Blog Posts by John Lindstrom, Publisher

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

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

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

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

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

However, a caricature of Mr. McLellan was placed outside the actual curtilage of the roasting room, which means that was not off the record. It is reproduced here, autographed by Mr. McLellan’s admirers and people he owes money to. There is at least one reference to skunkworks in the signatures.

A Different View On The Talent Question
Posted: March, 17 2015 4:26 PM

Talent now being the top dollar word and concept in state government, a look over to Michigan State University is in order for a summit finishes today looking at training for talent in a slightly different way.

For several years, university officials across the county have looked at creating “T” individuals, and Monday and Tuesday some of the top figures in the country on the subject were speaking at MSU.

“T” has to do with talent, of course, but it also has to do with training people to convey more than just one specific skill set. A lot of the focus on talent development seems to be aimed at ensuring people learn specific skills or crafts. The “T” concept is a way of taking the idea of a well-rounded individual and making him/her a person mastering specific skills and concepts at the same time.

It’s a way of ensuring that a person can communicate, collaborate and cooperate with others while still meeting specific skills. Being a “T” person means doing away with an “I” person concept – you will truly sound very cool if you master these ideas, at least at academic bars – which is someone who is “deep in one discipline.” The idea of the “T” is that a person be “deep” in a discipline and a system. A system has defined as a broader service concept, such as transportation, education, healthcare.

But then the goal with “T” training is to add the “crossbar” to the “I.” That means a person is knowledgeable in several disciplines and systems, and has developed the communications and collaborative skills needed to work with other people and express competence in those disciplines and systems.

The ability to communicate and collaborate is critical, said Robert Kegan of Harvard (who is considered the superstar of this area, and has written several well-known books about the subject) because solving major problems can never be accomplished by just one person. It takes several people from different disciplines to work together to come up with proposed resolutions to problems and to see them through, he said.

The summit opened on Monday, when Governor Rick Snyder was launching operations for his new Department of Talent and Economic Development. Officials at the summit said they had tried to get Mr. Snyder to attend, but the governor was unable to come.

What Do All Five Governors Have In Common?
Posted: March, 5 2015 2:23 PM

Besides being governor, of course? Remember these are Governor Rick Snyder, as well as former Governors William Milliken, James Blanchard, John Engler and Jennifer Granholm. It would be hard to imagine they could have much in common, or agree on anything, from where to have lunch to state tax policy.

But they all agreed to join in inviting everyone to a March 18 roast of Richard McLellan to benefit the Michigan Political History Society.

Since the 1960s, Mr. McLellan has been one of the top brains in town, putting his advice and hand to virtually every policy issue that state has overseen. That includes the good and controversial, since he was an author (well, maybe not officially) of the now infamous “skunkworks” proposal. And yes, he has been associated with the Republican Party all his life, but isn’t shy about saying he will vote, and has, for Democrats when he agrees with their ideas.

His major passion for decades, which has put him in the thick of controversy, is education, and he has pushed for proposals and alternatives that have succeeded in annoying everybody at some time or another.

Unknown to most people, Mr. McLellan has also joined with former state mental health director Frank Ochberg to develop a group helping journalists deal with the effects of trauma, since reporters are often the first on the scene at natural disasters, public health crises, terrorist attacks, and cover, and suffer in, war zones.

Okay, one can hear the reader muttering to him/herself, “I can make fun for Richard for free, why do I have to pay $150 to see others do it?” Well, Lordy, why pass up an opportunity to watch Mr. Blanchard, former legislators George Cushingberry and John Kelly, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and his former law partners Rex Schlaybaugh and William Whitbeck (among others) lampoon him for being named an African chief, his many wanderings around Antarctica, for his love of ballet, and for how many buckets of popcorn he and Mr. Engler devoured at the movies? What are you, nuts or something?

Besides, the proceeds go to the Political History Society, which in an era of term limits helps to remind people that they may be on the verge of making the same mistake done 20 years before.

You have until March 13 to reserve tickets (call 517-485-9127). The roast starts at 5:30 p.m. (for drinks and chow), Wednesday, March 18, at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, 219 South Harrison Road in East Lansing.

Probably As Cute As It Gets In The Legislative World
Posted: February, 25 2015 3:57 PM

The fourth grade class from Hill Elementary in Troy visited the Capitol on Wednesday.

Of course, part of the tour is to see the Senate Appropriations Committee room, which is the former Supreme Court chamber.

The Senate Appropriations Judiciary Subcommittee was preparing to meet on the upcoming 2015-16 budget, and after Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) thrilled the students with a brief discussion on the budget, Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. walked in.

He got a picture taken with the kids. He asked if any had any questions (none did), and then Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph), the subcommittee chair, came in. He asked a couple questions of the school’s teachers and then called the meeting to order.

Mr. Proos officially welcomed the students. Asked how many were visiting the Capitol for the first time, most of the students raised their hands. Asked how many of the teachers and adults were visiting for the first time, probably half raised their hands.

Asked how many had met a chief justice before, Mr. Young raised his hand.

Courser, Gamrat Endorsements Raise Social Media Furor
Posted: February, 20 2015 2:25 PM

Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) first came to prominence two years ago when he came closer than anyone thought possible to beating Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak in Mr. Schostak’s bid for re-election. Since then Mr. Courser has been a lightning rod for the ultra-conservative wing of the party.

Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) has been identified as a tea party leader for some time. She and Mr. Courser have pursued what they have called a liberty agenda since taking office. She was an organizer of a tea party “pow wow” held last Month in Mount Pleasant.

And both announced late Thursday they were endorsing Ronna Romney McDaniel for the Republican Party chair’s position over Norm Hughes and Kim Shmina, both candidates more to the liking of the tea party. Ms. Gamrat was more positive in her endorsement, Mr. Courser was more half-hearted.

But the endorsements electrified their social media contacts, generating a slew of comments. While both were defended for their decisions, the tone overall seemed to one of anger and betrayal. Ms. McDaniel is not seen by many tea party partisans as one who will move the GOP to a more staunchly conservative – both fiscally and socially – party.

Joe Jurecki snapped at Mr. Courser, “Once you send them to the swamp you see their true colors.” R. George Dunn said, “The indoctrination tactics must work.”

And Lanny Valentine was furious that Mr. Courser had turned his back on Mr. Hughes after, “All Norm did for you and the conservatives. Shame on you. Didn’t take long to see you can talk the talk but CANNOT walk the walk.”

Respondents were no kinder to Ms. Gamrat. A Stefanie Stimmet blasted: “I cannot believe this. If those we elect based on their conservative values will not stand true to those values, what hope is there for this nation?!! I simply cannot believe your endorsement, Cindy. Very, very disappointing.”

Andrew Hulbert went further and said: “Shocking and disappointing endorsement coordinated with Todd shows how rigged the coronation really is.”

Mr. Valentine also said on Ms. Gamrat’s post that the last 10 years in the Republican Party had been the “worst I have seen for true patriots.”

Mr. Dunn, who supports Mr. Hughes, added the “field of battle has changed in this MRP. It is near impossible to compromise with lawless attitude. The Oath of Office means something and to not believe it is treason, by truth telling.”

But fellow tea party activist Wendy Lynn Day weighed in on Ms. Gamrat’s defense (Ms. Gamrat is endorsing Ms. Day for a vice chair post). “Wow, I am surprised at how personal and mean people can get. Apparently, she is entitled to an opinion, as long as it is one you think she should have. I thought that was liberals who did that.”

A Budget Lesson, Sort Of...
Posted: February, 11 2015 10:17 AM

John Roberts gets tossed to the wolves today. As Michigan’s new budget director he gets to present his first budget to the Legislature and then can go home and nurse his wounds. It is the way the world works.

And really, what a strange job is budget director. What child, when asked, says he or she wants to grow up to be a budget director? Where did they come from? Why are they here? Are they friendly?

Such imponderables are beyond answer. However, one of the most famous of Michigan’s budget directors had a thought on whence budget directors came onto this planet.

Gerald Miller, who ran the state’s finances during the 1970s and early 1980s under then Governor William Milliken, once spoke to a meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists. He said thus:

“A doctor, an engineer and a budget director were arguing over whose profession was the first. The doctor said, ‘Look, go to the Bible. There was chaos, God created the earth out of the chaos, created man out of the earth and breathed life into him. Giving life, that’s what doctors do. So doctors are the first profession.’

“Then the engineer said, ‘Hold on, there was chaos, God created the earth out of the chaos, formed the mountains, the oceans, the rivers. That’s engineering. So engineering is the first profession.’

“Then the budget director spoke: ‘Who created the chaos?’”

The Curious Situation In Nebraska
Posted: February, 2 2015 12:47 PM

An issue that showed up recently in Michigan is the question of whether the state’s electoral votes should continue to be allocated on a winner-take-all basis (as they are in all but two states, Nebraska and Maine) or should be allocated on which presidential candidate won the majority in a congressional district.

Republicans here have pushed the change to the winner-take-all system, tired that Democrats have won the last six presidential elections in Michigan, and arguing that the current system is unfair to voters who don’t support the candidate getting a majority of the voters’ votes. Democrats – who, for historical point, never challenged the winner-take-all system during the five presidential elections Republicans won before the current Democratic streak began in 1992 – have opposed it, saying it would be unfair and make Michigan insignificant. Governor Rick Snyder has said the issue should not be dealt with until after the 2020 census.

But something appears to be happening in Nebraska, one of the two states that allocates its electoral votes on local results, that suggests the issue is not one really of electoral fairness and integrity, but just who gets to control the results.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Republicans in Nebraska are considering switching the state to a winner-take-all state. Nebraska is a solidly Republican state, and Democrats are probably as rare as wheat farmers in the Cornhusker state. But, in 2008, Democrats in the Omaha region were able to claim one electoral vote because President Barack Obama won that area’s congressional district. Republicans there are furious that the state showed up as split and want it to appear solid when they win the vast majority of votes statewide. Democrats are arguing back that switching to a winner-take-all state will be unfair and not reflect voter intent.

In other words, the arguments are flipped compared to how Republicans and Democrats in Michigan argue about the issue. Which suggests that the real question is how a party thinks it can get the most that it wants.

Of course, if the country decided to drop the Electoral College system and elect the president simply on the basis of who gets the most votes the issue of how to allocate electoral votes would be moot. But, that probably won’t happen.

The Full Lyrics To ‘Michigan, My Michigan’ Because …
Posted: January, 26 2015 4:12 PM

Because today, January 26, is the 178th anniversary of the date Michigan joined the union in 1837, after we gave up trying to get Toledo in exchange for all of the Upper Peninsula.

“Michigan, My Michigan” is kind of the state’s anthem. Sung to the tune of “Oh, Christmas Tree” (or “Maryland, My Maryland).

The song’s lyrics were originally written during the Civil War, shortly after the murderous Battle of Fredericksburg. The lyric’s author, Lee Brent Lyster, was the wife of a Michigan veteran. The mayor of Grand Rapids rewrote the lyrics in the 1880s, but they still had a martial tone, and then in 1902 Douglas Malloch wrote new lyrics for a convention of women’s clubs meeting in Muskegon.

It is these lyrics we generally sing:

A song to thee, fair State of mine,
Michigan, my Michigan.
But greater song than this is thine,
Michigan, my Michigan.
The whisper of the forest tree,
The thunder of the inland sea,
Unite in one grand symphony
Of Michigan, my Michigan.

I sing a State of all the best—
Michigan, my Michigan.
I sing a State with riches blessed—
Michigan, my Michigan.
Thy mines unmask a hidden store,
But richer thy historic lore,
More great the love thy builders bore,
Oh, Michigan, my Michigan.

How fair the bosom of thy lakes,
Michigan, my Michigan.
What melody each river makes,
Michigan, my Michigan.
As to thy lakes, the rivers tend,
Thine exiled children to thee send
Devotion that shall never end,
Oh, Michigan, my Michigan.

Rich in the wealth that makes a State,
Michigan, my Michigan.
Great in the things that make men great,
Michigan, my Michigan.
Our loyal voices sound thy claim
Upon the golden roll of fame;
Our loyal hands shall write the name
Thy home will never be the same, my Michigan
Oh Michigan, my Michigan.

Generally, only the first verse is sung. Charles Ballard, the well-known economics professor at Michigan State University, is also a singer himself and almost always ends his public presentations by exhorting the crowd to sing “Michigan, My Michigan” with him. He did so last week at a forum of the MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, and the crowd boisterously joined in.

So, warm up your warblers and sing, Michiganders.

The ‘Fine Tooth Comb’ Re-Emerges
Posted: January, 12 2015 11:18 AM

Now more than 40 years after it was created, the fabled Michigan Quote Board has reappeared in the national prints. Well, maybe the national prints and electrons.

George Will, former Michigan State University instructor (and recent, controversial, graduation speaker) and nationally syndicated conservative columnist, twice used a phrase first uttered decades ago by former Sen. Harry DeMaso in his most recent column.

The column had to do with U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch. Here is the first use of the comment:

“Senate confirmation hearings put nominees on notice that, as a Michigan state legislator reportedly once said, ‘I’m watching everything you do with a fine-toothed comb.’”

He repeats the comment at the close of the column. Mr. Will quoted Mr. DeMaso at least one other time, in the 1980s when the Quote Board first gained international fame.

He says Ms. Lynch should be confirmed to succeed current Attorney General Eric Holder, but the Senate should also put a number of questions to her, all of which he outlines.

He also quotes Mae West, who said, when deciding between evils, “I always pick the one I never tried before.” Sounds like she could be have been in the Legislature.

The Last Time Patricia Burnett Charmed The Capitol
Posted: January, 7 2015 2:10 PM

Patricia Hill Burnett, artist, former Miss Michigan, feminist, Republican and glamour queen died last week in suburban Detroit at age 94.

She was remembered for her portraits of important women, for her being an early advocate of Betty Friedan and the women’s rights movement and for being absolutely charming.

While noted for her work painting the likes of famous women, such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Ms. Burnett also was known for painting state leaders.

Her portrait of former Governor William Milliken in the Capitol is one of two painted by women artists (former Governor George Romney was the first to have a portrait painted by a woman) and she was commissioned to paint other officials.

Her most recent portrait was of former Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, which was unveiled in September 2011.

Ms. Burnett was 91 at the time, and while the event featured former Governor John Engler and former U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, Ms. Burnett stole the show.

The portrait shows a seated, robed Mr. Taylor casting a somewhat skeptical and bemused eye at the observer.

When she unveiled the portrait to Mr. Taylor, Ms. Burnett told the audience that he uttered the three words no portrait artist wants to hear: “Who is it?”

What The Dog Did In The Night-Time
Posted: December, 22 2014 3:01 PM

The classic question from Sherlock Holmes was about the curious thing the dog did in the night-time. Of course, the dog did nothing in the night-time, which was the curious thing.

In one of the more unusual, shall we say, cases from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to come along, we can answer your curiosity right away what a dog used by the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department did in the night-time: it bit the subject of a search and rescue mission.

However, rarely do canine chompers, flip-flops, tipsy women, people tripping over one another, public urination and classic Japanese cinema work their way together into a court-case. But in this case, they do. Yes, a person was injured; yes, the county may be out some money; but, no offense, this does almost read like the setup of a great 1930’s screwball comedy. Perhaps the parties could be persuaded to adjourn the matter to a richer court. Hey, maybe some state film incentive money could be used.

The Sad Story Of The Best Legislative Farewell Speech Ever
Posted: December, 3 2014 1:55 PM

We are in that time, the lame duck tradition of legislative farewells. In the days before term limits the farewells tended to be relatively few, reserved to those lawmakers who were retiring and the few who had been beaten. The speeches tended to be fond remembrances and encouragements to the fellow lawmakers. And those remaining would often praise those leaving. Emotions often ran high. Once, House Republican Leader Bill Bryant broke down while saying farewell to Democratic member George Montgomery.

Now, of course, thanks to the factory-like system of term limits, legislative leaders can schedule years in advance how many farewells will be needed and when lawmakers can make their speeches. And as the years have gone by, the speeches have tended to get longer as lawmakers tend to pour all they have learned in their short tenures into their last major oration.

But whose was the best farewell ever? Oh, without question the speech of former Senate Democratic leader William Faust in December 1994. It was the best. And in so many ways it was also the saddest.

Mr. Faust had been elected to the Senate in 1966, after owning several small newspapers in the Downriver area and serving in local government. He spent many years growing up in Lansing, where he said he played ping pong with a teenaged boy who would go on to be known to the world as Malcolm X.

In 1966, Mr. Faust was terribly injured in a car crash and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. In the late 1970s, he was elected the Senate majority leader, ably keeping in line a caucus of intense personalities. When two recalls in 1983 and subsequent special elections in 1984 put Republicans in charge of the chamber, he served as minority leader for several years, hoping to win back control of the chamber and resigning as leader when that effort failed.

He was passionate about Michigan’s state library. He played a key role in the restoration of the Capitol, saving some of the original glass panels from the Senate ceiling that were being hurled into dumpsters by workers.

And while he was always seen as an almost courtly gentleman, Mr. Faust could be tough. He led the Senate to reject some appointments by then Governor William Milliken. When Mr. Milliken told him that appointments were his domain, Mr. Faust snapped back the Senate could reject a nominee because they didn’t like the color of his tie.

Mr. Faust also knew the Constitution and law, and whenever there was a difference between legislators on the Constitution, he almost always won. In his last interview before he left office, he said the one piece of advice he would give a new lawmaker was to read the Constitution. Don’t they now, the reporter asked. No, he said.

So, what would you think Mr. Faust would say in his farewell address on the last session day of 1994, before he prepared to retire to a house he had retrofitted Up North? After 28 years, after seeing some of the most momentous legislative changes in state history, after serving as leader for a number of those years, what would someone like that say in farewell?

This is what he said, this is the entire farewell: “I want to thank the members for all the many courtesies they have shown me, and I want to thank the folks back home for 28 great years.”

There you have it. A total of 28 words expressing one salient thought: gratitude. Who can say more or better than that?

But while it was the best farewell speech ever, it was also possibly the saddest. That last day in session, Mr. Faust began to suffer chest pains. He was taken to the hospital, and never left. He had coronary bypass surgery and his gall bladder removed, but nearly 30 years in a wheelchair had left his system too weak to fight off infection. Bill Faust died on January 21, 1995.

And as grateful as he was, those who remember him know they were the ones who were truly grateful.

Oh So Close, DCH Just Short Of Healthy Michigan Goal
Posted: November, 25 2014 3:44 PM

The Department of Community Health announces how many people have signed up for the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expanded eligibility each Monday afternoon, and the numbers posted for this week put the state tantalizingly close to what it thought was the maximum number of enrollees for the program.

According to the DCH website, as of Monday, the state had 469,698 enrollees in the Healthy Michigan program.

When the program launched in April, state officials projected there would be 470,000 enrollees by the end of 2015. The program eclipsed its 2014 goal back in July.

Because of the average number of people who have been signing up for the program on a daily basis, it is logical to presume that the state crossed the 470,000 enrollee threshold on Tuesday.

But unless DCH issues a special notice, we will not know until the new figures are released on Monday, December 1.

Is Lakewood Club A RICO-Inspired Municipality? The Court Guffaws
Posted: November, 24 2014 3:11 PM

When the very first sentence in a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is, “Of all the tax avoidance schemes, this case certainly involves one of the strangest,” well, one just has to read on about Clarence Otworth and the tiny village of Lakewood Club.

Lakewood Club is located in Muskegon County. It is less than two miles square and has about 1,200 people, according to the 2010 census. Although it is a growing town, the 2000 census showed it had about 1,000 people. It’s mostly middle class, but a significant section of the population lives below the poverty line.

And according to Otworth in his federal suit, Otworth v. Budnik, it is all a fraud and has defrauded him by requiring him to pay property taxes. His mortgage holder, Fifth Third Bank, has also been complicit in this fraud, he argued.

The basis of his claim is that Lakewood Club was illegally incorporated in 1967 and therefore is not lawfully permitted to claim property taxes against him. Mr. Otworth charged in his case that the municipality, its officials and the bank officers who pay his taxes through his mortgage escrow are involved in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violation. It has caused him serious physical injury – he charged that he suffered a torn aorta because of the stress of paying the taxes – as well as financial injury.

The district court rejected his claim, and so too did the Court of Appeals.

In her decision, Judge Karen Nelson Moore did not concede a single point to Mr. Otworth, saying he failed in every instance to actually make a case and prove any of his charges.

And even, she wrote, if there is some discrepancy in the incorporation of Lakewood Club it has been rendered moot by the fact the state has acquiesced in its existence.

Ms. Moore also quotes an 1874 decision involving Kalamazoo Schools saying that if every community had to defend its original organization, then “few of our municipalities can be entirely certain of the ground they stand on” and potentially subject to “infinite trouble, embarrassment and mischief” by a litigious soul.

Analysis: Land Hemorrhaged GOP Voters
Posted: November, 19 2014 3:13 PM

When the votes were all counted U.S. Sen.-elect Gary Peters won election to the U.S. Senate over Republican Terri Land in about as close to a walk as any candidate enjoyed in Michigan on November 4.

But what if all the Republicans, or those who lean Republican, who voted had voted for Ms. Land? Would she have won? Ah, probably. At least, that is the speculation based on one analysis.

Ed Sarpolus with the polling firm Target Insyght put out an email on Wednesday saying that based on his estimate 225,556 Republicans split their ticket to vote for the Democratic Mr. Peters.

Results are not yet final, but unofficially, Mr. Peters netted 1,702,460 votes and Ms. Land received 1,288,126 votes.

According to Mr. Sarpolus, Ms. Land received 1,277,116 votes from straight-ticket Republican voters and 11,016 from Republican-leaning independents.

Mr. Peters received 1,366,930 straight-ticket Democratic votes, another 98,964 from Democratic-leaning independents, then 11,010 votes from Independents.

And, according to Mr. Sarpolus, Mr. Peters got 225,556 votes from Republican-leading independents.

Well, what if all those votes, presuming they are from Republican-leaning voters, had gone to Ms. Land? Then a very different situation would have occurred.

Presuming there were no other changes in total votes cast, if 225,556 voters had voted for Ms. Land instead of Mr. Peters, then she would have netted 1,502,677 votes to Mr. Peters’ 1,476,904 votes. In other words, in a tight race Ms. Land would have won election.

Just one more thing for state Republicans to ponder as they try to decide how that race got away from them.

Governor Snyder Recalls A Knock At The Door
Posted: November, 13 2014 3:52 PM

The Capitol rotunda was crowded Thursday afternoon with veterans of World War II and their families, and Governor Rick Snyder used the occasion to recall how the global conflict touched the lives of every family.

The event was organized by MLive media, which has had a special project throughout the year of documenting the state’s veterans. More than 600,000 men and women from Michigan served in the U.S. military during the war. More than 10,000 were killed. And of the remaining, just some 39,000 are still with the state.

Since the youngest World War II veteran would now be in his or her mid-80s, a number of the guests – who sported hats and t-shirts indicating their branch of service, with one hat identifying the survivor of a kamikaze attack – were in wheelchairs or using walkers and canes.

Mr. Snyder, of course, was born more than a decade after the war ended. But his older sister was about seven at the time the allies were finally victorious.

He said his family had come to visit his grandparents, who were living in Lansing.

There was a knock at the door and his sister answered it.

The cousin, home from the war, was standing at the door. Mr. Snyder told the crowd that his sister recognized their cousin, but called to her mother and grandmother.

When the two ladies arrived at the door they let out a scream, Mr. Snyder said. That may have seemed odd, but it wasn’t, he said.

Because the family had been told their cousin was missing in action. In fact, he had been captured and was being held in a prisoner of war camp in North Africa, Mr. Snyder.

Records of prisoners were notoriously bad during the war, with many captured servicemen never allowed to let their families know where they were.

So when the war ended, and the cousin was reunited with U.S. forces and then returned home, his parents were no longer in their old house. The cousin had then gone to Mr. Snyder’s grandparents’ house because he didn’t know where his parents were, he said.

And it reminded the crowd of how the war touched everyone, from the ration cards each family had to wondering if someone would come home. There are 39,000 veterans in Michigan who did come home from the carnage that encircled the globe.

How State Government Reacted When The Fitzgerald Sank
Posted: November, 10 2014 2:11 PM

The gales of November sank the Edmund Fitzgerald on this day in 1975, 39 years ago.

You would not know that by reviewing what state government did that week.

The focus instead was on ongoing budget issues, a new vacancy in the Supreme Court and on the Senate defeating a bill dealing with sex education.

The loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald was the last major shipping disaster on the Great Lakes. All hands aboard were lost. It became the subject of song and legend.

Still, during the first days after the disaster, it was strangely absent from the world of state government.

That, of course, is not completely true, as the State Police and other emergency personnel in the state reacted quickly in hopes of finding survivors, and failing that the dead to return to their families.

Yet, in the Capitol, according to Gongwer reports of that week, there was essentially silence on the Fitzgerald.

Former Justice John Swainson, who had recently and probably unjustly been convicted of perjury related to changes of bribery (but not of bribery itself), hand-delivered a letter of resignation to then-Governor William Milliken. Mr. Milliken praised the action as upholding the integrity of the judiciary.

The state, which was still struggling through what was then the worst recession since the Great Depression, had already rejected one executive order budget cut, and was now debating a second EO to get the 1974-75 fiscal year in balance.

And the Senate rejected legislation that week that would allow sex education classes to teach about contraception and venereal diseases. It would in fact take several more years before legislation allowing for contraception to be taught would be approved.

But there is no easily-found indication of legislators expressing concern on the floor of the ship’s disappearance. There were no resolutions. No announcements of investigative committees. No indication flags were ordered flown at half-staff. It appeared to be business as usual.

But today, who remembers the budget fight of November 1975 or the Senate not passing a sex-ed bill? Instead, they remember the Edmund Fitzgerald sank with 29 crewmembers aboard in the icy waters of Lake Superior.

If You Thought The Election Ended On Tuesday…Well, Consider
Posted: November, 7 2014 1:14 PM

Oh you exhausted, you weary, you tired and travailed, you nauseated and heartsick, you thought you could finally take comfort. You braved the crowds, or the lack of crowds, on Tuesday and voted. You retired to the comfort of your home thinking, at last, at long last, at long sweet last the election is over and I can turn on the tube and not have to see commercials bashing candidates and focus again on commercials for …Christmas, oh yes that’s coming now. But at least the election is over.


Those of us who have patiently counseled the timid and timorous on why elections are so long (because the United States is essentially the only major nation in which we always know when the election is and it is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – even in odd years, don’t forget city elections) are here to tell you that as of Tuesday at 8:01 p.m., when the polls closed for the 2014 election, the 2016 election season got underway.

Don’t believe us?

Well, then, I shall refer you to a top Republican in Michigan. No point to citing his name in this dispatch, but Gongwer has quoted him, all the papers have quoted him, he’s been on all the media, his Twitter is followed by thousands, he has been advisor to the top Republicans of this state and to a few nationally.

So, says I, on Wednesday the day following the election – the election which is supposed to be over – what’s next on the agenda? Here I thought he would give me a list of policy issues he expected the Legislature and Governor Snyder to tackle.

No. What he said was: “We have to remind Republicans that we just finished a low-turnout election and that in 735 days there will be a high-turnout election, and there will be 50 seats open in the Legislature and if we want to protect our gains of this election we have to get ready for 2016 now.”

Take comfort friends. Once 2016 is past, there will come November 6, 2018, and November 3, 2020, and, well, on to the ends of days.

A Distant Electoral Echo In Tuesday’s Results
Posted: November, 5 2014 2:05 PM

Going into Election Day, the race for governor was too close to call. Polls showed public support razor-thin and tight between the incumbent Republican governor and his Democratic rival, a former Senate leader. The Democrat was trying to ride popular discontent over a major controversy into the Executive Office.

A long, long night was expected as poll watchers would wait and see who would win.

But election night, at his Detroit Renaissance Center hotel victory party headquarters, the incumbent Republican celebrated a huge win, one that he had held from the moment the first returns were announced to the moment before midnight he claimed his re-election victory.

It happened like that one day ago. It also happened like that 36 years ago.

Governor Rick Snyder’s re-election win over Democrat Mark Schauer bears a ghostly echo of former Governor William Milliken’s final re-election victory over Democrat William Fitzgerald.

The 1978 election bears some other similarities to the election just past. Democrats were battling to maintain congressional power nationally while an unpopular Democratic president (then former President Jimmy Carter) was in office (Democrats were helped that year because the public was still not over its post-Watergate anger at Republicans and shortly before the election Mr. Carter was able to make some major strategic moves to bring Israel and Egypt closer to peace, but they were also hurt because of economic malaise and high inflation) and took a few body blows, but held onto Congress.

In Michigan, the state was still recuperating from what was the first “worst recession since the Great Depression” which had hammered the state in 1974 and 1975 (there were at least two more, far worst recessions to come along with a few other recessions tossed in for good measure in the years following). The state had rebounded, but was still short of its economic peak.

Mr. Milliken personally was popular, but a growing more strident conservative wing of the party distrusted him, and among many Republicans there was discomfort at Mr. Milliken’s support for Detroit and his public support of environmental protections.

Mr. Fitzgerald, like Mr. Schauer, was the former Senate Democratic leader. He had been the majority leader (Mr. Schauer held the minority role), and he had lost his post as part of a caucus dispute on his leadership. Mr. Schauer gave up the post when he was elected to Congress in 2008.

Also unlike Mr. Schauer, Mr. Fitzgerald survived a rough primary battle with several other Democrats to take on Mr. Milliken.

For Democrats in this 2014 election the issues they attempted to win the public on were education cuts and unfair tax increases on pensioners.

In 1978, the predominant issue was PBB and the potential effect it could have on the public, and what role did Mr. Milliken may have had in possibly hiding its presence.

PBB was a fire-retardant chemical that accidentally got mixed into cattle feed, poisoning thousands of dairy cattle across the state, getting into the food system, and effectively getting into the bloodstreams of, oh, probably everyone living in Michigan in 1973. Farmers held very public, very sobering slaughters of their affected cattle. The method the state employed to dispose of slaughtered cattle was the subject of a prolonged trial. The Legislature and Mr. Milliken worked out a comprehensive bill to deal with testing residents, compensating farmers and preventing future contamination. PBB was the subject of Ron Howard’s first directorial effort, a television movie that starred he and Art Carney. While devastating to cattle in the high concentrations, studies over the years showed the effects on humans were extremely slight.

And it was the issue Mr. Fitzgerald thought could win him the executive office. He hammered at it relentlessly. During a debate with Mr. Milliken, he pressed the issue so much, Mr. Milliken finally snapped at him, “Cease and desist, senator, cease and desist.”

So, Election Day in 1978 dawned and the sense most had was that it would be a race that would take all night to resolve.

But from the first returns, Mr. Milliken had a devastating lead that he never lost. Just as Mr. Snyder did Tuesday night against Mr. Schauer.

Unlike Mr. Snyder though, Mr. Milliken won in a landslide, netting 56 percent of the vote. There was a smaller total of voters for governor that year than this (but by fewer than 300,000) and Mr. Milliken netted more votes, 1.628 million, than Mr. Schauer did on Tuesday, 1.605 million.

Another difference was that Mr. Milliken was the GOP outlier that year. He won, but the Republicans got beat soundly in all other races. The House ended up with one of its largest partisan splits under Democratic control, 70 Democrats to 40 Republicans. On Tuesday, except for U.S. Sen.-elect Gary Peters and the state education boards, Democrats got smoked by Republicans.

Still, how this election ended up in Mr. Snyder’s favor after the lead up remains a fascinating electoral echo.

One Endorsement Missing For Both Candidates
Posted: October, 27 2014 3:21 PM

The polls continually show a tight race for governor among the voters, but based on newspaper endorsements alone, Governor Rick Snyder is clearly beating his Democratic rival, Mark Schauer, by a landslide.

But at least one newspaper was not convinced to support Mr. Snyder. It was something of a pyrrhic victory for Mr. Schauer, however, because the Traverse City Record-Eagle didn’t endorse him either.

There was a lot of talk over the weekend about the Detroit Free Press editorial endorsement of Mr. Snyder, and as much on its anguished, indeed tortured, and regretful decision.

That the paper criticized Mr. Snyder almost more than it praised him, didn’t really bother Mr. Snyder’s campaign, which issued an email release saying Mr. Snyder was “running the table” on endorsements from Michigan newspapers (the Toledo Blade, which has many readers in Monroe and Lenawee counties, endorsed Mr. Schauer).

Except for one Michigan newspaper – one ball if we continue the billiards analogy – sitting in the middle of the table, seemingly untouched by the cue ball at any point.

The Record-Eagle continued with a fine American tradition of saying a plague on both your houses.

The paper rejected Mr. Snyder’s claim of not being a politician, blasting him for signing a right-to-work bill that was “shamefully” passed by the Legislature, said he has failed to get meaningful action on transportation funding, and said most of the job growth in the state has been due to the comeback of the auto industry.

While the Record-Eagle did credit Mr. Snyder for his attempts to get the state to accept elements of the Affordable Care Act and to get a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, underway, it summarized the governor saying, “He has not been the independent voice he promised to be.”

But Mr. Schauer fared no better with the newspaper, which said that he has not provided a substantive agenda for voters to make a decision. He has mainly criticized Mr. Snyder and the voters need more than that, the newspaper wrote.

The newspaper did suggest breaking the one-party lock on state government could be a good thing. Instead of saying Democrats could perhaps win the House or Senate, it said defeating Mr. Snyder could lead to that. One-party control has “led to much bad policy” and “trampling” of alternative views, the newspaper wrote.

That wasn’t good when Democrats completely ran state government, the Record-Eagle said (for those who remember those days more than 30 years ago), and it is not good now.

It’s Will Carleton’s Birthday, Do Your Cultural Duty
Posted: October, 21 2014 3:05 PM

October 21 is Will Carleton’s birthday. But you knew that. Didn’t you? For now 95 years it has been the law that on October 21 each year the schools are to teach one of Mr. Carleton’s poems to school children, so surely you can quote Michigan’s most famous poet, outside of Philip Levine maybe. (Oh, don’t tell me you don’t know Philip Levine.)

Mr. Carleton was born in Hillsdale County in 1845, attended Hillsdale College, was a newspaper man and attained fame for his poems that dealt with more practical reality than many a line of Victorian era verse.

His most famous poem, “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse,” dealt with an elderly woman forced to live off charity because her family refused to help her.

But he went on to write many volumes of poems, so your teachers surely had you learning a new one each year. He retained some popularity long after he died in 1912. Johnny Cash, a poet himself after all, admired his work.

And with the question of income inequity now again a popular political argument nationally, to do its part for this important cultural day, we present the final stanza of Mr. Carleton’s poem, “A Million Millions.”

Just think! A million millions!-

The care of all those millions!

And after all, what would befall

A life with all those millions?

Would not the lucre clog my brain,

And make me hard and cold and vain?

Might not treasure win my heart,

And make me loath with it to part?

How could I tell, by mortal sign

Betwixt my money’s friends and mine?

And then, the greed, and strife, and curse,

The world brings round a princely purse.

Perhaps my soul,

Upon the whole,

Is best without the millions!

A Tidbit On The History Of Proposal A
Posted: October, 16 2014 3:25 PM

When the history of Michigan’s, well, history-making Proposal A education funding proposal is finally written, it would be well to search out a long-forgotten document as a key to its overall formula.

So says, Doug Roberts, former Michigan treasurer, who was himself as critical as anyone to developing the 1994 proposal. Mr. Roberts spoke Wednesday at the Capital Issues Forum, a monthly gathering who early in the mornings over coffee and bagels hears presentations on different issues.

Mr. Roberts discussed some broad and basic issues about Michigan’s economic background. But he also talked about the many issues he had played a hand in, and of those many were the ongoing struggles to come up with property tax and education reform.

The final result came eventually in Proposal A. But while people generally focus on the tax and school funding elements of the proposal, Proposal A was a profound restructuring of Michigan education.

And much of the genesis for some of those changes came seven years earlier out of a commission headed by Edgar Harden and Phil Runkel. Both men were themselves legends in Michigan education fields. Mr. Harden had been president of both Northern Michigan University and Michigan State University. Mr. Runkel was still, at that time, Michigan’s superintendent of public instruction, and would be one of the best-known advocates of public education in the state.

In 1987, they headed a commission to look at major changes in state education funding and structure. Mr. Roberts was at the time a deputy state school superintendent, and worked on the commission.

When the commission’s work was completed, it was basically ignored, lost to other issues. But Mr. Roberts held onto the commission’s product.

When in 1993 the Legislature ended all property taxes for education, then-Governor John Engler, shortly after the bill was signed in August of that year, came to Mr. Roberts and asked him to come up with a proposal – which would be the essential guts of Proposal A – in 60 days so he could make his proposal to the Legislature. At first, Mr. Roberts said that would be impossible, but that was the timeframe.

So he pulled out the now dormant Harden-Runkel Commission Report and used it as a basis for many of the ideas in Proposal A.

One of the major ideas was how to tackle the expanding gap between wealthy school districts and poorer ones. The Harden-Runkel commission had proposed that increases to districts be based on equal dollar increases not equal percentage increases.

For example, each district might see an increase of $100 in a student’s foundation grant instead of a 1 percent increase. On a percentage basis an equal dollar increase would mean more to the poorer district than to a rich district. There would still be a gap, but poorer districts would begin to see the disparity close to some extent.

That provision was made a part of Proposal A’s structure, and was one of the more important points to promote greater school equity, he said.

Okay, Political Junkies, How Do You Measure Time?
Posted: October, 9 2014 3:03 PM

On a daily basis, measuring time involves looking at clocks, be it a grandfather clock, a watch or one’s cell phone.

When looking back on one’s life, one tends to measure time by events – buying a house, getting married, having children, taking a memorable vacation. How often have we tried to place a particular timeframe by comparing it to an event? “Let’s see we bought that car about the time Hermione was born, so that would have been…” Sound familiar?

Okay, so all ye politically oriented types: How often do you measure other life happenings by when elections occurred?

The question came up as this reporter and a lobbyist were discussing when a restaurant opened. We narrowed it down to the election occurring about the time the doors were thrown open, in this case the 2010 election.

Which led to speculating how often elections, and other major political events, tie themselves into your memory, just as births, deaths, marriages, broken bones, house purchases and what have you?

Does somehow the election Proposal A was approved stand out as a landmark for something that happened at home? Or does when former President Bill Clinton spoke to the Legislature come into play when calculating the last suit you bought? Do you ever start a sentence with something along the line of, “Well, it was back when Granholm won re-election, remember we…” Or, maybe, “No it wasn’t then, don’t you remember, Reagan was at the Detroit convention and we …” Has a sentence similar to “No, I’m telling, you we had to replace the tires the day they had that big right-to-work protest and then downtown was all blocked” ever pass from your lips?

Certainly election and political events have become a more reliable and regular measuring tool than, say, the Tigers winning the World Series.

Read This To Understand Legislative Politics And Judicial Interpretation
Posted: October, 3 2014 1:52 PM

Who doesn’t want to understand how and why legislators vote? No really, who doesn’t want to know why a lawmaker votes the way a lawmaker does?

And who doesn’t want to get some understanding about why judges rule the way judges rule, all this shilly-shally political claptrap about “judicial activists” and “rule of law” notwithstanding?

Comes now to your rescue the always voluble and mostly learned and generally wise Appeals Judge William Whitbeck, who in a dissent, yes a dissent, outlines as well as anyone why lawmakers vote the way the way they do and what the heck it is judges are doing to try to make sense of it all.

The specific case has to do with whether gun club members can shoot guns, of course, within 150 yards of an occupied dwelling. The majority in the case (who also wax philosophical on the issue of judicial interpretation) say yes. Mr. Whitbeck says based on the language of the law gun club members cannot fire firearms 150 yards of the house.

In reaching that conclusion, Mr. Whitbeck quite directly and intelligently outlines a number of realities that grind against the philosophical principles we try to live by.

He outlines, for example, six different reasons why a lawmaker may vote for a bill, and only one of those reasons really goes to the point of whether it is a good bill or not.

Then he dissects the judicial requirement of interpreting the “fiction” of a collective judgment of the Legislature (or, I suppose, Congress, city council, county board, school board, garden club board of directors, et al) reaching this fair amazing conclusion:

“This court and the Michigan Supreme Court state, endlessly and perhaps even liturgically, that our goal is simply to give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Again, this presumes a collective intent, when I suggest, no such collective intent may exist. But – fortunately and perhaps because we know we are not really Galahads searching for the Holy Grail of collective legislative intent – we often follow that statement with a qualifier: the language of the statute itself is the primary indication of the Legislature’s intent.”

It is worth the read if only in that this dissenting decision may be more instructive than the question raised by the case itself is significant. Although, according to the court, should you live within 150 yards of a gun club, investing in bulletproof glass could be a wise decision.

GOP Stalwart Praises Latest DGA Ad
Posted: September, 24 2014 1:27 PM

How can you tell when Republicans are worried about the re-election of Governor Rick Snyder?

One way might be to note comments left by a stalwart Republican leader on his Facebook page. The ad referred to was started on Tuesday by the Democratic Governors Association, and there is a clear tone of dismay in his compliments.

“Just watched the new DGA ad with the woman writing the letter to Governor Snyder about raising taxes on pensions. Effective, hard hitting ad. The themes are strong. I must say the Schauer campaign is running one of the most message disciplined campaigns I’ve seen since the Engler campaign on property taxes. It’s apparent their focus groups and polls show those messages move voters; they definitely emotional and personal. Hope our counterattack begins soon, because these ads will cut.”

The person writing the comments knows something about message driven campaigns, because he helped lead one. Specifically, he led the 1990 campaign for then Sen. John Engler which resulted in the defeat of then Governor Jim Blanchard. If you haven’t guessed by now, the chap reluctantly tossing bouquets to the campaign of Democrat Mark Schauer is Dan Pero, one of the best known Republican strategists around.

After this, it will be interesting to see how both sides react to his comments.

Healthy Michigan On Crest Of 400,000 Enrollees
Posted: September, 23 2014 3:27 PM

Sometime this week, certainly before Monday, September 29, the number of people who have enrolled in the Healthy Michigan expanded Medicaid program should top 400,000.

A day ago, Monday, September 22, the Department of Community Health said more than 395,000 people had signed up.

Presuming the program – which enacted the Affordable Care Act’s call to expand eligibility for Medicaid to persons earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level – does hit 400,000 it will have done so in slightly less than six full months after the program went on line on April 1.

It is not inconceivable that the program could hit 470,000 or more enrollees before the end of the year.

That figure, 470,000, was the estimated total the program would hit in in enrollees sometime in 2015.

For 2014, estimates were the program would have 320,000 enrollees, but the state beat that figure by early summer.

Justice Brian Zahra, Hockey Player, Blackjack Player, Stoner
Posted: September, 19 2014 11:23 AM

On the Supreme Court bench, Justice Brian Zahra portrays a sober, dry fellow speaking a sonorous monotone.

In the online videos he’s produced for his campaign for re-election to the court, Mr. Zahra has also revealed he is a hockey player, hockey coach, been at the tables in Las Vegas and is a serious Stoner. In fact, has played blackjack with one of the Stones.

To learn all this, however, one has to stay focused since Mr. Zahra imparts this hot info in the same flat, sonorous, monotone he employs while asking a litigant questions on, say, easements for a septic field.

The videos are part of his Ask Justice Zahra effort on YouTube and Facebook. In recent editions, he’s veered from answering questions about how the court works to getting more personal, in a monotonal way.

In one video, he’s in a locker room, wearing a coach’s jacket, saying his best moment on ice was as an assistant coach to his son’s junior hockey team which won its tournament, and then segueing that into talking about his family coming together – including his grandfather coming from Malta – to watch him being sworn in as a judge in 1995.

He ends that video a little awkwardly, putting on a helmet to handle a coaching session.

His latest video has a touch of the absurd all about it. Here is Mr. Zahra, in a powder blue sport shirt, sitting in a chair in what we presume is his home, with a dog (we presume his, though he never tells us the pooch’s name) very calmly, very dryly, very flatly though with a touch of growing enthusiasm, responding to a question about which band is his favorite.

It’s the Rolling Stones, he says. Now he likes modern pop and rhythm and blues, and a lot of blues bands, but classic rock is his favorite genre and the Stones is his band. He saw them first as a teenager at Cobo Hall, and then as he grew older would see them in venues “outside the city of Detroit.”

One his favorite stories, he said, is in the 1990s going to Las Vegas with his then fiancée, now wife, Sue, to see the Stones at the MGM Grand.

Then they were playing blackjack quite late, when, Mr. Zahra calmly informs us, “We were quite surprised” when Stones guitar master Ron Wood showed up at the table and played blackjack with them.

“That was very entertaining, a lot of fun and a great memory,” Mr. Zahra says as the sound of the Stones comes up.

You know, if Mr. Zahra had done Mick Jagger’s rooster walk in his robes, this video would have killed. Just sayin’.

A Two-Person Poll And Why Were There Binders Full Of Women?
Posted: September, 18 2014 12:16 PM

From the stage where a then unknown Irish band named U2 once played, a panel of political campaign experts spoke to journalists and political types about campaigning and some of the interesting things that can occur, like getting stopped by cops and reminding presidential candidates about binders and women.

Ken Brock for the Democrats along with Katie Packer Gage and Dan Pero for the Republicans spoke at a function called Tales from the Trail, sponsored by the Michigan Press Association, MLive and the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, held at Harpers in East Lansing, and shared the common experiences of total saturation in a campaign and complete belief in a candidate and a candidate’s message.

There was also some moaning, mostly about reporters (what do politicians know anyway?), but possibly the most interesting stories had to do with two moments in two separate campaigns,

First, binders full of women. Remember that? No, it has nothing to do with some lothario’s giant black book. It had to do with the awkward way in which, during one of the 2012 presidential debates, former Massachusetts Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney described the process used to identify women to serve in his cabinet. Here is video of the moment:

The comment became one of the hallmarks of the campaign, used by critics to argue that Mr. Romney was out of touch and even belittling.

Ms. Gage was deputy campaign manager to the Romney presidential campaign, and she said Mr. Romney had a habit of repeating information that was recently told him. That created some headaches for campaign staff both to be sure Mr. Romney was fully briefed and that they didn’t create a problem for him.

As they were doing debate preparation for his appearance with President Barack Obama, the issue of pay equity was discussed. One staff member reminded Mr. Romney that he had been presented with binders listing women who met the qualifications for his cabinet, Ms. Gage said.

Well, the rest, as often is said, is history.

The second moment was what Mr. Pero called the “two-person poll.”

It happened in the 1990 gubernatorial campaign when then-Sen. John Engler upset former Governor James Blanchard. Mr. Pero was Mr. Engler’s campaign manager and the campaign decided not to do internal polling.

The two were headed for a speaking engagement in Macomb County and Mr. Engler was driving. He liked driving himself during the campaign, Mr. Pero said. Mr. Pero did not add, though he didn’t need to, that Mr. Engler also liked to drive fast.

In the rearview mirror appeared two motorcycle cops.

Great, Mr. Pero said, now they were going to be late for their event. Mr. Engler pulled the car over, and the two cops approached, one on either side.

Mr. Engler lowered the window and the cop on the driver’s side said, “Excuse me, are you Sen. Engler?”

“Yes,” Mr. Engler said.

“We thought so,” the cop said. “We just wanted to tell you that we’re voting for you.”

Mr. Pero said based on that “two-person poll” Mr. Engler and he knew they would win.

The Game’s Afoot: Holmes Goes To The U.S. Supreme Court
Posted: September, 16 2014 2:16 PM

Since he first told John Watson that he had been in Afghanistan, Sherlock Holmes has been arguably the most recognized figure in literature, appearing in films, television, radio, and in new characterizations that have made him everything from a time traveler to an alien. Now, Michigan’s former solicitor general is hoping Holmes will get his day before the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Bursch, now with Warner, Norcross and Judd in Grand Rapids, was no stranger to the country’s highest court, arguing several cases on behalf of the state. But it is unlikely that before this his client has been a fictional character.

Actually, Mr. Bursch’s client is the family of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and he and his colleagues have filed a motion for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal.

Earlier this year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all of the Sherlock Holmes stories were now in the public domain. That includes the last 10 stories which were published from 1922 to 1927. U.S. copyright law extends copyright for 95 years, and that has been challenged, in some respects, by authors and film studios that have created new publications that refer to the originals in an attempt to extend the copyright.

The decision gained more attention in the United Kingdom where Holmes and Watson solved cases from their digs at 221B Baker Street in London (real street, the address wasn’t, it’s now a popular tourist attraction).

The issue came up because author Leslie Klinger was editing a new edition of Holmes stories and the Doyle family wanted assurances he would pay it royalties. The family argued the characters became rounder in the last stories. Conservative judicial superstar Judge Richard Posner wrote the decision, asking essentially what flat or round characters have to do with copyright law.

In a release, Mr. Bursch argued that the Mr. Klinger should file a document assuring that his work does not infringe on the intellectual property owned by the Doyle family. That is fair and reasonable, he said, and in effect is, ahem, elementary.

Historical Note: Michigan’s First Female U. S. Representative
Posted: September, 15 2014 3:26 PM

Monday marks the 127th birth of Ruth Thompson, Michigan’s first woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ms. Thompson was active in state, local and national politics. Arguably the most noted graduate of the Muskegon Business College, she became a lawyer following graduation in 1905.

She became a probate judge in 1925 where she gained attention for her efforts in promoting juvenile justice. After leaving the court in 1937, she was elected as a Republican to one term in Legislature.

During the 1940s, Ms. Thompson was in Washington, D.C., working with the Social Security Board, the U.S. Department of Labor and also serving in the U.S. Adjutant General’s office.

Back home in the Muskegon area she won election the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1950 election. She was the first woman in Congress from Michigan, though she would be joined later that decade by Democrat Martha Griffiths, who would gain fame for getting women recognized in the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

Ms. Thompson’s congressional career was probably most noted for a 1954 bill she backed to ban mailing phonograph records that were considered “obscene, lewd, lascivious or filthy.” The bill was considered aimed at the new art form of rock and roll, though anyone knowing anything about the typical subject matter of opera might have been able to make the same point on anything Verdi or Puccini wrote.

In 1956, she lost her primary re-election bid to a person who would cast a longer shadow over Michigan politics, Robert Griffin (no, not the quarterback), who later went on to become the U.S. Senate minority whip and then served on the Supreme Court.

After her defeat, Ms. Thompson returned to Michigan. She died in 1970.

How Many Fundraisers Has Gov. Snyder Held Compared To 2010?
Posted: September, 8 2014 3:01 PM

It amounts to something more of passing interest than probably anything of great substance, but how many fundraisers has Governor Rick Snyder held or scheduled so far this election compared to the 2010 election?

The answer is three times as many this year compared to his relative walk to election victory in 2010.

In 2009 and 2010, Mr. Snyder held a total of five fundraisers, according to Gongwer News Service’s database, and two of those were in 2009 shortly after he announced he was running for the office. It is always possible, of course, that he held additional fundraisers without announcing them on a general basis.

Thus far this year, Mr. Snyder has held or scheduled 16 fundraisers, with occasionally more than one in a single day.

Again, a matter probably more of passing interest than significance. After all, in 2010, Mr. Snyder largely bankrolled his own campaign, which was critical especially in the primary when he faced four other candidates for the Republican primary win.

In this run for re-election, Mr. Snyder is turning to the public to raise the money needed for his bid, hence the need for more fundraisers.

The fundraisers scheduled are up to Monday, September 15. Expect a number more after that.

So far, according to the Gongwer database, Mr. Snyder’s Democratic challenger Mark Schauer has held four fundraisers.

There is no indication if Libertarian Mary Buzuma, Green Party candidate Paul Homeniuk and U.S. Taxpayer Party candidate Mark McFarlin, the other gubernatorial candidates, have scheduled any fundraisers.

The Name Is LaBrant, But Call Him PAC Man
Posted: September, 3 2014 12:25 PM

Lansing’s lobbyists’ literary labors have produced another book, this time a personal political history of the campaign finance, redistricting, ballot question, recall and judicial election battles in Michigan from 1977 to 2014.

Don’t take my word for it, the “personal political history of the…” and so forth is the subtitle of PAC MAN, a memoir being published by Bob LaBrant.

Mr. LaBrant, for many years vice president and chief counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and since “retiring” a consultant at the Sterling Corporation (he’s also one of the biggest college wrestling fans you will ever see), was a leading player in virtually every political finance case or challenge in Michigan over the last generation, in addition to playing a huge role in judicial elections (especially for the Supreme Court) and in many other political questions that often miss the spotlight but can stand as the basis for many influential issues to come.

Mr. LaBrant’s book is not yet in bookstores or available via the interwebs, but should be available later this month.

And it marks the second tome recently produced by a well-known name in the Lansing lobbying and consulting corps.

Earlier this summer, Dennis Cawthorne, the former House minority leader and co-founder of the Kelley Cawthorne lobbying firm, published his history of Mackinac Island.

What’s next to flow from the pens of the politically perspicacious? We await eagerly.

Want Government Run Like A Business? There Is Something To Remember
Posted: August, 27 2014 4:20 PM

Mainly that government is not a business. Oh, it obviously uses many techniques and devices like a business does, such as accounting, but it is not a business, it has a different function and purpose, and it operates under different rules.

Which would be wise for anyone in the, ahem, business of government to recall. And which may in some measure help explain some of the problems that have arisen in the administration of Governor Rick Snyder.

In recent weeks, Mr. Snyder has been battered by two scandals involving top officials. First, there was the matter of Scott Woosley, former head of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, who racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Then there was Rich Baird, one of Mr. Snyder’s closest advisors, who was getting primary homeowner tax breaks on a house here and another in the Chicago suburbs. Mr. Woosley has resigned his post, and Mr. Baird has paid the taxes he owes here.

One often hears the comment that government should be run like a business (ignoring the fact that a business can pretty much change prices, usually increasing them, at will or whenever it feels it must because of cost factors) and there is much to envy in the relative efficiency businesses can demonstrate in making marketing and product decisions, hiring and generally firing staff, and taking steps to boost profitability.

Businesses also tend to reward and sometimes look the other way when top performing executives run up some expenses or get unusual perks. If the executive delivers on business, then the companies tend to reward them and the executives tend to expect those perks in return.

Once as a business scribe I was on the sidelines of reporting on stories involving a well-known lawyer who was in the middle of a bankruptcy case who fiercely argued that he had to have a chauffeured limo because he could generate business on the cell phone if he was not driving.

Government does things more slowly, there are more rules and regulations to follow largely because all parties and all sides want to be sure that taxpayer dollars are protected, theoretically anyway, that all points of view are considered and that the decisions are in the best interest of the greater public.

When a business executive takes a government post it is admittedly hard for them, often, to remember that things are done differently on the public side than on the private side. The execs see they are to provide results for the public, and no one would dispute that, but they have to be reminded that the results have to come while living in the flea-bag hotel instead of the presidential suite. It doesn’t matter really matter how hard one works and what results one gets, it’s pretty clear the public wants top government service on the cheap as much as possible. When they don’t keep that in mind, well, then the public pays for lobster thermidor rather than Big Macs. And the public will only pay for Big Macs, and even then grudgingly.

Which is understandable. Nobody has to buy a business’s services or product, such a purchase is voluntary. The public accepts to some large degree the perks an exec in private life gets because they voluntarily have paid for it in return for something directly benefitting them. Taxes are compulsory, by contrast, one has to pay them and the benefits to the taxpayer are more indirect. So, the public is very unforgiving of any perks paid for with their tax dollars.

So, here is the conundrum all public executives need to remember: people want government run like a business, but it is not a business, and anything nice and deluxe and expensive that a business would approve the government can’t.

‘Ask Justice Zahra,’ A Very Low-Key Campaign Strategy
Posted: August, 21 2014 1:02 PM

A few days before the Michigan Republicans are expected to re-nominate him for what is a non-partisan ballot position for the Supreme Court, Justice Brian Zahra has taken to the airwaves.

Actually, he’s taken to YouTube, but “taken to the airwaves” sounds more dramatic as he has launched a series of weekly videos called “Ask Justice Zahra.”

Every Wednesday until probably the election, Mr. Zahra and his campaign will post the videos, answering questions emailed to him.

In a white shirt and tie, sitting at what we presume is his desk, Mr. Zahra handled the first question which came from “Michelle” in Bad Axe, and it had to do with the differences between the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice and the chief justice in Michigan. Besides being chief justice for life at the federal level, Mr. Zahra said after several years of administering Michigan courts, most chief justices are ready to step down.

These are campaign pieces, in that there is a logo of “Zahra for Supreme Court” in the upper right corner and closes on a sign saying Zahra for Supreme Court. But in the first video, at least, Mr. Zahra does not make any pitch to the voters.

(There is not a similar weekly video at this point for Justice David Viviano, although the two of them have appeared together on a video.)

And at this moment, the video has not exactly gone viral. As of this writing, it’s had 120 views. Ah, but the campaign still has several months to go.

Should you have any thoughts on production values, plot structure, dialogue, developing dramatic tension and the like that you may have, you can probably email them to #AskJusticeZahra.

The Ice Bucket Challenge And The Lieutenant Governor Campaign
Posted: August, 19 2014 12:59 PM

Anyone who has not heard of the ice bucket challenge clearly has spent their lives in more productive pursuits than watching social media or television. However since most of us are not so driven, we do know what it is all about, and we note Lt. Governor Brian Calley and his rival have brought politics into the challenge in a good natured way.

As background, just two weeks ago the word about the challenge – known online as #icebucketchallenge – was beginning to catch interest and has since gone viral, with thousands of celebrities along with ordinary joe and janes dumping buckets of ice water over their head.

The challenge is a way of raising money and awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the progressively wasting and ultimately fatal disease better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And in that the challenge has succeeded spectacularly, raising more than $22 million for the ALS foundation (a year ago a fundraising drive generated just more than $1 million), as well as sending marketing experts off into case study review-land to figure out why it worked so well.

Pete Frates of Massachusetts, who at 29 has struggled with the disease since 2012 and is a former University of Massachusetts baseball player, is credited for helping making the challenge a nationally known phenomenon.

The deal is, you are challenged, you then must either dump a bucket of ice water over your head or donate money (though it appears many people, if not most, do both) then challenge three other people to do the same.

Mr. Calley was challenged to perform the challenge by Republican National Committeewoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).

So on Monday evening, a video appeared on Mr. Calley’s Facebook page, showing him sitting barefoot and in casual togs on a deck, while two youngsters dump ice water on him.

Mr. Calley shows considerable aplomb in the act, and then as his challenge calls on Wes Nakagiri, the tea party favorite challenging him for the lieutenant governor’s nomination, to take the challenge.

And Mr. Nakagiri responded. Earlier Tuesday, he posted a video on his Facebook page showing him sitting on his front porch. His wife was standing behind him with two tea kettles, saying they were tea party types, so she dumped the two kettles of iced tea on Mr. Nakagiri who gritted his teeth manfully.

“Oh no, it got on my clothes,” she says.

“Are we done?” Mr. Nakagiri says.

Then a voice comes up, “How do you turn this off?”

One can only imagine how many more politicians will subject themselves to the ice bucket challenge. Governor Rick Snyder and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer have gotten in on the act as well.


Two Odd Things About The Flood: Location And Season
Posted: August, 13 2014 3:27 PM

As the rest of the nation looked in astonishment at the photos of the flooding in the Detroit area, two interesting and anomalous points have come up: where the flood hit and what time of year it was.

Michigan is no stranger to major floods, but not in Detroit and not in summer.

Look up any list of great floods in U.S. history and Michigan shows up often, with one of the earliest entries being a flood that devastated much of Grand Rapids in 1838.

In the early 20th centuries floods wiped out a number of dams in Lansing, put two square miles of Kalamazoo under water, completely inundated Albion.

Just a year ago, in 2013, Grand Rapids suffered one of its worst floods with downtown high-rise buildings inundated. And in 2012 Flint had to deal with severe localized flooding.

But look at the dates of those floods and they all occurred in late winter to mid-spring. Many of the worst floods occurred after major snowfalls followed by sudden warming trends accompanied by massive rains.

Summertime floods generally don’t occur. Michigan is often in a bit of a drought this time of year, so heavy rains usually run off with little effect. This year, the state has seen much more rain – thus preventing the typical summer dry brown lawns – but it is hard to tell at this point what impact that may have had on making the flooding worse. After all, a heavy rain of one or two inches might be handled, but six inches of rains in just a few hours would have dramatic effects even if the ground was bone dry and the rivers at low ebb.

Second, note where the history of the floods has occurred: Generally in the Lower Peninsula from the mid-section west. Lansing, Jackson, Kalamazoo and particularly Grand Rapids have been the cities hit the hardest and most frequently as the Grand, Red Cedar, and Kalamazoo rivers have been most likely to crest handling the flow towards Lake Michigan. In 1947, a massive flood hit most of lower Michigan, hitting the Clinton, St. Clair and Rouge rivers as well as the rivers to the west.

So Metro Detroit being the focal point of a major flood, let alone a rain storm of biblical proportions, is extremely unusual.

And for the hundreds of thousands of people dramatically affected by the flood, one can well sympathize with their hopes it is an event they never see again.

Who Beat Terri Land Last Tuesday?
Posted: August, 11 2014 2:54 PM

Terri Land, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, finished second in an election in last Tuesday’s primary.

Not only was she the uncontested candidate for the U.S. Senate on the Republican ballot, she was also a candidate for precinct delegate in her precinct in Byron Township.

And in that she finished behind Byron Township Clerk Joel Hondorp. Mr. Hondorp netted 443 votes, Ms. Land came in with 417.

Dan Hibma, Ms. Land’s husband, was also on the precinct delegate ballot and netted 402 votes. The top four vote getters were all elected as delegates.

In terms of that little thing called her run for the U.S. Senate, Ms. Land got 558 votes. Clearly, more people paid attention to that than they did the precinct delegate race.

Pete Konetchy On Why He Should Have Won The 4Th Congressional Race
Posted: August, 8 2014 12:56 PM

Pete Konetchy came in a distant third in the Republican primary race in the 4th U.S. House race, but he said he should have won.

With little money to help make his case, the tea party activist was generally lost in the battle that featured the winner, Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), and Paul Mitchell.

But in a long post on Facebook, Mr. Konetchy outlined a series of steps he believed could have meant his victory.

In sum, he needed support from “respected leaders in Washington,” organizations “I supported worked against me,” people were hesitant to donate money, and “grass roots support took form in words rather than action.”

In his post, Mr. Konetchy said he did not seek power or fame in his run, but to fight the “onslaught of federal control” and fight for personal liberty, “which is why those in authority fear and fight my message.”

He also said he holds no grudges in his lost, though reading the entire post, he does sound a little begrudging, especially towards the darling of the libertarian set, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township)

Mr. Konetchy said he spoke with Mr. Amash in 2012 about running, and while Mr. Amash backed him, he said he could not do so publicly while U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) was a candidate. But when Mr. Camp announced he was retiring, he “reneged” on that promise of support, Mr. Konetchy said, and treated him like a leper.

He also said after supporting groups like the National Rifle Association and Right to Life of Michigan, they endorsed other candidates, particularly Mr. Moolenaar. He said he understood that Mr. Moolenaar supported the 2nd Amendment, even though Mr. Moolenaar “also supports destructive federal control over every aspect of our lives.”

“How can constitutionalists ever stand a chance of winning if groups with a common focus work against them? They can’t,” he said, and proposed instead groups avoid endorsing one candidate and simply list who supports their principles and who does not.

In terms of money, Mr. Konetchy said he could have won with $100,000. He doesn’t say people were too cheap, but clearly he feels they could have opened their wallets more.

And he said people were quick to offer verbal support, but not to actually do any work. Again, he doesn’t actually say they were either lazy or disinterested, but there’s that implication.

Mr. Konetchy does not say his message was wrong, because he doesn’t believe it was, but he never discusses fine-tuning the message to get a more receptive audience.

A person posting comments to his essay suggested perhaps he needed to run for local offices, help build his name identification, build up contacts and individual support, the kind of stuff that, for example, Mr. Moolenaar did.

What To Make Of Rep. Amash’s Victory Speech?
Posted: August, 6 2014 3:46 PM

My father often quoted Adlai Stevenson, and in particular he quoted a comment that has always applied to politics, and has these days a relevance to politics that is painfully acute.

The former Illinois governor once said: “I’m not an old, experienced hand at politics. But I am now seasoned enough to have learned that the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving you are unworthy of winning.”

That comment came to mind after the results were announced in the 3rd U.S. House race, where U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) decisively beat his opponent Brian Ellis.

The comment came to mind after Mr. Amash’s victory speech. And it came to mind not just because of what Mr. Amash said, but of how the crowd reacted.

It was a brutal campaign. And Mr. Amash’s opponents spared him no unflattering adjectives during the race calling him everything from “whacky” to Al Qaida’s best friend in Congress.

Mr. Amash is a controversial figure, he is unpopular with many people – which brings to mind another quote from Mr. Stevenson, that the “Definition of a free society is a society where is it safe to be unpopular” – and Mr. Amash knows this, and revels in it.

Still, the campaign against him descended to what Mr. Stevenson would say was “unworthy.”

Mr. Amash was angry. He had a right to be angry.

Technically, yes, he had a right in his remarks to be gratuitous, vindictive, immature and unworthy, which he was. But he should not have been.

Nor should the crowd, which howled and roared in approval at his comments, been so adoring. Being a supporter does not mean you support everything, including the wrong things, your candidate does.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Amash’s comments, he began thanking his supporters, spoke movingly of them of the difficulty the race had shown. He spoke of PACs and lobbyists and the money that is in politics and how he has gone to Washington to change that environment.

Then he spoke of former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who had endorsed Mr. Ellis. “You’re a disgrace,” he said. “I’m glad we could hand you one more loss before you faded into total obscurity and irrelevance.”

Then to Mr. Ellis he said the campaign was a “disgusting, despicable, smear” campaign. He was astonished that Mr. Ellis “had the audacity to try to call me” (well, gosh, grownups usually tell their children when they lose to congratulate the winners. Grownups should do that too. Mr. Ellis did try that at least).

Mr. Amash said he got into politics “to stop people like you.” He went on to talk about stopping the “crooks and the cronies” and those “so blind by their arrogance” they thought their campaign would be successful.

These are not the comments of a national leader, who to libertarians Mr. Amash is. These are not the comments of a man whose integrity is unquestioned, as Mr. Amash’s is not. These are not the remarks of a man who is earnest, genuine and steadfast in his beliefs, as Mr. Amash assuredly is.

No, sorry, this the behavior and words of a child who got everything he wanted for Christmas and then howls because he didn’t get his brother’s toys too.

But as unworthy as Mr. Amash was, that his supporters approved and urged him on, is particularly troubling. If he was wronged, Mr. Amash still should not have committed wrongs in return. That he did, he should have been greeted with silence not approval. The crowd’s fawning acclaim teaches by example, and politics has gotten uglier yet. And as politics gets uglier, we get coarser and perhaps less willing to be one nation, indivisible.

Well, Mr. Amash is still young. He, one hopes, recognizes that while politics goes on forever, life doesn’t. He should recall one more comment by Mr. Stevenson, who, when asked what his beliefs were, said that, “For my part, I believe in the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of ignorance.”

A Moment To Remember What Motivates Some In Politics
Posted: August, 5 2014 5:49 PM

Politics, let’s face it, seems far too artificial, rehearsed, group tested, insincere, too focused on psycho-babble, faux-anger or genuine anger at things politics can do little about, artificial…wait, I think I already said that.

But there is sincerity, there are people who genuinely seek office and service because they see a need for things to be done and want to be among those doing them. There are those that see politics as a path towards a higher mission.

And there are genuine moments, instances that are unscripted, surprising and meaningful. Yes, even in politics, there are moments that help put things in perspective.

Just such a moment happened Monday night.

Bill Rustem has retired from his position as director of strategy for Governor Rick Snyder after for former Governor William Milliken and then 28 years at Public Sector Consultants. Some might say he’s retired again. But he said this time is for good.

Monday, a reception for Mr. Rustem was held at the executive residence. It was a bipartisan affair, Democrats and Republicans, men and women, many who had worked together, sometimes butt heads together, drank together and generally got things done together over the decades. In today’s climate, they might be dismissed as dispassionate and directionless, lacking in appropriate rage at whatever one is supposed to be furious about, RINOs, or whatever insulting acronym Democrats may have for them. Except they really did get things done and wouldn’t give a damn what someone called them.

It was raining, and people huddled under tents while Mr. Snyder and a host of others cracked jokes about Mr. Rustem and presented him with gifts and tokens of esteem.

Mr. Rustem told a few jokes of his own, the best being that he wanted his lest words on earth to be a variant of a Yooper ‘s last words: “Here, take my beer and watch this.”

But he also talked about what inspired him, what drove him, what gave him meaning.

To that, he quoted Teddy Roosevelt. It’s a famous quote. Four decades ago this week, former President Richard Nixon quoted it as he left office. It’s been used in commercials and inspirational videos, but even so it does not seem trite.

The credit is to he in the arena, and not the critic, Mr. Rustem quoted, who knows the triumph of achievement or at least failed while trying, “So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

As he quoted that, scattered in the crowd of perhaps as many five other people, unbidden, simply on their own, nodded and all of them in a whisper recited the line.

That was the moment, standing amid a communal recitation of a kind of scripture, words that had meaning to these people, had meaning still and had clearly helped give them purpose. And probably still gives them purpose despite the mud-wrestling pit politics as too often become.

Would there were more such moments, but be glad they still happen.

Take A Moment From Politics For A Little Michigan Military History
Posted: August, 4 2014 3:30 PM

Sure you’ve been besieged with robocalls, emails, mailers, candidates pounding on your door in advance of Tuesday’s primary, but take a break from all that because 200 years ago on August 4 a fairly significant moment in Michigan’s military history occurred.

On this day in 1814, the U.S. invaded Mackinac Island.

Recall that at the beginning of the War of 1812 the British captured the island because the American defenders didn’t even know there was a war underway and were somewhat unprepared.

The Brits built a second fort called Fort George above Fort Mackinac to better watch the straits from any U.S. naval vessels (remember, Oliver Hazard Perry retook Detroit for the U.S. after beating the British at the Battle of Lake Erie).

The U.S. plan was to invade the Island, put the fort under siege and starve out the British. They landed in the northwest bay of the Island, out of sight of the straits.

Before being able to establish the siege, U.S. and British forces fought a pitched battle (at least for the size of the forces) at Michael Dousman’s farm, which was west of the road to British Landing.

And the U.S. lost. Total casualties were 65 men and officers – 15 of them killed – and the U.S. was forced to retreat from the island. Among those killed was Major Andrew Hunter Holmes, the U.S. second in command, who had been a friend of Thomas Jefferson.

We didn’t get Mackinac Island back until the war ended and the Treaty of Ghent required to Brits to turn over the Island and the surrounding mainland, which, of course, was the rest of Michigan. When the U.S. came back, Fort George was renamed Fort Holmes.

Okay, now you can go back to unrelenting political noise.

Ain’t He Just The Cutest Thing? Wait A Sec, Is That The Governor?
Posted: July, 31 2014 3:27 PM

Whoever came up with the idea of Throwback Thursday was likely some Satanic genius who could dupe folks into thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to show off all our embarrassing pictures of whatever we looked like and wore in high school, or even younger more awkwardly weird ages?” because people have bought into it with passion and vigor.

Now, the re-election campaign of Governor Rick Snyder has gotten into the spirit of the idea, posting a picture on its Twitter feed of one Richard Dale Snyder holding up a line of fish.

Only it isn’t the governor we know today or the bearded fella who was seen around Ann Arbor in the 1990s. Nope, this is a brown-haired laddie with a massive grin and wearing a life vest.

Campaign officials did not return a call for an idea of how old Mr. Snyder was in the picture, but judging by his wardrobe and apparent age he looks about 6 or 7 years old.

And the campaign sells the picture saying, “The Governor has always been a fan of the outdoors.”

Schauer Presidential Primary Vote And The History Of Hijinks
Posted: July, 25 2014 4:08 PM

The other day Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer acknowledged that he voted in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, and the hooting has been ongoing since.

The Republicans have gotten the best line since Mr. Schauer made the acknowledgement with a Facebook post saying: “Vote Republican. Mark Schauer did.”

Certainly, it may look strange and even embarrassing for the Democratic candidate for the state’s top office to admit he voted Republican in February 2012. But it is just one more example of how Michigan’s presidential primary has so often been as much a sideshow act and as a serious political exercise.

In talking to reporters, Mr. Schauer acknowledged he probably did vote in the 2012 presidential primary that turned into a dogfight between Michigan native and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Who he voted for he would not say, saying like all voters he could keep his vote private. He also said he probably voted because he disliked missing elections.

Now, as to how anyone could know he voted in the primary, the fact that someone votes in an election is a public record (not how they voted, of course). How else would candidates be able to charge their opponent had missed vote in 28 of the last 29 elections? There really was only one election on February 28, 2012, so no mystery there regarding Mr. Schauer.

And because President Barack Obama was running unchallenged for re-nomination, Michigan Democrats did not hold a primary that day. So unless there was a local issue up for grabs in Calhoun County that day, Mr. Schauer voted in the GOP presidential primary.

Now why?

Let’s go back to May 1972. Michigan’s first presidential primary. A very big deal in this state as people had been calling for such a primary for years.

Michigan is unlike most states in one key political aspect: when one registers to vote one does not indicate a party. And the state primaries have always been open so one can choose to vote in whichever party’s primary they choose.

In the Democratic primary that year, the big race was between then Sen. George McGovern, Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace (then-President Richard Nixon was essentially unopposed on the Republican side and looking almost unbeatable, the primary was about a month before the Watergate break-in). The day before the primary, Mr. Wallace was shot and left paralyzed while he was campaigning in Maryland.

And Mr. Wallace then won the Michigan primary, easily.

Democrats were stunned and immediately blamed Republicans for crossing over. Yeah, Republicans probably did turn out for Mr. Wallace, but Democrats in 1972 were far more fractured and not as progressive as they would like to have believed.

At any rate, from that day on Democrats have said any primary had to be a closed primary. Republicans have generally resisted that.

But that has led to a number of shenanigans where members of one party have played games with the other. In 1980, former Governor William Milliken endorsed George H. W. Bush who was in a tough fight with former California Governor Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination. The Republican Party was seriously splitting between moderates and conservatives that year.

Mr. Bush won the primary, probably because Democrats showed up to deny Mr. Reagan a critical win.

Even when there is no party crossing, the primary can look weird. In 2008, then U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton was the only major Democrat on the January primary ballot – because Democratic presidential candidates were trying not to be punished for running in a state before Iowa or New Hampshire, but when Ms. Clinton put her name down she figured she was a shoo-in for the nomination anyway – and supporters of then Sen. Barack Obama were delighted that “undecided” had such a strong second place showing.

And in 2012 Mr. Santorum was suddenly riding high on tea party enthusiasm. Democrats were hopeful he might be the candidate because they figured President Barack Obama would win in a walk against him and there was talk between Democrats of messing up the homestate favorite Mr. Romney by bringing in votes for Mr. Santorum.

So, Mr. Schauer voted in the 2012 GOP presidential primary. Okay. What is the next shocking revelation we should look forward to?

Tragedy Hits Candidates In Macomb County
Posted: July, 22 2014 3:46 PM

In Macomb County, for the second time in two months, a Republican candidate for county commission has died.

Joe Peters Jr., a Warren resident running for the commission, was discovered dead on Saturday on the floor of a Dairy Boy store he owned.

No foul play is suspected, but it will be as much as six weeks before autopsy results are released for the candidate who friends said was in “perfect health.”

Some six weeks earlier, another GOP candidate for the commission, Mark Czerwinski, died.

In each of the districts the two men were running in, the 5th District for Mr. Peters, and the 10th District for Mr. Czerwinski, each have another Republican running for the nomination. So the county party does not have to name replacement candidates.

However, anyone who voted for Mr. Peters via an absentee ballot will see the vote for that office voided unless they request a new ballot and have the original one spoiled.

Mr. Peters was fairly active in local politics, and ran for the county commission in 2012, but then as a Democrat. He also ran twice for Warren City Council.

Governor Snyder Chooses Cabin Fever
Posted: July, 17 2014 1:31 PM

Cabin Fever is a term apparently first recorded in 1918 to describe the restlessness one experiences when cooped up in an enclosed space too long. It is also the title of dumb movie and dumber sequel, a country music album by Corb Lund and the name of various resorts and some companies that manufacture cabins.

It is a common enough experience for Michiganders, especially in hard winters when one feels constrained from venturing into frigid conditions.

And it is the name of an ice cream flavor by Hudsonville Ice Cream, a flavor that Governor Rick Snyder chose over two others, Lake Superior Thaw and Winter Campfire.

Look, Florida has oranges, California has almonds, Wisconsin has cheese, Michigan has ice cream. And Hudsonville produces some of the best widely-available commercial frozen goodies (ice cream gourmands will travel far and wide for the local delicacies produced by Ray’s in Royal Oak, House of Flavors in Ludington and the MSU Dairy Store).

Mr. Snyder was asked to help pick a winner among winter flavors for Hudsonville – anybody else can by voting at the company’s website – and was filmed doing so in his office. Yes, he may have been choosing a winter flavor, but he was doing so in summer. He did so Wednesday, in fact, which was a fairly cool day for summer.

Cabin Fever, according to the company, is cherries with granola clusters coated with blueberries. Winter Campfire is an ice cream s’more with graham cracker bits, marshmallow and chocolate chips. And Lake Superior Thaw is hot chocolate ice cream with cool mint candy.

Compared to tangling with the Legislature, Mr. Snyder clearly enjoyed the official task. On the video he is shown going into his office saying, “It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.”

He compliments the flavors, and in picking Cabin Fever says the taste of the cherries at this time is great.

And the video concludes with him taking a few more bites, to ensure an “adequate test,” he said.

Warren Harding Wrote A Letter To Gongwer, And It Was Not Scandalous
Posted: July, 15 2014 12:34 PM

Warren Harding is back in the news, and who would have thought it? Our 29th president is generally considered the one of the worst because of the outrageous scandals that flared during his term.

Mr. Harding has come back to the limelight not for the Teapot Dome Scandal but for his naughty letters.

Mr. Harding was a bit of a rake. A bit? It’s unclear how many affairs he actually had. Probably the most famous – if it indeed occurred, she was by all accounts infatuated with him growing up and may have fantasized some incidents – was with Nan Britton, who wrote a book following his death, claiming Mr. Harding had fathered her daughter.

But he did have a long-term affair with a neighbor in Marion, Ohio – Carrie Fulton Phillips – and that’s what has brought him back to the public eye. The letters he wrote her, some quite graphic, some that are poems, show that if nothing else he had writing talent.

That brought to mind a letter Mr. Harding wrote to the founder of Gongwer News Service, Charles Gongwer. Our esteemed founder started the company in 1906 in Columbus, Ohio, and became friends with Mr. Harding who served in the Ohio Senate. We initially featured the letter in an article during the company’s centennial.

In 1910, Mr. Harding was the GOP candidate for governor and lost to the Democratic incumbent. A few days after the defeat, he took out a pen, sat at his desk and wrote the following to Mr. Gongwer, a very interesting and even touching expression of his feelings during the campaign and immediately after:

My Dear Gongwer,

Yours at hand. I wanted to write you yesterday, but possessed no address. The framed ‘deference and devotion’ came Thursday morning and I wanted to make instant acknowledgement. Let me tell you, Charley, I had rather had that framed souvenir and your letter than a certificate of election as governor of Ohio, especially if I had to be a hypocrite to secure the latter. I believe the highest victory in this world is to measure well in the estimate of those of intimate association.

I never deceived you except in one thing, and I’ll swear that now. All through the campaign, away deep in my heart, I felt the danger of defeat. It was little less than conviction, but I felt myself duty bound to repress it, and drive cheerfully on. In spite of this, I was not prepared for the sweeping defeat. The enthusiastic meetings fooled me. We didn’t know the feelings of those who stayed away. Neither did the county managers apparently. But I am harboring no great grief, nor painful resentment. I had my whirl, enjoyed the time and the experience of our ‘show,’ and I am now content. I am glad I came to know you, and Bill, and Ralph, too. The bunch will dwell in grateful memory with me, and wherever there is opportunity, no matter when, I’ll be happy to attest to my ‘deference and devotion.’ If you didn’t believe me, then there is no longer any sincerity among men.

Very Truly Yours

W. Harding

Well, he may have been a scandal, but clearly he was also a gracious guy, at least in some respects.

What Really Is The Oldest Equipment Still Having Personal Property Taxes Paid?
Posted: July, 9 2014 2:47 PM

Supporters of Proposal 2014-1, the personal property tax provision on the August 5 ballot, are trying to find the oldest piece of industrial equipment in the state that a company is still paying personal property taxes on. The results thus far in this contest are interesting, but not completely exciting.

The campaign contest was announced late last month as supporters of the proposal, Michigan Citizens for Strong and Safe Communities, are trying to point out some of the anomalies of the personal property tax and why it would make the state more competitive to slash the tax (the proposal would assure local communities reliant on the personal property tax would get most of that revenue by shifting revenues raised by the use tax to local governments).

So far the contest winners have included a 1989 polishing machine from Estate Buyers Liquidators that the firm is still paying personal property tax on, and a pretty sweet-looking Arriflex 168 movie camera bought in 1952 by Imagestream Creative Communications in Portage.

Interesting, yet one suspects there is some really old hunk of iron out there that a company has stashed on the premises.

Decades before he became an electron-stained wretch, this reporter was a general dogsbody grunt for a Warren firm called Automotive Molding which made, not surprisingly, moldings for autos. And scattered around the small complex of the firm (no longer with us, alas) were presses and turners and buffers for moldings going back to the Model T. Allegedly they were there so the company could create new moldings for historic vehicles if collectors needed them (and once some co-workers spent a couple days refurbishing a press for parts for a late ‘30s Dodge) but the main reason the gear was kept around, one executive informed me, was as a federal tax write-off. Except, they also had to pay personal property tax on the stuff.

So, one would hope this contest digs up some really ugly ancient stuff people still have on the books: an anvil used to make Custer’s horse shoes; wrenches Henry Ford used on the 999, the first pan Mike Ilitch used to bake a pizza. How many votes these would win for the issue is uncertain, but it could be fun.

Cawthorne Pens Book On Mackinac Island
Posted: July, 8 2014 2:02 PM

When he was in the House, former Republican leader Dennis Cawthorne represented Manistee.

But, somehow, in many respects he really represented Mackinac Island. And still does.

The now top lobbyist who has spent a lifetime on the Island, driving a carriage, owning a popular bar/restaurant (now owned by the Grand Hotel), and for 20 years a member and chair of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission has published a book on his favorite subject.

“Mackinac Island: Inside, Up Close, and Personal” has come out on the Arbutus Press imprint. The publishing company is in Traverse City.

The book is promoted as more than just a memoir, but also a look at the social, economic and political events and activities that have helped shaped the state’s best known island.

It’s already gotten rave reviews. Well, now, it might not be too surprising that reviewers would give Mr. Cawthorne a thumbs-up on the tome.

Bill Ballenger, the former publisher of Inside Michigan Politics (and who served in the Legislature with Mr. Cawthorne) said: “Few people know Michigan political history and Mackinac Island like Dennis Cawthorne. His book is a highly entertaining blend of both, and a lot more.”

Phil Porter, director of Mackinac Historic Parks said the book is a “delightful journey” that looks at the lives of “unforgettable characters.”

And finally, former Governor William Milliken – with whom Mr. Cawthorne allied when in office and who was closely attached to Mackinac Island himself – said that for decades Mr. Cawthorne “has enjoyed an unparalleled perspective on Mackinac Island and the people who make it up.” Mr. Milliken called the book colorful and insightful.

If not found at your local bookseller, then Mr. Cawthorne’s work can be found through the publisher at

John Dingell Remembers The Civil Rights Act, With Interesting Video
Posted: July, 2 2014 3:47 PM

Fifty years ago, on July 2, 1964, a gangly U.S. Rep. John Dingell somewhat timidly worked his way up to a desk where President Lyndon Johnson was carefully signing the Civil Rights Act.

On Wednesday, Mr. Dingell (D-Dearborn), the longest serving member of Congress who retires from office this year, remembered that day in a statement, saying, “To this very day, I consider my vote for this much-needed and morally just legislation to be the single most important vote I cast in my entire career.”

Discrimination and inequality threatened to tear the nation apart, and passage of the legislation has helped lead the nation to where it stands today, Mr. Dingell said, although more needs to be done to ensure equality. He sharply criticized a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago to gut a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In his statement, Mr. Dingell said he would work every remaining day to fight ongoing justices.

As part of his statement, Mr. Dingell included a YouTube video of the signing ceremony, linked to the moment when he stands, a man of 38 in what appears in the black-and-white video to be wearing a charcoal suit, leaning intently over the president as he applies tiny pen strokes to his signature on the bill.

The entire almost-30 minute video, furnished by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, deserves a viewing though, just because it’s bloody fascinating.

The signing ceremony took place a few hours after the U.S. House passed the bill. The White House room was packed with congressional leaders. Somewhere in the crowd was Martin Luther King Jr. On the desk before the president, along with the bill, were hundreds of classic, basic pens – nibs and pen-shafts only – along with bottles of ink.

Mr. Johnson speaks of the importance of the act and how now every American must take steps in their workplace, home and heart to end discrimination.

Before he signs the act, Mr. Johnson opens a bottle of ink, then taking each pen, dips it and carefully makes the tiniest stroke on the document. He does that possibly more than 100 times during the film.

The first pen goes to the U.S. Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois and the second to the then-Democratic Senate Whip Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota (somehow that seems out of tune with today’s politics). In a crowd shot one can see then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy pushed into the second row, looking sorrowfully on the scene (it was just some eight months after President John Kennedy had been assassinated and the late president had started the push for a civil rights law, plus Mr. Johnson and he did not get along well). When the president finally hands him pens, it is a very curt moment with Mr. Johnson instructing him who the pens were to go to.

At one point, about 16 minutes into the video, an excited Mr. King is almost pushed up to Mr. Johnson’s chair. “Thank God,” Mr. Johnson says to him when handing him a pen. “Thank you sir,” Mr. King said.

The whole tone of the moment is of an informal celebration with bits of protocol tossed in. There is back-slapping, jokes, calls to Mr. Johnson of “Good job,” “You handled it like a pro.” One of the first pens Mr. Johnson hands is to then-Rep. Emmanuel Cellar, a friend and chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “Manny, the speaker first,” someone calls to him, “Speaker (John) McCormack first,” and Mr. Cellar hands the pen to Mr. McCormack (and is then handed another by Mr. Johnson).

At one point Mr. Johnson jokes that it was the ninth anniversary of his heart attack. He coughs at one point while signing the bill, and at another point when his face is obscured can be heard blowing his nose.

At the roughly 20-minute mark when Mr. Dingell appears, Mr. Johnson say, “Bill, would you tell somebody on my staff to get me some more pens?”

While clearly it was an important moment in history and to Mr. Dingell, when Mr. Johnson handed a pen to Mr. Dingell one can sense the air of a production line as the president is trying to satisfy everyone who wants that priceless memento.

Still, this is something not many folks can show the grandkids.

Hey, Comics Too? Federal Court Cases Are The Best
Posted: July, 1 2014 3:43 PM

Not only do federal court decisions feature more sprightly writing than state cases, now they got comics too! Hot patoots!

As this blog pointed out some months ago, those who must read court cases find it much more entertaining to read federal decisions than state decisions.

The judges on both benches are all just as bright, just as distinguished, just as learned, just as ready to snap a cite at the drop of a gavel.

But, in reading the cases all too often state decisions come across as formulaic and lively as the owner’s manual for a new refrigerator. All legally correct as to form, of course, all the necessary points made, arguments established, and so on. But, there is nothing sparkling in the writing.

Federal decisions have a greater freedom to their style. Again, all the legal formalities are met, but the judges take a more personal style, drop the odd pun or joke where appropriate, express themselves with greater vigor and intensity.

Michigan has and had judges who can type out a good line. Former Justice James Brickley always kept your attention in his opinions. Appeals Judge (and novelist) William Whitbeck pounds out reams ruling on parking tickets and produces snappy sentences. Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. when he gets agitated writes good readable stuff. But by and large, our judges tend to be too cautious, too timid, too tied to form in their writing.

So on Tuesday the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals produces a ruling on Central States v. First Agency, which is essentially a dispute over which company should pay the medical expenses for injured high school athletes.

Now, it is not unknown for a court decision to include a photo or a drawing for explanatory purposes. Not usual, but not unknown.

In this decision though, Judge Jeffrey Sutton hauled out a 1906 cartoon to help explain a legal premise known as a gastonette. It’s pretty cool (and on page 3 of the decision) and nicely accompanies the very readable writing in the decision. Just the thing for a Tuesday spell of reading.

Congressional Baseball Hall Of Fame, You Want More? Here You Go
Posted: June, 27 2014 3:15 PM

Word that former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak was named to Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame this year has gotten a few students of the hall (really, there cannot be more than just a few, can there?) to point out Mr. Stupak is not the only Michigander so honored.

Indeed, Michigan ties Oklahoma for the most members of the hall with three.

Besides Mr. Stupak, the 2014 inductee, the hall includes former U.S. Rep. Carl Pursell, a Republican from Plymouth, and former U.S. Rep. David Bonior, a Democrat from Macomb County.

Mr. Pursell, who died in 2009, was named to the hall in 2000. He succeeded the flamboyant Silvio Conte of Massachusetts (also in the hall) as manager for the Republicans. He once won the game’s Most Valuable Player award for his play at first base.

Mr. Bonior – who now owns a couple restaurants in Washington, D.C., one conveniently near the Nationals stadium – was named in 2003. He played in the annual Congressional baseball game for 23 years, won numerous MVP awards and finished his career with a .375 batting average.

The three Hall of Famers from the Sooner state are Republican Steve Largent and Democrats Dave McCordy and Mike Synar. (Yes, Oklahoma used to elect Democrats. That hasn’t happened in a while.) North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio each have two members of the hall. Massachusetts, Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Minnesota, Colorado, Florida and Montana each have one person in the hall.

The Democrats won the annual game for the six consecutive time this week. U.S. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) was playing for the blue squad.

And a spokesperson for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer pointed out that the current Democratic streak started when Mr. Schauer played for the team in 2009.

As we all know, you can’t tell one player from the other without a scorecard, you also can’t tell one 2014 candidate from the other without the Gongwer Election App. Get the app at either ITunes or at Google Play.

Stupak Makes Baseball Hall Of Fame … No, Not The One In Cooperstown
Posted: June, 25 2014 1:40 PM

Former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, who represented Michigan’s northern counties for nearly 20 years in Congress, has a notched a rare honor: he has been named to a baseball hall of fame.

No, you won’t find his likeness next to that of Ty Cobb, Mickey Cochrane, Al Kaline and other Michigan greats in Cooperstown. Instead, you will find him next to Zach Wamp (a Republican from Tennessee) and Ron Paul (you know, that guy that kept running for President).

Mr. Stupak was named this week to the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame for 12 years of gritty play in the annual Democratic/Republican Congressional baseball game the Capitol newspaper sponsors. He is the 2014 inductee into the hall.

Mr. Stupak, who played ball in college and was still an active player despite getting racked up in a motorcycle accident, scrapped his way into the hall of fame, the paper said, much as he did on the field.

In his first plate appearance, he struck out but reached first when the catcher dropped the ball. He then got to third on a couple singles and scored on a sac fly. It was the Democrats’ only run in a game where the Republicans mooshed them. The GOP has apparently dominated the series for some time.

He was also called on as a reliever in several games, with a semi-decent record. In seven innings pitched, he gave up three earned runs.

But he is best known, for those who follow the game (what, you don’t? Shame on you), for a dramatic foul-ball fly catch he made in 2009. Mr. Stupak was playing first base, ran back to the railing and fell over the railing to make the grab. You can see it all on a video Roll Call included.

He also gained some fame for once striking out Mr. Wamp, who apparently never struck out and retired from the game with a batting average over .500. Roll Call quoted Mr. Wamp as saying Mr. Stupak put enough “Upper Peninsula junk” on the ball to get him out.

Now retired from Congress after the 2010 election, Mr. Stupak is still working with the Democrats, as the third-base coach.

He also plays every year in a vintage baseball game every year on Mackinac Island, following 1860s rules (no mitts, balls caught after one bounce are an out). He told the paper he usually ends up with a broken finger from the contest.

Miller: End Aid To Latin America Over Children Crossing Border
Posted: June, 24 2014 5:05 PM

Thus far, 2014 has been something of a raucous year for Michigan’s congressional Republicans what with several unexpected retirements and a couple of incumbents engaged in high-profile primary races.

Now U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township) is drawing some attention, but through the good old-fashioned way of grilling someone at a committee.

A new recent humanitarian crisis has developed along the southern border of the U.S. with Mexico as several thousand children, mostly from Central America, have crossed into the U.S. The federal government has been forced to find emergency housing situations for them, along with trying to decide what to do to return them and how to stop them from getting here. Why this is happening no one as yet has a good answer (Republicans are blaming a policy of the administration to delay returning children here illegally, though that affects only children who have been in the U.S. for at least seven years; while Democrats blame drug violence leading parents in Central American countries to try and get their kids out).

Ms. Miller sits on the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security which Tuesday had a hearing with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

At that hearing, Ms. Miller blasted the governments of Mexico and other nations for doing nothing to stop the influx of “these innocent, innocent” children or the smugglers bringing them into the U.S.

And she raised the possibility of cutting off all financial aid to the “centrals,” essentially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as ending the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement to essentially shock those governments into action.

The U.S. cannot “enforce its way out of this,” she said, and the U.S. needs to stop being the “ATM” to these nations if they will not do anything. New policy options need to be developed, she said, and ending all funding to these countries would be one such policy option.

Mr. Johnson agreed with Ms. Miller that Mexico and the Central American nations needed to do something, and that the U.S. and Mexico have to work together to improve border security.

He also acknowledged, however, that smugglers were using misinformation about the federal government’s plan on delaying action on immigrant children to fool those kids and their parents in Central America and efforts had to be taken to stop that.

Agema Urges Conservatives To Fight Back
Posted: June, 20 2014 3:56 PM

Saying the Republican Party is at a crossroads and has been capitulating to the left, Michigan National GOP Committeeman Dave Agema took to Facebook to call on “fiscal, moral and constitutional conservatives” to take a stronger stand to prevent the party from going liberal.

“The left survives on pushing the fear of being criticized. If you’re not be criticize by the left, you’re not doing your job,” Mr. Agema said in the post. And he charged the party “capitulate(s) to the 25” percent who are not apparently conservative (since he said 75 percent of the party is conservative.)

Mr. Agema did not state a reason for his comments, though one suspects it has to do with the amicus brief supporting same-sex marriage that 25 top Republicans, including former House Speaker Rick Johnson, signed this week in the case before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (which will hear the Michigan case on August 6 along with cases from three other states in the circuit).

Earlier this week he made brief comments criticizing the brief on Facebook. On Friday he expanded his thoughts, warning the Republican Party’s future may be at stake and that there are efforts to “purge” like-minded conservatives to him.

“If we go left we lose even more of our base,” he said.

“In the US there are about 100 million evangelicals but only 25 percent of them vote – many are disenfranchised with the liberal bent of the GOP,” Mr. Agema said. “These should be our target market, not more liberals like the LGBT groups. The problem is the left has placed so much fear into our legislations via the liberal media that they can’t bring themselves to take a stand on principles or they remain silent on issues.”

It is time for conservatives to speak out, he said. “We need a strong showing of more fiscal, moral and constitutional conservatives in elected positions. I believe there is a definite purging of such people. You must get involved via your votes, your votes, your freedom of speech and your involvement.”

As many people have said before if one doesn’t vote, one can’t complain (well, generally it is phrased more colorfully) and Mr. Agema quoted that phrase as well.

“Expect when you speak out to take some flak – that’s OK. Our forefathers took it and they formed a country second to none. The left survives on pushing the fear of being criticized. If you’re not being criticized by the left, you’re not doing your job,” he concluded.

And to track fiscal, moral and constitutional conservatives running for office, and everyone else running for office, don’t forget to download the Gongwer Election App, at the iTunes Store and at Google Play.

From Left To Right: How Far From Ann Arbor To McBain?
Posted: June, 19 2014 3:52 PM

Earlier this week a group called Clarity Campaign Labs posted a test it had used to determine which was the most liberal city and conservative city in each state.

And based on that test, Ann Arbor is Michigan’s most liberal city while McBain is Michigan’s most conservative city, the group said.

Then Business Insider created a map showing where each of the most conservative and liberal cities in each state were located.

The Washington Post decided then to create a chart based on that map showing how far away each liberal and conservative bastion was to each other in each state. And that’s where things get a touch whacky.

A quick glance at the chart, posted at the Post blog The Fix, seems to indicate that Ann Arbor and McBain are some 220 miles apart.

Now, it’s a pleasant morning drive from one spot to the other, but the state highway map puts the distance closer to 188 miles (actually that’s the distance from Ann Arbor to McBain’s big city neighbor of Cadillac), and Google lists it as 184.9 miles.

So, where do we come up with 220 miles….oh, wait, focus the specs and you see the Washington Post has the distances listed in kilometers. Ohhhhhh, huh? Did we go metric and no one told us?

Well, nonetheless, even then the chart is screwy. It’s about 1.6 kilometers to one mile, which should give you a distance of about 296 kilometers between AA and McB (and which is also the distance from Paris to Roissy-en-France, according to Google, and France does use kilometers).

So, Washington Post, how did you mess that up?

Well, you certainly won’t be confused about the 2014 election if you get the Gongwer Election App, buy it for iTunes and for Android.

Jennifer Gratz And The Facebook Debate On The Gay Marriage Brief
Posted: June, 18 2014 4:54 PM

When it came out this week that a number of top Republicans had signed an amicus brief calling for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in favor of same-sex marriage, one of the more prominent, and perhaps interesting, names on the list was Jennifer Gratz.

Ms. Gratz, who with her husband now owns a craft brewing company in Florida, had gained notoriety for as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to block the University of Michigan from using affirmative action in making decisions on admissions. She then helped lead the successful 2006 ballot initiative that blocked affirmative action, and earlier this year gained national attention when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that proposal.

Ms. Gratz has become a conservative hero. Given the controversy the issue of same-sex marriage raises, how would her supporters react?

According to her Facebook page, the reaction has been split, and for some people bitterly so.

Ms. Gratz posted on Tuesday that, “I have long stood up for the rights of individuals to be treated equally by our government and I am proud to join former Michigan Republican lawmakers in signing onto a brief filed this week supporting Judge Friedman's decision to overturn Michigan's marriage ban – a ban that discriminates against some based on their sexual orientation.”

The post generated dozens of responses from both supporters and opponents. While much of the debate focused on individual rights and Biblical traditions and beliefs (with a sideways discussion of whether bonobos show gay tendencies). The tone from many of the opponents towards Ms. Gratz was one of both anger and disappointment.

A David Roney said that race is not a matter of choice but that behavior is. “Respectfully, you are diminishing years of your own work by conflating the two.” Then after asking if she would also support things like polygamy, he concluded by asking if she just supported “the trendy cause du jour?”

Dovie Eisner said Ms. Gratz had worked “valiantly” for years to end racial discrimination. But then she said, “The idea that the equal protection, or some weird reading of the privileges or immunities clause or the due process clause, requires that all fifty states throw out a definition of marriage that has prevailed from time immemorial is nonsense of the highest order.”

Perhaps the sharpest response came from Stacey Robinson-Swimp (and he and Ms. Gratz exchanged several somewhat testy responses) who started his arguments with: “This is incredible hypocrisy. To fight ‘special preferences’ based on race and support special preferences based on sexual conducts is indeed the height of hypocrisy.”

And he said, “Jennifer, I am truly stunned and disappointed that you have decided to become an apostate.”

Ms. Gratz argued back to Mr. Robinson-Swimp that her position was consistent because she was against special privileges to anyone for any reason. “You are for government-based special preferences for sexual orientation, namely for heterosexuals. I am of the opinion that the government should not dole out benefits or penalties based on which group someone belongs to, but should treat individuals equally,” She said.

In one of the brusquest responses, Jason Gillman, well known for his posts on Right Michigan, snapped that there was no violation of anyone’s rights. Gays have the right to marry, he said. A gay man can marry a woman, and a gay woman can marry a man, he said.

Cantor’s Defeat Raises Question: Could It Have Been For Dave Camp?
Posted: June, 13 2014 4:20 PM

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) wasn’t the only one who lost a shot at being the U.S. House speaker this week. Some Michigan observers are wondering if U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) lost a chance as well.

Mr. Camp, of course, surprised the state with his decision not to seek re-election after spending 24 years in the U.S. House. He is chair of the Ways and Means Committee, one of the most powerful committees in Congress, and under House Republican Conference term limits would have had to give up that post in the next Congress.

And as someone who is well-liked in the Conference, considered hardworking and while conservative still able to work with Democrats, Mr. Camp was also someone who many thought could have had a successful run for speaker if he had chosen.

It was expected nationally, presuming the Republicans hold onto the U.S. House – probably a safe bet, but one must always hedge – that Mr. Cantor would succeed U.S. Speaker John Boehner. Mr. Cantor’s stunning loss this week to David Brat in the primary has probably permanently ended that.

So as observers and political insiders pondered the Cantor loss this week, quite a number of them were openly wondering if Mr. Camp now regretted his decision to retire. The thinking being he could have had an inside shot at the speakership if he had made the bid.

But there are some factors that would cause one to pause in presuming Mr. Camp could have taken the speaker’s chair. With Mr. Cantor out of the picture, a whole slew of candidates could now emerge. U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) will likely be the next majority leader and certainly would be a strong contender for the speakership. The 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate U.S. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is seen as a potential speaker, for example.

And if tea party backed Republicans come in with an even stronger position a speaker candidate would certain emerge from them. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) has announced he is backing U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) for the majority leader’s post, and Mr. Labrador could be back running for speaker.

Then, there is the question of whether Mr. Camp would even have run for the post. Having endured a significant health crisis, he may have decided it wouldn’t be fair to him or his family to add on the greater stress of the post.

In any event, Mr. Camp has expressed no regrets about his decision. Nor should we expect him to.

Some Fathers Day’s Thoughts From The MSP
Posted: June, 11 2014 12:11 PM

Can’t decide what to get your guy for Father’s Day? Soap-on-a-rope no longer exciting the big fella? Wrestling with: Do I get him a tie or a new grill spatula or fly rod or maybe that Lotus Evora S he drools over?

Well, the Michigan State Police has the answer: Get him a generator. Or maybe one of those hand-cranked cellphone generators. Or a multi-tool.

The State Police weighed in with some shopping ideas on Wednesday, and all of them had a particular theme. Emergency preparedness is the name of the game.

“Trying to figure out the perfect Father’s Day can be difficult. Preparedness gifts show you care for your father’s safety and welfare. They also make all-around great gifts for addressing all types of emergencies and disasters,” said Captain Chris Kelenske, the State Police’s deputy director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Well, maybe these couldn’t solve the disaster of forgetting the beer at the barbecue, but there is a rugged, manly, practicality about these gifts.

Your State Police suggest you give a dad an emergency preparedness kit for home, office or car. (Which the MSP tells us should include food – manly stuff like Spam, well, they didn’t say that, I did – water, flashlight, extra batteries, blanket and clothes). Or a generator, should the power go out (something much of Michigan endured during another recent holiday). Or a NOAA weather radio. Or a multi-tool, one of those pocket devices with a knife-saw-screwdriver-pliers-corkscrew (for conquering a wild bottle of Mouton. Okay, again, they didn’t say that). Or a hand-cranked cell-phone generator.

Rush out to get these gifts right away. And should the State Police stop you for speeding off to get these gifts, I have no doubt the kindly trooper will accept your excuse that you had to hurry to get the MSP-approved list of Father’s Day gifts.

When The Corpse Winked
Posted: June, 10 2014 3:03 PM

Can the Legislature figure out a way to raise transportation taxes, or taxes of some sort for the state’s roads, during an election year? Gosh knows, there is that chance as leaders scramble to find a way to make it happen in the closing days of the 2014 spring session.

They could look back to 1978 to see when it was done, and completed on the last day of the short September session, some five weeks before the election.

No, it wasn’t easy. It raised some serious constitutional questions at the time. And given that the voters were asked to decide on two major tax proposals on the ballot – the Headlee Amendment, named for Richard Headlee, that limited taxes, and the Tisch Amendment, named for Robert Tisch, that would have dramatically slashed property taxes – some lawmakers warned that passing the tax increase would ensure the Tisch Amendment would win. It didn’t, but the Headlee Amendment did.

The tax increases, to the gas tax (taking it from 9-cents to 11-cents) and to the weight tax (vehicle registrations were then based on weight, the change to registrations based on vehicle value came some years later), were part of a major transportation proposal that included changing the state’s Highway Commission to the Transportation Commission we know today.

It was then-Governor William Milliken’s highest priority, for many of the same reasons it is a top priority for Governor Rick Snyder, to help ensure quality roads and promote state economic development.

Supporters of the proposal, including former Speaker Bill Ryan, a Detroit Democrat, along with Mr. Milliken, also saw the package as a critical piece to boosting funding for mass transit in the state.

The two main bills in the package were introduced by Mr. Ryan and Rep. George Montgomery, also a Detroit Democrat. Mr. Montgomery was chair of the House Taxation Committee (they called it what it was back then) and was a craggy, grumpy, short-tempered, sour man who walked with a cane, chain-smoked Pall Malls, and was unquestionably brilliant, direct, caring and beloved by every member of the House. Mr. Ryan was Mr. Montgomery’s intellectual equal, but soft-spoken, personally modest, unfailingly fair and more tenacious than any human being could be considered.

Mr. Ryan was also one of the critical figures in Michigan history. Michigan’s Legislature is what it is -- a powerful independent institution – because he made it so. It was his influence, his intellect, his ability to build coalitions and, yes, his tenaciousness that made the Legislature. And yes, in the end, he too was beloved by every member.

With that combination, it seemed a transportation tax increase was an inevitability. The bills were introduced in March 1978, in a couple days moved to the House floor on second reading, and … and that was it.

The bills were not moving. Mr. Milliken, Mr. Ryan, Mr. Montgomery, Speaker Bobby Crim, anyone and everyone who favored the package could not get it to move. March passed, then April, then May, then June and the Legislature broke in the first days of July to campaign and the package was going nowhere. No. Where. It was dead, everyone said so.

Well, Mr. Ryan insisted it could still pass. But even he was worried the bills had rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. I mean, it was summer. The general election was less than six months away. This was a tax increase when everywhere in the nation, following the success of Prop 13 in California, voters were getting ready to murderize all taxes. Nope, even supporters admitted the package had ceased to be.

When the Legislature returned for the brief session in September, there was another attempt at the package, but it gasped to collapse.

But then something happened. A number of House members, Democrats and Republicans both, and almost all back-benchers decided after a Monday night session to retire to a committee room and talk the issue over. They came out with a series of suggested amendments.

As reporters returned from that session to the mostly vacant House floor, Mr. Ryan was there. “Let me interview you,” he said to reporters. When he was told what the proposal was and asked for his reaction, Mr. Ryan smiled and said, “The corpse winked.”

The proposed changes were changed themselves, but by mid-September the House approved the tax increases with two votes to spare.

More changes were needed in the Senate, including a concession to the trucking industry that raised the diesel tax for just one year. Even then the chamber split 19-19 and then-Lt. Governor Jim Damman (who had been tossed from the ticket by Mr. Milliken so he had every personal reason not to help the governor) broke the tie and the package passed.

That vote, though generated a new crisis. Mr. Montgomery insisted that the lieutenant governor could not break ties. He cited a Supreme Court opinion, but that one opinion was based on the 1908 Constitution. Mr. Ryan argued the 1963 Constitution, though it incorporated language from the 1908 document, clearly allowed for the lieutenant governor to break a tie.

The changes went to Mr. Milliken on the exact 56 votes needed from the House.

Times are different, lawmakers are different, but the issues are similar and the political mood similar, and zombies are really big in popular culture these days so maybe once more a corpse will wink.

Daily Kos Backs Schauer In Election
Posted: June, 4 2014 3:50 PM

Daily Kos, one of the longest-lasting and best known national liberal blogs, endorsed Democrat Mark Schauer for governor in November, marking something of a new development in gubernatorial politics: a national endorsement by an electronic commentary outlet.

The endorsement also is a fundraising effort for Mr. Schauer, letting individuals click on a link to donate $3 to Mr. Schauer’s campaign.

It’s certainly not unusual for statewide candidates from any state to see funding help from across the nation. Clearly, those efforts all have a general partisan thrust to keep the party in control, or help take control.

Daily Kos – founded in 2002 and named for founder Markos Moulitsas – has no specific, direct partisan affiliation but it is clearly liberal Democratic in inclination.

This week, the blog announced it would make endorsements in seven states (Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Virginia along with Michigan) and much of the reason is to help set up a force to win Democrats a better shot at redistricting following the 2020 census.

The thinking the blog outlined was that new governors elected in 2014 would have a better shot at winning in 2018, which presumably means they would be in office when redistricting is in play for the 2022 election.

If a redistricting plan is developed that more fairly recognized voter inclinations, then that could mean as many as 20 more Democrats in the U.S. House. As Mr. Moulitsas himself put it: “We don’t need to control the complete redistricting machine. A seat at the table could mean either a compromise map, or a judge getting to write the lines. And either way, Democrats win.”

The blog called Mr. Schauer a strong Democrat, and pointed out that President Barack Obama won the state handily in 2012 and that Governor Rick Snyder’s polling numbers still run less than 50 percent (though ahead of Mr. Schauer).

The chance that Mr. Schauer could win, the blog says, is more “than viable.”

A Slightly-Liquid View Of The Mackinac Meeting
Posted: June, 3 2014 2:58 PM

To the oft asked question of what can be done to build a, ahem, spirit of bipartisanship in the Capitol, veterans of Legislatures past are known to say, “Take ’em out and get them all drunk together.”

After all, in years past, lawmakers often spent their evenings tipping a few together. And it worked wonders for reaching agreement on most issues. Democrats and Republicans were still Democrats and Republicans, but after buying each other a few beers, or bourbons, or scotches, or vodkas, or all four, they realized their differences were matters of degree and not cause to be mortal enemies.

With that in mind, the article in the online publication, Model D, should provide scientific proof of the curative powers of barley, hops, grapes and the like. It looks at the annual Detroit Regional Chamber meeting from one of its more liquid perspectives.

The piece is not solely about the conviviality of the meeting. Clearly it is a focus, though. After all, one is on an island, one cannot drive except a horse and the horse is going to stay sober. Under such circumstances, one may as well turn a gimlet eye to one’s opponents and belly up to the idea of reaching common ground. It is a stout experience.

Remembering The Shavers Decision
Posted: May, 22 2014 2:38 PM

A name popped up in this week’s Court of Appeals decision that isn’t heard much anymore, but once had a huge impact on life around the Capitol.

In its decision on Wednesday holding that the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association did not have to reveal its documents, the court said that such a requirement was not made under the decision Shavers v. Attorney General.

Shavers was the decision that upheld the constitutionality of the now 41-year-old automotive no-fault insurance system in Michigan. It also had an effect on another major social issue at the time. And created a bit of constitutional crisis on its own.

No-fault went into effect in Michigan in 1973. Just one month later, the case known as Shavers was filed. It slowly, and I do mean slowly, worked its way through the legal process, being heard first in Wayne Circuit Court, then the Court of Appeals and then before the Supreme Court in March 1977. Take note: March 1977.

While that case was wending its way, the Legislature was embroiled in trying to resolve a major social/economic issue known as “redlining.” Redlining, which critics will contend still occurs, was the practice of marking out various geographic areas – almost always urban – and charging far higher insurance rates in those areas.

Critics argued that this hurt efforts to restore and rebuild the state’s cities, particularly Detroit. Supporters said the action reflected actuarial data, and to require statewide basing of policies, which some critics wanted, would force people across the state to pay for higher property crime and automotive crash rates in the cities.

This debate really began in earnest in 1976, moved through 1977 and was still hot in 1978.

Sometime in early 1978, the Detroit Free Press wrote an editorial begging the Supreme Court to finally make a decision on Shavers, the no-fault case. Yup, we had gone nearly a full year with no resolution.

And would go for a nearly a full 15 months before the elderly clerk who brought copies of decisions to reporters lugged a massive pile of paper to the Capitol press room. It was June 1978, and the Shavers decision had arrived in thick mounds of blue, legal-sized paper.

The court ruled 4-3 that no-fault was constitutional, but unconstitutionally exposed consumers to high rates and arbitrary cancellations. The court said the Legislature had to fix that, and gave it 18 months to do so or no-fault would be tossed out.

Reading the decision, reporters realized the court was also saying fix redlining because that was the practice that was largely to blame for the arbitrary nature of the insurance rate problems.

But the court had also told the Legislature what to do, and in so doing really, well, pissed off the Legislature. Liberals, conservatives, Democrats and Republicans were furious, demanding to know who the court thought it was to tell them what to do. In a pique, some House Democrats even said, screw ‘em, we should do nothing and see what the court does in 18 months.

The Legislature, however, complied. Now, members wouldn’t say they caved, but they passed a compromise measure that help control rates a little better to save no-fault.

In large measure, they did so because by then nobody – even those who had opposed no-fault – wanted to run the risk of scrapping the no-fault system. The insurance industry did not want to completely change its operations again. And motorists who complained about high insurance rates liked the fact that they could get cars repaired and claims paid right away, as opposed to waiting months or even years, in some cases, for insurance companies to chase each other and decide who was paying what for whom.

All that was due in part to the Shavers decision. Somehow in this electronic age, we have lost the drama of watching an elderly court clerk bent over with the weight of big, blue decisions. Oh well.

Tipping The Scales, Politically That Is
Posted: May, 19 2014 4:03 PM

Hanging around candidates, it is not unusual to hear them moan about their diets. Yeah, of course, they complain about their opponents, about lack of interest by voters, about raising money, about reporters (wait, what could they complain about us for?) but over the years, some candidates howled the loudest about what they weren’t allowed to eat while they were running for office.

Now comes some research that shows that weight makes a difference with the voters. Heavier candidates have more trouble generating voter support, says a study from Michigan State University.

Some of these candidates’ efforts to keep a trimmer profile for the voters have resulted in great campaign stories. Running for governor in 1990, former Governor John Engler was seen eating a lunch of lettuce. That’s it, just lettuce.

In 1994, during his run for the U.S. Senate seat he won, former U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham talked about an enforced fast during a campaign strategy lunch, when one of his advisors – who was not exactly a tiny lad – told him he had to keep dieting through the election. The advisor was chowing on a huge burger and a mountain of fries while he lectured Mr. Abraham. “Can I have one fry?” Mr. Abraham pleaded. “No,” the advisor said.

Two years later, while Ronna Romney was on a campaign swing, with several reporters in the campaign van, she pleaded in vain for a lunch stop. “Five minutes at a drive through,” she said. “Just find a McDonald’s, please.”

“Yeah, five minutes,” shouted the hungry reporters behind her. But nobody ate that day.

So, the research by Mark Roehling, human resources professor at MSU, and his wife Patricia Roehling, a psychology professor at Hope College, using data from the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Senate elections, finds the overweight but not obese male candidates were not underrepresented on the ballots. Overweight women candidates were generally under-represented on the ballot.

But when it came to voting, the research showed that voters tended to shy away from the heavier candidates. Overweight candidates did less well compared to their more slender opponents.

The two said the study, published in the journal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, was the first to show that the perception bias against the overweight that exists in business and other parts of life also affects politics.

Which probably means lettuce lunches will continue as long as there are campaigns.

Okay, Lawmakers Can Still Throw Out A Funny Line
Posted: May, 14 2014 2:14 PM

Given the chance, lawmakers can still crack wise.

During the House Appropriations Committee meeting, chair Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland) was drawing praise for the package of bills that would eventually end Michigan’s controversial driver responsibility fees.

Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) attempted to set the background of how Mr. Haveman had pushed for the legislation.

A number of legislators were at the Nuthouse, Mr. Pscholka said, the popular downtown Lansing bar and restaurant.

“Careful,” Mr. Haveman said.

Mr. Pscholka grinned, but carried on, saying how Mr. Haveman pressed his colleagues to help end those fees when a fellow walking down the street overheard them and said the driver responsibility fees stink.

The floor was then opened to Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) who quipped, “It’s nice to know Republicans refer to their caucus as the nuthouse just as we do.”

One More Example In That Politics/Strange Bedfellows Thing
Posted: May, 13 2014 4:26 PM

Okay, legislative Democrats do not like Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville’s bill to change the state’s minimum wage law – which would throw off a ballot initiative on the issue – but guess who else doesn’t like SB 934*?

Give up? It’s Right Michigan.

Yessiree, the cyber-bastion of ultra-conservatism in Michigan took to its electrons to blast the proposal as “just plain wrong” and even tyrannical.

To recap, Raise Michigan has a petition drive underway to put an initiated act on the November ballot to raise Michigan’s minimum wage. It is very controversial, especially since it would also increase the minimum wage of restaurant workers to match that of other workers.

But the initiative is based on the state’s current wage law. Mr. Richardville (R-Monroe) has introduced SB 934* that would repeal the current wage law, institute a new law (and raise the minimum wage, but not as much as the petition drive would) and in so doing essentially make the ballot proposal moot.

Legislative Democrats, along with Raise Michigan, held a press conference Tuesday to blast Mr. Richardville’s proposal.

Meanwhile, Right Michigan thundered about the bill: “No matter how you feel about raising the minimum wage for or against this is just plain wrong! When the will of the citizens are subverted along with their constitutional rights by any political party its tyranny.”

It went on to say that Mr. Richardville was showing “arrogant disregard” for the will of the people and that conservatives should think closely about supporting any Republican who votes for the measure.

Goodness gracious, this is at least the second time in recent months Right Michigan and legislative Democrats have been on the same side of an issue. Bipartisanship does live.

Before You Head To The Island, Mark Today For The Island’s Sale
Posted: May, 12 2014 2:44 PM

No matter how many islands there are in Michigan, when one speaks of going to “the Island” it is pretty clear one is referring to Mackinac Island. And in a little more than two weeks Mackinac Island will host one of its biggest annual parties – bringing together business executives, politicians, government officials, reporters and others – when the Detroit Regional Chamber holds its annual meeting there.

So, it is fitting to note that on May 12, 1781 – 233 years ago, during the depths of the American Revolution – the British government bought the Island from the Ojibwe tribe.

The transaction was completed with the commander of Fort Michilimackinac, Lt. Patrick Sinclair, and the chiefs of several bands of Ojibwe.

The Ojibwe were given gifts worth 5,000 English pounds, which when converted to current U.S. dollars is the equivalent of more than $15 million.

Remember, that Manhattan Island sold for what was long considered to be $24. That was updated in recent years to $1,000. Still, it may not be surprising Mackinac Island went for so much more.

Bobby Crim, Runner, To Be Immortalized In Bronze
Posted: May, 8 2014 2:42 PM

There are few, if any, statues of legislators in Michigan. But this August one of the state’s longest-serving speakers will be remembered with a statue in Flint.

But Bobby Crim’s statue will not show him in the typical gray, three-piece suit he favored for eight years as speaker from 1975 to 1982. Instead, he will be in shorts and t-shirt, his arms upraised in a victory pose.

First elected to the House 50 years ago in the Democratic sweep of 1964, Mr. Crim lost the next election and spent several years as chief of staff to former Speaker Bill Ryan before winning re-election to the House in 1972 and succeeding Mr. Ryan as speaker. Sometime in the 1970s, he took up running. And it changed his life. During the economically challenging years that were marked with political turmoil during his tenure, running was a critical release for him of the tension he was often under.

Mr. Crim became so passionate about the sport he soon created a race in downtown Flint, a 10-mile race. Ten miles is kind of an odd distance in running which are dominated by 5K, 10K, half-marathons and marathons. There weren’t many such races when it was founded, and there aren’t many now although the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C., is well-known.

But in the nearly 40 years the race has been held, it has become of the more popular road races in the nation, easily accessible with a challenging but not overwhelming distance, a good way for a runner to spend an August Saturday. It has become so popular and well-known that shadow Crim races were held for U.S. military personnel in Baghdad.

In Flint, it is simply known as “The Crim.”

Mr. Crim’s name is now associated with the Crim Fitness Foundation. And the 10-miler is part of the Crim Festival of Races sponsored by Healthplus.

The statue of Mr. Crim was sculpted by Joe Rundell of Vienna Township. Earlier this week, the statue was moved to a foundry in Clarkston where it will be cast in bronze.

The statue will be unveiled and dedicated in Flint on Thursday, August 21, just before the 2014 race. Mr. Crim will forever now face the starting line to his race.

Mr. Crim, who now spends most his time in Florida, will be there, assuredly. He told The Flint Journal it was exciting.

“Most people don’t have a statue until they’re dead,” Mr. Crim said.

All Kinds Of Things About Michigan You Didn’t Know, Or Cared About
Posted: May, 7 2014 3:47 PM

Burt Reynolds, who as a young boy lived for a short while in Lansing, is the most popular actor to come from Michigan. Not Charlton Heston, not Robin Williams, Burt Reynolds.

Or so says a map.

Among currently popular musical artists the most popular from Michigan is not Eminem nor Jack White nor Kid Rock, it’s Young Jeezy.

Or, again, so says a map.

In recent months there have been a spate of maps running through the Internet dealing with a whole variety of characteristics, statistics, attributes. Anyone interested in data on how much the federal government spends in a state compared to what the state sends the feds can find a map with the info. Ditto on statistics on those with or without health insurance, or most popular baby name, percentage of people who went to college, dominant faiths, etc.

The popular website Buzzfeed has now put together a list of 28 maps of the U.S. from a variety of sources that detail a wide array of interesting, odd and possibly dubious items of each state.

Some are historic, tracking when each state joined the union (it was 1837 for Michigan, don’t forget). Some deal with facts you might wonder why you would care, such as a breakdown by every county in the nation of how much snow has to fall for a snow day to be called (in Michigan it ranges from six inches to 24 inches, according to the map).

Some have to do with bar bet kinds of trivia, like what’s the most popular beer in the state (sorry, Bell’s, according to this map in Michigan it is Bud Light).

One details how people in the state would describe their state. According to this map, just 28 percent of Michigan residents call the Mitten the best or one of the best states to live in. In contrast, 61 percent of Minnesotans say their state is the best or one of the best.

And finally, there is the question of whether Michiganders are afraid of wild gorillas. You can look that up on your own.

Time And Traffic Wait On No Commission
Posted: May, 6 2014 2:00 PM

Tuesday’s agenda for the Michigan Board of State Canvassers was fairly light, just a few items and some questions.

Getting to the point of dealing with the agenda, however, was … um … delayed.

Commission Chair Colleen Pero was absent from the meeting (which had the headline item of determining whether enough petition signatures had been created to put a second referendum before the voters to block wolf hunting) which meant three members were needed for a quorum.

Members Norm Shinkle and Vice-Chair Jeannette Bradshaw were there. Member Julie Matuzak was on the phone a lot with Ms. Bradshaw, updating Ms. Bradshaw on her progress of getting through traffic delays to the meeting in the Capitol.

A bit more than 30 minutes after the meeting was to start a very apologetic Ms. Matuzak made it to the commission table. Her normal 90-minute drive to Lansing took nearly three hours this day, she said.

The formal business was done in some 15 or so minutes. There were a number of questions of State Elections Director Chris Thomas on future meetings and business.

Then a moment’s pause, and Ms. Matuzak said: “I’m trying to think of another question to ask to justify my being so late.”

Out Of The Conyers Mess: Two Lessons For Politicians And Staff
Posted: April, 30 2014 2:23 PM

Michigan’s political world has been tossed frontward and back quite a bit leading up to the 2014 election. Nowhere is that more true than in the congressional delegation.

Just to review: First, a year ago, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) announced he would not seek re-election. Then in late winter, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn), the longest serving member of Congress, announced he would not run for re-election.

Then as April came there was the stunning development that U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, was not running for re-election, and that was quickly followed by U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee (the guy who kinda controls the U.S.’s money) deciding he’s not running.

Barely had we time to let the antacids settle from all this when news broke Monday night that U.S. Rep. John Conyers faced a potential problem getting on the ballot at all because there is a question of whether two of his petition distributors were properly registered to vote. Of course, immediately the flashbacks began to the giant shocking situation involving former U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter (a situation still being fought out in court) who was tossed off the ballot because his staff faked petition signatures, including those of Mr. McCotter’s mother.

The Conyers kerfuffle is still being resolved, and yes, Mr. Conyers may find himself going the way of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and running as a write-in candidate in the primary.

Which brings us to a long-time political aide, a Democrat who has worked on dozens of campaigns, who reminded this reporter of two critical rules every politician and political staffer must always keep foremost in mind.

Call them rules 1 and 1a.

Rule 1: Don’t kill the candidate. In other words, make sure the staffer with the best driver’s record is driving the candidate’s car. Make sure all comestibles at events will not choke the candidate to death. Keep the candidate away from open elevator doors, open ledges, live wires, venomous reptiles, swimming pools temporarily being used as shark tanks, scissors, knitting needles, slingshots and the like. Can’t elect a dead candidate, so rule 1 is simple, the aide said, keep the candidate alive.

Rule 1a: Get the candidate on the ballot. This rule may be more difficult than rule 1. Write-ins are too big a risk, so you have to get the candidate on the ballot. That means all election rules have to be followed exactly as written. All petitions have to be exactly the right size, all fonts and letter sizes to rule. All circulators have to meet all requirements, in fact have to have met them before they are allowed to touch a petition.

All petitions have to be reviewed and then re-reviewed by the heads of staff to make sure they are correct, names of only real people with real addresses (no “Mickey Mouse” living at 123 Hole in the Wall allowed) on the petitions, every box checked by the right kind of check, every line signed and dated. Following rule 1a can be the most painstaking, tiring, frustrating, annoying task of the entire campaign and also be the most important, the aide said.

And if the candidate doesn’t get on the ballot? Well then, the fear may not be so much the aide killing the candidate as it might be the candidate trying to kill the aide who screwed up.

The Name Is Bonior, David Bonior, Restaurateur
Posted: April, 28 2014 11:01 AM

Late in his congressional career, former U.S. Rep. David Bonior went on a long hike to the Mackinac Bridge and wrote a book about the experience. Then in 2002, he ran for the Democratic nomination for governor and lost to the eventual victor, then-Attorney General Jennifer Granholm.

And now he is running restaurants in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post reports the well-known champion of labor – he got the bulk of the union endorsements in the 2002 primary against Mr. Granholm and former Governor Jim Blanchard – is loving the profit motive and dealing with some familiar business complaints as the co-owner of Zest Bistro near Capitol Hill, open four years, and the new Agua 301 near the Washington Nationals stadium.

After leaving Congress and losing the gubernatorial primary, Mr. Bonior returned to D.C. where he did well selling investment products to investment firms.

Then his step-son and daughter-in-law asked him to give them a hand in starting their own restaurant. They had worked for years in the business.

The Post story related how Mr. Bonior passed out flyers to every congressional office, working it like a retail campaign, to help build up Zest. He helped locate Agua in what is a growing area of the city. Zest is profitable, he reports, while Agua is not losing money in the generally tough restaurant industry.

Mr. Bonior praised the hard work small business owners must put in, as well as the creativity the owners and their workers show.

The story points out that he pays his workers the tip wage of $2.36 an hour. He tried to boost that wage when he was in Congress, but failed, and Michigan labor and many Democrats are backing a ballot proposal that would boost the tip wage as part of an increase in the minimum wage. His workers don’t have a retirement plan, yet, though he said he hopes to install one soon.

The restaurants have health care insurance, though the Post said most the workers have signed up for coverage via the Affordable Care Act. And all workers get two weeks paid vacation.

Mr. Bonior complained about local regulations, which he said held up opening his restaurants.

But a bigger complaint was the weather, especially the tough winter that resulted in a number of snow days, cutting down the restaurants’ business.

Perhaps an even bigger surprise: the Michigan and Detroit-area native is a Washington Nationals fan.

The Quote Board At 40: Could It Be Revived In Today’s Political World?
Posted: April, 24 2014 2:03 PM

Exactly where and in what circumstances former Rep. DeForest Strang said, “Michigan government is made up of three houses: the House of Representatives here, the Senate on the other side of the building and the Judiciary” is no longer known.

But he did say it on April 24, 1974. Two reporters looked at each other after he said it, then said to each other, “Did he just say that?” One of them rolled a piece of yellow dog into a manual typewriter (just Google yellow dog and manual typewriter if you don’t know what they are), typed out the quote, stuck a headline of “Words to Live By” at the top and posted it on the wall of the Press Room.

Thus was born the Quote Board. A few weeks later, former Sen. Alvin DeGrow said: “The handicapped have made tremendous strides in recent years.” That was followed by former Rep. Josephine Hunsinger fulminating: “Maybe a police state isn’t all bad.” There was no turning back. For more than 12 years, reporters in Lansing had two missions. One was to make sense of the Capitol to the public; the other was to get great quotes for the Quote Board.

In a day when the Press Room was behind the House – its space now polluted by a caucus room – the Quote Board was known across the country. No kidding. It had a reputation in Lansing, of course. In fact, legislators would come into the press room, read the Quote Board and ask, “How do I get on there?”

In the early 1980s, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal was in town to do a story on what was then the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Took a break from pounding the typewriter. Read the Quote Board. Howled with laughter. Scribbled down quotes. Wrote a piece on it that appeared in the Journal and the whole world now wanted the quotes.

Johnny Carson read them off on “The Tonight Show.” He was particularly fond of former House Floor Leader Joe Forbes’ quote: “Mr. Speaker, what bill did we just pass?” “He’s supposed to know!” Mr. Carson said.

For some years George Will routinely cited the board in his column. He especially found wisdom in former Sen. Harry DeMaso’s thundering promise: “From now on I’m watching everything you do with a fine-tooth comb.”

When Capitol renovations began in the mid-1980s and the press room was moved, reporters took the quote board down. Former Sen. Jackie Vaughn III has the last political quote posted, on June 5, 1986, when he said: “I think it’s disgraceful for members to stand here on the floor and personalize people.”

The Quote Board was moved to Gongwer offices. Sadly, yellow dog being yellow dog – the cheapest, cruddiest paper ever pressed – the Dead Sea Scrolls are probably in better shape than the Quote Board. Some of the quotes are no almost no longer readable. The pages are torn in spots. Pieces are missing. But copies do exist, thankfully.

The context of some of the quotes are lost. You’d have to know that former Sen. Jack McCauley lost an arm in World War II to understand his saying, “You can tell it’s campaign time…I don’t wear my arm.”

In many respects the art of governing has not improved in 40 years. Former Rep. Roy Spencer said, “The arguments in favor of this bill are almost as ludicrous as the arguments opposing it” in 1975 and that’s probably still true. Surely, former Sen. Joe Snyder’s plea of “If you’ve got a deal cut, let’s vote for it” still holds sway.

Then-Rep. John Engler’s advice of “I think if you write an unconstitutional resolution, you should be correct” still has merit.

And former Rep. George Montgomery expounding that “If this were a true democracy, they would take him out to the wood shed and shoot him” is rightly profound.

Could the quote board be resurrected? Not likely. Why? Well, sorry legislators of 2014, you ain’t funny. Why aren’t you funny? It all relates to politics today. Politics was always tough and mean. Now it is just plain savage, with a financial and technological infrastructure to terrify, and results in politicians who are either way too cautious or way too mean. And that means nobody really says much that is funny.

Remember, politicians used to ask how they could get on the Quote Board. All you had to do was say something silly, or dumb, or legitimately funny.

And everybody did, and laughed about it. By and large lawmakers are smart people, but they forget things, get their tongues tied, mix metaphors and accidentally twist things. Sometimes they would get furious when a quote showed up. Then-Rep. Debbie Stabenow was at first upset when she discovered her comment “We know that 80 percent of our prisoners are formerly children” was on the board. She of course meant to say “abused children,” but got ahead of herself. But she would later take visitors to the Press Room to show them the board and point out her quote and laugh with them.

Now, anything any politician might say that is Quote Boardable would become part of a campaign ad, blasted around the universe thousands of times on the Internet in just minutes trailing behind it vicious comments from the know-it-alls and the intolerant.

Even this was, in a way, forecast long ago. Former Rep. Lynn Jondahl once said: “I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it is to be a pawn of labor.” Everyone, Democrat and Republican, who heard him laughed. It was the kind of quick-witted remark for which Mr. Jondahl is still famous.

But in 1982 Mr. Jondahl was in a tough, tough race and his Republican opponent used the quote every time he appeared before a business crowd. Mr. Jondahl worried the comment could cost him the election.

One doubts that any politician would take the risk of being themselves anymore, of being legitimately witty, or occasionally forgetful, of letting themselves trip over their tongues, or just being lost in a haze and stupefied. Why would they, when their opponents can feed off their humanity and reduce them to a soundbite of them being an idiot? No, no, far better to resort to that safe and boring device called “talking points” than to speak to something genuinely, even if speaking genuinely means you sometimes sound like a dope.

I’m not saying this is right or wrong, better or worse. I’m just saying that’s what it is. Politics is much less human now. That’s why politicians aren’t funny. That’s why the Quote Board will remain on fragile sheets of decaying paper in our offices.

Oh well. Best to remember and to finish with former Governor William Milliken: “I’ve said all I want to say. I’m turning on the fog machine now.”

Who Thinks Congress Is Doing An Excellent Job?
Posted: April, 18 2014 3:18 PM

A grand total of six people in Michigan think Congress is doing an excellent job.

Well, okay, that’s not quite true. The latest State of the State Survey from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University found that of more than 1,000 people surveyed, just six people thought Congress was doing an excellent job.

Clearly more people in the entire state think Congress is doing an excellent job. After all, there are 16 members of the U.S. House and Senate from Michigan, and their spouses, kids, grandkids, siblings, etc.

Well, Congress is obviously not popular in Michigan or nationwide right now, but it was striking that just six people out of the number surveyed said they thought Congress was doing an excellent job.

So reporters asked MSU Economics professor Charles Ballard if there was any distinct comparison between those six people.

Not really, said Mr. Ballard. Four were men, two were women, one was black and five were white, two were from Ingham County, and then one each from Kalamazoo, Kent and Wayne counties.

One person was a Republican, Mr. Ballard said, who said Congress was doing an excellent job, the GOP-controlled House was doing an excellent job but the Democratic-controlled Senate was doing a poor job.

That person, he said, he understood. Otherwise there was no pattern.

“This is sort of like, every now and then something weird shows up in the numbers,” Mr. Ballard said.

What Role Will Detroit Bankruptcy Play In The Election?
Posted: April, 17 2014 4:26 PM

So far the 2014 campaign has played itself against a historic backdrop – an unpleasant backdrop, one that has brought the state a lot of unwanted attention, but historic nonetheless.

The entire election, so far, has been played out against the backdrop of the Detroit bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

If all goes according to plan, the city should emerge from Chapter 9 bankruptcy in October, barely a month before the November election.

So, what role will the bankruptcy play in the election itself? For political-watchers, this is truly unmapped land. As such, the bankruptcy could help or hurt both sides. Much of its overall effect will depend on the final results and how the public reacts. Based on the latest happenings, it could very well prove to be a positive for Governor Rick Snyder.

Early on, when Detroit was put under emergency manger Kevyn Orr now 13 months ago, there were clues as to how voters would react. Mr. Orr was named not quite six months after the voters had rejected the controversial emergency manager law, PA 4 of 2011, only to see the Legislature enact a new emergency manager law, PA 436 of 2012.

A lot of people, Democrats mostly, were furious at this turn of events, a fury which remains unabated. The idea of the state seizing control of a local government continues to grate. It is seen as paternalistic, arrogant, uncaring of local needs and undemocratic by taking away any authority to make needed decisions by local elected officials.

Worse, since virtually every entity under emergency management is populated primarily by African-Americans, the exercise has been denounced by some opponents as de facto if not de jure racist.

However, just as early on, putting the city under emergency management and then into bankruptcy has gotten a lot of support. Some of that support grudging, but the city’s struggles with its finances as a symptom of its larger overall problems has been known for decades. Painful as the action was, Mr. Snyder got a fair amount of support for taking a hard step.

That support always had a contingent sense, however, which relied on what the final outcome of the bankruptcy would be. It especially relied on what might happen to the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. If the collection, or a part of it, were lost, then a lot of voters would be angry at Mr. Snyder.

Right now, however, the actions in the bankruptcy all seem to favor Mr. Snyder.

City pensioners, the city and bondholders have shown remarkable speed in the last several weeks on reaching agreement on different terms (granted, those agreements come after the city filed for bankruptcy nine months ago, after dozens of court hearings and with some critical elements – like an agreement on the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department – still unsettled).

Even with that caveat, it seems highly likely the city will emerge from bankruptcy and begin steps toward restoration. Restoration, though, will also likely take decades and will require a substantial economic redevelopment, improved security and mostly a new attitude toward and about the city from, well, just about everyone.

Mr. Snyder seems confident the resolution of the bankruptcy will go his way. As he filed his petitions for re-election Thursday, he praised the new hope the city has. And if the bankruptcy is completed smoothly – even with the problems of blight, crime and a weak Detroit economy ongoing – it certainly will give him a boost with voters.

But if major problems erupt – if the Legislature does not agree to the state’s $350 million part of the Grand Bargain, if the conclusion of the bankruptcy blows a gasket because no agreement on the water department can be reached, and if a couple of Van Goghs are carried out the DIA’s doors – then the political winds could very well turn and put an unwanted chill on Mr. Snyder.

Dave Agema: ‘Hitler, Who Ruled Like Obama, Didn’t Like Obamacare’
Posted: April, 11 2014 2:19 PM

The 2004 German movie “Downfall” is a powerful and disturbing film about the last days of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. It is based on much historical research about the final days as Soviet forces marched into Berlin precipitating the end of the European theater of World War II, and for a movie creates an intense atmosphere of the paranoia, extremism, desperation, hatred and delusion that one senses must have overrun that bunker.

One critical scene in the picture – when the leaders of the Wehrmacht finally confront Hitler with the reality that he has no military options left and defeat is imminent, and Hitler screams at them in response – has become a new age hallmark for satire. The scene’s subtitles have been used and rewritten over the years to show Hitler screaming about everything from Michael Jackson’s death to the announcement of university football coaches to the introduction of the iPad.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the scene has also been used to mock and condemn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known to both its critics and some supporters as Obamacare.

It’s unknown if Michigan Republican National Committee member Dave Agema has seen “Downfall.” Mr. Agema has been a lightning rod in the last year for his comments on same-sex marriage.

On Tuesday this week, on his Facebook page, Mr. Agema shared a webpage showing the “Downfall” scene with Hitler saying he did not want to see a Jewish doctor, then being told his old doctor is not on his Obamacare network, followed by Hitler screaming about the ACA.

Whether Hitler in any context outside of a Mel Brooks satire is funny is open to debate.

One can also question and (writing as the son of a World War II veteran) be disturbed, very disturbed, at the line Mr. Agema posted introducing the scene on his page: “Even Hitler, who ruled like Obama, didn’t like Obamacare. Funny!”

President Barack Obama is clearly a controversial and even polarizing figure. But, “Hitler, who ruled like Obama.” Seriously?

To review history: when Hitler took power all dissent was ended. Jewish civil servants were immediately fired. Before the Holocaust itself, all Jews were barred from practicing their professions; their property was confiscated; and terrorist acts against them were not just tolerated, they were encouraged and, as Kristallnacht showed, were instituted by the government.

In addition, political opposition was silenced. Women were almost completely barred from working. Labor unions were suppressed and their leaders arrested. Wages were slashed and price and wage controls were enacted. Industries were nationalized and executives arrested.

People could be sentenced to death for not appearing to be strident enough for the Third Reich. Churches were forced to include Nazism as part of their scripture. Every element of German life was twisted into supporting and promoting Nazism.

And what to say of the Holocaust, of the millions of Jews, gypsies, gays, political opponents, journalists, opposition religious leaders and more, herded into cattle cars, turned into slave labor, then exterminated on an industrial scale? What to say of the obsession to rid the world of all the Nazis found undesirable such that a greater priority was put on delivering innocents to the death chambers than on fighting their enemies on the battlefield? The great French director Alain Resnais recently died. His short documentary “Night and Fog” is available on YouTube. Anyone needing to be reminded how funny Nazi rule was, or who needs to see the evidence, should watch the film.

Mr. Obama, as all American politicians and public figures are, is rightly subject to criticism. History will eventually judge the success and rightness of his policies, as it does with all presidents.

Clearly, there is little middle ground on Obamacare. Again, history as well as the economy and the political decisions of the public will judge its effectiveness.

But whatever one’s political views, can one honestly suggest there is any comparison between Hitler and Mr. Obama, between the Third Reich and the current administration?

Funny? No.

The Kind Of Problem One Would Like To Have
Posted: April, 8 2014 2:58 PM

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week on McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission that would end the aggregate limits on how much a person can donate to a federal candidate, much of the debate has focused on whether the decision has blown open the flood gates of money into politics or defends free speech in politics.

However, Lansing-area lawyer, Richard McLellan, one of the top Republicans lawyers in the nation, brought up another issue that one might label a problem someone would like to have.

Mr. McLellan engaged in a bit of a radio debate with Michigan Campaign Finance Network Executive Director Rich Robinson on the “Current State” program on WKAR radio in East Lansing on the effect of the ruling. Mr. McLellan approved of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling, saying it upheld the First Amendment. Mr. Robinson opposed it, saying it would hurt democracy overall by making candidates more tied to money sources.

The ruling did not eliminate the maximum amount a person can donate to a candidate in a single donation, but it did eliminate the limit on the aggregate total a person can give a candidate.

Mr. McLellan said he had spoken with a “rich person” who complained about the decision.

In the past, Mr. McLellan said the rich person said the wealthy could tell a candidate no more, you’ve hit your limit and you are not getting any more money.

Now, there is no limit and the politicians will always be out looking for more money, the “rich person” moaned, Mr. McLellan said.

Ah, to have the kind of money that would cause a person to have such a worry.

Chris Ward: House Was On Wrong Side Of History
Posted: March, 28 2014 4:03 PM

In 2004, Chris Ward, then a Republican member of the House, voted in favor of a proposal to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the November ballot. In a blog post this week, Mr. Ward said the vote is the one that has haunted him the most, and that the House was on the wrong side of history.

In his blog, Republicus, Mr. Ward has taken on strident voices in the Republican Party. He has argued for a moderated conservatism that recognizes and respects individual differences and liberties as well as a role for government in helping grow the economy. The Republican Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and even, he would say, Reagan. Perhaps not surprisingly, his views do not get high praise from the more right-listing side of the party.

In this latest post Mr. Ward said the decision issued last week by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman holding that the Michigan Marriage Amendment violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause came about 10 years after the Legislature was acting on a proposal for the ballot to ban same-sex weddings.

In his blog, Ms. Ward suggests some cynical reasons for the legislative action, saying in 2004 the public was raising worries about the Iraq War and Republicans needed an issue for the election that year.

“Campaign strategists loved the demographics of the issue. Working class Catholics would turn out and they will vote for Bush....religious fundamentalists would be fired up...and on and on...At the House of Representatives, some people thought this was THE issue to take out some vulnerable Democrats. A Constitutional Amendment would require a 2/3 vote, the pressure would be strong on members of the Democratic minority to not give those precious decisive votes,” Mr. Ward wrote.

History shows the Legislature, the House specifically, did not approve that proposal in part because Mr. Ward’s fellow Republicans Leon Drolet and Lorence Wenke voted against it (Mr. Wenke wrote of that decision this week as well). The proposal ended up on the ballot anyway because supporters gathered petition signatures.

“Looking back now, one of the things that bothers me the most about the whole episode was how dehumanizing it was. It was just politics. But it wasn't politics. These were people. We singled out a whole group of people, most of whom just wanted to be left alone, to forcefully discriminate against them for short-term political benefit,” he said.

“All around us were our friends, COLLEAGUES, family members, highly valued staff members and people we care about who this clearly was going to hurt. Nobody seemed to think a thing of it. Like most people, including my constituents, I wasn't comfortable with same-sex marriage at that point but I didn't even bother to throw out a ‘hey we shouldn't be doing this’ or ‘look what we are doing to the people we care about,’” Mr. Ward said.

As a student of history, Mr. Ward said the vote now torments him as he thinks of his heroes such as Churchill and Lincoln standing firmly outside the political mainstream for what they believed, and ultimately were proven right.

“My own particular purgatory is to be forever doomed to be on the wrong side of history,” Mr. Ward wrote.

“You always picture yourself cast in a role with them. Not on the other side. In my small window of making an impact, I failed to put the things I learned from reading those books to use on an important issue,” he said, and concluded, “Let's do the grown-up thing and help heal the wounds we created. At the very least, let's get the heck out of the way.” 

Why You Have Fundraisers, Reason No. 1
Posted: March, 25 2014 3:44 PM

Well, maybe you can fund household improvements, of a sort.

In the conference room at the Michigan Democrats headquarters at Hart Kennedy House in Lansing is a large plaque honoring all those who have given to the 1977 Hart Kennedy House Fund.

Only the nice brass “E” on “House” has fallen off and been temporarily replaced with a square of blue paper with a handwritten “E.”


Michigan Democrats this week announced that former President Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Detroit on April 26 in Detroit.

Before a press conference held at the Hart Kennedy House, a reporter joked with party Chair Lon Johnson that, “Billy should be able to get you an ‘E.’”

“He’ll get us more than an ‘E,’” Mr. Johnson joked back.

Dave Agema On MH370: Likely Victim Of Terrorism
Posted: March, 21 2014 3:22 PM

With the controversy Michigan Republican National Committee Member Dave Agema has generated in the last year on the question of gay rights and same-sex marriage, a number of people may have forgotten that he was both an Air Force and an American Airlines pilot although he often reminds people of those aspects of his resume.

And this week, Mr. Agema delivered what he thought may have happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: he suspects its fate is tied to terrorism.

The now legendary mystery of what happened to the airliner bound for Beijing shortly after it took off from Kuala Lumpur has transfixed the world since the plane disappeared nearly two weeks ago. The latest indication that debris in the Indian Ocean may have been sighted by satellite imagery has so far not lead to any discoveries.

On Facebook this week Mr. Agema said he had been asked for his opinion on what might have happened to the aircraft. There are two possibilities, he said, “1. They really had a severe problem like complete electrical failure or fire (very unlikely) and were disoriented. The reason this seems unlikely is kept on flying for hours. 2. The aircraf was hijacked by a terrorist or even the pilots (more likely).”

Both scenarios have been treated seriously by the investigating community. The Malaysian government has said it suspects the act of turning the plane off its intended course was deliberate, and there have been investigations underway of the pilots.

If the disappearance was deliberate, Mr. Agema said the reason for it is obvious and dire.

“If the second is true, what do they want the aircraft for and if it's for terrorism what do they do with the people? The answer to both is to kill,” he wrote. If the pilots have been overcome through a fire or other condition, the plane should have still sent signals as it crashed, he said. And the pilots would still have tried to communicate emergency signals with emergency power. “Neither of these occurred that we know of. Time will tell, but my bet it was and will be terrorism,” Mr. Agema wrote.

There is still is a chance something less sinister occurred, he wrote, but, “If I am wrong, this will be the first time this particular emergency has ever occurred on this type aircraft or there was extreme pilot error.”

Get Ready For Some Early Holiday Shopping
Posted: March, 19 2014 4:38 PM

Looking for a deal on some jewelry? Have a yen for some antique coins? Want some timeless elegance with a classy pocket watch? Hey, the holidays are coming, eventually. There’s just 200-something shopping days until Christmas and the state surplus property auction is coming up to meet your shopping needs.

Yes, the auction takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Lansing Center, 333 East Michigan Avenue, in Lansing.

Being sold are hundreds of items, largely jewelry, watches and collectibles like coins, antique currency and stamp collections. All the items are unclaimed property escheated to the state. Catalogs of the goodies available are here.

And on Friday one can hoof it over to the Lansing Center to inspect the merchandise.

Terms: cash and credit cards only. And there is a 10 percent buyer fee.

And you will pay sales tax, except on the sale of money. Coins and currency are tax exempt. So you can save a little money on buying money.

Are Lawyers Interested In The Mandatory State Bar Question? Uh, Yeah
Posted: March, 18 2014 3:17 PM

Hundreds of lawyers are interested in the issue, in fact. And the next couple weeks could see hundreds more express an interest.

With the question of whether lawyers in Michigan should be compelled to be members of the State Bar of Michigan before the Legislature – though no action is pending on SB 743* – the Supreme Court last month issued an administrative order creating a task force looking at the role of the State Bar in the state and its effect on all things legal and judicial.

Recall this issue popped up after the State Bar last year asked for a ruling on whether contributors to issue ads dealing with judicial elections could be anonymous. In the end, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson proposed rules that would deal with all issue ads, but the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder shut the door on that idea. And folks who argued that requiring individuals to identify themselves would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution then began suggesting the idea that lawyers should not be compelled to join the State Bar. They likened the idea to Michigan’s recently enacted right-to-work laws.

The chair of the task force sent a message out to all members of the bar asking for their input.

The State Bar is reporting that as of Friday, March 14, 384 members have expressed an interest in the issue so far.

And the request for comment asked those State Bar members to respond by March 28, so conceivably hundreds more may yet respond. So, stay tuned.

Joseph Sax, Who Played A Major Role In Michigan Environmental Law, Has Died
Posted: March, 12 2014 3:54 PM

How the state is shaped relies on the work of many people, and one who was not well known to the public but who had a major effect on how the state and nation deals with environmental regulation has died.

Joseph Sax was for a time a law professor at the University of Michigan, and while he was there he established some of the essential reasoning that developed the fundamental basis for environmental law.

His work on the concept of the environment being held as a public trust, entitled to public protection, was instrumental in creating the entire foundation of environmental regulation.

Mr. Sax also was an active and critical individual in the drafting of Michigan’s environmental protection act in 1970s. In a recent obituary, the New York Times gave him authorship of the law.

A Chicago native who loved the outdoors, Mr. Sax died on Sunday at age 78. He died just a few months after his wife of 55 years had died.

While teaching at the University of Colorado, he was active with the Sierra Club in environmental issues. He joined the UM law faculty in 1965 and a few years later helped lead a lawsuit to ban the use of DDT. The lawsuit failed but dozens of cities across the nation banned the pesticide on that basis.

In 1970, Mr. Sax wrote an article for the Michigan Law Review which used intellectual and legal concepts stretching back as far as Roman law to enunciate the idea of the environment as a public trust. Those environmental resources were so critical, the public had a right to sue if necessary to protect them, he wrote.

While not universally acclaimed, the idea rapidly gained a hold in both the public and legal mind. He acknowledged that growing support for environmental protection at the time – 1970 marked the first Earth Day and approval of the US environmental protection act – helped his cause.

He left UM in 1986 to teach in California. In the 1990s he was a counsel to the U.S. Department of Interior.

Some Work Coming Up Around The Capitol
Posted: March, 5 2014 4:27 PM

Hard to think, after the winter Michigan has endured, there will come a time when air conditioning is called for, and in getting ready for dearly desired warmer days visitors to the Capitol will see some work underway beginning next week.

Workers will start the process of replacing the cooling towers for the Capitol which are on the south side of the building, the Senate side.

Cooling “towers” may be a bit of a misnomer, since they are actually underground and identifiable by the large grates keeping one from plunging into the depths. That is, plunging into the depths actually as opposed to figuratively, as sometimes life in politics must seem.

Steve Benkovsky, director of Capitol Facilities, said the work should continue until about mid-May. The project is fairly complicated involving pulling out pipes, installing new hardware and such. Certainly it will be more involved than simply replacing a window unit in a bedroom.

Therefore the project will require putting up fences to ensure pedestrians are blocked off from harm while the work is ongoing.

So when the fences go up, just say to yourself: it will get warmer, it will get warmer.

March 3 Seems To Be A Parks Kind Of Day
Posted: March, 3 2014 3:51 PM

On Monday the U.S. National Parks Service released data that showed that more than 2 million people visited Michigan’s national parks and lakeshores in 2012.

It’s serendipity that the National Parks Service made the announcement on Monday, because Monday was the 139th anniversary of Mackinac Island being named the second national park in these here United States.

On March 3, 1875, what is known to Michiganders simply as “the island” was designated a national park just three years after Yellowstone became the first national park. You may have heard of Yellowstone, it has a geyser.

In 1895, what was called Mackinac Island National Park was turned back over to the state, and the state park land covers much of the tourist attraction.

In 2012, the National Park Service reports, more than 2.192 million visited the state’s five national parks and natural designations. The best known of those are Isle Royal, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks.

If Mackinac Island was still a national park, one can only imagine how many more people would have been added to that total.

Okay, Try This On That Rule of Law Stuff
Posted: February, 28 2014 3:47 PM

In recent years a new bit of political shorthand has covered the landscape, the idea of a “rule of law” judge.

The common definition for a rule of law judge is one who is deferential to the political authority and does not make law from the bench and interprets only as the political body would determine and so on. It’s a phrase to invoke the opposite of the dreaded “judicial activist.”

Yeah, yeah, fine. Anyone who has read George Orwell’s essay on political language (which along with “1984” and “Animal Farm” should be required reading) knows that any political descriptive phrase is mostly semantic nonsense. Fine, one is for “freedom of…”, “right to…” “pro” this or that. Such phrases and names are terribly polite ways of masking often unpleasant and direct truths. Such phrases are used in regular speech as well, so one is not old but a senior citizen, not fat but blessed with excess untrained muscle and so on.

Of course, could one name a single judge who would not define him or herself as a rule of law judge? Doubtful. Judges have to interpret law, have to decide what the freaking heck lawmakers meant when they wrote whatever they wrote, have to decide how a circumstance falls into place in a given law. And when they do, despite their protest, they know they are making law from the bench. It should be in the job description, because that’s what a judge has to do.

With that in mind, this decision released Friday by the Michigan Court of Appeals should serve as an object lesson of just how twisted and exhausting trying to actively interpret what the rule of law should or might be can turn out to be. In Gongwer’s daily report there will be a story on the case, but dust off your wits and rule away.

Some Good News. No, Really, This Is Good News
Posted: February, 26 2014 2:19 PM

Compared to your standard Home Depot issued gallon of latex paint, lead-based paint – the common wall cover used for decades until society finally got a little smarter – weighed tons. Well, easily twice as much as latex paint.

A gallon of lead-based paint, in fact, weighed about the same as about a year-old toddler. A toddler at such an age could start stuffing things in his or her mouth. Things like lead paint chips. And lead paint chips can lead to dramatically increased levels of lead in a small child’s bloodstream.

And elevated lead levels can lead to increased health and intellectual problems for those children as they grow older.

Which is why some statistics announced before the House Appropriations Community Health Subcommittee on Wednesday are nothing less than good news, damn good news.

For more than a decade, the state – and all states – have been engaged in efforts to remediate buildings with lead-based paint. They have been testing children to check for levels of high lead in their blood stream. The goal is to ensure that by 2020 no children, anywhere, have elevated lead levels.

Steve Fitton, head of the Medical Services Administration, in the Department of Community Health, told the subcommittee that in 2013, 82.4 percent of three-year old children in Michigan had been tested for blood lead levels. That’s up from 76.3 percent of the number of those kids tested in 2009.

The goal is to have no children in the state with blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter, written scientifically as >5ug/dl.

In 1998, an estimated 44.1 percent of children six or younger in Michigan had elevated blood lead levels, those with 5ug/dl or higher.

In 2013, that had dropped to 3.9 percent. That is damn good news.

“This is an enormous public health achievement,” Mr. Fitton told the committee. “It translates directly into improved health.”


There is still work to be done, and as part of the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, the administration announced it would remediate a number of buildings to remove lead. The highest number of children that still have elevated lead levels are in Bay, Branch, Crawford, Huron, Jackson, Kent, Keweenaw, Lenawee, Mackinac, Manistee, Mason and Wayne counties.

But there is no disguising that this is good news, that this is something the government along with the efforts of volunteers and the public can honestly take credit for helping accomplish as well as use to drive through to the real final goal of making sure no child has too much lead in his or her blood.

The Hottest Legal Reading In The State Today Is By High School Students
Posted: February, 20 2014 2:25 PM

On March 6, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in People v. Carp, a case that could decide if juveniles already in prison for life without parole have the option of a parole hearing. A brief filed in that case includes the following: “You don't need science to tell you that teenagers make stupid, impulsive, and often reckless decisions. But it is tremendously helpful to tell you why we do. Many times we don't even know why we did them!”

Yeah, that ain’t your typical legal writing, especially against the general dry as dust stuff most Michigan cases feature. It’s one reason why the brief, an amicus brief brought on behalf of the students at Father Richard Gabriel High School in Ann Arbor, has become one of the most interesting bits of legal reading one can honestly enjoy.

Just to review, Michigan is one state that has allowed for an automatic sentence for juveniles to life in prison without the option or hope of parole. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held such punishment was unconstitutional.

What was left undecided, however, was whether the ruling applied only to sentences going forward or if it was retroactive and meant any juveniles sentenced to automatic life in prison without possibility parole must receive a parole hearing or be resentenced.

The Michigan Court of Appeals said it was prospective, which also is the position of Attorney General Bill Schuette. But in a passionate series of conclusions and orders U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara said the state should immediately begin scheduling hearings for the more than 300 persons sentenced as juveniles in Michigan to automatic life without parole. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed that order for the time being.

So that’s what the issue is going before the Supreme Court on March 6: should the state at least hold parole hearings for those juveniles convicted with otherwise no hope of parole. Leading up to argument the court has allowed a big pile of amicus briefs in, far more than one generally sees in say, oooh, right of way cases.

This week, the court approved the amicus brief of the 450 (out of 530 students) at Father Richard school. The brief includes 26 sheets with the signatures of all 450 of those students. The voice in the brief is completely theirs, with the bulk of the drafting done by junior Matilyn Sarosi.

Jon Muth and Patrick Jaicomo of the firm Miller Johnson present the brief, saying that while “certain formal requirements of primary appellate briefs may be still lacking, what is significant here is the voice of the students.”


No kidding. This brief is worth more than a brief skim. It has passion, a sense of moral outrage and befuddlement, as well as hope. All briefs at the appellate level are a plea, a bit of begging tied up in legal formalities, but this brief is different. It has the optimism one hopes everyone has had, at least once, and a sense of trust implicit in the very nature of hope.

“We don't view the individuals involved in these cases are inherently evil. We believe factors in their lives like where they were raised or the stability of their family environment had a lot to do with their actions and we think to ourselves, ‘There but for the Grace of God go I,’” say the students.

And they conclude: “As members of the Student Body at Father Gabriel Richard, we are currently at the age the individuals in the cases before the Court were upon receiving their sentence to die in prison. We believe all persons have the potential capacity to be sorry for their sins, work to repair their wrongs, restore their worth as a member of society, to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Fundamental to our beliefs as Christians is that all of us have a right and the promise to be redeemed.”

Whatever your view on the issue, this brief should be read.

A Literary Moment In The Kellogg Kerfuffle?
Posted: February, 19 2014 1:44 PM

Not many people read John Marquand anymore, more’s the pity for that, but for those that do and have, the unexpected uproar over the Kellogg Company moving some jobs from Battle Creek to Grand Rapids has a ring of the novel “Sincerely, Willis Wade” about it.

One must tread carefully in drawing the conclusion, because the hero of the book, Willis Wade, is a seemingly bright young fellow who is ultimately clueless. His parents work for a major business tycoon in a mid-sized company town, the tycoon selects Willis to attend Harvard Business School, Willis does everything expected of him, becomes a huge success and a major business force himself and the pride of his hometown.

Eventually he becomes head of a giant business which buys the hometown plant, to the great but unwitting relief of the townsfolk, and then shuts it down. The term “metrics” wasn’t much used in the 1950s when the novel was published, but that is essentially why Willis made the decision. But then he is perplexed and deeply hurt when everyone in his hometown now hates him and calls him a traitor.

The Kellogg situation involves the giant company deciding to locate its Global Business Services North American regional center in Grand Rapids. The services are now conducted in Battle Creek and the company says looked at nine different areas before deciding on Grand Rapids.

Governor Rick Snyder, himself a son of Battle Creek, praised the move on his Twitter feed (well, actually one presumes his staff did since they maintain the site). His staff defended the comments, but seemed to do so uncomfortably.

The move itself, and Mr. Snyder’s praising of it, has provoked outrage in Battle Creek. Former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, a Republican who was Battle Creek mayor and represented the city in the Michigan Legislature before going to Congress, blasted the decision by Kellogg’s and was none too pleased with Mr. Snyder.

Democrats have jumped all over the situation, which raises another serendipitous point: the expected Democratic candidate for governor, former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, is also a Battle Creek native.

Unlike Willis Wade, no one would accuse Mr. Snyder of being clueless. Whatever one thinks of his policies, Mr. Snyder is a sharp operator.

And in terms of the 2014 gubernatorial election, the situation could make things a bit tense for the GOP in the Battle Creek area. Certainly, one expects Mr. Schauer to hit the hometown hard over this situation.

If nothing else, it shows the need to be clear on how people will react to various announcements and the effects they could have. Just like in physics, in politics every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Whatever the long-term fallout politically, Mr. Snyder and his staff probably should have been a bit more cautious in reacting to the announcement, recognizing the hometown might not immediately see this move as a plus.

And if nothing else, it also says one can also learn important life lessons from literature.

Another Historic Moment Michigan Can Take Pride In
Posted: February, 13 2014 2:48 PM

It wasn’t exactly an act of nullification, but on February 13, 1855, the Michigan Legislature took a stand against the Fugitive Slave Act.

The Fugitive Slave Act, as has been earlier reported, was arguably the most odious law ever enacted by the U.S. Congress. The measure stripped any basic protections an escaped slave could claim by going into a free state, such as Michigan. Further, persons attempting to shelter escaped slaves or block bounty hunters looking for them could face serious penalties.

In 1847, the stalwart folks of Marshall protected Adam Crosswhite and his family from bounty hunters trying to take him back to the plantation Mr. Crosswhite had escaped from in Kentucky. That kind of civil disobedience played a role in the passage of the fugitive act in 1850.

It took five years for the Legislature to act – well, not much has changed as far as the sense of legislative speed – but when it did act, it acted decisively.

Michigan of course was the home of last way stations for the Underground Railroad to get escaped slaves into safety in Canada, so it would have been a target for slave hunters.

So on February 13, 1855, the Legislature passed legislation prohibiting the use of county jails to hold captured escaped slaves. This would deny those hunters a secure place to hold persons they had captured.

Further, the legislation mandated county prosecutors to act as defense attorneys for the escaped slaves.

It could not overturn the Fugitive Slave Act, but the Legislature did punch a legal hole in the act’s effectiveness, and did it and the state proud.

Michigan Economy On Par With UAE – Who Comes Up With This Stuff?
Posted: February, 4 2014 4:20 PM

The United Arab Emirates has drawn much attention in recent years, especially Dubai with its astonishing, vertigo-inspiring architecture and its status as an economic hub for the Middle East.

Now, according to a map created and posted on the site Reddit, and picked up by Business Insider, Michigan is credited with an economy roughly the same size as the UAE’s, at least in terms of gross domestic product.

The map looks at the entire U.S. and pegs each state’s GDP and a country whose national GDP is comparable than that state’s. As part of the world’s largest economy, with a GDP in 2012 of more than $16 trillion, every state – even the smallest (Rhode Island’s GDP is on a par with Serbia) – has a GDP comparable, or larger, than some other nation.

Only three states have GDP’s larger than $1 trillion, California, Texas and New York. And somewhat surprisingly, California’s $4 trillion GDP was larger than Canada’s.

Michigan is one of just 10 states with GDP’s larger than $300 billion in 2012 (four other Great Lakes States – Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and, of course New York) are on that list. New York’s economy matches with South Korea, Pennsylvania with Poland, Ohio waltzes with Austria, and Illinois is on a level with Saudi Arabia.

The other Great Lakes states have GDPs larger than $100 billion, which means Indiana’s economy is comparable with Israel, Wisconsin with Ireland and Minnesota (with about 5.5 million people) larger than Nigeria (with 175 million people).

The UAE’s economy clocked in at about $377 billion in 2012, so even a somewhat-depressed Michigan is not doing too bad.

Michigan and the UAE also track in a couple other ways. UAE’s population is about 9.2 million, with Michigan coming in at not quite 9.9 million. The UAE has a labor force of 4.3 million, which is roughly the same as Michigan’s. However, in 2012, the UAE had an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent while it stood at 9.1 percent in 2012 in Michigan.

Now, of course, Michigan just snows over the UAE with total of production of…well, snow. If they need some in Dubai, one suspects Michigan will lead the way to develop an export market of the frozen goods.

Okay, About That Sea Hunt Moment In The Governor’s Ad
Posted: February, 3 2014 4:08 PM

If there was any moment in Governor Rick Snyder’s opening campaign ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl that probably left even his supporters scratching their heads, it was right at the beginning.

The ad begins underwater with who we presume is Mr. Snyder in a wetsuit and then focuses on Mr. Snyder in scuba mask and snorkel breaking the surface. The rest of the ad is decidedly terrestrial, with a series of scenes first of decaying city structures replaced by views of the Grand Hotel, factories, the Detroit skyline and the Capitol among others.

But we start off underwater (filmed at a pool, Mr. Snyder told reporters, though he would not say where other than it was not the pool used for training by the State Police), and what was all that?

Oh, Mr. Snyder was quite excited about it all. He said it went really well. And was it all about?

Well, Mr. Snyder said, “I showed a good metaphor that Michigan was underwater and now we’re out.”


Others will say what they want, Mr. Snyder said, but he was sticking to the good metaphor of Michigan no longer being underwater.

Remembering The Waxman/Dingell Brawl
Posted: January, 31 2014 1:31 PM

Lost in all the national coverage of U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman’s announced retirement after this November’s election is the rather fierce fight he waged to strip Michigan’s U.S. Rep. John Dingell of a long-held committee chair position following the 2008 election.

And by congressional standards it was a fierce fight. Mr. Dingell (D-Dearborn) had chaired or been the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee for 28 years. Challenging him, even though he had turned 82 in 2008, seemed impossible.

Mr. Dingell, of course, had also been a strong advocate of the U.S. auto industry, and that was the ostensible trigger for the more liberal Mr. Waxman to challenge Mr. Dingell. Mr. Waxman charged Mr. Dingell had not moved fast and hard enough on global warming.

Some people also talked about needing newer, young blood in the leadership. Mr. Waxman (D-California) was 69 at the time and his ally, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), was about the same age, so that argument seemed … frail, shall we say.

A lot of the dispute probably had to do with strained relations between Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Dingell. Publicly he always supported her, but they weren’t necessarily the closest of friends.

Supporters of Mr. Waxman insisted the challenge wasn’t personal – which probably meant it was – but reflected the need to show new ideas as President Barack Obama was coming into office.

At any rate, in a fairly close vote, Mr. Waxman won the chair’s position 137 to 122 votes. Supporters of Mr. Dingell were hurt and made that known.

It also is curious, how much credit or blame (depending on one’s viewpoint) Mr. Waxman is drawing for the passage of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, since Mr. Dingell had been pushing for some kind of national health insurance well before Mr. Waxman ever took office.

At any rate, while Mr. Waxman will leave Congress at the end of the year, one strongly suspects that Mr. Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, will be in the House at least one more term.

Study Highlights 10 Safest Sort-of Big Communities In Michigan
Posted: January, 27 2014 2:30 PM

In the last couple years, much has been made of the crime problems in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw, but there are some places in Michigan where crime is mostly a word on a crossword puzzle.

Grosse Ile, for example, or Hamburg Township.

Those two are the safest, somewhat large, communities in the state, according to a national real estate company, The firm has put out similar rankings on New York and Florida.

Now, there is a caveat. The Movoto study is based on communities with populations of at least 10,000 people, looking at 2012 FBI crime statistics. So, smaller towns that would be even safer were not included in the list. But, among those towns that could fill at least a section of a major stadium, Grosse Ile is the absolute safest, followed by Hamburg Township.

Hamburg Township was the only community that is arguably out of the metro-Detroit area (it is slightly closer to Lansing) of the top 10. Among the top 25, places like Midland and St. Joseph Township are included, but pretty much the entire top 10 safest are in the Detroit area.

The other top 10-safest: South Lyon, Milford, Berkley, New Baltimore, Bloomfield Township, Riverview, West Bloomfield Township and Rochester.

Ah Kids, This Winter Ain’t Bad, Now In ’38 By Cracky
Posted: January, 23 2014 2:51 PM

While we Michiganders, who should be used to rough weather, have moaned all month, thanks be to NASA and Atlantic Magazine for reminding us of what a really bad winter storm is like.

Instead of posting the latest shots of Martians or asteroids with Earth in the crosshairs, the other day NASA posted this picture, which is probably the most iconic image of one of the worst storms to ever lash the Upper Peninsula. Atlantic Magazine picked up on it, and posted this piece on Thursday.

The storm started on January 24, 1938, as the UP was thawing out from a major storm that had hit over New Year’s. Wet, heavy snow fell over the peninsula for some 30 hours, dropping at least 30 inches with drifts reaching up to, well, as the photo shows, the tops of utility lines. A train from Chicago got stuck in drifts that were 30-feet high. Travel was largely confined to foot. A major fire broke out in downtown Marquette, and firefighters were hampered by low water pressure and weather conditions.

What is difficult to quickly ascertain, though, is how state government responded to the crisis that stretched across the Upper Peninsula.

One of Michigan’s most noted statesmen, Frank Murphy, was governor at the time (he was defeated in his bid for re-election that fall but then was named U.S. attorney general and then to the U.S. Supreme Court). Because the U.S. and Michigan was still struggling from the Great Depression – in his farewell message to the Legislature, Mr. Murphy said the state had had to subsidize local revenues of the “mining regions” by $1 million, one has to assume the area routinely needed help. But quickly found history of the storm shows only how the local population had to struggle through it.

But as one complains about one’s commute in the cold, remember, in the UP in 1938 folks had to hand dig for six days an emergency path that stretched 10 miles.

‘Clown Dave Agema’ Adds Interesting Twist To Controversy
Posted: January, 21 2014 12:52 PM

Last week, shortly before Governor Rick Snyder was about to take the podium to deliver his State of the State address a new …”voice” … appeared on Twitter.

“The invocation was a bit weak. I was hoping for more on the WRATH OF GOD that will rain down on the Moslems and the gays,” said “Clown Dave Agema” shortly after the joint House/Senate session was called into session.

The controversy over Michigan’s GOP national committee member, former Rep. Dave Agema has hit the social media ridicule phase.

Following the backlash that hit his latest posts on gays and Muslims, Mr. Agema himself on Sunday posted on Facebook that, “There are times I have posted or linked an article to encourage discourse. This does not constitute endorsement of that position,” and that his goal is to elect “fiscal, moral and constitutional conservatives” while trying to uphold both party principles and the Michigan Constitution. Those comments have drawn supporters, but also more and more of his critics as evidenced by comments calling for him to step down made by former GOP Michigan Chair Betsy DeVos.

In the middle of this, “Clown Dave Agema” is doing his/her best to poke fun at and force Mr. Agema out of his position. Contacted by Gongwer, “Clown Dave Agema” said Mr. Agema needs to be “mocked and run out of the party.”

“Clown Dave Agema’s” Twitter page has a pink background, and among the photos posted are several of a shirtless Russian President Vladimir Putin (the real Mr. Agema signaled his support of Russian anti-gay laws).

Clown Mr. Agema (the author would not identify him or herself) said he/she is a former GOP member who would not support the party further until it embraces personal freedom, “and that includes gay people. Until that happens, the party message of individual freedom rings hollow.” Naturally, without knowing the person’s identity, we have to take those comments with a grain of salt.

“Clown Dave Agema” doesn’t have a huge following yet, just 44 followers as of Tuesday morning, but he has engaged in a few verbal jousts (if back and forth on Twitter is verbal) and stayed on top of the news.

To the Detroit News editorial on Tuesday calling Mr. Agema’s removal as party committee member, Clown Mr. Agema tweeted, “Stop bullying me!!! LGBT mafia!”

And earlier in response to an interview where Mr. Putin likened gays to pedophiles, Clown Mr. Agema said, “More wisdom from my buddy Vlad!!!”

Mr. Agema himself has not signaled if he is aware of Clown Mr. Agema, though in his most recent Facebook post he wrote: “It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. I request my supporters and friends to turn the other cheek and not show the intolerance some of the opposition have shown.”

Waiting For The State Of State One-Liner
Posted: January, 16 2014 6:18 PM

Sure, sure, everyone wants to know about taxes, education policy, economic development, a clear vision for the future in the State of the State address.

But what about the joke? The one-liner that gets everyone back in their chair, eases the atmosphere, lets folks get ready for the speech and establishes an intimacy between the governor and the Legislature and lets everyone knows this is a person comfortable with command.

Our governors in the last 30 something years have, frankly, stunk at this. Former Governor John Engler would always toss a barb at former Attorney General Frank Kelley, but one never knew if those were mean spirited or actually in good humor.

Former Governor James Blanchard always seemed uncomfortable, former Governor Jennifer Granholm (who had training in the performance arts) always seemed too earnest and determined to make her points even when she was casual in her approach and Governor Rick Snyder seems determined to make the speech more report card than memorable oratory. But none of them have really cracked a good line that got a hearty laugh.

The last governor who really had this skill was former Governor William Milliken, who invariably cracked a sharp joke (or sometimes skillfully let you stumble into one).

One year, for example, Mr. Milliken looked over towards Lt. Governor James Brickley, and opened his address saying, “Every year I come to the podium. Jim Brickley shakes my hand. And takes my pulse.”

So we shall see if tonight’s address gets us back to an easy joking style.

Michigan’s Nostradamus Of 2013 Revealed, But You Already Know That
Posted: January, 15 2014 3:01 PM

Who in the recent past saw into the future most clearly? Who is the official state seer of 2013? Whose crystal was most cloud-free? Which prognosticator profoundly predicted perfectly?

Well, it was Bob Kleine. But of course you knew that. Didn’t you?

Mr. Kleine, former state treasurer, former Michigan mathematician mastermind, is the 2013 winner of the Public Sector Consultants annual state prophecy contest. The PSC tossed 57 questions at him and all contestants and he answered 46 correctly, for 80.7 percent. Okay, not exactly in the realm of spoon-bending with your mind on national TV, but pretty darn good.

In a tie for second place was John Bebow at the Center for Michigan and George Wood of Mason. They each got 45 answers correct. As their prize, they will all be feted at a lunch, or so the PSC honchos promise.

The 2014 contest is now open, and can be entered here. But you already knew that, of course. No, we won’t give away the questions, you naughty monkeys. What kinda ESPnaut needs help anywho?

Interestingly, the PSC folks say the toughest question to get right out of the 57 was one asking if Governor Rick Snyder would announce his re-election in 2013. He did not, of course, though he is expected to do so imminently. Or at least, do so sometime before the election. But just 9 percent of the respondents correctly answered.

The easiest question was whether or not any local governments would announce some kind of consolidation during the year. A whopping 91 percent guessed that correctly.

The contest had other political questions, such as would any legislators be recalled, cultural questions, such as would any state resident win a Pulitzer or Nobel prize, and sports questions, such as would either Michigan State University or the University of Michigan football team play for the Big Ten championship (hmmmm, now what did happen regarding that?).

Doubtless, though, the questions that must have seemed most unlikely, most improbable, most fantastic, most insane to have even been posed it is so whacky in its concept was: Would the Detroit Lions win seven or more games this season? Through some wizardry they did just that.

If Misery Really Does Love Company, Then We Have Plenty Of Friends
Posted: January, 6 2014 1:22 PM

With most of Michigan huddled under covers on Monday trying to keep from freezing, one can take either comfort or alarm at conditions across the nation with nearly half the continental U.S. struck by the mammoth winter storm.

According to reports, some 90,000 people in Illinois, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania have lost power at some point during the storm. That includes a small number of people in Michigan that have lost electricity (not to put too fine a point on it, but that total is still fewer than the number of people in Michigan alone that lost power in the ice storm that struck before Christmas.)

Either statewide or localized emergencies have been declared across the U.S., in North Dakota, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Tennessee among others.

Flights have been delayed or canceled across the area, including in Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, Illinois, New York and elsewhere.

Sadly, deaths have been reported in Illinois and Alabama, related to the storm.

And Missouri’s one ski resort was forced to close because of the storm.

An Act Of Civil Disobedience When Michigan Shined
Posted: January, 2 2014 2:26 PM

Among the most repulsive laws ever enacted by the United States government, if not the most repulsive, was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave runaway slaves no protection, even if they were in free states, and gave their bounty hunters extraordinary powers to capture them and return them, and which imposed severe punishment on persons helping escaped slaves. The law was one major step on the path to the Civil War, which erupted 11 years later. And an action that took place on January 2, 1847, in Marshall helped spur that law.

Marshall is more than the Calhoun County seat, home to famous Victorian and Georgian houses, and center of an iconic restaurant and its cheese spread; it is where on that day 167 years ago many members of the town stood against slave hunters, at their own legal peril.

Four years earlier, Adam Crosswhite had led his family to escape from a Kentucky plantation after he had learned his children were to be sold, and settled in Michigan, in Marshall.

On January 2, 1847, several slave catchers and a deputy sheriff arrived in Marshall looking for the Crosswhites. Word quickly spread in town the slave catchers were there. Mr. Crosswhite’s neighbors had already surrounded the house in his and his family’s defense, and they were joined by scores more.

Eventually more than 100 Marshall residents surrounded the house, keeping the slave catchers and the deputy at bay. Tensions rose as the slave catchers and the residents exchanged threats.

Finally, the slave catchers – technically within their rights to seize the Crosswhites – demanded the names of the crowd members. And the crowd members were not cowed. In fact, they gave them their names rather than give up the Crosswhites.

The deputy was both so astonished, and moved, he arrested the slave catchers, which ended the immediate crisis. While the slave catchers were able to post bail, the Marshall residents were able to help the Crosswhites flee into Canada.

That did not end the legal issue. Many of the residents who had defended the Crosswhites were fined for their actions, fines which they paid.

Their willingness to endure that helped lead Congress and then President Millard Fillmore (who was personally opposed to slavery but felt it had constitutional rights to exist) to pass the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed for any person who sheltered a runaway slave to be jailed for six months and fined $1,000 (close to $30,000 today).

So, when next enjoying a famous cheese spread born in Marshall, remember a moment when so many were willing to risk so much for one family.

Okay, Here’s The Inspirational Message From Our Leaders During This Crisis…Hello?
Posted: December, 23 2013 1:19 PM

One does not wish to be churlish ever, and especially at this joyous time of the year, but given that I am one of the more than 400,000 without power for some time now, one would like to give this joyous message to his leaders and wanna-be leaders: Where the hell are you?

See, here’s the thing, starting Saturday night, December 21, the worst ice storm since at least electricity was invented (electricity? What’s that? OOOHHH, it’s this magic thing that lets you run furnaces and water heaters and stoves and lights) descended upon the state and left hundreds of thousands of people without power.

Already creating a terrible inconvenience for those affected, the storm’s magnitude was heightened by it coming three days before Christmas, and muddling thousands of plans for family get-togethers and travel.

Okay, these things happen. Yes, we should all be prepared. Yes, it could be a blessing in disguise (to quote among the many pithy platitudes so many with power posted on social media). And yes, by God, we are incredibly grateful to those working non-stop to restore power.

But where is Governor Rick Snyder? Or where is the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mark Schauer?

There is a role here, a proper function of leadership. You have a crisis. It affects thousands of state residents. Emergency actions are underway. It behooves one as a leader to show publicly you are empathetic, that you are one with the public in this moment of concern. You can issue statements, of course, you can go to warming centers, you can meet with the utility workers, you can help assure local leaders of funding, but you have to actively do something.

And you have to do it publicly. You have to show assurance, you have to urge cooperation and resolve. This is your “Michigan expects every man and woman to do his duty” moment.

There is precedence. After a massive blizzard hit Lansing and environs in the 1960s, then Governor George Romney called on residents to work together to share shelter and help dig each other out. When one of the most ferocious blizzards in history hit Michigan in 1978 (kids, it was so bad that radio announcers pleaded with people to stay indoors saying “It is certain death if you go out.” No kidding, they really did say that), then Governor William Milliken was seen coming to the Capitol in a half-track and contacting emergency centers to both encourage and monitor the crisis. When the largest blackout hit in August 2003, then Governor Jennifer Granholm went on statewide TV to outline what was being done.

Now, on Sunday, the governor’s press staff did release this very touching video of Mr. Snyder and First Lady Sue Snyder wishing the state happy holidays.

And that was it. Grateful were we for the kind wishes. More grateful would we have been if we had been assured the state was taking steps to ensure we got power back as fast as possible. Such a message provides not just assurance but also helps spur everyone working on the crisis, knowing the governor and the people rely on them. Also more grateful would we have been had the governor called on the public to offer individual help: a place to stay, a place to shower, a pot of coffee, a really long extension line across the street, checking on the pets if the family was retreating to a hotel, something to show we are all part of this.

Oh, Mark Schauer, this doesn’t take you off the hook either. Where were your calls for the public to show concern, to be assured you would help take action? You wanna be governor, you need to show your overall concern.

All that being said, here are hopes for the warmest of Christmas celebrations. And trust me, I do mean warm.

The Wrong Perspective On The Affirmative Action Lawsuit?
Posted: December, 19 2013 3:14 PM

Sometime before the end of June the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the latest lawsuit involving affirmative action, that involving the 2006 Michigan Constitutional Amendment barring the use of affirmative action by universities and government.

In recent days, Daniel Levy, director of law and policy at the state Department of Civil Rights, published an essay in a blog, Diversityinc, suggesting the case is focused on the wrong issue. Michigan universities, Mr. Levy said, did not employ affirmative action but did allow for diversity as approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The amendment in question prohibits affirmative action, but Mr. Levy worried that the arguments before the Supreme Court this past October missed the issue and could affect efforts to boost diversity.

The U.S. court outlawed affirmative action in its 2003 decision in the Jennifer Gratz case that challenged admission standards at the University of Michigan’s undergrad school, Mr. Levy said. But in another case decided the same day, involving U-M’s law school, that brought by Barbara Grutter, the court ruled the law school had a compelling interest in promoting diversity.

Affirmative action is an attempt to address past racial injustices, Mr. Levy said, but diversity is “designed to benefit all (and particularly majority) students by exposing them to each other.”

The issue the court raised in asking questions about racial preference were already dealt with by the Gratz decision, Mr. Levy argued. “The problem exposed during oral argument was that the constitutionality of prohibiting diversity efforts was debated using only the terminology of affirmative action,” he said.

The 2006 amendment prohibits what the U.S. Supreme Court had already outlawed, Mr. Levy said, arguing the court instead should determine if the amendment is being used to limit broader diversity efforts that serve all students.

Dear Email Recipient: Please Send Money, No Matter Who You Support
Posted: December, 16 2013 3:42 PM

Hey, if you hadn’t noticed already there’s a big election in 2014. Governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general, the secretary of state, the entire 148-member Legislature, oh, it’s going to be a doozy.

Which means of course, it means it’s time for all the candidates to raise money. Well, when isn’t it time to raise money? But there is an election coming, so the money raising is a bit more urgent.

So last week, Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township) who is running for re-election, and for Senate majority leader, sent out an email to, he presumed, supporters and prospective supporters (even to reporters, who only give money to their spouses and favorite bartenders) asking if they would like to give the “gift of limited government this Christmas?” (The italics were Mr. Colbeck’s.)

Doing so would be a bit of re-gift, he said, since the founding of the nation 237 years ago. But one could support limited government by contributing to his campaign for the 2014 election, he said.

And, one could pass the email along to others so they too could support his campaign, Mr. Colbeck said.

He signed off the email asking people to have a blessed Christmas season.

One of the folks he sent the email to was his colleague Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint), who, candidly, would rather see a Democrat elected to Mr. Colbeck’s seat. Nothing personal, of course, it’s just business.

Mr. Ananich responded with an email of his own, asking whether Mr. Colbeck was Michigan’s Ted Cruz (one presumes not in a flattering sense), and charging that his call for limited government was lost when Mr. Colbeck and Senate Republicans supported legislation to prohibit insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion as part of a regular package, but only as part of a separate rider that a person would have to purchase.

“So much for all that limited government talk,” Mr. Ananich said. All Mr. Colbeck, and by extension Mr. Cruz, want to do is shut down government again after “they use it for their own extreme agenda.”

Of course, with that, Mr. Ananich solicited for donations for the Michigan Senate Democrats, saying “with your help” Mr. Colbeck could be kept both from being the Senate leader and being re-elected to the Senate.

Another Senate Speech, Another Time
Posted: December, 13 2013 2:45 PM

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) brought the Senate to a stunned silence when during the debate on legislation to bar automatic insurance coverage for abortions she revealed that as a college student she had been raped.

Her emotional address gained recognition nationwide, though it failed to sway votes away from approving the proposal.

It also brought to mind a similar dramatic speech in the Senate 44 years before.

N. Lorraine Beebe was elected to the Senate as a Republican from Dearborn in the 1966 election, which had been a Republican landslide year.

She was 56 at the time. Born Lorraine Boekeloo in Kalamazoo and a graduate of Western Michigan University, she had worked in the recreation department in Kalamazoo in the mid-1930s, before moving to Dearborn in 1937. There she worked for the city in recreation as well, and met her future husband, Leo Beebe, who worked for Ford. The couple had two children, and by the time she was elected had divorced.

In the mid-1950s she became active in politics, playing a leading role in the Southeast Michigan committee working for former President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 re-election. When the Senate still had two-year terms she ran for and lost the GOP nomination in 1964.

But she won election in 1966. She was the only woman in the Senate, and as such felt she represented not just the Dearborn area but all Michigan women.

The 1960s was the era when women’s rights, including the right to control reproduction, ignited. “The Feminine Mystique” was widely read and debated. Birth control pills were developed. The papal encyclical banning birth control for practicing Roman Catholics was issued. And across the nation many states opened debate on whether abortion should be made legal.

During one such debate in the Michigan Senate, Ms. Beebe staggered the members when she revealed that in 1948 she had had an abortion, and outlined the difficulties she had faced seeking the procedure which was, of course, illegal. In a Gongwer News Service story at the time, she said she made the speech when she had “come face to face with my conscience.”

She had the abortion, she said, after she had suffered five miscarriages before.

Her speech generated headlines across the state and nation. However, like Ms. Whitmer, her speech failed to convince her fellow lawmakers to change the law. When the proposal was defeated on 16-17 vote, Ms. Beebe wept. (A petition initiative to legalize abortion that she helped lead failed in the state in 1972, but two months later the U.S. Supreme Court permitted abortions under Roe v. Wade).

The speech also changed her life. She became a leading state and national spokesperson for women’s rights and abortion rights. But at a cost. Her life was threatened numerous times. Her house was firebombed.

Her speech and her position also played a role in her defeat in 1970, though by how much is questionable. She swamped her Republican opponent in the primary election, but then lost decisively (though not by a landslide) to Democrat Dave Plawecki in the general election (Mr. Plawecki died earlier this year). Despite Governor William Milliken winning election to a full term that year, it was generally a Democratic year.

But Ms. Beebe’s loss meant the two parties split the chamber 19-19. And Mr. Plawecki said later that while important, worker rights was as much a leading issue in heavily unionized Dearborn in 1970 as was abortion.

In the 1970s, Ms. Beebe was named to numerous federal and state commissions on issues of mental health, criminal justice, American Indians and women. She served on the Michigan Women’s Commission. Later that decade she moved to Portage. While now best known for her stand on abortion rights, Ms. Beebe also led efforts to have sex education in schools, tougher laws against drunken driving and improvements in women’s prisons.

She also remained active politically, nominated by the Republicans to run against then Secretary of State Richard Austin in 1974.

In 1980 she was active in the independent presidential campaign of Illinois U.S. Rep. John Anderson and was considered for his vice-presidential pick.

Ms. Beebe died in 2005 at age 95.

The High Court Considers A Selfie
Posted: December, 11 2013 3:11 PM

The Supreme Court of Michigan, the Supreme Court of anywhere really, is a place of staid decorum and tradition. After all, people stand when the justices come in, people speak in moderate, respectful tones, the justices are all in black robes, there is a specified order to which things are followed.

What then to make of a situation when the restrained court considers the apex of the contemporary self-indulgent, unrestrained era: selfies?

A selfie, who those who have not followed ongoing weird twists in the English language, is a self-portrait. It was declared word of 2013 by the equally staid Oxford English Dictionary. Painters have painted self-portraits (just ask that Van Gogh fella), and photographers have snapped self-portraits for centuries. Big deal, right? But a selfie is generally taken with a smartphone, a tablet or a digital camera so it can be instantly shared online. Selfies range from the charming and tasteful to the distasteful to the prurient to the whatthehellweretheythinking?

The selfie in question is probably of the last category. And it involves Wayne Circuit Judge Wade McCree.

Mr. McCree was before the high court on Wednesday on a recommendation from the Judicial Tenure Commission he be removed from office for having a sexual affair with a litigant in a case before him (you can read all about that if you subscribe to the daily report, and if you don’t call us at 517-482-3500).

Prior to that incident going public, Mr. McCree had gotten into trouble for taking a shirtless photo of himself, showing off his physique and emailing it to a court employee. In fact, the Supreme Court already censured him for that.

So, while the selfie was not specifically before the court on this occasion, it did come up.

Mr. McCree’s lawyer, Brian Einhorn, was trying to convince the court that before his affair, Mr. McCree had not done anything wrong during his tenure.

That prompted Chief Justice Robert Young to shoot back: “You think there is nothing wrong with a 50-year old man taking a selfie, naked from the waist up and sending it off to court employees?”

Mr. Einhorn argued taking the picture was not wrong, what was wrong was how Mr. McCree handled a television interview about the photo when it was revealed.

To which Justice Bridget McCormack said: “I want the record to reflect the chief justice just used the word selfie.”

“It’s in the dictionary,” Mr. Young said. “It just shows how current I am.”

When The End Of Session Was Really A Christmas Party
Posted: December, 10 2013 12:52 PM

Whatever one may think from either partisan or ideological standpoints, Michigan’s legislators are a staid, sober group of folks. They are earnest, they are determined, they are focused (at least in public), they are committed, and sadly they are a bit dull.

Dull? The 97th Legislature, not sparking in wit or vivacity? Surely, one….well, no surely one is correct. But it isn’t just the 97th. No. it goes back to at least the start of term limits, and even a bit before that. Michigan wants its public workers to work. Michigan voters send a sober bunch to the Capitol, alas.

Ah, but once lawmakers were merry lads and lassies, back when the Democratic and Republican Parties knew how to party.

The looming end of the year is always a time when lawmakers try to cram as much stuff through as possible, sometimes in hopes of finally working a long-denied deal or just shuffling through something their colleagues are too exhausted to notice.

It was once also a time when fueled by good spirits, of various proofs, legislation would truck its merry way along.

Legislators, you see, in a day when the medicinal qualities of alcohol were well regarded, typically would break on the expected last day of session for a party. Yes, a party. A real jingle bell ringing, mistletoeing, ho-ho-hoing hell burner of a party. Not this corral everyone into their caucus room and stuff them with pizza and partisan platitudes. No, by cracky, this was partying. A holiday party, a Christmas party, oh then nobody gave a damn about what today have become the tortured political excesses of what to call the season, it was a parrrteee.

One of the best ever was in 1977 when the House Democrats used the party to unveil what was then the new Roosevelt Office Building. Housed in what was formerly the Roosevelt Hotel – now the site of a parking garage – the party was centered in the former Dome Room. The Dome Room had been one of best-known downtown bars. Now it was to become a House hearing room, after the party, of course.

Everyone was at the party. Democrats, Republicans, senators, representatives, lobbyists, staff, janitors, folks walking in off the street, reporters, sergeants (who officially were not to drink, uh huh), administration officials, department directors. Who knew. (And remember, 18-year-old drinking was still legal then. Much decking of halls was happening.)

For a reporter who rushed in after filing stories to grab a lone beer (okay, that was me) the vision of then Rep. Perry Bullard leaning against a door jamb saying to everyone nearby, “You’re great. You’re really great,” looms large. The late Mr. Bullard was both brilliant and mercurial, and had as many enemies as friends, even among his fellow Democrats, in large part because of his temper. That night, he was a happy lad and to anyone within reach he would extend his left arm (his right hand was holding a beer), enfold them in an embrace, and slushily say, “You’re great. You’re really great.” And to a person, Republican or Democrat, they said just as sloppily back, “No Perry, you’re great.”

And they came back into session. Yes they truly did. Sometimes reluctantly. Sometimes a call of the House and Senate had to be put on to find the remaining partiers and fetch them back to the floor. One year a stern-looking sergeant accompanied a northern Democrat with a goofy grin back to his seat. Then once the sergeant was out of the chamber, he rushed quickly to the speaker’s balcony to quaff the Budweiser he had stashed in his blazer.

Did they get work done? Did they pass bills? Did they ever, and never with more enthusiasm.

What especially would get passed was something called the Christmas Tree bill. Officially it was Grants and Transfers or a tiny supplemental. In 1978, for example, the House took a $3.5 million mental health supplemental and stuffed it with another $55 million in whatever anyone wanted. The governor was generally left to figure out what to allow and what to line-item veto. A few more-sober-minded lawmakers would preach outrage at the excesses being done against the people. And their partisan colleagues would nod and then hide their faces as they giggled.

We have advanced as a people, yes truly we have. We have advanced beyond this seasonal silliness. We are now a focused, sober and dull lot, turned to our duties for the people. Yes, we are. We’ll not be making that kind of mistake again. No, we probably won’t. Dammit.

An Interesting Historic Parallel
Posted: December, 6 2013 2:23 PM

News broke Friday that one philanthropist is offering a sizeable small fortune to help save the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts from being broken up as part of the city’s bankruptcy settlement.

Curious that reports of A. Paul Schaap’s proposed donation were published on Friday because 131 years before, on December 6, 1882, a meeting was held of Detroit swells that helped lead to the creation of the DIA in the first place.

Along with finding a way to protect the pensions of retired Detroit workers, saving the DIA collection from sale has been one of the top priorities of those trying to find a way to resolve the city’s bankruptcy. Earlier this week, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes ruled that Detroit’s controversial Chapter 9 filing could go forward, and city Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said officials should find ways to monetize, not sell, the DIA’s city-owned collection to help resolve the need to pay off creditors.

Mr. Schaap has said he will donate $5 million to the effort to protect the DIA and help the pensions. He is meeting with U.S. Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen on the issue. Mr. Rosen has called for foundations to put up $500 million to help protect the collection.

On this date in 1882, at the Detroit home of railroad tycoon James Joy, a meeting was held to encourage individuals to take part in organizing an art exhibit for the city. Among the most enthusiastic participants was Detroit Evening News (yes, the parent to The Detroit News) founder James Scripps and the advertising manager William Brearley.

The two newspaper execs used their influence to help build local interest and convince local philanthropists to put together an exhibit using borrowed art. The exhibit was held in 1883 and was a big success. From that, interest grew on creating a permanent museum. A location was found, the needed funds were raised in a record time and the DIA opened in 1886.

One hopes the enthusiasm of the 1880 backers and Mr. Schaap’s announcement will help spur others to donate and secure the museum as the city resolves all its bankruptcy issues.

State Worker Pay, A Question Never Quite Answered
Posted: November, 26 2013 2:58 PM

What should a state worker be paid? It is a question that has never been answered truly, and one that has cropped up again in light of the controversy over extremely large pay increases, some 90 percent, awarded to top employees in the Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Investments.

Pay, compensation, wages, salaries, earnings in general has long been a topic to generate arguments. Should the minimum wage be raised? Should the wealthiest people be taxed more? Is this relief pitcher really worth $10 million? Should reporting, shoe making, dress making, refrigerator making any kind of making be shipped out to countries where workers earn pennies compared to what Americans earn? The essence of all economic arguments seems always to come down to what a person is paid.

When it comes to public worker pay, however, there seems to be an almost universal sense that whatever someone is getting it’s too much. And if they are not getting paid too much, then their pensions or benefits are too much. Of course, the complaint all stems from taxes. No one likes paying them, even those whose pay is reliant on taxes, but for those in the private sector there is something galling about paying for the salaries of people who often have official authority over the regular working stiff.

Nor does it matter what field the public work toils in, the general sense is that whatever the worker does, the worker is paid too much. Look at the complaints on education: most seem to focus in one way or another towards teacher compensation, especially teacher compensation compared to overall results.

And so when the news broke that some Bureau of Investment personnel had seen pay raises of more than 80 percent – and in one case 90 percent – it caught people, including legislators, by surprise. For many people, it also made them angry. They are angry at what they feel was a sneaky way the raises were executed – without any public review – and they are really angry about how much the raises were for. After all, word of how much the pay raises were came after state workers found themselves in impasse discussions with the state on their next contract and after statistics showed Michigan’s unemployment stuck at 9 percent. None of those factors were likely to make people more receptive to the news of giant pay increases.

But does not the state have a valid interest in making sure competent, seasoned money managers are in its employ to handle more than $70 billion in investments? Compared to what the best money managers make on Wall Street, salaries in the mid-six figures are not peanuts, but almost bargain rates.

It was interesting to note on social media a number of people felt the workers were worth every penny, so long as the state doesn’t run into any fiscal trouble with its pension system.

Which brings us back to the initial question: what should a state worker be paid? How does one measure their value and performance? What is a fair compensation compared to the private sector? What do they contribute to the economy as well as to the safety and tranquility of the state, and how should that be translated into their pay?

The question has been around a long time, and still an answer has not been made.

Ah, The Spirit Of Bipartisanship Breathes Anew
Posted: November, 18 2013 12:51 PM

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, the six Senate Republicans who voted against legislation that would block her proposal to require disclosure on issue ads and the Senate Democratic caucus got a shout out Monday from Right Michigan.

Indeed yes, the uber-conservative blog – which has often shown itself no fan of Governor Rick Snyder and can barely acknowledge the existence of the Democratic Party – threw Ms. Johnson, the dissident six and Senate Dems all a compliment Monday in its posting defending Ms. Johnson’s proposal to require disclosure for campaign donors to groups that pay for issue ads.

To refresh fogged memories: earlier this autumn the State Bar of Michigan requested Ms. Johnson that she require disclosure on ads involving judicial campaigns. Last week, Ms. Johnson said she could not isolate a requirement to just one kind of campaign, but said she would develop rules to require disclosure for all such ads that suggest you tell Sen. or Rep. Nobodyspecial to jump off a bridge, but don’t tell you to vote for or against said Nobodyspecial.

In what accounts for light speed in the legislative process, the Senate just a few hours after Ms. Johnson made her move passed SB 661*, which would boost campaign contributions in the state and block Ms. Johnson’s proposed rule. The measure passed on a 20-18 vote with six Republicans – Sen. Darwin Booher of Evart, Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township, Sen. Mike Green of Mayville, Sen. Goeff Hansen of Hart, Sen. Phil Pavlov of St. Clair, and Sen. John Proos of St. Joseph voting against it.

Of course, so too did the Democratic caucus.

The Right Michigan post praised raising campaign donation limits, which it said was a free speech win, but blasted the Senate for failing the see that the real danger is “government’s inherent ability to control through rules every aspect our daily lives. The real problem, is such power is an aphrodisiac to some politicians, and that their service to unknown agendas will go unchecked.”

It will take time to eventually undo those rules – something most Democrats, Right Michigan’s new friends, will look at with suspicion – but until then the citizens should have a right to know “who fights for the soul” of the state’s lawmaking process.

With that came the praise for Ms. Johnson, the GOP dissidents and the Democrats.

An old phrase about politics and strange bedfellows comes to mind. In today’s techno-world, it would probably be more about politics and strange blog-fellows.

On The Curious Question Of The Anti-Federalist Papers
Posted: November, 14 2013 12:11 PM

On its face, SB 423* is an uncontroversial bill, requiring school districts to ensure that instruction focus on the basic foundational documents of U.S. governance and law: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers…

I’m sorry, the what? The Anti-Federalist Papers. Those are foundational? Interesting.

The bill, reported from the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, lists the Anti-Federalist Papers as among the documents schools can teach from. The bill also specifically says the documents shall include but not be limited to those listed.

Those who have not read them can glean that these were the articles, essays, speeches and letters that opposed the adoption of the Constitution and supported keeping the Articles of Confederation in place. They kind of came back into light around the time of the Bicentennial in the 1970s and then the bicentennial of the Constitution in the 1980s.

Unlike the Federalist Papers, a planned series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to defend the proposed Constitution that played a major role in convincing the public to support the Constitution and are cited today in legal arguments and selectively by politicians of every stripe, the Anti-Federalist papers were not so organized. They were written by a wide variety of people, many whose identities are lost to history, some in direct reaction to whatever Federalist had been recently published.

And unlike the Federalist Papers, there is really no set number of Anti-Federalist Papers. Whichever historian or political group collects them essentially decides what to keep as part of its particular collection.

Not all the authors are unknown. Patrick Henry, he of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame, was a prominent anti-Federalist and gave a famous speech where he first demanded why the proposed Constitution spoke of “We the people,” and not “We the states,” and warned the Constitution would lead to tyranny.

Clearly the anti-Federalists were opposed to a central government, opposed to an elected executive (little better than a king they said), opposed to any suggestion of a standing army, really opposed to any central taxing power, and pretty much opposed to everything in the Constitution.

In what is considered Anti-Federalist 7, a Virginian wrote: “The new constitution in its present form is calculated to produce despotism, thraldom and confusion, and if the United States do swallow it, they will find it a bolus, that will create convulsions to their utmost extremities. … A change of government is at all times dangerous, but at present may be fatal, without the utmost caution, just after emerging out of a tedious and expensive war. Feeble in our nature, and complicated in our form, we are little able to bear the rough posting of civil dissensions which are likely to ensue.” He warned of a civil war, which of course we had but it is a stretch to say it was caused solely by the Constitution.

The anti-Federalists were big into the idea the Federalists were monarchists, never mind that the Federalists included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Hamilton and others who had signed the Declaration of Independence or led the revolution. One writer summed up the authors as: “We the Aristocratic party of the United States, lamenting the many inconveniences to which the late confederation subjected the well-born, the better kind of people, bringing them down to the level of the rabble-and holding in utter detestation that frontispiece to every bill of rights, ‘that all men are born equal’-beg leave (for the purpose of drawing a line between such as we think were ordained to govern, and such as were made to bear the weight of government without having any share in its administration).”

The Anti-Federalist Papers do get into very specific arguments against the Constitution, as the author of what is called Anti-Federalist 46 said of Article 1, Section 8: “My object is to consider that undefined, unbounded and immense power which is comprised in the following clause – ‘And to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States; or in any department or offices thereof.’ Under such a clause as this, can anything be said to be reserved and kept back from Congress? Can it be said that the Congress have no power but what is expressed?”

This constitutional section has drawn considerable debate in recent years between scholars, lawyers, tea party activists and others let me note.

Finally, for this post, the Anti-Federalist Papers also deal with what sociologist and economist Gunnar Myrdal titled, in his epic study, “The American Dilemma”: race relations. And the Anti-Federalists weren’t open-minded on the subject, as in Number 54: “The representatives of the different parts of the Union will be extremely unequal; in some of the Southern States the slaves are nearly equal in number to the free men; and for all these slaves they will be entitled to a proportionate share in the legislature; this will give them an unreasonable weight in the government, which can derive no additional strength, protection, nor defense from the slaves, but the contrary. Why, then, should they be represented?”

Yes, the Anti-Federalist Papers play an important role in our history and should be studied. Are they foundational? Well, that’s a tricky question. The objections they raised certainly played a role in developing the Bill of Rights, which were as much a political convenience at the time as foundational themselves. So one could argue the Anti-Federalists were foundational in being anti-foundational.

And SB 423* does say the list of documents is not exclusive, so the Mayflower Compact could be read as well, given that it established the concept of majority rule in this land. It could also include Mr. Washington’s letter on the Constitution to Congress which described the need for surrendering some liberty for the stability to assure ongoing liberty. Or hey, the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address is coming up; it could include that, too.

A Brief Remembrance Of The ‘Detroit Virginia’ Ad
Posted: November, 6 2013 11:28 AM

Now that the 2013 election is over and we are happily, fully engaged in the 2014 election, it is time to pay our respects to the “Detroit Virginia” television ad that made such a splash in that commonwealth’s election.

Those not paying attention to the election results down in the capital of the Confederacy perhaps did not catch that Democrat Terry McAuliffe narrowly defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli for the governor’s race (though Mr. McAuliffe had held a very comfortable lead in the polls going into the election).

A conservative group called Fight for Tomorrow is claiming that it helped make the race tighter with a television ad that ran in the last week of the campaign which urged voters not to “Detroit Virginia” by electing Mr. McAuliffe.

The ad actually takes a swipe at much of U.S. geography, as it charged that Mr. McAuliffe, backed by President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other “extreme liberals” were trying to bring “Chicago-style politics” to support an “ex-New Yorker” running in Virginia. California, Hollywood and Washington, D.C., were also mentioned and not in a positive light.

Besides surrendering to the absolutely annoying practice of verbifying a noun, the phrase “Detroit Virginia” was intended to imply that under Democratic rule, Virginia might go bankrupt.

“We won’t let you Detroit us with taxes and debt,” the ad said.

Since the phrase was quoted in at least one letter to the editor of a Virginia newspaper, and since the ad was played on a number of conservative radio shows, including Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, it clearly had some resonance.

So while we may remember the ad in passing with the election, one should probably expect Detroit as a verb will be used for future political fodder. How nice.

Herewith, the ad:

Let’s Hear It For The 295 Workers Who Commute By Ferry
Posted: November, 4 2013 2:43 PM

In the world of geekdom, there are few things more fun that the transportation census conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every five years.

Like all the census reports it is awash with data, enough so to keep wonks, nerds and those people who think a great a pickup line has to include some stray bit of data awake for hours poring through chart after chart of figures.

The transportation census can also very quickly point out some trends which have potentially big effects on state and local government. For example, average commute times and distances, which help local planners on land use issues and transportation planners look at roads and other transport means.

The latest batch of census transportation data is out and our beady eyes quickly came across the spreadsheets on methods of transportation workers use to get to work.

For the statistical record, the census says there were nearly 4.256 million workers in the state in the latest census period. Of those, 148,685 worked from home (probably trading howling co-workers for howling kids).

Of the rest, 3.527 million took a car to work. Now, it gets a little more interesting when considering how many of those taking a car carpool to work. For the record, the census estimated that 5,250 people commuted in carpools that that took seven or more people per vehicle.

Okay, interesting enough. An estimated 86,390 commute by bus or “trolley car.” And then there are an estimated 585 who commute by “streetcar or trolley car.” We have streetcars in the state still? Trolley cars? Can’t ya just hear Judy Garland signing somewhere?

But wait: 705 people take the “subway or elevated” to work in Michigan. I hope they are talking about the Detroit People Mover because if there is a subway in Michigan other than a sandwich shop I don’t know about it.

A hearty 19,420 commute to their daily toil by bicycle. A heartier 80,740 hoofed it by foot to work.

Yes, captain, 295 nautical souls took a ferry boat to work. Okay, Mackinac Island workers. Perhaps someone getting out to Beaver Island. Of course, there are also the people commuting from Harsen’s Island. Ah, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Recuerdo” comes to mind thinking of those on the ferry.

And 23,295 folks in Michigan were estimated to get to work by other means. What other means? Horseback? Rollerblades? Skateboards? Dog sled? Lear jet? Flying carpet? Unicycle? Jungle vine? Pogo stick? Teletransportation? Oh just a little more detail, please?

Actually, just dream instead. Just think of the vision of an army of Michigan workers, 23,295 of them, bouncing to work via pogo stick. Fair makes a man weep with pride. Bounce on, Michigan workers, bounce on.

It’s A Good Piece Of Writing, But What Does It Mean?
Posted: October, 9 2013 3:02 PM

Anyone who has read The Three Musketeers remembers when Cardinal Richelieu wrote out his carte blanche – “It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done” – and has marveled at that masterpiece of all-encompassing and terrifying vagueness, embracing everything and nothing, acknowledging everything and denying everything at once.

The art of politics often requires such vagueness, a necessity toward building agreements and providing political cover. But for reporters and the general public it can be maddening. It is why we keep after politicians to say more clearly what they are trying to say. Politicians generally prefer to stay vague.

Consider an op-ed piece written by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) this week. Everyone is focused on the federal government shutdown, the looming possibility of a federal default and what will happen to the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, and his piece speaks of the need for dialogue.

It takes as decisively a moderate tone as one could in this age, referencing former President Ronald Reagan who was able to craft agreements with congressional Democrats, how the American people are rightly outraged at Washington (without casting blame on anyone specific and holding all sides accountable by mentioning no one) and how all sides should begin negotiating.

But what does this specifically mean: “By anyone’s estimation the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, is not off to a good start. Higher premiums, broken promises, missed deadlines, endless delays, and online glitches are plaguing the system and impacting families and employers across the country. The law is not ready for primetime, and while the president has made numerous changes to the law himself, he remains unwilling to work with Congress to make additional reforms. To move forward, in the immediate future, let’s look for bipartisan support to address some of the most glaring problems like the law’s medical device tax, which will cost Kalamazoo employer Stryker nearly $100 million this year and already resulted in 1,000 layoffs.”

Is Mr. Upton, one of the biggest players in the U.S. House, taking a total “defunding” of the act off the table? Is he setting up conditions President Barack Obama could signal he agrees with? In fact, is Mr. Upton saying, ‘agree to these conditions and we will vote for a clean continuing resolution to end the shutdown?’?”

Or as reporters, are we trying to draw too much out of Mr. Upton’s writing?

A spokesperson for Mr. Upton could not add further clarity to the matter, saying they would let the op-ed speak for itself. It was a call to get all sides talking, the spokesperson said.

Yes, but ... but how? Mr. Upton’s op-ed is specifically vague enough to drive one whacky trying to assess if this is a grand gesture or just a pleasant piece of breakfast reading.

Such documents as these are what make reporters lose their hair.

A Change That Happened At The Last Shutdown
Posted: October, 3 2013 3:14 PM

One of the key economic statistics that officials, economists, business executives, reporters and the ordinary public pays attention to will probably not be released on Friday. And presuming the national unemployment statistics for September are not released, that could mean a change in when the Michigan-specific data is released.

Something like that has already happened.

Up until the last federal government shutdown – which lasted almost a month from early December 1995 to early January 1996 – seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for Michigan, and for every state, were released generally on the first Friday of the month. That corresponded with when the national numbers were released.

The first Friday at 8:30 a.m. is one of the most eagerly awaited economic moments in the country. And for years the first Friday was always pretty big news in Michigan as well.

Until January 1996. What had been the longest shutdown in U.S. government history came close to upsetting the entire unemployment insurance system in the country. Kansas was forced to shut down its unemployment system. Another 10 states were close to doing the same. Michigan officials were watching the situation on a day-to-day basis.

And because of the shutdown, the data on unemployment figures would not come out for Michigan that first Friday in January 1996.

In fact, the shutdown forced a change in the system, and the data on seasonally adjusted unemployment figures in Michigan would not come out on the first Friday again. The system had to be reworked when the government did come back online, and now we look forward to another date for the monthly report on joblessness.

Now in Michigan, we wait for the state unemployment report during the afternoon of the third Wednesday of the month.

The third Wednesday doesn’t have quite the dramatic timing as 8:30 a.m. on the first Friday, but that is the byproduct of the last shutdown, almost 18 years ago.

Knowing that, and knowing that unless some miraculous resolve occurs at the nation’s Capitol to end the shutdown, the September unemployment numbers will not be released at 8:30 on Friday morning, one can only imagine what other changes we may see in the state.

Fundraiser Mixes Pistols And Pizza
Posted: September, 30 2013 11:11 AM

Just in time to mark what everyone expects will be Day One of the latest federal government shutdown, and maybe to help, ahem, fire off a little steam, the 11th Congressional District Republicans are hosting a fundraiser featuring pistols and pizza.

The event takes place Tuesday at 7 p.m. Tuesday, at the Firing Line on Ford Road in Westland. Tickets are $55 and yes, you must purchase tickets in advance.

The sponsors say that Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township), Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township), Rep. Hugh Crawford (R-Novi), Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth Township), and Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township) along with Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox and Oakland County Commissioner Kathy Crawford will be featured guests.

The price of admission gets one a pistol rental, 50 rounds, instruction from National Rifle Association members and pizza.

Gun-related fundraisers are certainly nothing new. Skeet shooting fundraiser events have a long history. Former Lt. Governor John Cherry held such events for years, for example.

Still, one can’t help but think that pistols and pizza has a certain ring of college fraternity hijinks about it. If individuals tire of the pepperoni, is there any danger an innocent slice will fired at? Could anyone go Al Capone on a Chicago style? Annihilate the anchovies? Pepper the peppers? Cannonade the crust?

Jokes aside, we trust all pizza chewing and shooting will be conducted with traditional dignity and responsibility.

Oh, Fantasy Team Players Rejoice, The Senate Will Let You Play At Last
Posted: September, 25 2013 3:32 PM

Outside of a few Luddite locales where denizens still debate questions such as electricity, fad or possibly useful, the Michigan Senate has had arguably the most backward and frustrating open WiFi system in civilized society.

Until now.

Those fortunate few who have never had to struggle with the Senate system don’t know that aside from some news sites and few other business-related sites, one could not use the public WiFi for anything interesting or fun.

No social media such as Facebook or Twitter or Linkedin or Reddit. No YouTube for those with desperate needs to catch up with old episodes of “Rumpole of the Bailey” or “Gunsmoke” or Dick Van Dyke. And no sports sites for those people trying to follow a game or update their fantasy teams.

Oh, the official explanations were many – trying to prevent viruses from being downloaded into the system, trying to make sure the Senate system wasn’t overused when there few other free WiFi locations – and they mayhaps have had resonance in the ancient days of the Internet, back when dinosaurs roamed the planet in 2005 or 2006.

Senators, of course, were not so limited. At their desk computers they had essentially free access to all the web provided – aside from the naughty sites or those promoting skinheads – and as social media sites became more common they used them too, to update their statuses and make pithy comments as the muse struck.

But the mere unwashed, well, I mean really.

This status first became frustratingly clear when reporters were simply trying to check on the score of a Tigers’ game late one Senate session night. Yahoo Sports would not come up, ever, for any reason. What the … the reporters said. Sorry, shrugged the officials.

It grew more maddening as one reporter – not this one, fantasy sports is one addiction 12-step programs have saved me from – became commissioner for his fantasy baseball league, and then football league, and then hockey league, and he could not update team rankings during those frightfully exciting recesses for caucuses.

Eventually, we discovered the computers located at the press desks would allow access to such controversial sites as Yahoo! Sports and But that created another problem, of people tracking items on various websites when someone else just wanted to look over the language of a bill amendment.

But the sun has risen, the birds have sung, the angels have struck their harps and the Senate’s WiFi system is now open, as long as you don’t go to the naughty sites, skinhead sites or try to livestream the soaps. It’s essentially the same as what the House WiFi has allowed for years.

Which means observers of the Senate will be able to voice their opinions of Senate action in the actual live moment on places like Facebook and Twitter while watching approvingly or disapprovingly from the Senate gallery and not having to hope their phone’s signal is getting strong enough reception inside the Capitol.

And fantasy sports players, oh rejoice, you have one more place to play your game and curse yourself for missing the trade deadline.

A Time Translation Could Have Helped
Posted: September, 12 2013 2:56 PM

On Wednesday the Supreme Court announced a new rule requiring access to translation services for those persons for whom English is not their first language. It will be a good thing, helping assure all persons have access to the courts and their case heard.

Of course, it might cut down on some great stories. Consider:

As a young ink-stained wretch, I was a reporter for the daily comic in Adrian, The Daily Telegram. One morning the sheriff’s office alerted me to a robbery case that was going before the district court for a preliminary hearing.

In the case, two women were alleged to have broken into the house of an 80-something woman and stolen some items after pushing her to the floor. They allegedly got in by appearing on her front porch pretending to sell something or ask directions (it was unclear what exactly). Once the door was open, they pushed their way in.

They had an accomplice waiting in a car with the motor running. A deputy drove by. The deputy knew the occupant of the house, but didn’t recognize the car. He stopped behind it. The car had Ohio plates, as I recall, but when the deputy approached, the driver thrust out a Florida driver’s license. The deputy asked the driver questions, but the driver kept showing the license in response.

At that point the two female suspects burst from the house, shouting in some language. They saw the deputy and immediately ran to the back of the house and towards some farm fields. The elderly owner then ran out shouting she had been robbed. The deputy reached in, turned off the car, grabbed the keys and cuffed the driver to the steering wheel. He radioed for backup, and the two women were caught shortly after, and after at least one had gotten stuck in mud.

“You’ll want to watch this one,” the chief deputy advised me.

I went over to the district court presided by Judge Yale Leland Kerby (who died a few months ago, at age 88, at his Texas retirement home) to watch the preliminary hearing.

The suspects were Gypsies, Romani people, and it was determined they spoke Polish. Adrian and Lenawee County not being large then or now, the market for Polish translators was pretty slight.

A very frail, extremely elderly lady was found somewhere in the county who was a Polish immigrant, asked for help, and she came to the court, dressed very formally for her big appearance.

Also in the court was a fellow in a gray suit that was a touch too tight, who quickly identified himself as, “Witold Lakatosz, king of the Gypsies, from Chicago.” (Google him, interesting fella.)

After the formalities of calling the case, the translator (alas, her name is lost to memory and I can’t find her in records) was called to the stand and Mr. Lakatosz gallantly helped her. The three defendants were placed in the jury box since there was no other place for them.

Judge Kerby went through a brief explanation with the translator of what was needed, confirming she was fluent in Polish (though really, how would anyone have been able to tell?) and she smiled and nodded.

“Now would you please ask them what are their names?” Mr. Kerby said.

“Yes,” the lady replied. She turned to the defendants and said: “What are you names?” Yes, she asked them in English.

“No, no,” Mr. Kerby said, “Would you ask them what are their names in Polish.”

“Oh,” she said. “What are your names in Polish?”

“No, no,” Mr. Kerby said, “Would you speak Polish to them, and ask them their names?”

At this point, Mr. Lakatosz suddenly started speaking to the defendants, in a language other than English and apparently other than Polish since the translator looked even more baffled at him, and Mr. Kerby had to gavel him down.

“Mr. Lakatosz, are you an attorney?” Mr. Kerby said.

“No, judge, your honor, I am not a lawyer, but I am Witold Lakatosz, king of the Gypsies, from Chicago, I can speak for them, they will do what I tell them,” he said.

Sometime later, between the designated translator and Mr. Lakatosz the defendants’ names were established as well as their current residence, that they were all illiterate and that they had no permanent occupations.

But when the deputy and the victim were on the stand (the translator having to move to a chair, again helped by Mr. Lakatosz) the defendants began gesturing and shouting, and Mr. Lakatosz – the translator by now was almost completely lost – said, “No, judge, judge, the lady is wrong, she is old, she is confused, she asked them in, she fell, they helped her up, she gave them these things!”

It was about this time, the female defendants began crying and imploring Mr. Lakatosz, and as the assistant prosecutor was objecting and Mr. Kerby was trying to keep things settled, that the subject of children arose.

“Judge, judge, your honor, what about the children?” Mr. Lakatosz said.

Mr. Kerby and the prosecutor started going through their files in confusion. “What children,” Mr. Kerby said, “there’s nothing in the record…”

“Judge, their children. Their children have no one, they must go back to their children.”

“Aren’t their relatives watching their children? They made a phone call. Isn’t that why you are here? Didn’t they tell someone to watch their children?” Mr. Kerby responded.

“Yes, sure, judge, the Gypsy people will protect the children, but the children need their mothers. When you were a little boy did you not want your mother? You must let them go,” Mr. Lakatosz said. And almost on cue the crying grew more intense, and now the male defendant began sobbing.

With the prosecutor on his feet, trying to raise more objections, Mr. Kerby had both his hands out trying to calm the courtroom. He asked his translator to tell the defendants they were going to be sent up to circuit court and bail was being set at something like $2,500 apiece.

The instant that was explained, the defendants set up a howl not heard before nor probably since. They held out their hands beseeching Mr. Kerby. One of the women nearly collapsed over the jury rail. The man began rending his clothes, I mean rending in the Biblical sense.

“Judge, judge, no, this is not right, you are a man of honor, you are a wise and fair man, let them go. I, Witold Lakatosz, king of the Gypsies, tell you they will come back, they will be here.”

“No, now bail has been set,” Mr. Kerby said.

“I can get this money, I can have it for you in two hours. Let them go until I get you the money.”

“Mr. Lakatosz, we can’t do that,” Mr. Kerby told the defendants, howling even louder than the first round ensues.

“How can you do this, you a man of justice, how can you do this to their children? Judge, judge, look, look,” and here Mr. Lakatosz pulled a ring from his right hand, “look at this ring, the jewel is as big as your eye! Take this ring and let them go.” And the defendants were now grabbing onto the bench and beating their breasts in anguish. And the bailiffs looked at each other wondering, “What the hell do we do?”

“No, now Mr. Lakatosz, we can’t do this…”

“Judge, judge,” and Mr. Lakatosz first thumped his chest and then shot his arms wide. “Take me! Take me, take Witold Lakatosz, king of the Gypsies, from Chicago! They would never abandon their king, they will return, I swear to you.” And he took a step towards the bench, “Take me!” he said.

For an instant the keening stopped, as everyone looked at Mr. Kerby staring mouth open in astonishment.

Finally, Mr. Kerby said, “Take the defendants into custody. Bail has been set.” And the anguished howls and sobs began anew.

Mr. Lakatosz ran from the courtroom, followed by the prosecutor. The translator was assisted by a clerk.

Oh, by the way, it was high school career day. A class from Morenci high watched all this. “Good luck, Morenci,” Mr. Kerby said.

“Good luck to you,” a student said.

In the end, bail was revoked because the prosecutor discovered the three had fled a warrant from a southern state. Eventually, the defendants were convicted.

Mr. Lakatosz himself got arrested for being something of a public nuisance, because he kept singing Gypsy love songs to the courthouse receptionist. I’m not kidding.

So, the new Supreme Court rule on translators is a good thing. It just might not make things as interesting.

How Much Has Changed?
Posted: September, 11 2013 2:55 PM

A year ago having spoken at a senior citizen complex (one that Governor Rick Snyder spoke to a few weeks ago), a fellow came up to me complaining about how much public workers cost, especially police officers and fire fighters. Though comfortably retired himself, he said, “Their pensions are too much.”

I said nothing, but thought about how not that long ago whatever the police and fire fighters wanted we were happy to provide them, whether pensions or equipment or personnel.


Wednesday, of course, is the anniversary of the day that made everyone desperate to reach out to public safety officers, to thank them, to assure themselves that they could count on their protection.

September 11, 2001, in Michigan was marked by elections – Kwame Kilpatrick and Gil Hill finished at the top of the Detroit mayoral primary, former Sen. Alan Sanborn easily defeated the expelled former Sen. David Jaye in a special primary – though it was amazing anyone paid attention to the elections at all.

Security was quickly increased in state buildings that day. People can still chuckle about the motorist who, not knowing anything had happened in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania, pulled up to the Farnum Building on Allegan Street in Lansing that houses Senate offices, and leaving his truck’s motor running dashed into the building to the restroom. Returning minutes later he found security personnel swarming over his truck.

Then-Governor John Engler questioned whether the generally open Capitol Complex could still stay open given the magnitude of what had occurred. Now we have gotten used to the relative inconvenience of the security there is, though long-time veterans of the Capitol area still grumble about missing the ease of going into state buildings for a quick chat with officials.

The Capitol itself still remains largely open and unfettered with the exception of some strategically locked doors. That fact amazes many first-time visitors.

Enough time has passed since the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center (where my wife once worked for Voter News Service) that we have resorted to our pre-September 11 ways. We are again a people who wants everything, so long as it doesn’t cost us anything.

The outrage expressed now over what have been longstanding operations to track phone and computer traffic would have been largely self-suppressed in the days following the attacks as the public weighed security versus rights. Then, the public would default to security.

And while 11 years ago we recognized the increased costs we would pay for the protection we all wanted (not that the public was happy about it, but they did accept it), we are back to moaning about the cost of everything and wondering if anything is really worth paying for. Of course, there are legitimate philosophical concerns about government spending, but let’s face it: we are a species who values cheap as much as anything.

So, how much has changed? Because most still can catch their breath thinking of the horror this day visited on us, much has changed. Because we default to cost-counting, maybe some parts of us haven’t changed at all.

Here’s To Lake Erie, On A Very Significant Day
Posted: September, 10 2013 4:43 PM

For those of you who wonder why Perrysburg, Ohio, is so named: Wednesday marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle Lake Erie, one of the most significant U.S. naval battles and the military action that led to Detroit being retaken from the British.

Unfortunately, while Wednesday is the anniversary of the battle that took place near the islands of Put-In-Bay, it is also the last day of a series of commemorative events to mark the battle.

Leading up to the battle in 1813, American Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry had mounted a successful blockade of British vessels who finally put to water to fight the Americans.

While the Americans had a slightly larger fleet, the battle concentrated on four ships, the Lawrence and the Niagara for the Americans, and the Detroit and the Queen Charlotte.

The Lawrence took severe fire, especially from the Detroit, was unable to continue the fight. Mr. Perry, under fire, got in a rowboat and transferred to the Niagara, which had been kept back from the battle.

The Detroit and Queen Charlotte actually collided, and with the British commander severely wounded and the ships desperately trying to free themselves, the Niagara was able to come around and rake heavy fire on the ships.

Even as they were able to separate themselves, the British ships were unable to fight on and surrendered. Following that, Mr. Perry sent his famous message to his commanders that, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Having secured Lake Erie for the Americans, Mr. Perry’s fleet was able to attack the British at Amherstburg, Ontario, which allowed troops from General William Henry Harrison – later the president to serve the shortest term in office – to attack the British holding Detroit and retake the city after the Brits had held it for a year.

Of Michigan’s four Great Lakes, it has the smallest coastline on Lake Erie, but today we recall the day the lake loomed large in state history.

Gubernatorial Trips To China, Remembering The Spittoon
Posted: September, 4 2013 2:40 PM

Today with China threatening to one day become the world’s largest economy, with travel to the once sleeping giant common, and with Governor Rick Snyder making his third trade trip to China it is relatively astonishing to think of how ordinary the idea of Chinese trade and visits have become.

The times when Chinese travel was nothing short of extraordinary are not that far gone. Mr. Snyder was a school boy and college student, after all, when Michigan governors did their part in opening relations with China.

It is just a little more than 40 years after then-President Richard Nixon astonished the nation and the world by announcing he would travel to China, beginning the voyage for China to move towards a more modern identity. Then-Governor William Milliken welcomed the move both to help break down tensions that had existed for two decades, but also to give the Republican Party and nation a different political focus from the still ongoing Vietnam War.

Once Mr. Nixon had traveled to China, America’s governors were anxious to follow, seeing a potential market of 1 billion people. Some of the governors seemed to attract more attention to themselves than to their states. Former Ohio Governor James Rhodes, for example, wanted to release balloons touting Ohio off the Great Wall of China, and so annoyed Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping talking about all the things in which Ohio ranked number one that Mr. Deng said dryly that China was number one in population.

Mr. Milliken and his wife, Helen, traveled several times to China. Ms. Milliken went first in 1975 as part of a group of American Women for International Understanding, and reported how impressed she was in how Chinese women had gone from roles of near slavery to leadership in the economy and government.

Mr. Milliken seemed to have an easy relationship with Mr. Deng and Chinese officials. At a press corps dinner marking the end of his administration, he jokingly asked how it would look if he and Mr. Deng went on a promotional tour as some other politicians did when leaving office.

“Oh, that would be deadly,” said one person at the table.

But the story Mr. Milliken liked most to tell of his trips was the dinner where a large spittoon was put between Mr. Deng and himself.

“Every few minutes he’d muster all his strength, and all the noises that come with it, and spit into the bucket. And every time he did, I moved out of the way!" Mr. Milliken said.

A Michigan Voice, Often Forgotten, From The 1963 March On Washington
Posted: August, 29 2013 3:39 PM

Martin Luther King Jr. was not the only speaker to hundreds of thousands of marchers in Washington, D.C., in 1963. One speaker had a distinctive Michigan connection, and in light of the 50th anniversary, some websites are recalling the short but assertive speech of then-United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther.

Mr. Reuther was not only the only Michigan speaker, but he was the only white speaker (though there were several white entertainers) at the event.

And remembering his speech also recalls the major role labor unions, particularly the UAW, played in helping organize and make the march a success.

For while the march’s primary goal was to promote civil rights in the U.S., it also called for improved working conditions across the nation, especially for black workers.

Mr. King’s speech actually began by touching on economic themes before he shifted into the memorable and hopeful address that focused on his dream of equality.

Mr. Reuther’s brief speech was forceful, saying there was hypocrisy among politicians. While there was a lot of talk about neighborhood, Mr. Reuther said, some people were willing to drop the neighbor and put on the hood.

Looking to the Cold War and the ongoing conflicts in Berlin, Mr. Reuther also said America could not call for freedom in Berlin and not in Birmingham, Alabama.

And Mr. Reuther said that when the infamous Birmingham sheriff Bull Connor used clubs, dogs and fire hoses on Civil Rights protestors in Birmingham, it affected his freedom in Detroit.

How Miserable Is Michigan? Ah…Well…
Posted: August, 26 2013 2:07 PM

With summer’s end soon to overtake us, of course we are all miserable at the end of long days by the lakeside or at the golf course or just relaxing in the shade. But as Bloomberg News puts it, Michigan is pretty miserable anyway.

That’s based on a series of measures the news service used to establish which is the least miserable and most miserable state in the nation.

Don’t worry, we aren’t the most miserable. That belongs to Louisiana. But we’re a long way from being the least miserable, that title goes to fellow Great Lake state Minnesota.

Michigan ranked 17th in terms of total miserableness, according to Bloomberg. According to the publication, the only Great Lake state more miserable was Indiana, which came in at 15th.

And according to Bloomberg, Michigan got worse over a year. It ranked 19th in 2012 in terms of misery.

Bloomberg used 13 different statistics to measure overall misery, ranging from air pollution to the percentage of people un- or under-employed. Bloomberg used 2011 statistics in drawing the conclusions.

On a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the most miserable, Michigan clocked in with a score of 53.40.

Among the individual scores, Michigan had:

  • An air pollution rating of 9.5;
  • 22.4 percent of its children in poverty;
  • A high school graduation rate of 75.3 percent;
  • An infant mortality rate of 7.4 per 1000 births;
  • 12.7 percent of the population with no health insurance;
  • An average of 3.7 worker fatalities per 100,000 workers over the past three years;
  • 4.2 days in the last 30 where people said they had poor mental health, 4.1 days for poor physical health;
  • Some 7,807 premature deaths per 100,000;
  • 490 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 people;
  • Per capita income of $37,500, but the measure of wealth inequity increased from the previous year; and
  • 12.2 percent out of work or underemployed.


Now, Michigan saw some improvement from the previous year, according to Bloomberg. Per capita income was up by nearly $3,000. Infant mortality was down slightly. The percentage of un-and under-employed people dropped from 17.5 percent to 12.2 percent.

But the incidence of violent crime was unchanged from the previous year.

And the state fared worst in terms of child poverty, high school graduation rates and the number of days people did not feel well.

Louisiana’s overall misery score was 73.70.

Minnesota’s misery score was 20.45. In looking at the statistics, factors like air pollution and wealth inequity were variable. But the states with the best rankings also tended to have lower child poverty, higher high school graduation rates, lower infant mortality rates, fewer people without health insurance and fewer days where people felt ill.

So, after that cheery news, we all could probably use a day off.

Some High Tech Notes, Noted By The Lowbrow
Posted: August, 13 2013 6:18 PM

Members of the Michigan State Board of Education were following agendas and documents on Ipads during Tuesday’s meeting.

Many boards, both corporate and public, have switched their board members to using tablet computers instead of providing them with reams of papers at meetings. The long-term savings of paper and copying costs more than makes up for the cost of the tablets.

But State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan gave a far more prosaic explanation for the Ipads: “I figured we should be catching up with our grandkids.”

Also, on the high-tech end, the Lansing public relations firm of Martin Waymire has been awarded by Google for executing Google online ads for its clients. The firm was the only one in Michigan who got the designation, called an “Engage All Star,” and it resulted in two staff members having a chance to visit the Googleplex headquarters in California.

Some High Tech Notes, Noted By The Lowbrow
Posted: August, 13 2013 5:30 PM

Members of the Michigan State Board of Education were following agendas and documents on Ipads during Tuesday’s meeting.

Many boards, both corporate and public, have switched their board members to using tablet computers instead of providing them with reams of papers at meetings. The long-term savings of paper and copying costs more than makes up for the cost of the tablets.

But State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan gave a far more prosaic explanation for the Ipads: “I figured we should be catching up with our grandkids.”

Also, on the high-tech end, the Lansing public relations firm of Martin Waymire has been awarded by Google for executing Google online ads for its clients. The firm was the only one in Michigan who got the designation, called an “Engage All Star,” and it resulted in two staff members having a chance to visit the Googleplex headquarters in California.

More Presidential Candidates Coming To Mackinac
Posted: August, 12 2013 3:05 PM

With just over a month to go before the biennial meeting of Michigan Republicans on Mackinac Island, a growing lineup of potential GOP presidential candidates is being released.

And one question remains: Will a candidate to challenge Governor Rick Snyder actually surface?

On Monday, Michigan Republicans announced U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) will appear at the meeting which begins September 20 at the Grand Hotel.

Already announced up to this point are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. All three officials have been talked about as potential Republican presidential candidates in 2016.

More officials are expected at the event, but so far no new names have been released.

The meeting, in the years running up to a presidential race, has always been popular for presidential candidates. The last Republican elected president, former President George W. Bush, had to back out of a scheduled appearance in 1999 to return to Texas where there had been a mass shooting.

Forget presidential candidates, will there be someone announced to challenge Mr. Snyder?

Every day, the website Right Michigan lists a countdown clock for what it calls the announcement for the “Michigan GOP Gubernatorial Surprise” (it stands at just over 38 days on Monday) on September 20 when the conference begins.

The manager of the website, Jason Gillman, says there will be a candidate who announces against Mr. Snyder, that the candidate has financial backing and will put up a strong primary battle against Mr. Snyder.

But who is it? Well, Mr. Gillman isn’t saying.

And tea party activists across the state have said they aren’t certain, or just plain don’t know, who it might be.

A spokesperson for Mr. Snyder said he is focused on his job and not at all worried about who might be a primary opponent.

Historic Designation For A Federal Housing Site
Posted: August, 6 2013 4:39 PM

Michigan was the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II, but the men and women who fueled that arsenal had to live somewhere and one of their neighborhoods has just received a national historic designation.

On Tuesday, the State Historic Preservation Office, in the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, announced the National Park Service had declared the Norwayne District in Westland and Wayne to the National Register of Historic Places.

Norwayne was a housing development created by the U.S. government starting in 1942 to provide housing for the influx of workers to the Willow Run bomber plant – where the B-24 Liberators were built – and other war-related factories.

Most of the workers were actually housed in temporary housing in Ypsilanti, and none of those temporary structures remain.

But at Norwayne, nearly 1,200 permanent residences – single-family houses, duplexes and four-unit buildings – were constructed, along with a church, a school and one government building. At its peak, 20,000 people lived in the neighborhood, and current residents urged the nomination to ensure that the modest community that played a big role in the U.S. war effort not be ignored.

As that designation was announced, the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run, which houses a number of historic World War II planes, also announced that a fundraising effort to purchase and restore much of the factory has been extended to October 1. The organization has raised $4.5 million of the $8 million needed to purchase the rest of the plant where Charles Lindbergh once worked, where many “Rosie the riveters” worked and where at its peak the plant turned out more bombers in a month than Japan could in a year.

Also, the State Historic Office announced the Norwegian Lutheran Church Complex in Long Rapids Township in Alpena County had been added to the federal register. The Norwegian settlement was created in 1873 and the church brought to the site in 1899.

Can A Shoe Contract Be Far Behind?
Posted: August, 5 2013 11:45 AM

Lt. Governor Brian Calley got on the starting line for lots of advice, both athletic and political with a Facebook post over the weekend.

Mr. Calley said on the post he had taken up running about 18 months ago and was preparing to run the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon on October 20.

His shoes had worn out, he said, and he was looking for a pair to go the distance. Any thoughts, he asked.

Yes, there were thoughts aplenty.

The serious runners advised a whole range of shoe brands, with Brooks, Saucony, Asics, New Balance, Brooks and Nike all getting votes.

Many also advised going to a specialty store to get a proper fit, with Playmakers in Okemos, Gazelle’s in Grand Rapids, Baumann’s in Grand Blanc, and Running Fit, which has a number of stores in Michigan including in Ann Arbor, Novi, Traverse City and Northville, and others all being promoted.

And there were also several political suggestions as well.

Sheryl Wilcox Shreve said, “Run away from Ionia County because you sure did screw us correctional officers.” And then she added that Mr. Calley, who lives in Ionia County, should run around the Capitol to find the state money that seems to be missing.

Greg Moore asked why Mr. Calley should buy shoes. “I heard you expand Medicaid, you can get them for free.”

And there were a few suggestions on specific types of footwear: one person suggested combat boots, another suggested wingtips.

Former Rep. Kurt Damrow said if he were running the marathon he would do it in Rollerblades.

Noting The 150th Birthday Of The Man Who Changed Michigan
Posted: July, 30 2013 2:52 PM

On this day in 1863, Henry Ford was born in Greenfield Township near Detroit. Arguably no other single person had a greater influence on Michigan, with the effects of his life and career still resonating today.

Mr. Ford did not invent the automobile, nor technically the assembly line. Ransom Olds, the Dodge brothers, David Buick, Henry Leland and others had enormous influence over the development of the automobile and the creation of Michigan as the world’s car capital.

But it was Mr. Ford’s innovations with the assembly line and personal belief in providing low-cost, reliable transportation to common people, as well as paying his workers the then unbelievable sum of $5 a day, that led to Michigan becoming a national economic and political powerhouse. Mr. Ford may not have invented the car, but he did invent the American middle-class.

Michigan had already been growing rapidly in population when he was born. And by the time he began his automotive operations the state had tripled in population from the time he was a baby.

But his developments, aided by other auto companies, led to the state’s population growing in size and influence in a way that outpaced much of the rest of the country in the early 20th Century. In addition, his pay scales – which, without exaggeration, overnight made men (and pretty much the bulk of the workers were men) go from an economic status of little more than peasants to solidly middle-class – helped force other employers to meet that scale, which in turn drove the housing economy, education, entertainment, tourism and every other aspect of economic life.

Of course, it also made him unbelievably rich. Forget Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, in 2008, Forbes Magazine estimated that at his peak Mr. Ford would have been worth $188 billion in current values.

His own politics and beliefs have been well documented. But with the growth of the industrial economy, workers demanded and got their way into a political structure that had been more focused on other issues. That new industrial Michigan and America laid the basic lines for politics today.

The demographic changes caused by the industrial growth also accelerated changes in race relations, relations between men and women, concerns about environmental effects, overall access to social services, equitable and quality education, as well as fueling cultural and artistic changes in America and the world, again changing state, national and international politics as it did.

On this day 150 years ago, the Irish farmer and his wife of Belgian descent, William and Mary Ford, could not have seen that in their baby son. Mr. Ford’s father gave him a pocket-watch as a boy and he quickly became known as a watch repairman. And from then on he changed time for Michigan and everyone else.

‘Natural Procreation’ Comment Draws Some Interest
Posted: July, 25 2013 3:31 PM

A sentence in the state’s answer to an amended complaint on the lawsuit dealing with Michigan’s ban on same-sex couples jointly adopting children has drawn some, well, “natural” interest online and in social media.

Recall that the lawsuit in question, brought by Detroit-area residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, and on behalf of the three children the couple has adopted, challenges the state’s statute that bars same-sex couples from jointly adopting children.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman has scheduled a hearing on the case on October 1, and in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the hearing is seen as possibly the first act in a decision challenging Michigan’s 2004 constitutional amendment that barred same-sex marriage.

Leading up to that hearing, the couple has filed an amended complaint, and the state has responded to that complaint.

What has drawn interest relates to paragraph 32 of the amended complaint, where the couple charges the state’s 2004 marriage amendment “serves no legitimate government interest,” as well as failing the rational basis test in law and “cannot survive any form of scrutiny.”

The state denied the accusation, with this answer:

“The Michigan Marriage Amendment fosters the state’s legitimate interest in promoting responsible natural procreation, which, in turn, promotes raising children in a home environment with both a mother and a father, giving the children a role model of both sexes.”

While the sentence repeats the basic argument opponents of same-sex marriage have advocated, it is the phrase “promoting responsible natural procreation” that has led to some head scratching online and in social media outlets. Some have raised the issue of whether it is something the state should promote, though it also begs a question of what other kinds of procreation are we talking about?

And the words “natural procreation” just seem … ahhh … smacks of talking about … well, a legally polite but uncomfortable way of expressing … Look, we’re all adults here, right?

So, just a tantalizing bit of reading.

As Detroit Copes With Bankruptcy, It Marks Another Sad Day
Posted: July, 23 2013 3:16 PM

History carries its own ironies, and as Detroiters face the first federal bankruptcy hearing in its controversial Chapter 9 filing scheduled for Wednesday, Tuesday marks the 46th anniversary of the start of the Detroit riot.

On this day in 1967, city police raided a blind pig on 12th Street where a party was being held. It touched off one of the worst bouts of civil unrest in U.S. history, and when finally it was suppressed 43 people had been killed, more than 7,200 people had been arrested, more than 1,000 buildings had been burned and more than 1,700 stores had been looted.

Following the Detroit riot, and riots that had boiled in U.S. cities for several years, former President Lyndon Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission to look into civil unrest, and that commission concluded the primary cause of the disturbances was overt racism towards minorities. The Detroit Police Department’s reputation at the time on this front was notorious.

The riot also was a key event in the path that helped lead to the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing on July 18. While the city had started to lose population after hitting its peak of nearly 2 million in the 1950s, following the riot thousands of residents, mostly white, began exiting the city. Depopulation also led to a loss of business vitality, especially for smaller businesses, which further weakened Detroit.

The riot alone was not the sole factor for the city’s decades-long struggle, but it arguably was the single most significant event that left city officials struggling to recover from for decades.

Pondering The Annual June Employment Swoon
Posted: July, 17 2013 3:31 PM

Is there any finer time in Michigan than June, with bright skies, warm but not hot temperatures, gardens wild with flowers and the first hint of summer’s largesse, and people heading for the beaches, the golf courses, the parks and cottages and resorts? Is there anything better than June in Michigan?

No, nothing better at all? Then why does the state’s bloody unemployment rate always seem to go up in June?

It happened again this year, according to the reports released Wednesday, as it did in 2012 and in 2011.

In fact, from June 2004 to this year, unemployment rates rose six times during June from the previous May. The seasonally-adjusted jobless rate went down twice and was unchanged twice from the previous May.

June is not the only pleasant month that tends to see joblessness increase, however. May too seems to trend towards increases in joblessness. Over the past 10 years, unemployment increased in May compared to the previous April six times, while it was unchanged just once (that would be this year) and went down three times.

In fact, May and June are often the months when some of the most dramatic increases in unemployment have occurred. In May 2008 the rate jumped by 1.6 percentage points, and then in May 2009 going over 14 percent during the Great Recession. In June 2009, the rate jumped to its highest level in some 30 years, topping 15 percent.

Now, Wednesday’s increase still resulted in a much better rate than June 2009. The 2013 rate stood at 8.7 percent and was down from a year ago.

Still, May and June mark the start of the tourism season, when more people are working in the state. Why do they tend to show increases in unemployment? And it’s not just because the labor market increases during those times. The jobless rate often seems to go up even if the job market goes down.

So, somewhere some economics student must be looking for a dissertation theme, the odd Michigan spring jobless jump would seem a worthy topic.

If It Was A State, Detroit Debt Would Top 43 Other States
Posted: July, 16 2013 4:14 PM

Michigan’s total debt increased significantly in 2012, but the total state debt still falls far short of the total debt owed by Detroit.

In fact, if Detroit were a state, just seven other states would have issued more total debt than it.

That is an item gleaned from a report on state debt issued by the Wall Street rating firm of Standard & Poor’s.

The report showed Michigan’s total debt went up by almost one-third in 2012 because the state issued $2.9 billion in bonds to pay back the loans owed the federal government for unemployment benefits.

Even with that increase, the state’s debt totals $9.9 billion, slightly more than the average among the states, and the per capita debt of $1,000 was less than the average nationwide.

But Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s task is to find a way to wrestle Detroit’s total nearly $17 billion in debt into some kind of manageable position. He has proposed essentially writing off the bulk of the total, and reports have it that Bank of America and UBS may agree to accept 75-cents on the dollar for some $343 million in debt swaps.

But the enormity of the debt problem Detroit is suffering is brought home by the S&P report, which shows that just California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have total debt loads than the Motor City.

Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan are among the nation’s largest states that have less total debt than Detroit does on its own.

And while the national per capita average portion of a state’s debt is $1,355, and in Michigan it is $1,000, a quick estimate based on Detroit’s approximate population shows that the city’s per capita portion of the debt is about $24,000 a person. Connecticut had the highest overall per capita debt at $5,046, Nebraska the lowest at $14.

Remembering When Jerry Ford Addressed The Legislature
Posted: July, 15 2013 4:03 PM

With the state and nation remembering former President Gerald Ford on his 100th birthday, a moment that did not get much recall was when Mr. Ford addressed the Legislature barely two months before becoming president.

The date itself was Friday, May 24, 1974. Mr. Ford had been vice president only about six months, after President Richard Nixon named him following former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation.

From the moment he was picked for the vice presidency there seemed almost no question that Mr. Ford would be become president. It was clear at his confirmation hearings; it was clear throughout the year as Mr. Nixon attempted one tactic after another to end the congressional effort to get to the truth of the Watergate scandal.

Mr. Ford spoke to a joint session of the Legislature a little more than a month after Mr. Nixon released edited transcripts of tape recordings of his office conversations that were subpoenaed by Congress.

Still to come in the roughly 10 weeks between Mr. Ford’s address to the Legislature and Mr. Nixon’s resignation was the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approving resolutions calling for Mr. Nixon’s impeachment; the U.S. Supreme Court ruling unanimously that Mr. Nixon had to turn over the subpoenaed tapes; and the release of the “smoking gun,” where Mr. Nixon agreed to efforts to get the FBI to halt its investigation of Watergate when the now infamous burglary occurred in 1972.

Watergate was never mentioned during Mr. Ford’s speech on May 24. The theme of his address, in fact, was the success of the federal revenue sharing program and how it should continue.

It wasn’t hot stuff. The Gongwer edition for that day gave the speech a whopping four paragraphs.

Arguably the most entertaining section of the speech was Mr. Ford chatting about how he always fell short of his goal to be speaker of the U.S. House (and as a note to how political life has changed, in the speech, Mr. Ford also roundly praised the Democratic speakers he served as House Minority Leader).

But Watergate was still present. It was alluded to in then Governor William Milliken’s introductory remarks.

“We in Michigan have been proud of him for a very long time, and we are just delighted that his great qualities are now being brought to the attention of all Americans,” Mr. Milliken said.

And, “the greatest of those qualities, by general agreement, is his unquestioned integrity,” Mr. Milliken said. At a time when America was struggling to understand the character of the sitting president, Mr. Milliken was assuring Michiganders they could count on the vice president.

“At a time like this, when politics and politicians are under such a severe and widespread attack, a man like Jerry Ford stands as a symbol of what a politician should be and can be,” Mr. Milliken said.

Democrats Praise Hackel. Now What’s Going On?
Posted: July, 12 2013 2:53 PM

Late Thursday afternoon, an email went out from the Michigan Democratic Party, featuring a statement by chair Lon Johnson praising Macomb County Chair Mark Hackel for his commitment to the party.

Of course, it is always nice when party chairs praise top officials who are their fellow partisans. But this statement may have struck some folks as a bit odd.

The statement came when Mr. Hackel himself raised some questions about his party affiliation. Earlier this week, Mr. Hackel had indicated he did not want the letter “D” designating a party affiliation on the county directory.

Party affiliation should be a part of elections, Mr. Hackel said. Then he added to the intrigue when he said he has “somewhat of an affiliation” with the Democrats when it came to running for office, but doubted he wanted to run for statewide office if he had to run as a true-blue Democrat. Leadership calls for stepping outside the narrower boundaries of partisanship, he said.

That has led to speculation of whether he is giving up the party, the Democratic Party that is. Some observers have wondered if Mr. Hackel was growing cozier with Governor Rick Snyder. His appearance earlier in the year at the announcement that former Macomb Circuit Judge David Viviano was being named to the Supreme Court also raised eyebrows.

Macomb County’s importance to electoral politics is undoubted. The Home of the Reagan Democrats, it has been trending slightly more Republican when Oakland County has start to trend a bit more Democratic, which boosts its value to both parties.

Republicans once before wooed a county executive to switch parties, former Wayne County Executive Bill Lucas in the 1980s (before he was stomped by then Governor James Blanchard in the 1986 election). And they would certainly love to have two of the three metro-county executives in their column.

But Mr. Hackel also played a big role in helping Mr. Johnson win the Democratic chair’s post last February over former Chair Mark Brewer (also from Macomb County).

The statement said: “I’d like to thank Mark Hackel for his commitment and service to the Michigan Democratic Party. His leadership in Macomb County and broad popularity adds tremendous value to the democratic team. His inclusive nature will help us broaden the base and improve our competitive position in the Detroit region and across the state.”

Note the small “d” on the second democratic, which could be, and probably is, a typo, but could also be a concession of philosophic intent. The entire statement seems to say there are many ways to woo a vote, and the party trusts Mr. Hackel to take the gentle approach.

It also, however, does not directly speak to Mr. Hackel’s recent comments. So, discussions and speculation are likely to continue on this topic.

One Name Probably Not On 2014 Ballot
Posted: July, 5 2013 3:23 PM

After running in six consecutive elections, former Rep. Jack Hoogendyk is off the ballot in Michigan for 2014.

Mr. Hoogendyk, who served as a Republican in the House from 2003-2009, ran and lost against U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) in what has become Mr. Levin’s last election, then ran twice and lost in 2010 and 2012 against U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), has relocated to Wausau, Wisconsin.

There he will be the executive director of the Hope Pregnancy Resource Center, a non-profit group that, according to its website, provides “options education” for pregnant women, along with sexual health and sexual integrity counseling (sexual integrity is a way, the website said, of helping women learn how to have relationships without having sex), and provides an abortion recovery support center.

In recent months, Mr. Hoogendyk has run a conservative group called Core Principles, which has helped lead opposition to the effort to expand Medicaid among other things.

In an interview with MLive, Mr. Hoogendyk said he intends to stay active in Michigan through Core Principles and the Madison Project of Michigan which looks for “full-spectrum” conservatives to run for office.

Mr. Hoogendyk said in the interview he did not intend to run for office in Wisconsin.

At 2:30 P.M., A Moment 150 Years Ago
Posted: July, 1 2013 11:35 AM

Approximately 2:30 p.m., Monday – when Governor Rick Snyder has scheduled a bill signing -- will mark the moment 150 years ago when one of the fiercest and undoubtedly the bloodiest single engagement of the Civil War began, when the 26th North Carolina assaulted the 24th Michigan Infantry at McPherson’s Ridge at Gettysburg.

The 24th was part of the historic “Iron Brigade,” formed initially from several units from Wisconsin, including the 2nd and 7th, and other units from the Midwest – then called the west – including the 19th Indiana.

July 1 marks the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, and the Iron Brigade quickly got into the fight, taking over from the Union cavalry that had found and fixed the huge Confederate army led by Robert E. Lee in its incursion into the North. Besides its reputation for ferocity, the Iron Brigade was easily recognizable because members wore soft, brimmed, black hats – more like a fedora – than the small kepis Civil War soldiers were better known for.

The 24th was directly involved in the morning fight, marching into heavy fire from Tennessee and Alabama units and pushing those units into retreat and helping capture the Confederate unit’s commander.

Expecting a new assault, the Iron Brigade’s commander positioned the 24th at the center of his lines, with the 19th Indiana to its right and the 7th Michigan to its left.

That afternoon, at about 2:30 p.m., the 26th North Carolina, the largest unit of all in the entire Confederate army with nearly twice the number of the 24th’s members, began marching against the 24th’s position. Unfortunately, the first round from union forces was fired high. The Tarheels returned fire, then began running toward the creek and the woods beyond where the 24th was positioned. With the rebels just 40 yards away, the 24th opened fire, temporarily stopping the North Carolinians.

But having more forces, the 26th began overwhelming the 24th. The Michiganders, under command of Colonel Henry Morrow, fought back to a second prepared line. In the thick of this fighting, the 26th’s commander, a 21-year old colonel, was killed while holding the unit’s colors.

Again, against superior numbers, the 24th was forced into a fighting retreat to a third prepared line. Colonel Morrow grabbed the unit’s colors from its dying guard and held them aloft while all around them his soldiers fell. But the line was holding, at least for a while.

But on the 24th’s right, the 19th Indiana collapsed against superior numbers. Colonel Morrow was shot in the head (amazingly he survived, and was able to march on his own back into town for help), and the 24th and the remainder of the Iron Brigade re-formed at the now legendary Seminary Ridge. The 24th’s new commander, Captain Albert Edwards, found the unit’s shredded colors held by a dying corporal.

The 26th continued attacking and suffering heavy losses against the Iron Brigade. Finally the Iron Brigade was forced to fight its way to Cemetery Ridge where with other Union forces it held a secure line.

From that day alone, the 26th suffered 80 percent casualties of its 843 soldiers. The 24th did barely better, with 73 percent casualties, 363 of its 496 officers and men killed or wounded.

What was left of the 24th was later moved to Culp’s Hill to hold the Union’s right flank during the rest of the three-day battle. The 26th North Carolina remains marched against Cemetery Ridge on July 3 in Pickett’s Charge.

A monument to the 24th is at Gettysburg, and members of the 24th’s re-enactment unit will participate this week in remembrances for the 150th anniversary.

Duggan Still A Write-In Candidate For Detroit Mayor?
Posted: June, 26 2013 3:00 PM

Has the corpse winked?

Last week, Mike Duggan, former Wayne County prosecutor and Detroit Medical Center CEO, said he was dropping out of the race for Detroit mayor as the Court of Appeals ruled he had failed to meet requirements to be listed on the ballot. Immediately speculation began that he might run for Wayne County executive or even for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Now, however, comes a hint that Mr. Duggan’s mayoral hopes may still be alive.

An email was sent from the Duggan mayoral campaign to supporters, saying that in the midst of the boxes all packed up, campaign manager Bryan Barnhill is ready to try to convince Mr. Duggan he could still win the race as a write-in candidate.

And, Mr. Barnhill said he is not alone in his view. Sen. Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit) and former Rep. Maureen Stapleton also believe he could win, at least a spot on the fall ballot.

“If we can just finish in the top two in the primary, we’re on the ballot in the fall,” he said. And, he said he was convinced it could be done.

But he asked for feedback from his readers, and feedback quickly. Like in the next 24 hours. If they were going to be able to convince Mr. Duggan to make the attempt, they needed a response as quickly as possible.

And he asked for an honest response. If people feel they should focus on another candidate then they should let the campaign know.

So, stay tuned.

Two Who Voted For The Original Voting Rights Act Comment
Posted: June, 25 2013 3:43 PM

When the original Voting Rights Act was enacted 48 years ago, during the height of the Civil Rights movement, U.S. Rep. John Dingell and U.S. Rep. John Conyers were in the U.S. House.

And when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision on Tuesday overturning a key section of the act, saying it was based on outdated data in nine states, both men were still in the U.S. House and both sharply criticized the decision.

Mr. Dingell was probably the most critical, saying that while times have changes since 1965, he was “angered by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut one of the single most important anti-discrimination laws on our books.”

The action, he said, will likely subject many minorities to the same types of discrimination they suffered in the 1960s.

Mr. Conyers said the decision will do “real damage to voting rights” in the nation, unless Congress moves quickly to re-enact portions of the law.

Both Mr. Conyers and Mr. Dingell called on both houses to, in a bipartisan fashion, pass legislation to re-invigorate the act.

$50K For What Now?
Posted: June, 24 2013 3:20 PM

The often entertaining U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals cases provide an opinion on the issue of overvaluing assets, especially the tricky subject of collectibles.

In Johnson v. USA, Detroit resident Anthony Johnson sued the federal government for $329,000 worth of goods he claimed were in the possession of the U.S. Postal Service and lost. The background is a guest stayed at his house, allegedly packed up the items and mailed them to her home in California. When Mr. Johnson discovered the items missing, he notified the postal service, which intercepted the packages.

One package drew the attention of a drug-sniffing dog, and is not the subject of this case (though it engendered another case, as one might imagine.)

The second package Mr. Johnson alleged to have contained $164,000 worth of Rolex watches and expensive jewelry. And $165,000 worth of baseball cards. Among those are 1951 and 1952 Mickey Mantle (the ’52 is signed, he said) cards valued at $75,000, a 1938 Joe DiMaggio at $25,000 (most pricing websites put that at as much as $3,000), a 1967 Hank Aaron for $15,000 (pricing sites suggest such a card can go for less than $100), and $50,000 for a 1952 Cookie Lavagetto.

Come again? Cookie Lavagetto, should you be deficient in your baseball history, was a decent but still journeyman player who probably lost his best years to military service during World War II. He is remembered best as the pinch hitter for the Brooklyn Dodgers who with two-outs in the ninth (and two Dodger players walked on) in the fourth game of the 1947 World Series ended a no-hit bid by New York Yankees pitcher Bill Blevens and won the game for Brooklyn. It was Mr. Lavagetto’s last hit of his career.

By 1952, Mr. Lavagetto was a coach for the Dodgers (he later managed the Washington Senators and when they moved to Minnesota became the first manager for the Twins).

Now, a 1952 Cookie Lavagetto is considered scarce by collectors. But $50,000? Most sites suggest the card can be had for several hundred dollars, though one sale at about $3,000 is recorded.

Oh, Mr. Johnson lost his case.

Snyder Says Vote; In Ohio, Kasich Says Think Of St. Peter
Posted: June, 21 2013 2:10 PM

Let’s face it; Republican governors who want to expand Medicaid eligibility are having a rough go.

The Florida Legislature has so far stymied Governor Rick Scott on the issue.

In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer took to vetoing all legislation brought to her until the Legislature approved an expansion in Medicaid eligibility.

And of course, everyone knows about the situation in Lansing, with the Senate adjourning on Thursday without voting on HB 4714*,

Governor Rick Snyder, probably the angriest he has been since taking office (though he refused to say he was angry) dropped a pretty good line on the Senate Republicans when he urged them to act on the bill.

“They should take a vote, not a vacation,” he said, a slogan now taken up by supporters of Medicaid expansion.

In Ohio, Governor John Kasich, according to brothers at Gongwer Ohio, has taken a more spiritual tact.

He too is having trouble getting the Legislature to move on a Medicaid expansion provision. Like Michigan, both the House and Senate in the Buckeye state are controlled by Republicans, but unlike Michigan (where the House approved HB 4714*), no one is moving legislation.

Meeting with reporters, Mr. Kasich talked about a discussion with one legislator who did not want to support Medicaid expansion because he wanted to keep government small.

To that, Mr. Kasich said: "Now when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did to keep government small. But he's going to ask you about what you did for the poor. You better have a pretty good answer.”

Might Mr. Snyder, the ultimate Wolverine, end up borrowing the Buckeye comment in his drive to bring lawmakers back?

Odds & Ends: Duggan For Governor? Michigan Beats Ohio, And Ice Cream
Posted: June, 20 2013 3:26 PM

With the Lansing universe focused on whether the Senate will pass legislation expanding eligibility for Medicaid, a few other items have crossed the desk.

First, with him bowing out of the Detroit mayor’s race, there has been some speculation about whether Mike Duggan will use the publicity to launch an attempt to run for governor for the Democrats in 2014. While there has been speculation, there has been nothing concrete to suggest Mr. Duggan would look at such a race. Right now, the Democratic Party seems to have coalesced around former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer as the consensus candidate to run against Governor Rick Snyder. Some Democrats may be worried about his overall strength, but there has been no one who has hinted he or she will step up.

Anyway, unless Mr. Duggan says something definite, any discussion he will run for governor or Wayne County executive is just speculation.

Second, one definite item in the Duggan saga: the Supreme Court on Thursday denied a hearing on a request from Tom Barrow, in the case he brought that led to Mr. Duggan stepping aside, on the grounds the issue was moot.

Three, the State Bar of Michigan blog points out an editorial in the Toledo Blade moaning about Michigan lawmakers passing the landmark legislation improving the state’s indigent defense system.

Ohio could always take comfort, the Blade said, that Michigan had an even worse indigent defense system than the Buckeye state. But with the package of bills on its way to Governor Rick Snyder that is changing, the editorial said. Columbus should use Lansing’s actions as a spur to fix Ohio’s system, the editorial said.

Finally, Linda Ann Stewart of Taylor was the winning contestant in creating a Pure Michigan ice cream flavor. The actual flavor, which will be produced this year by Hudsonville Ice Cream, will be unveiled at Thursday’s Detroit Tigers game with the Boston Red Sox. Last year’s flavor of Michigan Caramel Apple was the second best seller for Hudsonville behind Tiger Traxx. However, if the Tigers keep playing as they did against Baltimore, whatever flavor Ms. Stewart suggested will certainly sell better than a Tigers’-themed treat.

No, The Duggan And McCotter Cases Are Not Related
Posted: June, 19 2013 2:00 PM

In the immediate aftermath of Mike Duggan’s announcement that he was giving up his run for Detroit mayor, wits online started joking about, “First McCotter, then Duggan” and some wondered if there was a Livonia connection to campaign screw-ups.

But the two situations are related only in that both former U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter and Mr. Duggan lived in Livonia (Mr. McCotter still does, Mr. Duggan now lives in Detroit). The two cases otherwise have no bearing on each other.

Mr. McCotter’s situation had to do with simple fraud committed by his campaign staff, fraud that ended up sending several of them to court. Mr. Duggan’s case has to do with a difference of interpretation.

To review, Mr. Duggan decided Wednesday to take himself out of the Detroit mayoral race many people thought he would win after the Court of Appeals in a split decision kept him off the primary ballot because he filed his nominating petitions too early.

Mr. McCotter was taken off the 2012 ballot, and then resigned from Congress, because his petitions included duplicate signatures: so many duplicates he did not have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, and so many they could not have been gathered by accident.

It wasn’t an accident, it was fraud. And it was fraud going back, as an analysis done by experts at East Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting showed, to at least the 2008 election. In fact, the analysis showed that Mr. McCotter’s aides went so far as to blanket copy petitions gathered by Mr. McCotter’s mother.

In the end, four former members of Mr. McCotter’s staff pleaded either guilty or no contest to various charges of illegal acts. The most recent plea, from Mary Melissa Turnbull, came on May 29.

Mr. Duggan took full responsibility for filing his petitions a few days shy of having been registered to vote in Detroit a full year. As he said in a statement, his counsel, Wayne State University Law School Dean (and former Democratic secretary of state candidate) Jocelyn Benson, the Detroit Election Commission and one Court of Appeals judge believed his candidacy should have been valid, in part because the filing deadline was several weeks after Mr. Duggan filed and they believed that should have been the governing date.

But the Wayne Circuit Court disagreed and so did the Court of Appeals majority.

Several commentators, including Attorney General Bill Schuette, were surprised Mr. Duggan did not take his case to the Supreme Court. They thought he may have won. But Mr. Duggan said the damage done to his campaign perhaps meant the ultimate fight was not winnable.

The Livonia connection between the two is an interesting coincidence, but there is no other comparison. Mr. McCotter was the victim of fraud; Mr. Duggan, the victim of a narrow legal definition.

A Newish Social Media Wrinkle On Campaigning
Posted: June, 18 2013 2:14 PM

On Tuesday the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced it was targeting U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek and U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg as part of a national campaign on student loans that employs a newish tactic in the social media world.

The committee announced paid Twitter campaigns against Mr. Benishek (R-Crystal Falls) and Mr. Walberg (R-Tipton) hoping to encourage constituents to blast out tweets urging the two to oppose legislation that could increase the cost of student loans.

A paid Twitter campaign, for those unfamiliar with them, means a specific tweet is sent to every Twitter account in the geographic areas of the 1st Congressional District, Mr. Benishek’s, and the 7th District, Mr. Walberg’s. That tweet will go to the recipient whether the recipient follows the DCCC or not, and urge the recipient to send a tweet to either representative, saying: #DontDoubleMyRate.

The two are part of a campaign in which the committee is targeting 28 different U.S. House members across the nation (the two seats are also the two that Democrats could have the best shot at winning in the 2014 elections).

It is a signal of the growing presence social media is playing in politics, and some of the new ways the social media industry is developing to target audiences for marketing and for political purposes.

Recalling Lewis Cass On The 147th Anniversary Of His Death
Posted: June, 17 2013 2:23 PM

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.

The Political Side On The DIA Debate
Posted: June, 12 2013 2:48 PM

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.

The Tea Party On Gov. Snyder: Surprising Mostly In Being No Surprise
Posted: June, 11 2013 2:06 PM

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.

Attention Neophyte Michigan Politicians: Know How Michigan Talks
Posted: June, 7 2013 3:37 PM

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.

Here’s To The Civil War Governor
Posted: June, 6 2013 2:07 PM

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.

Could It Be, Someone Daring To Suggest To Gov. Snyder He Is Too Optimistic?
Posted: June, 4 2013 3:38 PM

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.”

A Look At The Swag From The Mackinac Conference
Posted: June, 3 2013 4:06 PM

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.

Truer Words Were Never Spoken
Posted: May, 28 2013 3:32 PM

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.”

Geography = Corruption? Well, Lansing Doesn’t Fare Badly On That Score
Posted: May, 21 2013 3:22 PM

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.

An Interesting Read On How Jones-Day Was Selected For Detroit
Posted: May, 15 2013 5:20 PM

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.

Upstaging The Governor, A Mite
Posted: May, 14 2013 4:56 PM

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.

Michigan Shows A Drop In CO2 Emissions
Posted: May, 13 2013 4:40 PM

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.

A Reader’s Choice: Federal Court Decisions Over State Decisions
Posted: May, 10 2013 3:33 PM

“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.

Supreme Court, The Nuge, Pontiac’s War, Hmm, A Connection?
Posted: May, 7 2013 1:47 PM

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.

Remembering Austin On His 100th Birthday
Posted: May, 6 2013 2:38 PM

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.

Oh, The House Microphone Problems Weren’t That Bad
Posted: May, 1 2013 4:10 PM

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.

State Bar Calls For Ending Age-Limit On Judges
Posted: April, 30 2013 1:51 PM

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.

Blooming Notes For The State
Posted: April, 29 2013 4:32 PM

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.

Out Of A Haze, Marijuana Memories
Posted: April, 24 2013 3:28 PM

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.

Begin with an eerie similarity to the bill numbers. The measure announced Wednesday by Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) is HB 4623*.

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.”

Agema’s Petition Still Collecting Signatures
Posted: April, 22 2013 3:40 PM

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.

A Question For A Historic Moment For Michigan Roads
Posted: April, 19 2013 4:15 PM

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?

From The Moments Of Legislative Levity Department…
Posted: April, 17 2013 3:21 PM

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.”

Time To Remember Some Inspiring Words
Posted: April, 16 2013 2:14 PM

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.

The Waiting Game On Presidential Permit Ends
Posted: April, 12 2013 4:15 PM

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.

Looking For An Honest Excuse To Have A Beer? Here You Go
Posted: April, 10 2013 2:50 PM

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.

The Iron Lady In Michigan
Posted: April, 8 2013 4:56 PM

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 New Development In The Now Famous Anti-Gay Post
Posted: April, 5 2013 5:38 PM

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.

Things Were Getting A Little Odd On The Agema Petition…Just A Little
Posted: April, 4 2013 2:28 PM

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.

McCotter Making Some Appearances Via The Web
Posted: April, 1 2013 1:56 PM

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.”

Just A Bit Of Labor Trivia On the Day RTW Takes Effect
Posted: March, 28 2013 4:41 PM

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.

Agema Drawing Fire For His Anti-Gay Facebook Post
Posted: March, 27 2013 4:30 PM