard to imagine that pay level increasing any time in the foreseeable future, if ever, under the current system and with memories of the 38.7 percent pay increase still firmly in the ether.

The public probably would be happy, however, to supply the Legislature with the world’s smallest violin.

Snyder Answers To Presidential Queries Taking On New Tone
Posted: March, 30 2015 1:31 PM

Governor Rick Snyder gave two interviews last week while in Washington, D.C., that signal, maybe, he is actually giving a run for the presidency some serious thought.

I say this with some hesitancy because No. 1, I still think Mr. Snyder, with his innate lack of passion for retail campaigning, cannot possibly want to spend most of the rest of the this year camped out in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that will hold the first nominating caucus and nominating primary for the Republican presidential nomination. No. 2, Mr. Snyder’s chances of winning that nomination are remote, and even with Mr. Snyder’s mantra of positive thinking, I think he is aware of that reality.

And No. 3, Mr. Snyder has made it clear in the past he likes to have his name raised for national office as a way to generate some publicity for the state, so he doesn’t mind stoking the speculation.

All that said, Mr. Snyder’s comments last week to The Associated Press and then The Washington Post – to the Post’s top political writer, Dan Balz, no less – marked a distinct change in what Mr. Snyder is saying about a run for the presidency.

To the AP, when asked about running, Mr. Snyder said, “There’s time to evaluate opportunities.”

And then, in a lengthy Post feature, Mr. Snyder even analyzed the prospective 2016 presidential field. He said he was not convinced that those running grasp the distinction between ideology and solving a problem. He said there are “good people” running and mentioned former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The Post asked Mr. Snyder if either met the standard of putting problem-solving ahead of ideology.

“I don’t think they potentially go far enough in terms of getting out of the political discussion and getting to the problem-solving discussion. I don’t want to be critical of them, because I appreciate them being proactive,” he said.

These comments are distinctly different from past statements Mr. Snyder made about running for the White House, usually something along the lines of how he is “focused on Michigan.”

So maybe it is time to rethink long-held assumptions about Mr. Snyder’s political ambitions.

There are some real reasons to consider why he could make a viable run:

  • Money. Mr. Snyder has tremendous personal wealth, in case anyone forgot. He spent $6 million in his bid to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010. He isn’t going to self-finance a presidential campaign that will cost well into nine figures, maybe 10, but he has more than enough resources to get a campaign rolling. And Michigan has some of the most important and deep-pocketed Republican donors in the country. They could form a super political action committee to aid him. That kind of a one-two punch would help Mr. Snyder overcome Mr. Bush’s head start in fundraising.
  • Geniality. The Republican nominating contest, at this early stage, seems to be evolving into a Bush-Not Bush dynamic. Mr. Walker, at the moment, has laid claim to much of the portion of the Republican Party opposed to Mr. Bush. Mr. Walker has many strengths, but if there is one real concern about him as a general election candidate, it is that he comes off as a bit severe. In general, voters prefer to see some warmth in a presidential candidate.
  • Suburban appeal. Mr. Snyder has done something in Michigan that federal Republican candidates have repeatedly failed to do here. Dominate, and I do mean dominate, in Macomb and Oakland counties. He has managed to build a brand of fiscal restraint, yet backing targeted investments, and de-emphasizing social issues that appeals with those voters. A Republican presidential candidate who can pull off the same feat in other major metropolitan areas will win the White House.

Yet all the reasons why a Snyder run does not compute are still there. His record on social issues, immigration, support for the Common Core State Standards and Medicaid expansion put him opposite the Republican electorate. He is championing a big tax increase for roads. Most of these stances would help him in the general election, but will surely be an anvil around him in seeking the Republican nomination.

And if Mr. Bush officially gets into the race, as expected, Mr. Snyder would be competing for the same set of voters in the Republican Party. Yes, there is some Bush fatigue, but there also is considerable reverence in much of the GOP for the Bush family. Mr. Snyder is unknown nationally and cannot possibly replicate the incredible national structure the Bush family has established.

I still cannot imagine Mr. Snyder barnstorming from Nashua to Concord to Manchester and from Ames to Cedar Rapids to Dubuque. But if it seemed like there was a 0 percent chance of Mr. Snyder running for president a week ago, the percentage is now higher. Not by much, but the bottom line is it’s not 0 anymore.

Returning Some Sanity To The Legislature On The Budget Process
Posted: March, 25 2015 3:02 PM

At the close of the day Thursday, House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees will have each completed action on 17 bills allocating funding for all state departments and major budget areas in the 2015-16 fiscal year with 33 of those 34 bills winning approval in a dizzying three-day span this week.

This is not how the Legislature has always handled the budget, and it’s time to call it for what it is: unnecessary madness.

Let’s start off by acknowledging that the issue at hand is about as inside baseball as it gets at the Capitol. It affects a fraction of legislators, their legislative staffs, the news reporters who cover the budgets, those representing groups with an interest in the budgets and, most of all, the staffs of the House and Senate Fiscal agencies, the experts who make the budget process function.

And let’s also say the process since 2011 is far better than what happened from 2007-10 when the Legislature and then-Governor Jennifer Granholm were so at odds on a budget that the process drifted into the fall with two partial government shutdowns. In September 2007, the Legislature was in session almost every day of the month, including Saturdays and Sundays. No one wants to go through that again.

The Legislature and the governor now wrap up the budget by early June, but the old, long-time system once used could still accomplish the same objective and not leave the heads spinning of everyone who follows and works in the budget process. It might even improve the process by letting legislators and staff focus on fewer budgets at once.

Once upon a time, long ago, in the late 1990s, back when smart phones did not exist, legislative session could only be followed remotely through a closed-circuit audio feed and Michigan State University’s basketball team enjoyed reliable success (oh wait, one of those things still holds true today), the Legislature had a different system for handling budget bills.

The House and Senate would divide and conquer. After the governor’s budget presentation in February, the House would take half the budget bills and the Senate would take the other half.

For example, it might break down like this:

  • House subcommittees start with Community Health, Higher Education, General Government, Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, State Police, Insurance and Financial Services and Agriculture and Rural Development; and
  • Senate subcommittees start with K-12 school aid, Human Services, Community Colleges, Corrections, Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Transportation, the Department of Education, Judiciary and Military and Veterans Affairs.

Then once the full House and full Senate complete work on their half of the budget bills, they begin work on the ones sent over by the other chamber. That second phase could be completed by the end of April, just in time for the mid-May revenue estimating conference that sets the final numbers for determining budget spending levels.

This system worked fine for many years. In fact, over history the Legislature and the governor often wrapped up the budget in June using it.

The paranoia about returning to the bad old days of shutdowns and budget brinksmanship seems to be driving the new system of having every subcommittee act on every budget at once in March. But avoiding another 2007 or 2009 is less about the new schedule and more about the political dynamics in place, how complicated the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is and the personalities of the legislative leaders at the time.

So maybe, come 2016, the Legislature can come up with a better system than cramming in vital budget decisions on 34 budget bills into three days.

I assume, however, that MSU basketball will continue to operate in March like it long has.

Energy Debate Might Not Live Up To Expectations
Posted: March, 23 2015 1:11 PM

The one topic that has galvanized everyone’s attention at the Capitol so far this year is energy, and for good reason, given its essential nature, the critical importance the state plays in regulating it and that virtually everyone with even a remote interest in the issue seems to have hired someone to represent them.

2015 loomed as a big year on energy policy in Michigan, mainly because utilities have now met the state’s requirement that they generate 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by this year. And Governor Rick Snyder had pointed to 2015 as the year he would make a major proposal on energy policy.

To win approval of the 10 percent requirement in the 2008 law, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature also moved to restrict the amount of competition allowed in the energy market, going from competing companies battling with DTE Energy and Consumers Energy in their territories for all available customers to instead a cap on 10 percent of the market being available to competition.

That helped bring aboard utility support for the 2008 law.

Now environmental activists are hoping to see the renewable mandate increased. Advocates for more competition are trying to undo the cap. The utilities want to see competition and the renewable mandate ended.

Given these countervailing forces, theoretically much could change in the state’s energy policy. And that is why everyone involved in the issue has gone to battle stations.

But already, a path with minimal change is visible.

At this point, it appears virtually certain the 10 percent mandate on using energy from renewable sources will not change. Mr. Snyder proposes no change, and based on extensive interviews Gongwer News Service has done with the members of the House and Senate energy committees, the Republicans who are the majority on those committees are in agreement.

And with Mr. Snyder and Sen. Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), the Senate Energy and Technology Committee chair, both signaling they would like to see the 10 percent cap on competition remain in place, it appears unlikely that Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), the House Energy Policy Committee chair, can win support for ending competition as he wants.

There appears little legislative support for increasing the amount of competition.

That means there might be less radical change, such as something requiring the competing companies to show they have planned for capacity needs for their customers. The competing companies will surely argue they already are doing so.

There will be a debate on what efficiency requirements the state should have. And one of the big unknowns is whether the state will change its procedures for determining the necessity of a utility building or acquiring a new power plant. Current law sets up a voluntary and seldom-used approval process. DTE Energy wants to see a better structure, but so far Mr. Snyder and key legislators have steered clear of the issue.

Add it all up, and at this early stage, there is a distinct possibility that Michigan’s energy law might not look that much different once this debate concludes than it does now.

The Early Line On Succeeding Candice Miller
Posted: March, 6 2015 1:06 PM

As temperatures neared 0 last night for hopefully the final time this winter, one source of heat for the state came from the phone lines in the 586 and 810 area codes that burst into flames shortly after 3:16 p.m. Thursday when U.S. Rep. Candice Miller stunned the political world in declaring she would not seek re-election.

Virtually any current or recent former elected official in most of Macomb County as well as the Thumb suddenly began dreaming about running for Congress and weighing the possibilities.

This blog is going to focus on the Republicans. While the seat is theoretically winnable for a Democrat, and I emphasize theoretical because Ms. Miller’s vote percentage ranged from 63 to 72 percent in seven victories, my presumption is that Democrats will rally around one candidate and avoid a primary. What fun is that?

The Republicans, however, will have a primary.

And we should note how Ms. Miller’s retirement represents the end of an era for the Republican Party. Fourteen years ago, when Republicans redrew the maps, priority number one was to draw a district especially suited for Ms. Miller, then the secretary of state. She had no primary, and while other Republican elected officials have been the subject of intraparty ire, Ms. Miller mostly has been one of the few unifying forces in the party.

2016 will be very different from what the 10th U.S. House District saw in 2002 when Ms. Miller won easily. In 2010, as the most vicious election I have covered played out in the Michigan Senate district for northern Macomb County, I dubbed it in a headline as the “Macomb Chainsaw Massacre” in a nod to the famous horror movie.

There is a real possibility that the upcoming Republican primary could be the sequel.

At this early stage, we can only judge the potential strength of possible candidates on paper. And right now, three stand out on the Republican side, and I’m putting them in alphabetical order: Sen. Jack Brandenburg of Harrison Township, Rep. Andrea LaFontaine of Columbus and Sen. Phil Pavlov of St. Clair.

All three are known as hard-workers on the campaign trail. All three have run and won multiple tough campaigns. All three have won tough races against strong Democratic candidates. Mr. Brandenburg and Mr. Pavlov also have won tough Republican primaries.

And this race is going to cost a pile of money to win. That’s where Mr. Brandenburg and Mr. Pavlov have an edge on Ms. LaFontaine.

Mr. Brandenburg and Mr. Pavlov are both strong fundraisers. Mr. Brandenburg also has some wealth he could use to seed the campaign as he has done with previous bids for office. And the wealth in the community is in Mr. Brandenburg’s part of the district. Ms. LaFontaine has never raised a ton of money in her runs for office, nor for her relatively new political action committee.

All three are conservatives. However, they have split on some high-profile issues. Ms. LaFontaine supported putting the proposed sales tax increase on the ballot to raise money for roads while Mr. Brandenburg and Mr. Pavlov voted no. Ms. LaFontaine voted for the Medicaid expansion and reform legislation while Mr. Brandenburg and Mr. Pavlov voted no. Ms. LaFontaine supported the Grand Bargain to help pull Detroit out of bankruptcy. Again, Mr. Brandenburg and Mr. Pavlov voted no.

Geography looms as a significant factor. According to one analysis, 44 percent of the Republican primary vote in the 10th U.S. House District comes out of the turf Mr. Pavlov represents in the Senate. About 38 percent comes from Mr. Brandenburg’s territory. Just 11 percent comes from Ms. LaFontaine’s area.

Helping Mr. Pavlov, what if a bunch of Macomb candidates join the race, like former Rep. Pete Lund, current Rep. Peter Lucido, Rep. Ken Goike, Sen. Tory Rocca and others? That would split up the Macomb vote.

At the same time, if Ms. LaFontaine is the lone woman in the field, that could help her cause.

There are all kinds of X-factors here. Mr. Lucido is brand new to elected politics, but if he jumped into the race, he showed last year he was willing to dip heavily into his own wallet to fund his campaigns to the tune of $186,000. That would make him a player.

Mr. Lund is popular in his district and has a pile of connections in the Macomb County Republican Party, but could have trouble raising money, being out of office.

If the field gets crowded with conservatives, does someone like Mr. Rocca jump into the race and look to take advantage?

Does the Club for Growth get involved, and if it picks a candidate to back, does that help clear the primary field?

And then there is hardest to project variable, Rep. Todd Courser. Unless national tea party groups got involved, money would be a serious problem for him. But Lapeer County, which he represents, counts for 16 percent of the Republican primary vote in the 10th. He could run to the right of everyone else in the field and campaign as the outsider.

Should Mr. Courser run and become a threat to win, that brings into play the most important X-factor, or perhaps the M-factor: Ms. Miller. Retiring Republican members of the U.S. House have proven instrumental in the election of their successors. Former U.S. Rep. Dave Camp was vital in the victory of now-U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland). And former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers went all-in to ensure now-U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) succeeded him.

In her statement, Ms. Miller said she was content to let the field play out.

But if Mr. Courser, whose labeling of Ms. Miller as one of several “undocumented Democrats” interloping in the Michigan Republican Party was the point when establishment Republicans went from annoyance to fury with him, becomes a threat to win, it is hard to imagine Ms. Miller would stand idly by.

Ms. Miller’s history of her endorsees winning high office is, to be kind, not good. But past support for unsuccessful candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Rick Perry for president and Pete Hoekstra for governor is irrelevant here. Ms. Miller’s popularity in the 10th is as strong as it gets in today’s politics. Her decision to endorse a candidate would be momentous.

Senate Office Controversy Latest In Long Line Of Building Fights
Posted: February, 24 2015 4:46 PM

One of the certainties in government and politics is that when a branch of the government pays for the construction of a new building, renovation of an existing building or leasing of new space, it will be exploited, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly, for political gain.

And that is the current situation with the Senate’s plan to move its member offices out of the state-owned Farnum Building, which has seen better days and where its members have kept offices since the 1970s, for the relatively new, privately owned Capitol View building a block away.

The move was the idea of former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Monroe Republican, who left the Senate at the start of this year because of term limits. The cost of renovating the Farnum far exceeded the cost of leasing new space at the Capitol View, he contended.

The bipartisan pile-on is now well underway. Conservatives are highlighting the move and associated cost of leasing the new space as a sign of how unnecessary it is to pass Proposal 15-1 and raise the sales tax for roads. Democrats see a political opportunity, given the Republican control of state government, and are questioning the wisdom of spending the money on the new office space when the state just had to make some spending cuts to close a $330 million current year deficit.

This all brings to mind a similar brouhaha that erupted when the House moved its member offices into what is now the Anderson House Office Building, essentially a newly constructed building with a Capitol view window for all 110 members.

Prior to the HOB’s opening in 1999, House member offices were scattered between the old Roosevelt Building (now a parking garage), where most Democratic members were located, and the Romney Building, where most Republican members were located. Senior members in those pre-term limits days had offices in the Capitol.

The Roosevelt Building’s condition was so bad that when it was finally reduced a pile of rubble, most of the members and staff who worked there would have said it represented an improvement in its utility. Clearing the Republicans out of the Romney opened up more space for the governor’s administrative staff, which now fills the building.

And no one really pitched a fit over the move itself or the newness of the HOB. But what started a political firestorm was the revelation the state would appropriate $10 million to furnish the building.

Some questioned the cost. Others questioned whether the furnishing of the building was properly put up for bid. Republicans, who had just taken control of the House earlier that year, went to great lengths to note the decision to build the new building came during Democratic control of the House.

Then, as now, the criticism was bipartisan. Similar outrage was voiced when, in the late 1990s, the state decided to build the Hall of Justice to house the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

It all serves as a reminder that there are two price tags anytime the government gets into the building business: the price for the actual building and, sometimes more onerous, the political price.

State Releases Draft Wording For Roads Ballot Proposal
Posted: February, 20 2015 6:03 PM

The Bureau of Elections released today its draft wording for Proposal 15-1, the proposal on the May 5 ballot to raise the sales tax for roads.

The first portion of the wording emphasizes the sales tax’s maximum rate would go from 6 to 7 percent, that the sales tax on fuel would be eliminated and that a portion of the use tax would go to the School Aid Fund.

The second portion of the wording, set off in bullets, repeats the sales tax changes, but then also goes into further detail about how the School Aid Fund could be used for public community colleges and career/technical education, but not higher education. It also says passage would trigger laws that include an “increase in the motor fuel tax on gasoline/diesel fuel and vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation programs.”

The language also mentions the proposal would require competitive bidding and warranties for road projects and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to finalize the language.

The draft language reads as follows:


The proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Set maximum sales tax rate at 7% (now 6%).
  • Exempt gasoline / diesel fuel from sales and use taxes.
  • Dedicate portion of use tax to School Aid Fund (SAF).
  • Allow use of SAF for public community colleges and career / technical education and prohibit use for higher education.
  • Trigger laws that include but not limited to:
  • Increase sales / use tax rates to 7%;
  • Increase motor fuel tax on gasoline / diesel fuel and vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes;
  • Require competitive bidding and warranties for road projects; and
  • Increase earned income tax credit.

Should this proposal be adopted?

The Dynamics Change In Grand Rapids On Abortion
Posted: February, 5 2015 3:05 PM

One of the most certain aspects Michigan politics has officially dissolved: Candidates no longer need to staunchly oppose abortion to win election to partisan office in Grand Rapids.

It wasn’t a single moment that reversed the city’s abortion politics, but the moment when the transformation became complete came today when Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) wrote a column for Mlive in which he declared he now supports the right to a legal abortion after years of opposing abortion, even securing Right to Life of Michigan’s endorsement in 2010 when he first ran for the House.

This is an enormous change in the past 20 years. Two decades ago, both of the city’s members of the state House were solidly anti-abortion. Then-Rep. Tom Mathieu, a Democrat, might have been more stridently opposed to abortion than any other member of the Legislature. And little changed after term limits pushed Mr. Mathieu out of after 1998.

A succession of Democrats and Republicans representing the city held the same view – Steve Pestka, Bill Byl, Michael Sak, Jerry Kooiman, Robert Dean, Roy Schmidt and Brandon Dillon.

But something changed starting in 2012. First, Mr. Pestka, a Democrat running for the area’s U.S. House seat that year, declared he now supported the right to a legal abortion. And then Winnie Brinks, who supports abortion rights, toppled Mr. Schmidt, though to be clear, abortion had nothing to do with the outcome of that race with Mr. Schmidt’s career shattered by scandal.

Still, Ms. Brinks survived a ferocious challenge in 2014 against a Republican who had the Right to Life of Michigan endorsement.

Now Mr. Dillon says his thinking has changed on the issue, meaning both of the city’s representatives in the House support abortion rights.

This would have been unthinkable not that many years ago.

It is a product of a couple factors. One, the Democratic Party’s anti-abortion wing has withered and the city of Grand Rapids has become more Democratic. In the 1990s, Mr. Mathieu was one of several anti-abortion Democrats, whose ranks included top party leaders like then-Attorney General Frank Kelley, then-House Speaker Curtis Hertel Sr. and then-House Majority Floor Leader Pat Gagliardi (editor's note: this story corrected to indicate the former speaker was Hertel Sr., not Jr.)

Similar dynamics have shown up in the House seats in Warren and Downriver. Anti-abortion Democrats used to win those seats regularly. Not so anymore.

Two, when it comes to winning competitive general elections, as Ms. Brinks’ seat is, a candidate’s position on abortion no longer matters as much as it once did. Consider the 91st House District in suburban Muskegon as a good parallel.

At one time, it was understood in this seat, the most competitive in the state, that a candidate had to oppose abortion and have the Right to Life endorsement to win. As a result, Democrats ran anti-abortion candidates. Then in 2006, Mary Valentine, a supporter of abortion rights, won. She won re-election in 2008. Then Collene Lamonte, another Democrat who supports abortion rights, won the seat in 2012. Rep. Holly Hughes, a Republican who opposes abortion, won the seat in 2010 and 2014.

That Mr. Dillon’s 75th District seat in Grand Rapids would eventually be held by an abortion rights supporting Democrat was probably inevitable. The surprise was that it was Mr. Dillon who made the change.

Pondering Mitchell’s Roads Gambit
Posted: February, 3 2015 12:14 PM

Wealthy Republican business executive Paul Mitchell’s decision to lead and help fund an effort to defeat the May 5 ballot proposal to increase the sales tax as part of raising $1.2 billion for roads and smaller amounts for schools, local government services and tax relief for the working poor has all the hallmarks of a prelude.

But to what, exactly? Well, let’s indulge ourselves in some speculation. First, here is what we know.

Initially, Mr. Mitchell planned to run for the state Senate in 2014, but declined to do so, citing family considerations. A year later, when his area’s U.S. House seat unexpectedly had an opening due to U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) retiring, the family considerations had been resolved, and he jumped into that race.

Mr. Mitchell put $5 million of his own wealth into that unsuccessful bid. He came out of nowhere to become a serious contender for the Republican nomination thanks to spending a fortune on television advertisements, but ultimately lost decisively to then-Sen. and now U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), who had key endorsements, more experience on the stump and years of relationships in the area’s Republican Party.

Clearly, though, Mr. Mitchell is not giving up on politics. He got involved in a conservative coalition after losing the primary, becoming the chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and now he’s made a splashy move to position himself as the leading voice of the opposition to the sales tax hike and the road funding plan.

Mr. Mitchell said Monday he plans to travel the state and meet with groups to discuss the need to vote no on the roads ballot proposal.

When I asked Mr. Mitchell Monday about the ballot committee perhaps positioning him to run for office down the road, Mr. Mitchell denied it, so let’s get his denial out of the way.

But this all seems like a play by Mr. Mitchell to position himself for a run for statewide office in 2018, perhaps either governor or U.S. Senate.

If voters reject the roads proposal, Mr. Mitchell can claim to conservatives to be the hero who put money into the effort when it was questionable who would step up on that front. He will have had the chance to test-drive a statewide campaign.

A gubernatorial bid would be especially intriguing because it almost certainly would pit Mr. Mitchell against Attorney General Bill Schuette and perhaps other GOP luminaries for the Republican nomination. Mr. Schuette, along with Mr. Camp, was absolutely essential in turning around the U.S. House race for Mr. Moolenaar and sinking Mr. Mitchell. Mr. Schuette has not said anything about running for governor, but everyone connected to politics in Michigan assumes he will.

Mr. Mitchell’s attacks on Mr. Moolenaar made him a bunch of enemies in the Michigan Republican Party’s political class, and that’s where maybe a U.S. Senate bid could come into play. Finding a viable Republican willing to challenge U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) is going to be a major chore, and Mr. Mitchell could probably win back a bunch of goodwill if he volunteered for the task and spared the party what would surely be a vicious primary involving him, Mr. Schuette and maybe others.

Or maybe Mr. Mitchell really does plan to recede from the political spotlight once the May 5 ballot proposal concludes and has no interest in running for office again.

However, from everything we have seen from Mr. Mitchell in the past two years, which seems highly unlikely.

Yes Campaign For Roads Is A Mess
Posted: January, 30 2015 1:19 PM

The effort to convince voters to pass a sales tax increase as part of a plan to raise $1.2 billion for roads as well as smaller amounts for public schools, local government services and low-income tax relief is not doomed, but it is hard to imagine how it could be off to a worse start.

To quickly recap, the last 48 hours has seen the Yes campaign team quit in a dispute with Governor Rick Snyder’s chief liaison on the issue about which firms should perform which work and a political missile study asserting that the changes to vehicle registrations as part of the plan would scuttle the ability for motorists to deduct their registration fees from their federal income taxes.

There also was a poll with ominous numbers for the Yes side, but I’m going to put that in third place in importance, mainly because I question just how many of those surveyed who say they are very certain to vote in an unprecedented May special statewide election actually will do so. The poll surveyed likely presidential election year voters, and of the 600 surveyed, 77 percent said they were very certain to vote May 5.

That would put turnout at 50 percent, and that would far exceed turnout in nine of the last 10 regular November midterm elections, something that seems very unlikely. The closest precedent to the upcoming May 5 vote is the March 15, 1994, special statewide election to decide Proposal A and that saw 39 percent turnout. Let’s see how the polls look in March, once efforts to contact and educate voters have had time to percolate.

Mr. Snyder can try to minimize all he wants the significance of a complete change in campaign staff – and I can understand why he did just that Thursday when he called it a start-up, not a shake-up. But in a four and a half month campaign, the Yes side just started over one-third of the way into it.

The disjointed response from the Yes side to the study from the Anderson Economic Group charging the roads plan would cost those who itemize their deductions on their federal income taxes the ability to deduct their vehicle registration fee serves as the clearest example of the Yes side’s woes.

The Anderson Economic Group unveiled the findings in a way to maximize impact, releasing them exclusively in the morning on WJR-AM. Web stories quickly followed from news outlets, including this one.

But there was anything from a unified response from supporters of the plan:

  • The sponsor of the vehicle registration bill, Rep. Mike McCready (R-Bloomfield Hills), concurred with the Anderson study and said he was well aware of the repercussions regarding the tax deduction;
  • The Michigan Department of Treasury said the bill would not eliminate the tax deduction;
  • Mr. Snyder said staff is researching the issue.

The timing of the story could not have been worse. It hit just as the campaign staff was pulling out, so it left no one in the campaign itself to coordinate communications and quickly respond. Instead, it was six to eight hours after the original WJR broadcast before Treasury made public its dissent about the Anderson report.

None of this is to say Proposal 1 has no shot at success. But it always has been a long-shot, even with a perfectly executed campaign.

And so far, this is anything but a perfectly executed campaign.

Parsing Snyder’s Dig At Washington
Posted: January, 21 2015 3:13 PM

At the close of his State of the State address Tuesday, Governor Rick Snyder took note that President Barack Obama would deliver his State of the Union speech later in the evening and offered a contrast to how Michigan state government and the federal government operate.

“While we solve problems in Michigan, we have gridlock in Washington,” he said. “And this is not a partisan comment folks. Both sides have huge issues. Gridlock is not a good answer for any of us. And if you look at the positioning, they’re already figuring out how they can take shots at one another. We don’t do that here. Does it make a difference? It absolutely does.”

Mr. Snyder continued, “We use relentless positive action to solve the tough problems where they spend most of their time on fighting and blame and leaving those problems for future generations.” He talked of budgets passed on time and balanced, changes to the tax system, the Grand Bargain for Detroit and the Healthy Michigan program that expanded and reformed Medicaid.

There are a few theories as to Mr. Snyder’s intent.

The first is the most simple. Mr. Snyder wanted to put his leadership in a more favorable light by contrasting it with the poisonous atmosphere in Washington.

The second possibility is that Mr. Snyder was trying to throw a little more gasoline on the fire started by some national media outlets that he is interested in running for president or setting himself up as a vice presidential candidate. Mr. Snyder is not running for president, no matter what fanciful theories are out there. Can anyone imagine the governor parking himself in Iowa and New Hampshire all year? Please. But he has made it plain he welcomes the buzz insofar as it brings attention to Michigan.

The third possibility is the most intriguing one and of course all of the above is also possible.

That possibility is that it was a warning to the more conservative Republican majorities elected to the Michigan House and Senate in 2014.

The early word to describe the relationship between Mr. Snyder and the 98th Legislature is confrontation. In a move no one could remember seeing, House and Senate Republicans lined up bills to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law as the first bills to be introduced in each chamber, placement that signifies an enhanced priority.

Mr. Snyder, in a rare move for him, immediately said he would not support the legislation.

Then, in his speech, Mr. Snyder called for continued discussion on expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, presumably to the LGBT community although Mr. Snyder did not specify. He did so even though the new Republican leadership had already made it plain they had little to no interest in the issue. And House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) responded after the speech that the Legislature already had the discussion in 2014 and decided not to move forward.

Presuming Mr. Snyder completes his term and that Republicans maintain control of the House in the 2016 elections (and they will be favored since they can afford to lose seven seats and still keep control), he will be the first governor in Michigan history to serve eight years and have a Legislature controlled by his party for those full eight years.

Yet these next four years have a completely different vibe than the first four.

In 2011, there was pent-up demand for Republican legislation after four years of a Democratic governor and Democratic control of the House. And there was pressure to show Republicans could get the ship of state running more smoothly after four years of divided government with a Republican Senate had led to two brief partial government shutdowns. Additionally, Mr. Snyder wound up with a House speaker in Jase Bolger who proved extremely skilled in wringing out the usual drama and problems the less experienced House has had in the term limits era as well as a Senate majority leader in Randy Richardville who was ideologically in sync with him on many issues. Republicans had to be careful about spurning Mr. Snyder for fear of undermining his re-election bid.

In 2015, Mr. Snyder will not run for governor again. There are new Republican legislative leaders who have yet to show their stripes in how they will lead other than to elevate prevailing wage repeal to a top priority. Twenty-seven of the 38 Senate seats will be open in 2018 because of term limits, and House members will surely position themselves accordingly.

The fighting and blame Mr. Snyder said is endemic to Washington? “We don’t do that here,” he said.

It sounded like both a description and a request.

Ronna Romney McDaniel’s Dave Agema Problem
Posted: January, 14 2015 12:40 PM

The establishment wing of the Republican Party has concluded it can no longer allow Michigan’s Republican National committeeman, Dave Agema, to continue slandering groups of people and is talking about finding a way to expel him from office instead of futilely demanding his resignation.

But there is one major figure in the Michigan Republican Party who stands out right now as having said nothing since the latest bout of Agemania started after Mr. Agema posted on his Facebook page an essay from a purported public defender that was a plainly racist attack on African-Americans, questioning their intelligence and capabilities.

That would be Ronna Romney McDaniel, Michigan’s Republican National committeewoman who is running for chair of the state GOP at next month’s convention.

I and many other reporters have tried multiple times to contact Ms. McDaniel since she announced her bid for state party chair and then again after the latest Agema controversy erupted in the past 10 days. She has not returned messages.

And it’s not surprising why. Ms. McDaniel is trying to walk a tightrope between the establishment and tea party wings of the party and so far seems to be doing so successfully. As a Romney (daughter of Scott and Ronna, niece of Mitt and granddaughter of former Governor George Romney and Lenore Romney), she is undoubtedly an establishment fixture. And the establishment has rallied to her side in her bid for party chair.

But in the less than a year she has served on the RNC, Ms. McDaniel also has reached out to the tea party and so far has made enough of an impression that a tea party candidate has yet to enter the race, although Norm Hughes is considering doing so. She has landed at least a couple notable tea party endorsements.

And there’s the problem. The tea party wing still mostly supports Mr. Agema. He’s its one real foothold in the state party structure.

The Agema problem has festered for more than a year following his reposting of essays from other authors attacking gays and lesbians and Muslims. There were calls for Mr. Agema to resign then, including from RNC Chair Reince Preibus and Michigan Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak.

Ms. McDaniel has always publicly tiptoed around Mr. Agema. After she won her RNC post 11 months ago, she refrained from criticizing him, essentially saying because he had chosen not to resign, she would need to work with him. She declined to ask for his resignation.

“I think we’ve moved beyond that,” she said then. “He’s been asked to resign; he decided not to. I’ve got to do what I can do.”

In a questionnaire prior to her election to the RNC, Ms. McDaniel was asked how she would work with Mr. Agema.

"I have always enjoyed a good working relationship with Mr. Agema. If I have an issue with what another Republican has said, I will reach out to them privately and have a discussion instead of taking those issues to the media," she said, adding she would save criticism for "the destructive policies of the Democratic Party."

Should Ms. McDaniel denounce him now, her election as party chair would be thrown into some doubt. Right now, she is the strong favorite to win. If she calls for Mr. Agema to quit, then at a minimum she will have to endure a vigorous challenge.

But Ms. McDaniel’s silence has drawn some notice as well among Republicans. And what happens if she wins and Mr. Agema remains in office for the final 14 months of his term, continuing to launch his Facebook attacks?

Public silence at that point is not going to work. Yet if Ms. McDaniel calls for Mr. Agema to resign after getting elected, it would be easy to envision Mr. Agema’s supporters viewing the move as a bait and switch.

It may not take that long though to find out where Ms. McDaniel stands. Any RNC action should shed some light on Ms. McDaniel's view since she is a member and presumably will vote on any proposal to criticize Mr. Agema or attempt to expel him.

Some Gallows Humor On The Roads Impasse
Posted: December, 17 2014 4:25 PM

The public relations firms that populate the Capitol community usually have some good fodder in their holiday cards each year, and this year’s card from Marketing Resource Group is a dandy, especially in light of how poorly the negotiations on a road funding solution appear to be going.

Maybe it will take Santa Claus to prod top legislative leaders and Governor Rick Snyder toward a compromise on the road issue.

Olumba Fittingly Exits In Bizarre Fashion
Posted: December, 11 2014 11:57 AM

Rep. John Olumba’s 4,930-word, 29-minute, rambling, delusional, insult-laden farewell speech Wednesday on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives was a low point for the institution, and it’s a damn shame House leadership allowed Mr. Olumba to go on and on and on.

Some poor, taxpayer-paid soul on the House’s clerk staff spent heaven knows how long transcribing the travesty so it could appear, as all member farewell speeches do, in the official House Journal for posterity.

And maybe, as big a waste of staff time as that was, that is a good thing, because it will serve as a record of just how disgusting the whole episode was.

Many years ago, Booth Newspapers (now Mlive), did a story in which the organization labeled legislators based on their level of relevance and activity on legislation at the Capitol. One of those labels was “furniture,” as in they did nothing more than take up space in the building.

Initially I was going to say Mr. Olumba would have fallen into the furniture category, but he has been absent so much, he doesn’t even meet that threshold.

But Mr. Olumba did grace the House floor with his presence yesterday to offer his farewell remarks.

Some of the speech was unsurprising and while churlish for a farewell address, acceptable fare. He took shots at the House Democratic caucus. Mr. Olumba won office as a Democrat in 2010 and 2012, but then became an independent in 2013, saying the caucus had taken Detroit and African-Americans for granted. Mr. Olumba, however, undercut that move when in 2014 he decided to run for the Senate as a Democrat, surely realizing he stood no chance of winning election in his heavily Democratic seat if he ran as anything but (he lost the Democratic primary).

The opening of the speech was actually an interesting metaphor comparing his time at the Capitol to jazz and recounted a bit of his life before winning a House seat in 2010.

Then it was all downhill.

Mr. Olumba lamented that House Democrats had stopped his strategy of a “filibuster” on the emergency manager law. I have no idea what he could have meant. There is no way to filibuster a bill in the Michigan House or Senate. This is not the U.S. Senate where a member can talk as long as he or she can talk. At some point, the House or Senate leadership can and will shut down a member from speaking.

Even yesterday, as majority House Republicans let Mr. Olumba ramble on and on, they did finally ask him to wrap it up.

There was some trash talk to House Democrats about how he beat Rep. Jimmy Womack (D-Detroit) in the 2012 Democratic primary despite the party establishment rallying to Mr. Womack.

Then there was a long period of winding remarks, in which among other things, he whined about how Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright (D-Muskegon) “screwed me out of my seat selection” for the current term on the House floor.

He attempted to tell a story, what the point was I have no idea, about a time when he, Rep. Harvey Santana (D-Detroit), Rep. Rose Mary Robinson (D-Detroit) and Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) had gathered. Instead of describing them by their names, he used their races, maybe – maybe – as a way of noting people of different backgrounds coming together. But then when he got to Mr. Singh, who is of Indian descent, Mr. Olumba, offered for clarity, “Like curry and tandoori, not like trail of tears.”

Thanks goodness he cleared that up by defining Mr. Singh’s ethnicity in terms of food. Ridiculous.

Then it got ugly. While claiming that some children unjustifiably get classified as learning disabled, he used the word “retarded,” generally seen as so insulting and reprehensible a word when talking about someone with a mental disability, that there is a movement to end its use.

“Sometimes it’s like if Jerome isn’t good in math or reading, then he must be retarded he can’t be good at anything else,” he said.

In a weird way, Mr. Olumba seemed to acknowledge what he said was wrong, noting the Legislature passed a law removing the word from state statutes. “Oh my bad, we passed a law banning that word. Was I here to vote on that?” he said.

If that was bad, what came next was worse.

Mr. Olumba launched into a tirade against Asians and Chaldeans, playing up a major stereotype, in blasting merchants of Asian and Chaldean descent for purportedly taking advantage of African-Americans in Detroit.

“Asians and Chaldeans should have a Black Misery Appreciation Day, they are selling fake hair, gas, and loose cigarettes to people all across Detroit that are hoping to catch a breath of fresh air. And making a fortune doing it,” he said. “I want African Americans to get back to our principles of once being an honorable and spiritual people, who wanted most to be right in front of God. When we have him, we won’t need the Chaldean to sell us loose cigarettes or the Korean to sell us weave or the media and Hollywood and the music industry to sell us toxic rap music.”

In a final insult, Mr. Olumba took a shot at transgender people, voicing umbrage that their push to be included in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has been compared to the act’s original purpose to protect African-Americans from discrimination.

“To me seeing a guy dressed up as a girl is either going to be really funny or really sad,” he said. “But I mean let’s make the observation and move on, but don’t offend me by comparing his journey to wear panty hose to work because he feels more secure in them to Martin Luther King being assassinated or to my wife’s father being sprayed with hoses or bitten by dogs, or to my great uncles being jailed multiple times. Or to millions of people losing their lives to forced bondage and servitude.”

Mr. Olumba closed by returning to his jazz metaphor. By then, he had long since wandered way off that path.

House leadership and the House clerk ought to take a look at a rules change for the upcoming term on these speeches.

Current rules allow the presiding officer to gavel down any member who questions the motivations of another member and for not speaking to the item at hand. If a person walks between the presiding officer and another member speaking on the floor, that member gets gaveled down.

It seems like slandering other races or mocking someone’s gender identity should get the same treatment.

How Lame Is The Lame-Duck Legislature: Some Numbers
Posted: December, 10 2014 2:02 PM

The reason so many big, controversial issues have a better chance of passing the Legislature after the November election is that so many legislators will never again have to face the voters and thus are freed from many of the usual considerations when casting votes on those tough issues.

But just how lame is this lame-duck Legislature? The answer is very, at least on the surface.

For starters, in the Senate, only one member – Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint) – is eligible to run for re-election in 2018. Every other member is either leaving office at the end of this year or ineligible to run again because of term limits. Mr. Ananich won a special election in 2013, so technically the past year and change in office for him does not count as his first term under term limits.

This could help explain why the first vote to raise new revenue for roads occurred in the Senate.

In the House, 85 of the 110 members are either leaving office at the end of the year or cannot run again in 2016 because of term limits.

But there’s more to it than that. In the House, many more members still have a clear political future ahead of them with eligibility to run for the Senate and surely many of them already are eyeing runs in 2018 when 28 of the Senate’s 38 seats will have no incumbent running.

Senate members, in contrast, in most cases have nowhere to go other than running for local office, especially with so much recent turnover in Michigan’s U.S. House delegation foreclosing the possibility of a congressional bid for many years, if ever.

Of the 85 members leaving the House after this year or barred from running in 2016, I count 78 that at least could plausibly be seen as having interest in continuing to run for office, mainly Senate seats. But in the Senate, I see just 13 of the 37 who could have the opportunity to run for other major office in the foreseeable future.

So on the one hand, the 97th Legislature at this point is remarkably lame in the sense of a lame-duck Legislature with 122 of the 148 members likely never again running for their current office.

But on the other hand, a majority of them, 91 out of 148, could conceivably run for a high-level office again in the near future, meaning that – shocker! – electoral considerations will still very much play a role in whether legislators cast a green yes or a red no vote in the final five session days remaining.

Redistricting Not Reason For Republicans Winning Key Legislative Races
Posted: November, 12 2014 1:19 PM

In the week following the elections, some Democrats and analysts have vented about the Republican-controlled redistricting plan of 2011 when analyzing why the GOP gained four seats in the House and one seat in the Senate this year.

They are wrong.

Now, there actually are two different ways to look at the impact of redistricting on the 2014 elections for the Michigan Legislature.

The first one: Does the plan, written by Republicans with no meaningful input from the Democrats, design some districts that could have been more competitive to instead lean Republican and thus make it much harder for Democrats to win a House majority than Republicans?

The answer is, emphatically, yes.

The second one: In the actual races that Democrats and Republicans fiercely contested last week, did redistricting in 2011 stack the deck in favor of the Republican candidates?

The answer is, in most cases, absolutely not.

Let’s deal with the first question. By my count, there are 14 seats in the 110-seat House and seven seats in the 38-seat Senate where the 2011 reapportionment plan pushed competitive seats to become more Republican and will be in Republican hands in 2015.

So in the House, where Republicans will have a 63-47 majority in 2015, if nine of these 14 seats were more balanced politically and Democrats won those nine, yes, they would have 56 seats and the majority. And in the Senate, if Democrats won all seven of these seats, they would have 18 seats and … still be in the minority.

But here’s the problem with the argument that redistricting gerrymandered Democrats into an impossible task to win the majority. Most of the key House and Senate battles did not take place in these seats. In fact, many of them took place in seats whose boundaries have been largely stable or, in some cases, were made friendlier to Democrats than they were in the 2001 reapportionment plan.

The Senate is a great example. The key battles were in the 7th District (northwest Wayne County), 17th District (Lenawee and Monroe counties), the 20th District (Kalamazoo County) and the 32nd District (Saginaw and part of Genesee counties).

The way Republicans drew the 17th gave Democrats a chance. They lopped off Republican- leaning areas in Jackson and Washtenaw counties and instead paired Lenawee County with Monroe County (how the district looked in the 1990s when it elected a Democrat twice). Not only did that make the district a bit less Republican, but it put the best conceivable Democratic candidate for the seat, former Rep. Doug Spade of Adrian, into the district.

In the 20th, redistricting did Democrats a huge favor. It lopped off the two Republican-leaning townships in Van Buren County from the seat, making the district more Democratic and putting incumbent Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) into a new 26th District. So Democrats got an unexpected shot at an open seat and one with fewer Republican voters.

In the 32nd, Republicans got rid of the Republican-leaning Gratiot County portion of the seat and instead added Republican-leaning portions of Genesee County. Even still, it remained a Democratic-leaning district.

The 7th District was the one seat that Republicans made significantly more GOP, cleaving away the Downriver portions and instead adding Livonia. But even still, just on the eye test, the new lines of the 7th, neatly covering the northwest corner of Wayne County, are cleaner than the old “L” shape of the district. It was hardly an outrageous gerrymander.

Yet despite getting some help in three of the four seats from redistricting, the Democrats lost all four. And that doesn’t even address the massive candidate recruitment failures the party had in two seats that on their base votes are at least 50-50 or even tilt slightly Democratic, the 34th District in the Muskegon area and the 38th in the Upper Peninsula, resulting in the party making no serious effort in either.

And in looking at the House, of the four seats Democrats now hold that they lost on Election Day, none – I repeat, none – were designed in a way to tilt the playing field to the GOP. The 62nd District, with Battle Creek and environs, is a seat with a majority Democratic base. Republicans actually made the 71st, lost by Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge), a bit more Democratic when they redrew it, as was the case with the 91st, lost by Rep. Collene Lamonte (D-Montague). The 84th (Huron and Tuscola counties) has had the same boundaries since at least 1992.

Some of the House seats Democrats hoped to gain – the 23rd (Downriver), the 39th (west central Oakland County), the 43rd (north-central Oakland County), the 56th (most of Monroe County), the 99th (Isabella and part of Midland counties) and the 106th (northeast Lower Peninsula) – indeed were tilted by Republicans to favor their candidates.

Still, the 23rd remains a Democratic district. The 56th is about as close to 50-50 as it gets. The 43rd would still favor the GOP even if drawn differently. And Democrats had major failures in the primaries in the 23rd and 106th where their preferred candidates lost.

Other competitive seats like the 41st (Troy and Clawson), 57th (Lenawee County), 61st (southwest Kalamazoo County), 85th (Shiawassee and part of Saginaw counties), the 101st (Lake Michigan shoreline north of Muskegon) and 108th (Bay de Noc area of the Upper Peninsula) saw no major changes in their political composition in redistricting.

So why did Democrats take a beating in the House and Senate races even as their gubernatorial candidate, Mark Schauer, lost by a respectable margin, their U.S. Senate candidate, Gary Peters, won huge, their party won seven of the eight statewide education board seats and their House and Senate candidates essentially took half the total vote for the House and Senate?

The answer is three-fold.

One, Democrats are packed together more tightly with many seats where they have a 70 percent advantage or better, so that brings up their total House and Senate votes.

Two, the Democratic turnout problem in the mid-term election is real. Their candidates lost the 62nd, 71st and 91st by a combined 915 votes. These were all seats where redistricting, if anything, should have helped the Democrats.

The other is that when it comes to state legislative elections, it pays not to be of the same party as the president.

Since 2004, the president’s party has lost an average of two seats in the three subsequent Senate elections and an average of seven seats in the six subsequent House elections.

The bottom line is that, yes, of course Democrats would have had the opportunity to fare better had they controlled the redistricting pen in 2011. But it would not have been determinative.

After all, Democrats took the House majority in 2006 with 58 seats and then bumped that up to 67 in 2008, all under a Republican-drawn plan they blasted when it was drawn in 2001 as a gerrymander.

GOP Poised For Huge Night Nationally, But Michigan Up For Grabs
Posted: November, 3 2014 1:28 PM

Based on polls, data modeling, chatter from politicos and the plain ol’ eye test, Republicans appear poised to thump Democrats nationally, padding their U.S. House majority and putting themselves in position to take control of the U.S. Senate.

I say “putting themselves in position” because Republicans could get to 50 seats tomorrow, but not officially get the majority until the outcome of runoffs in Georgia and Louisiana, where the Republicans will be favored.

Republicans are poised to pick up seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. Arkansas looks likely to flip to the GOP. But more worrisome for the Democrats are that states with more friendly Democratic terrain, Colorado and Iowa, look lost as well (though the Democrats are not completely out of it there). Alaska looks like another good possibility, although there is some hedging of late on that state. Still, even if the Republicans lose Kansas to an independent, those seven seats would get the Republicans to 51 and the majority, provided they either hold onto Georgia or flip Louisiana.

Yet, even as President Barack Obama’s numbers continue to falter nationally, even as polls continue to show an enthusiasm gap among Republican voters that favors the GOP, most Michigan Democrats are exuding confidence and many Michigan Republicans with whom I have spoken in the past week are getting very antsy.

It starts with the governor’s race.

Put simply, it could go either way. This looks like a contest where the winner will have 49 or 50 percent of the vote and the loser will have 47 or 48 percent of the vote, and right now I don’t feel terribly confident projecting either Republican Governor Rick Snyder or Democratic challenger Mark Schauer in the winner or loser column.

Then you have the U.S. Senate race, which Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters has blown wide open and looks like at worst will defeat Republican Terri Land by a margin in the high single digits. Most likely, the margin will be in the double-digits.

There’s the much speculated question of whether the Michigan Democratic Party’s absentee ballot voter strategy will in fact yield a bump in Democratic voters statewide.

Moving down to the Michigan House, in the span of three weeks, the climate has gone from how many seats the Republicans could gain to Democrats on the offense with the chance to be the party that gains seats in the chamber.

It is unusual for Michigan to buck the national trend, but it happens. In 2004, John Kerry carried Michigan, and Democrats gained five seats in the Michigan House. But nationally, President George W. Bush won re-election and Republicans grew their U.S. Senate majority.

And in 1998, Democrats gained seats in Congress nationally as voters recoiled at the impeachment maneuvers against President Bill Clinton, but Republicans swept Michigan on the tsunami generated by Republican Governor John Engler routing the Democratic challenger, flamboyant attorney Geoffrey Fieger.

Add it all up, and tomorrow brings to mind longtime Detroit Red Wings television analyst Mickey Redmond’s line when the Wings go to overtime in the playoffs – “no place for a nervous person.”

Looking At The Michigan House Elections, Part 2
Posted: October, 30 2014 12:15 PM

One of the fun aspects about tracking the race for control of the Michigan House is that a week out from the election, there’s almost always a wide range of potential outcomes, and this year is no different.

Republicans now control the House 59-50 with one independent. But for the purposes of this election, think of it as 59-51 because that independent represents a solidly Democratic district and will be replaced in 2015 by a Democrat.

Today, we’ll look at the best potential Republican scenario. Yesterday’s blog was a look at the best-case Democratic possibility.

Mid-terms are generally favorable terrain for Republicans in the Michigan House. In the term limits era, from 1998 to the present, Republicans have averaged a gain of six seats in mid-terms. Democrats did gain seats in one of those elections, 2006, but that was a year when the top of the Democratic ticket won in blowouts and there was a huge national tide against President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress.

Those dynamics are not in place this year. But it’s also not shaping up as the bloodbath of 2010 when Republicans won everything and gained a stunning 20 seats in the House.

Even in the worst Republicans scenario, they are going to gain a seat, the 84th House District in the Thumb, where term limits prevents Rep. Terry Brown (D-Pigeon) from running again for the Republican-leaning seat. That means Republicans can still lose four seats and keep an outright majority. A five-seat loss leading to a 55-55 tie would unquestionably be a de facto win for the Democrats.

The focus always is on whether the party out of power can retake control, but in a mid-term, a just as relevant question is can the Republicans add to their existing majority.

And right now, there are good opportunities to add seats. Republican former Rep. Holly Hughes of Montague is waging her fourth bid for the 91st District, trying to unseat the woman who ousted her in 2012, Rep. Collene Lamonte (D-Montague). Ms. Hughes lost in 2008, won in 2010 and lost in 2012.

Suburban Muskegon County voters seem to enjoy booting their incumbents for whatever reason, and given how slim Ms. Lamonte’s victory in 2012 was, this is going to be a very tough hold for the Democrats. That could be the second pick-up for the GOP.

Then there’s Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge). She became the first Democrat in 50 years to win her Eaton County seat in the 71st District, and Republicans have a strong challenger. Again, this is a tough hold. That could be pick-up number three.

The next three potential seats are tougher. Republicans love their candidates against Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights), but those should be slightly easier holds for the Democrats than the 71st and 91st.

In the 62nd District in Battle Creek and environs, Republicans have a strong candidate in John Bizon, a well-known and well-funded physician, and if it wasn’t for this district leaning Democratic, he would be the prohibitive favorite.

The problem for the GOP is that it will likely lose some of its seats. Losing the 56th District in Monroe County and 61st District in southwest Kalamazoo County looks highly possible, maybe even probable, after candidate miscues. Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) is on the ropes in the 41st District. Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) is in the fight of his political life in the 99th.

If we give the Republicans four pick-ups (the Thumb seat, the Battle Creek seat as well as ousting two of the four Democratic incumbents), that gets the GOP to 63 seats. But it is hard to see them holding onto the 56th and 61st unless the overall Republican ticket has a much better night than expected. The GOP could keep the rest of its seats, if narrowly.

That caps the best possible scenario for Republicans at 61 seats. That would give the party a solid, if not overwhelming, five-seat cushion heading into the 2016 election when the combination of a presidential year and a slew of open seats in competitive districts where Republican incumbents cannot seek re-election because of term limits makes the dynamics favorable to the Democrats.

So to recap, on Tuesday, the House could be anywhere from a 55-55 tie after a four-seat Democratic gain to a 61-49 Republican majority after a two-seat gain.

History is on the Republicans’ side. But as I noted in a previous blog, Michigan has not seen a complex top of the ticket dynamic like this in the term limits era.

Looking At the Michigan House Elections
Posted: October, 29 2014 1:39 PM

One of the fun aspects about tracking the race for control of the Michigan House is that a week out from the election, there’s almost always a wide range of potential outcomes, and this year is no different.

Republicans now control the House 59-50 with one independent. But for the purposes of this election, think of it as 59-51 because that independent represents a solidly Democratic district and will be replaced in 2015 by a Democrat.

Today, we’ll look at the best potential Democratic scenario and Thursday, the Republicans’ best-case outcome.

Mid-terms are generally tough sledding for Democrats in the Michigan House. In the term limits era, from 1998 to the present, Republicans have averaged a gain of six seats. Democrats did gain seats in one of those elections, 2006, but that was a year when the top of the Democratic ticket won in blowouts and there was a huge national tide against President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress.

Those dynamics are not in place this year. But it’s also not shaping up as the bloodbath of 2010 when Republicans won everything and gained a stunning 20 seats in the House.

Even in the best Democratic scenario, they are going to lose a seat, the 84th House District in the Thumb, where term limits prevents Rep. Terry Brown (D-Pigeon) from running again for the Republican-leaning seat. That means Democrats will have to flip six other now GOP seats to gain control – and keep all their other seats.

So what is the best-case Democratic scenario? Number one, other than the 84th, they have to keep all their existing seats, and that is going to be tough. Republicans are coming after four Democratic incumbents in a big way – Rep. Theresa Abed of Grand Ledge, Rep. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids, Rep. Collene Lamonte of Montague and Rep. Henry Yanez of Sterling Heights.

And a fifth seat, the 62nd District in Battle Creek and environs, is under major pressure with Rep. Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek) unable to run again because of term limits. Republicans have a strong candidate although the seat leans Democratic.

But it is possible through incumbency and the Democratic base in Battle Creek that the Democrats could keep all five. Can they gain six seats? Now that looks very difficult.

There are two seats where Democrats stand a great chance thanks to Republican candidate miscues, the 56th District in Monroe County and the 61st District in southwest Kalamazoo County, both of which have no incumbent running. Democrats are well-positioned in the 41st District in Troy against first-term Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy). That’s probably their third best-bet for a pick-up. A fourth possibility is unseating first-term Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township) although he is in better shape than Mr. Howrylak.

After that? Well, that’s where it gets tough. The remaining seats either feature Democrats trying to win districts that lean Republican, have a Republican incumbent seeking a third term, or both.

The significance of trying to oust a first-term incumbent vs. a second-term incumbent is big. Since term limits started, 19 incumbents have lost re-election in the general election, and only four were second-term incumbents (one of whom was undermined by redistricting, another was suffering from cancer that would lead to her death not long after the election and a third fell into scandal in his second term).

But there just are not many competitive seats with no incumbent or a first-term Republican incumbent, and to get to majority, Democrats have to take a shot at a few “veterans” (in the term limits era, two terms in the House makes someone a veteran).

Democrats are targeting Rep. Patrick Somerville (R-New Boston), Rep. Ray Franz (R-Onekama), Rep. Ben Glardon (R-Owosso), Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant), Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) and maybe Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) out of necessity.

Then there are five open seats in traditionally Republican areas where Democrats think they could catch a break thanks to strong Democratic candidates, weak Republican ones, or both.

The two where Democrats seem the most encouraged, based on where they are spending money, are the 43rd District in Oakland County and the 104th District in Grand Traverse County. In both cases, there are Republican candidates getting outspent and strong Democratic candidates working hard.

However, in all five of these seats, the Republican base is anywhere from 55 to 59 percent. That is a steep hill for any Democrat, no matter how strong, to climb, especially in a mid-term cycle.

Just winning one of these 11 races against second-term GOP incumbents or in Republican territory, especially with the overall dynamics, would be a major triumph.

That’s why it’s hard to see Democrats doing any better than 55 seats next Tuesday. The Democrats would surely take that. It would mean a 55-55 split, shared power and the ability to put the brakes on the Republican agenda.

The Political Ads We Have Yet To See
Posted: October, 24 2014 12:45 PM

As is always the case in the October of an election year, it is impossible to turn on the television and not see campaign advertisements.

What is interesting to me right now is the ads not airing, as in, which topics have the gubernatorial candidates and their allies emphasized in their news releases and comments to reporters, but not put their money where their mouth is when it comes to placing those messages on television.

On the side of the Democrats and their candidate, Mark Schauer, the big surprise to me right now is the lack of a real push on the troubled Aramark prison food services and other “scandals” they have emphasized about the administration of Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

The advertising message from Mr. Schauer, the Democratic Governors Association and now a labor group Working Voice, is simple and consistent: Mr. Snyder taxed pensions, cut taxes for big corporations and cut $1 billion from K-12 schools. Some of these ads also mention the substantial pay raises that Department of Treasury staff in charge of the state’s investments received, but that is as far as the ads go in playing the scandal card.

The liberal group Progress Michigan is stepping up its efforts on the Aramark contract, announcing today a second cable television buy to draw attention to the issue (though that will not likely come close to match the emphasis other entities have put on the pension tax and education funding). No ad attention has been paid to various transparency issues Democrats have played up all year on Mr. Snyder’s now defunct nonprofit fund and the troubles of his now resigned Michigan State Housing Development Authority chief, Scott Woosley, after the Michigan Democratic Party uncovered questionable expenses he billed.

Mr. Schauer also has yet to air an ad that lets voters see a lighter side of him that also emphasizes a key trait he would bring to governing along the lines of Mr. Snyder’s 2010 “One Tough Nerd” ad or Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters’ “Frugal” ad.

On the Republican side, for all the emphasis the party has put on Mr. Schauer holding the distinction of having the largest campaign finance fine in Michigan history as a result of violating the Michigan Campaign Finance Act while he was the Senate minority leader, that has yet to show up in an ad.

And there are Republicans wondering why Mr. Snyder has yet to play a little more offense and tout his record, specifically on Detroit, where the city is poised to emerge from bankruptcy in much better financial shape.

These omissions raise the question of whether the parties tested them as potential messages and saw them flounder with voters or if they simply concluded their money was best spent on a few targeted messages.

Justifiable Outrage Over A Facebook Post
Posted: October, 17 2014 1:50 PM

We have apparently reached the point in politics where someone cannot post a photo on Facebook congratulating her parents on their wedding anniversary without one of her political foes seeing it as license to launch an attack.

Jennifer Gratz, the woman largely responsible for ending the use of race and gender in university admissions in Michigan, posted a photo of her parents with herself and other family members to congratulate her parents on their 45th wedding anniversary. There was nothing political about it, just the kind of nice family photo that is typical Facebook currency.

But Joan Fabiano, a well-known tea party activist from Ingham County, was still seething about Ms. Gratz’s decision to support a U.S. District judge’s ruling in Detroit overturning Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage (editor's note, this post corrected on Ms. Fabiano's county of residence). So she took the liberty to comment on the post.

“Unfollowing Jennifer Gratz after she joined 24 other ‘Republicans’ in a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s decision to strike down Michigan’s ban (Michigan's CONSTITUTION) on same-sex marriage should be upheld,” Ms. Fabiano wrote.

She then quoted what she said was a comment on Ms. Gratz’s Facebook page from when Ms. Gratz decided to support Mr. Friedman’s decision.

“Unbelievable,” Ms. Fabiano quoted that person as having written. “To fight special preferences based on race and support special preferences based upon sexual conduct is indeed the height of hypocrisy.”

“Indeed!” Ms. Fabiano closed.

The reaction was immediate. David Forsmark, who has worked with tea party Republican candidates, said it was “Seriously inappropriate.”

Ms. Fabiano was undeterred in her response.

“Your (sic) right. Sorry to offend. However, undermining our Constitution and then going about your business is more than ‘seriously inappropriate,’ its (sic) dangerous,” she responded.

Some of Ms. Gratz’s relatives chimed in, expressing befuddlement at how the post had turned political. Many others just posted congratulations to Ms. Gratz’s parents.

Then Ms. Gratz ripped Ms. Fabiano.

“It is truly in poor taste and, frankly, lacking political savvy to use a post in which I congratulate my parents for a happy 45 years of marriage to push a political agenda,” she wrote. “I believe and I've said many times that good people can disagree, but those who know no boundaries within political disagreements are pushing the level of discourse in this country in the wrong direction. I'm leaving the post by Joan on this thread because I believe it says more about her than anyone else. Thanks to the rest of you for acknowledging and congratulating my parents.”

Ms. Gratz also could have quoted Joseph Welch, the attorney who effectively ended the rabid anti-Communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s relevancy by interrupting one of his outlandish accusations with one of the most memorable lines in American history.

“Have you no sense of decency?"

Debating The Debate, One Day Later
Posted: October, 13 2014 12:28 PM

Having had 17 hours to ponder last night’s debate between Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, a few items seem clear.

On points, the parlance for which candidate “won” more of the questions, the nod goes to Mr. Snyder. He beat back most of Mr. Schauer’s attacks, and while he lost a couple rounds – the pension tax and gay marriage exchanges – he came out ahead or even on most others.

As the incumbent, and with a lead in the polls, that’s clearly a plus for Mr. Snyder.

On broad themes, both men executed their strategies well. Mr. Schauer emphasized he would put public education first and focus on the middle class in his economic strategy. Mr. Snyder talked up Michigan’s economic rebound and warned of the risks of going back to the strategies the state had before he took office.

But considering Mr. Snyder must see some voter unrest about the current economy in Michigan, witness his ad in September in which he acknowledged some might not feel the state’s recovery yet, Mr. Schauer comes out ahead on this score for having more resonant themes.

For Mr. Schauer, who badly needs to persuade voters just getting to know him to change leaders, this was important.

On style, and let’s remember debates are as much, maybe more, about style than substance, the tone of the two men could not have been more different.

Mr. Schauer was even-keeled in his tone of voice, yet seemed nervous at times, especially at the beginning, halting in his delivery, almost like he was trying to remember what he was supposed say. This happened again a couple other times during the debate. The passion and confidence he showed in going after Mr. Snyder on his gay marriage question dodge would have served him well throughout the debate.

Mr. Schauer also called Mr. Snyder “Rick” throughout the debate, and that seemed a risk at appearing disrespectful.

Mr. Snyder exuded confidence throughout the debate and showed more passion than he ever has, attacking Mr. Schauer early and often, parrying Mr. Schauer’s attacks and – other than the gay marriage question – responding aggressively to every shot Mr. Schauer fired.

But at times Mr. Snyder sounded uncharacteristically angry. For those of us in the media who follow the governor closely, this was new and different and in the context of the sparring match nature of a debate, seemed to suit him well.

However, for less engaged voters, Mr. Snyder might have sounded defensive, even like he was losing his cool. That is at odds with the brand Mr. Snyder has built of a pragmatic manager.

We’ll also look at attire. Laugh if you like, but debate attire might very well have decided the 1960 presidential election. It matters. It was surprising, at least to this observer, that Mr. Snyder did not wear a tie for the debate. He usually goes sans tie, but generally wears one for major events (and wore one at the debate four years ago). Mr. Schauer’s reddish tie on a white shirt popped on-screen compared to Mr. Snyder’s light blue shirt and jacket.

The last element of a debate is the post-debate coverage from the news media.

In looking at the front pages of The Detroit News and especially the Detroit Free Press, the Schauer team had to be doing a happy dance. Mr. Schauer looked in command in both photos that ran big while Mr. Snyder was in the background in both, and in the Free Press photo looked irritated.

But most media analysts in the early going gave the nod to Mr. Snyder in the debate, either because he won “on points” or simply because he committed no errors and as the incumbent leading in the polls, that was all he needed to do. Some also pointed to Mr. Schauer seeming to lack enough passion or missing opportunities to zing Mr. Snyder (especially on the minimum wage).

And Mr. Schauer committed an unforced error in not showing up for the post-debate scrum.

The one clear loser was the crowd who thinks debates are overrated and just something for the media and political elites. In the Detroit media market, the debate drew a 7.8 rating, meaning 140,000 households watched. The debate aired in most markets in the state. Ratings for those markets were not immediately available.

But clearly, a big chunk of voters were interested in what the two candidates had to say.

First Take: Schauer Plays Offense, Snyder Responds Aggressively
Posted: October, 12 2014 7:05 PM

The gubernatorial debate between Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer, has concluded after one hour of Mr. Schauer attacking Mr. Snyder’s record and Mr. Snyder responding in the most aggressive fashion he ever has.

Mr. Schauer, at times haltingly, at times tenaciously, went after Mr. Snyder on a variety of topics from K-12 schools to gay marriage to the state’s contract with Aramark for prison food service.

He seemed especially sure-footed when Mr. Snyder refused to offer a position on gay marriage.

But Mr. Snyder parried most of Mr. Schauer’s attacks and at times put Mr. Schauer on the defense, blaming him for the Michigan Business Tax and the 2007 partial government shutdown. He did not call Mr. Schauer a liar on the allegation Mr. Schauer has lobbed at the governor, accusing him of cutting K-12 education by $1 billion, but used the “lies” word in his answer.

Mr. Snyder got especially testy when Mr. Schauer went after the furniture contract Mr. Snyder’s cousin has with the state.

During the debate, Mr. Schauer referred to Mr. Snyder as “Rick” repeatedly while Mr. Snyder referred to Mr. Schauer as “the congressman.”

Aramark Rears Its Head In Debate
Posted: October, 12 2014 6:51 PM

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer took a question about how to improve the Department of Corrections as an opportunity to hammer Republican Governor Rick Snyder on the contract his administration awarded to Aramark for prison food service.

“That contract never should have been awarded in the first place,” he said, citing the various issues of maggots in the food and problem employees since Aramark took over. “It has been a debacle.”

Mr. Snyder defended the contract and noted he fined the company $200,000.

“Aramark has been successful in multiple other states,” he said. “The congressman would just throw them out. I don’t know about you, but I try to work with someone before you just throw them out.”

A Debate Exchange On Detroit
Posted: October, 12 2014 6:33 PM

Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer just had a sharp exchange about how Mr. Snyder handled the financial emergency in Detroit.

Mr. Schauer said he did not question the need to put the city into bankruptcy, but that he would have personally led the situation instead of putting an unelected appointee in charge. He accused Mr. Snyder of throwing city retirees under the bus by cutting pensions.

Mr. Snyder retorted those involved had not thrown retirees under the bus, but put together the grand bargain to mitigate cuts and questioned how Mr. Schauer would have addressed the city’s unfunded liabilities.

Debate Takes A Testy Turn
Posted: October, 12 2014 6:24 PM

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer is lobbing one volley after another at Republican Governor Rick Snyder, and a shot about Mr. Snyder’s cousin having a furniture contract with the state clearly irritated Mr. Snyder.

Mr. Schauer said one way to pay for repealing the pension tax is to end the contract Mr. Snyder’s cousin, George Snyder, has had with the state for many years.

That prompted a sharp retort from Mr. Snyder.

“Let’s get the facts straight on that,” he said. “I think it’s somewhat disgusting that he’s impinging on a good person’s name.”

The $1B Question On K-12 Comes Up First In Debate
Posted: October, 12 2014 6:13 PM

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer stood by his allegation of Governor Rick Snyder cutting $1 billion from K-12 schools in the first question of tonight’s gubernatorial debate while Mr. Snyder said it was simply untrue.

Mr. Schauer cited a Senate Fiscal Agency document showing a $930 million reduction in the 2011-12 fiscal year while Mr. Snyder said total K-12 spending is up $1.1 billion since he took office. He said the cut was irrefutable.

Mr. Snyder cited the Detroit Free Press to back him up while Mr. Schauer urged viewers to talk to a teacher about what they are confronting in the schools.

Mr. Snyder did not call Mr. Schauer a liar, but said, “Unfortunately our broken political system has people making up lies.”

Sunday’s Debate: Opportunities And Landmines For Schauer, Snyder
Posted: October, 10 2014 3:58 PM

Sunday is the lone gubernatorial debate between Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, and both candidates will have opportunities to score rhetorical wins and maybe more so some major trapdoors to avoid.

Some don’t like breaking down elections in a similar fashion as sports. I am not one of those people. So I’m going to break this down in sports-ish way.


ARE YOU BETTER OFF NOW THAN YOU WERE FOUR YEARS AGO?: Some polls have shown the percentage of people seeing the state on the right track climbing to its highest level in years. Mr. Snyder will remind viewers early and often of the job growth during his first term and sharp decline in the unemployment rate. Mr. Schauer will say most of that job growth came in Mr. Snyder’s first year and is due to the recovery of the auto industry and not Mr. Snyder’s tax policies (and he would be correct), but if the debate is all about who gets credit for job growth in the past four years, Mr. Snyder wins that argument. He’s the incumbent.

BUDGETS: The completion of budgets no later than mid-June in the past four years stands in sharp contrast to before Mr. Snyder became governor. Mr. Snyder could remind a public that grew disgusted with the partisan showdowns that led to partial government shutdowns in 2007 and 2009 that Mr. Schauer was in the Legislature in 2007 in the “bad, old days.”

POPULAR SUCCESSES: Mr. Snyder can tout efforts that had broad support, such as the expansion of Medicaid and signing an agreement with Canada for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, to emphasize his administration’s successes on items with broad appeal to the public. The rescue of Detroit also could fall under this realm. The initial bankruptcy was controversial, but it appears on its way to remarkable success in putting the city back on a solid financial footing.


ARAMARK/EAA/FLAPS: Mr. Snyder will have to be careful not to get carried away with how much better state government is run now because otherwise Mr. Schauer will have the opportunity hammer him on problems with the Aramark contract for prison food services.

SOCIAL ISSUES: Mr. Snyder is famous for sidestepping questions on social issues like gay marriage. The issue was nowhere near as prominent in 2010 as it is now. A dodge on this question could make the governor look indecisive and allow Mr. Schauer an opening.

PENSION TAX: Mr. Snyder will have to finesse this one carefully. Mr. Schauer is sure to raise it, and the governor will likely emphasize – as he has of late – that the tax was designed to address the issue of people retiring in their 50s and paying no income tax. Talking about the tax being a matter of “fairness,” as the governor has in the past, is trouble.


INTRODUCING HIMSELF: Beyond the television ads, most Michigan voters are just getting to know Mr. Schauer. The debate is his best opportunity to make voters comfortable with the idea of him as governor, leading the state. He will need to bring many of his answers back to the fundamentals of his campaign – improving traditional public schools and growing the middle class – and his life experiences.

LINK SNYDER TO THE MOST CONSERVATIVE ITEMS HE HAS SIGNED: This election is likely going to be decided in Oakland County. Mr. Snyder won it in a rout four years ago, and a Republican cannot win statewide without piling up a good margin there. When social issues arise, Mr. Schauer will need to seize the opportunity to show he is in line with the county’s socially liberal voters.

ARAMARK, ARAMARK, ARAMARK: Mr. Snyder still retains decent favorability ratings. One way to dent that is to remind the public of the salacious problems linked to the Snyder administration hiring Aramark to handle prison food service – improper intimate contact between Aramark workers and inmates, food quality problems and now an alleged murder-for-hire scandal.


ROADS: Fixing the state’s roads is a top issue, but Mr. Schauer has offered no plan on how he would find more money to solve the problem. The question is sure to come up, and if Mr. Schauer still has no specifics, the governor will pounce. Yes, Mr. Snyder has been unable to persuade the Legislature to act, and some of his fixes are incredibly unpopular, but having a plan is better than no plan at all. The debate could offer Mr. Schauer a high-profile opportunity unveil one.

DETROIT: If someone asks Mr. Schauer how he would have handled the Detroit situation and he criticizes the decision to put the city into bankruptcy, the panel’s moderators, the editorial page editors of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, are going to press him for specifics. That’s a no-win situation because if Mr. Schauer plays it safe and talks about how he would have worked with the local officials, he will get pilloried for offering the same prescription that failed for decades. A more specific answer could trip up Mr. Schauer as well because it will get closely dissected.

THE $1 BILLION CUT TO K-12: Mr. Schauer isn’t backing down from his charge that Mr. Snyder cut K-12 funding by $1 billion. Mr. Snyder has called the charge a lie. The bigger problem is that the Free Press called it a “big and persistent lie” and it’s easy to envision Mr. Snyder saying something like, “Don’t take my word for it. The state’s largest newspaper said it’s a lie too.” Mr. Schauer will have to find a way to make his central point – that the state’s traditional public schools are worse off now than they were before Mr. Snyder – without giving Mr. Snyder, and the panel, the opportunity to call him a liar.

Schauer Needs Own ‘Frugal’ Ad
Posted: October, 6 2014 5:02 PM

Democrats and Republicans with whom I’ve spoken agree that the best ad of the election cycle in Michigan this year is the spot from U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic candidate in the U.S. Senate race, starring the candidate, his wife and daughters mocking him for being frugal with his beat up sweatshirt, worn out shoes and ancient washing machine he refuses to replace.

The spot gives viewers a feel for Mr. Peters the person amid the sea of negative television advertising pillorying other candidates running for office. It cannot be an accident that polls started to show Mr. Peters’ lead increasing once “Frugal” began running following a period of tightening in mid-September between Mr. Peters and the Republican, Terri Land.

While talking politics with a source today, this source had a take, and it makes complete sense: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer needs a similar ad.

There have been plenty of ads featuring Mr. Schauer talking about the need to better fund K-12 schools and criticizing Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s policies, and that is all well and good – and a necessary part of the message. But if Mr. Schauer is going to win this race, it will have to be more than running as the anti-Snyder. Running as the anti-Snyder has put him into the game, but to have a shot at closing the deal with voters, he will need to give them a feel for who he is as a person.

The first ad from the Democratic Governors Association saw Mr. Schauer talk a bit about his parents, but he needs something more. That’s going to be especially critical as Republicans step up attacks on his credibility in the final month.

Mr. Snyder did that in 2010 with his “one tough nerd” message. Voters may disapprove of his policies, but he has always retained decent favorable/unfavorable ratings (49 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable in the last EPIC/MRA poll).

Mr. Schauer is scheduled to go back on the air soon. His ad-makers are going to need to haul out something along the lines of Mr. Peters’ ratty sweatshirt to give him a chance to close the sale.

Key Moment In U.S. Senate Race Arrives Friday
Posted: October, 2 2014 5:21 PM

For nearly the entire U.S. Senate race, Republican Terri Land has avoided situations where she would have to answer sustained questioning from reporters.

She has done some radio interviews, mostly with friendly hosts and for short sessions lasting less than 10 minutes.

Ms. Land also has done some short interviews with outstate reporters.

She has done three media scrums, the infamous one on Mackinac Island she did not want to do that was a fiasco when she appeared extremely uncomfortable and awkwardly sidestepped questions, one she arranged in Lansing that lasted for about three minutes after an event that went much more smoothly and then another short one in Charlotte more recently

But unlike her Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, she has repeatedly refused one-on-one interviews with print reporters covering the campaign. After one event in Lansing during the summer, Mr. Peters took questions for almost 20 minutes. He also has made himself available for telephone interviews and is generally accessible.

At no point has there been any kind of a chance to dig in deep with Ms. Land on her proposals or her criticism of Mr. Peters.

That all changes at 9 a.m. Friday.

Set your radio dials for your local Michigan Public Radio Network station because Ms. Land is scheduled to appear for one hour on its “Michigan Calling” program with Rick Pluta. Ms. Land agreed to appear shortly after the Mackinac Island disaster and unless the two candidates agree to a debate, it could be the one time Ms. Land faces sustained questioning in public for an extended period about the campaign.

MLive is holding its editorial board interview with Ms. Land in public and will livestream it, but it’s unclear how that first-of-its-kind session will shake out. “Michigan Calling” has been a staple of the election calendar for years and is known for its tough but fair format.

Democrats to say the least are brimming with anticipation. Progress Michigan is openly trying to recruit people to jam MPRN’s phone lines with assuredly hostile questions for Ms. Land.

Ms. Land has come under scathing criticism for her campaign style of mostly staying out of the public eye, getting dubbed the “invisible candidate” by the conservative U.S. News and World Report. Friday is going to be the most visible day Ms. Land has had in her 15 months as a candidate, and a whole lot of radios will be tuned to NPR come 9 a.m.

How Kansas Could Refocus Senate Control On Michigan
Posted: September, 30 2014 1:25 PM

There’s not a whole lot of history connecting Kansas and Michigan, save for Michigan Governor Epaphroditus Ransom (1848-50) receiving an appointment from President James Buchanan in 1857 as receiver of the Osage land office in Kansas (and thanks to George Weeks’ “Stewards of the State” for that factoid).

But the current politics in Kansas could have a significant spillover effect on those in Michigan in the next month.

Based on polling averages as well as leading election models, Republicans are on their way to picking up the six currently Democratic seats they need to win control of the U.S. Senate, now with a functional 55-45 Democratic majority that includes some independents. Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota have long been virtually locked up for the GOP, and increasingly Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska look like victories as well.

So Republicans can virtually taste a 51-49 majority and the prospect of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) replacing U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) as majority leader, right?

Well, maybe not. And that brings us to Kansas.

The longtime Republican incumbent, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, is unexpectedly in dire straits. He narrowly survived a primary fight and now has an independent candidate (unofficially expected to side with the Democrats although he has not indicated his plans) surging against what most have said is Mr. Roberts’ moribund campaign organization. Additionally, Democrats in this usually Republican state are on the upswing and could take the governor’s office as well.

If Mr. Roberts loses alongside the six Republican pick-ups noted earlier, that drops the Senate to a 50-50 tie with Vice President Joe Biden breaking the tie allowing Democrats to retain at least some sense of control. There would likely be a power-sharing arrangement along the lines of what occurred during a brief tie in 2002, but it would be a huge save for the Democrats compared to falling into an outright minority.

That’s where Michigan comes in. Republicans still have other opportunities for a 51st seat, and Michigan remains one of them despite the well-documented troubles of the Republican candidate, former Secretary of State Terri Land.

Targets 1a and 1b for the Republicans would be Iowa and Colorado, respectively. The Republican candidates are running well in both states, especially Iowa, and the Democratic candidate in Iowa has struggled. North Carolina had seemed a promising prospect for some time, but U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina), while not safe, has proven resilient.

Ms. Land continues to get horrific coverage for her low-profile campaign with National Public Radio’s Don Gonyea the latest to examine the situation. Her favorable/unfavorable numbers are terribly underwater and she has shown no sign in virtually any minimally credible poll of upward movement in her support against the Democrat, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters.

But one thing that has helped Ms. Land this month is that the outside groups airing ads supporting her have the better message than the outside groups favoring Mr. Peters. The messages hitting Mr. Peters on hypocrisy and tying him to an unpopular President Barack Obama have a much better chance of moving numbers than those from Democratic-aligned groups continuing to assail Ms. Land on the environment and the Koch brothers. The fuel of those arguments was long ago exhausted.

Indeed, Mr. Peters’ support has fallen a bit though Ms. Land remains stuck at about 40 percent. That latter point eventually could have prompted outside groups to pull out of the race sooner than later. But with Kansas up in the air, Republicans will need fallback plans to ensure 51 seats, and Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina remain too close to call.

As much as Mr. Peters is the favorite, his room to grow is limited as a result of the Land and GOP ads damaging his favorability numbers as well as the unpopularity of Mr. Obama.

Ms. Land’s upward movement is limited as well, but if Republicans conclude they need to go all-in on Michigan, it could mean even more ads in the next month in hopes of knocking Mr. Peters down to 40 percent in the polls to put this race in play.

Remember Bleeding Kansas? This could be Bleeding Michigan. As in, our eyes bleeding from the ads.

A Fundraising Email Without The Silliness
Posted: September, 26 2014 1:13 PM

Emails from candidates seeking donations continue to fill inboxes around the country to the point where even the most loyal partisans get fed up with not only the inundation, but the ridiculous pitches from their own side.

The worst offender has to be the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with its absurd email subject lines taunting the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Such as:




Okay, the third one I made up, but it’s actually not that improbable that the DSCC would roll that out.

Another hilarious tactic from various candidates is to urge donations because of a “deadline” that one would assume is the last day to donate prior to the close of books on a reporting period so that the candidate can show a good haul when disclosing fundraising a couple weeks later. Often, there is no such actual deadline, just an artificial or fabricated one.

The other tactic that cracks me up is the use of doomsday subject lines such as:




Okay, again, I made the third one up, but I bet a candidate might be able to raise some non-traditional cash in Michigan if he or she somehow convinced voters a donation might make the Lions a winner.

So when an email rolled in the other day from the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, with the subject line, “I’m asking for money,” it was much more attention-grabbing than the usual screaming subject line because it was so mellow.

I guess we’ll know whether it worked or not based on whether the next Peters fundraising email continues that theme or busts out the “Caps Lock” button with the traditional more frantic candidate themes.

Environment For Legislative Races Increasingly Unpredictable
Posted: September, 10 2014 2:20 PM

In the term limits era, the prevailing national mood and/or outcome of the gubernatorial or presidential race has generally dictated which party gains seats in the Michigan Legislature.

But increasingly it looks like a complicated environment in Michigan, one that we have not seen in the term limits era. For the first time since term limits started sweeping out incumbents starting with the 1998 election in the Michigan House, Michigan has extremely competitive races for both governor and U.S. Senate. Michigan also has only seen one instance of hotly competitive races for president and U.S. Senate, but because this is a mid-term cycle, let’s take a look at what happened in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.


National environment: Democratic. Voters responded negatively to the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

Michigan environment: Republican. Democrats incredibly nominated unpopular attorney Geoffrey Fieger for governor, whom Governor John Engler drubbed with more than 60 percent of the vote. There was no U.S. Senate race.

Result: Republicans gained six seats in the House and one seat in the Senate.


National environment: Republican. President George W. Bush was riding a wave of popularity following his response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and put Democrats on the defensive about going to war against Iraq.

Michigan environment: Mixed. Democrat Jennifer Granholm won the governorship by 4 percentage points, too close to provide any coattails. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) won re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote, but it was a non-competitive race that did nothing to alter the overall environment. This election also was the first after Republicans had total control of redistricting for the first time.

Result: Republicans gained five seats in the House while Democrats gained one seat in the Senate.


National environment: Democratic. Voters were upset with Mr. Bush about the problems with the Iraq war, and the Republican-led Congress was unpopular.

Michigan environment: Democratic. Ms. Granholm and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) both won re-election with 56 percent of the vote. The governor’s race was fiercely fought. Ms. Stabenow was not seriously challenged.

Result: Democrats gained six seats in the House and one seat in the Senate.


National environment: Republican. GOP voters were furious with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Congress and turned out in force. Independents sided with the GOP as well.

Michigan environment: Republican. After eight years of Ms. Granholm, who by this time was deeply unpopular, voters elected Rick Snyder in a landslide with 58 percent of the vote. There was no U.S. Senate race.

Result: Republicans gained 20 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate.

Today, the national environment appears to favor Republicans although not as much as in 2010. Mr. Obama is unpopular and his numbers are getting worse.

Let’s presume for a moment that the current polls hold and either Mr. Schauer or Mr. Snyder barely wins the governor’s race by a point or two and Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters wins the U.S. Senate race over Republican Terri Land by 4-6 points.

That should make it a relatively even playing field, even with Mr. Obama’s problems, for legislative candidates in key races for the Senate and more importantly the House where control there is in play. That will put a premium on candidate quality, door-to-door effort and individual fundraising to a much greater extent than we have seen in years.

This is creating some unease among House Republicans, where they had expected to have a strong Republican wind at their backs as they seek to keep their 59-seat majority. Still, they are going to add a seat now in Democratic hands in the Thumb.

That means Democrats are going to need to win six seats now held by Republicans to win the House majority. Can they do that in a neutral political environment? The betting has to be no, but there is no recent precedent for what will happen in a mid-term when both sides battle to a draw at the top of the ticket.

Polling The Third Party Candidates
Posted: September, 9 2014 12:40 PM

The latest poll out today on the governor’s and U.S. Senate races has a unique twist – it includes the third party candidates running for those offices.

And the inclusion of Libertarian Mary Buzuma, Green Paul Homeniuk and U.S. Taxpayers candidate Mark McFarlin with Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Democrat Mark Schauer in the governor’s race, as well as Libertarian Jim Fulner, Green Chris Wahmhoff and U.S. Taxpayers candidate Richard Matkin in the U.S. Senate race had an interesting effect on the survey.

When all candidates were included in the survey from Public Policy Polling, Mr. Snyder had 43 percent, Mr. Schauer 42 percent, Ms. Buzuma 3 percent, Mr. McFarlin 2 percent and Mr. Homeniuk 1 percent. The third party candidates’ combined support is 6 percent.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters had 43 percent, Republican Terri Land 36 percent, Mr. Fulner 4 percent, Mr. Matkin 2 percent and Mr. Wahmhoff 1 percent. The third party candidates’ combined support is 7 percent.

But when the survey asked participants only about the major party candidates, Mr. Snyder had 46 percent to 44 percent for Mr. Schauer and Mr. Peters had 45 percent to 40 percent for Ms. Land.

On the one hand, it only seems fair to include all the candidates in the poll. They’re on the ballot too.

But the history of third party candidates in statewide major races in Michigan suggests there is absolutely no chance they will combine for 6 to 7 percent of the vote.

In averaging the last seven governor’s and U.S. Senate races combined in Michigan since 2002, the average combined vote for third party candidates was 2.08 percent with a high water mark of 3.51 percent in the 2008 U.S. Senate race.

Going back a bit further, the best third party combined performance in recent memory was in the 1994 U.S. Senate race when they combined for 5.3 percent, almost entirely thanks to Libertarian Jon Coon getting 4.2 percent of the vote.

Polls are just a snapshot in time, of course, and some people are saying now that they will vote for one of the third party candidates. But as almost always happens, once Election Day arrives, most voters opt to choose a candidate that has a chance to win and third party support plummets. Of course, with as relentlessly negative as the governor and U.S. Senate races are, perhaps a few more protest votes than usual are possible.

In the end, the third party vote will land somewhere between 1 and 3.5 percent, meaning that while today’s poll questions including them are interesting, they are not instructive.

Supreme Court Candidate A Natural?
Posted: August, 26 2014 12:47 PM

Candidates for public office have taken advantage of a politically good name for years, especially when it comes to judgeships, and why not.

Take Court of Appeals Judge Kirsten Frank Kelly, for example. When she became a Wayne Circuit judge in 1994, Kirsten Kelly would have been an excellent ballot name, but Kirsten Frank Kelly was the stuff of ballot legend for it echoed the name of Michigan’s longtime then-Attorney General and political juggernaut, Frank Kelley, who already had held office for more than 30 years. She had practiced law under her maiden name, Kirsten Frank, but when she ran for judge added her married name, Kelly, for the ballot.

In 2014, the tradition continues. One of the Republican nominees for the Michigan Supreme Court, Kent Circuit Judge James Redford, has for years used his full name on the ballot and in his campaign committee name – James Robert Redford.

Hey, in politics, when you can evoke the name of one of America’s most beloved actors and directors of the past 50 years – Robert Redford of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Sting,” “All the President’s Men” et al – you do it, right?

So maybe Judge Redford’s campaign strategists will pay for the rights to the majestic theme from “The Natural,” in which Mr. Redford plays a sublime baseball player, as background music to Judge Redford’s ads?

Should Judge Redford win, however, let’s hope he does not react as Robert Redford’s “Bill McKay” character did upon winning a U.S. Senate seat in “The Candidate.”

Snyder, Calley, GOP Avert Disaster
Posted: August, 23 2014 3:39 PM

Had Wes Nakagiri denied Lt. Governor Brian Calley renomination at today’s Michigan Republican Party State Convention and become Governor Rick Snyder’s running mate, the following would have happened.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer would have moved ahead of Mr. Snyder in the governor’s race. The prospect of a likely Democratic victory at the top of the ticket would have put the House Republican majority into full-scale crisis mode in what would have become a much more difficult fight to keep the majority. And Mr. Calley’s once-promising political career would be in ruins.

Mr. Calley winning renomination and stopping the specter of a Snyder-Nakagiri ticket does not ensure Mr. Snyder will beat Mr. Schauer, far from it. That race by all measures is up for grabs. And it does not ensure House Republicans will keep their majority.

But it does prevent complete chaos in the Michigan Republican Party that would have threatened to make very real the prospect of not just a Democratic win, but a sweeping Democratic win.

As much as Mr. Nakagiri insisted the presence of a tea party conservative on the ticket would galvanize conservatives to vote, the data just does not back that up. Mr. Snyder has long enjoyed near unanimous support in the polls from Republicans. Yes, there are some Republican activists who have never warmed to him and are upset with him on some issues, but nowhere near a critical mass that could put his re-election in jeopardy by sitting out the race.

Had Mr. Nakagiri made the ticket, Democrats would have affixed every single position he has ever taken to Mr. Snyder.

Yes, voters vote for the governor, not the lieutenant governor. But a mess with the running mate can greatly hurt a gubernatorial candidate. Ask former Governor Jim Blanchard whether his handling of taking Lt. Governor Martha Griffiths off the ticket in 1990 helped or hurt his campaign. This situation would have made that one seem small by comparison because it would have served as a constant distraction throughout the fall from what messages Mr. Snyder wants to emphasize.

So at last the “loot guv” battle royale in the Michigan Republican Party is over. Let the real race begin.

Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act, Public Enemy, What?
Posted: August, 15 2014 11:03 AM

I believe it was Public Enemy who once said, “Get up, get, get, get down, the Michigan Campaign Finance Act is a joke in your town.”

Oh wait, those weren’t the lyrics?

No, of course the song “911 Is a Joke” was about the problem of incompetence in emergency 9-1-1 service in urban areas at the time in 1990. Yet while watching candidates intentionally or unintentionally make a mockery of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act in the past month, it was the first thing that came to mind.

Now, to be clear, this isn’t about whether the MCFA allows too much or too little money in politics or requires too much or too little disclosure. Nor is this about the staff at the Michigan Department of State, who can only enforce the law as written. No, what this is about is candidates seeing the complete lack of teeth in the statute and exploiting that fact for tactical advantage without any fear of serious penalties.

Let’s start with Rep. Harvey Santana (D-Detroit). Mr. Santana was facing a fight in the Democratic primary this year because several unions decided to back his challenger, whom Mr. Santana ultimately crushed. But Mr. Santana decided not to file his pre-primary campaign finance statement by the 5 p.m. July 25 deadline and told Gongwer News Service he made that decision so that his opponent could not use the names of his contributors against him. He still has yet to file that report.

Eventually, presumably, Mr. Santana will file it. And the penalty for keeping his contributors and spending activity secret prior to the primary will amount to less than a slap on the wrist, a maximum late fee of $1,000. Instead of a real hit and a deterrent to breaking the law, it’s just part of the cost of doing business. Had Mr. Santana turned in his report the day after the election, the fine would have been well below the $1,000 maximum (the maximum is less for candidates who raise little money).

Rep. John Olumba (I-Detroit) has seemed to think for years that the MCFA is voluntary, and with the weak penalties, it’s hard to blame him. He pushed the deadline past the genuine limit and in 2013 was late for his swearing-in while straightening out his campaign finance records. Not surprisingly, he has yet to file his pre-primary campaign finance report that was due three weeks ago.

Then there’s the case of Liz Fessler Smith of White Lake Township, a Republican who narrowly lost the race for her party’s nomination in the 44th House District that covers parts of west-central Oakland County. Less than 24 hours before her pre-primary campaign finance report was due, she claimed someone stole her records out of a car and a police report was filed. Police have no leads in the case.

Ms. Smith insisted she would submit her report and even said she was still trying to get the report in prior to the election, but she did not file it before the primary and still has not done so although she apparently has remained in touch with the Department of State about filing.

There are more than a few Republicans who think her story is a lie.

For starters, campaign records in any serious campaign, as Ms. Smith’s was, are now kept electronically, and Ms. Smith has refused to say exactly what was stolen – a disk, a flash drive, an entire computer, old-style paperwork, or what. Further arousing suspicion, Ms. Smith said in an interview there were signs someone had forced his or her way into the vehicle, but White Lake police had earlier told me were no signs of forced entry.

Anyhow, just as with Mr. Santana, the price Ms. Smith will pay for failing to file her campaign finance report, whether intentional through a cover story or as a result of some cat burglar roving the mean streets of White Lake and stealing the records, until after the election is almost nothing.

Over to you, Flavor Flav…

Mitchell-Moolenaar Emerging As Marquee Race Of Night
Posted: August, 4 2014 6:30 PM

There are going to be two major storylines coming out of Tuesday’s primary elections in Michigan.

The big one is going to be whether the tea party scores a breakthrough in Michigan Republican electoral politics. I addressed that topic last week, and in the intervening days the evidence has only grown that the tea party looks poised for a good night. Whether it will be a great night, that we will not know until sometime after midnight.

So let’s deal with the second major story, which is going to be the single most noteworthy individual race of the night – gazillionaire Paul Mitchell of Thomas Township against Sen. John Moolenaar of Midland in the 4th U.S. House District Republican primary. The last time I wrote on this race, Mr. Mitchell had staggered Mr. Moolenaar with $1.9 million in spending that funded a lavish television advertising campaign and that figure has risen in the millions since.

The other major congressional primaries appear predictable, but even with the lead in the polls Mr. Mitchell put together, even with Mr. Mitchell’s money advantage, even with the Moolenaar campaign getting caught flat-footed, it still feels like this race could go either way. There’s a third candidate in the race, Peter Konetchy, but he has virtually no chance of winning.

U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) and Attorney General Bill Schuette, the past two people to hold this seat, got heavily engaged (although a bit late) to rally for Mr. Moolenaar. The Right to Life endorsement should still yield benefits for Mr. Moolenaar. And tea party forces are siding with Mr. Moolenaar as well.

Mr. Moolenaar’s allies in Lansing are watching the pummeling he has taken with a good deal of rage. Here is Mr. Mitchell, on his way to winning a congressional seat as a virtual unknown thanks to pumping a few million of his own money into a compressed four-month race thanks to Mr. Camp’s late decision not to run.

Somehow, the Mitchell campaign has successfully managed to turn Mr. Moolenaar, who by almost any measure is about as conservative as it gets, into someone who loves raising taxes and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.

As evidence, Mr. Mitchell’s campaign has blasted Mr. Moolenaar as the sponsor of the Department of Community Health budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year because among the many billions in spending it contains it also includes the funding to pay for Medicaid expansion. Yet 52 of 59 House Republicans and 24 of 26 Senate Republicans voted for that same budget bill.

What was Mr. Moolenaar supposed to do? The program, which he voted against, was lawfully enacted.

So one can understand why Mr. Mitchell might not exactly have a bunch of allies among existing elected Republican officials.

Ah, but that is the way politics works, cherry picking a few items here and there to cast your opponent in a negative light. And I can’t help but wonder why the Moolenaar camp has not gone more forcefully on offense against Mr. Mitchell although at the 11th hour it began hitting him on some aspects of his record. Instead, the responses have been “Mitchell’s lying!” and “Don’t let Mitchell buy a seat in Congress!” Neither seem very effective retorts.

And still, it doesn’t seem possible that 4th District Republicans will repudiate mainstays like Mr. Camp, Mr. Schuette, Right to Life, the tea party and business interests. Of course, Mr. Mitchell has given them 5 million reasons to do so.

Tea Party Showing Signs Of A Breakthrough
Posted: July, 29 2014 1:35 PM

Three months ago, once the filing deadline had passed for candidates to file for state and federal office in Michigan, the prospects of tea party candidates getting bludgeoned – again – by their establishment counterparts in the Republican Party seemed more likely than not.

None of the challengers against Republican incumbents seemed especially strong. And it was unclear just how adept at campaigning many of the newcomers tea party supporters fielded in races without an incumbent running would be.

Now, one week to the primary election, tea party candidates have a legitimate opportunity for a breakthrough in Michigan Republican electoral politics.

For starters, they have several Republican incumbents sweating, perhaps even a couple on the ropes. Lee Chatfield of Levering has come out of nowhere to put Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) on the brink of defeat as a result of Mr. Foster’s support for Medicaid expansion, the Common Core State Standards and extending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to people based on sexual orientation.

Matt Maddock of Milford is giving Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township) fits and the Republican concern there is real. The same is true of Deb O’Hagan of West Bloomfield in her challenge to Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township) and John O’Reilly of Oakland Township in his challenge to Rep. Bradford Jacobsen (R-Oxford).

For the tea party to rightfully claim success on primary election night, it has to knock out an incumbent. Open seat wins will be significant (more on that in a moment), but as a movement, it would be difficult to claim success if it cannot prove Republican voters are willing to eject a Republican incumbent because of policy views the tea party has insisted are out of step with Republican orthodoxy.

No Republican incumbent in the Michigan Legislature has lost a primary in memory as a result of policy positions. The only losses have come as a result of personal scandal. So any defeat of an incumbent would send shockwaves through the Republican legislative establishment.

Looking at the open House seats, tea party backed candidates are looking good by my count in nine of 15 key races. That’s not to say they have locked those races up over establishment opponents, but if I had to put money on those nine races today, I would bet on the tea party candidates.

There’s another five that are too unclear to predict anything with confidence. There’s one seat where the establishment candidate is the strong favorite.

So what is the bar of success for the tea party? Beyond knocking out at least one incumbent, it at minimum needs to see three of the four major figures in the movement running for the House (Todd Courser of Burlington Township, Wendy Day of Howell, Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell and Gary Glenn of Midland) score victories. That would make it a good night. Lana Theis has objected to being labeled a tea party candidate and indeed her background in Republican politics is broader, but her staunch fiscal conservatism puts her in the same ballpark. She is the favorite in her race and has won establishment backing too.

To make it a great night, then several of the folks like Mark Avery of Rochester Hills, Jeff Jacques of Jonesville, Phil Stinchcomb of Portage, Frank Pfaff Jr. of Comstock Park, Keith Allard of Grand Rapids, Geoff Haveman of Hudsonville and either Beau Vore of Kingsley or Robert Hentschel of Traverse City need to score wins. The best prospects in that group look like Avery, Allard (who would still have the huge task of ousting incumbent Democratic Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids in the general election) and Haveman.

All of this could still go south for the tea party, of course. Most of these races are close. If movement candidates end up losing most of them, even if the results are close, it will be a major failure after all the intensity and anger supporters have fomented in the past year.

But say they can win seven of these open seats and knock out an incumbent? Yes, that would certainly qualify as momen-tea-um.

An Odd Alliance In A State House Race
Posted: July, 23 2014 12:33 PM

Republican Angela Rigas of Alto is getting some praise from an unexpected source in her tea party-backed bid to topple Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto) in the 86th House District that covers parts of Kent and Ionia counties.

The long-shot Democratic candidate in the race, Lynn Mason of Belding, sent out an email to supporters recently touting Ms. Rigas’ efforts. Ms. Mason will face the winner of the Lyons-Rigas Republican primary and is virtually assured of losing because the district is in one of the most Republican parts of the state (Ms. Posthumus has won 70 percent of the vote against the Democratic candidate in her two election wins).

Ms. Rigas has criticized Ms. Lyons for her support of the Common Core State Standards and the Medicaid expansion and reform legislation. In her email, Ms. Mason declared Ms. Rigas is “a conservative mother who stands for middle class Americans” and that “she and her staff are running a strong, energetic campaign.”

The email notes some of the topics Ms. Rigas is targeting Ms. Lyons for criticism on, including the “bailout” of Detroit.

“Lyons is actually spending a lot of her time and money on trying to defeat Angela Rigas,” Ms. Mason writes. “Overall, Angela Rigas is running a very strong campaign against incumbent state Representative Lisa Posthumus Lyons.”

If Ms. Rigas did manage to oust Ms. Lyons, and Ms. Lyons is the heavy favorite in this race, Ms. Mason might regret those words. Then again, considering virtually any reputable person running as a Republican would be favored to beat any Democrat by at least 30 percentage points, that’s probably not a major concern.

Moolenaar On Verge Of Stunning Loss To Newcomer Mitchell
Posted: July, 16 2014 2:55 PM

There were two shocking numbers out of the 4th U.S. House District Republican primary race Tuesday.

23 and 1,354,140.

The 23 is for 23 percentage points, the lead that business executive Paul Mitchell of Thomas Township has in his first bid for elected public office over state Sen. John Moolenaar of Midland, according to a poll commissioned by the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV and conducted by EPIC/MRA.

The 1,354,140 is for $1,354,140, the amount of money by which the wealthy Mr. Mitchell outspent Mr. Moolenaar through June 30, based on campaign finance reports the campaigns filed Tuesday.

Captain Obvious time: These two numbers are related.

When U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) decided not to seek re-election, several legislators considered running, but bowed to what seemed inevitable: an unstoppable bid by Mr. Moolenaar. Personable, a strong fundraiser and the clear heir to the Midland dynasty in the district begun by now-Attorney General Bill Schuette and then Mr. Camp, Mr. Moolenaar was the clear front-runner.

Mr. Mitchell’s bid at first seemed a potential complication, but a longshot considering he was totally unknown while Mr. Moolenaar has served in the Legislature for 10 of the past 12 years. But then Mr. Mitchell made it clear he was not messing around when he hired top Republican political staff.

And then Mr. Mitchell began heavily airing television commercials, first introducing himself and then later blasting Mr. Moolenaar as a faux conservative, the latter charge being a smart political tactic for a Republican primary yet mind-boggling to anyone who has observed Mr. Moolenaar in the Legislature.

Through it all, it seemed while Mr. Mitchell was making it a race, that it was still Mr. Moolenaar’s to lose. Now it seems Mr. Moolenaar waited far too long to confront the Mitchell threat.

It is hard to see Mr. Mitchell’s lead evaporating, but given how unknown he was until a couple months ago, his numbers should be malleable. And Mr. Moolenaar still has two trump cards: Mr. Schuette and Mr. Camp. Both are beloved figures among Republicans in that part of the state, and putting them on television and in direct mail backing Mr. Moolenaar could move the numbers in a hurry.

Otherwise, the Midland Dynasty is history.

The Gray Area Between The Legislature And The Governor’s Office
Posted: July, 10 2014 3:33 PM

When a bill passes the House in an identical form to how it passed the Senate, and vice-versa, the common way reporters, including this one, describe that final vote is to say the House (or the Senate) “sent the bill to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk for his signature.”

Technically, that’s not true. The chamber where the bill originated has its staff (the clerk’s in the House and the secretary’s in the Senate) proofread the bill and then usually some number of days (occasionally hours or even minutes) after the final vote, the originating chamber formally presents the bill to the governor. At the point of presentation, the governor has exactly 14 days to sign or veto the bill.

But 9,999 times out of 10,000, that technicality is just a formality, so we ignore it.

Right now the Legislature is engaged in that 1 in 10,000 moment, on legislation that would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The three bills in the package have passed the House and Senate in identical form with two now sitting in the Senate and one in the House a month after they received “final approval.”

Governor Rick Snyder has all but vowed to veto the bills, preferring more comprehensive legislation that would regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product and do more than just ban sales of them to minors. But the bills passed the House and Senate with well more than the two-thirds votes needed to override the governor, thus the reason for the delicate dance.

Under the law and joint rules of the Legislature, there is no requirement that the Legislature actually send to the governor a bill that passes the House and Senate in identical form. A Senate bill, for example, could just sit in the Senate for the rest of the term and never be presented.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), who has asked the Senate secretary to hold back the two Senate e-cigarette bills, know this all too well. In June 2010, the House passed his bill, with no changes from how it passed the Senate, to broaden which public employees were eligible for binding arbitration. Governor Jennifer Granholm’s spokesperson said in the Gongwer News Story at the time that the governor expected to sign the bill.

But then the bill sat in the Senate. And sat. And sat. Then in December, the Legislature adjourned for the term, leaving the bill in purgatory, passed by the Legislature, but not presented to the governor and doomed.

I don’t remember anything about that on ABC’s “Schoolhouse Rock.”

Mr. Richardville said today on Michigan Public Television’s “Off the Record” that he wanted to have one more conversation with Mr. Snyder on the e-cigarette bills and at that point, the Senate would “probably” send its bills to the governor’s desk. A veto override is a possibility if enough senators say they want to vote on an override, he said.

Now that is something “Schoolhouse Rock” mentioned. But it would be just the fourth veto override of a Michigan governor in 63 years.

The PPP Polling Fury
Posted: July, 3 2014 12:20 PM

The polling firm Public Policy Polling created a stir this week with a survey showing Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer tied in the race for governor at 40 percent each.

This created a stir primarily because virtually every other reputable poll for months has shown Mr. Snyder in the lead and because Public Policy Polling, or PPP as the North Carolina-based firm is known, is a Democratic firm.

Republicans immediately trashed the survey. A Snyder spokesperson scoffed that Mr. Schauer’s “Democratic buddies” were trying to do him a solid. GOP types pointed to the survey showing that 35 percent of respondents identified themselves as Democrats compared to 27 percent who said they were Republicans, a change from PPP’s last survey that showed a 35-30 split.

By contrast, the May poll from Lansing-based EPIC/MRA that showed Mr. Snyder up 47 percent to 38 percent had 41 percent identify as Democrats and 37 percent as Republicans.

I’m not a big fan of comparing horse race numbers out of a poll from one firm to a poll from another firm, but for the sake of argument, could something have changed in the past month? It is certainly possible that the latest wave of Democratic Governors Association advertising on behalf of Mr. Schauer moved the numbers, especially since Mr. Snyder and the Republican Governors Association have not been on the air.

Still, that would be a huge amount of movement, and if it was happening, the assumption is Republicans would see it in its polling too, and that the RGA would have responded with a wave of its own ads.

National polling also suggests that Republican enthusiasm about voting this year is high and Democratic enthusiasm is muted to the point where Republicans could run away with the election unless something changes. Could Michigan be running counter to the national trend? It seems unlikely, but the entire modus operandi of the Michigan Democratic Party for the past 18 months has been to stoke outrage among the party base to Mr. Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature, so it is possible.

It also is possible though that the two campaigns are employing totally different polling models producing very different universes of voters. That underscores something often not discussed in news stories about polls. The results often are much less about so-called independent voters gravitating toward one candidate than the ability of the pollster to produce a sample that accurately replicates the expected partisan makeup of the electorate.

Putting that aside for the moment, what about the PPP bias question? The analysis of polling in 2012 in Michigan from Gongwer News Service and others showed that PPP came the closest to nailing the final margin in the presidential race in this state. And it was similarly accurate across the country.

And in 2010, if PPP was biased, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate at the time, Virg Bernero, sure would have liked some home cooking because PPP consistently showed Mr. Snyder crushing him by 20 points throughout the fall.

That said, there is real debate about PPP. No less an authority than East Lansing native Nate Silver, the statistician who successfully forecast the presidential election results in all 50 states in 2012, has trashed PPP for faulty methods. He and PPP even got into a huge Twitter fight last year.

When one poll is an outlier, as this one is, the natural inclination, and it usually is the right one, is to dismiss it as such. There was one firm in 2012 that kept showing Mitt Romney narrowly ahead of President Barack Obama in Michigan. That one firm got it horrifically wrong.

PPP has a history of getting it right, but like the stock market, past performance in polling is not always a predictor of future results. It’s a long time until November, as they say, and there probably will be no fewer than 100 more polls between now and then. The day after the election, as usual, is judgment day for the pollster community.

The 2014 Michigan Elections App From Gongwer
Posted: June, 18 2014 1:54 PM

Gongwer News Service, Michigan’s premier source for information on state government and politics, has unveiled a smartphone and tablet app that provides easy-to-use information and analysis of this year’s elections.

The 2014 Michigan Elections app offers a wealth of information and analysis to keep you up to speed on this year’s state and federal elections.

But don’t just take our word for it. Those who have downloaded it are offering rave reviews. “Slick,” “Sweet,” “Cool” and “Impressive” are among the plaudits.

The app, which is available for devices using iOS and Android, offers exclusive Gongwer analysis of all 148 seats in the Michigan Legislature, the state’s 14 U.S. House seats, the governor’s race, U.S. Senate race and all other statewide contests.

The app gives users on-the-go access to detailed candidate biographical information, with options to review primary races and then general election campaigns once those races take shape.

Users can also see which U.S. House, Michigan Senate and Michigan House races are expected to be the most competitive and the seats where one party has a slight or strong edge.

On each candidate’s page, users will see links to the candidate’s social media accounts, campaign websites and ways to contact the candidate, as well as a constantly updating list of organizations that have endorsed the candidate. If that candidate has run for state or federal office from 2002 onward, the app also displays his or her performance in those elections.

Users also can use the “Key Races” function to focus only on the primaries and general election match-ups that are legitimately competitive.

Want to see for yourself how it works? Check out our video tutorial:

The app offers users portability and fresh information and analysis not available from any other source.

As the campaign season progresses, and as dynamics change, Gongwer will update its analysis of the races.

And on election nights, Gongwer will update the app regularly with the latest election returns as they are reported.

Users of the iPhone and iPad can download the iOS version from the App Store.

Users of Android devices can download the app from Google Play.

The app is available for just $9.99.

Quality. Speed. Portability. The vital information you need on the 2014 elections in Michigan.

Download the Gongwer 2014 Michigan Elections App today.

Ellis, Hobbs In Similar Positions Leading Up To Primaries
Posted: June, 17 2014 11:21 AM

Republican Brian Ellis of East Grand Rapids and Democratic state Rep. Rudy Hobbs of Southfield share little in common as they pursue bids for the U.S. House this year on opposite sides of the state – except for one major trait.

Both men hope to convert widespread endorsements from key organizations into votes that will catapult them ahead of their better-known opponents.

It is endorsement season with seven weeks to go until the August 5 primary. And both Mr. Ellis and Mr. Hobbs have to be pleased.

Let’s start with Mr. Ellis in the 3rd District. He is seeking to topple U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) and emerged as the candidate favored by establishment and business-oriented Republicans upset with Mr. Amash’s liberty/tea party approach. He has swept the key endorsing local endorsing organizations, winning the backing of Right to Life of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Farm Bureau’s AgriPAC.

And yet Mr. Amash is in a very strong position. A new poll out today from EPIC/MRA, commissioned by the Detroit Free Press and several television stations, shows Mr. Amash with a whopping 55 percent to 35 percent advantage. The Club for Growth is backing Mr. Amash again and already has roughed up Mr. Ellis in television commercials.

Now the question is how hard will all the groups endorsing Mr. Ellis fight to elect him. For the Right to Life and Farm Bureau endorsements to matter, both will have to aggressively mail the district. Will the two chambers of commerce fund third party television advertisements? That could move the numbers in a hurry.

Mr. Ellis has a sizeable war chest of his own to spend as well.

Still, Mr. Ellis not only has to make up 20 points in the polls, he has to persuade many Amash voters to abandon the incumbent. That is going to be difficult.

In the 14th District, Mr. Hobbs faces something of a similar dynamic. There is no incumbent running, but Mr. Hobbs’ two principal opponents are de facto incumbents. Former U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke of Detroit and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence both ran for the same seat in 2012 and lost to U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township in the Democratic primary.

Mr. Hobbs is not nearly as well known, but like Mr. Ellis, he has swept nearly all the key endorsements a Democratic candidate could want – the United Auto Workers, the district’s Democratic Party, the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, among others.

The general sense in this race is that Mr. Hobbs is playing catch-up in name recognition. And unlike Mr. Ellis, Mr. Hobbs has not had the kind of fundraising success that would allow him to air television advertisements.

So Mr. Hobbs will be relying heavily on these major Democratic groups to get the word out to their members, go door-to-door on his behalf, pay for mailings and overwhelm the Clarke and Lawrence camps with superior organization.

There are times when candidates boast a long list of endorsements, but the only real impact is that it looks pretty on a mailer because those organizations are doing little to make the endorsement meaningful.

As Mr. Ellis and Mr. Hobbs wage very different campaigns 140 miles apart, that is one thing neither can afford.

Just When Does The Governor’s Term End, Anyway?
Posted: June, 5 2014 11:26 AM

While awaiting legislators and Governor Rick Snyder to finalize the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, there is often a whole lot of waiting in the Capitol for word that a deal is complete.

With time to spare, a stroll past the portraits of Michigan’s former governor’s yielded an observation. There was a lack of uniformity on when a governor’s term ends.


Officially, according to the Michigan Constitution, the governor’s term ends at noon January 1 following the most recent election for the office. So Governor Jennifer Granholm’s term ended January 1, 2011, for example.

As reporters, this poses a bit of a conundrum. Do we say that Ms. Granholm served from 2003-11 to go for maximum accuracy, or in a nod to her only serving a measly 12 hours in 2011 just say 2003-10? Usually you see 2003-10 in news stories.

And 2003-10 is what the portrait of Ms. Granholm indicates is her term. But Governor John Engler’s portrait goes with 1991-2003, the more technically accurate dates. Governor Jim Blanchard went the same route, 1983-1991.

But Governor William Milliken went with 1969-82, in a nod to the years that reflect all but 12 hours of his actual time in office.

In the end, that 12 hours may seem small, but it is relevant. Many gubernatorial appointments to state boards and commissions expire January 1, and that enables a governor who is leaving office that same day to make those appointments months in advance and have them take effect before the new governor can fill those slots. Mr. Engler did so.

Ms. Granholm wanted to do so as well, but unlike Mr. Engler, the Senate was controlled by the opposite party, and it used its power of advice and consent to put up roadblocks to many of those appointments.

So whenever Governor Rick Snyder’s portrait goes up, the dates of the term of his office will be one of the decisions he has to make.

After Rough Day On Island, Land Faces A Key Juncture In Senate Bid
Posted: May, 29 2014 2:33 PM

Republican U.S. senatorial candidate Terri Land has had a brutal last 24 hours.

Wednesday, Ms. Land unwillingly faced her first scrum with the state’s political reporters after making remarks at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference and, by all accounts, it went very poorly for her, first trying to avoid it, then awkwardly dodging questions and seeming physically uncomfortable with her surroundings before her staff quickly ended the encounter.

Minutes earlier, Ms. Land and her Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, had appeared separately in front of the Chamber’s political action committee to discuss their bids and take questions. Mr. Peters played up Ms. Land’s opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler in his remarks, and Ms. Land seemed to have no idea how to counter other than to say she supports the auto industry.

This came after Ms. Land initially answered a question from the audience on her position on net neutrality and she responded by saying she thought the Internet should be free.

Since then, the coverage has been downright scathing.

“Wasn’t pretty,” wrote the Detroit Free Press.

The Detroit News, Mlive and Gongwer all described her as dodging questions from reporters on the auto bailout.

“Not ready for prime time,” wrote columnist Jack Lessenberry.

“Stiff and reading off prepared remarks,” said WDIV-TV.

Ms. Land’s troubles come at a critical time. Mr. Peters had retaken the lead from her in most polls, and while Michigan is a top-tier race nationally for now, there also is no question Republicans have plenty of opportunities in more Republican-leaning states to capture control of the U.S. Senate even if Ms. Land loses. She can ill-afford more miscues like happened Wednesday and not run the risk of national Republicans shifting their eyes elsewhere.

Look no further than what happened to Pete Hoekstra in 2012 after he committed some key mistakes in the late winter/early spring, crushing any national interest in his bid.

What happened Wednesday was predictable.

When Ms. Land launched her U.S. Senate bid, one concern among several Republicans was that she struggled to project confidence and a good handle on policy in her short-lived 2010 gubernatorial bid.

Ms. Land took no apparent steps to address this concern since starting her campaign in July of last year, despite having plenty of time and opportunity to do so.

She could have done a series of town halls a la Governor Rick Snyder, who as a first-time candidate in 2009 used them to become very strong on the stump. After his 2010 victory, his camp acknowledged he was awful at first, but all that practice strengthened him to the point where he was in great shape by the time the campaign got serious in the spring of 2010.

Ms. Land could have toured the state’s newspaper editorial boards or done a series of stops around the state, announced in advance to the news media, to get more comfortable with the type of grilling from reporters she could expect later in the campaign.

These kinds of moves in 2013 would have been relatively low-risk because interest in the campaign more than a year from the election was low.

Instead, Ms. Land seldom put herself in challenging settings, sticking to Republican Party functions where she could deliver a speech and interact one-on-one with natural allies. She also visited events like the Women’s Expo in Lansing and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, but again kept a low profile.

She did a teleconference with reporters earlier this year on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but it was tightly managed and allowed her to stick to her talking points without facing much heat.

Ms. Land also has refused most requests for interviews since late last year from the reporters regularly covering the campaign.

So was it much of a surprise that Ms. Land struggled in the first round of intense in-person questioning from multiple reporters she has faced in the campaign? No.

Thursday, there was one sign that Ms. Land may now recognize that she has to increase her public profile and subject herself to questions about her candidacy or risk having the talk of her not being able to take the heat undercut her bid. She committed to appear on Michigan Public Radio Network affiliates for a statewide call-in question and answer program, Rick Pluta of MPRN announced.

Doing that show, and a few more scrums, should leave Ms. Land better prepared for the fall, when the intensity of the race peaks and, presumably, she and Mr. Peters debate. It is hard to imagine Ms. Land surviving a repeat performance of Wednesday on live statewide television a month before the election.

Trott Could Have Shot At Historic Rout
Posted: May, 20 2014 12:00 PM

U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Milford) seems on his way to one of the most lopsided losses a Michigan member of the U.S. House has suffered in a party primary to a non-incumbent.

Mr. Bentivolio’s campaign manager departed. He has no campaign spokesperson, nor much in the way of discernible staff. He has raised little money and what he has raised is the subject of a court fight with a former campaign operative who says Mr. Bentivolio owes him much of it.

And of course, Mr. Bentivolio is the incumbent in the 11th U.S. House District through a fluke. He was not considered a serious threat when he filed in 2012 to challenge U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Livonia) in the Republican primary, but Mr. McCotter’s campaign staff committed fraud with his petition signatures, knocking Mr. McCotter off the ballot and moving Mr. Bentivolio from gadfly challenger to congressman.

Mortgage foreclosure attorney David Trott, a longtime Republican financier, is challenging Mr. Bentivolio in the Republican primary this year, and he has virtually the entire GOP establishment on his side as well as virtually limitless resources to fund a strong campaign organization.

So with the news that Mr. Bentivolio’s campaign is in tatters, it seemed worth a look at past Michigan U.S. House members who lost renomination in their party primary and what the margin was. Right now, it feels like Mr. Trott could win this race by at least 20 percentage points.

Going back to 1948, I found at least eight instances of incumbent Michigan members of Congress losing in a primary, and I am only counting losses to a non-incumbent, not those when redistricting forced two incumbents to fight each other in a primary.

The most recent example was 2010 when then-state Sen. Hansen Clarke toppled U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, undone as a result of the corruption of her son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The defeat in the Democratic primary was not too lopsided though, with Mr. Clarke taking 47.3 percent to 40.9 percent for Ms. Kilpatrick.

In 2006, Tim Walberg toppled then-U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz in a close race for the GOP nomination, 53.1 percent to 46.9 percent.

One of the bigger blowouts occurred in 1996 when Ms. Kilpatrick ousted then-U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins, mired in scandal, by a 51.6 percent to 30.7 percent score in the Democratic primary.

Perhaps the biggest shocker occurred in 1992 when Pete Hoekstra stunned then-U.S. Rep. Guy Vander Jagt in the Republican primary, 46.1 percent to 40.3 percent, after voters rebelled at Mr. Vander Jagt's lack of presence in the district while he ran the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In 1986, Fred Upton took out then-U.S. Rep. Mark Siljander in the Republican primary, 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent.

Primary defeats until then were relatively rare as far as I can tell. One occurred in 1956 when Robert Griffin ousted then-U.S. Rep. Ruth Thompson in the Republican primary by a wide margin, 52.3 percent to 36 percent.

But the biggest blowout I could find (and this is not necessarily an exhaustive list) was one of historic importance. In 1948, Gerald Ford routed the isolationist incumbent, Bartel Jonkman, in the Republican primary and served almost 26 years before ascending to the vice presidency and then the presidency. Mr. Ford prevailed with a whopping 62.2 percent of the vote to just 37.8 percent for Mr. Jonkman.

So there are a couple numbers to watch on the night of August 5, barring a miracle turnaround from Mr. Bentivolio. Can Mr. Trott beat Mr. Bentivolio by 24.4 percentage points, Mr. Ford’s margin of victory, which appears the best in modern times over an incumbent in a primary? And the other number is 30.7 percent, Ms. Collins’ vote percentage, the low water mark for an incumbent during that same time.

All Mr. Trott surely wants is the old 50 percent plus 1 to win, and he still has to defeat the Democratic nominee in November, which is no sure thing, but we political junkies will be keeping an eye on some other numbers as well.

Yob Memo On Sasse Victory Lessons Conflicts With Land’s Approach
Posted: May, 16 2014 3:02 PM

Republican political consultant John Yob co-authored an interesting memo this week about the lessons Republicans should take from the victory of his client, Ben Sasse, in the Nebraska GOP U.S. Senate primary earlier this week.

What I found interesting was that some of the key tactics Mr. Yob said Mr. Sasse employed that proved critical to his victory are methods that another client of Mr. Yob’s, Michigan Republican U.S. senatorial candidate Terri Land, has so far avoided.

In listing the key strategic moments and decisions of Mr. Sasse’s campaign, the memo mentions a 2013 listening tour he conducted.

“That was where we figured out just how serious Nebraskans were, and that it was possible to run a campaign focused on constitutional governance and detailed policy proposals,” the memo says.

Another key decision the memo mentions was Mr. Sasse holding several town halls on Obamacare, formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“Rather than run a typical campaign based on only going to diners or parades, or trying to curry favor with local party leaders, we decided instead to build our own crowds and go straight to voters,” the memo says. “That's exactly what we did, and it was key for us. With our 9.5-foot tall stack of Obamacare regulations in the belly of our campaign RV, Ben crisscrossed Nebraska holding town hall meetings standing next to the stack of regulations. There he explained the bill with specifics, laid out his plan for what comes next, and talked about the Constitution.”

Ms. Land has traveled around the state, using her truck, not an RV, but she almost never announces her plans to the public or news media beforehand and most of the events she mentions via her social media accounts are the type of local party functions the Sasse memo disdains.

As far as I know, Ms. Land has not held a single town hall-type meeting of the kind the memo says Mr. Sasse made a key aspect of his campaign. She has met with some business executives to tour their companies, and just this afternoon she announced she would hold a “jobs tour” this summer with the first one today in Niles where she met with the owner of a factory.

Town halls worked brilliantly for another Yob client, now-Governor Rick Snyder, in his 2010 campaign. Mr. Snyder said they made him a better candidate, and his Republican primary foes agreed with that assessment.

Now there are some obvious differences between Mr. Sasse and Ms. Land in their political resumes. Mr. Sasse was a newcomer to politics and totally unknown while Ms. Land starts out with a good base of support, thanks to people remembering her run as secretary of state.

The key for Mr. Sasse was to win the Republican primary because Nebraska is such a Republican-leaning state while Ms. Land has to focus on the general election.

And Ms. Land has emulated some of the strategies the Sasse memo mentions – establishing viability early through strong-fundraising and being able to inspire tea party voters yet also campaign in a way that get through to other voters and establishment figures. Mr. Yob is a big proponent of Republicans needing to improve campaign technology, and Ms. Land’s campaign just announced a new effort on that front, similar to what Mr. Sasse did.

Still, Ms. Land has departed in the first 10-plus months of her campaign from what her consultant, Mr. Yob, says was a key aspect of Mr. Sasse’s win.

Perhaps in the end this will be such a strong Republican year and combined with Ms. Land’s strong fundraising effort, name recognition and the “R” next to her name on the ballot, that will be all she needs to win this race.

That could lead to another memo.

In Politics, 45 Is The New 50
Posted: May, 9 2014 3:22 PM

There was an outstanding piece of research in The Washington Post today breaking the myth that undecided voters still break for the challenger to the detriment of incumbents.

You can read the piece for yourself, but it turns to dust the old idea that if an incumbent has 46 percent to 44 percent for the challenger in the polls just before Election Day, that the challenger can expect to win the bulk of that 10 percent undecided vote and win the race.

The Post, looking at competitive U.S. Senate races in the past four election cycles, found that the undecided vote actually breaks for the incumbent.

This makes perfect sense.

Think about it. How many times in recent statewide Michigan elections have we heard from challengers about how the incumbent is below 50 percent in the polls, so he or she must be vulnerable yet the incumbents go on to win with relative ease?

In September 2012, a survey showed U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) at 46 percent and her Republican opponent, Pete Hoekstra, at 40 percent. The talk among Republicans was that since Ms. Stabenow was below 50 percent, she was at risk.

Well, what happened? Ms. Stabenow won 58 percent to 39 percent, meaning she took virtually every “undecided” vote. I put undecided in quotes because what tends to happen is many of those voters don’t show up or already were leaning one way, but squishy about it.

Or how about in 2006, when a poll just before the election showed Democratic then-Governor Jennifer Granholm at 49 percent to 42 percent for Republican challenger Dick DeVos? The old saw about undecideds breaking for the challenger should have meant Mr. DeVos had a fighting chance, right?

Wrong. Ms. Granholm beat Mr. DeVos, 56 percent to 42 percent, again taking all of that “undecided” vote.

The point here is that 45 is the new 50, meaning based on elections in the past 15 years, the danger zone for an incumbent seems to be more in falling below the 45 percent level in polls than the old standard of 50 percent.

Case in point: the 2000 U.S. Senate race between Ms. Stabenow, then a U.S. representative, and then-U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, a Republican. About 10 days out from the election, a poll had both candidates at 41 percent. Ms. Stabenow would go on to win a squeaker, 49 percent to 48 percent.

As the Post points out, the universe of voters is so much more partisan now than it was 30 years ago, those “undecided” voters aren’t what they used to be.

A Wrench In McMillin’s Message
Posted: May, 1 2014 3:42 PM

Rep. Tom McMillin wants to frame the 8th U.S. House District Republican primary as a contest between a squishy conservative (his opponent, former Sen. Mike Bishop) and a true conservative (himself).

But the Bishop campaign is moving quickly to crush that message, and it did so in the most effective way possible by using Mr. McMillin’s own words against him.

Stu Sandler, the Bishop campaign’s general consultant, posted a video on Facebook this week of Mr. McMillin praising Mr. Bishop in 2010 as a – wait for it – strong conservative leader.

Those weren’t exactly Mr. McMillin’s words, but the message was unmistakable.

At the time, Mr. McMillin was backing Mr. Bishop for the Republican nomination for attorney general over Bill Schuette, who narrowly fended off Mr. Bishop for the GOP nod. Democrats controlled the House, Democrat Jennifer Granholm was governor and Mr. Bishop was the Senate majority leader for the one Republican outpost in state government, the Senate.

“Time and time again, bills for trial lawyers, legislation often attacking job providers in Michigan, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop through his leadership has shown the ability to hold his caucus together to stop all of those damaging bills,” Mr. McMillin said in a speech to the Michigan Republican Party convention in 2010.

Mr. McMillin has some fodder to use against Mr. Bishop in this race to play up the true conservative theme.

It will be the same playbook Mr. Schuette used four years ago: Mr. Bishop as majority leader allowed votes on increasing the income tax and establishing a swiftly repealed sales tax on services and backed the Michigan Business Tax, which quickly became loathed and has since been replaced.

But if Mr. McMillin was so effusive with praise then – and the Bishop camp has the video to prove it – it will undermine his ability to press the squishy conservative case now.

Walberg Draws An Interesting Challenger
Posted: April, 23 2014 6:02 PM

Elections bring out a slice of life, and that is certainly true in the 7th U.S. House District where Douglas Radcliffe North of Jackson has created one of the more unique campaign websites I have seen in his challenge to U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) for the Republican nomination.

You like campaign videos? Mr. North has got ’em.

He has videos titled “Gangsters” and “Walberg’s Soul” for starters.

Unfortunately, I can’t embed the videos here, but if you go to, you are in for something unique.

The first video alone is memorable for Mr. North’s Panama hat/turtle neck/trench coat ensemble.

So Mr. Walberg is in for at least a nuisance primary as Mr. North appears nothing if not willing to take a few shots.

Ah, The Surprises Of Candidate Filing Day
Posted: April, 22 2014 10:47 AM

4 p.m. today is the deadline for partisan candidates seeking nomination in August and election in November to file to run for office, and it is always a banner day on the political calendar, especially because there is usually a surprise of some sort.

Sometimes, the surprise is startling, but ultimately not that big a deal. In 2002, a knife-making business owner named Jim Moody unexpectedly emerged from nowhere and filed what he said were 17,000 signatures to run for governor as a Republican. His short-lived long-shot bid ended weeks later when the Department of State determined he failed to gather the minimum 15,000 valid signatures.

One of my favorite filing day gambits occurred in 2004. That year, former Rep. Lamar Lemmons III sought a House seat in Detroit. In a neighboring district, so did his father, Lamar Lemmons Jr. And in another neighboring district, so did his son, Lamar K. Lemmons. The two elder Lemmons both won, but the youngest lost in the Democratic primary.

Then there are the name game tricks. In 2010, someone named Zack Brandenburg filed to run as a Republican in a Macomb County Senate race where Jack Brandenburg already was running. Zack Brandenburg shockingly (sarcasm alert) went into hiding and could not be found to determine who put him up to the trick before finally withdrawing after the controversy built.

Had he remained on the ballot, possibly it would have helped Jack Brandenburg, who could have been given a ballot designation. Or possibly it would have hurt him if voters were confused and cast some votes for the interloper.

Sadly, Zack Brandenburg never returned my messages to find out why he filed. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I can tell you he remains in the music business as a guitarist for a band called Short on Shame.

But the biggest surprise of all I have seen by far was the 2012 bombshell in which then-Democratic Rep. Roy Schmidt, who had filed many weeks before the filing deadline for re-election, at the last minute filed as a Republican and withdrew his Democratic candidacy.

For the purposes of this blog, I won’t rehash in detail the aftermath that followed other than to recall how a family friend of Mr. Schmidt’s named Matt Mojzak filed as a Democrat about the same time in a bid to thwart Democrats from unseating Mr. Schmidt later that year, a gambit that turned into one of the biggest blunders in modern Michigan politics.

T-minus five hours and change to go. Grab yourself a bucket of popcorn, keep an eye on the filings and enjoy the fun.

Race To Succeed Camp Just Got Interesting
Posted: April, 21 2014 3:28 PM

Sen. John Moolenaar has been seen as the prohibitive favorite to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, a fellow Midland Republican, in the 4th U.S. House District since Mr. Camp announced he would not seek a 13th term.

Republican business executive Paul Mitchell previously had announced his bid, but it was unclear just how serious a threat he could be. Monday, he made clear he is very serious when he announced a campaign staff of some of the biggest names in Michigan Republican circles, landing Jeff Timmer, formerly of the Sterling Corporation, as campaign manager and Stu Sandler, president and CEO of the Decider Strategies consulting firm, as general consultant.

The Mitchell campaign announced several other notable hires to fill out its campaign staff.

The third candidate in the race for the Republican nomination, Peter Konetchy, will be running a much lower-budget race than his two opponents.

Mr. Moolenaar will surely have a strong campaign team as well and already has worked with Marketing Resource Group, but everyone expected Mr. Moolenaar would have a good operation. The surprise here is that Mr. Mitchell seems intent on doing what he can to make this a race.

In Search Of A Rarity – Print Journalist To Legislator
Posted: April, 16 2014 11:11 AM

One of the newest candidates filing to run for the Legislature is a name familiar to those of us in the journalism world.

Rich Perlberg, the now retired longtime general manager/executive editor of the Livingston County Daily Press and Argus, is running as a Republican in the 42nd House District, which covers the Brighton area.

Mr. Perlberg joins a crowded GOP field in the solidly Republican district where the successor to Rep. Bill Rogers (R-Brighton), who cannot seek re-election because of term limits, will be effectively determined by the August 5 primary for the Republican nomination.

Of the other four candidates in the field so far, Mr. Perlberg’s major opposition comes from Brighton Township Treasurer Lana Theis, a Republican activist, and Nick Fiani, the president of the Brighton school board (editor's note: this story changed to describe Ms. Theis as a Republican activist). Ms. Theis has been running for a year, and Mr. Fiani got started in July, so they have a big head start on Mr. Perlberg.

And the history of print journalists running for the Legislature is mixed at best. The one major victory in memory was Gary Woronchak, who had spent 25 years in newspapers and was the managing editor of The Daily Tribune in Royal Oak prior to winning a House seat in Dearborn as a Republican in 1998 (he later won a seat on the Wayne County Commission and became a Democrat).

One of those who lost Mr. Perlberg knows well. Buddy Moorehouse, a former editor and columnist for the Daily Press and Argus, finished a close third in the 2002 Republican primary for the other House seat in Livingston County (memorably won by now-Sen. Joe Hune in a recount).

Former Detroit News reporter/local publisher Hawke Fracassa struggled in his bid for office, losing a 2008 run for the Republican nomination in the 25th House District in Macomb County by a 2-to-1 margin. In 2010, he filed to run for the same seat as a Democrat, but withdrew from the race. Now he is back – as a Republican – and waging a long-shot challenge to Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) in the 9th Senate District.

In 2008, former Detroit News columnist (and Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame inductee) Pete Waldmeir ran as a Republican for the 1st House District that covered the Grosse Pointes and a small part of Detroit. Mr. Waldmeir had won a seat on the Grosse Pointe Woods City Council since leaving the News, but he still lost a bid for the GOP nomination, finishing a relatively distant third among six candidates.

Mr. Perlberg wrote a regular Sunday column for his newspaper for many years, so that gives him some visibility, and he will have some connections in the business community from his executive post at the newspaper.

But the recent history of print journalists running for the Legislature is not good. Mr. Woronchak’s victories in 1998, 2000 and 2002 were no accident, incidentally. Mr. Woronchak is one of the best retail campaigners I’ve seen.

Ripple Effects Of Retirement Fever Run Deep
Posted: April, 4 2014 2:43 PM

The ramifications of all the unexpected retirements in the past few months from Michigan’s members of Congress and state Senate are immense.

Yes, it is about triggering competitive elections down the ticket. But it gets down into the very functioning of the Michigan Legislature as well.

The obvious ramification of U.S. Rep. Dave Camp’s (R-Midland) decision not to seek re-election is that state Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland) is now running to replace him, creating an unanticipated open seat in Mr. Moolenaar’s 36th Senate District. That race will likely feature a Republican primary showdown between House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas (R-Midland) and Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle)

As a consequence, Mr. Pettalia’s very competitive 106th House District seat will open up and give Democrats an unexpected opportunity to pick up a seat Mr. Pettalia most likely would have held.

But what is less obvious is the major implications this has for the Michigan Senate from 2015-18.

Mr. Moolenaar is the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and was the favorite to become the new chair for the next four years. Now that job is up for grabs.

And will that fact be part of the calculation Sen. Darwin Booher (R-Evart) makes as he considers whether to run for Mr. Camp’s seat? Right now, only five of the 11 Republican members of the Senate Appropriations Committee are seeking re-election, and Mr. Booher is one of them, so he might have a shot at the chair.

And what about Sen. Judy Emmons in the 4th U.S. House District? A congressional bid by Ms. Emmons would have ramifications too. Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) is running for speaker in the next term, but he would then have to decide whether to pursue Ms. Emmons' open 33rd Senate District instead. (editor's note: this post corrected to note the correct Senate district Mr. Cotter could seek).

Just for kicks, what if U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) retires from the 6th U.S. House District? That would likely lead to Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph) running for Mr. Upton’s seat and then open up Mr. Proos’ 21st Senate District. A likely candidate for that seat would be Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), who also is running for speaker.

Depending on what happens, the race for speaker (assuming Republicans hold their majority) could be turned upside-down in the next two weeks.

There are implications for the race for Senate majority leader, too. Republicans are a near-lock to maintain their current 26-12 majority in the 2014 elections, and while Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) continues to avoid saying publicly that he is running for majority leader, it is widely known in political circles he is seeking the job.

Mr. Meekhof and anyone who challenges him will have to assess how the loss of people like Mr. Moolenaar, Sen. Bruce Caswell (R-Hillsdale) and Sen. Howard Walker (R-Traverse City) changes the leadership race landscape.

If Sen. Joe Hune (R-Hamburg) forgoes re-election to run for the 8th U.S. House District in the wake of U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton) departing, that also would have significant ripple effects. It would open up the coveted chair positions for the Senate Insurance and Agriculture committees that Mr. Hune now holds. And it would further scramble the leadership race picture.

All this uncertainty surely will lead to a huge sense of relief after the 4 p.m. April 22 deadline to file for office passes.

Quantifying Michigan’s Congressional Turnover
Posted: April, 1 2014 1:54 PM

Michigan’s U.S. House delegation, once laden with seniority and power, will be a shell of what it was when the 114th Congress opens next year in the wake of the retirement fever this year, as well as previous retirements and election results.

The past four years have seen remarkable turnover.

Prior to the 2010 elections, Michigan’s delegation was loaded on both sides of the aisle. The average length of tenure among the state’s 15 members was 20.2 years. But 2010 saw three major departures with the retirements of U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Grand Rapids) and U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Menominee), as well as U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra’s (R-Holland) decision to run for governor instead of re-election. All had risen to positions of influence.

Elections KO’d others. U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit) fell in the Democratic primary, largely because of the scandal that consumed her son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Tim Walberg ousted U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Battle Creek) two years after Mr. Schauer had ousted him.

The five new members were U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Kentwood), U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls), U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Holland), U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) and Mr. Walberg.

The pattern continued in 2012. U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Flint) retired after a 36-year run and was succeeded by his nephew, now-U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint). U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter saw his tenure end involuntarily after his staff falsified petition signature forms, leading to his disqualification from the ballot. Mr. Clarke lost to U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) after Republicans put the two of them together in redistricting.

But what has happened in 2014 is staggering. U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) is hanging it up after an all-time record 59 years that saw much of that tenure as one of the most powerful members of Congress. U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, unexpectedly announced he would not run. And Monday, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said he is hanging it up as well.

Under House Republican Conference rules, Mr. Camp was ineligible to continue as Ways and Means chair in the next term. Mr. Rogers could have continued in his post.

Presuming there are no additional retirements before the April 22 deadline to file, and everyone wins re-election (and those might be faulty presumptions), the average tenure for those serving as of January will be 10.3 years with nine members having four years or less experience. The tenures of U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) at 50 years, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak) at 32 years and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) at 28 years greatly bump up the average.

Stabenow Tries To Turn Gloomy Projection On Senate Control Into Positive
Posted: March, 27 2014 4:03 PM

Nate Silver, the East Lansing native whose political forecasts are closely watched, offered his assessment last week on the likelihood that the U.S. Senate would flip from Republican to Democratic control in the 2014 elections.

He installed the Republicans as slight favorites, and Democrats – who delighted in Mr. Silver’s forecasts in 2012 – suddenly became concerned at the assessment.

One of those was Mr. Silver’s fellow native of the 517, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing). While some Democrats openly questioned Mr. Silver’s numbers, Ms. Stabenow did not do so, instead using the analysis as a dire warning to shake Democrats into donating to Act Blue, a Democratic political action committee.

“This week, election-forecasting guru Nate Silver released his first assessment of the 2014 elections … and his forecast isn’t great for Democrats,” she wrote. “Nate Silver projects the Republicans have a 60 percent chance of taking control of the Senate this November. That would be a disaster.”

Ms. Stabenow goes on to mention three Democratic incumbents in serious fights for re-election in Republican-leaning Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana and stresses the need to make sure they have strong grassroots organizations.

As for Michigan’s closely watched U.S. Senate race, Mr. Silver’s current analysis holds a 55 percent chance that Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters wins the seat compared to a 45 percent chance for Republican Terri Land.

Al Franken, Journalistic Prophet
Posted: March, 26 2014 2:51 PM

Over the years, certain films have expertly foreshadowed the future of U.S. journalism.

“Network,” “Absence of Malice” and “Broadcast News,” for example.

But while covering Governor Rick Snyder’s announcement today declaring the state would not recognize Saturday’s same-sex marriages pending the outcome of the state’s appeal of a Friday ruling striking down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, I recalled a funny bit Al Franken, now a Democratic U.S. senator from Minnesota, did for “Saturday Night Live” during the 1988 presidential campaign.

The print reporters on hand for today’s announcement (and by print, I mean those whose primary medium of providing news is through the written word), myself included, all shot video of Mr. Snyder’s announcement with their phones. Meanwhile, we simultaneously asked questions of the governor and began distributing the news electronically through our company platforms and social media.

Mr. Franken saw the era of the all-purpose journalist coming 26 years ago.

Schuette’s Bracket… COME ON
Posted: March, 20 2014 12:07 PM

It is the first day of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which means it is a de facto national holiday and most of the country is performing the annual ritual of filling out a bracket to pick the national champion, peg some upsets and win some money … for charity of course.

My bracket is done, and I went with my alma mater, Michigan State University, because the team is loaded and finally playing to its potential, and when my school is a contender for the championship, I would feel disloyal picking against it.

In recent years, politicians, notably President Barack Obama, have gotten in on the action by publicizing their bracket. Some folks, which I will brand the Fun Police, have moaned that this is a waste of time AND WHY AREN’T THEY DEVOTING ALL 86,400 SECONDS IN THE DAY TO SERVING THE PUBLIC?!

Personally, I love it. It’s fun. I liked reading the MSU players’ reaction to Mr. Obama picking them to win the championship.

Last year, MLive, to its credit had several Michigan political figures fill out a bracket a posted them. One of those was Attorney General Bill Schuette.

I remember looking at the bracket and nearly falling over. Yes, Mr. Schuette had done what several others in Michigan were doing and picked MSU to face the University of Michigan in the championship game.

On the one hand, I thought, that’s fine, showing home state pride. But then I looked more closely and that meant he had picked U-M to beat Georgetown University, his undergraduate alma mater, in the Elite Eight round. At the time, that shocked me, considering that Georgetown was a highly rated 2-seed yet he went against his own Hoyas.

In hindsight, maybe Mr. Schuette was on to something though because the Hoyas suffered a stunning first-round defeat to upstart Florida Gulf Coast and indeed U-M made it all the way to the title game.

What was hard to fathom though was that Mr. Schuette did not pick a champion between MSU and U-M, leaving it blank. I can only assume he did not want to offend fans of one of the schools.

If you’re going to fill out a bracket and especially if you’re going to make it public, you pick a champion. This is obvious.

This year, Mr. Schuette posted a photo of himself on Facebook filling out a bracket and said he was again picking MSU and U-M to make the title game, but this time would leave it to the Facebook masses to pick his champion. Whichever school’s fans left more comments on the post picking their team would be his choice, he said.


A few things.

One, as of this morning, MSU led with 36 saying he should pick MSU to 24 for U-M, so I presume MSU will get the nod.

Two, Mr. Schuette, like Mr. Obama, received some unfair abuse in the comments from the Fun Police questioning his use of time to fill out a bracket. Okay, so people on Facebook, which exists to distract people from work, took the time to tell Mr. Schuette not to waste time. Got it. That seems fair.

Three, showing that this attempt to please all the people all the time was destined to fail, some Western Michigan University fans questioned how Mr. Schuette could leave the Broncos out of the equation since their team is in the tournament too.

Four, pick Michigan State, Mr. Attorney General. Izzo. March. What more do you need to know?

An Homage To The Career Candidate
Posted: March, 14 2014 4:45 PM

Seeing that Harold Leeman Jr. has filed paperwork to set up a committee to run for the 23rd Senate District in Ingham County brought a couple thoughts to mind.

Number one, donors across the area likely are groaning at the thought that this probably means Ingham Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel Jr., the prohibitive favorite, will step up his already voracious fundraising efforts now that he has a “challenger” (and I use that word generously in this case) for the Democratic nomination.

Number two, even in this record-setting winter, it brings me great warmth to know that in politics we can count on certain things: namely that every other year, a few people will do what they always do, run for office even though they have little to no chance of winning.

These are the Washington Generals of politics, the “career candidates,” the folks who plunk down $100 for the right to appear on the ballot for the Legislature every even-numbered year. Some do it out of party loyalty to ensure someone flies the party flag in a district where the other party dominates. Others do it for personal attention. And others for reasons known only to them.

Mr. Leeman has mostly run for Lansing city offices over the years – and did serve on the Lansing City Council at one point. But he has racked up a boatload of losses since then, most recently in a 2012 House bid. Undeterred at finishing sixth out of seven candidates in the 2012 Democratic primary for the 68th House District with just 4.61 percent of the vote, Mr. Leeman is going to try to contest the Hertel Jr. Juggernaut this year. Good luck with that.

Here are some other examples running for office this year despite never coming close multiple times in the past:

  • Tonya Renay Wells of Detroit in the 5th House District, making her fourth bid for the House since 2002 despite never having gotten more than 7 percent in a Democratic primary; and
  • Robert Murphy of Romeo, the Democratic nominee in the 36th House District in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012, back for another go. He has won several Democratic primary contests, but in the solidly Republican seat has never gotten more than 39 percent in the November general election.

These champions of democracy should take heart though. One of the all-time career candidates did win once. Bettie Cook Scott had run for several different offices, including the House in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004, losing in the Democratic primary each time, sometimes terribly. But in 2006, Ms. Scott won the primary and then election in November. And she won re-election in 2008.

Alas, Ms. Scott tried for the Senate in 2010 and lost the Democratic primary. And then she tried to return to the House in 2012, but somehow filed to run in the wrong district and so was disqualified from the ballot.

Still, Ms. Scott’s 2006 and 2008 victories can allow career candidates to dream.

A Friendly Reminder On Effective Dates
Posted: March, 13 2014 4:41 PM

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have a public service announcement for everyone regarding the date of laws enacted in 2013, but not given immediate effect nor a specific effective date in the legislation.

Those laws take effect tomorrow, Friday, March 14 – not today.

Last year, the issue of the effective date for a key law arose with the right-to-work laws. Last year, just like this year, a variety of people – partisans, journalists, interested parties – asserted the effective date was one day earlier than it was.

This year, the issue is PA 182 of 2013, the legislation barring insurers from including coverage for abortion in standard policies and instead requiring the purchase of an optional rider for those who want the coverage.

I will reiterate almost verbatim what I wrote about this time last year on when right-to-work was to take effect (and, in fairness, we at Gongwer got bit by this the other day and had the wrong date ourselves).

No effective date was placed in the initiative affecting abortion insurance coverage, and the Legislature did not give the bill immediate effect, so generally we say the bill takes effect 90 days after the sine die adjournment of the Legislature.

Sine die is Latin (pronounced sye-nee dye) for “without day.” It is the final session day of the year for the Legislature, in this case December 13, and it adjourns without day instead of to a specific date. The Constitution mandates the Legislature then reconvene the second Wednesday in January.

The trick, though, is that such laws do not take effect on the 90th day. The Constitution declares, “No act shall take effect until the expiration of 90 days from the end of the session at which it was passed.” (emphasis added)

The 90th day is today, the 13th. But the day after those 90 days expire is Friday, the 14th.

Term Limits And The State Senate
Posted: March, 7 2014 4:11 PM

When term limits first prevented members of the Senate from seeking re-election in 2002, it forced the exit of 31 of the 38 members.

Supporters of term limits said that over time, as members retired or saw other political opportunities, it would even out a bit to avoid such extreme turnover every eight years.

Finally, 12 years later, that is starting to happen. Initially, going into 2014, just seven of the 38 members faced automatic replacement because of term limits. But, now that number of departures has risen to 11.

Sen. Bruce Caswell (R-Hillsdale) and Sen. Howard Walker (R-Traverse City) decided not to run again. And Sen. Vincent Gregory (D-Southfield) and Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park) are forgoing re-election bids to run for the U.S. House.

If anyone loses re-election this year, the number will rise still more. But for now, this means that no more than 27 new senators will arrive to the chamber after the 2018 elections – presuming of course that everyone elected this year with eligibility to run again does so.

What does any of this mean? It will stabilize the experience factor at least a little so that on January 1, 2019, there are more senators with experience to chair committees and serve key leadership roles.

It also will reduce some of the pressure on the House because open Senate seats always draw incumbent House members to run, so it should mean fewer open House seats in 2018 and prevent some of the rampant turnover that hits that body as a result of term limits.

Shirkey Hoops It Up
Posted: March, 6 2014 1:43 PM

Shortly before the University of Michigan basketball team prepared to play Illinois on Tuesday in a game that would see the school win its first outright Big Ten title in 28 years, the official Michigan Basketball Facebook page posted a photo to fire up fans.

Here is the photo:

There are three recognizable faces, two obvious to college basketball followers and one for those who follow state government and politics. On the left is U-M head coach John Beilein. In the foreground is forward Glenn Robinson III. And to Robinson’s right, standing up, with the white hair and smiling (and circled by me for your benefit) is Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

With nearly 2,600 people sharing the photo to their own Facebook timelines and more than 12,000 liking it, word of the Shirkey cameo quickly spread like wildfire.

Rep. Patrick Somerville (R-New Boston) used his Facebook page to ask Mr. Shirkey if the person in the photo was in fact him, and Mr. Shirkey responded in the affirmative. “They're not used to having someone a bit animated in the front row,” he wrote back.

This is certainly a happier photo than the last time a Michigan elected official was snapped in a notable one at Crisler Center. Last season, a Detroit Free Press photographer snapped a shot of Governor Rick Snyder, who was sitting courtside with his wife Sue, grimacing as forward Mitch McGary nearly crashed into them while diving for a loose ball.

Warren Gets An Early Look At The Dingell Buzz Saw
Posted: February, 27 2014 12:12 PM

Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor is a rising star in the Michigan Democratic Party – popular with the party base, capable of an oratorical punch and yet skilled enough legislatively that she has worked with majority Republicans on some notable issues.

But if she runs for the 12th U.S. House District and vies with Debbie Dingell for the Democratic nomination and the opportunity to succeed Ms. Dingell’s legendary husband, U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn, about the gentlest way to describe that decision would be that Ms. Warren must like a challenge.

Ms. Warren’s problem is simple. Ms. Dingell, a Democratic Party powerbroker who has worked alongside her husband for decades, is seen by many Democrats as the obvious successor.

And as Ms. Warren found out Wednesday, that view is not just held in Mr. Dingell’s longtime home base in Dearborn and the Downriver suburbs of Detroit.

No, the Dingell campaign served up a taste of what is to come when several top elected and former elected officials in Ms. Warren’s home base of Washtenaw County announced their backing for Ms. Dingell, a region her husband has represented for a relatively brief, given his 59 years in office, 11 years.

Among those backing Ms. Dingell are Ms. Warren’s immediate predecessor in the Senate, former Sen. Liz Brater of Ann Arbor, Rep. Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor and Rep. David Rutledge of Ypsilanti. Some local officials also threw their support to Ms. Dingell.

If Ms. Warren runs, her path to victory would have to include running up a huge margin in Washtenaw County, so these endorsements send the message that Team Dingell will make no such concession.

The other problems Ms. Warren would have to confront are a likely financial disadvantage in campaign funds and the short five-month campaign. If there is a path for Ms. Warren to beat Ms. Dingell, it would be to run a populist, grassroots campaign, place an emphasis on her legislative accomplishments and hope Ms. Dingell makes some missteps in her first big-time campaign (I am not counting Ms. Dingell’s victory in the Wayne State University Board of Governors race as big-time).

But five months is an awfully short window for Ms. Warren to raise the $1 million needed, introduce herself to the vast majority of the district in Wayne County that does not know her AND somehow persuade Democratic voters and key endorsing groups that Ms. Dingell is an unacceptable successor to Mr. Dingell.

The temptation to run is understandable. Congressional seats do not open often, and under term limits Ms. Warren can only seek one more term in the Michigan Senate. But if Wednesday’s endorsement announcements for Ms. Dingell are a sign of what is to come, and they surely are, Ms. Warren will have to ask herself whether her running amounts to a challenge worth the risk or a longshot so long that another four years in Lansing makes more sense.

Republicans Might Dare To Dream If Ficano Runs
Posted: February, 21 2014 4:42 PM

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano sounded like someone planning to run for re-election during his recent State of the County speech, and if he does, an unthinkable possibility has to be considered – that a Republican, yes, a Republican – might have a shot at winning the post if Mr. Ficano somehow survives the Democratic primary.

A quadrant of scandals has torched Mr. Ficano’s standing in the past four years.

To recap quickly:

  • There was the severance scandal involving Turkia Mullin where she was given severance after voluntarily leaving her post to run Detroit Metropolitan Airport that eventually incinerated not only her career but also that of Mr. Ficano’s top aide, Azzam Elder.
  • Several top members of the Ficano administration are embroiled in a federal corruption investigation.
  • The financially troubled county appears on the verge of state intervention with talk of an emergency manager in the air.
  • There was the humiliating collapse of one of Mr. Ficano’s top priorities, a criminal justice center now ridiculed as the “fail jail” because of runaway costs and a lack of oversight that led the county to abandon the project.

If Mr. Ficano faced a single Democratic foe for the party’s nomination in the August primary, he would be a severe underdog for renomination. But at least three Democrats are running or expected to run for the nomination: Rep. Phil Cavanagh of Redford Township, Wayne County Commissioner Kevin McNamara, son of the legendary former executive Ed McNamara; and Westland Mayor Bill Wild.

So it is possible in a four-way race that Mr. Ficano could somehow eke out a victory if the three challengers split the vote in the suburbs while Detroit voters could opt for the name they know in Mr. Ficano even if he is under heavy fire. Mr. Cavanagh has roots in the city, having grown up there when his father was mayor in the 1960s.

If Mr. Ficano is the Democratic nominee, then the question becomes whether Republicans could somehow find a way to convince the heavily Democratic county to put party aside and toss Mr. Ficano as too scandal-ridden to continue.

Even with all of Mr. Ficano’s problems, it would be extremely difficult. So many people vote a straight Democratic ballot in the county, especially in Detroit, that many voters will never see the two names on the ballot for county executive to give the Republican a chance.

And so far, no Republican has stepped forward, either in public or behind the scenes, despite the thought in Wayne County GOP circles that the party must put forward a credible candidate as opposed to the traditional cannon fodder.

The numbers are daunting. Even in 2010, a great Republican year, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero still beat Republican Governor Rick Snyder in Wayne County, 58 percent to 40 percent, or by a margin of about 115,000 votes. Mr. Snyder actually won the Wayne County suburbs, but it was nowhere near enough to overcome a 155,649 vote deficit out of Detroit.

Presuming the Detroit vote remained loyal to Mr. Ficano as the Democratic candidate, a Republican would probably have to win about 70-75 percent of the vote in the suburbs to win the race. Mr. Ficano’s problems are so severe that such a scenario actually seems possible. Extremely difficult, but at least possible.

The party will first have to find someone to run. And then it will have to wish Mr. Ficano well in the primary because if any of the other Democrats win that race, then the Republican nominee’s reward for running will be receiving the customary beatdown in November.

Economy Trumping Schools To Snyder’s Benefit, Poll Shows
Posted: February, 14 2014 1:53 PM

Voters strongly disapprove of how Governor Rick Snyder is handling K-12 schools, but they also just as strongly think Michigan’s economy is improving, and the net effect is that Mr. Snyder’s fundamental numbers are looking better and better as he faces re-election later this year.

The K-12 job performance numbers – 26 percent rating Mr. Snyder’s effort as positive to 62 percent negative – is important in the sense that there is a ferocious debate occurring between Republicans and Democrats about whether Mr. Snyder has increased or cut funding to schools. Those numbers signal that Democrats should win that argument.

But the overall numbers show that voter attitudes on the economy matter more – as they usually do. Mr. Snyder’s overall job approval number is 46 percent positive and 53 percent negative – a whopping 29-point improvement from the education number. Mr. Snyder’s overall favorability number is strong at 52 percent with a favorable opinion of him to 40 percent unfavorable.

Based on this batch of polling conducted by EPIC/MRA February 5-11, as long as the economy keeps improving, and more importantly, voters think the economy is improving, Democrats and their gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer can emphasize Mr. Snyder’s record on K-12, but it will not be nearly enough even if voters side with them on the issue.

Even with only 26 percent approving of how Mr. Snyder is handling education, he still gets 47 percent support when matched against Mr. Schauer, who gets 39 percent.

On the economy, Democrats have emphasized that Michigan remains in the top five states in the nation for unemployment. But 59 percent say the state’s economy is improving and 49 percent say the state overall is on the right track compared to 37 percent who say it is on the wrong track.

Democratic efforts are focused on turning out their base, something that did not happen in the Republican wave election of 2010. They have plenty of buttons to push to trigger better turnout and ensure a better performance this November. But to win, they will still have to convince fence-sitting voters. And that’s where it gets tricky.

Judging from this latest round of polling data, Democrats will have to find a way to convince voters that Michigan’s economy is not in as good shape as voters appear to think it is.

Prison Politics: Roles Reverse In Wake Of Escape
Posted: February, 11 2014 11:40 AM

Michael Elliot’s startling escape from the Ionia Correctional Facility nine days ago and carjacking/kidnapping of a woman as he fled the state has put prison politics back on the front-burner in Michigan.

Democrats have hammered Republican Governor Rick Snyder, up for re-election this year, blaming cuts in the Department of Corrections for enabling Mr. Elliot’s escape. One of the reductions, the end of constant vehicle patrols around prison perimeters, did occur under Mr. Snyder. The other one, ending constant staffing of guard towers, took place during Governor Jennifer Granholm’s term.

Two investigations are under way and already the state has suspended two employees in the incident, in which Mr. Elliot was caught in Indiana and the woman he kidnapped was found uninjured.

Meanwhile, Republicans have torn into Democrats for playing the blame game. The Michigan Republican Party’s communications director, Darren Littell, accused Democrats of exploiting the situation to score political points even as Mr. Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette address the situation.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it is.

Flash back to 2006 when the Department of Corrections’ mistaken parole of Patrick Selepak and failure to pick him up on a parole violation preceded his committing three murders.

When the facts of the situation became public, Republicans excoriated Ms. Granholm and blasted her administration’s management of the Corrections system.

By October, in the heat of the gubernatorial campaign between Republican Dick DeVos and Democrat Granholm, the party sought to hang Mr. Selepak around Ms. Granholm with a mailing that charged, "Governor Granholm and her state prison director. If they can't do the job, why are they still on the job?"

The players involved in this new Corrections controversy have changed, as have the sides each political party is on, but the messages mirror the arguments of eight years ago.

Minimum Wage Activists Avoid Constitutional Tangle
Posted: February, 10 2014 3:58 PM

Activists, powerful families and unions proposed five different amendments to Michigan’s Constitution in 2012, and voters stomped all four in landslide defeats.

One of the major reasons voters rejected all five was the message from opponents against installing the proposals into the state’s basic governing document, unchangeable without another statewide vote.

Memorably, one ad featured a person who said, “None of this junk belongs in the Constitution.” And you may remember Attorney General Bill Schuette saying in another ad, almost in a rap, “Don’t mess, don’t mess with Michigan’s Constitution.”

Opponents had effective individual messages against most of the proposals, but the overall message was simple and it worked.

Against this backdrop came the decision Monday for the organization seeking to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour to pursue their ballot proposal via a voter-initiated act, not a constitutional amendment. That means it will be subject to legislative amendment or repeal if voters pass it – if three-quarters majorities in both legislative houses agree to any changes, as well as the governor.

But it also takes away the “don’t mess with the Constitution” argument.

Polls have shown increasing the minimum wage is popular. Had activists sought to put the change into the Constitution, opponents could have offered a proven argument that could have peeled away a good chunk of support.

The tougher lift with a ballot proposal always is for the supporters to obtain the yes votes, but the opposition’s task will be tougher as a result of the strategy supporters have chosen.

The Snyder Budget And the 2014 Election
Posted: February, 6 2014 2:01 PM

A key component of the Democratic message against Governor Rick Snyder is that he has hurt large swaths of the state’s population with his budgets.

To recap, Democrats have criticized:

  • Cuts to schools, resulting in school closings, program cutbacks and teacher layoffs;
  • Cuts to universities, resulting in tuition increases; and
  • Cuts in revenue sharing aid to local governments, resulting in the deterioration of local government services, even severe financial distress.

Let’s set aside for the moment whether Democrats are right about what Mr. Snyder has done, and of course Republicans and Mr. Snyder would heatedly object to the Democratic analysis, especially on schools, where the debate has gotten a bit chippy in the last three weeks.

Mr. Snyder’s recommended budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins October 1, would restore some of the funds cut from those three spending areas in the 2011-12 fiscal year budget. Democrats are trying to avoid letting this budget damage their message, and this fundraising email from Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) today on behalf of Senate Democrats summarizes their response to the budget well.

“The governor and the extremist Republicans in the Legislature are hoping that by passing a slightly less offensive budget this year, voters will forget the harm done by the last three budgets. We simply can’t let them get away with it,” he wrote.

But clearly, Republicans think Mr. Snyder has outflanked Democrats and his Democratic challenger Mark Schauer by taking away a key argument. Republican political consultant Tom Shields of Marketing Resource Group tweeted Wednesday that Mr. Snyder’s budget checkmates Mr. Schauer.

In the end, the question of who is right about whether Mr. Snyder has cut funding or increased funding to schools – and a good case can be made for both sides – will matter less than what the reality is school district by school district, municipality by municipality and for each family with a student in one of Michigan’s 15 public universities.

If voters think their local school district is improving or maintaining a quality education, they are more likely to believe Mr. Snyder and the Republicans. Conversely, if they see their local district worsening or operating at a mediocre level without signs of improvement, they are more likely to believe Mr. Schauer and the Democrats.

The same goes for the services provided by their city, village or township and when assessing whether they see tuition prices as reasonable or excessive.

School districts, universities and local governments will set their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year late this spring and early this summer. Their decisions should play a significant role in which side prevails in this argument.

In Honor Of The Last True Campaign Finance Eve
Posted: January, 30 2014 2:37 PM

The political community in Michigan is full of anticipation and with good reason: Friday marks the day when all candidates for state office must submit their reports showing how much money they raised for their campaigns in 2013, what they spent and how much they have left.

There is nowhere to hide, except for those who decide to flout the law and not turn in their report (cough cough, Rep. John Olumba, cough cough, has never yet turned in his report on time, cough cough).

Donors and potential donors, campaign tacticians, opponents and possible opponents, colleagues, the news media and others will know whether candidates took care of business on the fundraising front for the past year to put themselves in a strong position or if they let rust creep into their operations and left themselves vulnerable.

Those who performed well will get huzzahs from their party’s campaign staff. Those who did not are going to get the proverbial trip to the woodshed.

But with changes to Michigan’s campaign finance law passed late in 2013 and signed by Governor Rick Snyder, analyzing the non-election year fundraising performances will never be the same.

Starting in 2015, those with candidate committees will have to report quarterly in the non-election year, instead of in January the following year.

That is similar to what federal law requires of candidates for Congress.

Those reports will still be important, and we will still surely cover them, but that sense of anticipation to see a year’s worth of data will be gone.

Mining Gazette Becomes The Story In Cannon Flap
Posted: January, 29 2014 3:32 PM

No reporter or news organization wants to become the story.

But that is what has happened with the Daily Mining Gazette, the newspaper based in Houghton, in the wake of how it has handled its coverage of a strange incident in the nationally watched 1st U.S. House District race between Democrat Jerry Cannon and the man he hopes to unseat, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls).

Earlier this month, the newspaper quoted Mr. Cannon as denouncing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in harsh terms and in a way that was totally at odds with his previous public statements on the issue. He allegedly had made those comments in a phone interview.

The next day, the newspaper published a follow-up piece that said:

“In a story that ran Thursday, comments from a follow-up call made Thursday by the Gazette were attributed to Jerry Cannon indicating that he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Campaign manager Ted Dick said Cannon had not been the person speaking in the call, and that the phone with the number provided to the Gazette had been turned off during the time of the call.”

The piece went on to quote from a statement from Cannon discussing the good and bad aspects of the Affordable Care Act from his point of view.

Republicans have had a field day with the incident, claiming Mr. Cannon either got caught speaking his mind on what he really thinks of the ACA or that implausibly someone was impersonating Mr. Cannon.

Democrats have insisted Mr. Cannon could not possibly have made the remarks, asserting he does not carry a phone for the campaign and say they have checked the phone’s records and seen no record of the Mining Gazette calling Mr. Cannon.

There’s one party here that can put this issue to rest, and that’s the Mining Gazette – either the reporter who wrote the original story or the paper’s editor. The editor offered a brief, uninformative explanation to National Review Online, but since then has gone silent. He has not returned my calls, or those of other media outlets.

This is not difficult. If the paper checks its phone records, or the reporter checks his cell phone records, depending on where the call originated, they can figure out whom the reporter called and if it was someone from the campaign or a misdial and an incredible stroke of bad luck that the person answering played along as though he was Mr. Cannon.

Then the newspaper needs to do what journalists do in a situation like this – publicly offer an explanation of what happened. What it has said so far about the incident has only raised more questions.

DGA Serves Notice Schauer-Snyder Race Is On
Posted: January, 28 2014 12:36 PM

Republican Governor Rick Snyder has had a strong few months politically, and it has made it difficult for his Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer, to get traction, especially with nine months to go until Election Day and most voters not paying attention.

Mr. Snyder pulled out to a lead in the polls in the fall, after months of being in a dead heat with Mr. Schauer, about the same time as his campaign – and even though he has not said he is running for re-election, there is no doubt he is campaigning – aired $1 million in ads touting his record. The governor also is getting good marks, so far, from voters for how he is handling the Detroit financial crisis and that could be a factor in the polls as well.

Meanwhile, Mr. Snyder has a big early campaign cash advantage on Mr. Schauer, whose decision to apply for state matching funds for the primary phase of the campaign (and the associated $2 million spending cap through August 5) prompted talk by Republicans that Democratic interests might shy away from helping him, fearing investing in an underdog candidate. If that came to pass, then Mr. Schauer certainly would be in trouble.

Well, that’s not coming to pass.

As Gongwer News Service reported, the Democratic Governors Association is making a major buy on Mr. Schauer’s behalf. It will total $1 million, and the ad features Mr. Schauer touting his resume and criticizing Mr. Snyder’s education record. Clearly, national Democrats are backing up their talk that they want to win this race.

The timing is significant. Mr. Snyder is set to air an ad this Sunday during Super Bowl XLVIII and has purchased some additional time on cable as well. With the governor already leading, allowing him another wave of unanswered advertising could have pushed his numbers up to a dangerous level for Democrats.

So this ad splurge will counter Mr. Snyder’s ads. Just as importantly, it will get Mr. Schauer’s name, face and story out to at least the Detroit and west Michigan markets (it is not yet clear if the DGA’s buy is statewide). Mr. Schauer’s biggest problem in the polls to this point has been his low statewide name identification.

A December poll from Public Policy Polling put Mr. Schauer’s favorability number at 15 percent and unfavorable number at 21 percent, meaning almost two-thirds of voters either didn’t recognize his name or didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

But if these ads are a major development in the race, then the round of polling that will come in the immediate aftermath will be even bigger. Mr. Schauer would get a perception boost for his case that he can beat Mr. Snyder if the numbers move at least somewhat in his direction and he gets a bump in his favorability rating.

If the ad has no effect, Mr. Schauer’s case will take a hit.

When A Governor Did Zing Someone By Name In The State Of The State
Posted: January, 21 2014 1:19 PM

Governor Rick Snyder won both praise and scorn for including in his State of the State speech a call to civility and condemnation of derogatory remarks in recent months from people he did not specify.

Many Republicans praised Mr. Snyder, seeing his remarks as a thinly veiled rebuke of Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman, Dave Agema, who regularly uses his Facebook account to slur Muslims and gays, either in his own words or by reposting something from another author without any commentary of his own, leaving anyone reading the material to conclude he must agree with it.

But Democrats and advocates in the gay community saw his comments as a dodge. Mr. Snyder did not name Mr. Agema in the speech and when reporters asked the governor’s press secretary after the speech whether Mr. Snyder was targeting Mr. Agema, Sara Wurfel said Mr. Snyder was speaking generally and not of any one person.

Friday, Mr. Snyder told the Macomb Daily, “This is the State of the (State) address so I'm not going to aim my comments at one individual. I wanted to make a general statement that there are multiple people out there who make comments that I view as inappropriate, because they're about differences of views or backgrounds.”

Well, there was a State of the State address where a governor did aim his comments at one individual.

Does the name Ed Vaughn ring a bell?

In 1999, then-Governor John Engler was delivering his State of the State address amid the tension of his anticipated, soon-to-be announced plans to initiate a state-led takeover of the Detroit Public Schools.

The day of the State of the State, Mr. Vaughn, a Democratic House member from Detroit, issued a news release calling Mr. Engler a "great white father" and said he was acting like a "plantation master" in his effort to take over Detroit schools.

Needless to say, Mr. Engler was not pleased.

In the speech, as he discussed the situation with the Detroit schools, Mr. Engler began using then-President Bill Clinton as a way to hammer Democratic opposition to intervening in the Detroit schools.

After saying he agreed with Mr. Clinton that failing schools should be shut down, Mr. Engler, in an ad lib that was not part of his prepared remarks, said, "In fact, I don't see how anybody could disagree – Representative Vaughn."

Now, the two situations have some differences. Mr. Agema has slurred an entire religion or group of people based on their sexual orientation. Mr. Vaughn specifically targeted Mr. Engler. And let’s not forget that Mr. Engler’s and Mr. Snyder’s personalities and governing styles are starkly different.

Most of all, Mr. Engler’s singling out of a little-known state lawmaker in the speech for a lone remark made relatively small waves. But Mr. Snyder rebuking Mr. Agema by name – given his high profile from more than a year’s worth of national headlines for repeatedly impugning gays and Muslims – would have become a major story, possibly even *the* story out of the speech.

But by not acknowledging after the speech that Mr. Agema was the target, or one of the targets, of his remarks, Mr. Snyder’s remarks lost some punch, especially compared to those of his predecessor from Beal City.

Hathaway, Prison, Richard Simmons, Etc.
Posted: January, 17 2014 3:13 PM

If you are still burned at how former Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway committed fraud so she could enable a short sale for one of her homes and wipe out $600,000 in debt, I suggest flipping through the imprisoned Ms. Hathaway’s application to be transferred to a halfway house more than five months before her prison sentence ends.

I’ll pause so you can look at the below image because in this case, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Yes, that is a certificate of achievement from the Alderson federal prison, where Ms. Hathaway is incarcerated, for Ms. Hathaway having completed 16 hours of training to “Sweating to the Oldies,” the video workouts led by none other than Richard Simmons.

So prison apparently is so miserable that Ms. Hathaway is using workout videos like this to pass the time:

The Abortion Insurance Referendum Mess
Posted: January, 14 2014 12:45 PM

If you want Exhibit A of why Right to Life of Michigan has demonstrated a superior political operation compared to the umbrella of groups that support the legal right to an abortion, look no further than what happened Monday.

In the morning, Rick Pluta, the stellar Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, posted an item on his Twitter account that the umbrella of groups that support abortion rights had decided not to seek repeal of the new law making it more difficult to have insurance coverage for abortions.

The news was not a great shock because to repeal the law via a referendum on the November ballot, activists would have had to gather at least 161,305 signatures of registered voters by March 14. They had three months from the time the law was enacted to get started, but spent the first month polling and talking about what to do. Trying to pull that off in just seven or eight weeks from a standing start would have been extremely difficult.

Still, it was a big deal. The law, pursued by Right to Life via a voter-initiated act in which they gathered more than the necessary 258,088 signatures to put it before the Legislature, which under the Constitution enacted it without the measure having to go to Governor Rick Snyder, dominated the Capitol in December.

Past legislation sought by Right to Life on items like parental consent, a 24-hour waiting period or banning a late term procedure the group calls partial birth abortion had pretty decent support in the polls, even among some who favor the right to an abortion. But the polling on the law requiring women who want abortion insurance coverage to purchase a separate rider, even in cases of rape or incest, suggested it was unpopular.

Still, putting together an organization stout enough to pull off the signatures in three months was going to be an expensive, difficult climb for groups with no recent track record of executing such a challenging political operation. So they pulled the plug, reserving the possibility of some broader proposal for the November ballot, and reporters wrote their stories.

Then about 6 p.m., a surprise arrived in the form of a phone call from Robert McCann, the spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), who so strongly opposed the abortion insurance limitation law that she shocked the Senate with a floor speech before the vote revealing she had been raped while in college to demonstrate how offensive the law is.

Mr. McCann said Ms. Whitmer and others were still considering a referendum, and that the declaration of no interest in a referendum from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan came as a big surprise. The lack of coordination among allies is astonishing.

For whatever reason, the community of activists and organizations that supports keeping abortion legal, and resisting the regulatory legislation pushed by anti-abortion activists and lawmakers in the past 20-30 years, has struggled with trench politics. Even in years when Democrats have controlled the House, they still have failed to win a majority of the chamber supporting abortion rights.

Take the 2009-10 term, for example. Democrats had a huge 67-43 majority. Yet as I go back and look at the Democratic membership, I count at least 18 of the 67 who opposed abortion, or at the very least voted for the legislation backed by Right to Life during other terms.

The last two Democratic speakers of the House, Andy Dillon (2007-10) and Curtis Hertel Sr. (1997-98), both opposed abortion rights.

So the mess that unfolded Monday was really just the latest event in a long-running pattern of anti-abortion activists besting the pro-choice community on the political battlefield.

Quite A Week For Two Former Top House Democrats
Posted: January, 10 2014 10:46 AM

Andy Dillon and George Cushingberry Jr. hatched a deal in 2006 that took them to the heights of power at the Capitol. Mr. Dillon, fresh off winning a second term in the House, secured Mr. Cushingberry’s support to lead House Democrats and become the speaker, and in exchange Mr. Dillon agreed to appoint Mr. Cushingberry Appropriations Committee chair.

Mr. Dillon won the right to lead House Democrats by one vote, so Mr. Cushingberry’s backing, and the votes that brought Mr. Dillon, were pivotal.

Mr. Dillon would go on to wage an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid and then join the administration of Governor Rick Snyder as treasurer, eventually becoming a pariah among Democrats. Mr. Cushingberry recently won a seat on the Detroit City Council.

Both are back in the news this week and not in a good way.

Mr. Dillon announced October 11 he was resigning as treasurer effective November 1 after a year of personal problems that included issues with alcohol and a bitter divorce whose drama had become public. When he and Governor Rick Snyder announced the resignation, Mr. Snyder said he was glad Mr. Dillon would stay on to assist in the transition.

Everyone assumed that meant Mr. Dillon would assist new Treasurer Kevin Clinton, whose appointment was announced October 15, until his resignation became official November 1. The old saw about what happens when assuming anything proved true because it turns out what Mr. Snyder meant, but did not say, was that Mr. Dillon would retain a post with the state as senior adviser for months, continuing to draw every cent of the same amount the state paid him as treasurer.

Both Mr. Dillon and Mr. Snyder have taken a pounding on the issue this week for not outlining Mr. Dillon’s role more specifically when he resigned and for the state continuing to pay Mr. Dillon his treasurer’s salary when he no longer runs the department.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cushingberry has had a big week.

On Tuesday, Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley penned a scathing column about the Detroit City Council, saying its decision to elect Brenda Jones, who historically has opposed controversial reforms in city government, instead of Saunteel Jenkins as council president was a sign the council was going to turn into a train wreck like so many of its predecessors.

Mr. Cushingberry, in a comment on the News’ website, wrote, “Dear Detroit News, Go to hell. Go straight to hell. Do not pass go and don't even think about collecting $200. Jones and Cush will lead the Push for an even Greater Detroit.”

Hours later, Detroit police pulled Mr. Cushingberry over after he left a lounge (with conflicting reports on whether it is a strip club) after nearly striking officers, the News reported, citing an unnamed source. Mr. Cushingberry allegedly refused to stop and another police vehicle had to be called to chase.

Upon finally stopping Mr. Cushingberry’s vehicle, police said there was an open intoxicant and marijuana inside. Mr. Cushingberry has told media outlets the bottle was an old rum bottle and that the passenger with marijuana was a registered medical marijuana user. Mr. Cushingberry has insisted he had only had one shot of rum before driving, did not flee police and is the victim of racial profiling.

Police, after notifying their supervisor they had stopped an elected official, let Mr. Cushingberry go, further adding to the controversy.

Putting aside these flaps, Mr. Dillon’s resignation meant he would not get to work alongside his old ally, Mr. Cushingberry, on Detroit’s finances. Had Mr. Dillon remained the treasurer, it would have been interesting to see how Mr. Cushingberry reacted to his handling of Detroit’s financial issues.

Maybe that would have meant an unlikely partner for the state on the council. Or maybe Mr. Cushingberry eventually would have told Mr. Dillon to join Mr. Finley in the same warm locale.

What To Make Of Schauer Using The Public Funding System
Posted: January, 8 2014 4:42 PM

Republicans were out in force Tuesday mocking the news that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer had decided to use the state’s public funding system for gubernatorial candidates for the primary phase of the election.

The move signals that Mr. Schauer is failing to catch fire and raise the kind of money necessary to oust Republican Governor Rick Snyder, they asserted.

Mr. Schauer will not reveal his fundraising haul from 2013 until January 31 when campaign finance reports are due, but a few conclusions can be reached as a result of his decision to use the public financing system.

One is that Mr. Schauer has raised less than $2 million. If he had raised more than $2 million, it is hard to imagine why Mr. Schauer would enter the public funding system, with its requirement he spend no more than $2 million through the August 5 primary, even if doing so would bring him up to $990,000 in matching contributions from the state.

A first-year haul of between $1-$2 million would put Mr. Schauer in about the same position fundraising-wise as former Lt. Governor John Cherry, who raised $1.36 million in 2009 ($1.48 million in 2013 dollars). The big difference though is that Mr. Cherry spent all that money and had to end his campaign after it ran out of cash. Mr. Schauer should be in much better shape when he announces his cash on hand later this month.

It would be a good deal less, however, than what Jennifer Granholm had when she first ran for governor in 2002. Ms. Granholm raised $2.84 million in 2001 ($3.74 million in 2013 dollars when adjusted for inflation) and opted not to use the public funding system for the primary.

The next conclusion is that Mr. Schauer does not expect to raise enough money between now and the August primary to justify not using the public funding system. Ms. Granholm raised a total of $5.68 million ($7.36 million in 2013 dollars) leading up to the 2002 primary (when unlike Mr. Schauer, who faces no competition, she faced top-level competition for the Democratic nomination).

Another conclusion is that outside Democratic groups – the Democratic Governors Association, unions or some fly-by-night organization that emerges just for this election, whomever – are going to have to fill the void or Mr. Schauer is in serious trouble. Mr. Snyder already spent $600,000 on fall advertising, and it was no coincidence that his numbers in the polls picked up in the aftermath.

And Mr. Snyder is about to spend about another $600,000 on ads in February. So one can only imagine what is in store for the spring and summer when Mr. Snyder and his well-funded allies could totally dominate the airwaves and define Mr. Schauer before he has the chance to introduce himself to voters in the fall.

Some Democrats are scoffing at the concern, noting that Republican Dick DeVos outspent Ms. Granholm 3-to-1 in the 2006 election yet Ms. Granholm won in a landslide. But Ms. Granholm spent $14.6 million in that election ($16.9 million in 2013 dollars). She had plenty of money to get her message out and hammer Mr. DeVos.

Based on Mr. Schauer’s move to use the public financing system, it is hard to imagine he will raise $16.9 million although at least he will not have to counter an onslaught like the $42 million Mr. DeVos spent.

At this point, Mr. Schauer’s hope is to follow U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s model from 2000 when the then congresswoman saved her money for a late advertising push that put her over the top against then-U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham after outside groups kept her in the game during the spring and summer with advertising.

But if the outside group advertisements fail to materialize to aid Mr. Schauer, then Mr. Snyder is going to be very, very tough to stop.

Snyder And Bernero, Together Again
Posted: January, 7 2014 4:39 PM

Governor Rick Snyder and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero campaigned against each other in 2010 for governor, joined forces in a 2012 video to defeat the anti-tax Proposal 12-5 and today they linked arms again at a down moment in both of their political careers.

Mr. Snyder and Mr. Bernero held a joint event at a Lansing city government facility to thank city workers clearing the roads after Sunday’s winter storm dropped 15 inches of snow in the capital city and then spoke with the news media about clean-up efforts.

The event was just the kind of bipartisan, feel-good move elected leaders hold at a time when Mother Nature turns nasty, something to encourage the employees toiling for long hours to keep the area functioning and reassure the public that their elected leadership is monitoring the situation and making sure all necessary actions are occurring.

And it was the exact opposite of how both handled the aftermath of the December 21-22 ice storm that left thousands in the Lansing area without power for as much as 10 days.

Mr. Bernero has been under greater fire. He appoints the board that oversees the city-owned Lansing Board of Water and Light. And while Mr. Bernero was visible after the ice storm, he did himself no favors, jawing at frustrated residents shouting at him during a news conference and then resolutely standing by the denounced BWL General Manager Peter Lark.

So steadfast was his support that critics cracked jokes about Mr. Bernero effectively saying, “Larkie, you’re doing a heck of a job” – a reference to former President George W. Bush’s disastrous compliment of former Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown during the failed response to Hurricane Katrina (“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”).

Meanwhile, Mr. Snyder was virtually invisible during the crisis, making no public appearances, conducting no news conferences or teleconferences to discuss the situation with the public. Mr. Snyder also left the state, as we reported Monday, from late December 28 until returning the weekend of January 3-4 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 6, 2013).

Now, the Department of State Police was monitoring the situation closely, and Mr. Bernero’s insistence that there was no need to ask for state help put the governor in a bit of a bind. Even if Mr. Snyder recognized that BWL was clearly overwhelmed and in need of outside help from other utilities and wanted to intervene, it would have created a tricky political dynamic if he decided to ignore the wishes of the mayor whom he defeated in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

Mr. Snyder’s staff also has insisted he monitored the situation closely and that the administration explored all possible avenues of assisting Lansing and East Lansing, but was consistently told the help was not needed.

Still, looking at how both men have handled response to the winter storm suggests they have learned some lessons about how to react when disaster strikes. Mr. Snyder held a news conference Monday at a Department of Transportation garage in Detroit to discuss storm response and urge residents not to travel and to look out for each other. Mr. Bernero was making the rounds with local media to urge people to stay off the roads until city workers could clear the snow.

Mr. Bernero asked the state for assistance plowing major Lansing streets, and the state did so, allowing the city to focus on clearing neighborhood streets. At their joint news conference today, both hailed the partnership.

Lansing Power Outage Crisis A Full-Fledged Fiasco
Posted: December, 27 2013 11:28 AM

When everyone in the Lansing area finally gets power back – and it will eventually come back, right? – the Lansing Board of Water and Light had better get ready for some serious blowback about its (mis)handling of efforts to restore power to the thousands of residents and businesses left in the dark from Saturday’s ice storm.

BWL, as it is known locally, provides electricity to Lansing, East Lansing, Delta Township on Lansing’s western border and some other suburban communities. It is tied to Lansing’s city government with its board of commissioners appointed by Lansing’s mayor and confirmed by the city council. Like other municipally owned utilities, it is not subject to oversight and regulations from Michigan’s Public Service Commission, which has that responsibility for utilities like DTE and Consumers Energy.

“Somebody should take a look at this.”

Those were the words of one high-ranking government staffer who lives in East Lansing and like thousands of others in the area is going on DAY SIX without power. The folks at BWL should realize this person is but one of many people with great influence in state government who, like those who live in the area without connections in the government, is alarmed at how the ice storm has overwhelmed BWL in all respects: power restoration, customer service and communications.

And BWL is not alone. Consumers Energy customers, many of whom also are prominent figures in the area, also have been fuming at the long delays as well as struggles to report outages and downed lines.

There is no question that BWL crews are working tirelessly and bravely to try to restore power and doing so in freezing conditions.

But where is the cavalry? Some crews have been brought in from other states, but clearly not enough.

The lack of information from BWL has only intensified the worry of its customers still waiting for power to return and battling frigid houses, frozen water pipes, flooded basements from non-functioning sump pumps, and shelling out a small fortune on hotel bills and places to board pets. I know one person (another high-ranking government staffer) who had to flag down a BWL worker on his street to get an update on the situation. That, obviously, is not acceptable.

BWL is almost begging for state oversight with stories like the one I saw last night on WILX-TV, the L