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by Alethia Kasben, Managing Editor

What Can Lansing Get Done In Early 2022?

Posted: January 5, 2022 2:10 PM

2022 is an election year, and as such we are entering the relatively brief window where legislators will be more focused on working inside the Capitol before the filing deadline in April kicks off a summer campaign season.

So, what could the Legislature do during the first half of 2022 when it returns to session next week?

We are in the dynamic of shared power where Republicans in the Legislature are unlikely to want to give Governor Gretchen Whitmer large amounts of policy victories ahead of her reelection campaign. Even without that dynamic traditionally, election years can be a bit sleepier.

There were 168 public acts in 2021, a record low since the adoption of the 1963 Constitution. In 2020, there were 402, in 2019 there were 178 and in 2018, the activity-filled lame duck led to 690 public acts for the year.

Heading into 2022, the governor and Legislature already agreed to a $1 billion economic development package and some supplemental spending.

If lawmakers and Ms. Whitmer can agree on how to spend a larger chunk of the federal and state surplus dollars in the early part of the year is a key thing to watch.

I am also looking at how the budget will play out this year. The last several years the budget has mostly come together close to the deadline at the end of September. Of course there is a July 1 deadline in law but that has no teeth.

All parties are starting from a very different place this year than they were in the beginning of 2021 so we might see a more traditional budget cycle in 2022. Lawmakers might also want to finish it up before summer campaigning.

On policy, it is unclear if there might be some common ground on anything super significant until later in the year. But the economic development bills sort of came out of nowhere and certainly that could happen again.

Ms. Whitmer will have some asks during her State of the State address, and the Republican reaction to her priorities will be a big hint in how the months ahead may shake out.

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2021: A Year That Was The Same, But Different

Posted: December 27, 2021 1:58 PM

Oh, what a difference a year makes, or doesn't.

One year ago, the coronavirus vaccine was slowly rolling out and being administered to those in nursing homes.

As 2021 began, it was supposed to be the year we saw COVID-19 cases wane as the public protected itself and others with the vaccine. Remember how it was supposed to be over by the Fourth of July?

Well, that didn't happen, did it?

Here we are, almost one year out exactly from nursing home residents – some of our most vulnerable – starting to get the vaccine and cases are as high as ever. Case counts, of course, don't mean everything and if only cases were high, maybe that could be okay.

However, hospitalizations and deaths are also high.

While the vast majority of those in the hospital and dying are unvaccinated, that doesn't touch on those who can't get vaccinated or those who take all the precautions they can, still end up getting COVID, and might be the unlucky ones who get severely ill.

Getting severely ill or dying is certainly the worst-case scenario for COVID, but even a mild case can knock someone out or at lease disrupt their life for weeks. Exposed kids out of daycare, needing to miss work, canceled plans, etc., etc.

With omicron on the scene now, anecdotally, COVID is everywhere. We are prepared to end 2021 with more coronavirus and less optimism.

While many say we need to learn to live with COVID, shouldn't learning to live with COVID include simple precautions to avoid getting very sick or passing along a virus that could get someone else severely sick?

I would guess we are in for a rough start to 2022 with people traveling again, taking fewer precautions and a more contagious variant. People are tired of this pandemic and are tired of making sacrifices. I don't blame them.

How we will we end 2022?

Only time will tell, but I am not feeling great about it now.

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Pure Michigan Celebrates 15th Anniversary with Limited Edition Prints

Posted: July 12, 2021 3:11 PM

The Pure Michigan campaign is turning 15 and commemorating the occasion with six limited edition prints celebrating some of Michigan's most popular destinations.

The prints available for purchase were created by Ann Arbor artist Brian Walline. In partnership with The Mighty Mitten, 10 percent of profits will help restore historic, cultural and natural attractions throughout the state through donations to Michigan Cares for Tourism.

Michigan Cares for Tourism helps restore historic and natural attractions throughout the state, a statement said. Since 2013, it has provided more than $850,000 in labor, equipment and supplies to restoration projects.

"The Pure Michigan campaign is part of what inspired me to begin thinking about my love for our state and how I wanted to try to express it. I can't really sing, so drawing scenes inspired by old National Parks posters seemed more my speed," Mr. Walline said in a statement. "Years later, I'm excited to intertwine my story with Pure Michigan in some small way, and to assemble a collection of my work that attempts to represent the range and diversity of our state's beauty and wonder."

Pure Michigan has been around since 2006. In 2019, the campaign "inspired and stimulated" 5.8 million visitors to the state, the program claims. The 15th anniversary celebration will continue throughout the year with more partnerships and announcements in the coming months.

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Virtual Courts Could Be Here To Stay

Posted: June 1, 2021 4:23 PM

The past year-plus living with the coronavirus was mostly unpleasant to say the least, but one of the biggest adjustments made in public life could be here to stay: virtual court proceedings.

While virtual court hearings brought us all the delightful attorney who was definitely not a cat, it is also wildly convenient to allow the public to view and participate virtually.

Every court reporter and even those of us who cover the courts sparingly have gone to a proceeding to see dozens of people waiting for a routine hearing that takes minutes. Is it really worth their time to travel to the court and wait for potentially hours for 15 minutes in front of a judge?

Statewide reporters may have to cover a hearing at a courthouse within minutes of their home or within hours. For us political reporters, lawmakers and others are not limited to legal proceedings within the Lansing city limits. Being able to watch a hearing virtually allows reporters to be able to do their jobs efficiently and gives them access to the proceedings they need without potentially taking up almost an entire day for a one-hour assignment.

The Detroit Free Press reported today that an order for judges to make a "good faith" effort to conduct proceedings remotely when possible is likely to become permanent.

Hopefully, this will include many courts continuing to stream proceedings.

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Michigan At The Oscars

Posted: April 26, 2021 3:27 PM

Michigan saw two notable connections at last night's Oscars with Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack's brother taking home an award and actor Steven Yeun mentioning Downriver city Taylor when presenting an award.

Mr. Yeun, who lived in Taylor before eventually moving to Troy, The Detroit News reported, told viewers about the time his mother, apparently accidentally, took him to see "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," when he was 7 years old.

Ms. McCormack on Twitter boasted about her brother, Will McCormack, taking home an Oscar on Sunday, as any good sibling would.

Mr. McCormack co-directed, "If Anything Happens I Love You," which won the award for best animated short. It is about the aftermath of a school shooting.

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Gearing Up For Pandemic Budget Sequel

Posted: April 19, 2021 3:32 PM

A year into the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan, House and Senate subcommittees are scheduled to begin reporting recommendations for various agency budgets, per the traditional process for budget crafting in the state.

In 2020, the coronavirus was just taking hold in the state when subcommittees would have started to move budget recommendations and the entire process was put on hold for months.

A year later, while much of life still feels far from normal, the Legislature appears to be moving forward with a more normal budget process.

Subcommittees will kick out recommendations for the first time since 2019 during the next couple weeks and then the full committees will continue work on the budget.

A question remains on what kind of situation we will end up in when the Legislature sends final budget bills to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, which is required by July 1.

In 2019, following a breakdown in negotiations, the GOP-led Legislature sent the governor a budget that was not negotiated with her team. It ended in line-item vetoes and a continued budget battle.

In 2020, though, even among deep divisions related to COVID-19 and an upcoming election, Republican leaders and the governor's office negotiated a budget behind the scenes that passed overwhelmingly.

So far in 2021, though, budget issues have not moved in the same way. There has seemingly, so far, been little negotiations with Ms. Whitmer and her budget office as billions in federal dollars arrives to the state.

While the governor is resisting the implementation of further COVID-19 restrictions amid the current surge, it is unclear if that is thawing the ice with the Legislature. House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) met with Ms. Whitmer last week.

Is this the beginning of more cooperation between the executive and legislative branches? It is too soon to tell. While the governor's office released a statement on the meeting, Mr. Wentworth and Mr. Shirkey were quiet.

The way I see it, there are two scenarios that could play out this budget cycle.

One, the GOP-led Legislature crafts its budget with little to no input from the executive and sends it to the governor by the statutory deadline. This would dare her to veto the things she doesn't agree with and they would be gone for summer. Essentially a larger scale of what has happened with the last several supplemental budget bills.

Two, the two sides do negotiate the budget. There is way less drama and schools, local governments and everyone else who is dependent upon the state budget doesn't have to sweat all summer wondering if it comes to a resolution before October 1.

It's really hard to guess where we might end up this summer.

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Michigan's House Moving Quickly On Some Bills

Posted: March 22, 2021 5:05 PM

While the fundamental disagreements between the Republican-led Legislature and Governor Gretchen Whitmer serve as the elephant in the room so far during the current term, the Michigan House has been moving quickly on some substantial pieces of legislation.

We are nearing the first spring break of the 2021-22 term and the House has already moved a package looking to get inactive voters off the Qualified Voter File, bills to allow the expungement of a first driving while intoxicated offense, Freedom of Information Act expansion, tax exemptions for personal protective equipment and the elimination of the sunset for the .08 blood alcohol limit to constitute drunk driving, to name a few.

House committees have also reported legislation dealing with prescription drug prices and other election related matters.

It has been a busy couple months in the Legislature, and particularly in the House with many bills moving. The Senate has also been busy but has not moved quite as many bills.

Of course, for bills to become law, you need more than just the Legislature. You need the governor to sign legislation.

A question remains on how much interaction with the governor's office is happening on these bills moving so fast. It is easy to move bills if you don't actually need an agreement.

Some of the bills are repeats from last term that saw agreements. Some are not. For example, the DUI expungement bills saw a pocket veto. While the governor has not totally explained that veto, her office has hinted bills were left to be pocket vetoed because of a lack of negotiation.

So while bills are flying right now, we will see if they reach the governor's desk and what happens if they do. The Legislature and governor, of course, remain at a deep disagreement over the coronavirus response that has essentially stalled billions in federal funding the state has had since December with billions more on the way.

After this week, lawmakers are scheduled to go on a two-week break. When they return we will see if Michigan gets more of the same or maybe some more interaction in state government.

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Reading Month Goes Virtual

Posted: March 15, 2021 3:21 PM

Every March, many state officials celebrate reading month by heading to classrooms around the state to read to children, and this year, given the coronavirus pandemic, that tradition continues to look different.

Last year, the pandemic was just taking hold in Michigan in March and schools ended up being closed altogether. In 2021, though, with many students back in the classroom and some still learning virtually, lawmakers are using technology to reach students.

Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-Saint Clair Shores), Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township) and Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) posted on social media their virtual readings to classrooms.

Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) said earlier this month he recorded videos of him reading for classrooms to use throughout the month.

"I happily joined my colleagues in the Senate this year in taking a creative approach to maintain the March is Reading Month tradition, while keeping students and school staff safe," he said.

With vaccine distribution continuing to ramp up, we are hopefully nearing the end of the limitations the COVID-19 pandemic is putting on various traditions. I think we can all be hopeful officials will be able to visit more classrooms in March 2022.

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More Women Elected To State Legislatures In 2020

Posted: March 1, 2021 4:41 PM

About 30 percent of state legislators across the country are women, data from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows, the highest percentage ever.

Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures compiled by Pew Charitable Trusts shows in 2012, 23.7 percent of state legislators were women. In 2018, that number was 25 percent. In 2020, it jumped to 30 percent.

Pew says there also are more women in leadership roles.

The change can be seen in Michigan as well where while we do not have a woman speaker (and have never had one, nor a woman serving as Senate majority leader), we do have Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Township) serving as speaker pro tempore in the House.

And on the Democratic side in the House, former Minority Leader Christine Greig passed the torch to another woman for the 2021-22 term, House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township).

Before leaving office, Ms. Greig was quite proud of reaching gender parity in the House Democratic caucus.

In an article, Pew wrote about how it is beneficial to have more women in legislatures. Lawmakers across the country discussed how it can mean better policy on issues mostly pertaining to women to have them in seats where they can help shape those laws.

Michigan compares well to its neighboring states as well. With 35.8 percent of its legislators being women, Michigan comes in behind Illinois, which has 38.4 percent, but ahead of Wisconsin, with 31.1 percent, Indiana, with 26 percent, and Ohio, with 31.1 percent.

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Remote Participation In Legislative Committees Worked Last Week

Posted: February 22, 2021 3:27 PM

Last week, in case you didn't notice, many communities in Michigan got hit with 10+ inches of snow overnight. It presumably caused House and Senate leaders to move to non-voting session days, but most committees remained on the schedule.

A storm that could have easily canceled everything happening in Lansing in the past didn't do so this time. While remote participation in committees was spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, it clearly works in other situations as well.

Legislative rules now allow House and Senate lawmakers to participate in committee hearings so long as the chair of the committee and the clerk are there in person. No voting is allowed, but this early in the session, so many committees consist of just presentations or are testimony only anyway.

There were 19 committees scheduled last Tuesday and just six were canceled. Some, especially those earlier in the morning, saw almost all members – besides the chair – participate virtually while others had more members in attendance.

There was a lot of heartburn about allowing the Legislature to do work remotely. And there still is, given voting cannot happen if a member isn't present, which later in the session will be a barrier.

It seems last week provided another piece of evidence that it benefits the Legislature to allow this kind of flexibility. The pandemic will pass, but Michigan will still get dumped with snow or ice or some other kind of inclement weather that can shut down operations for a day or more.

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House Letting More Committees Inquire On COVID This Term

Posted: February 2, 2021 9:40 AM

Last term, Michigan's legislative Republicans held hearings before a special joint committee talking to the state about its coronavirus response – which as a party, the GOP has been mostly critical of – but so far this term, it appears that will be left to individual committees.

Now, the term just started. So I don't know if leadership will create another joint panel with House and Senate members to seek officials to discuss to COVID-19 specifically. But, House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) did have the chance to create the committee again just last month, and he did not.

Instead, last week we saw the House Oversight Committee discuss an order from the Department of Health and Human Services barring certain winter contact sports.

This week, the House Agriculture Committee is going to discuss the food establishment licensing process and current orders related to the pandemic.

The House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee will discuss the Department of Technology, Management and Budget's spending and response related to the pandemic.

And the House Health Policy Committee will hear from industry leaders, including Pfizer, on "perspectives regarding COVID-19."

For the Republicans, this allows multiple chairs to question officials related to the pandemic response and questions coming from members with more expertise in each area.

It also spreads out what might be one committee a week to multiple committees per week.

Democrats have criticized areas Republicans have emphasized and some of these hearings may get heated, just as the joint committee did last year.

Either way, as we head into year two of the coronavirus, criticism from Republicans on Governor Gretchen Whitmer's coronavirus response isn't quieting down and it looks like they will be spending more hours – not fewer – on the topic each week. At least for now.

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House Budget Leader Goes After Gov On Money Despite Past Agreements

Posted: January 25, 2021 4:25 PM

Michigan's Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer have disagreed on a lot in the last 12 months, and that's putting it lightly.

One area, though, where the Legislature and Ms. Whitmer's office have mostly worked well together has been the budget and supplemental spending bills to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Even as the Legislature was suing the governor, election season was at its height and there were countless issues of disagreement, the two branches of government had a budget agreement for the 2021-22 fiscal year with little drama other than the compressed timeframe.

One exception of course is the supplemental spending bill that passed in December which apparently was not fully negotiated with Ms. Whitmer and led to some line-item vetoes, including one of General Fund money going toward the state's unemployment fund. Ms. Whitmer initially said that veto would not change benefits but later acknowledged it would mean those filing after January 1, 2021, would see 20 weeks of benefits instead of 26 weeks as the GOP tie barred the two policies.

Still, that bill did pass overwhelmingly. As did the two 2021-22 budget bills and three other supplemental bills that mostly distributed federal funds toward coronavirus relief.

New House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), though, recently issued a statement taking the governor to task for not using past money effectively.

Of the six budget bills passed since March 2020, Mr. Albert only voted no on one bill.

In his statement, Mr. Albert said future funds must be used more efficiently and responsibly than the past. However, the money being distributed in the past was done through legislation Mr. Albert mostly voted yes on.

Of the COVID response this year, the Legislature, particularly Republicans, have felt left out of the process. It's something Republicans are frustrated about and that is clear. But budget bills did

not fall into that category. The governor can't spend funds without legislation being approved.

Now that we are nearly a month into 2021, the governor is calling on a supplemental spending bill dealing with federal funding and her budget presentation will happen in a matter of weeks.

Are we heading into a season with even more disagreement between Ms. Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature? Only time will tell.

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Former Dem Leader Plans To Chronicle 100th Legislature In Book

Posted: January 6, 2021 1:46 PM

Michigan's 100th Legislature saw a lot happen: auto insurance changes that remained elusive for decades before the 2019-20 term, criminal justice reform, an unprecedented aftermath to the presidential election, split government for the first time since 2010 and, of course, the coronavirus which consumed most of 2020.

And former Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) wants to tell that story in her own book now that she has left office.

The title she is toying with early on? "Quadrant in Quarantine."

"I really want to talk about the successes and the failure frankly, or disappointments in the 100th Legislature," Ms. Greig said in a recent interview.

Ms. Greig also plans to discuss the gender parity reached in the House Democratic Caucus and diversifying the caucus in regard to race as well.

Other post-office plans for Ms. Greig include, first, taking some time off and a plan to stick around and mentor and recruit people to run for office.

"It really was an honor serving," she said. "It was definitely the hardest job I ever had in my life.

But what an honor."

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A Very Different Lame Duck In 2020

Posted: November 30, 2020 4:14 PM

As Michigan's Legislature preps to begin its lame-duck session in 2020, many traditions won't look the same.

The end of every two-year term tends to be an intense time with many hours spent on the House or Senate floor, in committee hearings or in various meeting spots around the Capitol.

With COVID-19, lame duck will likely be different.

Will there be dozens of lobbyists huddled together outside of either chamber for hours? Probably not. Will members stand in line maskless to get dinner buffet style? I would hope not.

Multiple reporters won't be able to huddle around the desks set aside for them in the House and Senate banging away on keyboards and commiserating that we are still sitting on the floor waiting for action. In fact, who knows how many reporters will go in person at all.

In the House, many members, including the House speaker and minority leader, will be giving farewell speeches. While historically they have not been my favorite part of the end of session (they can get pretty lengthy), this year the idea of not being on the House floor during these speeches is pretty upsetting.

While lame duck is grueling (I am permanently changed after 2018's particularly intense lame duck which saw three weeks of non-stop activity), it is also full of tradition and is, at times, exciting. I am sad it will look and feel different this year.

For reporters and lobbyists and others who don't have to be on the House or Senate floor in person to work, there are some silver linings. One I have learned about during months of covering the House remotely is making food during long caucus meetings.

Still, I will miss (somehow) the hours sitting on the House floor laughing – and maybe sometimes crying – with other reporters, members and staff about what the heck we are still doing in the Capitol at 2 a.m.

In some ways, though, lame duck will be the same. I did just get a notice for a committee hearing with 100-plus bills on the agenda.

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More Than 30K Tune Into Michigan's State Board Of Canvassers Meeting

Posted: November 23, 2020 3:59 PM

Members of Michigan's Capitol press corps on Monday expressed amazement at the fact that more than 30,000 individuals are spending their afternoon watching the Board of State Canvassers meeting.

The board's meetings are normally pretty mundane and formal. Sometimes they would have to move to a room in the Lansing Center because of "larger" audiences for some petition issues, including recall petitions that were presented against former Governor Rick Snyder at the height of the Flint Water Crisis.

But we are talking moving their meeting from a room that could fit a couple dozen people to a room that could fit a couple hundred.

Because of the attention Michigan is receiving as Republicans seek to delay the certification and President Donald Trump continues to make false claims of widespread fraud, today's meeting is currently being watched by more than 30,000 people.

That is an unbelievable amount of people watching this meeting. And while most things about the pandemic, frankly, suck, the ability for people to watch this kind of meeting at home is a plus. Imagine if this meeting was in person and not streamed? I don't think 30,000 people would be there.

Other reporters who have spent many an afternoon watching the canvassers do their work were still in awe of everyone who is viewing today.

Of course there are still limits. As I was writing this, about 6,000 people dropped off during a recess. Who knows if they will be back. You can watch the meeting as it continues online.

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Republicans Also Went Alone When They Could

Posted: November 17, 2020 9:29 AM

This year, Michigan has seen several Republican lawmakers express frustration that Governor Gretchen Whitmer is "going alone" on portions of the state's coronavirus response, but, when the GOP had control of all three branches of government, they did so as well.

Just off the top of my head, right-to-work, the 2015 roads plan and the Detroit Public Schools legislation all passed with only or mostly Republican votes. Even as the city of Detroit is not represented by any Republican in the Legislature.

There were other laws, too, that passed with only Republican votes to be signed into law by a Republican governor when the GOP had full control of state government. And many of the GOP legislators frustrated now by Ms. Whitmer's actions were serving then.

One of the things Republicans lawmakers point to when criticizing the route Ms. Whitmer and her administration is that the Legislature is the people's voice. But voters put Ms. Whitmer in office too.

You could make that same argument to Democrats who were upset when former Governor Rick Snyder signed bills passed with only Republican votes, of course.

Republicans will also contend in some of the above examples that the legislative and executive branches worked together, even if that was because all were Republican.

There were certainly some examples of former Governor Rick Snyder "going it alone" without the Legislature, however. The Gordie Howe International Bridge stands out as the prime example. Republicans in the Legislature opposed the governor, so he used a statute that allowed his administration to engage in an intergovernmental agreement with Canada. The law that set up the enhanced powers for emergency managers in local governments, while approved by the Legislature, implemented "go it alone" governance for a slew of local governments and school districts.

Legislative Republicans took a go-it-alone approach on the repeal of the prevailing wage and barring insurance coverage for abortions without the purchase of a separate rider, evading a gubernatorial veto by passing an initiative petition expressly gathered because of opposition from Mr. Snyder (and later Ms. Whitmer on prevailing wage).

Many believe the state's COVID-19 policies could be better if the Legislature and the governor were working together. Like the Detroit Regional Chamber, which has mostly been supportive or at least not vocally opposed to Ms. Whitmer's actions.

"Our executive and legislative leadership should be working together more collaboratively. As this crisis now passes eight months, the division between our executive and legislative leaders has become glaring and not helpful as Michiganders grapple with the dual challenges of health and economy," the Detroit Chamber said in an email. "The mixed messages from Lansing harm both our public health and economy."

It is unclear if legislative Republicans feel there is any government response necessary to try to reduce community spread or case numbers.

Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona), who has issued two forceful statements in the last week urging residents to wear masks, said to a constituent frustrated by the lack of a safe in-person school environment while she and her husband both work and are without child care, that "the power lies with individuals."

"What solutions do you think the government can come with," he said on his Facebook page. "At this point in time I do not believe it would be right to terminate someone over a family issue during this covid-19 outbreak. I would work with your employer as your children are learning remotely."

Clearly, Ms. Whitmer feels the government has a role to play.

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Michigan Senate GOP Plans COVID PSAs; Still Resisting Mask Mandate

Posted: November 10, 2020 12:36 PM

About nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said this week his members are working on public service announcements to residents urging them to take the virus seriously and take simple precautions.

Mr. Shirkey (R-Clarklake) reiterated his opposition to a mask mandate, though, during an appearance on J-TV's "The Bart Hawley Show."

"I don't think we need it," he said. "I think that the information and education is out. Now that people know what to do … if there was a more elegant way to enforce it that didn't interfere with a lot of things, I might consider it."

Mr. Shirkey, who didn't elaborate on what the enforcement of a mask mandate would interfere with – there has been a mask mandate in place via administrative order for many months – then said he thought there was more compliance in the last few weeks than the months before.

"If we keep hammering the message, I think that is the best way to approach it," he said.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently reiterated her call for the Legislature to pass a statewide mask mandate. She says if the Legislature put its stamp of approval on a mask mandate, it would be effective.

Mr. Shirkey said Senate Republicans are working on PSAs, "basically saying, 'listen, this is real and if we don't all embrace it uniformly, it is going to get worse before it gets better.'"

Mr. Shirkey said everyone should wear a mask – whether required or not – if they cannot avoid close contact with others. He then urged continued social distancing and personal hygiene. He said the PSAs will be with members and local health officials.

"It is a real thing," Mr. Shirkey said of COVID as the state continues to see increased cases and hospitalizations.

Indeed it is, and nine months in, we are still having to send that message out into the public.

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Let's Talk About AG Nessel's Voting PSAs

Posted: October 23, 2020 1:01 PM

Attorney General Dana Nessel has been posting cheeky public service announcements on the importance and security of voting, along with how to properly vote absentee in an effort to combat misinformation around the topic, and while this of course is a serious subject, her posts are hilarious.

The Halloween-themed video she issued this week was particularly fun as she rips off a Ghostface mask and assures people their vote will be secure, all while keeping skeleton gloves on.

But it wasn't her first attempt at using a humorous video or social media post to talk to people about the importance of voting, the security of the state's elections or absentee processes.

Earlier this month, she posted a video of her calling her parents to remind them to vote and notes her cat spent much of the video grooming itself in the background (she also claims in this one she can fold fitted sheets and I would like to see a video on that after the election).

And there were more. One poking fun at the fact none of us wear real clothes anymore as we do important tasks like working and voting, and another taking a swipe at Ohio State alums.

Look, it's been a tough year. And there is a lot of misinformation and confusion around voting. It's nice to have some entertaining videos to not only make us laugh during these weird times, but also reassure those who are unsure about if they should vote absentee or how secure their vote is, that it will count and is secure.

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Even Powerful Campaign Ads Aren't Everything

Posted: September 14, 2020 3:12 PM

In the age of the internet and viral campaign videos, it can be easy for those who aren't familiar with an area to think a candidate has a good chance at winning based on a campaign ad one might find powerful or convincing, perhaps it even went viral, when they may not have a chance at all.

It's easier for this to happen at the national level given the reach congressional candidates have over local candidates and the attention that is often given to Congress. So far this year, we have seen a Baltimore Republican candidate's campaign ad go viral in a district the Democrats have carried with nearly 70 percent of the vote or more.

Still, the ad from Kimberly Klacik, a GOP candidate in Maryland, received more than 12 million views and got her a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

In Michigan, the Democratic candidate in the 79th House District, Chokwe Pitchford, a student at Lake Michigan College, has come out with his own compelling ad that has excited his supporters in the southwest Michigan district that has been in Republican hands essentially forever.

It is unlikely Mr. Pitchford will defeat Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) in 2020, and this seat does not make Gongwer's list of flippable seats because there is still too much Republican territory. But this district is changing, albeit more slowly than other parts of the state moving toward the Democrats, and will be redrawn as part of the 2021 reapportionment, and Mr. Pitchford could be back in 2022, even 2024, to put up more of a fight. And he's already begun the job of telling his story to Michigan voters.

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Marking Nearly Two Decades Since 9/11

Posted: September 11, 2020 2:44 PM

As the state and country grapple with the worst pandemic in a century and a high-stakes election season that has divided us seemingly more than ever, it is surreal to think about how it has been 19 years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Like so many others, I remember exactly where I was when the attacks happened (in a sixth grade media class and later in my full class, where a fellow student asked about Carson Daly and then we weren't allowed to watch the news anymore).

Often times on this day, regardless of what else is going on, much of the normal rhetoric is paused at least for a moment. Given the circumstances of 2020, it feels even more important to do so today.

Statements memorializing the attacks from elected officials and other continue to roll in. The Michigan House still held its annual ceremony before session yesterday – though a little different since it was held outside – and Governor Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed today as 9/11 Remembrance Day.

Even Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Republican Vice President Mike Pence appeared to have a polite interaction at Ground Zero in New York City during a ceremony today.

Of course soon enough, possibly even later today, we will go back to whatever you can call normal these days. At least for a brief period, though, we can a pause and look back on a day we all remember and hopefully feel grateful for what we have today.

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A Tale Of Competing Billboards Near Cadillac, Mich.

Posted: August 13, 2020 12:16 PM

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that when heading west on a two-lane highway in northern Michigan, as you exit Cadillac, a popular stop in the area, there's a billboard showcasing a photo of President Donald Trump with a thumbs up, enthusiastically declaring support for the president.

Cadillac, like many small towns in northern Michigan, is represented by Republicans in the state House and Senate. Many of its residents are pro-gun and anti-abortion. It's a working class area where the president enjoys unconditional support from many. The 2016 rally Mr. Trump held in Cadillac drew 5,000 people, a rally that turned in heads in the mostly rural area. It remains a core part of the president's base.

So what is more surprising is when you're heading east on the same highway, near the same town, another billboard has popped up, asking voters to "stop the madness," and "vote Democrat."

The billboard promotes the website, created by the Wexford County Progressives, which says the president won Michigan by an average 129 voters per county. On a local level, that overlooks Mr. Trump winning Wexford County 65 percent to 29 percent, or 5,564 votes, but the idea is to cut the margin by a little everywhere to erase the 10,704-vote statewide margin.

"The mission of the 129 Campaign is to recruit and organize volunteers who will do the work that it takes to get out 129 more votes for the Democratic nominee in each county in Michigan," the website says.

Putting up a billboard like this in Wexford County is maybe the 2020 equivalent of how 2006 Republican gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVos put up billboards throughout the solidly Democratic city of Detroit, which still went 95 percent to Democrat Jennifer Granholm and 4 percent for Mr. DeVos.

I wouldn't expect northern Michigan to go solid blue anytime in the near future, but these competing billboards could certainly create some interesting family dinner conversations in the area.

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Candidates Got Creative As COVID Wrecked Campaign Handbook

Posted: July 29, 2020 11:50 AM

Some Michigan House candidates used social media to hold unique digital events in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, when prospective lawmakers were mostly forced to stay inside and halt traditional in-person events that fuel campaigns.

Two candidates, Democrat Brendan Johnson in the 45th House District and Ranjeev Puri in the 21st House District, used Facebook live videos to cook with viewers or do yoga. Both said while the videos allowed them to connect with voters, they also provided a way for people to think about something other than the pandemic, particularly back in the early days when it was all people were seeing and talking about.

While Mr. Johnson and Mr. Puri are seeking seats in former COVID hot spots, and still running digital operations, some outstate areas have seen more door knocking and moves back to some sort of normal life.

Mr. Johnson posted multiple "Bites with Brendan" videos where he cooked a recipe along with an audience to ask him questions about the campaign or current events.

"It has been a useful tool to cut through the noise of the pandemic," Mr. Johnson, who had even more challenges during the pandemic because he and members of his team had COVID-19.

Let's make a quiche!

Posted by Brendan Johnson for State Representative on Sunday, May 10, 2020

For Mr. Puri, he said his campaign did virtual book clubs, origami events and posted a virtual yoga class.

"At the end of the day, COVID was top of mind for many months," Mr. Puri said. "We are least wanted to give people reprieve of just worrying about COVID."

Posted by Vote Ranjeev for Rep on Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Mr. Puri is a primary in the 21st House District going up against Ethan Petzold. Mr. Johnson is going up against Barb Anness in the 45th House District.

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Two Michigan Lawmakers Denounce Violence Against Reporters

Posted: June 29, 2020 2:59 PM

Sen. Jeremy Moss and Rep. Mari Manoogian, two Oakland County Democrats in the Michigan Legislature, on Monday took aim at what they called police violence against journalists covering protests across the country during the last month.

Mr. Moss of Southfield and Ms. Manoogian of Birmingham, in a statement, pointed to data from The Press Freedom Tracker showing more than 440 reported incidents between police and journalists from May 25 to June 22, 2020.

"The American free press has long been the envy of the world — an ideal which the oppressed journalists of tin-pot dictatorships use as a source of constant inspiration," Ms. Manoogian said. "What we have seen across the country during this resurgence of citizen democracy is nothing short of despicable. State-sanctioned violence by police against our free press is destructive to the democracy to which we have pledged ourselves. It is time for the Michigan Legislature to commit to every journalist, every editor, every cameraperson, and every producer that we unequivocally stand behind them and will not allow their First Amendment rights to fall by the wayside."

It is not unusual for reporters covering protests to also be subjected to crowd control measures like tear gas or rubber bullets. But the recent protests have shown more clashes, including a CNN reporter and his production team getting arrested during a live broadcast. Detroit police also attempted to arrest at least two reporters before realizing they were journalists and letting them go.

While some are quick to point out the First Amendment right of journalists, others also note the demonstrators themselves have a First Amendment right to assemble and express disdain at crowd control measures against protesters as well.

Mr. Moss and Ms. Manoogian said they have introduced resolutions to denounce police violence against journalists and reaffirm the right of the press to investigate and report on police "without intimidation or violent obstruction."

"Journalists are the fourth estate of our democracy – their work shines a light into the inner workings of government to hold public officials accountable," Mr. Moss said. "The attacks by police on journalists during the Black Lives Matter protests are attacks on our democracy. This is right out of the playbook of authoritarian regimes – but we cannot tolerate that here as our Constitution places an emphasis to protect a free press. This resolution is a strong symbol of our unified voice against such criminal activity."

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An Evolution Of Juneteenth In Michigan's Legislature

Posted: June 19, 2020 1:28 PM

Yesterday, the Michigan House and Senate easily approved resolutions declaring today Juneteenth – the celebration marking the end of slavery in the United States – but it wasn't always simple. Just five years ago, a similar resolution marked controversy and only made it out of a Senate committee.

Senate Resolution 75 was introduced by former Sen. Bert Johnson at the end of June 2015 and was reported by a committee in October. The resolution included more direct language than the 2020 resolutions and was never adopted by the full Senate.

Former Republican Sen. Rick Jones chaired the Judiciary Committee in 2015 when he and Mr. Johnson had some sort of disagreement on the resolution (See Gongwer Michigan Report, July 1, 2015).

In October, the resolution was moved from committee but former Sen. Patrick Colbeck took issue with the language. The 2015 resolution points to "fundamental hypocrisy" and "moral contradiction" among European whites in American who declared independence from Great Britain then enslaved African Americans. It also recognizes the "devastating legacy of American slavery" and encourages education to prevent the tragedy being forgotten or repeated.

Mr. Colbeck called it political at the time and said it inflamed racial tensions. He also said it was setting the stage for reparations (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 6, 2015).

Fast forward five years, and Juneteenth was honored in both chambers. Juneteenth resolutions were adopted in 2019 as well. The resolutions adopted yesterday had softer language than the one debated five years ago, but closed the same way: "We recognize the devastating legacy of American slavery, and encourage all citizens of Michigan to educate each other and future generations on the history of slavery in order to ensure that this tragedy will never be forgotten or repeated."

This year, there are also calls in the Michigan Legislature and in Congress to make the day a state and federal holiday.

"Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black Americans for 155 years, but even to this day we are still dreaming of a future where we don't have to continuously fight for freedom and equality," said Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Detroit). "As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, we cannot allow ourselves to be pacified by more representation on Netflix, streets being painted or donations doled out by corporate sponsors; we need transformational change of the systems designed from the very beginning to oppress us. We need laws protecting the rights of our people and to open doors previously closed to us for economic growth."

Certainly, there is more work to do in Michigan and nationwide, but there have also been some changes in how we talk about these issues in our public institutions. Which show some willingness to acknowledge how policies old and new can be harmful.

Of course, a sitting senator also recently wore a face mask that appeared to include a Confederate flag design on the Senate floor, so again, the work continues.

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'Defund The Police' Building As An Issue

Posted: June 8, 2020 4:40 PM

With protests ongoing across the country against police brutality and racial injustice, "defunding the police" is building as a rallying cry for many supporting the issue, and some Republicans, including President Donald Trump, are already trying to use it to bash their political counterparts.

Some consultants and observers are arguing Democrats are giving Republicans a win by moving toward "defund the police" as the call is more nuanced than its plain text suggests. The idea being getting rid of the police would be unpopular among older and moderate voters and bring them back toward Mr. Trump at a time when his polling numbers are low. While some might think defunding the police means getting rid of departments entirely, that is not necessarily what many are seeking.

Instead, people are calling for less money to be spent on police and more money to be spent on community services, like combatting homelessness or providing more funding for mental health treatments. Part of the argument here is spending money on those services will help reduce crime as well.

Still, Mr. Trump has already taken to Twitter calling Democrats the "radical left" who want to get rid of the police while he supports law and order. Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox also issued a statement calling on U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat up for reelection this year in Michigan, to say if he supports or opposes defunding the police.

There are a couple things in play here on if an average voter, or a more moderate voter who might consider voting for Mr. Trump, finds this new call too extreme. The first is how long it lasts.

While the Black Lives Matter movement has been here for years, it has broadly taken hold as protests have continued across the country after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis two weeks ago. Certainly, advocates will use the current moment to land on some reforms. How it shakes out in the end is still to be seen.

I don't know if a moderate voter will be completely turned off by the call to defund the police. In recent years, criminal justice reform has exploded in popularity. Issues have passed in Michigan and gone to the governor for signature that could never get out of the state Legislature before. People want to be safe, yes, but also it seems more people would support spending less on police if you are spending more on interventions that help prevent crime and help people get back on their feet after serving time in jail or prison.

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Pros And Cons Of A Remote Revenue Conference

Posted: May 13, 2020 9:55 AM

Ahh, the beloved Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference, the only place where twice a year you can hear inside baseball jokes about the economy then anxiously wrestle with a bunch of people in suits to get a sheet of paper showing the agreement between Michigan's top economic officials on how much money we should have in the months ahead.

This year's May conference (there is one in January and one in May) is scheduled for Friday and due to COVID-19, the conference will be held remotely. Because the revenue effect of the pandemic that has swept across the globe may not be fully realized by the end of this week, we might even get a third conference later this year.

Conducting the conference remotely brings some positives. The biggest pro is of course not having to fight to get the consensus estimates after the state's treasurer and heads of the House and Senate fiscal agencies come to a decision. How happy the staffer who usually has the thankless job of handing out the paperwork to the frantic hordes of reporters, lobbyists, government employees and others must be.

Other positives include not having to sit in the uncomfortable chairs in the House Appropriations Room for three-plus hours. And of course those of us who have spent this work-from-home time in our best sweatpants can avoid putting on real clothes for another day.

I can't think of many negatives in holding the conference remotely outside of the circumstances necessitating a remote meeting. The biggest drawback is probably that during this three-hour conference getting into the economic weeds, suddenly our couches will be so close.

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'Big Gretch' Gets A Rap, Earns Her Buffs

Posted: May 4, 2020 1:59 PM

Detroit rapper Gmac Cash showed Governor Gretchen Whitmer some support this weekend releasing a parody rap praising the governor – calling her by a new nickname, "Big Gretch" – and mocking those who protested at the Capitol last week.

The rap also says Ms. Whitmer earned her "buffs" or Cartier buffalo horn sunglasses. The rap comes as social media posts have shown the governor donning the popular sunglasses for weeks.

Ms. Whitmer took to Twitter to show her appreciation of the song, and of course, to remind everyone to stay home.

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Whitmer Hits Late-Night Circuit As 'Woman From Michigan'

Posted: April 2, 2020 2:22 PM

Governor Gretchen Whitmer last night sat down with Trevor Noah – sort of, it was a Skype interview – for his version of The Daily Show during the new coronavirus era.

Mr. Noah, the late-night comedy, quasi-news show host – which is being called "The Daily Social Distancing Show" right now – has also changed up his job as the program that normally includes a live audience is done without one, and the reaction an audience normally brings.

Ms. Whitmer, donning a "woman from Michigan shirt," to reflect the comments President Donald Trump made about her in telling Vice President Mike Pence not to call her during the new coronavirus crisis, reiterated many of her previous statements during the interview.

The governor wants Michigan residents to stay home as the best way to slow the spread. She also said every order limiting normal life has weighed heavily on her. And she doesn't have time for politics.

Ms. Whitmer said during the show Detroit's presence as an international destination and its large airport could have contributed to Michigan becoming a hot spot. She also said poverty, higher rates of diabetes, among other things, are preexisting conditions that exacerbate the illness.

As she has previously, Ms. Whitmer also requested a national strategy to help states get the personal protection equipment they need.

"A national strategy with a national buying power that actually ensured everyone had equitable access to what we need when we need it would be the wisest thing to do," she said.

Ms. Whitmer also said no one has time for politics right now.

"I don't have any time to think about fighting anything other than COVID-19 and that is precisely why I say let's not fight one another, we are not the enemy, the virus is," she said.

On if she is worried the state full of blue-collar workers will eventually grow impatient with a stay-at-home order, Ms. Whitmer said of course she is concerned. Each order she has made weighs heavily on her as she knows bars have had to lay off workers and businesses may struggle to eventually reopen, she said.

"So, making sure we are able to have that kind of support that people need is really important for the health of the individuals, health of communities and health of the economy in the long run," she said. "And that is why everyone has to do their part."

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Lansing Politicos Taking Coronavirus Precautions, Not Panicking

Posted: March 26, 2020 9:37 PM

The Capitol and lawmakers haven't yet seen cancellations of field trips to Lansing or coffee hours in specific districts as the fallout from the coronavirus continues nationwide but remains limited in Michigan to recommended precautions like avoiding handshaking and washing hands.

Lawmakers interviewed Monday said their interactions with constituents haven't changed much and no one said they were canceling in district events due to the virus, but several said they weren't hugging or shaking hands.

Additionally, field trips and legislative days scheduled at the Capitol appear to be moving forward normally as of now.

Rob Blackshaw, head of Capitol Facilities, said in recent weeks hand sanitizer has been placed in restrooms around the Capitol and increased efforts have been made to more regularly clean handrails and places that visitors may touch.

He told reporters some school groups have canceled Capitol tours in recent weeks, but it was unclear if it was just due to general concerns about sickness or if there was an increase in cold or flu at any particular schools.

"But to date, we've had no other groups cancel as of this point," Mr. Blackshaw said, noting there has been a wave of cancellations of events all over the country and world.

"We think we're ahead of it, and our thing has just been making sure people are aware and we stay clean," Mr. Blackshaw said.

When asked what the response would be if a House or Senate member or staff in the Capitol were found to come down with the virus, Mr. Blackshaw said they would probably defer to House and Senate leadership for their response as a first step.

"I know that we would be communicating to any school that has a scheduled tour group, any rallies or events that are scheduled, we would just like to make them aware," Mr. Blackshaw said.

During the weekend, the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, said in a statement an attendee of the conference tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday.

Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), who attended CPAC, said he has no reason to believe he was connected with the individual who tested positive. He said he is paying attention to the health notices and feeling fine.

As for the Department of Health and Human Services – which said Monday there still not any confirmed cases or community spread in Michigan – the agency is recommending staying home when you're sick, cleaning and disinfecting touched surfaces and objects, like keyboards, and avoiding touching your face, Lynn Sutfin said.

Of course, recommendations from the department also include washing hands often with soap and warm water and using hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol.

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said he is seeing a "hodgepodge" of messaging related to the virus, noting some health clinics are requiring a person with a cough to wear a mask while others aren't allowing someone with a cough to enter at all.

"There is not a unified message," he said. "In terms of what I am doing at public events, I am not shaking hands. I am not giving hugs. It's a little awkward but I think everyone understands."

Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Township) said an event she attended Monday morning clearly had the rule "it is always a fist bump." Otherwise, she said, not much has changed on her day-to-day interactions with constituents and others. She said she has two coffee hours set up for next week that will go on as scheduled.

Ms. Whiteford, who was a nurse before entering the House, said DHHS and local health departments are working diligently to get information out.

She said as it stands, ensuring people are abiding by the DHHS recommendations – staying home if you're sick, washing your hands often – is enough.

Sen. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), a physician, said the coronavirus has not affected him, yet at least. He said while there is fear of transmission, for most people, it will be like the flu coming into the neighborhood.

He said information released so far indicates children may not be affected as much as they are by the flu, but the elderly and those who are immune compromised could be more at risk, especially since information indicates a person may be able to transmit the virus even if they have no symptoms.

"Right now, we are going through the quarantine process of those who might possibly be affected and I think it is important we make necessary contingencies that if it does become more wide spread, we can contain it," Mr. Bizon said.

In Detroit on Monday, Mayor Mike Duggan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Water and Sewerage Director Gary Brown announced the state will cover city customers' costs to get water turned back on.

After 30 days, residents who are at risk of water service disruption, or those still without water, will be able to restore service for $25 a month.

"While there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Michigan, one of the best ways to combat the spread of this disease is by washing your hands thoroughly," Ms. Whitmer said in a statement. "That's why the state is stepping up to cover the cost of water restoration for the first 30 days, because it's the right thing to do to keep families safe and protect public health."

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More Of The Same On Michigan's Roads

Posted: February 24, 2020 3:09 PM

Last week, a woman was driving on a Michigan highway when a chunk of concrete fell from a bridge and crashed into her car, hitting her in the head, but thankfully not taking her life.

It did little to shake loose Michigan's road funding debate where many believe the state not only needs new revenue but needs billions in new revenue annually.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has taken to bonding to get $3.5 billion more into the system in the near term, creating angst from mostly Republicans about paying off the debt during future decades. It is also not a solution to the state's crumbling infrastructure, as many, including the governor, have noted.

As this election year continues to ramp up, will anything new happen on roads? Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said there is an informal work group of sorts looking at local roads. House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said the House has been working with the Senate "since day one to reach a long-term road funding solution."

He added those conversations are ongoing and "there's been much progress."

Sounds like much of what reporters and the public have been hearing for the last year on road funding with little changes and little action.

Last week Department of Transportation Director Paul Ajegba told a House subcommittee the one-time funding the Legislature has put toward roads in recent budgets is not helping the problem. During the same hearing, Republican Rep. Aaron Miller of Sturgis accepted some new revenue was needed, expressed openness to that concept and asked why the public thinks the state has enough money for roads in its existing budget and how lawmakers can tell the correct story better.

The House Republican takeaway from the hearing, which it posted on Facebook, was Mr. Ajegba's answer to a question from Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) on what the administration's plan was for road funding, to which he answered the very-much-dead 45-cent gas tax increase.

Ms. Whitmer has said the Republicans in the Legislature need to put out a road funding plan and that although her plan was not embraced, she put something on the table.

Like I said, more of the same on road funding.

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Some Michigan Officials Have Fun With Dolly Parton Challenge

Posted: January 27, 2020 6:30 PM

Singer, actress and general superstar Dolly Parton recently started a viral trend when posting a collage of different ways people represent themselves on the internet for LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Tinder.

The premise is a person wants to look professional for LinkedIn, but probably doesn't want to look that way on Tinder, a dating app.

Some Michigan have officials have taken up the challenge and posted their versions on Twitter during the weekend.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) did a traditional version of the challenge, posting a picture of himself in a leather jacket leaning on a motorcycle for the Tinder portion.

Others, like Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham) skipped the Tinder version and instead included a fourth picture for a political campaign.

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New App Allows Anyone To Be An Explorer

Posted: January 13, 2020 3:55 PM

Experienced drivers and new explorers alike can find shipwrecks to delve into using the state's new interactive app showing locations and boating access sites for the 1,500 vessels submerged in Michigan's waters.

The Michigan Shipwrecks Public Web App offers a closer look at shipwrecks and is searchable based on the ship's name. Users can also customize and print their own maps, which could include lighthouse locations.

"This new tool gives divers, kayakers, snorkelers and armchair explorers a chance to learn more about these underwater archaeological sites and the circumstances that led to the shipwrecks," Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center, said in a statement. "It's a wonderfully interactive way to help people connect with this part of Michigan's maritime history."

The 1,500 shipwrecks in Michigan waters make up a quarter of the 6,000 wrecks found throughout the Great Lakes, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

One wreck, the Syracuse, was a two-masted schooner carrying a cargo of coal and sank in Lake Huron on November 10, 1863. A bulk freighter named the Daisy Day lies in as little as 10 feet of water, which is suitable for beginning divers and snorkelers.

Those with advanced diving skills could explore the Indiana, a propeller vessel that sank in Lake Superior in 1858 and is under more than 100 feet of water.

The app map offers information on each ship, including the difficulty in diving to the wreck, whether it is accessible by kayak or canoe, the circumstances of the sinking and a description of the ship with photos and drawings.

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Gorchow Named Gongwer Executive Editor And Publisher

Posted: January 2, 2020 9:24 AM

Zachary Gorchow has been named executive editor and publisher of Gongwer News Service Michigan.

Mr. Gorchow, editor of Gongwer's Michigan Report since 2009, succeeds John Lindstrom, who retired December 31 after 37 years with the company. In the new role, he will manage Gongwer's Michigan operations and develop new services while still playing a role in the company's news coverage and leading Gongwer's reporting on the governor's office.

Mr. Gorchow first came to Gongwer in 1998 as a staff writer and covered the House until 2005. From 2005-09, he was a Detroit Free Press staff writer, covering Wayne County government and politics from 2005-07 and Detroit city hall from 2007-09. He was part of the reporting team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the text message scandal involving former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

He is a native of Troy and graduate of Birmingham Seaholm High School. He is an alumnus of Michigan State University where he worked a variety of roles for The State News, the university's student-run newspaper. Prior to his first stint with Gongwer, he was a staff writer for the Redford Observer.

Mr. Gorchow lives in East Lansing with his wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Isabel and Mia.

He can be reached at

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Satanic Temple Brings Yule Goat To Capitol Lawn

Posted: December 23, 2019 1:31 PM

The Satanic Temple of West Michigan this weekend set up its display of a yule goat on the Capitol lawn where it will be put up each morning and taken down each night, per state rules, until December 27.

Satanic Temple followers first displayed the goat on Saturday, the winter solstice, and plan to continue putting up the display until after the Christmas holiday.

While the Capitol Christmas tree stays up day and night from November until well after Christmas, other religious items must be taken down at night. In previous years, other religious items like nativity scenes or a Menorah have also been displayed.

In the past, a "snaketivity" statue was displayed by the Satanic Temple of Detroit, but it has not been displayed during the last couple years.

The Grand Rapids chapter filled the void in 2018 and now this year. The yule goat's origins go back to Pagan festivals, according to Wikipedia. It is now best known as a Christmas ornament or holiday statue.

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Nessel Offers Interesting Wager On Michigan-Ohio State Game

Posted: November 25, 2019 12:43 PM

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel proposed a different kind of bet on the upcoming football game between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, offering to don OSU's colors if they win, but asking Ohio's attorney general to handle Lake Erie's algae bloom if Michigan wins.

Usually, officials would make the more traditional bets of wearing the other team's colors or, you know, exchange baskets of goods made in the state.

Ms. Nessel, a Democrat and U-M alum, took a different spin with Ohio's Republican Attorney General Dave Yost in a tweet.

Officials have struggled with blooms of varying degrees in Lake Erie, with one in 2014 that left water undrinkable in Toledo. In 2015, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario agreed to efforts to reduce phosphorus levels in the lake by 40 percent by 2025.

A spokesperson for Ms. Nessel told the Detroit Free Press while the wager was in jest, it was also a gentle way to bring attention to a serious issue Ms. Nessel is concerned about

Michigan has not beat Ohio State since 2011. But Ms. Nessel said they are bound to win at least once during her time in office.

"Dave is a great guy who I really enjoy working with, but as a Wolverine we are sworn enemies," Ms. Nessel wrote in another tweet. "Plus, odds are if we both stay in office for 8 years, Michigan has to win at least once. I mean-right?"

As a Spartan, I have no comment.

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Sen. Hertel: Shared Power Era Shows Way Out Of Budget Stalemate

Posted: October 28, 2019 3:37 PM

If you think the current budget showdown between Republican legislative leaders and Governor Gretchen Whitmer is bad, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. wants to tell you a story.

Mr. Hertel (D-East Lansing) at an event last week spoke about the equally split House in 1993-94 when his dad, the late Democratic Speaker Curtis Hertel Sr., co-led the chamber with Republican Speaker Paul Hillegonds.

"I think that everyone remembers how great it was, but very few people remember the backstory to that," Mr. Hertel said last week. "They were at war for two months. My dad and Paul Hillegonds were at literal war, at each other's throats for two months."

Mr. Hertel said his dad at one point gave a speech on the House floor that compared another member to Judas as both sides tried to steal each other's members to take majority after the 1992 election that left the House at 55-55. In the Gongwer obituary for the late Mr. Hertel, it notes Democrats tried to pass a rule that if no party won a majority in the election, then the party previously in majority kept its control (Democrats backed off the idea because one of their members was gravely ill and would soon die).

"They went to war. They had animosity," Mr. Hertel said. "They had tried to steal each other's members. They were in a much, much worse place than we are right now. And they were able to develop a bipartisan agreement on shared power. … and find a way to work with each other."

So, as time continues to tick by with programs lacking funding and no action on a supplemental, it doesn't mean the sides won't come together.

Mr. Hertel argues it is too important for all sides not to come back to the table and negotiate. He also said the biggest story from the budget hasn't been told yet, and it won't be told until it is finished.

"The idea that this moment that we are in right now is too big for us. The idea that here is too much animosity, that there is too much hurt feelings, that there is too much games played, the idea that any of those things, it just frankly not true," Mr. Hertel said.

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Election Fundraising Season Is (Always) Here

Posted: October 14, 2019 2:04 PM

Fundraisers among elected officials rarely stop, no matter what time of year, but as the clock ticks ever closer to a year out from Election Day 2020, calendars start to fill with more events.

When selling tickets, most fundraisers use generic terms for contribution level. Friend, $100, supporter, $250 or, those with the big bucks can be a host for $1,000, as an example. Or $150 for bronze, $250 for silver, $500 for gold and $1,000 for platinum, as another.

Some, though, get a little more creative with their events.

Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores) is hosting a breakfast reception later this month. The contribution levels include eggs ($250), bacon ($500) and biscuits and gravy ($1,000).

Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) is holding an event this week where $100 will consider you a deplorable, $500 a Lincoln lover, $1,000 a Reagan revolutionary and $2,000 a Trump.

For the Michigan State University alums out there, Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) is hosting a tailgating event later this month where a $100 is Wilson, $250 Holden, $500 Wonders and $1,000 Case.

And Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Okemos) is hoping for a strong Democratic year in 2020. At an upcoming event $150 is a blue ticket, $250 blue tide, $500 blue wave and $1,000 blue tsunami.

Fundraising is part of system in Lansing for better or worse. Of course, we could debate how or if it should change.

But if you are going to spend big money, at least you can be considered biscuits and gravy instead of just a host.

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It's Not All Negative Post-Budget

Posted: October 7, 2019 2:37 PM

While certainly legislators are still stewing over Governor Gretchen Whitmer's multiple vetoes in the state budget, it wasn't all fighting in the Michigan Legislature last week as House members continued the mostly normal day-to-day.

Rep. Kathy Crawford (R-Novi) celebrated her 55th wedding anniversary on the floor last Wednesday. And on Thursday, the 77-year-old spoke about surviving breast cancer and how times have changed allowing women and men to speak more openly about struggles with cancer.

But back to the anniversary, Ms. Crawford is married to former Rep. Hugh Crawford, who joined her on the floor for the occasion. The Crawfords provided other members local honey from the 38th House District with a photo from their wedding 55 years ago.

"We don't even recognize us," Ms. Crawford said.

Ms. Crawford jokingly clarified during remarks on the floor last week that the pair were celebrating 55 "consecutive" years together.

"So, we have been married longer than most of you have been alive," Ms. Crawford said.

During her remarks, Ms. Crawford also said she was a bit of a rebel and insisted her dress be pink, which was "unheard of" and "scandalous" in the mid-60s. She brought the dress, made by her grandmother, to the House for everyone to see.

On the honey, Ms. Crawford told her colleagues: "This occasion in my mind seemed to call for something sticky and sweet. For despite the pain of being stung once and awhile, the rewards of sticking with something can be sweet, even after 55 years."

On Thursday, House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) came together to present an official tribute to the family of the late Nay Thornhill, the longtime post office supervisor in the House who died during the summer at 69.

Ms. Greig said Mr. Thornhill remined everyone he came across in the House Office Building to "slow down and take a breath."

"At the HOB it is so easy to get caught up in busy schedules, tight deadlines and spending your day worrying about what's next," she said. "But Nay added warmth to the workday, he did something very special. His actions made the HOB feel a little less like a busy office building and more like a community."

Mr. Chatfield told his colleagues Mr. Thornhill was one of the individuals who helped remind others what is important in life.

"As we are all here, we are sent to this town by our constituents to focus on the important things in life, to try and improve our state," he said. "And through a lot of that there is turmoil. Through a lot of that there is debate. Through a lot of that we actually lose focus many times on what is important and begin arguing about things that are trivial."

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Short's Partners With Pure Michigan On Latest IPA

Posted: September 30, 2019 5:07 PM

You know it's fall in Michigan because today it is 80 degrees and on Wednesday the forecast calls for a high of 65 and rain. To celebrate this wonderful time of year, Short's Brewing Company teamed up with Pure Michigan to create a Pure Michigan Autumn IPA, all with ingredients sourced from the state.

Short's, the well-known brewery that has essentially taken over Bellaire with its pub and merch shop, and also makes its beer for distribution in Elk Rapids, used three Michigan maltsters, two Michigan hop suppliers and a yeast supplier from the Upper Peninsula to make the beer.

"This beer was designed to celebrate the craft beer industry and suppliers in Michigan," Joe Short, founder of Short's Brewing Company, said in a press release. "We are lucky to have several great hop farmers, maltsters, and yeast suppliers close to home. Pure Michigan Autumn IPA pays homage to them and their products, and our brewery staff, and what great flavors can come when we work together. We hope this beer captures what fall feels like in Michigan."

Again, fall in Michigan doesn't always feel great, but that is why we have beer.

As a journalist, it is my job to check my bias. So I openly admit to it here when I say Short's is one of the best breweries in the state, tied only with Ozone's Brewhouse in Lansing. I've done several tastings to reach this conclusion so you don't have to. You're welcome.

This latest IPA will be available at the Bellaire pub on Thursday with statewide distribution starting October 6.

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Mountain Dew Makes Right On Promise To U.P.

Posted: August 12, 2019 2:34 PM

After mistakenly including Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of Wisconsin in a map used by the company, Mountain Dew has fulfilled its promise of creating a U.P. specific label, though it won't be available in stores.

An unofficial twitter account for the Upper Peninsula helped create waves about Mountain Dew's mistake regarding the peninsula and the company said it would make it right. The U.P. label appears to include a waterfall, a person snowboarding and the Mackinac Bridge.

The company unveiled the label in Marquette on Sunday, according to WLUC-TV, a Fox and NBC affiliate in the U.P. Representatives of the company are staying in the U.P. to pass out bottles at the State Fair and other merchandise. WLUC reported the special label won't be available in stores and they only made 906 of them, the region's area code.

Nicole Portwood, Mountain Dew's vice president of marketing, called the situation a "happy accident."

"The best thing I can say is thank you. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to right a wrong. Thank you for having a good sense of humor, for being so friendly and kind, for the warm welcome here and for helping us create really something that's one of a kind and unique, just like the Upper Peninsula," she said, as WLUC reported.

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A Post Detroit Debate Chat

Posted: August 1, 2019 3:07 PM

Detroit just hosted two nights of debates among Democratic presidential hopefuls. My colleague Nick Smith and I ventured to the CNN press room to watch all the action unfold and decided to do a quick chat about what we saw.

Alethia: Hey Nick! Now that we are mostly recovered from this week's debates, what candidates stood out to you?

Nick: Several did for me Wednesday. Former Vice President Joe Biden survived and was more responsive to attacks by U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, but U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Washington Governor Jay Inslee seemed to poke through briefly from the lion's share of attention focused on the other three at times. Who seemed to emerge, or come away in a good position, on Tuesday?

Alethia: I think at this point, unsurprisingly, the consistent front-runners proved why they are ahead of some of their competitors. Warren made her case clearly. Sanders, Buttigieg and O'Rourke I also thought were strong. Makes sense, as they have already qualified for the next round of debates.

Do you think the attacks against Biden will resonate?

Nick: Not quite sure yet. Biden was more prepared than he was when Harris caught him flat-footed and pushed back. She and Biden sparred on health care, with Booker going at him fiercely on the criminal justice system, Gillibrand tried to replicate the Harris moment, but focusing on women's issues and former HUD director Julian Castro on immigration. He took it from all sides but responded adequately at least. Whether they made a dent we'll know in the coming days.

Alethia: Well Biden, Warren and Harris have all received endorsements from Michigan officials. Haven't heard of anything for Sanders yet, who of course won the primary in Michigan in 2016. He still has supporters here, but do you think his time has passed?

Nick: Maybe not so much his time has passed as it is a case of a wider candidate field is snatching up pieces of his platform. What did you see Tuesday in terms of the health care debate? Are Democrats helping their cause by arguing over health care and, in some cases, taking aim at the Affordable Care Act? Or hurting it?

Alethia: I think some Democrats are worried about turning off independents or moderate voters. But I think another way to look at it is who helped President Trump win in Michigan in 2016? Was it moderate voters who went for him or was it Democrats staying home because they weren't excited? In 2016, many didn't vote for president in Michigan, voted third party or wrote in a candidate. Democrats need a balance of exciting those more on the left but also welcoming moderates.

It's a tough balance that is highlighted the most in the health care debate. I think as we move through the primary we will see health care plans potentially evolve. I see scenarios where a Warren or Sanders plan could do well with voters, while a more measured approach like Biden's could also be positive for voters.

Nick: Right. And there was some heartburn among candidates Wednesday that they're shooting themselves in the foot with allegedly extreme ideas that could turn voters off. You saw a bit of that Tuesday too, correct? What did you make of those arguments?

Alethia: I get where those arguments are coming from for sure. But I think Mayor Pete said it best: Republicans are going to call whoever wins the Democratic primary socialist regardless of whether it is a Biden or a Warren type. The question is, once we leave the primary behind, will voters buy those messages when it is a Democrat going up against President Trump. We saw some of that messaging in local races in 2018. I don't think it worked well then.

Nick: Right, and in 2016 remember Democrats were looking at the large Republican field and snickering at times at the platforms being outlined and look how that turned out. Being arguably "extreme" to appeal to a base in a primary is nothing new.

Alethia: Did you think there were enough Michigan-specific questions?

Nick: Being a national debate most of us expected the Michigan-centric questions to be light. It was interesting as other reporters have pointed out that there was not even a mention of the Great Lakes either night.

Alethia: Yes, Michigan questions seemed to center around the Flint water crisis or trade. As you say, it is a national audience, so not super surprising. With the president consistently proposing reducing funding (and later reversing) to the Great Lakes, I think we will see a focus there once we get to the general.

Nick: Exactly. New York City Major Bill de Blasio cited removal of lead lines in his city and Castro spoke about HUD work he oversaw regarding Flint. Most other references were candidates saying their policies would help Michigan or Flint or Detroit as well as the nation as a whole.

Speaking of remarks in passing, were there any exchanges or remarks you thought might get any candidate(s) a bit more limelight and help them gain any traction?

Alethia: You know, not really. I think these debates re-enforced who the top half of the candidates are. With a lighter field in the September debates, we might start getting a better idea on if Biden is just going to win this thing or if someone else can leap in front. What do you think?

Nick: Harris talking about being able to lay out a case against Trump probably helped cement her status a bit near the end. And Bennet's "Mr. President, kids belong in classrooms, not cages" line was a bit catchy. A lot of it was otherwise pretty expected Wednesday.

Bennet and Inslee (who cited his state creating a public option, and being a pilot for Democratic initiatives repeatedly), I should add, appear to be candidates who 20 or 30 years ago would be making a real splash. But in this era, they come off as boring and don't attract attention.

Alethia: Yes, there are some interesting candidates who maybe in another time would do well. But with 20+ Democrats in the race, they just aren't getting the attention. Now that we are getting closer to a year out from the general, I think many are looking forward to a smaller field.

One thing we know is Michigan will continue to get attention from Democrats and the Republicans.

Nick: Agreed. And as that candidate field gets smaller, we may find ourselves becoming like a sort of Iowa or New Hampshire in the months ahead.

It will also be interesting to see where Democrats spend their time and focus during visits. It's mainly been Detroit area and Flint. Replicating Governor Gretchen Whitmer's success in other areas and inroads in the western part of the state will become important in time, too.

Alethia: Definitely. I am sure Democratic candidates at some point will visit the Grand Rapids area. Potentially the Traverse City area and we'll see if anyone ventures north of the Mackinac Bridge. One thing is for sure, it's really only the beginning of the cycle.

Nick: Yes, and the first chapter has been a lengthy one. This should be fun to see how things further unfold.

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The Michigan Legislature: Where Things Are Different, But Also The Same

Posted: July 15, 2019 3:51 PM

Four years ago today, Gongwer ran a story titled: "House Adjourns With No Roads Vote, Will Return Next Week." The year was 2015, the Courser-Gamrat scandal had not yet broken. And, much like 2019, Republicans were trying to come up with a road funding plan. With minimal new revenue.

However, in 2015, the Senate passed a 15-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase, with the help of then-Lt. Governor Brian Calley, who had to break a 19-19 vote to pass the increase. The House did not take that up.

Eventually, between late October and early November, after the Courser-Gamrat scandal and expulsion had passed, the House took up its plan to slightly increase the gas tax. The final proposal included a 7.3 cent tax increase and registration fee increases to get to $600 million in new revenue for roads.

Back then, business groups "mostly hailed" the Legislature's actions, Gongwer wrote. Those groups, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, are now calling for more investments into infrastructure.

Others called the plan underwhelming. The Detroit Regional Chamber said, "this appears the best this Legislature can do."

Many of these same groups and individuals are involved in road funding discussions today. The question remains if they will offer tepid praise of whatever passes the Legislature in 2019, if they will be left disappointed or if the state will see a plan everyone agrees upon.

There were some key differences in the dynamics of 2015 and now. First, with Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in office, Republicans are talking to Democrats. In 2015, it is unclear how much then-Speaker Kevin Cotter and then-Minority Leader Tim Greimel actually spoke. I don't think it was often. The 2015 roads plan passed with almost all Republican votes.

It also appeared then that Mr. Cotter and former Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof didn't have the best relationship.

Now, it at least seems like Ms. Whitmer has a working relationship with Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Speaker Lee Chatfield. The two Republican leaders also get along, which is a change from recent years.

So, there seems to be some valid reasons for observers seeking a roads plan to be optimistic. But will the state see a plan that funds roads long term? Or will I be writing in four years about a future Legislature struggling to pass a road funding plan?

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Michigan Senate Floor Leader Compares Job To Circus Ringmaster

Posted: July 1, 2019 1:15 PM

In the most recent installment of the Grand Rapids Chamber's series "Politicians in Cars Getting Pop," Senate Majority Floor Leader Peter MacGregor says his job is like the ringmaster of a three-ring circus.

Comparing the Legislature to a circus is something everyone can jokingly (or otherwise) get behind. Mr. MacGregor (R-Rockford) is in the sixth episode of the Chamber's spoof of Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."

In Mr. Seinfeld's version, he picks up various comedians in classic cars, which many times appear the real star of the show. In the Chamber's latest episode, they drive a manual Mini Cooper.

The senator also showed he is (sort of) able to open a bottle with his keys. While he was successful in opening the glass bottles of pop without an official opener, it spilled everywhere.

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Whitmer's 'Vacation' Comments Come Six Years After Snyder's

Posted: June 26, 2019 1:22 PM

Nearly six years ago to the day, former Governor Rick Snyder called on his fellow Republicans in the Senate to "take a vote, not a vacation," after they adjourned without taking a final on a bill to expand eligibility Medicaid in the state.

Now, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer is taking a similar tone with Republicans in the Legislature who quietly left for summer last week without a set date to return to vote on the budget and a potential road funding plan.

Mr. Snyder first mentioned his phrase on June 20, 2013, after he cut a trade trip short to return to Lansing to watch the Senate adjourn without voting on the bill that would eventually become the Healthy Michigan program. Within eight days, he conceded that he would no longer use the line, which angered Senate Republicans at the time.

While Mr. Snyder stopped using his line, Senate Republicans also stepped back a bit and set up a work group on the policy, scheduled a committee hearing in July and ultimately, passed the bill later that summer.

This week, Ms. Whitmer accused lawmakers of being "on vacation right now and they haven't gotten their work done."

Ms. Whitmer can use the phrase more sparingly as it is primarily aimed toward Republican leadership and not fellow Democrats. For the most part, Republican leadership appears to be allowing the comments to roll of their backs in 2019.

It's worth noting, too, that negotiations appear to be continuing between leadership and the governor while other members are not required to come to Lansing. They could be called back during several scheduled session days in July if an agreement is reached.

The situation with Ms. Whitmer and the Legislature is, for now, less tense than the 2013 Medicaid situation, as the timeline was tight to get a waiver request into the federal government for the program. The Republican-controlled House had also just passed Medicaid expansion, which was allowed under former President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There was more concern then that if the Senate did not act right away, it may not act at all.

And if the Senate had not acted, House Republicans would not have appreciated taking a vote that had the potential to be politically risky.

While, the budget must be done by October 1 to avoid a state government shut down, for the time being at least, it does not appear an imminent threat. We'll see where we are at the end of August.

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As Pride Flags Fly On Gov's Building, It's A 'New Day' In Lansing

Posted: June 17, 2019 2:09 PM

This weekend, a pair of rainbow flags symbolizing support for the LGBT community hung outside of the state's executive office building for the first time as the city hosted a march to the steps of the Capitol and its pride festival in Old Town Saturday.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer had the flags hung outside of the Romney Building across from the Capitol while Attorney General Dana Nessel led the parade and put her own flag inside her office building.

"To have her post flags outside of the governor's building for the first time is very important," Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said Monday. Mr. Moss is one of the few openly gay lawmakers to have served in Michigan and has helped spearhead LGBT issues, like expanding Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Ms. Whitmer also opened her ceremonial office in the Capitol for a press conference earlier this month, which she also attended, where Mr. Moss and other Democratic legislators announced their latest attempt to expand ELCRA. Mr. Moss said the move extended the press coverage and attention to what could have been a more routine announcement.

"It makes a difference to the LGBT child in Michigan who is struggling with gender identity or sexual orientation that at the top office of the state you have somebody who cares for you," Mr. Moss said. "It is a new day in Lansing having her in office."

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Wisconsin Governor Borrows A Phrase From Whitmer On Fixing Roads

Posted: June 10, 2019 2:19 PM

States across the country are grappling with how to deal with crumbling infrastructure just like Michigan, and Wisconsin's Democratic governor has started calling for the state to "fix the damn roads," a phrase Governor Gretchen Whitmer coined ahead of the 2018 elections.

Ms. Whitmer, of course, used the phrase "fix the damn roads" non-stop during her campaign for governor, with some people loving it and others wishing she wouldn't use the word "damn." Since her election, she has asked people to use the hashtag #FTDR as she tries to get the Legislature to raise the gas tax.

Mr. Evers recently tweeted a call to "fix the damn roads" as he struggles to get a GOP-led Legislature to raise the gas tax as well.

Mr. Evers' utterance was not lost on Ms. Whitmer, who also took to Twitter showing she saw the fellow Great Lakes State governor's new phrase.

Both governors' use of the wording shows it gets the attention of voters, who, at least in Michigan, appear to want the roads fixed, though whether they want to pay more is another matter. But it doesn't seem to be as effective in getting Republican Legislature to accept a gas tax increase.

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Amash Talked About More Than Impeachment At This Week's Town Hall

Posted: May 30, 2019 2:53 PM

While U.S. Rep. Justin Amash has gotten a lot of attention for saying President Donald Trump has committed impeachable actions, he had more to say on a host of other topics at this week's two-hour town hall in Grand Rapids.

Mr. Amash (R-Cascade Township) spoke about policy inspired by climate change, vaccines, immigration and what he sees as the largest problem in Washington, D.C., politics.

At his Tuesday town hall, Mr. Amash said the biggest problem never talked about in Washington is the process in the House, which is completely controlled by the speaker, whether that person is a Democrat or Republican.

He said last term former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, did not allow any amendments on the House floor. Mr. Amash said it was the first full term where no amendments could come up on the floor without first going through the Rules Committee. He said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is doing the same thing.

"The speaker of the House will not allow an amendment to be voted on if it has a chance of passing or does anything," Mr. Amash said Tuesday.

Mr. Amash said if people focused more on the process and fought for a deliberative process in Congress where everyone had a say it would be less partisan and "create better outcomes for the American people."

An audience member asked Mr. Amash during the town hall if it is an abuse of power, and Mr. Amash said it was, and "it's an abuse of power that is not talked about enough."

"It is not right for our congressional leaders to control from the top down to bribe members of Congress, basically tell them you will get this or that if you stay with the team, you saw what happened to me from our so-called leader Kevin McCarthy. I read the Mueller report; I am sure he did not read it. I stated what it actually says, and he resorted to … various attacks that had nothing to do with the Mueller report. This is the kind of 'leadership' that we now have in Congress. And the idea behind what they are doing is they want to intimidate and scare other members of Congress. … They don't want people speaking out against the party line. Ever."

Mr. Amash was also asked if he was doing anything to help families separated at the southern border. Mr. Amash said the immigration system is really messed up right now and "we don't want to see people separated at the border."

"I have no problem with enhancing fencing and security at the border. I don't have a problem with that. I don't think we should have a wall going all the way across or anything like that," he said. "But just as important, if not more important, is we have a better process for people who are arriving."

Mr. Amash said Mr. Trump has said he wants to just be tough on everyone coming across the border or close it off instead of supporting more resources to process people coming it at the border.

"I think that is not the correct approach," he said.

Another audience member asked if Mr. Amash supported mandatory vaccines and the medical tracking of such.

Mr. Amash said any vaccine mandates should not be done at the federal level.

"I do think that states should have the responsibility to make those determinations," he said. "Also places like schools have to make decisions about whether they allow students in who are vaccinated, not vaccinated. Because they have to have concerns about the other students who might be harmed if there are students there who are not vaccinated."

On climate change, Mr. Amash said the Green New Deal is a resolution with "a bunch of ideas and concepts" but not necessarily a plan. He said he would be interested in a plan to address the issue in "a more free-market way."

"A big part of why we have been able to clean the environment relative to previous generations is because we have advanced in … technology," Mr. Amash said. "You don't want to go backwards in that where you then have a situation where people are more concerned about making it through the end of the day than they are with keeping the environment clean. … I think of course you have to look at the regulatory side, but you also have to look at the free-market side and how innovation helps. So I will look at both."

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Michigan Parks Get 'Parks And Rec' Tribute

Posted: May 13, 2019 12:32 PM

Those of us who are fans of Amy Poehler's "Parks and Recreation" and work around state government see often too real parallels between the comedy and real life, many times during any episode that involves a town hall.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is obviously a fan of the show, has brought show references to state government several times already since she took office in January. First, she held a "Galentine's" party at the governor's residence in Lansing. "Galentine's" is a celebration of female friendship that occurs the day before Valentine's Day that Amy Poehler's character Leslie Knope spearheads with gusto.

Then this weekend, when the state parks turned 100 years old, Ms. Whitmer took to Twitter with this tribute of the show's opening:

Another "Parks and Recreation" plot line that is seems timely for Michigan is when small-government advocate and fictional Pawnee, Indiana, Parks and Recreation Director Ron Swanson fills a neighborhood pothole himself after local officials fail to take action.

Wonder if the state's equivalent, Ron Olson, chief of parks and recreation, wants to start filling potholes?

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Whitmer, A Spartan, Gives Competing U-M, MSU Speeches

Posted: May 6, 2019 1:35 PM

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has strong roots connecting her to her alma mater Michigan State University, including living in the university's town and representing it in the Legislature for 14 years. But this weekend, as she gave commencement speeches at both MSU and its rival, the University of Michigan, the governor was cordial.

While there was a slight potential dig at U-M during her MSU speech on Friday – where, when speaking about how she believes 95 percent of people are fundamentally good, she joked, "I believe the good people far outnumber the bad, even though it might feel 50/50 during a Michigan-Michigan State game" – she was otherwise friendly to her alma mater's rival.

Ms. Whitmer even complimented U-M's fight song during her speech and said, "Go Blue," which is difficult for any Spartan.

She opened both speeches similarly – making sure the groups of graduated at both schools knew she was a Spartan. At U-M, she told the graduates MSU star Magic Johnson is the best athlete to come from Michigan.

"You may know that I am a Spartan. I have been since my dad took me to see Magic Johnson play basketball at Jenison Field House in East Lansing," she said in Ann Arbor. "Now, I think he's the finest athlete to ever come out of our great state, though I can admit that Tom Brady and Derek Jeter probably round out the top three."

While she also has ties to U-M, where she taught, her ties to MSU, where she received her undergraduate and law degrees, are stronger. She told MSU graduates her Spartan friends keep her grounded today and she still debates if Crunchies' tots or nugs are better (but she said they for sure have the finest ranch in the world).

"Michigan State is a magical place," she said. "It's a place where in a single night Hootie & The Blowfish, Tiger Woods, and the Stanley Cup all showed up at Rick's American Café. I liked being a Spartan so much I came back to get my JD, and I loved the state of Michigan as much as I love Michigan State."

Ms. Whitmer also made a football joke at the end of her speech in Ann Arbor, showing it doesn't have to be a rivalry all the time.

"Today when we leave the Big House, we will all be happy," she said. "Unlike my other times here at the Big House."

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Those Who Celebrated 4/20 May Weigh Less Than Those Who Didn't

Posted: April 23, 2019 1:14 PM

A study from Michigan State University released one day before the popular stoner holiday on April 20th suggests individuals who smoke weed weigh less than adults who do not.

The findings were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and run contrary to the idea that those smoking weed will eat an entire bag of Doritos and gain weight. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"Over a three-year period, all participants showed a weight increase, but interestingly, those who used marijuana had less of an increase compared to those that never used," Omayma Alshaarawy, lead author if the study and an assistant professor of family medicine, said in a statement. "Our study builds on mounting evidence that this opposite effect occurs."

The findings also suggest that new and persistent cannabis users are less likely to be overweight or obese, and showed a two-pound difference between those who smoked and who did not among more than 30,000 people.

Still, the researchers aren't suggesting you start lighting up if you want to lose weight, saying there are other health concerns surrounding the drug. Of course, with its growing acceptance across the country, there are many who disagree with that sentiment.

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Michigan Dem Officials Open For Georgia's Film Industry

Posted: April 4, 2019 11:34 AM

As the state of Georgia has faced backlash from celebrities and others in the film industry as its governor is expected to sign legislation essentially blocking abortions for women more than six weeks pregnant, Michigan's top statewide officials have encouraged the industry to move north.

A bill passed by the Georgia Republican-led Legislature and expected to be signed by its Republican Governor Brian Kemp would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, generally around six weeks. Current law allows abortion up to 20 weeks.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Twitter welcomed the Georgia film industry to come up to Michigan.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson retweeted Judd Apatow, comedian and film director, who said he won't shoot films in Georgia anymore if the bill becomes law and welcomed him to Michigan.

Georgia and other states, however, have what Michigan no longer offers: incentives for the industry. Michigan got rid of its film incentives several years ago. The governor is not proposing new incentives for the industry, which would require legislation, a spokesperson told the Michigan Advance.

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Michigan's LG Invites Demon To Party With Detroit

Posted: March 25, 2019 4:04 PM

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist jointed thousands in Detroit during the weekend at the city's Marche Du Nain Rouge, a celebration of spring that ends outside the Masonic Temple where attendees rid the city of "Nain Rouge" – often referred to as a demon who brings misfortune to the city.

This year, attendees invited the Nain to join in on the festivities after 10 years of torturing each other during the march. Mr. Gilchrist had the honors of inviting the red dwarf to join in on the party.

"The Nain Rouge – Detroit's legendary harbinger of doom – has conceded an introspective moment about his role in the city's future, I do hereby offer the Nain Rouge an invitation to party with the most excellent citizens of Detroit," Mr. Gilchrist declared to the crowd on Sunday at the event's conclusion.

According to various stories, Detroit's founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, was told to appease the Nain Rouge, but instead smacked it with his cane. A string of bad luck for the city's founder followed.

During the last 10 years and the modern day Marche Du Nain Rouge, the demon has dressed as various things representing challenges for the city, including as an emergency manager one year.

Attendees dress in red or in other elaborate costumes as the march goes through Midtown to the Masonic Temple where it ends. It's a celebration of spring and good fortune for Detroit.

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Daylight Savings Got You Down? Donate Your Money

Posted: March 11, 2019 2:22 PM

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters in a fundraising email this weekend attempts to capitalize on those of us who are feeling a little sleepy after "springing forward" Sunday morning. After all, is there a better way to deal with the negative side effects of changing our clocks than donating your money to a political candidate?

For daylight savings time (for the record, I know it is daylight saving time, but I am from Michigan, and the need to pluralize the term is the strong), Mr. Peters sent out an email to supporters with the subject: "Disoriented? Us too."

But Mr. Peters tells potential donors the one thing worse than waking up disoriented after changing your clocks is waking up after the 2020 election and feeling the same as when you woke up after the 2016 election (when, of course, President Donald Trump won the White House).

"Forget changing our clocks – if we don't get into gear NOW, Republicans will set Michigan's progress back DECADES," the email says. Definitely not going light on the drama.

Mr. Peters' fundraising email also brings back memories of a 2014 blog where he was a little more blunt with his emails.

My, how times have changed.

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The Curious Case Of FOIA Reform

Posted: February 11, 2019 1:55 PM

The reality of working in politics is you will often see groups treat situations differently based on their level of support for the official or issue involved. I understand it. I accept it. But that doesn't mean I can't point it out when it happens.

Such an example has recently popped up regarding the Freedom of Information Act expansion to the governor's office and opening up legislative records. All are currently exempt from Michigan's open records law.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer supports expanding FOIA to the Executive Office. House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) supports opening up the Legislature's records and has voted for it twice.

Ms. Whitmer and Mr. Chatfield could adopt a policy without a change in law to open up their records right now, and then work to pass a law codifying the procedure, Ms. Whitmer through an executive order or directive and Mr. Chatfield through the House's access to information policy that governs the limited information the chamber does release to the public.

Neither has done so. Legislation has been introduced in the House to expand FOIA for the third term in a row, and Mr. Chatfield says it is a priority for him.

And Ms. Whitmer has issued an executive directive she said would speed up FOIA responses from state departments and agencies. She said she would wait for a bill to pass the Legislature to open up her office to FOIA.

Both have gotten an unequal response from those who disagree with them politically.

The liberal group Progress Michigan praised Ms. Whitmer for the executive directive she signed and urged the Legislature to follow the governor's lead on reform.

However, on Mr. Chatfield, the group said if he really believed in FOIA expansion "there's no reason he would delay or deny a rule change to open up the House to FOIA," rather than going the legislative route.

The Michigan Republican Party, which did not issue a statement at all about FOIA and the Legislature on the opening day of session when rules are adopted and top priorities outlined, said Ms. Whitmer broke a significant campaign promise with her directive.

"With a stroke of her pen Governor Whitmer could bring greater transparency to the Governor's office," MRP spokesperson Tony Zammit said in a statement. "Instead she has demonstrated that her campaign was nothing more than rhetoric."

With a Republican Legislature and a Democratic governor, I am sure this won't be the last time we see lopsided responses to issues involving both the executive and legislative branches.

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What Do Michigan's Political Leaders Read?

Posted: January 28, 2019 3:09 PM

Governor Gretchen Whitmer took to Twitter this last week and in another showing of bipartisan friendliness on social media invited legislative leaders to post the covers of books they love.

Ms. Whitmer started with Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, former President Barack Obama cited it as one of his favorite books, and it was said he used it when creating his Cabinet. Maybe Ms. Whitmer used it in the same way as she appointed her cabinet in the last month.

The book is about former President Lincoln and three of his Cabinet members who had previously run against him in the 1860 election: Attorney General Edward Bates, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase and Secretary of State William Seward.

Similarly, House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) posted the cover of "Leadership In Turbulent Times," also written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Though he clarified in his post: "I'm not expecting the next two years to be turbulent!"

The book focuses on former Presidents Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. "This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field," the book's description says. "In today's polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on singular urgency."

For Mr. Chatfield, who just recently began his term of House leadership, it makes sense this book would be a favorite.

But sometimes a person needs to cut through the seriousness of work and politics and laugh, which clearly House Minority Leader Christine Greig gets as she went with a book chronicling articles from the parody site The Onion.

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Former Speakers Gather Ahead Of 100th Legislature's Opening Day

Posted: January 14, 2019 3:55 PM

Eight of the eleven living former House speakers met with newly elected Speaker Lee Chatfield last week as the 100th Legislature convened for the 2019-20 term, and while past speakers have sought out advice from their predecessors, at least one said he was unaware of all former leaders coming together in a similar fashion.

Mr. Chatfield meets with eight former speakers in the Capitol. Photo by Laura Crowe Photography.

Mr. Chatfield (R-Levering) invited all 11 living former speakers. Republicans Tom Leonard, Kevin Cotter, Jase Bolger, Craig DeRoche, Chuck Perricone and Rick Johnson along with Democrats Andy Dillon and Lew Dodak attended the first day of session last week and were individually called to the rostrum by Mr. Chatfield to sign a tribute.

"As we embark on the beginning of this historic 100th Legislature, I believe it is altogether fitting and proper that we should offer our appreciation to those who have come before us and paved the way for our service," Mr. Chatfield said of the former speakers during his first speech as speaker on the House floor. "We should acknowledge their devotion to the institution that we now serve and for the accomplishments achieved under their tenure. We are blessed this afternoon to have eight former speakers of the House present with us, representing far more than any party or creed, but rather so many combined years of dedication to our state and this chamber."

Mr. Bolger, speaking with Stephen Henderson on WDET-FM, said many former speakers have spoken with their predecessors as they prepare to take on the job, but it was the first time he is aware that all of them were brought together.

It is often noted that Mr. Chatfield, who is 30, is the youngest speaker in modern history. Mr. Bolger said while that is true, Mr. Chatfield is also wise. He also noted Mr. Chatfield has had more experience than Mr. Bolger had when he became speaker.

Mr. Bolger was speaker from 2011 through 2014. In his first term, before he was elected speaker, the Republicans were the minority party, so he had not even chaired a committee.

"He was wise to do this. He was very interested in getting that input. Also, as I look, he has far more experience than I ever had," Mr. Bolger said.

In a Facebook post, Mr. Leonard noted what Mr. Chatfield joked from the rostrum last Wednesday, that the year Mr. Dodak was elected speaker (1988) was the year Mr. Chatfield was born.

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What's Leonard's Advice For Speaker Chatfield?

Posted: January 7, 2019 12:38 PM

Former House Speaker Tom Leonard offered his advice to now-Speaker Lee Chatfield, saying the new speaker should focus on his legislative team and staff to be successful in the next two years.

"First and foremost, surround yourself with a great team, and by great team, I mean a great team of legislators around you," Mr. Leonard said in a recent interview. "That's one thing that I have had from the day I walked into this office."

As his team during the 2017-18 term, Mr. Leonard pointed to Mr. Chatfield (R-Levering), who served as the speaker pro tempore, former Rep. Laura Cox, who served as House Appropriations chair, now-Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), who was the majority floor leader, former Rep. Jim Tedder and former Rep. Gary Glenn.

"Those five individuals, they were with me every step of the way," he said. "They were my core. They were my team. And you've got to have a strong team around you."

Mr. Leonard said having a great staff is also crucial for the new speaker.

"From everything I can see, (Mr. Chatfield) has certainly accomplished the second," Mr. Leonard said. "He has a great staff around him. They are going to come in here and they're going to be with him on day one. So, if he has a great team of legislators around him, I have no doubt that he is going to be successful."

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A Reporter's Guide To Michigan's Lame-Duck Session

Posted: November 26, 2018 3:59 PM

The election has long passed, and Thanksgiving is over, which means lame duck is here. Lame duck occurs in the final weeks of a legislative session when almost anything could happen, and it can be largely unpredictable.

As a reporter I have spent many hours in the House chamber during lame duck. I am expecting this year to be somewhat intense. A crop of legislators in both the Senate and the House will be leaving, which means there might be some outstanding pet projects ripe for action. A Democratic governor is coming in, so for the first time in eight years there will be shared power as Republicans continue to hold the Michigan House and Senate (though with smaller majorities).

There is likely to be at least one all-nighter. There will also be many, many farewell speeches from outgoing lawmakers. Think of them like 15-minute yearbook signatures performed live.

So, what do Republicans want to get done during the last three to four weeks when Governor Rick Snyder will still be here to sign their bills? I am looking at changes to the initiated laws adopted earlier this year to keep them off the ballot. One would raise the minimum wage and one requires paid sick time for employees. Both will be altered with opposition from Democrats.

There are many other things that can and will come up during the next four weeks and likely some surprises too that only a few are thinking about right now. As a reporter, there are other things I watch for during lame duck.

During the many hours on the House floor, I watch for who leadership is taking into meetings to twist arms on whatever they are working on. I listen for quick amendments or floor substitutes to legislation without explanation. I wait for leadership to order dinner; a sure sign session will not be over any time soon.

And how do reporters deal with many grueling hours in committees and in House or Senate session? A lot of snacks, caffeine and the relief that Jimmy John's does bring sandwiches right outside of either chamber door, just in case there is no time to actually leave.

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Both Parties Prepping Voters For Lack Of Straight Ticket

Posted: November 5, 2018 3:30 PM

Straight ticket voting, where voters can choose an entire party's slate of candidates by filling in one bubble, is gone in Michigan for 2018 (though perhaps not for long), with both Democrats and Republicans preparing their voters to fill out the entire ballot.

Democrats in the Legislature passionately fought the repeal of straight ticket voting before the 2016 election, and though it still became law, were able to get it reinstated through court challenges. This time, the option really won't be there.

The Michigan Democratic Party is mailing pamphlets listing each Democratic candidate on the entire ballot, including local officials and state House and Senate candidates. Canvassers for the One Campaign for Michigan, paid for the MDP, have similar literature listing each candidate in the area. The mailer reminds voters they must vote the whole ballot if they want to vote for all Democratic candidates, that straight ticket is not an option.

And Republican Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy), who sponsored the straight ticket repeal in the Legislature, is also reminding voters in the 13th Senate District to vote in each public office in the mail he is sending to voters.

In 2016, the straight ticket voting option was seen as a benefit to Republicans as the party swept state legislative races and President Donald Trump was the first Republican to win the presidential race here since the 1980s.

How the lack of straight ticket voting will play out when Michiganders go to the polls tomorrow is unclear. There may be longer lines and there could be more undervoting than usual as voters skip races farther down the ballot like the education board candidates. The possibility that each party's most loyal voters could skip some races is causing some heartburn.

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With Election Nearing, House Dems, GOP In Different Worlds

Posted: October 31, 2018 12:02 PM

There are several seats that appear up for grabs next week in the Michigan House where both sides are investing heavily and are clearly competing for, but in others, there appears to be a one-sided effort to save the seat or make it competitive.

House Republicans have spent a fair amount in the 43rd House District for their candidate Andrea Schroeder of Clarkston, but Democrats claim to not know what is going on there and haven't invested in their candidate, Nicole Breadon of Clarkston.

Democrats are spending heavily in the 99th House District for Kristen Brown of Mount Pleasant who is challenging Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Mount Pleasant). In the last week it has become apparent that Republicans are also spending to help Mr. Hauck, but this seat has long been elusive to the Democrats. They also are pouring money into the 101st House District, which has seen several close, expensive battles in the past decade but Republicans – with one exception, 2008 – always coming out on top.

If Ms. Breadon comes close in the 43rd, but still doesn't win, and Ms. Brown loses, surely Democrats will be kicking themselves for letting the allure of the 99th keep them away from a potential pickup in Oakland County, where the environment seems better for Democrats this year.

Republicans, though, liken their spending in the 43rd to an insurance policy.

In the 98th House District, covering the Republican bastion of Midland, Republicans are also spending for their candidate, Annette Glenn of Williams Township, while Democrats are not investing in Sarah Schulz of Midland. Ms. Schulz has brought in an impressive fundraising haul on her own. She is also benefiting from ads funded by outside groups.

Still, this is another seat Republicans feel the need to defend with their money, but in which Democrats are not investing. If they get blown out in seats like the 99th, or Monroe's 17th District, but come close in seats like the 98th, again, they will be kicking themselves next Wednesday.

Republicans are also spending in the 51st House District for their candidate Mike Mueller of Linden. The seat is considered a safe seat for the GOP, but Democrats have longtime Linden Mayor David Lossing, though they are not investing given the dynamics in the district. Mr. Lossing, though, has also brought in a respectable cash haul on his own.

One thing Democrats say they have done this year is recruit quality candidates everywhere regardless of their chances in the district, but also, train candidates how to fundraise and run campaigns on their own. So, in seats like 51st, 98th or 43rd, the caucus doesn't have to get involved, but maybe something happens.

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Live NYT Poll Is Having Trouble Reaching Some Michiganders

Posted: October 1, 2018 4:01 PM

The interesting New York Times polling project where readers can follow live online as people are contacted and where has come to Michigan, but it's slow going so far.

The Times, in partnership with Siena, is polling the 8th U.S. House District where U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) is in a major re-election battle with Democrat Elissa Slotkin of Holly. As of a 3:38 p.m. today, they had made 24,570 calls with only 186 people in the district covering Ingham, Livingston and northern Oakland counties having been actually interviewed. That response rate of less than 1 percent is the lowest the polling project has encountered so far.

The calls began on Friday night, with many suggesting Michigan residents are busy with high school football on Friday, college football on Saturday and general celebrations throughout the weekend. Others on Twitter also suggested Republicans in Livingston County in particular are not going to answer an unknown number.

"Not sure if you've ever been to mid-Michigan but everyone's out having fun because we celebrate in the Great Lakes State," East Lansing native and FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver posted to Twitter.

Nate Cohn, a New York Times reporter, said they are on track to need more than 60,000 calls in the district. As it stands, Mr. Bishop is up 47 percent to Ms. Slotkin's 45 percent, though the paper warns to be cautious with those results given the very small sample so far – just 186 as of 3:38 p.m. today.

For the project, voters answered in Lansing and Holt, with some Democratic and some Republican responses, the same for Brighton, Clarkston and Rochester Hills. Many other calls were made throughout the district with no answer, especially in the remaining areas of Livingston County.

Mr. Cohn described the poll as in "weighting purgatory" in a Sunday tweet. And given the recent polling misfires in Michigan, he said that made him wonder.

"I do think it's interesting that Michigan response rates are low so far," he tweeted Saturday. "I don't know if it's representative; it's our first time here. Would be interested to hear from other pollsters. And it seems noteworthy given the high-profile misses there in recent years."

The approval rating of President Donald Trump among those 186 people The Times was able to reach is 47 percent with 50 percent disapproving. Those voters are also tied at 43 percent on whether they support or oppose Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the United States Supreme Court.

It's unclear exactly what is happening in the 8th District. On Friday, the super political action committee affiliated with U.S. House Republican leadership pulled millions in television advertising buys backing Mr. Bishop.

What is clear is for this poll to start showing an accurate picture of what is happening in the district, The Times needs to make about 35,000 more calls.

Mr. Cohn said the polling project will start Monday night on the 11th U.S. House District race between Republican Lena Epstein of Bloomfield Township and Democrat Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills.

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Slew Of Pre-Election Activity Coming To Capitol

Posted: September 24, 2018 1:22 PM

It's that time of year again, roughly six weeks before the election and the Legislature is returning for two weeks with several committee hearings – and fundraisers –scheduled.

In the House especially, it looks to be a busy several days on the horizon. And don't forget, the Legislature already returned for one day this month and approved the minimum wage and paid sick time proposals, keeping them off the ballot. Senators also introduced 46 bills that week with representatives introducing 56 bills.

This week, when the House and Senate return, House members have scheduled 13 committee hearings and senators have scheduled three hearings. The House will be discussing some serious issues including legislation to change the state's policy of automatically treating 17-year-olds as adults in criminal proceedings and legislation dealing with the Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

These issues are serious while also potentially benefiting lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as they continue to campaign during the next six weeks.

It is not unusual to see a flurry of activity this time of year, particularly before Election Day. In 2014, lawmakers spent weeks in September bringing up the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act expansion, a tax fix related to a Supreme Court decision that could have cost the state $1 billion, drones, e-cigarettes and epi-pens.

2016 was even busier in September. Lawmakers passed the medical marijuana regulation structure and the compromise on third grade reading was struck. There were also hearings on the Indigent Defense Commission, the local government plastic bag ban pre-emption, joint custody and compensation for those wrongly imprisoned.

There are also 34 fundraisers in Lansing for House, Senate and statewide candidates during the next three days alone.

So, the Capitol will see an influx of activity for the next week or two, but then the action will move back to individual districts until November.

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Rep. Love Puts Theatre Degree To Use In Comedy Central’s ‘Detroiters’

Posted: September 10, 2018 1:45 PM

During the summer an episode of Comedy Central’s “Detroiters” included a brief appearance of Detroit’s Rep. Leslie Love, who has a Master of Fine Arts from Wayne State University’s Hillberry Theatre Program.

The show is bizarre and goofy and Ms. Love’s appearance is no different. Ms. Love plays a character named Kathy, who is working on an advertisement for her company Sidewall Windows. Ms. Love doesn’t say much but her facial expressions are gold. The episode aired on August 2.

“Detroiters” follows Sam and Tim as they operate their underdog ad agency and includes several inside jokes for those who live in the Detroit area, like “Farmer Zach’s” and Mort Crim.

Ms. Love used the opportunity to advocate for the now-ended film incentives, which she opposed getting rid of and the show used during its first season.

She argues the incentive put more than $105 million into the local economy. The Legislature got rid of it in 2015 after a push from the House Republicans.

Ms. Love has also played the mayor of Metropolis in “Batman Vs. Superman,” which did some filming in Michigan.

“As a performing art professor and creative, I know how these incentives were able to create jobs and pump money into the economy,” Ms. Love says in a statement from the summer. “I was stunned then and still am that we ended such a valuable tool while we continue to offer huge tax breaks and sweetheart incentives to other industries.”

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Two Judicial Nominees With Differing Ideals, Same Name

Posted: July 23, 2018 4:25 PM

Michigan voters will hear about two different judicial candidates during the next few weeks and months. One is conservative and is nominated for a spot the highest court in the nation. The other is a Democrat and will appear on the ballot for the highest court in the state. Their last names are pronounced identically.

While the name Kavanaugh has been prevalent in the news nationwide lately with President Donald Trump’s latest U.S. Supreme Court nominee, the name was already widely known in Michigan belonging to the storied family on the Democratic side where several members have been Supreme Court justices, judges and state or local officials albeit with slightly different spellings.

And this year, as Mr. Trump works to get U.S. Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Megan Cavanagh has been endorsed by Democrats to be one of the party’s two nominees for Michigan Supreme Court.

While the names are spelled differently, they are pronounced the same. Ms. Cavanagh is using the name similarity as a fundraising pitch to supporters titled: “Cavanagh with a C.”

She is a different kind of Cavanagh, she wrote to supporters.

“With President Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the undeniable reality that his confirmation would shift that court to the right, it is more important than ever that Michigan citizens exercise their rights and raise their voices to say that Michigan's judicial system will not be taken over by partisan politics and special interests advocating for ideologues,” the email said.

The name game has long been en vogue when it comes to the candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court. The name Cavanagh has long been a staple on the ballot for Democrats in Michigan. Mr. Trump’s nomination of Mr. Kavanaugh has made that a bit more complex.

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Some Happy Animal News To Start The Week

Posted: July 2, 2018 4:20 PM

News, and politics, isn’t always uplifting, so let’s start his holiday week – when some of us are going on vacation, and hopefully all of us are enjoying summer in some fashion – with stories of endangered Michigan birds successfully hatching on our Upper Peninsula bridges.

On the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge, a pair of peregrine falcons successfully nested atop the bridge between the U.S. and Canada this spring, hatching two chicks – one of which died after hatching (sorry, it’s not all happy), the Department of Transportation said.

Nest boxes for the falcons, which are still considered endangered in Michigan, were installed in 2010. You can watch the live video stream of the nest on the International Bridge Administration’s website.

At the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, two nest boxes were installed in 2012, another pair of the endangered peregrines successfully nested and hatched three chicks. The Lift Bridge birds were banded by the Department of Natural Resources on June 20 and the bird on the International Bridge was banded on June 26, so they will be tracked by scientists.

At the International Bridge, the chick was named Susan, after Susan Johnston (Ozhaguscodaywayquay in Ojibwe), the wife of a fur trader and a prominent Sault resident in the early 1800s. Around 1820, she helped dissuade Ojibwe leaders from attacking a treaty delegation led by Governor Lewis Cass.

At the Lift Bridge, the males were named Hawkeye and Boden, while the female was named Harmony. You can watch the nests at the Lift Bridge here.

The peregrines at both bridges should be ready to leave the nest in another few weeks, MDOT said.

After the use of DDT and other environmental contaminants in the 1960s and 1970s, the state lost its peregrine falcons. With conservation efforts about 40 pairs actively try to nest each year with one to two new pairs discovered most years, MDOT says.

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Stating The Obvious: Campaign Emails Don’t Tell Full Story

Posted: June 18, 2018 3:36 PM

In a fundraising email from the Michigan Republican Party sent Monday, the GOP seeks to tie a Democratic state representative calling the most recent school aid budget “crumbs” to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, but the email doesn’t talk about the Republican representative who also opposed the budget and make some similar points on the House floor.

Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) did call the school aid budget crumbs during her House floor speech opposing the budget bill. She said it was bigger than the crumbs passed last year, but still not enough. She brought up studies showing the state’s per pupil funding amount is not enough. And she criticized the $900 million transferred from the School Aid Fund to the General Fund for uses outside of K-12 education.

Speaking right before her was Rep. Dave Pagel (R-Berrien Springs), who also opposed the budget. Mr. Pagel, although not calling the budget crumbs, spoke about Proposal A passing in 1994. He said no School Aid Fund dollars were used for community colleges or higher education after it passed.

He said in the eight years following the passage of Proposal A, the per pupil funding grant rose 60 percent. He said in the last 15 years, it has increased only 14 percent. And he also brought up studies showing schools should be funded at more than $9,000 per student instead of the current level $7,631 per student.

Now, the Michigan Republican Party is attempting to use Ms. Lasinski’s remarks to fundraise. Though not naming her, the GOP said in a fundraising email boasting Republicans increasing the foundation grant to a record high level without raising taxes with “one desperate Democrat” calling the spending “crumbs.”

“That is the exact same word Nancy Pelosi used to describe the Republican tax cuts that will save the average Michigan family $2,000 per year,” the email said.

Republicans have been putting a big emphasis on Ms. Pelosi’s “crumbs” comments to paint her as out of touch and not realizing how taxpayers appreciate the extra money in their paychecks since the tax cuts took effect.

Tying Democrats to officials perceived as unpopular will certainly be a key play this cycle for the Republicans. Just remember there is probably more to a story than a fundraising email, from either party, is telling.

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It’s A Good Thing The Legislature Is Breaking For Summer

Posted: June 11, 2018 12:47 PM

The last couple months have been increasingly contentious in the Michigan Legislature – particularly, at least last week, in the House – although campaign season will hardly be less scrappy, I think everyone is ready for a break from the Capitol to head back to their various districts.

This last week Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt accused Democrats of consistently breaking decorum in the House as Republicans did everything they could to accommodate their poorly timed lunches and cigarette breaks.

Democrats are fuming over the firing of a staffer after he physically tried to stop a bill from leaving the chamber and Mr. Leonard’s spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro inaccurately described the incident to reporters. This led to one Democratic representative taking to Twitter to compare Mr. D’Assandro to the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who has been criticized for misleading the media in her job.

Republicans also halted debate early on a Medicaid work requirement bill so six Dems couldn’t speak on the issue they strongly opposed.

Before the hectic week in the House – which was ignited by a repeal of prevailing wage and the Medicaid work requirements – Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Williams Township) compared Consumers Energy to terrorists that should be shot. Mr. Leonard stayed out of the fray while the Michigan Chamber of Commerce called for an apology and a utility union called for him to resign.

Mr. Glenn was also the representative who made the procedural motion to hold the vote on Medicaid work requirements and skip the Democratic speeches.

Protesters have also come to the House gallery and interrupted session multiple times. Their protests were generally geared toward Republican legislators and Democrats stand accused of “egging” them on.

House-Senate tensions have been high during the last several months as well, between the House saying the Senate did not take enough time to consider legislation inspired by the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University and then watering down the Senate bills and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) taking swipes at Mr. Leonard’s leadership abilities.

The 2017-18 term in the House started with a call from Mr. Leonard for civility. There have been some bipartisan highlights, but with the Democrats hoping for a blue wave and Republicans facing the possibility of losing control of the governor’s office and House, my guess is civility will be harder to come by as August and November near.

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Is This State Rep’s ‘Grand-Dog’ The Next Tony Hawk?

Posted: May 21, 2018 6:03 PM

Rep. Diana Farrington (R-Utica) received the gift of laughter last weekend during Mother’s Day when she and her family recorded her “grand-dog” skateboarding.

The video is too good not to share with former Rep. Jeff Farrington laughing hysterically in the background. I don’t know if Tony Hawk is an outdated skateboarding reference, but this bull dog Stogie seems just as talented and is certainly a very good boy.

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Leonard Standing By Engler At MSU

Posted: April 23, 2018 4:19 PM

House Speaker Tom Leonard told reporters last week that he is focused on the survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse as the House continues to deliberate legislation seeking to prevent similar situations from happening again and holding those responsible accountable.

But Nassar survivors and Mr. Leonard (R-DeWitt) do not agree on former Governor John Engler’s performance as interim president at Michigan State University. Mr. Leonard said last week Mr. Engler came into a “very, very difficult situation,” and he supports Mr. Engler as interim president of the university.

“My top priority is these survivors,” Mr. Leonard told reporters. “What I have seen through MSU, and this isn’t a knock on Governor Engler directly, this is the university, something that has been going on for years. These survivors have not been listened to. I’ve tried to do everything I can to ensure that we are listening to them as we go throughout this process.”

Mr. Leonard was a strong supporter of Mr. Engler’s appointment as interim president. His ties to Mr. Engler include his chief of staff, Dan Pero, who served has Mr. Engler’s chief of staff and campaign manager, and lived in the same neighborhood as Mr. Engler and Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Young Jr., who is now heading up the university’s legal response to the Nassar investigations.

Mr. Engler has come under more criticism recently as Kaylee Lorincz said during a MSU Board of Trustees meeting that he met with her discussed a settlement amount without her attorney present.

Carol Viventi, an aide to Mr. Engler, then said in an email – obtained by the Detroit Free Press – to the Board of Trustees that Ms. Lorincz’s claims were “fake news,” and that Mr. Young had advised that the plaintiff attorneys are willing to make false accusations to increase the settlements.

She later apologized in a statement for how her words may have added to the pain of the Nassar survivors.

Another survivor, Rachael Denhollander, whose police report finally outed Nassar’s sexual abuse, has also been critical after offering Mr. Engler the benefit of the doubt early on. In a Facebook statement after Ms. Viventi’s email went public she said Mr. Engler, Ms. Viventi and Mr. Young, and any board members who support them, need to go.

Mr. Leonard said he does not know what happened in the meeting between Mr. Engler and Ms. Lorincz. But, he said, he is focused on listening to the survivors.

Mr. Leonard is also hoping to succeed Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has opened an investigation into MSU’s handling of Nassar headed by Special Assistant Attorney General Bill Forsyth, an investigation the next attorney general could conceivably inherit.

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Calls For Gun Control Get Loudest Applause At Dem Convention

Posted: April 16, 2018 4:42 PM

DETROIT – The Michigan Democratic Party endorsement convention heard from elected officials across the state and nominated its first openly gay candidate for statewide office over the weekend, but even Dana Nessel didn’t get the standing ovation that four teenagers calling for gun control received Sunday.

Four teenagers addressed 6,700 Democrats at their endorsement convention to call for gun control in the wake of school shootings nationwide. The most recent in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people.

Brooke Solomon, 15, said young people, particularly students in schools that could experience shootings, want to be part of the conversation. She told the crowd if politicians don’t want to be part of the conversation, they will be voted out.

“That’s not a threat,” she said after the applause died down enough so she could speak again. “It’s a promise.”

Those students’ calls for gun control got the loudest applause of the evening and everyone was on their feet.

Democrats held their endorsement convention on Sunday and informally chose their 2018 candidates for the Supreme Court, secretary of state and attorney general. The event’s participation was historic at 6,704.

Other issues brought up by different candidates throughout the day to get the loudest reaction were Republican policies leading to the Flint water crisis, Nestle’s permit to obtain 576,000 gallons of water per day from White Pine Springs, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ education policies and the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline.

Democrats are hoping to sweep the elections come November and those are some of the issues you can expect to hear about from candidates up and down the ticket as the primary and general elections get closer.

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Bubble Wrap A Bridge?

Posted: April 9, 2018 3:22 PM

Although a Byron Township bridge was hit by a semi-truck for a sixth time this year on Friday, an event advertised on social media to wrap the overpass over U.S. 131 near Grand Rapids in bubble wrap during the weekend did not actually occur.

2018 has been a rough year for the 100th Street overpass, which has been hit a total of seven times during the last decade, with six of those being in 2018, a Department of Transportation spokesperson told WOOD-TV.

The overpass now has its own Facebook page and the event to wrap the overpass in bubble wrap garnered the interest of 3,500 people and caused the Department of State Police to warn against the prank.

“The 100th St. overpass needs our help. Any donations of bubble wrap and tape are appreciated,” the event’s page said.

The 100th Street Overpass Facebook page has more than 10,000 likes and posts statuses asking people to stop hitting it. The page was created on March 23.

“Somebody drove under me today with a loud stereo in their car. They were playing Britney Spears', ‘Hit me baby, one more time,’ and I have to say, it wasn't appreciated,” one post says.

On Friday, the countdown to how many days the overpass had gone without being crashed into was reset to zero. The post received 500 shares and hundreds of comments.

While MDOT does not know why the overpass is being crashed into so often this year, it is planning on raising the bridge to 16 feet, WOOD-TV reported.

Until then, it might be the most popular Michigan overpass with a Facebook page.

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’Tis The Season For Politicians To Fill Out Brackets

Posted: March 15, 2018 5:01 PM

You will know an elected official’s true colors by whether or not they pick Michigan State University to win the NCAA basketball tournament. Just Kidding. Kind of.

It is March, which means everyone – including elected officials – are filling out brackets and sharing them with everyone they know. In Michigan, we have Governor Rick Snyder who puts MSU and his alma mater, the University of Michigan, in the final game.

He then chooses incorrectly to say U-M would win that final match, but that’s okay. Brackets can bring unlikely people together, too. Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon has found one area of agreement with Republican Mr. Snyder: U-M winning the championship.

Although former President Barack Obama is not in office anymore, he still took time to create and post his bracket too, where he has MSU winning it all.

Some officials saw a chance to raise a little campaign cash off the fun. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), who obtained his master’s degree from MSU, picked his alma mater to beat the University of Virginia for the title and offered a play on words.

“As we kick off the NCAA tournament today, can you help me by giving green to make sure Michigan goes blue?” Mr. Peters asked supporters.

For a Spartan, that came awfully close to sounding like a “Go Blue,” senator.

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Gun Issue Flaring Up In Oakland County House Seat

Posted: February 26, 2018 4:02 PM

Last week a Republican House candidate in the 39th House District covering Commerce Township, Wixom and parts of West Bloomfield Township in Oakland County sent out a scheduled invite to a fundraiser held at a shooting range as the country continued to grapple with the Florida school shooting.

The aftermath of the February 14 shooting at a Florida high school leaving 17 dead has involved strong demands for action on gun control and other measures to avoid mass shootings.

Republican Ryan Berman of Bloomfield Hills after the original invite sent another campaign email. He defended holding the fundraiser at a shooting range and said it would not be canceled. But he noted his original email, written before the shooting, wasn’t written in the proper tone.

“As your next state representative, and a practicing attorney, I will be introducing practical measures to keep guns out of the hands of disturbed and dangerous people – not measures like gun free zones which make legislators feel good, but have probably contributed to the problem,” he wrote in his second email, adding the event would be more educational in the aftermath of the shooting.

Jennifer Suidan, one of Mr. Berman’s potential Democratic challengers in the district (there are several Republican candidates too besides Mr. Berman), was quick to point out how she views the issue differently. Days before her official announcement in the district, Ms. Suidan said she does support gun-free zones not only because it makes her feel good, but because children deserve to learn in a space free from gun violence.

“The contrast between the solutions offered by me and those offered by my opponents couldn’t be clearer,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Democrats are hoping to see a change in voters in Oakland County with its highly educated suburbs that have been trending more Democratic nationally. Republicans still remain confident as these seats are historically held by the GOP.

The gun issue could continue to fester as mass shootings continue and the victims of the Florida shooting and other gun control supporters demand change.

The different sides of the issue are stark. As most Democrats want to see more gun control, Republicans in Michigan are holding fundraisers at shooting ranges, like Mr. Berman. And in the Legislature, Republicans have bills getting rid of gun-free zones and the requirement of a license to conceal carry.

Only time will tell if the issue will help rile up Democrats in Oakland County and similar areas and get them out to vote in waves come November or if like past controversies on gun issues it fails to move the needle.

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Aquilina Would Have Received National Attention As Candidate

Posted: February 5, 2018 5:07 PM

It’s not hard to see why some wanted Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to run as a Democratic candidate for the Supreme Court.

Ms. Aquilina, who told the Lansing State Journal last week she would not run, is receiving national attention after she presided over the criminal sentencing of former MSU physician Larry Nassar and won praise for her handling of the case, particularly allowing more than 150 victims of Nassar to make a statement.

Just this weekend actress Natalie Portman wore a shirt with Ms. Aquilina’s name on it when announcing the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. On the online shop Etsy, you can buy pins, bags and other merchandise paying tribute to the judge.

The GIF of her tossing Nassar’s letter aside during the sentencing also spread like wildfire across social media.

If she had decided to run, her campaign would have gotten a fair amount of national coverage, at least in the beginning. With the Nassar case and Michigan State University dominating Michigan news, having someone on the opposite side of the scandal, could have been beneficial.

Though there was also some criticism of Ms. Aquilina as she presided over the Nassar sentencing, it is hard to imagine a more visible option for the Democrats.

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Michigan Again In National Spotlight For Bad Reasons

Posted: January 29, 2018 4:04 PM

During the last couple years, essentially since the Flint water crisis, it appears when Michigan gets the most national attention is when it is facing a crisis with many of its residents feeling betrayed.

Governor Rick Snyder, as recently as his State of the State address, points to positive reviews of the state and its management since he became governor in 2011. During last week’s speech he showed two Wall Street Journal articles, one from 2009 warning people to stay away from Michigan and another coming later, touting its comeback story.

But when my family from out of state asks me about Michigan, they don’t bring up those WSJ articles. They ask about Flint. They will soon likely ask about what is happening at my alma mater MSU.

This week, a story on the Larry Nassar case was on the front page of the Sunday New York Times. House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) was on HLN talking about the House’s inquiry into MSU’s conduct.

When the governor, Mr. Leonard and other Republicans around the state talk about Michigan’s comeback, I don’t think these situations are what they had in mind.

All this complicates Mr. Snyder’s ability to draw attention to his priorities as his final year in office proceeds. That already was looming as a challenge with race to succeed him taking on ever-more focus.

Mr. Snyder will spend the week talking about infrastructure improvements, he wants to improve the state’s recycling efforts and he will propose his budget early next month. MSU will still likely dominate the news cycle for those months as investigations unfold at multiple levels. While Mr. Snyder’s efforts will be covered, they are not going to garner the same amount of attention as MSU.

And on top of MSU, the Legislature is showing no sign of heeding Mr. Snyder’s warning that they should remain fiscally responsible and not decrease taxes for short-term gain.

There are only a few short months until Lansing goes into full-on election mode, and the governor is losing attention to yet another Michigan crisis.

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Hey, You, LARA Doesn’t Want You To Burn Down Your House Tomorrow

Posted: November 22, 2017 3:29 PM

Since it is the season of giving, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs decided to give us all some great advice on how to not start a kitchen fire when preparing dinner on Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow, Thanksgiving, is the leading day for home cooking fires, according to State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer. Even more so for those who decide to use portable deep-fryers to cook their turkey.

Mr. Sehlmeyer warns that oil-less electric or infrared models are much safer to use when frying a turkey (though, I imagine, far less fun). For the record, my only experience with a deep-fried turkey comes from an episode of Gilmore Girls, and with the amount of booze flowing in that episode, it did look fun. But definitely dangerous.

So if you must use a portable propane deep fryer, Mr. Sehlmeyer has some recommended precautions. The first one is to read the guide (smart advice).

He also recommends keep the fryer away from your house, decks, trees, garages and other things that could be set on fire, including children and pets. But still keep a dry-powder fire extinguisher nearby.

Mr. Sehlmeyer also does not want you to leave the fryer unattended or overfill the fryer with oil. He does want you to use a fryer with a gas valve controller, make sure the turkey is completely thawed before frying, use the recommended oil and well-insulated oven mitts.

For those of us who are not using a deep fryer, we are not in the clear. Cooking in the kitchen also comes with risks, especially since cooks tend to get distracted when guests arrive. The average number of reported residential fires more than doubles on Thanksgiving Day.

So for traditional chefs, Mr. Sehlmeyer said to start with a clean stove and oven, wear short sleeves or roll your sleeves up so you don’t catch yourself on fire, keep children away from cooking areas, among other things.

I will also add my own advice Mr. Sehlmeyer did not offer, maybe don’t go too hard on the wine until after dinner is ready (or if you aren’t helping).

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Some Legislators Sleep Outside For Homelessness Awareness

Posted: November 13, 2017 3:41 PM

Last Wednesday, in the lead up to homelessness awareness week, which is November 11th through the 19th, a handful of Legislators slept outside with only a sleeping bag and a cardboard box.

Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming) was one of them sleeping in the cold in an effort to raise awareness of the more than 66,000 in Michigan who have experienced homelessness in Michigan last year.

Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) also participated. He acknowledged that while the idea was to simulate what many experience regularly, it was very different. He said he knew it was only temporary and those sleeping outside had access to the bathrooms in Lansing City Hall.

“The best part, for me was just spending time thinking about and talking with some of the estimated 67,000 homeless people in Michigan, and the amazing saints who spend every day trying to help them,” Mr. LaGrand said in a Facebook post.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) and Rep. Tom Cochran (D-Mason) also slept outside from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. to raise awareness, along with other volunteers. Thursday morning, volunteers had breakfast at the City Rescue Mission in Lansing with guests of the shelter.

“To truly understand how devastating homelessness can be, I spent last night outside in a sleeping bag. It was a long, cold night,” Mr. Brann said in a statement. “Although homelessness has decreased by 9 percent in our state, 66,483 people were homeless last year in Michigan. After this experience, I have a new appreciation of homeless people for their strength, courage, and will for a better life. I will work to be a part of the solution in ending homelessness here in our state.”

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Daughter’s Letter Latest Twist In 109th House Race

Posted: October 30, 2017 4:39 PM

Michigan Republicans are making a push in the 109th House District in the Upper Peninsula’s Marquette area and their candidate is not relying on ideology, instead trying to align himself with the late Democrat who held the seat, former Rep. John Kivela.

Mr. Kivela took his own life earlier this year, which has led to next week’s special election. Republican Rich Rossway, who has spent nearly two decades on the Marquette School Board, is running against a Democratic Marquette City Commissioner Sara Cambensy.

Mr. Rossway does not necessarily advertise he is a Republican, and is relying on a U.P. voter tendency to look at people, not candidates. On his Facebook page he notes the endorsement of Mr. Kivela’s sister and even nodded to Mr. Kivela’s political style during a debate last week.

Another move by Mr. Rossway is a letter of support from his daughter Rhonda, who is gay and spoke of the immediate support she received from her father when she came out.

“When I told him I wanted to go to graduate school, he helped me research programs, and when I told him I liked women, he immediately mailed me some rainbow colored accessories and offered to drive down to meet by girlfriend,” Mr. Rossway’s daughter wrote in a letter supporting her father’s candidacy.

Mr. Rossway’s support of Medicaid expansion also makes him different from many Republicans in the state.

When I asked Mr. Rossway earlier this year what made him decide to run as a Republican, he said for him it came down to abortion, which he opposes. But in interviews with me and others he has emphasized that he would be a lawmaker who votes on principle not party.

“The rest of the platforms, I am going to do my best,” Mr. Rossway said of other issues outside of abortion.

Mr. Rossway still has more than a half-century of history against him with Democrats holding the 109th House District since the 1950s. And his position on abortion will turn away many Democrats. The 109th House District has elected Democrats who support abortion rights for a long time.

Republicans know the district and are expecting this race to be closer than it has in the past. Democrats are confident this seat will stay in their column for the time being.

The Upper Peninsula’s politics have shifted in the past 15 years toward the GOP. The exception has been the heart of the 109th District – Marquette and environs, which remain Democratic turf. Mr. Rossway has done enough to make it worth the GOP’s while to support him financially. Whether he could actually win? There’s plenty of doubt in both parties, but if ever a Republican fit the profile to make the Democrats not take the seat for granted, Mr. Rossway is it.

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Michigan Dems Turn To Pumpkin Spice ‘Caucus’

Posted: October 23, 2017 1:50 PM

During its fundraising efforts this fall, the Michigan Democratic Party is channeling a fall staple – the pumpkin spice latte – in attempt to sell some merchandise and raise money for its causes.

The Dems are selling T-shirts, mugs and other merchandise that say “pumpkin spice caucus.” The pumpkin spice latte, or pumpkin-flavored anything, for many is a basic fall necessity, right up there with flannel, scarves and boots.

The party is also channeling Halloween and former President Barack Obama in its fall merchandise line up in a design with two ghosts and one of Mr. Obama’s more famous lines from last year: “don’t boo, vote.”

Is this campaign a little cheesy? Of course it is. But the public’s love of pumpkin spice will probably sell a few T-shirts. And in general, political merchandise tends to be a bit cheesy.

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Courser’s False-Flag Email Strikes Again

Posted: October 9, 2017 4:55 PM

It’s been more than two years since former Rep. Todd Courser sent an over-the-top – and explicit – email accusing himself of being addicted to sex and drugs in an attempt to “inoculate the herd” into thinking any rumor swirling about him was untrue.

Of course, this was done in a failed attempt to distract from the actual extramarital affair he was having with former Rep. Cindy Gamrat, who was serving in the House with him at the time. Today, the criminal charges filed against Mr. Courser by Attorney General Bill Schuette are still ongoing.

Yes, the charges filed in February 2016 have still not resulted in a trial. One charge related to asking former staffer Ben Graham to send the email was refiled later in 2016 in Lapeer County and the preliminary exam finally started today.

This charge had a preliminary exam already. The email and the recorded conversation of Mr. Courser asking Mr. Graham to send it are quite lewd, and it has already been discussed publicly at length. During the House select committee hearings, the recording was played aloud during a meeting. It’s vulgar and graphic and uncomfortable to hear.

So, imagine Mr. Graham’s delight when he was asked to read portions of the transcript and email aloud in the court room this morning.

At one point when Gregory Townsend, representing the Department of Attorney General, directed him to a page number to begin reading, he looked up, uncomfortable, and Mr. Townsend told him to go ahead and read it.

“This tea-bagger takes his title seriously, moaning, groaning, f**king and screwing,” one portion of the email said. Not fun to read aloud in public or to hear.

Obviously, someone had a worse Monday than the rest of us.

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Why Is Michigan Still Spelling Marijuana With An ‘H’?

Posted: September 18, 2017 3:48 PM

Those of us who spend time covering policy in Michigan spend a lot of time seeing – and questioning – marijuana spelled with an “h” instead of a “j” throughout state government.

And let me tell you, I hate it. In 2008, medical marijuana became legal in Michigan and new laws regulating medical marijuana spell the drug marihuana.

I was told last year those working on policy in Legislature wanted to keep it consistent, so they continued to spell it with an “h”.

Now there’s a licensing board and a state bureau overseeing the system. Also with an “h”. Also annoying.

A quick google search tells me Michigan’s public health code refers to marihuana, so it is consistent with much older state law. Federal law uses the same spelling.

But at any time it could have been changed. No one spells marijuana with an “h”. It is weird and inconsistent with references to the drug almost everywhere else. I mean, it’s called “mary jay” not “mary h.”

This Washington Post story dives a little more into the spelling and for the DEA, both spellings are used interchangeably. It appears the spelling we are used to now became mainstream in the 1960s and 1970s.

But there doesn’t seem to be a real reason to use the older spelling. And there have been plenty of opportunities to just use the mainstream spelling in law. And not all states spell it with an “h”, as Colorado’s legalization effort referred to marijuana.

Does it really matter that Michigan uses this old spelling of the drug? No, of course it doesn’t. But as the drug is more widely accepted and used, state law should catch up with the times.

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Energy Group Emerges To Promote New Law

Posted: August 31, 2017 12:10 PM

A social welfare organization, Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy, has started posting internet advertisements promoting the new energy law passed late last year and opposing deregulation of the state’s energy market.

Even after the Legislature was able to pass an energy law in 2016, those supporting the 10 percent choice market – and the possibility to expand it – haven’t changed their minds. And though there doesn’t appear to be a legislative push to change the market any time soon, CEME is posting ads promoting the new law.

On Twitter, the group seemed somewhat active in 2015, mostly retweeting Michigan’s Energy Future, a group involved in supporting the legislation that passed in 2016.

It popped back up in mid-July, with an ad promoting the “new Michigan-first energy law.”

“It makes sure our electricity is reliable, safe, affordable,” the ad says. “It helps businesses create new jobs. It keeps our current energy jobs here in Michigan to maintain our grid 24/7. So when you flip the switch, the lights come on. And everyone pays their fair share.”

The ad comes as Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Williams Township), a supporter of the energy choice market, and others fight a potential move by the Public Service Commission to require energy providers to supply their customers using electricity generated in the state.

Mr. Glenn has said the move would amount to a back-door attempt to end the electric choice market, which would benefit the state’s utilities that serve most of the state.

Mr. Glenn is expected to run for the Senate, which could potentially keep him in the Legislature for eight more years where he could continue to push for changes he wants to see regarding energy, including an expanded choice market. So even though we saw a law passed late last year after a full session of negotiations, the issue is still ongoing.

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Hundreds Submit Comment On Potential ELCRA Statement

Posted: August 23, 2017 1:38 PM

As the Civil Rights Commission considers issuing an interpretive statement on the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and if its protection from discrimination based on a person’s sex extends to sexual orientation and gender identity, it has received hundreds of pages of public comment.


Many urging the commission to issue the interpretive statement said they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and still face discrimination in the state. Multiple commenters said even though they are legally allowed to marry their partners now, they could also be fired from their job.

Many local human rights groups and some religious leaders also submitted comment in support of the change.


Those urging the commission not to issue the statement had two main points. One being that the commission should not circumvent the Legislature, which has not taken action on expanding ELCRA. The other is more religiously motivated, that being LGBTQ is a lifestyle choice that is not accepted by God, and religious leaders and business owners could face discrimination under the policy change for their sincerely-held beliefs.


Former Rep. Tom Hooker, now Byron Township supervisor, also urged the commission not to make the statement, as he would urge legislators and others to “totally defund” the commission if it does.


Richard Zeile, State Board of Education co-president, also wrote to the commission opposing the statement. Mr. Zeile noted Michigan voters chose the presidential candidate “who opposed the Obama administration’s re-interpretation of the Title IX to include sexual minorities such as transgenders.”


“When it comes to Michigan’s civil rights law – a person’s choice of sexual activity is not the moral or legal equivalent of immutable characteristics such as race, color or sex,” he wrote.

Many Democratic lawmakers also wrote individually and collectively in support of the statement, including Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing).

“The commission has concluded that anti-LGBTQ discrimination ‘exists and is significant,’ which gives the commission an obligation to act and address this discrimination,” Mr. Schor wrote. “This discrimination can take the form of LGBTQ Michiganders losing their jobs, being denied housing or being denied service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is not equality under the law.”

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Who Cares About Trump’s Poll Numbers?

Posted: July 17, 2017 3:56 PM

As we near President Donald Trump’s six months in office mark, various polls are showing his approval rating at about 40 percent and his disapproval rate in the mid-to-high 50 percent range.

Though while some people care – including I am sure Mr. Trump himself as he has defended the approval rating while also calling it “fake news” in a single tweet – I assume those who wholeheartedly support the president do not.

Instead, these numbers, or rather the action of reporting the numbers, probably further alienate those core supporters from their sources, which include the mainstream media.

The numbers are interesting in a historical context, seeing as Mr. Trump has been unpopular throughout his campaign and presidency, which FiveThirtyEight points out.

FiveThirtyEight called Mr. Trump’s unpopularity during this early part of his term in office unusual and said he is the only president to get a majority of Americans to say they disapprove of the job he is doing this soon.

Partisan polarization is what matters, and while some voters may disapprove of the president’s performance in office, it’s a big leap to see that translate in today’s age of strident partisanship to voters deciding to back candidates of the other party.

Whether Mr. Trump’s numbers remain weak and help Democrats down the ballot in 2018 remains to be seen. But to me, polling has almost turned into the meteorologists reporting the weather; people love to say how wrong they are.

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Unlikely Duo Agree On Part-Time Legislature, ‘Good Jobs’ Incentive

Posted: July 12, 2017 4:34 PM

Progress Michigan, a liberal progressive group, and the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative group, are coming out in agreement on not one, but two issues as of late.

Both groups oppose the legislation sent to Governor Rick Snyder today creating a new incentive for businesses creating large amounts of jobs and both oppose the part-time Legislature proposal being pushed by Lt. Governor Brian Calley.

The groups’ reasons for opposing each proposal are similar, even with the different philosophies they hold in general. Tony Daunt with the Freedom Fund has criticized the part-time Legislature proposal as putting power in the hands of the executive branch and special interests lobbyists.

Progress Michigan has focused on issues within the campaign to get the proposal on the ballot, filing campaign finance complaints. However, the group also believes it would put more power in the hands of lobbyists.

And both believe the tax incentive passed today to create a “good jobs” program is a handout for corporations.

Of course there is plenty left for the two groups to disagree on, including the teacher pension changes passed last month, which Progress Michigan strongly opposed and the Freedom Fund cheered.

But it shows, again, that politics can make for unexpected alliances.

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Michigan World War I Flags Public Until 2018

Posted: July 3, 2017 2:52 PM

Of the 186,000 Michigan soldiers to serve in World War I, the 32nd Infantry Division stood out with its nickname “Les Terribles” because of its ferocity in battle alongside the French. Through January 2018, flags honoring the 32nd Infantry and others are on public display at the Michigan History Center in Lansing.

According to an article written by Department of Natural Resources staff, soldiers of the 32nd Infantry marched with their flags through the streets of Detroit in 1919 to celebrate their homecoming.

“In each successive battle, its fighting was better and its morale improved,” said Major-General William G. Haan, combat commander of the 32nd Division, in a May 6, 1919 news article on the front page of the Detroit Free Press. “It actually fought in the hardest of battles 35 days and as many nights, and smashed through the enemy lines for a distance of more than 25 miles and never gave away an inch.”

Soldiers in World War I did not take their flags to battle as those in the Civil War did. Still, the flags are important symbols representing “each regiment’s shared sacrifice and heroism,” the statement from DNR said.

There were 4,552 Michigan soldier casualties in World War I. First World War flags include the battle honors of their regiments in the form of streamers attached to the tops of staffs.

Michigan’s flag collection includes 56 flags from World War I and 184 flags from the Civil War and Spanish-American war. The collection began on July 4, 1866, during a celebration where Civil War veterans turned over many of their battle flags to the state.

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Permitless Carry Debate Differs From ‘Shall Issue’ Fight

Posted: June 12, 2017 3:53 PM

Last week, legislation allowing individuals to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training required under current law cleared the House without much controversy. Compared to legislation making Michigan a “shall issue” state for concealed pistol licenses passed in 2000, the difference is striking.

In 1999, both the House and Senate passed legislation granting most Michigan adults a guaranteed right to a concealed weapon permit.

And there was drama. Opponents, including then-Attorney General Jennifer Granholm threatened to challenge the law on the 2000 ballot if signed. Supporters threatened to recall Ms. Granholm. The legislation passed both chambers in before summer break in 1999, was shelved after officials thought it might hurt Republicans in the 2000 election and then revived and rewritten for passage during the lame-duck session.

There were furious news conferences, including one right after the fatal shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Making opponents even more furious was the now infamous move to include an appropriation – officially to train police officers on the new law and unofficially to make it referendum-proof. It was the first time this tactic was deployed.

The House held three committee hearings on the new bills, HB 4416*, HB 4417*, HB 4418* and HB 4419*. And while both sides flooded the small committee rooms on the third floor of the House Office Building, the bills still moved through the process relatively seamlessly.

And while on some issues, Democrats will speak on each of their amendments to legislation they oppose knowing their amendments would never be adopted by the Republicans, that was not true for the gun bills last week.

Democrats did offer several amendments, but spoke on none of them and the bills were set up for passage rather easily.

Then on Wednesday, the bills passed with all but three Democrats voting no after only a half an hour of speeches from both sides. For context, debate on controversial bills may take an hour to an hour and a half in my experience.

The outcry from opponents not in the Legislature was also essentially nonexistent.

On why the bills moved to the Senate with little fireworks, one can only speculate. It could be that the gun issue hasn’t helped Democrats in many areas of the state. It could be that the bills were sent to Government Operations in the Senate, signaling they may not get traction there. Or it could be that they were going to pass the House regardless of what the Democrats did, though that is true of most of proposals they oppose.

And Democrats are focusing more on tangible issues this term, like funding for roads and schools.

Still, bills to remove the licensing requirement, the training that goes with it and the restrictions for some convicted of certain misdemeanors have been introduced several times with no traction. The fact that they moved relatively easily without much outrage is a big shift.

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Knezek, Others Turn To Facebook To Share Kivela Memories

Posted: May 10, 2017 12:10 PM

Surely I am not the only one heading into work today with a heavy heart as the Capitol community and loved ones of Rep. John Kivela mourn his death yesterday. Social media is allowing those who knew and loved him to poignantly pen what they loved and will miss about him, one of the standouts being from his roommate Sen. David Knezek.

Mr. Knezek’s (D-Dearborn Heights) Facebook post, which has been shared thousands of times, is truly touching as he accounts for the different things he felt as his friend struggled with alcoholism, his arrest following a relapse Monday and then apparent suicide on Tuesday. But Mr. Knezek wrote that his friend’s illness is not what will define him.

This is not the first time suicide has impacted my life. And it may not be the last. I cannot stress enough that if you or someone you love are experiencing these struggles, please get help. Treatment works, recovery is possible. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one available resource (1-800-273-TALK).

In an effort not to detract from Mr. Knezek’s post, I am simply posting it in its entirety:

To My Friend, John:

Who would have thought the Mayor of Marquette and a novice from Wayne County would have found their way to the Michigan Legislature together? I still remember our first conversation on the phone after you won your race. No one expected you to win but you did.

“It’s because I put the word SISU on my lawn signs,” you said.

“What’s SISU mean?”

“Finnish concept. You know we got all those Finns in da UP. It means strength in the face of adversity. I’m going to fight for my folks.”

I told you I loved that concept and within of week of us meeting in person, I had my own SISU bumper sticker to put on my car. That’s the type of person you were.

I remember the first time you offered me a room in your house after session ran late. Five years later and we’re still Lansing roomies. You were always earlier to rise than me. Remember all the mornings where I’d be standing in the bathroom in my boxers as you stood outside the door in your full suit, telling me about all the things you were going to be working on that day? What about those nights where I’d be standing in the same bathroom washing my face as you stood outside the door telling me all about all the progress you had made? You were always working on something, John, and you were always telling me about it. You were like a big Upper Peninsula bear, swatting your way through the Legislature, working on the issues the folks back home cared about.

We made so many memories with our friends and family members in that house on Chestnut Street. I met your wife and kids there, you met my girlfriend. You’d host bipartisan mixers for Representatives and Senators because you wanted everyone to work together and get things done. You’d bring together coalitions of people and sit them down around the kitchen table to work them on an issue you were advocating for at the time.

“That’s the kind of legislator I want to be some day,” I would tell myself. So respected on both sides of the aisle. Beloved by absolutely everyone. I think it was your warm smile, or your salt-and-pepper hair, or your Upper Peninsula charm that put everyone at ease. You called almost everyone younger than you “little buddy” but I would always lie to myself and said it was a term of endearment you reserved only for me. I know that’s not the case but I always used to love hearing you roll the two words together: “lilbuddy.”

Remember that god-awful Green Bay Packers blanket that you kept on the couch? I used to tell you all the time how much I hated looking at it. Truth be told, when you weren’t around, I used to love throwing that blanket over me because it was so damn comfortable. I was so jealous of the picture of you and President Obama when he came to visit Marquette when you were mayor. I always laughed at the can of “Bullshit Spray” you used to keep on the shelf. Whenever I was weaving a tall tale together you used to grab the can and give me a look that said, “Cut the crap, kid.”

Whenever we had a beer you never had more than two. Whenever we had a glass of wine, you never had more than one. So when you were arrested for drunk driving in 2015, I had no idea you were an alcoholic. You made a huge mistake, John, but I was glad you did the right thing when you told the public: “I have a problem. I am seeking treatment.”

Most people would hide from their problems. You advertised it to the world. I respected that. I asked you if you really were an alcoholic because I had never seen you drunk before:

“I’m a functioning alcoholic, David. And one thing alcoholics are good at is keeping secrets. I’m always drinking. You just never know it.”

Another Representative and I went back to the house and emptied it of any and every ounce of alcohol we could find. We didn’t want there to be any temptations there for you. I even went through your drawers and looked under the bed and in between it to make sure you weren’t hiding anything. We emptied the house. You entered treatment. I thought things were starting to get better.

Last night when we heard you had been arrested for drunk driving for a second time, I was so mad at you. I know relapse is a part of recovery but few people have to do it in the public eye. What if you had hurt someone, John? What if you had hurt yourself? I tried to put my anger aside when I heard you calling my name from your bedroom this morning. You told me how you have a serious problem and that the only people you’re thinking about are your wife and your kids. You told me that you had let down the people who love you. I told you that the people who love you are going to love you no matter what and that you needed serious help.

“I’m going to resign. I’m going to seek inpatient treatment. I don’t know what it is but when I start I just can’t stop.”

“You have a disease, John. You need help, but you need to want to be helped. It can’t be forced on you. Everyone will support you every step of the way.”

I gave you a hug, I said that I loved you, you said that you loved me.

Those were our last words to each other.

When I got the call that there were police cars and a CSI truck in front of the house today, I made my way there, fearing the worst. Those fears were confirmed when I walked inside and learned that you had taken your own life. I saw your black dress shoes on the floor and I had the biggest urge to grab them and place them by the doorway so that they’d be ready for when you came downstairs in your suit to talk to me outside the bathroom door tomorrow. It still doesn’t feel like you are gone.

Tonight, John, I’m going to go back to the house and grab all of my things and move out. I don’t think I can stay in the house anymore. I wish you would have known just how many of us loved you and knew just how devastated everyone is in Lansing today. I can’t even begin to imagine how people are feeling in Marquette. I’ve gotten text messages from Democrats and Republicans alike who are just beside themselves.

You were such a rockstar, John. You meant so much too so many of us. You brought smiles to the faces of so many people when they were down – you had a real way of picking up on people’s moods like that. You were so passionate about the Upper Peninsula and always had a way of going above and beyond to ensure you could score a win for your district. Remember that time you had the Governor visit your district and you staged people running and biking along a trail and staged people paddling by in kayaks in the water to convince the Governor that you needed more funding to promote the already bustling parks and recreation opportunities in Marquette? He fell for it. We rolled with laughter.

We’re all going to remember you for the memories we made with you, John. You made mistakes along the way but we all do. You had your demons and they got the best of you. I hope that others will learn from your story and get the help they need when they need it. Mistakes were made but that’s not the John I’m going to remember.

Warm smile, salt and pepper hair, Upper Peninsula charm, a bear in the Legislature.

That’s my John Kivela.

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Does State Have Too Many Crimes On Books? One Lawmaker Is Unsure

Posted: May 8, 2017 5:05 PM

Shortly after a House panel heard from a group advocating for less punitive criminal justice strategies that the Michigan Legislature has mostly passed laws creating new crimes or lengthening prison stays, the chair of that committee introduced a bill creating a new felony for targeting public safety officers.

Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township), chair of the House Law and Justice Committee, this week introduced legislation (HB 4590*) creating an additional two-year concurrent sentence for anyone found guilty of targeting a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical professional.

Mr. Kesto also heard from Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending last week. The group told Mr. Kesto’s committee that the prison-centered strategy has been costly and not worked. The group also pointed to the felony-firearm sentencing, which is also a two-year concurrent sentence on top of another crime and recommended changing the law.

But Mr. Kesto said while other crimes might be worth looking at and possible taking off the books, public safety officers in the state should be protected by the Legislature.

“People ask this question of whether we have too many crimes or not. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But we need to prioritize,” Mr. Kesto said. “We need to make sure certain things are not tolerated in a civilized society that we live in. Maybe there are crimes that we could do away with or repeal because they don’t make sense. … But one thing’s for sure, targeting, threatening, directly attacking our law enforcement officers, that does take a priority in my book.”

Mr. Kesto has been listening to presentations in his committee on safe rehabilitation while he considers what criminal justice reforms should come next in the Legislature. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed several bills that have since been signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder. But Mr. Kesto and some of his colleagues in the House have expressed openness to additional changes.

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State Rep. Wants Second Amendment Monument Moved To Capitol Lawn

Posted: April 24, 2017 2:56 PM

In 1994, more than 10,000 people attended a Second Amendment rally at the Michigan Capitol, and afterward, 800 pounds of spent shell casings collected from the event were used to create a plaque that Rep. Martin Howrylak wants on the building’s grounds.

Mr. Howrylak (R-Troy) introduced HB 4481* last week to do just that. The brass plaque containing the Second Amendment is 400 pounds and measures four feet by six feet. It is currently being warehoused in Holt and would be moved to the Capitol at private cost under the bill.

“This bill would allow the Michigan Capitol Parks Commission to receive and display this historic monument on the Capitol grounds,” Mr. Howrylak said in a statement.

According to Mr. Howrylak, the House unanimously passed a similar bill in 2005. Its prospects this term do not seem as bright, as it was sent to the House Government Operations Committee, where many a bill goes to die.

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U-M Exhibit Recognizes ‘Missing’ Students Post Prop 2

Posted: April 3, 2017 2:21 PM

A University of Michigan professor estimates that Proposal 2, which ended affirmative action in the state, has led to 1,049 underrepresented minority students not attending the university between 2007 and 2016.

Matthew Countryman, a professor of history and American culture, compared the number of African American, Latino and Native American freshman who enrolled between 2007 and 2016 with the number who would have enrolled if the university had been able to maintain the percentage of underrepresented minority students who were enrolled in November 2006, when Prop 2 passed.

Mr. Countryman did note there is no way to be sure how many minority students would have enrolled, but he said the student body was certainly changed by the affirmative action ban.

The controversial proposal, which was approved by the voters, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

His tables of missing students make two assumptions, one, that without the passage of Prop 2, the university would have maintained the 2006 minority student enrollment rates at 12.3 percent. The second assumption involved mixed race students, which the school began reporting differently after a 2010 U.S. Census guideline change.

The estimates assumed that 60 percent of freshmen listed in the two or more races category were part African American and 48 percent part Native American.

On U-M’s campus, 950 empty chairs sit in the diag to represent the 860 African Americans, 133 Latinos and 56 Native Americans that are “missing” from the university.

“The challenge for the university community going forward is to find ways to reckon with and rectify U-M’s and the nation’s exclusionary past – as symbolized by these empty chairs – while also responding to the imperatives borne of our soon-to-be majority-minority society,” Mr. Countryman said.

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Four Decades Ago, Michigan’s Governor Attended A Pizza Funeral

Posted: March 20, 2017 2:24 PM

On a March day in the early 1970s, an Italian immigrant living in Alpena decided to hold a funeral for 30,000 to 40,000 frozen pizzas that were voluntarily recalled after it was revealed their mushroom topping might be contaminated. And among the few dozen people who attended the funeral, which was a full-out event that included actual edible pizza, was former Governor William Milliken.

It is reported Mr. Milliken actual spoke a few words at the event “on courage in face of tragedy” before the pizzas were bulldozed into an 18-foot hole at an Ossineke farm on March 5 in 1972 or 1973, depending on who you ask.

Mario Fabbrini recalled some of his frozen pizzas after discovering the canned mushrooms used were contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that causes botulism, which can lead to body-wide muscle weakness, low blood pressure and sometimes death.

So, Papa Fabbrini’s Frozen Pizzas stopped shipments of its mushroom pizzas and did contamination testing. Mice died after eating the mushroom pizzas, so the funeral was scheduled.

It turned out Mr. Fabbrini’s pizzas were not contaminated at all, though he found out too late. And despite the support from his community and a settlement he received after suing the company that sold him the mushrooms, the company was sold in the early 1980s, the Alpena News reported.

But Mr. Fabbrini did walk away with $5,000 and retired in San Diego.

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A Detroit Lawmaker Gets Some National Attention

Posted: March 13, 2017 3:58 PM

With a goal to show women seeking public office that they can win, Elle Magazine is writing a weekly feature on different women officials, and as the first Asian-American woman to serve in the Michigan House, Rep. Stephanie Chang was an obvious choice.

Elle featured Ms. Chang (D-Detroit), who represents the 6th House District, last week. The feature highlights that Ms. Chang is a first-generation citizen and knocked every door in her district twice.

Ms. Chang, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, told the magazine of the unsuccessful fight she joined opposing ballot proposal that prohibited the use of race as a factor in university admissions and government hiring (Proposal 2 in 2006), and how she saw many of her friends leave the state, but she wanted to stay and fight for issues in which she believes.

“It felt like a call to action – to keep working on social issues, to stay in Michigan, to try to make things better for the communities that I grew up in,” she told the magazine.

Ms. Chang also said former Rep. Rashida Tlaib, her predecessor in the 6th District, had to ask her a few times to run before she finally decided she would.

Since being elected, Ms. Chang told the magazine she has not experienced “blatant sexism.”

“But women make up less than 25 percent of the Legislature, which means that there are just fewer of us to bring up the issues and perspectives that we need to,” she said. “That's our job, and that's okay, but it's always a little bit of an uphill climb to let people know what those perspectives are. I've found you have to say it over and over.”

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Michigan Fifth-Grader Wants To Be Able To Buy A Tesla Here

Posted: March 2, 2017 4:36 PM

A Michigan fifth-grader wrote Tesla CEO Elon Musk this week to suggest a company contest while also mentioning “it’s so sad that they cannot be sold in Michigan.”

However, Bria has a plan. She wants to be a politician one day and: “Will make sure that the government protects the environment and Teslas can be bought anywhere.”

Will the Auto Dealers Association of Michigan, which opposes Tesla’s push to legalize direct sale of its automobiles to customers in Michigan, be able to stall the ability for Tesla to sell their cars in Michigan until she fulfills her dream to have the “best thing I have ever seen” available in the state?

Bria, whose father is an auto writer, was able to sit in a Tesla at Somerset Collection in Troy. Her letter to Mr. Musk was suggesting a competition for the best fan-made commercial and received a response almost immediately, Fortune wrote.

And she didn’t even ask for a free car, and only told Mr. Musk “it would be so cool” if he could send her a t-shirt.

Teslas does not sell its vehicles in Michigan because of a law prohibiting direct sales from a manufacturer.

Tesla could sell its vehicles if it complied with state law requiring it do so through a franchised dealer, but says its business model would not lend itself to setting up a dealer franchise.

While the company has spent some time lobbying legislators, that has gone nowhere with legislators backing the auto dealers’ position. Tesla has sued the state over its franchise law. That case is scheduled to go to trial in March 2018 at the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

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Studying Committees: Who Are The Bigger Players?

Posted: February 13, 2017 3:21 PM

Looking at committee assignments announced last month, a handful of Republicans will almost certainly be in the center of the action this term.

Assignments for both Rep. Hank Vaupel (R-Handy Township) and Rep. Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston) stand out. Mr. Tedder, who is also an associate speaker pro tempore, chairs the Tax Policy Committee, is vice chair of the Health Policy Committee and sits on Communications and Technology and Energy Policy.

Mr. Vaupel chairs Health Policy and sits on Insurance, Tax Policy and Michigan Competitiveness. Competitiveness, which is chaired by Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), is already looking to be one of the busier committees this term, and currently has bills to repeal the Common Core State Standards and expand the Freedom of Information Act on the docket.

Rep. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) also received a solid haul. Ms. Theis chairs the Insurance Committee, is vice chair of Judiciary, and sits on Law and Justice and Regulatory Reform.

Three freshmen also received a particularly good slate of committees. Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) is vice chair on Regulatory Reform and will sit on Energy Policy and Insurance. With Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Midland) chairing Energy Policy, it will be busy again this term.

Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Mount Pleasant) is vice chair of Energy Policy, and will sit on Health Policy, Local Government and Regulatory Reform. And Rep. Beth Griffin is vice chair of Communication and Technology, and will sit on Education Reform, Energy Policy and Regulatory Reform.

All three freshmen could face tough re-election challenges.

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How Many M&Ms Has Your State Rep Eaten?

Posted: January 9, 2017 4:28 PM

Those working on the House floor tend to spend many hours in the chamber at a time, and there’s one thing that makes a room with hundreds of tired, possibly overworked people happy: candy.

On the House floor, members will bring their own food or pass around treats, but for the last six years, former Rep. Pat Somerville kept a jar of M&M’s on his desk for anyone interested.

Various members and staff could be watched going to and from Mr. Somerville’s desk during session (one day, he did not refill the jar and a handful of disappointed people tried and failed to visit his desk for their candy fix).

Mr. Somerville in his farewell speech last month crunched the numbers for each legislator. In total, during the last six years, the House has consumed 1,260 pounds of M&Ms. Yes, you read that right. Stocking the jar cost Mr. Somerville $4,183.

He also ranked the 96th, 97th and 98th Legislatures for how much they consumed. And the rate is going down (maybe members are trying to watch what they eat now).

The 96th Legislature – serving from 2011-2012 – came in first, consuming 477 pounds and costing Mr. Somerville $1,583. The 97th Legislature – serving from 2013-14 – came in second eating 426 pounds and costing Mr. Somerville $1,414. And the most recent Legislature, which rarely contained the full 110 members, came in last consuming 357 pounds and costing Mr. Somerville $1,185.

One looming question as we head into the first weeks of session is who will take over the candy jar responsibilities now?

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Is House Government Operations Committee Where Bills Go To Die?

Posted: December 20, 2016 4:14 PM

There is a general consensus among those who cover the House that Government Operations is the committee where bills are sent when they will never see the light of day.

During the 2015-16 term, legislation giving the Flint committee subpoena power, eliminating daylight savings time, establishing a part-time Legislature, urging the Legislature to meet during the summer to approve a road funding proposal and eliminating the prohibition on signs in the Capitol were all sent to the committee where they perished.

In total, the committee reported seven bills to the House floor during the term. More than 150 bills, resolutions and joint resolutions were referred there. But House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) pushes back on the idea that bills are sent there to die.

Mr. Cotter said he pushes back on the blanket statement that legislation is sent to the committee to die because “some bills have come out of that committee.”

“I think in both the House and the Senate it is a place where bills are sometimes held and other times are pushed through,” Mr. Cotter said.

Still, Mr. Cotter did acknowledge that “more times than not,” House legislation ends up dying in the committee.

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First Woman To Serve In House Honored In Office Building

Posted: December 12, 2016 4:31 PM

Just past the sergeants’ desk in the House Office Building lobby now sits a portrait of the first woman and first Native American to serve in the House, Cora Reynolds Anderson. The office building is also named in her honor.

The portrait was revealed last week and was painted by Joshua Adam Risner, an artist for the Michigan Capitol Commission.

Ms. Anderson was the first woman to serve in the House and the second woman to serve in the Legislature. Her time in the House was brief, serving one term in 1925-1926. She was elected only four years after woman achieved suffrage.

She represented Baraga, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties in the Upper Peninsula. Ms. Anderson chaired a committee on a reform school for young women located in Adrian and was a member of the Agricultural, Insurance and Northern State Normal School – now Northern Michigan University – committees during her time in the House.

Last week, House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) held a ceremony to unveil the portrait.

While the building has been known as the Anderson House Office Building from almost the time it opened in 1999, the new lobby portrait gives a much more visible presence to the building’s namesake.

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Something New For Michigan, Wisconsin Republicans To Argue

Posted: November 28, 2016 4:39 PM

Wisconsin and Michigan Republicans have long battled over where the GOP was founded, with those in Michigan claiming it was founded in Jackson and Wisconsin insisting the party was founded there.

Wisconsin Republicans argue a meeting on March 20, 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin was when the Republican Party was founded. Michigan Republicans, however, claim a July 6, 1854, convention in Jackson, Michigan, represented the birth of the Republican Party.


Well, after the presidential election this year, the two states’ Republicans may have another argument as to which one put the now president-elect, Donald Trump, past the 270 electoral votes he needed to win the presidency.

Most news media outlets called the race for Mr. Trump after The Associated Press called Wisconsin for Mr. Trump about 2:30 a.m. November 9.

However, some Michigan news outlets, including Gongwer, called Michigan for Mr. Trump prior to the AP’s call in Wisconsin (Gongwer called Michigan for Mr. Trump at 2:20 a.m.). There was no shortage of Michigan Republicans celebrating as some news outlets called the state for Mr. Trump and urged others to do so Michigan would get the credit for putting him over the top.

But that did not happen, and the networks and AP called Wisconsin instead.

In fact, the AP has not formally called Michigan for Mr. Trump other than to report today that the certified margin for Mr. Trump, pending a potential recount, is 10,704 votes.

Republicans in both Michigan and Wisconsin had been waiting a long time for their state to turn red during a presidential election (28 years in Michigan and 32 in Wisconsin). But with the bulk of news outlets calling Wisconsin first, and with a larger margin there, Republicans on the other side of Lake Michigan have some new fodder when arguing with the Michigan GOP about bragging rights in the party.

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Determining If Your News Is Real: A Guide

Posted: November 15, 2016 5:33 PM

Like many of us, I spent the much of the long, long, seemingly never-ending presidential election cycle watching a lot of my friends, family and former high school classmates who still show up on my Facebook timeline posting fake articles and sharing memes with quotes or anecdotes that were simply untrue.

Most of what I saw on my Facebook timeline was content that was pro-President-elect Donald Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton, the now defeated Democratic presidential candidate.

Indeed, Buzzfeed News took a dive into a thousand posts from six hyper-partisan Facebook pages and found 38 percent from Republican pages were wither a mixture of true and false or mostly false. For hyper-partisan left-wing pages, 19 percent of posts either a mixture of true and false or mostly false.

These stories included one saying the Pope endorsed Mr. Trump, other stories indicating Ms. Clinton and her family were involved in murders or “mysterious deaths.” Stories from pages on the left include a false claims that television networks did not fact check Mr. Trump during the first debate and a misrepresentation of a quote from the Pope saying he called Fox News journalism “terrorism.”

And I have seen people I love post these fake stories even before we hit this election cycle. I feel it was even more exacerbated this year because people began questioning the media and losing trust in reporters (an entirely different conversation).

So, let’s talk about how you can check an article and determine its validity. Let me begin by saying this list could be never ending and could be expanded upon by many in the industry and outside. This is what I attempt to do and what I tell those who ask me.

First, people should make an effort to get their news from a variety of sources, broadcast, print, local, national, global, whatever you can get your hands on. Also, look at what you’re reading; is it an opinion piece or a news story?

If you see a short piece on an issue followed by a panel of pundits discussing it on a broadcast network, go find an article or two from print publications to get the full context and story. The broadcast networks sometimes site a story where the topic came from, that’s a good place to start.

Also, looking for stories with as many sources as possible from both sides of an issue along with as much specific data as possible is important.

And just simply checking the date is helpful. I recently saw a story from the Los Angeles Times about a Klu Klux Klan rally becoming violent in Anaheim, Calif., and after checking the date saw it was actually from February.

Finally, a college professor put together this database of misleading news sources. Happy reading!


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The 2016 Election Is Coming To A Close (Thank Goodness)

Posted: November 7, 2016 2:49 PM

Covering the 2016 Michigan House races has been quite a blur, mostly because the presidential campaign has seemingly sucked up all of the energy. But I have had some good times interviewing most of the candidates in swing districts this year and walking with a few throughout the state.

Walking with candidates is one of the favorite ways to interview them because in that 45 minutes to an hour (or sometimes longer) as you walk or drive from house to house, you can learn about a person. In fact, an operative recently questioned the benefit for the candidate in those types of stories, and maybe the benefit is more for the readers of the story, but I still think it’s worth it.

I would have never seen Democratic candidate Bryan Mielke in the 99th House District leave his car running for 25 minutes on the street of a Mount Pleasant neighborhood. He was so used to knocking in more rural areas where he rarely walked from door-to-door. Luckily his car battery was in good shape.

In Harrison Township in the 24th District, Republican Steve Marino told me all about his first job at a convenience store where we parked before hitting a neighborhood. While we were there he stopped by the owner’s house so they knew it was him who was parked there. Seeing candidates interact with people they know personally in the community is always helpful.

The day I walked with Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) in the 71st District was also the same day the video of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump boasting about groping women came out. That was a missed opportunity to watch the video live with the representative because I didn’t see it until I got back to the office.


Of course the presidential election between Mr. Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton took a lot of the attention. Most if not all candidates told me the election still came up at the doors. I heard voters mention it in each of the districts I walked in.

It’s been a long few months, but it’s almost over. And then we can right back to it with caucuses choosing their leadership and then the all-consuming lame duck session of the Legislature.

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A Republican From Texas Has The Best Ad Of The Year

Posted: October 31, 2016 2:56 PM

Most of us living in the Lansing bubble, politician or not, have probably talked someone’s ear off about a wonky issue at least once. Our spouses, friends and random strangers who happened to ask a question can probably identify with Charlyn Daugherty, wife of a county commissioner in Texas.

The television advertisement has been making the rounds on the Internet with 3.4 million views. It shows Ms. Daugherty looking irritated with her husband, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, as he talks about the cost to hold people in the county jail while doing dishes, the tax rate while grilling and light rail cars at dinner.

“Gerald really doesn’t have any hobbies,” she says after one scene shows her annoyingly looking at the camera in Jim Halpert fashion during one of his rants. She notes most people leave their work at the office, but not Gerald.

He then tells his wife he likes helping around the house. Ms. Daugherty does not appear as enthused about the possibility.

“Please re-elect Gerald. Please,” she says at the end.

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The Politics Of Bill Sponsorship

Posted: October 10, 2016 3:07 PM

With 29 days before the election, the negative campaign ads are rolling in, and some Republicans in House and congressional races are criticizing their Democratic opponents for not getting legislation passed in the state House.

Rep. Holly Hughes (R-White River Township) is attacking former Rep. Collene Lamonte (D-Montague) for not passing legislation during her two years in office; Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) is doing the same against former Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge); and U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) is using the same tactic against his opponent, state Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline).

But these three Democrats have something in common: They held or hold competitive seats during a time when Republicans control the House. It is a longstanding reality in the Michigan Legislature that the majority party freezes out members of the minority party who hold competitive seats when it comes to passing their bills.

For Ms. Lamonte and Ms. Abed, they both unseated Republican incumbents in the 2012 elections. Was the Republican majority really expected to involve them in legislation when they certainly would be trying to take those seats back in the friendlier 2014 midterm elections?

Of course this is not only a Republican issue, when Democrats were in the majority, you did not see much legislation from Republicans holding swing districts passing the House.

For example, former Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc) held the 51st House District in the 2009-10 term when Democrats had majority. He did not see one of his bills become law.

And now-Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc) held the same seat in the 2007-08 term, though he did see one of his bills become law (and it was part of a noncontroversial large multi-bill package). Former Rep. David Law (R-Commerce Township), a top target of Democrats for the 2008 elections, saw none of his bills pass the House in that term.

It’s no wonder the majority party always gets more done by the time campaign season comes around.

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Dearborn House District May Have Best Campaign Ad

Posted: September 28, 2016 3:56 PM

Undecided voters in the 15th House District may have reason to be scared as Republican Terrance Guido Gerin of Dearborn, a professional wrestler, has recruited an Olympian wrestler in a recent campaign ad.

In the campaign ad, Kurt Angle, an Olympic gold medalist, is disappointed to come across an undecided voter and wrestles him to the ground.

“Don’t let this happen to you,” Mr. Gerin says, telling voters to choose him.

Mr. Gerin faces Democrat Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn in this strong Democratic seat. It is an extreme long shot for Republicans, but House Majority Floor Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) mentioned the seat at a campaign presentation this week. Probably just to bring up the professional wrestler on his side.

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I’ll Actually Miss Pettalia’s Caucus Calls

Posted: September 13, 2016 4:43 PM

I did not know Rep. Peter Pettalia personally, but in my more than three years covering him as part of the House, I knew he was one of those lawmakers who would return my phone calls and try to answer the questions I had for him.

Mr. Pettalia’s death Monday night in a motorcycle accident has led to an outpouring of tributes.

He was always genuinely kind to me. And I saw him laugh often. I remember one time I was speaking with him on the House floor when the invocation started, so I stood there near his desk during the prayer, which was unusually long. The priest was Catholic and Mr. Pettalia made some joke about Catholics praying for too long or too much, I don’t recall exactly.

“It’s okay, I’m Catholic, I can say that,” he assured me. Then we went along with the interview.

Mr. Pettalia’s desk is right in front of the media section on the Republican side of the House floor, so there will be a constant reminder of his missing presence for the rest of the year.

He also was in charge of calling the Republicans to caucus, the sometimes painfully long, all-too-frequent closed-door meetings of the members to discuss strategy and air differences.

I remember many, many (really too many) times this term where I saw Mr. Pettalia standing near the microphone and knew what was coming. I would groan in despair then (there have been a lot of late nights and long caucuses).

But during the next few months, especially during lame duck, I’ll actually miss Mr. Pettalia’s caucus calls.

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A Pro-Trump ‘Flash Mob’ Might Be Coming To A City Near You

Posted: August 29, 2016 3:10 PM

Michigan backers of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are being encouraged to join “flash mobs” throughout the state tomorrow between 4 and 5:30 p.m. to rally in support of Mr. Trump.

The Michigan Conservative Coalition is organizing the events and asks those attending to bring “bold” signs or flags in support of Mr. Trump.

“Join other grassroots activists across the state and help turn this state RED for TRUMP,” the groups says on the event’s Facebook page.

A full list of locations and local contact information can be found at the event page. But the group is hosting the flash mobs in several counties, including: Muskegon, Macomb, Saginaw, Baraga, Monroe, Washtenaw, Wayne, Grand Traverse, Kent, Eaton, Oakland, Otsego, Iosco, Kalamazoo, Manistee, Genesee, Calhoun and Jackson.

I think the group is using the term “flash mob” quite loosely and these will actually just be coordinated mini-rallies supporting Mr. Trump. If you look to the all-knowing Wikipedia, a flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act and then quickly disperse.

And while some may feel rallying in support of Mr. Trump is unusual and seemingly pointless, the rallies are supposed to last for an hour and an half. So no one will be dispersing quickly.

Flash mobs were quite popular for a time, especially in malls or train stations, places where people gather and a large group could quickly meet, put on a show and run away. Here’s an example:

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Libertarian Group Thinks Michigan Is Kind Of Free

Posted: August 15, 2016 2:20 PM

The libertarian/free market conservative think tank Cato Institute ranked all 50 states on “overall freedom” and Michigan came in at 24th, which is a drop of seven spots from 17th in the 2012 rankings.

So, why 24th? It seems surprising considering the dominance of Republicans in the Legislature and governor’s office during that time. Well, Cato says Michigan has “decent” policies, but they need to be “outstanding to overcome the headwinds” in global markets and to compete with neighboring states like Indiana, long a favorite of conservatives for its economic policies.

The main problems the group has with the state’s prohibition on public funds for religious K-12 schools, which it says impact choice, Proposal A, which is says does not allow local school districts to determine school budgets and the role of political parties in nominating judicial candidates. Those are longstanding laws in the state.

On travel freedoms, the group supported the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law and also praised cannabis freedom, because of the “reasonably broad” medical marijuana laws.

But on alcohol and firearm freedoms, it says the state is only about average.

Overall, the group ranked New Hampshire as the most free and New York as the least free. In New York, the group compared its tobacco taxes to prohibition.

The rankings are based on state laws as of December 31, 2014.

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Tlaib Interrupts Speech As Part Of ‘Moms Against Trump’

Posted: August 9, 2016 1:03 PM

Anyone who has ever covered or met former Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat, likely was not surprised to learn she was one of the people who stood up and interrupted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at this speech in the city yesterday.

And while the crowd did not seem to appreciate the interruptions – they would applaud louder after each interruption and in one case a person yelled they loved Mr. Trump as a protester was being escorted out – Ms. Tlaib said it was part of the process.

On her Facebook, Ms. Tlaib posted a photo of her with the other women who protested during the speech.

“It was truly an honor to stand up with these strong women. When we look back at this historic time in our country, we will know that we were on the right side of history,” she wrote. “No one should be silent and complacent with Nazi-like views. Every single anti-American movement in our country involved disobedience & courage to speak out.”

Ms. Tlaib said she and the other women involved in yesterday’s protests were motivated by his comments on women, sexual harassment and for Ms. Tlaib, when Mr. Trump accepted a Purple Heart from a veteran.

 Ms. Tlaib was one of the more passionate members of the House when she served from 2009-2014. So it’s unsurprising to me that she does not feel like she can stay silent about Mr. Trump. On Twitter, she told one person she would welcome similar outbursts at an event for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

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Colbert Kicks Off Republican Convention With Hunger Games Intro

Posted: July 18, 2016 2:12 PM

Along with whatever else occurs at the Republican National Convention this week, we will also have “The Late Show” Host Stephen Colbert’s antics to look forward to, which he has already started with a brief (and unsanctioned) run on stage where he was escorted off by security.

Mr. Colbert, in a video posted online, went on the stage in Cleveland dressed as Caesar Flickerman, the extravagant host from “The Hunger Games,” and launched the “the 2016 Republican National Hungry for Power Games.”

This act was clearly not supported by anyone in authority and a security person almost immediately showed up to escort him off stage. Mr. Colbert said he knew he was not supposed to be there.

“But to be honest, neither does Donald Trump,” Mr. Colbert says as he exits the stage.

It appears we will get to experience lots of Colbert fun for both the Republican National Convention this week and the Democratic National Convention next week as Mr. Colbert is airing “The Late Show” live for convention coverage.

Which is good, because I think we will all need a few laughs.

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Rep. Plawecki Leaves A Legacy Of Kindness

Posted: June 27, 2016 3:26 PM

As those who work in and around the Legislature return to work on Monday, many of us are dealing with the follow up of the unexpected and sad death of Rep. Julie Plawecki, 54, a Democrat from Dearborn Heights. Today I have heard many stories from her colleagues focusing on her kindness.

When legislators pass away during their time in office, their desks are draped with black cloth and flowers. With the Legislature gone, Ms. Plawecki’s desk won’t be visible to as many people until later in the summer. But still, the desk was draped on Monday.

Rep. Julie Plawecki’s desk on the House floor, draped today with memorial flowers and bunting.

As it is with 110 people serving in the House, I had only spoken with Ms. Plawecki a few times. But those who worked with her and knew her best have told me about her today and described her as sweet, passionate, genuine, kind, tough and a great legislator.

Ms. Plawecki left a mark on many that knew her, and her ability to make connections with those on both sides of the aisle has led to many feeling the grief of her unexpected death over the weekend. In fact, when I went to take a picture of the desk today, one of the House sergeants expressed his sadness at her death and said Ms. Plawecki was just one of the those lawmakers who was always kind, introduced her family to the sergeants and made her appreciation for them known.

One of the many tributes posted on social media since the news of her death comes from Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) who represented the House district before Ms. Plawecki and shares much of the district with her.

“What a leader she was. What a leader she was from the get-go. And she continued to lead on issue after issue until her untimely passing. Children. Seniors. Veterans. Energy. Health Policy. It was like she could do it all and was always happy to be doing it,” Mr. Knezek wrote on his Facebook. “I know her colleagues in the House are going to ensure her work lives on. I pledge that those of us in the Senate will do the same.”

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‘Hamilton’ Star To Work On Increasing Hispanic Voter Turnout

Posted: June 20, 2016 3:25 PM

The Pulitzer winning “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda said last week he will work to increase voter turnout among Hispanics. Can the musical’s mega-popularity combined with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals concerning Hispanics increase their voter turnout in 2016?

Even if you haven’t been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for the last month (like me). you’re probably living under a heavy rock if you haven’t heard of the Broadway hit “Hamilton” by now. Though the creator wrote an entire hip-hop musical based on our nation’s first treasury secretary, Lin-Manuel Miranda hasn’t been much involved in presidential politics this year. But last week, he told The New York Times he will work to increase voter participation within the Latino population.

“Our issues are on the table, from Puerto Rico to a wall to keep half of us out being a party platform,” Mr. Miranda told The New York Times. “It’s important that we get out and vote.”

According to Pew Research Center, only 8 percent of the U.S. electorate in 2014 was Hispanic even though 11 percent of registered voters are Hispanic. Also according to Pew, there are 231,000 Hispanic-eligible voters in Michigan – the 18th largest Hispanic statewide eligible voter population nationally.

And the “Hamilton” creator might have more pull with the population considering Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half – 44 percent – of the 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016 (also according to Pew).

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Old Petition Signature Bill Brings Back IE Debate

Posted: May 23, 2016 5:05 PM

The majority party in the House adopting legislation without having two-thirds of the chamber in support has long been a dramatic issue and was brought back to the forefront last week when legislation put a strict 180-day limit on signatures collected for ballot initiatives.

Democrats opposed the bill (SB 776*), which would prohibit petition signatures collected outside of a 180-day window from being counted by the state. Under current law there is a process to revive old signatures and some groups working to get on the 2016 ballot are pushing to ease the process.

When the bill was reported from the House Elections Committee, an amendment was adopted so the policy would not take effect until 2017, and those collecting signatures now would be unaffected.

But the House Republicans did not adopt that amendment, and the bill cleared the chamber with immediate effect although Democrats attempted to put up a parliamentary fight. Some watched session last Wednesday said Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt Township), who was presiding over the House at the time, did not properly gavel the immediate effect order.

However, House Clerk Gary Randall told me he did last week. And now, with the archived videos of House session, everyone can watch for themselves.

Indeed, when watching the immediate effect motion (at 1 hour and 42 minutes in) Mr. Leonard starts to go through the normal spiel where the presiding officer asks all those in favor to rise, but then as House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) shouts point of order, Mr. Leonard bangs the gavel. But he never said “immediate effect is ordered.”

If a record roll call vote had taken, the immediate effect motion would have failed to garner a two-thirds majority of the chamber. It takes 73 votes, and with 63 Republican members and no Democratic support, the Republicans would have been short. But the courts have ruled that on a voice vote like last week’s, two-thirds of the House is whatever the presiding officer says it is.

The fight concerning the immediate effect process has not gotten as much attention this term as it has in the past because many bills are passed with an effective date of 90 days after the bill has been filed with the Office of the Great Seal following the governor’s signature. And controversial legislation has not necessarily needed immediate effect this term.

And even if Mr. Leonard had made a mistake when presiding last Wednesday, it would not make much of a difference, as the House Republicans could simply request the bill back and gavel through immediate effect, still without the support of the Democrats.

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DPS EM Not Happy To Learn About Open Carry In Schools

Posted: May 16, 2016 1:34 PM

Former bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, the current emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, was not aware that adults can openly carry firearms in the state’s schools, and said last week he does not like that policy.

Mr. Rhodes, appearing on Michigan Public Television’s “Off the Record,” was asked about guns in schools and said, “I assume they are already banned?”

After finding out that adults are permitted to open carry in schools, and many her places, Mr. Rhodes said, “I didn’t know it and I don’t like it.”

The policy has long been debated in Lansing with many Democratic lawmakers saying the allowance of open carry in schools and other public buildings, like libraries, is due to a loophole in the law that should be changed. Some Republicans have floated a bill that would allow concealed pistol license holders to carry concealed in schools in exchange for banning open carry, but it has not gone far.

“It deprives children of a sense of safety and security,” Mr. Rhodes said.

Mr. Rhodes did not want to get into the policy debate, but basically said children don’t want to see guns in their schools.

“What I don’t want to wade into is whether open carry actually makes people more secure or not,” he said. “But I know that when children see guns, they feel less secure. I am talking about the perception, not the reality.”

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House DPS Vote In Stark Contrast To ‘Grand Bargain’

Posted: May 9, 2016 2:38 PM

Nearly two years ago, the House voted with an overwhelming majority to be part of the Detroit bankruptcy “grand bargain” and appropriate $194.8 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund to get the city out of bankruptcy, mitigate cuts to pensioners and assure no works from the Detroit Institute of Arts could be sold

Less than one week ago, after a 15-hour session, House Republicans approved a partisan plan under slim margins providing $500 million over 10 years to a new Detroit school district in an effort to improve education as the current district continues to struggle with the amount of debt it has accumulated, even under state management.

In 2014, members of the House erupted in applause for the package that was crafted in a bipartisan fashion with former Rep. John Walsh (R-Livonia) working with members of the Detroit delegation.

It was an interesting moment, the Republican-led Legislature working with Democrats to help financially rescue a city that had long since become a source of polarization.

In case you weren’t up at 4:30 a.m. after the House Republicans managed to get enough votes to pass the DPS plan, there was no applause. There were no Democratic votes in support. No one really seemed happy when it was over.

With the DPS package, Rep. Harvey Santana (D-Detroit), the Republicans’ favorite Democrat who is estranged from the other House Democrats, expressed frustration that his multiple bipartisan tours of DPS buildings led to no meaningful reforms in the legislation presented and passed.

The House Republicans who crafted the plan say it solves the debt issue, something many schools in the state would appreciate, provides start-up cash and assures financial oversight so the district doesn’t get back in the same situation.

The plan also would put strengthen penalties for teacher strikes or sickouts, allow more people to file a complaint about a strike or sickout, bar collective bargaining agreements from transferring to the new district and allow uncertified teachers to work in the district.

So why such a difference? Many of the same players are involved, though some are not serving in the House anymore, like Mr. Walsh.

It is more money, $500 million compared to a little less than $200 million. But it is spread out over a period of time.

Teachers participated in sickouts multiple times during negotiations, leading to schools closing. Though these days will be made up at the end of the year, it made House Republicans, and many others, angry.

And there’s the charter voice at play as well, with Detroit officials, the Senate and Governor Rick Snyder advocating for a Detroit Education Commission and House Republicans and charter schools insisting it is an effort to “choke out” charters in the city.

The House bills are now with the Senate, and it’s unclear how this will all shake out. But it does not appear likely that at the end of this process Governor Rick Snyder will joyfully sign the bills at an event in the city flanked by 20 officials by his side, as with the “grand bargain,” with members from both parties.

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Group Looks At Fundraising Industry Around Capitol

Posted: May 2, 2016 2:40 PM

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network last week noted that of the 315 fundraisers for state officeholders’ candidate committees and political action committees, half occurred on session days in Lansing, with many merely blocks from the Capitol and legislative office buildings.

The group also noted that of the House’s 102 planned session days in 2015, fundraisers were held on 82 of them, about 80 percent.

Should people be concerned that lawmakers are mingling and raising money from lobbyists and others immediately before or after they head to the Capitol to pass or advocate for legislation?

Potential new energy policy is one issue that has captivated Lansing off-and-on this term, with many lawmakers and lobbyists and business groups involved. MCFN reported last week that Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) held a fundraiser immediately before the Senate Energy and Technology Committee hearing at 8 a.m., and in fact, she left shortly after 8 a.m. to make it to her committee meeting.

I would assume someone on either – or both – sides of the issue donated to her at the event. Does it make a difference? The committee was not voting on legislation that day.

And would it make an issue if they voted that day? Lawmakers are going to raise money and the same people and organizations are likely to donate whether or not the event is a block from the Capitol on a session day or 20 miles from the Capitol on a non-session day.

But it does feel a little strange to see someone go from fundraising mode to legislating mode so quickly. Maybe it’s just part of the job.

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John Oliver Takes On Lead Poisoning

Posted: April 18, 2016 4:35 PM

Comedian John Oliver took on lead poisoning for his main segment of his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” and called the events leading up to the Flint water crisis the “perfect storm of incompetence from start to finish.”

Mr. Oliver didn’t spend his entire 18-minute segment on lead poisoning talking about Flint, and rather, he focused on lead abatement policies – or lack thereof – in today’s society.

While Flint, and the mistakes made there that led to the poisoning of many in the city, is a huge problem, Mr. Oliver also talked about the 7.3 million lead service lines in existence all over the country. And he points out that lead poisoning doesn’t generally occur in drinking water as it comes mostly from paint.

Mr. Oliver said other countries began banning lead in paint in the 1920s, but the United States embraced it until around the 1970s. So lead is still present in paint of many older homes and to completely get rid of it would cost $16.6 billion per year for a decade, he said.

However, Mr. Oliver said funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes has steadily declined since 2003, and this year was funded at $110 million. The office was only able to fund half of the applications for lead abatement grants last year, Mr. Oliver said.

So Mr. Oliver calls out Michigan’s U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chair of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held committee hearings on the Flint water crisis. Both expressed outrage on the Flint water crisis during those hearings.

He said they both voted to reduce funding for HUD’s lead abatement programs by $35 million.

“And the truth is, if you cut funding like that, a whole lot more children might get poisoned,” Mr. Oliver said.

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Orphaned Historic Safe Could Return To Capitol

Posted: April 11, 2016 2:58 PM

Twenty-five years ago, Kerry Chartkoff, a member of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, volunteered to house a massive safe, which was removed from the Capitol during renovations, and was never able to find a new home for it. Ms. Chartkoff, now moving from her home, is sending the safe to a state warehouse.

The safe, which weighs in at four tons, was once the official safe for the state treasurer in the 1920s. It held mostly documents but also could hold up to $1 million, Ms. Chartkoff told the commission Monday.

Ms. Chartkoff’s goal was to find a museum to take the safe, but since it is so large, was not successful. The safe originally was on the first floor of the Capitol, then moved to the ground floor and eventually removed to make room for emergency exit stairs.

The safe has remained in Ms. Chartkoff’s garage for 25 years because she could not stand to see it thrown away. She said it has been her hope that eventually the Capitol would re-take ownership.

However, the commission does not yet have a plan for the safe, and it is likely to sit in a warehouse temporarily. If a suitable spot is found, it could be used by the Capitol historian for artifacts.

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Country Singer With Ben Carson Song Running For Michigan House

Posted: March 22, 2016 2:40 PM

Justin Tranchita is a country singer, whose song “This is America” was chosen by former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson as a campaign tune, and also had a recurring role on a Discovery Channel pawn shop show. Now, he’s seeking the 32nd House District seat as a Republican.

Mr. Tranchita said some of Mr. Carson’s advisers will help him as he attempts to win the 32nd District, where Rep. Andrea LaFontaine (R-Nashville) currently serves. She cannot seek re-election due to term limits.

Mr. Tranchita’s “This is America” was a number one (on the Billboard plus Twitter Emerging Artists chart) hit two different times mostly because of Mr. Carson’s use of the song.

The song is a pretty clear criticism of current politics; it touches on government growth and sending weapons to the “enemy.”

Mr. Tranchita also sings: “Don’t water down my way of life in the name of liberty.”

As to why he decided to run for the House, Mr. Tranchita said public service has always been a part of his life, and there are many things he wants to see fixed in the 32nd District.

And now for your listening pleasure, Mr. Tranchita’s chart topper:

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Should Michigan Stop Participating In Daylight Savings Time?

Posted: March 14, 2016 12:17 PM

As we all head into work today, maybe more tired than usual for a Monday morning after changing our clocks during the weekend, some lawmakers are trying to make the case to scrap the Daylight Savings Time practice.

Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) is again introducing legislation to end the practice, but this year he is joined by Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township), and the two will each introduce legislation.

Mr. Irwin told Lester Graham with Michigan Public Radio that Daylight Savings Time was originally implemented to help save energy. But Mr. Irwin said it no longer serves a purpose.

“There’s this tradition that is no longer serving its purpose. … When I took a deeper look I found that Daylight Savings Time doesn’t just cause crankiness and irritability and absenteeism, loss of productivity at work, which are serious issues,” he said. “It also causes an uptick in car accidents, it causes an uptick in serious workplace accidents, so it struck me if we’ve got a practice we have being doing for many, many years, that no longer serves it purpose and causes a bunch of problems, we ought to look at changing it.”

Mr. Irwin hopes this year’s proposal, which has a “bipartisan energy” will help motivate the change.

Mr. Lucido wrote on his Facebook page that the state should simply change the policy so in the fall, we will not “fall back.”

“I have proposed that we eliminate the time change as some other states have. SPRING AHEAD AND LEAVE IT THERE. We would keep Day Light Saving / Central time and not fall back an hour this coming fall. We already are on this schedule for roughly 8 months,” he wrote.

This Gizmodo article largely agrees many of the “benefits” of Daylight Savings Time are not accurate, and the practice doesn’t save energy, keep us healthier or reduce accidents.

“A century ago, we didn’t have data to tell us whether DST made a real measurable impact; it was acceptable to run with it because, for all we knew, it was useful. Now, we know better. Day light savings sucks—and we need to get rid of it,” the author wrote.

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Michigan Pro-Wrestler Wants To ‘Fight’ For Dearborn In House

Posted: March 7, 2016 5:19 PM

A Republican professional wrestler – Terrance "Rhyno" Gerin – last week announced he is running for the open 15th House District seat currently held by Rep. George Darany (D-Dearborn).

Mr. Gerin said his campaign slogan will be: “I’ll fight got you,” Fox Sports reported.

Although the seat is open this year, Mr. Gerin running as a Republican will have a difficult path in the Democratic-leaning district, last won by a Republican in 2002, though his priorities do include teacher salaries, and he said he believes schools in the state are severely underfunded. If nothing else, Mr. Gerin’s entrance into the race will add some intrigue.

And although Mr. Gerin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have both worked with World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc, Mr. Gerin is not supporting Mr. Trump on Tuesday. He said he supports Ohio Governor John Kasich.


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Trump Rallies Taking On Alarming Edge For Reporters

Posted: February 29, 2016 5:01 PM

If you’re a reporter and you plan to cover Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rally in Michigan this week, it’s possible you may not want to let your guard down.

This week, a photographer was reportedly slammed to the ground by security at a Trump event in Virginia. There is video evidence. The photographer apparently stepped out of the media pen to get images of protesters being escorted out.

As someone who has covered a Trump rally, I can see how reporters could possibly be roughed up by the crowds attending those rallies as well.

In Birch Run, about 30 minutes after Mr. Trump held a media scrum, he then attacked the news media during his speech saying we would lie about the turnout at the very full event, among other things.

The crowd cheered.

Of course, candidates for elected office bashing the media and the crowding cheering is a time-honored tradition.

But at the Birch Run event, many were drinking before and during. It’s not the most comforting situation. When I wrote my story at a nearby bar afterward, the bartender said people were there looking to get “lit” prior to going the Trump rally.

This was in August. Since then Mr. Trump has joked about how he would not kill members of the media if he were to become president, and insulted many members of the media, mocking the disability of a New York Times reporter, for example.

And he continues to include insults to the media in his stump speeches, and the crowds continue to eat it up.

Katy Tur with NBC News tweeted last week that after Mr. Trump “bashed” the press, the crowd cheered, one person flipped off the media and another person swore at them.

“Just another Sunday,” she said of the incident.

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Jet Blue Ad Explores Reaching Across The Aisle

Posted: February 24, 2016 12:54 PM

In today’s polarized political climate, Jet Blue attempted a social experiment designed to encourage passengers to reach across the aisle, not on a political or social issue, but on a free trip to a destination everyone had to agree on.

With the presidential race sparking emotion everywhere and as a House committee begins taking up a Republican Detroit Public Schools solution, the lighthearted ad seemed appropriate today.

Maybe the ad – where the passengers don’t even yell at each other – will help inspire some bipartisanship in the Legislature. Or maybe lawmakers will just be jealous they weren’t on this flight and will not be heading on a free trip.

The advertisement received Ad Week’s ad of the day and attempts to show what can happen when people work together. I would argue it’s easier to get people to work together when they all get a free trip in the end, but it’s still a cute ad nonetheless.

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Democratic Presidential Candidates Could Debate In Flint

Posted: February 1, 2016 4:43 PM

During the weekend, the possibility of a Democratic presidential debate coming to Flint before the March 8 presidential primary emerged with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sort of agreeing on the event.

According to multiple reports, the two candidates have agreed they want a debate in Michigan before the primary. The debate would likely be held in Flint. But there is some disagreement on another debate the Sanders campaign wants in April.

The Sanders campaign says they first proposed a March 3 debate in Michigan and Ms. Clinton’s campaign didn’t want it.

The Detroit News reported during the weekend that the Clinton campaign called for the debate in Flint on March 3.

In response, Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager said they have been calling for more debates, including one in Flint.

“The Clinton campaign, after not accepting Michigan, now says they want it. We are pleased to do it on March 3 before the Michigan primary provided the Clinton campaign will agree to Brooklyn, New York, on April 14,” he said in a statement.

However, Mr. Weaver said Ms. Clinton has not yet agreed to a debate in New York in April.

“Why won't they debate in Brooklyn? What's the matter with Brooklyn?” He said.

As this debate on debates was taking place, a slew of Michigan Republicans took to social media to rip Ms. Clinton for trying to score political points off the Flint water crisis.

In recent years, Michigan has seen its share of debates over debates. Looks like we won’t escape 2016 without another.

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Celebrities Donate Water To Flint

Posted: January 25, 2016 3:17 PM

Celebrities continue to get involved in the Flint water crisis through donations, with AQUAhydrate – a California-based company involving Sean “Diddy” Combs and Mark Wahlberg, committing a donation of 1 million water bottles to the city and saying it will continue to donate water bottles until the crisis is resolved.

As reported by Mlive, Mr. Combs and Mr. Wahlberg teamed up with Michigan-native Eminem and entertainer Wiz Khalifa for the donation.

Others who have donated to the city include late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon, who donated $10,000, and the band Pearl Jam, who donated $300,000.

But with the national attention surrounding the crisis, it’s not attracting just donations. According to The Daily Beast, actor Matt Damon has joined others in calling for Governor Rick Snyder to resign due to the crisis.

And, if you’re wondering why Matt Damon of all people spoke on the issue – not that it would be that strange considering Cher’s comments on the governor – he co-founded a water advocacy nonprofit in 2009 called The nonprofit works to “break barriers between people and access to safe water and sanitation.”

Mr. Damon was discussing a new initiative and was asked about the crisis in Flint.

“At the very least he should resign. At the very least,” he told The Daily Beast. “Listen, everybody’s entitled to a fair trial in the United States of America, but that man should get one. And soon. That’s just my personal opinion.”

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Not $900M, But $1M In Powerball Not Bad Either For Holland Woman

Posted: January 11, 2016 12:19 PM

While no one won the full Powerball prize of more than $900 million this weekend, one lucky Holland resident won $1 million the first time she had ever bought a ticket.

Imari Shelton, an 18 year old from Holland, had to ask her mom how to buy a Powerball ticket to get into the running. One of the five tickets she bought matched five numbers drawn and now the aspiring lawyer is $1 million richer.

“When I woke up on Sunday, my mom told me that someone who had bought a Powerball ticket at the Speedway had won $1 million,” Ms. Shelton said in a statement released by the lottery bureau. “As soon as I heard that, I grabbed my ticket and started checking the numbers. When I saw I matched five numbers, I started shaking. I asked my mom what it meant if I matched five numbers and she thought I was joking. After she looked at my ticket with me, we both started screaming.”

Now the jackpot is up to a record $1.3 billion. I also have never bought a ticket before and am hoping Ms. Shelton’s beginner’s luck will head my way this week.

But I’ll have some serious competition seeing that Ms. Shelton now has some extra cash to buy even more Powerball tickets.

“Winning $1 million feels unreal and I don’t know how to describe it, but winning $1.3 billion would be mind-blowing,” she said.

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House Leaders Claim Optimism On Bipartisanship, But Can It Happen?

Posted: January 4, 2016 1:31 PM

Energy, Detroit Public Schools, auto insurance and criminal justice reforms are just a few of the key issues those leading the House expect to come up in 2016, and House Speaker Kevin Cotter has said he is not closing the door on working with the Democrats.

But seeing how negotiations between the two parties fell apart in a non-election year, can the two parties work together leading up to the presidential election when House control is in play?

A few signs point to no. One being Mr. Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) has already said he is focusing on auto insurance reform in the early part of this year, but will likely not reach out to Democrats. They have long staunchly opposed Republican plans.

Another sign of difficulty on bipartisanship is both Mr. Cotter and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) point the finger at the other when it comes to why negotiations on various issues have fallen apart. Mr. Greimel has said the Republican caucus is divided and under the control of the party’s right wing.

Mr. Cotter says the Democrats are so focused on winning back the House in 2016 that they are not interested in working with Republicans to pass public policy.

The two parties have already worked together on the House energy plan, to get it out of committee. But the question becomes whether that pattern continues in the full House and on an eventual final vote to send a plan to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) has said he and Majority Floor Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) have a good working relationship. Given those two are heading the negotiations in the House on energy, their talks might stand a chance.

A plan to pay $715 million over 10 years to DPS is likely the toughest issue for the House. Mr. Cotter is waiting on the Senate to do anything on the issue, like introduce the bills, and will go from there. He has said it is not a top priority.

And for DPS to pass the House, Republicans want some significant reforms and accountability measures. Detroit Democrats will likely take the lead on this in the House. Will they be able to negotiate a plan with enough reforms to make Republicans happy enough to vote yes, but not so many that they lose Democratic support?

One positive point on the issue is Mr. Cotter and Mr. Greimel do agree that the funds should not solely come from the School Aid Fund.

“I think you’ve identified a point of agreement between myself and Leader Greimel,” Mr. Cotter said while laughing during a recent interview with Gongwer News Service.

However, that small point of agreement is not likely to carry the issue all the way to Mr. Snyder’s desk.

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Even The Oversight Chair Can (Unofficially) Lose Control Of Time

Posted: December 14, 2015 5:56 PM

Officially, the House Oversight and Ethics Committee adjourned at noon last Thursday after a normal hearing, but by my record the committee – unofficially – experienced a rare hiccup by adjourning at 12:01 p.m.

However, the official clock is the only one that matters. And on more than on occasion the official clock is slower than the clocks of us mere mortals. In the past this has happened when the clock is nearing midnight and the House does not wish to procedurally adjourn at the end of the day.

Under House rules committee meetings must be wrapped up as soon as the House enters into session. On Thursdays, that is at noon.

Committee Chair Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) was racing the clock while the committee worked on a bill, attempting to get the committee to move through the amendment process faster, at one point stopping Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) from explaining his proposed substitute.

In the end, though, my clock was not Mr. McBroom’s friend, and the committee still went that extra minute.

Of course, Mr. McBroom was not purposefully going long, and relied on his clerk who said the committee officially adjourned at 12 p.m.

And this occurred one day after House Democrats and Republicans had a major scuffle on the House floor over what else? The House rules.

In that instance both camps charged the other with not carrying out the rules property when the Democrats called for a record roll call vote on an amendment and the Republicans denied the motion.

Yes, yes, one minute – unofficially – what’s the big deal, right? Well, the rules are there for a reason, and the immortal John Bender in “The Breakfast Club” once suggested the results of ignoring the rules.

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Supporters Of Dog Breed Bans Make Case After Attacks 

Posted: December 7, 2015 12:23 PM

After a 4-year-old boy was brutally mauled to death by four pit bulls in Detroit last week, those who support local governments adopting ordinances to ban certain breeds have attempted to make their case on why the bans are appropriate and necessary.

And bans on the local level could be at risk, with SB 239* sitting in the House Local Government Committee. The bill would prohibit specific breed bans in the state.

The bill cleared the Senate 25-11 in October. Nothing has happened with the bill on the House side, but after two deaths from pit bull attacks this week, it’s hard to envision any movement in the House this year, or possibly ever.

Those who support breed bans showed it on editorial pages last week. Rochelle Riley, columnist with the Detroit Free Press, called for a ban on pit bulls in Detroit, where Xavier, the 4-year-old, was killed.

Ms. Riley criticized local officials for not previously adopting a ban, and said pit bulls in the city are roaming monsters. She also specifically calls out Sen. David Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), the sponsor of the Senate bill.

“I'd like to send state Sen. David Robertson … photos of Xavier Strickland's remains. No, I'd like him to drive down to Detroit and walk around the east side without a police escort. I wonder how fast he can run?” She wrote.

Mia Johnson, a founding member of National Pit Bull Victim Awareness, a coalition of more than 50 groups, and Joan Kowal, a volunteer advocate for Daxton's Friends and the creator of Out of the Blue, a memorial art exhibit for 42 victims of recent dog attacks, wrote a guest column for MLive, supporting local control on the bans.

“Enabling the proliferation of dogs well known to be dangerous and even fatal to people and other animals should not be in the best interest of any community,” the pair wrote.

Those who oppose breed specific bans say owners should be punished more severely if a dog exhibits aggressive behavior. The American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation are against breed specific bans.

The AVMF argues that pit bulls are actually a type of dog, not a breed. And relying only on what a dog looks like to determine its breed is not a reliable method. With bans, families are forced to put their dogs to sleep or move, even if the dog has no behavior issues, the group wrote.

“Any dog can bite, regardless of its breed, and more often people are bitten by dogs they know. It’s not the dog’s breed that determines risk – it’s the dog’s behavior, general size, number of dogs involved and the vulnerability of the person bitten that determines whether or not a dog or dogs will cause a serious bite injury,” the group said.

Jack Lessenberry, with Michigan Radio, suggested cities get tougher on dog owners, stricter punishments for the owner if the dog kills someone (though the owner of the pit bulls in the Detroit mauling was charged with second-degree murder today); if the person is involved in dog fighting or if they neglect or abuse their dog. He also wrote cities should prohibit dog breeding without a license and require the surrender of any dog that is not spayed or neutered.

“This would cost some money – but the long-term social and economic benefits would be more than worth it.,” he wrote. “This problem was caused by man, not dogs. Now, it is our job to fix it.”

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Leonard Secretly Roots For MSU In Columbus

Posted: November 23, 2015 2:44 PM

If you thought this Spartan was going to let Monday go by without figuring out how to write about Michigan State University’s win over Ohio State this weekend, you were wrong. Rep. Tom Leonard III, an alumnus of the Michigan State University College of Law, went into the notoriously hostile Ohio Stadium to watch the MSU victory “undercover.”

As a reminder, virtually everyone expected MSU to lose big. But the Spartans pulled through, winning 17-14 after a 41-yard field goal as time ran out.

Mr. Leonard traveled to the game his wife Jenell Leonard, the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office commissioner. While Mr. Leonard is technically wearing red, it is a campaign shirt and has nothing to do with the Buckeyes.

He is wearing a Detroit Tigers cap, and as anyone who has attended a Cleveland Indians game in Cleveland can attest, that is like throwing chum to the sharks.

Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt) and wife Jenell Leonard at the Michigan State-Ohio State football game in Columbus, Ohio

Of note, Mr. Leonard obtained his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. After the MSU-Michigan game in October ended in a stunning last-second Spartan win, Mr. Leonard said on his Facebook page that he was “still a Wolverine,” but added it was “time for Sparty to go get that national title.”

However, he did say Monday if Michigan pulls out the win against OSU at noon Saturday, he might have to root against MSU when they play Penn State at 3:30 p.m. If MSU loses, then the winner of the OSU-Michigan game wins the Big Ten East Division.

Other Spartans celebrating the victory Saturday with less conflicted emotions were House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), who wrote he was not ashamed and was crying after the game; Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), who graduated in 1980, wrote on his Facebook the snow that fell on the Lansing region didn’t matter, because the Spartans won; and Lt. Governor Brian Calley, another MSU alumnus, also tweeted throughout the game as he often does.

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Runner’s World Covers Calley, Bernstein Running NYC Marathon Together

Posted: November 16, 2015 4:08 PM

Earlier this month Lt. Governor Brian Calley helped guide Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein 26.2 miles through New York City during its annual marathon, and Runner’s World asked why a Republican would help a Democrat in a feature on the two.

Of course Mr. Calley and Mr. Bernstein have spent time together throughout the past year on a disability listening tour. Both are also veteran marathoners, and with Mr. Bernstein being blind, four guides were needed to get him through the crowded race safely.

The group completed the race in about 5 hours and 37 minutes. Mr. Calley told Runner’s World they wanted to help end stereotypes about what a person with a disability can do.

“We also want to send the message to policymakers across the country that people from across the political spectrum should be able to come together and work to create a better future for people with all different types of abilities,” he said to the magazine in a story published last week.

Mr. Bernstein has run 17 marathons and one Ironman triathlon – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run – but told the magazine his times have slowed since his hip and pelvis were shattered after being hit by a cyclist.

He travels to New York often to run outdoors with the Achilles Track Club, the group that recruited him to begin running in 2002. According to its website, the group’s mission is to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics.

Mr. Bernstein said he would like to have Mr. Calley guide him through the New York City Marathon again.

“For all intents and purposes, you’re putting your physical safety in the hands of another person,” he told Runner’s World. “The reason that Brian was so outstanding is that I could trust him so much.”

And Mr. Calley said battling through 26.2 miles together only strengthened their relationship.

“It takes your friendship to a whole different level,” he said “We were good friends before, but you run a marathon together, and it’s like you’re family now.”

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House Democrats – A Musical Caucus

Posted: November 2, 2015 2:40 PM

Calling all philistines, time to get you some culture: Rep. Erika Geiss is attempting to do something new by exposing her fundraiser attendees to some classical music through her violin, the instrument she learned to play 40 years ago.

Ms. Geiss (D-Taylor) started playing the violin when she was five years old. At her fundraiser, which will happen in January, she will be joined by Timothy Michling, who is the principal oboist of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Michling is also part of Ms. Geiss’ Lansing team, she said.

Another House Democrat who has attempted to use musical talents to fundraise is Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), who was going to sing for a group of attendees. However, he was unable to make his scheduled performance because of a late session day.

Ms. Geiss said it’s easy to fall into a fundraising routine, like constant golf outings, and she wanted to do something fun.

“(I wanted) to do something different. Give people a reason for people to want to come,” she said.


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Snyder ‘Rockin Out’ To Paul McCartney

Posted: October 22, 2015 2:58 PM

Governor Rick Snyder took some time out of his usual busy schedule to enjoy the music of Paul McCartney last night as House Republicans stayed late in session to pass a roads plan.

Mr. Snyder is seen rocking to The Beatles song “Hey Jude” in a video posted on Twitter by a metro-Detroit radio host.

Mr. Snyder’s dance moves are probably just what you’d expect, and even the governor needs a night out with his wife every now and then.

While Mr. Snyder was at the concert, the House Republicans were crafting their own road funding plan to get to $1.2 billion for the state’s crumbling infrastructure, so I’m sure he got right back to work when the show ended.

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Dantonio’s Forward For Schuette Book Irks Some Democratic Spartans

Posted: October 5, 2015 4:11 PM

Michigan State University football fans who are also Democrats were not pleased today when they learned MSU’s head coach, Mark Dantonio, wrote the forward for Attorney General Bill Schuette’s new book, “Big Lessons From a Small Town.”

Mr. Dantonio, who has not contributed toward the campaign of a candidate for state office in at least the 13 years of required electronic reporting, met Mr. Schuette through Peter Secchia, Mr. Schuette told reporters at an event for his new book.

In the forward, Mr. Dantonio writes that Mr. Schuette’s philosophies as he has gone through his career are similar to how the MSU football program operates. We also learn that when writing, Mr. Dantonio likes to throw in capitalized words for emphasis.

“It must involve a sincere COMMITMENT to every individual’s life; the ability to COMMUNICATE and solve their problems both big and small,” Mr. Dantonio wrote about the team’s philosophy. “It must be built on TRUST. Bill Schuette has worked a lifetime in establishing this with his constituency.”

Mr. Dantonio also writes that Mr. Schuette and MSU football have pushed themselves to succeed at high levels.

“He continues to REACH HIGHER as he pushes towards change and development in the state of Michigan and beyond,” Mr. Dantonio wrote of Mr. Schuette, borrowing from the slogan he adopted for MSU’s 2015 season. “His book is an example of the above; a passion for people born from a life filled with both success and adversity; that of a leader.”

The brief forward disappointed those who are Democratic or liberal activists (or both) and MSU football fans, and some went to social media with their frustrations. Mr. Schuette’s conservative record has, to put it mildly, made him unpopular with liberals.

Zack Pohl, spokesperson for the Michigan AFL-CIO, tweeted: “Schuette’s book has a forward by Dantonio? *hangs head*”

To this, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon replied “Go Blue!!”

Those at Progress Michigan also took to Twitter on Mr. Dantonio’s writings. Marissa Luna went straight to the source: “Don’t do this @dantoniomark”

And Sam Inglot was shocked: “WTH: @DantonioMark wrote the foreword for Schuette's new book? I'm going to be sick.”

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Greimel, Trump May Kinda, Sorta Agree On Something

Posted: September 29, 2015 11:51 AM

A surprising area of common ground may exist between House Minority Leader Tim Greimel and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, though Mr. Greimel is certainly not advocating for a Trump presidency.

At a Monday morning press conference in Lansing, a reporter asked Mr. Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) if he agrees with Mr. Trump that hedge fund managers should pay more taxes.

Mr. Greimel, who was discussing a plan from legislative Democrats outlining tax credits for middle class families, was caught slightly off guard.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I haven’t given the question of hedge funds a great amount of thought,” Mr. Greimel said. “But I do think everybody should pay their fair share. And certainly the wealthy and well connected should be paying their fair share.”

So, Mr. Greimel was asked if he and Mr. Trump had something in common. Mr. Greimel fumbled a bit, possibly not wanting to admit outright that he and the controversial Mr. Trump agree on something.

“Well I don’t know exactly … I think there are probably lots of different issues, you could look at lots of presidential candidates, and find things in common across party lines,” he said.

But is Mr. Greimel calling for a President Trump?

“In general, no,” he said.

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Leonard, Once A Mental Health Court Skeptic, Admits He Was Wrong

Posted: September 22, 2015 11:56 AM

In recent years, the Legislature has taken steps to address mental illness in the state and get people help before they commit serious crimes or go to prison. Rep. Tom Leonard III – who has assisted with legislation helping the cause – revealed to a committee today he was once a mental health court skeptic at the beginning of his career.

Mr. Leonard (R-DeWitt Township) spoke to the House Health Policy Committee this morning about his bill updating “Kevin’s Law,” which was passed in 2004 and hasn’t worked as intended.

Mr. Leonard’s bill, HB 4674*, would allow judges – when petitioned by a family member or friend – to order outpatient treatment for those who have had their mental illness confirmed by a physician before a serious incident occurs.

Issues with “Kevin’s Law” were brought to Mr. Leonard’s attention by Lt. Governor Brian Calley, and Mr. Leonard has been praised by many for bringing up the bill, including the Mental Health Association of Michigan.

But, as Mr. Leonard told the committee today, once upon a time, he was skeptical mental health courts could work.

Mr. Leonard said when he was working as a clerk for Genesee County Probate Judge Jennie Barkey, she began a pilot program for mental health courts in the state.

“I was looking at this and I said ‘judge, this is never going to work,’” he said to the committee. He also said he is more than happy to admit when he is wrong.

Mr. Leonard said during one proceeding, Ms. Barkey asked everybody in the courtroom if they thought a person going through the system would graduate from the program. Mr. Leonard said everyone in the room raised their hands indicating they thought the person would successfully finish the program – except him.

Ms. Barkey then told that person he not only would graduate from the program, but, “we are going to make Mr. Leonard come back a year from now and apologize to you.”

A year later, Mr. Leonard was working as a prosecutor and received a call from Ms. Barkey.

“Using some very colorful words, she let me know that (he) had graduated, and I better get my ‘you-know-what’ to his graduation the next day,” Mr. Leonard told the committee.

Mr. Leonard then co-sponsored each bill in the mental health court package that became law in 2013.

“It’s been a huge success,” Mr. Leonard said of the program.

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John Oliver Picks Up Courser, Gamrat Scandal

Posted: September 14, 2015 12:18 PM

The national attention on the scandal surrounding the extramarital affair and attempted cover up between now former representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat is not over yet with comedian John Oliver doing a segment on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.”

Mr. Oliver, like Jimmy Fallon who also included the scandal in a monologue last month, focuses on the fake email Mr. Courser wrote about himself having sex with a male prostitute in an attempt to distract from any truths coming out about the real affair.

“Todd Courser may have lost his job but he might have a bright future as a Midwestern erotica author,” Mr. Oliver quips about the email Mr. Courser wrote in May.

Mr. Oliver also plays a short portion of the audio where Mr. Courser explains his fake email plan to a former aide, who does not think it is a good idea, and the crowd eats it up. An old interview with The Detroit Free Press’s Kathy Gray explaining some of the stranger details surrounding the affair is also featured.

The roughly four-minute clip deserves a watch, but warning, this is HBO and Mr. Oliver does not shy away from using swear words.

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A Dust-Up Between Two St. Joseph Republicans On Solar Power

Posted: August 31, 2015 1:16 PM

There has been enormous criticism of Sen. John Proos’ bill that would make major changes to Michigan’s net metering program that allows electric users to receive a credit toward their electric bills for solar energy they generate from rooftop panels, but Monday saw a surprising new critical voice.

Former Rep. Charlie LaSata, now a Berrien Circuit judge, and like Mr. Proos, a St. Joseph Republican, tore apart Mr. Proos’ bill replacing the net metering program, saying it would make solar power unaffordable for residents. Mr. Proos succeeded Mr. LaSata in the 79th House District and held that seat from 2005-10 before moving to the Senate.

Mr. LaSata, who served in the House from 1999-2004, said in a Facebook post he has generated 100 percent of his power through solar panels during the last year.

Utilities argued last week during a committee hearing on SB 438*, sponsored by Mr. Proos, that net metering provides a subsidy and allows customers to avoid paying the cost of the grid.

The bill would replace net metering programs with a distributed generation program under which an electric customer could generate up to 110 percent of the customer's average annual electricity consumption. The key factor is that instead of current law where utilities give customers generating solar power from rooftop panels a credit for the power generated, the customers would instead have to pay for their electric use in advance and then sell back what they generate to the utility at a wholesale rate.

Mr. LaSata wrote that with solar power becoming more affordable, utility companies – who support Mr. Proos’ bill – feel threatened. He also said his family installed solar panels without any state subsidies or funds.

SB 438* would make solar power unaffordable for Michiganders and prevent us from directly using the power we produce,” Mr. LaSata wrote. “Please tell Senator Proos his bill is bad for Michigan. … There are only 1,800 net metering customers in the entire state. This is not a liberal or conservative issue, it is an American issue of self-reliance.”

It all makes for some unusual drama in the city that bills itself as the “Riviera of the Midwest.”

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Those Attending Trump Event Came For The Speech … And Beer?

Posted: August 12, 2015 3:16 PM

The Birch Run Expo Center was filled with a sold out crowd Tuesday night to hear Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tell them he could make this country great again, a crowd donning American flags on their shirts, bandanas or waving in their hands, that is if they weren’t holding a Budweiser tall boy or a plastic cup filled with wine.

During this Lincoln Day dinner for the Genesee and Saginaw County Republican parties concession stands remained open. Beer and wine were being served to the crowd, which was incredibly enthusiastic by the time Mr. Trump came on stage around 8 p.m. (doors opened at 4).

In fact, when I wandered to a Bagger Dave’s to grab a beer myself and file my story, the bartender told me attendees of the event were “getting lit” before even heading to the expo center.

Is this weird? I thought so. And others said it was not typical to serve beer at these kinds of events. It underlines that Mr. Trump is attracting interest from outside the usual voters that participate in Republican primaries. It also brings up the question of whether these 2,000-plus people who attended vote when the time comes or if they just wanted to see the Trump Show in person.

Saginaw County Republican Party Chair Amy Carl noted the individual parties received no proceeds from the concession sales.

After Mr. Trump’s speech, the exuberant crowd left the expo center, taking their energy with them, but leaving behind their beer cans so they would not be forgotten. Cheers!

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John Dingell Continues To Win Twitter

Posted: August 3, 2015 12:57 PM

If you still are not following former U.S. Rep. John Dingell on Twitter, you should start.

Mr. Dingell is the longest-serving member in the history of Congress. He left office in January, and the 89-year-old has a knack for Twitter (sorry to mention your age, Mr. Dingell). He already had emerged as one of the elected officials most skilled at using the medium while still in office and now has taken it to a new level in retirement.

Last Friday, in a spoof of celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show, Mr. Dingell read a few mean tweets of his own.

Mr. Dingell lost a bet with his wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), who succeeded him in the 12th District. If Ms. Dingell got to 5,000 Twitter followers in five days, Mr. Dingell had to read the mean tweets.

Of course, she exceeded 5,000 before the deadline.

One tweet, written by Moe Lane, said: “Didn’t Dingell … die? I mean, I don’t want him dead or anything. But seriously, didn’t he die?”

“Answer is no, I’m still breathing fire right now,” Mr. Dingell said.

He also tweeted the usernames of the authors of those mean tweets, encouraging others to follow them.

Mr. Dingell has been on fire at tweeting for some time.

Some of his favorite topics include the Detroit Tigers (though those haven’t been positive as of late) and the Sharknado franchise. “Sharknado” star Ian Ziering, aka Steve Sanders of “Beverly Hills 90210” fame, tweeted back at Mr. Dingell, and it is hard to imagine a more improbable conversation on Twitter.

Mr. Dingell even tweeted to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump “delete your account” after Mr. Trump insulted U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

If only Twitter had existed when Mr. Dingell was at the peak of his power, chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee, putting out major legislation at a time when Mr. Dingell was one of the most powerful, maybe the most powerful, member of the U.S. House.

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A Curious House Republican Analysis Of The Roads Situation

Posted: July 27, 2015 2:21 PM

A House Republican blog post boasting that the caucus has found $1.2 billion for roads from the General Fund in the last five years without raising taxes is perplexing.

The blog touches on other points as well – like continuing to work across the aisle to look for a solution and criticizing the handling of road funding in previous administrations during the first decade of the 2000s, what Republicans often refer to as the “lost decade.”

Some of these claims are difficult to reconcile.

On the point of contributing the $1.2 billion in General Fund dollars without raising taxes, House Republicans have in fact voted raise taxes with its plan that raised the diesel tax by 4 cents per gallon and to increase registration fees for hybrid and electric vehicles. These are much smaller tax increases than the 15-cent per gallon gasoline tax hike that passed the Senate, but still, they are tax increases.

House Republicans also voted to repeal the Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives low-income workers a credit on their state income tax equal to 6 percent of the federal EITC they claim. Republicans have labeled it “tax fairness,” but nonetheless, if enacted it will result in a tax increase for those workers.

It’s also confusing to post about continued work with Democrats when one week before the post House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) told Gongwer News Service he was not confident the House Democrats would play a huge role – or a role at all – in a road funding solution.

And since then, House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) has said he and Mr. Cotter have not met in person to discuss roads. Both parties have lambasted the other’s road funding proposals.

Finally, criticizing the “previous administration” – i.e. former Governor Jennifer Granholm -- isn’t necessarily fair. True, Ms. Granholm never pushed hard to raise revenues for roads and did not put forward a specific plan to substantially boost road funding.

But to rip her for not putting General Fund money into roads, and that is the specific criticism in the blog, overlooks the reality that Republicans controlled the House for seven years of the previous decade (2000-06) and the Senate for the entire decade. And a Republican, John Engler, was governor for the first two years of the decade, and he did not support putting General Fund into the roads either.

In fact, it was a point of pride for legislative Republicans not to turn to the General Fund for roads.

Mr. Engler relied on a 1997 gasoline tax increase and a huge billion dollar bond program to pay for road needs.

Also, when the economy crashed, the General Fund was hardly flush with cash to put toward roads.

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Inman Searches South Pacific For Earhart

Posted: July 20, 2015 1:30 PM

Rep. Larry Inman has a more interesting hobby than most legislators – finding the lost pilot Amelia Earhart.

Mr. Inman (R-Traverse City) recently returned from a trip to the South Pacific in search of clues regarding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in 1937, he told WKAR-FM’s “Current State” last week.

Mr. Inman’s interest in Ms. Earhart goes back decades. And he connected with the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery in 2012 and joined their trip last month to the island of Nikumaroro in search of evidence.

Mr. Inman has original engineering documents used to build Ms. Earhart’s plane, which led to his invite on the trip. He said the plane – if underwater near the island – would be covered in coral. The group sent vessels underwater to take pictures and they will be evaluated during the next month or two to determine if a plane, or a part of a plane, is there.

They can then compare the plane or its parts to the drawings Mr. Inman has of Mr. Earhart’s plane.

Mr. Inman told WKAR he was on the ground team and the group found nothing conclusive. He said some make up and face cream was found.

He is also continuing to work on a traveling exhibit on Ms. Earhart. Mr. Inman said he is talking with museums and others, including National Geographic, on the exhibit, which will consist of his personal collection.

Mr. Inman said Ms. Earhart’s courage and strides for women at the time led to his deep interest in her disappearance.

“The mystery of whatever happened to Amelia Earhart, the most popular and influential woman of the time. … how could she just disappear?” he told WKAR of why he was so invested in the lost pilot.

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Olumba Enters The House Chamber Late, Dems Cheer

Posted: September 24, 2014 3:52 PM

Certain House Democrats appeared ecstatic as Rep. John Olumba walked into the House chamber at 2:44 p.m. today; one hour and fourteen minutes after session began.

Democrats seated around Mr. Olumba’s (I-Detroit) desk cheered and pounded on their desks as he entered the chamber. Shortly after 2 p.m. Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), who sits next to Mr. Olumba, tweeted a photo of his empty chair saying: “It might be time to reinstate Olumba watch.”

Since the House has been back for eight sessions starting on August 27th, Mr. Olumba has been absent or walked in during late for all but one of them. On the September 10th and 11th his absences were excused.

Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) quipped to Mr. Singh via Twitter that Mr. Olumba was prepping for his next committee meeting, as earlier this year he was made chair of the House Appropriations Fiscal Oversight Subcommittee (the committee has never met and is not scheduled to meet in the near future).

Shortly after Mr. Olumba sat at his desk, Mr. Singh tweeted a picture of him and said “The Olumba watch is over.”


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GOP House Candidate Has Personal Reason To Fix The Roads

Posted: July 11, 2014 1:52 PM

Former Grand Rapids City Comptroller Donijo DeJonge didn’t ruin a tire or total her car due to the state’s crumbling roads, but while she was out campaigning she did trip in a pothole and break her leg.

Ms. DeJonge is running in the 76th House District against two other Republicans to try to unseat Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). Ms. DeJonge said on Friday the only reason she wasn’t spending her afternoon hitting the doors in the district is because she is on crutches.

She also noted that while her time on crutches is temporary those who permanently spend their time in wheelchairs have to operate on roads that are in such poor condition.

When she’s finally able to hit the campaign trail again, Ms. DeJonge will have a very personal story to tell voters on why she will do what she can to get to the $1.2 billion annually to address the state’s infrastructure.

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When Does Intent Actually Matter?

Posted: June 9, 2014 3:50 PM

Thursday, three House Republicans, including Rep. Peter Pettalia, posed for a photo with fashion magazines on the House floor while joking with Rep. Gail Haines. At one point, Mr. Pettalia reportedly said: “Don’t say we don’t understand women.”

Mr. Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) later told reporters he doesn’t remember actually making the comment, but said he must have if the reporter who snapped the photo said he did (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 5, 2014).

The photo, posted on Twitter with the quote from Mr. Pettalia (though the original post did not make clear who said it), with the three chuckling Republicans came across as something of a group “in your face” rebuttal to Democratic criticism that Republicans have an anti-woman agenda at the Capitol.

But upon further review, the comment was Mr. Pettalia’s alone with Rep. Ben Glardon (R-Owosso) and Rep. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville) along for the ride.

Mr. Pettalia has insisted he did not intend for it to be offensive. He said later he has a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, and he respects women.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Pettalia has found himself in a potentially offensive situation in the last month. He recently brought a pastor on the floor for an invocation that turned into a condemnation of gay marriage (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 20, 2014).

Mr. Pettalia said then the pastor didn’t intend for it to be offensive to anyone.

But how were Democrats supposed to know? The Twitter post looked like a group of Republicans wanted to sarcastically fire back at Democratic charges Republicans are waging a “war on women.” Mr. Pettalia and his colleagues insist it was a “lighthearted” moment that was misconstrued.

Clearly, the way Democrats have attacked the incident, they don’t care about the intentions of the representatives when they posed for the picture.

The incident serves as another reminder that in politics, intentions seldom, if ever, overshadow the action, especially when reduced to 140 characters on Twitter.

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What I Learned Covering A Presidential Event

Posted: February 7, 2014 4:37 PM

Today, President Barack Obama spoke to a select group of lawmakers, farmers, agriculture stakeholders and others within the Lansing community – being my first time covering the president, there were a couple of things that jumped out.

Leave early: Think about a time that might be too early, and leave 5 minutes before that. I thought getting to the Wharton Center parking garage at 11:15 a.m., 15 minutes before media was allowed to enter, would be obnoxiously early. I was wrong.

Don’t expect to see: There were desks for print media. Behind the high rise for cameras. I chose to stand in the area between the high rise and the barricade that separated the media from invited guests.

Bring snacks: I thought I wouldn’t be able to bring food, until I saw personnel searching through another bag and pull out someone’s entire Subway sandwich. Media had to be there at least two hours before the event was set to start, so snacks are a good thing to have. Note: most other reporters already know this, obvious by the plethora of trail mix I saw on tables.

It’s better when it’s at your alma mater: One of the first things out of the president’s mouth was “go green,” being a Spartan myself, it was pretty great. He then congratulated MSU on its Rose Bowl win and said he was there scouting for his March Madness bracket. Finally, he called us greedy because we “want to win everything.”

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House Dems Attempt To Discharge Various Tax Relief Bills

Posted: January 22, 2014 4:14 PM

With lots of talk now underway in the Capitol to promote tax relief to residents, some House Democrats on Wednesday attempted to use the House rules to get some of its sponsored tax relief bills out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.

However, the Democrats attempted to get their bills on the House floor with no avail. The motions to discharge the legislation were simply postponed for the day.

The bills (HB 4562, HB 4564 and HB 4565) currently sit in the House Tax Policy Committee and have not seen a hearing since introduction in April. The bills would repeal the pension tax, reinstate the child care tax deduction and restore the Homestead Property Tax Credit.

The effort comes two weeks before Governor Rick Snyder’s budget presentation and after Republican leadership has expressed an interest in providing tax relief. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) has said the changes made to tax code in 2011 were designed to make it more balanced, and changes including the pension tax likely won’t be repealed with the state’s surplus dollars. Mr. Bolger has also said tax relief will be a key part of the House GOP action plan in 2014.

Democrats made their unhappiness known on Wednesday.

“My bill is crucial in helping seniors plan their retirement without worrying about losing the money they’ve earned through the years,” said Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge), sponsor of one of the bills that might have been discharged, in a statement. “I’m disappointed that Republicans could not see the value in this legislation, and unfortunately the seniors of Michigan will continue to feel the weight of their decision.”

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Full House Went Back In Time Tuesday

Posted: December 3, 2013 5:09 PM

The full House took a trip down memory lane today when the wireless Internet stopped working, and the members could not vote or use their iPads to access the web.

Luckily, the representatives’ old laptops were still in storage, and even more surprisingly, so was a box of short Ethernet cords to get each of the 110 laptops access to the Internet.

Session began at 1:30 p.m., and eventually House Democrats and Republicans went into caucus while those working in IT retrieved and set up the laptops. About 4 p.m., the House decided to only handle second readings of bills and deal with voting tomorrow.

While technology usually allows for the Legislature to be more efficient, today it showed technical difficulties can grind the process to a halt. Of course, there was always the option for a manual roll call of the members to handle votes, but those are time-consuming and with nothing urgent on Tuesday’s agenda, there apparently was no appetite to give the clerk’s vocal chords a workout.

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Lyons Shoots Buck On First Day Of Hunting Season

Posted: November 19, 2013 12:03 PM

There has always been some snickering about the two-week recess the Legislature has long taken for the start of firearm deer hunting season and Thanksgiving.

But many legislators do hunt, and one of them, Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, reports she shot a seven-point buck on the first day of hunting season.

Ms. Lyons (R-Alto), returning a call a little before 7 p.m. Friday on a different topic, said she wasn’t available to talk earlier in the day because she was out in the woods and ended up shooting a seven point.

“It’s been a good day overall,” Ms. Lyons said in the voicemail.

As someone who has never hunted and knows nothing about hunting – or apparently deer – I had to look up the meaning of seven point. I learned points are the tip of the various tines on the deer’s antlers, and the more points, the more prestige for the hunter.

So we will see if any other lawmakers can top Ms. Lyons prior to their return to session in December.

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Rep. Franz, Bolger Using Shut Down Confusion To Boast State’s Work

Posted: October 10, 2013 6:25 PM

House Speaker Jase Bolger and Rep. Ray Franz have received calls, emails and social media messages to get back to work or negotiate with Democrats to end the government shut down.

Along with informing their constituents that the shutdown is a federal government issue, Mr. Franz (R-Onekama) and Mr. Bolger’s office have been bragging about the Legislature passing budgets early and paying down debts.

“(We’ve received messages) telling us to negotiate better with the president or with the Democrats, or to give up pay checks if we’re not going to keep the government open,” said Ari Adler, spokesperson for Mr. Bolger (R-Marshall). “So we have had to explain to them that is a problem in Washington, D.C. and not in Lansing. But we have used it as an opportunity to explain how we are getting things done in Lansing, and how we have been able to stay on top of solving problems for Michigan’s families.”

Mr. Franz said he has to make four calls today alone to constituents explaining to them he is not their Congressman, and that the state’s government is not shut down.

“We just simply try to educate that I am the state rep, and we’ve done our job, we passed our budget,” he said. “And we’ve done it early, with a pay down of debt and with putting money aside in a savings. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

He said in the messages or emails, constituents address him as Congressman Franz – “it was a nice promotion,” he joked – and they say: “We are opposed to the government shutdown, we expect you to you to do your job, get back to work … Obamacare is the law of the land, support it and vote for it.”

“They appreciate the education if you will. And it’s easy for them to misunderstand. If you’re not following this day-to-day and just catch the highlights on the news at 6 o’clock, it’s easy,” Mr. Franz said.

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Colbert Does Segment On Callton’s ‘Pot For Potholes’ Suggestion

Posted: October 9, 2013 1:11 PM

Last month Gongwer News Service and other media outlets reported on Rep. Mike Callton’s openness to a proposal legalizing marijuana, and then taxing it to help fund fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Now it’s getting the Colbert treatment.

On Tuesday night comedian Stephen Colbert, on his show “The Colbert Report,” which airs on Comedy Central, mocked the proposal, which Mr. Callton (R-Nashville) said it could be called “pot for potholes” (See Gongwer Michigan Report, September 18, 2013).

“Yeah, maybe that would work,” Mr. Colbert said. “But once they fix every pothole, what do you think they’ll legalize to fix every crack?”

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

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Oh My, Could Rep. Genetski Be In Trouble With His Chiropractor?

Posted: August 30, 2013 2:47 PM

Professional hockey players certainly skate back onto the rink bloody and banged up and probably not with the endorsement of their doctors. But how about members of the Legislature?

Rep. Bob Genetski’s (R-Saugatuck) team, the Coral Gable Whalers, won the Newcastle Cup – the championship trophy in the Holland Adult Hockey League -- in a 10-0 match, with Mr. Genetski scoring two goals, the Holland Sentinel reported on Friday.

However, the undefeated team’s press coverage may get Mr. Genetski in a little trouble with his chiropractor.

“My chiropractor told me not to play hockey for two weeks. I hope he doesn't read the Sentinel,” Mr. Genetski wrote on his Facebook.

No word on what sent Mr. Genetski to the chiropractor in the first place.

Mr. Genetski with the Newcastle Cup, courtesy of his Facebook page.

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The Textbook Answer To Rep. McMillin’s Common Core Textbook Question

Posted: August 15, 2013 4:00 PM

The debate over whether to use Common Core education standards has added a textbook dimension. But reviewing this latest assertion might need a textbook itself.

Common Core standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010, but a hold has been placed on the implementation of the standards unless the Legislature approves them.

Supporters say the standards are better than current ones, and will produce more college and career ready students. While opponents say the standards were created in secret, and are a government takeover of education standards that will cut out local control and parent involvement.

Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) is one of the main opponents of the Common Core standards. Mr. McMillin has said the state can beef up or change its standards without adopting the Common Core, and also has said once the state adopts the standards; it won’t be able to change or alter them in any way.

During a six-hour committee on the standards on Wednesday, Mr. McMillin repeatedly asked testifiers about a statement made by William Schmidt, a professor at Michigan State University, who was involved in developing the Common Core's math standards, concerning textbooks certain districts have bought in preparation for the Common Core standards implementation.

Mr. Schmidt, during a meeting on July 31, told Rep. Ken Yonker (R-Gaines Township) that a school district that spent more than $1 million on textbooks for the Common Core wasted its money.

“There is not a serious set of textbooks out there that really are worth anything. They don’t line up with the Common Core standards, they really don’t line up with anything,” he said. “I tell districts don’t buy a textbook until they are about 300 pages long. An 800-page eighth grade book is just a joke.”

Mr. McMillin, however, who was not present during Mr. Schmidt’s testimony, used the statement solely against Common Core.

“There is some teacher preparation but there’s nothing out there that even aligns, is it fair to even have us testing kids with a test that is aligned to the Common Core, when one of its premier performers said there are not good textbooks out there on the market to teach Common Core?” he asked.

But Mr. Schmidt’s statement itself was bashing most textbooks on the market that could be used to teach math by any standard, and was not specifically a slam at the Common Core.

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Plenty Of Laughs In Final House Session Before Island Meeting

Posted: May 29, 2013 2:40 PM

With the budget bills passed in the House and many members set to leave for the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Island Policy Conference later in the day, Wednesday’s House session had a much lighter feel.

Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) did not wear a tie to session on Wednesday, which violated House rules.

This prompted Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) to take of his tie and waive it around as he called “Mr. Speaker” to House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) after Mr. Bolger jokingly did not recognize Mr. Stamas because of his rule violation.

Then, Minority Floor Leader-elect Rep. David Rutledge (D-Ypsilanti), who was called by his new title for the first time and received a standing ovation from the chamber, called to Mr. Bolger to excuse absences.

“Because you are wearing a tie, it is my privilege,” Mr. Bolger said.

Earlier in the day, during the House Tax Policy Committee, Rep. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) and Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) also had some laughs.

Ms. O’Brien was acting as chair of the committee and said, “I wish it was under different circumstances.”

Ms. Barnett, the minority vice chair of the committee, responded, “me too. I wish I was sitting in that chair.”

To that, Ms. O’Brien laughed, “I do not second that motion.”

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Where’s Olumba?

Posted: March 6, 2013 3:34 PM

Rep. John Olumba (I-Detroit), who recently declared himself as an independent, is becoming a name that is almost always followed by a chuckle.

When his name is called for attendance in committee, there is a laugh by someone. When he shows up late to the House floor, no one is that surprised.

The day after he declared himself independent, he did not attend the House Insurance Committee to vote on important legislation, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan overhaul bills.

Last week he missed voting on legislation, again, because he was late. The bill, HB 4111*, would appropriate money for the health insurance exchange – only this time it was more noticeable because he missed a full House vote.

In his statement announcing he was leaving the Democratic Party, he wrote: “I declare myself to be to be a member of the Independent Urban Democracy Caucus that recognizes and puts as a priority, the poor and disenfranchised persons of this state, Detroit and other urban areas sharing socio-economic commonalties, and the African American population of this state.”

Given that mission, it is hard to reconcile how Mr. Olumba would miss the vote to fund the insurance exchange.

More broadly, Mr. Olumba appears to be losing credibility with his colleagues as a result of denouncing the Democratic caucus but then failing to show up.

Today, Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), who now has a seat next to Mr. Olumba’s on the House floor after seat assignments changed to accommodate Mr. Olumba’s independent status, tweeted a picture of Mr. Olumba’s empty seat and posted: “Rep. Olumba watch. Looking for my new seat mate.”

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