Blog Posts by John Lindstrom, Publisher

The Not Exactly Half-Pint Implications Of The Melissa Gilbert Withdrawal
Posted: May, 26 2016 3:49 PM

The surprising, nay stunning, announcement earlier this week that health issues were forcing Melissa Gilbert to abandon her Democratic campaign for Congress in Michigan’s 8th District has some more far reaching implications.

More than just affecting the tenor of the race in the 8th District, where U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) is running for his second term, her decision will affect at least two other key races.

Even though most observers forecast Ms. Gilbert would have trouble defeating Mr. Bishop in the largely Republican-leaning district, she was still seen – at least before her campaign exhibited real organizational problems – as a big potential force for Democrats.

Republicans certainly worried about the actress – whose character on the television show “Little House on the Prairie” was affectionately called by her father, played by Michael Landon, “Half-Pint” – otherwise they would not have exercised such effort attacking her on her tax issues or her comments on whether director Roman Polanski, convicted of molesting a teenaged girl, should be permitted back in the United States.

More than just attack emails, though, Ms. Gilbert’s presence in the campaign meant money, both for Democrats and Republicans. Not only could she have helped raise money for Democrats in her district but for candidates across the state, and even nationally.

Republicans, on the other hand, could use the looming terror of her presence to raise money for candidates across the state as well. That she will no longer be a candidate hurts GOP fundraising efforts, at least a bit.

But that really is the only bad news for Republicans with her departure. Her leaving the race puts a crimp in Democratic hopes in two other districts as well.

Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) is waging a pitched fight against U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) in the 7th District. And former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson is expected to be the party’s nominee in the open 1st District.

Because it is an open seat that includes some traditional Democratic areas, and the Republican candidates for the seat will have a slugfest in the primary, Mr. Johnson has better odds in the 1st District.

Decades ago what is now the 7th District featured the religious and social conservatives that now are the biggest Republican faction nationwide, so Ms. Driskell faced tough odds. But her well-reviewed background in the district and the fact that so many people in the district are lukewarm about Mr. Walberg, gives her a better shot than many Democrats have had.

Ms. Gilbert’s departure certainly will hurt fundraising in those races. But it also takes some of the shine off the state’s political star quality making it harder to gin up interest for candidates. Let’s face it, there are really no big races in Michigan – for governor or U.S. senator – and unless Michigan really is in play in the presidential race, there will be less here to drum up excitement.

Had Ms. Gilbert stayed in the race, and had she shown more enthusiasm, it would have helped encourage Democrats to work harder in those seats. She could also have made a couple campaign appearances in each seat to build interest, solidarity for the whole ticket, coverage and money.

There might still be visitors to the 1st and 7th districts. However, it’s a good bet one of those visitors will be Mr. Bishop since he will have more time on his hands this fall than he may have had.

The Coming Redistricting War. It’s Not Too Late To Get Ready
Posted: May, 20 2016 4:45 PM

Population estimates of Michigan’s and the nation’s metropolitan and micropolitan (what a word) areas were released on Thursday, and in our always looking-for-the-next-election political climate, there are potential implications for the elections of (steady now) 2022 to 2030.

Because census numbers mean redistricting, and while the estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau are not those that will set off the scrambling and howling that will all be part of the reapportionment fight in 2021, they offer some interesting hints at what could be driving districting decisions just five years from now.

First, while it is nice that Michigan has gained some 45,000 residents since 2010 and now has an estimated population of 9.922 million, that will not save us from losing at least one member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Unless some very strange situations occur to boost Michigan’s population by say 1 million people in the next four years (which will boost problems of land use, housing, transportation, schools and many others in quick order), we must steel ourselves to the inevitable loss of one more member of Congress. And steel ourselves to the inevitable fight over the consolidation of districts.

Beyond that obvious situation, though, the census figures offer some intriguing bits of information that could and likely will play a hand in the redistricting effort.

One is the growth of some cities, and where that growth is focused. Primarily, that growth is in cities and metro areas with major industries and growing industries, as well as cities with big universities.

Consider Ann Arbor, which has seen its population grow by some 4,000 people since 2010. The Lansing-East Lansing area has grown by nearly 700 people. Kalamazoo has grown by more than 1,000. Mount Pleasant has seen much smaller growth, but growth still.

Other cities, such as Jackson, Saginaw and Flint, have seen declines, but over the years the declines have grown less pronounced.

Many of these are areas that trend Democratic. But some of that potential effect would be offset by growth in suburban areas that trend Republican. Grand Rapids has grown by some 7,000 people in five years, and it is more Democratic in heavily Republican Kent County. But Kentwood, definitely Republican, has grown by almost 3,000 people itself in the same time frame.

The Metro Detroit area continues to grow, to 4.3 million, even though Detroit itself lost population. But the pace of Detroit’s loss slowed dramatically from 2014 to 2015. If the city continues to see the development it has enjoyed in the last several years, it is conceivable the city could actually grow slightly in population in the next several years. If it does, that begins to put some new pressures on how district lines are drawn.

And one trend that seems to show no sign of abating is declining population in mostly rural areas, areas that tend to vote Republican.

Beyond what these numbers mean in the assured fight over redistricting under the current law, they also emphasize to both parties how critical the 2018 election will be. Democrats will fight even harder in that race to win control of at least one part of state government to have some hand in district drawing.

Also, while advocates for changing Michigan’s redistricting system have ruled out an election effort in 2016, what might the changing population dynamics of the state say about their efforts in 2018 or 2020?

It’s Early, But Potential Gubernatorial Democrats Having A Good Time
Posted: May, 12 2016 3:45 PM

The starter’s flag for the 2018 gubernatorial election does not technically drop until after the presidential election in November, but already it is turning into an interesting potential race, especially – surprise, surprise -- on the Democratic side.

The Republican side has had potential candidates galore for years now, starting with Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette with a large crowd of potential contenders right behind, including Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof (R-West Olive). Possibly Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, possibly U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township).

Let’s face it, though, what has made the potential GOP gubernatorial race interesting is how the party stalwarts are facing and finessing a large pile of massive problems that cover the nation and state and which so far has not left them looking good. Item 1, the Flint water crisis; item 2, Donald Trump; item 3, Detroit Public Schools; item 4, trying to embrace Donald Trump; item 5, a blistering review of the Grand Rapids Veterans Facility; item 5, sweating out who Donald Trump picks as his vice presidential candidate.

With all that to tussle with, one would think Democrats might worry about being ignored. But no, they seem to be doing just fine at the moment.

First comes U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), who has been a national face of the water crisis and a vocal leader in trying to win more money for the city in Congress.

Then there is Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who is riding the crest of positive news of the city’s new popularity and revitalization. Plus, he has taken a major role in fighting for Detroit schools, especially against the House-passed proposal that would allocate less money to the district than the earlier passed Senate plan. Mr. Duggan has furiously insisted he will not run for governor, but his name remains in the ether nonetheless.

And then there is former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, newly named the interim Ingham County prosecutor and who Gongwer News Service reported this week is reviving her leadership PAC in big effort to help House Democrats retake the chamber in the 2016 election.

Being the minority party is never much fun, but it does allow a freer hand to blast the majority party for any and all of their activities. Republicans employed this strategy for years and fairly effectively to work themselves into the largest party in the nation for now.

And with the seemingly endless controversial issues facing the state now, Democrats are using the ability to criticize and contrast Republicans fully, winning some public points as they do.

The biggest beneficiary of this is Mr. Kildee. Many Democrats have long wanted him to run for governor, and he flirted with the idea in 2010. He was elected to Congress in 2012, succeeding his uncle, Dale Kildee.

Even before the water crisis, Mr. Kildee was an active presence, vocal, accessible, lending a sympathetic ear and urging empathetic action. The drinking water crisis has given him a huge opportunity to be both partisan and statesmanlike.

Mr. Duggan has enjoyed mostly positive reactions to his efforts to clear vacant properties, improve Detroit services and draw new businesses into the city. Lately, his outspoken comments on fixing Detroit schools have also put him squarely in the way of any GOP efforts he considers damaging to the school system.

Ms. Whitmer was another top Democrat in the state that officials expected would run for a higher office, but declined in 2014. She could go into a race talking about having to confront Republicans on a daily basis when she was in the Legislature. Her tenure as Ingham prosecutor will be short, but she can use the post to say she helped restore trust in an office hideously damaged by outgoing prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III who has been charged with inducing a woman to become a prostitute.

And her move to help Democrats running for the House could be a boost both strategically and tactically, helping her build critical contacts and supporters if she does run for governor.

It is a long way to 2018, and the state will be affected by national politics, the national economy and possibly new crises. But right now, Democrats who could top anyone’s list as gubernatorial candidates are enjoying the fruits of being the opposition party compared to their Republican brethren.

The Republican Anguish, Live On Facebook And Twitter
Posted: May, 5 2016 11:53 AM

Thanks to the miracles of social media, in addition to videos of kitties and puppies, reflections on what someone just had for lunch, and tear-inducing button-busting pictures of triumphant school kids there is a new phenomenon online that will give one just all the “feels”: the anguish so many Michigan Republicans as well as Republicans nationwide are enduring over their now assured presidential candidate, New York City real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump.

The struggle is neatly summed up by two well-known Michigan Republicans: Jamie Roe, co-founder of Grand River Strategies, and Jim Murray, president of AT&T Michigan.

Mr. Roe (full disclosure, Mr. Roe is a former neighbor and continuing good friend of this reporter) struggled with the Republican race all through the year but on Wednesday, after Mr. Trump won the Indiana primary and his remaining opponents dropped out of the nomination race, he posted this on Facebook: “#NeverHillary Let’s get to work and make America Great Again!”

Then there is Mr. Murray. When Mr. Trump was clearly the GOP nominee, national Republican Chair Reince Riebus tweeted: “We all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton.” Mr. Murray tweeted in response: “To hell with that.”

And there it is, the torment many Republicans are facing across the nation.

These tweets and posts have generated multitudes of responses, some supportive, some not, some insulting, some insightful, some reflective, some really insulting, some philosophic, some with horrid spelling, and a few that are downright repulsive.

But all the comments stick mostly to the point of does a Republican support Mr. Trump? Does a Republican stick to his or her party despite his or her clear discomfort with the nominee? If they do not, can they be a true Republican? Which is more important: party, principles or the country? Should these Republicans view themselves first as Americans and let what they feel is best for the country define their decision rather than that of their preferential party?

Each person has an answer, and each person thinks it is the correct answer at least for them.

In the comments to Mr. Roe’s post, there was an exchange with Tony Daunt of the Michigan Freedom Fund that nicely puts some of the anguished argument into focus. Mr. Daunt wrote: “Some of us care more about principles than blind stupid party loyalty to a disgusting pig.”

Mr. Roe replied: “How does Hillary match up to your principles?” To which Mr. Daunt said; “I’m not voting for Hillary.”

This all raises a number of points. The first being this is nothing new in the political world. In 1972, when former Alabama Governor George Wallace was running a strong campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, many Democrats anguished over whether they could support him should he be the nominee.

Former Governor William Milliken, a Republican, has famously bucked the party when he felt it did not represent his views. He has been pilloried by some conservatives, but he has retorted that no one has the right to tell him or anyone else what his political views should be or what his party is.

Another point is: What is driving the anguish Republicans feel, Mr. Trump or the likely Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Republican hatred, and that is what it is, of former President Bill Clinton and Ms. Clinton has churned and burned for than 20 years. If the Democratic nominee were, say, Vice President Joe Biden, would Republicans be as troubled? Would they say, “I can back Joe and in four years we elect someone else” easier than they could say, “I can back Hillary”?

And finally, for this entry, while the Republican anguish is drawing all the attention, many Democrats are worried as well. While everything tells them they should win the presidency in November, some of posts reflect a real worry: Will Democrats assume the election is won and slip back into a lazy mode, not working hard enough and not showing up to vote? They only have to look back to the 1988 election to be reminded of what happens when they let up on the gas.

What really worries some Democrats was expressed by one person who said, his words, if Republicans were “stupid enough” to name Mr. Trump as their nominee, would the American people be “stupid enough” to elect him president?

How it all plays over the next six months, we know individual reaction to the campaign will play over social media. As we watch it all unfold, we will witness “feels” of all sorts play out to the end.

Remembering Politicians Who Understood Politics Was Just Business
Posted: April, 29 2016 3:36 PM

Sometimes unpleasant things have meaning, and so it is this reporter has often talked about how the “Tessio Rule” should always apply to politics.

It seems particularly urgent one should abide with the rule, in light of the stunning news earlier this week about Oakland County Republican activist Paul Welday.

If you have not seen “The Godfather,” then you really should because it is one of the greatest motion pictures ever. It is about the Mafia, and hence a number of unpleasant things occur. Toward the end of the picture, one of the Corleone family’s most loyal lieutenants, Sal Tessio, has been discovered to be a traitor and as he is being led off to his death (the scene is available on YouTube) he says with as much dignity as he can that his treason was just business, not personal, that he always liked the head of the Corleone family.

That is a lesson needs to be learned again and again in politics. It is a lesson Mr. Welday understood inherently. And it is a lesson known and practiced by a number of individuals Michigan has lost in the last year.

Ken Brock, Matt Davis, Curtis Hertel Sr., and now Mr. Welday, two Democrats, two Republicans, all died, and much too early, in the last year, And all of them understood where the personal and the political separated.

Each of them was a dedicated advocate for their position and party, none of them were shy about sticking it to the other party. But that was business, always just business. Life itself is personal. In life itself, politics steps aside.

Out of the fray, off the field, they held no animus. They believed firmly in what they stood for, which meant they also understood there was a chance they could be wrong and the other guy was right. Which also meant they could learn from the other guy. Which also meant they understood the emotions the other guy would feel, the difficulties the other guy would endure, they knew the difficulties their families would endure, understood that in large part they played their role in politics so they could make things better for their families and for every family. Which also meant if they did not agree on anything political, they understood and agreed on all things essential. And the essential things are always people and not ideas, and they knew that.

The late Sen. Harry Gast -- whom we also lost in the last year, but who at 94 enjoyed the long life denied Mr. Brock, Mr. Davis, Mr. Hertel and Mr. Welday -- once said it was time “to put aside principle and do what’s right.” And these four men subscribed to that philosophy, which made them all the better.

It has always been hard in politics to understand that essential rule. There are sides to take, positions to hold, opponents to defeat. It is easy, far too easy, to be consumed into the warrior state of politics, to presume the other side is less than you are and fit for subjugation.

But as people come together this weekend to remember Mr. Welday, it is important to recall that he was a husband, a father, a friend, a colleague, a patriot and then somewhere farther down the list a Republican. The same was true for Mr. Brock, Mr. Davis and Mr. Hertel (only Mr. Hertel and Mr. Brock were Democrats).

In a political world, during a particularly political year, they all remembered the best politicians weren’t political at their core. That made them all good politicians, but it won’t be the main reason they will be remembered.

Thoughts About Charges In The Flint Water Crisis
Posted: April, 21 2016 3:07 PM

To begin, for all you who moan when you are called to jury duty, this reporter has served on five juries. This reporter has in fact been the foreman on four of those juries, and in the three cases that were criminal, this reporter had to stand up, look at the defendants (and they were both men and women) and pronounce them guilty.

Second, nearly 20 years ago then-Sen. Mike Rogers – later a member of Congress – who was a former FBI agent, said on the Senate floor that he could find a law to arrest anyone under at any time. Both liberal and conservative cynics have noted that with the vast number of laws we have on the books in what we all cherish as the freest nation in the world every one of us is guilty of several felonies we have never even heard of.

That background stood behind several thoughts which came to this reporter as he watched national media cover Attorney General Bill Schuette announce criminal charges had been filed against two state workers and one Flint city worker in the Flint water crisis.

Echoing Mr. Rogers, to the cynic, to a cynic completely unsurprising that charges were brought and that more will be brought. Once a criminal investigation begins it is very unlikely some charges will not be found, with questions of public appearance and money spent playing as large a role as serving justice. But that is to a cynic.

To an experienced juror, one of probably very few, this reporter also wondered how Mr. Schuette’s team will prove its case. A jury determines the facts that decide if one is guilty or not, but in the closed jury room there are many elements that go into deciding what the relevant facts are. A major element can be intent. There are crimes where intent matters little, such as manslaughter. Jurors do consider why someone may have done what they are accused of doing. And jurors will consider a defendant’s frame of mind even if intent is never mentioned by either side during a trial.

How then will Mr. Schuette’s team show actual criminality when a juror may wonder if the defendants weren’t involved in CYA exercises gone horribly wrong?

One other thought occurred as Mr. Schuette promised Wednesday’s announcement was just the beginning of charges filed. Trials are held for several reasons, one obviously to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and to mete out punishment to those found guilty.

Another reason for trials, a reason we often forget, is to ensure we need no more trials. The guilty being sentenced, the anguish of those who have suffered from the crime is supposed to convince everyone else not to commit crime.

Trials are supposed to help prevent crime. Eternal judges will decide if they succeed.

In this situation though, could it be enough of a motivation to help prevent other drinking water crises? The public already has seen the problems of contaminated water go far beyond the Genesee County seat. Investigations since Flint’s crisis was announced have shown issues with lead contamination in water systems across the nation.

Earlier this week, in the latest State of the State Survey from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, the governing priority the largest number of people said was the infrastructure of our cities. A total of 32.5 percent of those asked said it should be the state’s top concern, and before this survey infrastructure repair barely had a pulse as an issue.

That the issue is on everyone’s mind, though, does not mean the hard and expensive work to accomplish those improved roads, water and sewer systems will occur.

So, the final thought following the announced charges was: could these have some effect in compelling action to upgrade our national infrastructure? What lead can do to a person, beginning in childhood, is all too well understood. Doing something about it requires a will to act, which is something we all too often fail to muster.

Could the threat of criminal charges be the spark igniting action? Could knowing one might go to jail if they do not take steps to improve water systems and pay attention to public concerns be enough to force the hard work needed? If Flint leads to criminal charges, could it also happen in other places where water systems are corrupted, where it is known they are corrupted and where no action is taken?

A Century Of Wonky Love
Posted: April, 14 2016 3:12 PM

If anyone could write a love letter to a wonkish organization, well, this would be the letter.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan has celebrated its 100th anniversary this week, and the nearly 10 million souls in this state are lucky for that. The CRC has been an organization willing to wade into the murky, weed-choked ponds of public policy and made them a little clearer for the citizens to ingest. In so doing, it has helped change this state.

Granted, not many people ingest the CRC’s findings. Which is a shame. One does not read CRC reports, papers and now blogs for their poetic prose, their masterful character descriptions, their facility at turning a plot. No, one reads CRC publications because these are people who know what they are talking about.

If you are serious about policy in Michigan you rely on the CRC to help outline all the nuances, the context and potential effects of budget issues, tax proposals and major policy issues in Michigan. If you do not follow the CRC, then you cannot seriously claim to be serious about policy in Michigan.

The CRC’s research is first-rate and if it is somehow possible to have a status higher than first-rate then the CRC’s analysis has summited that peak.

Just over a decade ago, Tom Clay, the late Tom Clay, Michigan’s former budget overseer who joined the CRC when he retired and who loved numbers and golf with equal passion, did an analysis of the state’s budget and warned that it was unsustainable and would go into deficit unless changes were made. The power of that analysis, which he would refine as time passed, led him to hold some 400 presentations across the state talking about the budget.

Folks, if someone holds 400 presentations on the state budget – the state budget, mind you, not legislative sex scandals – that someone has written a pretty damn good analysis.

And go back to the early 1960s when the state wrote, argued over, voted on and adopted a new Constitution. CRC’s work on the Constitution was without peer, from a massive analysis and comparison of Michigan’s then 1908 Constitution to a document that outlined what the new constitution would do, and which included a 100-question quiz (example of the questions: “Temporary state borrowing is permitted to a limit that is now equal to about how much?” Well…your answer?) A total of 250,000 copies of that document were printed. Given by how narrow a vote the Constitution was approved, it is very likely those 250,000 copies played an outsized role in the Constitution’s victory.

Even if reading about budgets and tax schemes is not one’s interest, there is one set of documents the CRC prepares that all voters should read: its analysis on ballot issues. Ballot issues are often arcane. The CRC’s explanations are exactly the tonic needed to help understand what a ballot issue will do. Even reporters who follow this stuff for a living make use of the CRC’s analysis. Whatever is on the ballot in 2016, watch for the analysis the CRC will provide.

While praising the CRC one also has to praise those who made it possible. On that budget analysis document are listed the names of men (they were all men more than 50 years ago) whose names are synonymous with the history of the state. There listed are Henry Bodman, Prentiss Brown, Joseph Hudson, Lynn Townsend and George Romney among several dozen others. They and their predecessors in 1916 were elites – well-to-do, educated, socially involved – but they were the kind of elite who in some ways thought everyone needed a shot to join the elite club. To reach that club, they understood the public needed some of the advantages they had.

And one of the biggest advantages an elite has is information. Information is the currency that pays for good decisions.

The CRC is a critical link in providing needed information about the issues that affect us now and will affect us. It provides all Michiganders with a big advantage, and we are lucky, and we should be very grateful for that century of superlative work.

‘False Imprisonment?’ Kids, Let Me Tell Ya…
Posted: April, 7 2016 3:17 PM

Former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat have preserved their right to sue the House of Representatives. They have not sued the House yet, but in their notice of intent filed with the Court of Claims they argue they were forced out of office in an unconstitutional manner – with violations of due process, equal protection and protections against double jeopardy – and that they were subject to “false imprisonment” and “unlawful arrest” during the 16-hour session last September that led to their ousters.

“False imprisonment.” “Unlawful arrest.” Oh, young’uns, you don’t know long sessions at all.

For the record, 26 straight hours is the longest single legislative session this reporter can recall enduring, and that was just the session. It was the Christmas Eve session in 1993 that led to the final arrangements of the Proposal A school finance system. Add to that the multiple hours spent trying to stay conscious afterwards as reporters wrote and edited their stories. Of course, it was also Christmas and whisked to a holiday cocktail party in Detroit, this reporter was peppered with questions about the deal. I have no idea if anything I said made any sense whatever. One chap robustly thumped me on the shoulder, saying, “Well, at least you’re here.” And I began falling over, thinking, “Dear God, I am falling over and can’t stop myself.” I believe a wall may have intervened. There’s unlawful arrest for you.

One Associated Press reporter told me later he was at a party that night as well and a friend joked he had just heard on the radio there was a processing error on the bills and the Legislature had to come back to fix it. The reporter began to weep. False imprisonment, with torture, I say to you.

Of course, that Christmas Eve session followed months of sessions that seemed to go on to no end. From the moment in October when former Governor John Engler put forth his school funding proposal the Legislature seemed to go without stop. During one session, the leaders broke for a meeting at midnight and people were told to come back… at 4 a.m.

Locking people into session once was so common it was almost unnoticed. Several times a year the House or Senate put on a Call of the House (or Senate), especially as they tried to finish budgets or faced controversial issues that had to be resolved. (And to the Senate, back then reporters were allowed to use the restrooms in the anterooms. Just making note).

Ah, but can anything really top the budget crisis of 2007 for your false imprisonment and unlawful arrest? As the days counted down in the standoff between former Governor Jennifer Granholm and legislative Republicans it got rank.

No, it did. In the House particularly, the chamber kind of never actually adjourned… for pretty much a month, including Saturdays and Sundays. If not for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the chamber would never have been cleaned. Keep that in mind. As the calendar ticked toward October 1, the start of the fiscal year, and the pizza boxes, coffee cups, pop bottles, sandwich wrappers, old candy bars, chewing gum and wrappers, sheet after sheet after sheet of proposal papers, old newspapers, and other things known only to the Almighty piled up, and lawmakers went on without sleep or slept at their desks, the familiar aroma of a long, long, long party was triggered. There’s imprisonment against your will.

If therefore, being confined to session for a long period does constitute false imprisonment and unlawful arrest, before they take it to court would it not be wise for Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat to recall the reason why the House was in session for so long on September 10 and September 11?

Some Remembrances Of Speaker Curtis Hertel
Posted: March, 31 2016 1:08 PM

Funeral services were held Thursday for former Speaker Curtis Hertel who died unexpectedly last weekend.

His death has shaken the Capitol community as few others in large part because during the period of joint power in the House, in 1993-94, he, as the Democrat, along with co-speaker Republican Paul Hillegonds were able to find ways to craft bi-partisan solutions to issues. It wasn’t always easy, especially with the governor’s office and the Senate held by Republicans, but it still occurred.

Funerals always bring out stories that bring out dimensions to a person that a simple obituary cannot. Here are several:

On December 6, 1995, while he was the House minority leader, Mr. Hertel was able to bring to the House, as his guest, Detroit Archbishop Adam Cardinal Maida to deliver the invocation. It was not the first time an archbishop had shown up to deliver an invocation, but it still was a big deal for Mr. Hertel.

However, on the same day speaking to the House after the archbishop was Shawntel Smith, the then reigning Miss America. It was hard to say who exactly caused more excitement.

But the occasion also caused Mr. Hertel to be furious with Gongwer News Service. In a short story announcing the visit of both the archbishop and Ms. Smith we referred to the archbishop as “Mr. Maida” on the second reference as we do with a “Mr.” or “Ms.” For all persons.

Mr. Hertel was on the phone to us quickly, fulminating loudly: “He isn’t a Mr. He’s an archbishop.”

We remember next March 6, 1997, an easy day to recall since it was the day then-President Bill Clinton spoke to a joint session of the Legislature.

The Capitol had been converted to meet security concerns for the president’s visit. Mr. Clinton met with lawmakers in Mr. Hertel’s office, as the top ranking Democrat in state government (except for then-Attorney General Frank Kelley).

And Mr. Hertel sat next to Mr. Clinton at the podium in the House. Mr. Clinton was speaking on the need to improve education in the U.S. In his remarks before the president’s, then-Governor John Engler talked about what Michigan was doing to improve education.

Mr. Clinton paid only scant attention to Mr. Engler as he looked over the text of his address.

Suddenly, without looking up from his text, Mr. Clinton’s right hand nudged Mr. Hertel, and one could see the president ask if Mr. Hertel had a pen. Mr. Hertel quickly fumbled in his suit jacket, and pulled out a pen that he handed Mr. Clinton. From the House gallery it looked as if Mr. Hertel had presented the president with a cheap ballpoint (since people rarely carry nice fountain pens anymore). When Mr. Clinton handed the pen back, Mr. Hertel looked at it carefully before putting it back in his jacket.

A moment later, Mr. Clinton asked again for the pen, and Mr. Hertel fumbled again before handing the same pen to Mr. Clinton. When the pen was handed back, Mr. Hertel looked again at it carefully.

One had to presume that Mr. Hertel kept the pen as a souvenir.

Finally, in early December 1998, in what were the last days of his tenure as speaker, Mr. Hertel found himself having to go on an errand of contrition. The hot issue those days was a change in the state’s revenue sharing system. Democrats were trying to pull out the best deal they could (and the changes made then and since have remained a hot issue with Michigan cities), and a bill bounced back and forth across the Capitol faster a ball at an Olympic table-tennis match.

But Democratic then-Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick, several years before his scandal plagued term as Detroit mayor) did something, what exactly was never reported, to honk off then-Sen. Glenn Steil. The Grand Rapids Republican was the leader of the effort to change the revenue sharing language, and there was some worry that he might get some draconian portion added to the bill.

Mr. Hertel came to the Senate chamber, sought out Mr. Steil (the two did not really know each other) and spent a good 10 minutes apologizing for Mr. Kilpatrick, explaining his position, saying it would not happen again and if Mr. Steil had any questions Mr. Steil should come to him directly.

Reporters asked Mr. Steil what the issue was about. Besides saying it was due to Mr. Kilpatrick, Mr. Steil wouldn’t say further. But he did say, “I respect Curtis for what he did. He shouldn’t have to have do it, but I respect him for it. He did the right thing.”

Thinking About Milliken And Flint
Posted: March, 24 2016 4:15 PM

Our colleagues at Bridge Magazine have published a tribute to former Governor William Milliken as he approaches his 94th birthday on Saturday.

Written by Dave Dempsey, who earlier wrote a well-received biography of Mr. Milliken (and whose father Jack was director of the then-Department of Social Services under Mr. Milliken) the piece focuses on Mr. Milliken’s record of promoting and protecting Michigan’s environment.

The article has been shared on social media and drawn fond remembrances of Michigan’s longest-serving and now longest-living governor. Former House Speaker Gary Owen, probably as blue a blue-dog Democrat as ever, posted that Mr. Milliken was the only Republican for governor he voted for. “A man who wanted to do the best he could for everyone,” Mr. Owen said.

It is serendipitous that the piece comes out the day after the Flint Water Advisory Task Force issued its report blasting state government, and by implication Governor Rick Snyder, for its failures in the Flint water crisis.

Mr. Milliken endorsed Mr. Snyder in the last two elections, and Mr. Snyder has praised Mr. Milliken. And both have had some similar experiences in their time in office.

In particular, both had a major crisis involving toxic substances. Mr. Snyder of course has had the Flint situation with lead contaminated drinking water.

And Mr. Milliken had the PBB crisis, when cattle feed contaminated with polybrominated biphenyls affected the state’s food chain in the 1970s.

As one of the few reporters who has covered both crises I have thought much about Flint and PBB, how they occurred, how the state reacted. One crisis now is old enough to reflect on what may have been the final outcomes; the other is still new enough that it will likely take decades before any final effects are tallied. There are similarities and stark differences between the two.

First, the origins of the two crises. PBB was a purely industrial calamity that state government had to step in to resolve. No government officials poured a compound that was supposed to be sold as a fire retardant into feed and shipped it off to Michigan farmers who then fed it to their cows (and also chickens, pigs, sheep). That was all done by workers in a Michigan Chemical factory owned by private enterprise.

Flint cannot claim the same parentage. Flint is a government-made crisis, and it is primarily a state-government made crisis. There are no similarities in any way to the two crises’ origins (emergency managers were named to help Flint get through its financial mess, PBB was a total screw-up) and neither are there any similarities to who was to blame.

There similarities in initial government response to the crises. State government, particularly the then-Department of Agriculture, was slow to react to growing evidence of a problem affecting dairy cattle in the early days of the PBB crisis. But it was almost more a sense of disbelief, and a suspicion – wrong as it turned out – that the problems may be due to the individual farm management. Not every farm was affected in the state, because not every farm used the tainted feed. Plus, the agriculture industry worried about the possible impact the crisis could have as did the department.

Like Flint, with PBB there were scientists who warned there was a problem, and who faced bureaucratic resistance. Like Flint, it took scientists showing ongoing problems to really force the state into action.

Once the crisis was proven, there was fallout for some top state officials, just as there has been with Flint. B. Dale Ball, who died at 94 in 2010, and who had been a well-respected director of the Agriculture Department, was helped into retirement because of the crisis.

What then are the differences? Well, the potential size and scope for one. The Flint crisis seems at this time to be limited primarily to the city. At the time the PBB crisis potentially affected everyone in the state. With the passage of decades the total health effects of PBB are still not completely known, though there are some signs negative effects may not have been as widespread as feared. With Flint, the biggest fears are what potential effect the contamination could have on the city’s children and their future lives, and how the city will recover from the crisis.

To this reporter, the biggest difference seems the overall response of government and the public. Which speaks to how both have changed.

Both Mr. Milliken and Mr. Snyder took responsibility for their respective crises. Yet, when looked in the total context of how each crisis developed, the Snyder administration has fumbled and struggled more. PBB took some time to become a reality; in Flint, when the city switched to the Flint River as its drinking water source, people complained almost immediately. The complaints were not about lead at first, no one knew about lead contamination.

It did take time for the state to recognize PBB. Once it was realized, state government accepted it had a problem it had to address.

From the beginning Flint’s water was a problem, yet government not only did not react, it was dismissive. Even when top administration officials raised concerns – generally when a top official raises a concern, one expects the bureaucracy to respond – there was pushback against them.

Then, there is the overall tone of how officials responded. Neither Bill Milliken nor Rick Snyder caused their crisis. If anyone had cause to blame and castigate a bad player, it was Mr. Milliken. Yet in public, he did not look back, he did not assign blame. There were problems that needed fixing, he said, but to my memory he never called out Michigan Chemical or its corporate parent, Velsicol.

Mr. Snyder has said local, state and federal government share in the blame for Flint. He has done so to the point the task force he appointed criticized him for doing so. The issue is not that Mr. Snyder is not correct to a degree, but to what purpose does his criticism serve?

Finally, the biggest difference in how government has reacted is how bitterly partisan Flint has become compared to PBB. Oh, in 1978 Democrats tried to make Mr. Milliken directly responsible for the PBB crisis during the election. Tried, but failed. The public didn’t buy it.

But in response, Republicans did not accuse the Democratic Legislature of sitting on its hands in response to PBB.

With Flint, both parties have made the water crisis a political issue and showered criticism on each other unceasingly.

Which brings the last point: how the public has reacted. The 1970s was a cynical time, after Watergate, assassinations, Vietnam. And those directly affected, particularly the farmers, were understandably angry at state government. Yet, the public overall seemed to expect and feel that government would respond and take care of the issue. In part that was because it had seen both parties in Lansing and Washington try to work together to resolve problems.

No such confidence exists now with the public. Decades of partisan dysfunction and an overwhelming cynicism has shattered any sense of trust in government. It is more than a partisan breakdown in the public, there is a real sense that government cannot solve the problem it created, and may not care to.

One could ask which governor you would rather have in charge during the Flint crisis. But it is a useless question.

One could better ask why did state government not learn the lessons of the PBB crisis. One could ask, and should, if Mr. Snyder and the Legislature will take their cue in solving Flint from the tone Mr. Milliken and lawmakers of 40 years ago took in solving PBB.

Free Speech And Corporate Fervor And The Election
Posted: March, 15 2016 4:12 PM

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had relatively peaceful travels through Michigan. Oh, he had some shouters at his Warren rally and he led the crowd in chanting U-S-A. But no one rushed the podium as happened in Cleveland, or had supporters and opponents face a standoff as they did in Chicago.

These incidents have engendered a renewed debate on the idea of free speech and free press, and who supports it and who represses it. Are Mr. Trump’s opponents trying to suppress the free speech of his supporters? Or is it the other way round: are his supporters trying to suppress the opponents’ free speech? Watch social media, and Michigan political pros and advocates have gotten into a lively, and mostly friendly, debate on the subject.

In our history, free speech and its corollary free press have really been more praised than protected. In his classic “Emergence of a Free Press,” the late Leonard Levy pointed out that during America’s Revolution every state had laws requiring a free press, unless you didn’t support the revolution. Back the crown and you had no rights.

But maybe, having watched the Donald-Hillary-Marco-Bernie-Ted-John show march through Michigan in the last weeks, the issue here is less one of free speech and more one of let’s call it corporate fervor. Free speech refers to protection from government control and censorship. It relies on reason and the need to let competing thoughts be expressed. Corporate fervor, practiced by our individual corporate sense and therefore practiced in corporations, religions, politics and any exercise bringing different people together, is a more consuming emotional commitment.

After all, stand in any Capitol dome and shout, “Down with America” and pretty much the worst that will happen is the shouter will get odd looks. Be a General Motors employee and stand in GM headquarters shouting, “Buy Toyotas!” and see how fast you become an ex-GM employee. What then of free speech? Corporate fervor permits actions taken against an employee harming the brand. And we expect it, and do not challenge that power.

Retail politics is so named because a candidate and the candidate’s team is doing a selling job, which means corporate fervor drives the effort.

Corporate fervor dictates total commitment to the brand, and total defense of the brand (or your school, your church, your team, your candidate, your country). Meaning Pepsi employees not only make Pepsi, they only drink Pepsi. It also means they do their utmost to get exclusive rights for Pepsi in as many locales as possible, squeezing out Coke. It also means they see their product or service as something no product or service can be: perfect.

In politics, total commitment to the brand means more than just backing Donald or Hillary or Marco or Bernie or Ted or John (good thing we no longer have 32 candidates running for president). It means giving into them totally, never bad-mouthing anything about them anytime -- from how they comb their hair to how they slurp their soup – and making of them something that does not exist: perfect humans. Anyone who has been close to a political campaign operative has seen how totally and completely that person has embraced the candidate. It is more than for this person the candidate can do no wrong, it is for this person the candidate will solve all ills.

The near messianic status accorded products and candidates extends to the market. Everyone has embraced corporate fervor in some way. Everyone has a bias so total to a particular product or service it cannot be shaken – doesn’t matter if it is McDonalds or Gillette or Mr. Clean – this you buy and nothing else. You would rather go without than use the other product. Given the other product, you will more likely trash it than even open the box. And if you ever are moved away from that product – you start drinking Coke rather than Pepsi, for example – you feel as if part of your soul has vanished. No kidding, ask someone who has switched products after a lifetime of loyalty how they felt.

With candidates that belief, that loyalty and total commitment is even more visceral. Attack a candidate, you have attacked the supporter personally. And the supporter responds, usually in some type of counterattack. In this election, we have seen that more than we have in decades. And it has affected one candidate more than others, and the counterattacks, often urged on by the candidate, are often violent. Which in turn drives the opposition in its corporate fervor to react more intently. Which then…but you get the idea.

If it is corporate fervor, and less free speech, driving our politics, then maybe we should hope at some point our politics responds as do our corporations. CEOs don’t urge their customers and employees to attack and destroy the competition, but to see how their products and services might better suit one’s needs. They recognize maybe the customer needs a different product for the time being, but being attentive to the customer they will bring them back. One can be fervent and open-minded at the same time.

What Worries Karl Rove?
Posted: March, 10 2016 5:31 PM

What worries Karl Rove is Donald Trump, and the New York business executive’s victory in the Michigan GOP primary on Tuesday would not have made him feel any more at ease.

Mr. Rove, a top aid and strategist to former President George W. Bush, a leading Republican strategist and fundraiser, a Wall Street Journal columnist and known on YouTube for what is called the 2012 election meltdown, is clearly worried about Mr. Trump as the Republican nominee for president. He worries about the effect that would have other Republicans running for Congress and for governor’s posts.

More than that, he worries about what it would say to have a president like Mr. Trump who is as well known for his comments and actions as he is for any of his policy statements.

Mr. Rove was in Michigan recently along with Jim Messina, who managed President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, to speak in Livonia and Grand Rapids for the Michigan Political Leadership Program (Gongwer News Service is a supporter of the program at Michigan State University). He spoke in Livonia on the same day as the Republican debate held in Detroit, something he and Mr. Messina watched on an Ipad as they were driven to Grand Rapids.

Mr. Rove refused to say had the nomination sewn up, though he did say Mr. Trump was the likely nominee. That had to have been strengthened by Mr. Trump’s victories in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii on Tuesday.

And if Mr. Trump wins the winner-take-all primaries in Florida and Ohio on March 15 (or wins at least one of them) his claim to win the nomination could be all but unstoppable. Or at least Mr. Trump’s supporters hope and his detractors fear even though he would still be short of the 1,237 delegates needed at the GOP convention in Cleveland this summer.

As a political technician, Mr. Rove worries at the possibility of a large number of Republicans who will refuse to support Mr. Trump. In the Virginia primary, for example, exit polls showed that 54 percent of the voters were unhappy with Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

And a quarter of the Republican voters asked in Virginia said they couldn’t support Mr. Trump if he were the nominee, Mr. Rove said.

There is always some drop-off or crossover of party members, both Republicans and Democrats, to the other party, Mr. Rove said, which could be as high as 9 percent. But a 25 percent drop-off in support for the party could have a significant effect on Republican officials and candidates.

Mr. Rove said he would worry about the electability of any Republican running for the U.S. Senate in a state won by Mr. Obama, quickly rattling off New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, along with the possibility of North Carolina, Mississippi and Nevada. Losing in five of those states would give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

And he said as many as 20 Republican members of the U.S. House could be at risk if Mr. Trump is the nominee.

Beyond the partisan worries, beyond the grim knowledge Mr. Rove has that every one of Mr. Trump’s foibles and insults will be played to the hilt by Democrats to voters to maximize Democratic support, there is manner of Mr. Trump and the presidency.

It is an office that commands a certain standard of behavior, a standard that has rarely been breached. Mr. Rove did not speak to that so much directly, but he was clearly personally disturbed by Mr. Trump.

Has the country ever elected a “serial bankrupt,” Mr. Rove asked.

Mr. Trump’s comments on Hispanics have left him with 12 percent support among them and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney could not get elected with support from 27 percent of the Hispanic population. “Donald Trump is deluding himself” that he has their support, Mr. Rove said. “Do you think there are a lot of Latinos out there that say he doesn’t respect my heritage and where I came from. This is something he would need to awaken in the months ahead if he were to become the Republican nominee and undo the damage.”

One incident especially stuck with Mr. Rove as he talked with reporters. It was the incident last fall when Mr. Trump mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski who suffers from a chronic condition that limits his arms and hands.

What would the parents of a disabled child think watching that, Mr. Rove said. Would they be forced to ask, “Is my president going to respect my child?”

But it was also clear talking to Mr. Rove that he was unsure Mr. Trump had the ability to recognize his failures in behavior and to correct them.

An Economic Look At Trump, Sanders’ Popularity
Posted: February, 25 2016 2:09 PM

Adjusted for inflation, in 1973 the average working man in the United States made $53,294. In 2012 that same man (sorry, this statistic looks at working men) made $50,383.

After 40 years and nearly $3,000 a year less in pay, Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard asks is it any surprise that both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders have been so popular with voters this year?

Since the 1970s a variety of factors – some the natural result of new technologies and the people that work in that industry but many of them political in nature – have combined to leave the average working person feeling badly stretched economically, while those at the higher end of the economic scale have seen enormous good fortune, Mr. Ballard said recently.

How much good fortune? In 1976 the top 1 percent of earning households in the U.S. made 9 percent of the total national income, Mr. Ballard said at a business breakfast event hosted by MSU’s Broad College of Business. By 2012, they were earning 21 percent of total national income.

That works out, he said, to a $1 trillion a year difference between 1976 and 2012.

It also helps explain why while Michigan has seen the highest individual income in history, only half the people of the state have actually seen an increase.

In fact compared to the entire nation, Mr. Ballard said, Michigan is an anomaly. Nationally all income levels have seen increases in the past 40 years (though again the highest income groups have seen the biggest increase, more than 50 percent compared to the lowest level). In Michigan, except for a tiny increase for those in the lowest 10th percent, every income group earning up to 50 percent of the income distribution saw their inflation-adjusted income decline.

Part of that change is due to people not being on the right side of the “skills bias technical change,” in other words not having enough education and not being involved in technology and therefore losing out on a major economic change, Mr. Ballard said.

But much of it is also due to factors affected by economic and policy decisions, he said, such as financial deregulation, weaker unions, international economic competition, less progressive taxation, immigration of lower-skilled workers, the reduced value of low-skill workers and reduced value of the minimum wage, as well as changing social norms that accept the idea of chief executives earning hundreds of times the rate of their lowest-paid workers.

This was all an economic analysis of why Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders have been drawing crowds, and did not take into consideration factors like racial animus, fear of terrorism, disappointment that President Barack Obama did not pursue a more liberal agenda.

But Mr. Ballard used statistics to explain an anger that is palpable when listening to what people are saying amongst themselves. Recently on Facebook a man fumed that in the 1970s working in heating and cooling he earned $10 an hour and a new truck cost $8,000. Now the same job pays him $15 an hour and a truck can run him $40,000. The fellow didn’t say who he would back for president but one can guess he might be supportive of someone promising major changes in governance.

Some Republican Ruminations About Flint
Posted: February, 18 2016 3:02 PM

One spends enough time as a reporter covering politics that one gets to know a lot of people on all sides of the political spectrum. One gets to know them as individuals, one understands that outside of their partisan viewpoints (no matter how intense and passionate) they have similar interests and talk easily amongst themselves about kids, the games, vacations, which plumber to use. The really important things in life, in other words.

The Flint water crisis remains the most critical issue in the state. And never wanting to waste a good crisis, both parties are attempting to use the disaster to their benefit.

Which makes conversations this reporter has had recently with Republicans, mostly, so very interesting. We met in a variety of settings -- at a funeral, at lunch, at the gym and other places – so they were all at ease, off the clock, during the conversations. Some are in government (and fairly high in government) some are business folks, some retired. All are well read, all thoughtful, all very up on the news. Some were in Lansing, some in Detroit. Some are old friends. Some this reporter has known professionally for years.

And all of them recognized Flint as a failure, a spectacular failure, of state government. They also worried that it was particularly a failure of their party, as they almost universally said: “Our guys.”

No matter the setting, or the day, or the circumstance of the conversations, or who was speaking (and not everyone speaking would have known each other), there was an almost stunning repetition to each conversation’s tone: They brought up the Flint situation, and they said, unprompted, it was a failure of state government and their party.

They acknowledged mistakes were made by Flint city officials and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but they said those errors were not as critical as the mistakes and the attitude state government showed while the crisis was brewing.

One, a retired business executive, said with all the complaints about the water that went on for a year before the discovery the water was tainted with lead “Were they paying any attention to people at all?”

Another, a government official, said, “We screwed it up. This is on us.”

All agreed that whatever it took to fix the problem and ensure it did not happen again had to be done. One hinted that maybe the state should not spend money on any other project in any other place in the state until Flint’s water situation was solved.

The ones who were in government worried that Flint showed that many of their fellow Republicans have lost the sense of what it meant to be in government and what government is supposed to do.

“We keep saying we have to run government like a business. But government isn’t a business. You can’t run it like a business,” one said. Turning briefly to the presidential campaign, the person said, “We’re real good at being the party of ‘no,’ but we have to show we can govern.”

As one of the conversations drew to a close, one of the government Republicans looked over and asked: “Do you think the old man can get through it?” In other words: Would Governor Rick Snyder be forced to resign? After this reporter’s hedging reply, this person nodded with a look that suggested he would not be surprised if Mr. Snyder did leave office early.

It is impossible to say if these attitudes are reflective of most Republicans or most people, and what they may mean to state action and policy. It is an election year, Flint will be an issue, and both parties will try to use the crisis to their advantage even as efforts are underway to resolve the crisis. Republicans will stick with their guys, just as Democrats will stand with theirs.

But it was an interesting to hear conversations where the speakers understood the differences between politics and governing and how governing should not be drowned in the political well.

The Flint Water Crisis Congressional Hearing: Why There?
Posted: February, 4 2016 3:15 PM

Why was Congress first to hold hearings on the Flint Water Crisis?

There in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday in the Capitol, were Environmental Quality Interim Director Keith Creagh and a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, both squirming some as they were hit by Republicans and Democrats on why there was such an utter collapse of government function in managing the Flint water system and in protecting the citizens of Flint from lead-contaminated water.

Wednesday’s hearing may not have been the emotional-historic equal of the Army-McCarthy Hearings (for anyone under the age of, say, really old, those may – should -- be viewed on YouTube) but it was a fully intense and even riveting moment in the history of Flint’s crisis.

But why was the hearing, the first meeting of lawmakers to question officials on Flint, in Washington? Why have there been no hearings in Lansing, before the Legislature?

Lawmakers have hearings. They can even have investigative hearings. Legislators can have hearings on pretty much anything they want. And over the years, Legislators have held plenty of hearings on a wide variety of topics, everything from budgetary issues to policy changes in state departments to oversight hearings with witnesses subpoenaed and sworn in under oath.

There are a multitude of investigations taking place – criminal and civil inquiries by the U.S. Attorney, Department of Attorney General and Genesee County prosecutor. Governor Rick Snyder appointed a task force to look into what went wrong. The Office of the Auditor General is conducting a review. The EPA is investigating its own conduct and auditing Michigan’s drinking water program.

But all of that takes place behind closed doors. Michigan’s legislators, who could have wrangled some answers in public for the public, so far have not held hearings on Flint.

And let us not forget they could have had hearings going back to September and October when it was finally confirmed that the city’s water system was contaminated with lead. It seems perfectly normal to have legislative committees call up state officials, try to determine what had happened and why, and what was going to happen to fix the situation. Then Legislators could have held ongoing hearings to monitor the progress of what the state was doing and how it was working.

They have not.

In contrast, almost immediately after the crisis became a national story a month ago, the U.S. House of Representatives – which is run by Republicans, the same party overseeing the Legislature – has held a hearing, and this comes after congressional members from both political parties have proposed a variety of financial and structural solutions to the city’s problems.

It is perfectly appropriate for Congress to hold a hearing on the Flint situation. Likely every city with water infrastructure older than 30 years in the U.S. has lead service lines as part of those systems (lead service lines were banned only in 1986), so the problems that affected Flint could theoretically affect any of those cities. Plus, a major federal agency sat on a critical document that could have spurred federal action to help the city, clearly something on which Congress would want answers.

Why hasn’t the Legislature been as anxious to get those answers as well?

Hearings are in the Legislature’s future, we are told. Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), the chair of the House Oversight and Ethics Committee, has said he will hold hearings once some of the first investigative reports are made public in the next month. The Senate Republican majority, however, has rebuffed calls for hearings there despite requests from Senate Democrats.

The public will surely anticipate the House hearings in Lansing, and hope they have some of the same impact as the congressional hearing already held.

A Funny And Yet Sad Moment In The Flint Story
Posted: January, 28 2016 5:11 PM

There was a time when Flint was a place where cars and great basketball players came from, and someday that again may be the way the city is seen. Now, it is the crucible for how government works or does not, what government should do or should not do, and how people who should never have been hurt are helped. It is the most important story in the United States, it will be a case study turned to again and again (one expects) for lessons on how to make government work or at least how to avoid creating the same problems again.

For reporters this moment is essential, the time where everything has a Flint aspect and we must cover it all (those of us left, that is, in an industry destroyed by technology and people just being cheap).

So it was Thursday when reporters had called in to listen to and question U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) on their proposal to free up as much as $400 million in federal money to help with fixing Flint’s water system. This was potentially a big part of a much bigger story.

And it also became the moment when the absurd happened, something both funny and sad.

The conference call press conference was drawing to a close. The press aide in charge had asked reporters for one more question. Somewhere in the staticky ether there was a voice, a male voice, that spoke up. One could sense the reporters and politicians waiting on the question from this unrecognized voice.

“Yes, you had called me?” said the voice. “I’m…” and he went on to give his name.

Ms. Stabenow chuckled and said it appeared someone had gotten on the line. Perhaps the conference call had gotten connected with a party line, someone else suggested.

Then the unknown caller started reading off his Social Security number. “Oh no, sir, don’t give out your Social Security number on a conference call,” Ms. Stabenow called out in alarm.

Clearly, however, he could not hear the rest of the people on the call as he seemed to be conversing with a series of clicks and buzzes.

Everyone on the conference call laughed at the strangeness of it all, and quickly hung up.

Except this reporter stayed on the line for a moment, trying to determine what was going on with the unknown caller.

The fellow was trying to keep from getting cut off from some service. Clearly behind in his bills, he was explaining there was a holdup in his disability getting approved and he was sorry to be behind.

It was unseemly to listen further, so I put down the phone.

But that moment stood as a reminder that once the Flint water story no longer dominates the news there will be problems and pain and solutions not yet found for government decisions yet to be made and stories yet to cover. There will be other stories on other miseries to come.

A Hint Of Good Economic News … Kinda
Posted: January, 21 2016 3:06 PM

Long memories can be a curse, especially when something said in the immediate moment nags you until you track down a memory triggered.

So it was with something said a week ago at the January Revenue Estimating Conference by Gabriel Ehrlich of the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics at the University of Michigan.

His presentation focused on Michigan’s economy and its near-term future.

Part of that discussion was on jobs, which, after all, has been virtually the only economic statistic that Michigan residents have paid attention to in the last 20 years. And in his presentation Mr. Ehrlich reminded us that we hit the peak of employment in second quarter of 2000, when we averaged 4.7 million people working.

Through the long slog of first Michigan’s single state recession and then the national Great Recession, the state lost more than 858,000 jobs and hit the modern bottom of the barrel the third quarter of 2009 with probably about 3.82 million people working.

Since then the state’s jobless picture has improved, slowly, sometimes haltingly, but it has improved.

And by the fourth quarter of 2018 Michigan should average roughly 4.45 million jobs, a growth of 624,700 jobs since its employment nadir. That, Mr. Ehrlich said, is 73 percent of all the jobs the state had lost.

Which triggered a thought and memory for this reporter: How good is that really? And how does that compare to … what was the number? When did … who? Was it someone from RSQE or the late Gary Olson, former Senate Fiscal Agency executive director, who said we wouldn’t see the same number of jobs we had in 2000 until … was it 2020 or 2030 or later?

Even with electronic archives, it takes a bit to find what one is looking for, especially when that thought may be little more than a vapor. But, for once, this thought was more than half-baked.

However, its discovery in many ways raises more questions than it does resolve them.

In January 2012, George Fulton, the director of RSQE, told the Revenue Estimating Conference that the Great Recession had forced him to recalculate his expectations on when the state could see employment at the level it enjoyed in 2000. Before the recession, both he and Mr. Olson had projected Michigan would not hit its 2000 employment level until the 2020s.

That January 2012, Mr. Fulton said he now thought the state would not hit its 2000 jobs level until 2030. That’s 2030, just a few years shy of Michigan’s bicentennial.

But Mr. Fulton also said if personal income growth continued, that date could be brought back some years, and that Michigan could still do very well even if it did not hit its 2000 levels of employment.

That means Mr. Ehrlich’s forecast is relatively good news, sort of, kinda. Especially when one combines his projection with the latest unemployment figures that show in December more than 4.5 million people were working and the total labor force approached 4.8 million.

One could then draw a conclusion Michigan will hit its 2000 employment levels again sometime in the 2020s, right? Presuming we are not once again ravaged by a recession – take note Wall Street – we should be good with jobs some years before 2030. Good news, right?

Then again, that means a child born the day Michigan had its highest number of jobs in 2000 will likely legally be able to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate sometime in the 2020s. That is rather depressing to think about. More than 20 years to recoup what we once had. Whoopee.

There’s no point to get lost in the endless arguments why it has taken so long to get back to the heights. It looks like we will beat the 2030 forecast. Huzzah, I suppose.

An Unprecedented, And Sad, State Of The State Faces Gov. Snyder
Posted: January, 14 2016 3:32 PM

Governor Rick Snyder takes the podium for his State of the State address this upcoming Tuesday, and he faces an unprecedented situation.

Before, depending on the state’s economy, governors have been criticized, disdained and disliked when they took the podium. On rare occasions, governors faced opposition related to policy questions, which is reflected in the reaction they get when they address the Legislature, but that opposition is generally rooted in partisan differences.

Mr. Snyder will take the podium Tuesday knowing that to a large number of his fellow Michiganders, being disdained and disliked is not the worst of what he faces. With the mess of the Flint water situation, with an unknown number of Flint children facing elevated lead levels and now reports of increased incidents of Legionnaires disease in Genesee County, Mr. Snyder will speak on Tuesday knowing that to many he is – and this is a difficult thing to say, but clearly it is true – hated.

Demands he resign, coming not just from Michigan but around the country, and demands he be charged with criminality demonstrate how much his favor has fallen with so many people.

A protestor standing outside the Capitol on Thursday held a sign that likely speaks for many, though what it said was almost as ugly a thought as one could imagine: “Snyder’s Legacy Is Murderer.”

Even among those who back Mr. Snyder, there is utter bewilderment at how a situation went so horribly wrong, why the administration took so long to respond to it and why, even after it took steps to address the problem, it still seemed out of touch with the people of Flint.

Mr. Snyder did not turn the taps on Flint’s water, but it was his policy that set in place the actors who made the key decisions that did switch the source of the water. It was Mr. Snyder’s administration that seemed too often too casual and dismissive of complaints from city residents.

If any governor in this state before held a State of the State address while facing the reality that he has lost the confidence of so many and that his administration stands morally indicted, this reporter has no knowledge of it.

But what strikes this reporter above all is how horribly, humanly sad this has become.

And how tragically ironic it is for Mr. Snyder. Ironically tragic because Mr. Snyder genuinely loves children. His outgoing Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore once said in a conversation that if anyone wants to meet Mr. Snyder, that person should have a toddler in tow. Mr. Snyder will walk past a roomful of Fortune 500 CEOs to talk to a little kid. He actually has shown that interest at some of his major appointment announcements, when Mr. Snyder seemed to want to take more time talking to their kids than introducing his new appointee.

Yet, kids have been harmed. The one thing no one would want to have happen has happened.

Therefore, unlike his previous State of the State addresses, Mr. Snyder will be watched far more closely. He knows what his task is, both on Tuesday and for the people of Flint and the state.

Criticism Continues To Pile On Snyder
Posted: January, 7 2016 3:55 PM

Governor Rick Snyder has often said he is not a typical politician, but lately he is getting beat up like a typical politician.

All across social media – which is now the gauge of public opinion – Mr. Snyder’s name has been attached to adjectives he cannot be used to in his life. None of those adjectives are pleasant.

He was already being hammered over the scandal involving the Flint water system. Earlier this week when he signed legislation ending Michigan’s straight-ticket voting option he was skewered by Democrats (nothing new in that).

But then he signed SB 571*, which made both campaign finance changes and eliminated the ability of local governments to communicate in most ways with constituents on local ballot issues 60 days before an election. Mr. Snyder has called for the Legislature to modify that provision (and his signing statement with the bill makes it sound like he is calling for no major modifications) but it is clear from some of the responses posted in various places that many people do not trust Mr. Snyder or the Legislature to actually make any changes.

Full disclosure: this reporter’s sister serves on a library board. I have not spoken with her since the bill was signed, but she made her views on the bill clear during the holiday season. I suggest the governor not sign up for a library card in Oakland County for a while.

Outside of social media, this reporter has also heard people so furious over the signing of SB 571* that they suggest court action could occur or even call for mass acts of civil disobedience by government officials during the election season to test the state on the bill.

Given that the signing happened almost simultaneously with MLive announcing it was laying off 29 staff, some people saw connections between a loss of journalists and legislation they charged stifled governments. A Jamie Iseler said on Facebook, “One Tough Nerd, who boasted of transparency, has become One Big Embarrassment of Opacity.”

The outrage over SB 571* cannot compare to the growing national outrage – helped along by stories on MSNBC and NBC News – over the Flint water crisis. Beyond Cher calling for Mr. Snyder to be shot at dawn and filmmaker Michael Moore calling for him to go to jail, there are people all across the country posting comments on the Flint scandal.

One such person, Anthony Hayes in Henderson, Kentucky, posted a comment that seems particularly apt. He wrote: “The Republican that the people wanted and voted in, well, you got your man. Lead man.”

Mr. Snyder has often said he is not a typical politician. Politicians are clearly hated throughout the world. But politicians are the people entrusted to solve problems. A politician solving problems could say that he or she is not a “typical politician.” Perhaps, then, Mr. Hayes comments should be seen not as an insult, but as a challenge.

What A Curious Thing House Democrats Have Done
Posted: December, 17 2015 2:27 PM

Rep. Erika Geiss of Taylor and Rep. Leslie Love of Detroit, both Democrats, have been called on the carpet by their caucus for being the only two Democrats to vote for a bill that the rest of the caucus opposed.

How very strange.

A week ago the House voted on legislation, HB 4686*, that makes it harder to sue a city for a defective sidewalk. This reporter has actually had some experience dealing with the question of bad sidewalks and how engineers want to keep the plugs (which is what most call the concrete squares of the sidewalks) so there is less than 0.25 of an inch difference in the rise between each one. In my experience, both as a homeowner and a reporter, I have seen plugs with better than eight inches of different rise (thanks to tree roots) on some streets. Besides looking terrible, they can be a big factor in injuries.

And a sidewalk program can be very expensive for a community to undertake, no matter the complaints homeowners make. When city finances are tight, as they have been in recent years, local officials have to balance things like cops, firefighters and sidewalks. Which do you think would likely win when money is short?

But, bad sidewalks can lead to injuries, sometimes serious injuries when people trip, so there are legitimate reasons to argue cities should be liable in those cases.

You have a difference then, which can lead to a difference among members on how to vote on the situation.

Which makes the House Democrats reaction to Ms. Geiss and Ms. Love so very, very odd. They voted for HB 4686*, the rest of their caucus did not. Ms. Geiss and Ms. Love have been stripped of caucus leadership positions and told they will not receive support from caucus staff.

Or so we believe. So they have said. The Democrats have provided themselves with plausible deniability by refusing to comment. Unfortunately for them, refusing to say yea or nay on whether punishment was meted out means everyone believes it was, and makes the caucus look … well, it doesn’t lead to people feeling all warm and fuzzy about them.

Had the caucus taken a position on this bill, effectively tying every member to vote a certain way? That is unclear.

Put it this way: faced with two members who voted against the caucus on a bill, what would Bill Ryan or Bobby Crim or Gary Owen or Lew Dodak or Curtis Hertel Sr. (all former Democratic speakers) have done to the members? Outside of asking for an explanation, they wouldn’t have done a damn thing to them. If the rest of the caucus complained (and the controversy over HB 4686* is not the first time people have been upset at fellow members when there has been a split on an issue), those leaders would have talked to the other members and had everyone resolve their differences on a personal level.

Being fellow Democrats, or fellow Republicans, does not mean everyone will agree 100 percent of the time on all issues. Legislators are supposed to be thinking humans not automatons, and thinking humans have perfectly valid reasons to disagree on an issue. Doesn’t make them bad or disloyal, just means they disagree. If they agree on 98 percent of everything else, why get edgy on something that by no stretch defines a party’s beliefs and purposes?

Oh well. Bill and Bobby and Gary and Lew and Curtis were of different times. That the Legislature is the powerful force it is really is mostly due to folks like Bill and Bobby and Gary and Lew and Curtis – and quite a number of Republicans as well – but they were all of different times.

A Thought , A Gloomy Thought, About Roads
Posted: December, 10 2015 1:23 PM

Suddenly, no one is talking about roads. For years, roads, fixing roads, funding for fixing roads, had been the one subject everyone in Lansing and maybe the state talked about. Groaning about the roads was universal, topped only by groaning about state government’s seeming inability to do anything about it.

Then, a plan was developed and passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Snyder. It will take a bit before any additional money starts going to road repairs, and there is controversy of course on the types of taxes raised, and whether the plan will end up getting as much money to the roads as proponents hope (and whether it’s reliance on the General Fund will hurt schools, universities, corrections and other programs). But we have a plan now, and since it became law, Michigan roads have no longer been the center of conversation.

Which made a conversation this reporter had recently both striking and jarring. The conversation was with a Lansing lawyer who has worked on state issues as well criminal matters, and involved a discussion she had with a number of lawyers in Detroit.

All the Detroit-based lawyers were young. None were older than 40, so they essentially are part of the millennial class.

The Lansing lawyer said while working with the other lawyers the conversation turned to Michigan roads. The younger lawyers all had a hopeless attitude about the roads, said the Lansing lawyer.

Michigan roads, they said, have always been terrible. When one considers the fight over road funding has gone on for decades, and complaints about the roads first gained significant volume in the 1970s, this is an understandable view from their perspective.

What was most depressing, though, was that these younger folks also said that Michigan roads would always be terrible. There was no will, no real interest and determination, to really improve them, they said, so bad roads are our endless fate.

And it didn’t matter at all if the state raised funds to fix the roads, because the state would never raise enough money needed, because, again, there is no will to really fix the roads, the Lansing lawyer quoted the younger lawyers as saying.

So, in the end, who cares, they felt. The roads will always be bad, money will always have to be spent fixing cars and trucks damaged by the roads, so why make a fuss about it. They seemed unimpressed with concerns about road quality and its possible effect on economic development. Deal with it, the attitude seemed to be. Bad roads are eternal; focus on what can be changed instead, appeared to be the message.

Granted, this was a small group of people and their feelings cannot be ascribed to everyone. Still, it was surprising to hear such a sense of hopelessness on what has been a major concern. One wonders how widespread the attitude might be, and whether such a sense of hopelessness affects more than just the question of roads.

Recalling A Forgotten Representative
Posted: December, 3 2015 12:11 PM

Some politicians cast big shadows and are remembered long past the times they served. Most strut and fret for their time on the political stage and then are resigned to being answers to trivia questions long after. And some are forgotten altogether.

The House on Tuesday remembered one member who was so forgotten no one noticed, and that includes reporters, when he died.

Clem Bykowski, Clemens Bykowski formerly, was honored in HR 189* adopted on Tuesday.

He was elected to succeed a scandal-ridden lawmaker, made a very bad tactical mistake within days of his taking office and then left after one of the shortest terms in legislative history.

Mr. Bykowski was such a small presence in the Legislature his name doesn’t even show up in the indexes of the Michigan Manual (though he does have a small reference in lists of past legislators as a footnote, he doesn’t even get his own listing as a former representative).

Mr. Bykowski died in October. He was 91. He and his wife, Ruth, were together for 70 years. The couple had three children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was living in Canton when he died.

He was a veteran of World War II. He had been a Detroit cop until injuries forced him to retire. He did get elected to the Wayne County Commission, where he served until fate intervened.

Fate being former Rep. Casmer Ogonowski. “Cas,” was a Detroit Democrat, very personable, the kind of guy you loved having a drink with at the bar and he always gave the impression of being a real operator. Though from the more conservative sections of Detroit, he was aligned in many ways with former Mayor Coleman Young. Mr. Ogonowski, like the then mayor, was a major backer of bringing casino gambling to Detroit.

Mr. Ogonowski got into huge trouble when he was convicted of federal charges of bribery for accepting money to help someone get a liquor license and lottery license. He faced expulsion, but in March 1982 handed in a letter of resignation, sparring himself that indignity.

Governors and legislators didn’t wait around on scheduling special elections in those days, and fewer than three months after Mr. Ogonowski was gone Mr. Bykowski was elected to the House, defeating his Republican opponent by a margin of almost five to one.

Mr. Bykowski was thin with a prominent mustache. He frankly looked older than his 58 years. He smoked a cigar, this reporter recalls. He was put at a desk near the front of the House chamber and just a few seats over from then-freshman Rep. Burton Leland.

And he worked his House desk phone a lot, calling allies and friends. As he did, he was often eyed by Mr. Leland.

Because it was 1982, legislative districts had just been redrawn following the 1980 census. Detroit had lost a couple seats and Mr. Bykowski’s district and Mr. Leland’s were now thrown together.

Then Mr. Bykowski made his mistake. It happened just a couple days after he had been sworn in. The House was going long that day, well past midnight, as it worked on budget and budget cutting and a host of other issues.

It was never made clear why, but Mr. Bykowski got an excuse and left the session early to return home. Directly after he left the chamber, the House prepared to vote on some procedural issue. Mr. Leland’s hand shot up and he called for a record-roll call vote.

And that continued the rest of the night. No matter how insignificant the issue, on every procedural step taken, Mr. Leland called for a record roll-call vote. People knew what Mr. Leland was doing, but were powerless to stop him.

Mr. Leland was, after all, creating Mr. Bykowski’s voting record, or rather his non-voting record. When he went door to door during the primary election, he intended to show that Mr. Bykowski had a pretty poor record of voting for being in office for such a short time.

There wasn’t enough time for Mr. Bykowski to recover from his error. Session ended early that June so lawmakers could campaign in the new districts.

That August, in a five-person Democratic primary, Mr. Leland bested Mr. Bykowski by better than 2,300 votes.

Mr. Bykowski served out the rest of his short term – which with elections meant he was not in session much – left Lansing, and until Tuesday was really not heard from again in the chamber in which he once had served.

A Little Analysis On Medicaid Expansion Across The States
Posted: November, 12 2015 2:45 PM

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – which critics call Obamacare – is still controversial. And one of the most controversial aspects of the act, especially in Michigan, is the expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

Michigan is one of 31 states that expanded Medicaid eligibility so lower income persons could access to health insurance. Now, some 600,000 low income workers have gotten services through the Medicaid expansion, called Healthy Michigan.

Still, it is a controversial issue – having only passed the Legislature after a protracted fight – with many conservatives arguing the state should drop the program. It is controversial in other states as well. In Kentucky, for example, the newly elected Republican governor has said he will take steps to end the program when he takes office.

There have been several studies in Michigan and other states on the effect of the expansion on medical treatment and access to healthcare.

But earlier this fall the Albany, New York-based Rockefeller Institute of Government released a study done in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation that looks at the Medicaid expansion through a different lens: the economic and fiscal condition of the states that expanded Medicaid eligibility.

The political aspects are well-known since many of the states had governments dominated by Democrats. Many states did, but as Michigan showed there were states dominated by Republicans that also enacted the program, states like Ohio, Indiana and Arizona among them.

But this study is possibly the first that looks at some of the economic and overall fiscal conditions of the states that enacted the expansions.

Among the findings, most states that expanded eligibility were in better overall economic and fiscal condition than the states that did not expand Medicaid. And in those non-expanding states, poverty was a greater problem and median incomes were lower. The median level of poverty in those states among the population was 13.9 percent compared to 12.9 percent in the expanding states.

The expansion states had a lower rate of uninsured persons, 11.5 percent, than in the non-expanding states, 13.4 percent.

The expanding states also had higher tax capacity, raised more in tax collections and raised higher revenues than non-expanding states.

The expanding states also spent typically more on Medicaid and K-12 education than non-expanding states. Though curiously, the non-expanding states tended to spend more on issues like higher education and roads than did the expanding states.

The expanding states also tended to have a larger percentage of their total state workforce employed in health care than did those of non-expanding states.

The study itself did not draw political conclusions from these economic statistics, but one has to consider the role these factors may have played in convincing lawmakers in Michigan and the other expanding states that expanding Medicaid was good policy overall. And as expansion remains controversial and unpopular with some, it will be interesting to see how these factors might stave off attempts to end the programs.

One Republican On Road Funding And The General Fund
Posted: November, 5 2015 2:09 PM

It was at a social function in the last week that this reporter encountered a Republican and unprompted the Republican spoke on the road funding debate.

In the days since the encounter, of course, the Legislature has passed the 600/600 plan – $600 million in new revenues, $600 million in cuts or additional revenues from the General Fund to go towards highway construction and repairs. The higher taxes and fees begin in 2017 (after the 2016 election) and the General Fund effects will not begin until the 2018-19 fiscal year (when Governor Rick Snyder and most the legislators involved in the decision will be packing up their desks to leave) – so some of the Republican’s comments are no longer pertinent from a time standpoint.

They may still be relevant from the standpoint of historical context and future impact, however.

It’s no secret that enthusiasm for the road proposal is tepid. People are glad there is a proposal, that Mr. Snyder has said he will sign, but it’s a forced gladness, the same forced gladness one shows when getting socks from one’s grandmother at Christmas.

The Republican encountered will not be glad with the proposal.

It was understood that the Republican and I were speaking on background. This Republican is in the very significant Republican category, an advisor to administrations – including the current one – and legislators for decades.

And this Republican was seething at use of the General Fund for transportation purposes. This reporter was a bit surprised at the vehemence this Republican expressed.

“Do they not understand the General Fund is not to be used for road funding, wasn’t intended to be used for road funding?” The Republican then answered the question, “Of course, they don’t.”

The Republican reminded this reporter of history: that when the voters changed the Constitution in 1978 to take the state’s highways department and make it the Department of Transportation it was to accomplish several things. One purpose was to ensure that all forms of transportation – roads, public transit, airports – were funded.

A second main purpose was to ensure that transportation had its own funding sources, primarily fuel taxes and registration taxes, and not be reliant on the General Fund. And for most of nearly four decades transportation did not get any General Fund monies. Only when the state’s transportation taxes failed to meet the federal match did the state tap some funds from the General Fund.

Using the General Fund for transportation is a bad idea because with the next recession that will get cut from GF spending, although continued improvement of the roads is good for the economy overall – by both providing jobs and attracting businesses – the Republican said.

Plus, with less direct money coming in the state will be tempted to bond more for roads, and indeed that is being considered, which overall is a poor fiscal choice, the Republican said. Former Governor John Engler did that in the 1990s with the additional funds he got, and the state now has to fix those roads while still paying off the bonds, the Republican said.

Since the Legislature has approved the plan I have not been in touch with the Republican, though I would be surprised if this person has had any change in opinion.

The Subject Was Term Limits, The Discussion Elevated For Once
Posted: October, 29 2015 3:09 PM

It was an early morning discussion this week before the Capital Issues Forum, and the discussion was thoughtful and elevated. Considering the subject was term limits, which brings out passions, a thoughtful, elevated conversation was a fine way to have bagels and coffee.

The Capital Issues Forum generally meets monthly to hear about a topic either in the news or in the public eye. On Wednesday, Pat Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group, and Jeff Williams, CEO of Public Sector Consultants, discussed the history and effects of term limits in Michigan.

Both were present at the creation of Michigan’s current term limit system. Mr. Anderson, in fact, was one of the principal authors of the proposal. Mr. Williams saw early on that the proposal was popular with the public.

Both also disagreed with its overall effectiveness. Despite a flurry of states in the early 1990s adopting term limits, no other state has done so since then, Mr. Williams said, and it has not ended career politicians, it has just put them on a different career path, and exacerbated gerrymandering and made the Legislature weaker.

Mr. Anderson said term limits is working as intended and, in fact, follows a national tradition that stems from the beginnings of the republic.

The first Congress, created under the Articles of Confederation, was itself term limited, he said, and yet passed the Northwest Ordinance, one of the most important statutes in U.S. history and which allowed for the creation of Michigan.

Term limits follows the concept of rotation in office, to allow for persons to serve for a period of time and then return to their homes, Mr. Anderson said. That was the way government began and then it was interrupted for a period.

It was an interruption that lasted most of the nation’s history, Mr. Williams said.

The campaign to enact term limits in 1992 was successful, despite opponents vastly outspending supporters, Mr. Anderson said. And sometimes opponents outright lied about what term limits would do. In one radio ad, opponents warned that allowing term limits would mean drugs and prostitution would be legalized and the Great Lakes would be drained, he said.

Term Limits has continued to be popular and it is working, he said.

Mr. Williams acknowledged that some of the effects that critics warned of did not happen. For example, some people thought with term limits lobbyists would be more powerful. The failure so far to enact a road funding proposal shows that is not true, he said. It has also made it harder for lobbyists to actually interact with lawmakers, but it has pushed the concept of making connections.

Mr. Williams also said that there was a sense of self-term limits before the proposal was enacted. Legislators like former Rep. Dominic Jacobetti (who served about 40 years) were the rare exception. Before term limits were enacted the average House member had served 10 years and the average Senate member had served 11 years.

Plus, it did not end career politicians, Mr. Williams said, but altered their career paths. Lawmakers often remain in public life but go from the Legislature to run a school system or work in a city. And they will leave the Legislature mid-term, if needed, he said.

Term limits has also, Mr. Williams said, clearly led to the executive branch getting more power and the Legislature being weaker.

Also, he said, it has fundamentally changed redistricting. Before term limits, districts would be drawn to favor some incumbents. Now, districts are drawn to favor parties and that pushes gerrymandering, Mr. Williams said.

With The Canadian Election, Any Change In The Bridge Status?
Posted: October, 21 2015 4:26 PM

With Liberal Party Justin Trudeau winning the Canadian prime minister’s seat in the surprising majority victory his party enjoyed Monday, does that portend any changes in the new Gordie Howe international bridge between Detroit and Windsor? According to one Liberal Party insider from Windsor, there should be no change in how Ottawa will view the bridge’s importance.

Upgrading Canada’s infrastructure in terms of roads and rail projects was a major emphasis of the Liberal Party’s campaign that stunningly ousted former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Monday’s election.

During the campaign, Mr. Trudeau called for investing $125 billion (in Canadian dollars) into infrastructure projects, and said the federal government would go into a slight deficit for the next several years to finance those projects.

Where the issue of the federal deficit in the U.S. is such a major issue, it likely surprises many on the U.S. side that Canadian voters would take eagerly to electing a party that promises to run a deficit.

Canada some decades ago had a disastrous financial status which it corrected by, take note, cutting some spending and raising taxes. Raising lots of taxes. Its federal budget has remained largely in balance since, thanks in large part, again, to Canadians paying overall higher taxes. Mr. Harper had promised to maintain that stance had his Progressive Conservatives won power again.

Though Mr. Trudeau pushed infrastructure improvements hard during the campaign, he didn’t talk much about the Gordie Howe Bridge, the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor that has been the subject of such controversy in Michigan.

However, The Windsor Star posted a story late Wednesday quoting a local Liberal leader who said the bridge’s importance is such that its status for development and construction should not be affected.

Dwight Duncan, who was once Ontario’s minister of finance and who represented Windsor in the provincial parliament for 18 years, said the new bridge is too important to Canada’s economy for the new Liberal government to disturb its progress.

That viewed was backed up by University of Windsor political scientist Lydia Miljan. Nothing in the Liberal’s platform suggested disrupting trade relations with the U.S., Canada’s largest trading partner.

The governing board for the bridge project on the Canadian side consists of members all appointed by Mr. Harper, and technically the government can change the entire board once it takes office and cabinet ministers are settled. Ms. Miljan did not think there would be a wholesale change of board members. Changes in the board would probably happen gradually, she said.

Mr. Duncan worried more that local officials might not see some of the local economic impacts hoped for because of, well, politics. The Windsor area, along with Ontario overall, is a bit more left than the Liberals area and elected several members of the New Democratic Party, the really left party in Canada, to Parliament. Without a Liberal MP from the area to plead their case, local officials may have to push more themselves to get the local results they want, Mr. Duncan suggests.

How’s Come Utah Figured How To Raise Money For Roads?
Posted: October, 8 2015 2:55 PM

Is there any point to reminding people that Michigan roads are bad? No, of course not. What W.C. Fields once said of drunkenness could be said as well of the moonscape of Michigan roads: “It was so common, it was unnoticed.”

Is there any point to reminding people that efforts to reach a decision on how to finance improvements to the roads always seem to fall short of a final, conclusive decision on a finance plan? Probably not. Despite ongoing discussions between Governor Rick Snyder and the legislative leaders, despite indications of improved conversations and hope an agreement could come at any time, there is a cynical sense among legislators, lobbyists and others that if no agreement is reached and enacted by December, there will be no action on roads until possibly the lame-duck session in December 2016.

So what explains Utah? It has a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, and it would be hard to find a more conservative state. Yet earlier this year Utah enacted a very hefty increase in its gas tax, raising the tax by some five cents from its current rate of 24.5 cents, and increasing it in the future with inflation. In addition, voters in 17 of the Beehive State’s 29 counties will vote on a special sales tax increase to pay for more local transportation improvements.

So how did Utah do it? An article published by the Pew Center for the States gives clues, but for Michigan officials trying to get action on roads, the clues must be maddening.

The article speaks of how state leaders worked with local businesses and chambers, fanned out across the state, talked about what the state could do and where federal funds fell short of meeting transportation needs. The article said officials took two years to talk about the plans before there was action.

And that is what must seem maddening. Getting more money for roads has so far been one of Governor Rick Snyder’s biggest policy disappointments. He has been after more transportation funding throughout his five years in office, and that comes after former Governor Jennifer Granholm also called for more funding, and after transportation groups have pushed the issue for well more than a decade.

In pushing for more road funding, business groups have gotten involved, there has been advertising, there have been public information campaigns, Mr. Snyder has hauled around chunks of concrete that have fallen off bridges. And, so far, nothing.

But the Pew article does mention one thing, essentially in passing, that may have helped build support. In the lede of the piece, the article says churches and schools were brought into the coalition. It nowhere says anything more about working with churches and schools, but could that be a factor that might help win the argument here?

For example, there are a number of churches and church groups in the Detroit area that have made improving public transportation a mission. If they are already interested in transportation, could they not play a role in helping build support for more funding since that will also help raise money for transport?

In heavily religious Utah, the role the churches played may have had an effect in winning an increase in funds. Perhaps that would be a role people could debate in Michigan, while they wait for the next lame-duck session.

Lapping Up The Sunshine, Trolling For Votes
Posted: October, 1 2015 3:14 PM

Most people who get away to the Caribbean are there for the sunshine, the ocean breezes, fresh seafood and plentiful quantities of rum. Saul Anuzis was in the Virgin Islands recently, and he was trying to soak up votes for Ted Cruz.

Mr. Anuzis, a former Michigan Republican Party chair and national committeeman and now a top strategist for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is running for the Republican nomination for president, was featured in a Washington Post article that discussed how the GOP candidates are out in the hustings in tropical paradises, looking for delegates.

Mr. Anuzis describes it, in the piece, as “niche farming for delegates.”

The residents of America’s island holdings in the Caribbean and the Pacific cannot vote for president in the general election. But they do send delegates to the national political conventions and those delegates vote for their party’s nomination for president. When you face the possibility of a crowded field, every delegate counts, whether they are from Iowa’s farms, New Hampshire’s woods, Michigan’s factories or the sunny, daiquiri-dappled beaches of the Virgin Islands.

Mr. Cruz is by no means the only political stranger in paradise, the Post notes. And while beach-bumming for votes is likely the most enjoyable assignment, the candidates are spending just as much time in states that do not have early caucuses and primaries to secure support.

But the image of working for votes in Nebraska, important as it no doubt is, doesn’t match the picture the Post painted of Mr. Anuzis in a park in the Virgin Island talking to two voters while roosters strutted about and crowed.

Or the image of Dennis Lennox, another Michigan operative for Mr. Cruz, being stuck in Guam as the result of a typhoon. Those who know Mr. Lennox know that his Facebook page is often full with photos of his far-flung travels, but those pictures are generally of palaces and cathedrals in Europe and not so much from places like Guam. Guam is better known for its U.S. military bases than for Romanesque architecture.

It’s worth it, Mr. Anuzis said, as making the effort to ask voters wherever they are could help what he called a marathon to the convention finish line.

5,382 People Have Served In The Legislature, Most No More Than 2 Terms
Posted: September, 24 2015 3:28 PM

Since the first Legislature took office in the mid-1830s, can anyone name the one person who elected to 21 terms?

He, it was a he, was from the Upper Peninsula. Need more clues? He was Italian-American. Got it yet? He was ….okay fine, everyone knows it was Dominic Jacobetti, he who ran the House Appropriations Committee.

And everyone knew he was the longest serving legislator in Michigan history. First elected in 1954, he was re-elected every two years after that, and died shortly after being re-elected in 1994.

Okay, that was easy. Now, who can name the 2,603 legislators who were elected to one term? Anybody?

Actually thanks to Janice Murphy, a research librarian at the Library of Michigan, there is a spreadsheet that can tell you who was elected to just one term. Everyone from John Barber, born January 1, 1792, to former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.

The spread sheet can also tell you the 1,285 legislators who were elected to two terms. Or the 613 that served three terms.

Or the one legislator, Jackie Vaughn, who was elected to 18 terms.

In fact, it is astonishing to note that of the 5,382 men and women – mostly men – who served in the Legislature from the 1830s to this day, well more than half were elected to no more than two terms.

In fact, to be precise, 72.2 percent, or 3,888, were elected to no more than two terms.

On the other end, 0.00018 percent of the legislators were elected to at least 10 terms, meaning they were in office for at least 20 years. That is 95 legislators in all. All of those served at least part of their time in Lansing during the 20th century.

Now, not all the 3,888 lawmakers elected to two terms or less were defeated in their bids for re-election. Some were, of course. Others would have been beaten while running for other offices, or as in the case of William Brodhead, elected to other office. Mr. Brodhead was elected to the U.S. Congress.

Most, however, probably decided not to run again. And before the advent of term limits, that was how most legislators ended their careers. They felt they had done as much as they could, or perhaps did not want to go through another election, and decided not to run again.

A total of 587 legislators were elected to five terms or more, meaning they served at least 10 years. That would include some legislators who served their entire time under term limits, winning three terms to the House and then two to the Senate. In other words, not quite 11 percent of all legislators served 10 years or more.

Or, to put it another way, most legislators were like Theodore Graves Houk, elected to two terms, than Oramel Baum Fuller, elected to six. It is a reasonable question to ask if, given the option, most would still follow Mr. Houk, rather than Mr. Fuller.

Having A Gander At The Senate Republican Blog
Posted: September, 23 2015 4:13 PM

A relatively new entry to the blogosphere has shown up on viewing screens, and it’s from Michigan’s Senate Republicans.

The blog said in its initial post that its mission is to highlight the 24 men and three women who make up the caucus, “and their work on issues facing our state.” Photos, videos, graphics and “first person articles” will be featured.

A Senate GOP staffer also said on Facebook the blog will feature a mix of personal and legislative stories.

And the first installment in the newly created blog came from Sen. John Proos (R-Saint Joseph), who spoke about using an emergency plan app to help prepare for the possibility of natural or man-made disasters.

Ever since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there has been a greater focus on ensuring that individuals have plans and emergency kits available should a disaster strike their homes, and Mr. Proos points out that a phone app, available at, can help a person get ready for possible disasters.

Certainly, one cannot diminish the importance of preparing for an emergency. But on his Facebook page, Mr. Proos raises an intriguing image that certainly could have been employed in that blog post.

He spent the day at the St. Joseph County Fair, and raved about seeing friends, eating great food, looking at baby goats just born, and “even hurdled a pig!”

But there are no pictures, no description, no commentary of this porcine-related athletic accomplishment. And clearly the people want to see that feat. It also could be worked into emergency planning. A line such as, “Planning for an emergency is like hurdling a pig, you never know when you will have to jump” would work splendidly.

Gravlax Anyone? State Is Offering Salmon For Sale
Posted: September, 17 2015 2:12 PM

Now that we may turn attention away from legislative hijinks, at least for the time being, the time has come to focus on really critical things. Critical things such as what to eat at tailgates and autumnal bonfires.

How about some salmon? Think of it, smoked salmon, salmon on the grill, salmon hash, salmon with salsa, gravlax, and all courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Well, obviously you have to buy it and then prepare it, but the DNR is making salmon available to the public. And this salmon isn’t just from schools, this stuff is qualified research salmon.

Which is to say: scientists from the DNR collect eggs and sperm from salmon swimming back to home waters to spawn, and then sell the adult fish, after such researchables are collected, through American-Canadian Fisheries.

American-Canadian processes the fish, using remaining eggs for caviar, breaking out fish suitable for pet food markets as compared to human consumption, and then wholesales the fish which is then sold to retailers.

The fish for sale is marketed through a number of retailers in northern Michigan. There are three retailers in Brethren: Andy’s Tackle Box, Hank & Sons, R & J Resorts; two in Oscoda: AuSable River Store and Wellman’s Bait and Tackle; and then Lixie’s Fish Market in East Tawas and Tippy Dam Campground in Wellston.

And for making gravlax, Jacques Pepin will help you out:

The Final Lesson From … Whatever This Was: End Term Limits
Posted: September, 11 2015 1:46 PM

I am old. I am cranky. I am cynical. Yet, I still am possessed with a sense of wonder and awe and simple adoration. I marvel at the night sky, at the dawn breaking over the ocean’s horizon. I delight in a baby’s laugh and am a sucker for videos of puppies and kitties.

And for the first time in more than 40 years of observing, reporting, analyzing and yes, respecting Michigan government and politics, I sat Thursday and into Friday slack-jawed, eyes wide as saucers, my brain a cauldron of synaptic overuse in wondering awe at whatever the bloody hell was going on at the Michigan House of Representatives in regards to expelling – or maybe not – Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) and Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell).

I watched, I listened and decided I have stayed quiet too long, for more than 20 years too long.

One factor could have helped enormously in taking the unpleasantness regarding expulsion, and instead of letting it dissolve to the soggy, sloppy mess that happened Thursday and Friday, kept it as a process with some dignity and respect to Michigan’s people: an end to term limits.

The time has long since come, dear fellow citizens, to rid ourselves of term limits. It was a noble, though wrong-headed, experiment to provide more responsive leadership to the state’s needs. It has not. Those who supported the effort in 1992, and those supporting it now, were and are completely sincere. Many of my friends supported term limits, some still do.

But term limits have failed, failed utterly. And the best evidence of that is the disaster that occurred before Mr. Courser finally resigned and Ms. Gamrat was expelled.

I have been witness to every expulsion proceeding, except that in the 1880s. Before the Courser/Gamrat situation, every other proceeding was under the control of legislators who had served before the advent of term limits.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats can take pride in how they handled the current situation. The unintentionally ham-handed proceedings were candidly a result of term limits. Unlike the previous expulsion efforts, there was a decided lack of intentional bipartisanship, and an overall failure to demonstrate the proper concern for the integrity of the institution.

Instead, the Courser/Gamrat scandal was treated as an enormous annoyance, better to be dealt with quickly if clumsily instead of efficiently, effectively and with at least some dignity. And the scandal has been an excuse for both sides to employ inappropriate and useless partisan tactics that has impressed absolutely no one.

In the previous expulsions, the leaders of both sides stood together to say the matter would be handled fairly and completely. Their open concern was for the good of the House or Senate. Just like in war, in an expulsion, there should be no parties.

Prior to term limits, and in the early years of term limits, that ultimate concern was understood.

Why? What makes the difference? Why should term limits so corrupt the ability to come together when both sides must come together?

The greatest benefit of the pre-term limit era was the ability for legislators to get to know one another and respect each other. Yes, there was the ability to develop expertise on subject matters, procedure and budgetary issues. But it was the ability to work with each other, craft compromises that respected each other’s political beliefs, and to understand that when they had to oppose each other it was business, not personal.

It is impossible to understate the importance and significance of that human characteristic in governing. It is a characteristic one starts to see in the legislators who have been here the longest under term limits, and then it vanishes when they do.

That characteristic of mutual respect also mutes much of the political rancor. The parties still took their shots at one another in years past and ran feverish campaigns. But they did not equate their opponents with Satan; they did not see them as lost souls doomed to eternity.

And when faced with something like an expulsion, this ability to work together was invaluable. The respect for both the institution and the state’s people took precedence over principles – that all too often are convenient rather than sincere – and party affiliation.

Look, both Democrats and Republicans failed in handling this expulsion with dignity. And it began right at the beginning. Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) should have been shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, hell, hand in hand, saying their first priorities were to protect the House and the people when the scandal erupted. They should have worked out all details of the investigation and the special committee together, or at least in close enough consultation that neither side could complain of the other. They should have instructed their caucuses of what was going to happen and how everyone was going to behave during the process.

Whose fault is it that they didn’t? Honestly, it is the fault of the voters who convinced themselves term limits was the best option for good government.

Essentially, all pre-term limited lawmakers were gone by 2005. So in 10 years, how many really significant, meaningful policy changes have been enacted? Tax cuts, shifts, increases don’t count because they are as solid and long-lasting as Jell-O in the sun on the Equator. How many significant policies that really help the state have been enacted in 10 years? I can think of one.

Before term limits there were men and women in the Legislature who were great, truly great: Bill Ryan, Harry Gast, George Montgomery, Pete Kok, Mary Brown, Paul Hillegonds, Jim Dressel, Lynn Jondahl, Shirley Johnson, Bill Bryant, Joe Forbes, Morris Hood, Bobby Crim, Bill Faust, Mike Busch, Bob VanderLaan, Dick Young, I could name another dozen or more. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives – all who cared about the state more than party or ideology.

I truly mean no disrespect to the men and women who have served under term limits, but could any be singled out for the almost indefinable quality of great? Hardworking, yes; intelligent, well most of them, yes; sincere, dedicated, -- yes to each. Great? No. I am sorry, but no. Some had the potential to be great; they did not have the time to show greatness.

Certainly life was not ideal under a Legislature without term limits. There were knaves and crooks (David Jaye, Cas Ogonowski come to mind), and one of the worst scandals to ever hit the Legislature happened. But even in the painful resolution of those incidents, lawmakers who had worked together were able to put aside, or at least limit, partisanship for good resolutions.

And I could certainly, as a citizen, without term limits, encourage rotating committee chairs, moving members out of certain committees and putting them elsewhere to ensure more openness and less coziness with special interests.

Yes, I know Congress has no term limits and look at it. However, in a state Legislature, members have an inherent closeness that defies Congress. Most the issues affect all the state, maybe in greater or lesser degree, but the problems of Detroit are the same problems in Adrian or Marquette. Alabama’s problems may not be those of Wyoming, and New Hampshire may not care about Nevada’s issues, for instance.

Legislators also have friends, colleagues and family all over the state. Just think of the people you know and where they are from. You will name a dozen places in Michigan quickly. No member of Congress has family in every state (at least I don’t think so). This is not trivial; it speaks to why legislators can better respect and work with each other: Legislators have a commonality of place, therefore a commonality of concern that is lacking too often in Congress.

Many people have argued for a part-time legislature. Which gets you what? I have watched legislatures for more than 40 years now. Name one part-time legislature that works splendidly? I’m waiting. No, part-time legislatures are no better than any other, and are subject to their own political games that render them no more effective than what we have seen here.

And a part-time legislature with term limits? Sweet angels above, protect us.

In the course of legislative history, is there really anything more absurd than the spectacle of lawmakers sitting hours, munching pizza and subs, joking with each other, when the issue to be decided is if fellow members are cast out? This is what Michigan had to watch on Thursday and Friday, because this is the House, the Legislature, we deserve.

We the voters decided something that seems more like a high school dance committee is what we need to govern, and on Thursday and Friday that is pretty much what we got.

I have no illusions. Term limits will be hard to repeal or even amend. But for the good of our state, truly, truly, truly, term limits must go.

Okay, Correction, The First Legislator Ever Expelled Was…
Posted: September, 3 2015 12:39 PM

I owe former Rep. Monte Geralds an apology.

Mr. Geralds was expelled from the House in 1978 after being convicted of embezzling from a law client. As I have previously written, he undertook his expulsion with dignity and grace. He was the first legislator in Michigan history to be expelled.

Or so I thought, and have reported for 37 years. So too did all the reporters covering the expulsion, so too did the legislators acting on the expulsion (which helped define the weight they felt when acting on the expulsion). And when the Senate expelled Sen. David Jaye in 2001, we again referred to Mr. Geralds as the first. And with expulsion talk swirling on Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat, again we reported Mr. Geralds was the first.

But we were wrong, and thanks to a research librarian at the Library of Michigan we know now that the first legislator expelled in Michigan was Rep. Milo Dakin of Saginaw, a shingle inspector, serving his second term in the House when he was expelled in April 1887 for trying to bribe his colleagues.

Milo Dakin. Who was this fellow, this nefarious blackguard who so besmirched the House that the 94 members present and voting in the evening of April 28, 1887 (Mr. Dakin was present, but did not vote) decided unanimously to expel him, only to have him vanish in a way from history?

Well, he was an orphan at 13, a war veteran at 16, a laborer who worked on a farm, in mills and in the winter months in the woods as a shingle inspector. And who at 26 he was elected to the House as a fusion candidate, when the Greenback Party and the Democrats ran together.

From the Michigan Manual of 1887, Mr. Dakin describes himself thus: “His early years were such as usually fell to the lot of the children of our early pioneers. His parents both dying when he was but thirteen years of age, he was thrown upon his own resources. At fifteen he enlisted in Company C, Ninth Regiment Michigan cavalry, and served until the close of the war, eighteen months in all.” His little biography does not say, but in testimony during his House trial he pointed out that his regiment was attached to the army of William Tecumseh Sherman. So, with Mr. Sherman, Mr. Dakin marched to the sea, fighting in the engagements that leveled Atlanta and captured Savannah and effectively destroyed the Confederacy’s economy. He was discharged honorably.

He had no real education. After the war, he worked on a farm in Ionia County, then a sawmill in Montcalm County before removing to Saginaw County where he worked the saw mills in the summer and inspected shingles in the winter, and did this while serving in the House.

So what got him into trouble?

The House Journal that includes his trial and blustering oratory leading up to his expulsion vote is available online. Essentially, the city leaders of Saginaw wanted the Legislature to enact changes to their charter, and Mr. Dakin was expected to be one of the people to make that happen. How the charter was to be changed was not clear from the brief research.

It also appears Mr. Dakin offered a substitute to the Saginaw bill which horrified the city leaders. What it contained and why it so horrified the Saginaw fathers is also unclear. However, one does wonder if that substitute wasn’t part of what happened next.

Mr. Dakin was accused of getting money from Saginaw leaders, politicians and private citizens, to give to legislators and to help come up with names that could benefit from the money. Mr. Dakin was then accused of writing down a list of lawmakers and putting a price next to them. For the times it was probably big money, but the anticipated bribes ranged from $5 to $25.

Mr. Dakin acknowledged he was getting money from the Saginaw leaders, and expected the money, but it was to put on a dinner at the Eichele House, his Lansing rooming house, ostensibly to convince lawmakers to vote for the bill. The prosecution questioned how different amounts could be allocated to different men if it was all supposed to go for a “feast.” There were also accusations about spending it all on beer and cigars (which would have bought a lot of both at the time) and Mr. Dakin walking with a confederate to “North Lansing.” What that reference means is unknown, though the city had several houses of ill repute and one could wonder if it was a nudge-nudge-know what I mean statement.

Another remarkable thing about the expulsion was how quickly the House handled it. In little more than a week after charges were made, the House held a trial on the floor (after appropriating $200 to Mr. Dakin to hire his lawyers) and then voted to expel him.

In arguing for his expulsion, Rep. Gerrit Diekkema of Holland said, “I am also sorry for poor Dakin. God knows I am sorry for him; but the reputation of ninety-nine men sitting here in the Legislature of the State of Michigan should rise high above all feelings of mere sorrow for one man.” Their duty, he said, was to protect the good name of Michigan, instead of showing sympathy for one man who admitted he had done wrong.

Little is known of Mr. Dakin after he left the Legislature. He apparently stayed in Saginaw, married and had two sons. His wife died a number of years before him, and he died in 1927, eight years before Mr. Geralds was born.

No, Not Everyone Is Backing Detroit’s Rebirth
Posted: August, 27 2015 2:56 PM

Some years ago the then edition of The Almanac of American Politics described Michigan politics as not being a battle of Democrat versus Republican, labor versus business, or urban versus rural. No, the almanac said Michigan politics is all about Detroit versus everyone else.

It certainly was true. So true, that once when this reporter was walking through the Capitol (when there were no particular Detroit issue before lawmakers) a couple on a tour saw me, figured since I was wearing a tie and a jacket I must be someone in authority (boy, were they wrong), rushed up to me and said, “Sir, please don’t give any more money to Detroit.”

Now, since Detroit has worked itself through bankruptcy and the downtown has seen an incredible redevelopment, we have a sense that the whole state is pulling again for the Motor City and excited to see it revive.

Except that an awful lot of people are not pulling for Detroit – would just as soon see Detroit vanish, in fact.

Exhibit one to the argument, a Facebook post put up Thursday by Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Township). To be fair, Mr. Brandenburg has never been one to hide his feelings, and has in the past been quick to criticize Detroit and its politics.

What triggered Mr. Brandenburg Thursday were comments made by Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) in a Detroit News column that, “We cannot have a great state without a great city like Detroit.”

Mr. Brandenburg read that with interest. “I have heard this rap before and I totally disagree!” he wrote.

“First, Michigan is and always will be a great state despite Detroit. I happen to think Michigan would do just fine without Detroit. If, over the last 50 years, Detroit would have been managed in a positive manner such as Grand Rapids or St. Clair Shores, it would not face the problems it faces today. Not to mention, the city would have contributed far more revenue into our state’s coffers than it has over the last 50 years.”

Mr. Brandenburg may have his points, but it is tricky in a Facebook post to argue the city should have been better managed when it was hit with a number of factors neither Grand Rapids nor St. Clair Shores faced. Just one would be a crook for mayor, and that would be Louis Miriani in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Detroit was both at its population and economic peak, who thought it was just fine that people moved out of the city. I doubt many mayors in Grand Rapids or St. Clair Shores would so argue. Detroit also possessed a cultural structure that set the way for the city to blow up in 1967, followed by a massive loss of population.

More than Mr. Brandenburg, however, seemed to feel this way. As of this writing, only one person has commented on the post really defending the city (though one person called Detroit a basket case and applauded Governor Rick Snyder for taking the city through bankruptcy, and another prayed it would rebound). One person said Detroit was “costing the burbs” and that Michigan “could always do fine without Detroit!!”

The animosity between the city and the state is not as great as it once was, but it is there. It is still a divide that policymakers and the public will have to deal with for some time to come.

But despite Mr. Brandenburg’s post, it is also clear many, many people in the state want Detroit to thrive. Last year in Mackinaw City, a shuttle bus driver to the ferries to Mackinac Island (again, wearing a tie and a jacket and the chap mistook me for someone who mattered) said to me, “Sir, please do something to help Detroit.”

Something To Think About As The New School Year Approaches
Posted: August, 24 2015 4:09 PM

School begins soon. It means books, school clothes, bake sales, forgotten lunches, athletics, school tests, anguish over homework, anguish over grades, anguish over lice.

Oh yes, lice. So many parents have learned the true meaning of nitpicking in recent years, it isn’t funny.

Well, here’s some news sure to make one … well, a scratch your head joke is probably not appropriate. But certainly it is news to think about:

Super lice have arrived in Michigan. We are serious. According to a series of reports, Michigan is one of 25 states that have reports of super lice, resistant to common over-the-counter treatments that parents have relied on. These lice have mutated into varieties that are not affected by the pesticides used in those over the counter products.

They still do respond to prescription treatments, according to reports. But that also raises the risk that they may mutate further into varieties that laugh in little lice ways at the stronger chemicals.

Plus, reports are these lousy things can possibly transport from one tow-headed scalp to another more quickly.

State officials have not yet issued any new guidelines on these wee nasty little beasties (the current manual was issued fairly recently, in 2013, but the first scientific reports of the new louses have come in the last few weeks), but hygiene, of course, remains paramount (along with corralling one’s wiggly rug rats into position to examine their scalps).

Remember, children are our future. Guess we must assure the future is not too, ahem, lousy.

Why Do Reporters Report Bad News: Let’s Consider L’Affaire Todd/Cindy
Posted: August, 20 2015 1:30 PM

This reporter took his seat at a going away gathering for his neighbor and friend, off for a year’s research in the West Bank, and for the first time in more than a week did not have a conversation about Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat.

This, mind you, after earlier that day it was alleged Ms. Gamrat (R-Plainwell) would tuck in Mr. Courser (R-Silverwood) would take naps on her couch. Something that set all other tongues wagging.

No, the folks at the table were mostly social scientists. Their only interest in politics was whether Donald Trump could somehow become president.

Their conversation was not scandal free, however. The scandal they were interested in was an academic doozy down at the University of Illinois (a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed gives a good background of the case though there have been new developments since) and their fears about the power of personal donations being used to suppress academic speech, even unpleasant academic speech.

That conversation was the exception to the rule that talk, commentary, discussion, gossip about the Courser/Gamrat affair since the story broke wide open 13 days ago. It dominates every conversation in Lansing.

This week, a chance encounter with an extremely high state official revealed that at a meeting where important state policy issues were on the agenda, all anyone wanted to talk about was Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat.

And a Gongwer reader snapped in an email looking at Wednesday’s House action that the House could create a special committee about the two representatives but not do something to fix Michigan’s disastrous roads. Deal with them, the emailer fumed, don’t deal with important stuff.

Every reporter has had to deal with people blasting them for reporting only bad news and insisting they are interested only in good news.

Okay, here’s the answer: first, reporters report plenty of good news, it just doesn’t get acknowledged. Are we saying the fact that Tigers’ pitcher Daniel Norris hit a massive home run against the Cubs in his first ever major league plate appearance was not covered?

However, just as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, good news for one is often bad news for someone else. Mr. Norris hit a home run, good news for the Tigers, bad news for the Cubbies. Democrats win, bad news for Republicans; Republicans win, bad news for Democrats.

Second, it is human nature to focus on bad. It just is. It’s a holdover from evolution. We remember, focus and sometimes obsess about the bad as a survival mechanism. In one sense, it is a way of reminding ourselves that there but for fortune go we.

Just go to lunch and listen to the conversations around you: from one table, “The damn plumber didn’t show up when he was supposed to.” From another: “Of course, she left her lunch at home so I had to take that to the school before I came in, so I was late.” From a third: “I don’t know why they insist on us using that format, it’s just so stupid.”

And can anyone honestly say, honestly and truly say, they do not look at an accident when they pass it by?

Whether it’s the scandal involving Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat, or the scandal at the University of Illinois, or it’s the plumber not showing up, it is simply human to focus on bad news.

I am willing to be proven wrong. Try spending the next 24 hours talking only about good, nice, beautiful, happy things. Not one complaint, not one snarky observation, not one whine or moan or grumble is allowed. You must only talk about good things for the full 24 hours. Let me know how it goes.

Lessons From Legislative Expulsions Past
Posted: August, 13 2015 1:11 PM

In recent days the talk of expelling legislators has come up in various places. The reasons for the new talk about the ultimate legislative penalty are obvious from the headlines of the last week involving Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) and Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell). There is no particular reason, then, to recount why anyone would discuss expulsion.

But as one of the few reporters remaining who covered the two expulsions in history, that of Democratic Rep. Monte Geralds in 1978 and Republican Sen. David Jaye in 2001, it is important to note several lessons learned from those traumatic events.

EXPULSIONS ARE NOT EASY: This might seem obvious, but it needs repeating repeatedly. Expulsions are not easy, on anyone. Riding the wave of rage that the public and even lawmakers can have toward a miscreant legislators, swimming through a chorus of calls to “throw the bum out,” making such a decision seems easy. Just cut the rope and let the dope sink, one thinks, and save yourself.

But passing judgment, deciding who gets tossed from the lifeboat, is very hard. I have served on five juries (just lucky, I guess). I have even had the task of looking a defendant in the eye and pronouncing him or her guilty. I know what it is to be in a jury room when we concluded all the evidence pointed to guilt, and yet, we still hesitated. We still had to go around the room and be sure we were ready to change this person’s life inexorably. We are the ones doing it. Someone is only guilty because we the jurors say he or she is. In the same way, a legislator is only expelled because his or her colleagues decide the person must be expelled.

There was real anguish in the House over expelling Mr. Geralds, and in the end 20 House members voted against doing so. At the last, just before the vote, then-Rep. Morris Hood Jr. (father of the current senator) told his colleagues if they had any hint of doubt they could not vote to expel.

There was clearly less anguish and more anger at Mr. Jaye, but it was an anger wrought of frustration, of exhaustion, of an inability to convince him his behavior was inexcusable and could not be tolerated. The members did not like taking the action. Former Sen. Thaddeus McCotter who chaired the special committee that recommended he be expelled said later Mr. Jaye had broken the hearts of his colleagues. Getting to the point of taking the step to expel him was hard.

COMMIT A FELONY, YOU WILL BE EXPELLED: This standard was set by Mr. Geralds’ expulsion. There was a sense the Legislature would not tolerate a member who was guilty of a felony, but until he was expelled it was never made clear. Some years before former Sen. Charles Youngblood, convicted of attempting to bribe a state official, resigned as the Senate prepared to expel him. And when Mr. Geralds was convicted of embezzling from a law client, he was under extraordinary pressure to resign, but he refused.

The Constitution prohibits someone convicted of a felony involving a breach of the public trust from serving in the Legislature. In 1978, the House asked then-Attorney General Frank Kelley if embezzlement was a breach of the public trust. Yes, but, Mr. Kelley said. Had Mr. Geralds committed the embezzlement while in office it would automatically be a breach. But the crime occurred before he took office, so it did not technically fall into that category.

The matter was left to the House, and by its action expelling Mr. Geralds made it clear a felony conviction would not be tolerated.

The lesson was not lost on former Sen. Art Cartwright. The Detroit Democrat had been convicted of falsifying expense reports. Little more than a week after Mr. Geralds was expelled, Mr. Cartwright resigned rather than face the same prospect in the Senate. Two decades later, former Sen. Henry Stallings, also a Detroit Democrat, who was also convicted of a felony, was minutes away from facing an expulsion vote when he resigned.

BEHAVIOR MATTERS: In his desperate attempts to stay in office, Mr. Jaye repeatedly said he had not been charged with a crime involved alleged assaults of his then fiancée. He offered seven amendments to the expulsion resolutions to change the action to a censure and making reference to the fact he had not been charged. The amendments were rejected.

Throughout his years in the Legislature, Mr. Jaye was notorious for being quick to anger, caring not a whit for anyone’s feelings, being willing to insult anyone in the Legislature or in the state, and just acting like an arrogant, boastful, boorish … twit. He seemed to have no sense of propriety. He was actually astonished that people would be upset when he dropped a gun on the floor of the House Republican caucus room just off the House floor. He was arrested for drunk driving and would publicly play the penitent, but privately acted as if was no big deal. He was actually shocked and pouty when former Rep. Shirley Johnson blasted him for being a loud and prominent racist (and she was attacked by many of Mr. Jaye’s supporters). During his expulsion hearings he seemed to have no understanding that he should not have had topless photos of his fiancée on his Senate computer.

What he showed, and what could apply in current circumstances, is that behavior that is unbecoming of a representative of the people is enough to get one expelled. Hijinks and practical jokes occur in the Legislature, since the Legislature has been known to devolve to the level of a fraternity party. But ongoing, constant, unending activities that demean the institution will not be tolerated, even if it means removing one.

BEHAVIOR MATTERS, PART II: Neither Mr. Geralds nor Mr. Jaye felt they should be expelled, clearly. Mr. Geralds handled his ordeal with dignity and grace. Mr. Jaye handled his with his well-known hubris.

On the day he was expelled, Mr. Geralds spoke briefly and calmly to the House. He outlined why he believed he should be retained. He made no attempt to change or derail the resolution expelling him. He had no lawyers with him. He was by himself. Mr. Geralds did not vote on the issue, leaving his judgment to his colleagues. And when he was expelled, he shook hands with his colleagues, wished them well, came to reporters and shook their hands and said he understood why he had been expelled. He would not criticize the House no matter how he was asked.

When Mr. Jaye was expelled, Senate leadership was worried enough about how he might act that all staff, except for critical Senate secretary staff, were barred from the Senate floor. Senate sergeants hovered near his desk. State Police officers were outside the chamber. Mr. Jaye had three lawyers with him. As already has been noted he attempted to change the resolution. And he did vote on the matter and was one of two no votes on the resolution.

But he was, as he had always seemed to be, over the top. Earlier in the day, the Senate had held its annual Memorial Day commemoration. Mr. Jaye said he wished the veterans who had been in the chamber earlier, could be in the chamber now to “watch the trampling of civil rights.”

That led to former Sen. Walter North, an Air Force veteran, to snap that he had not served his country “to provide freedom to people who abuse their office.”

And then-Senate Minority Leader John Cherry said Mr. Jaye was incapable of accepting blame. He would say he was sorry, Mr. Cherry said, and then blame others for his troubles.

When he was finally expelled, Mr. Jaye and his lawyers held a press conference in the Capitol rotunda that was more theater. Mr. Jaye proclaimed he had won a great moral victory for the people. He was suffering, he said, “payback by the GOP bosses” and that he had been subjected to a witch-hunt and Gestapo-like tactics.

At the same time he made those charges, his former colleagues told reporters if Mr. Jaye had acknowledged his difficulties, expressed genuine remorse and sought help he could have spared himself.

THE FINAL LESSON: There is an inherent contradiction in politics: You have a right to run for office; you have no right to hold office. You are in office at the sufferance of the public, and your colleagues have the duty to ensure that everyone in office recognizes that fact and behaves in a manner that respects the public’s dignity as well as the chamber’s. That ultimately is the reality anyone serving in office has to remember. They are a servant.

And when the servant is a legislator who belittles the job the public hired him or her for, the public is right to expect the legislator to either correct that behavior or be removed.

On Col. Loomis, Whose Regiment Operated Canons Returning To Capitol
Posted: August, 6 2015 2:12 PM

Over the upcoming weekend, if you are not engaged in the Lansing area with either the folk festival or the jazz festival, you can witness the return of the Civil War cannons at the Capitol.

The guns will be replicas of the 10-pound Parrot Guns, used by light artillery during the war. The guns were easily maneuverable and could be deployed in a variety of settings, and could fire projectiles as far as 3,000 yards (more than 1.5 miles). Their iron barrels, however, made them often subject to cracking, and with no recoil troops had to reposition the guns after each firing.

The original guns – which can be seen in old photographs and an etching of the Capitol commissioned for its 100th Anniversary in 1979 – were part of the “Loomis Battery.” The original guns were apparently donated during metal drives in World War II, which is why they vanished.

The original guns were part of the “Loomis Battery.” But who was Loomis?

Cyrus Orlando Loomis was born in upstate New York, either in 1818 or 1821 (there seems a dispute on the date). When he was 16 his family moved to Michigan, and he began clerking for the law in Detroit. He moved to Pittsburgh where he was admitted to the bar, and where he married. His wife died at age 21 after their son was born, and faced with ill health himself he returned to Michigan, settling in Coldwater, in 1856.

At Coldwater, there was a group called the Coldwater Light Infantry.

When war broke out in spring 1861, Mr. Loomis vowed he would do all he could to preserve the Union. The Coldwater artillery offered its services to the U.S. Army and became the 1st Regiment Michigan Light Artillery. At Fort Wayne in Detroit, then Private Loomis was elected a 2nd Lieutenant for the regiment by the men who would serve under him. During the war he was promoted eventually to colonel, the rank he held during the battery’s most important engagements. After the war, he was promoted to brigadier general.

The battery, which would eventually become known as Loomis’s battery, was assigned to the western campaign. The battles on the east, Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, etc., are better known. But Winfield Scott, the commanding Union general at the war’s beginning, plotted a strategy to choke the south economically by seizing the Mississippi River and its major ports. So Vicksburg, New Orleans and Mobile Bay were just as critical battles and sieges.

And that meant battles in the western campaign, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga and the like, were critical to push the Confederates away and keep them away from recapturing economic strongholds.

The Loomis Battery fought in four important battles. Perryville, which forced the Confederacy out of any meaningful presence in the border state of Kentucky, was the first. The second was Murfreesboro, which resulted in the highest percentage of casualties both armies would suffer. On the field, Murfreesboro was a draw, but it was a Union victory because it convinced the Confederates to abandon Tennessee.

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought in northern Georgia and was a disaster for the Union. The Loomis Battery fought in the battle and retreated with the Union to Chattanooga, where the Union Army of the Cumberland was besieged.

Now under U.S. Grant, the combined forces of the Union’s western armies attacked the Confederate forces at Chattanooga in a series of battles and maneuvers that stretched over October and November 1863. The battle ended with a stunning, almost accidental maneuver by the Union, sweeping the Confederates out of Tennessee for good and opening the way for General William Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Despite fighting in such intense actions, the Loomis Battery lost just 12 men in battle. But it lost another 28 men through disease.

After the war, Mr. Loomis was a tax official for the U.S. government and then got into business. He became very ill in 1871, described as being paralyzed and insane. He died in an asylum in Washington, D.C., in 1872. At his funeral in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, four companies of Michigan troops and two companies of U.S. troops were present.

The ceremony with the cannons takes place at noon Saturday.

A Very Detailed Look At How Turnout Matters In An Election
Posted: August, 5 2015 2:21 PM

Surely, by now we have all heard enough stories about how turnout matters in an election that we want to stuff our ears with “I Voted” stickers so we do not have to hear any more.

But thanks to commentary by Kurt Metzger and the Oakland County Elections website, even regular folks can see how turnout can change an outcome in an election, and how little changes can have a huge effect. It’s the type of information that political wonks and election workers have pored over after acquiring precinct data. Thanks now to the grand, great and glorious interweb, the data is available.

Mr. Metzger is now mayor of Pleasant Ridge, but he was for years renowned as a top demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau and then Wayne State University.

On his Facebook page, Mr. Metzger noted that voters in the Pontiac School District, which includes the city but also sections of wealthier communities in Oakland County, rejected creation of a five-year sinking fund that would generate tax funds to pay for school repairs (which Pontiac does need). The district is under a consent agreement with the state to end a deficit.

The proposal was defeated by 116 votes. According to the Oakland website, the totals were 2,634 votes yes and 2,750 no.

The proposal won 18 of the 21 precincts in Pontiac (in two precincts it lost by just two votes). And in most of those precincts it won by a better than two-to-one margin.

But the proposal did not win a single precinct outside the city. And in those precincts the opposition margins were also mostly bigger than two-to-one. The one precinct in Orion Township that voted on the issue had the distinction having the closest non-Pontiac vote – defeated by just eight votes – and one of the worst losing percentages, losing five-to-one. Just 12 people voted there on the issue.)

“Pontiac residents had a turnout rate of ONLY 7.6 PERCENT, while non-Pontiac residents turned out at 16.2 percent,” Mr. Metzger wrote. Not exactly a sterling showing by either region in the belief of representative democracy, but there you are.

Pontiac residents backed the proposal by 65.5 percent, while out-city voters opposed it by 79.2 percent, he said.

Mr. Metzger points out that Pontiac voters could have won the issue while still smarting from a pathetic overall voter turnout. With just 179 more voters, presuming they voted at the same 65.5 percent for the proposal, the issue would have won and Pontiac still would have a voter turnout of 8 percent.

Yep, just 0.4 percent more than the number that actually showed up, and the issue could have won.

The Oakland website also shows one other ironic figure: Mr. Metzger’s notion is not at all far-fetched as more yes voters showed up at the polls than those that voted no. By about 60 voters, more voting yes went to the polls than filed absentee ballots. The no side really won the issue with absentee voters, as there were 170 more no votes by absentee than there were yes absentee votes.

Michiganders Trust Government … Wait, What?
Posted: July, 30 2015 2:32 PM

We are a whiny people. We complain about the weather, about the wait for a sandwich, about traffic, about the line in grocery stores. And we especially complain about government.

It does not matter what one’s views are, there seems no end of complaints about government: it spends too much, it spends too little on what it should spend, it has too many regulations, it doesn’t regulate enough, it’s stepping on our rights, it just does what the big money folks want, it takes years to get anything done, and so on.

Knowing that, it comes as a bit of surprise to be reminded that most of us trust government, at all levels, at least part of the time.

Not surprisingly, we trust the government closest to us – local government – more than we do state or the federal governments. But a majority of us trusts all government levels at least some of the time.

That comes from the latest survey released by the State of the State Survey from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.

Asked how often they trusted government at the local, state and federal level, a majority of nearly 1,000 participants said they trusted each level at least some of the time.

Over its 20-year history of querying Michigan residents about their thoughts on the economy and politics, the survey has asked questions on overall government performance. Over the years, those performance numbers have tended to go down as the economy and international crisis and political turmoil have gone up.

But the questions asked in this latest round of the survey were different. Respondents were asked how often they could trust their government. That is a decidedly different take than how one would judge a performance.

Local government was the clear winner. A total of 80.1 percent said they could trust local government all or some of the time (and 41 percent said they could trust it all the time). Just 12 percent said they seldom trust local government and 7.9 percent said they almost never trusted it.

Trust in state government was lower, though it hardly dropped like a stone as one commentator put it. Nearly 69 percent (68.8 percent to be precise) of the respondents said they could trust state government some or all the time. Another 19.1 percent said they seldom and 12.1 percent said they almost never.

Admittedly, compared to 41 percent saying they trusted local government nearly always, the 19.8 percent who said they trusted state government nearly always was a big drop. But still, a big landslide margin of folks said they trust state government at least some of the time.

The federal government fared much worse, and yet even it was trusted by most Michiganders at least sometimes. A total of 54.5 percent said they could trust the federal government all or some of the time. Of that 15.9 percent said they could trust almost all the time, not a huge difference from the number that felt that way for state government. And 38.6 percent felt they could trust the federal government some of the time, almost the same percentage (39 percent) as said they trusted local government some of the time.

Yes, the percentage who said they could trust the federal government was much higher, 27.6 percent, and 17.9 percent said they almost never trusted the federal government.

These findings are in fact remarkable. They suggest despite a political climate often intent on tearing the national fabric into shreds that people are willing to trust themselves and the people who work for them more than we might think.

The findings also suggest resolutions to political and policy problems can be found, resolutions that most the public will support if politicians approach the public from the posture of working with them as part of the overall agreement.

People will always complain, it’s part of human DNA. But maybe the complaining reflects just an immediate annoyance and doesn’t go to full measure of what we feel. If so, time to start digging deeper into public attitudes.

Same-Sex Weddings Could Be A Tax Windfall For The State
Posted: July, 23 2015 12:40 PM

Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. Obviously not everyone is happy about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, and, as there has been every time we have seen major social change, many people are worried about the collapse of civilization. But while we await general pillaging and sacking by vandals, barbarians and Ohio State fans, why not rake in some profit as well?

Could same-sex marriage prove to be a tax boon to the state?

Stateline, the newsletter covering the states by the Pew Charitable Trust, raises an intriguing question in a recent article. Could a rush to wedding business mean extra tax revenues to the states in the form of sales taxes and income tax withholdings? The article says yes.

According to some forecasters, same-sex weddings could mean nearly $3.2 million in additional taxes to Michigan over the next three years. As same-sex weddings become more of a common event, some of that additional revenue will taper off.

But initially, economists and fiscal officials are projecting a rush of same-sex couples to get married. And a big wedding means spending big money: on reception halls, caterers, dresses/tuxes, limos, invitations, DJ’s or bands, hotel rooms, and yes, wedding cakes. That adds up to sales taxes, income taxes paid by newly employed people, hotel taxes, etc.

The article forecast that California, New York, Texas and Florida will see the biggest boom (California could see more than $31 million, the article projects), but Michigan’s take could be pretty decent.

When same-sex marriage was allowed in Florida some months back, tourist organizations ran a series of ads highlighting same-sex marriage and encouraging people to plan their weddings for Florida.

Why not here, then? Mackinac Island is a popular wedding destination, why not promote it as such for same-sex weddings as well? Soft-focus romantic shots of couples along a Great Lake shoreline? Couples holding hands against the autumn leaves? This could be worth a few coppers to our treasury, so why not?

Bishop Compares Greek Crisis To Granholm Days
Posted: July, 9 2015 11:56 AM

An item on U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop’s Facebook page caught our attention the other day.

In it, Mr. Bishop (R-Rochester) said: “Watching Greece defiantly and brazenly march down this path of self-destruction brings back unwanted memories of the Granholm regime. Same results.”

Really? The same results? Ah, no.

If two people ever came close to outright hatred of one another during the time they were in state government, it was Mr. Bishop and former Governor Jennifer Granholm. The two, for whatever reasons, never got along. The animosity started well before Ms. Granholm was governor and Mr. Bishop was Senate majority leader.

The two sparred famously when Ms. Granholm was attorney general and Mr. Bishop was in the House. He chaired a committee which held a hearing on a bill to put limits on the attorney general’s powers (a bill former Governor John Engler was interested in). Ms. Granholm called it shameful; Mr. Bishop asked if she were a lawyer, and well, things just never got better.

The nadir of whatever relationship they had occurred in 2007 when the Legislature and Ms. Granholm had a standoff on the upcoming 2007-08 budget. After some six straight years of budget cuts, she had called for tax increases to restore some services. Mr. Bishop led the Republican effort to block tax increases and continue with cuts; Ms. Granholm revised her tax proposals, but still pushed for tax increases. Eventually enough Republicans voted for the tax increases, but that came as the state government shut down from midnight September 30 to about 4 a.m., October 1. You missed the shutdown? Gosh, you weren’t one of the 200 to 300 people forced to watch the late night soap opera then.

We all have unpleasant memories in our lives, and few of us have the grace to finally let go of grudges. But, please, even as bad as the state’s situation got in 2007 (and it got much worse later on) it was nothing like what Greece is suffering through now.

Michigan was never in danger of bankruptcy, never in real danger of defaulting (the worry was raised, but the state was prepared to pay its bonds. Unlike Greece, the state had the money; it was just a matter of how payment would be authorized). It succeeded in maintaining a high credit rating despite its ongoing economic struggles. The state continued to win praise for its overall financial management. Ms. Granholm never threatened to defy the markets or the state’s creditors. Nor had Michigan been bailed out during its struggles as Greece had been. No banks were closed. Credit card transactions were not denied. People were not limited to getting $60 a day. Relatively bad as it was, Michigan’s unemployment rate did not hit 26 percent (which it did in Greece last December).

And, anyone present during the siege of 2007 knows that it wasn’t just one person who stubbornly stuck to a position that caused the devastating shutdown (yeah, yeah, I know that four hours while the rest of the state was sleeping was devastating to … well, pride, I guess. Sure didn’t seem to affect much else other than some campers at state parks that got kicked out of their camp sites). No, definitely more than one person demonstrated stubbornness during those months.

Here We Go: Michigan Roads Are Better Than…
Posted: June, 24 2015 2:48 PM

The sorry state of Michigan roads, and that said roads’ state is getting sorrier still, is no mystery to anyone who travels Michigan roads or to people who debate the issue. And debate especially that nagging question of how to pay for fixing said sorry roads.

Which brings us to Yemi Kolapo.

Ms. Kolapo is a Nigerian journalist and former government official who has traveled several times to the Lansing area. She was part of a program at Michigan State University in 2007 for Nigerian government officials and journalists, and returned in 2008. She has remained in contact with Gongwer News Service since then.

Ms. Kolapo was back in town this week for a visit before she returns to Lagos to help start a new newspaper. She asked what the big issues were in Michigan these days and listened with interest to the discussion on roads.

As it happened, this reporter needed to pick up his car from the dealer after some routine maintenance. Ms. Kolapo tagged along as the dealer van took us down the freeway to the dealership and then we drove city of Lansing streets – which included a few rough sections, at least we would think they were rough – back to downtown.

“If you think these roads are bad,” Ms. Kolapo said as we drove along, “You should see the roads in Nigeria.”

Could this be the slogan we need to express both reality and hope to Michigan motorists and visitors? Should we post at each border crossing: “Welcome to Michigan, Our Roads Are Better That Nigeria’s”?

Well, it …it might…it…it gives me a headache, but if there’s no more money for roads, might be some loose change be hanging around for some new signs? Maybe we can compare our roads to those in other lands. What are the freeways like in Mali, one wonders.

Lakeside At Frank Kelley’s 90th Birthday
Posted: June, 22 2015 2:14 PM

On a sparkling, warm June Saturday, former Attorney General Frank Kelley celebrated his 90th birthday with a big crowd of some of the state’s most renowned legal officials from the 1970s to 1990s.

Mr. Kelley actually turned 90 on December 31st last, but holding a party along the shore of Lake Lansing may have been a mite frosty on that day.

Former Attorney General Frank Kelley speaking at his 90th birthday celebration.

Decked out in a casual blazer, Mr. Kelley greeted, among others, former Governor James Blanchard (once an assistant AG in his office before he ran for Congress), former Supreme Court Justice Michael Cavanagh. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan President Dan Loepp (who had a more humble professional beginning under Mr. Kelley), former Circuit Judge Lawrence Glazer (who also wrote a well-received biography of former Governor John Swainson) and a gaggle of old reporters who were more interested in the bar. The liquid kind of bar, not the legal kind.

In fact, more than 50 people attended, most of whom had worked for Mr. Kelley at one time or another.

And it wasn’t all Democrats at the party either. For example, Richard McLellan attended and immediately handed his iPhone to a reporter to get a picture of him and Mr. Kelley, suitable for posting on Facebook.

Former Governor William Milliken was also invited, but couldn’t attend. He spoke with Mr. Kelley by phone, and Mr. Kelley praised him to the crowd.

Jack Lessenberry, the Metro Times and Michigan Radio commentator, emceed the event. He has co-authored Mr. Kelley’s autobiography (which will be available this autumn), and assured the crowd the he had labored mightily to ensure there was some truth in the book.

Introducing Mr. Blanchard, Mr. Lessenberry said not only was Mr. Kelley the former governor’s father, he was Mr. Blanchard’s mother as well.

“I’ve been outed,” Mr. Blanchard joked.

Mr. Kelley said he finally was able to give a speech without worrying about getting a vote.

And Mr. Kelley said he was grateful, and had tried to spend his life being grateful.

If everyone, he said, got up in the morning, looked in the mirror and said three things they were grateful for, it would change their lives.

The Legislator Murdered In Charleston
Posted: June, 18 2015 1:06 PM

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was among the nine people barbarically murdered Wednesday night following a prayer meeting.

He was also Sen. Pinckney, a Democrat in the South Carolina Legislature, a veteran of nearly 18 years’ service.

Mr. Pinckney was the youngest black man ever elected to the South Carolina Legislature when he was first elected to the Palmetto State’s House in 1997 when he was 24.

He was first elected to the Senate in 2000.

In the Senate he had sponsored legislation requiring police officers to wear body cameras, saying it would help establish the truth of what happens in police stops.

The South Carolina Legislature was in session on Thursday, and Mr. Pinckney’s chair was draped in black cloth.

The entire Senate stood with that chamber’s chaplain at their podium as he said he “would miss that booming voice from one of the gentlest men I have ever known.”

The chamber also showed the members a video from earlier this year, as Mr. Pinckney spoke about the death of Walter Scott who was shot in the back by a police officer following a traffic stop. In the video he urged lawmakers require body cameras that would “let sunshine into the process,” and while he called for prayers for Mr. Scott’s family he also called for prayers for the officer charged in the shooting, “because the Lord teaches we should love all.”

Mr. Pinckney was 41 when he died. Police in North Carolina on Thursday arrested a suspect in the murders.

Surprising Silence From One Quarter
Posted: June, 15 2015 3:32 PM

Over the weekend the MLive editorial board published a very sharply critical editorial of Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature, accusing them of trying to turn Michigan into a “backwater, intolerant, anti-economic development state.”

And while the editorial garnered thousands of responses and lots of commentary on social media, one group was surprisingly silent in response: that would be the legislators who supported the controversial measures and Mr. Snyder’s administration.

The editorial pointed out how, like most newspapers, the MLive editorial board endorsed Mr. Snyder for re-election, but had urged him to use “his bully pulpit to address critical policy issues and better represent” the entire state. But several bills – and most particularly Mr. Snyder signing HB 4188*, HB 4189* and HB 4190* that now establishes in law that adoption organizations may refuse services based on sincerely held religious beliefs – are putting the state on the path to “state-sanctioned discrimination and it is inexcusable.”

The adoption legislation seems to have generated a real sense of anguish and even betrayal by many individuals, and that pain is clearly reflected in the editorial.

More than 3,600 comments have hit the MLive website about the editorial, most critical of Mr. Snyder and the Legislature, but plenty as well defending the Legislature and Mr. Snyder.

The editorial got much comment on the main social media sites as well, particularly Facebook and Twitter. On those sites, the commentary was almost universally opposed to the legislation, especially the adoption bills. A number of commentators identified themselves as Republicans who said they were upset with the direction of their party.

But unusually quiet were the legislators and defenders of the administration.

Now, rarely do governors or their staff respond directly to editorials. But in this social media age, quite a few legislators have taken to the Internet to talk about policies, promoting those they like and criticizing those they don’t, and criticizing those who support the policies they oppose. Those lawmakers were slammed as hard as Mr. Snyder in the editorial.

Yet, after reviewing the Facebook pages of most the legislators who voted for the adoption package, nary a word in defense of their action or in rebuttal to the editorial.

Even more strangely, clearly identified Republicans – some of them legislative staffers – who have never been hesitant to comment on political issues in the past and get into debates on the subjects, have on this issue and the editorial been as silent as stones.

Perhaps with some time there will be some reaction. Word of advice for anyone wishing and itching to jump into the fray: the longer one waits to react when something has been in print, the less the impact one might have.

Who’s Who From Michigan In The Congressional Baseball Game
Posted: June, 10 2015 11:31 AM

Of the 55 names on the rosters for Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game, three are from Michigan.

On the Republican side – with a team of 34 at this point – are U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland).

On the Democratic side, so far (according to the official webpage) with just 21 players, is U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint).

It’s Mr. Kildee’s third time playing the game Of course, since Mr. Bishop and Mr. Moolenaar only just arrived in the Capitol earlier this year, this will be their first game. Since the Democrats have a six-game winning streak going into Thursday’s event at Nationals Park, maybe the Democrats feel they don’t need more players and maybe the Republicans feel they need to load the lineup to combat the Democrats’ pitching and defense.

The game, played more or less annually since 1909, provides funds for Washington, D.C.-based charities. This year proceeds will go to the Washington Literacy Council, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.

And there is wagering going on, in the form of meat products. Mr. Kildee and Mr. Moolenaar have put a bet on the game. If the GOP wins, Mr. Kildee will provide Mr. Moolenaar with Coney dogs from Angelo’s Famous Coney Island in Flint.

If the Democrats keep their winning streak going into a seventh game, then M. Moolenaar will send to Mr. Kildee a BLT from Tony’s in Birch Run, topped with one pound of bacon.

One presumes the sandwich comes with a side of Lipitor.

Some Thoughts On Political Showmanship
Posted: June, 5 2015 2:07 PM

Politics has been called show business for ugly people. And ugly things do happen in politics.

But a good politician has to be mindful of how he or she employs showmanship, especially to avoid upsetting the audience or creating issues for their candidacy.

By now everyone is aware that on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) committed a grievous error, and that he has appropriately and correctly apologized for it.

Just days after Beau Biden, oldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, died of cancer and the day before his funeral, Mr. Cruz was in Howell for the Livingston County Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner.

In giving his stump speech for the GOP bid for president, Mr. Cruz cracked a joke about Mr. Biden. While many in the audience of some 500 laughed, others looked uncomfortable.

When the speech ended, a reporter asked Mr. Cruz about Mr. Biden, Mr. Cruz said it was heartbreaking what Mr. Biden was going through. Asked then why he told a joke about Mr. Biden, Mr. Cruz impatiently waved the reporter off and walked away.

Mr. Cruz a little later properly apologized for the comment. His apology itself is rare in this age of blood-sport politics, and he should be commended, though it came in the form of a prepared written statement his campaign released.

But the incident also shows politicians have to train themselves to sense their audiences better, to change course on prepared comments if they get a feeling, "This isn't going to work here. In fact, this is not right at all."

During the Wednesday speech, Mr. Cruz began talking about the Second Amendment.

He said, "Vice President Joe Biden," and then paused a moment.

There was a clear tension in the air at the banquet center where he was speaking. Everyone knew about the vice president's tragedy. It had been mentioned in the invocation before the speeches. Now Mr. Biden's name was raised, and what would that mean?

Mr. Cruz should have both recognized the concerned air in the audience at Mr. Biden's name, and recognized himself, "No, I can't use the standard joke now, it's not appropriate. It's not right."

Instead he told the joke.

Every politician, every person is rightly subject to criticism. Sometimes they are rightly subject to ridicule. But we have to remember there are times and events that mandate higher standards in our behavior.

Grief is something that has to be honored. Every one of us who has lived to adulthood has had to confront tragedy and grief, and that pain needs to be respected.

There will be time enough, God knows, for the intramural bludgeoning that passes for higher political discourse today. But sometimes it has to stop, and we have to remember that whatever our differences we all have eyes, we all have organs and dimensions and feelings, if we are pricked we all bleed. We must at times be better than we typically are.

We trust that Mr. Cruz's visit to Michigan has reminded him of our limitations and similarities; that he and other politicians will recall that showmanship cannot trump statesmanship.

What Everyone At The Conference Really Wants To Know
Posted: May, 27 2015 12:14 PM

MACKINAC ISLAND – What does everyone attending this, or any, Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Conference, really want to know? What’s in the bag?

Attendees to the conference are always given a vinyl briefcase/backpack (it seems to alternate between years, this year it is a briefcase, last year it was a backpack) filled with little promotional gifts from the different sponsors of the conference.

So what is in this year’s bag?

Fudge from the Grand Hotel. And, of course, a toothbrush from Delta Dental.

A Michigan-shaped bottle opener, one of the freebies provided to attendees of the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Conference.

Anyone who has flown Delta Airlines is well familiar with their ginger cookies and pretzels, and there were packages of those.

Before eating all the goodies, one should wash one’s hands, so there is a container of hand sanitizer from Kelly Services.

A lot of electronic aids are included in this year’s bag. Ascension Health provided ear buds. Consumers Energy provided folks with a multi-USB port* device. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan gave out portable chargers for cell phones and tablets.

Solicitation is strictly forbidden on Grand Hotel property. How one could stop that, no one has said. Truscott Rossman has provided copies of their lobby guide, and one can guess how that might be used, here on the island and elsewhere.

Lots of late-night parties are held during the conference, and the firm Conway MacKenzie provided a keychain/ LED flashlight to assist one in finding their way back to the hotels after the partying.

Probably the niftiest item is a sawn-steel bottle opener in the shape of Michigan’s two peninsulas provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Who knew that Grand Traverse Bay could open a bottle of suds?

And the Michigan Health and Hospital Association provided everyone with sunscreen. Sadly, this year that item will not be used much. The Island is under heavy fog and rain and blessed with 100 percent humidity.

In fact, the one item often included, but not this year – and several people have been heard looking through their bags and asking, “Where is it?” – is an umbrella. A demand not met this year.

What Happened When State Jobless Rate Last Matched The U.S. Rate?
Posted: May, 20 2015 4:04 PM

Word came Wednesday that for the first time since September 2000 Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April matched the U.S. rate with each reporting 5.4 percent joblessness.

September 2000 was very momentous month. But so much has happened in the nearly 15 years since it may be hard to recall all that was going on.

One thing that was significantly different was that technology had not become the over-obsessive and controlling force it is now. And in 2000 people thought technology already was overwhelming. But computers were still mostly desktops. Cell phones made phone calls. That was about it. Some phones did allow text messages but it was easier to type out a message in Morse Code on a telegraph key than send a text. You wanted to take a picture, you used a camera and unless you had lots of money it was mostly likely a picture on film. The Emmys were awarded that month and network television dominated. “The West Wing” and “Will and Grace” were top shows. There were no Netflix shows because there was no Netflix. If you wanted to listen to music, you stuck a CD in a player.

The effect that technology has had to all we do wasn’t yet that overwhelming. But technology (though access to Google, Wikipedia and of course Gongwer’s fabulous archives) does help to refresh our memories to what was happening that month.

The Olympics opened that month in Sydney, Australia. There were international protests against economic summits. Those were the highlights from the international world.

In the U.S., President Bill Clinton was in his final months in office, while Hillary Clinton was running for the U.S. Senate in New York. Democratic Vice President Al Gore was locked in a presidential battle with Texas Governor George W. Bush (the really interesting part of that battle really started in November).

And in Michigan, then-U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow was running a tough race against then-U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham. In case you missed it she won in an upset, he went on to be U.S. Secretary of Energy for several years. Ms. Stabenow is now in her third term.

But there were two big issues that Michigan focused on that month: one electoral and one legislative.

Electorally Michigan was locked into an intense fight over a proposal to amend the Constitution to allow state-financed vouchers for parochial schools. It was an emotionally divisive issue in the state, splitting parties and ideologies. That emotional aura though was not reflected in the results, with proposal being crushed by voters.

September marked the start of a major ad war on the issue, with charges that school districts were breaking state campaign law.

Also that month, Michigan’s Roman Catholic bishops issued a letter saying Catholics in the state were compelled to vote for the voucher proposal. That was immediately challenged by a number of prominent Catholics, including incoming state superintendent of public education Brian Whiston, who said the voucher proposal was the wrong policy for Michigan.

And in the Legislature, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow battled, sometimes intensely and personally, with Republican House Speaker Chuck Perricone over legislation that would require health insurance companies to offer coverage for diabetes care. Mr. DeGrow supported it, Mr. Perricone did not and the business community was also all-in against the bills. But they were passed.

Also that month, while Michigan’s jobless rate of 3.9 percent matched the U.S. rate (the U.S. economy was enjoying its last few months of the dot-com economic boom), Standard & Poor’s gave Michigan a AAA credit rating. The other agencies followed suit soon after.

Michigan was able to hold onto that AAA rating for a few years, then the decade-long recession became too much.

With our unemployment rate down so much, perhaps another AAA could come in the next several years.

Ah Yes, Do You Know Senator … I’m Sorry, What Was Your Name Again?
Posted: May, 15 2015 3:54 PM

Oh dear, it appears Michigan residents need a little help with their civics. It might be helpful should they run into either U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) or U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) at a parade, or picnic, or some other politically suitable activity.

A poll released Friday by Marketing Resources Group shows a large majority of adult Michiganders, presumably all educated, presumably reasonably aware of their state and federal governments, could not name either senator.

No, 61 percent could not come up with a name. Well, could not come up with a correct name when asked to name Michigan’s two U.S. senators. Broken out by the sexes, 54 percent of men could not name either senator, while 67 percent of women could not.

While most could not name either senator, Ms. Stabenow – who has been in the chamber since 2001 – did fare a little better than Mr. Peters, who only took his seat (succeeding former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin who had been in office for 36 years) in January.

A total of 36 percent of those asked could name Ms. Stabenow. Again, men did slightly better at 44 percent to 30 percent for women.

But just 15 percent could name Mr. Peters, and it was 15 percent of both men and women could name him.

On average, just 11 percent of those questioned could name both senators, and that was 11 percent for women and 12 percent for men.

Vice President Joe Biden fare much better than our two senators. A total of 69 percent of those asked could name him.

The poll was conducted of 600 likely voters, and conducted April 13-17.

Not To Be Nitpicky, But Here’s A Head Scratcher For You
Posted: May, 4 2015 2:47 PM

For those who are looking for odd bits of knowledge to use as an ice-breaker at the bar or that awkward party, why there’s nothing better to review than the weekly disease reports issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

These are the initial reports sent to the state by physicians and hospitals of various infectious diseases. Often the initial reports are revised as more information and better diagnoses are rendered (so for example, earlier this year we thought we had had 10 cases of measles in the state so far in 2015, but that has been revised to one confirmed case).

Also occasionally operator error plugs a disease report in the wrong place. For example, some years ago the state reported a case of anthrax. When this reporter checked on that it turns out the wrong disease was indicated and it was really a case of blastomycosis or something equally unfun.

The disease report has recently gone through a sharp little update. The website has been re-formatted and redesigned so that it is much cleaner to the eye and quite a bit easier to read.

And we have lots of new diseases to check on too. Now we don’t have to worry just about Hanta Virus (never reported in Michigan, thank all powers that be, since it causes an unpleasant end) we can also be terrified of “Hanta Virus, Other” and “Hanta Virus, Pulmonary.”

Along with reporting rabies, animal or human, we now also report animal bites: 789 thus far in 2015; 3,466 in 2014. Just keep your hands to yourself, folks.

The ever infectiously popular strep throat now has a listing.

And what to make of this category: “Unusual Outbreak or Occurrence?” Listen up folks, we’ve had 68 of those so far this year. And we had 291 such unusual outbreaks or occurrences in 2014. Well, it was an election year. Hmmm, would spontaneous combustion fall under that category?

Finally, yes, yes, we now report cases of head lice. So far in 2015, 2,380 reported cases. In 2014, 5,944 cases. So, can’t think of how to start the conversation at the latest PTA meeting? Give you’re a scalp a little scratch for dramatic emphasis and intone: “Say, did you know Michigan reports 2,380 cases of head lice so far this year?”

Pscholka Intern Wins Rosenthal Award
Posted: April, 30 2015 3:35 PM

Kyle O’Meara, an intern in the office of Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), was the winner of the 38 annual Daniel Rosenthal Award given to legislative interns.

The award is named for Dan Rosenthal who as a student in Michigan State University’s then newly created Legislative Student Intern Program in 1977 worked for then-Sen. Jack Welborn. He died in June 1977 of a congenital heart defect.

His family created the award in his honor and past winners have included well-known Oakland County Republican leader Paul Welday and Emily Dievendorf, the former head of Equality Michigan who recently announced she is running for the Lansing City Council.

Mr. O’Meara is graduating from the University of Michigan and then going into law school.

Another intern in Mr. Pscholka’s office, Kaue Gobbi, won the runner-up award, the Vern Ehlers Award, named for the former member of Congress and legislator. A native of Brazil, Mr. Gobbi will intern this summer at the Irish Parliament in Dublin.

Also winning finalists awards were Domonique Clemons, working in the office of Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Trent Wolf, working in the office of Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Oak Park).

Speaking at the ceremony, former Rep. Lynn Jondahl spoke of the important work interns provide lawmakers. In 1977 and 1978, when the House was debating whether to expel former Rep. Monte Geralds, who was convicted of embezzling funds from a law client, Mr. Jondahl said his intern was assigned to research the question of whether lawmakers could expel someone who had been properly elected.

And Mr. Jondahl encouraged students from more than programs focusing on law and government to become legislative interns. Students studying any subject – medicine, business, labor relations, were among the fields Mr. Jondahl mentioned – could bring valuable perspectives to the Legislature.

Yes, There Was Once Such A Thing As An ‘Open Caucus’
Posted: April, 21 2015 2:17 PM

The recent controversy over whether or not Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) had leaked confidential information from the House Republican Caucus – Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said yes and booted her from the caucus, she says no – it rustled memories in those who can still remember when a rare animal existed in the Capitol known as an open caucus.

Oh yes, they did exist. This is not some unicorn-like mythical creature. Open caucuses once not only existed, they were ample, they were common, they got to be a bit of an annoyance.

They first evolved in the late 1970s, shortly after both the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act were adopted. The time was one of general openness in government, a more casual sense that pretty much everything should be accessible and accessible in an easy way.

There were exceptions to the open caucus rule, of course. Leadership caucuses, or issues involving matters of discipline remained closed. Republican members and staff could not sit in Democratic caucuses and vice versa. Nor were lobbyists invited. But nothing stopped anyone from hanging around near the doors, picking up the often loud conversations, or stopping people who went in and out of the caucuses to ask what was going on.

But reporters were always allowed in, and always went. Generally, real news came out of the caucuses. Some seemed to be endless rounds of lawmakers repeating each other. But mostly enough interesting fodder was harvested to use for a story.

In one caucus at the beginning of the crushing recession of 1979-1983, then Rep. David Hollister outlined what the state would see happening to newly jobless people if the economy did not improve – how and where they would cut back spending, how they would get rid of all their assets in hopes of raising cash and hanging on until they were forced to seek state assistance – and he was absolutely correct.

Sometimes the caucuses were physically exhausting. During one intense House session, Republicans would call lightning caucuses to go through strategy, meeting on the fourth floor of the Capitol, with Democrats responding in the then Appropriations room located on the ground floor. Reporters and members were gasping after running back and forth, to and fro from the caucuses and when the final vote on whatever the issue was finally took place, it was a relief.

Open caucuses roamed the Capitol range only for a few years. They were almost endangered right from their first existence. A couple significant instances began to signal they would soon go extinct.

A Senate Democratic caucus held in a west-side hotel, featuring championship bellyaching and demands from the members, was headlined in a front-page Detroit Free Press article, “Raucous Caucus.” The embarrassment didn’t change attitudes and behavior so much as it changed the idea all caucuses should be open.

Then when the House went through a difficult and controversial series of votes on workers’ compensation changes (which was made more difficult by the fact the electric voting machine died, forcing every roll call vote to be a voice vote) a Call of the House was instituted.

Then-Rep. Morris Hood Jr. demanded a closed caucus to discuss the bills. There being a Call of the House, the only solution seemed to be to toss the reporters out of the press room’s news conference area (which was then behind the House chambers) and somehow shoehorn the Democrats into the room. While it was technically closed, anyone within 30 feet of the room could hear Mr. Hood’s rage exploding non-stop. When the doors finally opened, the members saw reporters waiting to talk to them about what the reporters had heard.

The open caucus vanished finally by 1983, as lawmakers wrestled with a controversial income tax vote and the last thing they wanted was the public to know how they were thinking.

But they were real, really real, and some of us are alive to tell the story.

‘Core Principles’ Has A New Editor
Posted: April, 14 2015 1:44 PM

Core Principles, the conservative newsletter Republican former Rep. Jack Hoogendyk started, has a new editor, Cindy Duran.

Mr. Hoogendyk, who lost to former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin in 2008, has essentially phased himself out of the newsletter since moving to Wisconsin in 2013. He would still produce a newsletter occasionally, but said in a newsletter announcing the shift that he decided to give up the newsletter this past December.

In Ms. Duran, who ran against and lost to Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) in the last primary, Mr. Hoogendyk said he has an editor who shares his conservative views.

Ms. Duran said in an introductory letter that she highlighted limited government, lower taxes and more individual rights she talked about in her campaign. “Faith and family were, and continue to be, issues that were important to people I talked to during my campaign,” she said, adding that they would continue to be highlighted in the newsletter.

Something About Taxes, With A Week Remaining
Posted: April, 8 2015 2:55 PM

The deadline to file taxes is a week from today, April 15. And there is a bit of a conundrum the state has to deal with that is not discussed.

Nor will it be discussed, at least not on the record by any officials at the Department of Treasury. Or on background by them. Or for that matter, even off the record. Probably the best anyone could do in getting a response is a type of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge-know what I mean” shrug of the shoulders and uncomfortable clearing of the throat when the question is posed.

Here is the issue: same-sex marriage is not, at the moment, legal in Michigan. Except for some 300 couples married during a brief period when the U.S. District Court in Detroit overruled the 2004 constitutional amendment, same-sex couples married in other states, or married by sympathetic clergy here, are not considered married in Michigan.

But those couples can file a joint return on their federal 1040 U.S. tax return. The 2014 instructions from the federal IRS clearly say that a same-sex couple married in a state or country that recognize same-sex marriage can file a joint return even if they live in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

In Michigan, however, the tax instructions for individuals and couples clearly say that a same-sex couple must file their MI-1040 separately even if they have filed a joint return federally (although, somewhat confusingly, the instructions for tax preparers say a couple that files a joint federal return must file a joint state return).

Okay, first complication the state has to deal with: the requirement that same-sex couples file separately does not apply to those 300 or so couples that who married during that one weekend in March 2014, and whose marriages have been recognized by the state (following a court ruling). If those couples filed jointly with their federal returns, they can file a joint return with the state.

Now, second complication: who are those couples? It’s not like the state has a list. They could spend some taxpayer money to research marriage licenses issued during that time, but then you would have to find some way to target some 300 returns out of nearly 5 million returns the state receives. Is that really the best use of the state resources and time, one could ask.

Are you beginning to sense the next complication the state has to confront? Hmmm? No?

Okay, next complication: How can the state tell if any couple filing a joint state return is a same-sex couple or not? There is nothing on the state return requiring identification by gender.

You can tell by name, one might insist; that would tell the state if it is a same-sex couple. Okay, how about a couple named Chris and Chris (a Gongwer-specific example)? Is Pat male or female? Lynn? Beverly? Jean? Jamie? And those are just few names common in European-based languages.

So, here is the question: Does the state spend time and taxpayer money trying to determine which of the several million joint returns filed may be filed inappropriately by same-sex couples who are not authorized to file said joint returns?

There is an answer. A real answer. But you could lay odds the department will not publicly discuss what the real answer is. Oh, you’re all bright folks. If you can figure out your taxes, you can figure it out.

Opening Day, Lacking Some Of The Pomp Of Old Perhaps
Posted: April, 6 2015 2:49 PM

Forget melting snow, the bulbs bursting through the semi-frozen ground, the first whiffs of charcoal grilling a steak or robins sighting up a worm or two; the real first sign of spring in Michigan is Opening Day for the Tigers.

The opening of the baseball season has historically been a time of some good-natured pomp involving the governor and generally the Detroit mayor. But in recent years, the hardball pomp has seemed a little less pompous.

Governor Rick Snyder was in the stands when the Tigers took the field Monday at Comerica Park against the Minnesota Twins, and spokesperson Sara Wurfel said Mr. Snyder was excited to cheer the Tigers on as they chase another American League Central Division title and post season play.

But, the governors historically were a bit more active on opening day. The governor on the mound or behind the plate were always press events, but lately that seems to have faded some.

In his book, Stewards of the State, George Weeks included a series of pictures of former governors either throwing the first pitch or donning a catcher’s mitt to catch the ceremonial first pitch. The earliest picture was of former Governor Fred Green catching a decidedly high pitch in 1928.

Also pictured is former Governor G. Mennen Williams looking rather kid-like in a catcher’s crouch in 1953 and then a more sophisticated looking but grinning Mr. Williams tossing the first pitch in 1958.

Possibly the most interesting photo is that of former Governor Luren Dickinson, Michigan’s accidental governor, looking a bit like a lost kid – a kid who was nearly 80 with a white mustache – in the crouch looking out for the pitch while a ball sits forlornly at his feet.

Also included is a picture of former Governor James Blanchard really leaning into tossing the ceremonial first pitch, his teeth fiercely gritted, at the 1987 home opener. Mr. Blanchard has always been a ferocious Tigers fan. This reporter was at that 1987 game and watched as Mr. Blanchard nearly fell out his ground level box seat as he leaned over to grab a foul ball headed his way.

Mr. Weeks, a longtime political reporter and commentator, was also once chief of staff to former Governor William Milliken. In the late 1970s, Mr. Milliken’s staff told reporters if they wanted to get a picture of the governor warming up for the opener they would find him tossing a ball on the Capitol’s east lawn. And there Mr. Milliken was, his suit coat doffed, his sleeves still buttoned and tie tight, with a Tigers cap on his head playing catch. Reporters and photographers moaned about the setup shot, but there they all were shooting film, and Mr. Milliken’s picture appeared on the front page of most front pages the next day.

But probably the best gubernatorial preparation for opening day was from former Governor Jennifer Granholm. Asked in her first year if she was warming up for the ceremonial first pitch, Ms. Granholm laughed and said she would probably throw like a girl.

“And I’m the only one who can say that,” she said.

Could Healthy Michigan Be Snyder’s Biggest Accomplishment?
Posted: April, 1 2015 4:02 PM

With the news this week that in less than a year more than 600,000 people have signed up for the state’s Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion plan, it is arguably time to ask if the program could prove to be Governor Rick Snyder’s biggest accomplishment.

Yes, he is just a few months into his second term. It is impossible to predict what could happen in the three years-plus of his term. Former President Jimmy Carter once advised presidents – and it could apply to governors as well – to throw out the agenda. If one can finish one’s term getting even half what they wanted done, they’ve done pretty good considering the uncontrollable nature of humans and the world.

And yes, this governor has tackled big projects and controversial ones as well. His success rate on those has been mixed. His tax proposal of 2011 scrapping the Michigan Business Tax for a Corporate Income Tax (and adding the income tax to many retirees) had a huge effect, but one that still is hard to measure.

His enactment of right-to-work legislation was dramatic, controversial and again with an effectiveness still hard to measure. Michigan’s economy is growing, is improving, but how much of that is due specifically to the tax and labor changes enacted in the last four years, and how much to the state riding a growing national economic wave that has pretty much helped every state?

Mr. Snyder was less successful in getting the Legislature to take part in building a new bridge between Canada and Detroit (though he was able to get around that impediment). In a month’s time, we will know whether he will be successful in convincing voters to go along with a tax increase for road construction and repair.

And he was not successful at all in convincing lawmakers to enact a state health insurance exchange or to have a joint state/federal exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

Which means Healthy Michigan could yet stand as his most significant tangible achievement. First, it was clearly the most politically skillful accomplishment of his administration. That is due as much to the legislative leaders and lawmakers who made passing the proposal their mission as much as it is to Mr. Snyder. But with the ferocious political hatred towards the ACA and its branches still largely unabated from his Republican Party, Mr. Snyder took a political risk in advocating for the program and dedicating himself as intently towards its enactment.

More important than that, though, is the actual practical effect of the program.

More than 600,000 people, with incomes of 133 percent of the federal poverty level, have signed up for the program in the year since it was launched on April 1, 2014. That is nearly twice the number Mr. Snyder and former Community Health Director Jim Haveman anticipated would sign up during the first year.

Together with the number of people that signed up for health insurance in Michigan through the federal exchange, and more people covered through their companies, the number of uninsured people in Michigan has been slashed at least in half.

Even more important, when a person signs up for Healthy Michigan they are to undergo a doctor’s visit, and more than 344,000 have undergone primary care visits. More than 35,000 have gotten mammograms, another 17,000-plus have gotten colonoscopies.

That means someone’s life was saved. Who? Who knows? Who cares? Someone’s life has been saved.

You could not have that many people go through these physical exams without someone discovering they were hypertensive and who now have their blood pressure under control and therefore spared a stroke or heart attack. Or that they discovered they were diabetic and now can control their blood sugar, again helping prevent a heart attack or blindness or amputation. At least one of those mammograms had to have discovered cancer in an early stage, and saved a mother or grandmother. You could not have 17,000 colonoscopies without at least one person then getting treatment to save him or her from cancer.

And that is the real accomplishment of this program. Agree or not with Healthy Michigan politically, no one can honestly deny that least one person’s life has been saved through the program. As the old Talmudic scripture says: Save one soul, it is as if you have saved the entire world.

Tax cuts, well, taxes go up and down. Bridges, roads, well, they get built, they fall apart, they always have to be fixed.

But to say you executed something that saved lives, that’s good, that’s damn good. So the early voting on Mr. Snyder’s biggest accomplishment? It has to be with Healthy Michigan.

All About The McLellan Roast, Well, Not Really
Posted: March, 19 2015 3:22 PM

Did you not attend the Michigan Political History Society Roast of ultimate insider Richard McLellan? Really? Only about a dozen people attached to Michigan government did not. Did you expect a full report on the gathering? You did. Oh, sorry, it was off the record.

Well, as off the record as anything can be in the age of social media. A number of attendees tweeted and posted various items on Twitter and Facebook.

While some of the jokes were merciless, there were also funny but friendly barbs from Mr. McLellan’s Michigan State University’s classmates and student government colleagues, former Governor James Blanchard and former MSU President Peter McPherson (former Governor John Engler also attended, but remember everything there was off the record).

For those who thought he was an only child, Mr. McLellan’s sister Mary did say she loved him like a brother (again, that was off the record).

However, a caricature of Mr. McLellan was placed outside the actual curtilage of the roasting room, which means that was not off the record. It is reproduced here, autographed by Mr. McLellan’s admirers and people he owes money to. There is at least one reference to skunkworks in the signatures.

A Different View On The Talent Question
Posted: March, 17 2015 4:26 PM

Talent now being the top dollar word and concept in state government, a look over to Michigan State University is in order for a summit finishes today looking at training for talent in a slightly different way.

For several years, university officials across the county have looked at creating “T” individuals, and Monday and Tuesday some of the top figures in the country on the subject were speaking at MSU.

“T” has to do with talent, of course, but it also has to do with training people to convey more than just one specific skill set. A lot of the focus on talent development seems to be aimed at ensuring people learn specific skills or crafts. The “T” concept is a way of taking the idea of a well-rounded individual and making him/her a person mastering specific skills and concepts at the same time.

It’s a way of ensuring that a person can communicate, collaborate and cooperate with others while still meeting specific skills. Being a “T” person means doing away with an “I” person concept – you will truly sound very cool if you master these ideas, at least at academic bars – which is someone who is “deep in one discipline.” The idea of the “T” is that a person be “deep” in a discipline and a system. A system has defined as a broader service concept, such as transportation, education, healthcare.

But then the goal with “T” training is to add the “crossbar” to the “I.” That means a person is knowledgeable in several disciplines and systems, and has developed the communications and collaborative skills needed to work with other people and express competence in those disciplines and systems.

The ability to communicate and collaborate is critical, said Robert Kegan of Harvard (who is considered the superstar of this area, and has written several well-known books about the subject) because solving major problems can never be accomplished by just one person. It takes several people from different disciplines to work together to come up with proposed resolutions to problems and to see them through, he said.

The summit opened on Monday, when Governor Rick Snyder was launching operations for his new Department of Talent and Economic Development. Officials at the summit said they had tried to get Mr. Snyder to attend, but the governor was unable to come.

What Do All Five Governors Have In Common?
Posted: March, 5 2015 2:23 PM

Besides being governor, of course? Remember these are Governor Rick Snyder, as well as former Governors William Milliken, James Blanchard, John Engler and Jennifer Granholm. It would be hard to imagine they could have much in common, or agree on anything, from where to have lunch to state tax policy.

But they all agreed to join in inviting everyone to a March 18 roast of Richard McLellan to benefit the Michigan Political History Society.

Since the 1960s, Mr. McLellan has been one of the top brains in town, putting his advice and hand to virtually every policy issue that state has overseen. That includes the good and controversial, since he was an author (well, maybe not officially) of the now infamous “skunkworks” proposal. And yes, he has been associated with the Republican Party all his life, but isn’t shy about saying he will vote, and has, for Democrats when he agrees with their ideas.

His major passion for decades, which has put him in the thick of controversy, is education, and he has pushed for proposals and alternatives that have succeeded in annoying everybody at some time or another.

Unknown to most people, Mr. McLellan has also joined with former state mental health director Frank Ochberg to develop a group helping journalists deal with the effects of trauma, since reporters are often the first on the scene at natural disasters, public health crises, terrorist attacks, and cover, and suffer in, war zones.

Okay, one can hear the reader muttering to him/herself, “I can make fun for Richard for free, why do I have to pay $150 to see others do it?” Well, Lordy, why pass up an opportunity to watch Mr. Blanchard, former legislators George Cushingberry and John Kelly, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and his former law partners Rex Schlaybaugh and William Whitbeck (among others) lampoon him for being named an African chief, his many wanderings around Antarctica, for his love of ballet, and for how many buckets of popcorn he and Mr. Engler devoured at the movies? What are you, nuts or something?

Besides, the proceeds go to the Political History Society, which in an era of term limits helps to remind people that they may be on the verge of making the same mistake done 20 years before.

You have until March 13 to reserve tickets (call 517-485-9127). The roast starts at 5:30 p.m. (for drinks and chow), Wednesday, March 18, at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, 219 South Harrison Road in East Lansing.

Probably As Cute As It Gets In The Legislative World
Posted: February, 25 2015 3:57 PM

The fourth grade class from Hill Elementary in Troy visited the Capitol on Wednesday.

Of course, part of the tour is to see the Senate Appropriations Committee room, which is the former Supreme Court chamber.

The Senate Appropriations Judiciary Subcommittee was preparing to meet on the upcoming 2015-16 budget, and after Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) thrilled the students with a brief discussion on the budget, Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. walked in.

He got a picture taken with the kids. He asked if any had any questions (none did), and then Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph), the subcommittee chair, came in. He asked a couple questions of the school’s teachers and then called the meeting to order.

Mr. Proos officially welcomed the students. Asked how many were visiting the Capitol for the first time, most of the students raised their hands. Asked how many of the teachers and adults were visiting for the first time, probably half raised their hands.

Asked how many had met a chief justice before, Mr. Young raised his hand.

Courser, Gamrat Endorsements Raise Social Media Furor
Posted: February, 20 2015 2:25 PM

Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) first came to prominence two years ago when he came closer than anyone thought possible to beating Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak in Mr. Schostak’s bid for re-election. Since then Mr. Courser has been a lightning rod for the ultra-conservative wing of the party.

Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) has been identified as a tea party leader for some time. She and Mr. Courser have pursued what they have called a liberty agenda since taking office. She was an organizer of a tea party “pow wow” held last Month in Mount Pleasant.

And both announced late Thursday they were endorsing Ronna Romney McDaniel for the Republican Party chair’s position over Norm Hughes and Kim Shmina, both candidates more to the liking of the tea party. Ms. Gamrat was more positive in her endorsement, Mr. Courser was more half-hearted.

But the endorsements electrified their social media contacts, generating a slew of comments. While both were defended for their decisions, the tone overall seemed to one of anger and betrayal. Ms. McDaniel is not seen by many tea party partisans as one who will move the GOP to a more staunchly conservative – both fiscally and socially – party.

Joe Jurecki snapped at Mr. Courser, “Once you send them to the swamp you see their true colors.” R. George Dunn said, “The indoctrination tactics must work.”

And Lanny Valentine was furious that Mr. Courser had turned his back on Mr. Hughes after, “All Norm did for you and the conservatives. Shame on you. Didn’t take long to see you can talk the talk but CANNOT walk the walk.”

Respondents were no kinder to Ms. Gamrat. A Stefanie Stimmet blasted: “I cannot believe this. If those we elect based on their conservative values will not stand true to those values, what hope is there for this nation?!! I simply cannot believe your endorsement, Cindy. Very, very disappointing.”

Andrew Hulbert went further and said: “Shocking and disappointing endorsement coordinated with Todd shows how rigged the coronation really is.”

Mr. Valentine also said on Ms. Gamrat’s post that the last 10 years in the Republican Party had been the “worst I have seen for true patriots.”

Mr. Dunn, who supports Mr. Hughes, added the “field of battle has changed in this MRP. It is near impossible to compromise with lawless attitude. The Oath of Office means something and to not believe it is treason, by truth telling.”

But fellow tea party activist Wendy Lynn Day weighed in on Ms. Gamrat’s defense (Ms. Gamrat is endorsing Ms. Day for a vice chair post). “Wow, I am surprised at how personal and mean people can get. Apparently, she is entitled to an opinion, as long as it is one you think she should have. I thought that was liberals who did that.”

A Budget Lesson, Sort Of...
Posted: February, 11 2015 10:17 AM

John Roberts gets tossed to the wolves today. As Michigan’s new budget director he gets to present his first budget to the Legislature and then can go home and nurse his wounds. It is the way the world works.

And really, what a strange job is budget director. What child, when asked, says he or she wants to grow up to be a budget director? Where did they come from? Why are they here? Are they friendly?

Such imponderables are beyond answer. However, one of the most famous of Michigan’s budget directors had a thought on whence budget directors came onto this planet.

Gerald Miller, who ran the state’s finances during the 1970s and early 1980s under then Governor William Milliken, once spoke to a meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists. He said thus:

“A doctor, an engineer and a budget director were arguing over whose profession was the first. The doctor said, ‘Look, go to the Bible. There was chaos, God created the earth out of the chaos, created man out of the earth and breathed life into him. Giving life, that’s what doctors do. So doctors are the first profession.’

“Then the engineer said, ‘Hold on, there was chaos, God created the earth out of the chaos, formed the mountains, the oceans, the rivers. That’s engineering. So engineering is the first profession.’

“Then the budget director spoke: ‘Who created the chaos?’”

The Curious Situation In Nebraska
Posted: February, 2 2015 12:47 PM

An issue that showed up recently in Michigan is the question of whether the state’s electoral votes should continue to be allocated on a winner-take-all basis (as they are in all but two states, Nebraska and Maine) or should be allocated on which presidential candidate won the majority in a congressional district.

Republicans here have pushed the change to the winner-take-all system, tired that Democrats have won the last six presidential elections in Michigan, and arguing that the current system is unfair to voters who don’t support the candidate getting a majority of the voters’ votes. Democrats – who, for historical point, never challenged the winner-take-all system during the five presidential elections Republicans won before the current Democratic streak began in 1992 – have opposed it, saying it would be unfair and make Michigan insignificant. Governor Rick Snyder has said the issue should not be dealt with until after the 2020 census.

But something appears to be happening in Nebraska, one of the two states that allocates its electoral votes on local results, that suggests the issue is not one really of electoral fairness and integrity, but just who gets to control the results.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Republicans in Nebraska are considering switching the state to a winner-take-all state. Nebraska is a solidly Republican state, and Democrats are probably as rare as wheat farmers in the Cornhusker state. But, in 2008, Democrats in the Omaha region were able to claim one electoral vote because President Barack Obama won that area’s congressional district. Republicans there are furious that the state showed up as split and want it to appear solid when they win the vast majority of votes statewide. Democrats are arguing back that switching to a winner-take-all state will be unfair and not reflect voter intent.

In other words, the arguments are flipped compared to how Republicans and Democrats in Michigan argue about the issue. Which suggests that the real question is how a party thinks it can get the most that it wants.

Of course, if the country decided to drop the Electoral College system and elect the president simply on the basis of who gets the most votes the issue of how to allocate electoral votes would be moot. But, that probably won’t happen.

The Full Lyrics To ‘Michigan, My Michigan’ Because …
Posted: January, 26 2015 4:12 PM

Because today, January 26, is the 178th anniversary of the date Michigan joined the union in 1837, after we gave up trying to get Toledo in exchange for all of the Upper Peninsula.

“Michigan, My Michigan” is kind of the state’s anthem. Sung to the tune of “Oh, Christmas Tree” (or “Maryland, My Maryland).

The song’s lyrics were originally written during the Civil War, shortly after the murderous Battle of Fredericksburg. The lyric’s author, Lee Brent Lyster, was the wife of a Michigan veteran. The mayor of Grand Rapids rewrote the lyrics in the 1880s, but they still had a martial tone, and then in 1902 Douglas Malloch wrote new lyrics for a convention of women’s clubs meeting in Muskegon.

It is these lyrics we generally sing:

A song to thee, fair State of mine,
Michigan, my Michigan.
But greater song than this is thine,
Michigan, my Michigan.
The whisper of the forest tree,
The thunder of the inland sea,
Unite in one grand symphony
Of Michigan, my Michigan.

I sing a State of all the best—
Michigan, my Michigan.
I sing a State with riches blessed—
Michigan, my Michigan.
Thy mines unmask a hidden store,
But richer thy historic lore,
More great the love thy builders bore,
Oh, Michigan, my Michigan.

How fair the bosom of thy lakes,
Michigan, my Michigan.
What melody each river makes,
Michigan, my Michigan.
As to thy lakes, the rivers tend,
Thine exiled children to thee send
Devotion that shall never end,
Oh, Michigan, my Michigan.

Rich in the wealth that makes a State,
Michigan, my Michigan.
Great in the things that make men great,
Michigan, my Michigan.
Our loyal voices sound thy claim
Upon the golden roll of fame;
Our loyal hands shall write the name
Thy home will never be the same, my Michigan
Oh Michigan, my Michigan.

Generally, only the first verse is sung. Charles Ballard, the well-known economics professor at Michigan State University, is also a singer himself and almost always ends his public presentations by exhorting the crowd to sing “Michigan, My Michigan” with him. He did so last week at a forum of the MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, and the crowd boisterously joined in.

So, warm up your warblers and sing, Michiganders.

The ‘Fine Tooth Comb’ Re-Emerges
Posted: January, 12 2015 11:18 AM

Now more than 40 years after it was created, the fabled Michigan Quote Board has reappeared in the national prints. Well, maybe the national prints and electrons.

George Will, former Michigan State University instructor (and recent, controversial, graduation speaker) and nationally syndicated conservative columnist, twice used a phrase first uttered decades ago by former Sen. Harry DeMaso in his most recent column.

The column had to do with U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch. Here is the first use of the comment:

“Senate confirmation hearings put nominees on notice that, as a Michigan state legislator reportedly once said, ‘I’m watching everything you do with a fine-toothed comb.’”

He repeats the comment at the close of the column. Mr. Will quoted Mr. DeMaso at least one other time, in the 1980s when the Quote Board first gained international fame.

He says Ms. Lynch should be confirmed to succeed current Attorney General Eric Holder, but the Senate should also put a number of questions to her, all of which he outlines.

He also quotes Mae West, who said, when deciding between evils, “I always pick the one I never tried before.” Sounds like she could be have been in the Legislature.

The Last Time Patricia Burnett Charmed The Capitol
Posted: January, 7 2015 2:10 PM

Patricia Hill Burnett, artist, former Miss Michigan, feminist, Republican and glamour queen died last week in suburban Detroit at age 94.

She was remembered for her portraits of important women, for her being an early advocate of Betty Friedan and the women’s rights movement and for being absolutely charming.

While noted for her work painting the likes of famous women, such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Ms. Burnett also was known for painting state leaders.

Her portrait of former Governor William Milliken in the Capitol is one of two painted by women artists (former Governor George Romney was the first to have a portrait painted by a woman) and she was commissioned to paint other officials.

Her most recent portrait was of former Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, which was unveiled in September 2011.

Ms. Burnett was 91 at the time, and while the event featured former Governor John Engler and former U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, Ms. Burnett stole the show.

The portrait shows a seated, robed Mr. Taylor casting a somewhat skeptical and bemused eye at the observer.

When she unveiled the portrait to Mr. Taylor, Ms. Burnett told the audience that he uttered the three words no portrait artist wants to hear: “Who is it?”

What The Dog Did In The Night-Time
Posted: December, 22 2014 3:01 PM

The classic question from Sherlock Holmes was about the curious thing the dog did in the night-time. Of course, the dog did nothing in the night-time, which was the curious thing.

In one of the more unusual, shall we say, cases from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to come along, we can answer your curiosity right away what a dog used by the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department did in the night-time: it bit the subject of a search and rescue mission.

However, rarely do canine chompers, flip-flops, tipsy women, people tripping over one another, public urination and classic Japanese cinema work their way together into a court-case. But in this case, they do. Yes, a person was injured; yes, the county may be out some money; but, no offense, this does almost read like the setup of a great 1930’s screwball comedy. Perhaps the parties could be persuaded to adjourn the matter to a richer court. Hey, maybe some state film incentive money could be used.

The Sad Story Of The Best Legislative Farewell Speech Ever
Posted: December, 3 2014 1:55 PM

We are in that time, the lame duck tradition of legislative farewells. In the days before term limits the farewells tended to be relatively few, reserved to those lawmakers who were retiring and the few who had been beaten. The speeches tended to be fond remembrances and encouragements to the fellow lawmakers. And those remaining would often praise those leaving. Emotions often ran high. Once, House Republican Leader Bill Bryant broke down while saying farewell to Democratic member George Montgomery.

Now, of course, thanks to the factory-like system of term limits, legislative leaders can schedule years in advance how many farewells will be needed and when lawmakers can make their speeches. And as the years have gone by, the speeches have tended to get longer as lawmakers tend to pour all they have learned in their short tenures into their last major oration.

But whose was the best farewell ever? Oh, without question the speech of former Senate Democratic leader William Faust in December 1994. It was the best. And in so many ways it was also the saddest.

Mr. Faust had been elected to the Senate in 1966, after owning several small newspapers in the Downriver area and serving in local government. He spent many years growing up in Lansing, where he said he played ping pong with a teenaged boy who would go on to be known to the world as Malcolm X.

In 1966, Mr. Faust was terribly injured in a car crash and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. In the late 1970s, he was elected the Senate majority leader, ably keeping in line a caucus of intense personalities. When two recalls in 1983 and subsequent special elections in 1984 put Republicans in charge of the chamber, he served as minority leader for several years, hoping to win back control of the chamber and resigning as leader when that effort failed.

He was passionate about Michigan’s state library. He played a key role in the restoration of the Capitol, saving some of the original glass panels from the Senate ceiling that were being hurled into dumpsters by workers.

And while he was always seen as an almost courtly gentleman, Mr. Faust could be tough. He led the Senate to reject some appointments by then Governor William Milliken. When Mr. Milliken told him that appointments were his domain, Mr. Faust snapped back the Senate could reject a nominee because they didn’t like the color of his tie.

Mr. Faust also knew the Constitution and law, and whenever there was a difference between legislators on the Constitution, he almost always won. In his last interview before he left office, he said the one piece of advice he would give a new lawmaker was to read the Constitution. Don’t they now, the reporter asked. No, he said.

So, what would you think Mr. Faust would say in his farewell address on the last session day of 1994, before he prepared to retire to a house he had retrofitted Up North? After 28 years, after seeing some of the most momentous legislative changes in state history, after serving as leader for a number of those years, what would someone like that say in farewell?

This is what he said, this is the entire farewell: “I want to thank the members for all the many courtesies they have shown me, and I want to thank the folks back home for 28 great years.”

There you have it. A total of 28 words expressing one salient thought: gratitude. Who can say more or better than that?

But while it was the best farewell speech ever, it was also possibly the saddest. That last day in session, Mr. Faust began to suffer chest pains. He was taken to the hospital, and never left. He had coronary bypass surgery and his gall bladder removed, but nearly 30 years in a wheelchair had left his system too weak to fight off infection. Bill Faust died on January 21, 1995.

And as grateful as he was, those who remember him know they were the ones who were truly grateful.

Oh So Close, DCH Just Short Of Healthy Michigan Goal
Posted: November, 25 2014 3:44 PM

The Department of Community Health announces how many people have signed up for the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expanded eligibility each Monday afternoon, and the numbers posted for this week put the state tantalizingly close to what it thought was the maximum number of enrollees for the program.

According to the DCH website, as of Monday, the state had 469,698 enrollees in the Healthy Michigan program.

When the program launched in April, state officials projected there would be 470,000 enrollees by the end of 2015. The program eclipsed its 2014 goal back in July.

Because of the average number of people who have been signing up for the program on a daily basis, it is logical to presume that the state crossed the 470,000 enrollee threshold on Tuesday.

But unless DCH issues a special notice, we will not know until the new figures are released on Monday, December 1.

Is Lakewood Club A RICO-Inspired Municipality? The Court Guffaws
Posted: November, 24 2014 3:11 PM

When the very first sentence in a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is, “Of all the tax avoidance schemes, this case certainly involves one of the strangest,” well, one just has to read on about Clarence Otworth and the tiny village of Lakewood Club.

Lakewood Club is located in Muskegon County. It is less than two miles square and has about 1,200 people, according to the 2010 census. Although it is a growing town, the 2000 census showed it had about 1,000 people. It’s mostly middle class, but a significant section of the population lives below the poverty line.

And according to Otworth in his federal suit, Otworth v. Budnik, it is all a fraud and has defrauded him by requiring him to pay property taxes. His mortgage holder, Fifth Third Bank, has also been complicit in this fraud, he argued.

The basis of his claim is that Lakewood Club was illegally incorporated in 1967 and therefore is not lawfully permitted to claim property taxes against him. Mr. Otworth charged in his case that the municipality, its officials and the bank officers who pay his taxes through his mortgage escrow are involved in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violation. It has caused him serious physical injury – he charged that he suffered a torn aorta because of the stress of paying the taxes – as well as financial injury.

The district court rejected his claim, and so too did the Court of Appeals.

In her decision, Judge Karen Nelson Moore did not concede a single point to Mr. Otworth, saying he failed in every instance to actually make a case and prove any of his charges.

And even, she wrote, if there is some discrepancy in the incorporation of Lakewood Club it has been rendered moot by the fact the state has acquiesced in its existence.

Ms. Moore also quotes an 1874 decision involving Kalamazoo Schools saying that if every community had to defend its original organization, then “few of our municipalities can be entirely certain of the ground they stand on” and potentially subject to “infinite trouble, embarrassment and mischief” by a litigious soul.

Analysis: Land Hemorrhaged GOP Voters
Posted: November, 19 2014 3:13 PM

When the votes were all counted U.S. Sen.-elect Gary Peters won election to the U.S. Senate over Republican Terri Land in about as close to a walk as any candidate enjoyed in Michigan on November 4.

But what if all the Republicans, or those who lean Republican, who voted had voted for Ms. Land? Would she have won? Ah, probably. At least, that is the speculation based on one analysis.

Ed Sarpolus with the polling firm Target Insyght put out an email on Wednesday saying that based on his estimate 225,556 Republicans split their ticket to vote for the Democratic Mr. Peters.

Results are not yet final, but unofficially, Mr. Peters netted 1,702,460 votes and Ms. Land received 1,288,126 votes.

According to Mr. Sarpolus, Ms. Land received 1,277,116 votes from straight-ticket Republican voters and 11,016 from Republican-leaning independents.

Mr. Peters received 1,366,930 straight-ticket Democratic votes, another 98,964 from Democratic-leaning independents, then 11,010 votes from Independents.

And, according to Mr. Sarpolus, Mr. Peters got 225,556 votes from Republican-leading independents.

Well, what if all those votes, presuming they are from Republican-leaning voters, had gone to Ms. Land? Then a very different situation would have occurred.

Presuming there were no other changes in total votes cast, if 225,556 voters had voted for Ms. Land instead of Mr. Peters, then she would have netted 1,502,677 votes to Mr. Peters’ 1,476,904 votes. In other words, in a tight race Ms. Land would have won election.

Just one more thing for state Republicans to ponder as they try to decide how that race got away from them.

Governor Snyder Recalls A Knock At The Door
Posted: November, 13 2014 3:52 PM

The Capitol rotunda was crowded Thursday afternoon with veterans of World War II and their families, and Governor Rick Snyder used the occasion to recall how the global conflict touched the lives of every family.

The event was organized by MLive media, which has had a special project throughout the year of documenting the state’s veterans. More than 600,000 men and women from Michigan served in the U.S. military during the war. More than 10,000 were killed. And of the remaining, just some 39,000 are still with the state.

Since the youngest World War II veteran would now be in his or her mid-80s, a number of the guests – who sported hats and t-shirts indicating their branch of service, with one hat identifying the survivor of a kamikaze attack – were in wheelchairs or using walkers and canes.

Mr. Snyder, of course, was born more than a decade after the war ended. But his older sister was about seven at the time the allies were finally victorious.

He said his family had come to visit his grandparents, who were living in Lansing.

There was a knock at the door and his sister answered it.

The cousin, home from the war, was standing at the door. Mr. Snyder told the crowd that his sister recognized their cousin, but called to her mother and grandmother.

When the two ladies arrived at the door they let out a scream, Mr. Snyder said. That may have seemed odd, but it wasn’t, he said.

Because the family had been told their cousin was missing in action. In fact, he had been captured and was being held in a prisoner of war camp in North Africa, Mr. Snyder.

Records of prisoners were notoriously bad during the war, with many captured servicemen never allowed to let their families know where they were.

So when the war ended, and the cousin was reunited with U.S. forces and then returned home, his parents were no longer in their old house. The cousin had then gone to Mr. Snyder’s grandparents’ house because he didn’t know where his parents were, he said.

And it reminded the crowd of how the war touched everyone, from the ration cards each family had to wondering if someone would come home. There are 39,000 veterans in Michigan who did come home from the carnage that encircled the globe.

How State Government Reacted When The Fitzgerald Sank
Posted: November, 10 2014 2:11 PM

The gales of November sank the Edmund Fitzgerald on this day in 1975, 39 years ago.

You would not know that by reviewing what state government did that week.

The focus instead was on ongoing budget issues, a new vacancy in the Supreme Court and on the Senate defeating a bill dealing with sex education.

The loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald was the last major shipping disaster on the Great Lakes. All hands aboard were lost. It became the subject of song and legend.

Still, during the first days after the disaster, it was strangely absent from the world of state government.

That, of course, is not completely true, as the State Police and other emergency personnel in the state reacted quickly in hopes of finding survivors, and failing that the dead to return to their families.

Yet, in the Capitol, according to Gongwer reports of that week, there was essentially silence on the Fitzgerald.

Former Justice John Swainson, who had recently and probably unjustly been convicted of perjury related to changes of bribery (but not of bribery itself), hand-delivered a letter of resignation to then-Governor William Milliken. Mr. Milliken praised the action as upholding the integrity of the judiciary.

The state, which was still struggling through what was then the worst recession since the Great Depression, had already rejected one executive order budget cut, and was now debating a second EO to get the 1974-75 fiscal year in balance.

And the Senate rejected legislation that week that would allow sex education classes to teach about contraception and venereal diseases. It would in fact take several more years before legislation allowing for contraception to be taught would be approved.

But there is no easily-found indication of legislators expressing concern on the floor of the ship’s disappearance. There were no resolutions. No announcements of investigative committees. No indication flags were ordered flown at half-staff. It appeared to be business as usual.

But today, who remembers the budget fight of November 1975 or the Senate not passing a sex-ed bill? Instead, they remember the Edmund Fitzgerald sank with 29 crewmembers aboard in the icy waters of Lake Superior.

If You Thought The Election Ended On Tuesday…Well, Consider
Posted: November, 7 2014 1:14 PM

Oh you exhausted, you weary, you tired and travailed, you nauseated and heartsick, you thought you could finally take comfort. You braved the crowds, or the lack of crowds, on Tuesday and voted. You retired to the comfort of your home thinking, at last, at long last, at long sweet last the election is over and I can turn on the tube and not have to see commercials bashing candidates and focus again on commercials for …Christmas, oh yes that’s coming now. But at least the election is over.


Those of us who have patiently counseled the timid and timorous on why elections are so long (because the United States is essentially the only major nation in which we always know when the election is and it is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – even in odd years, don’t forget city elections) are here to tell you that as of Tuesday at 8:01 p.m., when the polls closed for the 2014 election, the 2016 election season got underway.

Don’t believe us?

Well, then, I shall refer you to a top Republican in Michigan. No point to citing his name in this dispatch, but Gongwer has quoted him, all the papers have quoted him, he’s been on all the media, his Twitter is followed by thousands, he has been advisor to the top Republicans of this state and to a few nationally.

So, says I, on Wednesday the day following the election – the election which is supposed to be over – what’s next on the agenda? Here I thought he would give me a list of policy issues he expected the Legislature and Governor Snyder to tackle.

No. What he said was: “We have to remind Republicans that we just finished a low-turnout election and that in 735 days there will be a high-turnout election, and there will be 50 seats open in the Legislature and if we want to protect our gains of this election we have to get ready for 2016 now.”

Take comfort friends. Once 2016 is past, there will come November 6, 2018, and November 3, 2020, and, well, on to the ends of days.

A Distant Electoral Echo In Tuesday’s Results
Posted: November, 5 2014 2:05 PM

Going into Election Day, the race for governor was too close to call. Polls showed public support razor-thin and tight between the incumbent Republican governor and his Democratic rival, a former Senate leader. The Democrat was trying to ride popular discontent over a major controversy into the Executive Office.

A long, long night was expected as poll watchers would wait and see who would win.

But election night, at his Detroit Renaissance Center hotel victory party headquarters, the incumbent Republican celebrated a huge win, one that he had held from the moment the first returns were announced to the moment before midnight he claimed his re-election victory.

It happened like that one day ago. It also happened like that 36 years ago.

Governor Rick Snyder’s re-election win over Democrat Mark Schauer bears a ghostly echo of former Governor William Milliken’s final re-election victory over Democrat William Fitzgerald.

The 1978 election bears some other similarities to the election just past. Democrats were battling to maintain congressional power nationally while an unpopular Democratic president (then former President Jimmy Carter) was in office (Democrats were helped that year because the public was still not over its post-Watergate anger at Republicans and shortly before the election Mr. Carter was able to make some major strategic moves to bring Israel and Egypt closer to peace, but they were also hurt because of economic malaise and high inflation) and took a few body blows, but held onto Congress.

In Michigan, the state was still recuperating from what was the first “worst recession since the Great Depression” which had hammered the state in 1974 and 1975 (there were at least two more, far worst recessions to come along with a few other recessions tossed in for good measure in the years following). The state had rebounded, but was still short of its economic peak.

Mr. Milliken personally was popular, but a growing more strident conservative wing of the party distrusted him, and among many Republicans there was discomfort at Mr. Milliken’s support for Detroit and his public support of environmental protections.

Mr. Fitzgerald, like Mr. Schauer, was the former Senate Democratic leader. He had been the majority leader (Mr. Schauer held the minority role), and he had lost his post as part of a caucus dispute on his leadership. Mr. Schauer gave up the post when he was elected to Congress in 2008.

Also unlike Mr. Schauer, Mr. Fitzgerald survived a rough primary battle with several other Democrats to take on Mr. Milliken.

For Democrats in this 2014 election the issues they attempted to win the public on were education cuts and unfair tax increases on pensioners.

In 1978, the predominant issue was PBB and the potential effect it could have on the public, and what role did Mr. Milliken may have had in possibly hiding its presence.

PBB was a fire-retardant chemical that accidentally got mixed into cattle feed, poisoning thousands of dairy cattle across the state, getting into the food system, and effectively getting into the bloodstreams of, oh, probably everyone living in Michigan in 1973. Farmers held very public, very sobering slaughters of their affected cattle. The method the state employed to dispose of slaughtered cattle was the subject of a prolonged trial. The Legislature and Mr. Milliken worked out a comprehensive bill to deal with testing residents, compensating farmers and preventing future contamination. PBB was the subject of Ron Howard’s first directorial effort, a television movie that starred he and Art Carney. While devastating to cattle in the high concentrations, studies over the years showed the effects on humans were extremely slight.

And it was the issue Mr. Fitzgerald thought could win him the executive office. He hammered at it relentlessly. During a debate with Mr. Milliken, he pressed the issue so much, Mr. Milliken finally snapped at him, “Cease and desist, senator, cease and desist.”

So, Election Day in 1978 dawned and the sense most had was that it would be a race that would take all night to resolve.

But from the first returns, Mr. Milliken had a devastating lead that he never lost. Just as Mr. Snyder did Tuesday night against Mr. Schauer.

Unlike Mr. Snyder though, Mr. Milliken won in a landslide, netting 56 percent of the vote. There was a smaller total of voters for governor that year than this (but by fewer than 300,000) and Mr. Milliken netted more votes, 1.628 million, than Mr. Schauer did on Tuesday, 1.605 million.

Another difference was that Mr. Milliken was the GOP outlier that year. He won, but the Republicans got beat soundly in all other races. The House ended up with one of its largest partisan splits under Democratic control, 70 Democrats to 40 Republicans. On Tuesday, except for U.S. Sen.-elect Gary Peters and the state education boards, Democrats got smoked by Republicans.

Still, how this election ended up in Mr. Snyder’s favor after the lead up remains a fascinating electoral echo.

One Endorsement Missing For Both Candidates
Posted: October, 27 2014 3:21 PM

The polls continually show a tight race for governor among the voters, but based on newspaper endorsements alone, Governor Rick Snyder is clearly beating his Democratic rival, Mark Schauer, by a landslide.

But at least one newspaper was not convinced to support Mr. Snyder. It was something of a pyrrhic victory for Mr. Schauer, however, because the Traverse City Record-Eagle didn’t endorse him either.

There was a lot of talk over the weekend about the Detroit Free Press editorial endorsement of Mr. Snyder, and as much on its anguished, indeed tortured, and regretful decision.

That the paper criticized Mr. Snyder almost more than it praised him, didn’t really bother Mr. Snyder’s campaign, which issued an email release saying Mr. Snyder was “running the table” on endorsements from Michigan newspapers (the Toledo Blade, which has many readers in Monroe and Lenawee counties, endorsed Mr. Schauer).

Except for one Michigan newspaper – one ball if we continue the billiards analogy – sitting in the middle of the table, seemingly untouched by the cue ball at any point.

The Record-Eagle continued with a fine American tradition of saying a plague on both your houses.

The paper rejected Mr. Snyder’s claim of not being a politician, blasting him for signing a right-to-work bill that was “shamefully” passed by the Legislature, said he has failed to get meaningful action on transportation funding, and said most of the job growth in the state has been due to the comeback of the auto industry.

While the Record-Eagle did credit Mr. Snyder for his attempts to get the state to accept elements of the Affordable Care Act and to get a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, underway, it summarized the governor saying, “He has not been the independent voice he promised to be.”

But Mr. Schauer fared no better with the newspaper, which said that he has not provided a substantive agenda for voters to make a decision. He has mainly criticized Mr. Snyder and the voters need more than that, the newspaper wrote.

The newspaper did suggest breaking the one-party lock on state government could be a good thing. Instead of saying Democrats could perhaps win the House or Senate, it said defeating Mr. Snyder could lead to that. One-party control has “led to much bad policy” and “trampling” of alternative views, the newspaper wrote.

That wasn’t good when Democrats completely ran state government, the Record-Eagle said (for those who remember those days more than 30 years ago), and it is not good now.

It’s Will Carleton’s Birthday, Do Your Cultural Duty
Posted: October, 21 2014 3:05 PM

October 21 is Will Carleton’s birthday. But you knew that. Didn’t you? For now 95 years it has been the law that on October 21 each year the schools are to teach one of Mr. Carleton’s poems to school children, so surely you can quote Michigan’s most famous poet, outside of Philip Levine maybe. (Oh, don’t tell me you don’t know Philip Levine.)

Mr. Carleton was born in Hillsdale County in 1845, attended Hillsdale College, was a newspaper man and attained fame for his poems that dealt with more practical reality than many a line of Victorian era verse.

His most famous poem, “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse,” dealt with an elderly woman forced to live off charity because her family refused to help her.

But he went on to write many volumes of poems, so your teachers surely had you learning a new one each year. He retained some popularity long after he died in 1912. Johnny Cash, a poet himself after all, admired his work.

And with the question of income inequity now again a popular political argument nationally, to do its part for this important cultural day, we present the final stanza of Mr. Carleton’s poem, “A Million Millions.”

Just think! A million millions!-

The care of all those millions!

And after all, what would befall

A life with all those millions?

Would not the lucre clog my brain,

And make me hard and cold and vain?

Might not treasure win my heart,

And make me loath with it to part?

How could I tell, by mortal sign

Betwixt my money’s friends and mine?

And then, the greed, and strife, and curse,

The world brings round a princely purse.

Perhaps my soul,

Upon the whole,

Is best without the millions!

A Tidbit On The History Of Proposal A
Posted: October, 16 2014 3:25 PM

When the history of Michigan’s, well, history-making Proposal A education funding proposal is finally written, it would be well to search out a long-forgotten document as a key to its overall formula.

So says, Doug Roberts, former Michigan treasurer, who was himself as critical as anyone to developing the 1994 proposal. Mr. Roberts spoke Wednesday at the Capital Issues Forum, a monthly gathering who early in the mornings over coffee and bagels hears presentations on different issues.

Mr. Roberts discussed some broad and basic issues about Michigan’s economic background. But he also talked about the many issues he had played a hand in, and of those many were the ongoing struggles to come up with property tax and education reform.

The final result came eventually in Proposal A. But while people generally focus on the tax and school funding elements of the proposal, Proposal A was a profound restructuring of Michigan education.

And much of the genesis for some of those changes came seven years earlier out of a commission headed by Edgar Harden and Phil Runkel. Both men were themselves legends in Michigan education fields. Mr. Harden had been president of both Northern Michigan University and Michigan State University. Mr. Runkel was still, at that time, Michigan’s superintendent of public instruction, and would be one of the best-known advocates of public education in the state.

In 1987, they headed a commission to look at major changes in state education funding and structure. Mr. Roberts was at the time a deputy state school superintendent, and worked on the commission.

When the commission’s work was completed, it was basically ignored, lost to other issues. But Mr. Roberts held onto the commission’s product.

When in 1993 the Legislature ended all property taxes for education, then-Governor John Engler, shortly after the bill was signed in August of that year, came to Mr. Roberts and asked him to come up with a proposal – which would be the essential guts of Proposal A – in 60 days so he could make his proposal to the Legislature. At first, Mr. Roberts said that would be impossible, but that was the timeframe.

So he pulled out the now dormant Harden-Runkel Commission Report and used it as a basis for many of the ideas in Proposal A.

One of the major ideas was how to tackle the expanding gap between wealthy school districts and poorer ones. The Harden-Runkel commission had proposed that increases to districts be based on equal dollar increases not equal percentage increases.

For example, each district might see an increase of $100 in a student’s foundation grant instead of a 1 percent increase. On a percentage basis an equal dollar increase would mean more to the poorer district than to a rich district. There would still be a gap, but poorer districts would begin to see the disparity close to some extent.

That provision was made a part of Proposal A’s structure, and was one of the more important points to promote greater school equity, he said.

Okay, Political Junkies, How Do You Measure Time?
Posted: October, 9 2014 3:03 PM

On a daily basis, measuring time involves looking at clocks, be it a grandfather clock, a watch or one’s cell phone.

When looking back on one’s life, one tends to measure time by events – buying a house, getting married, having children, taking a memorable vacation. How often have we tried to place a particular timeframe by comparing it to an event? “Let’s see we bought that car about the time Hermione was born, so that would have been…” Sound familiar?

Okay, so all ye politically oriented types: How often do you measure other life happenings by when elections occurred?

The question came up as this reporter and a lobbyist were discussing when a restaurant opened. We narrowed it down to the election occurring about the time the doors were thrown open, in this case the 2010 election.

Which led to speculating how often elections, and other major political events, tie themselves into your memory, just as births, deaths, marriages, broken bones, house purchases and what have you?

Does somehow the election Proposal A was approved stand out as a landmark for something that happened at home? Or does when former President Bill Clinton spoke to the Legislature come into play when calculating the last suit you bought? Do you ever start a sentence with something along the line of, “Well, it was back when Granholm won re-election, remember we…” Or, maybe, “No it wasn’t then, don’t you remember, Reagan was at the Detroit convention and we …” Has a sentence similar to “No, I’m telling, you we had to replace the tires the day they had that big right-to-work protest and then downtown was all blocked” ever pass from your lips?

Certainly election and political events have become a more reliable and regular measuring tool than, say, the Tigers winning the World Series.

Read This To Understand Legislative Politics And Judicial Interpretation
Posted: October, 3 2014 1:52 PM

Who doesn’t want to understand how and why legislators vote? No really, who doesn’t want to know why a lawmaker votes the way a lawmaker does?

And who doesn’t want to get some understanding about why judges rule the way judges rule, all this shilly-shally political claptrap about “judicial activists” and “rule of law” notwithstanding?

Comes now to your rescue the always voluble and mostly learned and generally wise Appeals Judge William Whitbeck, who in a dissent, yes a dissent, outlines as well as anyone why lawmakers vote the way the way they do and what the heck it is judges are doing to try to make sense of it all.

The specific case has to do with whether gun club members can shoot guns, of course, within 150 yards of an occupied dwelling. The majority in the case (who also wax philosophical on the issue of judicial interpretation) say yes. Mr. Whitbeck says based on the language of the law gun club members cannot fire firearms 150 yards of the house.

In reaching that conclusion, Mr. Whitbeck quite directly and intelligently outlines a number of realities that grind against the philosophical principles we try to live by.

He outlines, for example, six different reasons why a lawmaker may vote for a bill, and only one of those reasons really goes to the point of whether it is a good bill or not.

Then he dissects the judicial requirement of interpreting the “fiction” of a collective judgment of the Legislature (or, I suppose, Congress, city council, county board, school board, garden club board of directors, et al) reaching this fair amazing conclusion:

“This court and the Michigan Supreme Court state, endlessly and perhaps even liturgically, that our goal is simply to give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Again, this presumes a collective intent, when I suggest, no such collective intent may exist. But – fortunately and perhaps because we know we are not really Galahads searching for the Holy Grail of collective legislative intent – we often follow that statement with a qualifier: the language of the statute itself is the primary indication of the Legislature’s intent.”

It is worth the read if only in that this dissenting decision may be more instructive than the question raised by the case itself is significant. Although, according to the court, should you live within 150 yards of a gun club, investing in bulletproof glass could be a wise decision.

GOP Stalwart Praises Latest DGA Ad
Posted: September, 24 2014 1:27 PM

How can you tell when Republicans are worried about the re-election of Governor Rick Snyder?

One way might be to note comments left by a stalwart Republican leader on his Facebook page. The ad referred to was started on Tuesday by the Democratic Governors Association, and there is a clear tone of dismay in his compliments.

“Just watched the new DGA ad with the woman writing the letter to Governor Snyder about raising taxes on pensions. Effective, hard hitting ad. The themes are strong. I must say the Schauer campaign is running one of the most message disciplined campaigns I’ve seen since the Engler campaign on property taxes. It’s apparent their focus groups and polls show those messages move voters; they definitely emotional and personal. Hope our counterattack begins soon, because these ads will cut.”

The person writing the comments knows something about message driven campaigns, because he helped lead one. Specifically, he led the 1990 campaign for then Sen. John Engler which resulted in the defeat of then Governor Jim Blanchard. If you haven’t guessed by now, the chap reluctantly tossing bouquets to the campaign of Democrat Mark Schauer is Dan Pero, one of the best known Republican strategists around.

After this, it will be interesting to see how both sides react to his comments.

Healthy Michigan On Crest Of 400,000 Enrollees
Posted: September, 23 2014 3:27 PM

Sometime this week, certainly before Monday, September 29, the number of people who have enrolled in the Healthy Michigan expanded Medicaid program should top 400,000.

A day ago, Monday, September 22, the Department of Community Health said more than 395,000 people had signed up.

Presuming the program – which enacted the Affordable Care Act’s call to expand eligibility for Medicaid to persons earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level – does hit 400,000 it will have done so in slightly less than six full months after the program went on line on April 1.

It is not inconceivable that the program could hit 470,000 or more enrollees before the end of the year.

That figure, 470,000, was the estimated total the program would hit in in enrollees sometime in 2015.

For 2014, estimates were the program would have 320,000 enrollees, but the state beat that figure by early summer.

Justice Brian Zahra, Hockey Player, Blackjack Player, Stoner
Posted: September, 19 2014 11:23 AM

On the Supreme Court bench, Justice Brian Zahra portrays a sober, dry fellow speaking a sonorous monotone.

In the online videos he’s produced for his campaign for re-election to the court, Mr. Zahra has also revealed he is a hockey player, hockey coach, been at the tables in Las Vegas and is a serious Stoner. In fact, has played blackjack with one of the Stones.

To learn all this, however, one has to stay focused since Mr. Zahra imparts this hot info in the same flat, sonorous, monotone he employs while asking a litigant questions on, say, easements for a septic field.

The videos are part of his Ask Justice Zahra effort on YouTube and Facebook. In recent editions, he’s veered from answering questions about how the court works to getting more personal, in a monotonal way.

In one video, he’s in a locker room, wearing a coach’s jacket, saying his best moment on ice was as an assistant coach to his son’s junior hockey team which won its tournament, and then segueing that into talking about his family coming together – including his grandfather coming from Malta – to watch him being sworn in as a judge in 1995.

He ends that video a little awkwardly, putting on a helmet to handle a coaching session.

His latest video has a touch of the absurd all about it. Here is Mr. Zahra, in a powder blue sport shirt, sitting in a chair in what we presume is his home, with a dog (we presume his, though he never tells us the pooch’s name) very calmly, very dryly, very flatly though with a touch of growing enthusiasm, responding to a question about which band is his favorite.

It’s the Rolling Stones, he says. Now he likes modern pop and rhythm and blues, and a lot of blues bands, but classic rock is his favorite genre and the Stones is his band. He saw them first as a teenager at Cobo Hall, and then as he grew older would see them in venues “outside the city of Detroit.”

One his favorite stories, he said, is in the 1990s going to Las Vegas with his then fiancée, now wife, Sue, to see the Stones at the MGM Grand.

Then they were playing blackjack quite late, when, Mr. Zahra calmly informs us, “We were quite surprised” when Stones guitar master Ron Wood showed up at the table and played blackjack with them.

“That was very entertaining, a lot of fun and a great memory,” Mr. Zahra says as the sound of the Stones comes up.

You know, if Mr. Zahra had done Mick Jagger’s rooster walk in his robes, this video would have killed. Just sayin’.

A Two-Person Poll And Why Were There Binders Full Of Women?
Posted: September, 18 2014 12:16 PM

From the stage where a then unknown Irish band named U2 once played, a panel of political campaign experts spoke to journalists and political types about campaigning and some of the interesting things that can occur, like getting stopped by cops and reminding presidential candidates about binders and women.

Ken Brock for the Democrats along with Katie Packer Gage and Dan Pero for the Republicans spoke at a function called Tales from the Trail, sponsored by the Michigan Press Association, MLive and the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, held at Harpers in East Lansing, and shared the common experiences of total saturation in a campaign and complete belief in a candidate and a candidate’s message.

There was also some moaning, mostly about reporters (what do politicians know anyway?), but possibly the most interesting stories had to do with two moments in two separate campaigns,

First, binders full of women. Remember that? No, it has nothing to do with some lothario’s giant black book. It had to do with the awkward way in which, during one of the 2012 presidential debates, former Massachusetts Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney described the process used to identify women to serve in his cabinet. Here is video of the moment:

The comment became one of the hallmarks of the campaign, used by critics to argue that Mr. Romney was out of touch and even belittling.

Ms. Gage was deputy campaign manager to the Romney presidential campaign, and she said Mr. Romney had a habit of repeating information that was recently told him. That created some headaches for campaign staff both to be sure Mr. Romney was fully briefed and that they didn’t create a problem for him.

As they were doing debate preparation for his appearance with President Barack Obama, the issue of pay equity was discussed. One staff member reminded Mr. Romney that he had been presented with binders listing women who met the qualifications for his cabinet, Ms. Gage said.

Well, the rest, as often is said, is history.

The second moment was what Mr. Pero called the “two-person poll.”

It happened in the 1990 gubernatorial campaign when then-Sen. John Engler upset former Governor James Blanchard. Mr. Pero was Mr. Engler’s campaign manager and the campaign decided not to do internal polling.

The two were headed for a speaking engagement in Macomb County and Mr. Engler was driving. He liked driving himself during the campaign, Mr. Pero said. Mr. Pero did not add, though he didn’t need to, that Mr. Engler also liked to drive fast.

In the rearview mirror appeared two motorcycle cops.

Great, Mr. Pero said, now they were going to be late for their event. Mr. Engler pulled the car over, and the two cops approached, one on either side.

Mr. Engler lowered the window and the cop on the driver’s side said, “Excuse me, are you Sen. Engler?”

“Yes,” Mr. Engler said.

“We thought so,” the cop said. “We just wanted to tell you that we’re voting for you.”

Mr. Pero said based on that “two-person poll” Mr. Engler and he knew they would win.

The Game’s Afoot: Holmes Goes To The U.S. Supreme Court
Posted: September, 16 2014 2:16 PM

Since he first told John Watson that he had been in Afghanistan, Sherlock Holmes has been arguably the most recognized figure in literature, appearing in films, television, radio, and in new characterizations that have made him everything from a time traveler to an alien. Now, Michigan’s former solicitor general is hoping Holmes will get his day before the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Bursch, now with Warner, Norcross and Judd in Grand Rapids, was no stranger to the country’s highest court, arguing several cases on behalf of the state. But it is unlikely that before this his client has been a fictional character.

Actually, Mr. Bursch’s client is the family of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and he and his colleagues have filed a motion for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal.

Earlier this year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all of the Sherlock Holmes stories were now in the public domain. That includes the last 10 stories which were published from 1922 to 1927. U.S. copyright law extends copyright for 95 years, and that has been challenged, in some respects, by authors and film studios that have created new publications that refer to the originals in an attempt to extend the copyright.

The decision gained more attention in the United Kingdom where Holmes and Watson solved cases from their digs at 221B Baker Street in London (real street, the address wasn’t, it’s now a popular tourist attraction).

The issue came up because author Leslie Klinger was editing a new edition of Holmes stories and the Doyle family wanted assurances he would pay it royalties. The family argued the characters became rounder in the last stories. Conservative judicial superstar Judge Richard Posner wrote the decision, asking essentially what flat or round characters have to do with copyright law.

In a release, Mr. Bursch argued that the Mr. Klinger should file a document assuring that his work does not infringe on the intellectual property owned by the Doyle family. That is fair and reasonable, he said, and in effect is, ahem, elementary.

Historical Note: Michigan’s First Female U. S. Representative
Posted: September, 15 2014 3:26 PM

Monday marks the 127th birth of Ruth Thompson, Michigan’s first woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ms. Thompson was active in state, local and national politics. Arguably the most noted graduate of the Muskegon Business College, she became a lawyer following graduation in 1905.

She became a probate judge in 1925 where she gained attention for her efforts in promoting juvenile justice. After leaving the court in 1937, she was elected as a Republican to one term in Legislature.

During the 1940s, Ms. Thompson was in Washington, D.C., working with the Social Security Board, the U.S. Department of Labor and also serving in the U.S. Adjutant General’s office.

Back home in the Muskegon area she won election the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1950 election. She was the first woman in Congress from Michigan, though she would be joined later that decade by Democrat Martha Griffiths, who would gain fame for getting women recognized in the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

Ms. Thompson’s congressional career was probably most noted for a 1954 bill she backed to ban mailing phonograph records that were considered “obscene, lewd, lascivious or filthy.” The bill was considered aimed at the new art form of rock and roll, though anyone knowing anything about the typical subject matter of opera might have been able to make the same point on anything Verdi or Puccini wrote.

In 1956, she lost her primary re-election bid to a person who would cast a longer shadow over Michigan politics, Robert Griffin (no, not the quarterback), who later went on to become the U.S. Senate minority whip and then served on the Supreme Court.

After her defeat, Ms. Thompson returned to Michigan. She died in 1970.

How Many Fundraisers Has Gov. Snyder Held Compared To 2010?
Posted: September, 8 2014 3:01 PM

It amounts to something more of passing interest than probably anything of great substance, but how many fundraisers has Governor Rick Snyder held or scheduled so far this election compared to the 2010 election?

The answer is three times as many this year compared to his relative walk to election victory in 2010.

In 2009 and 2010, Mr. Snyder held a total of five fundraisers, according to Gongwer News Service’s database, and two of those were in 2009 shortly after he announced he was running for the office. It is always possible, of course, that he held additional fundraisers without announcing them on a general basis.

Thus far this year, Mr. Snyder has held or scheduled 16 fundraisers, with occasionally more than one in a single day.

Again, a matter probably more of passing interest than significance. After all, in 2010, Mr. Snyder largely bankrolled his own campaign, which was critical especially in the primary when he faced four other candidates for the Republican primary win.

In this run for re-election, Mr. Snyder is turning to the public to raise the money needed for his bid, hence the need for more fundraisers.

The fundraisers scheduled are up to Monday, September 15. Expect a number more after that.

So far, according to the Gongwer database, Mr. Snyder’s Democratic challenger Mark Schauer has held four fundraisers.

There is no indication if Libertarian Mary Buzuma, Green Party candidate Paul Homeniuk and U.S. Taxpayer Party candidate Mark McFarlin, the other gubernatorial candidates, have scheduled any fundraisers.

The Name Is LaBrant, But Call Him PAC Man
Posted: September, 3 2014 12:25 PM

Lansing’s lobbyists’ literary labors have produced another book, this time a personal political history of the campaign finance, redistricting, ballot question, recall and judicial election battles in Michigan from 1977 to 2014.

Don’t take my word for it, the “personal political history of the…” and so forth is the subtitle of PAC MAN, a memoir being published by Bob LaBrant.

Mr. LaBrant, for many years vice president and chief counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and since “retiring” a consultant at the Sterling Corporation (he’s also one of the biggest college wrestling fans you will ever see), was a leading player in virtually every political finance case or challenge in Michigan over the last generation, in addition to playing a huge role in judicial elections (especially for the Supreme Court) and in many other political questions that often miss the spotlight but can stand as the basis for many influential issues to come.

Mr. LaBrant’s book is not yet in bookstores or available via the interwebs, but should be available later this month.

And it marks the second tome recently produced by a well-known name in the Lansing lobbying and consulting corps.

Earlier this summer, Dennis Cawthorne, the former House minority leader and co-founder of the Kelley Cawthorne lobbying firm, published his history of Mackinac Island.

What’s next to flow from the pens of the politically perspicacious? We await eagerly.

Want Government Run Like A Business? There Is Something To Remember
Posted: August, 27 2014 4:20 PM

Mainly that government is not a business. Oh, it obviously uses many techniques and devices like a business does, such as accounting, but it is not a business, it has a different function and purpose, and it operates under different rules.

Which would be wise for anyone in the, ahem, business of government to recall. And which may in some measure help explain some of the problems that have arisen in the administration of Governor Rick Snyder.

In recent weeks, Mr. Snyder has been battered by two scandals involving top officials. First, there was the matter of Scott Woosley, former head of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, who racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Then there was Rich Baird, one of Mr. Snyder’s closest advisors, who was getting primary homeowner tax breaks on a house here and another in the Chicago suburbs. Mr. Woosley has resigned his post, and Mr. Baird has paid the taxes he owes here.

One often hears the comment that government should be run like a business (ignoring the fact that a business can pretty much change prices, usually increasing them, at will or whenever it feels it must because of cost factors) and there is much to envy in the relative efficiency businesses can demonstrate in making marketing and product decisions, hiring and generally firing staff, and taking steps to boost profitability.

Businesses also tend to reward and sometimes look the other way when top performing executives run up some expenses or get unusual perks. If the executive delivers on business, then the companies tend to reward them and the executives tend to expect those perks in return.

Once as a business scribe I was on the sidelines of reporting on stories involving a well-known lawyer who was in the middle of a bankruptcy case who fiercely argued that he had to have a chauffeured limo because he could generate business on the cell phone if he was not driving.

Government does things more slowly, there are more rules and regulations to follow largely because all parties and all sides want to be sure that taxpayer dollars are protected, theoretically anyway, that all points of view are considered and that the decisions are in the best interest of the greater public.

When a business executive takes a government post it is admittedly hard for them, often, to remember that things are done differently on the public side than on the private side. The execs see they are to provide results for the public, and no one would dispute that, but they have to be reminded that the results have to come while living in the flea-bag hotel instead of the presidential suite. It doesn’t matter really matter how hard one works and what results one gets, it’s pretty clear the public wants top government service on the cheap as much as possible. When they don’t keep that in mind, well, then the public pays for lobster thermidor rather than Big Macs. And the public will only pay for Big Macs, and even then grudgingly.

Which is understandable. Nobody has to buy a business’s services or product, such a purchase is voluntary. The public accepts to some large degree the perks an exec in private life gets because they voluntarily have paid for it in return for something directly benefitting them. Taxes are compulsory, by contrast, one has to pay them and the benefits to the taxpayer are more indirect. So, the public is very unforgiving of any perks paid for with their tax dollars.

So, here is the conundrum all public executives need to remember: people want government run like a business, but it is not a business, and anything nice and deluxe and expensive that a business would approve the government can’t.

‘Ask Justice Zahra,’ A Very Low-Key Campaign Strategy
Posted: August, 21 2014 1:02 PM

A few days before the Michigan Republicans are expected to re-nominate him for what is a non-partisan ballot position for the Supreme Court, Justice Brian Zahra has taken to the airwaves.

Actually, he’s taken to YouTube, but “taken to the airwaves” sounds more dramatic as he has launched a series of weekly videos called “Ask Justice Zahra.”

Every Wednesday until probably the election, Mr. Zahra and his campaign will post the videos, answering questions emailed to him.

In a white shirt and tie, sitting at what we presume is his desk, Mr. Zahra handled the first question which came from “Michelle” in Bad Axe, and it had to do with the differences between the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice and the chief justice in Michigan. Besides being chief justice for life at the federal level, Mr. Zahra said after several years of administering Michigan courts, most chief justices are ready to step down.

These are campaign pieces, in that there is a logo of “Zahra for Supreme Court” in the upper right corner and closes on a sign saying Zahra for Supreme Court. But in the first video, at least, Mr. Zahra does not make any pitch to the voters.

(There is not a similar weekly video at this point for Justice David Viviano, although the two of them have appeared together on a video.)

And at this moment, the video has not exactly gone viral. As of this writing, it’s had 120 views. Ah, but the campaign still has several months to go.

Should you have any thoughts on production values, plot structure, dialogue, developing dramatic tension and the like that you may have, you can probably email them to #AskJusticeZahra.

The Ice Bucket Challenge And The Lieutenant Governor Campaign
Posted: August, 19 2014 12:59 PM

Anyone who has not heard of the ice bucket challenge clearly has spent their lives in more productive pursuits than watching social media or television. However since most of us are not so driven, we do know what it is all about, and we note Lt. Governor Brian Calley and his rival have brought politics into the challenge in a good natured way.

As background, just two weeks ago the word about the challenge – known online as #icebucketchallenge – was beginning to catch interest and has since gone viral, with thousands of celebrities along with ordinary joe and janes dumping buckets of ice water over their head.

The challenge is a way of raising money and awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the progressively wasting and ultimately fatal disease better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And in that the challenge has succeeded spectacularly, raising more than $22 million for the ALS foundation (a year ago a fundraising drive generated just more than $1 million), as well as sending marketing experts off into case study review-land to figure out why it worked so well.

Pete Frates of Massachusetts, who at 29 has struggled with the disease since 2012 and is a former University of Massachusetts baseball player, is credited for helping making the challenge a nationally known phenomenon.

The deal is, you are challenged, you then must either dump a bucket of ice water over your head or donate money (though it appears many people, if not most, do both) then challenge three other people to do the same.

Mr. Calley was challenged to perform the challenge by Republican National Committeewoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).

So on Monday evening, a video appeared on Mr. Calley’s Facebook page, showing him sitting barefoot and in casual togs on a deck, while two youngsters dump ice water on him.

Mr. Calley shows considerable aplomb in the act, and then as his challenge calls on Wes Nakagiri, the tea party favorite challenging him for the lieutenant governor’s nomination, to take the challenge.

And Mr. Nakagiri responded. Earlier Tuesday, he posted a video on his Facebook page showing him sitting on his front porch. His wife was standing behind him with two tea kettles, saying they were tea party types, so she dumped the two kettles of iced tea on Mr. Nakagiri who gritted his teeth manfully.

“Oh no, it got on my clothes,” she says.

“Are we done?” Mr. Nakagiri says.

Then a voice comes up, “How do you turn this off?”

One can only imagine how many more politicians will subject themselves to the ice bucket challenge. Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer have gotten in on the act as well.


Two Odd Things About The Flood: Location And Season
Posted: August, 13 2014 3:27 PM

As the rest of the nation looked in astonishment at the photos of the flooding in the Detroit area, two interesting and anomalous points have come up: where the flood hit and what time of year it was.

Michigan is no stranger to major floods, but not in Detroit and not in summer.

Look up any list of great floods in U.S. history and Michigan shows up often, with one of the earliest entries being a flood that devastated much of Grand Rapids in 1838.

In the early 20th centuries floods wiped out a number of dams in Lansing, put two square miles of Kalamazoo under water, completely inundated Albion.

Just a year ago, in 2013, Grand Rapids suffered one of its worst floods with downtown high-rise buildings inundated. And in 2012 Flint had to deal with severe localized flooding.

But look at the dates of those floods and they all occurred in late winter to mid-spring. Many of the worst floods occurred after major snowfalls followed by sudden warming trends accompanied by massive rains.

Summertime floods generally don’t occur. Michigan is often in a bit of a drought this time of year, so heavy rains usually run off with little effect. This year, the state has seen much more rain – thus preventing the typical summer dry brown lawns – but it is hard to tell at this point what impact that may have had on making the flooding worse. After all, a heavy rain of one or two inches might be handled, but six inches of rains in just a few hours would have dramatic effects even if the ground was bone dry and the rivers at low ebb.

Second, note where the history of the floods has occurred: Generally in the Lower Peninsula from the mid-section west. Lansing, Jackson, Kalamazoo and particularly Grand Rapids have been the cities hit the hardest and most frequently as the Grand, Red Cedar, and Kalamazoo rivers have been most likely to crest handling the flow towards Lake Michigan. In 1947, a massive flood hit most of lower Michigan, hitting the Clinton, St. Clair and Rouge rivers as well as the rivers to the west.

So Metro Detroit being the focal point of a major flood, let alone a rain storm of biblical proportions, is extremely unusual.

And for the hundreds of thousands of people dramatically affected by the flood, one can well sympathize with their hopes it is an event they never see again.

Who Beat Terri Land Last Tuesday?
Posted: August, 11 2014 2:54 PM

Terri Land, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, finished second in an election in last Tuesday’s primary.

Not only was she the uncontested candidate for the U.S. Senate on the Republican ballot, she was also a candidate for precinct delegate in her precinct in Byron Township.

And in that she finished behind Byron Township Clerk Joel Hondorp. Mr. Hondorp netted 443 votes, Ms. Land came in with 417.

Dan Hibma, Ms. Land’s husband, was also on the precinct delegate ballot and netted 402 votes. The top four vote getters were all elected as delegates.

In terms of that little thing called her run for the U.S. Senate, Ms. Land got 558 votes. Clearly, more people paid attention to that than they did the precinct delegate race.

Pete Konetchy On Why He Should Have Won The 4Th Congressional Race
Posted: August, 8 2014 12:56 PM

Pete Konetchy came in a distant third in the Republican primary race in the 4th U.S. House race, but he said he should have won.

With little money to help make his case, the tea party activist was generally lost in the battle that featured the winner, Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), and Paul Mitchell.

But in a long post on Facebook, Mr. Konetchy outlined a series of steps he believed could have meant his victory.

In sum, he needed support from “respected leaders in Washington,” organizations “I supported worked against me,” people were hesitant to donate money, and “grass roots support took form in words rather than action.”

In his post, Mr. Konetchy said he did not seek power or fame in his run, but to fight the “onslaught of federal control” and fight for personal liberty, “which is why those in authority fear and fight my message.”

He also said he holds no grudges in his lost, though reading the entire post, he does sound a little begrudging, especially towards the darling of the libertarian set, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township)

Mr. Konetchy said he spoke with Mr. Amash in 2012 about running, and while Mr. Amash backed him, he said he could not do so publicly while U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) was a candidate. But when Mr. Camp announced he was retiring, he “reneged” on that promise of support, Mr. Konetchy said, and treated him like a leper.

He also said after supporting groups like the National Rifle Association and Right to Life of Michigan, they endorsed other candidates, particularly Mr. Moolenaar. He said he understood that Mr. Moolenaar supported the 2nd Amendment, even though Mr. Moolenaar “also supports destructive federal control over every aspect of our lives.”

“How can constitutionalists ever stand a chance of winning if groups with a common focus work against them? They can’t,” he said, and proposed instead groups avoid endorsing one candidate and simply list who supports their principles and who does not.

In terms of money, Mr. Konetchy said he could have won with $100,000. He doesn’t say people were too cheap, but clearly he feels they could have opened their wallets more.

And he said people were quick to offer verbal support, but not to actually do any work. Again, he doesn’t actually say they were either lazy or disinterested, but there’s that implication.

Mr. Konetchy does not say his message was wrong, because he doesn’t believe it was, but he never discusses fine-tuning the message to get a more receptive audience.

A person posting comments to his essay suggested perhaps he needed to run for local offices, help build his name identification, build up contacts and individual support, the kind of stuff that, for example, Mr. Moolenaar did.

What To Make Of Rep. Amash’s Victory Speech?
Posted: August, 6 2014 3:46 PM

My father often quoted Adlai Stevenson, and in particular he quoted a comment that has always applied to politics, and has these days a relevance to politics that is painfully acute.

The former Illinois governor once said: “I’m not an old, experienced hand at politics. But I am now seasoned enough to have learned that the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving you are unworthy of winning.”

That comment came to mind after the results were announced in the 3rd U.S. House race, where U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) decisively beat his opponent Brian Ellis.

The comment came to mind after Mr. Amash’s victory speech. And it came to mind not just because of what Mr. Amash said, but of how the crowd reacted.

It was a brutal campaign. And Mr. Amash’s opponents spared him no unflattering adjectives during the race calling him everything from “whacky” to Al Qaida’s best friend in Congress.

Mr. Amash is a controversial figure, he is unpopular with many people – which brings to mind another quote from Mr. Stevenson, that the “Definition of a free society is a society where is it safe to be unpopular” – and Mr. Amash knows this, and revels in it.

Still, the campaign against him descended to what Mr. Stevenson would say was “unworthy.”

Mr. Amash was angry. He had a right to be angry.

Technically, yes, he had a right in his remarks to be gratuitous, vindictive, immature and unworthy, which he was. But he should not have been.

Nor should the crowd, which howled and roared in approval at his comments, been so adoring. Being a supporter does not mean you support everything, including the wrong things, your candidate does.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Amash’s comments, he began thanking his supporters, spoke movingly of them of the difficulty the race had shown. He spoke of PACs and lobbyists and the money that is in politics and how he has gone to Washington to change that environment.

Then he spoke of former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who had endorsed Mr. Ellis. “You’re a disgrace,” he said. “I’m glad we could hand you one more loss before you faded into total obscurity and irrelevance.”

Then to Mr. Ellis he said the campaign was a “disgusting, despicable, smear” campaign. He was astonished that Mr. Ellis “had the audacity to try to call me” (well, gosh, grownups usually tell their children when they lose to congratulate the winners. Grownups should do that too. Mr. Ellis did try that at least).

Mr. Amash said he got into politics “to stop people like you.” He went on to talk about stopping the “crooks and the cronies” and those “so blind by their arrogance” they thought their campaign would be successful.

These are not the comments of a national leader, who to libertarians Mr. Amash is. These are not the comments of a man whose integrity is unquestioned, as Mr. Amash’s is not. These are not the remarks of a man who is earnest, genuine and steadfast in his beliefs, as Mr. Amash assuredly is.

No, sorry, this the behavior and words of a child who got everything he wanted for Christmas and then howls because he didn’t get his brother’s toys too.

But as unworthy as Mr. Amash was, that his supporters approved and urged him on, is particularly troubling. If he was wronged, Mr. Amash still should not have committed wrongs in return. That he did, he should have been greeted with silence not approval. The crowd’s fawning acclaim teaches by example, and politics has gotten uglier yet. And as politics gets uglier, we get coarser and perhaps less willing to be one nation, indivisible.

Well, Mr. Amash is still young. He, one hopes, recognizes that while politics goes on forever, life doesn’t. He should recall one more comment by Mr. Stevenson, who, when asked what his beliefs were, said that, “For my part, I believe in the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of ignorance.”

A Moment To Remember What Motivates Some In Politics
Posted: August, 5 2014 5:49 PM

Politics, let’s face it, seems far too artificial, rehearsed, group tested, insincere, too focused on psycho-babble, faux-anger or genuine anger at things politics can do little about, artificial…wait, I think I already said that.

But there is sincerity, there are people who genuinely seek office and service because they see a need for things to be done and want to be among those doing them. There are those that see politics as a path towards a higher mission.

And there are genuine moments, instances that are unscripted, surprising and meaningful. Yes, even in politics, there are moments that help put things in perspective.

Just such a moment happened Monday night.

Bill Rustem has retired from his position as director of strategy for Governor Rick Snyder after for former Governor William Milliken and then 28 years at Public Sector Consultants. Some might say he’s retired again. But he said this time is for good.

Monday, a reception for Mr. Rustem was held at the executive residence. It was a bipartisan affair, Democrats and Republicans, men and women, many who had worked together, sometimes butt heads together, drank together and generally got things done together over the decades. In today’s climate, they might be dismissed as dispassionate and directionless, lacking in appropriate rage at whatever one is supposed to be furious about, RINOs, or whatever insulting acronym Democrats may have for them. Except they really did get things done and wouldn’t give a damn what someone called them.

It was raining, and people huddled under tents while Mr. Snyder and a host of others cracked jokes about Mr. Rustem and presented him with gifts and tokens of esteem.

Mr. Rustem told a few jokes of his own, the best being that he wanted his lest words on earth to be a variant of a Yooper ‘s last words: “Here, take my beer and watch this.”

But he also talked about what inspired him, what drove him, what gave him meaning.

To that, he quoted Teddy Roosevelt. It’s a famous quote. Four decades ago this week, former President Richard Nixon quoted it as he left office. It’s been used in commercials and inspirational videos, but even so it does not seem trite.

The credit is to he in the arena, and not the critic, Mr. Rustem quoted, who knows the triumph of achievement or at least failed while trying, “So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

As he quoted that, scattered in the crowd of perhaps as many five other people, unbidden, simply on their own, nodded and all of them in a whisper recited the line.

That was the moment, standing amid a communal recitation of a kind of scripture, words that had meaning to these people, had meaning still and had clearly helped give them purpose. And probably still gives them purpose despite the mud-wrestling pit politics as too often become.

Would there were more such moments, but be glad they still happen.

Take A Moment From Politics For A Little Michigan Military History
Posted: August, 4 2014 3:30 PM

Sure you’ve been besieged with robocalls, emails, mailers, candidates pounding on your door in advance of Tuesday’s primary, but take a break from all that because 200 years ago on August 4 a fairly significant moment in Michigan’s military history occurred.

On this day in 1814, the U.S. invaded Mackinac Island.

Recall that at the beginning of the War of 1812 the British captured the island because the American defenders didn’t even know there was a war underway and were somewhat unprepared.

The Brits built a second fort called Fort George above Fort Mackinac to better watch the straits from any U.S. naval vessels (remember, Oliver Hazard Perry retook Detroit for the U.S. after beating the British at the Battle of Lake Erie).

The U.S. plan was to invade the Island, put the fort under siege and starve out the British. They landed in the northwest bay of the Island, out of sight of the straits.

Before being able to establish the siege, U.S. and British forces fought a pitched battle (at least for the size of the forces) at Michael Dousman’s farm, which was west of the road to British Landing.

And the U.S. lost. Total casualties were 65 men and officers – 15 of them killed – and the U.S. was forced to retreat from the island. Among those killed was Major Andrew Hunter Holmes, the U.S. second in command, who had been a friend of Thomas Jefferson.

We didn’t get Mackinac Island back until the war ended and the Treaty of Ghent required to Brits to turn over the Island and the surrounding mainland, which, of course, was the rest of Michigan. When the U.S. came back, Fort George was renamed Fort Holmes.

Okay, now you can go back to unrelenting political noise.

Ain’t He Just The Cutest Thing? Wait A Sec, Is That The Governor?
Posted: July, 31 2014 3:27 PM

Whoever came up with the idea of Throwback Thursday was likely some Satanic genius who could dupe folks into thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to show off all our embarrassing pictures of whatever we looked like and wore in high school, or even younger more awkwardly weird ages?” because people have bought into it with passion and vigor.

Now, the re-election campaign of Governor Rick Snyder has gotten into the spirit of the idea, posting a picture on its Twitter feed of one Richard Dale Snyder holding up a line of fish.

Only it isn’t the governor we know today or the bearded fella who was seen around Ann Arbor in the 1990s. Nope, this is a brown-haired laddie with a massive grin and wearing a life vest.

Campaign officials did not return a call for an idea of how old Mr. Snyder was in the picture, but judging by his wardrobe and apparent age he looks about 6 or 7 years old.

And the campaign sells the picture saying, “The Governor has always been a fan of the outdoors.”

Schauer Presidential Primary Vote And The History Of Hijinks
Posted: July, 25 2014 4:08 PM

The other day Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer acknowledged that he voted in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, and the hooting has been ongoing since.

The Republicans have gotten the best line since Mr. Schauer made the acknowledgement with a Facebook post saying: “Vote Republican. Mark Schauer did.”

Certainly, it may look strange and even embarrassing for the Democratic candidate for the state’s top office to admit he voted Republican in February 2012. But it is just one more example of how Michigan’s presidential primary has so often been as much a sideshow act and as a serious political exercise.

In talking to reporters, Mr. Schauer acknowledged he probably did vote in the 2012 presidential primary that turned into a dogfight between Michigan native and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Who he voted for he would not say, saying like all voters he could keep his vote private. He also said he probably voted because he disliked missing elections.

Now, as to how anyone could know he voted in the primary, the fact that someone votes in an election is a public record (not how they voted, of course). How else would candidates be able to charge their opponent had missed vote in 28 of the last 29 elections? There really was only one election on February 28, 2012, so no mystery there regarding Mr. Schauer.

And because President Barack Obama was running unchallenged for re-nomination, Michigan Democrats did not hold a primary that day. So unless there was a local issue up for grabs in Calhoun County that day, Mr. Schauer voted in the GOP presidential primary.

Now why?

Let’s go back to May 1972. Michigan’s first presidential primary. A very big deal in this state as people had been calling for such a primary for years.

Michigan is unlike most states in one key political aspect: when one registers to vote one does not indicate a party. And the state primaries have always been open so one can choose to vote in whichever party’s primary they choose.

In the Democratic primary that year, the big race was between then Sen. George McGovern, Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace (then-President Richard Nixon was essentially unopposed on the Republican side and looking almost unbeatable, the primary was about a month before the Watergate break-in). The day before the primary, Mr. Wallace was shot and left paralyzed while he was campaigning in Maryland.

And Mr. Wallace then won the Michigan primary, easily.

Democrats were stunned and immediately blamed Republicans for crossing over. Yeah, Republicans probably did turn out for Mr. Wallace, but Democrats in 1972 were far more fractured and not as progressive as they would like to have believed.

At any rate, from that day on Democrats have said any primary had to be a closed primary. Republicans have generally resisted that.

But that has led to a number of shenanigans where members of one party have played games with the other. In 1980, former Governor William Milliken endorsed George H. W. Bush who was in a tough fight with former California Governor Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination. The Republican Party was seriously splitting between moderates and conservatives that year.

Mr. Bush won the primary, probably because Democrats showed up to deny Mr. Reagan a critical win.

Even when there is no party crossing, the primary can look weird. In 2008, then U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton was the only major Democrat on the January primary ballot – because Democratic presidential candidates were trying not to be punished for running in a state before Iowa or New Hampshire, but when Ms. Clinton put her name down she figured she was a shoo-in for the nomination anyway – and supporters of then Sen. Barack Obama were delighted that “undecided” had such a strong second place showing.

And in 2012 Mr. Santorum was suddenly riding high on tea party enthusiasm. Democrats were hopeful he might be the candidate because they figured President Barack Obama would win in a walk against him and there was talk between Democrats of messing up the homestate favorite Mr. Romney by bringing in votes for Mr. Santorum.

So, Mr. Schauer voted in the 2012 GOP presidential primary. Okay. What is the next shocking revelation we should look forward to?

Tragedy Hits Candidates In Macomb County
Posted: July, 22 2014 3:46 PM

In Macomb County, for the second time in two months, a Republican candidate for county commission has died.

Joe Peters Jr., a Warren resident running for the commission, was discovered dead on Saturday on the floor of a Dairy Boy store he owned.

No foul play is suspected, but it will be as much as six weeks before autopsy results are released for the candidate who friends said was in “perfect health.”

Some six weeks earlier, another GOP candidate for the commission, Mark Czerwinski, died.

In each of the districts the two men were running in, the 5th District for Mr. Peters, and the 10th District for Mr. Czerwinski, each have another Republican running for the nomination. So the county party does not have to name replacement candidates.

However, anyone who voted for Mr. Peters via an absentee ballot will see the vote for that office voided unless they request a new ballot and have the original one spoiled.

Mr. Peters was fairly active in local politics, and ran for the county commission in 2012, but then as a Democrat. He also ran twice for Warren City Council.

Governor Snyder Chooses Cabin Fever
Posted: July, 17 2014 1:31 PM

Cabin Fever is a term apparently first recorded in 1918 to describe the restlessness one experiences when cooped up in an enclosed space too long. It is also the title of dumb movie and dumber sequel, a country music album by Corb Lund and the name of various resorts and some companies that manufacture cabins.

It is a common enough experience for Michiganders, especially in hard winters when one feels constrained from venturing into frigid conditions.

And it is the name of an ice cream flavor by Hudsonville Ice Cream, a flavor that Governor Rick Snyder chose over two others, Lake Superior Thaw and Winter Campfire.

Look, Florida has oranges, California has almonds, Wisconsin has cheese, Michigan has ice cream. And Hudsonville produces some of the best widely-available commercial frozen goodies (ice cream gourmands will travel far and wide for the local delicacies produced by Ray’s in Royal Oak, House of Flavors in Ludington and the MSU Dairy Store).

Mr. Snyder was asked to help pick a winner among winter flavors for Hudsonville – anybody else can by voting at the company’s website – and was filmed doing so in his office. Yes, he may have been choosing a winter flavor, but he was doing so in summer. He did so Wednesday, in fact, which was a fairly cool day for summer.

Cabin Fever, according to the company, is cherries with granola clusters coated with blueberries. Winter Campfire is an ice cream s’more with graham cracker bits, marshmallow and chocolate chips. And Lake Superior Thaw is hot chocolate ice cream with cool mint candy.

Compared to tangling with the Legislature, Mr. Snyder clearly enjoyed the official task. On the video he is shown going into his office saying, “It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.”

He compliments the flavors, and in picking Cabin Fever says the taste of the cherries at this time is great.

And the video concludes with him taking a few more bites, to ensure an “adequate test,” he said.

Warren Harding Wrote A Letter To Gongwer, And It Was Not Scandalous
Posted: July, 15 2014 12:34 PM

Warren Harding is back in the news, and who would have thought it? Our 29th president is generally considered the one of the worst because of the outrageous scandals that flared during his term.

Mr. Harding has come back to the limelight not for the Teapot Dome Scandal but for his naughty letters.

Mr. Harding was a bit of a rake. A bit? It’s unclear how many affairs he actually had. Probably the most famous – if it indeed occurred, she was by all accounts infatuated with him growing up and may have fantasized some incidents – was with Nan Britton, who wrote a book following his death, claiming Mr. Harding had fathered her daughter.

But he did have a long-term affair with a neighbor in Marion, Ohio – Carrie Fulton Phillips – and that’s what has brought him back to the public eye. The letters he wrote her, some quite graphic, some that are poems, show that if nothing else he had writing talent.

That brought to mind a letter Mr. Harding wrote to the founder of Gongwer News Service, Charles Gongwer. Our esteemed founder started the company in 1906 in Columbus, Ohio, and became friends with Mr. Harding who served in the Ohio Senate. We initially featured the letter in an article during the company’s centennial.

In 1910, Mr. Harding was the GOP candidate for governor and lost to the Democratic incumbent. A few days after the defeat, he took out a pen, sat at his desk and wrote the following to Mr. Gongwer, a very interesting and even touching expression of his feelings during the campaign and immediately after:

My Dear Gongwer,

Yours at hand. I wanted to write you yesterday, but possessed no address. The framed ‘deference and devotion’ came Thursday morning and I wanted to make instant acknowledgement. Let me tell you, Charley, I had rather had that framed souvenir and your letter than a certificate of election as governor of Ohio, especially if I had to be a hypocrite to secure the latter. I believe the highest victory in this world is to measure well in the estimate of those of intimate association.

I never deceived you except in one thing, and I’ll swear that now. All through the campaign, away deep in my heart, I felt the danger of defeat. It was little less than conviction, but I felt myself duty bound to repress it, and drive cheerfully on. In spite of this, I was not prepared for the sweeping defeat. The enthusiastic meetings fooled me. We didn’t know the feelings of those who stayed away. Neither did the county managers apparently. But I am harboring no great grief, nor painful resentment. I had my whirl, enjoyed the time and the experience of our ‘show,’ and I am now content. I am glad I came to know you, and Bill, and Ralph, too. The bunch will dwell in grateful memory with me, and wherever there is opportunity, no matter when, I’ll be happy to attest to my ‘deference and devotion.’ If you didn’t believe me, then there is no longer any sincerity among men.

Very Truly Yours

W. Harding

Well, he may have been a scandal, but clearly he was also a gracious guy, at least in some respects.

What Really Is The Oldest Equipment Still Having Personal Property Taxes Paid?
Posted: July, 9 2014 2:47 PM

Supporters of Proposal 2014-1, the personal property tax provision on the August 5 ballot, are trying to find the oldest piece of industrial equipment in the state that a company is still paying personal property taxes on. The results thus far in this contest are interesting, but not completely exciting.

The campaign contest was announced late last month as supporters of the proposal, Michigan Citizens for Strong and Safe Communities, are trying to point out some of the anomalies of the personal property tax and why it would make the state more competitive to slash the tax (the proposal would assure local communities reliant on the personal property tax would get most of that revenue by shifting revenues raised by the use tax to local governments).

So far the contest winners have included a 1989 polishing machine from Estate Buyers Liquidators that the firm is still paying personal property tax on, and a pretty sweet-looking Arriflex 168 movie camera bought in 1952 by Imagestream Creative Communications in Portage.

Interesting, yet one suspects there is some really old hunk of iron out there that a company has stashed on the premises.

Decades before he became an electron-stained wretch, this reporter was a general dogsbody grunt for a Warren firm called Automotive Molding which made, not surprisingly, moldings for autos. And scattered around the small complex of the firm (no longer with us, alas) were presses and turners and buffers for moldings going back to the Model T. Allegedly they were there so the company could create new moldings for historic vehicles if collectors needed them (and once some co-workers spent a couple days refurbishing a press for parts for a late ‘30s Dodge) but the main reason the gear was kept around, one executive informed me, was as a federal tax write-off. Except, they also had to pay personal property tax on the stuff.

So, one would hope this contest digs up some really ugly ancient stuff people still have on the books: an anvil used to make Custer’s horse shoes; wrenches Henry Ford used on the 999, the first pan Mike Ilitch used to bake a pizza. How many votes these would win for the issue is uncertain, but it could be fun.

Cawthorne Pens Book On Mackinac Island
Posted: July, 8 2014 2:02 PM

When he was in the House, former Republican leader Dennis Cawthorne represented Manistee.

But, somehow, in many respects he really represented Mackinac Island. And still does.

The now top lobbyist who has spent a lifetime on the Island, driving a carriage, owning a popular bar/restaurant (now owned by the Grand Hotel), and for 20 years a member and chair of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission has published a book on his favorite subject.

“Mackinac Island: Inside, Up Close, and Personal” has come out on the Arbutus Press imprint. The publishing company is in Traverse City.

The book is promoted as more than just a memoir, but also a look at the social, economic and political events and activities that have helped shaped the state’s best known island.

It’s already gotten rave reviews. Well, now, it might not be too surprising that reviewers would give Mr. Cawthorne a thumbs-up on the tome.

Bill Ballenger, the former publisher of Inside Michigan Politics (and who served in the Legislature with Mr. Cawthorne) said: “Few people know Michigan political history and Mackinac Island like Dennis Cawthorne. His book is a highly entertaining blend of both, and a lot more.”

Phil Porter, director of Mackinac Historic Parks said the book is a “delightful journey” that looks at the lives of “unforgettable characters.”

And finally, former Governor William Milliken – with whom Mr. Cawthorne allied when in office and who was closely attached to Mackinac Island himself – said that for decades Mr. Cawthorne “has enjoyed an unparalleled perspective on Mackinac Island and the people who make it up.” Mr. Milliken called the book colorful and insightful.

If not found at your local bookseller, then Mr. Cawthorne’s work can be found through the publisher at

John Dingell Remembers The Civil Rights Act, With Interesting Video
Posted: July, 2 2014 3:47 PM

Fifty years ago, on July 2, 1964, a gangly U.S. Rep. John Dingell somewhat timidly worked his way up to a desk where President Lyndon Johnson was carefully signing the Civil Rights Act.

On Wednesday, Mr. Dingell (D-Dearborn), the longest serving member of Congress who retires from office this year, remembered that day in a statement, saying, “To this very day, I consider my vote for this much-needed and morally just legislation to be the single most important vote I cast in my entire career.”

Discrimination and inequality threatened to tear the nation apart, and passage of the legislation has helped lead the nation to where it stands today, Mr. Dingell said, although more needs to be done to ensure equality. He sharply criticized a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago to gut a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In his statement, Mr. Dingell said he would work every remaining day to fight ongoing justices.

As part of his statement, Mr. Dingell included a YouTube video of the signing ceremony, linked to the moment when he stands, a man of 38 in what appears in the black-and-white video to be wearing a charcoal suit, leaning intently over the president as he applies tiny pen strokes to his signature on the bill.

The entire almost-30 minute video, furnished by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, deserves a viewing though, just because it’s bloody fascinating.

The signing ceremony took place a few hours after the U.S. House passed the bill. The White House room was packed with congressional leaders. Somewhere in the crowd was Martin Luther King Jr. On the desk before the president, along with the bill, were hundreds of classic, basic pens – nibs and pen-shafts only – along with bottles of ink.

Mr. Johnson speaks of the importance of the act and how now every American must take steps in their workplace, home and heart to end discrimination.

Before he signs the act, Mr. Johnson opens a bottle of ink, then taking each pen, dips it and carefully makes the tiniest stroke on the document. He does that possibly more than 100 times during the film.

The first pen goes to the U.S. Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois and the second to the then-Democratic Senate Whip Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota (somehow that seems out of tune with today’s politics). In a crowd shot one can see then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy pushed into the second row, looking sorrowfully on the scene (it was just some eight months after President John Kennedy had been assassinated and the late president had started the push for a civil rights law, plus Mr. Johnson and he did not get along well). When the president finally hands him pens, it is a very curt moment with Mr. Johnson instructing him who the pens were to go to.

At one point, about 16 minutes into the video, an excited Mr. King is almost pushed up to Mr. Johnson’s chair. “Thank God,” Mr. Johnson says to him when handing him a pen. “Thank you sir,” Mr. King said.

The whole tone of the moment is of an informal celebration with bits of protocol tossed in. There is back-slapping, jokes, calls to Mr. Johnson of “Good job,” “You handled it like a pro.” One of the first pens Mr. Johnson hands is to then-Rep. Emmanuel Cellar, a friend and chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “Manny, the speaker first,” someone calls to him, “Speaker (John) McCormack first,” and Mr. Cellar hands the pen to Mr. McCormack (and is then handed another by Mr. Johnson).

At one point Mr. Johnson jokes that it was the ninth anniversary of his heart attack. He coughs at one point while signing the bill, and at another point when his face is obscured can be heard blowing his nose.

At the roughly 20-minute mark when Mr. Dingell appears, Mr. Johnson say, “Bill, would you tell somebody on my staff to get me some more pens?”

While clearly it was an important moment in history and to Mr. Dingell, when Mr. Johnson handed a pen to Mr. Dingell one can sense the air of a production line as the president is trying to satisfy everyone who wants that priceless memento.

Still, this is something not many folks can show the grandkids.

Hey, Comics Too? Federal Court Cases Are The Best
Posted: July, 1 2014 3:43 PM

Not only do federal court decisions feature more sprightly writing than state cases, now they got comics too! Hot patoots!

As this blog pointed out some months ago, those who must read court cases find it much more entertaining to read federal decisions than state decisions.

The judges on both benches are all just as bright, just as distinguished, just as learned, just as ready to snap a cite at the drop of a gavel.

But, in reading the cases all too often state decisions come across as formulaic and lively as the owner’s manual for a new refrigerator. All legally correct as to form, of course, all the necessary points made, arguments established, and so on. But, there is nothing sparkling in the writing.

Federal decisions have a greater freedom to their style. Again, all the legal formalities are met, but the judges take a more personal style, drop the odd pun or joke where appropriate, express themselves with greater vigor and intensity.

Michigan has and had judges who can type out a good line. Former Justice James Brickley always kept your attention in his opinions. Appeals Judge (and novelist) William Whitbeck pounds out reams ruling on parking tickets and produces snappy sentences. Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. when he gets agitated writes good readable stuff. But by and large, our judges tend to be too cautious, too timid, too tied to form in their writing.

So on Tuesday the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals produces a ruling on Central States v. First Agency, which is essentially a dispute over which company should pay the medical expenses for injured high school athletes.

Now, it is not unknown for a court decision to include a photo or a drawing for explanatory purposes. Not usual, but not unknown.

In this decision though, Judge Jeffrey Sutton hauled out a 1906 cartoon to help explain a legal premise known as a gastonette. It’s pretty cool (and on page 3 of the decision) and nicely accompanies the very readable writing in the decision. Just the thing for a Tuesday spell of reading.

Congressional Baseball Hall Of Fame, You Want More? Here You Go
Posted: June, 27 2014 3:15 PM

Word that former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak was named to Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame this year has gotten a few students of the hall (really, there cannot be more than just a few, can there?) to point out Mr. Stupak is not the only Michigander so honored.

Indeed, Michigan ties Oklahoma for the most members of the hall with three.

Besides Mr. Stupak, the 2014 inductee, the hall includes former U.S. Rep. Carl Pursell, a Republican from Plymouth, and former U.S. Rep. David Bonior, a Democrat from Macomb County.

Mr. Pursell, who died in 2009, was named to the hall in 2000. He succeeded the flamboyant Silvio Conte of Massachusetts (also in the hall) as manager for the Republicans. He once won the game’s Most Valuable Player award for his play at first base.

Mr. Bonior – who now owns a couple restaurants in Washington, D.C., one conveniently near the Nationals stadium – was named in 2003. He played in the annual Congressional baseball game for 23 years, won numerous MVP awards and finished his career with a .375 batting average.

The three Hall of Famers from the Sooner state are Republican Steve Largent and Democrats Dave McCordy and Mike Synar. (Yes, Oklahoma used to elect Democrats. That hasn’t happened in a while.) North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio each have two members of the hall. Massachusetts, Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Minnesota, Colorado, Florida and Montana each have one person in the hall.

The Democrats won the annual game for the six consecutive time this week. U.S. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) was playing for the blue squad.

And a spokesperson for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer pointed out that the current Democratic streak started when Mr. Schauer played for the team in 2009.

As we all know, you can’t tell one player from the other without a scorecard, you also can’t tell one 2014 candidate from the other without the Gongwer Election App. Get the app at either ITunes or at Google Play.

Stupak Makes Baseball Hall Of Fame … No, Not The One In Cooperstown
Posted: June, 25 2014 1:40 PM

Former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, who represented Michigan’s northern counties for nearly 20 years in Congress, has a notched a rare honor: he has been named to a baseball hall of fame.

No, you won’t find his likeness next to that of Ty Cobb, Mickey Cochrane, Al Kaline and other Michigan greats in Cooperstown. Instead, you will find him next to Zach Wamp (a Republican from Tennessee) and Ron Paul (you know, that guy that kept running for President).

Mr. Stupak was named this week to the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame for 12 years of gritty play in the annual Democratic/Republican Congressional baseball game the Capitol newspaper sponsors. He is the 2014 inductee into the hall.

Mr. Stupak, who played ball in college and was still an active player despite getting racked up in a motorcycle accident, scrapped his way into the hall of fame, the paper said, much as he did on the field.

In his first plate appearance, he struck out but reached first when the catcher dropped the ball. He then got to third on a couple singles and scored on a sac fly. It was the Democrats’ only run in a game where the Republicans mooshed them. The GOP has apparently dominated the series for some time.

He was also called on as a reliever in several games, with a semi-decent record. In seven innings pitched, he gave up three earned runs.

But he is best known, for those who follow the game (what, you don’t? Shame on you), for a dramatic foul-ball fly catch he made in 2009. Mr. Stupak was playing first base, ran back to the railing and fell over the railing to make the grab. You can see it all on a video Roll Call included.

He also gained some fame for once striking out Mr. Wamp, who apparently never struck out and retired from the game with a batting average over .500. Roll Call quoted Mr. Wamp as saying Mr. Stupak put enough “Upper Peninsula junk” on the ball to get him out.

Now retired from Congress after the 2010 election, Mr. Stupak is still working with the Democrats, as the third-base coach.

He also plays every year in a vintage baseball game every year on Mackinac Island, following 1860s rules (no mitts, balls caught after one bounce are an out). He told the paper he usually ends up with a broken finger from the contest.

Miller: End Aid To Latin America Over Children Crossing Border
Posted: June, 24 2014 5:05 PM

Thus far, 2014 has been something of a raucous year for Michigan’s congressional Republicans what with several unexpected retirements and a couple of incumbents engaged in high-profile primary races.

Now U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township) is drawing some attention, but through the good old-fashioned way of grilling someone at a committee.

A new recent humanitarian crisis has developed along the southern border of the U.S. with Mexico as several thousand children, mostly from Central America, have crossed into the U.S. The federal government has been forced to find emergency housing situations for them, along with trying to decide what to do to return them and how to stop them from getting here. Why this is happening no one as yet has a good answer (Republicans are blaming a policy of the administration to delay returning children here illegally, though that affects only children who have been in the U.S. for at least seven years; while Democrats blame drug violence leading parents in Central American countries to try and get their kids out).

Ms. Miller sits on the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security which Tuesday had a hearing with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

At that hearing, Ms. Miller blasted the governments of Mexico and other nations for doing nothing to stop the influx of “these innocent, innocent” children or the smugglers bringing them into the U.S.

And she raised the possibility of cutting off all financial aid to the “centrals,” essentially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as ending the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement to essentially shock those governments into action.

The U.S. cannot “enforce its way out of this,” she said, and the U.S. needs to stop being the “ATM” to these nations if they will not do anything. New policy options need to be developed, she said, and ending all funding to these countries would be one such policy option.

Mr. Johnson agreed with Ms. Miller that Mexico and the Central American nations needed to do something, and that the U.S. and Mexico have to work together to improve border security.

He also acknowledged, however, that smugglers were using misinformation about the federal government’s plan on delaying action on immigrant children to fool those kids and their parents in Central America and efforts had to be taken to stop that.

Agema Urges Conservatives To Fight Back
Posted: June, 20 2014 3:56 PM

Saying the Republican Party is at a crossroads and has been capitulating to the left, Michigan National GOP Committeeman Dave Agema took to Facebook to call on “fiscal, moral and constitutional conservatives” to take a stronger stand to prevent the party from going liberal.

“The left survives on pushing the fear of being criticized. If you’re not be criticize by the left, you’re not doing your job,” Mr. Agema said in the post. And he charged the party “capitulate(s) to the 25” percent who are not apparently conservative (since he said 75 percent of the party is conservative.)

Mr. Agema did not state a reason for his comments, though one suspects it has to do with the amicus brief supporting same-sex marriage that 25 top Republicans, including former House Speaker Rick Johnson, signed this week in the case before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (which will hear the Michigan case on August 6 along with cases from three other states in the circuit).

Earlier this week he made brief comments criticizing the brief on Facebook. On Friday he expanded his thoughts, warning the Republican Party’s future may be at stake and that there are efforts to “purge” like-minded conservatives to him.

“If we go left we lose even more of our base,” he said.

“In the US there are about 100 million evangelicals but only 25 percent of them vote – many are disenfranchised with the liberal bent of the GOP,” Mr. Agema said. “These should be our target market, not more liberals like the LGBT groups. The problem is the left has placed so much fear into our legislations via the liberal media that they can’t bring themselves to take a stand on principles or they remain silent on issues.”

It is time for conservatives to speak out, he said. “We need a strong showing of more fiscal, moral and constitutional conservatives in elected positions. I believe there is a definite purging of such people. You must get involved via your votes, your votes, your freedom of speech and your involvement.”

As many people have said before if one doesn’t vote, one can’t complain (well, generally it is phrased more colorfully) and Mr. Agema quoted that phrase as well.

“Expect when you speak out to take some flak – that’s OK. Our forefathers took it and they formed a country second to none. The left survives on pushing the fear of being criticized. If you’re not being criticized by the left, you’re not doing your job,” he concluded.

And to track fiscal, moral and constitutional conservatives running for office, and everyone else running for office, don’t forget to download the Gongwer Election App, at the iTunes Store and at Google Play.

From Left To Right: How Far From Ann Arbor To McBain?
Posted: June, 19 2014 3:52 PM

Earlier this week a group called Clarity Campaign Labs posted a test it had used to determine which was the most liberal city and conservative city in each state.

And based on that test, Ann Arbor is Michigan’s most liberal city while McBain is Michigan’s most conservative city, the group said.

Then Business Insider created a map showing where each of the most conservative and liberal cities in each state were located.

The Washington Post decided then to create a chart based on that map showing how far away each liberal and conservative bastion was to each other in each state. And that’s where things get a touch whacky.

A quick glance at the chart, posted at the Post blog The Fix, seems to indicate that Ann Arbor and McBain are some 220 miles apart.

Now, it’s a pleasant morning drive from one spot to the other, but the state highway map puts the distance closer to 188 miles (actually that’s the distance from Ann Arbor to McBain’s big city neighbor of Cadillac), and Google lists it as 184.9 miles.

So, where do we come up with 220 miles….oh, wait, focus the specs and you see the Washington Post has the distances listed in kilometers. Ohhhhhh, huh? Did we go metric and no one told us?

Well, nonetheless, even then the chart is screwy. It’s about 1.6 kilometers to one mile, which should give you a distance of about 296 kilometers between AA and McB (and which is also the distance from Paris to Roissy-en-France, according to Google, and France does use kilometers).

So, Washington Post, how did you mess that up?

Well, you certainly won’t be confused about the 2014 election if you get the Gongwer Election App, buy it for iTunes and for Android.

Jennifer Gratz And The Facebook Debate On The Gay Marriage Brief
Posted: June, 18 2014 4:54 PM

When it came out this week that a number of top Republicans had signed an amicus brief calling for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in favor of same-sex marriage, one of the more prominent, and perhaps interesting, names on the list was Jennifer Gratz.

Ms. Gratz, who with her husband now owns a craft brewing company in Florida, had gained notoriety for as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to block the University of Michigan from using affirmative action in making decisions on admissions. She then helped lead the successful 2006 ballot initiative that blocked affirmative action, and earlier this year gained national attention when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that proposal.

Ms. Gratz has become a conservative hero. Given the controversy the issue of same-sex marriage raises, how would her supporters react?

According to her Facebook page, the reaction has been split, and for some people bitterly so.

Ms. Gratz posted on Tuesday that, “I have long stood up for the rights of individuals to be treated equally by our government and I am proud to join former Michigan Republican lawmakers in signing onto a brief filed this week supporting Judge Friedman's decision to overturn Michigan's marriage ban – a ban that discriminates against some based on their sexual orientation.”

The post generated dozens of responses from both supporters and opponents. While much of the debate focused on individual rights and Biblical traditions and beliefs (with a sideways discussion of whether bonobos show gay tendencies). The tone from many of the opponents towards Ms. Gratz was one of both anger and disappointment.

A David Roney said that race is not a matter of choice but that behavior is. “Respectfully, you are diminishing years of your own work by conflating the two.” Then after asking if she would also support things like polygamy, he concluded by asking if she just supported “the trendy cause du jour?”

Dovie Eisner said Ms. Gratz had worked “valiantly” for years to end racial discrimination. But then she said, “The idea that the equal protection, or some weird reading of the privileges or immunities clause or the due process clause, requires that all fifty states throw out a definition of marriage that has prevailed from time immemorial is nonsense of the highest order.”

Perhaps the sharpest response came from Stacey Robinson-Swimp (and he and Ms. Gratz exchanged several somewhat testy responses) who started his arguments with: “This is incredible hypocrisy. To fight ‘special preferences’ based on race and support special preferences based on sexual conducts is indeed the height of hypocrisy.”

And he said, “Jennifer, I am truly stunned and disappointed that you have decided to become an apostate.”

Ms. Gratz argued back to Mr. Robinson-Swimp that her position was consistent because she was against special privileges to anyone for any reason. “You are for government-based special preferences for sexual orientation, namely for heterosexuals. I am of the opinion that the government should not dole out benefits or penalties based on which group someone belongs to, but should treat individuals equally,” She said.

In one of the brusquest responses, Jason Gillman, well known for his posts on Right Michigan, snapped that there was no violation of anyone’s rights. Gays have the right to marry, he said. A gay man can marry a woman, and a gay woman can marry a man, he said.

Cantor’s Defeat Raises Question: Could It Have Been For Dave Camp?
Posted: June, 13 2014 4:20 PM

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) wasn’t the only one who lost a shot at being the U.S. House speaker this week. Some Michigan observers are wondering if U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) lost a chance as well.

Mr. Camp, of course, surprised the state with his decision not to seek re-election after spending 24 years in the U.S. House. He is chair of the Ways and Means Committee, one of the most powerful committees in Congress, and under House Republican Conference term limits would have had to give up that post in the next Congress.

And as someone who is well-liked in the Conference, considered hardworking and while conservative still able to work with Democrats, Mr. Camp was also someone who many thought could have had a successful run for speaker if he had chosen.

It was expected nationally, presuming the Republicans hold onto the U.S. House – probably a safe bet, but one must always hedge – that Mr. Cantor would succeed U.S. Speaker John Boehner. Mr. Cantor’s stunning loss this week to David Brat in the primary has probably permanently ended that.

So as observers and political insiders pondered the Cantor loss this week, quite a number of them were openly wondering if Mr. Camp now regretted his decision to retire. The thinking being he could have had an inside shot at the speakership if he had made the bid.

But there are some factors that would cause one to pause in presuming Mr. Camp could have taken the speaker’s chair. With Mr. Cantor out of the picture, a whole slew of candidates could now emerge. U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) will likely be the next majority leader and certainly would be a strong contender for the speakership. The 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate U.S. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is seen as a potential speaker, for example.

And if tea party backed Republicans come in with an even stronger position a speaker candidate would certain emerge from them. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) has announced he is backing U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) for the majority leader’s post, and Mr. Labrador could be back running for speaker.

Then, there is the question of whether Mr. Camp would even have run for the post. Having endured a significant health crisis, he may have decided it wouldn’t be fair to him or his family to add on the greater stress of the post.

In any event, Mr. Camp has expressed no regrets about his decision. Nor should we expect him to.

Some Fathers Day’s Thoughts From The MSP
Posted: June, 11 2014 12:11 PM

Can’t decide what to get your guy for Father’s Day? Soap-on-a-rope no longer exciting the big fella? Wrestling with: Do I get him a tie or a new grill spatula or fly rod or maybe that Lotus Evora S he drools over?

Well, the Michigan State Police has the answer: Get him a generator. Or maybe one of those hand-cranked cellphone generators. Or a multi-tool.

The State Police weighed in with some shopping ideas on Wednesday, and all of them had a particular theme. Emergency preparedness is the name of the game.

“Trying to figure out the perfect Father’s Day can be difficult. Preparedness gifts show you care for your father’s safety and welfare. They also make all-around great gifts for addressing all types of emergencies and disasters,” said Captain Chris Kelenske, the State Police’s deputy director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Well, maybe these couldn’t solve the disaster of forgetting the beer at the barbecue, but there is a rugged, manly, practicality about these gifts.

Your State Police suggest you give a dad an emergency preparedness kit for home, office or car. (Which the MSP tells us should include food – manly stuff like Spam, well, they didn’t say that, I did – water, flashlight, extra batteries, blanket and clothes). Or a generator, should the power go out (something much of Michigan endured during another recent holiday). Or a NOAA weather radio. Or a multi-tool, one of those pocket devices with a knife-saw-screwdriver-pliers-corkscrew (for conquering a wild bottle of Mouton. Okay, again, they didn’t say that). Or a hand-cranked cell-phone generator.

Rush out to get these gifts right away. And should the State Police stop you for speeding off to get these gifts, I have no doubt the kindly trooper will accept your excuse that you had to hurry to get the MSP-approved list of Father’s Day gifts.

When The Corpse Winked
Posted: June, 10 2014 3:03 PM

Can the Legislature figure out a way to raise transportation taxes, or taxes of some sort for the state’s roads, during an election year? Gosh knows, there is that chance as leaders scramble to find a way to make it happen in the closing days of the 2014 spring session.

They could look back to 1978 to see when it was done, and completed on the last day of the short September session, some five weeks before the election.

No, it wasn’t easy. It raised some serious constitutional questions at the time. And given that the voters were asked to decide on two major tax proposals on the ballot – the Headlee Amendment, named for Richard Headlee, that limited taxes, and the Tisch Amendment, named for Robert Tisch, that would have dramatically slashed property taxes – some lawmakers warned that passing the tax increase would ensure the Tisch Amendment would win. It didn’t, but the Headlee Amendment did.

The tax increases, to the gas tax (taking it from 9-cents to 11-cents) and to the weight tax (vehicle registrations were then based on weight, the change to registrations based on vehicle value came some years later), were part of a major transportation proposal that included changing the state’s Highway Commission to the Transportation Commission we know today.

It was then-Governor William Milliken’s highest priority, for many of the same reasons it is a top priority for Governor Rick Snyder, to help ensure quality roads and promote state economic development.

Supporters of the proposal, including former Speaker Bill Ryan, a Detroit Democrat, along with Mr. Milliken, also saw the package as a critical piece to boosting funding for mass transit in the state.

The two main bills in the package were introduced by Mr. Ryan and Rep. George Montgomery, also a Detroit Democrat. Mr. Montgomery was chair of the House Taxation Committee (they called it what it was back then) and was a craggy, grumpy, short-tempered, sour man who walked with a cane, chain-smoked Pall Malls, and was unquestionably brilliant, direct, caring and beloved by every member of the House. Mr. Ryan was Mr. Montgomery’s intellectual equal, but soft-spoken, personally modest, unfailingly fair and more tenacious than any human being could be considered.

Mr. Ryan was also one of the critical figures in Michigan history. Michigan’s Legislature is what it is -- a powerful independent institution – because he made it so. It was his influence, his intellect, his ability to build coalitions and, yes, his tenaciousness that made the Legislature. And yes, in the end, he too was beloved by every member.

With that combination, it seemed a transportation tax increase was an inevitability. The bills were introduced in March 1978, in a couple days moved to the House floor on second reading, and … and that was it.

The bills were not moving. Mr. Milliken, Mr. Ryan, Mr. Montgomery, Speaker Bobby Crim, anyone and everyone who favored the package could not get it to move. March passed, then April, then May, then June and the Legislature broke in the first days of July to campaign and the package was going nowhere. No. Where. It was dead, everyone said so.

Well, Mr. Ryan insisted it could still pass. But even he was worried the bills had rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. I mean, it was summer. The general election was less than six months away. This was a tax increase when everywhere in the nation, following the success of Prop 13 in California, voters were getting ready to murderize all taxes. Nope, even supporters admitted the package had ceased to be.

When the Legislature returned for the brief session in September, there was another attempt at the package, but it gasped to collapse.

But then something happened. A number of House members, Democrats and Republicans both, and almost all back-benchers decided after a Monday night session to retire to a committee room and talk the issue over. They came out with a series of suggested amendments.

As reporters returned from that session to the mostly vacant House floor, Mr. Ryan was there. “Let me interview you,” he said to reporters. When he was told what the proposal was and asked for his reaction, Mr. Ryan smiled and said, “The corpse winked.”

The proposed changes were changed themselves, but by mid-September the House approved the tax increases with two votes to spare.

More changes were needed in the Senate, including a concession to the trucking industry that raised the diesel tax for just one year. Even then the chamber split 19-19 and then-Lt. Governor Jim Damman (who had been tossed from the ticket by Mr. Milliken so he had every personal reason not to help the governor) broke the tie and the package passed.

That vote, though generated a new crisis. Mr. Montgomery insisted that the lieutenant governor could not break ties. He cited a Supreme Court opinion, but that one opinion was based on the 1908 Constitution. Mr. Ryan argued the 1963 Constitution, though it incorporated language from the 1908 document, clearly allowed for the lieutenant governor to break a tie.

The changes went to Mr. Milliken on the exact 56 votes needed from the House.

Times are different, lawmakers are different, but the issues are similar and the political mood similar, and zombies are really big in popular culture these days so maybe once more a corpse will wink.

Daily Kos Backs Schauer In Election
Posted: June, 4 2014 3:50 PM

Daily Kos, one of the longest-lasting and best known national liberal blogs, endorsed Democrat Mark Schauer for governor in November, marking something of a new development in gubernatorial politics: a national endorsement by an electronic commentary outlet.

The endorsement also is a fundraising effort for Mr. Schauer, letting individuals click on a link to donate $3 to Mr. Schauer’s campaign.

It’s certainly not unusual for statewide candidates from any state to see funding help from across the nation. Clearly, those efforts all have a general partisan thrust to keep the party in control, or help take control.

Daily Kos – founded in 2002 and named for founder Markos Moulitsas – has no specific, direct partisan affiliation but it is clearly liberal Democratic in inclination.

This week, the blog announced it would make endorsements in seven states (Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Virginia along with Michigan) and much of the reason is to help set up a force to win Democrats a better shot at redistricting following the 2020 census.

The thinking the blog outlined was that new governors elected in 2014 would have a better shot at winning in 2018, which presumably means they would be in office when redistricting is in play for the 2022 election.

If a redistricting plan is developed that more fairly recognized voter inclinations, then that could mean as many as 20 more Democrats in the U.S. House. As Mr. Moulitsas himself put it: “We don’t need to control the complete redistricting machine. A seat at the table could mean either a compromise map, or a judge getting to write the lines. And either way, Democrats win.”

The blog called Mr. Schauer a strong Democrat, and pointed out that President Barack Obama won the state handily in 2012 and that Governor Rick Snyder’s polling numbers still run less than 50 percent (though ahead of Mr. Schauer).

The chance that Mr. Schauer could win, the blog says, is more “than viable.”

A Slightly-Liquid View Of The Mackinac Meeting
Posted: June, 3 2014 2:58 PM

To the oft asked question of what can be done to build a, ahem, spirit of bipartisanship in the Capitol, veterans of Legislatures past are known to say, “Take ’em out and get them all drunk together.”

After all, in years past, lawmakers often spent their evenings tipping a few together. And it worked wonders for reaching agreement on most issues. Democrats and Republicans were still Democrats and Republicans, but after buying each other a few beers, or bourbons, or scotches, or vodkas, or all four, they realized their differences were matters of degree and not cause to be mortal enemies.

With that in mind, the article in the online publication, Model D, should provide scientific proof of the curative powers of barley, hops, grapes and the like. It looks at the annual Detroit Regional Chamber meeting from one of its more liquid perspectives.

The piece is not solely about the conviviality of the meeting. Clearly it is a focus, though. After all, one is on an island, one cannot drive except a horse and the horse is going to stay sober. Under such circumstances, one may as well turn a gimlet eye to one’s opponents and belly up to the idea of reaching common ground. It is a stout experience.

Remembering The Shavers Decision
Posted: May, 22 2014 2:38 PM

A name popped up in this week’s Court of Appeals decision that isn’t heard much anymore, but once had a huge impact on life around the Capitol.

In its decision on Wednesday holding that the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association did not have to reveal its documents, the court said that such a requirement was not made under the decision Shavers v. Attorney General.

Shavers was the decision that upheld the constitutionality of the now 41-year-old automotive no-fault insurance system in Michigan. It also had an effect on another major social issue at the time. And created a bit of constitutional crisis on its own.

No-fault went into effect in Michigan in 1973. Just one month later, the case known as Shavers was filed. It slowly, and I do mean slowly, worked its way through the legal process, being heard first in Wayne Circuit Court, then the Court of Appeals and then before the Supreme Court in March 1977. Take note: March 1977.

While that case was wending its way, the Legislature was embroiled in trying to resolve a major social/economic issue known as “redlining.” Redlining, which critics will contend still occurs, was the practice of marking out various geographic areas – almost always urban – and charging far higher insurance rates in those areas.

Critics argued that this hurt efforts to restore and rebuild the state’s cities, particularly Detroit. Supporters said the action reflected actuarial data, and to require statewide basing of policies, which some critics wanted, would force people across the state to pay for higher property crime and automotive crash rates in the cities.

This debate really began in earnest in 1976, moved through 1977 and was still hot in 1978.

Sometime in early 1978, the Detroit Free Press wrote an editorial begging the Supreme Court to finally make a decision on Shavers, the no-fault case. Yup, we had gone nearly a full year with no resolution.

And would go for a nearly a full 15 months before the elderly clerk who brought copies of decisions to reporters lugged a massive pile of paper to the Capitol press room. It was June 1978, and the Shavers decision had arrived in thick mounds of blue, legal-sized paper.

The court ruled 4-3 that no-fault was constitutional, but unconstitutionally exposed consumers to high rates and arbitrary cancellations. The court said the Legislature had to fix that, and gave it 18 months to do so or no-fault would be tossed out.

Reading the decision, reporters realized the court was also saying fix redlining because that was the practice that was largely to blame for the arbitrary nature of the insurance rate problems.

But the court had also told the Legislature what to do, and in so doing really, well, pissed off the Legislature. Liberals, conservatives, Democrats and Republicans were furious, demanding to know who the court thought it was to tell them what to do. In a pique, some House Democrats even said, screw ‘em, we should do nothing and see what the court does in 18 months.

The Legislature, however, complied. Now, members wouldn’t say they caved, but they passed a compromise measure that help control rates a little better to save no-fault.

In large measure, they did so because by then nobody – even those who had opposed no-fault – wanted to run the risk of scrapping the no-fault system. The insurance industry did not want to completely change its operations again. And motorists who complained about high insurance rates liked the fact that they could get cars repaired and claims paid right away, as opposed to waiting months or even years, in some cases, for insurance companies to chase each other and decide who was paying what for whom.

All that was due in part to the Shavers decision. Somehow in this electronic age, we have lost the drama of watching an elderly court clerk bent over with the weight of big, blue decisions. Oh well.

Tipping The Scales, Politically That Is
Posted: May, 19 2014 4:03 PM

Hanging around candidates, it is not unusual to hear them moan about their diets. Yeah, of course, they complain about their opponents, about lack of interest by voters, about raising money, about reporters (wait, what could they complain about us for?) but over the years, some candidates howled the loudest about what they weren’t allowed to eat while they were running for office.

Now comes some research that shows that weight makes a difference with the voters. Heavier candidates have more trouble generating voter support, says a study from Michigan State University.

Some of these candidates’ efforts to keep a trimmer profile for the voters have resulted in great campaign stories. Running for governor in 1990, former Governor John Engler was seen eating a lunch of lettuce. That’s it, just lettuce.

In 1994, during his run for the U.S. Senate seat he won, former U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham talked about an enforced fast during a campaign strategy lunch, when one of his advisors – who was not exactly a tiny lad – told him he had to keep dieting through the election. The advisor was chowing on a huge burger and a mountain of fries while he lectured Mr. Abraham. “Can I have one fry?” Mr. Abraham pleaded. “No,” the advisor said.

Two years later, while Ronna Romney was on a campaign swing, with several reporters in the campaign van, she pleaded in vain for a lunch stop. “Five minutes at a drive through,” she said. “Just find a McDonald’s, please.”

“Yeah, five minutes,” shouted the hungry reporters behind her. But nobody ate that day.

So, the research by Mark Roehling, human resources professor at MSU, and his wife Patricia Roehling, a psychology professor at Hope College, using data from the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Senate elections, finds the overweight but not obese male candidates were not underrepresented on the ballots. Overweight women candidates were generally under-represented on the ballot.

But when it came to voting, the research showed that voters tended to shy away from the heavier candidates. Overweight candidates did less well compared to their more slender opponents.

The two said the study, published in the journal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, was the first to show that the perception bias against the overweight that exists in business and other parts of life also affects politics.

Which probably means lettuce lunches will continue as long as there are campaigns.

Okay, Lawmakers Can Still Throw Out A Funny Line
Posted: May, 14 2014 2:14 PM

Given the chance, lawmakers can still crack wise.

During the House Appropriations Committee meeting, chair Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland) was drawing praise for the package of bills that would eventually end Michigan’s controversial driver responsibility fees.

Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) attempted to set the background of how Mr. Haveman had pushed for the legislation.

A number of legislators were at the Nuthouse, Mr. Pscholka said, the popular downtown Lansing bar and restaurant.

“Careful,” Mr. Haveman said.

Mr. Pscholka grinned, but carried on, saying how Mr. Haveman pressed his colleagues to help end those fees when a fellow walking down the street overheard them and said the driver responsibility fees stink.

The floor was then opened to Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) who quipped, “It’s nice to know Republicans refer to their caucus as the nuthouse just as we do.”

One More Example In That Politics/Strange Bedfellows Thing
Posted: May, 13 2014 4:26 PM

Okay, legislative Democrats do not like Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville’s bill to change the state’s minimum wage law – which would throw off a ballot initiative on the issue – but guess who else doesn’t like SB 934*?

Give up? It’s Right Michigan.

Yessiree, the cyber-bastion of ultra-conservatism in Michigan took to its electrons to blast the proposal as “just plain wrong” and even tyrannical.

To recap, Raise Michigan has a petition drive underway to put an initiated act on the November ballot to raise Michigan’s minimum wage. It is very controversial, especially since it would also increase the minimum wage of restaurant workers to match that of other workers.

But the initiative is based on the state’s current wage law. Mr. Richardville (R-Monroe) has introduced SB 934* that would repeal the current wage law, institute a new law (and raise the minimum wage, but not as much as the petition drive would) and in so doing essentially make the ballot proposal moot.

Legislative Democrats, along with Raise Michigan, held a press conference Tuesday to blast Mr. Richardville’s proposal.

Meanwhile, Right Michigan thundered about the bill: “No matter how you feel about raising the minimum wage for or against this is just plain wrong! When the will of the citizens are subverted along with their constitutional rights by any political party its tyranny.”

It went on to say that Mr. Richardville was showing “arrogant disregard” for the will of the people and that conservatives should think closely about supporting any Republican who votes for the measure.

Goodness gracious, this is at least the second time in recent months Right Michigan and legislative Democrats have been on the same side of an issue. Bipartisanship does live.

Before You Head To The Island, Mark Today For The Island’s Sale
Posted: May, 12 2014 2:44 PM

No matter how many islands there are in Michigan, when one speaks of going to “the Island” it is pretty clear one is referring to Mackinac Island. And in a little more than two weeks Mackinac Island will host one of its biggest annual parties – bringing together business executives, politicians, government officials, reporters and others – when the Detroit Regional Chamber holds its annual meeting there.

So, it is fitting to note that on May 12, 1781 – 233 years ago, during the depths of the American Revolution – the British government bought the Island from the Ojibwe tribe.

The transaction was completed with the commander of Fort Michilimackinac, Lt. Patrick Sinclair, and the chiefs of several bands of Ojibwe.

The Ojibwe were given gifts worth 5,000 English pounds, which when converted to current U.S. dollars is the equivalent of more than $15 million.

Remember, that Manhattan Island sold for what was long considered to be $24. That was updated in recent years to $1,000. Still, it may not be surprising Mackinac Island went for so much more.

Bobby Crim, Runner, To Be Immortalized In Bronze
Posted: May, 8 2014 2:42 PM

There are few, if any, statues of legislators in Michigan. But this August one of the state’s longest-serving speakers will be remembered with a statue in Flint.

But Bobby Crim’s statue will not show him in the typical gray, three-piece suit he favored for eight years as speaker from 1975 to 1982. Instead, he will be in shorts and t-shirt, his arms upraised in a victory pose.

First elected to the House 50 years ago in the Democratic sweep of 1964, Mr. Crim lost the next election and spent several years as chief of staff to former Speaker Bill Ryan before winning re-election to the House in 1972 and succeeding Mr. Ryan as speaker. Sometime in the 1970s, he took up running. And it changed his life. During the economically challenging years that were marked with political turmoil during his tenure, running was a critical release for him of the tension he was often under.

Mr. Crim became so passionate about the sport he soon created a race in downtown Flint, a 10-mile race. Ten miles is kind of an odd distance in running which are dominated by 5K, 10K, half-marathons and marathons. There weren’t many such races when it was founded, and there aren’t many now although the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C., is well-known.

But in the nearly 40 years the race has been held, it has become of the more popular road races in the nation, easily accessible with a challenging but not overwhelming distance, a good way for a runner to spend an August Saturday. It has become so popular and well-known that shadow Crim races were held for U.S. military personnel in Baghdad.

In Flint, it is simply known as “The Crim.”

Mr. Crim’s name is now associated with the Crim Fitness Foundation. And the 10-miler is part of the Crim Festival of Races sponsored by Healthplus.

The statue of Mr. Crim was sculpted by Joe Rundell of Vienna Township. Earlier this week, the statue was moved to a foundry in Clarkston where it will be cast in bronze.

The statue will be unveiled and dedicated in Flint on Thursday, August 21, just before the 2014 race. Mr. Crim will forever now face the starting line to his race.

Mr. Crim, who now spends most his time in Florida, will be there, assuredly. He told The Flint Journal it was exciting.

“Most people don’t have a statue until they’re dead,” Mr. Crim said.

All Kinds Of Things About Michigan You Didn’t Know, Or Cared About
Posted: May, 7 2014 3:47 PM

Burt Reynolds, who as a young boy lived for a short while in Lansing, is the most popular actor to come from Michigan. Not Charlton Heston, not Robin Williams, Burt Reynolds.

Or so says a map.

Among currently popular musical artists the most popular from Michigan is not Eminem nor Jack White nor Kid Rock, it’s Young Jeezy.

Or, again, so says a map.

In recent months there have been a spate of maps running through the Internet dealing with a whole variety of characteristics, statistics, attributes. Anyone interested in data on how much the federal government spends in a state compared to what the state sends the feds can find a map with the info. Ditto on statistics on those with or without health insurance, or most popular baby name, percentage of people who went to college, dominant faiths, etc.

The popular website Buzzfeed has now put together a list of 28 maps of the U.S. from a variety of sources that detail a wide array of interesting, odd and possibly dubious items of each state.

Some are historic, tracking when each state joined the union (it was 1837 for Michigan, don’t forget). Some deal with facts you might wonder why you would care, such as a breakdown by every county in the nation of how much snow has to fall for a snow day to be called (in Michigan it ranges from six inches to 24 inches, according to the map).

Some have to do with bar bet kinds of trivia, like what’s the most popular beer in the state (sorry, Bell’s, according to this map in Michigan it is Bud Light).

One details how people in the state would describe their state. According to this map, just 28 percent of Michigan residents call the Mitten the best or one of the best states to live in. In contrast, 61 percent of Minnesotans say their state is the best or one of the best.

And finally, there is the question of whether Michiganders are afraid of wild gorillas. You can look that up on your own.

Time And Traffic Wait On No Commission
Posted: May, 6 2014 2:00 PM

Tuesday’s agenda for the Michigan Board of State Canvassers was fairly light, just a few items and some questions.

Getting to the point of dealing with the agenda, however, was … um … delayed.

Commission Chair Colleen Pero was absent from the meeting (which had the headline item of determining whether enough petition signatures had been created to put a second referendum before the voters to block wolf hunting) which meant three members were needed for a quorum.

Members Norm Shinkle and Vice-Chair Jeannette Bradshaw were there. Member Julie Matuzak was on the phone a lot with Ms. Bradshaw, updating Ms. Bradshaw on her progress of getting through traffic delays to the meeting in the Capitol.

A bit more than 30 minutes after the meeting was to start a very apologetic Ms. Matuzak made it to the commission table. Her normal 90-minute drive to Lansing took nearly three hours this day, she said.

The formal business was done in some 15 or so minutes. There were a number of questions of State Elections Director Chris Thomas on future meetings and business.

Then a moment’s pause, and Ms. Matuzak said: “I’m trying to think of another question to ask to justify my being so late.”

Out Of The Conyers Mess: Two Lessons For Politicians And Staff
Posted: April, 30 2014 2:23 PM

Michigan’s political world has been tossed frontward and back quite a bit leading up to the 2014 election. Nowhere is that more true than in the congressional delegation.

Just to review: First, a year ago, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) announced he would not seek re-election. Then in late winter, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn), the longest serving member of Congress, announced he would not run for re-election.

Then as April came there was the stunning development that U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, was not running for re-election, and that was quickly followed by U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee (the guy who kinda controls the U.S.’s money) deciding he’s not running.

Barely had we time to let the antacids settle from all this when news broke Monday night that U.S. Rep. John Conyers faced a potential problem getting on the ballot at all because there is a question of whether two of his petition distributors were properly registered to vote. Of course, immediately the flashbacks began to the giant shocking situation involving former U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter (a situation still being fought out in court) who was tossed off the ballot because his staff faked petition signatures, including those of Mr. McCotter’s mother.

The Conyers kerfuffle is still being resolved, and yes, Mr. Conyers may find himself going the way of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and running as a write-in candidate in the primary.

Which brings us to a long-time political aide, a Democrat who has worked on dozens of campaigns, who reminded this reporter of two critical rules every politician and political staffer must always keep foremost in mind.

Call them rules 1 and 1a.

Rule 1: Don’t kill the candidate. In other words, make sure the staffer with the best driver’s record is driving the candidate’s car. Make sure all comestibles at events will not choke the candidate to death. Keep the candidate away from open elevator doors, open ledges, live wires, venomous reptiles, swimming pools temporarily being used as shark tanks, scissors, knitting needles, slingshots and the like. Can’t elect a dead candidate, so rule 1 is simple, the aide said, keep the candidate alive.

Rule 1a: Get the candidate on the ballot. This rule may be more difficult than rule 1. Write-ins are too big a risk, so you have to get the candidate on the ballot. That means all election rules have to be followed exactly as written. All petitions have to be exactly the right size, all fonts and letter sizes to rule. All circulators have to meet all requirements, in fact have to have met them before they are allowed to touch a petition.

All petitions have to be reviewed and then re-reviewed by the heads of staff to make sure they are correct, names of only real people with real addresses (no “Mickey Mouse” living at 123 Hole in the Wall allowed) on the petitions, every box checked by the right kind of check, every line signed and dated. Following rule 1a can be the most painstaking, tiring, frustrating, annoying task of the entire campaign and also be the most important, the aide said.

And if the candidate doesn’t get on the ballot? Well then, the fear may not be so much the aide killing the candidate as it might be the candidate trying to kill the aide who screwed up.

The Name Is Bonior, David Bonior, Restaurateur
Posted: April, 28 2014 11:01 AM

Late in his congressional career, former U.S. Rep. David Bonior went on a long hike to the Mackinac Bridge and wrote a book about the experience. Then in 2002, he ran for the Democratic nomination for governor and lost to the eventual victor, then-Attorney General Jennifer Granholm.

And now he is running restaurants in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post reports the well-known champion of labor – he got the bulk of the union endorsements in the 2002 primary against Mr. Granholm and former Governor Jim Blanchard – is loving the profit motive and dealing with some familiar business complaints as the co-owner of Zest Bistro near Capitol Hill, open four years, and the new Agua 301 near the Washington Nationals stadium.

After leaving Congress and losing the gubernatorial primary, Mr. Bonior returned to D.C. where he did well selling investment products to investment firms.

Then his step-son and daughter-in-law asked him to give them a hand in starting their own restaurant. They had worked for years in the business.

The Post story related how Mr. Bonior passed out flyers to every congressional office, working it like a retail campaign, to help build up Zest. He helped locate Agua in what is a growing area of the city. Zest is profitable, he reports, while Agua is not losing money in the generally tough restaurant industry.

Mr. Bonior praised the hard work small business owners must put in, as well as the creativity the owners and their workers show.

The story points out that he pays his workers the tip wage of $2.36 an hour. He tried to boost that wage when he was in Congress, but failed, and Michigan labor and many Democrats are backing a ballot proposal that would boost the tip wage as part of an increase in the minimum wage. His workers don’t have a retirement plan, yet, though he said he hopes to install one soon.

The restaurants have health care insurance, though the Post said most the workers have signed up for coverage via the Affordable Care Act. And all workers get two weeks paid vacation.

Mr. Bonior complained about local regulations, which he said held up opening his restaurants.

But a bigger complaint was the weather, especially the tough winter that resulted in a number of snow days, cutting down the restaurants’ business.

Perhaps an even bigger surprise: the Michigan and Detroit-area native is a Washington Nationals fan.

The Quote Board At 40: Could It Be Revived In Today’s Political World?
Posted: April, 24 2014 2:03 PM

Exactly where and in what circumstances former Rep. DeForest Strang said, “Michigan government is made up of three houses: the House of Representatives here, the Senate on the other side of the building and the Judiciary” is no longer known.

But he did say it on April 24, 1974. Two reporters looked at each other after he said it, then said to each other, “Did he just say that?” One of them rolled a piece of yellow dog into a manual typewriter (just Google yellow dog and manual typewriter if you don’t know what they are), typed out the quote, stuck a headline of “Words to Live By” at the top and posted it on the wall of the Press Room.

Thus was born the Quote Board. A few weeks later, former Sen. Alvin DeGrow said: “The handicapped have made tremendous strides in recent years.” That was followed by former Rep. Josephine Hunsinger fulminating: “Maybe a police state isn’t all bad.” There was no turning back. For more than 12 years, reporters in Lansing had two missions. One was to make sense of the Capitol to the public; the other was to get great quotes for the Quote Board.

In a day when the Press Room was behind the House – its space now polluted by a caucus room – the Quote Board was known across the country. No kidding. It had a reputation in Lansing, of course. In fact, legislators would come into the press room, read the Quote Board and ask, “How do I get on there?”

In the early 1980s, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal was in town to do a story on what was then the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Took a break from pounding the typewriter. Read the Quote Board. Howled with laughter. Scribbled down quotes. Wrote a piece on it that appeared in the Journal and the whole world now wanted the quotes.

Johnny Carson read them off on “The Tonight Show.” He was particularly fond of former House Floor Leader Joe Forbes’ quote: “Mr. Speaker, what bill did we just pass?” “He’s supposed to know!” Mr. Carson said.

For some years George Will routinely cited the board in his column. He especially found wisdom in former Sen. Harry DeMaso’s thundering promise: “From now on I’m watching everything you do with a fine-tooth comb.”

When Capitol renovations began in the mid-1980s and the press room was moved, reporters took the quote board down. Former Sen. Jackie Vaughn III has the last political quote posted, on June 5, 1986, when he said: “I think it’s disgraceful for members to stand here on the floor and personalize people.”

The Quote Board was moved to Gongwer offices. Sadly, yellow dog being yellow dog – the cheapest, cruddiest paper ever pressed – the Dead Sea Scrolls are probably in better shape than the Quote Board. Some of the quotes are no almost no longer readable. The pages are torn in spots. Pieces are missing. But copies do exist, thankfully.

The context of some of the quotes are lost. You’d have to know that former Sen. Jack McCauley lost an arm in World War II to understand his saying, “You can tell it’s campaign time…I don’t wear my arm.”

In many respects the art of governing has not improved in 40 years. Former Rep. Roy Spencer said, “The arguments in favor of this bill are almost as ludicrous as the arguments opposing it” in 1975 and that’s probably still true. Surely, former Sen. Joe Snyder’s plea of “If you’ve got a deal cut, let’s vote for it” still holds sway.

Then-Rep. John Engler’s advice of “I think if you write an unconstitutional resolution, you should be correct” still has merit.

And former Rep. George Montgomery expounding that “If this were a true democracy, they would take him out to the wood shed and shoot him” is rightly profound.

Could the quote board be resurrected? Not likely. Why? Well, sorry legislators of 2014, you ain’t funny. Why aren’t you funny? It all relates to politics today. Politics was always tough and mean. Now it is just plain savage, with a financial and technological infrastructure to terrify, and results in politicians who are either way too cautious or way too mean. And that means nobody really says much that is funny.

Remember, politicians used to ask how they could get on the Quote Board. All you had to do was say something silly, or dumb, or legitimately funny.

And everybody did, and laughed about it. By and large lawmakers are smart people, but they forget things, get their tongues tied, mix metaphors and accidentally twist things. Sometimes they would get furious when a quote showed up. Then-Rep. Debbie Stabenow was at first upset when she discovered her comment “We know that 80 percent of our prisoners are formerly children” was on the board. She of course meant to say “abused children,” but got ahead of herself. But she would later take visitors to the Press Room to show them the board and point out her quote and laugh with them.

Now, anything any politician might say that is Quote Boardable would become part of a campaign ad, blasted around the universe thousands of times on the Internet in just minutes trailing behind it vicious comments from the know-it-alls and the intolerant.

Even this was, in a way, forecast long ago. Former Rep. Lynn Jondahl once said: “I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it is to be a pawn of labor.” Everyone, Democrat and Republican, who heard him laughed. It was the kind of quick-witted remark for which Mr. Jondahl is still famous.

But in 1982 Mr. Jondahl was in a tough, tough race and his Republican opponent used the quote every time he appeared before a business crowd. Mr. Jondahl worried the comment could cost him the election.

One doubts that any politician would take the risk of being themselves anymore, of being legitimately witty, or occasionally forgetful, of letting themselves trip over their tongues, or just being lost in a haze and stupefied. Why would they, when their opponents can feed off their humanity and reduce them to a soundbite of them being an idiot? No, no, far better to resort to that safe and boring device called “talking points” than to speak to something genuinely, even if speaking genuinely means you sometimes sound like a dope.

I’m not saying this is right or wrong, better or worse. I’m just saying that’s what it is. Politics is much less human now. That’s why politicians aren’t funny. That’s why the Quote Board will remain on fragile sheets of decaying paper in our offices.

Oh well. Best to remember and to finish with former Governor William Milliken: “I’ve said all I want to say. I’m turning on the fog machine now.”

Who Thinks Congress Is Doing An Excellent Job?
Posted: April, 18 2014 3:18 PM

A grand total of six people in Michigan think Congress is doing an excellent job.

Well, okay, that’s not quite true. The latest State of the State Survey from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University found that of more than 1,000 people surveyed, just six people thought Congress was doing an excellent job.

Clearly more people in the entire state think Congress is doing an excellent job. After all, there are 16 members of the U.S. House and Senate from Michigan, and their spouses, kids, grandkids, siblings, etc.

Well, Congress is obviously not popular in Michigan or nationwide right now, but it was striking that just six people out of the number surveyed said they thought Congress was doing an excellent job.

So reporters asked MSU Economics professor Charles Ballard if there was any distinct comparison between those six people.

Not really, said Mr. Ballard. Four were men, two were women, one was black and five were white, two were from Ingham County, and then one each from Kalamazoo, Kent and Wayne counties.

One person was a Republican, Mr. Ballard said, who said Congress was doing an excellent job, the GOP-controlled House was doing an excellent job but the Democratic-controlled Senate was doing a poor job.

That person, he said, he understood. Otherwise there was no pattern.

“This is sort of like, every now and then something weird shows up in the numbers,” Mr. Ballard said.

What Role Will Detroit Bankruptcy Play In The Election?
Posted: April, 17 2014 4:26 PM

So far the 2014 campaign has played itself against a historic backdrop – an unpleasant backdrop, one that has brought the state a lot of unwanted attention, but historic nonetheless.

The entire election, so far, has been played out against the backdrop of the Detroit bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

If all goes according to plan, the city should emerge from Chapter 9 bankruptcy in October, barely a month before the November election.

So, what role will the bankruptcy play in the election itself? For political-watchers, this is truly unmapped land. As such, the bankruptcy could help or hurt both sides. Much of its overall effect will depend on the final results and how the public reacts. Based on the latest happenings, it could very well prove to be a positive for Governor Rick Snyder.

Early on, when Detroit was put under emergency manger Kevyn Orr now 13 months ago, there were clues as to how voters would react. Mr. Orr was named not quite six months after the voters had rejected the controversial emergency manager law, PA 4 of 2011, only to see the Legislature enact a new emergency manager law, PA 436 of 2012.

A lot of people, Democrats mostly, were furious at this turn of events, a fury which remains unabated. The idea of the state seizing control of a local government continues to grate. It is seen as paternalistic, arrogant, uncaring of local needs and undemocratic by taking away any authority to make needed decisions by local elected officials.

Worse, since virtually every entity under emergency management is populated primarily by African-Americans, the exercise has been denounced by some opponents as de facto if not de jure racist.

However, just as early on, putting the city under emergency management and then into bankruptcy has gotten a lot of support. Some of that support grudging, but the city’s struggles with its finances as a symptom of its larger overall problems has been known for decades. Painful as the action was, Mr. Snyder got a fair amount of support for taking a hard step.

That support always had a contingent sense, however, which relied on what the final outcome of the bankruptcy would be. It especially relied on what might happen to the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. If the collection, or a part of it, were lost, then a lot of voters would be angry at Mr. Snyder.

Right now, however, the actions in the bankruptcy all seem to favor Mr. Snyder.

City pensioners, the city and bondholders have shown remarkable speed in the last several weeks on reaching agreement on different terms (granted, those agreements come after the city filed for bankruptcy nine months ago, after dozens of court hearings and with some critical elements – like an agreement on the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department – still unsettled).

Even with that caveat, it seems highly likely the city will emerge from bankruptcy and begin steps toward restoration. Restoration, though, will also likely take decades and will require a substantial economic redevelopment, improved security and mostly a new attitude toward and about the city from, well, just about everyone.

Mr. Snyder seems confident the resolution of the bankruptcy will go his way. As he filed his petitions for re-election Thursday, he praised the new hope the city has. And if the bankruptcy is completed smoothly – even with the problems of blight, crime and a weak Detroit economy ongoing – it certainly will give him a boost with voters.

But if major problems erupt – if the Legislature does not agree to the state’s $350 million part of the Grand Bargain, if the conclusion of the bankruptcy blows a gasket because no agreement on the water department can be reached, and if a couple of Van Goghs are carried out the DIA’s doors – then the political winds could very well turn and put an unwanted chill on Mr. Snyder.

Dave Agema: ‘Hitler, Who Ruled Like Obama, Didn’t Like Obamacare’
Posted: April, 11 2014 2:19 PM

The 2004 German movie “Downfall” is a powerful and disturbing film about the last days of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. It is based on much historical research about the final days as Soviet forces marched into Berlin precipitating the end of the European theater of World War II, and for a movie creates an intense atmosphere of the paranoia, extremism, desperation, hatred and delusion that one senses must have overrun that bunker.

One critical scene in the picture – when the leaders of the Wehrmacht finally confront Hitler with the reality that he has no military options left and defeat is imminent, and Hitler screams at them in response – has become a new age hallmark for satire. The scene’s subtitles have been used and rewritten over the years to show Hitler screaming about everything from Michael Jackson’s death to the announcement of university football coaches to the introduction of the iPad.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the scene has also been used to mock and condemn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known to both its critics and some supporters as Obamacare.

It’s unknown if Michigan Republican National Committee member Dave Agema has seen “Downfall.” Mr. Agema has been a lightning rod in the last year for his comments on same-sex marriage.

On Tuesday this week, on his Facebook page, Mr. Agema shared a webpage showing the “Downfall” scene with Hitler saying he did not want to see a Jewish doctor, then being told his old doctor is not on his Obamacare network, followed by Hitler screaming about the ACA.

Whether Hitler in any context outside of a Mel Brooks satire is funny is open to debate.

One can also question and (writing as the son of a World War II veteran) be disturbed, very disturbed, at the line Mr. Agema posted introducing the scene on his page: “Even Hitler, who ruled like Obama, didn’t like Obamacare. Funny!”

President Barack Obama is clearly a controversial and even polarizing figure. But, “Hitler, who ruled like Obama.” Seriously?

To review history: when Hitler took power all dissent was ended. Jewish civil servants were immediately fired. Before the Holocaust itself, all Jews were barred from practicing their professions; their property was confiscated; and terrorist acts against them were not just tolerated, they were encouraged and, as Kristallnacht showed, were instituted by the government.

In addition, political opposition was silenced. Women were almost completely barred from working. Labor unions were suppressed and their leaders arrested. Wages were slashed and price and wage controls were enacted. Industries were nationalized and executives arrested.

People could be sentenced to death for not appearing to be strident enough for the Third Reich. Churches were forced to include Nazism as part of their scripture. Every element of German life was twisted into supporting and promoting Nazism.

And what to say of the Holocaust, of the millions of Jews, gypsies, gays, political opponents, journalists, opposition religious leaders and more, herded into cattle cars, turned into slave labor, then exterminated on an industrial scale? What to say of the obsession to rid the world of all the Nazis found undesirable such that a greater priority was put on delivering innocents to the death chambers than on fighting their enemies on the battlefield? The great French director Alain Resnais recently died. His short documentary “Night and Fog” is available on YouTube. Anyone needing to be reminded how funny Nazi rule was, or who needs to see the evidence, should watch the film.

Mr. Obama, as all American politicians and public figures are, is rightly subject to criticism. History will eventually judge the success and rightness of his policies, as it does with all presidents.

Clearly, there is little middle ground on Obamacare. Again, history as well as the economy and the political decisions of the public will judge its effectiveness.

But whatever one’s political views, can one honestly suggest there is any comparison between Hitler and Mr. Obama, between the Third Reich and the current administration?

Funny? No.

The Kind Of Problem One Would Like To Have
Posted: April, 8 2014 2:58 PM

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week on McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission that would end the aggregate limits on how much a person can donate to a federal candidate, much of the debate has focused on whether the decision has blown open the flood gates of money into politics or defends free speech in politics.

However, Lansing-area lawyer, Richard McLellan, one of the top Republicans lawyers in the nation, brought up another issue that one might label a problem someone would like to have.

Mr. McLellan engaged in a bit of a radio debate with Michigan Campaign Finance Network Executive Director Rich Robinson on the “Current State” program on WKAR radio in East Lansing on the effect of the ruling. Mr. McLellan approved of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling, saying it upheld the First Amendment. Mr. Robinson opposed it, saying it would hurt democracy overall by making candidates more tied to money sources.

The ruling did not eliminate the maximum amount a person can donate to a candidate in a single donation, but it did eliminate the limit on the aggregate total a person can give a candidate.

Mr. McLellan said he had spoken with a “rich person” who complained about the decision.

In the past, Mr. McLellan said the rich person said the wealthy could tell a candidate no more, you’ve hit your limit and you are not getting any more money.

Now, there is no limit and the politicians will always be out looking for more money, the “rich person” moaned, Mr. McLellan said.

Ah, to have the kind of money that would cause a person to have such a worry.

Chris Ward: House Was On Wrong Side Of History
Posted: March, 28 2014 4:03 PM

In 2004, Chris Ward, then a Republican member of the House, voted in favor of a proposal to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the November ballot. In a blog post this week, Mr. Ward said the vote is the one that has haunted him the most, and that the House was on the wrong side of history.

In his blog, Republicus, Mr. Ward has taken on strident voices in the Republican Party. He has argued for a moderated conservatism that recognizes and respects individual differences and liberties as well as a role for government in helping grow the economy. The Republican Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and even, he would say, Reagan. Perhaps not surprisingly, his views do not get high praise from the more right-listing side of the party.

In this latest post Mr. Ward said the decision issued last week by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman holding that the Michigan Marriage Amendment violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause came about 10 years after the Legislature was acting on a proposal for the ballot to ban same-sex weddings.

In his blog, Ms. Ward suggests some cynical reasons for the legislative action, saying in 2004 the public was raising worries about the Iraq War and Republicans needed an issue for the election that year.

“Campaign strategists loved the demographics of the issue. Working class Catholics would turn out and they will vote for Bush....religious fundamentalists would be fired up...and on and on...At the House of Representatives, some people thought this was THE issue to take out some vulnerable Democrats. A Constitutional Amendment would require a 2/3 vote, the pressure would be strong on members of the Democratic minority to not give those precious decisive votes,” Mr. Ward wrote.

History shows the Legislature, the House specifically, did not approve that proposal in part because Mr. Ward’s fellow Republicans Leon Drolet and Lorence Wenke voted against it (Mr. Wenke wrote of that decision this week as well). The proposal ended up on the ballot anyway because supporters gathered petition signatures.

“Looking back now, one of the things that bothers me the most about the whole episode was how dehumanizing it was. It was just politics. But it wasn't politics. These were people. We singled out a whole group of people, most of whom just wanted to be left alone, to forcefully discriminate against them for short-term political benefit,” he said.

“All around us were our friends, COLLEAGUES, family members, highly valued staff members and people we care about who this clearly was going to hurt. Nobody seemed to think a thing of it. Like most people, including my constituents, I wasn't comfortable with same-sex marriage at that point but I didn't even bother to throw out a ‘hey we shouldn't be doing this’ or ‘look what we are doing to the people we care about,’” Mr. Ward said.

As a student of history, Mr. Ward said the vote now torments him as he thinks of his heroes such as Churchill and Lincoln standing firmly outside the political mainstream for what they believed, and ultimately were proven right.

“My own particular purgatory is to be forever doomed to be on the wrong side of history,” Mr. Ward wrote.

“You always picture yourself cast in a role with them. Not on the other side. In my small window of making an impact, I failed to put the things I learned from reading those books to use on an important issue,” he said, and concluded, “Let's do the grown-up thing and help heal the wounds we created. At the very least, let's get the heck out of the way.” 

Why You Have Fundraisers, Reason No. 1
Posted: March, 25 2014 3:44 PM

Well, maybe you can fund household improvements, of a sort.

In the conference room at the Michigan Democrats headquarters at Hart Kennedy House in Lansing is a large plaque honoring all those who have given to the 1977 Hart Kennedy House Fund.

Only the nice brass “E” on “House” has fallen off and been temporarily replaced with a square of blue paper with a handwritten “E.”


Michigan Democrats this week announced that former President Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Detroit on April 26 in Detroit.

Before a press conference held at the Hart Kennedy House, a reporter joked with party Chair Lon Johnson that, “Billy should be able to get you an ‘E.’”

“He’ll get us more than an ‘E,’” Mr. Johnson joked back.

Dave Agema On MH370: Likely Victim Of Terrorism
Posted: March, 21 2014 3:22 PM

With the controversy Michigan Republican National Committee Member Dave Agema has generated in the last year on the question of gay rights and same-sex marriage, a number of people may have forgotten that he was both an Air Force and an American Airlines pilot although he often reminds people of those aspects of his resume.

And this week, Mr. Agema delivered what he thought may have happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: he suspects its fate is tied to terrorism.

The now legendary mystery of what happened to the airliner bound for Beijing shortly after it took off from Kuala Lumpur has transfixed the world since the plane disappeared nearly two weeks ago. The latest indication that debris in the Indian Ocean may have been sighted by satellite imagery has so far not lead to any discoveries.

On Facebook this week Mr. Agema said he had been asked for his opinion on what might have happened to the aircraft. There are two possibilities, he said, “1. They really had a severe problem like complete electrical failure or fire (very unlikely) and were disoriented. The reason this seems unlikely is kept on flying for hours. 2. The aircraf was hijacked by a terrorist or even the pilots (more likely).”

Both scenarios have been treated seriously by the investigating community. The Malaysian government has said it suspects the act of turning the plane off its intended course was deliberate, and there have been investigations underway of the pilots.

If the disappearance was deliberate, Mr. Agema said the reason for it is obvious and dire.

“If the second is true, what do they want the aircraft for and if it's for terrorism what do they do with the people? The answer to both is to kill,” he wrote. If the pilots have been overcome through a fire or other condition, the plane should have still sent signals as it crashed, he said. And the pilots would still have tried to communicate emergency signals with emergency power. “Neither of these occurred that we know of. Time will tell, but my bet it was and will be terrorism,” Mr. Agema wrote.

There is still is a chance something less sinister occurred, he wrote, but, “If I am wrong, this will be the first time this particular emergency has ever occurred on this type aircraft or there was extreme pilot error.”

Get Ready For Some Early Holiday Shopping
Posted: March, 19 2014 4:38 PM

Looking for a deal on some jewelry? Have a yen for some antique coins? Want some timeless elegance with a classy pocket watch? Hey, the holidays are coming, eventually. There’s just 200-something shopping days until Christmas and the state surplus property auction is coming up to meet your shopping needs.

Yes, the auction takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Lansing Center, 333 East Michigan Avenue, in Lansing.

Being sold are hundreds of items, largely jewelry, watches and collectibles like coins, antique currency and stamp collections. All the items are unclaimed property escheated to the state. Catalogs of the goodies available are here.

And on Friday one can hoof it over to the Lansing Center to inspect the merchandise.

Terms: cash and credit cards only. And there is a 10 percent buyer fee.

And you will pay sales tax, except on the sale of money. Coins and currency are tax exempt. So you can save a little money on buying money.

Are Lawyers Interested In The Mandatory State Bar Question? Uh, Yeah
Posted: March, 18 2014 3:17 PM

Hundreds of lawyers are interested in the issue, in fact. And the next couple weeks could see hundreds more express an interest.

With the question of whether lawyers in Michigan should be compelled to be members of the State Bar of Michigan before the Legislature – though no action is pending on SB 743* – the Supreme Court last month issued an administrative order creating a task force looking at the role of the State Bar in the state and its effect on all things legal and judicial.

Recall this issue popped up after the State Bar last year asked for a ruling on whether contributors to issue ads dealing with judicial elections could be anonymous. In the end, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson proposed rules that would deal with all issue ads, but the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder shut the door on that idea. And folks who argued that requiring individuals to identify themselves would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution then began suggesting the idea that lawyers should not be compelled to join the State Bar. They likened the idea to Michigan’s recently enacted right-to-work laws.

The chair of the task force sent a message out to all members of the bar asking for their input.

The State Bar is reporting that as of Friday, March 14, 384 members have expressed an interest in the issue so far.

And the request for comment asked those State Bar members to respond by March 28, so conceivably hundreds more may yet respond. So, stay tuned.

Joseph Sax, Who Played A Major Role In Michigan Environmental Law, Has Died
Posted: March, 12 2014 3:54 PM

How the state is shaped relies on the work of many people, and one who was not well known to the public but who had a major effect on how the state and nation deals with environmental regulation has died.

Joseph Sax was for a time a law professor at the University of Michigan, and while he was there he established some of the essential reasoning that developed the fundamental basis for environmental law.

His work on the concept of the environment being held as a public trust, entitled to public protection, was instrumental in creating the entire foundation of environmental regulation.

Mr. Sax also was an active and critical individual in the drafting of Michigan’s environmental protection act in 1970s. In a recent obituary, the New York Times gave him authorship of the law.

A Chicago native who loved the outdoors, Mr. Sax died on Sunday at age 78. He died just a few months after his wife of 55 years had died.

While teaching at the University of Colorado, he was active with the Sierra Club in environmental issues. He joined the UM law faculty in 1965 and a few years later helped lead a lawsuit to ban the use of DDT. The lawsuit failed but dozens of cities across the nation banned the pesticide on that basis.

In 1970, Mr. Sax wrote an article for the Michigan Law Review which used intellectual and legal concepts stretching back as far as Roman law to enunciate the idea of the environment as a public trust. Those environmental resources were so critical, the public had a right to sue if necessary to protect them, he wrote.

While not universally acclaimed, the idea rapidly gained a hold in both the public and legal mind. He acknowledged that growing support for environmental protection at the time – 1970 marked the first Earth Day and approval of the US environmental protection act – helped his cause.

He left UM in 1986 to teach in California. In the 1990s he was a counsel to the U.S. Department of Interior.

Some Work Coming Up Around The Capitol
Posted: March, 5 2014 4:27 PM

Hard to think, after the winter Michigan has endured, there will come a time when air conditioning is called for, and in getting ready for dearly desired warmer days visitors to the Capitol will see some work underway beginning next week.

Workers will start the process of replacing the cooling towers for the Capitol which are on the south side of the building, the Senate side.

Cooling “towers” may be a bit of a misnomer, since they are actually underground and identifiable by the large grates keeping one from plunging into the depths. That is, plunging into the depths actually as opposed to figuratively, as sometimes life in politics must seem.

Steve Benkovsky, director of Capitol Facilities, said the work should continue until about mid-May. The project is fairly complicated involving pulling out pipes, installing new hardware and such. Certainly it will be more involved than simply replacing a window unit in a bedroom.

Therefore the project will require putting up fences to ensure pedestrians are blocked off from harm while the work is ongoing.

So when the fences go up, just say to yourself: it will get warmer, it will get warmer.

March 3 Seems To Be A Parks Kind Of Day
Posted: March, 3 2014 3:51 PM

On Monday the U.S. National Parks Service released data that showed that more than 2 million people visited Michigan’s national parks and lakeshores in 2012.

It’s serendipity that the National Parks Service made the announcement on Monday, because Monday was the 139th anniversary of Mackinac Island being named the second national park in these here United States.

On March 3, 1875, what is known to Michiganders simply as “the island” was designated a national park just three years after Yellowstone became the first national park. You may have heard of Yellowstone, it has a geyser.

In 1895, what was called Mackinac Island National Park was turned back over to the state, and the state park land covers much of the tourist attraction.

In 2012, the National Park Service reports, more than 2.192 million visited the state’s five national parks and natural designations. The best known of those are Isle Royal, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks.

If Mackinac Island was still a national park, one can only imagine how many more people would have been added to that total.

Okay, Try This On That Rule of Law Stuff
Posted: February, 28 2014 3:47 PM

In recent years a new bit of political shorthand has covered the landscape, the idea of a “rule of law” judge.

The common definition for a rule of law judge is one who is deferential to the political authority and does not make law from the bench and interprets only as the political body would determine and so on. It’s a phrase to invoke the opposite of the dreaded “judicial activist.”

Yeah, yeah, fine. Anyone who has read George Orwell’s essay on political language (which along with “1984” and “Animal Farm” should be required reading) knows that any political descriptive phrase is mostly semantic nonsense. Fine, one is for “freedom of…”, “right to…” “pro” this or that. Such phrases and names are terribly polite ways of masking often unpleasant and direct truths. Such phrases are used in regular speech as well, so one is not old but a senior citizen, not fat but blessed with excess untrained muscle and so on.

Of course, could one name a single judge who would not define him or herself as a rule of law judge? Doubtful. Judges have to interpret law, have to decide what the freaking heck lawmakers meant when they wrote whatever they wrote, have to decide how a circumstance falls into place in a given law. And when they do, despite their protest, they know they are making law from the bench. It should be in the job description, because that’s what a judge has to do.

With that in mind, this decision released Friday by the Michigan Court of Appeals should serve as an object lesson of just how twisted and exhausting trying to actively interpret what the rule of law should or might be can turn out to be. In Gongwer’s daily report there will be a story on the case, but dust off your wits and rule away.

Some Good News. No, Really, This Is Good News
Posted: February, 26 2014 2:19 PM

Compared to your standard Home Depot issued gallon of latex paint, lead-based paint – the common wall cover used for decades until society finally got a little smarter – weighed tons. Well, easily twice as much as latex paint.

A gallon of lead-based paint, in fact, weighed about the same as about a year-old toddler. A toddler at such an age could start stuffing things in his or her mouth. Things like lead paint chips. And lead paint chips can lead to dramatically increased levels of lead in a small child’s bloodstream.

And elevated lead levels can lead to increased health and intellectual problems for those children as they grow older.

Which is why some statistics announced before the House Appropriations Community Health Subcommittee on Wednesday are nothing less than good news, damn good news.

For more than a decade, the state – and all states – have been engaged in efforts to remediate buildings with lead-based paint. They have been testing children to check for levels of high lead in their blood stream. The goal is to ensure that by 2020 no children, anywhere, have elevated lead levels.

Steve Fitton, head of the Medical Services Administration, in the Department of Community Health, told the subcommittee that in 2013, 82.4 percent of three-year old children in Michigan had been tested for blood lead levels. That’s up from 76.3 percent of the number of those kids tested in 2009.

The goal is to have no children in the state with blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter, written scientifically as >5ug/dl.

In 1998, an estimated 44.1 percent of children six or younger in Michigan had elevated blood lead levels, those with 5ug/dl or higher.

In 2013, that had dropped to 3.9 percent. That is damn good news.

“This is an enormous public health achievement,” Mr. Fitton told the committee. “It translates directly into improved health.”


There is still work to be done, and as part of the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, the administration announced it would remediate a number of buildings to remove lead. The highest number of children that still have elevated lead levels are in Bay, Branch, Crawford, Huron, Jackson, Kent, Keweenaw, Lenawee, Mackinac, Manistee, Mason and Wayne counties.

But there is no disguising that this is good news, that this is something the government along with the efforts of volunteers and the public can honestly take credit for helping accomplish as well as use to drive through to the real final goal of making sure no child has too much lead in his or her blood.

The Hottest Legal Reading In The State Today Is By High School Students
Posted: February, 20 2014 2:25 PM

On March 6, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in People v. Carp, a case that could decide if juveniles already in prison for life without parole have the option of a parole hearing. A brief filed in that case includes the following: “You don't need science to tell you that teenagers make stupid, impulsive, and often reckless decisions. But it is tremendously helpful to tell you why we do. Many times we don't even know why we did them!”

Yeah, that ain’t your typical legal writing, especially against the general dry as dust stuff most Michigan cases feature. It’s one reason why the brief, an amicus brief brought on behalf of the students at Father Richard Gabriel High School in Ann Arbor, has become one of the most interesting bits of legal reading one can honestly enjoy.

Just to review, Michigan is one state that has allowed for an automatic sentence for juveniles to life in prison without the option or hope of parole. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held such punishment was unconstitutional.

What was left undecided, however, was whether the ruling applied only to sentences going forward or if it was retroactive and meant any juveniles sentenced to automatic life in prison without possibility parole must receive a parole hearing or be resentenced.

The Michigan Court of Appeals said it was prospective, which also is the position of Attorney General Bill Schuette. But in a passionate series of conclusions and orders U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara said the state should immediately begin scheduling hearings for the more than 300 persons sentenced as juveniles in Michigan to automatic life without parole. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed that order for the time being.

So that’s what the issue is going before the Supreme Court on March 6: should the state at least hold parole hearings for those juveniles convicted with otherwise no hope of parole. Leading up to argument the court has allowed a big pile of amicus briefs in, far more than one generally sees in say, oooh, right of way cases.

This week, the court approved the amicus brief of the 450 (out of 530 students) at Father Richard school. The brief includes 26 sheets with the signatures of all 450 of those students. The voice in the brief is completely theirs, with the bulk of the drafting done by junior Matilyn Sarosi.

Jon Muth and Patrick Jaicomo of the firm Miller Johnson present the brief, saying that while “certain formal requirements of primary appellate briefs may be still lacking, what is significant here is the voice of the students.”


No kidding. This brief is worth more than a brief skim. It has passion, a sense of moral outrage and befuddlement, as well as hope. All briefs at the appellate level are a plea, a bit of begging tied up in legal formalities, but this brief is different. It has the optimism one hopes everyone has had, at least once, and a sense of trust implicit in the very nature of hope.

“We don't view the individuals involved in these cases are inherently evil. We believe factors in their lives like where they were raised or the stability of their family environment had a lot to do with their actions and we think to ourselves, ‘There but for the Grace of God go I,’” say the students.

And they conclude: “As members of the Student Body at Father Gabriel Richard, we are currently at the age the individuals in the cases before the Court were upon receiving their sentence to die in prison. We believe all persons have the potential capacity to be sorry for their sins, work to repair their wrongs, restore their worth as a member of society, to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Fundamental to our beliefs as Christians is that all of us have a right and the promise to be redeemed.”

Whatever your view on the issue, this brief should be read.

A Literary Moment In The Kellogg Kerfuffle?
Posted: February, 19 2014 1:44 PM

Not many people read John Marquand anymore, more’s the pity for that, but for those that do and have, the unexpected uproar over the Kellogg Company moving some jobs from Battle Creek to Grand Rapids has a ring of the novel “Sincerely, Willis Wade” about it.

One must tread carefully in drawing the conclusion, because the hero of the book, Willis Wade, is a seemingly bright young fellow who is ultimately clueless. His parents work for a major business tycoon in a mid-sized company town, the tycoon selects Willis to attend Harvard Business School, Willis does everything expected of him, becomes a huge success and a major business force himself and the pride of his hometown.

Eventually he becomes head of a giant business which buys the hometown plant, to the great but unwitting relief of the townsfolk, and then shuts it down. The term “metrics” wasn’t much used in the 1950s when the novel was published, but that is essentially why Willis made the decision. But then he is perplexed and deeply hurt when everyone in his hometown now hates him and calls him a traitor.

The Kellogg situation involves the giant company deciding to locate its Global Business Services North American regional center in Grand Rapids. The services are now conducted in Battle Creek and the company says looked at nine different areas before deciding on Grand Rapids.

Governor Rick Snyder, himself a son of Battle Creek, praised the move on his Twitter feed (well, actually one presumes his staff did since they maintain the site). His staff defended the comments, but seemed to do so uncomfortably.

The move itself, and Mr. Snyder’s praising of it, has provoked outrage in Battle Creek. Former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, a Republican who was Battle Creek mayor and represented the city in the Michigan Legislature before going to Congress, blasted the decision by Kellogg’s and was none too pleased with Mr. Snyder.

Democrats have jumped all over the situation, which raises another serendipitous point: the expected Democratic candidate for governor, former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, is also a Battle Creek native.

Unlike Willis Wade, no one would accuse Mr. Snyder of being clueless. Whatever one thinks of his policies, Mr. Snyder is a sharp operator.

And in terms of the 2014 gubernatorial election, the situation could make things a bit tense for the GOP in the Battle Creek area. Certainly, one expects Mr. Schauer to hit the hometown hard over this situation.

If nothing else, it shows the need to be clear on how people will react to various announcements and the effects they could have. Just like in physics, in politics every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Whatever the long-term fallout politically, Mr. Snyder and his staff probably should have been a bit more cautious in reacting to the announcement, recognizing the hometown might not immediately see this move as a plus.

And if nothing else, it also says one can also learn important life lessons from literature.

Another Historic Moment Michigan Can Take Pride In
Posted: February, 13 2014 2:48 PM

It wasn’t exactly an act of nullification, but on February 13, 1855, the Michigan Legislature took a stand against the Fugitive Slave Act.

The Fugitive Slave Act, as has been earlier reported, was arguably the most odious law ever enacted by the U.S. Congress. The measure stripped any basic protections an escaped slave could claim by going into a free state, such as Michigan. Further, persons attempting to shelter escaped slaves or block bounty hunters looking for them could face serious penalties.

In 1847, the stalwart folks of Marshall protected Adam Crosswhite and his family from bounty hunters trying to take him back to the plantation Mr. Crosswhite had escaped from in Kentucky. That kind of civil disobedience played a role in the passage of the fugitive act in 1850.

It took five years for the Legislature to act – well, not much has changed as far as the sense of legislative speed – but when it did act, it acted decisively.

Michigan of course was the home of last way stations for the Underground Railroad to get escaped slaves into safety in Canada, so it would have been a target for slave hunters.

So on February 13, 1855, the Legislature passed legislation prohibiting the use of county jails to hold captured escaped slaves. This would deny those hunters a secure place to hold persons they had captured.

Further, the legislation mandated county prosecutors to act as defense attorneys for the escaped slaves.

It could not overturn the Fugitive Slave Act, but the Legislature did punch a legal hole in the act’s effectiveness, and did it and the state proud.

Michigan Economy On Par With UAE – Who Comes Up With This Stuff?
Posted: February, 4 2014 4:20 PM

The United Arab Emirates has drawn much attention in recent years, especially Dubai with its astonishing, vertigo-inspiring architecture and its status as an economic hub for the Middle East.

Now, according to a map created and posted on the site Reddit, and picked up by Business Insider, Michigan is credited with an economy roughly the same size as the UAE’s, at least in terms of gross domestic product.

The map looks at the entire U.S. and pegs each state’s GDP and a country whose national GDP is comparable than that state’s. As part of the world’s largest economy, with a GDP in 2012 of more than $16 trillion, every state – even the smallest (Rhode Island’s GDP is on a par with Serbia) – has a GDP comparable, or larger, than some other nation.

Only three states have GDP’s larger than $1 trillion, California, Texas and New York. And somewhat surprisingly, California’s $4 trillion GDP was larger than Canada’s.

Michigan is one of just 10 states with GDP’s larger than $300 billion in 2012 (four other Great Lakes States – Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and, of course New York) are on that list. New York’s economy matches with South Korea, Pennsylvania with Poland, Ohio waltzes with Austria, and Illinois is on a level with Saudi Arabia.

The other Great Lakes states have GDPs larger than $100 billion, which means Indiana’s economy is comparable with Israel, Wisconsin with Ireland and Minnesota (with about 5.5 million people) larger than Nigeria (with 175 million people).

The UAE’s economy clocked in at about $377 billion in 2012, so even a somewhat-depressed Michigan is not doing too bad.

Michigan and the UAE also track in a couple other ways. UAE’s population is about 9.2 million, with Michigan coming in at not quite 9.9 million. The UAE has a labor force of 4.3 million, which is roughly the same as Michigan’s. However, in 2012, the UAE had an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent while it stood at 9.1 percent in 2012 in Michigan.

Now, of course, Michigan just snows over the UAE with total of production of…well, snow. If they need some in Dubai, one suspects Michigan will lead the way to develop an export market of the frozen goods.

Okay, About That Sea Hunt Moment In The Governor’s Ad
Posted: February, 3 2014 4:08 PM

If there was any moment in Governor Rick Snyder’s opening campaign ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl that probably left even his supporters scratching their heads, it was right at the beginning.

The ad begins underwater with who we presume is Mr. Snyder in a wetsuit and then focuses on Mr. Snyder in scuba mask and snorkel breaking the surface. The rest of the ad is decidedly terrestrial, with a series of scenes first of decaying city structures replaced by views of the Grand Hotel, factories, the Detroit skyline and the Capitol among others.

But we start off underwater (filmed at a pool, Mr. Snyder told reporters, though he would not say where other than it was not the pool used for training by the State Police), and what was all that?

Oh, Mr. Snyder was quite excited about it all. He said it went really well. And was it all about?

Well, Mr. Snyder said, “I showed a good metaphor that Michigan was underwater and now we’re out.”


Others will say what they want, Mr. Snyder said, but he was sticking to the good metaphor of Michigan no longer being underwater.

Remembering The Waxman/Dingell Brawl
Posted: January, 31 2014 1:31 PM

Lost in all the national coverage of U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman’s announced retirement after this November’s election is the rather fierce fight he waged to strip Michigan’s U.S. Rep. John Dingell of a long-held committee chair position following the 2008 election.

And by congressional standards it was a fierce fight. Mr. Dingell (D-Dearborn) had chaired or been the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee for 28 years. Challenging him, even though he had turned 82 in 2008, seemed impossible.

Mr. Dingell, of course, had also been a strong advocate of the U.S. auto industry, and that was the ostensible trigger for the more liberal Mr. Waxman to challenge Mr. Dingell. Mr. Waxman charged Mr. Dingell had not moved fast and hard enough on global warming.

Some people also talked about needing newer, young blood in the leadership. Mr. Waxman (D-California) was 69 at the time and his ally, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), was about the same age, so that argument seemed … frail, shall we say.

A lot of the dispute probably had to do with strained relations between Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Dingell. Publicly he always supported her, but they weren’t necessarily the closest of friends.

Supporters of Mr. Waxman insisted the challenge wasn’t personal – which probably meant it was – but reflected the need to show new ideas as President Barack Obama was coming into office.

At any rate, in a fairly close vote, Mr. Waxman won the chair’s position 137 to 122 votes. Supporters of Mr. Dingell were hurt and made that known.

It also is curious, how much credit or blame (depending on one’s viewpoint) Mr. Waxman is drawing for the passage of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, since Mr. Dingell had been pushing for some kind of national health insurance well before Mr. Waxman ever took office.

At any rate, while Mr. Waxman will leave Congress at the end of the year, one strongly suspects that Mr. Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, will be in the House at least one more term.

Study Highlights 10 Safest Sort-of Big Communities In Michigan
Posted: January, 27 2014 2:30 PM

In the last couple years, much has been made of the crime problems in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw, but there are some places in Michigan where crime is mostly a word on a crossword puzzle.

Grosse Ile, for example, or Hamburg Township.

Those two are the safest, somewhat large, communities in the state, according to a national real estate company, The firm has put out similar rankings on New York and Florida.

Now, there is a caveat. The Movoto study is based on communities with populations of at least 10,000 people, looking at 2012 FBI crime statistics. So, smaller towns that would be even safer were not included in the list. But, among those towns that could fill at least a section of a major stadium, Grosse Ile is the absolute safest, followed by Hamburg Township.

Hamburg Township was the only community that is arguably out of the metro-Detroit area (it is slightly closer to Lansing) of the top 10. Among the top 25, places like Midland and St. Joseph Township are included, but pretty much the entire top 10 safest are in the Detroit area.

The other top 10-safest: South Lyon, Milford, Berkley, New Baltimore, Bloomfield Township, Riverview, West Bloomfield Township and Rochester.

Ah Kids, This Winter Ain’t Bad, Now In ’38 By Cracky
Posted: January, 23 2014 2:51 PM

While we Michiganders, who should be used to rough weather, have moaned all month, thanks be to NASA and Atlantic Magazine for reminding us of what a really bad winter storm is like.

Instead of posting the latest shots of Martians or asteroids with Earth in the crosshairs, the other day NASA posted this picture, which is probably the most iconic image of one of the worst storms to ever lash the Upper Peninsula. Atlantic Magazine picked up on it, and posted this piece on Thursday.

The storm started on January 24, 1938, as the UP was thawing out from a major storm that had hit over New Year’s. Wet, heavy snow fell over the peninsula for some 30 hours, dropping at least 30 inches with drifts reaching up to, well, as the photo shows, the tops of utility lines. A train from Chicago got stuck in drifts that were 30-feet high. Travel was largely confined to foot. A major fire broke out in downtown Marquette, and firefighters were hampered by low water pressure and weather conditions.

What is difficult to quickly ascertain, though, is how state government responded to the crisis that stretched across the Upper Peninsula.

One of Michigan’s most noted statesmen, Frank Murphy, was governor at the time (he was defeated in his bid for re-election that fall but then was named U.S. attorney general and then to the U.S. Supreme Court). Because the U.S. and Michigan was still struggling from the Great Depression – in his farewell message to the Legislature, Mr. Murphy said the state had had to subsidize local revenues of the “mining regions” by $1 million, one has to assume the area routinely needed help. But quickly found history of the storm shows only how the local population had to struggle through it.

But as one complains about one’s commute in the cold, remember, in the UP in 1938 folks had to hand dig for six days an emergency path that stretched 10 miles.

‘Clown Dave Agema’ Adds Interesting Twist To Controversy
Posted: January, 21 2014 12:52 PM

Last week, shortly before Governor Rick Snyder was about to take the podium to deliver his State of the State address a new …”voice” … appeared on Twitter.

“The invocation was a bit weak. I was hoping for more on the WRATH OF GOD that will rain down on the Moslems and the gays,” said “Clown Dave Agema” shortly after the joint House/Senate session was called into session.

The controversy over Michigan’s GOP national committee member, former Rep. Dave Agema has hit the social media ridicule phase.

Following the backlash that hit his latest posts on gays and Muslims, Mr. Agema himself on Sunday posted on Facebook that, “There are times I have posted or linked an article to encourage discourse. This does not constitute endorsement of that position,” and that his goal is to elect “fiscal, moral and constitutional conservatives” while trying to uphold both party principles and the Michigan Constitution. Those comments have drawn supporters, but also more and more of his critics as evidenced by comments calling for him to step down made by former GOP Michigan Chair Betsy DeVos.

In the middle of this, “Clown Dave Agema” is doing his/her best to poke fun at and force Mr. Agema out of his position. Contacted by Gongwer, “Clown Dave Agema” said Mr. Agema needs to be “mocked and run out of the party.”

“Clown Dave Agema’s” Twitter page has a pink background, and among the photos posted are several of a shirtless Russian President Vladimir Putin (the real Mr. Agema signaled his support of Russian anti-gay laws).

Clown Mr. Agema (the author would not identify him or herself) said he/she is a former GOP member who would not support the party further until it embraces personal freedom, “and that includes gay people. Until that happens, the party message of individual freedom rings hollow.” Naturally, without knowing the person’s identity, we have to take those comments with a grain of salt.

“Clown Dave Agema” doesn’t have a huge following yet, just 44 followers as of Tuesday morning, but he has engaged in a few verbal jousts (if back and forth on Twitter is verbal) and stayed on top of the news.

To the Detroit News editorial on Tuesday calling Mr. Agema’s removal as party committee member, Clown Mr. Agema tweeted, “Stop bullying me!!! LGBT mafia!”

And earlier in response to an interview where Mr. Putin likened gays to pedophiles, Clown Mr. Agema said, “More wisdom from my buddy Vlad!!!”

Mr. Agema himself has not signaled if he is aware of Clown Mr. Agema, though in his most recent Facebook post he wrote: “It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. I request my supporters and friends to turn the other cheek and not show the intolerance some of the opposition have shown.”

Waiting For The State Of State One-Liner
Posted: January, 16 2014 6:18 PM

Sure, sure, everyone wants to know about taxes, education policy, economic development, a clear vision for the future in the State of the State address.

But what about the joke? The one-liner that gets everyone back in their chair, eases the atmosphere, lets folks get ready for the speech and establishes an intimacy between the governor and the Legislature and lets everyone knows this is a person comfortable with command.

Our governors in the last 30 something years have, frankly, stunk at this. Former Governor John Engler would always toss a barb at former Attorney General Frank Kelley, but one never knew if those were mean spirited or actually in good humor.

Former Governor James Blanchard always seemed uncomfortable, former Governor Jennifer Granholm (who had training in the performance arts) always seemed too earnest and determined to make her points even when she was casual in her approach and Governor Rick Snyder seems determined to make the speech more report card than memorable oratory. But none of them have really cracked a good line that got a hearty laugh.

The last governor who really had this skill was former Governor William Milliken, who invariably cracked a sharp joke (or sometimes skillfully let you stumble into one).

One year, for example, Mr. Milliken looked over towards Lt. Governor James Brickley, and opened his address saying, “Every year I come to the podium. Jim Brickley shakes my hand. And takes my pulse.”

So we shall see if tonight’s address gets us back to an easy joking style.

Michigan’s Nostradamus Of 2013 Revealed, But You Already Know That
Posted: January, 15 2014 3:01 PM

Who in the recent past saw into the future most clearly? Who is the official state seer of 2013? Whose crystal was most cloud-free? Which prognosticator profoundly predicted perfectly?

Well, it was Bob Kleine. But of course you knew that. Didn’t you?

Mr. Kleine, former state treasurer, former Michigan mathematician mastermind, is the 2013 winner of the Public Sector Consultants annual state prophecy contest. The PSC tossed 57 questions at him and all contestants and he answered 46 correctly, for 80.7 percent. Okay, not exactly in the realm of spoon-bending with your mind on national TV, but pretty darn good.

In a tie for second place was John Bebow at the Center for Michigan and George Wood of Mason. They each got 45 answers correct. As their prize, they will all be feted at a lunch, or so the PSC honchos promise.

The 2014 contest is now open, and can be entered here. But you already knew that, of course. No, we won’t give away the questions, you naughty monkeys. What kinda ESPnaut needs help anywho?

Interestingly, the PSC folks say the toughest question to get right out of the 57 was one asking if Governor Rick Snyder would announce his re-election in 2013. He did not, of course, though he is expected to do so imminently. Or at least, do so sometime before the election. But just 9 percent of the respondents correctly answered.

The easiest question was whether or not any local governments would announce some kind of consolidation during the year. A whopping 91 percent guessed that correctly.

The contest had other political questions, such as would any legislators be recalled, cultural questions, such as would any state resident win a Pulitzer or Nobel prize, and sports questions, such as would either Michigan State University or the University of Michigan football team play for the Big Ten championship (hmmmm, now what did happen regarding that?).

Doubtless, though, the questions that must have seemed most unlikely, most improbable, most fantastic, most insane to have even been posed it is so whacky in its concept was: Would the Detroit Lions win seven or more games this season? Through some wizardry they did just that.

If Misery Really Does Love Company, Then We Have Plenty Of Friends
Posted: January, 6 2014 1:22 PM

With most of Michigan huddled under covers on Monday trying to keep from freezing, one can take either comfort or alarm at conditions across the nation with nearly half the continental U.S. struck by the mammoth winter storm.

According to reports, some 90,000 people in Illinois, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania have lost power at some point during the storm. That includes a small number of people in Michigan that have lost electricity (not to put too fine a point on it, but that total is still fewer than the number of people in Michigan alone that lost power in the ice storm that struck before Christmas.)

Either statewide or localized emergencies have been declared across the U.S., in North Dakota, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Tennessee among others.

Flights have been delayed or canceled across the area, including in Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, Illinois, New York and elsewhere.

Sadly, deaths have been reported in Illinois and Alabama, related to the storm.

And Missouri’s one ski resort was forced to close because of the storm.

An Act Of Civil Disobedience When Michigan Shined
Posted: January, 2 2014 2:26 PM

Among the most repulsive laws ever enacted by the United States government, if not the most repulsive, was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave runaway slaves no protection, even if they were in free states, and gave their bounty hunters extraordinary powers to capture them and return them, and which imposed severe punishment on persons helping escaped slaves. The law was one major step on the path to the Civil War, which erupted 11 years later. And an action that took place on January 2, 1847, in Marshall helped spur that law.

Marshall is more than the Calhoun County seat, home to famous Victorian and Georgian houses, and center of an iconic restaurant and its cheese spread; it is where on that day 167 years ago many members of the town stood against slave hunters, at their own legal peril.

Four years earlier, Adam Crosswhite had led his family to escape from a Kentucky plantation after he had learned his children were to be sold, and settled in Michigan, in Marshall.

On January 2, 1847, several slave catchers and a deputy sheriff arrived in Marshall looking for the Crosswhites. Word quickly spread in town the slave catchers were there. Mr. Crosswhite’s neighbors had already surrounded the house in his and his family’s defense, and they were joined by scores more.

Eventually more than 100 Marshall residents surrounded the house, keeping the slave catchers and the deputy at bay. Tensions rose as the slave catchers and the residents exchanged threats.

Finally, the slave catchers – technically within their rights to seize the Crosswhites – demanded the names of the crowd members. And the crowd members were not cowed. In fact, they gave them their names rather than give up the Crosswhites.

The deputy was both so astonished, and moved, he arrested the slave catchers, which ended the immediate crisis. While the slave catchers were able to post bail, the Marshall residents were able to help the Crosswhites flee into Canada.

That did not end the legal issue. Many of the residents who had defended the Crosswhites were fined for their actions, fines which they paid.

Their willingness to endure that helped lead Congress and then President Millard Fillmore (who was personally opposed to slavery but felt it had constitutional rights to exist) to pass the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed for any person who sheltered a runaway slave to be jailed for six months and fined $1,000 (close to $30,000 today).

So, when next enjoying a famous cheese spread born in Marshall, remember a moment when so many were willing to risk so much for one family.

Okay, Here’s The Inspirational Message From Our Leaders During This Crisis…Hello?
Posted: December, 23 2013 1:19 PM

One does not wish to be churlish ever, and especially at this joyous time of the year, but given that I am one of the more than 400,000 without power for some time now, one would like to give this joyous message to his leaders and wanna-be leaders: Where the hell are you?

See, here’s the thing, starting Saturday night, December 21, the worst ice storm since at least electricity was invented (electricity? What’s that? OOOHHH, it’s this magic thing that lets you run furnaces and water heaters and stoves and lights) descended upon the state and left hundreds of thousands of people without power.

Already creating a terrible inconvenience for those affected, the storm’s magnitude was heightened by it coming three days before Christmas, and muddling thousands of plans for family get-togethers and travel.

Okay, these things happen. Yes, we should all be prepared. Yes, it could be a blessing in disguise (to quote among the many pithy platitudes so many with power posted on social media). And yes, by God, we are incredibly grateful to those working non-stop to restore power.

But where is Governor Rick Snyder? Or where is the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mark Schauer?

There is a role here, a proper function of leadership. You have a crisis. It affects thousands of state residents. Emergency actions are underway. It behooves one as a leader to show publicly you are empathetic, that you are one with the public in this moment of concern. You can issue statements, of course, you can go to warming centers, you can meet with the utility workers, you can help assure local leaders of funding, but you have to actively do something.

And you have to do it publicly. You have to show assurance, you have to urge cooperation and resolve. This is your “Michigan expects every man and woman to do his duty” moment.

There is precedence. After a massive blizzard hit Lansing and environs in the 1960s, then Governor George Romney called on residents to work together to share shelter and help dig each other out. When one of the most ferocious blizzards in history hit Michigan in 1978 (kids, it was so bad that radio announcers pleaded with people to stay indoors saying “It is certain death if you go out.” No kidding, they really did say that), then Governor William Milliken was seen coming to the Capitol in a half-track and contacting emergency centers to both encourage and monitor the crisis. When the largest blackout hit in August 2003, then Governor Jennifer Granholm went on statewide TV to outline what was being done.

Now, on Sunday, the governor’s press staff did release this very touching video of Mr. Snyder and First Lady Sue Snyder wishing the state happy holidays.

And that was it. Grateful were we for the kind wishes. More grateful would we have been if we had been assured the state was taking steps to ensure we got power back as fast as possible. Such a message provides not just assurance but also helps spur everyone working on the crisis, knowing the governor and the people rely on them. Also more grateful would we have been had the governor called on the public to offer individual help: a place to stay, a place to shower, a pot of coffee, a really long extension line across the street, checking on the pets if the family was retreating to a hotel, something to show we are all part of this.

Oh, Mark Schauer, this doesn’t take you off the hook either. Where were your calls for the public to show concern, to be assured you would help take action? You wanna be governor, you need to show your overall concern.

All that being said, here are hopes for the warmest of Christmas celebrations. And trust me, I do mean warm.

The Wrong Perspective On The Affirmative Action Lawsuit?
Posted: December, 19 2013 3:14 PM

Sometime before the end of June the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the latest lawsuit involving affirmative action, that involving the 2006 Michigan Constitutional Amendment barring the use of affirmative action by universities and government.

In recent days, Daniel Levy, director of law and policy at the state Department of Civil Rights, published an essay in a blog, Diversityinc, suggesting the case is focused on the wrong issue. Michigan universities, Mr. Levy said, did not employ affirmative action but did allow for diversity as approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The amendment in question prohibits affirmative action, but Mr. Levy worried that the arguments before the Supreme Court this past October missed the issue and could affect efforts to boost diversity.

The U.S. court outlawed affirmative action in its 2003 decision in the Jennifer Gratz case that challenged admission standards at the University of Michigan’s undergrad school, Mr. Levy said. But in another case decided the same day, involving U-M’s law school, that brought by Barbara Grutter, the court ruled the law school had a compelling interest in promoting diversity.

Affirmative action is an attempt to address past racial injustices, Mr. Levy said, but diversity is “designed to benefit all (and particularly majority) students by exposing them to each other.”

The issue the court raised in asking questions about racial preference were already dealt with by the Gratz decision, Mr. Levy argued. “The problem exposed during oral argument was that the constitutionality of prohibiting diversity efforts was debated using only the terminology of affirmative action,” he said.

The 2006 amendment prohibits what the U.S. Supreme Court had already outlawed, Mr. Levy said, arguing the court instead should determine if the amendment is being used to limit broader diversity efforts that serve all students.

Dear Email Recipient: Please Send Money, No Matter Who You Support
Posted: December, 16 2013 3:42 PM

Hey, if you hadn’t noticed already there’s a big election in 2014. Governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general, the secretary of state, the entire 148-member Legislature, oh, it’s going to be a doozy.

Which means of course, it means it’s time for all the candidates to raise money. Well, when isn’t it time to raise money? But there is an election coming, so the money raising is a bit more urgent.

So last week, Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township) who is running for re-election, and for Senate majority leader, sent out an email to, he presumed, supporters and prospective supporters (even to reporters, who only give money to their spouses and favorite bartenders) asking if they would like to give the “gift of limited government this Christmas?” (The italics were Mr. Colbeck’s.)

Doing so would be a bit of re-gift, he said, since the founding of the nation 237 years ago. But one could support limited government by contributing to his campaign for the 2014 election, he said.

And, one could pass the email along to others so they too could support his campaign, Mr. Colbeck said.

He signed off the email asking people to have a blessed Christmas season.

One of the folks he sent the email to was his colleague Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint), who, candidly, would rather see a Democrat elected to Mr. Colbeck’s seat. Nothing personal, of course, it’s just business.

Mr. Ananich responded with an email of his own, asking whether Mr. Colbeck was Michigan’s Ted Cruz (one presumes not in a flattering sense), and charging that his call for limited government was lost when Mr. Colbeck and Senate Republicans supported legislation to prohibit insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion as part of a regular package, but only as part of a separate rider that a person would have to purchase.

“So much for all that limited government talk,” Mr. Ananich said. All Mr. Colbeck, and by extension Mr. Cruz, want to do is shut down government again after “they use it for their own extreme agenda.”

Of course, with that, Mr. Ananich solicited for donations for the Michigan Senate Democrats, saying “with your help” Mr. Colbeck could be kept both from being the Senate leader and being re-elected to the Senate.

Another Senate Speech, Another Time
Posted: December, 13 2013 2:45 PM

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) brought the Senate to a stunned silence when during the debate on legislation to bar automatic insurance coverage for abortions she revealed that as a college student she had been raped.

Her emotional address gained recognition nationwide, though it failed to sway votes away from approving the proposal.

It also brought to mind a similar dramatic speech in the Senate 44 years before.

N. Lorraine Beebe was elected to the Senate as a Republican from Dearborn in the 1966 election, which had been a Republican landslide year.

She was 56 at the time. Born Lorraine Boekeloo in Kalamazoo and a graduate of Western Michigan University, she had worked in the recreation department in Kalamazoo in the mid-1930s, before moving to Dearborn in 1937. There she worked for the city in recreation as well, and met her future husband, Leo Beebe, who worked for Ford. The couple had two children, and by the time she was elected had divorced.

In the mid-1950s she became active in politics, playing a leading role in the Southeast Michigan committee working for former President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 re-election. When the Senate still had two-year terms she ran for and lost the GOP nomination in 1964.

But she won election in 1966. She was the only woman in the Senate, and as such felt she represented not just the Dearborn area but all Michigan women.

The 1960s was the era when women’s rights, including the right to control reproduction, ignited. “The Feminine Mystique” was widely read and debated. Birth control pills were developed. The papal encyclical banning birth control for practicing Roman Catholics was issued. And across the nation many states opened debate on whether abortion should be made legal.

During one such debate in the Michigan Senate, Ms. Beebe staggered the members when she revealed that in 1948 she had had an abortion, and outlined the difficulties she had faced seeking the procedure which was, of course, illegal. In a Gongwer News Service story at the time, she said she made the speech when she had “come face to face with my conscience.”

She had the abortion, she said, after she had suffered five miscarriages before.

Her speech generated headlines across the state and nation. However, like Ms. Whitmer, her speech failed to convince her fellow lawmakers to change the law. When the proposal was defeated on 16-17 vote, Ms. Beebe wept. (A petition initiative to legalize abortion that she helped lead failed in the state in 1972, but two months later the U.S. Supreme Court permitted abortions under Roe v. Wade).

The speech also changed her life. She became a leading state and national spokesperson for women’s rights and abortion rights. But at a cost. Her life was threatened numerous times. Her house was firebombed.

Her speech and her position also played a role in her defeat in 1970, though by how much is questionable. She swamped her Republican opponent in the primary election, but then lost decisively (though not by a landslide) to Democrat Dave Plawecki in the general election (Mr. Plawecki died earlier this year). Despite Governor William Milliken winning election to a full term that year, it was generally a Democratic year.

But Ms. Beebe’s loss meant the two parties split the chamber 19-19. And Mr. Plawecki said later that while important, worker rights was as much a leading issue in heavily unionized Dearborn in 1970 as was abortion.

In the 1970s, Ms. Beebe was named to numerous federal and state commissions on issues of mental health, criminal justice, American Indians and women. She served on the Michigan Women’s Commission. Later that decade she moved to Portage. While now best known for her stand on abortion rights, Ms. Beebe also led efforts to have sex education in schools, tougher laws against drunken driving and improvements in women’s prisons.

She also remained active politically, nominated by the Republicans to run against then Secretary of State Richard Austin in 1974.

In 1980 she was active in the independent presidential campaign of Illinois U.S. Rep. John Anderson and was considered for his vice-presidential pick.

Ms. Beebe died in 2005 at age 95.

The High Court Considers A Selfie
Posted: December, 11 2013 3:11 PM

The Supreme Court of Michigan, the Supreme Court of anywhere really, is a place of staid decorum and tradition. After all, people stand when the justices come in, people speak in moderate, respectful tones, the justices are all in black robes, there is a specified order to which things are followed.

What then to make of a situation when the restrained court considers the apex of the contemporary self-indulgent, unrestrained era: selfies?

A selfie, who those who have not followed ongoing weird twists in the English language, is a self-portrait. It was declared word of 2013 by the equally staid Oxford English Dictionary. Painters have painted self-portraits (just ask that Van Gogh fella), and photographers have snapped self-portraits for centuries. Big deal, right? But a selfie is generally taken with a smartphone, a tablet or a digital camera so it can be instantly shared online. Selfies range from the charming and tasteful to the distasteful to the prurient to the whatthehellweretheythinking?

The selfie in question is probably of the last category. And it involves Wayne Circuit Judge Wade McCree.

Mr. McCree was before the high court on Wednesday on a recommendation from the Judicial Tenure Commission he be removed from office for having a sexual affair with a litigant in a case before him (you can read all about that if you subscribe to the daily report, and if you don’t call us at 517-482-3500).

Prior to that incident going public, Mr. McCree had gotten into trouble for taking a shirtless photo of himself, showing off his physique and emailing it to a court employee. In fact, the Supreme Court already censured him for that.

So, while the selfie was not specifically before the court on this occasion, it did come up.

Mr. McCree’s lawyer, Brian Einhorn, was trying to convince the court that before his affair, Mr. McCree had not done anything wrong during his tenure.

That prompted Chief Justice Robert Young to shoot back: “You think there is nothing wrong with a 50-year old man taking a selfie, naked from the waist up and sending it off to court employees?”

Mr. Einhorn argued taking the picture was not wrong, what was wrong was how Mr. McCree handled a television interview about the photo when it was revealed.

To which Justice Bridget McCormack said: “I want the record to reflect the chief justice just used the word selfie.”

“It’s in the dictionary,” Mr. Young said. “It just shows how current I am.”

When The End Of Session Was Really A Christmas Party
Posted: December, 10 2013 12:52 PM

Whatever one may think from either partisan or ideological standpoints, Michigan’s legislators are a staid, sober group of folks. They are earnest, they are determined, they are focused (at least in public), they are committed, and sadly they are a bit dull.

Dull? The 97th Legislature, not sparking in wit or vivacity? Surely, one….well, no surely one is correct. But it isn’t just the 97th. No. it goes back to at least the start of term limits, and even a bit before that. Michigan wants its public workers to work.