Monday marks the 147th anniversary of the death of Lewis Cass, possibly the most storied of Michigan’s political founders. Certainly, he is the politician with arguably the most varied career.
And he first came to Michigan (after his birth and childhood in New Hampshire and his early career in Ohio) as Michigan’s governor. In fact, in one sense he is Michigan’s longest serving governor, though it was completely as the territorial governor (and he was out of the state a lot).
Serving as a brigadier general in the Army during the War of 1812, when he was just 30, Mr. Cass was named territorial governor as a reward. In that post, he helped set up a number of state government structures.
He also, in the 1820s, led an expedition that included Douglas Schoolcraft (another storied Michigan name) to find the source of the Mississippi River. They thought they found it at what is now known as Lake Cass in Minnesota. They were wrong. Mr. Schoolcraft several years later found the correct source, at Lake Itasca, for the father of waters.
In 1831, Mr. Cass resigned as territorial governor and was named secretary of war under then President Andrew Jackson. In that role, he was a key figure in the controversial policy of removing Indian tribes from their homelands and resettling them.
It was not the only controversial policy he espoused. Personally opposed to slavery, he nonetheless backed a policy to allow each state to decide its own course on the issue. That split the Democratic Party when Mr. Cass was its presidential nominee in 1848, and he lost to Zachary Taylor, becoming the first Democratic candidate to lose the presidency.
Mr. Cass was also ambassador to France, a U.S. senator from Michigan, then in the 1850s, when he was in his 70s, secretary of state under then President James Buchanan.
With a few months left in Mr. Buchanan’s term, Mr. Cass resigned, angered because the president refused to fortify U.S. military centers in the south. Some scholars have argued doing so might have staved off the secession and prevented the Civil War.
Mr. Cass died in Detroit in 1866.
His legacy is remembered well. The Cass building is named for him in downtown Lansing, as is Cass Tech High School in Detroit. Cass County is named for him, as are Cass counties in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas (and at one time in Georgia, but the Civil War soured that). There are 42 different cities and townships named for him across the country as well as a river, two lakes, three different schools in addition to Cass Tech, a school district, a cliff on Mackinac Island, a fort, a park, 10 streets and avenues across the nation and of course, Cass Corridor in Detroit.
About the only thing not apparently named for Mr. Cass is his own beer, at least so far as we know, with which he could be toasted on this day.
With the Senate acting to protect the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts, approving SB 401 on Tuesday, it is a little surprising that some observers have questioned whether the issue has any political heft.
It does, especially in the voter-critical areas of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. And leading up the 2014 election, it is an issue politicians would do well to heed.
The question of whether the DIA's magnificent collection could be subject to sale has been pressing in the last several weeks as Detroit's Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr looks at the total assets the city possesses. It's not just the DIA collection that is at risk, but also institutions like the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Historical Museum.
There are genuine legal issues at play in the controversy, dealing with overall ownership of the collections and operations at the cultural institutions. And officials from Governor Rick Snyder on down insist that it is far too early to speculate on whether the Van Goghs or the elephants will be threatened. The issue would only come into play should the city face a Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceeding, they argue.
That answer, no matter that it is correct in its coldness, fails to recognize the larger political issue in the question of the DIA collection, a political issue that Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) did realize in introducing and moving his bill.
Because the larger community, the residents and voters of metro-Detroit, feel they own a portion of the DIA, the zoo, the historical museum and other institutions, they do not like the idea of anyone telling them those institutions can be taken from them.
After all, residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties have enacted taxes on themselves to support the DIA and the Zoo. That one is actively paying for the upkeep of the institution certainly gives one a sense of ownership rights, and therefore a right of asking what is being done to protect those institutions.
The financial bond helps strengthen the community bond as well, something that is intangible but no less real. These are places that have meaning and importance to residents. Seeing the Picasso, Peales, Gauguins at the DIA or the otters at play at the zoo has changed lives and renewed people when they have felt overwhelmed. They feel protective of the institutions and want to know that their elected leaders understand that and will take steps to protect the institutions as well.
Surprisingly, so far the leaders, Mr. Snyder and others, have not expressed the willingness to fight for the institutions many people expect. Talk to folks in the tri-county area and one can sense a frustration with those leaders. And sense it from the very type of people, engaged voters who follow the system and participate financially, physically and intellectually in the system, every politician is desperate to have.
The DIA and the zoo and other institutions are theirs, they will say (and have to this reporter), what is being done to protect them?
That message should send warning signals to politicians with the 2014 election coming up, yet, aside from Mr. Richardville and his allies, they are signals so far missed.
Given how strident conservatives have reacted to Governor Rick Snyder since his nomination in 2010, the announcement by some tea party leaders on Tuesday that they will sit out his expected re-election bid in 2014 is in itself unsurprising.
What is surprising is that some of the signatories have previously been fairly close to the Michigan Republican Party structure, and that the author of the letter that a total of 25 signatories signed is a county Republican chair.
More surprising is that they chose to act now, when arguably the impact of their action could be significantly diminished by the time of the 2014 campaign, especially if the economy continues to improve.
As initially stated, that the more intractable Tea Party activists would oppose Mr. Snyder is no surprise. They were angry he won the nomination in 2010 and complicated his effort to get then-Rep. Brian Calley nominated as his choice for lieutenant governor.
Earlier this year, those opponents came closer than anticipated to getting Michigan Republican Chair Bobby Schostak toppled during the winter convention. Mr. Snyder had to fly in from a National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., to conduct some last-minute campaigning for Mr. Schostak over challenger Todd Courser.
Nor is it a surprise the split would come over Mr. Snyder support for expanding eligibility for Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. No issue has infuriated the tea party over Mr. Snyder more than the ACA: they were outraged when he was the only Republican governor to refuse to sign a letter calling for the act’s repeal, they were outraged when he supported creation of a state exchange and further outraged when he called for a state-federal exchange on health insurance.
And Mr. Snyder’s call for the expanded Medicaid eligibility – backed by many of the state’s largest business organization – drew, again, outrage. But while Mr. Snyder’s previous efforts were thwarted, this proposal appears close to passage and the opponents are sputtering in fury.
Jason Gillman, one of the signatories to the letter saying who said he could not support Mr. Snyder, excoriated the governor on the RightMichigan blog. “Reagan’s eleventh commandment be damned,” he wrote of the late president’s plea for Republicans not to attack each other.
“If the Republican party is to be saved from itself, it had best start looking at folks like Rick Snyder as the over-hyped pharmaceutical he is. You know, ‘Use of this product carries the risk of certain side effects, including: misplaced trust, loss of vision, cronyism, and eventually death of the party,’” he added.
All polling indicates that Mr. Snyder has solid support from Republicans going into the 2014 election. Clearly, after a long series of bills Democrats opposed passed, Mr. Snyder and his allies know they cannot expect Democrats to support him as many did in 2010.
So, at first blush opposition by tea party activists would seem to hurt Mr. Snyder’s as yet unannounced re-election plans.
But, acting so early allows Mr. Snyder and the GOP time to counter the activists’ move. Especially if the economy continues to improve, the party will rally heavily to build support for Mr. Snyder and if anticipated Democratic candidate Mark Schauer shows any real traction that rallying will be even more determined.
The Tea Party activists argued their supporters should stand strong with legislators opposing the Medicaid expansion, but those legislators will more likely stand with Mr. Snyder in 2014 than against him, especially if he helps bring in lots of money for the party and Democrats appear close to threatening their House majority.
Compared to Mr. Snyder’s relatively easy romp in 2010, 2014 is expected now to be a tougher race. With Mr. Snyder leading the party to victories on so many issues it has wanted for so long, who in the end would be expected to carry more weight with the GOP in a tight race: Mr. Snyder or the Tea Party activists?
So Tuesday’s announcement while not surprising, potentially demonstrates the all the strategic weaknesses of acting out in anger. Perhaps that is not surprising as well.
If you want to run for office, it helps to identify with the constituency. Know the local history, the local places of interests, the local teams and companies and how people speak.
An interesting series of maps was released this week that traces how Americans pronounce words depending on their region. The maps were developed by a scholar at North Carolina State University that looked a linguistic survey of the U.S.
A number of the maps were published in the online publication, Business Insider, and a budding politician who hails from someplace outside the Mitten would do well to review these maps.
After all, one would not want to lose votes because he or she talked about drinking soda when the natives say pop. Or refer to a crawdad when Michiganders say crayfish.
And just think of the political pitfalls awaiting one if the politician mispronounces “pecan” in the Upper Peninsula, or gets lost in the state’s seeming inability to pronounce “mayonnaise” just one way.
The actual anniversary is on Friday, which allows everyone to get their party ready to mark the occasion, but the guy with the statue in front of the Capitol should perhaps crack a smile on June 7.
It was on that date in 1860 that Michigan Republicans chose Austin Blair as their candidate for governor.
Mr. Blair, born in New York in 1818 and coming to Michigan in 1837, was a lawyer who served in the Michigan House and then the Michigan Senate before being nominated and then elected governor in 1860. He played a critical role in the creation of the Republican Party, when in 1856 it met to organize in Jackson (his hometown).
He was also something of a radical on abolition of slavery. In the House in 1846 he moved to strike the reference to “white” men in Michigan’s Constitution. He actually was disappointed that Abraham Lincoln was the GOP nominee in 1860, in part because he thought Lincoln not strong enough on abolishing slavery.
During the Civil War, he was relentless in his efforts to raise and finance troops for the war. Eventually, more than 10 percent of Michigan’s population served in the union forces. He also travelled extensively to visit Michigan soldiers in campgrounds and hospitals, a difficult financial feat.
His salary as governor was $1,000 annually, not much money even then, and he had no expense account. Because of his travels, he was left a little short of funds when he left office in 1865, and he spoke at the dedication of the Capitol in 1879 and urged the state to pay their governors at least half as well as dry-goods store clerks were paid.
He stayed in the public eye when he left the executive office. He was elected in 1866 to the first of three terms in Congress. He tried and failed to win the U.S. Senate seat (which was a post chosen by the Legislature at the time, obviously having short memories is not a new phenomenon), then ran for governor again as a Liberal Republican being backed by Democrats in 1872 but lost in a four-candidate race. He split with Republicans by the 1876 election, but patched things up and tried (and failed) as a Republican to be elected to the Supreme Court in 1887.
While he is the only governor honored with a statue on the Capitol grounds, rest assured he does not rest there. When he died in 1894, he was buried in Jackson. Ah, but in one way, Friday’s date marks the start of Mr. Blair’s pose on the statue’s pedestal.
Oh, it was all in fun, still Governor Rick Snyder looked a bit astonished when a reporter suggested to him that being optimistic was old hat.
Mr. Snyder joined with reporters on the Capitol lawn after making brief remarks at a rally for Older Michiganians Day, and greeted them with, “Everyone should be smiling. It’s Pure Michigan. We’re outside.”
So a reporter (not this reporter, but it was one of those broadcast reporters, and everyone knows they are a cranky bunch) decided to tweak the chief executive by saying, “You know sometimes this optimism gets a little old.”
The astonishment on Mr. Snyder’s face at that was a Pure Michigan moment itself. “Oh, now, you cannot be…you have to be optimistic,” Mr. Snyder said, especially after talking to some of the older residents who were volunteers and doing great things for the state.
“Now don’t get grumpy,” Mr. Snyder said. “Be positive. Relentless positive action.”
Everyone who attends the annual Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference gets a bag of stuff. In fact, almost everyone leaves with slightly more in tow than when they arrived.
And the swag this year included an interesting contrast between high tech and old tech.
The bag itself was a nylon briefcase (in the past the bag has been a backpack or a tote bag) and included fudge from the Grand Hotel and nuts and dried cherries from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan. As a talisman against the snacks, the Michigan Dental Association included a toothbrush.
Plus there was the nod to the so-called wireless age: gifts that reflected how virtually everyone carries a cellphone and a tablet, and is always looking for a place to plug those items in to recharge. Comcast had a bag with a DC-charger plug and connections for virtually any device. And Quicken loans provided a rechargeable-charging unit.
But since in this high-tech world there has been a corresponding reaction with high-quality expensive notebooks being used, think the famous Moleskine brand, the Detroit Chamber provided the most wireless communication object there, a nice notebook with a pen.
In a life filled with Sisyphean tasks, not least among them the process of developing a budget, these comments said on Tuesday by Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Roger Kahn bear constant repeating and reflection.
At the conference committee on the 2013-14 fiscal year budget for the Department of Community Health, Mr. Kahn (R-Saginaw Township) said: “The one thing I have learned is that one of the first rules of governance and politics is: when it’s over, it’s not over.”
A paper just published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that state capital cities more geographically isolated from a state’s population center are more likely to be corrupt. On that basis, Lansing is fairly honest, the paper concludes.
Why that would be, well the paper, written by Felipe Campante of the Harvard Kennedy School and Quoc-Anh Do of Singapore Management University, suggested a lot of it had to do with news coverage.
The two (who also wrote a paper looking at levels of corruption in world capitals) measured corruption by the number of officials convicted of federal crimes from 1976 to 2002 (and Lansing saw a few convictions during that time frame such as the House Fiscal Agency scandal of 1993) compared to where the capital city was located from the state’s major population center.
States where the largest city was the capital city – Utah, Colorado, Massachusetts – had less overall corruption, and that which occurred got covered quite heavily by local press.
States where the capital city was farther from the largest urban area, and therefore farther from the major news sources, tended to see more corruption, the authors said, in part because they didn’t get more overall news coverage.
The paper included a chart which tracked levels of corruption compared to relative isolation from the big cities. Mississippi, where the capital is Jackson – what is the urban center of Mississippi anyway? Oxford? Biloxi? Natchez? – had the worst overall corruption problem, followed by Louisiana where Baton Rouge is fairly isolated from New Orleans.
Michigan, where Lansing is little more than an hour from both Detroit and Grand Rapids, was relatively corruption free, according to the paper, along with states like Maryland, Rhode Island, Ohio and New Mexico.
When the law firm Jones-Day was selected to help oversee Detroit’s fiscal restructuring, it arched a few eyebrows. More were arched and complaints voiced when Kevyn Orr, a partner at the firm, was named by Governor Rick Snyder to be Detroit’s emergency manager.
But until an article appeared in the trade paper AmLaw Daily, people did not know that Jones Day edged the local firm of Foley & Lardner by a razor’s edge for the multi-million job.
The article points out that 14 firms, including most of the largest in Detroit and some of the largest in the nation, competed for the job.
The actual selection, the article points out, was based on a 24 point system, and Jones Day finished on top with 21 points. Foley & Lardner, which was joined in its bid by a firm specializing in bankruptcy, came in with 20 points.
Governor Rick Snyder found himself upstaged twice in a brief bill signing on Tuesday, and one of those times involved his signature line, sort of.
The bill signing, on HB 4037 and SB 219, to add veteran’s designations to driver’s licenses, was in the Governor’s Capitol Office. The small conference/press conference room was filled with reporters and leaders of veterans groups.
When Mr. Snyder walked in, he said, “Good Afternoon.” The tradition and etiquette among reporters is to say nothing in response and just nod acknowledgement. And by now Mr. Snyder understands that and was starting his remarks.
But a woman among the veterans replied loudly, “Good afternoon.” The response threw Mr. Snyder off for a moment and he joked, “Can you come with me when I go to the Legislature?”
The big upstage came a few moments later, though, when Military and Veterans’ Affairs Director Gregory Vadnais took the podium. As he praised the legislation being signed, he said it was another example of “positive, relentless action.”
“I stole his line,” Mr. Vadnais joked to the governor and the laughing crowd.
Well, kind of. Mr. Snyder generally says “relentless, positive action,” but Mr. Vadnais’s comments were good enough for the day.
With increasing attention being paid to overall carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, especially as those levels have hit totals believed not present since a long time before the emergence of human beings, it is comforting to note that Michigan has been one of the better states in terms of lowering its annual carbon dioxide emissions.
Not so good is the main reason why: the state’s bad economy. In fact, as the economy has improved, the state has seen a slight increase in CO2 emissions.
The information comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which looked at carbon dioxide emissions by states from 2000 to 2010. Most states, including Michigan, saw an overall decline in the amount of emissions during that decade, the agency said.
Nearly 5.88 billion metric tons of CO2 was put into the atmosphere in 2000, the agency said, and by 2010 that had fallen to 5.63 billion metric tons, a drop of 4.2 percent. However, the 2010 number was an increase of almost 200 million metric tons from 2009, during the heights (or depths depending on your point of view) of the Great Recession.
Michigan saw a total percentage drop in total tonnage of 13.9 percent, making it one of the states with the biggest percentage drops (Delaware had the biggest drop at 27.9 percent, Indiana by 19.1 percent, New York was down 18.3 percent, Maine by 17.1 percent, Nevada 15.9 percent and Tennessee by 14.5 percent).
In terms of actual tonnage, Michigan went from 192.6 million tons emitted in 2000 to 165.9 million tons in 2010.
But in 2009, the state emitted 164.4 million tons.
In terms of tonnage emitted, no state came close to belching as much as Texas, which went from burning 711.3 million metric tons in 2000 and saw that fall to 652.6 million tons in 2010.
“But for the want of $14.99 or a warrant this case would not exist,” so begins the decision in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Smith v. Stoneburner. And it is such a line that makes reading federal court decisions much more fun than reading state court decisions.
Sorry, Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Learned you all are. Scholarly are your decisions. But your decision writing just plain lacks life.
Why that is, well, who can say? There are published fiction writers on the state benches (who have written actual novels; the fiction is not the cases, mind you), there are judges rarely at a loss for words and who can speak splendidly and pointedly and with wit. But their decisions, sigh.
The federal decision quoted above was issued Friday. So too was the Michigan Court of Appeals decision in Wayne County Employees Retirement System v. County of Wayne. The quotation above was the first sentence of the federal case. Herewith, the first sentence of the state decision:
“This case concerns retirement system assets, formulas, allocations, and funding, and it involves a constitutional and statutory challenge by plaintiffs Wayne County Employees Retirement System (the Retirement System) and Wayne County Retirement Commission (the Retirement Commission) in regard to a county ordinance enacted in 2010 by defendant Charter County of Wayne (the County) through a vote of defendant Wayne County Board of Commissioners (the County Board).”
Okay, one does not suggest the state case is not important and the decision significant. But really, based on the first sentence alone which case would you want to read? Oh, and don’t resort to the dodge that the state case on Wayne County retirement deals with a drier subject and therefore will make a drier read. Look, the Wayne County case is about money, that’s what it comes down to after all, so the facile minds on Michigan’s appellate benches can, could and should put more passion and interest into their decision writing. The judge could have started the case on the lines of: “Ultimately this case comes down to a decision between the public retirees of Wayne County and the county’s taxpayers.” No, it ain’t Hemingway, but it piques your interest in the case.
Granted, a judicial poet like Learned Hand comes along once a millennium or so. Also given, the judges work hard and have to make difficult decisions, but the law is about life and so make the writing livelier.
And the two cases cited, by the way, are not isolated examples. Reading federal cases is almost always more interesting, and, when appropriate fun, than state cases. On Thursday, for example, in the school union dues federal case Bailey v. Callaghan, dissenting Judge Jane Stranch snapped that the majority – which held school districts could stop collecting union dues – “spills little ink in its dismissal of the school unions free speech challenge.”
Earlier this year, in University Health Care v. Allstate Insurance Company, the federal appeals court lead off with: “To recite the facts of this case is nearly to decide it.”
Decades ago, the Michigan Court of Appeals livened things up with a decision beginning: “We thought we would never see/A case to litigate a tree.” The whole decision was in verse. Oh my, though, the Supreme Court of the day did not hearken to that, and let it be known there will be no more such decisions. Could that be the genesis of our state’s gasping dusty judicial jottings?
Michigan judges, do not retire the literary field to your federal brethren. Sharpen your wits and nibs and pour out procedural page-turners. Now comes a grateful legal reading public to so plead.
On the 250th anniversary of the start of Pontiac’s War on the English, which started on May 7, 1763, with an attack on Fort Detroit, what possibly could be a connection of that war with a former Supreme Court justice calling for a change to court appointments, and a call for Ted Nugent to tiptoe through the tulips. Well, let’s see if we can find some.
Okay, so Pontiac, a chief of the Odawas (also known as Ottawas), met in secret with other chiefs to discuss their complaints about the English settlers and what should be done with them.
Ah, former Justice Thomas Brennan decided to keep his remarks to a luncheon last week commemorating the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Supreme Court Historical Society a secret as well.
Mr. Brennan, who founded Cooley Law School after leaving the court and who ran for lieutenant governor alongside Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Headlee in 1982, used his speech to call for an end to partisan nominations of Supreme Court candidates. Former Justice Marilyn Kelly and former Justice and federal Judge James Ryan have also called for ending partisan nominations and the State Bar of Michigan’s representative assembly has done the same.
But Mr. Brennan addressed his comments to the entire current court which attended the lunch, as did Ms. Kelly and Mr. Ryan. That in itself does not mean change is imminent, but it is interesting that that a sudden confluence of interest on the issue has occurred at this time.
Then Pontiac and his tribal allies had complaints with the English, and Ted Nugent, the Nuge, the Motorcity Madman (hey, Motor City, Detroit, Fort Detroit, another connection) had plenty of complaints about the Pure Michigan campaign.
People don’t come to Michigan to see tulips, as in the Holland Tulip Festival, Mr. Nugent said, they come to Michigan to shoot things (Mr. Nugent likes to shoot things, there was a lot of shooting during the Pontiac War, so another connection).
Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) has since issued an invitation to Mr. Nugent to come to the Tulip Festival next year (Mr. Nugent cannot this year), pointing out that the festival draws nearly 500,000 people from 45 states and 40 countries each year.
And of course, tulips first came to the U.S….ah, in the mid-19th Century in Massachusetts, ahhh, where the shot heard round the world was fired which just 10 years after there was all that shooting during the Pontiac War, so there is another connection.
Pontiac and his allies after three years were able to negotiate an agreement with the English that succeeded in getting much of what the allies wanted. We’ll just have to see if Mr. Brennan and Mr. Meekhof get what they want.
Monday is the 100th birthday of Michigan’s longest-serving secretary of state Richard Austin and current Secretary of State Ruth Johnson held a commemoration for the man whose name is now also the name of Ms. Johnson’s office building.
Mr. Austin served in the post from 1971 to 1995, before being beaten by now U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Twp.).
He was born May 6, 1913 in Stouts Mountain, Alabama. He graduated from the Detroit Institute of Technology in 1937. He was also the first black CPA in Michigan, and had a long business career in addition to his political involvement.
He was a Democratic delegate to the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention and Wayne County auditor in the mid-1960s.
He very nearly became Detroit’s first black mayor, losing the 1969 election to Roman Gribbs.
He won his first election to Secretary of State in 1970, succeeding who was then the longest serving secretary of state, James Hare, who held the post for 16 years. Mr. Austin remained popular throughout his tenure, winning 82 of the state’s 83 counties in the 1986 election (losing only Ottawa County).
He was unable to translate that popularity into national office, however, losing the 1976 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate to the eventual winner, former U.S. Sen. Don Riegle.
His 1994 election defeat was perhaps equally attributable to a big Republican swing that year and a terrible flub he made in a televised question-and-answer session with Ms. Miller that left many questioning whether at then 81 he could continue in the post. (He had told some reporters before the election he had thought of retiring but was prevailed on to run to give the party some more electoral oomph against former Governor John Engler who was running for re-election).
Among those slated to speak at the ceremony were a number of Mr. Austin’s former employees, including former spokesperson Liz Boyd (who became spokesperson for Ms. Miller and then for former Governor Jennifer Granholm), and Elections Director Chris Thomas.
Also on the roster of speakers was one of Mr. Austin’s closest friends, former Attorney General Frank Kelley, who called Mr. Austin one of Michigan’s greatest public servants when Mr. Austin died at 87 in 2001 and who delivered the eulogy at his funeral.
Mr. Austin had an enormous impact in terms of voting access and traffic safety. He won legislative approval to allow persons to register to vote at secretary of state branch offices (though he was never able to win approval of same-day registration for voters); and he waged a major campaign to require mandatory usage of seatbelts (a battle won, finally, when the federal government threatened to cut off funding to states that did not make that requirement).
And, for anyone old enough to remember, he changed how motorists renewed their vehicle registrations. Until he finally prevailed on the Legislature in the mid-1970s, all registrations had to be renewed no later than March and secretary of state offices were open until the evenings to accommodate the lines of drivers trying to beat the deadline.
Thanks to Mr. Austin, registrations now change on a motorist’s birthday.
Anyone paying attention to Wednesday’s House session knows that the microphones were a problem. The House’s public address system wasn’t working and outside mikes and speakers had to be brought in for the members’ use.
The PA failure, and the annoying hiss the replacement microphones visited upon the public ear, was certainly aggravating.
But it still doesn’t beat the massive equipment failure the House endured in December 1981.
The chamber was getting ready to vote on what had proved the most controversial bills in years, enacting major changes to Michigan’s workers’ compensation laws.
It was a Friday night, a rare session called to try to deal with the controversial bills. Earlier in the week, a massive labor rally had been held opposing them. But they had passed the Democratically-controlled Senate and then Governor William Milliken was calling for them, so the House reluctantly prepared to act.
As then-Speaker Bobby Crim was getting ready to call for a vote, the entire electric voting system (largely unchanged since the 1930s) failed. There was some nervous laughter, Mr. Crim cracked a joke. There was another attempt made on the board, but it wasn’t working.
The technical staff the House had at the time tried to run repairs, but it was impossible to fix that night. And Republicans were not risking letting the bills lay over until the next week.
So, voting was done the old-fashioned way: Clerk Tom Husband and Assistant Clerk Mel DeStigter had to call out the name of each member and the member had to shout out a vote.
As one could expect, opponents of the bills used the failure to propose new amendments and demand roll call votes on calling for roll call votes on the amendments, to demand roll call votes on every procedural action, and roll call votes on the roll call votes.
To keep exhausted members from leaving, a call of the House was put on, which raised new problems when then Rep. Morris Hood, father to the current senator, demanded a closed caucus (caucuses were generally open to the public then, current legislators take note). The only way to accommodate that was to toss the press corps out of the press room (which was then located behind the chamber) for what became an explosive session.
The session lasted 14 hours, ending some hours before dawn. The final image of that night was then-House Republican Leader Bill Bryant nearly hanging on the podium and demanding the House adjourn the moment the last required bit of material was read in – leaving a large pile of new bills and resolutions to wait until the next week – to ensure no one attempted a reconsideration motion.
So no whining about microphones.
A blow has been struck against one of the more significant age restrictions in Michigan’s Constitution: the requirement that judges age out of office after they turn 70.
The State Bar of Michigan’s representative assembly has voted to urge the provision in Article 6, Section 19 of the Constitution – prohibiting electing or appointing a judge after that person turns 70 – be repealed.
The assembly took the action to approve a resolution calling for that action after a “spirited debate,” according the State Bar of Michigan blog. The blog did not say what the vote was or what “spirited” the debate.
But urging the action, among others, was former Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly. Ms. Kelly was forced off the court in the 2012 election after she had turned 70. Justice Michael Cavanagh is being forced off the bench with the 2014 election.
Ms. Kelly has made no secret of her opposition to the constitutional rule. So too have a number of other judges over the years. And in the 1990s, the rule was challenged, but upheld in a court ruling. It is the only such maximum age requirement in the Constitution, meaning a person could leave the Supreme Court when he or she turns 70, wait a year and then run for governor if they wanted.
Legislation to repeal this provision, SJR F, is pending on the Senate floor. It would need two-thirds majorities in the Senate and then the House to go before voters in the 2014 election.
A day late, though given the cool spring it may not matter botanically, but April 28 was the 116th anniversary of the apple blossom as Michigan’s state flower.
Yes, sorry to all the trillium advocates, but the Legislature in 1897 designated the apple blossom as Michigan’s state flower, and there has never been a serious attempt to de-flock it as the official bloom.
Pyrus coroneria, that’s the crabapple to you Latin-deficient types, is native to the state. And of course Michigan has long been one of the leading producers of apples cider and other apple products (and food historians will tell you apples were valued more for their cider than their eating early in U.S. history. Of course, that would be hard cider they were valued for).
2012 was a disastrous year for the apple industry in Michigan, as a dramatically warm March led to early blooming of the trees and was followed by a hard frost in April that killed most of the setting fruit.
This spring has been much cooler, so the state may avoid the problems of a year ago, but at the same time some more seasonal temperatures would be welcomed. And not just by the apple trees.
Wednesday’s announcement of legislation to make personal possession of no more than one ounce of marijuana a civil infraction draws a number of interesting comparisons to perhaps the most famous attempt the Legislature undertook on reducing penalties for marijuana, back in 1977.
In 1977, the bill that endured three votes in the House before it failed was House bill 4603.
The 1977 measure was also introduced by an Ann Arbor Democrat, then-Rep. Perry Bullard. Mr. Bullard was 35 the year his bill went through the process. Mr. Irwin is also 35, though he turns 36 later this year.
The current bill treats marijuana a tad more liberally than did the 1977 measure. The new HB 4623 makes personal possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction with a $25 fine for the first infraction.
The 1977 measure kept possession a misdemeanor, but reduced the penalty to $100 with no jail time or criminal record.
The current bill has bipartisan support, with Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) as co-sponsors. Likewise, the 1977 measure had then-House Republican floor leader Bill Bryant of Grosse Pointe as a co-sponsor. And when the 1977 bill came up for a vote on two famous days in June 1977, one of the legislators supporting it was a Mt. Pleasant-area House member, then-Rep. John Engler.
The current bill does not change penalties for selling marijuana (that would remain a felony). So too did the 1977 measure not affect felony provisions for sale of marijuana. In fact, that difference between the use and sale penalties was employed by some critics in 1977 to question how police were to treat situations when they arrested someone buying and someone selling in the same transaction.
Much of course has changed since 1977. That year, the idea of liberalizing marijuana was still novel and frightening to many as America was still coming to grips with the drug war.
A generation later, some 17 states have lower penalties than Michigan for personal use. Two, Washington and Colorado, have legalized its use for small amounts. And Michigan now allows the use of medical marijuana.
Another change: there’s no smoking in the Capitol. Mr. Irwin does not have to worry about being hit with an ashtray as Mr. Bullard was by then-Rep. Rosetta Ferguson of Detroit. He accused her of lying in a statement she made on the House floor, prompting Ms. Ferguson to leap up, punch Mr. Bullard and then hit him in the head with the glass ashtray, accusing him of being a pothead. Mr. Bullard had, in fact, been photographed taking a toke during one Ann Arbor Hash Bash.
The 1977 bill passed 55-52 on June 28, 1977. The next day, there was a motion to reconsider, and after several emotional speeches, one yes vote switched and five yes votes sat out and the bill failed, 48-53. There was one more attempt that October to pass the measure, but again it narrowly failed.
Mr. Bullard continued to support liberalization, though he let others take up the fight in his later legislative years.
The fight took its toll on him, though. During one effort on a marijuana bill (not the effort in 1977) he was seen at a legislative party, clearly in his cups. “How ya doin’ Perry?” a colleague asked. “Ah, this pot bill,” Mr. Bullard muttered. “It’s turning me into an alcoholic.”
The pace has definitely slowed, but the online petition created by Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema is still gathering signatures.
As of Monday, 1,268 people had signed the petition, though again not all in support, after Mr. Agema reposted on Facebook a controversial Internet article that excoriated gays and their “filthy lifestyle.”
Mr. Agema said he was only reposting what someone else had written and refused to back down from it, or his post, despite igniting a fury of outrage from many people. Among those furious at him were other Republicans.
The anger picked up when it was found some of the sources cited by the original article were written by a Georgia member of the Ku Klux Klan, who also has publicly denied that the Holocaust against Jews happened during World War II.
Despite the fury, the Republican National Committee supported a proposal from Mr. Agema re-asserting the party’s position that marriage is only between a man and a woman. And Mr. Agema has said he intends to say nothing further on the issue.
Back on April 5, Mr. Agema’s petition had 1,110 signatures.
The 168 it had added since included a number from anonymous supporters, several that gave Mr. Agema enthusiastic support, and one from someone identifying him or herself as “Benny Hill” who demanded that Mr. Agema “resign now.”
Benny Hill, of course, was the British comedian who specialized in ribald humor.
As Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature wrestle with the question of how to expand financing for Michigan’s transportation system, a historic day will occur this weekend.
And with that day comes as well a question.
On April 20, 1909, in Detroit the first mile of concrete highway laid in the United States was begun.
The roadway was laid along Woodward Avenue between Six Mile and Seven Mile roads. With Detroit already becoming the center of the nation’s automotive manufacture, motorists wanted smoother and faster roads. So the Wayne County Road Commission put down the stretch of road.
So with the anniversary of the first concrete highway in Michigan, and the nation, and with the debate on increased transportation funding, comes the obvious next question: When was the first pothole?
Well, not everything can be serious all the time.
As the House Criminal Justice Committee prepared to open testimony on HB 4455 and HB 4456, which would put limits on the use of unmanned airborne drones, committee Chair Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth Township) urged the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills): “I only ask that you not drone on too long.”
Then American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Shelli Weisberg continued to stumble over a word, she muttered “damn” in frustration. “Sorry I swore,” she said somewhat sheepishly as she left the witness stand.
“Oh, it’s all right,” Mr. Heise said, “We do it all the time.”
Reflections and inspiration are always in order, especially in difficult times. Wander over to the U.S. Senate homepage and you will find one of Michigan’s historic Senate members being remembered for his inspiration, and being remembered for something not often regarded today: changing one’s mind.
The homepage is paying homage to some of the greatest speeches delivered in the chamber. There is the speech Mississippi Sen. Jefferson Davis gave as he left the chamber when his state seceded (and he, of course, became president of the Confederate States). There is Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith denouncing fellow Republican Joseph McCarthy well before it was fashionable to do so. There is Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen exhorting his fellow Republicans to vote for civil rights legislation.
And there is Michigan Sen. Arthur Vandenberg in 1945, delivering a speech calling on the United States to reject isolationism and take on a leading role among the world’s nations to help ensure the planet would not collapse into another conflict such as World War II.
The speech was critically important because it played a major role in ensuring efforts to keep the U.S. from sliding back into isolationism once the war was ended. And it was personally critical because Mr. Vandenberg had been one of those isolationists.
Mr. Vandenberg had been a Grand Rapids publisher before getting into politics. Before being named to the U.S. Senate, he editorially supported then-President Woodrow Wilson’s call for a League of Nations (which was rejected by the U.S. Senate). Once in the chamber, in the 1930s, he became a staunch isolationist hoping by doing so to keep the U.S. out of what he was convinced would be a major war.
The tribute includes a biography of Mr. Vandenberg, pointing out that commentators considered him vain and somewhat pompous. He was a man who strutted while he sat, said James Reston of the New York Times.
The bio also points out how different political and press practices were. Mr. Vandenberg had Mr. Reston and Jay Harden of The Detroit News, as well as his Democratic counterpart from Michigan, Sen. Blair Moody, review his rough draft. Initially his speech was aimed at attacking Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, but Mr. Reston convinced him the speech should focus on internationalism.
Nicknamed “the speech heard ’round the world,” Mr. Vandenberg reminded Americans that the oceans were no longer moats protecting the country.
And in words that could well apply today, Mr. Vandenberg spoke of unity, saying, “Let us not mistake the meaning of unity. Unity does not require universal and peremptory agreement about everything. … The unity I discuss is the overall tie which must continue to bind the United Nations together in respect to paramount fundamentals.” (For United Nations, substitute any term one wishes).
After he changed his mind, and pronounced his view, Mr. Vandenberg had his greatest influence in the U.S. Senate and is remembered to this day as one of the chamber’s great influences.
Last fall, expectations among backers of the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, the so-called New International Trade Crossing, was that the required presidential permit for the project to proceed would come soon, certainly before the November 2012 election.
After all, should President Barack Obama not be re-elected, state officials did not want to have work with a third presidential administration, trying to get them up to speed on the issues involved.
Besides, there was nervousness that if former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won, there might be heavy political pressure not to approve a permit. After all, both former Governor Jennifer Granholm and Governor Rick Snyder had a devil of a time trying to move Republicans on the issue, and Mr. Romney was a Republican. If the presidential permit were held up, who could tell if the GOP wouldn’t put up such a stink the issue would be delayed indefinitely.
Of course, Mr. Obama won re-election, but the presidential permit did not happen in the time frame expected. The reason?
Well, nothing official at this point. But there have been two major speculations.
One, the permit was open for public comment, and so many comments came in the comment period was extended. Multiple thousands of comments were recorded, and, well, they all had to be given a cursory glance at least.
The second speculation is that it was pretty clear that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was going to step down when the second Obama term began. There was the political waltz on who would succeed her, and when current Secretary of State John Kerry was chosen he and his staff needed time to go over the issue.
It’s clear from a number of different sources that no one thought a presidential permit would not be approved. But supporters of the new bridge were getting antsy for something to occur. As of mid-morning Friday when the U.S. State Department officially posted the permit on its website, what supporters had wanted was done.
Michigan, first in the manufacture of cars, first in the length of the Great Lakes shoreline, not quite first in men’s collegiate basketball and first to repeal prohibition.
Wednesday, as the Virginia-based National Beer Wholesalers Association reminds us, is the 80th anniversary of the day the Michigan Legislature ratified the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
That amendment put a legal cork into America’s failed experiment to force everyone on the wagon and repealed the 18th amendment which had been adopted by 46 of the then 48 states (Michigan adopted the Prohibition Amendment on January 2, 1919).
Michigan, which, of course was the home of Stroh’s and number of other popular suds brands at the time, was followed by Wisconsin, home of the many beer brands that made Milwaukee famous, on April 25, 1933.
It was not until Utah, a state not known for imbibing, ratified the amendment on December 5, 1933, however that Americans living in states that allowed liquor could finally, legally enjoy a quaff.
So as patriotic Michiganders, it is the state’s duty to celebrate its heritage with a tall one. Drink enough and you may even warble “Michigan, My Michigan” proudly though probably not harmonically.
Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday, the longest serving prime minister of Great Britain in generations and an icon of conservative thought, is well-remembered in Michigan though she didn’t have a lot of direct contact with the state.
The most significant contact she had was a speech in the 1990s in Grand Rapids through the Grand Rapids Economic Club.
Somewhat surprisingly there seemed to be few folks who could recall the address she made after leaving office. That may be in part because she did not want press coverage of the event.
She did do an interview with the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute, which promotes research and discussion on religion and public affairs. In 2011, she also received the institute’s highest award.
She was supposed to come to Michigan in 2008 for the dedication of the first statute of her in the United States, presented on the campus of Hillsdale College, but health issues kept her away. She did send a letter saying that Hillsdale represented “all that is good and true in America.”
Perhaps her biggest Michigan connection did not take place in the state. Shortly after she won the leadership of Britain’s Conservative Party in 1975, she arranged a meeting with then President Gerald Ford, Michigan’s only president.
A column published late Friday afternoon by MLive columnist Ken Braun raises a dramatic new issue regarding the article critical of gays that Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema reposted last week. The column charges that some of the source material used in the original article Mr. Agema reposted was created by a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
Mr. Agema has not responded to a phone call or to a post on his Facebook page asking if he had a reaction to the column.
On March 27, Mr. Agema reposted on Facebook an article written by a Frank Joseph, a California physician who has written for a conservative Catholic publication, that outlined what it claimed were facts about gays and their “filthy lifestyles.”
The day Mr. Agema posted the piece was a day the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. Mr. Agema is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage.
However, the piece charged that gays have shortened life expectancies, often have hundreds of sex partners and have been responsible for as many as half the murders in large cities.
Mr. Agema has been condemned by a number of Republican activists who have called on him to resign. He has refused to do so, and partly in response created an online petition supporting him. As of late Friday the petition has been signed by more than 1,100 people, including four House Republicans.
But Mr. Braun, who was an aide to former Republican Rep. Leon Drolet and now works for a political consulting firm, said in researching the statistics used by Mr. Frank he found citations to work published by Edward R. Fields of Marietta, Georgia. Mr. Fields has been identified as a leader of Ku Klux Klan, has published articles online questioning whether the Holocaust happened during World War II, and was recently on an Internet radio show talking about homosexuals and Jews.
The column has been reposted by a number of Mr. Agema’s critics on Facebook and Twitter.
More than 1,000 people have signed Dave Agema’s petition since he set up an online petition backing his determination not to step down as one of Michigan’s Republican national committee members for controversial comments he reposted regarding gays.
And things were looking a little weird on the petition. Until….well….
For those who are behind on the story, last week when the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments on whether same-sex marriage should be permitted constitutionally, Mr. Agema reposted on his Facebook page an article written by a California physician who said such things as gays live a “filthy” lifestyle and have committed as many as half the murders in New York City. Almost immediately the post drew criticism, and demands from some in the party that Mr. Agema step down as national committee member.
Mr. Agema said he did not write the comments, only reprinted them (though he has not yet repudiated them either) and said he will not resign his national committee post. He also started the petition with the goal of netting 250 signatures.
It appears at least four state House Republicans and several former legislators have signed the petition, encouraging Mr. Agema (though several current and former lawmakers have also said in interviews they disagree with Mr. Agema).
There is also no question most the signatories are genuine in their support for Mr. Agema and in their beliefs. But, online being wide open with basically no controls, the petition also attracted some oddness. The oddness was just plain getting weird but the petition administrators seem to have regained control of the petition.
Right from the start there were the occasional made-up names, such as “Resign Now,” that criticized Mr. Agema and said he was hurting Republicans.
There was even someone posing as North Korea’s Kim Jung-Un, saying, “From one tyrant to another” he supported Mr. Agema.
Then Tuesday, there was a “Dave Agema,” who signed the petition 20 times with the line “I spit upon thee.”
That was followed by “Goat Killer,” who made reference to GOP activist Dennis Lennox, who has led much of the effort to force Mr. Agema to resign and who has become the bête noire of many social conservatives supporting Mr. Agema. In some 20 signatures, Goat Killer suggested Mr. Lennox should, to put it kindly, meet his maker.
“Rick Santorum” signed, except it was pretty clear from the salacious comments it would not have been the former Pennsylvania senator signing. So do did “Adolf Hitler” and “Osama Bin Laden.”
The strangest, however, was a “Stand With Dave Agema,” who used a number of slurs to suggest gays should also meet their makers. That signature essentially took over the petition, routinely repeating the slurs more than 10,000 times.
By early afternoon, some order was restored to the petition. The posts from “Stand With…” were gone. So too was “Rick Santorum,” “Adolf Hitler,” and “Osama Bin Laden.”
“Goat Killer” was still there, however.
All in all, based on some of the absurdities, it’s probably a good thing online petitions aren’t used to get constitutional amendments on the ballot.
Former U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter is beginning to reappear, mostly via Twitter, but also via some websites.
Mr. McCotter, who two years ago had a short-lived run for the Republican nomination for president, and then in 2012 resigned from Congress after it was discovered campaign aides had fraudulently copied campaign petition names which blocked his re-election, has lain low since leaving office.
He is back in his hometown of Livonia, testified in one of the court proceedings involving the aides who have pleaded guilty in the case, but otherwise, stayed mum.
But he is starting to show a livelier presence via the web, particularly through Twitter with an occasional foray onto other sites.
His Twitter photo shows him, we presume since it does not include his face, playing a red, white and blue electric guitar (a trope to both his conservative politics and his history as a rock and roll guitarist).
Most of his tweets have had to do with sports (on Monday he tweeted encouragement to the Detroit Tigers on opening day) or rock and roll. On St. Patrick’s Day, he also tweeted about a number of things Irish.
But he is keeping up his interest in politics. Mostly that has been by re-tweeting comments from conservative and libertarian groups.
Mr. McCotter has kept in the political game as well, but focused primarily on international issues, supporting greater freedom in Cuba and blasting Russian “revanchists.”
He has notably stayed away from Michigan politics (with an exception on Detroit’s fiscal woes) and he has particularly stayed away from some of the latest controversies to affect the party.
His biggest commentary on U.S. politics probably came one month ago when he wrote a tribute on the Breitbart site commemorating the first anniversary of the sudden death of conservative activist, Andrew Breitbart. In that he described himself as a guitarist and “recovering Congressbum,”
The piece analyzes Mr. Breitbart’s often guerilla tactics as “pop-cultural conservatism” and the potential effect it could have on politics in the same light as what punk did to, or for (depending on one’s point of view), to rock and roll.
Without that pop-cultural balance, Mr. McCotter concluded the piece saying, “Today’s conservative movement is a rusting 1967 Plymouth Barracuda; ‘Don’t nobody want this s---‘; and we’ve lost our top salesman.”
The anniversary is one day off from the day right-to-work laws become effective, but March 27, 1946, marked a significant moment in labor history in Michigan and the United States.
It was on that day, 67 years ago, Walter Reuther was elected president of the United Auto Workers.
Mr. Reuther was arguably the greatest labor leader in U.S. history, and his leadership coincided with spectacular growth of the U.S. auto industry (and industry as a whole) as the American economy exploded following World War II.
He was West Virginia-born, son of a socialist worker who had immigrated from Germany. He joined Ford Motor Company as a tool and die maker when he was 20 in 1927, and was part of the group of workers Henry Ford sent to the Soviet Union in the early 1930s when the company built a plant there. Mr. Reuther and the company always differed about why he left the company in 1932.
He was a socialist himself, until, impressed with then President Franklin Roosevelt he joined the Democratic Party. He was, of course, present and beaten at the Battle of Overpass in 1937 at Ford while trying to help organize workers. During World War II, he took a strict line against labor unrest, pushing workers to participate fully in the war production effort.
Though he once flirted with communism as a young man, he purged the union of communists and was visible in the anti-communist movement in the 1950s. But that did not affect his overall liberal views. And as a labor man he became president of the CIO before it merged with AFL. He also developed the bargaining strategy of focusing on one of the auto companies and negotiating an agreement there first before moving to another company, the so-called pattern agreement plan.
Mr. Reuther also led the unions to be more fully engaged in issues such as civil rights – which strained some workers, as many auto line workers had come to Michigan from the South – and support for farm workers.
Time Magazine called him one of the 100 most significant people of the 20th Century. He and his wife and several others were killed in a plane crash coming from Pellston to Detroit in 1970.
So, just a note on the ironies of the calendar and history.
Former Rep. Dave Agema, now a Michigan Republican Party national committee member, has drawn national attention (much of it outrage) for a Facebook post he put up Wednesday that charged gays were responsible for large numbers of child sexual assault and had as many as 106 sexual partners a year. The post also claimed more than three-quarters of gays have or have had sexually transmitted diseases and that gays are responsible for up to half the murders in New York City.
The post is one of a number Mr. Agema has written opposing same-sex marriage, and of course, came out on the second day of arguments the U.S. Supreme Court has held on the issue.
The post has been blasted, and occasionally praised, across Facebook, and drew the notice of the online magazine Slate. Given the attention the national Republican Party has gotten on trying to change its image and appeal to more Hispanics, younger people and even gays, Slate jokingly said Mr. Agema is “not really on board with this kinder, gentler Republican Party jive.”
Mr. Agema’s post essentially reprints a column written by Frank Joseph, who is apparently a retired California physician who once wrote a column for a very conservative Catholic newspaper.
Many of the statistics Mr. Joseph cited are more than 25 years old, and some are not from actual scientific research. At least one is an impression (the accusation from the 1950s that gays were responsible for half of New York City’s murders), and some critics charged the statistics were skewed.
The comments Mr. Agema drew were split, with a number of people thanking him for posting the article and one saying the U.S. Supreme Court should consider it. Others criticized him, one calling the post “stupid.”
Facebook friends with Mr. Agema can see the post in its entirety. The original article by Mr. Joseph, with all the statistics citations, is here. Tradition in Action, the organization that posted Mr. Joseph’s article, did not immediately respond to a request for information about Mr. Joseph’s credentials or research methods.
Early Monday the state’s attention was drawn to the simple announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case involving the constitutionality of Michigan’s ban on the use of race and gender in university admissions.
The Supreme Court never makes a big deal about these announcements. It issues decisions about cases it will hear in Monday orders, and one has to know the case name to know right away if the case is notable or not.
But the case with Attorney General Bill Schuette’s name as plaintiff immediately caught the eye, and one of the first thoughts about the case was the issue had come full circle.
After all, the origins of this case were two U.S. Supreme Court cases heard and decided on in 2003, both involving the University of Michigan: Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the university’s law school affirmative action system, and Gratz v. Bollinger, which threw out the university’s undergraduate affirmative action plan.
At the time, both supporters and opponents claimed victory in the decisions.
The decisions left open the prospect that eventually nearly 60-year old practice could be ended, though the Supreme Court in 2003 did not put a time frame to that.
The new case that will be argued in the fall stems directly from those 2003 decisions. The plaintiff in the one case, Jennifer Gratz, helped lead the effort, backed by Ward Connerly and the American Civil Rights Institute, to get the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative on the ballot.
The effort wasn’t easy. Hopes to get it on the 2004 ballot fizzled, and then it engendered enormous controversy when opponents accused supporters of lying about the proposal to get sufficient signatures for it to be on the ballot (claiming they would tell individuals, especially in Detroit and other urban areas, that the measure would protect affirmative action). It eventually took the courts to order the measure onto the ballot, where it did pass comfortably in 2006.
Opponents never ended their efforts to toss the proposal out in court and have largely succeeded in the federal courts to this point.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court has seen major changes in its makeup in 10 years, court watchers will observe this debate carefully.
It is also a bit ironic that the Supreme Court decided to hear this case on the oldest civil rights issue in U.S. history the day before it will hear the first of two arguments on what is labeled the civil rights issue of the 21st century: same-sex marriage.
Governor Rick Snyder’s upcoming 2014 re-election bid was picked by a Washington Post blog as one of the top gubernatorial races in the nation to watch.
The Fix lists what it sees as the top 15 races for governor most likely to see a change in party control in the U.S. (since most states will have a race for their chief executive that year) and Michigan was posted on Friday as the seventh most potentially interesting to watch.
That actually is a dip from a much earlier blog The Fix did looking at gubernatorial races, but not a big one. Earlier the blog had listed Michigan as potentially the sixth most likely to switch parties.
The blog said that Mr. Snyder’s popularity has been slipping in recent months – it doesn’t give a reason – but the biggest factor that could affect his re-election is whom Democrats choose to contest his re-election. Most polls have shown that Mr. Snyder’s popularity fell following the lame-duck legislative session in December that saw right-to-work become law.
Since the earlier blog was posted, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) announced he would not run for re-election. And that means U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) is viewed as the top candidate for the U.S. Senate nomination, meaning the Democratic bench for governor is weaker.
So far, former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer has been talked about the most for the gubernatorial nomination, but no other major Democrat has raised his or her hand to volunteer to run.
The race down in Florida is viewed as the top race to watch, as Republican Governor Rick Scott is currently unpopular, and former Governor Charlie Crist who was a Republican and is now a Democrat is looking to challenge him.
In terms of the other Great Lakes states with gubernatorial races in 2014, Michigan ranks ahead of Wisconsin at 13, Ohio at 10 and Illinois at eighth in the blog, but behind Pennsylvania at sixth.
Now that he is retiring from the U.S. Senate at the end of his term in 2014, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) can rest easy that he will not have to suffer through another recall effort as he did in 2012. Wait a minute, what?
If you are confused about the 2012 recall against Mr. Levin, well, join the crowd.
Michigan Libertarians issued an email on Thursday that after failing to raise the 468,709 signatures needed for a recall during 2012, they had decided not to pursue another attempt this year in light of Mr. Levin’s decision not to seek re-election.
With some cheek, the email quotes one of the Libertarian organizers taking credit for Mr. Levin’s decision, saying that Mr. Levin, “in the end, capitulated to our gentle but resolute pressure, and that we should congratulate him for his wise decision to leave quietly.”
Yeah, okay. That gentle pressure of the recall attempt in 2012 was so gentle one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who even knew a recall effort was underway. A quick review of media reports for the last year finds, well, nothing about the recall.
So, it may take some time to correctly analyze the impact of the recall effort on Mr. Levin’s decision to not seek re-election.
Just so you know, should you find yourself handcuffed to a hospital bed – why you would be is your own business – and not interfering with the police, the heat cannot tase you. Nor are the police allowed to tase you if you are on the ground and essentially under control.
This bit of news comes via the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled in a case out of Ludington. It also comes at a time when the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has raised questions on the use of tasers by local Michigan police forces.
The court rejected the argument of police officers Matthew Warmuskerken, Derek Wilson and Oscar Davila that immunity should shield them from civil charges of using excessive force against Joseph McAdam, in McAdam v. Warmuskerken.
Mr. McAdam was riding with his mother in 2009 when her car was pulled over for a defective taillight. While stopped she was asked to perform sobriety tests. Mr. McAdam waited a while and then said he would walk home. He was given the instructions to “go home or risk going to jail.” As he walked away he began filming the stop on his iPhone. The three officers then followed him, knocked him to the ground, secured him, arrested him for being disorderly and then tased him at least four times.
Mr. McAdam was then taken a local hospital for treatment of the injuries he received while being tased. He was handcuffed to a bed, and asked for his iPhone back. Told it was being held for evidence, he refused treatment until he got the phone back at which point he was tased three more times.
So, the court asks directly may an officer use a taser on a suspect who is restrained on the ground and not resisting arrest. Said the court: “No.” Okay, may the police tase a suspect handcuffed to a hospital bed and posing no threat to the police or hospital staff, even if he is refusing treatment. Said the court: “No.”
Something to keep in mind should your bracket parties get a mite rowdy.
For those who mark such dates, March 14 will be remembered as the day Detroit got an emergency financial manager.
Surprisingly, that date is close to two other dates that saw Detroit lose some pretty big things.
March 17, for example, is not just St. Patrick’s Day, it also marks the last day, in 1847, that Detroit was the capital city of Michigan. The day before the Legislature, worried in part about potential attacks from the British across the river (Canada was not yet born) and to make the Capitol more accessible to other residents in the state had voted to move the Capitol to Lansing.
When the session ended, the Detroit Capitol Building was closed and abandoned and the government began to reform in Lansing, a tiny speck on the map with virtually no inhabitants at the time.
Then on March 18, in 1837, the Legislature approved a bill to move the Cathloepistimiad from Detroit to Ann Arbor. Oh, okay, fine, now it’s known as the University of Michigan, but that was its original name. The university did not immediately move to a 40-acre site set aside in Ann Arbor by the Ann Arbor Land Company to entice the lawmakers to approve the relocation, but beginning on that date university officials began preparations to move out of Detroit and into Ann Arbor.
Jumping way ahead to 2008, then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff/lover, Christine Beatty, were charged with perjury, conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and misconduct in office on March 24. Those charges, brought by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy out of the text message scandal, helped lead to Mr. Kilpatrick’s eventual resignation.
So, March 14 now adds itself to the interesting coincidence of dates that deal with significant changes in Detroit’s history.
Former Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, who leads a conservative action group in the state called Core Principles, has taken a leading role in trying to convince Senate Republicans to oppose creation of a state-federal health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act, and also against Governor Rick Snyder’s call to expand eligibility for Medicaid.
It is the latter issue that draws some note, especially the fact that Mr. Hoogendyk lists as an ally in the fight against Medicaid expansion someone who very publicly has endorsed Medicaid expansion.
Mr. Hoogendyk sent out an email on Wednesday praising efforts to block the exchange, saying it is bearing fruit. Senate Republicans are struggling to decide what to do with the issue with opposition intense, even among those who voted for the ill-fated state exchange in the previous term.
But in his email, Mr. Hoogendyk said expanding Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit is a “more important” issue than the exchange. He urged his supporters to “keep their powder dry” for the fight ahead.
And then in support of his position he says “Florida Governor Rick Scott has taken a stand against Medicaid expansion,” and then he quotes an essay Mr. Scott wrote for U.S. News & World Report in 2012.
Okay, but, in fact, Mr. Scott has changed his position. Did so last month, and did so to the shock of many conservatives. He emphasized that while he opposed the ACA, poor Floridians should not be denied coverage.
Now the Florida Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, has so far resisted his call with legislative committee rejecting the expansion. But political observers in the Sunshine State say Mr. Scott may yet win a victory on the issue before the Legislature adjourns in May.
Michigan Republicans are salivating at the vision of winning the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, but a top national political analyst is saying they shouldn't bother because in his view the seat is a “safe” Democratic seat.
Stuart Rothenberg, writing in Roll Call, does hedge his bets, saying the political dynamics could change at any time in Michigan (though he doesn't say what could trigger that change) but otherwise right now Democrats have close to a sure thing towards winning the seat. He ranked Michigan in his newsletter as “safe Democrat” rather than the less-definitive “Democrat favored.”
Mr. Rothenberg outlines several reasons why Democrats should hold the seat, even though he says they have a relatively weak bullpen and acknowledges great success Michigan Republicans have had in electing statewide officers (such as Governor Rick Snyder) and holding control of the Legislature.
That GOP success he attributes largely to the success Republicans had off the Tea Party movement in 2010.
Mr. Rothenberg said Michigan voters, like voters in other states, tend to view state and national candidates differently, perhaps favoring the GOP for local politics and Democrats for national races (or vice versa).
Overall, he said, he viewed the dynamics in Michigan as problematic for the GOP to win the 2014 Senate race. The last four Republican candidates against either Mr. Levin or U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) hovered around 40 percent in terms of vote totals. That means the party has had a hard time getting strong candidates.
In terms of national elections and national races, Democrats draw better results in Michigan than they do nationally, Mr. Rothenberg said.
The fact that the race is a during a gubernatorial year, that there is no incumbent and the Democratic bench also looks relatively weak might argue for a less definitive ranking, Mr. Rothenberg said, and certainly Michigan Republicans will be able to tout some top names openly looking to run they are confident can put the seat in GOP hands.
But in perhaps his most sharp salvo, considering the 2012 race as well as the five preceding presidential races and 11 of the last 12 U.S. Senate races, Mr. Rothenberg also dismissed Michigan Republicans as “ill-equipped to run a statewide federal race.”
With the collapse of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick now complete, following his multiple federal convictions for corruption and jailing while awaiting sentencing, the analysis of how he went wrong, how the voters were initially fooled and what his failure means to the city and state will be recounted and debated for a long time.
But one has to remember that there was always a sense, before he imploded in 2008, that Mr. Kilpatrick was someone who was heading somewhere. That somewhere, at the time, was a major leadership role in the state, not prison. And Mr. Kilpatrick fostered that feeling himself.
Fourteen years ago arose a situation where Mr. Kilpatrick was a potential player and failed to make the play.
Oft times has the story been told of when Detroit members of the House stormed the Senate Education Committee as it began to meet on legislation to take over the Detroit schools and then tried to take over the meeting, grabbing the gavel, and occupying the committee table.
What is not often remembered is when the Senate committee had retreated to the offices of Sen. Harry Gast and when those representatives led by former Rep. Keith Stallworth had ignored a letter from then Speaker Chuck Perricone to desist immediately, Mr. Kilpatrick, then the House minority floor leader, appeared as a mediator.
It was never made clear at the time if he was asked to try to resolve the issue (or if so, by whom) or was acting on his own, but several times Mr. Kilpatrick shuttled between the Senate committee and Mr. Stallworth’s group, trying to find some resolution.
In Mr. Kilpatrick’s defense, it was not really a resolvable situation. The protestors weren’t leaving, and since the committee meeting was happening on the day the Legislative Black Caucus was holding a celebration to mark Black History Month argued the meeting could not take place on its sacred day. Of course, if the committee refused to meet, there was no way it could not expect another attempted takeover the next time it met, and Mr. Kilpatrick tried hard to convince the protestors that legislators could not simply try to disrupt and take over other legislative committees.
Mr. Kilpatrick never was able to get the protestors to even agree to the idea of compromise, such as making a statement of protest to the committee when it came back out to meet. Of course, the committee was under no obligation to compromise, so it would depend on the protestors to offer something the committee might accept. Every time Mr. Kilpatrick began a sentence to the dissident lawmakers, such as, “Can’t we…” or “We have...” or “They want,” he was immediately interrupted and could go no further.
Eventually, Mr. Kilpatrick just left the scene. There were no angry words, or signs of frustration or resignation. He simply was not there.
And the protestors were sitting in the committee’s seats when the Senate Education Committee marched into the room, and, while standing in a huddle, with protestors from Detroit shouting and Mr. Stallworth pleading, “Senator! Senator!”, the committee reported the bill.
Ah history, one committee member, who voted against reporting the bill, was former Sen. Gary Peters, now seen as a top Democratic candidate to succeed U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit).
With U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman on Thursday deciding to hold off on ruling whether Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, it is time to recall a moment when the mere suggestion of gay rights in the Legislature was explosive.
2013 marks the 30th year – the actual anniversary is October 6 – of the introduction of HB 5000, introduced by Rep. James Dressel, an Ottawa County Republican, which would have amended the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a basic civil right.
It was a stunning and electrifying step that galvanized the entire state. Today, while the issue is still clearly emotional and controversial, to even speak of gay rights let alone see court fights over them has become somewhat routine, just another matter for the daily news fodder.
In 1983, gay rights was something limited to San Francisco, and otherwise the overall issue was wrapped in fear the public had of a new, mysterious and terrifying disease called AIDS.
Mr. Dressel was an Air Force veteran, a Vietnam veteran and still in the Air National Guard when he was elected in 1978 to the House. He was one of a trio of western Michigan Republicans elected that year who had an aura about them that they would be top leaders. (The others were Paul Henry, who was elected to Congress before dying of cancer in the early 1990s, and Paul Hillegonds who became the first Republican speaker in more than 20 years first under split power in 1993-94 and then outright in 1995-96). Mr. Dressel was a practical conservative, focused on realistic solutions that still encompassed his points of view, who was liked by all sides for his open, direct but still easy-going manner.
Barely two weeks before he turned 40, Mr. Dressel introduced HB 5000 and the world of Lansing politics was turned around.
Curiously, beyond the controversy it stirred, one question many House members asked Mr. Dressel was: “Why now?” Terms limits had changed the entire context of the House so the question today seems odd. But in the 1980s a member had to serve four terms to be eligible for a pension. Everyone knew the move could cost Mr. Dressel his seat, and he was in just his third term. Waiting one more term would have assured him a pension at least. But he said it was the right thing to do.
Mr. Dressel, who was a bachelor, also refused to say if he was gay or not. It should not matter, he said, that was the whole point of the bill.
The measure’s high point came on December 1, when the House Judiciary Committee reported the bill to the full House on an 8-5 party line vote. Now U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), served on the committee, and said in debate the gay “lifestyle is immoral, condemned by God Himself.” Despite being rejected by his GOP colleagues, Mr. Dressel expressed hope as many as one-third the GOP caucus would vote for the bill.
A week later, the bill was referred back to committee. Then chair Rep. Perry Bullard said the House was focusing on reapportionment and the income tax. The committee would come back to HB 5000 in 1984, he promised, but it never did.
In the 1984 primary, Mr. Dressel was crushed in his bid for re-election. He was sanguine, telling this reporter he knew it would happen but that he was right to do what he had done.
Out of the Legislature, Mr. Dressel somewhat haltingly did come out, and then dedicated himself to gay rights issues. He died in March 1992 of AIDS-related pneumonia.
The late Appeals Court Chief Judge Robert Danhof, whose funeral in Holland is Wednesday, was praised on news of his death as a leading jurist who was the architect of Michigan’s judicial system through his work in the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention.
But one remembrance of a more personal and ordinary nature has come by way of former Michigan Treasurer Doug Roberts.
Mr. Roberts and Mr. Danhof were neighbors in East Lansing, and Mr. Danhof’s house was first on the garbage truck’s weekly run. One trash pickup morning Mr. Roberts found the chief judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals coming towards him, a little anxiously, bearing … well, bearing his weekly trash.
“I missed the truck,” Mr. Danhof said, asking if he could comingle the Danhof refuse with the Roberts leavings still awaiting pickup.
“Of course,” Mr. Roberts said he responded. Everyone responsible for taking out the trash knows when they have erred, he said, and watches out for others in the same situation.
But, Mr. Roberts said, “I always considered Judge Danhof a great statesman. But this shows he was also a down-to-earth guy.”
Conservative Republicans, well perhaps that should be phrased more conservative Republicans, are warning the Senate GOP of basically an electoral bloodbath if they support HB 4111.
That is the bill that would accept $30.67 million to help set up a state-federal exchange on health insurance. An exchange is required under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but most states headed by a Republican governor have refused to set up either a state-run exchange or a state-federal exchange, opting for the feds to handle their state.
The bill passed the House last week with 29 Republicans supporting the measure, along with 49 Democrats, and the more-conservative element of the party exploded in fury.
Now those conservatives are warning Senate Republicans of electoral revenge if they vote for the bill. Warnings have come from former Rep. Jack Hoogendyk and from several postings on the blog RightMichigan (along with warnings from others).
RightMichigan, which incorrectly labeled the bill as expanding Medicaid eligibility, said if the bill passes, it will trigger a “toss them all out rout” in 2014.
The Senate did pass legislation creating a state-run exchange, which Governor Rick Snyder wanted, in the last session, but it died in the House. That triggered Mr. Snyder calling for the state-federal exchange.
House Republicans voting for the bill said they didn’t like the ACA, but it is the law; the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld it and it would be better for the state to have some say in the exchange.
That simply does not sell with the more conservative wing, which warns letting the federal government in under any guise and with any limitations means it will take over everything eventually.
RightMichigan cites the close results for GOP party chair between Chair Bobby Schostak and Todd Courser and says Senate members (and other Republicans) should watch themselves. “The liberty movement means business, and they won’t be ignored. You’d think, based on that, the state Legislature would be extra careful not to tick off a motivated grassroots movement.”
In the week after their parties chose different men to be the party chair, former Democratic Chair Mark Brewer and Republican challenger Todd Course sent emails to their supporters, thanking them for their support and congratulating the winners, new Democratic Chair Lon Johnson and re-elected GOP Chair Bobby Schostak.
Beyond that, the two emails were remarkably different.
Just to review, on February 23 in Detroit, Mr. Brewer withdrew his candidacy for the chair when it was clear to him Mr. Johnson would win after what had become a very intense race for the post, allowing for a unanimous vote for Mr. Johnson. Mr. Courser lost his bid by some five dozen votes in what was something of a surprise challenge to Mr. Schostak. Though urged to do so, he did not call for a unanimous ballot for the winner (something some Schostak supporters have said privately was “classless”).
Mr. Brewer’s email was short, thanking the more than 3,600 Democrats who came to the convention. He also congratulated Mr. Johnson, called on everyone to rally around his leadership and reminded them that Democrats had to work together. He also thanked the readers for his time as the party chair, praising them for giving him the motivation to work hard for the party.
And he called for support for Mr. Johnson and commitment to a successful 2014.
Mr. Courser’s email was clearly still in battle mode. Acknowledging he fell short, he said, “there was plenty of success in stepping out and challenging to reclaim the Michigan Republican Party leadership.”
He congratulated, “my opponent, Mr. Schostak,” and wished him success. That was the only time he referred to Mr. Schostak by name, though he did refer to “our new chair” and praised “my opponent” for agreeing to much of his platform.
But much of the rest of the email focused finding the “80 percent” that should unite Republicans. “I realize, as we all do, that the 20 percent is pretty important and shows whether someone is truly committed to conservatism or not, but in those areas where we can agree we need to work together to save our country.”
“Leadership matters,” Mr. Courser said, and “If we do not have leadership that is willing to protect the brand of the party and advocate strongly for conservatism, liberty and freedom then we will never achieve it. It breaks my heart to see our country failing because of a lack of principled leadership.”
And where Mr. Brewer called on the Democrats to work together, Mr. Courser said he would be “glad to assist our party leadership and the governor’s re-election in any area where we agree and that will move the state and our party forward.” He never once mentioned Governor Rick Snyder by name, though Mr. Courser said he a great deal of respect for him and “by and large” Mr. Snyder “has been a good governor” (Mr. Snyder backed Mr. Schostak, as if one couldn’t tell by the tenor of the email).
Mr. Courser ended his email “In Christ alone,” and signed himself as “former candidate for chairman.” He did have a post-script that he would soon write some thoughts on how Republicans could come together and “find a more fair, open and democratic election process” for party conventions.
Mr. Brewer said he was taking a vacation, that he would let people know what he will do and hoped everyone would stay in touch.
Nearly five weeks after his predecessor left the Supreme Court in disgrace, Macomb Circuit Judge David Viviano’s appointment effectively brings to a close what for the Michigan legal community was a difficult period.
For while former Justice Diane Hathaway has been effectively publicly absent from the court for more than three months (the court last heard cases on November 14, she submitted her retirement papers in December though that did not come out until a complaint was made against her in January by the Judicial Tenure Commission and she left the court on January 21), her vacancy stood like Banquo’s Ghost over the entire state’s judicial system.
She was present without being present, and the reason for her spectral presence was unsettling to the legal community.
Before she left the court, her actual presence was also unnerving to some.
Since the first allegations against her were raised in a WXYZ-TV news report in May 2012 – that she had swapped properties with her step-children to execute a short sale – facing the court with that cloud was difficult. One top lawyer in the state, who argued before the court while she was still sitting, said it was extremely uncomfortable trying make a case before a justice who was subject to a case herself.
So when the court sits for arguments on Tuesday, March 5, as it will, Mr. Viviano’s presence will close the door, at least publicly, on that moment.
Ms. Hathaway still faces sentencing after she pleaded guilty to a federal charge of fraud, so the scandal is not done. But for the legal fraternity in Michigan, at least, it will be closed.
At his State of the Union address several weeks back, President Barack Obama called for increasing the U.S. minimum wage, now at $7.25 an hour, to $9 an hour.
The proposal has been subjected to debate in the public, if not so far in Congress. At least one national poll shows a majority of those asked supporting an increase. However, the proposal also has critics, worried such an increase could boost inflationary pressures and actually hurt small companies, making it harder for them to hire new workers.
Aside from the U.S., several states, including Minnesota and New York, are arguing about raising the minimum wage.
In Michigan, the minimum wage is $7.40 an hour, 15-cents higher than the federal wage, and has not been raised since 2008. And there is no active discussion, at least publicly, by state officials on raising the minimum wage in the state.
With that as background, some comments made Tuesday by Michigan Economic Development Corporation President Michael Finney to the House General Government Appropriations Subcommittee were interesting.
In outlining the MEDC’s Community Ventures program, which began this fiscal year with a goal of helping 1,000 people who suffer from long-term, chronic unemployment, Mr. Finney made the point several times that these workers are placed in “sustainable jobs that pay a living wage.”
Mr. Finney made the comment twice and said the MEDC was intent on working with firms to ensure the individuals – who could include former prisoners, veterans, anyone who had difficulty maintaining long-term employment – were not paid minimum wage.
Equally interesting, Mr. Finney’s comments went unremarked by committee members.
And to be clear, Mr. Finney made no direct comments on the minimum wage in Michigan, that it was too high or too low or just fine or needed to be increased. He only said the now 316 people the program has helped find jobs since it started operations this past October were working in “sustainable jobs that pay a living wage.”
Most state governors who have decided on the question of expanding Medicaid eligibility have decided to do so for adults earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
The big announcement came this week when Florida Governor Rick Scott, a former hospital executive and one of the most outspoken opponents of the federal Affordable Care Act, surprised his state and the political world by saying the Sunshine State would join 21 others in urging expansion.
Mr. Scott also makes Florida the seventh state run by a Republican governor to make that choice. That list includes, of course, Governor Rick Snyder who two weeks ago announced he supported the expansion. Other states with GOP governors that have called for the expansion are Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, North Dakota and Nevada.
There are 17 states that have decided they will not expand Medicaid eligibility. The largest of those is Texas.
According to The New York Times and Modern Healthcare, four states – New Hampshire, New York, Kentucky and Arkansas – are leaning towards pushing expansion while five states are leaning against it. West Virginia and Alaska are apparently undecided.
Of course, that Mr. Snyder has supported the expansion does not mean it is a done deal. Republicans in both the House and Senate have sharply questioned the proposal. (Reports from Florida indicate Mr. Scott is also getting an earful from the GOP there.)
But backers of the expansion are readying numbers for an argument in favor of the proposal they hope will convince lawmakers that it makes financial sense to approve it.
It should be noted that Thursday marked one month since former Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway left the Supreme Court, and...
Well, and, as far as the court is concerned, nothing. Oh, things have changed very dramatically for Ms. Hathaway, who pleaded guilty to a federal charge of bank fraud and who is awaiting sentencing on that plea, all for exercising a plot to get a short sale on her Detroit-area home while transferring other property she owned.
But the state's highest court has gone a month now with six justices.
And since Justice Bridget McCormack only took her seat on January 1, we have seen at least one case being decided with five justices: Ms. McCormack was not on the court when the argument was heard, and Ms. Hathaway’s seat is vacant.
The administration of Governor Rick Snyder has said he wants to make a decision on the seat sooner rather than later, but as well the governor has had a few things on his mind since Ms. Hathaway left. Those would include the budget, his proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility, and now, of course, having to make a decision on naming an emergency financial manager for Detroit.
Still, the Supreme Court needs another player for its Quidditch team, and, to hear talk, there are no lack of candidates for the post. So, anytime now we should expect a new justice, maybe.
As Detroit residents and the rest of the state await the report being issued Tuesday afternoon by the financial review team, it brings to mind another emotionally wrenching decision involving the city now, astonishingly, 14 years ago.
The financial review team is expected to announce that in its opinion Detroit cannot right its financial ship on its own. One has to presume that within the next 30 days Governor Rick Snyder will either name an emergency manager or the city will be compelled into bankruptcy. Either way, expect law suits as well as ongoing outrage.
The prospect of the expected turmoil is so reminiscent of the decision in 1999 by the state to take over operations of Detroit’s schools.
After struggling both academically and financially for decades, former Governor John Engler proposed the state take over all operations of the district.
The move didn’t simply galvanize positions; the proposal cleaved the city into sides that could not and would not find any common ground.
Perhaps the best remembered single incident of that trying time was when a group of House members, led by then Rep. Keith Stallworth, stormed into the Senate Education Committee meeting and took it over. It marked then Rep. Ed Vaughn snatching up the gavel that committee chair Sen. Loren Bennett placed on the table as he argued with Mr. Stallworth. Mr. Vaughn held the gavel aloft and then wrestled with the chief Senate sergeant at arms to keep the gavel.
Perhaps more poignantly was a moment during a House hearing on the takeover where too long-time friends realized they were opposite sides of the issue, and at that moment their friendship ended.
As one woman (a Detroit resident who favored the takeover) tearfully asked her friend if they could not simply disagree on this, the second woman snapped: “No, you are either with God or you are against Him.”
Five years later, city voters reclaimed control of the system, which they then lost to an emergency financial manager. Detroit’s population has declined dramatically, with many of those leaving being parents with school-age children. Just Tuesday charter school officials estimated that 40 percent of all school-age children in Detroit are in charter schools.
So presuming a financial manager is proposed for Detroit, it will precipitate controversy, to be sure.
But one suspects, it may not engender the anguish of 1999.
The following information has crossed ye olde email box: the state is preparing for, nay, is planning for and promoting a “yarn bomb” to take place on May 31.
Those who follow sensible pursuits like trading baseball cards and hurling watermelons from trebuchets won’t know what a “yarn bomb” is. It is a form of public street art in which knitters create knitted or crocheted garments to cover public items such as fire hydrants, mailboxes, park benches.
The Michigan Historical Center is offering itself up for this “granny graffiti” extravaganza on May 31, in time for the June 1 “Be A Tourist In Your Own City” event. At that time it will install the pieces for display.
Preliminaries for the event kick off on February 23 with a stitch lab from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the museum. (That day corresponds with the Republican Party state convention, also in Lansing, but no word on whether the delegates will be knitted into some accordance.) More labs will be held on March 23, April 27 and May 18.
How extensive could this get? Who knows. But one suspects the Capitol Dome would be better suited for an Aran cardigan than a Norwegian fisherman’s pullover.
February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday of course, but it also marks the one day at least a portion of Michigan fell under Spanish conquest.
It’s a bit of history that, except for the fact it was an actual military event with blood, gore, prisoners taken, property looted, almost reads like a Monty Python bit.
During the American Revolution, various British outposts were attacked by forces loyal to other nations as well native American Indian tribes.
The British held a fort at St. Joseph, near today’s city of Niles. The Spanish held a fort at St. Louis, today the home of the Cardinals, the Rams, Budweiser and that big arch.
French and Indian leaders prevailed upon the Spanish Governor Francisco Cruzat that the British fort represented a threat to him, and he worried as well that the British might attack the city. So in January 1781, a force of about 120 Spanish and Indian warriors set off for the Michigan territory.
On February 12, 1781, they attacked Fort St. Joseph, catching its defenders by surprise and easily seizing the fort. They made prisoners of the occupants, looted the fort, raised the Spanish flag and declared the entire area now belonged to Spain.
And then in true conquering hero fashion, the next day they all left and headed back to St. Louis. That is kind of the Monty Python element of it. And then, darn, wouldn’t you know, at the Treaty of Paris, the Spanish claim to Michigan and everything else was rejected, out of hand, summarily and all that.
This bit of history was memorialized with the state’s Bicentennial license plate issued in 1976 that showed four stars for the four flags that flew over Michigan: French, British, U.S. and, yes for one day, Spanish.
Knowing this, one can be entirely justified in drinking Sherry Tuesday night while watching the State of the Union…or the game. Whaddya mean what game?
Monday’s surprising announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he will resign at the end of February recalls an odd juxtaposition of papal succession that kind of involved the Michigan House.
It happened after midnight on September 29, 1978.
With a pile of controversial issues before it, including an increase in the gas tax, and an election barely a month away, the Legislature decided to hold an all-night session to clear its decks in time for the last month of campaigning.
One of the issues lawmakers perpetually fought with then Governor William Milliken over with Medicaid funding for elective abortions. The Legislature was trying to find a way to block funding for the practice without engendering a veto of the Medicaid budget that Mr. Milliken had threatened to veto.
The resolution reached that night, and a number of other times, was to limit Medicaid abortion funding to $1, which allowed Mr. Milliken to veto that line item and not affect the rest of the budget. But anti-abortion legislators wanted a stronger message, and wanted to challenge Mr. Milliken on the issue.
Barely a month before, in Rome, Pope John-Paul I had been elected following the death of Pope Paul VI.
Sometime after midnight, a frustrated Rep. Ed Mahalak (D-Romulus), frustrated because efforts to make the anti-abortion language stronger in the budget had failed, stood on the House floor and began his critique, in his distinctive high-pitched nasally voice: “Well, I guess we’ll never have an American pope.” He went on to complain about the action to create a line-item that Mr. Milliken could veto.
Perhaps 15 minutes later, then-Rep. John Maynard (D-St. Clair Shores) stood up to announce he had just gotten a call that Pope John-Paul had died, ending one of the shortest reigns in papal history.
An Associated Press reporter bolted off the floor and then brought in the wire bulletin confirming the pontiff’s death. And so, at about 2 a.m. that day, the House stood at attention in memoriam.
But for the rest of the session, which went on for another hour, reporters kept hearing House members whispering to get Mr. Mahalak’s attention: “Eddie, hey Eddie.” And when Mr. Mahalak turned from his desk, he would hear: “What do you think? Can an American win this time?”
A clearly furious Mr. Mahalak never bothered to answer.
At his budget roundtable with reporters on Thursday, Governor Rick Snyder, CPA, expressed delight that reporters actually spent more than 40 minutes asking questions about his proposed 2013-14 budget before turning questions to the latest political heartache.
The governor has, after all, said on numerous occasions that budgets and anything to do with numbers are really exciting to accountants.
So, on a brisk, snowy February Friday, here are some more numbers to tangle with.
Mr. Snyder has also often talked about getting out of college in 1982, when the state was in bad shape. Then 30 years ago would have been the first budget of Mr. Snyder’s post formal education years. How did it compare?
To start with Governor James Blanchard did not even present the budget proposal for 1983-84 until April 1983. The presentation was delayed as the Legislature wrestled with Mr. Blanchard’s proposal to raise the income tax as the state struggled with what was then the worst recession since the Great Depression.
In that budget, Mr. Blanchard called for total state spending of $11.9 billion. Of that, $5.3 billion was in General Funds.
In contrast, Mr. Snyder’s latest budget calls for total state spending of $29.4 billion. Of that, a grand total of slightly more than $9 billion would come from the General Fund.
No, the increase is not all due to inflation. In fact, the biggest change in total state spending and revenues occurred after the voters approved the school financing changes in Proposal A in 1994. Just look at taxes with the increase in the sales tax and creation of the state property tax for education as part of the reforms: total state revenues spiked from $11.7 billion a few years before to $17.5 billion in 1994-95 mostly because school funding became mainly the province of the state. Spending, of course, followed suit.
And while the General Fund is larger in the latest budget proposal, at, again $9 billion, that is still about $800 million less than the state brought into the General Fund in 1999-2000. Of course, it is considerably larger than the $7.3 billion the state netted into the General Fund in 2009-10.
One other number to take note of: the percentage of spending due to federal revenues. In the latest budget proposed, the $20.8 billion in federal funds the state would receive would account for 40.8 percent of the total revenue in the budget. That is a decline from the 42.8 percent of total state revenues federal funds accounted for in 2009-10 (but a far cry from the 23.9 percent it represented in 1987-88, according to Senate Fiscal Agency numbers).
That federal percentage, of course, is based on some big presumptions, namely that the Legislature goes along with Mr. Snyder’s proposals to increase state taxes for transportation and to increase Medicaid eligibility to persons earning 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Those fail, that throws the amount of federal money the state gets, as well as the percentage federal revenues contribute to the total.
Are there more numbers to peruse? Of course there are, but should you want to peruse them then you desperately need to get out and see a movie.
With one of the biggest proposals of 2013 announced, what are the odds that the Legislature will go along with Governor Rick Snyder on expanding eligibility for Medicaid? The current chatter is the governor will win this one.
Mr. Snyder joined five other Republican governors, including Ohio’s John Kasich, in announcing he wanted to expand Medicaid to those adults earning 133 percent of the federal poverty level or less. The proposal, part of the federal Affordable Care Act, could add more than 400,000 adults to Michigan’s Medicaid rolls, and Mr. Snyder said it makes sense both financially and for long-term health to enact the policy.
Interestingly, so far few legislative Republicans have come out directly opposed to the proposal (aside from Sen. Bruce Caswell (R-Hillsdale) who has legislation in to oppose it).
Admittedly the reaction from the GOP is tepid at best, expressing concerns about whether the federal government will live up to its commitments and whether the state can afford to handle its share of the increased caseload in several years.
But note that the reaction is tepid, not opposed. And some observers say they are hearing from some Republicans who favor the plan and talking it up.
It is one proposal where Mr. Snyder will need Democrats to win, and so far Democrats are with him on it. However, there’s also a sense Democrats will want something in return.
And of the houses that could cause problems in passing it, it appears the Senate is most problematic because there are fewer Democrats. Even with all 12 Democrats on board, it will still take eight of the 26 Republicans to pass it, compared with needing just five of the 59 Republicans in the House.
So why is the betting on the governor?
Two factors: one his proposal to bank half the state’s savings to use cover the increased cost when the state must chip in, and thereby save the General Fund, is considered clever, creditable and convincible on its own. Having that backup makes sense all the way around, observers say, and should alleviate many of the worries.
Then, the business argument that the public is already paying for the uninsured – through emergency room visits, lost productivity and the like – is probably the most compelling factor to sway hesitant legislators. Anything that can nick at overall health insurance costs is considered a plus by businesses, the observers say, and combined with Mr. Snyder’s health savings plan, it should be enough to win the Legislature on the proposal.
Oh, the memories of former Sen. George Hart are so many.
Of course, the late senator (his death was reported today, he died in New Mexico), was renowned for his singing, for his suits, for his singular devotion to Dearborn and for surviving a ferocious re-election campaign during his last bid for the Senate in 1998.
But he was also well known for his little vanities and insecurities.
So it was, when he took to wearing a hair-piece and sensed he was being laughed at behind his back, he asked a female staff member while in the elevator one day: “What do you think? Does this look okay?”
It did, he was told, perhaps not completely truthfully. But he kept the piece.
When signing on to lose weight, getting assistance from a fast-food chain may seem counterintuitive. Perhaps, that counter-intuition could be a predictor of success.
More than 11,800 people across the state have signed the pledge urged by the Department of Community Health under the Mi Healthier Tomorrow program to lose 10 percent of their body weight. Most of those provided the state with their addresses and got packages in the mail filled with printed materials to help them along the way.
The packet also includes some coupons from McDonalds for oatmeal and a salad. Okay, wait a minute. McDonalds, the two-all-beef-patty-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickle-on-a-sesame-seed-bun McDonalds? The very same.
Okay, maybe this isn’t counterintuitive in the same way that former President Richard Nixon going to China or former South African President F.W. de Klerk freeing Nelson Mandela was counterintuitive, but, dude: weight-loss, McDonalds?
Angela Minicuci, spokesperson for the department, said the whole idea behind the promotion is to encourage people to make healthier choices in their daily lives. And making those choices is easier than people recognize, she said, even in a fast food restaurant.
There is certainly precedent for this. Several years ago there was a fair amount of coverage of a chap who lost nearly 80 pounds by eating only McDonalds, focusing on salads and other healthy choices.
And, of course, Jared Fogle became a celebrity after he lost more than 200 pounds on the so-called Subway diet of low-fat sandwiches and walking.
With more than 11,800 people signed up for the promotion so far, Michigan should expect to pack away a fair number of McDonald’s salads and oatmeal. The coupons are good until December 31, so there is plenty of time to imbibe.
Wolverines of a non-collegiate athletic variety have been largely absent from the, ahem, Wolverine State for decades – okay, maybe centuries -- but there may be some good news on that score coming via the federal Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The service is considering establishing a rule naming the wolverine part of the Endangered Species Act. According to Monday’s edition of the Federal Register, the agency will take comments on adding wolverines to the list until May 6, and is holding public hearings on adding the short, furry, carnivorous symbol of the state to the endangered species list.
However, the three hearings are being held March 13 in Boise, Idaho; March 19, in Lakewood, Colorado; and March 27 in Helena, Montana.
Michigan, according to the proposed rule and the supporting documentation, doesn’t even get a mention. According to the scientists the native range of the wolverine tends to be in northern, higher, i.e. mountainous, areas that provide sufficient snowfall for the early spring mating season.
In fact, the supporting documentation suggests snow conditions in the Great Lakes region are not sufficient to support wolverines, and perhaps never were (though evidence of wolverines in Ontario is found around 1850, the document says) or at least have not for several centuries as the planet has grown warmer.
A few years ago, Michigan did find itself with a wolverine. A female was discovered roaming the state. No one was able to determine how she got here. But sadly she died in 2010. Like all good mammalian celebrities she was … well, not to put too fine a point on it, she was stuffed and put on display. Last year she was taken on a tour of the state.
Perhaps if the wolverine gets federal protection a few more might gravitate, eventually towards the Wolverine State.
By no means is the street-fight on changing Michigan’s way of allocating Electoral College delegates over, though with Governor Rick Snyder distancing himself from the issue and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville questioning the controversial proposal, the move to end the state’s winner-take-all system appears gravely wounded.
As Gongwer reported Wednesday, leading conservatives are still throwing punches (Available for Gongwer subscribers at this link: Gongwer Michigan Report, January 30, 2013). Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell authored an email urging the state to go forward with switching to a system where electoral votes are mostly allocated based on who wins what congressional district.
And Democrats have not dropped the gloves either. They have said, in effect, do not trust Republicans on this issue.
But the Livingston Daily Press & Argus walks off with the honors for the biggest roundhouse kick to the teeth on the issue with its editorial on Thursday that begins: “If some Republicans have their way, votes in future presidential elections will only be cast by white, male property owners.”
The editorial goes on to slam the proposal upside, downside and inside out. About the nicest word used in the piece is “tomfoolery.”
Given that Livingston County is well known as one of the state’s most historically Republican counties, the editorial comes across with the same subtlety as Mike Tyson taking a chomp out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. The newspaper’s editorial page tends to lean slightly right of center.
After this editorial dustup, defenders of the proposal may have to spend a little more time working out at the heavy bag.
Ted McLogan, 92, died last week in his home in Ann Arbor.
Though not necessarily a well-known name now, he played a critical role in the development of Michigan’s current government.
Mr. McLogan, officially Edward, was an heir to some of the activists who helped create the Republican Party under the oaks in Jackson. He was also one of five generations in his family to serve in elective or appointive office in the state (a tradition carried on by his son, Matt, a former Grand Rapids TV journalist who served on the Public Service Commission in the 1980s and is now a vice president for Grand Valley State University).
Mr. McLogan, senior, served as a Republican delegate to the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention from Flint.
After the convention, Mr. McLogan managed the campaign to win approval of the Constitution. He was opposed in that by John Murray, who along with managing the anti-Constitution campaign had been an aide to former Governor G. Mennen Williams, was later a journalism professor (and poet) at Michigan State University and was the father of former state treasurer, ex-GVSU president and now Meijer’s President Mark Murray.
Mr. McLogan had the better of his friend in that campaign, though barely. The Constitution was adopted by about 7,400 votes on April 1, 1963.
Mr. McLogan’s death deprives not just the state of one its few remaining Con-Con delegates, the nation has lost one of the few remaining survivors of World War II Army ranger unit, Merrill’s Marauders. The unit was created to launch deep incursions into Burma behind enemy lines to attack its Japanese defenders. While militarily successful, the unit was devastated by disease and starvation.
When the unit, initially under the command Brigadier General Frank Merrill (who was forced to give up command after suffering two heart attacks and malaria under its grueling conditions), was finally mustered out only 130 members were still considered combat ready from the initial 3,000 volunteers. And just two had neither been wounded nor ravaged by some form of dysentery, malaria or other disease. Mr. McLogan won both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart during the war.
Gongwer News Service will have more on this story in its regular report.
Saturday is Michigan’s statehood day, marking the Mitten’s 176th anniversary as the 26th state in the union.
A trivia question for you, something sure to win a bar bet as you toast the pleasant peninsulas (as surely you will) on January 26: what was the first law the Legislature of 1837 passed?
Well, now, according to the ancient books, the public laws of 1837, that very first law was to elect U.S. senators from Michigan.
However, there already had been two chaps elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. So how did that work?
Recall, that Michigan’s first Constitution was the Constitution of 1835 and there was expectation that Michigan would be admitted to the union that year.
Also recall, until the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, U.S. senators were elected by a state’s Legislature.
So on November 10, 1835, the Legislature meeting in the Capitol in Detroit elected Lucius Lyon and John Norvell to the posts in advance to be ready for when Michigan took its place in the parade of states.
But Congress had other plans. Politicians, as anyone who has hung around Lansing for any length of time knows well, conform to no calendar, no law of physics, no good solid argument that cannot be put off.
The growing conflict over slavery made it nearly impossible for either a free state, such as Michigan, or a slave state to gain admission on its own unless one or the other was in the line for admission as well.
So first Arkansas had to be admitted, in June 1836, and then Michigan was admitted in January 1837. Better late than never, after all.
Once admission was done, the first law the Legislature adopted set forth all the details, and there were many details, on making the election of the senators all nice and neat and official.
Mr. Lyons remained in the Senate until 1840. Mr. Norvell until 1841.
Who were elected after them? That’s the stuff of another bar bet next January 26.
Michigan Republicans meet next month in Lansing and are expected to re-elect Bobby Schostak as the party’s chair and re-elect him by a fairly wide margin.
Yes, he faces opposition by Todd Courser, who was a party candidate for the State Board of Education, but with virtually all the party’s top leaders – including, of course, Governor Rick Snyder – and top conservatives backing Mr. Schostak, Mr. Courser faces more than just an uphill battle beating the incumbent. He faces an uphill battle while wearing slick roller skates.
Mr. Schostak has been announcing a steady stream of endorsements, including many with ties to the tea party, such as Gene Clem, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, Clark Durant and former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, who nearly rode tea party backing to an upset for the Republican attorney general nomination in 2010.
But Mr. Courser can take heart in that there are still opponents to Mr. Schostak. Not all of those opponents have declared for Mr. Courser, but they are making their intense dislike of Mr. Schostak clear.
Go on over to the Right Michigan blog, for a posting by J. Gillman charging that donations Mr. Schostak made to former Governor Jennifer Granholm when she ran for attorney general and when she ran for governor, as well as a donation to University of Michigan Regent Laurence Deitch make him unfit for re-election. Similar complaints were made about Mr. Schostak two years ago to no avail.
The posting, which includes tags of “working against ourselves,” and “suicide party,” goes on to say, “Pandering to the other side brings nothing by misery. Seeding the other side with financial resources makes it harder for OUR guys to succeed. Does it ultimately matter if the chair is a good fundraiser, if our donations go to fight the beast he has fed in the past?”
The post promises to the first part of a fact-based critique of Mr. Schostak.
Responding to the post, a writer identified as “Lookingfor Reagan” who says the party must have conservatives as leaders who have the “guts to go toe to toe with the Marxists.”
But while attacking Mr. Schostak, the writers do not as yet endorse Mr. Courser. So Mr. Schostak’s one declared opponent at this point clearly has a fair amount of work climbing the hill on his skates to prevent Mr. Schostak’s re-election.
No time was wasted in taking now-former Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway’s picture off the Michigan Supreme Court’s website. But now there is a question about her portrait.
Ms. Hathaway, who retired from the court on Monday under a cloud after a months-long controversy over her engineering a short sale of her Detroit-area home, clearly has other more pressing things to think about than a portrait. After all, this past Friday she was formally charged by the U.S. Attorney for Detroit with bank fraud in the matter.
But as a former justice of the Supreme Court she can designate an artist to paint her portrait (or presumably have a sculptor do a bust – several justices have had busts made, including John Voelker, who under the pen name Robert Traver wrote “Anatomy of a Murder”) and then present it to the court.
In recent years, the court has had two such portrait unveilings, for former Chief Justices Clifford Taylor (whom Ms. Hathaway defeated in 2008) and Conrad Mallett Jr.
Any justice who served on the court can present a portrait, said Carrie Pickett with the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. That a justice may be involved in a controversy doesn’t matter, at least portrait-wise.
But the former justice is responsible for choosing the artist for a portrait, and then presenting it to the court.
The last justice involved in a major controversy, former Governor and former Justice John Swainson, presented his portrait to the court nine years after he resigned following his conviction on perjury charges.
The Hall of Justice was still nearly two decades from being built, wall space for the portraits was at a premium, and there was still something of a cloud over Mr. Swainson. So for some time, Mr. Swainson’s portrait hung in the office of Tom Farrell, then the chief information officer for the court, outside of public view.
Mr. Swainson’s portrait is now in the conference center on the first floor of the Hall of Justice.
Monday was Ms. Hathaway’s last official day on the court, and throughout the day her picture was posted on the court’s website.
But her picture was gone from the site Tuesday morning.
With new attention directed in the state and nation to efforts to drop the winner-take-all system most states use to award their electoral votes in the presidential contest, perhaps it’s time to take note of recent history on the issue.
With President Barack Obama about to be inaugurated on Monday, with Republicans nationally having lost two straight elections, and in Michigan with Republicans having lost six straight elections, Republicans nationally and in Michigan are beginning to press the issue more seriously.
Rep. Pete Lund (R-Shelby Twp.) is planning to introduce legislation to put the state on a system where the winner of each congressional district would receive an electoral vote with the statewide winner getting two electoral votes. Such an allocated elector system, supporters say, would be fairer than the winner-take-all system which has predominated in Michigan and most states for most of U.S. history.
Before these six recent elections in the wilderness for the GOP, Democrats similarly went through a long barren stretch in this state. Republicans won the presidential elections in 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988.
So how was the issue of allocated presidential electors dealt with then? It wasn’t.
Even though Democrats (who during this period might be considered most interested in changing how electors were allocated) controlled the House during the entire period, controlled the Senate for eight years, and for a brief period controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office, the issue never came up. At least, as legislation, the issue never came up.
A review of all elections bills introduced during that time frame shows not a one dealing with the Electoral College.
There were bills on making voter registration and voting by absentee ballot easier, opening or closing presidential primaries, school elections, village elections, recall elections, judicial election qualifications, campaign finance issues, and how long petition drives last, but nothing on presidential electors.
Former Rep. Colleen House Engler had a bill to ban exit polls at polling places. Former Governor John Engler, when he was in the Senate, had a bill requiring gubernatorial candidates who receive public funds to do debates. But nothing on the Electoral College.
Just making note, that is all.
Going into the biggest speech of the year, every governor has to come up with a way drawing the state’s attention to what he, or she, will propose.
There are, of course, the customary courtesies that must be followed, greeting the leaders, the Legislature and the people. But then, the governor has to get into, and draw his audience into, the mood and tenor of what he, or she, is going to say. In other words, the governor has to hook ‘em.
Some have tried with oratory, some with setting a story, some with a witticism.
None got everyone’s attention better than former Governor William Milliken in the 1978 State of the State.
The biggest question that year was would Mr. Milliken run for a third full term. The state was doing reasonably well economically, a legislative solution to the PPB crisis had been enacted, and Republicans were hoping to have a better year after suffering from post-Watergate hangovers.
So would Mr. Milliken run? He had given out absolutely no clues of his intent.
State of the State addresses were held in the morning, the Thursday after the Legislature returned to session in those long ago days. Reporters were parked in a raised section parallel with the rostrum to the left.
Mr. Milliken was introduced, applauded, and greeted the lawmakers, then immediately he became very, very serious.
“I have to announce,” he said to the now quiet chamber, “that this is the last time I will address this Legislature…
Reporters had been climbing over each other to get to the phones before Mr. Milliken dropped the punchline.
Smoking was allowed in the chamber then, and former House Republican Floor Leader Bill Bryant said he almost swallowed his cigarette.
The chamber howled with laughter, and some relief, and Mr. Milliken went on to announce a modest income tax cut.
Okay, all current and future governors, top that.
Subscribers to The Detroit News were stunned on January 15, 1993, when a front-page story detailed possibly the most severe scandal to hit Michigan state government.
That story outlined the broad details of the House Fiscal Agency, how then HFA Director John Morberg and other HFA employees used the agency’s imprest account as their personal checking account. Even the first reports on the scandal did not cover the full amount improperly used over several years, close to $2 million in total.
While the scandal was first detailed by The Detroit News, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its efforts, the best summary of its scope can be found in the sentencing opinion read by then U.S. District Court David McKeague in 1994 as he sent Mr. Morberg to federal prison (the sentencing document can be found here).
For six years, the fund was used to finance credit card payments, vacations, furniture purchases, property tax payments, social events, dental work as well as payments to HFA employees and contract workers for non-existent workers.
The scandal threatened to collapse the joint-leadership agreement reached days earlier between Republican co-Speaker Paul Hillegonds and Democratic co-Speaker Curtis Hertel.
The scandal also broke before committee assignments were finalized for the House. Beyond the criminal aspects of the scandal, one of its biggest effects was former Rep. Dominic Jacobetti being removed as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a post he had held for nearly 20 years.
It is no exaggeration to say the scandal likely killed Mr. Jacobetti. The fire-eating “godfather” of the House was a subdued man in his final term. Though never linked to the scandal, he was depressed by how he was viewed. Health problems plagued him his last year. He won re-election by a landslide in November 1994, but was dead of a heart attack little more than two weeks later. Then-Republican Appropriations co-Chair Don Gilmer said a “broken heart” contributed to Mr. Jacobetti’s death.
The scandal also shattered a public view of state government. Before it broke, residents were confident the state was above corruption. Scandals of this sort were reported in other states, but not in Michigan, at least not since the “Purple Gang” scandal two generations earlier. With HFA workers and a state legislator, former Rep. Stephen Shepich, pleading guilty and going on trial that complacent view vanished.
In the years since, the HFA workers have vanished from view. Mr. Morberg is reportedly living in Florida, but refuses all contact with reporters. HFA analyst Warren Gregory – who spilled the beans on kickbacks involved in the scandal – died last week. Former HFA assistance director Jim Heckman, Mr. Shepich, Malik Hodari and others are also off the radar.
But the cynical realization the scandal wrought that no one and no institution can be assumed to be completely free of taint is as active and overwhelming in the state as it ever could be.
An important date in Michigan history occurred during the weekend, and it is right to use its recollection as a time to heap some praise on the state’s first governor, Stevens T. Mason.
On January 12, 1835, Mr. Mason, then the 23-year-old territorial governor, addressed the territory’s legislative council and urged them to call a constitutional convention.
Michigan was facing a crisis, Mr. Mason said. It had officially requested Congress to hold a constitutional convention and that request had been rejected.
But Michigan deserved to be a state, Mr. Mason told the legislative council. The council should call a constitutional convention on its own.
On January 26, the council passed legislation calling a con-con. Delegates were elected in April and from May 11 to June 24 met in Detroit and drafted the Constitution of 1835. Only about 8,000 territorial residents voted that October on the Constitution, and by a nearly 6-1 margin they approved the document.
(The month before the election, President Andrew Jackson attempted to remove Mr. Mason as the territorial governor, but outraged Michiganders pelted the successor’s house with stones and horse dung. The successor fled the state.)
Michigan officially joined the union in 1837, with Mr. Mason becoming the state’s first governor.
Students of Michigan history know that Mr. Mason’s term was less than successful, in part because the national Panic of 1837 helped destroy the state’s banking system. He left Michigan after leaving office in 1840 and died just three years later.
But a little boldness on Mr. Mason’s part, backed up by the legislative council, was a decisive step towards Michigan becoming a state. Had Mr. Mason not called for a con-con when he did, who knows when Michigan would have become a state.
So, take a moment this week and give a little salute to the boy-gov.
Warren Gregory died on Wednesday. He was 68. He was an economist, writing a number of articles and books. He worked for the House Fiscal Agency, and won an award for his service.
He was also an integral figure in the scandal that exploded in 1993, and nearly scuttled the HFA.
Mr. Gregory was the former assistant director of the HFA. When the scandal exploded in that pivotal year – a year also marked for shared power between Democrats and Republicans in the House and for the Legislature restructuring school finance – it was discovered he had helped set up a company with other HFA executives to ship arms to Croatian rebels. He was convicted for that.
He was also convicted for unlawfully enriching himself with funds misappropriated from the HFA’s imprest account. Mr. Gregory was not alone in taking funds from that account, since the scandal was widespread.
The two convictions got him 30 months in federal prison.
Gongwer’s regular report will have a full obituary on Friday.
With bipartisanship in the air during Wednesday’s opening of the House, it is fitting to recall that this time 20 years ago a real serious exercise in bipartisanship was coming together.
During the days leading up to the January 13, 1993, opening of the Legislature, Lansing observers watched keenly to see if House Democrats and Republicans could reach an agreement on the first – and so far only – shared-power agreement in the House’s history.
Well, Democrat Curtis Hertel and Republican Paul Hillegonds did just that. It was 20 years ago that the final secret (well, secret only because no one really knew what was being decided – everyone knew they were meeting) meetings to decide the framework of the deal that had each party control the rostrum and the committees on alternating months.
The shared-power agreement was made necessary because in the 1992 election, the two parties gathered exactly 55 seats each. That had happened once before in the 1960s, but a Democratic member switched parties to give the GOP the majority.
And in 1992 Republicans worked hard to get a Democrat to switch over, but by New Year’s it was clear that would not happen.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan President Dan Loepp was present at the creation as chief aide to Mr. Hertel and outlined the details of the effort in his 1999 book, “Sharing the Balance of Power.”
It was bipartisan, sure, but it wasn’t always pleasant getting to the agreement. And there was real intrigue in the background as Democrats had to keep quiet during the negotiations that Rep. Joe Young Sr. was close to death and not likely to be present at the session’s opening. Had Republicans known that, Democrats feared, an agreement might not have happened.
But an accord was reached. Given the other astonishing events of that upcoming year, the agreement was just the first astonishment.
One more point. In the 1992 election, voters not only split the House, they adopted term limits. So one could raise the question what would happen if a split House happens again.
After all, Mr. Hillegonds had 14 years in the House and Mr. Hertel 12 when they began negotiating. The men were not drinking Buds together, but they knew each other. While they had not necessarily had many occasions before then to work together, other members of each caucus had, so the leaders could tap that auxiliary experience to help work with each other.
So what would happen, in a situation with new leaders, largely unknown to each other, in what could be a tense political situation? Well, they could always draw on the experience of decades earlier and follow that model.
House Clerk Gary Randall drew some laughs at Wednesday’s House opening for the 97th Legislature when he referred to an 1893 statute dictating how seat selection for the chamber is governed, and said, “No, I have not been here that long.”
But, hey, how long has he who is known as “the all-knowing” Mr. Randall been in the Capitol?
And on the south side of the dome? How long has Senate Secretary Carol Viventi been keeping the Senate in order?
They both have admirable tenures, not to mention patience, in their current posts, but they don’t hold the records. Though both, especially Mr. Randall, have impressive service in this term-limited age.
Mr. Randall, who turns 70 in June, served 16 years in the House as a Republican member from the Mt. Pleasant area. A former public broadcaster, he guided his GOP colleagues on how not to act like a 2X4 when on camera. Only in his last four years in the House, during joint power in 1993-94 and then with the Republican majority of 1995-96, did he sample control. He chaired the then Commerce Committee in his last term.
After giving up his seat, he’s been on the House rostrum either as clerk or assistant clerk, sharing that position with six speakers, three governors and one U.S. president along with lieutenant governors, various speakers pro-tem and their assistants and associates and his assistant clerks.
He was assistant clerk for six years: 1997-98 and 2007-10; and clerk for eight years: 1999-2006 and 2011-12. Having been re-elected Wednesday, he’ll have 10 years as clerk under his belt by the 2014 election.
But two other men share the top spot for longest term as clerk. Daniel Crossman of Williamston used to pony into the Capitol to handle House sessions for 16 years, from 1873 to 1889.
Then there was the gravelly-voiced, chain-smoking T. Thomas Thatcher, who was clerk from 1937 to 1938, and then when Democrats finally retook control of the House from 1966 to 1980.
Back over to the Senate, Ms. Viventi has been secretary since 1995 and will have a tidy 19 years on the rostrum when the current session ends.
Governor John Engler administered Ms. Viventi, his former aide, the oath after her first election to the post. However, her election was briefly delayed as Mr. Engler was showing pictures of his new-born triplets to former Sen. Joanne Emmons and an aide to Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus had to slip over to get Ms. Emmons to vote.
But the legendary Fred Chase, who served a total of 28 years as secretary – 1931-32 and then 1935-61 – may never be topped for tenure. Mr. Chase, of course, finished his state service as secretary of the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention.