Blog Posts by Zachary Gorchow, Editor

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 eight 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 need 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.

Huh?

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 www.northforcongress.com, 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.

Ugh.

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 Lansing NBC affiliate, where a Consumers Energy spokesperson explains how customers can request a $25 credit toward their bill if they have gone 120 hours without power. That’s mandated by Public Service Commission rule. In the next breath, WILX reported that BWL would not be offering such a credit.

BWL does not have to do so because the law setting up the PSC states it has no authority over municipally owned utilities.

There are a lot of people – many of them influential people – who are going to wonder aloud whether it is time for that to change.

National Pundits Starting Take Land Vs. Peters Seriously
Posted: December, 20 2013 4:44 PM

More major national publications that cover politics, or as I like to call them, the Gongwers of Washington, D.C., are indicating that the U.S. Senate race between Republican Terri Land and Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters is competitive.

In November, noted analyst Stu Rothenberg wrote for Roll Call that he now considered Michigan “Democrat Favored,” more competitive than his previous analysis of “Safe Democrat.” Now the Cook Political Report has made the race a “toss-up,” its most competitive designation.

In some ways, I’m not sure how seriously to treat these changes. Mr. Rothenberg is as an astute a political analyst as there is, but the initial ranking of Michigan as “Safe Democrat” never made any sense to me. Yes, Democrats have dominated federal statewide elections in Michigan for two decades, but still, it is an open seat with no incumbent and the state trends a Republican in non-presidential election years.

Additionally, Ms. Land has good statewide name recognition from eight years as secretary of state while Mr. Peters remains unknown to large swaths of voters.

So was his reclassifying the race a sign of any real momentum for Ms. Land or simply a recognition that the initial classification was a mistake? I would argue for the latter.

Republicans are trumpeting the Cook change, and that makes more sense. That move signals that Washington politicos are seeing real potential for Ms. Land, who consistently is polling in a statistical tie with Mr. Peters in the past two months, to seriously compete. And because federal political action committee money is what now funds competitive U.S. Senate races, Ms. Land having credibility with the Washington set matters.

The campaign has been in something of a low-level attack phase. Democrats have spent the last several weeks needling Ms. Land on social issues like gay rights and abortion, tying her to controversies in Michigan on those issues, and hounding her for a lack of public appearances. Republicans have been hitting Mr. Peters on his support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, especially his promise in 2009 that people wanting to keep their insurance would be able to do so.

For now, Ms. Land is riding momentum from a solid first quarter fundraising report that helped ease doubts about whether she could raise money as well as her name recognition. However, she has yet to erase doubts among Republicans that she will be able to avoid missteps like what happened during a radio show interview a month ago when she appeared to backtrack on her support for repealing the Affordable Care Act (her campaign later issued a statement reiterating her support for doing so).

On the Peters side, it’s no mystery. He needs the Obama administration to get the troubled healthcare.gov website functioning well, the sooner the better, and the number of Michiganders signing up to surpass those whose bare-bones policies insurers cancelled for not meeting the standards set under the ACA for minimum coverage. Up until the healthcare.gov fiasco exploded in October, Mr. Peters was considered the clear front-runner.

Michigan has not had a legitimately competitive U.S. Senate race since 2000 when Republican U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham failed to fend off then-U.S. Rep. and now-U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in a race for the ages. It increasingly looks like after 14 years, a Michigan U.S. Senate seat is up for grabs.

Land, Snyder And Different Responses To The Same Issue
Posted: December, 17 2013 3:58 PM

In politics, once a person seeks or wins a certain level of office, the time where a reporter can contact the candidate or official directly unimpeded ends.

At that point, we contact what is known in the media world under varying terms – the press secretary, communications director, flack or spokesperson – either to obtain an answer from the candidate/official through that staffer or to ask to set up an interview with the candidate/official. Most of the time, that spokesperson will offer the position of the candidate/official to the question being asked.

And make no mistake, when a spokesperson for a candidate/official speaks in response to a question asked about where his/her boss stands on an issue, we take that as the position of the candidate/official.

However, sometimes an issue comes along so heated that eventually we will want the candidate/official to address it in his or her own words.

So it was with the recent controversy following the comments of Michigan’s Republican National committeeman, Dave Agema, at a Berrien County Republican Party function, on gays. In explaining his opposition to gay marriage, Mr. Agema said based on what he observed while working for American Airlines as a pilot, the only reason gays wanted marriage rights was because they were all dying of AIDS and needed free health insurance.

Immediately, reporters contacted two top Republicans in Michigan to respond – Governor Rick Snyder and Terri Land, who in addition to being the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. Senate also is Mr. Agema’s colleague on the RNC as the state’s Republican National committeewoman.

The story initially had broken Saturday, December 7, in The Herald Palladium newspaper, but did not gain steam until the following Monday, especially after Equality Michigan demanded Republicans condemn Mr. Agema in an evening email. A day later, Mr. Snyder’s press secretary, Sara Wurfel, had condemned Mr. Agema’s remarks on Mr. Snyder’s behalf.

The following day, on Wednesday, Ms. Land’s campaign spokesperson, Heather Swift, also indicated Ms. Land disapproved of Mr. Agema’s comments. However, unlike Ms. Wurfel, Ms. Swift offered no response to a question of whether Ms. Land thought Mr. Agema should resign (Ms. Wurfel said that was up to Mr. Agema and the Republican Party, not the governor).

Democrats accused Ms. Land of hiding behind her spokesperson and called for her to directly speak on the controversy. That was a bit curious, considering that I can think of more than a few Democratic candidates and officeholders (and just as many Republican ones) over the years who trotted out their spokespersons to answer difficult questions for them. Still, the Democrats had a point that Ms. Land should answer the question of whether Mr. Agema should resign.

Then something surprising happened. A reporter for Mlive reached Ms. Land on the phone on Friday to get her direct thoughts on the Agema mess. But Ms. Land declined to elaborate on what problems she had with Mr. Agema’s remarks and deferred to Ms. Swift’s statement, Mlive reported.

Flash-forward to Monday, when Mr. Snyder appeared on the radio program “Michigan’s Big Show” with Michael Patrick Shiels, who asked Mr. Snyder if he would address the Agema controversy in his own words since only Ms. Wurfel had spoken on his behalf to that point.

Unlike Ms. Land, Mr. Snyder seemed unfazed.

“Those were my words. I worked with Sara on that,” he told Mr. Shiels of what Ms. Wurfel had said on the subject. “I just wasn’t available to come out and say them.”

Then Mr. Snyder did speak on the issue.

"What he said was absolutely inappropriate," he said. "And it was discriminatory. And those words shouldn't happen in our world so I would hope he would refrain from doing those in the future."

One Year Later, No Sign Of Right-To-Work Ending Anytime Soon
Posted: December, 11 2013 6:10 PM

One year has passed since Governor Rick Snyder capped a chaotic week in Michigan government and politics by signing into law bills making Michigan a right-to-work state where those working under a collective bargaining agreement no longer have to belong to the union or pay a non-member fee.

There is plenty of discussion today about whether the bill fulfilled supporters’ and opponents’ predictions. Backers forecasted companies expanding to Michigan with a surge in jobs while opponents warned the bill amounted to “right-to-work for less” that would severely damage personal income levels.

But with the law having only been in effect for a little more than eight months, and many unions unaffected because they are operating under collective bargaining agreements ratified prior to the right-to-work laws taking effect, it will be years before the full impact of right-to-work becomes clear.

To me, the most noteworthy development one year later is the lack of a clear plan from Democrats and unions to repeal right-to-work.

In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Snyder signing the law, many Democrats called for tapping into the fury among Democratic voters and launching recalls of Republican legislators. That helped prompt a Republican-led effort and new law making recalls more difficult.

The new recall law, combined with no appetite among unions to spend the millions it would take for a wide-ranging recall effort after spending millions in vain on failed ballot proposals in 2012, led to no recall effort taking place.

There are a handful of long-shot lawsuits moving through the courts, but those do not look promising.

Perhaps the single most obvious move, a ballot proposal to repeal right-to-work, also appears a non-starter. One of the leading right-to-work voices, Greg McNeilly, has warned supporters to be ready for unions to seek a ballot proposal that combines a popular minimum wage increase with a right-to-work repeal. But union officials continue to say they have no appetite for another ballot proposal fight after voters smashed their proposals in 2012.

The mantra among Democrats, for now, is that the best way to repeal right-to-work is to elect Democrats to office. And of course there is truth in that.

If Democrats gain the five seats needed to control the House, Democrat Mark Schauer unseats Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Democrats win at least eight seats to get to a 19-19 tie in the Senate with a Democratic lieutenant governor allowing them to control the chamber (Democrats start with a base of 11 seats, not the 12 they have now, due to redistricting) they could repeal right-to-work by the end of January most likely with an effective date in March 2015.

If. If. If.

The simple fact is there’s a reason Democrats have enjoyed that type of control of state government for only one year (1983) since the adoption of the 1963 Constitution, especially when considering the modern political dynamic in place since 1992: the governorship and Senate are not up for election in presidential years when Democrats do much better in this state.

To win that type of control in 2014, Mr. Schauer will have to do something that has never been done since Michigan went to a four-year gubernatorial term in the 1960s – deny an incumbent governor a second term. Incumbents overall are 6-1 when seeking re-election in that time. Senate Democrats would need to have their best performance since 1964 (the last time the Senate was up for election in a presidential year) when they gained 12 seats.

House Democrats have a more attainable goal at needing five seats, but still Democrats have gained seats in the House just once in the last six gubernatorial election years.

It is important to note that in politics, as in the stock market, past performance is not necessarily an indicator of future results. Any number of factors could occur in the next year to make 2014 a fantastic year for Democrats. But today, December 11, 2013, it is hard to envision a Democratic wave sweeping Michigan of the magnitude needed to bring them total control of the government.

So presuming Republicans at least hold on to the Senate, right-to-work is going to remain law through 2018 – unless Democrats turn to a ballot initiative.

But as of today, there’s no sign of that, or any other move, to overturn the law happening.

The Benson Conundrum
Posted: December, 4 2013 1:51 PM

Democrats have a bright political talent in Jocelyn Benson.

At just 36, she is the interim dean of the Wayne State University Law School. Three years ago, she lost a bid for secretary of state, but with 45.2 percent of the vote, she performed about four percentage points better than the Democratic base in that Republican wave election.

Ms. Benson managed the rare feat of securing a future as a player in Michigan Democratic politics despite losing thanks to the excitement she generated among Democratic voters and her ability to raise money.

Career-wise, Ms. Benson has settled in nicely, landing the plum post of interim dean at the Wayne State University Law School.

But in terms of her political career, the last three years have been scattershot. There were rumblings in 2011 and again this year about her running for Michigan Democratic Party chair. She declined to run both years.

There has been persistent talk about her waging a rematch in 2014 against Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. There also was some talk of attorney general. There even was talk of a gubernatorial run. Of those posts, the one that Ms. Benson appeared most interested in was secretary of state given her background in election law.

But then in October, the word exploded in Democratic circles that Ms. Benson, who has lived in Detroit, was seriously considering moving to Northville and running for Congress in the 11th U.S. House District. She made the rounds in Washington, D.C., with key Democratic figures, and several Democrats were convinced she was going to run although Ms. Benson tried to tamp down expectations.

This possible bid befuddled many Democrats though. It would mean running in a Republican-leaning seat. It will be a big hill for any Democrat to climb, regardless of the Republican nominee – U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Milford or mortgage foreclosure attorney David Trott. And there would be no spinning a second major loss as anything but a major setback to her political career.

There also is a Democratic candidate whom Michigan Democrats worked to recruit: Bobby McKenzie, a former counter-terrorism specialist at the U.S. Department of State. So Ms. Benson’s consideration of a run created some awkwardness in Democratic circles.

Ms. Benson declared Tuesday she would not run for Congress. Now the focus will return to a secretary of state bid. But that run would be fraught with difficulty.

Michigan Democrats’ priorities for 2014 are, in order, winning the governorship and control of the state House (and which comes first will likely oscillate a bit during the next year), electing U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) to the U.S. Senate (though the critical funding for that race will come from national sources, making it less of a state party concern), not falling further behind on the Supreme Court where Republicans already have a 5-2 majority and making gains in the state Senate.

Somewhere after those races come the attorney general and secretary of state seats. There will only be so much money to go around, and Ms. Benson, for all her strengths, will need major money to win a rematch with Ms. Johnson. While Democrats would love to win the secretary of state post for the first time since 1990, their number one task – by far – is to end the Republicans’ complete control of the ability to make bills into law.

It is clear Ms. Benson wants to run for a major elected office. It also is clear Democrats would welcome the idea. It’s just totally unclear what office that will be and when.

Amash-Ellis Already A Fight
Posted: November, 27 2013 12:44 PM

The way U.S. Rep. Justin Amash and his challenger for the Republican nomination in the 3rd U.S. House District, Brian Ellis, are battling, it feels like mid-July, weeks before the August 5 primary, with campaign season at its peak.

But no, it is 25 degrees outside, and everyone is picking up their turkey in anticipation of Thanksgiving – more than eight months away from the primary.

There is no other race in Michigan right now that is as visceral and intense as this one, not the governor’s race and not the U.S. Senate race. The Republican primary in the 11th U.S. House District between U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Milford) and his challenger, David Trott, is heating up.

But Bentivolio-Trott is at a simmer compared to what we have seen in Amash-Ellis where tea party/liberty forces are lining up to defend Mr. Amash at all costs while establishment/traditional Republicans see Mr. Amash as a loose cannon on key issues who needs to be replaced with a more trustworthy figure like Mr. Ellis.

Consider the following from this month:

  • On November 14, Mr. Ellis was on WOOD radio in Grand Rapids, criticizing Mr. Amash, when out of nowhere a clearly flustered Mr. Amash called in and ignited an impromptu on-air debate between the candidates (See Gongwer Michigan Report, November 27, 2013). On Tuesday, the Ellis campaign claimed Mr. Amash must have skipped part of a House subcommittee meeting to make the call. So far, Mr. Amash has not responded to that allegation.
  • Mr. Amash’s general reaction to Mr. Ellis’ campaign has been to label it “bizarre.”
  • Mr. Amash then taunted Mr. Ellis at the social media reaction to the two columns, posting a graphic showing how 2,600 had liked his post on Facebook compared to just 47 for Mr. Ellis, asserting the race has an “Enthusiasm Gap.”
  • Amash supporters have descended on Mr. Ellis’ Facebook page, rebutting his posts. They have called Mr. Ellis everything from a “fraud” to a “knighted NeoCon hit man.”

There are two schools of thought on this extraordinary engagement between a well-known incumbent like Mr. Amash and Mr. Ellis, who is making his first foray into partisan elected politics, not counting his time on the East Grand Rapids school board.

One view is Mr. Amash is making a grave error. He is elevating Mr. Ellis, giving him all kinds of free name recognition thanks to the media coverage of these skirmishes. The only way for Mr. Ellis to win is to draw Mr. Amash into a brawl that sullies Mr. Amash’s popularity and job approval, so Mr. Amash should take the high road and let Mr. Ellis flail away, this argument says.

The other view is that Mr. Ellis poses a mortal danger to Mr. Amash. He will have the money to buy name identification anyway later on, so better to engage him now and try to define him before he can define himself. One classic political axiom is that voters will believe an attack, truth or fiction, if it goes unanswered.

It’s pretty clear which view Mr. Amash takes.

Battle Of Wills On Campaign Finance Should Be Interesting
Posted: November, 25 2013 3:01 PM

Not long after majority Republicans in the Senate rebuked their fellow Republican, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, by passing a bill to block her proposal requiring groups running issue ads about candidates to disclose their donors and spending, I asked Ms. Johnson’s spokesperson if she still planned to pursue the proposal.

The answer, he said, was yes.

A few hours later, I realized that was a really dumb question.

Ms. Johnson has been in elected politics for a quarter-century, and if there is one trait that stands out, it is what her supporters call determination and critics label stubbornness. Not only will she – of course – continue to pursue the rule, but the Senate’s move to poke a finger in her eye if anything will only deepen her resolve.

A quick recap: The morning of November 14, Ms. Johnson dropped a big surprise by proposing an administrative rule to force groups funding issue ads, which by not explicitly urging a vote for or against a candidate do not have to disclose donors and spending activity, to disclose that activity. Minutes later, the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, which happened to have a campaign finance bill (SB 661*) up for consideration that morning, amended it to block Ms. Johnson’s proposal.

The full Senate then passed the bill, and it is now pending in the House.

But if anyone thinks the embarrassment will cow Ms. Johnson into pulling back, history suggests otherwise.

In 1997, while a member of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, Ms. Johnson led a battle to force greater disclosure of the location of naturally occurring toxin arsenic in wells in her home turf of northwest Oakland County. She infuriated Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, but continued to press for more information about the situation despite his protestations that she was fear-mongering.

In the 2003-04 legislative term, Ms. Johnson, while a member of the House, took the lead as the head of a special subcommittee investigating wrongdoing at Oakland Schools, the county’s intermediate school district. She was granted the extraordinary request for the subcommittee to have subpoena power. Her critics groused that she was just looking for some free publicity on a hot-button issue in the Detroit area, but the subcommittee’s work led to several public acts reforming ISDs.

And last term, Ms. Johnson kept pushing for some type of mechanism to require voters to declare their U.S. citizenship at the polls, even after Governor Rick Snyder’s surprising veto of a bill that would have forced that issue. Eventually, Ms. Johnson supported Mr. Snyder’s alternative proposal.

Now Ms. Johnson has provoked a showdown with some of the most powerful figures in the Michigan Republican Party who are incensed about her proposal. She will need to persuade either the House or Mr. Snyder to back her and block SB 661* if she wants to go forward with the rule. Ms. Johnson could very well lose this battle, but if she does, she likely will go down swinging.

Smith, Tlaib Primary Shaping Up As Huge Battle
Posted: November, 21 2013 1:33 PM

Going into the 2014 election cycle, most of the focus with the August primary is on the Republicans, with several major contests developing between the tea party and establishment wings of the GOP.

But one of the showcase races on August 5, 2014, will come on the Democratic side where Rep. Rashida Tlaib takes on Sen. Virgil Smith for the Democratic nomination in the 4th Senate District that covers various parts of Detroit.

A photo posted by Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of her campaigning with Sen. Virgil Smith.

This is causing some difficulty for Democrats. Ms. Tlaib has almost folk-hero status for her pugnacious charisma and penchant for lighting into Republicans. Mr. Smith is nowhere near as front-and-center as Ms. Tlaib in the heated legislative debates (few are), but he is well-liked by other Democrats. Unlike the Republican primaries, where some grassroots activists are upset with incumbents over their votes for certain bills, Mr. Smith has a voting record aligned with Democratic interests.

So the race will likely turn on leadership style and who campaigns harder.

An interesting dynamic to watch is endorsements. Will key unions sit the race out in deference to two figures they support or side with Mr. Smith out of loyalty to the incumbent? Or will they see Ms. Tlaib as too important of a figure to lose at the Capitol and back her?

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) has made it clear for a while that she is supporting her colleague, Mr. Smith. And that’s no surprise because legislative caucuses almost always rally behind their own members when they face a primary challenge.

But Ms. Whitmer also has made a major point of the need to increase the number of women in the Senate. Just four of the 38 senators are women, and Ms. Whitmer will likely be replaced by a man after the 2014 elections when she cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

Politics being politics, though, loyalty comes first. Ms. Whitmer reiterated her support today for Mr. Smith in a Facebook posting showing the two of them campaigning for Mr. Smith.

“Going into 2014, my goal is to grow our caucus and bring more Democratic voices to the table to join our existing members that will be starting their second terms,” Ms. Whitmer said. “Every member of the Senate Democratic Caucus has been a team player and worked tirelessly to earn a second term. I'm proud to stand behind Sen. Smith, along with the rest of my colleagues in their re-election efforts and I look forward to helping them win a second term in the Senate, whether they face a challenge during the primary election or general election next year.”

Epilogue On A State House Race That Involved A Former Teacher
Posted: November, 20 2013 1:44 PM

Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) is back in the same spot he was a week ago – without a Democratic challenger in the 2014 elections.

Democrat Scott Craig, a teacher and member of the Northville school board, abruptly ended his bid to unseat Mr. Heise in the 20th House District a week after he jumped into the race. I had taken note of his candidacy last week in a blog post because he was a high school teacher of mine while at Birmingham Seaholm High School from 1990-94. He remains a teacher there.

And that is why, Patch.com reported, Mr. Craig changed his mind about running. He told Northville Patch that he realized he cannot afford to retire yet from his teaching job.

The 20th District leans Republican, and Mr. Heise already has won the seat twice, so Mr. Craig was facing an uphill fight to win the seat. Perhaps he will resurface in 2016 when Mr. Heise cannot seek re-election because of term limits and the combination of an open seat plus the more favorable electoral climate for Democrats in presidential election years makes it a more winnable race.

After posting the original blog on Facebook, several of my former classmates urged Mr. Craig on. But it looks like they will have to wait.

Mr. Craig… Soon To Be Rep. Craig?
Posted: November, 15 2013 11:55 AM

Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) is a clear favorite for re-election in 2014 in the 20th House District. He has easily won his first two terms in office, made no notable mistakes and will benefit from a district that leans Republican in northwest Wayne County.

Still, I would suggest Mr. Heise not take his Democratic challenger lightly. Scott Craig has some solid background to make him a viable candidate: He’s a member of the Northville school board, a longtime local Democratic activist and a teacher, which is a nice asset in an area where its public schools are very popular.

But beyond those factors, I know Mr. Craig fairly well. For my four years at Birmingham Seaholm High School, he was in fact “Mr. Craig” who was one of several teachers that ran an innovative interdisciplinary program that combined social studies and writing. He continues to teach at Seaholm.

Let’s flash back: It’s my freshman year, in early 1991. “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” was the No. 1 song in America, “Cheers” was the No. 1 show on television and John Engler was a couple months into his governorship in Michigan.

Seaholm at the time (and maybe still does) held an annual assembly that tended to focus on current events and policy with a guest speaker, who that year was Mr. Engler. And it came at a tense time for the nascent Engler administration.

At the time, Oakland County was still a Republican bulwark. But Mr. Engler was off to a rough start there. One of his top priorities was to address the chasm in per pupil funding under the school funding system in place at the time that relied on local property taxes.

The Birmingham Public Schools was among the best-funded districts in the state. And the discussions in Lansing about a “Robinhood”-type plan where richer districts would see some of their funds transferred to poorer districts had created a major uproar. I don’t know if that’s why Mr. Engler decided to come to Seaholm to deliver a speech on education, but what I do remember is that he gave a masterful speech that put much of the audience at ease in discussing his plans for education.

Then Mr. Engler came to the interdisciplinary class to speak to the 150-200 or so of us and answer questions.

Enter Mr. Craig, whose liberal political views were well-known. He stood to ask a question and there was a buzz among the students because we knew this was going to be good.

Mr. Craig critiqued Mr. Engler on several fronts, going after his proposed cuts to the arts, education funding policies and questioning his proposals to address the economy, which at the time was mired in recession.

I can’t recall Mr. Engler’s exact response, but he strongly rebutted each point and appeared annoyed to be getting blamed for the economy so soon after taking office.

Nearly 23 years later, Mr. Heise is well-positioned to win a third term. But if Mr. Craig is the same now as he was then, he is going to give Mr. Heise a fight.

So I Gather Brandenburg Prefers A Harley To Schwinn
Posted: November, 12 2013 1:35 PM

A bill up for consideration today in the Senate Transportation Committee that would allow bicyclists to point to their right to signal a right turn seemed innocuous enough.

Current law dictates bicyclists must signal a right turn with their left hand by pointing it to the left with their arm bent at the elbow so their hand faces up. That’s counterintuitive, but dates to hand-signals in motor vehicles before the invention of the electronic turn signal where drivers have to use their left arm to signal since the window is on their immediate left.

HB 4866* would allow bicyclists to simply point their right hand outward to signal a right turn.

Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Township), a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, which discussed the bill today, was not impressed. He seemed baffled that his fellow Harrison Township resident, Rep. Anthony Forlini, took the time to introduce the bill and said the people in his neighborhood would question the need for it.

But Mr. Brandenburg, known for his colorful way with words, put it in his own unique way.

“They’d make me beat my own ass,” he told John Lindenmayer of the League of Michigan Bicyclists, who was testifying before the committee in support of the bill.

Mr. Brandenburg, as the room filled with befuddled laughter, then told Mr. Lindenmayer, “No offense.”

“None taken,” was Mr. Lindenmayer’s response although his tone of voice suggested that might not be the case.

But then the mood turned more serious when four people with disabilities testified about how important the change would be to them

Mr. Brandenburg then became somber.

“I wish to apologize for my earlier remarks. I didn’t know that was an issue,” he said.

Court Of Claims Created In A Legislative Rush Too
Posted: November, 8 2013 1:51 PM

Now that everyone in the Capitol has a collective case of whiplash after watching majority Republicans in the Legislature rush passage of a bill making huge changes to how lawsuits against the state are handled, it seemed appropriate to look back at how the Court of Claims was created and if any those circumstances are similar to the present debate.

To recap, the Legislature completed action Wednesday on SB 652*, just 13 days after its introduction, that would strip the Ingham Circuit Court of its role as the Court of Claims hearing litigation against the state involving more than $1,000 and move that function to the Court of Appeals. The bill goes further, mandating that any litigation against the state, even if it under current law would go to the local circuit court, instead go to one of the four Court of Appeals judges selected for the Court of Claims by the Supreme Court.

The move has incensed Democrats, who see it as a power play to move cases to judges picked for the role by the Republican majority in the Supreme Court. What they tend to downplay is that by and large, the Ingham Circuit Court tends to rule in favor of Democratic and/or union interests.

Republicans have insisted the move has nothing to do with partisan politics and instead is a way to put judges in charge of state cases who serve a wider electorate than just Ingham County voters. Few believe that is the major reason. Republicans have loathed the Ingham circuit for years, going back to when former Governor John Engler blasted former Judge James Giddings as a “lunatic.”

Dusting off the Gongwer archives, there are some interesting similarities between now and May 1978 when the state established the Court of Claims via PA 164 of 1978.

Number one, it also was a rush job. The time it took from initial committee action to final legislative passage was 23 days. In that case, there was a clear reason, however. The deadline to file to run for judgeships was just a couple weeks away.

And major controversy erupted over the bill, but the controversy was not about the Court of Claims.

In fact, the creation of the Court of Claims was an afterthought in the legislative debate about the bill, which also made major changes in the number of circuit judges assigned to each court. The big fight that erupted was over whether to scrap plans for a new judge in the Muskegon Circuit Court. A pair of Democratic legislators who were running for their party’s U.S. Senate nomination that year clashed.

Then-Rep. Paul Rosenbaum of Battle Creek was trying to delete the new judge, contending it was a way for his U.S. Senate rival, then-Sen. Anthony Derezinski of Muskegon, to have a fallback plan in case he lost his U.S. Senate bid.

In the end, Mr. Derezinski prevailed. The Muskegon Circuit Court got the additional judge and the bill easily passed both legislative houses.

And the scrap had no effect on the U.S. Senate race. Mr. Derezinski finished fourth and Mr. Rosenbaum sixth out of six candidates for the Democratic nomination, which was won in a rout by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) in his first U.S. Senate bid.

Another Showdown Building Between Snyder, Beer And Wine Wholesalers
Posted: November, 7 2013 12:51 PM

One of the big fights happening at the Capitol is over whether bars and restaurants should be able to serve alcohol with logoed items. So if you buy a pint of Labatt Blue at the Peanut Barrel, the good folks at the Barrel could serve you your Blue in a glass with the Labatt logo and on a napkin with the logo as well.

Currently, rules set by the Liquor Control Commission prohibit this practice. But the LCC is moving to rescind this rule with the support of the state’s restaurants and bars.

But now a bill, SB 505*, has flown through the Senate to put the ban on logoed items into statute at the behest of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, which contends its members will end up on the hook for the cost of the items, a charge refuted by the restaurants and others.

The Liquor Control Commission opposes the bill, which by extension means Governor Rick Snyder opposes the bill. But in case you thought bipartisanship was dead, fear not, because the two parties united in the Senate today to pass the bill 34-3.

The vote served as a reminder, in case anyone needed one, that the Beer and Wine Wholesalers remains hugely influential in the Legislature. The bill now lands in the House and, depending on what happens, it could set up a major conundrum for Mr. Snyder, whose administration has sharply clashed with the wholesalers association.

Last year, the Snyder administration called for several major changes in the state’s alcohol laws and policies that would have cleaved away some of the wholesalers’ power. Not surprisingly, the wholesalers mounted an all-out effort to fight the legislation, even allying itself with a neo-Prohibitionist group that seeks to curb alcohol consumption.

Yes, you read that right, the Beer and Wine Wholesalers, whose very existence is based on distributing alcohol to retailers, aligned itself with a group that sees alcohol consumption as inherently bad. As always, politics makes strange bedfellows.

But it is clear that the wholesalers clobbered the Snyder administration in the Legislature, preventing the proposals they most opposed from ever getting off the ground.

So now what will Mr. Snyder do if the bill passes the House with an overwhelming majority without major changes to placate his concerns? He could veto the bill and dare the Legislature to override him. The Senate would have more than enough votes for a two-thirds majority to do so, and we will see if the same happens in the House.

But the power of the wholesalers is such that it would not be a surprise at all if it persuaded the Republican-led Legislature to take the extraordinary step of overriding their fellow Republican, Mr. Snyder, even if it would be a big embarrassment to the governor.

So Mr. Snyder and his legislative team are going to have to ask themselves how much they dislike this bill and how far they are willing to go to stop it.

MML Responds To Truscott Proposal Linking Revenue Sharing To Mergers
Posted: November, 1 2013 4:17 PM

Last weekend, the president of the Michigan Municipal League offered an interesting response to a proposal floated last month by public relations expert John Truscott, who suggested linking reducing the number of cities, villages and townships to calls from local governments to provide $1 billion in new funding for revenue sharing.

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan, the MML president, wrote a letter to the editor in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press, which published a guest column from Mr. Truscott the previous week.

Ms. Noonan, as expected, took issue with several of the arguments Mr. Truscott raised in his column. I won’t rehash them here because the main point of the blog I wrote last week was Mr. Truscott’s concept of marrying a reduction in the number of municipalities with the MML’s idea of raising the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent and putting all the new revenue toward revenue sharing.

And on that specific item, Ms. Noonan did not rule out the idea although clearly she was less than enamored with it, scoffing that it has been something discussed in Lansing for at least the past four decades.

“The Michigan Municipal League has long stood ready to discuss reducing the number of local governments,” Ms. Noonan wrote. “But far more important than the number of local governments is the quality of local governments.”

Critical to that quality, Ms. Noonan writes, is investing again in municipal governments and the critical services they provide, as well as making communities a desirable place to live, to make up for what she said has been $5 billion in revenue sharing cuts in the past decade.

So while Ms. Noonan panned several of the arguments Mr. Truscott made, especially the idea that local governments “rarely, if ever” coordinate on determining how to best serve a region, that does not exactly sound like a firm no to the bigger idea overall.

Fast Track Set For Bill Making Major Change To Michigan Courts
Posted: October, 30 2013 12:12 PM

Last Thursday, I got a call from a source who asked me if I had taken a look at SB 652*, which had been introduced earlier in the day.

I had not, so I checked it out, and my immediate reaction roughly rhymed with the words “Moldy bit.”

The bill would strip the Ingham Circuit Court of its status as the state’s Court of Claims, which gives it the critical role of serving as the trial court for all litigation against state government involving more than $1,000. Instead, the Supreme Court would appoint four judges from the Court of Appeals to serve as the new Court of Claims.

So what, right?

No, this is a big deal.

Many major cases have arisen against state government, especially since Governor Rick Snyder took office. Ingham County is a solidly Democratic county, and most of its circuit court judges either have a history of activity in Democratic causes or have tended to rule for unions and other Democratic interests with cases before the court.

The Court of Appeals has several judges from both the Democratic and Republican spheres, but the Supreme Court, which would make the appointments, has a 5-2 majority of justices nominated by the Republican Party. Maybe the Supreme Court would decide to appoint, say, two appeals judges named to the bench by a Democratic governor and two by a Republican governor, but that would be a surprise.

So this has all the makings a major shift in the philosophy of the judges on the Court of Claims.

And oh my (nod to longtime Detroit Free Press columnist Hugh McDiarmid Sr.), is this bill moving fast in the Republican-controlled Legislature. After its Thursday introduction, it won committee approval Tuesday and minutes ago passed the Senate on a party-line vote today.

It would be a surprise if the House did not move with dispatch to put this bill on Mr. Snyder’s desk.

Former Governor John Engler famously had a public feud with former Ingham Circuit Judge James Giddings, at one point ripping him as a “lunatic.” Mr. Engler happens to be in Detroit today. If someone wants to get a grin from the former governor, they might want to pass him the news about today’s action in the Senate.

Mich. Congressional Races Getting National Attention
Posted: October, 28 2013 5:01 PM

One of the major early priorities of Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson clearly has been to put up a much bigger fight against Republican congressional incumbents than Democrats did in 2012.

Democrats made a big push in the 1st District again against U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls), but for the second election in a row, Democratic former state Rep. Gary McDowell came up short.

They recruited a strong challenger in the 3rd District, former state Rep./Judge Steve Pestka, but did not fund him, essentially forfeiting the seat to U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township). Democrats went bust in the 7th District and essentially conceded the seat to U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) on filing day with the failure to recruit a strong candidate.

In the 11th District, the party was left unprepared when U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter was thrown off the ballot in a petition fraud scandal, leaving only gadfly Kerry Bentivolio as a Republican candidate in the GOP-leaning district. The Democratic candidate, Syed Taj, never got traction.

Now the party is making a more concerted effort to recruit candidates in hopes of toppling Mr. Benishek, Mr. Walberg and Mr. Bentivolio (or David Trott, if Mr. Trott ousts Mr. Bentivolio in the Republican primary).

And it clearly is not just idle talk among Democrats about going after these seats. None other than Stuart Rothenberg, the highly respect national political analyst, spent time interviewing the Democratic challengers to Mr. Benishek and Mr. Walberg – Jerry Cannon and Pam Byrnes, respectively.

Mr. Rothenberg wrote a column, “6 Democratic House Candidates With Plenty of Potential” for Roll Call today in which Mr. Cannon and Ms. Byrnes were two of the six candidates.

For both to get mention in the column suggests both races are firmly on the radar of Washington political strategists. Mr. Rothenberg’s view of the two candidates varied a bit.

Mr. Rothenberg called Mr. Cannon the least polished of the six, but said that could draw voters to him. Still, he didn’t seem terribly impressed with the chops of either Mr. Benishek or Mr. Cannon.

“If he wins, Cannon will be one of those backbenchers you’ll overlook unless he bolts his party on a key vote,” he wrote. “He probably wouldn’t be a strong challenger to a savvy, well-established incumbent – but neither of those qualities describes Benishek, which makes this a top-tier race worth watching.”

Mr. Rothenberg seemed more impressed with Ms. Byrnes, whom he described as refreshingly blunt.

“I liked her and expect her to give Walberg problems,” he said.

Ah, The Friday News Dump
Posted: October, 25 2013 6:13 PM

Today, the nonprofit fund affiliated with Attorney General Bill Schuette partook in that time-honored, beloved tactic of politicians and communications professionals: the Friday news dump.

In an email that arrived at 4:55 p.m., the On Duty for Michigan fund announced it would begin disclosing the names of donors who give money starting today. It is the same type of fund as the one affiliated with Governor Rick Snyder, the NERD fund, that has become a thorn in the governor’s side about a lack of transparency. We’ll have more on that story in tonight’s report for subscribers.

But it got me thinking about the many Friday news dumps this year. The idea is that by sending out something newsworthy Friday, preferably late in the day, it will get minimal attention. The Saturday newspapers, many of which are only available at newsstands, are generally the least read newspaper of the week. People head out for the evening on Friday and are less apt to watch the local news.

Thankfully, we know Gongwer subscribers read EVERY SINGLE WORD of what we publish and never miss an issue, so this tactic will not foil them (wink wink).

So in honor of today’s Friday afternoon news dump, here is a sampling of similar stories from this year:

  • October 11: Treasurer Andy Dillon announces his resignation in the wake of a series of personal problems;

Dedication Of Walkway To Kelley Seems Fitting
Posted: October, 24 2013 4:25 PM

There are not a lot of moments in Michigan politics when everyone unanimously feels good about something, but yesterday’s dedication of the walkway connecting the Capitol to the Hall of Justice, where most of the state office buildings sit, to longtime former Attorney General Frank Kelley was one of them.

Who else could have caused Attorney General Bill Schuette and Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who do not exactly think highly of each other and might face off for high office in the coming years, to share a stage and for a moment put the issues of the day to the side?

Mr. Kelley looked as spry as ever Wednesday at the dedication. While he has been out of office for almost 15 years following a record-setting tenure from 1961-99, he has remained highly active, co-founding the Kelley Cawthorne lobbying firm and continuing to serve it as a senior consultant.

The walk through the Capitol Complex is not exactly picturesque. There’s an awful lot of cement, both from the buildings and the walkway. But the dedication of it to Mr. Kelley adds some heft, and the marker designating it as such a nice point of interest for those exploring the area.

Here’s a quick stroll through Mr. Kelley’s official portraits during his time in office.

An Interesting Suggestion On Addressing Major Local Government Issues
Posted: October, 23 2013 3:42 PM

Local government officials have urged reform in their funding model for years as a combination of state revenue sharing cuts and the plummeting of property tax revenues associated with the burst of the housing bubble forcing them to trim their workforce, especially in public safety. State officials, Democratic and Republican, have talked for years about the need for local governments to consolidate functions.

John Truscott, the Republican public relations expert at the Truscott Rossman firm, floated an interesting proposal Sunday to bring those two strains of thought together.

In a column for the Detroit Free Press, Mr. Truscott said the recent proposal from the Michigan Municipal League to increase the sales tax to stabilize local government funding offers an opportunity for a discussion about reducing the number of local governments in Michigan (about 2,700 when counting cities, villages, township and other taxing jurisdictions like library districts).

“Some local governments certainly need additional funds to provide necessary services, but pouring more money into the current system will only serve to feed an insatiable appetite that will never be satisfied,” he wrote. “Before any discussion on new revenue begins, the difficult decisions of making government more efficient and effective must take place. This includes tough talk about reducing the number of governmental units.”

Governor Rick Snyder has shied away from talk of merging or reducing the number of local governments, preferring instead to see local governments, for example, share a fire department or an assessor. There are two reasons: One, Michigan residents historically are protective of their communities from merger. Two, the process for mergers in Michigan is Byzantine and difficult (just ask the folks in Saugatuck and Douglas trying to pull off a merger of the two artsy cities on the November 5 ballot).

Still, this has the makings of some interesting fodder.

Would Michigan voters be willing to back the MML’s proposal to raise the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent with the $1 billion in new revenue entirely dedicated to local governments, and see the (presumably) reduced police and fire response times, better infrastructure and quality of life improvements if it meant Mr. Truscott’s idea of merging with the neighboring municipality? Is that something that appeals to Mr. Snyder and members of the Legislature? Would city, village and township officials be willing in some cases to lose their jobs in exchange for the influx of cash to improve services?

In some areas, the move could make some sense. In the southeastern corner of Oakland County, there are 10 municipalities within 38 square miles, a jigsaw puzzle of boundaries haphazardly set in the early 20th century. I once interviewed the Berkley city manager about this subject and even he acknowledged the boundaries led to a less-than-efficient model of service delivery.

Of course, bigger is not always better. Detroit began as a fraction of the size it is now, but gradually annexed territory from surrounding townships until eventually reaching its current configuration. Few would call that a success story given the city’s many problems.

Voters in Saugatuck and Douglas will soon give us some fresh data on where the public stands on these questions. In the meantime, Mr. Truscott has given everyone something to ponder.

OK, Who’s ‘Fire Guy’ At The Romney Building?
Posted: October, 18 2013 4:16 PM

If the workers at the Romney Building, which houses the offices of Governor Rick Snyder, are anything like those from the television show at “The Office,” then someone there has had a miserable last 30 hours.

Thursday morning, there was a “toaster malfunction” – and let’s all tip our cap to Department of Technology, Management and Budget spokesperson Kurt Weiss for using that term – that prompted a rare evacuation of the building. Thankfully, no fire occurred and everyone was okay.

But whoever was responsible for the offending toast, bagel or Pop-Tart is hopefully getting the business from his or her co-workers, much as Ryan from “The Office” did after a similar incident on the show that led to his colleagues dubbing him “Fire Guy.”

It also led to this brilliant spoof of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by the show’s immortal Dwight K. Schrute.

Suddenly, Judge’s Thoughts On Gay Marriage Case Seem In Doubt
Posted: October, 16 2013 4:13 PM

For some time, supporters of ending Michigan’s ban on same-sex couples marrying saw many positive signs in how U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman would rule in the DeBoer v. Snyder case in which a lesbian Hazel Park couple has challenged the state’s law preventing them from marrying.

For one, Mr. Friedman encouraged the couple to broaden their case beyond their initial challenge to the Michigan Adoption Code’s prohibition on same-sex couples jointly adopting children to the bigger issue of same-sex marriage. That suggested he was interested in issuing a broader ruling.

Then in March of this year, Mr. Friedman decided to stay all action in the case while awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on two gay marriage cases before it. In June, the court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act limiting federal recognition of marriages to one man and one woman as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It declined to hear an appeal on a lower court ruling striking down California’s ban on same-sex marriage, citing a lack of standing.

Since then, however, Mr. Friedman has slowed the pace of the DeBoer case instead of moving swiftly to follow the high court’s lead.

In July, Mr. Friedman called for a trial in the case. But he later changed his mind, calling for arguments on motions for summary disposition, suggesting he was ready to rule in the near future. That hearing is what occurred today.

Going into today, there was some hope in the LGBT community that Mr. Friedman would issue a ruling the same day. Gay and lesbian couples filed into several county clerk offices in hopes of obtaining a marriage license if the ruling went their way. A same-day ruling seemed somewhat unlikely given the magnitude of the case, and a written ruling in the near future, one way or the other, seemed more likely.

And given Mr. Friedman’s handling of the case, the betting money has been he would strike down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

But Mr. Friedman, who was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, pulled a surprise, scheduling a February 25 trial to resolve factual issues.

Mr. Friedman has had this case for 13 months, and most would argue it is pretty simple, regardless of where you stand on the issue. That Mr. Friedman, who clearly seemed conflicted at today’s hearing, now sees a trial as necessary to resolve factual issues pretty much crushes the idea that he was leaning toward striking down Michigan’s gay marriage ban.

It does not mean he is now leaning toward upholding it, but after today’s hearing, who knows where he is heading.

House Dems’ Tax-O-Meter Recalls Trash-O-Meter
Posted: October, 15 2013 3:46 PM

Seeing the House Democrats come up this week with something called the Tax-O-Meter to tally how much more in taxes individuals are paying as a result of Governor Rick Snyder’s and the Republican-led Legislature’s 2011 tax overhaul brings to mind a similar move the caucus made 10 years ago: the Trash-O-Meter.

At the time, a burgeoning political issue in Michigan was the importation by Michigan landfills of garbage from outside the state, especially Toronto. House Democrats came up with the Trash-O-Meter to tally each ton of trash coming into the state from Canada, took it around Michigan and hectored the Republicans to no end on the issue. Every chance they could, Democrats tried to wedge the issue into whatever bill was on the House floor through amendments and speeches.

About 14 months after House Democrats unveiled it, the Legislature and then-Governor Jennifer Granholm agreed to legislation designed to curb out-of-state trash importation. The Trash-O-Meter had clearly gotten under the skin of the then-speaker of the House, Rick Johnson.

"It's my hope that the so-called trash-o-meter, or whatever that thing is called, ends up in a landfill," he said after the House had completed work on the legislation.

Now the question is can today’s House Democrats create enough of a push on the tax issues to prompt some type of action like their brethren did 10 years ago.

An Epilogue On The Dispute About Job Creation At The MEDC
Posted: October, 14 2013 5:05 PM

Michigan Economic Development Corporation CEO Michael Finney recently defended his agency from critical news media coverage it received after an audit showed the MEDC had reported inaccurate figures about the number of jobs created through the 21st Century Jobs Trust Fund.

The audit showed that the MEDC had reported to the Legislature that one of the funds in the program had 75 percent of fund recipients meet their job creation targets when in fact just 19 percent had done so. Still, Mr. Finney pushed back in a media counteroffensive, insisting his staff had not inflated jobs numbers, saying the 19 percent was largely the result of one firm filing for bankruptcy and noting the audit described the MEDC’s management of the fund as effective.

In a letter to the editor in the Detroit Free Press and at a hearing before skeptical lawmakers, Mr. Finney took pains to note the program was created during the administration of former Governor Jennifer Granholm. He did not mention Ms. Granholm’s name, but there was no mistaking whom he meant when he said “different administration.”

But Treasurer Andy Dillon’s testimony under oath, as part of the Detroit bankruptcy case, unearthed an uncomfortable development Friday in Mr. Finney’s attempt to hang problems stemming from the 21st Century Jobs Fund on Ms. Granholm. It turns out Mr. Dillon first met Mr. Snyder as Mr. Dillon was working with now-U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), then a state rep, on the 21st Century Jobs Fund legislation.

“I drove to Ann Arbor to meet him because Governor Granholm at the time had announced the 21st Century Jobs Fund plan, I had a private equity background, but not a venture capital background and his name came to me as someone who understood venture capital,” Mr. Dillon said, according to a draft transcript of the deposition. “I asked for a meeting, drove to Ann Arbor, we met for (a) half-hour to an hour, and I incorporated his thoughts and ideas into the 21st century jobs plans.”

Now, a 30- to 60-minute meeting is not the same as developing and implementing the program, as the Granholm administration did.

Still, Mr. Dillon’s mini-revelation complicates the message Mr. Finney has been emphasizing and serves as a reminder that a top Snyder administration official (albeit one who will soon depart), Mr. Dillon, was instrumental in putting that program together.

Kilpatrick, Verlander And An Odd Bit Of Symmetry
Posted: October, 11 2013 2:55 PM

Watching Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander take a perfect game into the 6th inning and a no-hitter into the 7th in last night’s series-clinching victory over the Oakland A’s, I was reminded of one of the most disappointing moments that has happened to me as a sports fan.

About 12 hours earlier, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in a federal prison. Mr. Kilpatrick, who once dazzled Lansing as an up-and-coming state representative from 1997-2001, could remain in prison into his 70s, his apparently innate need to use the people’s government to enrich himself having destroyed his life.

A little more than six years ago, I was covering Wayne County government for the Detroit Free Press. I don’t remember exactly how I got involved in the story, but an interesting document was filed on June 12, 2007, in the U.S. District Court in Detroit in the criminal case against Jon Rutherford, the owner of a homeless shelter in Highland Park, that dealt with allegations Mr. Rutherford had illegally used the homeless shelter as a piggy bank for political causes, especially Team Kilpatrick.

Years later, Mr. Rutherford would plead guilty and ultimately testify against Mr. Kilpatrick as part of the corruption case against the former mayor. The very first whiff of corruption surrounding Mr. Kilpatrick occurred in 2001 when the Free Press reported that Mr. Rutherford had given Mr. Kilpatrick’s nonprofit fund $50,000 and weeks later Mr. Kilpatrick recommended (while a mayoral candidate and state rep) that the local mental health agency receive a $22.7 million contract, which Mr. Rutherford received.

Mr. Rutherford eventually, long after that 2007 court filing, would testify that he showered Mr. Kilpatrick and his father, Bernard, with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Today, none of this sounds surprising. But when that document surfaced in the U.S. District Court in 2007 indicating that the Internal Revenue Service was clearly investigating and showing that it was looking closely at Bernard Kilpatrick, it was one of the (I can’t remember if it was the) first major clues the feds’ investigation was trending toward the mayor, who at that point was on top of the world.

So I and the Free Press’ then-federal courts reporter, the outstanding David Ashenfelter, began working the story. Meanwhile, I had a ticket to that night’s Tigers game against the Brewers with JV on the mound.

Time was moving quickly, but the editors wanted the story for the front page, and I realized I was going to miss at least the beginning of the game. I notified my friends I would be late.

No big deal, I’ll get there by the 3rd or 4th inning, I thought.

But Verlander was mowing down the Brewers, allowing no hits, the game was moving fast and we were still tinkering with the story. The 5th, 6th and 7th innings flew by and I realized I was not going to make it to Comerica Park. The only question now was would Verlander complete the first no-hitter by a Tiger since 1984 and the first one at home since 1952.

The game was on television in the newsroom, and everyone else was cheering, but I was silently freaking out at what I was on the verge of missing. Finally, Verlander got J.J. Hardy to fly out to right, he had his no-hitter and everyone went crazy. I don’t remember exactly what I said or did, but if I had spoken, it probably would have involved the same word A’s pitcher Grant Balfour and Tigers DH Victor Martinez lovingly shouted at each other during a minor skirmish in game 3 of this year’s series.

The coup de grace was that the editors, rightfully of course, took Verlander’s no-hitter to the front page. Our story was bumped to the B section.

As Verlander was turning the A’s into mincemeat last night, the only thing ultimately that mattered was the Tigers winning and moving on to the American League Championship Series. But I have to admit, I was hoping he would get the no-hitter.

What a bizarre piece of symmetry that would have been hours after authorities marched Mr. Kilpatrick off to prison.

Breaking Down Ellis Vs. Amash
Posted: October, 8 2013 12:19 PM

The national attention on the nascent battle for the Republican nomination in the 3rd U.S. House District between challenger Brian Ellis of East Grand Rapids and U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township already has begun, and 10 months from the primary, it almost surely will be the showcase race in Michigan to watch on August 5, 2014.

With Mr. Ellis announcing his bid today – setting up a battle between the west Michigan Republican establishment, most of which will side with Mr. Ellis, and the liberty/tea party wings of the party, which adore Mr. Amash – now seemed a good time to size up the initial contours of the race.

NAME RECOGNITION: Advantage, Mr. Amash. He has not held elected office long, serving in Congress since 2011 after a two-year stint in the Michigan House, but Mr. Amash is very well known as a result of his star status in the liberty/tea party movements, town halls and ubiquitous social media presence. Mr. Ellis has served for years on the East Grand Rapids school board, but that is, uh, slightly less high profile.

MONEY: That’s the big question. Mr. Ellis is an investment banker. It’s not much of a reach to conclude he has major connections to wealthy potential donors who could easily fund a robust campaign. But this is Mr. Ellis’ first move on a major political stage, so he will have to prove he can raise the money. Mr. Amash is not a strong fundraiser, historically. In his 2010 Republican primary win for the seat, the Club for Growth spent heavily on him. Super political action committees aligned with the Ron/Rand Paul movement also surely will spend lavishly to defend Mr. Amash.

ISSUES: Bank on this: Team Amash is going to comb through every vote cast by the East Grand Rapids school board during Mr. Ellis’ tenure. If Mr. Ellis missed any votes, Mr. Amash is going to rub that in his face. That’s a tactic Mr. Amash has used, with great success, to fluster opponents and hurt them with voters when contrasting it with his record of never missing a vote. However, Mr. Ellis already is pushing hard on Mr. Amash’s penchant for voting “present” on bills he has yet to read, saying Mr. Amash broke with conservative principles in refusing to vote yes on some bread-and-butter conservative legislation.

ENDORSEMENTS: Big question No. 2. In 2012, Right to Life of Michigan did not endorse Mr. Amash, who aligns with the organization’s philosophy, but voted present instead of yes on a couple of its legislative priorities. An endorsement of Mr. Ellis in west Michigan, where the organization’s power in Republican primaries is massive, would be huge and put Mr. Amash in serious jeopardy of losing. The endorsement of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce also will be closely watched. Then there’s Mr. Amash’s trump card – Dick and Betsy DeVos, who enthusiastically endorsed him in 2010 and provided invaluable backing. Mr. Amash is longtime friends with one of the DeVoses’ now-adult children, so there is a personal relationship. But would they do as much to help in 2014 as they did in 2010?

INTANGIBLES: Mr. Amash has won three tough elections the last three cycles, first coming from nowhere to win the Republican primary in the 72nd House District in 2008, then topping a sitting state senator and a favorite of the business establishment in the 2010 3rd U.S. House District GOP primary and beating back a credible Democratic challenger in 2012. He knows the drill while Mr. Ellis is entering his first big race as a candidate. Mr. Ellis also has to build a campaign from scratch while Mr. Amash potentially could see a flood of volunteers from around the country help him thanks to the liberty movement.

Yet there has been a persistent undercurrent in west Michigan that Mr. Amash’s style and politics fails to fit with the west Michigan conservatism that elected people like Gerald Ford, Paul Henry and Vern Ehlers to this seat and that his ideological approach fails to benefit the area.

LeDuff Vs. Snyder
Posted: October, 4 2013 11:01 AM

I was walking back to the office earlier this week and as I approached the Romney Building, which houses the offices of the governor, I saw an unfamiliar sight: WJBK Fox 2 News gonzo reporter Charlie LeDuff standing outside the building, talking on the phone, with a videographer nearby.

Usually, Mr. LeDuff is busy breaking stories about some of the Detroit area’s troubled elected officials, like scandal-plagued Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano or Wayne Circuit Judge Wade Harper McCree, the latter of whom is almost certainly going to get kicked off the bench thanks to Mr. LeDuff’s enterprising reporting. Or Mr. LeDuff is entertaining the masses by golfing his way across Detroit or demonstrating that a middle school student has more maturity than convicted ex-Detroit City Councilmember Monica Conyers.

But seeing Mr. LeDuff camped outside the Romney Building, I thought about what the reaction might have been like inside Mr. Snyder’s communications office at the thought of getting the LeDuff treatment. The scene in “Airplane!” when stewardess Elaine Dickinson asks if anyone on board can fly an airplane, prompting the passengers to break into a hilarious panic, came to mind.

Mr. LeDuff was in town to do a piece on Mr. Snyder’s controversial nonprofit fund, the NERD fund, which pays the salary of top aide, Rich Baird, as well as try to figure out more about who Mr. Baird is. Watching the piece is worth your time alone for when Mr. LeDuff interviews Rep. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville) about Mr. Baird.

Eventually, after some typical LeDuff hijinks, he gets some face-time with Mr. Snyder, who looks uncharacteristically uncomfortable, and probably with good reason. But Mr. LeDuff played it straight with the governor (at least in the part that was aired), and by the end, a look of relief seems to cross Mr. Snyder’s face after he explained, as he has several times, that he is considering what to do with the fund.

But as Mr. LeDuff closed his piece from the studio, he seemed to have the impression that Mr. Snyder plans to disclose donors to the fund, past, present and future and promised viewers to report back when Mr. Snyder did so.

Hmmm. Mr. Snyder has said he may disclose future donors, but has staunchly resisting unmasking those who donated in the past.

I think Mr. LeDuff might be making another trip up I-96.

Fox 2 News Headlines

One Week Until Deposition Day For Snyder
Posted: October, 2 2013 3:21 PM

One week from today, Governor Rick Snyder will do something no Michigan governor is known to have done: sit for a deposition where he will testify under oath about the decisions, actions and process that led to him authorizing the city of Detroit to file for bankruptcy.

So far, the Detroit bankruptcy has mostly proven a political plus for Mr. Snyder, based on polls showing voters outside the city backing the move. Setting aside the question of whether it was the right move financially, the politics of the decision still contain considerable peril, and October 9 is probably the point of maximum peril.

Mr. Snyder’s arch political enemies, the unions, will do the questioning through their attorneys. While they must stick to questions relevant to the case at hand and hope to get answers that will achieve their goal of preventing the bankruptcy from going forward, there is no doubt that they would love in the process for the governor to say something damaging politically or even say something that could raise questions of perjury.

In a relative rarity, the deposition will be videotaped. Douglas Bernstein, the managing partner of Plunkett Cooney’s Banking, Bankruptcy and Creditors’ Rights Practice Group, said depositions are often recorded when a witness may not be available to appear at a subsequent hearing or trial to testify. Mr. Snyder, as the governor, certainly falls into that group.

Typically, attendance at the deposition is limited to the parties and their attorneys.

But it seems a near certainty that Mr. Snyder’s testimony, and that of Treasurer Andy Dillon and top Snyder aide Rich Baird, will eventually become public. Depositions under federal rules do not become part of the court record, but if either side filed a motion, it could attach part of the transcript to help justify the motion, Mr. Bernstein said.

And any member of the public could order a transcript or a copy of the video if willing to pay for it, he said.

Mr. Bernstein did question whether U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes might draw the line at someone trying to use the video recording of the deposition for political purposes, i.e. if it showed up in a television advertisement as the 2014 gubernatorial campaign heats up next year.

“I would suspect that if somebody tried to get a copy and use it for political purposes, that it would not be pleasant for whoever did that,” he said. “That’s not the intended purpose of a deposition.”

Now, the very possibility of the unions managing to obtain something politically juicy at the deposition might be remote. Mr. Snyder is an attorney; he is famously adept at avoiding landmines when questioned by reporters and generally seems unfazed at the idea of discussing under oath how his administration reached the decision to put Detroit into bankruptcy.

Still, this is big-time pressure Mr. Snyder faces once he raises his hand and swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth with AFSCME and AFL-CIO attorneys doing the questioning.

Sen. Warren Channels Vice President Garner
Posted: September, 27 2013 4:49 PM

I never expected to put Sen. Rebekah Warren’s and former Vice President John Nance Garner’s names in the same sentence, but thanks to some candor today from Ms. Warren that unlikely comparison is possible.

Ms. Warren (D-Ann Arbor) appeared on Michigan Public Television’s “Off the Record” when host Tim Skubick asked her about the idea of running for lieutenant governor in 2014 should the Democratic gubernatorial candidate ask her to join the ticket. I expected the usual dodges most politicians offer when asked such a question – “I’m focused on my current job” or “that’s a hypothetical” – but instead Ms. Warren did not mince words.

“I look at the lieutenant governor spot as somewhat of a career ending, no path kind of job,” she said. “I don’t really see that as a good move for me.”

The connection to Mr. Garner, vice president from 1933-41? He famously said that the vice presidency, the federal equivalent of the lieutenant governor post, was not worth a bucket of warm piss (or spit, depending on the source).

Ms. Warren asked when was the last time a lieutenant governor went on to higher office. The answer? A long time ago – in 1969 when Lt. Governor William Milliken rose to the governorship after Governor George Romney resigned to join the Nixon administration.

One could argue that Mr. Milliken’s lieutenant governor in his first and third terms, Jim Brickley, did so too. Although he lost a 1982 bid for governor, he eventually served on the Michigan Supreme Court. For others, like Lt. Governors Jim Damman, Martha Griffiths, Connie Binsfeld, Dick Posthumus and John Cherry, the LG spot did signify the high-water mark of their political careers.

Ms. Warren said she loves her current work.

“I love being in direct representative government,” she said. “Part of what I get to do every single day is help people.”

MacMaster Vs. Schmidt Setting Up As A Doozy
Posted: September, 26 2013 3:34 PM

A little more than 10 months before the August primary, one race is emerging as the single biggest proxy battle in the ongoing tension within the Republican primary between longtime activists and newer tea party ones – the Republican primary in the 37th Senate District in northern Michigan.

Rep. Greg MacMaster (R-Kewadin) and Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) are running and already Republicans are talking about what a monster race it will be with Mr. MacMaster likely to have tea party backing and Mr. Schmidt stronger backing among establishment Republicans.

The latest wrinkle came just minutes ago when the House voted on HCR 11*, which allows implementation of the Common Core State Standards in education. Those in the tea party sphere are in a fury about the standards, seeing them as a kind of national takeover of curriculum (they come from the National Governors Association, the group of the nation’s governors, not the federal government).

Some of the most outspoken conservative voices on education, however, strongly favor the standards.

Mr. Schmidt voted yes on the resolution, Mr. MacMaster voted no.

This comes a couple weeks after Mr. Schmidt voted a second time for Medicaid expansion. Mr. MacMaster, who voted for Medicaid expansion when it first cleared the House, voted no the second time.

Another issue surely to hang over the race is road funding. Mr. Schmidt has led the House Republican effort to raise more money for roads. It is hard to envision Mr. MacMaster not using that against him.

The 37th District currently is held by Sen. Howard Walker (R-Traverse City), who decided not to seek re-election. Establishment vs. tea party emotions are running high after the recent incident where a tea party activist needled Mr. Walker about “weak Republicans” voting for Medicaid expansion (Mr. Walker had just voted for that bill), prompting the usually reserved Mr. Walker to tell the activist “screw you” for insulting him.

Both candidates can claim some advantages. Mr. Schmidt has more wealthy donors in his area, has his whole House district in the Senate district unlike Mr. MacMaster and is well-known in the main media market of Traverse City. Mr. MacMaster can run to the right, never a bad place to be in a Republican primary, and is well-known from his days as an on-air meteorologist on northwest Michigan television network news.

By the time it’s over, the race could make the recent dust-up involving Mr. Walker seem tame.

A Chance For Lions Fan Legislators To Talk Smack
Posted: September, 24 2013 2:12 PM

In the nearly nine years Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) has served in the Legislature, he as a Green Bay Packers fan has had the chance to talk quite a bit of trash about his team’s success compared to the travails of the downstate Detroit Lions.

His hometown just 111 miles north-northeast of the Packers’ stadium, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Mr. Casperson has seen his Packers go 77-51 in the eight full seasons that have taken place while he has served in the Legislature, along with five playoff appearances. The Packers’ victory in Super Bowl XLV came in 2010 when he was not serving at the Capitol. Still, the Packers have been outstanding, and Mr. Casperson has enjoyed reminding everyone about it.

The Lions have, uh, not been as successful during those years (2003-08, 2011-12), going 40-88 with one playoff appearance.

But three games into the 2013 NFL season, the Lions are 2-1, with their first-ever victory in Washington, while the Packers are 1-2.

That brings us to a completely unrelated topic at today’s meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee, which Mr. Casperson chairs. Sen. Morris Hood III (D-Detroit) expressed concern that no one involved with the bill in front of the committee had talked about the legislation with him prior to the meeting.

But then Mr. Hood saw his opportunity and said, “We could talk about the Lions and the Packers and the records.”

A chagrined Mr. Casperson responded, “We need to move to the next subject.”

If, and it is an almost comical if to ponder, the Lions somehow end their 22-game losing streak in Wisconsin this year when the two teams meet October 6, Mr. Casperson could be in for a rough week at the Capitol.

Rating The Mackinac Speeches From Thune, Walker, Jindal, Paul
Posted: September, 22 2013 11:17 AM

MACKINAC ISLAND – Republican attendees at the weekend’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference got a good dose of what four potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates have to offer with speeches from South Dakota U.S. Sen. John Thune, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

THUNE: Mr. Thune’s Friday night speech wandered at times. He was at his best when telling his family story of how they immigrated to the United States and arrived in South Dakota and discussing how amazed his grandfather would be to see a grandson in the U.S. Senate. He offered some alternatives for health care to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And Mr. Thune delivered the standard denunciation of President Barack Obama. He also gave a shout-out to Republican senatorial candidate Terri Land.

But Mr. Thune never really seemed to get the room going. He also gets docked a few points for pronouncing Mecosta County “Mecotta County” although at least he had the good sense to ask as soon as he said it if he pronounced it right. It also felt awkward when he referred to Mackinac Island as sitting at the confluence of lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior. I guess it needs to be said – Mackinac Island is in Lake Huron although one could get away with saying it sits at the confluence of lakes Huron and Michigan given how close it is to the Mackinac Bridge. The channel connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron is about 80 miles to the east.

WALKER: For the first part of Mr. Walker’s speech, he was on a roll and he had the crowd really fired up. Mr. Walker, thanks to his state’s proximity to Michigan, could inject lots of local flair, mentioning the University of Wisconsin’s rivalries with the University of Michigan and Michigan State University in sports. He thanked all the Michigan Republicans who helped him withstand a recall attempt. And as a hero in Republican circles for taking on unions in Wisconsin, he had the crowd roaring when he discussed how he framed the recall as a question of who do voters want in charge, union bosses or taxpayers.

But it felt like Mr. Walker went on too long. The first 10-15 minutes was so taut. The last 10-15 minutes was not weak, but suffered from duration and the crowd, awaiting the arrival of lunch once he finished his speech, seemed to flatten a bit.

JINDAL: Mr. Jindal clearly won the ear test. He had the crowd surging with applause, laughs and cheers throughout. He heavily tailored his message to education and the importance of school choice. He bashed teachers unions, telling anecdotes of them opposing change. He got some laughs by retelling the story of how his father cold called through the Yellow Pages to find a job after immigrating to the United States. The speech was taut and never felt long even though attendees were awaiting their dinners.

PAUL: Mr. Paul had the most fans at the conference, as seen in his victory in the Decider Strategies/Gongwer News Service straw poll of possible 2016 presidential candidates, and he got a ton of applause. Mr. Paul has more of an easy-breezy style. Instead of speaking at the lectern, he picked up the microphone and moved around on the stage. He retold Jimmy Kimmel jokes. He mounted a defense of the sequester. And he riffed through some silly spending items in the federal budget.

Speaking of which, if Mr. Paul does run, and North Dakota’s nominating caucus or primary matters, he is going to have to answer for his mocking of Fargo, North Dakota, receiving $8 million in homeland security funds. "If the terrorists get to Fargo, we might as well surrender," he said.

Mr. Paul’s speech was a bit all over the place, but he seemed to have the crowd with him the whole time although the applause was a little more hesitant when he called for the end of mandatory-minimum drug sentences.

Just One Glitch In Snyder Pseudo-Campaign Declaration
Posted: September, 21 2013 11:04 AM

MACKINAC ISLAND – Governor Rick Snyder’s near announcement of his plan to run for re-election was almost seamless.

Mr. Snyder delivered probably the best political speech of his career, departing from his standard talking points about the work of his administration, testing out some new lines, and showing some genuine fire. There was some speculation about how the conservative crowd would greet Mr. Snyder on the heels of his controversial support of Medicaid expansion, but the crowd roared for Mr. Snyder and chanted “four more years.”

Mr. Snyder’s campaign committee also debuted a new video from media guru Fred Davis, the man behind Mr. Snyder’s famous Super Bowl ad in 2010 that labeled Mr. Snyder “one tough nerd.” The new video, “One Successful Nerd,” is slickly done and packages Mr. Snyder’s record well.

But, and you knew that was coming, there was one real shortcoming with the video. It opened with the first few seconds of the “One Tough Nerd” ad that paraded images of several Michigan politicians with the narrator condemning them as “career politicians.”

Among those figures criticized in the ad besides the usual Democratic targets like former Governor Jennifer Granholm and convicted ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick were two Republicans – former Attorney General Mike Cox and Oakland Sheriff Mike Bouchard, two of Mr. Snyder’s 2010 rivals – and Treasurer Andy Dillon, then the Democratic House speaker running for governor.

The goal of running the clip clearly was to show Mr. Snyder declaring “It’s time for a nerd” after the narrator says Michigan has tried career politicians and happy talk as a reminder of his original message. But in the process, it pokes two fellow Republicans and knocks one of the key members of Mr. Snyder’s administration.

A Different Atmosphere As GOP Mackinac Conference Opens
Posted: September, 20 2013 3:39 PM

MACKINAC ISLAND – It’s no secret that the Michigan Republican Party is undergoing an intraparty battle over its future, and that was on display before even arriving at the party’s biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.

While flipping radio stations on the drive north from Lansing, I came across the “Your Defending Fathers” radio show that is a tea party staple in northern Michigan and generally reviled by establishment Republicans for the invective it often displays toward them.

One of the subjects du jour are comments made by longtime (establishment) Republican strategist Greg McNeilly in today’s Detroit News (similar to comments he also made this week in Gongwer News Service) mocking tea party Republicans for failing to deliver on a promise to produce a primary challenger to Governor Rick Snyder on the first day of the Mackinac conference.

Mr. McNeilly called them “bloviating magpies” too “cowardly” to fight real Republicans on the electoral battlefield.

What was notable about the discussion on the radio show is that they seemed to have no idea who Mr. McNeilly is.

Mr. McNeilly is the longtime political staffer for Betsy and Dick DeVos, who have been instrumental figures in the Michigan Republican Party for decades, directing millions of their wealth into it. They mocked him as a johnny-come-lately to the right-to-work movement, asserting it was the tea party that forced the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder to pass those laws last year.

In fact, there probably was no one person who did more to make right-to-work law than Mr. DeVos. And where Mr. DeVos goes, Mr. McNeilly is right there as well.

The discussion highlights that the battle for control of the state party now is generational -- political, not in age. The tea party Republicans have become active only in the past four to five years. For them, it matters not what the DeVoses, McNeillys and others in the party did in the past, only on who is on what side of the issues of the day now.

10 Years Later, Mackinac Conference Looks Good For Land
Posted: September, 19 2013 2:30 PM

Ten years ago, I covered my first Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, the biennial hobnobbing, networking and rah-rah event the Michigan Republican Party hosts on Mackinac Island for activists to prepare for the next year’s elections.

This weekend, I’ll be there again. And the weekend should be much different, in a better way, for Terri Land than it was in 2003.

Today, Ms. Land is the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. That came after a bit of a messy weeding out process after some Republicans tried mightily to recruit someone else into the race, like U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) or U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton). Despite some initial misgivings in the party about nominating Ms. Land for a rare open U.S. Senate seat, most in the party have now embraced her as a solid candidate. She can look forward to an enthusiastic reaction at the Grand Hotel.

Ten years ago, Ms. Land had a rough weekend. She was a little more than eight months into her tenure as secretary of state. Mike Cox had been attorney general for the same amount of time, and with Democrat Jennifer Granholm in the governor’s office, Mr. Cox and Ms. Land became rivals in the party.

Mr. Cox got a prime speaking slot at Friday night’s dinner. The huge Grand Hotel dining room was jammed to hear from Lynne Cheney, wife of then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cox gave a speech in which he aggressively went after Ms. Granholm, received a thunderous reaction from activists and got considerable coverage in the news media.

Ms. Land was relegated to a Sunday brunch speech when half the conference attendees already were beating a path to the ferry docks to head home. The dining room was nowhere near full, and I can still remember the awkward moment when the speaker before Ms. Land concluded and several activists, having finished their meals and not wanting to leave in the middle of someone speaking, got up and left just before Ms. Land arrived at the podium.

But this weekend, Ms. Land can attend knowing the party’s U.S. Senate nomination is virtually hers, that she no longer is an up-and-comer trying to prove she can handle that type of task. That should mean a much more attentive audience when she addresses it as opposed to what happened 10 years ago.

Several Republicans Appear Fed Up With Courser
Posted: September, 13 2013 11:54 AM

Todd Courser, the Lapeer tea party activist who nearly upset Bobby Schostak for state Republican Party chair earlier this year, has gone from the object of mild irritation among establishment Republicans to one of fury.

The watershed moment came this week. On Wednesday – September 11, the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania – Mr. Courser sent an email to his supporters, Republican activists and others criticizing Governor Rick Snyder, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township) and other unnamed Republicans for selling out the party’s beliefs. The email was entitled “Who is primarying the governor?”

I’ll now pause for a digression. “Primary” is not a verb! Yet it has somehow entered the political lexicon, e.g. “Snyder needs to be primaried” and “Who is primarying the governor?” I am delighted to report the spellcheck on my machine is highlighting those three grammatical embarrassments in red to note that using primary as a verb is wrong. You hear me? Wrong!

Now that I have gotten that out of my system, back to Mr. Courser.

“Leadership in the Republican Party has been complicit in the downward spiral of our country, state and party,” he wrote. “We need to be the party of fiscal responsibility, personal liberty, limited government and protectors of the unborn. We have become a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde party that the electorate has become distrustful of.”

Somewhat oddly, Mr. Courser in the span of a few sentences acknowledged some have asked him to challenge Mr. Snyder in the Republican primary and scoffed at the idea, hinting at the unrealistic prospect of unseating a sitting Republican governor in the primary, yet also refused to rule out the concept.

He then went after Mr. Snyder, Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Ms. Miller.

“Our governor increases taxes and supports Obamacare; the lieutenant governor helped pass Medicaid Expansion; and state legislators taxed our seniors,” he said. “Some of our own Republican congressional representatives like Candice Miller, voted for the stimulus, TARP, and CIPSA. No wonder the GOP has a branding issue. We have a bunch of undocumented democrats in our party.”

The next day, Mr. Courser, to paraphrase The Lemonheads, kinda, shoulda, sorta apologized to Ms. Miller, acknowledging Ms. Miller had actually voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program and President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan. But he said she voted for subsequent legislation that tacitly endorsed those programs, making the issue, in his view, one of semantics.

Many Republicans have avoided confronting Mr. Courser about his screeds, but several tore into him via their social media accounts after this one, signaling that while the party wants to continue to embrace the rank-and-file tea party activists, several long-time conservative Republican establishment types are prepared to take on individual figures that they think are becoming a destructive force.

Stu Sandler, a conservative Republican consultant who has worked for many Republicans, such as Mr. Schostak, without criticizing Mr. Courser by name, first posted that Wednesday was not the day for mass emails and political criticisms, but should be one of reflection on the events of September 11, 2001. After Mr. Courser sent his second message the next day “apologizing” to Ms. Miller, Mr. Sandler was more critical.

“My issue with Todd A. Courser's email yesterday wasn't just that he falsely attacked a good conservative Candice Miller, my main issue was he sent out an email attacking several conservatives on September 11,” he wrote. “That's not the day for political attacks. And don't attack a good conservative like Candice Miller and lie about her record. If Courser ever decides which of the 6 offices he will run for, I hope he uses better political judgment than he did yesterday.”

Last night, Republican former Rep. Chris Ward launched a spectacular sarcastic thrashing of Mr. Courser on his Facebook page.

“Let's face it, the selling out started out with Lincoln, the man had no respect for state's rights,” Mr. Ward wrote. “Then Teddy Roosevelt....he turned his back on us and private property rights and now we are saddled with these monstrosities called national parks. The Grand Canyon is not serving the cause of free enterprise. No it is costing us taxpayers....probably millions of dollars a year!

“Oh...and the regulations....I mean if want my 8 year old to work 14 hour shifts that's my right. Don't get me started on Mr. Big Government Dwight Eisenhower with his interstate highway system. Talk about saddling us with debt. We all know the Constitution does not say ‘interstate highway system’...turncoat! The so called ‘conservative’ Barry Goldwater comes out for gay rights and abortion on demand-puke! Worst of all our hero...the preacher of the gospel Ronald Wilson Reagan signed the largest tax increase up until that point in history in 1986...just another RINO. Snyder, Brian Calley, Candace Miller...they are just more of the same old story....Thank God we have real leaders like you.”

There’s been a ton of talk about whether the Republican Party is embroiled in a “civil war.” Both the establishment and tea party sides have dismissed that talk, preferring terms like competition of ideas (as Lt. Governor Brian Calley called it) and “intense fellowship” (Mr. Courser’s language).

But it does seem the establishment is ready to declare war on Mr. Courser.

Moment Of Truth Coming In ’14 For Tea Party, State GOP
Posted: September, 5 2013 3:56 PM

By the time August 2014 is over, we should know once and for all whether the tea party movement has fully seized control of the Michigan Republican Party or remains a relatively bit player when it comes to winning key offices.

Two important stories, maybe more, will come out of the August 5 primary.

The first one is whether any tea party-oriented challengers succeeded in toppling a House or Senate Republican incumbent.

Considering that no Senate Republican incumbent has lost in a primary since 1986 and that any recent House Republican incumbent losses in a primary resulted mainly from a personal scandal, any victory by a challenger would be huge. The incumbent will have all the institutional Republican backing, including Right to Life of Michigan, a big financial advantage and in most cases longtime relationships with other Republicans in his or her area that a challenger would have to overcome.

Then there will be the open seats in safely Republican areas to monitor because no incumbent is running. There is a big movement of well-known tea party activists running for the House in these seats (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 2, 2013) and some of them need to win to show tea party-affiliated candidates can compete in legislative Republican primaries.

So far, the tea party has just three standout victories in primaries. Now-Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township) came out of nowhere to win the 7th Senate District in 2010, defeating three other candidates, none of whom was very strong. Also in 2010, now-U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls) and now-U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) defeated establishment Republicans in their primaries.

But that’s it. Several from the tea party world have tried to run for the Legislature and gotten utterly crushed in the Republican primary. Jason Gillman, who runs the RightMichigan blog, which has declared “war” against the GOP because of the Medicaid expansion vote, got posterized in challenging Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) in the 2012 Republican primary in the 104th House District.

“Trucker” Randy Bishop, a rabble-rouser tea party activist who has drawn the ire of many currently elected Republicans with his tactics, as well as scrutiny for a criminal record. He threw his hat into the ring against now-Sen. Howard Walker (R-Traverse City) in the 2010 Republican primary for the 37th Senate District when Mr. Walker was a former member of the House and establishment favorite. Mr. Walker won by almost 30 percentage points.

An ally of Mr. Bishop’s, Al Bain, ran against Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) that same year and got pulverized.

In the 21st Senate District in 2010, now-Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph) crushed another tea party activist, Todd Griffee, this time by a 3-to-1 margin. One of the leading tea party voices in Michigan, Todd Courser, ran for the 25th Senate District in 2010, and while he finished a respectable second, the combined vote of the establishment candidates in the race topped his by 2-to-1.

The area where tea party activists have shown some success is party conventions. All indications show that tea party groups have succeeded in electing their people to precinct delegate slots and then exercising enough control at county conventions to dominate the election of delegates to the state convention. That’s why so many Republicans are concerned about Lt. Governor Brian Calley, who faces a challenge to renomination at next year’s convention, which will likely be in late August.

But with all the trash talk in recent days from high-profile tea party activists – calls to grab pitchforks and torches as well as RINO hunting to target Republicans in Name Only in the wake of the Republican-led Legislature passing Medicaid expansion – taking down Mr. Calley would still not confirm their ascendancy in state Republican politics.

For that to happen, they will have to start showing they can succeed in primary politics, not just convention politics.

End Of The Road On Roads
Posted: August, 30 2013 3:34 PM

None of the major leaders at the Capitol is declaring efforts to raise more money for roads dead, but as of today it appears more and more that Governor Rick Snyder’s efforts on the issue will go into the loss column.

The fresh evidence that Mr. Snyder’s efforts to raise $1.2 billion will go for naught despite a big push by the business and transportation sectors comes from a variety of places.

For one, Mr. Snyder had a telling comment last week during a televised town hall in Grand Rapids when he said it was unclear whether the public agreed about the need. It is rare to hear Mr. Snyder concede a point of that nature.

But by all accounts, he is right. The public does not seem worked up about the state of Michigan’s roads, unlike in the 1990s where the frustration level eventually prompted a 4-cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax in 1997. Polling continues to show no appetite for any of the obvious plans to raise revenue.

Then there is the political terrain. The Legislature is about to conclude a bruising, stressful effort to pass Medicaid expansion that has created a bitter internecine battle in the Republican Party. Tea party activists want to purge Republicans from office who in some way supported the Medicaid bill, HB 4714.

Sen. Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw Township), head of a special committee on infrastructure issues, acknowledged trying to pass a roads plan now on the heels of the Medicaid fight has become more difficult. He thought about the reaction of his local Republicans if a big push came to raise taxes for roads. He joked that while he is term limited and not running again in 2014, he would also like to remain among the living.

In the past month, Mr. Snyder and the Legislative Quadrant have been meeting privately on roads and trying to see if there is any common ground. But the reality is that doing anything would likely entail putting the proposal before voters sometime next year, and already House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) has said that probably will not work (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 20, 2013) for a variety of reasons.

It’s not just roads that could be a casualty of the Medicaid fight. One lobbyist told me that he is advising his clients that any legislation involving a heavy lift probably will have to wait until the post-election lame-duck session in 2014 and the goal now is to try to position an issue so that it is ripe for action then.

Only time will tell if that’s the case, and both House and Senate Republican spokespersons have said they expect an active fall agenda.

But as far as the roads issue, it’s worth recalling what backers of raising money for roads said when Mr. Snyder mounted his big push in his January State of the State address.

The goal had to be action before the Legislature recessed for the summer in June, otherwise 2014 political realities would take hold and prove insurmountable, they said. The current predicament of the roads issue shows that prediction was anything but rhetoric.

Drama On Medicaid Vote Is Why House Lets Votes Last Indefinitely
Posted: August, 28 2013 2:04 PM

Many people, including me, have lamented for years about the voting procedures in the Michigan House Representatives compared to their colleagues on the south side of the Capitol, the Michigan Senate.

The Senate uses a “shot clock” on all votes of one minute. The vote cannot be stopped and once that minute ends, the vote goes into the Senate record.

When a bill or amendment or other issue comes up for a vote in the House, leadership can let the vote last as long as it wants, even hours, until midnight arrives at which point the chamber must adjourn for the day. I have seen several instances where a controversial measure goes up on the voting board in the House and the vote lasts for hours. And leadership can always clear the voting board to end the vote without the vote going on record.

In one example (and over the decades there are many), in 1998, then-Governor John Engler was trying to win approval of casino compacts with American Indian tribes. For three straight days, House leaders put the resolution to adopt the compacts up for a vote. The first day, the voting board was open for an hour, the second day there were two votes lasting more than three hours and the final day it took keeping the board open nearly two hours to finally adopt the resolution.

It was maddening. Many of us wished the House would get a shot clock like the Senate even though most of its votes last one to two minutes or so.

Well, the drama that unfolded Tuesday in the Senate on Medicaid expansion shows the pitfalls of the Senate approach. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) put the bill (HB 4714*) up on the board for a vote, thinking he had the 20 votes he needed.

But when the minute expired, shock arose throughout the Capitol. The vote was 19-18, one vote short of passage after Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) surprised everyone with a no vote.

The Senate went into a tense recess. Three hours later, Mr. Casperson voted yes and the bill passed 20-18.

Had the Senate been using the House rules, Mr. Richardville would have walked over to Mr. Casperson during the vote, asked what the problem was and worked through the issue. Leadership could have left the voting board open until Mr. Casperson switched to a yes or cleared it and come back for a new vote later while negotiations took place. That would have been much less dramatic than the Senate voting to reject the bill.

For many years, the House has been known as the messier body than the Senate with three times the number of members, most of whom have less legislative experience than the senators, and its sometimes long votes. But that was not the case last night.

An Odd News Release From the NRSC On Peters
Posted: August, 27 2013 12:49 PM

Surely, the Republicans have credible talking points they will emphasize as they hope to defeat U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) in the 2014 race for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat, but the one they are circulating today is flat-out strange.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the U.S. Senate Republicans, issued a news release mocking Mr. Peters for a news conference he attended Monday announcing the start of a ramped up effort to raze blighted structures in Detroit. On Saturday, Republicans waged a door-to-door effort to make the case against Mr. Peters and tie him to Detroit’s struggles.

“These volunteers made the case that Congressman Gary Peters – who represents Detroit – has been invisible and done little as the city and her people fight tooth and nail to survive,” the news release said. “The result? Gary Peters panicked and held a press conference to talk about Detroit – yet still failed to offer any coherent solutions to help struggling residents of Detroit or the city itself.”

Wait, what?

The news conference in question was one announced and led by Republican Governor Rick Snyder because it is the Michigan State Housing Development Authority administering the funding provided by the federal government to combat blight. The governor’s communications office sent out an advisory about it at 4:45 p.m. Friday, and in the photo used in the release by the NRSC, you can see Mr. Snyder sitting in the background behind Mr. Peters.

Clearly Republicans will try to tie Mr. Peters to having part of his district in Detroit and attach blame to him for the city’s severe difficulties. Mr. Peters, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and the eventual Republican nominee, will debate that argument like any other point in a political campaign.

But to say Mr. Peters “panicked and held a press conference” in response to Saturday’s GOP door-to-door efforts? That must be news to Mr. Snyder and his communications office.

The Grand Ledge Connection In Speed Limit Issue
Posted: August, 23 2013 11:46 AM

Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) is getting ready to lead the charge to raise the speed limit on most Michigan highways to 75 mph, even 80 mph in some spots, and while the issue fits with Mr. Jones’ penchant for championing splashy issues, there is some irony considering his hometown.

Gongwer News Service first reported Mr. Jones’ discussions with the Department of State Police about preparing legislation to raise the speed limit on Michigan expressways for the first time since 1996 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 15, 2013).

Going back to that debate, the lead legislator arguing against raising the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph was then-Rep. Frank Fitzgerald, a Republican, who like Mr. Jones also lived in Grand Ledge. I was covering the Capitol for The State News, the Michigan State University student-run newspaper, and Mr. Fitzgerald’s passion on the issue was unmatched.

Back then, Mr. Fitzgerald said he was willing to support increasing the speed limit to 70 mph if the Legislature also passed legislation making it a primary offense not to wear a safety belt. At the time, it was a secondary offense, meaning people could only receive a ticket if police pulled them over for another offense. The Legislature balked at making it a primary offense and passed the speed limit increase without the change in seat belt enforcement.

In 1999, with Mr. Fitzgerald no longer in the House because of term limits, the Legislature took the step he had so strongly supported, making it a primary offense not to wear a seat belt starting in 2000.

I wish I could ask Mr. Fitzgerald for his thoughts on the idea of raising the speed limit to 75 or 80 mph, but sadly, he died at 49 in 2004, and in my nearly 11 years of covering the Capitol I can’t recall a moment that left so many people so stunned and devastated because of his age and how universally respected he was (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 10, 2004).

In any case, Mr. Jones’ interest in speed limits given Mr. Fitzgerald’s past role on the issue is an interesting twist for the city just west of Lansing named for its location on the Grand River and popular rock ledges.

The Politics Of The Detroit Mayoral Mess
Posted: August, 21 2013 1:38 PM

One of the names that has circulated as a possible Democratic secretary of state candidate for 2014 is Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, but in the wake of Detroit election workers improperly tallying write-in ballots in the city’s mayoral primary, Ms. Winfrey’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination have taken a hit.

Another name occasionally floated as a Democratic secretary of state candidate, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett, also has taken some damage from the situation.

Now, it is early to assign blame to either clerk, and the facts have yet to fully be sorted out. However, there is no question the politics of the situation hurt both Ms. Garrett and Ms. Winfrey as far as any aspirations they may have for higher office. Should one of them ever become the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, I can guarantee the Republicans will run an ad prominently featuring today’s Detroit Free Press front page with the huge headline “MAYOR COUNT IN CHAOS” (with the headline in all capital letters).

Nominating either Ms. Garrett or Ms. Winfrey already would have presented some problems for the Democrats because it is difficult to imagine any Detroit or Wayne County elected official winning a statewide election given both governments’ current predicament – the city filing for bankruptcy, the county in major financial difficulty, ongoing corruption trials and investigations of both governments and dysfunction in seemingly every city service. Neither clerk is directly involved in those matters, but this is politics and opponents brand you guilty by association.

Until Monday – when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers revealed the oversight in the tallying process by city election workers – the Detroit clerk’s office under Ms. Winfrey essentially was unblemished.

After the unknown Ms. Winfrey ousted Jackie Currie in a huge upset in 2005, the math teacher swiftly repaired what had been a troubled operation. Among the many snafus was the 2002 primary where it took days for the city to complete its count. Detroit for several years now completes it count well ahead of many suburbs and outstate jurisdictions that keep the state waiting well past midnight for results.

State Elections Director Chris Thomas, who had to deal with all the problems Ms. Currie’s tenure involved, backed Ms. Winfrey during a conference call Wednesday with reporters and said her office has run a good election day operation.

Ms. Garrett has the lower profile post as the county clerk and until now there has not been a major snafu that I can recall in her more than 12 years on the job with how her office has handled elections. Her office has come under criticism for other aspects of its operations, and other county Democrats have quietly grumbled about her, but as the sister of Al Garrett, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, no one significant has ever dared challenge her in the Democratic primary.

Ms. Garrett does not seem to harbor any interest in higher office, but Ms. Winfrey did try for secretary of state in 2010, losing the battle for the Democratic nomination to Jocelyn Benson. If Ms. Garrett was hoping to make the leap or Ms. Winfrey had hopes of another try, Democrats would be taking a big risk in nominating either.

Looking At The Capitol’s Top Political Dynasties
Posted: August, 20 2013 2:34 PM

At least two spouses are running for the House to succeed their term-limited husbands in 2014, part of a long-running tradition in Michigan politics, so what better time to consider the top currently active political dynasties in the Capitol.

Now the question is whether Nancy Crawford, wife of Rep. Hugh Crawford (R-Novi), and Erika Geiss, wife of Rep. Doug Geiss (D-Taylor), can join this list.

7. The Switalskis: One of the top names in Macomb County politics has been in the Legislature since 1999 when Mickey Switalski after he won his first term in the House. He joined the Senate in 2003, serving through 2010. Mr. Switalski’s cousin, Rep. Jon Switalski (D-Warren) won a House seat in 2008 as well as re-election in 2010 and 2012. But he cannot run again in 2014 because of term limits, so the family’s 16-year streak is in jeopardy.

6. The Stamases: Like the Switalskis, the Stamas family has a 16-year streak of continuous service. Tony Stamas served in the House from 1999-2002, then in the Senate from 2003-10 and is now chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe). Tony’s brother, House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas (R-Midland), has served in the House since 2009 and cannot seek re-election because of term limits. The expectation is that Jim will run for his area’s Senate seat once term limits prevents Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland) from seeking re-election in 2018.

5. The Kowalls: Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake Township) and husband Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township) get points for congruity as only the second husband and wife to serve concurrently in the Legislature in modern times. Mr. Kowall served in the House from 1999-2002 and began his first term in the Senate in 2011. Ms. Kowall has served in the House since 2009.

4. The Stallworths: This dynasty goes back to the 1970s and was revived with Rep. Thomas Stallworth (D-Detroit) winning his first term in 2010 and a second term in 2012. Prior to Thomas, there was his mother, former Rep. Alma Stallworth in 2003-04. Preceding Alma was her son and Thomas’ brother, Keith, from 1997-2002. Then prior to Keith, Alma served from 1971-74 and from 1982-96. There has been a Stallworth serving for 29 of the last 43 years.

3. The Smiths: Sen. Virgil Smith (D-Detroit) served in the House from 2003-08 and joined the Senate in 2011. His father, Virgil C. Smith Jr. (the son is Virgil K. Smith), served in the House from 1977-88 and the Senate from 1988-2000. There has been a member of this family in the Legislature for 32 of the last 36 years.

2. The Hoods: Sen. Morris Hood III (D-Detroit), his father, the late Rep. Morris Hood Jr. and Senator Hood’s uncle, the late Rep. Ray Hood Sr., have a combined 44 years of service in the Legislature between them. Ray served in the House from 1965-82. His brother, Morris Jr., served from 1971-98. Morris III served in the House from 2003-08 and joined the Senate in 2011. A Hood has served in the Legislature for 44 of the last 48 years.

1. The Roccas: This is by far the longest continuous active dynasty at the Capitol. Sen. Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights) is keeping up the family business in his first term in the Senate. He served in the House from 2005-10. Prior to Tory, his father, Sal, served from 2001-04. Prior to Sal, Tory’s mother and Sal’s wife, Sue, served from 1995-2000. And prior to Sue – stay with me here – Sal had a long run from 1975-94 although he missed the 1981-82 term after losing re-election in 1980 and winning a return in 1982. There has been a Rocca serving in the Legislature for 30 consecutive years and 35 of the last 37.

T-Minus 15 Days On Bolger-Schmidt Grand Jury
Posted: August, 8 2013 3:27 PM

From May through August in 2012, it seemed there were new and significant developments almost daily into the election scandal stemming from then-Rep. Roy Schmidt’s move to leave the Democratic Party and file for re-election as a Republican minutes before the deadline to file, leaving his former party without a candidate.

Then, on August 28, 2012, the Ingham County Circuit Court empaneled a one-person grand jury to investigate whether any crimes were committed in the circumstances surrounding Mr. Schmidt’s party switch and subsequent recruitment of family friend Matt Mojzak to file as a straw Democratic candidate. The presence of Mr. Mojzak on the ballot was designed to make it difficult for local Democrats to nominate a legitimate Democrat as a write-in to run against Mr. Schmidt.

Grand juries operate in secret with severe penalties for leaks. So since then, little has emerged about what is happening other than that Ingham Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, serving as the grand juror, in February granting the allowed one-time six-month extension for the grand jury. She has two special prosecutors working the case, Mike Ferency, a former Ingham County assistant prosecutor, and John Smietanka, the former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan and the Republican nominee for attorney general in 1994 and 1998.

What is known is that Mr. Mojzak made two false statements on his affidavit of identity when he filed to run before eventually withdrawing. He claimed to live at a residence in the 76th House District when he did not, and he claimed to have lived in Kent County for 22 years when he had not.

But the intense interest in the scandal was never about Mr. Mojzak, a body-builder and friend of Mr. Mojzak’s son and nephew. The big question about the grand jury probe is whether it could lead to criminal charges for House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and Mr. Schmidt, whom now-Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) ousted in the 2012 elections after the scandal incinerated his political career. Mr. Bolger and Mr. Schmidt personally mapped out the party switch and the strategy for a straw candidate.

Mr. Bolger has said Mr. Schmidt told him the person running as a Democrat was above-board. Mr. Schmidt has said his son and nephew had assured him that Mr. Mojzak lived in the district and met all legal qualifications to run.

Ms. Aquilina has significant Democratic connections, having once served as an aide to a Democratic state senator and run for the Senate as a Democrat. Republicans had mostly held off criticism of her until her recent rulings in the Detroit bankruptcy case in which she sided with unions and ruled Governor Rick Snyder had violated the Constitution in allowing Detroit to file for bankruptcy. What really seemed to irritate the GOP was her unorthodox decision to send a copy of her ruling to President Barack Obama.

If Ms. Aquilina levies charges against Mr. Bolger, it seems certain Republicans will deride her as a partisan although Mr. Smietanka’s involvement would help blunt that sentiment.

The last day for the grand jury is August 22 although there is no reason Ms. Aquilina could not wrap it up before then.

Until then, we wait and keep an ever-close eye on our email inboxes.

In the meantime, you can watch this security footage Gongwer obtained from a secretary of state branch office in Grand Rapids of Mr. Mojzak and Mr. Schmidt meeting clandestinely to discuss the plan before it fell apart.

Sprucing Up Michigan’s Rest Areas
Posted: July, 26 2013 2:04 PM

Thursday’s announcement by the Department of Transportation that it is seeking to gauge the level of interest in public-private partnerships to upgrade two of its highway rest areas means perhaps the department is ready to move into the 1990s modern times when it comes to the state’s rest areas.

For if Michigan is famous for its lakes and automobiles, having some of the vilest rest areas in the national highway system also is something with which Michiganders are all too familiar.

If you travel mainly in Michigan, you know that its rest areas often stink, are generally dirty and reveal that an astonishing number of people apparently have an allergy to flushing the toilet.

A few years ago, returning from a trip to Ohio, after getting spoiled from the rest areas along the I-80/I-90 Ohio turnpike – which are clean, new and sport many restaurant options – we had to make a stop at a rest area after crossing into Michigan. My horrified wife reported that most of the ladies room toilets were, uh, full, showing that men do not hold a monopoly on this flushing allergy thing.

She overheard another woman and her daughter surveying the gruesome scene in which the mother said something to the effect of, “Well, you know we’re back in Michigan now.”

The move to upgrade rest areas also is a reversal from the department’s move to shutter some lately. We frequently make the drive between metro Detroit and our home in East Lansing, and losing the rest area on westbound I-96 near Howell was a big loss since our 5-year-old always seems to need a pit stop about halfway through the drive.

Now, to be fair, the Department of Transportation did in the last couple years raze and rebuild the rest area on westbound I-96 just east of Okemos, and it actually is a major improvement. There’s even family restrooms! I was recently driving back from the Detroit area with my two young daughters and that was a lifesaver when one of them needed a stop.

So if the Department of Transportation's move means that Michigan rest areas might take on the cleanliness and practicality of those along the Ohio Turnpike or the oases in Illinois, both of which feature counter-service restaurants and gas stations, huzzah.

In the meantime, please people, flush the dang toilet.

A Disagreement Between Judge Rhodes, Michigan Supreme Court
Posted: July, 22 2013 4:04 PM

Here’s a footnote to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes’ appointment as the judge to oversee the city of Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing: He and the Michigan Supreme Court once had a bit of a run-in, in judicial terms.

Oh, it was nothing like the game of beanball the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox played recently although the idea of robed judges leaving their benches in a melee over a judicial disagreement is amusing.

No, in 2006, while Mr. Rhodes was the chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected a request from the bankruptcy court to decide a controversial and important question on mortgage foreclosures.

The question the federal court certified to the Michigan Supreme Court was when a mortgage is deemed recorded if the county register of deeds does not maintain an entry book as required by state statute. In his state of the court speech in 2006, Mr. Rhodes said the court had about 90 proceedings in which the cases hinged on that question.

But the Michigan Supreme Court, in an October 20, 2006, order denied the request on a 6-1 vote.

Justice Robert Young Jr. and former Justice Maura Corrigan, now the director of the Department of Human Services, scoffed at the request in separate concurring opinions that took the same tack.

“In effect, this court is being asked to create extra-statutory rules regarding property priority claims,” Mr. Young wrote. “Given that our Legislature has prescribed how such priorities are to be resolved, the request essentially requires this court to write a new priority statute. This is a task better suited to the legislative process.”

Mr. Rhodes, in his state of the court speech, was less than pleased with that logic.

“The problem with those views is that our certification did not ask the court to fix anything; indeed, I am pretty sure that trustees don’t want the problem fixed!” he said. “Rather, our certification asked for a resolution of an issue of state property law that, under principles of federalism and comity, we thought it was best to let the state court resolve, and that is necessary to resolve 90 real cases. Now this important issue of state property law will have to be decided by the federal courts.”

Democratic Reaction To Detroit Bankruptcy Varies Wildly
Posted: July, 19 2013 11:48 AM

Depending on which Democrat is doing the talking, Governor Rick Snyder’s authorization of Detroit to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy either showed he deceived voters about his intentions for Detroit or represented a grim but necessary step to repair the city.

Former Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said it well when he posted this comment from his Twitter account Thursday: “Fascinating political calculus in the reaction of each elected official and candidate to Detroit's bankruptcy filing.”

At the Capitol, the two Democratic legislative leaders offered starkly different takes.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing called the news disappointing, but a signal for the state to unify behind its largest city.

“This is not a time to point fingers, but a time to work toward solutions that guarantee the progress being made within the city of Detroit will not only continue, but accelerate," she said on her Facebook page.

About the same time, House Minority Leader Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills criticized those responsible for Detroit’s predicament from his Twitter account.

Bankruptcy could have been avoided if past and present city officials had shown more leadership, if Mr. Snyder acted sooner and if Republicans had not cut revenue sharing aid to local governments, Mr. Greimel said.

“By choosing bankruptcy, Kevyn Orr and Gov. Snyder have put the people and the property of Detroit in harm’s way – including vital city services, hard-earned pensions and cultural treasures,” he said. “Also, bankruptcy will likely negatively impact credit ratings.”

Top AFL-CIO leaders in Michigan accused Mr. Snyder of deceptively putting an emergency manager in charge of the city instead of leaving elected officials in charge and letting them file for bankruptcy.

Yet no less a Michigan Democratic icon and lifelong Detroiter as U.S. Sen. Carl Levin said while the bankruptcy filing saddened him, he also acknowledged it was necessary.

The top two Democratic candidates for office in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, who is running for governor, and U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, who is running for U.S. Senate, did not issue statements about the announcement.

Legislators who represent Detroit also reacted differently. Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park) called out Mr. Snyder for previous comments in 2011 insisting he would not allow Detroit to go into bankruptcy. Mr. Johnson said the bankruptcy action was regrettable.

But Rep. David Nathan (D-Detroit) said the city should have been allowed to file for bankruptcy a long time ago, calling it the only solution to the city’s financial problems.

Byrnes Congressional Bid Could Have Spillover Effect
Posted: July, 18 2013 12:45 PM

The surprise announcement today from former Rep. Pam Byrnes (D-Chelsea) that she is running for the 7th U.S. House District against U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) has implications beyond signaling that Mr. Walberg will not get a pass for re-election like he did in 2012 from the Democrats.

The presence of Ms. Byrnes and a credible congressional bid should have Democrats smiling throughout southern Michigan, where a slew of hotly competitive state legislative seats reside. With 2014 a mid-term year, a cycle when Democratic turnout traditionally suffers compared to presidential years, Democrats need every tool available to ensure their voters show up.

First-term Democrats in competitive seats like Rep. Theresa Abed of Grand Ledge and Rep. Gretchen Driskell of Saline will be seeking re-election in a tougher environment than they did in 2012. Both live in the 7th and will benefit from Ms. Byrnes’ bid, especially if national Democratic money pours into the seat.

The 17th Senate District in Lenawee and Monroe counties looms as the most competitive Senate race in the state in 2014. It is fully contained within the 7th.

The 56th House District held by Rep. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) will be up for grabs with Mr. Zorn running for the 17th Senate District. It also is fully within the 7th U.S. House District. Another seat that could see spillover implications is the 57th House District unless Democrats decide not to press Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton) for a third and final term.

Democrats are making noises about going after Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), who has part of his district in the 7th.

To aid Mr. Walberg, Republicans will surely match whatever Democrats pour into the district. But Republicans have a better track record of turning out in mid-term elections than Democrats and thus less room for growth, so if more Democratic energy results in better Democratic turnout, that could make for an especially intense 2014 cycle in the southeastern-most portion of the state.

National Pundits Putting Increasing Focus On Mich. Gov. Race
Posted: July, 10 2013 1:50 PM

Three of the most prominent national political analysts now have Michigan’s 2014 governor’s race as among the most competitive in the nation.

Tuesday, Stu Rothenberg wrote on his blog for Roll Call that he was moving Michigan from “Toss-up/Tilt Republican” to “Pure Toss-up.” In June, Larry Sabato declared Michigan’s gubernatorial race one of five toss-up races nationally in 2014. In late May, The Fix, the Washington Post’s politics blog, moved Michigan up from seventh place to sixth as far as having the most likelihood of seeing a change in partisan control.

With all signs pointing toward former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer as the presumptive Democratic nominee against Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who is expected to seek re-election, Democrats have sought to take advantage of this favorable publicity. Various Democrats quickly pushed out news Tuesday of Mr. Rothenberg’s new assessment of the race via social media and email.

It is one of the ways Democrats can seek to take advantage of the first time in decades where there is no competition for their party’s gubernatorial nomination, not counting years like 1986, 1990 and 2006 when an incumbent Democratic governor was seeking re-election.

There is so much time, in political terms, between now and next summer, when the gubernatorial race will heat up in earnest, that Democrats need to find ways to keep their supporters engaged. Informing core Democratic partisans about the national attitude toward the race can only help.

Mr. Schauer and Democrats can also use the favorable publicity to push a “We can win this race” theme with potential donors. Washington-based analysts ranking Michigan as a hotly competitive race also is a sign that national political strategists feel the same way. That is key for Mr. Schauer, who will need national Democratic funders to help him counter what will surely be an enormous pile of campaign money on behalf of Mr. Snyder.

Column Offensive Latest Move From Medicaid Expansion Backers
Posted: July, 8 2013 1:40 PM

In the past four days, backers of Medicaid expansion have mounted an aggressive effort on the op-ed pages of three major media outlets with Republicans penning columns calling for the Senate to act on the issue.

On Friday, House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) offered an argument tailored to conservatives in a Battle Creek Enquirer column touting the reforms to Medicaid in HB 4714* that would accompany expanding access to Medicaid for those with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

In the column, Mr. Bolger steered clear of any criticism of the Senate.

“Very conservative colleagues who carefully reviewed this legislation decided that we, as a state, should grab an opportunity and finally reform Medicaid, even if it means expanding it for now,” he wrote. “I couldn’t agree more and the House stands ready to hold session as soon as the Senate completes its work and sends House Bill (4714) to us for final concurrence.”

On Saturday, Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland), the House Appropriations Committee chair, wrote a column for the Detroit Free Press in which he mostly made the case for why the Medicaid legislation would help businesses.

Mr. Haveman called for the Senate or Governor Rick Snyder to act quickly on any changes to what the House passed. It was a bit curious to include Mr. Snyder because he supports the House-passed bill and also is calling on the Senate to move with dispatch, but lumping the two together avoids singling out the Senate where majority Republicans have set up a workgroup on the issue.

And Monday, Republican former House Speaker Rick Johnson wrote a column for Mlive.com chiding the Senate for delaying the legislation for “mostly political” reasons. Mr. Johnson is now president of the Dodak, Johnson and Associates LLC lobbying firm. It is one of several firms lobbying on behalf of the Detroit Medical Center, according to state records, and the hospital serves a large Medicaid population.

Mr. Johnson served in the House with now-Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) from 1999-2004. In the 2003-04 term, Mr. Johnson was speaker and Mr. Richardville was his top lieutenant as majority floor leader.

“This is a time to put statesmanship above partisanship,” Mr. Johnson wrote. “The Senate should reconvene soon and pass this much-needed health care reform.”

Polling A Race With A Quality Write-In Candidate, Part Two
Posted: July, 1 2013 12:26 PM

On Friday, I posted my take on how Mike Duggan’s write-in candidacy for Detroit mayor renders polling the race pointless because it is virtually impossible to translate a response in a telephone poll to whether that person will write in a name at the actual polls on election day.

I got some interesting feedback from one of the sharpest political minds in the state, former Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer, as well as others that was worth sharing and provides some confirmation and some rebuttal on the issue.

Mr. Brewer pointed to one of the best-known modern write-in success stories, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who in 2010 lost the Republican primary in her state but then won the general election and another term, running as a write-in. Mr. Brewer pointed to a terrific Campaigns and Elections article looking at the lessons from Ms. Murkowski’s win.

For the purposes of this issue, the relevant portion of the article is in the polling section. Indeed, the consensus of those interviewed for the article was that the most frustrating aspect of a write-in campaign is the difficulty in obtaining an accurate poll.

Mr. Brewer notes that one poll did come within five percentage points of Ms. Murkowski’s 39 percent total. The article notes that the range of polls was wild with Ms. Murkowski receiving anywhere from 17 to 34 percent.

It also cites no less an authority than statistics guru Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times. Mr. Silver has said, according to Campaigns and Elections, that probably the best way to poll a race with a quality write-in candidate is to first ask respondents their preference from the names of the candidates on the ballot or a write-in candidate. If the respondent answered write-in, then the interviewer would ask which write-in candidate without prompting any names.

That type of system makes automated polling much more difficult, perhaps impossible, and means likely having to use live telephone interviews, which is more expensive.

It is worth noting, however, that Mr. Silver, who correctly forecast all 50 states’ outcomes in the presidential race in 2012, actually got it wrong in the 2010 Alaska Senate race, forecasting Joe Miller to beat Ms. Murkowski and the Democratic nominee. Such is the difficulty in trying to ascertain the status of a race with a high-quality write-in like Ms. Murkowski or Mr. Duggan that even an oracle like Mr. Silver got tripped up.

Other feedback included some informal response from those affiliated with the Duggan campaign noting some important differences between the failed 2012 write-in bid by Nancy Cassis in the 11th U.S. House District Republican primary against now-U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Milford) and what Mr. Duggan is attempting this year.

The key, this person said, is to have a huge volunteer presence at precinct locations to make sure Duggan voters know to write him in. Ms. Cassis had little presence at the precincts in the 2012 primary to accomplish that task.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that Ms. Cassis had a standing start to her campaign that began weeks before the primary while Mr. Duggan has had a full-fledged campaign operation for a year. Ms. Cassis had little money. Mr. Duggan has a big war chest.

So perhaps instead of saying that polling the 2013 Detroit mayoral primary is a pointless task, the better take is to call it extremely difficult and say any survey results should not to be taken as gospel without significant inquiry into the pollster’s methods.

Duggan Write-In Bid Makes Polls Pointless On Detroit Mayoral Race
Posted: June, 28 2013 11:35 AM

Now that Mike Duggan has changed his mind and decided to wage what can charitably be described as an uphill battle to run as a write-in for Detroit mayor, in hopes of finishing in the top two in the August primary, one side-effect of that decision is to render polling of the race worthless.

Asking someone in a telephone survey if they will write-in Mr. Duggan alongside asking about support for other candidates like Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, former Rep. Lisa Howze and Rep. Fred Durhal Jr. will fail to yield a true measurement of how many will actually remember to check the write-in box and write in Mr. Duggan’s name.

For proof of that, flash back to the August 2012 primary in which former Sen. Nancy Cassis of Novi mounted a write-in bid for the 11th U.S. House District in an effort to stop Kerry Bentivolio, the gadfly candidate left as the only Republican on the ballot after then-U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter got tossed from the ballot in a petition fraud scandal.

Several media outlets hired the respected polling firm EPIC/MRA, which also polls occasionally for Gongwer News Service, to conduct a survey on the Republican primary between Mr. Bentivolio and Ms. Cassis. The poll showed Ms. Cassis at 52 percent and Mr. Bentivolio at 36 percent and heartened Cassis supporters who thought that she had a chance.

But Mr. Bentivolio, just days after the poll was released, beat Ms. Cassis handily, taking 66.3 percent of the vote to Ms. Cassis’ 33.5 percent, a nearly 20 percent falloff from what she got in the poll.

Maybe that does provide a clue as to how to take a bit – and only a bit – of value out of any polling that does occur between now and the primary. The thinking is Mr. Duggan will need 20 to 25 percent to finish in the top two, so if he is polling at less than 45 percent, it suggests his difficult path to make the general election is nearly closed.

56, 20 And 1, RIP
Posted: June, 27 2013 3:11 PM

Lobbyists at the Capitol have always emphasized a trio of numbers as the maxim when it comes to passing legislation: 56, 20 and 1.

That is, 56 votes to pass a bill in the House, 20 to pass it in the Senate and one governor to sign it.

Last week brought the latest confirmation that this maxim is dead after the Republican-led Senate declined to vote on the Medicaid expansion legislation (HB 4714*). Supporters of the legislation say if it was put up for a vote, it would pass 20-18. If that scenario occurred, it would mean eight Republicans voting yes and 18 voting no.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) has said there is a Senate Republican caucus rule that says at least half the caucus members must at least agree to allow a vote on a controversial issue for a vote to occur. And so a vote did not occur, pending the outcome of a workgroup on the issue.

In the past, governors and legislative leaders could try to assemble a majority in either legislative house without having to worry about such a restriction. The income tax increase that passed the Republican-led Senate, for example, in 2007, consisted of 15 Democrats and four Republicans voting yes with then-Lt. Governor John Cherry Jr. breaking a 19-19 tie for passage. The Senate was split 21-17 in favor of Republicans at the time.

The workplace smoking ban passed the Senate in 2010 with nine of the 22 Republicans voting yes and 12 voting no (one was absent).

And in 2009, during a protracted budget battle, the Democrat-led House passed budget cuts with a coalition of just 15 of the more than 60 Democratic members and most of the minority Republican caucus.

In 2004, the Republican-controlled House approved a hefty 75 cents per pack increase in the cigarette tax that saw just 13 of more than 60 Republican members vote yes in a coalition with 42 Democrats (there was a vacancy at the time, as there is now, so 55 votes were needed for passage).

In some ways, the new maxim is 13, 30 and one based on the current size of the majority caucuses in the House and Senate. But the House vote on Medicaid expansion shows it is not that simple. In that vote, 28 Republicans voted yes and 30 voted no. Clearly there was a willingness of a majority of the caucus to let the vote occur.

So that is what activists on an issue must target now – 56, 20 and one to pass the legislation AND 13, 30 and one in the majority caucus who agree to let a vote occur.

Incidentally, the one market near the Capitol that sold aspirin just closed.

The Primary Question On Medicaid
Posted: June, 13 2013 3:21 PM

As the Legislature gets ready to move forward on Medicaid expansion and other controversial issues, talk continues to build about legislative Republicans fearing challenges to renomination in the August 2014 primary.

In the Senate, the fear is incumbent House Republicans using votes in favor of Medicaid expansion or other revenue increases to unseat sitting GOP senators. In the House, the worry is of local officials or other Republican partisans challenging incumbent House GOP members. Or for House members looking to run for open Senate seats, the concern is how their record matches up against other Republicans who might seek the same GOP-leaning Senate seats.

The angst among incumbents who might have to fend off a primary challenger to keep his or her seat is hard to understand.

Since 1996, only two incumbent House or Senate Republicans failed to win renomination – former Rep. Roland Jersevic in 1996 and former Rep. Kurt Damrow in 2012. Both men lost because of scandal and voter unrest about their personal character, not their votes.

To be sure, there have been some close calls.

Rep. Paul Muxlow (R-Brown City) barely prevailed in 2012 after school choice backers funded a strong challenge over his opposition to some of their issues.

Former Rep. Lorence Wenke narrowly escaped in 2004 as did former Rep. Jim Koetje in 2002 and ex-Rep. Judie Scranton in 2000. However, Mr. Koetje nearly lost solely because redistricting had forced him to run before an almost entirely new group of voters. Mr. Wenke and Ms. Scranton barely survived because their positions on prominent social issues (gay marriage and abortion, respectively) were at odds with much of their party.

In 2002, conservatives tried to oust a handful of House Republicans based on their resistance to school choice legislation. All of the incumbents comfortably won.

The last time an incumbent House Republican unseated an incumbent Senate Republican in a primary was 1986 when then-Rep. Doug Carl unseated then-Sen. Kirby Holmes in a classic Macomb County brawl that saw Mr. Carl accuse Mr. Holmes of all kinds of wrongdoing. Mr. Holmes’ voting record did not appear to be an issue then.

In short, there simply is no modern precedent where Republican voters of a legislative district unseated their legislative Republican incumbent based on how he or she voted on policy.

Even looking at the many instances of current and former Republican House members facing off for an open Senate seat, none of the outcomes appeared dependent on a difference in voting record. Many other factors were in play.

Former House Speaker Rick Johnson liked to say there was no one vote a legislator could cast that would lead to his or her defeat. In primaries, that certainly has proven true, and for Republican activists threatening to oust incumbent GOP lawmakers for their Medicaid votes, they will be fighting against years of history.

Dissecting The Politics Of Pulte Yanking HQ From Michigan
Posted: May, 31 2013 12:37 PM

Governor Rick Snyder received the first significant bad economic news of his administration Thursday night with word that the homebuilding company PulteGroup, Incorporated, planned to move its headquarters from Bloomfield Hills to Atlanta, taking 300 jobs out of state.

Mr. Snyder took office January 1, 2011, as the state’s fragile economic recovery was edging along and has not had to grapple with this type of announcement so far. It extends what has been by far the most problematic month of Mr. Snyder’s term, which Gongwer explored in a story last week (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 24, 2013).

In terms of overall job impact, losing 300 jobs, while certainly bad, is relatively small compared to the recent economic forecast that Michigan would gain more than 50,000 jobs this year.

But corporate headquarters carry a special cachet. Having a corporate headquarters means not only the jobs that go with them, but the potential for a business to invest heavily in the community. It means more big-time donors who can write fat checks for various causes.

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm had to endure a similar announcement when Comerica Bank announced in 2007 it was leaving Detroit for Dallas.

Democratic consultants and activists immediately cast the Pulte decision as an indictment of Mr. Snyder’s policies, which have emphasized a business-friendly climate through slashing business taxes, reducing regulation and curbing union powers, mainly in the public sector, but also in the private sector with the right-to-work legislation. Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) used the Pulte announcement as a cudgel during the Legislative Quadrant session at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

It was the same in 2007. Then-Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzis said the Comerica announcement showed Ms. Granholm’s proposal earlier in the year supporting a sales tax on services was ill-advised.

Long-term, presuming the state’s economy continues trending upward, albeit slowly, Pulte’s announcement should not dent the state’s overall economic conditions, nor the politics of those conditions. Mr. Snyder will continue to call Michigan the “Comeback State” and Democrats will say Mr. Snyder’s policies deserve no credit. For a while, Democrats will use Pulte as a retort to the “Comeback State” message just as Ms. Whitmer did today.

 

Short-term, it might deprive Mr. Snyder of a turning point he could have used to stanch the setbacks of the past month. Last week, analysts said the Mackinac conference offered him a useful opportunity to regain momentum and go back on the offense.

Instead, most of the news out of the conference was largely dominated by Mr. Snyder trying to calm nerves about the possible sale of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection to satisfy the city’s creditors if it files Chapter 9 bankruptcy and then capped with the Pulte announcement.

DIA Situation Looms As Major Political Liability For Snyder
Posted: May, 24 2013 11:16 AM

When Governor Rick Snyder decided to intervene in financially troubled Detroit and appoint an emergency manager, polls suggested political upside for the governor.

Support for naming an emergency manager to take control of the city from elected officials ran strong in the Detroit suburbs, which will likely determine whether Mr. Snyder gets a second term in 2014 or former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, the presumptive Democratic nominee, unseats him. Not that Detroit is the issue on which the election will turn, but the polling suggested no harm for Mr. Snyder in sending an emergency manager to the city.

In the last 14 hours, all that has changed.

Thursday night, the Detroit Free Press reported that Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Mr. Snyder’s handpicked choice for the job, is exploring the possibility of selling the Detroit Institute of Arts’ vaunted collection to address the city’s mountainous debt and liabilities. The concept raises a slew of questions.

Is the art in the DIA a city asset? The city still owns the DIA, but the DIA runs separately from city government. If Detroit went into Chapter 9 bankruptcy, could a judge force the sale of the DIA collection? There are many others, but set those aside for now.

For now, let’s focus on the potentially severely negative political impact this idea could have on Mr. Snyder if brought to fruition.

Voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties voted to raise their property taxes to support the DIA, which has one of the best collections in the nation. If Mr. Snyder’s appointee to run Detroit suddenly renders the DIA’s collection no better than the artwork available at the nearest elementary school, voter reaction in those critical areas could only be one thing – very, very bad.

Then there’s the potent donor community that funds the DIA – and political campaigns. If Mr. Orr essentially dismantles the DIA, it is hard to imagine those donors opening up their wallets for Mr. Snyder’s re-election bid. And one can only imagine Mr. Schauer and the Democrats picking up the phone to see if they are upset enough to cut a check to help Mr. Schauer’s cause.

No Signs Of 2018 Tension Between Calley, Schuette
Posted: May, 22 2013 11:23 AM

From the moment Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette won their respective offices in 2010, the parlor game immediately began about which would emerge in 2018 as the Republicans’ gubernatorial nominee.

We now pause for the usual array of caveats – neither has said he is running, both still have to win tough re-election bids in 2014, other potential candidates could emerge and five years is 300 lifetimes in politics.

Attorney General Bill Schuette (left) and Lt. Governor Brian Calley (right) at a Tuesday news conference.

All that said, the two men as of today clearly are in the best position to run, both are ambitious and either can make a strong case for why he should carry the Republican banner.

The dynamic made for an interesting scene at a Tuesday news conference in which Mr. Schuette, Mr. Calley (standing in for Governor Rick Snyder), legislators and other officials announced a new, enhanced effort to encourage students and others to contact law enforcement about possible threats to school safety (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 21, 2013).

Mr. Schuette praised Mr. Calley as an “outstanding lieutenant governor.” Meanwhile, Mr. Calley said to Mr. Schuette, “thank you for your leadership on this issue.”

Now, there has never been a hint of any issue between the two, quite the opposite in fact. And they have both employed Strategic National, the firm of Republican consultant John Yob, for political consulting, so that’s another common tie.

Both come out of the same strain of the Republican Party that aligns with business interests and social conservatives. Neither is a tea party-type Republican although Mr. Schuette has staked out a handful of positions to the right of Mr. Snyder (and by extension Mr. Calley).

But an election inevitably leads to competition and candidates stating why they are the best choice. If both eventually run for governor in the same year, it will be impossible to avoid tension with such high stakes, making Tuesday’s exchange of kind words a distant memory.

Unclear How Jobs Argument Will Play In 2014
Posted: May, 20 2013 3:42 PM

One of the important subplots every time the state’s brightest economic minds convene at the Capitol to forecast state revenues for budgeting purposes is how the economy’s condition in upcoming years will affect the next election.

So last week, when the House Fiscal Agency, Senate Fiscal Agency and Department of Treasury agreed on an economic forecast that included the remainder of 2013 and 2014, two numbers stood out when considering the implication for 2014 when Governor Rick Snyder presumably will stand for re-election:

  • The number of jobs will continue to grow although, albeit steadily as opposed to robustly. Wage and salary employment will rise 1.3 percent this year to 4.077 million and another 1.2 percent in 2014 to 4.125 million.
  • The growth in jobs will continue the gradual reduction in the unemployment rate, which is now at 8.4 percent. Forecasters projected the calendar year rate for 2013 at 8.6 percent and 8.1 percent for 2014.

In the first half of 2012, when the unemployment rate began creeping upward, Democrats started to pounce, leveling the “Where are the jobs?” critique at Mr. Snyder that the opposition party, whichever party it is, deploys in such situations. Mr. Snyder, whose staff had touted the once falling rate as a sign his policies were working, instead began discussing how Michigan’s economic challenges remained and would not be solved overnight.

But after a recent peak of 9.4 percent in August, the unemployment rate has fallen a full percentage point and the number of people working has risen by 59,000.

What the forecast means is the political arguments are already set on the economy going into 2014.

Presuming the forecast holds, the Snyder campaign and the Republicans will say his policies have improved the economic climate. Democrats will counter that the bulk of the job growth since Mr. Snyder took office in 2011 stems from the auto industry rebound, especially when considering most of the growth occurred in 2011, before the big Snyder tax changes took effect.

Playing The Hitler Card
Posted: May, 8 2013 11:55 AM

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s labeling of House Speaker Jase Bolger as “Adolf Bolger” last week was not the first time a high-profile Michigan political figure tried to tarnish someone with a comparison to one of the worst tyrants the world has known.

Thanks to the Gongwer archives, and if you’re not a subscriber, access to our archives back to September 1993 is one of many good reasons to be one, I found several instances in the last 20 years of people playing the Hitler card in politics.

In 2006, the Detroit political consultant Adolph Mongo used a political action committee to purchase a newspaper ad comparing former Governor Jennifer Granholm to Adolf Hitler. Many months after Ms. Granholm won re-election, it was revealed that major Republican donors had donated to the PAC although all insisted they had no idea Mr. Mongo planned the Hitler ad.

In 1999, attorney Geoffrey Fieger, incensed at a Court of Appeals ruling against him, called the judges on the panel – Judge Michael Talbot, former Judge Richard Bandstra and Judge Jane Markey – Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Eva Braun.

During the 1998 gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Fieger compared former Governor John Engler to Hitler and longtime Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Also in 1998, the late Sen. George Hart likened legislation requiring the use of an imaging device to take the fingerprints of welfare recipients to something Hitler would do.

And in 1997, former Rep. Derrick Hale, a Detroit Democrat, unloaded on then-Rep. David Jaye as Mr. Jaye ran for the Senate. Mr. Jaye used an image of the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson as a way to attack a rival in a Senate election in a way Mr. Hale said was designed to inflame racial hostilities.

“David Jaye is the Fuhrer of the Legislature. He resembles Adolf Hitler in looks and character,” he said then.

And in 1994, the late Sen. Joe Young Jr. denounced the Lottery Bureau for a “Hitler-like approach” in saying it would implement a new Keno game even if voters rejected Proposal A, which contained the language to create the game.

Only Mr. Patterson, however, went so far as to hold a black comb over his upper lip to mimic Hitler’s infamous mustache to make his point, and he did it on a statewide television program. So while Hitler comparisons will likely happen again, if only relatively rarely, the odds of one again featuring a grooming accessory appear small.

A Familiar Refrain On Right To Work From Ohio
Posted: May, 3 2013 3:01 PM

Governor Rick Snyder’s phrase “not on my agenda” regarding right-to-work in Michigan became ubiquitous as he tried to avoid having the issue surface in the Legislature and then infamous when he declared he would sign the legislation and did so.

So Ohio Democrats who followed the right-to-work debate in Michigan probably are going to DefCon 1 after seeing the comments of Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican. Like Michigan, Ohio’s Legislature is controlled by Republicans and has a Republican governor, John Kasich.

Upon introduction Wednesday in the Ohio House of legislation to make Ohio a right-to-work state, Mr. Faber tried to cool the controversy by declaring … wait for it … that right-to-work is not on his agenda, my colleagues at Gongwer News Service/Ohio reported.

If that discouraged the two Republicans members of the Ohio House who introduced the legislation, they might want to contact Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), who heard the same from Mr. Snyder, stayed patient, kept working the issue and ultimately prevailed.

Similarly, if any Ohio Democratic lawmakers are breathing easy, now, their colleagues in Michigan could easily disabuse them of that notion.

In U.S. Senate Race, Republicans Missing A Key Weapon From ’94 Win
Posted: May, 2 2013 12:23 PM

Republicans began Wednesday trying to define U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, the newly minted Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, minutes after he formally announced in negative terms as everyone would expect.

But as the GOP hopes to win a Senate seat in Michigan for the first time since 1994, it will have to do so without one of the most powerful lines of attack it deployed that year.

That year, as in 2014, there was an open Senate seat because the incumbent decided not to seek re-election. Mr. Peters hopes to succeed U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit). Mr. Levin is a political icon and highly respected.

But that was not the case in 1994 with retiring U.S. Sen. Don Riegle, a Flint Democrat, and the Republicans took advantage to devastating effect. Mr. Riegle was coming off the Keating Five scandal in which he was one of four senators reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee for meeting with federal banking regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, the symbol of the Savings and Loan collapse and scandal of the 1980s. Another senator was censured.

Republicans tied Mr. Riegle to the Democratic nominee, then-U.S. Rep. Bob Carr, in what were then groundbreaking ways. The campaign of Republican nominee Spencer Abraham hired a film crew to sneak into the state Democratic convention and got footage of Mr. Carr and Mr. Riegle together on stage and put it into a television commercial. The Abraham campaign morphed Mr. Carr’s face into Mr. Riegle’s in other ads.

Mr. Abraham went on to win, aided by his campaign tactics and a transcendent year for Republicans nationally.

Trying to sink Mr. Peters by association with Mr. Levin is obviously a nonstarter for Republicans in 2014.

Indeed, one of the Republicans’ biggest worries has to be a reverse scenario, where Mr. Levin cuts an ad endorsing Mr. Peters as his successor. That tactic worked big-time in 1998, when another popular retiring longtime Democratic official – then-Attorney General Frank Kelley – cut an ad for Jennifer Granholm widely credited as a huge factor in her victory as his successor.

Maybe Time For An Agreement In Writing On Roads
Posted: April, 26 2013 3:30 PM

Tensions are rising among legislators and Governor Rick Snyder on road funding in large part because neither side trusts the other enough to go first on the issue.

Subscribers can read more about the issue in Thursday’s edition of Gongwer News Service (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 25, 2013). Essentially, majority Republicans and minority Democrats are worried that if either moves first on the issue, they will pay a steep price politically.

The difficulty recalls an incident in the 1999-2000 legislative term. The Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation mandating that insurance companies cover treatment for diabetes, as well as diabetic equipment like testing strips, despite opposition from the business community.

But the legislation was going nowhere in the House, where Republicans sided with the business community against a mandate. Meanwhile, one of the House’s top priorities was passing legislation immunizing gun-makers from litigation and granting an automatic right to a concealed weapons permit.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow had no problem with the gun bills per se, but seeing the House sit on the diabetes insurance mandate bills, he decided to apply a little leverage. The Senate would not pass the gun legislation without the House passing the diabetes coverage mandate. And he persuaded then-Speaker Chuck Perricone to sign an agreement in writing on that deal.

Finally, on the next to last legislative session day of the term, the Senate passed the concealed weapons permitting legislation and the House followed with passage of the diabetes coverage mandate. It took many months of tense bicameral negotiations and drama to reach that point – not unlike what is happening now on roads.

Dissecting The ‘Skunk Works’ Flap
Posted: April, 23 2013 11:21 AM

Governor Rick Snyder has found his administration on the defensive since a Friday report in The Detroit News disclosed that members of his team were working on a concept for a charter school that would allow its students to essentially purchase portions of their education a la carte through a debit card-like system.

In some ways, it is a classic political flap – the opposition party attacking the governor on a policy with which it disagrees and questioning the process behind developing it. And indeed, if Mr. Snyder does propose allowing a charter school with this set-up, it would represent a major change in education policy, even if just for one yet-to-be-established charter school, and warrant considerable debate.

But in other ways, it is a strange kerfuffle.

Let’s start with the obvious, which Mr. Snyder himself has acknowledged. The group’s decision to dub itself a “skunk works” – a reference to a group operating behind the scenes – was a big mistake perception-wise. It gave Democrats and others license to issue several thousand news releases (which is maybe an exaggeration on my part) saying the group’s methods and ideas stink.

It also helped Democrats frame the group’s mission as secretive and criticize Mr. Snyder’s administration as holding contempt for transparency. Also fueling that argument: The state’s chief information officer, David Behen, asked everyone participating to use private email addresses instead of their state employee ones.

That move would inoculate such emails from a Freedom of Information Act request, which can only seek public documents. The Snyder administration has insisted the reason for using private emails was only to keep everyone on a Gmail and Basecamp communications system so they could work from home on the issue.

But when you strip away the use of private emails and the silly name of the group, what is left is not unusual from what any governor does on any issue: convening members of his or her team in private to develop a policy proposal that will later go before the Legislature and the public for consideration.

The governor’s auto insurance proposal? Developed “in secret.” The governor’s transportation proposal? Developed “in secret.” The governor’s deliberations on whether to support Medicaid expansion? Conducted “in secret.” The governor’s tax overhaul of 2011? Developed “in secret.” I could go on.

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm operated much the same way.

Every governor develops his or her budget recommendation “in secret.” The final budget negotiations every year? They occur “in secret.” The four legislative caucuses, Democrats included, meet separately “in secret” on a regular basis to discuss strategy and policy.

The difference here was the juicy “skunk works” moniker, a clumsy move that appeared designed to prevent email communications from becoming public and that a member of the workgroup decided to leak materials to the news media.

Add it up and it’s a nice coup for the Democrats. Thanks to a couple stylistic missteps by the Snyder administration, Democrats put Mr. Snyder off-message for four days over something that is standard operating procedure in the capital city.

Here’s Hoping Michigan’s Streak Continues On Tornadoes
Posted: April, 18 2013 10:35 AM

Today is the unofficial opening of severe weather season in Michigan with the National Weather Service placing the southern portions of the state under a tornado watch, and let us hope the state’s run of luck continues this year when it comes to tornadoes.

Not since April 2, 1977, has the state endured what the National Weather Service classifies as a “violent tornado” – one of EF-4 strength or more on the Enhanced Fujita Scale that measures tornado strength from EF-0 to EF-5. On that day, two F-4 tornadoes (under the original Fujita Scale) sliced through Kalamazoo and Eaton counties with the Eaton County tornado killing one and injuring 44.

It is remarkable and fortunate that Michigan has not seen a tornado rated F-4/EF-4 or more in 36 years (the last F-5 tornado to hit the state was in 1956 in Grand Rapids). In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, it seemed violent tornadoes were relatively frequent. The most notable ones were the Flint tornado in 1953, the Grand Rapids tornado in 1956, another Flint tornado in 1956, the Mount Clemens tornado in 1964, the Palm Sunday tornadoes in the Irish Hills in 1965 and the West Bloomfield tornado of 1976.

There have been a few F-3s/EF-3s in recent years, like the Dexter tornado last year. But the difference between an F-3/EF-3 and an F-4/EF-4 is stark. With the former, you can usually fix the damage to your house. With the latter, your house is usually destroyed.

Below is some silent news footage of then-Governor William Milliken touring the damage of the 1977 Kalamazoo County tornado in Augusta. The extent of the damage – how about the house sitting on its side at the 2:48 mark – is the kind of tornado destruction Michigan thankfully has not seen in a long time. Side note on the footage: Nice to see then-Rep. Don Gilmer, one of the more talented legislators this town has seen, walking with Mr. Milliken just months into the first of his 11 terms in the House at the age of 31 (he’s the young guy with the moustache to Mr. Milliken’s left at about the 1:30 mark).

Kalamazoo River Oil Spill Coverage Lands Pulitzer For NY Website
Posted: April, 16 2013 4:56 PM

An extensive investigation and compelling narrative from the reporters of the nonprofit website Inside Climate News has won the biggest prize in journalism, the Pulitzer, in the category of national reporting for its work on the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill.

The Pulitzers were announced at 3 p.m. Monday, minutes after two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. Usually, the announcement of the Pulitzers is relatively big news, but coming in the middle of a major national tragedy, it rightfully took a backseat.

Still, a Michigan news story winning a Pulitzer is a relatively rare event. The Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer in 2009 for its coverage of the text message scandal that forced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick from office. The Detroit News won a Pulitzer in 1994 for its coverage of the House Fiscal Agency scandal.

The Inside Climate News report came out last June and as far as I can remember it made no waves locally. The first I knew of it was when I saw Monday that it had won. It is first-rate work from a small outfit based in New York City with seven staffers.

The biggest revelations, which, as far as I can tell, did not appear in another publication, were the issue of fumes from benzene, a known carcinogen, associated with the spill and the role that played in local public health officials calling for a voluntary evacuation, and the failure of Enbridge Energy Partners, which owned the ruptured pipeline, to alert the government of the type of oil spilled.

It was not the standard type of oil that tends to float on the surface, but diluted bitumen, which the publication described as having the consistency of peanut butter and detailed how it actually sank into the riverbed, rendering traditional spill containment and clean-up procedures useless. Benzene is mixed into diluted bitumen, along with other chemicals, to allow it to flow through the pipeline.

One of the reasons the work of Inside Climate News stuck out is unlike the major newspapers that traditionally clean up on Pulitzers, it cannot mobilize 10, 20 or more reporters to cover a major event. I don’t know Inside Climate News’ publication schedule, but to devote more than one-third of its staff to a major project is no small thing.

Referendum On Referendums
Posted: April, 11 2013 3:45 PM

Whenever Michigan next decides to hold a constitutional convention, one area the delegates should review carefully is a phrase in Article II, Section 9 that addresses the right of the people to place laws enacted by the Legislature and governor up for a statewide vote through a referendum.

Since a 2001 Michigan Supreme Court decision, this language – “the power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions” – has turned the idea of a right to referendum into a mess. All indications from the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention are that the point of that language was to prevent a person or group from shutting down state government by putting the major annual appropriations bills up for referendum.

But in 2000, a legal eagle in the Legislature, which was considering controversial legislation to give residents a near automatic right to carry a concealed weapon, suggested putting some spending into the legislation to inoculate it from an expected referendum. The Supreme Court ruled the following year that any amount of money, no matter how small, made a bill immune from referendum.

Ever since, the Legislature has deployed this tactic on several occasions, most recently on the right-to-work laws, the new emergency manager law, among others. Now with a group seeking to put a law up for referendum allowing for the hunting of the gray wolf, a Senate committee approved a bill (SB 288*) today that would thwart the referendum in two ways. One, it would transfer the power to put species on the hunting list from the Legislature and governor to the Natural Resources Commission. It also contains an appropriation to block a referendum on the bill.

Many have called for changing the Constitution to bring its language more in line with the apparent intent (while also noting the Supreme Court’s ruling contains the twisted logic of giving the people the power to tell the Legislature it erred in passing a law yet giving the Legislature a weapon to thwart that power). Yet even if the Constitution were changed to allow a referendum on a bill that contained limited appropriations, and a Ferndale man is waging an uphill fight to do so, the referendum power is still full of holes.

Even when the Legislature opts not to immunize a bill from referendum, and voters subsequently reject it, it can always come back with a new, similar law and dare opponents to go through the ordeal and expense of putting it up for referendum too. That happened after voters shot down the first emergency manager law, PA 4 of 2011, leading to enactment of a new, similar one, PA 436 of 2012. The same is happening with the gray wolf situation.

Maybe a new Constitutional Convention would decide the better move is to scrap the referendum mechanism altogether because of its inherent flaws. Voters could still organize against a law through the initiated act process and achieve more of a long-term policy victory if successful because the Legislature cannot amend a voter-initiated act without three-quarters majorities in both houses.

That process, however, means gathering more signatures and the much greater challenge of winning “yes” votes for a proposal instead of simply casting enough doubt in voters’ minds to get them to vote “no” in a referendum against the law the group dislikes.

Of course, the chances of a Constitutional Convention occurring before 2026, the next time voters will be asked whether they want to call one, are nil. Until then, the mess will continue.

The Budget So Far: Sound And Fury, Signifying … Relatively Little
Posted: April, 9 2013 4:18 PM

William Shakespeare is probably rolling in his grave at that awful twisting of the famous line from “Macbeth,” but it fits when trying to figure out what to make of the Legislature’s actions on the budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year so far.

In general, one views each budget a House or Senate Appropriations subcommittee approves for a department or major budget area through the lens of how it differs from what Governor Rick Snyder proposed or the other legislative chamber’s plan. What is hard to know at this point is which items Mr. Snyder, House Republicans and Senate Republicans, respectively, will go all-out to see approved and which ones are mere negotiating points that they can drop in later talks.

Within a couple weeks, the House and Senate will have completed their proposed versions of the budget. Even with all the considerable time legislators, staff and the public have put into shaping and trying to shape the budget, that is when the real work begins.

At that point, the Snyder administration and top negotiators from the House and Senate Republicans will work toward negotiating a final compromise. The last two years, some topics on which one side appeared immovable in March suddenly became less important in May.

For years, one of the typical clichés used by governors, legislators and spokespersons for legislators and governors regarding the budget when one side rebuffs the other early in the process is that it is simply that: part of the process and subject to further negotiations.

Hearing that again and again gets irritating. But it also happens to be true.

Yes, Dem Gov. Field Unusually Quiet
Posted: April, 5 2013 4:59 PM

Here it is April 5, 2013 – 578 days until Election Day – and no Democratic candidate has announced a bid for governor.

Certainly, it is a long time until November 4, 2014, when Democrats hope to oust Republican Governor Rick Snyder. And most Democrats would say that while it does seem quiet, there is still plenty of time for a strong candidate to emerge.

Still, a check of previous Democratic gubernatorial campaigns shows that the field is unusually slow to develop this cycle. For 2010, Lt. Governor John Cherry, while he had not officially announced, was certainly running. He formed a committee to raise money on January 9, 2009, only to end his campaign a year later, out of money and unable to raise more.

For 2002, by March 8, 2001, then-Attorney General Jennifer Granholm had announced, former Governor James Blanchard was raising money and then-U.S. Rep. David Bonior had signaled he would run.

For the 1998 election, Doug Ross announced December 9, 1996, and Larry Owen announced February 4, 1997. Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, the eventual winner, announced much later, but he had built-in name recognition and personal wealth that allowed him to wait, especially with no other strong contender in the field.

I can’t quickly pinpoint an exact date on when the first Democratic candidate announced for the 1994 election, but the Gongwer archives show the late U.S. Rep. Howard Wolpe filed his campaign committee January 29, 1993, and mention that then-state Sen. Debbie Stabenow already had done so.

So there’s little question that the lack of an announced Democratic candidate at this point is unusual. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer of Battle Creek has said he is considering it as has former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak of Escanaba and state Rep. Vicki Barnett of Farmington Hills.

Democrats feel like they have a shot to topple Mr. Snyder. His polling numbers show vulnerabilities, and unlike 2010, he has a record to message against. Until someone steps up to challenge him, the theory remains only that – a theory.

The Debate On Michigan Politics In Presidential, Gubernatorial Years
Posted: April, 2 2013 12:02 PM

Michigan having an open U.S. Senate seat in 2014 has opened up a debate about whether mid-term election cycles tend to favor Republicans in this state compared to presidential years favoring Democrats.

One point Republicans are hammering is that with open seats such a rarity, having one come in a non-presidential election year makes the 2014 opportunity for potential Republican U.S. Senate candidates as good as it ever will be. Democrats have responded that the data does not support that conclusion.

Indeed, the two most recent U.S. Senate elections in Michigan during gubernatorial years, in 2002 and 2006, support the Democratic perspective because its candidates won in routs in both years. And if you look solely at U.S. Senate races since the end of the Cold War, which set the tone for national elections mostly on domestic issues since that time, the Republican conclusion does seem overly simplistic.

After all, Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate won in 1996, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2012 while Republicans only won in 1994. So if you’re tallying only those U.S. Senate elections in the mid-term cycle, Democrats have a solid 2-1 record compared to a 4-0 record in Senate elections held during presidential election years.

But a deeper look provides some support to the Republican theory.

Looking at the percentage of the vote, the average Democratic percentage in U.S. Senate races during the presidential years was 57.25 percent. The average Democratic percentage during the mid-term elections was 53.37 percent.

Now let’s examine farther down the ballot to see how Democrats and Republicans typically fare in the mid-term year compared to the presidential year. Starting in 1994, Republicans have averaged a gain of 5.2 seats in the state House in the mid-term election year. In presidential years, Democrats have averaged a gain of 4.6 seats in the state House during that same time frame.

There were exceptions. In 2000, a presidential year, neither party gained or lost any seats. And in 2006, a mid-term year, Democrats gained six seats. Still, in four of the five mid-term elections, Republicans gained seats while in four of the five presidential elections, Democrats gained seats.

Still farther down the ballot, the races for the State Board of Education and the governing boards for Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University – probably the best barometer of base voting for a year because so few voters know anything about the candidates – show a similar pattern.

In the mid-term years, Republicans on average won five of the eight seats (two seats for each education board are up for election every two years). In presidential years, Democrats averaged 7.4 seats of the eight up for grabs.

The tendency of the president’s party to struggle in mid-term elections is another factor encouraging Republicans although exceptions have occurred to that rule, most notably in 1998 and 2002.

Those numbers suggest that, yes, mid-term elections tend to favor Republicans in Michigan, and yes, 2014 will offer Republicans a better opportunity at a rare U.S. Senate victory than usual. Opportunity, of course, does not automatically translate to victory.

The Yob And Agema Flaps, Then And Now
Posted: March, 29 2013 12:32 PM

Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema is under fire for posting an article from another author to his Facebook page containing a series of statistics and claims about gays and lesbians that are dated, lack any scientific study behind them, poorly sourced or some combination of all three.

Some Republican activists and consultants have called on Mr. Agema to resign, but he has refused, saying he merely posted another article written by someone else, denouncing efforts to assume he agreed with the article’s claims.

It brings to mind another controversy involving a former Michigan Republican National committeeman, Chuck Yob.

In 2002, Mr. Yob – one of the party’s top powerbrokers – was a guest on Michigan Public Television’s “Off the Record” and was discussing his support for then-Kent County Clerk Terri Land to be the Republican nominee for secretary of state. Mr. Yob said, "I think that's a real nice place on the ticket for a woman because they like that kind of work."

Compared to Mr. Agema’s posting of the article whose author claimed “homosexuals account for half the murders in large cities,” Mr. Yob’s comment seems fairly tame. The Southern Poverty Law Center researched that claim when it was repeated by an Oklahoma pastor in 2011 and found its origin was a newspaper column written by a staunch anti-gay activist who said he could not remember the source of the data although others have claimed a New York judge used it in the 1950s. In any case, the “statistic” did not exactly come from the FBI’s uniform crime report.

But Mr. Yob’s comment created a huge furor and charges of sexism although it took some time to germinate in a way that shows show quickly communication moves now. As best I can recall, his comment did not become widely known until late Friday afternoon, many hours after the show was recorded after Amy Bailey, an Associated Press staff writer at the time who was part of the reporter panel on the show, wrote a story about it that went across the AP wire.

Ms. Bailey was the one who called Mr. Yob on the comment after the show ended and pressed him on what he meant. Nowadays, the discussion after the show concludes recording is posted online, but back then it was not.

By Monday, the story took off. Mr. Yob tried to explain, "I didn't verbiage it the way I wanted to," that recruiting women to run for secretary of state is relatively easy because so many women are county clerks, a position that has similar duties to secretary of state.

With heavy media coverage of the story, and many of the state’s elected Republican women furious with Mr. Yob, then-Lt. Governor Dick Posthumus called on Mr. Yob to resign 10 days after he made the comments. Then-Governor John Engler followed a day later.

But Mr. Yob refused to resign and accused his political enemies of trying to exploit a mistake of his to exact retribution. Two years later, he was unopposed for re-election as national committeeman and won another term.

The Perils Of Interpreting Judicial Commentary
Posted: March, 27 2013 11:24 AM

A large number of reporters, commentators and Supreme Court watchers rushed yesterday to draw conclusions about the questions and comments from U.S. Supreme Court justices during the first day of oral arguments about whether prohibitions on gay marriage are constitutional.

The court clearly will let stand a lower court ruling striking down California’s ban, some said.

The court seems to have no desire to issue a sweeping opinion on whether a ban on same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution providing equal protection under the law, others said.

These pronouncements were based on comments like this one from Justice Anthony Kennedy on whether those trying to defend the California ban had standing to do so. The California government declined to appeal its loss in lower courts. “I just wonder if the case was properly granted,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy also spoke about the case taking the court into “uncharted waters,” feeding into the thinking that the court will not issue a sweeping decision.

But it is perilous to try to extrapolate how a judge will rule from their comments and questions during oral arguments. I saw this first-hand while covering a Michigan Court of Appeals case last year on whether state-appointed emergency financial review teams examining a troubled local government’s finances had to meet in public under the Open Meetings Act.

During those oral arguments, virtually everything Judge Michael Kelly said strongly suggested he had made up his mind and would rule that the review teams must meet in public. He grilled the attorneys arguing they could meet privately and asked almost nothing of the attorneys arguing for the teams to meet in public. At one point, when one of the attorneys urging public meetings seemed to slip up, Mr. Kelly jumped in to help him recall a key point.

There were other arguments Mr. Kelly hammered that gave all the appearance that he would favor the teams meeting in public. But when the court ruled, Mr. Kelly was part of a unanimous majority holding that the review teams could, in fact, meet behind closed doors.

That served as a healthy reminder that getting into the head of a judge – someone trained as an attorney to argue either side of a case regardless of his or her personal viewpoint – is a risky business.

In U.S. Senate Race, Schuette Precedent Looms
Posted: March, 26 2013 1:03 PM

One name keeps coming up in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin in 2014: Attorney General Bill Schuette.

No, not as a candidate – Mr. Schuette has said he is running for re-election as attorney general and will not run for the Senate.

People in political circles keep citing Mr. Schuette’s decision to challenge Mr. Levin in 1990 as a third-term member of the U.S. House from a safely Republican seat as a cautionary tale for the current members of Michigan’s U.S. House delegation pondering whether to run in 2014.

The three members of Congress considering running for U.S. Senate – U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township), U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton) – surely know the Schuette story.

Mr. Schuette ran an aggressive campaign against Mr. Levin in 1990. But Mr. Schuette lost badly as Mr. Levin took 57.5 percent of the vote to Mr. Schuette’s 41.2 percent.

Mr. Schuette then embarked on a long road back to the upper echelons of state politics. Newly elected Governor John Engler appointed him director of the Department of Agriculture in 1991. In 1994, the state Senate seat with his hometown of Midland had no incumbent running. Mr. Schuette ran for the seat and won it twice, in 1994 and 1998.

Prevented from running for re-election in 2002, Mr. Schuette ran for the Court of Appeals and won. He served a six-year term before going to a private legal practice in 2009-10.

In 2010, Mr. Schuette ran for the Republican nomination for attorney general and appeared cruising toward the nomination until then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop jumped into the race. A tough, heated battle ensued that saw Mr. Schuette narrowly prevail and then romp over the Democratic nominee in the general election.

Now, in 2013 – more than 22 years after losing to Mr. Levin – Mr. Schuette is back as one of the top names in Republican politics. Virtually everyone in Michigan politics expects Mr. Schuette to run for governor in 2018.

As for the man who succeeded Mr. Schuette in the U.S. House – U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) – his more than 22 years there shows what might have been for Mr. Schuette had he stayed put in 1990.

Mr. Camp is now chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Mr. Schuette served on the Budget Committee during his time in the House. Had he stayed there, perhaps Mr. Schuette – not U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) – would be heading up the budget for House Republicans. Perhaps Mr. Schuette would be the face of the House GOP, not Mr. Ryan. Perhaps Mitt Romney would have chosen him as his vice presidential candidate, not Mr. Ryan.

That’s a lot of perhaps. And while right now, the betting money is on Mr. Amash, Mr. Peters and Mr. Rogers all jumping into the race, the Schuette precedent would explain much if any decided to pass.

Ficano Unchallenged So Far For 2014
Posted: March, 20 2013 4:13 PM

There are just 17 months to go until the August 2014 Democratic primary, and amazingly no Democrat has publicly declared his or her intention to challenge the scandal-plagued Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.

All this despite Mr. Ficano holding the ignominious distinction as the most vulnerable major elected official in the state going into the 2014 election cycle.

Starting in late 2011, Mr. Ficano saw his administration wracked by scandal. There was the Turkia Mullin situation in which she and Ficano underlings – but not Mr. Ficano himself, he says – arranged a “severance” payment of $200,000 when she voluntarily left her post leading the county land bank to run Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

That mess, which ultimately led to Ms. Mullin’s firing from the airport job and the departure of Mr. Ficano’s top aide, proved to be just the beginning. The FBI and U.S. attorney in Detroit began a proctology exam of Mr. Ficano’s administration, opening an inquiry that has so far led to the guilty plea of Tahir Kazmi, a top aide, on a bribery charge.

Through it all, Mr. Ficano has refused to resign and not indicated whether he will run in 2014. The Detroit newspapers recently reported he raised relatively little money in 2012 for a possible re-election bid.

In recent months, the maelstrom surrounding Mr. Ficano softened a bit, at least in terms of the day-to-day barrage of damaging revelations. At his recent State of the County speech, he spoke hopefully of rebuilding his administration.

But in the past week, two new stories have emerged. One, Mr. Ficano planned a no-bid contract to hire a third personal driver, whom county officials said would do other work as part of his pay, that launched a new furor. And now Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who has feuded for years with Mr. Ficano over how much money he and the Wayne County Commission budget for her office’s operations, is going nuclear, not staffing various cases, resulting in their dismissals, saying she lacks the staff.

At a Wednesday news conference, Ms. Worthy went right after the scandals surrounding Mr. Ficano’s administration.

And yet … no Democrat has stepped forward to run. Running for Wayne County executive requires raising considerable money for a campaign across a large county with 1.8 million people and an expensive television market. Jumping in next spring prior to the filing deadline would make raising enough money a big challenge.

There are other dominos that may have to fall first. If U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) decides to run for U.S. Senate, several top Wayne County Democrats may want to run for his 14th U.S. House District seat.

About a year ago this time, various politicos speculated Mr. Ficano would resign before Thanksgiving, or after the New Year at the latest. But here he is, still in office, with no challenger in sight.

RTW Move By House GOP On Universities Echoes Debates Of ’90s
Posted: March, 19 2013 2:09 PM

The action taken today by a House subcommittee to cut funding by 15 percent to any public university that extended a contract or executed a new one with its employees without savings of at least 10 percent had a familiar ring.

It marked a return to the higher education funding debates of the mid-1990s. At the time, I was wandering the Capitol trying to figure out what Third Reading meant while reporting for The State News, the Michigan State University student-run newspaper, and marveling at the newfangled Internet.

Those days, the move by the 88th Legislature to use state funding to penalize universities for policies its Republican majority disliked involved – probably not surprisingly – the same two universities in the crosshairs of the 97th Legislature, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

The issue in the writing of the 1996-97 fiscal year budget for higher education was U-M’s and Wayne State’s policy providing health insurance benefits to the same-sex partners of the schools’ employees. The budget called for reducing each school’s appropriation by an amount equivalent to what they spent on that coverage.

The problem then, as could be the case again, is that the Michigan Constitution provides the state’s public universities with autonomy in their operations. Article VIII, Section 5 of the Constitution declares the governing boards of U-M, Wayne State and Michigan State University “shall have the general supervision of its institution and the control and direction of all expenditures from the institution's funds." Similar language is in Article VIII, Section 6 regarding the 12 other public universities.

In 1997, then-Attorney General Frank Kelley issued an opinion deeming the language on domestic partner benefits unconstitutional, and the provision was never enforced. Similar language was debated for the next two fiscal years, but never survived in the bill that made it to the desk of Governor John Engler.

So if the new language on employee contracts, designed to delay the effect of the new right-to-work law, were to become law, opponents of it could point to Mr. Kelley’s opinion, which cites several court precedents on the issue, to have it struck down.

Of course, there’s one problem. Not long after Mr. Kelley ruled the tactic unconstitutional, a member of the Senate urged putting similar language into the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, insisting it was in fact constitutional.

The senator’s name: current Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Orr Appointment A Swan Song For Loan Board
Posted: March, 14 2013 4:18 PM

It is but a footnote to the hugely consequential decision today to name Kevyn Orr as the emergency financial manager of Detroit, but it marked the last time the state’s Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board will hire an EFM.

Weep not, for the board will continue to exist to handle its duties under the Emergency Municipal Loan Act. But once the new Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, PA 436 of 2012, takes effect March 28, the board’s role in the process as part of the Local Government Fiscal Responsibility Act, PA 72 of 1990, will end with the repeal of the older law.

Under the new law, the governor will appoint emergency managers (with the “financial” dropped from the title).

And really, why shouldn’t the governor have that power? The three members of the emergency loan board – the treasurer and directors of the departments of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and Technology, Management and Budget – are appointees of the governor.

It was a strange sight watching Treasurer Andy Dillon, LARA Director Steve Arwood and DTMB Director John Nixon interview Mr. Orr today when his appointment obviously was a done deal.

As fun as it would be journalistically to imagine the three men stiffing their boss, Governor Rick Snyder, on his recommendation of Mr. Orr, that would never happen. And so the next time a local government falls into a financial emergency with the need for an emergency manager, the loan board will not assemble.

Pondering Detroit With A Mayor Cockrel
Posted: March, 12 2013 1:14 PM

Detroit City Councilmember Ken Cockrel Jr. attended today’s hearing before the Department of Treasury on the council’s appeal of Governor Rick Snyder’s finding that the city is in a financial emergency with no plan to remedy the situation.

During the city’s financial drama, which kicked off in earnest in late 2011 with a state-led financial review, I have often wondered if the city’s situation would have been substantially different had Mr. Cockrel not lost the 2009 special mayoral election to now-Mayor Dave Bing. The city’s financial woes long predate that election, and no matter who won in 2009, the task was monumental.

There is some evidence on how Mr. Cockrel would have handled the job because he had the job from September 2008 until mid-May 2009. As the council president, he became mayor after the resignation of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick until the holding of a special election.

On the plus side, Mr. Cockrel put in place two key appointments largely considered successful. He pried the former U.S. attorney in Detroit, Saul Green, out of the private sector to make him his deputy mayor. Mr. Green won praise for his performance, and Mr. Bing retained him.

Another move that generally won praise was Mr. Cockrel naming Joseph Harris, the city’s former auditor general, as chief financial officer. Mr. Harris began repairing the city’s completely broken Finance Department and leveled with others about the city’s financial condition unlike the Kilpatrick regime, which had insisted all was well.

However, not long after voters replaced Mr. Cockrel with Mr. Bing, it came out that the city during Mr. Harris’ tenure was using the taxes it collected for other governments, like the Detroit Public Schools, to keep its cash flow healthy before eventually paying those governments, a violation of state law. Still, most Detroit-watchers considered Mr. Bing’s decision to replace Mr. Harris with Mr. Kilpatrick’s last CFO, Norm White, a significant downgrade.

Mr. Cockrel’s administration authored the 2009-10 fiscal year budget for the city, which contained painful cuts, but was not a fundamental reshaping of the government.

Mr. Cockrel had support in the campaign from most of the city’s major labor unions. Had he remained in office, he would have had to confront the possibility of wage and benefit cuts, goring key supporters. He never got the chance, so we don’t know how he would have responded.

Overall, there’s no way to know how Mr. Cockrel would have handled the cascading series of crises afflicting the city during Mr. Bing’s tenure.

Finances, however, were not a top issue in the 2009 special election. The major dynamics were rebuilding the credibility of city government after Mr. Kilpatrick’s implosion and an ever-expanding federal corruption investigation into the city. Mr. Cockrel had served on the council since 1998, and Mr. Bing swept into office on a time for change, outsider theme – aided critically in the final days when Freman Hendrix decided to suspend his campaign and endorse Mr. Bing.

Mr. Cockrel often said as mayor and council president that if Detroit failed to fix its finances, it would find itself in the awful position of watching someone else do so. Tuesday, as he watched a hearing that is the city’s last chance to stave off an emergency financial manager, that prediction appears close to fruition.

A Few Electoral Numbers On Sen. Levin
Posted: March, 8 2013 2:07 PM

Before fully turning the focus to the once-in-a-generation fight for an open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan, it seemed appropriate to give retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) his due as a true electoral juggernaut.

It was not just that he won and won and won and won and won and – yes, for an unprecedented sixth time in this state – won again to become the longest-serving U.S. senator in Michigan history. It was also where he won that showed the deep inroads he made into normally Republican areas where many GOP-leaning voters, while not philosophically aligned with the liberal, fiercely Democratic Mr. Levin, respected his work.

Yes, Mr. Levin faced weak, unfunded opposition in his final two runs. But to crush his opposition, Mr. Levin had to be strong too.

Let’s look at 2008 first when Mr. Levin faced then-state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk from suburban Kalamazoo. In that race, Mr. Levin carried the usually solid Republican counties of Cass, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Clinton, Crawford, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Ionia, Kent, Midland, Newaygo, Osceola, St. Joseph and Wexford. Scanning a few of the more populous Republican-leaning communities around the state, he also carried Shelby and Washington Townships in Macomb County, Portage in Mr. Hoogendyk’s backyard, Kentwood, Walker and Wyoming in Kent County and DeWitt Township in Clinton County.

But wait you say, that was a Democratic wave election that inflated Mr. Levin’s numbers.

Well, let’s look at 2002, which nationally was a good year for Republicans, and, even though Jennifer Granholm (narrowly) won the governorship, was a pretty solid year for the GOP in Michigan too. Mr. Levin carried all of the above counties except for Cass, Kent and St. Joseph. And the roster of usually Republican communities he won remains strong, including places like Birmingham, Novi and Troy – all in the home county of his opponent that year, then-Rep. Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski.

Clinton County, known for producing staunchly conservative members of the Legislature, was especially interesting in 2002. Republican gubernatorial nominee Dick Posthumus won it 13,711 to 12,070 over Ms. Granholm. But Mr. Levin won it 13,594 to 11,511 over Mr. Raczkowski. That is a swing of 3,724 votes, or 14.4 percent of those cast toward Mr. Levin on usually GOP turf.

Going further back in time, look at Mr. Levin’s 1990 victory over then U.S. Rep. and now Attorney General Bill Schuette. In the battleground county of Macomb, then-state Sen. John Engler won over then-Governor James Blanchard, 110,387 to 96,088, in the governor’s race. But Mr. Levin beat Mr. Schuette there 121,136 to 84,750. The swing of 50,685 represents 24 percent of votes cast toward Mr. Levin in a year that was good for Republicans in Michigan.

Mr. Levin takes these numbers into retirement. Democrats can only hope he can somehow pass on his electoral magic to whoever the party nominates to succeed him. As for the Republicans, let’s just say they will be delighted to have Mr. Levin’s name off the ballot with a chance to restore normalcy in the cities, townships and counties they usually dominate.

The Blues Notches A Big Win
Posted: March, 6 2013 11:48 AM

It took many years, involved some bloody political fights and having apparent victory snatched away, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, but Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan finally achieved its long-sought goal of shedding its unique state regulatory structure and instead being handled like other insurers.

Tuesday’s unanimous Senate action to send the legislation (SB 61* and SB 62*) to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk almost was too easy. I half-expected the voting board to short out or the snowstorm that hit Chicago to surprisingly shift northward and force the cancellation of legislative sessions the way this issue has gone for the Blues during the years.

Now, at last, their efforts will soon pay off with Governor Rick Snyder signing the bills into law.

Right? He will actually sign the bills this time, yes?

There are many facets to the bills, but the one Blue Cross has long sought is to have its rate proposals treated like other insurers, with oversight solely from the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation. Under current law, the Department of Attorney General also has an oversight role, and the Blues has said that and other language in the law seriously slow its ability to adjust to the market. Critics of Blues have said the additional oversight protects consumers.

The drama started almost six years ago when a House committee rushed a substantially different version of the reforms out of a committee six days after the bills were introduced. The bills would overwhelmingly pass the House a week later, and it seemed the Blues’ reputation for notching routs in the Legislature on its issues was as solid as ever.

But then-Attorney General Mike Cox mounted an all-out fight against the legislation, and the Senate applied the brakes. Eventually, when the 2007-08 term ended, the legislation would die in a House-Senate conference committee. In 2010, new legislation was introduced, but never made it out of committees.

Mr. Snyder reinvigorated the topic in the fall of 2011 when he called for overhauling the law governing the Blues. Months of negotiations led to Mr. Snyder unveiling his proposal in September 2012. In December, the Legislature sent the bills to Mr. Snyder, and victory for the Blues seemed at hand.

But then the governor got a look at the language House Republicans added to the bills requiring insurers to sell abortion coverage only as an optional rider, even in cases of rape or incest. Mr. Snyder dropped a bombshell, vetoing the bills, saying he could not support the language on abortion.

House Republicans said they thought Mr. Snyder was fine with the language, and the Snyder administration has never challenged that assertion. From all appearances, there was some type of miscommunication within the administration about what the governor could support. It was an almost inconceivable error, and Blues officials must have been furious privately.

Publicly, the Blues reacted calmly and simply urged quick action when the Legislature reconvened, and the Blues’ patience was rewarded as the legislation, minus the abortion language, went to Mr. Snyder with relative dispatch, just 55 days into the 97th Legislature.

Still, I doubt the Blues will celebrate much, the way this issue has gone, until Mr. Snyder actually signs his name on the bills. And maybe it should hire a police escort for the staffer who takes the bills to the Office of the Great Seal for filing, just to be safe.

A Rough Day For Bing
Posted: March, 1 2013 1:52 PM

In 2009, I was covering Detroit city government for another publication, and shortly after Dave Bing won a special mayoral election, one of his backers said the stakes for the city, which already was financially broken, were obvious.

Either Mr. Bing succeeds, or self-governance in Detroit will end, this backer said. Failure would mean a state takeover through an emergency financial manager or an Indianapolis-style scenario where the city ceases to exist as a standalone government and is run by the county, this person said.

Friday, nearly four years later, Governor Rick Snyder declared Detroit would be run by an emergency financial manager. It was clearly a difficult announcement for the governor, whose voice was uncharacteristically a bit antsy as he made his declaration, which will render Mr. Bing powerless.

It is unfortunate for Mr. Bing that he is the one who must bear the burden of having power taken. He stepped up to run in the aftermath of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s implosion. The litany of problems in city operations long predates him and has accumulated for many years. The city began hemorrhaging population in the 1950s – not, incidentally, starting after the 1967 riots, as many falsely assume.

But Mr. Bing did not help himself either. His first choice for chief financial officer was a colossal error. Bringing back Mr. Kilpatrick’s unproven third CFO, Norm White, who already had frittered away his credibility with the state Department of Treasury while part of the Kilpatrick administration, was a serious misjudgment. Mr. Bing eventually, two years later, realized it and reassigned Mr. White to a different department, but the situation cost Mr. Bing critical time and momentum.

And then Mr. Bing went an astounding 10 months without ANYONE as CFO. One of the few successes of the consent agreement between the city and the state was that it compelled Mr. Bing to re-establish the post and appoint someone, in this case Jack Martin. Given that Mr. Martin had Mr. Snyder’s strong blessing, it seems likely he will remain in some capacity once the emergency financial manager assumes power.

On January 1, 2011, Mr. Bing was the master of ceremonies at Mr. Snyder’s inauguration on the east steps of the Capitol, opening Mr. Snyder’s governorship. Friday, Mr. Snyder was at a Midtown television studio with invited guests, with Mr. Bing not present, all but closing Mr. Bing’s functional mayoralty.

With Brewer Gone, Dems Strangely Silent On Viviano
Posted: February, 28 2013 12:48 PM

When Governor Rick Snyder appointed Justice Brian Zahra to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer was ready with a news release pillorying Mr. Zahra as an “extremist judge” and claimed Mr. Snyder had gone back on his vow to name a moderate justice.

When Mr. Snyder appointed now-Justice David Viviano on Wednesday to fill a vacancy on the court, the response from the Democratic Party, five days into the era of Lon Johnson as party chair after he ousted Mr. Brewer, was … nothing. No news release via email. No hastily called news conference. No posts on social media.

There could be any number of reasons.

The party is in the midst of a major transition with Mr. Johnson getting settled, and Mr. Brewer extracting himself after 18 years on the job. Perhaps the party simply was not in a position to put together a response.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel (a Lon Johnson supporter) warmly embraced Mr. Snyder’s appointment of fellow Macomb resident Mr. Viviano, so perhaps Mr. Johnson did not want to blast away considering Mr. Hackel was at the Romney building with Mr. Snyder and Mr. Viviano for the celebratory news conference.

Perhaps this is a sign of how Mr. Johnson will differ from Mr. Brewer, whose passion for going after the Republican majority on the court was famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view, and the party might focus less on the court, where it has struggled electorally. Of the 18 Supreme Court seats up for election starting in 1998, Democratic nominees have won just five of them despite all the focus Mr. Brewer put on the court.

Or perhaps the reason for Mr. Snyder making the appointment – a Democratic nominee, former Justice Diane Hathaway, had to resign not long before she pleaded guilty to bank fraud in a real estate scandal – was so humiliating that any criticism of Mr. Viviano would look absurd.

In any case, it was still startling to have major news on the Supreme Court and not see Mr. Brewer thundering away.

About That Right-To-Work Effective Date
Posted: February, 27 2013 11:00 AM

There seems to be some confusion about when the new law barring mandatory union membership or non-member fees for employees working under a collective bargaining agreement, better known as right-to-work, takes effect.

Several organizations and news reports have said the law takes effect March 27. This is important because several employers and unions are negotiating contract extensions to maintain mandatory membership or fees for several years before the law takes effect.

In fact, it takes effect March 28. That is from the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder’s office.

No effective date was placed in the bill, and the Legislature did not give the bill immediate effect, so the bill takes effect 90 days after the sine die adjournment of the Legislature.

Sine what? That 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 27, 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 the 27th. But the day after those 90 days expire is the 28th.

Rep. Levin Shows He Remains A Force
Posted: February, 25 2013 12:03 PM

Democrats were reminded of a longtime party axiom as Lon Johnson ousted Mark Brewer as party chair at their Saturday convention – have the United Auto Workers on your side unless you want to lose. But they also might have learned something new: Get U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak) on your side too.

In some ways, that should not be news. Mr. Levin is a pillar of the modern Michigan Democratic Party. He was chair of the party in the 1960s, an influential state senator from 1965-70, the party’s gubernatorial nominee in 1970 and 1974 and a key member of the U.S. House since 1983.

Still, Mr. Levin has not had a legitimately contested race for re-election since the 1990s and even though he has served as either the chair or ranking member of the powerful U.S House Ways and Means Committee in recent years, it has been a long time since he in a public, obvious way seriously waded into a major political fight in Michigan.

But there he was this last month at the forefront of getting Mr. Johnson elected. While it was the UAW that first publicly emerged as wanting Mr. Brewer out, and let there be no doubt that its troops, money and cachet was essential, it was actually Mr. Levin who spearheaded the idea that Mr. Brewer must be replaced. The UAW provided the delegates and the money, but it was Mr. Levin that supplied the passion.

Democrats around the state, even those from Oakland County who know Mr. Levin especially well, were in awe of his commitment. He pushed hard to convince the other congressional Democrats to back Mr. Johnson. Former Governor James Blanchard said Saturday that Mr. Levin asked him to do a robocall on Mr. Johnson’s behalf. Mr. Levin’s campaign office became something of a headquarters for efforts on behalf of Mr. Johnson’s bid.

Mr. Levin seemed to be everywhere – at the debate in Royal Oak last week between Mr. Brewer and Mr. Johnson, at the Friday night Rules and Credentials Committee meeting to settle a dispute over memberships and even at the Southfield Democratic Club to sway some delegates.

And at the 9th Congressional District Democratic Party caucus Saturday, when Brewer ally Ed Bruley, the Macomb Democratic Party chair – as tough a political operator as there is in state Democratic politics – tried to reignite the memberships issue, Mr. Levin fought back and didn’t hesitate to get into a shouting match with Mr. Bruley.

Right alongside Mr. Levin playing an instrumental role in the mechanics of the Johnson effort was Mr. Levin’s chief of staff, Hilarie Chambers.

The lesson out of Saturday was clear: Any Democrat contemplating running for high office in this state should plan on breaking bread with the gentleman from Royal Oak.

Partisans Giddy, Dreading Convention Madness
Posted: February, 22 2013 3:15 PM

Anywhere you go today, there is one topic in Michigan politics – this weekend’s political party conventions.

Michigan Democrats are readying to tear each other to pieces gather at their winter convention in Detroit where longtime party Chair Mark Brewer is in serious jeopardy of seeing his 18-year run as party leader end to challenger Lon Johnson. Unions have split over whom to support although Mr. Johnson has put together some momentum with a steady stream of Democratic elected and former elected officials endorsing him.

The opening act is tonight when the party’s Rules and Credentials Committee, chaired by Mr. Brewer, will determine whether to allow 1,349 memberships to the party submitted by the United Auto Workers, a staunch supporter of Mr. Johnson, to be declared legitimate for the convention. There is a dispute about the payment for those memberships coming after the deadline to apply.

There is a feeling among neutral observers in the party that Mr. Johnson has the momentum going into the convention yet also some doubt because Mr. Brewer has advantages in his knowledge of rules and procedure as well as the usual questions about who will show up and whether they will stay for what could be a protracted evening. Virtually every step of the convention could be put to a vote.

And unexpectedly, now there are rumbles that re-election at the weekend convention in Lansing of Michigan Republicans is not a sure thing for Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak against upstart challenger Todd Courser. Mr. Schostak has overwhelming establishment support, but the talk in Republican circles Friday is that tea party activists remain a wild card and could give Mr. Courser a shot. Mr. Schostak has tea party support too, but Mr. Courser comes out of the movement and has some key figures in it supporting him.

Saturday, as partisans gather at their respective events, they will hope the other side’s convention turns into a circus and undoubtedly delight in taunting their foes if it does.

If their own convention turns raucous? Get ready to hear a chorus of crickets.

Olumba’s Move Irrelevant Unless…
Posted: February, 20 2013 1:33 PM

Rep. John Olumba’s decision to depart the House Democratic Caucus and instead form something called the Independent Urban Democracy Caucus means little in terms of operations in the House this term, but it could become a huge storyline if enough factors conspire in 2014 to make it one.

For the next 22 months, Mr. Olumba (I-Detroit) will operate on his own.

But come May 2014, Mr. Olumba will have to decide whether to run for re-election, and if he does, whether to do so as a Democrat or as a candidate without party affiliation since it seems unlikely that he could singlehandedly undertake the task of getting formal ballot access for a new political party.

To win, Mr. Olumba will have to file as a Democrat. He won his seat as a Democrat in 2012 with 95.56 percent of the vote, and a huge number of Detroiters vote a straight-ticket Democratic ballot who would never even review the individual candidates in the race to see Mr. Olumba as an option.

If Mr. Olumba runs as a Democrat and survives a sure challenge for the party’s nomination in the August primary – and his win in August 2012 over former Rep. Jimmy Womack was impressive – then the question will be whether Mr. Olumba returns to the House Democratic Caucus or decides to remain a caucus of one.

Imagine the tumult that would ensue the night of November 4, 2014, if the House elections show either the Democrats or the Republicans at 55 members, the other caucus at 54 and Mr. Olumba as the swing vote to organize the House as the 110th member.

Mr. Olumba could position himself as the ultimate political free agent. Any of the following scenarios could transpire:

  • Mr. Olumba either decides to return to the Democratic Caucus or remains on his own, but agrees to vote for the Democratic leader as speaker. That would allow the Democrats to organize the House if that brings them to 56 votes or set up a power-sharing arrangement if that brings the House to a 55-55 tie.
  • Mr. Olumba decides to remain on his own and abstain from the vote for speaker, enabling whichever party has the 55-54 plurality to organize the House.
  • Mr. Olumba decides to vote for the Republican leader for speaker, allowing the GOP to organize the House if that brings them to 56 votes or set up a power-sharing arrangement if that brings the House to a 55-55 tie.

Many events have to occur for this scenario to transpire. Bank on Democrats going all-out in August 2014 to ensure the most important one – Mr. Olumba winning re-election – does not occur.

Now We Know Why Snyder Resisted Specific Roads Plan
Posted: February, 15 2013 2:50 PM

Governor Rick Snyder avoided detailing a specific plan to raise more than $1 billion for the state’s roads for a long time, and Thursday showed why when Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) nixed the governor’s proposal only a week after unveiling it.

Yes, in the 16 months since Mr. Snyder first called for a major increase in infrastructure investment, he did offer the broad outlines of a plan. In October 2011, he suggested – but did not formally propose – that the money could be raised through a vehicle registration fee increase. Then a couple months later, as the public and legislators balked at an average hike of $120 per vehicle, he moved toward a hybrid plan increasing registration fees by less but also increasing the fuel tax.

The issue never really got off the ground in the 96th Legislature, so Mr. Snyder then decided to make it his major push for 2013. At a news conference in January, he made clear he would discuss his plan in his January 16 State of the State address. Asked at that news conference how the plan might differ from what he discussed in October 2011, Mr. Snyder said it would be more specific.

So then it was a surprise in the speech when Mr. Snyder actually simply said $1.2 billion needed to be raised and that his administration would work with the Legislature on the specifics. He has said offering a specific plan would only prompt criticism of the specifics without offering alternatives.

But at his February 7 presentation of his 2013-14 budget recommendation, Mr. Snyder did offer a specific plan – a fuel tax equivalent to 33 cents per gallon, a 60 percent hike in registration fees on light vehicles and a 25 percent hike in registration fees for heavy trucks.

One week later, Mr. Richardville’s spokesperson called the proposal a “non-starter” (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 14, 2013).

The Snyder team is saying the expected in the wake of this pronouncement: That what happened Thursday is all part of the legislative process, nothing is off the table and that discussions will continue.

After the State of the State, it seemed Mr. Snyder’s hope was to develop a plan in private negotiations with top lawmakers and then hope that once they struck an agreement, it would pull in enough legislative support to pass. For whatever reason, something changed between then and the budget presentation, and he decided to go public with a plan that, as we learned Thursday, did not already have the backing of top Republican legislators.

Not only does it appear Mr. Snyder’s initial instinct to wait on specifics was the right one, but the governor also is getting a big taste of why raising more money for roads has proven impossible for so long.

Whistles, Shocked, Why And Lost House Traditions
Posted: February, 14 2013 4:04 PM

Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) had a tough afternoon during today’s House session when an amendment she proposed to a bill regarding the state’s sex offender registry got crushed.

Once the votes were tallied, just 11 had voted yes and 97 had voted no. Ms. Barnett’s amendment concerned SB 44*, which would again require certain lower-level sex offenders to have their names placed on the sex offender registry. Ms. Barnett’s amendment would have made the change going forward, not retroactive, so that those who were able to have their names removed under a change made in the previous term do not have to then go back on the registry.

And while Ms. Barnett had to endure a lopsided loss and the sight of the voting board covered in red no votes, at least she did not have to suffer an indignity inflicted upon members in similar circumstances. At times, in years past, upon seeing an amendment or bill getting overwhelmingly trounced on the voting board, other House members would whistle to mimic the sound of a bomb falling. Ouch.

Some other traditions have vanished.

From the late 1980s until roughly 2002, if a member during a floor speech used the word “why,” the rest of the members would erupt in a chorus of “Why? Why?” No, it was not a nod to the assaulted ice skater Nancy Kerrigan, but one to former Rep. John Maynard, who during an evening session in the 1980s and, as the story goes, having had a couple “pops” during a dinner break gave a “speech” in which he repeatedly said something to the effect of, “Mr. Speaker, I just want to know; Whyyyy?”

Another goodie that has disappeared would occur if a member speaking on the floor would use the word “shocked” to describe their reaction to some perceived outrage in the legislation before the body. Members would then shout “Shocked!” to mock the real or faux sense of anger.

So that’s something for Ms. Barnett. Had this happened 15 years ago, and she used the words “shocked” and “why” in her speech, she might have pulled off an unfortunate House hat trick.

Of Governors And THE Rivalry
Posted: February, 12 2013 4:48 PM

College basketball fans across the state are fired up about tonight’s game between Michigan State and Michigan, and with good reason as it is the first time the two long-time rivals will face each other when both are ranked in the top 10 of the polls.

So in this unprecedented year of college basketball where both the Spartans and the Wolverines boast quality teams, enter Governor Rick Snyder, who possesses bachelor’s, law and master’s of business administration degrees from the University of Michigan and is a frequent courtside presence at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.

Mr. Snyder even nearly got hit in a collision when U-M player Mitch McGary dove for a loose ball out of bounds with his foot nearly hitting Mr. Snyder in the face.

The governor has found himself in office at a rare time in the rivalry. Not only are the basketball programs having strong seasons, but both schools’ football programs are in good shape, another rarity.

Mr. Snyder is the first governor with an undergraduate degree from U-M since Governor Murray Van Wagoner in 1941-42. Back then, the only real rivalry between the schools was between legendary Michigan State President John Hannah, who desperately wanted to bring the school into the Big Ten, and Ralph Aigler, the U-M law professor who was instrumental in stopping that quest for so many years while the de facto leader of the conference. I highly recommend reading the book “Arrogance and Scheming in the Big Ten: Michigan State's Quest for Membership and Michigan's Powerful Opposition” on this topic. I digress.

Anywho, Mr. Snyder’s role adds some juice.

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm was a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley. Prior to two Spartans, James Blanchard and John Engler, holding office from 1983-2003, the previous governors had graduated from or attended Yale (William Milliken), the University of Utah/George Washington University (George Romney), Olivet College/the University of North Carolina (John Swainson), Princeton University (G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, who also had a law degree from U-M), the University of Detroit (Kim Sigler), and Notre Dame University (Harry Kelly).

So far, while Mr. Snyder clearly relishes his school’s athletics as much as Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Engler did theirs, he is not as in your face about it.

During his 1999 State of the State speech, Mr. Engler taunted U-M fans when he randomly said at one point, and I don’t recall the exact words, “Isn’t it great to beat Ohio State?” A few months earlier, MSU had scored one of the biggest upsets in its football program's history by knocking off an undefeated, No. 1 Ohio State team in Columbus, Ohio. Weeks later, OSU beat Michigan.

Of course, the slights go both ways. While walking to Michigan Stadium for the football game between the teams in 2000 wearing my Spartan garb, my U-M buddy and I walked past a frat house having a big party. Suddenly I heard someone yell, “There’s a State fan!” and out of the corner of my eye I saw a garden hose with flowing water being rushed in my direction.

Knowing Mr. Snyder, if U-M wins tonight, he would probably politely laud both teams for a good effort and congratulate U-M on a good win. I don’t expect we’ll hear about it in next year’s State of the State, nor do I think he has any plans to grab a garden hose.

Much Riding On Schauer Decision
Posted: February, 11 2013 3:26 PM

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer plans to decide whether to run for governor in 2014 in the next month, and if Mr. Schauer passes on the race, it will throw the party’s gubernatorial nomination up for grabs and put into question whether it can muster a serious challenge to Governor Rick Snyder.

The other names in play are U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and State Board of Education President John Austin. But Mr. Peters is seen as unlikely to run for governor and more likely to run for U.S. Senate if U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) retires.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) recently decided not to run as did Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

Presuming Mr. Peters is out, that leaves Mr. Austin, who while well-regarded for his work on the state board is unknown and untested in major politics.

So if not Mr. Schauer, then who? Perhaps there will be an effort to beg U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) to run. She is hands-down the strongest potential candidate the party could field and the one name that would cause some genuine anxiety among Republicans, having won her last two bids for the Senate in landslides and developed a reputation as an elite candidate.

But Ms. Stabenow’s office has made plain she is not interested in running, and it’s hard to imagine that suddenly changing.

Jocelyn Benson, the interim dean of the Wayne State University Law School, appears likely to run for some major office in 2014, perhaps a rematch with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. But her name has come up in the gubernatorial talk as well.

There’s also Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, whom Mr. Snyder crushed in 2010, and it would be a surprise if Democrats entrusted the nomination again to him.

Another name has come up: former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan, also the former deputy Wayne County executive under Ed McNamara and later the Wayne County prosecutor for a brief stint. Mr. Duggan is positioning himself for a Detroit mayoral run, but with the ever-growing likelihood that Mr. Snyder will name an emergency financial manager to run Detroit, rendering the mayor powerless, some Democrats would like Mr. Duggan to shift his campaign ambitions west-northwest to the Capitol.

All of this speculation likely becomes meaningless if Mr. Schauer runs. It is easy to envision the various factions of the Democratic Party quickly rallying around him.

But if Mr. Schauer passes on the race, a scramble will ensue. And that’s when you would see some genuine anxiety among Democrats.

Fuzzy Math On Budget Eve
Posted: February, 6 2013 3:10 PM

Governor Rick Snyder presents his recommended budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year Thursday and as always all of the Capitol and environs is brimming with anticipation and anxiety about what Mr. Snyder will propose.

Since Mr. Snyder made a subtle change last year, there is an added reason to stock up on antacid. Last year, there was some additional money to allow for some modest spending increases. But instead of simply adding funding to various programs, Mr. Snyder and his budget director, John Nixon, devised a method to tamp down expectations of those increases getting locked in for the coming years.

Instead of simply saying a particular program would get a certain amount of money, the budget in many cases called for “ongoing funding” equivalent to what the program received the prior year and additional funding classified as “one-time” – the latter of which meaning that those affected by the program better not assume that money will return the following year.

Well, now we are at the following year. And that has many nervous. Items Mr. Snyder might characterize as having received additional funding might in fact be seeing a cut.

Let’s break this down. Be warned, it will involve math.

Let’s say the Widgets Program (no, there is no such thing) received $10 million in “ongoing” funding in the current fiscal year 2012-13. And let’s say it also received $1 million in “one-time” funding for a total of $11 million compared to the $10 million it received in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

But now Mr. Snyder proposes $10 million in “ongoing funding” and $500,000 in “one-time” funding for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

That means the program would be getting $10.5 million in 2013-14 compared to $11 million in the current year. I’m no Nate Silver, but it’s not hard to calculate that represents a 4.6 percent cut from the previous year.

But Mr. Snyder may not present it as such. So that’s why you might see a slew of lobbyists at the Capitol tomorrow with one eye on the governor’s budget recommendation and the other eye on a calculator.

Ohio, Medicaid Expansion And Michigan
Posted: February, 4 2013 3:00 PM

Governor Rick Snyder will announce his decision this week on whether to expand Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of the poverty level, a decision also in front of every governor in the nation.

One of those governors, Ohio Governor John Kasich, announced his decision today, and he decided to move forward with the expansion that would largely be funded by the federal government under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He also made the announcement as he outlined his latest budget proposal.

My colleagues at Gongwer News Service/Ohio Report are covering this issue today. They reported that the Kasich administration cited several reasons for adopting the expansion, including its impact on Ohio’s “job-friendly climate,” insurance premiums, hospitals and the mental health safety net.

If Mr. Snyder also recommends the increase, it is easy to envision him citing the same reasons.

And it would be a surprise if Mr. Snyder does not recommend the increase. The key marker he set was to make sure the state’s hospitals and physicians had the capacity to handle hundreds of thousands of new Medicaid patients. The Snyder administration has said it is satisfied the answer to that question is yes (see Gongwer Michigan Report, January 31, 2013).

Now the Snyder administration is trying to ensure the expansion would be fiscally sound.

The Kasich administration has indicated its answer to that question is yes. Michigan and Ohio have had their differences on many topics over the years, but at this point, it would be a surprise if where their governors stand on Medicaid expansion is going to be one of them.

McGuinness Speaks
Posted: February, 1 2013 2:00 PM

I thought we had heard the last of Mike McGuinness, the former Oakland County Democratic Party chair convicted for his role in fraudulently filing people to run for office without their knowledge as part of the fake tea party dirty trick of 2010.

Mr. McGuinness never uttered one public word beyond what little he had to say in court when he pleaded no contest to six felonies and was sentenced to probation. It seemed that, his seemingly bright rising political star destroyed, he would remain quiet and try to rebuild his life. And that’s what as far as I know he did for the past two years.

Until Thursday.

Mr. McGuinness posted a lengthy piece in the comments portion of the MichiganLiberal.com, confirmed by the site’s owner as coming in fact from Mr. McGuinness, that named Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer as the architect of the fake tea party tactic and questioned how he could remain as state party chair having initiated such a ham-handed scheme. Mr. McGuinness also spent many words critical of himself and his own actions in the post.

Now, Mr. McGuinness notes that Mr. Brewer’s alleged hatching of the fake tea party concept was not illegal. Indeed, while certainly a dirty trick that backfired on whoever came up with the idea, it was not illegal to create a political party known as The Tea Party and have people file to run for office under its banner with the sole purpose of siphoning votes away from Republicans to help elect Democrats.

What was illegal was for Mr. McGuinness and his associate, and accomplice, Jason Bauer, to fill out affidavits of candidacy and forge the signatures of people to run for office, under oath, without many, maybe most, of those people knowing about it. And it was incredibly stupid for Mr. Bauer himself to notarize several of the affidavits, a gaffe that helped unravel the entire ordeal.

Through it all, it remained unclear who the instigator of the overall fake tea party idea was. Candidates filed around the state for The Tea Party, not just in Oakland County. Mr. Brewer denied any involvement. Investigators said the plot originated with a Lansing-based Democrat, but did not name that person.

Now Mr. Brewer has been implicated, and the question is how this will factor into the efforts by the United Auto Workers and other Democrats to deny him another term as party chair. That already ugly fight looks like it could get even uglier than party leaders feared.

Dem Candidate Will Need Excitement Whitmer Inspired In Party
Posted: January, 30 2013 12:12 PM

Whoever the Democratic nominee for governor is in 2014, and today Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer announced she would not run, that person will surely need to inspire the same enthusiasm Ms. Whitmer did with the Democratic faithful to have a chance of unseating Governor Rick Snyder.

Ms. Whitmer managed to build a strong following despite having the significant disadvantage of being a state legislator from outside the Detroit area, removed from the core of the party’s base. That became evident at the massive protest against the right-to-work legislation at the Capitol in December.

Usually at protests, the big audience reactions are reserved for big names, and that almost never involves state legislators, who, especially in the era of term limits, do not fall into that category.

So when Ms. Whitmer’s name was announced as she entered the Capitol Rotunda to speak to protesters gathered there, the deafening roar of cheers was telling. Ms. Whitmer, who in her two years-plus as Senate minority leader has become the voice and face of the Democratic opposition at the Capitol, had successfully translated that work into a following beyond the Capitol.

Had Ms. Whitmer run, that is something that could have served her well.

Now the remaining potential Democratic candidates – and none have announced – will have to try to do the same. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer is the one making the most overt moves, having said openly he is considering a run and recently penning a newspaper column blasting Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican legislative majority at the Capitol.

State Board of Education President John Austin is considering a run, but faces a steep name recognition challenge.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) also has been mentioned as a candidate, but he is keeping his powder dry for now.

The prevailing thought in Democratic circles is that there is no way Mr. Peters would give up his U.S. House seat, which he should be favored to hold for another 10 years, for the difficult challenge of unseating Mr. Snyder. But organized labor would love to see him run, and he would bring a strong resume of legislative, executive and business experience, a potent political base in Oakland County, and a proven ability to raise campaign cash.

It is a classic political arc. In 2002, Mr. Peters as a state senator ran for governor (though he withdrew and was not on the primary ballot) and was largely blown off with political heavyweights like Jennifer Granholm, David Bonior and James Blanchard also running for the party’s nomination. Now, especially with Ms. Whitmer’s decision, most of those same party people would dearly like to see him run.

For Hathaway, Finally Nowhere To Hide
Posted: January, 29 2013 12:28 PM

In the more than eight months since former Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway was implicated in a real estate scandal, Ms. Hathaway has steadfastly refused to say anything publicly about the circumstances surrounding a short sale she and her husband obtained on their Grosse Pointe Park home to wipe out $600,000 in debt.

Ms. Hathaway ran from Ross Jones, the WXYZ-TV reporter who broke the story, and refused comment when other media outlets tried to ask her about why she and her husband transferred several properties to his children only to have his children transfer those properties back after the short sale was complete. The implication seemed obvious – that the couple was trying to hide assets to get a short sale, typically only available to those facing a hardship.

And when reporters contacted her attorney, Steve Fishman, one of the most highly regarded federal criminal defense attorneys in the Detroit area, he said only there was more to the story, but Ms. Hathaway would only explain it to “someone with authority.”

That “someone with authority,” Mr. Fishman said, was not the general public (nevermind that Ms. Hathaway was a statewide elected official subject to re-election in 2016).

It was not Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., Mr. Fishman said, even though Mr. Young and the other justices had the authority to remove Ms. Hathaway through the Judicial Tenure Commission process.

It evidently was not the Judicial Tenure Commission either. In its complaint against Ms. Hathaway, it accused her of making “misrepresentations” about the facts of the case to the commission.

No, it apparently took the federal hammer possessed by the U.S. attorney in Detroit, Barbara McQuade, and the U.S. District Court to force Ms. Hathaway to fess up as she pleaded guilty today to bank fraud.

To be sure, Ms. Hathaway had every right as a citizen under the U.S. Constitution to say nothing to the public about the case, only admit to anything when she was ready to do so or profess her innocence and defend herself before a jury of her peers.

Yet as an elected official, let alone a member of the highest court in the state, the poor judgment she showed in her personal financial affairs also seemingly extended to how she handled the scandal. Since she has admitted that she is in fact guilty of fraud, perhaps one question she can ponder during her expected stay in a federal prison is why she clung to her office in silence and dragged this sorry episode out for eight months more than necessary.

Bolger, House Democrats And Committee Assignments
Posted: January, 28 2013 3:18 PM

The two Democrats who voted against re-electing House Speaker Jase Bolger as speaker for this term and the one Democrat who voted against re-electing House Clerk Gary Randall paid the price when Mr. Bolger announced committee assignments last week.

Rep. Doug Geiss (D-Taylor) lost his assignments on the Education, Insurance and Transportation committees. He instead will serve on the Agriculture Committee, a plum assignment for legislators representing rural areas, but not so for Mr. Geiss whose district is suburban. He also was assigned to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which since gutted by the courts lacks much cachet.

Rep. Dian Slavens (D-Canton Township) lost her minority vice chair post on the Families, Children and Seniors Committee and will have two total assignments instead of three as she had in the last term. And Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has the treat of being assigned to two committees scheduled to meet at the same time on the same day on two different floors of the House Office Building.

When Mr. Bolger was re-elected on a 107-2 vote (Mr. Geiss and Ms. Slavens voting no), there was some grumbling in Democratic circles that House Democrats had sold out and given Mr. Bolger a pass after everything that happened in the 2011-12 term.

In Democrats’ minds, his offenses included what Democrats saw as procedural atrocities, his involvement in the election scandal involving former Rep. Roy Schmidt, how the right-to-work legislation was handled and the refusal to let two then-Democratic legislators speak on the House floor the day after one used the word vagina in a speech against abortion legislation and the other shouted vasectomy after Republicans rejected her amendment on a voice vote.

The question now is whether the repercussions for Mr. Geiss, Mr. Irwin and Ms. Slavens shows the other 48 Democrats were shrewd or scared.

On the one hand, the other 48 generally did well with their committee assignments. Even Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids), who excoriated Mr. Bolger for the Schmidt scandal and called on him to resign the speakership, kept his spot on the Appropriations Committee, including gaining the key spot of minority vice chair on the School Aid Subcommittee. Democrats whom Republicans would be expected to try to unseat in 2014 also seemed to do well.

But on the other hand, had all 51 Democrats opposed Mr. Bolger, would it not have been harder to single out a few members for what was clearly punishment? House Republicans could have retaliated in other ways, of course, such as reducing the number of Democratic slots on committees, slashing office budgets for Democratic members and other moves that would have made it extremely difficult for the minority members to function effectively.

There’s no way to know what would have happened, but something to ponder, especially if you see Mr. Irwin in the elevator between 9-10:30 a.m. on Thursdays shuttling back-and-forth between committees.

Four With Plum Assignments: Farrington, Foster, Nesbitt, Schmidt
Posted: January, 25 2013 3:02 PM

A day after committee assignments were unveiled for the 2013-14 term in the House, the game of “who got what” in Lansing is in full swing.

Four names that stood out as having done especially well are Rep. Jeff Farrington (R-Utica), Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey), Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City).

Mr. Farrington scored the chair of the Tax Policy Committee as well as seats on the Commerce, Energy and Technology and Financial Services committees. Mr. Foster landed the chair of Commerce plus seats on Health Policy, Michigan Competitiveness and Tax Policy.

No shortage of lobbyists around town were oohing and ahhing at Mr. Nesbitt’s haul – chair of Energy and Technology and seats on Commerce, Insurance and Tax Policy.

Meanwhile, Mr. Schmidt will head up the top issue at the Capitol this year – road funding – as chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee while also serving on the Commerce and Energy and Technology. He has an assignment to the new Financial Liability Reform Committee as well.

The assignments put the four members on virtually every committee that will have the combination of the meatiest policy legislation combined with the broadest array of well-heeled interests that provide strong campaign contributions to those members of those committees.

Not every committee has the same nexus. Education has huge issues that come before it, but not the moneyed interest groups. The same is true of Elections and Ethics and others.

So not only do the assignments position the four legislators to be key players on many of the major issues coming before the Legislature, but all become bigger players to watch for moving up on the political ladder in the future.

King Drawing More Criticism From Democrats
Posted: January, 24 2013 2:08 PM

The position of United Auto Workers president has for as long as I can remember been a revered figure in the Michigan Democratic Party.

Ron Gettelfinger. Stephen Yokich. Owen Bieber. Those three men ran the powerful union from 1983-2010, and as far as one could tell from the outside, none faced the type of furious criticism voiced privately by other Democrats that current UAW President Bob King has seen in the past year.

The questioning of Mr. King has begun anew with his push to replace longtime Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer, especially the way he is going about it. For Gongwer subscribers, here’s our story on the topic from yesterday (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 23, 2013).

Several Democrats have said Mr. King simply decided to make a change and laid little to no groundwork to pull off the task of extricating Mr. Brewer from his 18-year run as chair. No clear-cut successor was identified, nor had Mr. King pulled together a critical mass of key Democratic interests that might have prompted Mr. Brewer to leave on his own without the situation turning into an ugly public fight.

And that’s what we now have.

On one side, the UAW, Teamsters and other key players are maneuvering to oust Mr. Brewer leading up to or at the February 23 state Democratic Party convention at Cobo Center. On the other side are the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, the Michigan Education Association and other Brewer loyalists. How this will play out is unclear.

But what I have found most interesting working on this story in the last 24 hours are the comments of those Democrats open to the idea of replacing Mr. Brewer, but baffled, and upset, at Mr. King’s methods. And those officials, all speaking on the condition of anonymity because the UAW still swings a huge stick in the party, say it seems part of a pattern for Mr. King in the past year.

In early 2012, Mr. King decided to go for a ballot proposal amending the Constitution to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the Constitution. Many Democrats said they were not consulted about it and were frustrated at the missteps of Proposal 12-2 which was badly defeated at the polls.

Then in the fall of 2012, word leaked that Mr. King was in talks with the Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, to have the UAW endorse its Proposal 12-6 to thwart the proposed new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, in exchange for the Morouns endorsing Proposal 12-2. Virtually every Democrat I contacted on that situation was blindsided and furious with Mr. King. Once word of the talks became public, no deal occurred.

So as we watch the drama play out for the next month, the decision on the next Democratic Party chair looks to loom as just as much a referendum on Mr. King as it is for Mr. Brewer.

House Committee Conundrum
Posted: January, 22 2013 2:35 PM

Right about now is probably the point at which House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and his staff are starting to feel numb when it comes to the always arduous biennial task of determining how to carve up roughly 400 committee and subcommittee assignments for the 110 House members for the next two years.

Mr. Bolger is expected to announce those assignments this week, and while he is so far nine days behind the pace he set in 2011 with an announcement on January 12, he is well within the range during the term limits era, begun in 1999. Since then, the announcement of committee assignments has been as early as Mr. Bolger’s 2011 unveiling on January 12 and as late as January 26 in 2009.

And Mr. Bolger is confronting a significant problem: It seems no one in the majority Republican caucus has a burning desire to chair the House Education Committee, one of the most high-profile committees.

The problem is that the person Mr. Bolger appointed to chair the committee at the beginning of the 2011-12 term, former Rep. Paul Scott, was recalled from office. Mr. Bolger then named Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) for a brief stint and then turned to Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto) to fill out the remainder of the term.

But it is clear Ms. Lyons harbors other interests. In the 2011-12 term, she started out on a trio of finance-type committees – Banking and Financial Services, Insurance and Tax Policy – before adding Education to her portfolio. And from what several sources have said, she prefers not to return to Education this term.

Whoever chairs the Education Committee inevitably faces controversial bills and tense committee hearings. With Governor Rick Snyder again seeking passage of legislation codifying the Education Achievement Authority, disagreements on the issue are essentially assured.

Another reality of the committee is that it is not known as one where being the chair will help drive a member’s campaign fundraising. The groups with issues before the committee are not as flush as those who regularly go before other committees. For Gongwer subscribers, here’s a story we did a couple years ago on that topic (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 4, 2011).

The absence of an Education Committee chair affects decisions on who will chair other committees because perhaps the eventual choice is currently penciled in for something else. That leaves Mr. Bolger with more shuffling to finish in naming all the committee chairs.

The speaker also has to consider which members possess the fortitude to chair a committee with searing political battles, which members have earned in his mind the opportunity to chair a committee, geographic balance and members’ own preferences.

If that makes you feel a bit numb, now imagine the task before the speaker.

Mapping The Road To 56 On Road Tax, Fee Increases In the House
Posted: January, 17 2013 2:40 PM

For the first time in a while, Governor Rick Snyder is going to have to find a way to put together a healthy number of votes from both the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House to pass a controversial issue, his road funding plan.

For most of his first two years, Mr. Snyder could simply rely on the big Republican majority to pass his agenda (63-47 for most of the last term, 59-51 now). But his inability to find a bipartisan accord in the House sank his plan for a state-run health insurance exchange, and without a broad coalition, his road funding plan will suffer the same fate.

Let’s take a look at just how narrow a path Mr. Snyder has to 56 votes. This is all hypothetical, but based on traditional legislative behavior.

For starters, let’s presume no House member in a politically competitive district from either party eligible to run for re-election will vote yes for fear of getting blasted with it in the 2014 election. That’s potentially 20 votes off the table, leaving 90 available.

Now let’s remove the names of those potentially running for the Senate in 2014, either in a safe Republican seat where a vote to raise taxes could cause problems in a Republican primary, or in a seat competitive in the general election. That’s another potential 10 votes lost, taking the number of available votes down to 80.

Next there are the Republicans whose anti-tax record is so staunch is it difficult to envision them voting for the legislation. That could be as many as another 15 off the table, taking potential available votes down to 65, with 37 of those Democrats and the remaining 28 Republicans.

That is a very narrow path to 56 votes.

Past speakers have built this type of coalition. Former House Speaker Andy Dillon did it several times by combining his Democratic allies with most of the minority Republican caucus to pass various budget issues. Former House Speaker Rick Johnson did so with his Republican allies and the minority Democratic caucus to raise the cigarette tax and pass fee increases.

And it certainly could be done here. But Democrats are already signaling that the broad framework of Mr. Snyder’s plan is unacceptable. Additionally, Democrats are building a narrative for the 2014 campaign against Mr. Snyder that he has pushed the tax burden from corporations onto individuals. A deal on transportation revenues could cost them a potent issue.

For Republicans who swallowed hard and voted for the 2011 tax overhaul, agreeing to support increasing the income tax burden on many individuals because the bill also fulfilled their top goal of ending the Michigan Business Tax, Mr. Snyder has no such carrot to offer this time.

The Art Of The State Of The State Surprise
Posted: January, 16 2013 3:20 PM

Every year, the governor of Michigan delivers a State of the State address to a Joint Convention of the Legislature. Some years, but not every year, the governor puts in a last-minute surprise that generates huge news coverage and helps set the table for the year’s agenda.

Two come to mind right away. In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder shocked everyone when he declared his support for building the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, sometimes called the Detroit River International Crossing or the New International Trade Crossing. Even House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) did not know Mr. Snyder’s declaration was coming.

And in 1999, Governor John Engler left out from the prepared text of his speech a proposal to direct the windfall from Michigan’s share of a settlement between state attorneys general and the tobacco companies toward a college scholarship program for students scoring well on standardized tests.

On that one, word started to slip out in the afternoon that Mr. Engler was planning a blockbuster surprise proposal. A few minutes before the speech started, my colleague, John Lindstrom, found out the details of the proposal and went over it with me on the House floor. Not that we could do much about it because in those days there were no Gongwer breaking news updates via email and most subscribers would have to wait until they received their paper copy of Gongwer the next morning, or if, they were lucky, via fax that evening.

The positive spin of a well-executed surprise is that it ensures huge news coverage since State of the State tends to be the one night of the year where residents’ eyes are on the governor and its state government. And in the case of Mr. Engler’s proposal, it put Democrats on the defensive about how to spend the many millions from the tobacco settlement although the scholarship program begun with that money is defunct after the revenue was redirected to other causes in subsequent years.

Mr. Snyder’s move did not work as well, as he has acknowledged. Not only did it blindside Republican legislative leaders, but it put the opponents of the bridge on notice and gave them some 10 months to build opposition against the legislation before it was ready for committee work.

If Mr. Snyder has a big surprise planned for the speech tonight, he has kept it well-guarded. Expectations are for a low-key address that mainly focuses on repackaging his previous sweeping proposal from 2011 on raising at least $1.4 billion in revenues for transportation.

Then again, that’s the best way to spring a surprise.

Navigating Committee Assignment Protocols
Posted: January, 15 2013 12:09 PM

As I perused the official statement Friday from House Democrats reacting to the day’s Revenue Estimating Conference, I noticed a phrasing in the portion attributed to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), whom House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) wants to serve as his caucus’s minority vice chair on the all-important Appropriations Committee.

The statement referred to Ms. Tlaib as “the House Democrats’ nominee for minority vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee.”

That took me back to an incident in late 2002.

In the House, the speaker controls virtually all aspects of operations – the budget, hiring and firing of staff and committee assignments, even the assignments for members of the minority party. The minority leader will present recommendations, and usually the speaker agrees to them, but that’s all they are, recommendations.

In 2002, the House Minority Leader-elect, Dianne Byrum, announced that then-Rep. Gretchen Whitmer, now the Senate minority leader, would serve as the House Democrats’ minority vice chair on Appropriations.

A day later, the spokesperson for the then-speaker, Rick Johnson, contacted reporters to spread the word that he as speaker makes committee assignments, thought the minority leader’s announcement was presumptuous and was considering not naming Ms. Whitmer to the post. Ms. Byrum and Mr. Johnson worked it out and in January, Mr. Johnson did name Ms. Whitmer to the post.

But the point was made.

Snyder, Outlines, TelePrompTers, And State Of The State
Posted: January, 14 2013 2:48 PM

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his third State of the State speech Wednesday, and he again will speak from an outline, not a prepared text on a TelePrompTer.

I’m somewhat surprised. Mr. Snyder used the unconventional method for the formal address in his first two speeches. It worked well enough in his first speech, but it caused problems in the second one last year. Mr. Snyder’s pacing seemed off, and the speech was roundly panned.

There’s no question, though, that Mr. Snyder feels most comfortable speaking off an outline. I can’t imagine his staff is anything other than a nervous wreck about the outline format because, for one, reading a prepared text off a TelePrompTer would guard against errors like when he referred to Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) as “majority leader” in last year’s speech. And that wasn’t even that big a mistake when you consider the potential for other malapropisms.

Then there’s the headache for staff of trying to brief the news media on what Mr. Snyder will say in his speech without knowing exactly what he will, in fact, say.

Still, it’s Mr. Snyder giving the speech to a Joint Convention of the Legislature before a live television audience. It’s easy to forget that giving a speech under that type of scrutiny is stressful. So if he feels most comfortable using an outline, that’s the way to go.

A Nod To Olson As Revenue Conference Opens
Posted: January, 11 2013 10:44 AM

I’m covering today’s Revenue Estimating Conference, the wonky event where the state’s brightest economic minds gather to come to an agreement on how much revenue is available for the current and upcoming fiscal years. Gary Olson, the longtime and highly respected former Senate Fiscal Agency director who died last year, was on the minds of many as the conference opened.

This is the first conference since Mr. Olson’s death. Ellen Jeffries, who succeeded Mr. Olson as SFA director when he retired at the end of 2010, gave him a nod at the opening.

“May his spirit of fairness and integrity continue to guide us in our deliberations in this process,” she said.

Mr. Olson’s integrity was so strong that after a spate of revenue conferences in the early part of the last decade that repeatedly underestimated how far revenues would fall, he prepared a graphic for the conference showing how many times the forecast had been off and by how much. That had to be tough.

Yet in a politically charged town like Lansing where publicly admitting mistakes is rare, Mr. Olson saw doing so as an opportunity for accountability, learning and improvement.

Seat Selection Something To Watch On Opening Day
Posted: January, 9 2013 10:21 AM

When the House opens today at noon for its first session of the 97th Legislature, the activity that will take the most time is the one I find the most fascinating – the selection by each of the 110 members of their seats on the House floor.

The ritual gives a bit of insight into each member. The most popular seats tend to be the ones at the back. Those seats are the closest to the coffee and the restrooms. And if a member is out in the lobby speaking with a lobbyist or constituent, he or she has a shorter distance to return to press the green or red button to cast a yes or no vote on a bill, amendment or other action.

Some members go for a “window seat” along the east or west walls. It becomes clear who the speaker’s inner circle is because usually the handful of seats closest to where the speaker sits up front tends to be occupied by those he or she trusts most.

A seat along the center aisle affords advantages. During the governor’s State of the State speech, those members have the chance to shake the governor’s hand. Through at least 2014, that’s something only of import to the Republican side. I can’t see many Democrats feeling enthusiastic about the chance to shake the hand of Governor Rick Snyder given the current climate.

Then there are the lucky souls sitting closest to the benches at the front where the news media sit. These folks wind up on the b-roll of television coverage and in the era of term limits become some of the more recognizable faces. They also have to watch what they say because it can easily be overheard by those of us in the news media. Wait, nevermind. Speak freely. Please.

Some make the best of it though. Former Rep. Dave Mead, who served from 1999-2002 and is now a House committee clerk, sat on the corner in a high-traffic spot. Everyone was a fan of the chocolate covered cherries he brought from his northwest Michigan district and put out in a dish to share.

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