The Gongwer Blog

by Zachary Gorchow, Executive Editor and Publisher

Gongwer Unveils 2022 Michigan Elections App

Posted: June 22, 2022 3:59 PM

Gongwer News Service's one-of-a-kind elections app is now available for download and includes the unique analysis and reliable information that has been the hallmark of Gongwer elections apps for years.

The 2022 Michigan Elections app is the state's only native app with continuously updated information on this year's elections.

Download for IOS, Android.

Following redistricting, the app has never been more essential to monitoring elections.

The app offers exclusive analysis of races for the Michigan Senate, Michigan House of Representatives, the state's 13 U.S. House campaigns, the governor's race and all other statewide contests.

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

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

Download for IOS, Android.

For most candidates, users will see links to the candidate's social media accounts, the new for 2022 district maps, campaign websites and ways to contact the candidate, as well as biographical information. If that candidate has run for state or federal office from 2002 onward, the app also displays their performance in those elections.

Users also can use the Key Races function to identify only the primaries and general election matchups that are considered competitive.

As the campaign season progresses, and as race dynamics change, analyses will be updated. Gongwer continues to add candidate biographical information.

Download for iOS: App Store.

Download for Android: Play Store.

The app is available for $2.99.

Trump Has Gone Strangely Quiet In Michigan

Posted: June 17, 2022 12:51 PM

Just before the House Republican Caucus kicked out Rep. Matt Maddock in late April, speculation was rife that another wave of endorsements for legislative candidates from former President Donald Trump was imminent.

Mr. Maddock and his wife, Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, are Mr. Trump's foremost allies in Michigan with Ms. Maddock running point on Trump endorsements in this state. Several of Mr. Trump's endorsements were for candidates challenging incumbent Republican lawmakers. All favored candidates are convinced the 2020 presidential election was stolen even as all claims to back that idea have been proven false.

There's some anxiety in Republican circles in Lansing about what happens if some of these candidates win crowded primaries and whether they could turn into another Robert Regan situation that costs them an otherwise safe Republican seat.

There's also been great anticipation about whom Mr. Trump will endorse for governor.

After House Republicans excommunicated Mr. Maddock, I figured a massive response was coming from the former president. There are plenty of other candidates running for Republican nominations to legislative seats that embrace his claims about the 2020 election whom he has yet to endorse.

Instead, it's been crickets.

The silence in the governor's race made sense given the questions about who would get certified to the ballot. And in other states, like Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump waited until much closer to the election to endorse.

But the silence in the legislative races is surprising, considering Mr. Trump once said he wants to elect a new Legislature in Michigan and still harbors rage over the refusal of Republican legislative leaders in 2020 to set aside now-President Joe Biden's popular vote victory in Michigan and send the Trump electors to Washington, D.C.

Further, we are now just days away from absentee ballots going out to voters who requested them. For as much as Mr. Trump disparaged absentee ballots in 2020, lots of Republicans are going to be voting using this method. Just ask now-Sen. Doug Wozniak (R-Shelby Township), who won his special election primary earlier this year thanks to absentee voters after losing election day voters at the precincts.

So a Trump endorsement, if it doesn't come soon, is going to have diminished power the longer he waits.

Perhaps it will be coming soon, in time to maximize the absentee voting window.

Maybe the Trump organizers opted to wait after seeing the professional class of the Republican Party respond aggressively to the Maddocks' activities and the Regan debacle, wanting to see whom traditional Republican powers endorsed in primaries. At this point, a Trump endorsement would likely trigger a counterresponse from those organizations to likely back someone else.

Or maybe Mr. Trump and the Maddocks have already decided they have backed the candidates they think have the best shot of winning and plan no further endorsements. That said, it's very surprising that close Maddock ally Diane Schindlbeck of White Cloud, the administrative vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party, has not seen a Trump endorsement. However, she does have backing from some DeVos-funded groups as well as the Michigan Farm Bureau. Would that have happened if Mr. Trump had endorsed her? We'll never know.

As for the governor's race, it's anybody's guess. Speculation was Mr. Trump was deciding between Tudor Dixon and Perry Johnson. But Mr. Johnson is off the ballot because of insufficient valid signatures, and Ms. Dixon now has the backing of the DeVoses. Betsy DeVos just publicly declared she inquired about invoking the 25th Amendment to turn the presidency over to Vice President Mike Pence following Mr. Trump's incitement and handling of the January 6 attack on Congress in the U.S. Capitol. It seems there's a less than zero chance Mr. Trump would want to jump aboard a bandwagon now led by the DeVoses but trying to predict Mr. Trump's actions is a futile exercise.

Given the void of name recognition for any of the Republican candidates this close to the primary, an unprecedented situation for one of the major parties at this point in the cycle, a Trump endorsement would probably finally give a candidate frontrunner status.

In the meantime, all we can do is wait and wonder.

Gongwer Seeks House Beat Reporter

Posted: June 15, 2022 11:03 AM

Gongwer News Service, Michigan's premier publication on state government and politics, seeks a staff writer to join its reporting team. The staff writer's beat will involve coverage of the Michigan House of Representatives, elections and other state government news.

For more than 60 years, Gongwer has been a place where journalists can build a career covering the unpredictable and exciting world of Michigan government and politics. Gongwer puts a priority on mentoring and caring for its employees with ample opportunities for advancement. Our current executive editor started at Gongwer as the House reporter, and our managing editor started at Gongwer as an intern.

A family-owned company, Gongwer has a long tradition of providing competitive salaries and outstanding benefits not generally found in the journalism industry. In the past 15 years, while the rest of the news industry has slashed the size of its staff and cut pay, Gongwer has expanded its team and continued to increase salaries.

Gongwer staff receive strong benefits rare in journalism – an employer match and profit-sharing contribution for their 401(k), a top-rated health insurance plan and other insurance, paid vacation and offices for each employee. Gongwer offers a flexible work environment and the option to work remotely on Mondays and Fridays and when the Legislature is not in session.

Another benefit Gongwer employees receive are paid days off on all state government holidays. That's 13 additional paid days off a year in addition to vacation time.

Gongwer's workplace culture is one of teamwork and collaboration.

Covering the Michigan House of Representatives is a prime beat. You'll be working at the press tables on the floor of the House in the Capitol as well as covering committees, press conferences and digging for enterprise.

Because Gongwer's reporters and editors are known for their expertise, they are frequently asked to participate as guests on television news programs and for interviews by radio networks.

Candidates should have a passion for reporting on politics, government and policy.

Candidates should be able to balance handling anywhere from one to four stories per day with producing enterprise stories. They also need to balance generating their own story ideas with those assigned to them.

Reporters can step off their beat for a time to work on enterprise projects.

In-person work will generally take place in downtown Lansing. However, reporters are occasionally assigned to events that require driving to different parts of Michigan.

Applicants should submit a resume, links to or copies of four to six clips of their work and a cover letter to Executive Editor and Publisher Zach Gorchow via email at by June 30.

Gongwer News Service is an equal opportunity employer.

Kelley's Arrest: How Big A Lift In Bid For Republican Nomination?

Posted: June 13, 2022 9:03 AM

The arrest of Ryan Kelley on Thursday for participating in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has brought up an astonishing question during an already unusual primary: Will the FBI's charging of a Republican gubernatorial candidate help or hurt his chances at victory?

The FBI's move to raid Mr. Kelley's home and arrest him also brought to the fore the searing anger that has dominated Republican politics since former President Donald Trump lost to now-President Joe Biden at the notion that – no matter how many times it is refuted – the election was stolen.

No candidate in the Republican field for governor more fully embodies those in the party who believe Mr. Trump won than Mr. Kelley, who formed a committee to run for governor about three weeks after he participated in the insurrection designed to stop Congress from certifying Mr. Biden as the winner. Photos and videos have been circulating for more than a year showing a man who appears to be Mr. Kelley at the Capitol urging rioters forward.

Mr. Kelley has raised nowhere near the money needed to win a statewide primary, but he has a fervent following of true believers who enabled him to get the signatures necessary for ballot access.

Thursday's arrest, however, appeared to rally much of the Michigan Republican Party apparatus around Mr. Kelley and plastered his face and name on every news outlet in every corner of the state. Amid a diminished field of five unknown candidates, down from the original 10, with no clear frontrunner, Mr. Kelley's arrest – far from damaging his prospects in the Republican primary – seems more likely to give him an opening to make his case to GOP voters.

The arrest handed Democrats an ideal opportunity to remind voters that most elected Republicans have never wanted a reckoning around Mr. Trump's most fervent supporters breaching the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Senate chamber, sending members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence fleeing the building as they were moving toward certifying Mr. Biden's win.

There has been no polling from a reliable firm on the state of the Republican primary of late. None of the candidates are well known, and the field is in tumult after the one who did have name recognition, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, and the one who spent the most, Perry Johnson, were thrown off the ballot for lack of valid signatures.

Republicans in particular questioned the timing of the arrest coming on the same day as the congressional prime time hearings into the insurrection are to begin when the FBI's own Statement of Facts indicates they verified Mr. Kelley as the man in various photos and videos urging insurrectionists on to the Capitol 15 months ago. They had little to nothing to say about Mr. Kelley's conduct at the Capitol.

"Democrats are weaponizing our justice system in an unprecedented way against their political opponents," Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser said in a statement. "We are not a third world nation. Law and order are the bedrock of our democracy, but justice is not served when it is driven by a political agenda. Families and children are now becoming victims of political theater meant to distract from the failures of Democrat policy. It's shameful and must end."

After the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Weiser, who was not yet party chair, said people were misled about the 2020 election "and that resulted in death and destruction. That is unacceptable and abhorrent." He called for a Republican Party uniting around the rule of law "over the whims or dictates of a man or a mob."

But Mr. Weiser has never delved deeper into what happened and his statement on Thursday only seemed to confirm he has moved on from January 6.

Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, who was in Washington, D.C., on January 6 but has insisted she was at her hotel when the insurrectionists swarmed the Capitol, slammed Mr. Kelley's arrest.

"Do people really get their homes raided and arrested in front of their children over a misdemeanor?" she asked in a tweet. "Democrats are out in force weaponizing our justice system and targeting their political opponents."

Wayne Bradley, a Republican who is Black and has been critical of Mr. Trump, tweeted back to her, "Happens in the hood."

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) said of the arrest in his home county that coincidences rarely happen in politics.

"The decision to raid a home in Allendale, Michigan, and arrest a Michigan gubernatorial candidate the same day Democrats are holding a primetime nationally televised hearing is not only suspicious it is disturbing," he tweeted.

Three of the other four candidates for the Republican nomination – Ralph Rebandt, Kevin Rinke and Garrett Soldano – offered varying levels of criticism of the arrest.

Mr. Rebandt called the arrest "a new low for the deep state" and in a statement called the arrest outrageous grandstanding. He also called the death of Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist who breached the Capitol and was shot and killed by law enforcement after climbing through an interior window behind which members of Congress stood despite warnings to stop, a "murder."

"I am praying that God will expose every evil attempt to silence the voice of American patriots. I am praying for Ryan and his family. May God have mercy on us all," he said.

Said Mr. Rinke in a tweet: "I respect Ryan Kelley and have met him out on the trail. My hope is that the FBI is acting appropriately, because the timing here raises serious questions. Praying for him and his family."

Mr. Soldano said in a tweet he extended prayers to the Kelley family and called the arrest political.

"It's a sad day in America when the FBI has become an arm of the Democrat Party," he said. "Biden's FBI is busy targeting parents and intimidating Republicans while crime runs rampant across America."

There was no statement or social media comment from the fifth Republican candidate, Tudor Dixon. A message left with her spokesperson was not returned.

Jamie Roe, a Republican political consultant who is working with Mr. Rinke, spoke for many when asking about the timing of the arrest given that the FBI verified Mr. Kelley was in the photos and videos of actions at the U.S. Capitol that day in March 2021.

"Why does it take a year and a half to have this go down?" he said. "And how can this go down on the same that the dog-and-pony show that the Democrats are putting on in Washington tonight. It's disappointing."

Two Republican sources, speaking on background, said the arrest would provide a lift to Mr. Kelley's primary campaign.

But if Republicans were trying to circle the wagons around Mr. Kelley and dismiss the arrest as political, Democrats dismissed all that as more Republican excuse-making and even support for the insurrection and hailed the arrest as accountability.

"Just days after their field was cut in half due to corruption and mass fraud, Republican gubernatorial candidates' callous disregard for the principles of democracy was on full display again today as Ryan Kelley was taken into custody by the FBI following his participation in the January 6th insurrection," Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement. "Tudor Dixon, Garrett Soldano, Kevin Rinke, and Ralph Rebandt have equally shouldered the same baseless lies about 2020 that spurred Ryan Kelley to storm the capital in search of war. Michiganders won't forget the role they played in dismantling public trust in democracy."

Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said Mr. Kelley is a menace.

"The insurrection on January 6 was a direct attack on our nation and an attempt to overturn the will of the people, and anyone involved in the January 6 violence at the Capitol or the surrounding efforts to overturn the will of voters in the 2020 election, must be held accountable," he said in a statement.

Democratic Governors Association spokesperson Sam Newton said of Mr. Kelley's arrest: "Insurrectionist Ryan Kelley getting arrested is just another day in this chaotic GOP primary that's been defined by mass fraud and all of the candidates agreeing on radical positions that undermine our democracy."

Gaylord Is Michigan's First Legit Tornado Disaster In 42 Years

Posted: May 23, 2022 11:08 AM

If you're about 48 or younger, you hadn't experienced the sight of a large, very strong tornado tearing apart a Michigan city, killing multiple people and injuring dozens until Friday when an EF3 tornado struck Gaylord.

Michigan has a pretty gruesome tornado history (more on that in a moment) but it basically ended after the terrible 1980 Kalamazoo tornado when an F3 tornado (this was under the original Fujita Scale not the Enhanced Fujita Scale in place since 2007) tore right through the heart of the city, killing five, injuring 79 and inflicting unbelievable property damage.

Since then, Michigan had only one tornado that killed more than one person (the 2007 Williamston tornado). There were some F3s/EF3s but they either hit mostly undeveloped areas and had limited to minimal casualties (like the Clio tornado of 1997 or the Dexter tornado of 2012). The F2 that slammed Detroit and Highland Park in 1997 injured 90 and inflicted considerable damage but thankfully killed no one. There also is a somewhat forgotten F2 that devastated the small village of Comins in Oscoda County in 1999 but thankfully only injured two.

But as far as a strong tornado inflicting widespread major damage and a large number of casualties, Michigan had dodged that bullet for 42 years until Friday when Gaylord of all places – Otsego County has had just two tornadoes since good records started being kept in 1950 – got hammered.

As tornadoes and weather has long been an interest of mine, I was busy on Twitter following experts on the situation and tweeting out some thoughts on the historical context of this tornado. I assembled a top five of tornadoes since Michigan's last "violent" tornado – a defined term under the Enhanced Fujita Scale that applies to EF4 and EF5 tornadoes – in 1977 when an F4 hit Eaton County.

My order was Kalamazoo 1980, Gaylord 2022, Detroit 1997, Williamston 2007 and Dexter 2012.

But immediately people began asking about the 1953 Flint tornado, mentioning the Palm Sunday Outbreak of 1965, and I decided well this is my blog and it doesn't always have to be government and politics, so let's assess where the Gaylord tornado sits all time on Michigan tornadoes. And for "all-time" purposes, we're starting with 1880 or so since records before that time are almost nonexistent and most of the state was undeveloped swamp during those years.

The short answer is that the Gaylord tornado is definitely in the top 20 but not the top 10. This just underscores how different the tornado history has been in Michigan post-1980.

If we used only tornado strength as a guide, it would be even lower since Michigan has two F5s and 16 F4s on record going back to 1950 (plus another two unofficially rated F5 from before 1950). Ted Fujita invented the F-scale in 1971 and at that point National Weather Service office began using their records and newspaper articles/photos to retroactively assign a rating to tornadoes back to 1950.

But what's worse, an F4 that spins over mostly undeveloped land and leads to few casualties or an F3/EF3 that slams into a developed area and wreaks havoc and hurts/kills people? The answer is obvious. So I tried to take into account strength, casualties, damage and overall historic impact.

1. FLINT/BEECHER, 1953: One of the worst tornado disasters in U.S. history that a panel of Michigan meteorologists voted the most significant weather disaster of the 20th century for the state. The toll: 116 dead and 844 injured as an F5 laid waste to everything along Coldwater Road in the Beecher district just north of Flint.

2. OAKLAND COUNTY TORNADO OF 1896: This is kind of the forgotten tornado in Michigan history but most tornado experts consider it an unofficial F5. It killed 47, injured 100 and wiped the village of Oakwood off the map in northern Oakland County. The photos of the damage are extraordinary. This tornado started to get its due last year with the 125th anniversary.

3. 'TERRIBLE TWOS' OF 1965: The Palm Sunday Outbreak of 1965 hit Michigan hard and the worst blow came with an extraordinary pair of tornadoes that began in Branch County near Kinderhook, one starting not long after the first, and followed almost identical paths into Monroe County. Both tornadoes were retroactively rated F4 and had a combined death toll of 44 and injury count of 587. At least one of the tornadoes was a massive "wedge" where it was incredibly wide.

4. HUDSONVILLE/STANDALE, 1956: The last tornado with an official/unofficial F5 rating in the state began in Zeeland Township in Ottawa County and roared for 48 miles all the way to Trufant in Montcalm County. The prominent tornado historian Thomas Grazulis has cast some doubt on whether it warranted an F5 rating but nonetheless it inflicted major havoc, killing 17 and injuring 292 and is seared into the memories of anyone who lived along its track along the west side of the Grand Rapids region.

5. ANCHOR BAY 1964: A terrible F4 tornado smashed into Chesterfield Township in 1964, killing 11 and injuring 224.

These first five are pretty obvious choices. Then it gets tougher.

6. COMSTOCK PARK PALM SUNDAY TORNADO, 1965: The Palm Sunday Outbreak of 1965 hit Michigan hard with 11 tornadoes, five of them rated F4. One of F4s started near Allendale and moved past Rockford. The path was eerily similar to the 1956 tornado in this area. This one killed five and injured 142. Comstock Park was hardest hit.

7. KALAMAZOO, 1980: Michigan has had several tornadoes rated above this F3 but this tornado's path that took it right through the heart of downtown Kalamazoo meant it inflicted far more destruction than those. Five died and 79 were hurt. Officials estimated damage at the time of $50 million – that would be $175 million today. Some large office buildings had every window blown out.

8. 1905 TORNADO: There's not a ton of information readily available on this tornado that hit Tuscola and Sanilac counties on June 5, but Mr. Grazulis has said it inflicted F5-level damage. Five died and 40 were injured.

9. FLINT TORNADO OF 1956: Just three years after the Beecher area was devastated, an F4 tornado plowed through southeast Flint and Burton. Three died and 116 were injured. The $5 million in damage at the time would be valued at $53 million today.

10. MONROE COUNTY TORNADO OF 1953: The same June 8 outbreak that included the devastating Flint tornado spawned an F4 tornado that spun from Temperance to Erie and then continued over Lake Erie as one of the largest waterspouts on record. Four died and 18 were hurt. There's an amazing photo of the tornado's stovepipe shape near Erie.

11. IOSCO COUNTY TORNADO OF 1953: Another tornado in the June 8, 1953, outbreak, though this one was an F2. It killed a family of four and injured 13 others.

12. PORT HURON TORNADO OF 1953: About three weeks before the June 8 outbreak, an F4 tornado slammed into Port Huron, inflicting heavy damage with two dying and 68 hurt. The tornado then continued across the St. Clair River into Sarnia, Ontario, where five more died. This was a massive tornado estimated at one to one and a half miles wide that stayed on the ground for almost three hours.

13. GAYLORD TORNADO OF 2022: Only the second Michigan tornado with multiple fatalities (two) since 1980, 44 hurt and what will likely be an enormous damage estimate after slamming into the business district on the west side of the city and then roaring into neighborhoods on the northeast side.

14. WEST BLOOMFIELD TORNADO OF 1976: One died and 55 were injured when an F4 tornado tore through central Oakland County, including the busy intersection of Orchard Lake and 15 Mile roads. This tornado led to Oakland County installing an outdoor warning siren system.

15. LOST PENINSULA TORNADO OF 1965: Another violent tornado, this one an F4, from the April 11 Palm Sunday Outbreak inflicted terrible carnage in Toledo, Ohio, killing 16, before catching the extreme southeast corner of Monroe County, known as the Lost Peninsula, where two died and 29 were hurt.

Our best to everyone in Gaylord after this terrible disaster.

Absentee Preprocessing At Risk Of Nonrenewal For This Year

Posted: May 23, 2022 10:58 AM

One of the few areas of election policy with bipartisan support, allowing clerks to preprocess absentee ballots prior to election days, might not be renewed for this year after an experiment with it in the November 2020 election.

Clerks are all but pleading with the Legislature to act, and preprocessing is the top priority of a national group, Secure Democracy USA, that visited with legislators and some reporters this week. But the chairs of the House and Senate elections committees, while not opposed to the idea, are in no rush to act, both said in interviews.

The advent of no-reason absentee voting, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, caused a massive increase in the use of absentee ballots in the 2020 election cycle, up from about one-quarter of all votes cast to 57 percent, or more than 3 million of the 5.57 million ballots cast. That greatly increased the workload for clerks and election workers because they must verify signatures on the envelope in which the ballot is returned, open the envelope and unfold the ballot so it can be tabulated.

Just in time for the November 2020 election, the Legislature passed and Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed PA 177 of 2020 that allowed communities with populations of 25,000 or more to conduct signature matching on the envelope and remove the ballot from the envelope between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. the day before the election.

While some communities did use the mechanism, many – even those that were eligible – did not. Clerks had voiced a preference for allowing preprocessing to begin at least two days before election day, that what was provided was not enough time and too close to election day to make a difference.

Most communities tabulate in-person precinct votes first. That meant on election night of November 2020, Republican candidates like former President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate candidate John James were shown as leading the Democratic candidates. That, in reality, was misleading because Republican voters tended to vote in person and Democratic voters tended to vote absentee.

It took many jurisdictions longer than usual to count their absentee ballots because there were so many more and by Wednesday evening now-President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) passed Mr. Trump and Mr. James, respectively, in the vote count.

Even as election officials had explained repeatedly that absentee ballots would be tallied after in-person votes, the situation still contributed to conspiracy theories, fomented by Mr. Trump and believed by many Republican voters, that fraud had taken place. Countless investigations and audits show there was no substantial fraud in the election.

Thirty-eight states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, allow election officials to begin processing absentee and mail ballots prior to Election Day. Florida, for example, allows preprocessing to begin as soon as the ballot is received. Ohio also allows preprocessing prior to Election Day at a time to be set by its board of elections.

Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Township), chair of the Senate Elections Committee, has introduced a bill (SB 334) that would bring back preprocessing of absentee ballots for the 2022 cycle but has yet to move it out of her committee. It was put on the agenda for a hearing a year ago amid action on dozens of elections bills but unlike the others never cleared the committee.

Ms. Johnson said she won't move the bill without negotiations on election law changes with Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who vetoed a slew of Republican-passed bills, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who has excoriated Republicans in the Legislature for moving several bills tightening voting access.

"I'm still looking at it. It was my bill to begin with so obviously I support the concept," she said. "You can't just pick one out of the bunch. You have to look at it as a whole."

Ms. Johnson linked that bill to separate legislation expanding polling locations and training of elections and poll workers. She cited HB 4492, which Ms. Whitmer vetoed, that would have expanded polling places to other buildings such as senior housing facilities.

Ms. Whitmer said the bill would have made it more difficult for seniors and persons living in large apartment complexes to vote.

"I'm obviously supportive. I'm the author of that bill. We'd like to do it again. But we'd like to make sure clerks have a place to conduct elections," she said. "It's called negotiations. You can't just do what you want when it doesn't fix the problems."

Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) was less enthusiastic about the concept of preprocessing than Ms. Johnson. A former township clerk, Ms. Bollin said the idea is "not off the radar but it has not been at the top of the priority list."

Ms. Bollin said her committee's priority has been expanding polling locations and improving training for signature verification and challengers.

She also noted there is still ample time to get a preprocessing law in place for the November election, recalling action on the 2020 measure came in October.

"Now that is not the best way to plan for an election but I think there is still time to have that conversation," she said.

Further, there is no guarantee as many voters will vote absentee in 2022 as did in 2020, Ms. Bollin said. She opposes disrupting election laws for unknowns.

Further, Ms. Bollin said she knows clerks who urged no-reason absentee voting for years and at no time did she recall a single clerk saying more time would be needed to process ballots. Instead, other moves like the allowance for joint absentee counting boards plus the grants some communities have received for high-speed tabulators could avoid the need for preprocessing, she said.

"I don't think we change all of our election laws based on the 2020 election," she added.

Her priority now is to update the voter rolls, Ms. Bollin said.

This week a national group, Secure Democracy USA, which is positioning itself in the middle on election law changes, came to Lansing to urge legislation that it saw having the potential for bipartisan support and high impact. A better preprocessing law is at the top of that list, said Daniel Griffith, senior director of policy for the group.

Michigan's election law needs to catch up to the changes brought about by Proposal 3 of 2018, which enshrined no-reason absentee voting in the state Constitution, Mr. Griffith said.

Of the inertia surrounding this issue, Mr. Griffith said he thinks the Legislature will appreciate the need for clerks to have a couple days to preprocess ballots.

The group also wants Michigan to authorize early voting where persons could come to a voting site before Election Day and cast their vote without it having to go through the absentee process and have to be sealed in an envelope and be subject to signature verification. Further, the state needs to statutorily have a process for voters to cure ballots if there is a problem with their signature. Presently, there is only guidance from the secretary of state to clerks on this matter, and the courts have held that must be done through the administrative rules process. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, unhappy with the rules Ms. Benson has promulgated, has blocked them for now.

Compared to other states, Michigan appears to be more fertile ground for agreement on election law changes, Mr. Griffith said.

Digging Into The Big Glanville Upset In Kent County

Posted: May 4, 2022 10:35 AM

It takes an extraordinary set of circumstances for a state legislative seat with a reputation of casting at least 60 percent of its votes for one party's candidates to flip to the other party.

Such was the case Tuesday when Democrat Carol Glanville of Walker upset Republican Robert Regan, also of Walker, in a special election for the 74th House District in northwest Kent County.

Ms. Glanville did the work, and as a Walker city council member was the strongest candidate Democrats have ever fielded for this seat. A no-name Democratic candidate who did nothing probably doesn't win. She had to earn it. But let's be clear: If it wasn't for the unique toxicity of Mr. Regan, this seat stays in the Republican column.

To recap, Mr. Regan came under fire for social media posts which falsely alleged the war in Ukraine is a hoax, including that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was being staffed by crisis actors. Then, as part of a Zoom meeting with the group Coalition to Rescue Michigan after his narrow Republican primary win in March, Mr. Regan quipped he's told his three daughters, "If rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it." He put up a Facebook post in 2021 claiming that feminism was "a Jewish program to degrade and subjugate white men."

The Michigan Republican Party, the House Republican Campaign Committee and other groups that usually support Republican candidates slammed Mr. Regan and stayed out of the race, leaving him with no infrastructure to win a general election against a strong Democratic candidate. There was even a relatively well-organized write-in campaign for Mike Milanowski, another Republican, in a bid to get him an early start on the campaign for a full term in the new 84th House District in August (when Mr. Regan also is on the ballot).

Ms. Glanville took 51.7 percent of the vote to 40.4 percent for Mr. Regan with Mr. Milanowski picking up the rest. She boosted Democratic performance by a whopping 15 points from the 2020 November general election.

For Democrats confronting a gloomy climate with an unpopular president of their party in the White House – usually a guarantee of a bad year for that president's party in this state – the Glanville win offered a glimmer of hope.

Further, looking out across the House and Senate candidate fields this summer, there are a number of seats far more competitive than the 74th House District where there are crowded Republican primaries and a range of Republican candidates from more traditional types (like Rep.-elect Mike Harris who easily won in the 43rd District on Tuesday) to fringier types potentially in the Regan mold, maybe not to that extreme, but far enough to potentially turn off a lot of voters in the way he did.

Mr. Regan won his four-way primary with 32.9 percent of the vote, besting the second-place finisher by just 81 votes. That's the nightmare scenario that has prompted top Republican donors to do this August what they did not do in the March primary in the 74th District – invest heavily in making sure electable Republicans get nominated.

So Tuesday's results certainly have to be a wake-up call on the Republican side that nominating a whole bunch of Regans with a small plurality in August could cost them control of the Legislature.

That said, Tuesday also was unique in some ways that Democrats will be unable to replicate in November.

The House race was the showcase race Tuesday, drawing all the focus, and the ability for voters to make a choice only on that race because it was a special election. In November, there will be a full slate of candidates for each party, and straight ticket voting will be an option. That provides some buffer for both parties if they nominate a bad candidate in a district that usually supports their candidate.

Further, national and statewide dynamics will have more carryover effect because those will be dominating the airwaves, internet and mailboxes.

Mr. Regan also was uniquely awful. In my more than 20 years of covering state politics, I can only recall two instances where a party excommunicated its nominee in a competitive race because their views were so disturbing and extreme. Unless a pile of those candidates get through primaries, the eventual Republican nominees are going to benefit from an absolutely overwhelming financial advantage their side is building over the Democrats. Mr. Regan had no money to spend. That won't be the case in November for other Republicans in competitive seats unless the effort to torpedo the fringier candidates in the primary total fails.

There is great worry among top Michigan Republicans about the party blowing a golden opportunity to ride what appears to be a red wave building nationally because of the lack of an A-list candidate in the governor's race to challenge Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the threat of unelectable candidates getting nominated for the Legislature.

Tuesday offered some validation for that worry. While Republicans in Ohio were delighting in their party having twice the turnout in their primary for governor and U.S. Senate than Democrats had in theirs for those races, Michigan Republicans watched Democrats swipe a seat of theirs in bright red territory.

Runestad, Theis Take Different Paths After Regrettable Words

Posted: April 22, 2022 3:23 PM

This was one of those weeks that left a lot of people who work in and around the Capitol, myself among them, gnashing their teeth, shaking their heads and down about the state of politics in the Capitol.

Thankfully, it ended on somewhat of an up note.

It started at 11 a.m. Monday. About that time, a fundraising email rolled into inboxes of reporters and others from the campaign of Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) expressing outrage toward Senate Democrats who walked out of the invocation she gave last week.

Typically, the invocation is nonpolitical, a call to God to guide legislators and state officials in their decisions, to bless the people of the state and so forth. Occasionally, the invocation can veer into politics. Ms. Theis chose to veer.

"Abba Father, we come to you today with humble hearts and a request for Your guidance and Your protection," she began.

Typical so far.

But then: "Dear Lord, across the country we're seeing in the news that our children are under attack. That there are forces that desire things for them other than what their parents would have them see and hear and know. Dear Lord, I pray for Your guidance in this chamber to protect the most vulnerable among us. Help us to do Your will at every step, help us to come together and understand that we work for the citizens of Michigan first. Thank You Lord for Your love, for Your guidance and Your protection. I pray these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."

The Democrats saw this as a thinly veiled shot at children who might be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and walked out. Several Democratic senators, including Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), condemned Ms. Theis.

Monday, Ms. Theis fired back in the campaign email that made clear what she was discussing in the invocation.

"Our children are under assault in our schools - the last place we should be worried about them:

  • Gender-bending indoctrination, confusing them about their identities
  • Exposure to inappropriate sexual content, stealing their innocence
  • Race-based education - Critical Race Theory - pitting children against each other."

Then Ms. Theis targeted Ms. McMorrow.

"Progressive social media trolls like Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Snowflake) … are outraged they can't teach can't groom and sexualize kindergarteners or that 8 year olds are responsible for slavery," she said.

The reaction was swift and massive.

There's room for a lot of criticism in politics and slamming each other. Even personally. It happens every day. But to call a colleague a "groomer" – as in someone who pretends to befriend a child so that when they later molest the child, the child won't think anything is wrong – is so beyond the pale and awful.

It was also an incredible political gaffe. With one bad email, Ms. Theis turned Ms. McMorrow into a viral national superstar who pulled in a term's worth of fundraising in 24 hours. We'll see how much Ms. Theis raised off the email when senators file their next reports in July but I don't think Ms. Theis' goal was to have Ms. McMorrow's searing Senate floor speech denouncing her the next day get viewed 14 million times on Twitter.

In the aftermath of this, Ms. Theis said nothing for three days other than issuing a statement apologizing for nothing and then going on WJR on day four, still not apologizing. Calling the wording "clunky" was as far as she could go.

However, there was a somewhat similar situation in the Senate this week that saw another senator recognize he erred and admirably own up to it.

On Tuesday, Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) delivered a speech during the Statements portion of the session in which he slammed Detroit Free Press reporter Arpan Lobo regarding his coverage of the fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya in Grand Rapids by a police officer.

"I was reading recently that Black children in Grand Rapids are asking their parents, 'Will I too be shot because I'm Black?' I'm not surprised they feel that way when you have reporters like Arpan Lobo of the Detroit Free Press who writes, and I quote, 'In the footage, Lyoya was shot in the head and killed by a white – 'white' – Grand Rapids police officer after attempting to run away from the officer during a traffic stop." So there was a stop, the driver ran away, and the officer shot him in the head. That is Mr. Arpan Lobo."

Mr. Runestad went on to lambaste "more media lies" and asked his speech be printed verbatim in the Senate Journal "so that we can contrast it with what I'm likely going to be reading the media say tomorrow."

Now on the one hand, elected official criticizes reporter. In other news, water is wet and the sun rose today. It's a tale as old as time. Every reporter knows it comes with the territory that the people they cover will sometimes publicly trash them. Sometimes it is theater, sometimes it is deserved and sometimes it just is what it is.

But there was something about what Mr. Runestad said – "reporters like Arpan Lobo" – that felt over the line. I once had a Detroit City Council member denigrate me during a meeting in a pretty personal, vicious way. I called her afterward and we aired it out and came to an understanding. I was tempted to tweet at Mr. Runestad, whom I have interviewed many times and is by far one of the most accessible members of the Legislature, that, "I'm a reporter like Arpan Lobo," but decided it was better to stay cool and not throw gasoline on the fire.

Some reporters took the more professional approach than what I contemplated and reached to Mr. Runestad directly to question him.

On Thursday, Mr. Runestad spoke on the Senate floor and offered a sincere apology.

"Our pastor has pounded into us that the importance of taking your concerns to the person in the political scuffling of partisanship, you cannot always do that. In the case of a reporter, you certainly can do that," he said. "I regret that I did not first contact that Free Press reporter before raising concerns I had with the story here on the floor of the Senate. I also had many conversations with reporters in the last couple of days. These are reporters I have a great deal of respect for. The question they posed to me was, 'Senator, what you described on the floor, does that sound like me?' I had to answer, 'No, I know you, I know the kind of reporting you do, you always work at and print the truth the best you can.' And they said, 'Yes, but what frustrates us is that you threw us all in one camp.' And that is absolutely a legitimate criticism."

Mr. Runestad went on to talk about the values his parents instilled to be accurate in what you say and apologizing to all reporters.

It was a welcome recognition to own your mistakes and try your best to make them right.

Why Did DePerno Have Bench Warrant For 15 Months?

Posted: April 17, 2022 9:39 PM

A judge placed a bench warrant against Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno for 15 months in 2020-21 over a dispute about whether he and his client, former Rep. Todd Courser, failed to appear at a hearing.

Mr. DePerno, speaking Thursday to Gongwer News Service about the bench warrant and what led to it, said it was an egregious and unsupported action by Washtenaw Circuit Judge Timothy Connors following conflicting communications about whether a January hearing was to take place as scheduled.

The case involved the lawsuit Mr. Courser brought against The Detroit News, which in 2015 broke a story about the attempt by Mr. Courser and fellow former Rep. Cindy Gamrat to cover up their affair through the dissemination of false information. Mr. Courser sued the newspaper for defamation, but Mr. Connors dismissed the case in favor of the News in 2019. Mr. Connors ordered Mr. Courser and Mr. DePerno to pay almost $80,000 in sanctions.

At one of the hearings during the sanctions portion of the case, neither Mr. Courser nor Mr. DePerno appeared. That led to Mr. Connors issuing the bench warrant.

Mr. DePerno said he received a phone call from an attorney for the News saying because of a snowstorm, he was pulling the hearing to avoid driving in bad weather. Mr. DePerno said he and Mr. Courser did not go to court but the attorney for the News showed up anyway.

After Mr. Connors issued bench warrants for Mr. Courser and Mr. DePerno, Mr. DePerno filed a motion to disqualify the judge.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit not long afterward and hearings were then held via Zoom, in which Mr. Courser and Mr. DePerno participated. When the News and Mr. Courser and Mr. DePerno settled the sanctions part of the case for $20,000 in May 2021, Mr. Connors recalled the warrant.

"It's one of those things that looks worse than it ever was," Mr. DePerno said Thursday. "I wish he didn't do it. I've literally never seen a judge in 25 years and never heard of a judge doing what he did in that situation."

Gongwer contacted attorneys listed as having represented the News in the case to see if they could corroborate Mr. DePerno's story about the snowstorm and one of them saying they planned to cancel the hearing but those that could be reached said they were not involved in that portion of the case and had no information on that question.

At one point, Mr. Courser was pulled over for a traffic violation, and the officer mentioned there was a bench warrant for his arrest, Mr. DePerno said. But the officer said there was a notation not to enforce it and so Mr. Courser was not arrested, Mr. DePerno said.

"When I talked to the sheriff and they said they weren't going to enforce it, it became a nonissue," he said. "The issue is we were told not to appear and it was very abusive of (Mr. Connors) to issue a contempt order for failure to appear at a hearing."

The campaign of former House Speaker Tom Leonard did not respond to a request for comment.

The third candidate for attorney general on the Republican side, Rep. Ryan Berman of Commerce Township, said the extended existence of a bench warrant is "very relevant" to the campaign and another reason why Mr. DePerno cannot win a general election against Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

"The Democrats are going to eat him alive if he gets this nomination," he said.

Mr. Berman said it is rare for an attorney to be sanctioned for a frivolous case and rarer still to have a bench warrant issued against them. He noted this information comes amid Mr. DePerno having two Attorney Grievance Commission cases taking place into him, as well as an investigation from the Department of Attorney General into his actions following the 2020 election and a story in Bridge Michigan about his being forced out of two prior law firms.

"You need to trust but verify. Verify with the court. You should take care of that right away," he said of the snowstorm explanation from Mr. DePerno. "To have it go on for months and months and months until it's finally removed from the record, that doesn't seem like an error. I can't see how any rational person would want to choose this person to hire for their attorney, especially as the attorney general for the state of Michigan."

Mr. Berman said the existence of the bench warrant is more evidence that he represents the party's best hope against Ms. Nessel because he lacks Mr. DePerno's baggage and did not lose to Ms. Nessel, as Mr. Leonard did as the party's 2018 nominee.

The race for the nomination is largely seen as one between Mr. DePerno and Mr. Leonard, though Mr. Berman did show some pockets of strength at Monday's county conventions.

Republicans will gather at an April 23 state convention to issue a formal endorsement for the nomination, likely decisive in signaling who will get the official nomination in August.

Candidates Scrambling Ahead Of County Conventions

Posted: April 11, 2022 10:35 AM

Republican activists will gather across the state Monday at county party conventions to elect delegates to the state party convention later this month, stirring anticipation and uncertainty about the first of several key moments that will define where the party stands in this state this year.

Michigan Republicans are facing a turning point moment this year in whether traditional powers in the business community and a constellation of well-funded organizations continue to rule or forces allied with President Donald Trump take charge. In many ways, this has been brewing for a decade, ever since what was then known as the tea party nearly upset the traditional forces in the state party chair race.

The first of those turning points will be the nomination of candidates for secretary of state and attorney general to take on the Democratic incumbents, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel. Republicans this year have decided to emulate a Democratic tactic and hold an endorsement convention, to take place April 23, that will allow the party to designate a de facto nominee well in advance of the formal August convention to officially nominate candidates.

But the key to candidate winning a state convention is to get their people elected at county conventions to go to the state convention as delegates. Those will take place Monday evening across the state.

The attorney general race is spurring the greatest intensity and handwringing because of the aggressive effort by Mr. Trump and his Michigan supporters, namely Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, to nominate attorney Matt DePerno. He is one of the leading proponents of false claims that fraud decided the 2020 election in Michigan and has been dogged by allegations of improper conduct as an attorney, though he was never sanctioned by the Attorney Grievance Commission.

The Trump forces have taken aim at the party's 2018 attorney general nominee, former House Speaker Tom Leonard, who won a tough convention race four years ago. State Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township), an attorney, has sought to cast himself as someone who can capture the grassroots intensity of the Trump forces but not tied to the establishment like Mr. Leonard.

Mr. DePerno appears to have growing support among grassroots Republicans and his message was amplified among those voters when he was invited to speak at a rally earlier this month hosted by former President Donald Trump – who has endorsed the candidate along with Kristina Karamo for secretary of state.

The more Trump-friendly areas like Macomb and Oakland are showing signs of support for

Mr. DePerno said he's taken a statewide approach to courting delegates.

As to whether that's been through face-to-face conversations, meeting Republicans where they are at county or city GOP events to rallies like Mr. Trump's, the candidate said all of the above.

The Trump rally and the former president's endorsement, however, appears to have been the biggest boost his push with delegates. He's also garnered support from the party's co-chair, Meshawn Maddock, signaling that this will not be your average endorsement and nomination convention.

Still, Mr. DePerno said he's worked hard to try and bridge the interests of the grassroots and the establishment, especially surrounding Mr. DePerno's hallmark 2020 election fraud claims.

"I believe it's time now for the party to continue to come together, to unite behind my candidacy, and let's go fight Dana Nessel and win this election."

On the shifting tide against Mr. Leonard and Mr. Weiser's involvement: "I wouldn't say it's surprising. It's the culmination of a lot of hard work by myself and my campaign team. I have the hardest working people in the business working for me right now. We've done a lot to build coalitions with people that are important to the campaign. State party people are important. Grassroots people are important, and I've done something that no other candidate has been able to do, which is bridge the gap between them. I have had a grassroots army that the other candidates can't even match."

He also said his "storm the convention" comment was taken out of context, but said the party hasn't had this kind of energy going into midterm convention since the Tea Party erupted in the late 2000s. He said it's even bigger than in 2020. He simply wanted people to begin engaging in the process of going to the conventions and participating.

In general, precinct delegates are eligible to be state convention delegates but there is a provision to allow some non-delegates to be elected. That could help Mr. DePerno.

Mr. DePerno also believes it will be a landslide victory for him at the state convention.

As to his efforts in courting delegates, which appears to be more of an uphill battle than Mr. Leonard may have expected given talk that party leaders and possibly some donors were working to talk him out of the race, the former House speaker said his team "is working hard to continue expanding the strong support we've received from grassroots conservatives."

Mr. Leonard won a tough nomination fight for attorney general at the 2018 Republican convention.

"As I travel the state to meet with precinct delegates, the message I hear is consistent and clear: Republicans want an attorney general who will protect and defend the Constitution, enforce our laws, and prosecute crime," Mr. Leonard said in a statement provided to Gongwer. "Our message and my record are resonating with conservatives across Michigan who are fed up with Dana Nessel and fired up to elect a rule-of-law attorney general."

Gongwer had initially requested an interview with Mr. Leonard, but the candidate declined.

Mr. Berman did not respond to requests for interviews or comment on his race.

Secretary of state candidates are also working tirelessly to get their supporters to come out for the county conventions.

Kristina Karamo, a newcomer who has led false claims about the 2020 election and has the endorsement of President Donald Trump and Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, is seen by many to have an edge.

Gongwer News Service reached to Ms. Karamo's campaign, but a request for comment was not returned in time for publication.

Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) said his strategy from the beginning is to get the support of all of the precinct delegates that were elected in 2020.

"I've so far called 2,300 of the 2,800 phone numbers I have," Mr. LaFave said. "I continue to work every day to get the support of the entire universe of delegates."

He also added he has driven at least 34,000 miles over the last six months for his campaign, going to MIGOP monthly meetings, dinners and forums. Nobody has worked harder to win this nomination, and nobody will work harder to beat Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in November, Mr. LaFave said.

Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry said she has many people who are enthusiastic about her campaign who will be at the county convention.

Both Mr. LaFave and Ms. Berry said they did not anticipate any problems to arise, with Mr. LaFave saying he did not expect any fireworks going on in the Upper Peninsula.

Ms. Berry said she anticipated the drama to take place more so for the attorney general race, saying she found the secretary of state race to be on the tamer side. It's going to really depend on the chair of the county conventions as well as the district chairs to keep order, Ms. Berry said.

As far as her message to the delegates, Ms. Berry is focusing on experience.

"We're going to be hiring, essentially nominating, the chief elections officer for the state of Michigan," she said. "I am the only candidate running with any election experience whatsoever."

She said all three candidates and many in the MIGOP do not feel confident in the election process and after hundreds of audits, many voters still do not trust the process.

"We need somebody that has experience that knows what to fix and how to fix it," Mr. Berry said, adding to nominate a candidate who does not have any election experience does not make much sense.

Mr. LaFave also seemed to be confident going into the county conventions.

"Everybody going to the convention knows who they're going to vote for, and it will be me," Mr. LaFave said. "Most of the counties in Michigan are all pretty pleased with the choices that they made with me and I know that I'm winning in a majority of counties."

He did say there are going to be some contentious battles at county convention which is not unexpected, calling the process healthy, good and common among both parties.

"It does matter who gets elected to state convention, but at the end of the day you need to nominate somebody that can win in November," Mr. LaFave, adding the nomination of Ms. Karamo would mean another four years in office for Ms. Benson.

Oakland County Republican Party Chair Rocky Raczkowski, asked whether he expects a flood of newcomers or non-delegates getting sent to state convention with the 15 percent rule: "No, because it's the delegates that get to choose who goes to the state convention. The 15 percent rule doesn't apply (necessarily) because you have to be a delegate first. Delegates have priority."

On whether he worries if those asked to storm the convention will cause problems or not understand the process/rules: "I don't know what a newcomer would be in this situation. If you're a precinct delegate, we invite them to be there. I don't know how else to respond. I work for the precinct delegates at this convention, I don't work for anybody else."

On the enthusiasm this signals for the party going in to Monday's various conventions: "There's quite a bit, yeah."

Asked if that was Biden oriented, inflation/gas/Ukraine or something else: "It's Whitmer, Benson and Nessel, who have done a piss poor job in their offices. I mean, even Democrats feel that way when you see the type of polling that we're seeing."

Macomb County Republican Party Chair Mark Forton was more open to the possibility of using the rule that 15 percent of a county's state convention delegates can be those other than precinct delegates.

"According to the state party rules, up to 15 percent of the delegates sent to state convention can be 'hard working Republicans' who are not delegates," he said. "Now that can happen, but again, that's up to the vote of the delegates. I mean, we're going to advocate for it, because we have some people that work very, very hard. And so we're going to advocate for it, but the delegates decide."

As to whether that would happen in Oakland County, he said he thinks so, but he's unsure.

Mr. Forton, on worries that newcomers or non-delegates jockeying to become delegates not understanding the rules or process, said that could happen.

"Especially at this convention," he said. "President Trump was just in town. Matt DePerno spoke, and then he addressed the crowd, he said, 'now everybody go to the county conventions and make sure this or that.' Well, the county conventions are not a closed thing, right? There are always a lot of guests, husbands or wives of delegates and interested parties, so on and so forth. But we've never advertised and advocated, 'hey, all of Michigan come to our county convention.' So you know, we have the hall that holds so many. We just don't know what to expect on that regard."

That said, Mr. Forton noted that only people legally elected by their precincts in 2020 to be their delegates will be voting, and there will be a separate area for guests and onlookers.

Mr. Forton said he did not know how big a crowd to expect.

It wasn't just Mr. DePerno who called on folks to attend the county conventions en masse, Mr. Forton said he is also seeing that a lot on social media and in Facebook posts.

"We have a lot of people," he said. "Our meetings are huge. We have a lot of people who are not delegates to come to our meetings, and actually members and non-members alike. There's a lot of voters that come to our meetings, because they're very upset with what's been going on. And that's why we've been advocating so much for certain things, because being precinct delegates ourselves, our county party is supposed to represent the voters – Republican voters in Macomb. And that's what we've been doing. The establishment don't like it, but that's too bad. We represent the voters."

This story was reported by Alyssa McMurtry and Ben Solis.

Remembering Joanne Emmons And An Amazing Press Conference

Posted: April 6, 2022 10:01 AM

Former Sen. Joanne Emmons, a Big Rapids Republican who served in the Legislature for 16 years and wielded expertise and clout on taxes and education, died last week at the age of 88.

Ms. Emmons was an important member of the Legislature for many reasons. The first woman to chair the Senate Finance Committee – and at a time when taxes, especially property taxes, were a top issue in the state. The first woman to serve as Senate majority floor leader, the No. 2 position in the chamber. A key figure in building the school finance reforms that led to Proposal A of 1994. Seemingly her entire staff has gone on to run vast swaths of the Capitol community today.

But as soon as I heard Ms. Emmons had died, my mind immediately flashed back to one of the most memorable press conferences I have covered, and it was not one called by Ms. Emmons.

In 2001, the internet was still relatively new. Dial-up was still the primary form of connecting. But commerce was starting to take flight online, and immediately states and retail businesses realized a major problem was developing: state sales and use taxes generally did not cover online sales. This meant online retailers could charge 6 percent less for a product than retailers with traditional stores.

States began working on a compact of sorts to streamline their sales tax statutes. A conservative's conservative who once served on the board of directors of the Russell Kirk Center and had a litany of tax cuts on her resume, Ms. Emmons attended those meetings and introduced a bill to enter Michigan into the agreement and require online sellers to register and pay sales taxes.

This came at an interesting time when veteran legislators still populated the Senate, but the House had more than three-quarters of its membership with two or less years of service because term limits had taken effect there but not the Senate. This meant the House Republican Caucus was more conservative than the Senate Republican Caucus, especially on budgeting and taxes.

Two House Republicans who tended to vote no on all budgets, Leon Drolet and Bob Gosselin, assailed Ms. Emmons' bill, which passed the Senate and had the support of Governor John Engler. They co-authored newspaper columns criticizing Ms. Emmons and Mr. Engler. Ms. Emmons was a frequent presence on the House floor searching for votes. Mr. Gosselin called the legislation "a big government-friendly bill" and the pair had some success branding it as an "internet tax."

Ms. Emmons and Mr. Engler fumed that it merely applied an existing tax and closed a loophole. Tension was running high. Mr. Drolet and Mr. Gosselin, who were succeeding in bottling up the bill on the House Tax Policy Committee, called a news conference on the ground floor of the Capitol in a small conference room to discuss their opposition.

The press conference was underway and reporters asking questions when all of a sudden Ms. Emmons walked into the room. Ms. Emmons was tough as nails and the look she shot Mr. Drolet and Mr. Gosselin as Mr. Gosselin said the bill put Republicans "on the wrong side of the taxpayer" could have melted the Austin Blair statue in front of the Capitol.

Ms. Emmons took the opportunity to fire off a few questions of her own at the pair. Mr. Drolet and Mr. Gosselin weren't rattled to the point of losing control (particularly Mr. Drolet, who probably admired what Ms. Emmons was doing) but they were clearly somewhat stunned.

Ms. Emmons fumed that businesses could just avoid setting up in the state and enjoy the 6 percent advantage.

This is an excerpt of the story I wrote:

Mr. Drolet responded that traditional stores themselves should get on-line to compete with out-of-state Internet companies. That prompted Ms. Emmons to say, "So we don't need retail stores because everyone can just use the Internet. Maybe when you have trouble (in your area), we'll e-mail you a fire truck or a picture of a policeman."

Ms. Emmons said without collection of such taxes, state programs would have to be cut. "You will have all the opportunity in the world to cut every service in 2003. That's what you're going to have to do."

The senator also called Mr. Drolet's proposal to bring Internet retailers to Michigan unrealistic for her rural district and said these on-line companies are putting her hometown stores out of business.

Mr. Drolet responded: "There are businesses that have gone out of business for years because of the marketplace. Maybe we should introduce a bill that would ban all competition in your city."

It was an amazing exchange and moment.

How did it all end? With a trademark Emmons victory. The House took the exact contents of her bill, copied and pasted it into a House bill sponsored by someone else and passed it. Mr. Engler signed it.

Ms. Emmons' name wasn't always on major bills as the sponsor but she was a behind-the-scenes force. In this case, she was a little less behind-the-scenes but the end result was the same.

At Last, A Serious Attempt To Change Term Limits

Posted: March 2, 2022 11:06 AM

About a week into my first stint at Gongwer News Service, as the cub reporter covering the House of Representatives, I committed a grievous sin.

In those days, if you wanted the roll call vote on a bill, you had to walk into the Document Room off the House floor, grab the yellow paper with the roll call vote, put it on the copier, make a copy and put the original back in the tray with all the yellow sheets and other roll call votes.

I forgot to put it back. A few seconds after this happened, then-Rep. Don Gilmer, one of the great legislators to pass through the Capitol, strolled into the Document Room. He was looking for the same sheet and couldn't find it. Horrified, I realized what I had done, lifted up the copier lid and handed him the yellow sheet.

"Can we get term limits for reporters?" he chortled.

It was a poignant dig. It was late 1998, with the House set to seat 64 new members as a result of the 1992 term limits constitutional amendment limiting House members to three two-year terms taking effect. Veterans like Mr. Gilmer were in their final weeks, voters having rebelled at entrenched incumbents, spending 20, 30, even 40 years in office – not their own of course but of the mythical "other guy" who was responsible for whatever ills they believed befell their government.

As the years have passed, there is a consensus among almost everyone who works in the Capitol, works with people who work in the Capitol or observes people who work in the Capitol.

Term limits damaged the legislative branch, mainly the House.

The six-year limit in the House has led to a succession of speakers and minority leaders with only one or two terms of experience, meaning that from their first moments walking into the Capitol they already are focused on running to lead their caucus instead of first having the chance to build expertise on policy and let their opportunity to lead build over years as they demonstrate their aptitude.

The speaker also manages the entire House operation and needs to work with the Senate and governor to reach agreement on bills and the budget, again something where having more expertise and time to build relationships is of enormous value and long since lost.

A greatest hits of term limits failures of the past 24 years would include:

  • The House rushing through a repeal of the old Single Business Tax in a way that would have triggered a trade war with Canada (that the still veteran Senate had to fix).
  • A seemingly endless series of scandals as a parade of members not mature enough to realize the importance of their role got into trouble.
  • First-term members in the House forced into chairing committees, some of them handling issues far too complex for a new member. The former chair of the budget that handles the Department of Health and Human Services, a solid lawmaker, even after a term in the job, said the complexity of that budget was still too much for him.
  • The Courser-Gamrat debacle and the clumsy handling of it.
  • The budget shutdowns of 2007 and 2009.
  • The revelations now that, at minimum, former Speaker Lee Chatfield – the youngest speaker in 106 years – used his position to live the high life and partake in the very perks of power he scorned as a candidate.

Now, finally, after 20 years of false starts, talk and little action, an impressive coalition has come together to change term limits and is pursuing a constitutional amendment for the November ballot.

The proposal is simple. Instead of the six-year limit in the House and eight-year limit in the Senate, there would be a 12-year total limit in the Legislature. To allow for a broader reform message, the proposal also would mandate state elected officials to disclose information about their personal finances.

There's no reason to "on the one hand, on the other hand" this one: The new 12-year limit will improve House operations.

No, it won't end partisanship, nor should it. It will not end corruption, which certainly existed in the pre-term limits era. It won't prevent fringe characters like David Jaye, John Olumba and Steve Carra from getting elected, nor should it. Voters have the right to elect the person they deem best for them. It won't stop ambitious House members from running for the Senate and leading to churn.

But it will give members a chance to learn how to be a legislator first and not be thrust too soon into important roles like committee chair, floor leader and speaker. Speakers will likely have serve for six to eight years before getting elected, having demonstrated their abilities to lead first. Committee and subcommittee members could develop expertise for three and four terms before becoming chair.

It will mean that the House member in their first or second term could decide to stay put in the House for 12 years instead of gambling on a Senate run in hopes of serving another eight years in the Legislature instead of just another two or four.

This won't change much for the Senate. The Senate has generally had the more experienced body in term limits with the bulk of the members coming from the House.

But it would stabilize the House.

And it would still keep term limits in place. The idea that members spending 12 years in the House or Senate will bring back the most undesirable elements of the old days doesn't wash.

Let's recap a few of those because it would be a mistake to lionize the old days as perfect.

There was the arrogance. Committee meetings never started even close to on time because of what was then called "legislator time" – a concept that the legislator's schedule was most important and "committee meetings can start when we're good and ready."

Or how when school groups would visit and be announced and there would be no reaction from the legislators below, their staff members frantically applauding instead to try to show the kids someone cared they were there. One of the small, but welcome, changes in 1999 when the 64 freshmen arrived was that when school groups visited and were announced, the representatives began enthusiastically applauding them.

Committee chairs sometimes held their posts for too long, developing a power base of their own with favorites they would reward and enemies they would punish.

The proposal, however, does not remove term limits and open the door back to those issues.

The strident term limits supporters, I get it. They have a fear of entrenched government power.

But there is a happy medium between the major operational difficulties caused by the nation's strictest-in-the-nation term limits law and the old days of legislators serving for decades.

I don't know if this new proposal is that happy medium, but it is a reasonable attempt to find one.

Gongwer To Introduce New Website, Unified Tracking Dashboard

Posted: February 23, 2022 11:48 AM

Gongwer News Service is poised to introduce a next-generation website in the coming days, giving subscribers a cutting-edge platform and setting the stage for the deployment of future service improvements.

The new site incorporates a series of tracking system enhancements into a streamlined tracking dashboard that immediately displays details on each user's tracking profile. Further, the interactive site makes it easier for users to track additional items and create tracking groups that can be used to share legislative information with clients, members and associates.

The new site preserves Gongwer's traditional layout, category pages and mobile-friendly platform.

Users will find much greater ease of usage through the use of drop-down menus in the tracking system that keep them in the same location rather than the old system of accordions on the main tracking page that often had to be reopened while making changes to tracked bills and rules.

The new website will be a seamless transition for subscribers. Users will not have to update login information when the new site goes live. And Gongwer subscribers will continue to enjoy unlimited bill tracking as part of their subscription at no additional charge.

Below is a list of main site pages, with details on what information is available on each one:

News: Hosts Gongwer's flagship news product, the Michigan Report. The interactive Michigan Report includes coverage of key issues and debates in and around the Capitol, and delivers links, resources and documents that help subscribers navigate policy and politics. Gongwer's online news archive dates to 1993.

Tracking: The go-to page for individuals and organizations that monitor legislation, MCL sections, lawmakers, committees, keywords and more. Use the tracking page to build different tracking groups and share them with members, associates and colleagues.

Legislation: Detailing current and past bills, public acts and resolutions, the legislation page shows recent activities, lists of bills by category, information on bills awaiting action in the second chamber and much more. Every bill pending in the Legislature has a detailed bill history page.

Schedules: Michigan's most extensive and reliable calendar for government, political, news and policy events. Includes full details on legislative and executive branch events, fundraisers, news conferences and more, including webcasts when available. Move events to your personal calendar with Gongwer's sync feature.

Directories: Extensive rosters of the Legislature, committee memberships and lawmaker and staff contact tools. Use Gongwer directories to stay on top of key changes in government.

Elections: Detailed information on the next generation of Michigan lawmakers. Use Gongwer's election resources to see who is running, review their bios and contact them prior to or following the elections. Candidate information is updated regularly.

Redistricting: A one-stop page with news and information pertaining to the ongoing legislative and congressional redistricting processes.

Budget: Full details on Michigan's budget process, with links to Gongwer articles, budget bills, special resources and more.

Advocacy Tools: Use Gongwer advocacy tools to contact lawmakers and their staffs. Target your communications down to the committee caucus level to make sure your message is heard.

Update Profile: Use the update profile page to select how and when you receive messages and alerts, either via email or text message.

Comments or suggestions regarding the new site are encouraged and can be submitted to or via a new contact us form.

Levin, Stevens Showdown Shaping Up As A Dandy

Posted: February 18, 2022 3:44 PM

It's the kind of thing that sends chills down partisans' spines and usually makes them just want to pretend it isn't happening: an intraparty primary between heavyweights that divides friends, wastes resources that could be spent on the general election, wrecks the political career of someone they like and generally just makes everyone feel awful.

We've had a bunch of them through the years. In my time, the ones that most come to mind are the Blanchard-Bonior-Granholm gubernatorial primary of 2002, the Dingell-Rivers primary of 2002, the Bisbee-DeRossett-DeWeese-Schwarz-Smith-Walberg primary of 2004, the Bouchard-Cox-George-Hoekstra-Snyder primary of 2010 and the Calley-Schuette primary of 2018. This is not an exhaustive list but what came to mind first.

2022 has a new entry: U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township vs. U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens of Waterford Township.

Everyone knew redistricting would be a bloodbath for the Democratic U.S. House delegation. The Republican-drawn maps of 2011 were designed to limit Democratic representation in Oakland County. But in the end, the shift toward Democrats in the county proved so strong that every district with Oakland County territory became Democratic held with a whopping four Oakland County residents serving in Congress:

  • U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holly, representing the northern part of the county;
  • Mr. Levin, representing the southeast corner of the county;
  • Ms. Stevens, representing a squiggly belt of communities ranging from Novi and Lyon Township in the southwest to Troy and Birmingham in the east; and
  • U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, representing communities forming the spine of the county like her hometown going north to Pontiac.

The redistricting carnage is significant, as expected.

Ms. Slotkin saw northern Oakland, including her hometown, drawn into a solidly Republican district tailor-made for U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Township). She's moving to Ingham County where her political base is to run in the new 7th District.

Ms. Lawrence's district became more logical than her serpentine current district but that also meant she lost almost all her voters. She could have run in the new 12th District but might have faced a serious primary against U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib in a district that would have been a better fit for Ms. Tlaib. Ms. Lawrence opted not to seek reelection, and Ms. Tlaib is indeed running in the new 12th.

The majority of Mr. Levin's district is in southern Macomb County, now in the new 10th. But that's neither where he lives nor a good political fit for the staunchly liberal Mr. Levin. He opted to run in the district where he lives, the new 11th District.

Ms. Stevens, had she remained in Rochester Hills, would have lost all but a couple precincts from her current district and had to run in the 10th, where she would have ceded nearly all advantages of incumbency and her strong pro-gun control views would have been out of step. She opted to move to Waterford Township and run in the new 11th, which inherited a large number of her constituents.

To say the least, this is an uncomfortable moment for Michigan Democrats.

On the one hand, there's Mr. Levin, beloved in organized labor, son of former U.S. Rep. Sander Levin and nephew to the late former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. He's done a ton of leg work in the environmental and labor movements. On the other hand, there's a rising star in Ms. Stevens, who won admiration for flipping a U.S. House seat in 2018 and then holding it in 2020 even as Democrats struggled nationally in key U.S. House races. She's two decades younger than Mr. Levin and potentially a big part of the party's future in the state.

So how does this stack up?

Geographically, there's no question Ms. Stevens has far more voters carrying over from her current district to the new one.

But that's not what's in play in a Democratic primary. Democratic primary voters are what matter and there it's much closer.

First, I have to correct a tweet I posted a few weeks back where I said Mr. Levin had a decisive edge in this department. Not correct, and thanks to those who ran the numbers and alerted me.

If you look at the 2018 Democratic primary, when both Mr. Levin and Ms. Stevens won their first nominations and there was an expensive statewide Democratic primary to assure comparable turnout in both districts, there were 38,874 total Democratic votes in the communities that overlap Ms. Stevens' old district and the new one. There were 36,368 total Democratic votes in the communities that overlap Mr. Levin's old district and the new one.

What some national analysts have overlooked is that a big chunk of Ms. Stevens' constituency that carries over from her old district to the new one is Republican. Commerce and White Lake Townships aren't producing a ton of Democratic votes. Mr. Levin has heavily Democratic communities carrying over.

The endorsement game is aggressive early. Mr. Levin, as expected, is piling up endorsements from organized labor. But Ms. Stevens scored a coup in getting Ms. Lawrence's endorsement. Thanks to the Twitterverse for reminding me that Sander Levin endorsed Rudy Hobbs over Ms. Lawrence in the 2014 primary, so this should not have come as a big surprise.

There were 35,603 Democratic votes out of Ms. Lawrence's district in the 2018 Democratic primary that carry over to the new district, so Ms. Lawrence's support could be huge, especially among Black voters unfamiliar with Mr. Levin and Ms. Stevens.

Ms. Stevens also enjoys a big edge in campaign cash thanks to her having been able to raise money for the past year as a potentially vulnerable Democrat in 2022. That's not the case anymore because this is a solidly Democratic district. Nonetheless, Mr. Levin has little time to make up the difference, though he certainly has the network to chip away.

Ms. Stevens fired the first shot, albeit a gentle one, in questioning Mr. Levin's decision to run in the 11th and leave behind the bulk of his constituents to the new 10th. Mr. Levin's response was to, in effect, say it was Ms. Stevens who moved into the new district, not he.

These kinds of primaries within the family mean there's a lot at stake. Mr. Levin has talked in the past of running for governor and has the family legacy on his shoulders. Ms. Stevens could emerge as a future statewide candidate or significant player in the U.S. House.

The reality that one will find their political future in tatters as of August 3 is what has so many Democrats gnashing their teeth right now.

Lightner: Hall Offered Her Job To Cede Seat To Him; Not So, He Says

Posted: February 14, 2022 7:37 AM

Rep. Sarah Lightner says Rep. Matt Hall offered her a job on the House Republican Caucus staff if she agreed not to run for reelection to the 45th House District in which they both live.

She also claims he offered to move into a new district, avoiding a primary fight between the two of them, should she publicly back him for House Republican leader in the upcoming term.

Mr. Hall (R-Marshall), responding to the allegation, said he "did not offer her a job with the caucus, and I'm going to keep a private conversation private. She's completely mischaracterized the conversation."

Ms. Lightner (R-Springport) was incredulous that Mr. Hall would deny the conversation.

Tensions have been building in the House Republican Caucus over the potential Hall-Lightner primary as a result of redistricting. Not only does it pit two major players in the caucus against one another (Ms. Lightner is co-chair of the House Republican Campaign Committee and Mr. Hall is on the fundraising team for the HRCC) and both are running for House Republican leader for the 2023-24 term – speaker if the GOP keeps majority. Also running to lead the caucus are Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) and Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford).

The new 45th keeps what Mr. Hall now represents in Calhoun County and some of what he represents in Kalamazoo County. It adds some of the portion of Jackson County Ms. Lightner now represents. Ms. Lightner's current district got carved up between six different districts.

Ms. Lightner said she and Mr. Hall have had lots of conversations about the situation.

"Rep. Hall asked me to sit out for two years and he would give me a job. That to me was a little offensive," she said. "I'm not willing to barter or negotiate me running for the 45th. … I just really feel like I have a better connection with people in general when it comes to face to face and one on one talking to them."

Ms. Lightner said that conversation happened on a Friday. She then filed to run for reelection out of the new 45th District on a Monday.

"That kind of put me over the tipping edge," she said.

Mr. Hall should be the one to move, Ms. Lightner said. Her children attend the Springport schools. Her husband is an elected member of the local school board. The family owns a farm that has long been in her husband's family. Mr. Hall is single, has no children and does not have long-term roots in the area, she said.

For Ms. Lightner to change districts, the only real option being the 46th, her children would have to change school districts and her husband resign from the school board. This would also put her into a swing district Democrats are expected to heavily contest.

Mr. Hall doesn't have a great option either, but it would present less personal upheaval. He could move into the new 42nd District, a likely Republican district with no current incumbent that has five townships that overlap with his current 63rd District.

"I just felt like he would probably do the right thing and phase into his Kalamazoo community instead of the Calhoun community. He has in my eyes more flexibility," Ms. Lightner said. "Why not take the higher road and move over to another community that he already represents, and we have two good caucus members coming back instead of possibly just one. To me that's him just looking out for himself and not the greater good of the caucus."

Ms. Lightner said Mr. Hall told her he did not want to move but would do so if she would publicly support him for speaker. She declined.

"I'm not going to be strongarmed into supporting someone or something just to save from a primary," she said. "I believe I'm doing the right thing. I believe in continuing to represent my communities."

Ms. Lightner noted that she has filed for the 45th District, and Mr. Hall has not, leaving it to him to decide whether they face off in a primary.

"His words were he didn't want to have a bloodbath," she said. "Well, at this point, it's up to him on whether or not we have one."

Another point of contention in the past week is Mr. Hall's fundraising. He led the field among potential leader candidates with $102,201 in fundraising for his PAC during the most recent reporting period and has $242,949 cash on hand. None of the other potential leader candidates were close. Ms. Lightner raised $5,850 for her PAC and had $22,132 cash on hand.

What some disliked were two contributions he received late in the reporting period to his candidate committee from PACs controlled by other House members. Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Fort Gratiot) and Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) had their PACs each contribute $10,000 to Mr. Hall's reelection Committee on December 27 and December 15, respectively. That brought Mr. Hall's candidate committee to $30,000 raised for the period and $109,249 cash on hand.

On December 8, Mr. Hall's PAC gave Mr. Filler's PAC $12,500, and it gave $12,500 to Mr. Beeler's PAC on December 15.

That, to some caucus members, looked like Mr. Hall using his PAC, which in general members use to help their caucus win majority, to help himself. It resulted in his candidate committee raising more money for the period than Ms. Lightner, who raised $13,953, and having more cash on hand (she had $22,914).

"It goes to show you that it's more about Matt Hall than it is his constituents or the people of Michigan," Ms. Lightner said of the fundraising activity.

Mr. Hall's PAC did, however, max out to the House Republican Campaign Committee for 2021.

Mr. Hall waved off any criticism.

"I think my fundraising numbers speak for themselves. We've raised at least 10 times the money that she has, and I'll leave it at that," he said.

To Mr. Hall's claims he did not offer her a job, Ms. Lightner stood by what she said.

"His statement suggesting I sit out for two years, and he'll give me a job is hard to mischaracterize or misread," she said. "I know what he said."

Ms. Lightner said her priority is to represent the communities with which she feels a bond. Yes, they were private conversations between her and Mr. Hall, Ms. Lightner said, but she said she would not be strongarmed.

"He's trying to put me in a box, and I'm not going to close the lid on that box," she said.

Staff Writer Jordyn Hermani contributed to this report.

Whitmer Tries A Different Post-Budget Strategy

Posted: February 10, 2022 9:45 AM

For as long as I can remember, the governor's m.o. when it comes to presenting the budget goes like this:

The budget director presents the recommendation to a joint session of the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee though sometimes the governor would deliver the recommendation in person. Then everyone takes about an hour to collect themselves after the gush of information, and the governor, budget director and lieutenant governor meet with reporters, usually in the Michigan Room of the Romney Building but sometimes in the Romney Building's Press Auditorium.

The governor would then immediately open it up for questions and usually that would last about a half-hour. Then it would be done, reporters would pepper the budget director with some technical questions and then we'd go write or broadcast our brains out.

But for whatever reason, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her staff have apparently declared the Press Auditorium and Michigan Room no-go zones. I don't think there's been an event for reporters in either room since the summer of 2020. At that point, the pandemic had eased a little and they started holding news conferences in the Press Auditorium instead of using the State Police headquarters southwest of Lansing.

Maybe it's a feeling that those venues became synonymous with bad news. Or maybe because it's an election year, the governor and her team just want her to get out of the Lansing bubble.

In any case, Ms. Whitmer traveled to Grand Ledge High School after Budget Director Chris Harkins concluded his presentation of the budget and took questions from lawmakers.

A quick digression: It was something to see Mr. Harkins and Deputy Budget Director Bethany Wicksall presenting the budget, two people who have worked their way up from beginning roles on legislative budget staff and are universally respected. We should pause to appreciate good things happening for good people amid an environment of doomscrolling.

The backdrop for Ms. Whitmer's event was the Grand Ledge High School's media center. Ms. Whitmer is proposing historic increases in K-12 education funding, thus the location.

Instead of just fielding questions on the budget, however, this was more of a budget presentation as Ms. Whitmer went through the highlights of her budget proposal after a series of educators and school administrators spoke.

I don't envy advance staff for elected officials. It's a tough job.

That was seen when as soon as Ms. Whitmer stepped to the podium, classes changed at the high school. All of a sudden, the hallway behind Ms. Whitmer filled with students and the din of the school infiltrated the media center. It didn't overwhelm Ms. Whitmer's voice but it was in the background.

The governor, skilled as she is, embraced it and turned to wave to the students.

The students shuffled by, staring somewhat confusedly at what was happening in the media center. The governor returned to her remarks.

I started to think it was just a matter of time until one of the students did what would come naturally to many a teenager in such a situation, seeing a room full of TV cameras and very serious adults and sure enough it did.

The windows behind Ms. Whitmer were not floor to ceiling but perhaps beginning about five feet above the floor and then going upward from there. In those windows suddenly appeared a student's hand flipping the bird as he or she walked past, the hand with a middle finger all that was visible of the student as though it were disembodied from the rest of their arm.

I doubt this was directed at Ms. Whitmer. She was wearing a mask and her back was to the hallway, rendering her unrecognizable to the students.

In the end, there were fewer questions asked of the governor than usual but Mr. Harkins and Ms. Wicksall hung around to handle the technical questions.

Maybe next year we'll all be back in the Romney Building's Press Auditorium. Someone's going to have to do some serious cobweb removal first though.

A Former Advisor Now Criticizes Craig

Posted: February 2, 2022 11:57 AM

James Craig's gubernatorial campaign is in a perilous moment.

Mr. Craig started out as the perceived frontrunner leading up to his official candidacy announcement last summer once he announced his retirement as Detroit police chief and stoked speculation he would run. He had some built-in strengths: name recognition from his lengthy tenure as Detroit police chief and frequent appearances on Fox News Channel and some excitement from Republican funders and establishment types who saw him as someone who would make a good foil to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

There have been some bumps, however. He announced he was running on Fox News Channel well before his formal announcement. Then he backtracked on that unscheduled first announcement. There was the strange event reporters were invited to attend but instead were walled off from a meeting he held with law enforcement leaders before he later took questions. Then there was the debacle on Belle Isle when his announcement was taken over by left-wing protestors, followed by his moving the event to a backup location where he made a couple verbal stumbles, including rejecting the idea that roads and infrastructure were a priority.

Now he has a significant campaign cash issue. He had a decent to solid first fundraising period from July through October, raising $1.4 million. But his second period could be classified as a disaster, raising just $607,831 and spending more than that, $728,733. In no way should a candidate be spending more than they raise this far before the election. He's down to $845,971 cash on hand.

There's still time, but Mr. Craig is going to need huge improvement in fundraising and quickly if he's going to be able to get his message out as self-funders like Perry Johnson and Kevin Rinke eventually own the advertising game. The good news for Mr. Craig is he remains the best known of the candidates thanks to his time as chief in Detroit and his Fox News Channel appearances but those will only take him so far.

Among the subplots following Monday's campaign finance reports that disclosed Mr. Craig's tenuous situation is that his former senior advisor, John Yob, came flying off the sidelines as Mr. Johnson's new advisor and trashed/mocked the other candidates' lackluster fundraising, including by extension Mr. Craig.

The circumstances of how Mr. Craig and Mr. Yob parted ways last year are known only to them.

Whatever the case, it was remarkable this week to see Mr. Yob offer this tweet: "The failed field of #MIGOV candidates demonstrated in their campaign finance reports that they have failed to inspire support from the millions of people who are ready to replace Governor Whitmer."

I can't say I can recall a top campaign strategist dumping on their former client in the same fashion.

The Craig-Yob marriage always seemed off. Mr. Yob has long worked with candidates outside of the Republican establishment, with some exceptions. Mr. Craig has been the hope of the GOP establishment. That Mr. Yob has linked up with Mr. Johnson, an outsider, tracks with the usual pattern of past Yob clients.

This could get uglier than that scene on Belle Isle when Mr. Craig attempted to announce he was running for governor.

Whitmer Thanks Supporters With A Margarita Kit

Posted: January 26, 2022 4:49 PM

Governor Gretchen Whitmer provides an annual small gift to supporters at the time of her State of the State speech.

One year it was a throw blanket with the state of Michigan's geographic borders, for example.

This year, the governor is offering a toast of sorts. Ms. Whitmer provided recipients with a margarita kit – a pint of tequila, a jar of margarita mix from Petoskey-based American Spoon and a lime.

The tequila is Casamigos. Outside of hosting a tequila party in college using El Toro, I don't know a lot about tequila, so I had to look it up. It's a company based in White Plains, New York, that works with a distiller in Mexico. George Clooney apparently likes it, or at least that's what the company's website says.

"Here's to you!" Ms. Whitmer says in a card accompanying the gift. "Thank you for all you've done having mine and all Michiganders' backs. Enjoy my favorite drink!"

The card has a disclaimer that Ms. Whitmer's 501(c)4 fund, Michigan Transition 2019, paid for the gift.

The Chatfield Scandal: What We Know Tells A Lot

Posted: January 11, 2022 4:47 PM

The unknowns in the scandal surrounding former House Speaker Lee Chatfield will rightfully get the focus in the days and weeks ahead.

Those unknowns:

  • Whether he will be charged criminally amid allegations from his sister-in-law, Rebekah Chatfield, that he sexually assaulted her going back to when she was either 15 or 16 years old and a student at the Northern Michigan Christian Academy owned by Mr. Chatfield's family and where he once taught. Mr. Chatfield has claimed, through his attorney, that the two had a consensual sexual relationship that began after she was 18 (if it took place before she was 18, as she alleges, by law it cannot be consensual because of the teacher/student element).
  • What financial wrongdoing is Rebekah Chatfield alleging? Her attorney has suggested Mr. Chatfield committed unspecified financial wrongdoing.
  • Is this a scandal primarily affecting Mr. Chatfield and his family or is this going to spread to the Lansing realm and envelope those close to Mr. Chatfield during his time in the House from 2015-20 and speaker from 2019-20?

But there's a whole lot we *do* know at this point and all of it is incredibly damning of Mr. Chatfield.

First, he had sexual contact with his sister-in-law – yes, his sister-in-law – for years while married.

If one takes away the legalese in the extraordinary statement Mr. Chatfield's attorney issued Friday, it in effect said (my translation), "Mr. Chatfield is not a rapist but rather someone who cheated on his wife for years with his brother's girlfriend, fiancée and then wife. He behaved horribly but not criminally."

Second, Mr. Chatfield's prolific fundraising and spending of that money is about to get rare scrutiny for a politician's funds. In my nearly 20 years of covering Michigan government and politics, I have not seen any legislator who could raise money like he did, hauling in so much money that he created four PACs just so he could provide quadruple the maximum contribution to candidates he could with one PAC (editor's note: this story has been changed to correct the number of PACs Mr. Chatfield controlled). Then there's his secretive nonprofit fund, which is likely to be the major focus on any potential investigation into financial improprieties.

Third, while hypocrisy runs rampant in politics, Mr. Chatfield has taken that trait to a new extreme.

He unseated then-Rep. Frank Foster in the 2014 Republican primary largely for two reasons: He hammered Mr. Foster over his support for extending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to gays and lesbians and for allegedly spending too much time in Lansing.

In a 2014 Petoskey News-Review story about the race, Mr. Chatfield said he ran because he "decided my family and my freedoms were more important than my friendships."

It's already been well-chronicled that Mr. Chatfield partook in the perks of power in Lansing, regularly topping the list put together by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network of legislators who received lobbyist-paid meals. The story in Bridge Michigan took that to new heights, however, with Mr. Chatfield's brother, Aaron, Rebekah's husband, saying he served as his brother's driver to various bars and strip clubs.

Before he became speaker, Mr. Chatfield was able to get his two brothers on the House payroll as staffers, a fact reported by Gongwer at the time and a major red flag. They left the House staff once Mr. Chatfield became speaker and had hiring and firing authority for House employees. Still, the use of the old "friends and family plan" with taxpayer funds would hardly be considered consistent with Mr. Chatfield's 2014 push against insiderism.

And after making the importance of one man, one woman marriage a centerpiece of why he challenged Mr. Foster in 2014, Mr. Chatfield's multiple affairs, as revealed in his attorney's statement, shows his defense of marriage to be a sham.

Fourth, and while this is not the most important element of this scandal, it is the latest chapter on what a disaster the 1992 term limits law has been. It is not the existence of term limits in general that has wreaked havoc on the Michigan's legislative branch but the specifics of the Michigan constitutional language.

The six-year lifetime limit in the House has thrown the leadership of the House into turmoil producing speakers with two or four years of experience, some of whom were up to the challenge and others who were not.

When Mr. Chatfield left office in 2021, there was talk of him as still a rising star on the Michigan Republican bench. He's been mentioned as a possible successor to U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) whenever Mr. Bergman decides to retire. His name was bandied about for governor. Instead, he took an economic development job in Kalamazoo that swiftly ended in his departure after an uproar in the community about his views on gays and lesbians.

There's still a lot we don't know about this scandal.

Which makes the overwhelming nature of the little we do know at this point that much more staggering.

A Season Of Change In The Capitol Community

Posted: January 3, 2022 2:38 PM

With the start of 2022, some of the Capitol community's longest-tenured, most influential leaders are retiring or moving to new positions.

Not all of these changes happened in concert with January 1 but some of them were close enough.

Among those who are moving on (apologies to anyone I overlooked):

  • Rob Fowler, longtime head of the Small Business Association of Michigan;
  • David Gregory, longtime partner and lobbyist at Kelley Cawthorne;
  • Mike Hansen, longtime president of the Michigan Community College Association;
  • Roger Martin, co-founder of Martin Waymire;
  • Charlie Owens, longtime head of the Michigan chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, who moved up to a regional role within NFIB's national organization;
  • Rich Studley, longtime president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce; and
  • Ray Telman, longtime head of the Middle Cities Education Association.

Particularly on the business side, this is a lot of turnover. Mr. Fowler, Mr. Owens and Mr. Studley have helmed their organizations for many years.

Let's take a look at who is taking the helm at these organizations:

  • Brian Calley, the former lieutenant governor who has spent the last two years transitioning into succeeding Mr. Fowler;
  • Partners Rob Elhenicky, Dave Ladd, Carrie Linderoth and Melissa McKinley continue in their roles leading Kelley Cawthorne;
  • Brandy Johnson, who was in the Whitmer administration and before that founded the Michigan College Access Network, succeeds Mr. Hansen;
  • Mr. Martin and his co-founder, Dave Waymire, sold the firm to three top leaders at the firm, Josh Hovey, Angela Minicuci and Andrea Poole (Mr. Waymire will continue working at the firm another year);
  • Amanda Fisher, a longtime official for NFIB Michigan, succeeded Mr. Owens;
  • Jim Holcomb, a fixture around Lansing for many years and with the Michigan Chamber for the past 13, completed a two-year transition into succeeding the retiring Mr. Studley; and
  • Peter Spadafore, previously the deputy executive director at the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, succeeds Mr. Telman at Middle Cities.

Best wishes to those moving on as part of the – as Mr. Gregory adeptly labeled it – #GreatGraduation. Congratulations to those succeeding them – familiar faces around town who have been working for years for these kinds of new opportunities.

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