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by Nick Smith, Staff Writer

6 Months On, Election Petition Pushes Senate Package To Background

Posted: October 1, 2021 2:52 PM

With circulation of petitions set to begin soon by the Secure MI Vote group, a 39-bill Senate package that was the inspiration for many of the elements of the proposal the group hopes to put before the Republican-controlled Legislature for adoption is largely taking a backseat at this stage.

That's not to say the Senate package is not seeing movement. It simply is at a point of being a methodical slog to push individual pieces through the legislative process over Democratic objections to nearly all of its contents.

The few bills that might have fairly bipartisan support could always be moved at some point.

Most of the rest, whether they are contained in the petition, can be moved at any time as well despite the certain vetoes that await them. This can serve the purpose for Republicans of pushing its narrative on what it says is a need for election law changes to ensure election integrity, while rallying their base. Of course, movement also serves to fire up Democrats and their base, who believe the bills are part of an effort to create unnecessary obstacles to voting.

So, what is the status of the 39 bills from which the petition group cherry picked pieces from?

As it turns out, a quick look at the status of each bill shows there has not been a ton of movement outside of initial committee hearings. However, the methodical slog of moving the package can serve the purpose I have already mentioned while the petition drive leads the charge.

Of the 39 bills in the Senate package, 30 have only been subject to hearings before the Senate Elections Committee.

Only one bill, SB 277, is to the point of being sent to the governor after being passed by the House on Thursday by an 80-25 vote. The bill would allow county clerks to remove dead voters from the Qualified Voter File. It received a 31-4 vote in the Senate in June, so it may be one of the few bills in the package that might have a chance at the governor's signature.

Two other bills, SB 303 and SB 304, have been sitting in the Senate since June. The House made changes to the bills which the bill sponsor has wanted to reverse. Hence, the bills sit in the Senate.

But since these two bills, dealing with signature verification and voter identification, which are key provisions in the Secure MI Vote proposal, there is no need currently for movement.

Three other bills have passed the Senate and have not yet been heard by a House committee. One other bill has passed the Senate and been heard in a House committee, and one more is waiting on a Senate floor vote.

That accounts for 38 of the 39 bills.

The final bill? That would be SB 283.

Ironically, SB 283 is the one bill that would likely have the most bipartisan support if it were to be moved. The bill would allow clerks in larger communities to preprocess – but not count – absentee ballots the Monday before Election Day. The Legislature temporarily allowed this for the 2020 elections due to expectations of high turnout and clerks asking for more time to preprocess ballots.

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Political Newsweek Almost A Storm Before Calm As Budget Looms

Posted: September 17, 2021 1:51 PM

Well, this was quite the week in Michigan state politics, wasn't it?

One can take their pick as to where to begin with the spike in newsy events in Lansing and in the political sphere this week, ranging from the typically contentious to outright bizarre.

Ironically, the biggest matter on the agenda this month that might be expected to be marked by numerous twists and turns, the state budget, was not among those items that caused a stir of controversy. Maybe that's next week when the details emerge?

This week saw something that rarely has happened in Michigan: two members of the Legislature were stripped of committee assignments in the same week. Granted, it happened less than a year ago with Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit) and Rep. Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair), but still.

In the case of Rep. Jewell Jones (D-Inkster), he was removed from committees as the fallout from his alleged drunken driving incident went from bad to worse, reaching a climax this week when he allegedly brought a handcuff key to jail with him.

Then there is the removal of Rep. Steve Marino (R-Harrison Township) from his committees when allegations from Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham) emerged of possible abuse during a now-ended relationship and alleged threats. The Department of State Police is in the early stages of an investigation.

These incidents alone would constitute a heavy week of news. But there was still a deluge outside of all of this.

There was the chaotic gubernatorial campaign kickoff by Republican James Craig on Belle Isle drowned out by protestors, prompting a debate over whether it was a disaster or a great opportunity to garner media attention and rally the party's base over the visuals of what transpired.

On Tuesday alone, there was a sharp debate over Senate GOP bills that would ban mask and vaccine mandates in K-12 schools, a House hearing abruptly canceled on legislation regarding identification being offered to undocumented persons, the chance of successful mediation on the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline came into question, conservative groups filed new campaign finance complaints against Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Rep. Andrea Schroeder (R-Independence Township) announced she has been undergoing treatment for recurrent cancer.

There's also been the continued slog by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to complete draft legislative and U.S. House maps. A coalition of parent groups also announced a push to get the state to issue a mask mandate for K-12 schools.

Yet through all of this, the budget deal announcement hardly made a ripple.

At this point a major question is whether this week was a storm before calm of sorts ahead of finalizing the budget next week.

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Buckle Up, It's Budget Month

Posted: September 3, 2021 1:13 PM

The final month has arrived before the deadline for lawmakers to complete negotiations with the administration on the state budget.

A month that can at times consist of stretches of calm pierced by moments of bizarre twists, turns and ultimately large-scale final action.

I know I'm excited, knowing what at one moment may seem to be where things are sure to be going totally is blown up and heads in an entirely different direction, with a whole new set of numbers.

So where do things stand in the opening days of September ahead of the midnight, September 30 budget deadline?

Surprisingly optimistic, at least on the surface.

Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, said this week budget subcommittees were expected to file their reports this week and talks with the House and budget director in the coming days to begin identifying differences that need to be negotiated. The minority vice chair, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing), was also optimistic, glad to see people were beginning to get in a room to talk and have things completed with time to spare (See Gongwer Michigan Report, September 1, 2021).

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) told WKHM-AM radio in Jackson earlier this week that the decision had been made to "keep the operating budgets of Michigan separate from the distribution of all the special monies from the federal government."

Mr. Shirkey added supplementals including federal coronavirus relief funds dealing with specific purposes like education, mental health, infrastructure and water projects will be rolled out as well.

The majority leader noted that in some of the supplementals using federal money to expect to include language for local governments to have "matching funding opportunities."

Whether all sides at the negotiating table would want to have matching fund requirements, or strings, attached to the federal money is just one of the many things for appropriators and the administration to wrangle over.

And there will undoubtedly be numerous things. With a state budget of tens of billions of dollars, it's impossible for that not to be the case.

With the budget battle during the first year of divided government during the current administration and the comparatively quiet negotiations last year, it will be interesting to see if the different sides trend more toward the latter rather than the former. A major budget impasse during a pandemic is not what anyone would want.

But stranger things have happened. Strange things always happen when work on the budget is in the home stretch.

In short? This is going to be a long month and I'm pretty sure it's going to feel like a lot longer than the less than 30 days remaining on the clock. Buckle up.

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Pandemic Policy Debates, Misinformation Heating Up Again

Posted: August 20, 2021 2:23 PM

The temperatures may be set to begin dropping with the onset of fall next month, but in the realm of coronavirus policy debates it appears the mercury is just beginning to rise again.

By this I of course mean the debates over the COVID-19 vaccine and mandates for preventative measures, specifically mask mandates.

On Thursday, the House Workforce, Trades and Talent Committee held a hearing on legislation that would block employers from requiring the coronavirus, flu and TDAP vaccines as well as mask wearing. The hearing was marked by misinformation in both testimony and comments made at the hearing about COVID vaccines, about the impacts of mask wearing and the effects of the virus on people (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 19, 2021).

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) during a television interview reiterated claims he has been making for months: that after having recovered from COVID-19 he has long-term and potentially permanent immunity. Medical experts have disputed this while urging the recovered to get vaccinated to boost immunity (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 17, 2021).

Last week? The state Board of Education debated a nonbinding mask mandate resolution. The resolution was originally an anti-mask mandate resolution introduced by Republican members, but majority Democrats amended it to be pro-mask mandates. The hearing featured three hours of public testimony from parents, most repeating debunked claims about COVID vaccines and mask wearing (See Gongwer Michigan Report, August 10, 2021).

These events come as the mask policies by school districts have been mixed and with several districts facing angry crowds of parents and activists during board meetings, dominated by the uttering of many of the same bits of misinformation.

Against this backdrop, the Legislature will be returning as divided as ever along partisan lines over enacting any kind of mandates or restrictions in the state.

What does this mean?

For starters, time-consuming legislative debates and the passing of bills attempting to block the enactment of COVID-19 restrictions and mandates (which will likely be vetoed by the governor as has been the case for the duration of the pandemic) are almost certain to continue.

Also, daily cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise for several weeks, largely among the unvaccinated. This is also likely to continue. How long is unclear and could depend on vaccination rates as well as what, if any, restrictions or mandates are put in place.

Finally, fact-checking by reporters is likely to continue at a very brisk clip, given the amount of misinformation regularly being disseminated and in need of being reviewed.

A lengthy heating up of politics and passionate debate is back. But then again, did it ever really go away?

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Despite Election Integrity Concerns, GOP Candidates Embrace AV Option

Posted: August 6, 2021 2:01 PM

For all the post-November 2020 election concerns there are by Republicans concerning election integrity and the absentee ballot process, candidates and their campaigns have clearly embraced efforts to urge supporters to utilize that very option.

That was one obvious takeaway from Tuesday's Senate primary elections, in which the winning candidates in Republican primaries both the 8th and 28th Senate districts scored large percentages of their vote tallies from absentee ballots.

After the 2018 ballot measure that established no-reason absentee voting in Michigan, it was expected that the option would become more popular. The coronavirus pandemic also sparked an increase in using the option as a public safety precaution among voters during the 2020 elections.

In the 2020 election, of course, then-President Donald Trump repeatedly railed against voting by mail ahead of his election loss, spurring unfounded allegations of fraud. Concerns among conservatives and supporters of Mr. Trump have led to a push for election law change legislation in Michigan and numerous other states by Republican lawmakers.

With that in mind, the victories of the 8th and 28th Senate districts became clear only late Tuesday as the final precincts and absentee ballots were reported.

This was similar to the November 2020 presidential election, when the reported precinct results, particularly the absentee ballot counts, only made clear Mr. Biden's victories in Michigan and other key states over Mr. Trump late in the counting process. In that case, the anger among Trump supporters who cried foul and fraud over his loss has still not dissipated.

On Tuesday, in a sharp contrast, there were no complaints among the unsuccessful Republican candidates over the pace of the results being reported or over absentee votes. A look at social media accounts for candidates reveals a very muted response, if any among supporters of the unsuccessful candidates.

When asked Thursday whether there was any comparison to how their victories were made clear this week and in the 2020 presidential race, both GOP winners of Tuesday's Senate primaries denied there was any comparison.

Granted, state Senate elections in a summer primary with light turnout are not the same as a highly contentious presidential election. But there were a small number of comments online from supporters of Democrats wondering at the comparative silence from Republicans about the absentee influence Tuesday compared to November 2020, seeking to point out alleged hypocrisy.

Regardless of all this, Republican candidates clearly understand despite the fighting and posturing over the November 2020 presidential election, victory cannot be obtained without cashing in on a large share of absentee ballots cast.

Evidence of the popularity of the absentee voter option was apparent in Tuesday's unofficial results from the two Senate races in the heavily Republican districts located in Kent and Macomb counties.

Take the 28th Senate District. For the winner, Rep. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker), 64.9 percent of his votes were absentee. His opponents who finished second and third had 44 percent and 71.4 percent, respectively, of their vote totals coming from absentee ballots.

In the 8th Senate District, Rep. Doug Wozniak (R-Shelby Township) had 76.2 percent of his vote total come from absentee ballots. The second and third-place candidates had 72.1 percent and 52.5 percent, respectively, of their votes being absentee.

Of all 28th Senate District GOP primary votes cast, 60.1 percent were absentee. In the 8th Senate District GOP primary, 69.4 percent were absentee.

Clearly, absentee voting will be a significant factor in future elections, regardless of possible election process changes being pushed currently by Republicans or by a future Legislature. And the party's candidates appear to be ready to embrace pushing the option for their voters regardless of how the rules of the game are set at any given point in time.

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K-12 Budget Was First Step In What Appears To Be Long Journey

Posted: July 2, 2021 1:22 PM

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As it relates to the Michigan Legislature's budget process, they took that first step this week in moving on passing a K-12 school budget.

On Wednesday, the Senate moved an amended School Aid Fund budget, which the House concurred with and sent to Governor Gretchen Whitmer. All sides seemed pleased with reaching a decades-long goal of achieving equity on per-pupil funding for K-12 schools (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 30, 2021).

Education groups had been pressuring the Legislature to complete work on K-12 funding ahead of July 1, when the new fiscal year for schools begins, to provide certainty to districts.

However, the legislative movement of the past week or so left, well, virtually everything else on the table.

Still incomplete is an agreement on revenue sharing (local governments also have a fiscal year beginning July 1). No agreement on higher education and community colleges. Nor any other state department budgets, for that matter.

There also remains billions to spend in federal coronavirus relief funding.

For a journey of a thousand miles, this first step likely felt as though it were a thousand miles in and of itself to lawmakers and stakeholders involved in the process.

Where does that leave matters, given that there really has been no clear indication of where the differences between both chambers and the administration lie on the rest of the budget?

Apparently, a long hot summer of negotiations in stifling rooms or via Zoom conferences.

The House and Senate's session calendars for July and August, as is typical during the summer in-district work period through Labor Day weekend, are almost empty. If or when any agreements are made, that is sure to change. And Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has already indicated the Senate won't be back until August at the earliest.

By not completing its work and sending the governor a budget by July 1, the Legislature violated its own statutory change requiring it do so by that date annually. That move was taken following a bruising budget fight between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor in 2019. Due to the coronavirus pandemic's arrival in 2020, which created uncertainty over where funding levels stood, the July 1 deadline's effective date was moved back one year, to July 1, 2021.

Alas, the change does not contain any penalties for failing to complete budget work by that time, leaving the Legislature and administration free to ignore their own deadline and work over the summer to complete the budget prior to the beginning of the state's fiscal year, which runs from October 1 through September 30.

Toothless change or not, it is not a good look to bypass one's own deadlines set in statute.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see where the next thousand miles, er, I mean, the next step of the journey in this budget cycle, leads.

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More Diverse Legislature May Be Source Of Symbolic LGBTQ Vote

Posted: June 4, 2021 11:43 AM

Symbolic, perhaps, but historic.

That would be the succinct way to describe Thursday's adoption of House and Senate resolutions by voice vote acknowledging June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month.

For members of the LGBTQ community, even a symbolic recognition is no small thing and could be considered a step in eventually achieving further accomplishments, such as a major goal of enshrining protections for the community within the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

"You don't have to share my lived experience to empathize with it," Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), the state's first openly gay state senator, told me in an interview following Thursday's session. "I'm not asking anybody to, to be an LGBTQ rights activist in the streets at a Pride parade, but I am asking for recognition and dignity and an understanding that there are parts of my journey that they don't share."

To that end, after introducing a Pride Month resolution every year of his time in the Legislature, on Thursday he was granted that wish.

And his resolution, SR 60, had the backing of two Republicans in the chamber who co-sponsored it, up from one the year before and none prior to that.

What may seem symbolic on the surface to those outside of the LGBTQ community is likely far from it to those who are within the community, where each step over decades of hard-fought gains legislatively and in the courts have been made in the face of abuse among the wider public.

Mr. Moss and other LGBTQ lawmakers and supporters in the past have noted that having a seat at the table through representation in places like the Legislature matter.

Folks like Mr. Moss likely have a point, given that Thursday's votes may not have happened if not for lawmakers working with him and other LGBTQ members on a daily basis. Former Rep. Chris Kolb was the first openly gay member of the Legislature when he served in the House from 2001-06. When he left the House, there was no openly gay member until Mr. Moss and former Rep. Jon Hoadley won election in 2014 to the House (Mr. Moss won his Senate seat in 2018). Rep. Tim Sneller (D-Burton) joined them when he was elected in 2016. Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), elected in 2018, is bisexual.

It is a case in point of the contention that a more diverse Legislature can make a difference, whether it is LGBTQ members, more women members and more members of color.

On Thursday, Mr. Moss called the resolution a first step, adding that expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to provide protections for the LGBTQ community was a significant priority for him. In March he also introduced SB 208, which would include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as areas protecting under the act.

Legislative attempts at pushing for expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act have been unsuccessful in the past, seeing little if any interest in taking them up by the Republican majority.

Mr. Moss also spoke Thursday of a "a lot of soft and quiet support in this chamber for the community."

If that take is accurate, then Thursday may have been the initial step, a breach in the dam, in the Legislature in what would likely be another long slog to reach that much higher LGBTQ goal.

Of course, a ballot proposal could always come into play. But that's a story for another day.

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Budget Cooperation Remains Elusive As Legislature Makes Moves

Posted: May 7, 2021 3:42 PM

With less than two months to go before the July 1 budget deadline and given the current political climate in Lansing, what the rest of this year's budget season turns out looks like will be interesting to see compared to the previous two in this era of divided government.

There was the budget brawl in 2019 during which the Legislature handed Governor Gretchen Whitmer a budget, she proceeded to veto a ton of items and both sides fumed for months before negotiating a settlement on some of the funding.

This prompted the switch to a July 1 budget deadline, although there are no penalties or teeth in the change that was passed. Due to the pandemic, the implementation of that change was pushed back to 2021. Last year, the delay in implementation allowed leadership and Ms. Whitmer to come to a budget agreement in September without the fireworks of the prior year.

So what will 2021 budget negotiations bring in a bitter political climate stemming from the 2020 elections that has not yet died down and in some ways may even be intensifying? Can the governor and Legislature repeat last year, in which there was a broad agreement or could there be a major breakdown like 2019? The fight over the pandemic response has only intensified with time.

Where do things stand now? So far, there has been little sign of cooperation between the administration and the GOP-led Legislature.

The first phase of the budgeting process is almost over, with both the House and Senate poised to pass their budget bills and send them across the Capitol as early as next week. To say there is still much left to negotiate to come to a final product would be an understatement.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) has previously said the Legislature is moving at an acceptable pace to complete budget work on time, and conversations with House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) have gone well so far this term.

Clearly, there are differences between the two chambers, as there always are on funding levels.

The House caused waves by reporting a majority of its budgets with a proposed quarterly budgeting proposal. The odds of that method getting past negotiations between both chambers, much less to the governor's desk, seem slim.

Of course, there are also the several jabs at Ms. Whitmer in the budget bills, many stemming from Republican opposition to actions of her administration they disagree with in general or over her administration's coronavirus pandemic response.

The House has provisions for the removal of funding for most unclassified workers, except for various agency directors, a prohibition on COVID-19 vaccine passports (which the administration has said are not even being considered) and reporting requirements on any severance payments to officials.

In the Senate budgets, several proposed cuts were made to the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity budget as a result of, among other things, the department's recent webinar on how to form a union. Boilerplate added to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs budget would direct the department to not take disciplinary action against licensees who do not enforce the state's recently issued pandemic order provision expanding the statewide mask mandate to children under 5 years of age.

There are others. But you get the idea.

The Democrats, for their part, have been fighting to defend Ms. Whitmer's priorities, introducing a huge stack of proposed amendments to reinstate all or part of the governor's funding throughout the budget bills that has been stripped. So far, none have been adopted, although some may return as bargaining chips in later negotiations or be tucked into supplemental appropriations bills at a later date.

Given the track record of the recent era of divided government, the pandemic response fight and the federal funding still on the table, it would seem regardless of whether the budget process turns out like either 2019 or 2020, the next two months are likely to be a long road.

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Context Matters In Reports Of Reaction To COVID Vaccine

Posted: April 16, 2021 2:52 PM

Nothing is 100 percent, not even coronavirus vaccines leaders and medical officials are trying to quickly get into millions of arms.

This is the dilemma government leaders and medical experts now face in light of recent reports of six women, all under age 50, developed side effects involving a rare blood disorder which can cause severe blood clots in the brain after taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Since vaccination efforts began, there have been some reports of an extremely small number of individuals nationally contracting COVID-19 despite obtaining their shot or shots though in some instances further research has shown they got the virus before becoming fully vaccinated. Without properly stressing the long odds of any negative outcomes some segments of the population might shrink away from being vaccinated.

That dilemma also extends to members of the press as well in terms of how to provide proper context right off the top to prevent public confusion, as a public bombarded with news of the pandemic for more than one year now sees headlines of people have an adverse reaction to a vaccine or catch COVID-19 anyway.

Context matters. A lack of it can have huge repercussions in that large swaths of the population already on the fence about COVID-19 vaccination could jump off onto what officials would consider the wrong side of the fence.

The six cases occurred among about 7.2 million people had been administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States at the time of the pause. Many who have been administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have had no side effects or experienced mild side effects.

That is 0.00008 percent. Calculators go into scientific notation to calculate it.

For reporters, context is critical up top, particularly in headlines and/or story leads. It's well established that for a chunk of the public, opinions are often quickly formed without reading beyond a headline or first few sentences.

Proper context is out there already, such as pointing to the fact that the odds of experiencing the serious side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine reported on this week based on the number of cases and those vaccinated are longer than being struck by lightning and other such occurrences happening to any one individual.

For disclosure? I was vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 7. I drove about 70 miles from Lansing to Coldwater to get it at a pharmacy. When vaccination was opened to all Michigan residents ages 16 and older, I decided to take the first appointment I could get, knowing the demand was going to be high.

My side effects were mild and lasted about 24 hours, in line with many of those who have experienced any. I was fully aware of the lower percentage of effectiveness of Johnson & Johnson compared to the other two vaccines. It was a personal choice, which is the responsibility of anyone planning to get vaccinated to take a moment and weigh one's options.

For further context of the decision facing each individual considering vaccination, there are some basic established facts to consider.

The Pfizer vaccine has had a reported efficacy rate of 95 percent and the Moderna vaccine 94 percent in clinical trials.

For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the efficacy rate has been about 72 percent in the United States and 66 percent globally.

Still, news of the small number cases caused a swift response with the pause. A major concern that immediately arose was how safe the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is, given the reports.

Again, the number of cases is in fact a miniscule fraction of a percent.

The same goes with overall vaccination nationally. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that out of about 75 million Americans being fully vaccinated, about 5,800 people nationally have been infected. And to reiterate, some of those might have become infected before they were fully vaccinated.

Again, a fraction of a fraction of 1 percent. And, again, as has been stated all along, no vaccine is 100 percent.

All this being said, it's important that officials, medical experts and reporters when writing or speaking about this topic keep hammering home that context. By not doing so, the odds of getting enough of the population vaccinated to put the pandemic behind us all lessens.

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Senate, Governor Keep Pushing Nonstarters Into Spring Break

Posted: March 26, 2021 3:05 PM

The Senate and Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday both gave each other something to think about in the coming weeks over the spring legislative break.

It's no secret that the Republican-controlled Legislature and Governor Gretchen Whitmer are firmly dug in on their positions over the coronavirus pandemic response and neither side is willing to budge.

So once again, the Senate and governor made statements more than anything on Thursday ahead of the Legislature's spring recess for in-district work.

The Senate along party lines passed supplemental appropriations that would provide grants to county prosecutors to launch an investigation into the governor's nursing home policies.

Shortly before the Senate took up the supplemental bill, Ms. Whitmer's office issued a release announcing her appointment of 17 individuals to state boards and commissions. The 17 were among the 18 appointments the Senate rejected, also along party lines, by Republicans wanting to force the governor to the table and provide them a more active role in the pandemic response.

It's almost as if both sides need to provide nearly daily reminders that they're still there and still vehemently disagree.

Neither action taken Thursday, of course, will be successful.

The bill, SB 27, contains $1.25 million General Fund to provide for grants of up to $250,000 to county prosecutors to investigate the governor's nursing home policies during the pandemic. The Republicans have been demanding information on nursing home deaths and have sought to tie Ms. Whitmer's administration to that of her counterpart in New York, who is under investigation over alleged discrepancies in data on nursing home deaths (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 25, 2021).

Democrats called the bill a payoff to investigate political adversaries. It's also clear Ms. Whitmer will never sign the bill, just as she has repeatedly vetoed anything that would take away her emergency powers.

For the 17 appointees, they were rejected in late January and early February.

Simply putting the individuals forward a second time likely will also not change anything. Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), chair of the Senate Advice and Consent Committee, on Thursday already in a statement said the governor should not expect a different result on the appointments (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 25, 2021).

The moves do nothing to change the stalemate and simply are the latest reminders that they're not backing down. Both sides are perfectly fine with continuing to keep each other on their toes and to keep them thinking if nothing else.

While the Legislature has recessed for its spring district work period, the odds that the efforts by each respective side to press their cases slows down are slim. The odds of a thawing in relations between the two sides is even more remote.

So giving each other a steady diet of things to think about which will be rejected out of hand and do nothing to resolve their differences, it is.

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No Dull Moments As Senate Shifts Fronts On Contentious Debates

Posted: March 19, 2021 3:48 PM

Never a dull moment.

An apt description of the Michigan Senate in recent weeks, with the temperature in the chamber rising considerably over the ongoing fights involving supplemental appropriations and coronavirus pandemic policies.

So what is there to do to continue pressing arguments almost daily when there is not a supplemental or policy bill before the chamber every day?

Apparently, it is to continue refining and pushing arguments and positions on COVID-19 and other policy topics via largely nonbinding resolutions.

Because little more is happening in recent weeks other than fireworks over a series of resolutions containing partisan policy stances and reaffirmations of views. Though Senate Democrats this week did refuse immediate effect on supplemental spending bills that were not negotiated with the administration.

The use of partisan resolutions in the Senate has been the trend in March. In late January and early February, the method was to apply pressure on the administration and let its stance repeatedly be known was the rejection of gubernatorial appointments.

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled Senate adopted SR 31*, rebuking Attorney General Dana Nessel over refusing a GOP request to investigate Governor Gretchen Whitmer's pandemic nursing home policy (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 18, 2021).

The resolution urges county prosecutors to take up their own investigations in the absence of one by Ms. Nessel. At least one, former senator and now Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido, has been very vocal recently about what he believes is a need for an investigation (he was promising an investigation before he was even elected to the position). So that's already a possibility.

Where it goes remains to be seen. Ms. Nessel told a House panel this week she didn't see any evidence to warrant opening an investigation and thought Mr. Lucido's approach was a recipe for misconduct.

Not all resolutions are without impact. The Health Policy and Human Services Committee was the third committee this month granted subpoena power to seek state documents, likely furthering the Senate GOP push to get information on the governor's pandemic response. And on March 11 the majority leader was authorized to file a lawsuit against Ms. Whitmer if her administration tries to use any legal loopholes to spend recently vetoed supplemental funding (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 11, 2021).

On Tuesday, another fight along party lines broke out over SCR 8*, which voices opposition to proposed federal legislation to strengthen unions (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 16, 2021).

A resolution on March 9 divided the Senate over urging the state to allow the first wolf hunt in nearly a decade in the Upper Peninsula (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 9, 2021).

On March 3, a resolution in support of the Second Amendment and opposing federal restrictions on gun rights was adopted (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 3, 2021).

The fact of the matter is the views on both sides of the aisle on these topics are well-established. Reaffirming them doesn't accomplish much other than refining arguments and keeping issues visible.

With that in mind, I'm curious to see what April brings. Nothing much really surprises me anymore given the ongoing fight between the Legislature and governor and I'm probably not alone on that front.

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Rejecting Hertel Appointment Unlikely To Change State's COVID Orders

Posted: February 26, 2021 3:58 PM

Senate Republicans have been using what they call the tools they have to try and force Governor Gretchen Whitmer to work more closely with them on the coronavirus pandemic response, saying she is going it alone and not treating the Legislature as a coequal branch of government.

One of the recent methods that, so far, has been unsuccessful in moving the needle is for the Senate to reject gubernatorial appointees.

A total of 18 nominees, mostly to college boards and other offices, have been rejected along party lines by Senate Republicans thus far.

When asked recently whether the appointment rejections had impacted her administration's decision to allow the resumption of high school sports, Ms. Whitmer said none whatsoever.

If the idea is to force her to the table and it is not yet working, Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) opted to broach the idea of aiming at a larger target this week.

She issued a call Thursday for Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel's appointment to be rejected, just hours before the director appeared before the Senate Advice and Consent Committee.

Ms. Theis in a statement said she has known Ms. Hertel for years but questioned her ability to lead the department given that she was a senior staffer to her predecessor, former Director Robert Gordon, and helped oversee many of the DHHS policy decisions and pandemic orders that have drawn the ire of Republicans. Later during the hearing, Ms. Hertel defended those orders.

"Unless she fully commits to reopening the state immediately, to restore a fully in-person learning experience for K-12 students, and to not shutting down school sports, the Senate should reject her appointment," Ms. Theis said in a statement.

It is worth noting Ms. Whitmer's administration is imploring schools to offer an in-person option and the Legislature and governor agreed to leave the final say with local districts last year.

Ms. Theis said Ms. Hertel upon taking office extended existing restrictions on bars and restaurants and said did not provide adequate specifics on metrics for reopening schools during a recent Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee hearing.

DHHS has been issuing pandemic orders since a Supreme Court decision ruled unconstitutional the law the governor relied upon to issue her own orders. So going after DHHS directly would seem a logical go for the jugular move.

But would such a move really make a difference at this stage of the pandemic? That is unlikely.

For starters, anyone Ms. Whitmer might choose to replace Ms. Hertel would likely continue almost identical policies. This, of course, could result in a revolving door of DHHS directors if the Senate GOP were interested in going all the way in taking on the department.

The instability alone at the DHHS of a revolving door of directors, during a pandemic, could produce poor optics.

Further, given how Ms. Whitmer's administration is as dug in as legislative Republicans, such a move likely would achieve little if anything.

Consider, also, where the state is in the pandemic. Vaccination is slowly beginning to make progress despite the rollout being in fits and starts and debate over vaccine allocations.

There's also the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has in recent media interviews praised the improved communication between the Legislature and DHHS under Ms. Hertel in the early days of her tenure compared to her predecessor. Mr. Shirkey is ultimately the one who must be convinced to move to oust Ms. Hertel.

And last, but not least? Rejecting the appointment of the wife of one of the leading Senate Democrats, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing), would do absolutely nothing to bridge the divide between the two parties in the Legislature over the ongoing partisan political fight that has erupted during the pandemic.

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McCann Departure, Regardless Of Reason, Leaves Big Shoes To Fill

Posted: February 19, 2021 2:44 PM

Legislative staff turnover in Lansing doesn't always cause a stir, but when the spokesperson for the top-ranking Republican lawmaker in the state goes to work for a state agency currently overseen by an elected Democrat?

That is going to turn heads.

Of course, I'm referring to long-time Senate Republican staffer and spokesperson for the most recent three Senate majority leaders, Amber McCann (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 18, 2021).

Ms. McCann held her lead spokesperson role during the tenures of former Majority Leaders Arlan Meekhof and Randy Richardville and most recently Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

Mr. Shirkey of course has been in hot water over the past couple of weeks due to recorded comments posted on YouTube in which he called the January 6 U.S. Capitol attack a "hoax" that was staged by people trying to make former President Donald Trump look bad. He also made remarks about contemplating fighting Governor Gretchen Whitmer on the Capitol lawn, "spanking" the governor on policy issues, and more.

After an apology from Mr. Shirkey's office attributed to the senator (likely crafted at least in part by Ms. McCann), he was picked up telling Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II on a hot microphone that he was not sorry. In subsequent radio interviews he has doubled down and defended his rhetoric.

The news of Ms. McCann's departure popped up suddenly during Thursday's Senate session.

Did she leave because of the recent headlines created by Mr. Shirkey? Ms. McCann has not commented publicly on her job change.

Nonetheless, politicos have chimed in online either supporting or questioning the move. Among them questioning the move was Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott.

Among those giving well wishes was Robert McCann, a former Senate Democrats spokesperson and chief of staff with the caucus, now a political consultant and executive director of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education.

Attorney General Dana Nessel on her personal Twitter account also defended the hire of Ms. McCann.

Maybe she left over uneasiness with working for Mr. Shirkey any longer. Or perhaps it was just time to go in a new direction – 15 years on legislative staff is a long time – and the AG's office opening was a solid move and chance to do something new. Or a combination of both.

Regardless of why she moved on, all I know is that I have never heard another member of the Capitol press corps have a bad word to say about her and that she has always been a consummate professional and thorough in her work.

And, whoever replaces her will have big shoes to fill. I look forward to, after the coronavirus pandemic has passed, getting to meet and work with her replacement.

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Resolutions Have Little Impact, But Shine Light On Priorities

Posted: February 5, 2021 3:29 PM

Committees each new session typically take time to get up and running before acting on bills, so resolutions are often an area where more of the early votes and activity early in session are had as lawmakers seek to make a point or shine a light on a topic.

Seeing what priorities are pushed by resolution is certainly interesting. Given the partisan fights over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and over the November 2020 elections, among other topics, seeing several partisan resolutions come up early this session is not surprising.

The odds of passage, much less to say the ability for any such resolutions to win new hearts and minds when both parties are deeply entrenched at this stage, are remote in most cases, particularly for the minority party. It simply is another front from which to highlight issues and priorities by members of each party.

Take the Senate, for example. In nearly one month of the new legislative session, one bill has passed while multiple resolutions have been adopted on partisan issues that do little more than register a member's or a party's stance on said topic.

For example, SR 7 *passed on January 28, which calls for the resumption of high school sports.

This week, the move to resume sports was announced by the administration of Governor Gretchen Whitmer. When asked about what impact groups rallying and the lawsuit filed to force the issue had on her decision: she said "none." The resolution? Likely the same story.

On Thursday, the Senate passed SR 9*, requesting the Department of State's Bureau of Elections complete the signature review process for the Unlock Michigan initiative petition.

The department has long said that the petition signature review process would be completed long before the July 2022 deadline and have said other petitions historically have taken similarly long to verify signatures in the past. Republicans have demanded it be completed quickly after the signatures were submitted on October 2, 2020.

As for the resolution? The impact will probably be slight, if any. It's important to remember resolutions are non-binding.

And SR 8*, which is to "affirm the right to life of every unborn child in this state and call for the enforcement of all laws regulating or limiting the practice of abortion"?

Again, not much, if any, impact to be had. Those laws are already being enforced, both parties are deeply entrenched on their views on the topic, and the U.S. Supreme Court may have an answer on the most recent challenge to Roe v. Wade as early as this year, resolution or not.

Then there's the Democratic resolutions, several of which are bound to never even get a hearing due to being sent to the Senate Government Operations Committee, controlled by the Republican Senate majority leader where bills most often go to die.

Those would include SR 3 *and SCR 3*, both calling for the condemnation of the insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and to state there is no place for undermining the November 2020 elections.

The same could be said for SR 4 *and SCR 4*, which calls for the censure of 11 Senate Republicans for sending a letter to the Michigan congressional delegation prior to the January 6 attack, calling for an investigation of allegations of voter fraud.

Of course, the odds of the Senate Republican majority willingly censuring roughly half of its caucus in the current political climate, much less in less tense times, are nil.

Also buried is SJR D*, which calls for allowing the Legislature to hold session and committee meetings remotely during certain states of emergency, such as pandemics. The idea was rejected out of hand by Republican leadership last term and likely will continue to go nowhere.

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Talk Of Unity Is One Thing. In Practice, Still A Ways Off

Posted: January 29, 2021 1:07 PM

Unity was the buzzword of a week that featured the governor's State of the State address and discussion of coming together, executive and legislative branches, to work more closely on the coronavirus response.

The talk sounds all well and good. But in practice there is clearly still far to go given the existing partisan divide on not just COVID-19 but in all major policy matters.

A recent exhibit of this? Take Wednesday's Senate floor statements just hours before the governor's speech.

Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) took to the floor to condemn the introduction of SCR 4 *the previous day by Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit).

The concurrent resolution calls for the censure of Mr. Runestad and 10 other Senate Republicans for signing a letter earlier this month that was sent to the state's congressional delegation asking for Congress to use all methods available to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the November 2020 elections.

"Senators Hollier and Geiss introduced SCR 4 *citing a Senate rule that a senator determined to have violated the provisions of the rules regulating ethics and conduct may be reprimanded, censured or expelled," Mr. Runestad said.

Mr. Runestad cited language in the January 4 letter that states: "We do not seek to overturn the will of the people" and said that contradicts the accusations made against him and others in the concurrent resolution.

The resolution language includes statements alleging that the Republican senators engaged in efforts to undermine American elections and contributed to the political climate that led to the January 6 violent storming of the U.S. Capitol.

"Since these two senators have demonstrated this unmitigated disregard for the truth in their resolution with utter fabrications designed to mislead the good senators of the state of Michigan, they may very well have violated the provisions of the rules regulating ethics and conduct and should thus be reprimanded or censured for publicly propagating this misinformation in the Senate chamber," Mr. Runestad said.

Senate Rule 1.301 outlines that each member shall conduct themselves in a way that justifies the confidence the people placed in him or her and to maintain the integrity and responsibility of his or her office.

The rule on reprimanding a member for violations of rules of conduct is found in Senate Rule 1.311.

To this, Ms. Geiss fired back that the resolution was referencing the political climate created in part by the letter signed by Republicans that questioned the election results.

"That is what the resolution read. That is what the resolution said," Ms. Geiss said.

Ms. Geiss then went further making a reference to Senate Rule 3.902 governing floor privilege and conduct.

"I also want to just make a point of order, that our esteemed floor leader reminded us on day one of what the rules of conduct are of not disparaging your colleagues," Ms. Geiss said. "We are not to reference each other by name, but by district number. So, just as a reminder, those are the rules, the Senate rules to which we all agreed. And I would hope that we would have the moral fortitude while we do our jobs here to follow at the very least, the Senate rules."

Between back-and-forth such as this and the regular barrage of sharply worded floor speeches over the policy fights related to COVID-19, any serious level of unity, for the moment, appears distant.

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Shirkey's Bad Week

Posted: January 22, 2021 2:51 PM

Headline-wise, it was not a good week for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

First, it was reports from a months-ago admission during a local television interview that he had met with leaders of some of the militia groups that have held rallies outside the Capitol.

Then there was earlier this week, on the same TV program, where he made a "Chinese flu" reference, a phrase for the coronavirus that has been widely slammed as racist whenever uttered, from former President Donald Trump on down, since the pandemic arrived in the United States.

It was the latest in a pattern from the majority leader during his tenure to riff on political topics in his district, often on local TV or radio programs, and put his foot in his mouth.

This followed Mr. Shirkey's public acknowledgement three weeks after getting a positive test that he had COVID-19 in late December. Why he did not do what other senators did – immediately make public his diagnosis, he has not said.

Mr. Shirkey (R-Clarklake) drew headlines by The Michigan Advance last weekend over a September 10, 2020, appearance on JTV's "The Bart Hawley Show" in which he admitted meeting with militia group leaders. (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 19, 2021)

"The militia guys are getting a bad rap," Mr. Shirkey said in September. "We didn't have session, but I was in Lansing and, members, the leaders, the so-called leaders of three of the groups, met in my office. We talked about their messaging, their purpose, what are they trying to accomplish, and how they could improve getting their message across. It was very fascinating. They're not uniquely different than you and I. They bleed red, white and blue, but they feel like they're not being heard."

This drew questions about which as-yet undisclosed groups he met with, given the fact that a month later the alleged plot to kidnap and potentially kill Governor Gretchen Whitmer emerged involving militia members. It was known that Mr. Shirkey had met with some of those at Capitol protests in the spring, his spokesperson had confirmed that, but these were Mr. Shirkey's first known public comments about those meetings.

There's also Michigan's complex history with militia groups dating back to the 1990s to consider along with the rallies including militia members outside the Capitol in recent months.

Speaking Tuesday on WKHM-AM Jackson radio, Mr. Shirkey was asked about last weekend's reporting. He called the militia meeting old news and suggested it was a slow news day.

"This notion, this inference that I was aiding and abetting or trying to make it easy for them, is just another example of, wait for it, bovine secretion," Mr. Shirkey said.

With all due respect to Mr. Shirkey, the fact that as a high-ranking elected official he met with militia leaders is newsworthy and his comments about those meetings newsworthy, even if only caught months later.

On Monday, Mr. Shirkey did not do himself any favors by making light of his December 2020 COVID-19 sickness on the same JTV program.

"The Chinese flu army, you know, they sent in one of their best soldiers, his name was Rona," Mr. Shirkey said. "I'm not as young as I used to be, you know, so he and I wrestled for, you know, eight or 10 days, but I finally pinned him, but it took a while to get to that point."

Why Mr. Shirkey would make such a joke poor taste in the first place, let alone the fact such phrases have been widely condemned as racist for some time, is puzzling.

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COVID PSAs: That's The Plan. But How Can You Know If It Works?

Posted: November 25, 2020 12:10 PM

Eight months into a pandemic, Senate Republicans began unveiling a major plank in its plan to, in their telling, will help the public make the right choices in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The plan? Not more codifications, at least not yet, of past executive orders. No mask mandate to show solidarity with the one already in place by Department of Health and Human Services order.

The plan is the release of public service announcements featuring Republican members of the Senate with local health officials in their districts, urging people to do the right thing by wearing a mask, distancing from others and washing their hands.

Now, for those who may be scratching their heads as to why PSAs may be the way to go after eight months, one can look at the words of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) in recent interviews in which he pushed for this method over a mask mandate, which he is against having the Legislature pass.

The majority leader has stressed urging the public to do the right thing rather than forcing government mandates on them, adding that he and other members need to lead by example on mask wearing and other areas stressed in the PSAs.

So how do these PSAs look? Here's Mr. Shirkey in one that was released last week:

Here's a similar one that was also released last week featuring Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton):

There are others that have also been released.

A logical first question would be what effect will these even have after months of mask mandates and business shutdowns for public safety being politicized? Also, how can their impact, if any, be quantified?

With most people, even grudgingly, wearing masks into businesses and public places across the state, data on mask usage other than anecdotal evidence is difficult, if not impossible, to verify at this point.

So how has this worked so far? If you look at photographic evidence of House and Senate sessions or watch committee meetings, one will see a mixed at best use of masks in committee by Republican members and in some cases outright refusal to wear them.

In Thursday's joint House Oversight Committee and Senate Oversight Committee hearing on the August and November elections there were several attendees refusing to wear masks who did not heed requests to mask up.

I won't even go into detail of the numerous outdoor rallies at the Capitol since the early days of the pandemic of those opposed to the governor's emergency actions with few masks ever to be seen. Those crowds are likely not going to ever be reached on masks.

But with PSAs, who knows? Time will tell.

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A Tale Of Two Shirkey Responses On Voter Fraud

Posted: November 13, 2020 3:02 PM

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was busy making the rounds talking elections with Jackson media outlets this week, but on one point the answers given changed in interviews dramatically only a day apart.

On Monday, Mr. Shirkey (R-Clarklake) was on J-TV's "The Bart Hawley Show" where at one point he began to cite allegations about last week's elections that have been already largely been disproven.

Mr. Shirkey at one point during the interview repeated a claim circulating among conservatives. After the polls closed election night on Tuesday, November 3, the allegation was that several hours later, at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, that three vehicles had arrived at the TCF Center in Detroit with more than 35,000 unsecured ballots that could not be traced.

"You can say there's no evidence? I'm not sure you can now," Mr. Shirkey said Monday of the allegation.

When pressed about the veracity of such stories, Mr. Shirkey said his understanding was the person who made that claim did so under oath.

On Thursday the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in a statement called the November 3 elections "the most secure in American history" while election officials in Michigan and other states since the election have also refuted allegations of voter fraud.

The Monday interview by Mr. Shirkey was part of a broader conversation about elections and the need to proceed with oversight about election processes. Last Saturday the Oversight committees of both legislative met and along party lines voted to issue subpoenas to the Bureau of Elections over election communications and information.

Despite the Monday remarks by the majority leader, he did a near 180-degree flip on allegations of voter fraud in an interview Tuesday on WKHM-AM in Jackson.

When asked about reports about allegations of dead voters having voted that have been refuted by the media, Mr. Shirkey said accusations should not be made public unless there's proof of their veracity.

"Not yet," Mr. Shirkey said Tuesday regarding credible claims of voter fraud.

He went on to acknowledge Democratic president-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday.

"I suspect we're going to end up with a President Biden and then we should roll our sleeves up and figure out how to get on with life from here, but we should not deny the process," Mr. Shirkey said.

Why he would go two different ways 24 hours apart in interviews regarding allegations of voter fraud was unclear.

However, he stressed repeatedly in both interviews the need to review what he called anecdotal reports of irregularities that require legislative review.

The Legislature typically looks at election processes each session to see what went right and wrong as well as introduce bills to make tweaks to election processes.

Having that legislative review begin last Saturday, however, while there were about 1,000 Trump supporters rallying across the street while the president's election loss and tensions among Democrats and Republicans were still high as evidenced by at least one major verbal confrontation that took place between Trump supporters and counter protesters at that rally, is up for question as to have been the right moment to begin said analysis.

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An Original Plea To Exercise The Power To Vote

Posted: September 28, 2020 12:58 PM

Early voting is underway in Michigan and accompanying that fact has been an increasing deluge of reminders from politicians, political activists and others to obtain an absentee ballot or have a plan to do one's basic civic duty.

Whether it's through social media, snail mail, get out the vote campaigns or at the relatively few in-person rallies and political events out there during the pandemic, being told to vote is pretty hard to miss lately.

Most of the urging by politicos to get one to vote are fairly straightforward.

But with so many voices out there saying different versions of the same thing, one way to cut through the din is to stand out.

Enter Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) last week.

One of the quirkier attempts was posted to Twitter on Friday by the senator's chief of staff.

In the brief clip featuring Mr. Irwin, he points into the camera and … well, just check it out:

For the uninitiated, the costume he is wearing is of Captain Planet, a character from an early 1990s superhero cartoon with a focus on environmental protection. There's also a number of memes floating around on Facebook featuring Captain Planet in recent years.

Now, as someone who remembers watching the original Captain Planet and the Planeteers cartoon as a grade-school aged child in the early 1990s? This image is now seared into my brain permanently.

I would have to give that performance high marks for originality. Cheesy, perhaps, but lighthearted attempts such as that can cut through the clutter and get a message out.

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Turnout Has Hit A New Level In Primary Elections

Posted: August 14, 2020 4:42 PM

A look at the last two August primary elections in a presidential year and one thing quickly becomes clear: voter turnout has grown exponentially, especially on the Democratic side

It could be because now-President Donald Trump was on the ballot in 2016 and has prompted voter enthusiasm for both his supporters and those oppose him ever since. Changes in voting laws passed in 2018 related to no-reason absentee voting and voting registration could have played a part. The ease of absentee voting during the pandemic this year is another factor It could be any number of things.

Looking at numbers from the secretary of state website, combined Republican turnout for the state's 14 U.S. House races in 2016 totaled 637,949 compared to 496,213 for the Democrats. This was a total of 1,134,162 votes for Republican and Democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential year August primary.

Unofficial results for the 2020 August primary show a large spike in turnout, favoring Democrats in the congressional races.

Earlier this month the unofficial results put combined Democratic U.S. House vote totals for the entire state at 1,184,856 votes cast for their candidates versus 1,013,573 for Republican candidates. This was out of 2,198,429 votes cast for the two parties for Congress.

While there is no U.S. Senate race from 2016 to draw a comparison from for this year's primary, the growth and shift among vote totals between the two parties is visible when you look at the U.S. House totals, which run fairly close to the U.S. Senate totals this year.

Some of the largest swings between 2016 and 2020 in primary elections were in the 8th U.S. House District and the 11th U.S. House District, both of which Democrats flipped in 2018.

In 2016, Republican primary turnout in the 8th District was 56,424 compared to 28,810 for the Democrats out of 85,234 votes cast for candidates of the two parties.

For this month's August primary, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) in the 8th District came in at 90,462 votes without a primary whereas the four Republican candidates took 86,737 votes combined. This was a total of 177,199 votes between the two parties.

When looking at the 11th District a similar pattern is seen. In August 2016 Republican votes in the district totaled 51,221 compared to 29,349 for the Democrats, out of 80,570 votes cast for both parties.

This month, U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) earned 105,252 votes in the 11th District without a primary and the five Republican candidates 85,930 votes out of 192,182 votes cast for both parties.

These are numbers that point to why most view Ms. Slotkin and Ms. Stevens as clear favorites to hold their seats.

Republicans, however, can spot some good news in the 6th District, where both sides had primaries, and Republican votes for U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) and his challenger hit 84,849 while Democratic votes for Rep. Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo and Jen Richardson were 64,571.

In 2016, there was a more lopsided GOP edge with 49,733 votes on the Republican side in the 6th and 21,622 on the Democratic side. Nonetheless, even though the Democratic vote growth far outpaced the growth on the Republican side, the end numbers still point to a Republican advantage.

The long and short of all this is that the landscape has completely changed for a variety of reasons in just four years and voter interest appears to have reached a fever pitch.

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Could The Actions Of A Few Overturn Progress On COVID-19?

Posted: June 26, 2020 11:41 AM

Sometimes the actions of a few can have a significant impact on everyone.

For a recent example of that, look no further than East Lansing, where earlier this month numerous individuals who packed Harper's, minus masks and social distancing, tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Friday, the number of cases stemming from one overly packed bar night had grown to at least 60 Harper's related cases.

The spike from that one establishment, so far, appears to be an anomaly. Michigan recently been acknowledged in some reports as being one of the only states in which it appeared was getting cases of the virus under control. That said, since major steps in reopening were made in recent weeks there has, however, been a small but gradual uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Increases have occurred in most if not all states following the loosening of restrictions put in place. There's no real mystery: once more people are out and about and the more individuals not minding all precautions on masks and distancing, an increase on some level is likely inevitable.

Hotspots like Harper's have an impact. Governor Gretchen Whitmer noted in media interviews earlier this week that the video of large crowds at the establishment and subsequent spike in cases was part of the reason she has not yet moved the rest of the state to Phase 5 in her reopening plan for the economy.

While the overall increase in cases recently may not be large, a few cases here and a few cases there add up. Having a large number of cases like in East Lansing certainly doesn't help.

As reopening began, other Lansing and East Lansing establishments took a much different tone.

After learning of a single COVID-19 positive person entering their business, Lansing Brewing Company closed temporarily.

Seemingly in response to the news about Harper's, East Lansing establishment Crunchy's mandated masks with exceptions for medical issues. Harper's has insisted it was taking precautions and complying with state orders, but it is under heavy criticism. Up until this incident, new cases in the Lansing region were almost negligible. It's retained a public relations firm to help it manage the fallout.

The restaurant closed Monday to make modifications, but that was four days after the Ingham County Health Department says it visited to inform them of two people who had tested positive and said they had been at the restaurant.

A lengthy review of other Lansing-area establishments or in other parts of the state would likely yield a similar array of responses. After the loss of business in recent months due to closures most businesses appear eager to avoid the negative attention of an outbreak stemming from their operations.

The actions of a few can add up and have a significant impact on everyone. The responsible actions of many more however could also prevent the state from seeing a slide back into a major outbreak like other states that reopened more quickly are already experiencing.

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If U.S. Senate Candidates Go Out Post-COVID, Will Voters Come?

Posted: May 29, 2020 12:07 PM

With the state slowly beginning to emerge from the new coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home order a key political question comes to mind: if the candidates venture out, will the voters come?

For months U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and Republican Farmington Hills business executive John James have been having to campaign mostly from home due to COVID-19, as have all candidates on the state and local level.

Using phone, social media and programs such as the Zoom video conferencing software, campaigns have had to be creative in getting their message out and attempting to rally their base.

Despite being largely stuck at home (and in Mr. Peters' case, also tasked with constituent work and involvement in COVID-19 response efforts being discussed by Congress), the groundwork has been laid on both sides recently for a more active public campaign when they begin venturing out.

Mr. Peters' campaign began going on-air with campaign advertisements prior to the pandemic arriving in the state. That may have benefitted him, as spring polls showed him getting some breathing room with his lead over Mr. James.

Earlier this month he began airing more ads, focusing on China. This may have been in response to last month's reports of the National Republican Senatorial Committee sending out a memo to GOP candidates to push an anti-China message over the coronavirus and to tie Democratic candidates to China.

Regardless, those ads went live, and Mr. James' campaign recently began airing ads of its own, including an attack ad on Mr. Peters related to China.

Mr. James also recently broke a several months-long streak of not doing interviews with Michigan political reporters. For months he had almost exclusively dealt with national, conservative outlets, something Democrats have beaten the drum on almost daily. The slight change by Mr. James has been part of what appears to be a campaign reboot or re-introduction to the public after staying largely quiet since entering the race nearly a year ago.

Both candidates have several million in their campaign war chests and are expected to have national groups funneling millions more into ads during the home stretch before November, so money won't be a problem.

The question becomes, again, in a post- COVID-19 environment, if the candidates head out, will voters come?

Based on there being hundreds that have answered the calls by conservative groups to rally in and around the Capitol against the governor's stay-at-home order since mid-April, I would have to guess there will be at least some appetite for campaign events.

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Whitmer To MI Kids: Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy 'Essential Workers'

Posted: April 9, 2020 11:05 AM

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday let the children of Michigan know that while her order has many residents staying home, she has deemed two special workers essential so that they could carry out their duties during the state's response to new coronavirus.

The message, in short, was: Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy? Feel free to keep on trucking.

In a video posted Wednesday to Twitter, Ms. Whitmer sat in front of her fireplace holding Kevin Whitmer, the First Dog of Michigan, to deliver a message to the children of the state.

"We heard there were kids in Michigan who has a few concerns so I wanted to let you know that I spoke with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy to let them know that they are essential workers and they can keep doing their jobs, even though the rest of us are staying home," Ms. Whitmer said.

Ms. Whitmer added that it's all right because she informed the two gift and treat-givers, unable to be seen by children, on how to remain safe in the workplace, a reference to precautions given to the general public for facial protection, gloves and other measures.

The governor also said the two had told her to tell children that since they are having to stay at home for a period of time to mind their parents and do basic things like washing their hands and to stay safe.

She added there was a slight catch for children to watch for when looking under their pillows or when they check their baskets on Easter Sunday.

"They did let us know that there was an increase in demand for the goodies that they leave behind for you," Ms. Whitmer said. "So, they may need to make some substitutions for this year's treats."

There was no immediate word on what the possible substitutions could be. However, the odds are good that it likely will not be socks or a sweater, as can sometimes be the case on Christmas when Santa goes that route for some children.

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Move To Have Some State Employees Work Remotely Underway

Posted: March 26, 2020 9:40 PM

Efforts to equip as many state employees with the ability to temporarily work remotely as possible in response to the new coronavirus outbreak has been ramping up in in recent days, according to state officials.

Balancing the ability to work from home to mitigate the spread of the virus and being able to conduct essential functions of government is the task facing the state in being able to clear out whomever can be capable of working from home.

While many private businesses have slowed or been shuttered, it has taken some time in the initial response to the growing outbreak for the state to get its employees who can go home and work to be prepared to do so.

Department of Technology, Management and Budget spokesperson Caleb Buhs said a message from the Office of the State Employer was sent last Friday containing guidance for state agencies and departments in getting employees equipped for working remotely.

"We've been working toward a mobile-friendly workplace for a number of years now," Mr. Buhs said. "All of that … is being tested right now. This is a completely unprecedented situation."

Mr. Buhs said the Governor Gretchen Whitmer earlier this month directed DTMB to start to start looking at what could be done to allow for as many employees as possible to work remotely. There was an anticipation, he said, that the situation may evolve to where such measures would be necessary.

In a video message sent to state employees Wednesday morning, Ms. Whitmer said she has directed state departments and agencies to begin working on efforts to allow for telework wherever possible.

"It's been a tough couple of days, and I want to assure you that my number one priority is ensuring the health and safety of everyone in our state, and that of course includes all of you," Ms. Whitmer said. "We've taking swift action in the last week to protect Michigan families from the spread of coronavirus. We couldn't have done it without your hard work and dedication. That said, I want to make sure you all do everything you can to protect yourselves and your families. As public servants, we must continue to provide crucial services to all Michiganders."

Ms. Whitmer noted in her comments to the tens of thousands of state employees that some employees can expect to soon hear from their supervisors on next steps regarding working remotely as efforts to maintain services continues.

She also outlined basic steps for employees on cleaning their workstations and maintaining distance from people to prevent virus spread.

"We will get through this. We're tough. But we must work together," Ms. Whitmer said.

Logistically, there is a lot to consider, Mr. Buhs said. Many employees have never worked remotely before, nor do they have a laptop for doing so. He said prioritizing existing laptops for remote work use is underway, as are efforts for having some employees set up their desktop computers at home.

It is also a balancing act to have employees being able to operate remotely and having the capability to work through the state network and access protected systems.

For some employees, he said, it is just not possible to work remotely. Staff who work on state fleet vehicles are one example; another would be facilities staff such as security and cleaning crews.

For state employees, the state's 24/7 help desk has seen an increase in staff to handle an increased volume of calls for questions involving working remotely and proper setup of equipment.

Given the unprecedented situation, Mr. Buhs said there obviously will be questions and a level of confusion among some employees.

"State employees are performing very well," Mr. Buhs said.

Union groups that represent the state government workforce largely agreed that while there are concerns, there is a general understanding of the quickly evolving nature of the situation and the time it can take to make such a shift.

AFSCME Council 25 spokesperson Steve Rzeppa said many of the employees the group represents are among those who cannot work remotely. The organization primarily represents college and university employees such as those cleaning buildings, state prison workers and employees of state hospitals and psychiatric facilities.

"These are the people that are sort of on the front lines," Mr. Rzeppa said. "They're still churning away."

Mr. Rzeppa said employees such as those they represent who must remain working are doing their part to flatten the growth curve of the spread of the virus so things can get back to normal sooner.

He said employees are aware of the state's efforts to mitigate the outbreak.

"All of us are just very thrilled that the governor and her administration have been very proactive," Mr. Rzeppa said. "It's been a challenge. We're doing our best to power through; we're fighting the good fight."

He said the state's proactive approach to provide information and take firm steps has contrasted sharply with the federal government so far.

SEIU Local 517M Executive Director Jeremy Tripp said some of the group's key concerns are worker safety and getting clear information to members. About half of its 8,000 members are state employees consisting of scientific and engineering staff, human services support staff and technical staff within various agencies. The union also represents an array of local and county government employees, school paraprofessionals and others.

"We are committed to working with the governor and her staff," Mr. Tripp said.

The group is finalizing a letter to be sent to the administration with a list of its concerns and suggestions to take into consideration, which he noted some are likely issues others have also raised.

Among the items in the letter are a call for the temporary closure of large government buildings with heavy public traffic and large numbers of employees, for otherwise limiting the number of people into government buildings as well as the providing of cleaning equipment and training for those that are still working in offices, among others.

Mr. Tripp said while they and likely everyone has their share of concerns, it is good to see the governor taking a proactive approach compared to some other states.

"We're glad to see that the governor has done a whole lot more," Mr. Tripp said.

Michigan State Police Troopers Association President Nate Johnson said its members are facing many of the same challenges as everyone else during the course of the outbreak such as juggling their response on the home front with their families and children being out of school.

"We're in a little different situation in terms of having contact with the public," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson said the group has met with the Department of State Police but there has not yet been any directive or notice of any changes in patrols or in additional measures to take.

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Polar Plunge Served As Good Chance Thursday To Chill After Contentious Vote

Posted: February 28, 2020 2:52 PM

When the dust cleared Thursday morning after the testy partisan Senate floor debate and subsequent disapproval vote on George Heartwell's appointment as chair of the Natural Resources Commission, it seemed like the best thing to do would be to move on to the next thing and to cool off.

It just so happens Thursday's schedule around the Capitol provided the perfect opportunity.

Just hours after the vote the annual legislative Polar Plunge was scheduled near the front steps of the Capitol.

A quick check of the National Weather Service listing for the Lansing area shortly after the event started at 3 p.m. Thursday put the temperature at a pleasant 23 degrees. With the wind (which was gusting as high 39 miles per hour) the temperature was a balmy 6 degrees.

Perfect way to change gears, right?

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) participated; he had earlier delivered one of the floor speeches in which he sounded off over the disapproval votes of Mr. Heartwell.

As shown here, Mr. Hertel was able to move on and focus on the next task at hand:

Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit) was one of several others who posted footage of his dive.

The event had a bipartisan spirit, as shown here where staff from the office of Sen. Kevin Daley (R-Lum) joined in. His staff were one of several examples of people rocking costumes to get into the spirit of the event.

And Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) was a little braver than most given the weather conditions, opting to take his plunge only with a pair of shorts.

In politics, this was one clear example of officials moving seamlessly between being fired up and being able to chill out, sometimes quite literally.

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Thought January Was Busy? That Might Later Look Slow By Comparison

Posted: January 24, 2020 4:16 PM

Emerging from the holiday season, it initially appeared most of January might offer a short calm before the 2020 election year storm.

That went out the window weeks ago when looking at the sheer volume of political news that swept over Lansing in recent weeks.

What, if anything, might be done over the remaining line-item vetoes issued by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and shifts within budgets through State Administrative Board action last fall is still an open question.

Petition language has been submitted for a proposed ballot measure to enact discrimination protections for LGBT individuals and this week a proposed measure was unveiled that would amend the Michigan Constitution to enact stiff restrictions on professional political lobbyists.

Two sexual harassment complaints were filed with the Senate Business Office for investigation against a member of the Senate.

This week word of a settlement was announced in a years-long battle between Tesla, the state and the Michigan auto industry over whether Tesla can sell vehicles in the state without a franchised dealer.

All of this and more has come about before Ms. Whitmer delivers her State of the State address this coming Wednesday.

Think that's busy? Take a look at February.

Not only will Ms. Whitmer present her budget recommendation for fiscal year 2020-21 on February 6 but she will also be delivering the Democrats' response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address February 4.

Speaking of the fiscal year 2020-21 budget, the month of February will be packed with House and Senate appropriations subcommittee hearings on department budget requests.

The March 10 Democratic presidential primary will also be heating up soon. The upper-tier candidates (and perhaps a long-shot candidate or two that stubbornly decides to continue on) that survive initial primaries and caucuses in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada during February will soon be descending upon Michigan.

At some point in the first part of the year, assuming Right to Life collected enough valid signatures, an initiated act banning a common second trimester abortion procedure is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature over Ms. Whitmer's opposition. Court challenges would likely follow.

Lest I forget, this year is also a leap year, so we all get to enjoy an extra day of election season. Yay.

There's also the point to consider that the U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and Republican John James is likely to finally heat up more with formal campaign launches at some point before or shortly after the March 10 presidential primary.

Of course, that's not the only election this year: all 14 U.S. House seats are up for election, some of which will be highly competitive like the U.S. Senate race.

All 110 state House seats are up for election. While only a small number are expected to be truly competitive, there will be no shortage of candidates filing ahead of the April 21 deadline.

While all of this is going on, the budget will be crafted, and new law says it should be presented by July 1. Whether or not any budget fight like the one that broke out this past fall over fund shifting and line-item vetoes, or if any road funding agreement can be reached, remains to be seen.

After the dust settles on this presidential election year in which Michigan will be a top swing state, one may look back and yet consider January as still being relatively slow.

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U.S. Sen. Race Continues To Be 'The More Things Change…'

Posted: January 17, 2020 3:12 PM

As the calendar turned to 2020, the Michigan U.S. Senate race so far has been a case of the more things change, the more they stay (pretty much) the same.

The last set of polls late in 2019 and into the new year have put U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and Republican challenger John James of Farmington Hills close and within the margin of error. National election forecasters still have Mr. Peters as being a narrow to moderate favorite.

Mr. Peters has largely gone about his business, focusing on his U.S. Senate work, holding some constituent events and raising money for his reelection campaign. Mr. James has continued to raise money, outraising the senator in each of the last two quarters, while holding occasional private events and exclusively sticking with appearances on Fox News and with conservative radio show hosts while declining comments with state media.

A James campaign spokesperson said an official public campaign launch will be scheduled for some time during the first quarter of this year. More media availability is expected after that time. A campaign launch for Mr. Peters will likely take place at some point as well, although he will be busy beginning next week with the impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate of President Donald Trump.

Another thing that has stayed about the same is Mr. Peters' approval, disapproval and "don't know" categories in a quarterly Morning Consult poll of the popularity of each member of the U.S. Senate.

Released late Thursday, the fourth quarter 2019 polling from the group had Mr. Peters at 37 percent approval, 29 percent disapproval and 34 percent did not know. The 34 percent was tied for the highest of any member of the chamber.

Mr. Peters' net approval was plus seven percent for the period of the poll, with a plus-43 percent approval among Democrats, negative 30 percent among Republicans and a plus-1 percent rating among independents. The poll for Mr. Peters had a margin of error of plus or minus one percentage point.

National and state Republicans, as previously reported here, have been trying for months to paint Mr. Peters as a virtual unknown among the electorate and therefore ineffective.

But over the course of the election cycle that number is gradually declining. When Mr. James announced his candidacy in June 2019, the most recent quarterly Morning Consult numbers at the time for Mr. Peters had the number of those saying they "don't know" was at 43 percent.

With liberal and conservative groups already spending a combined total on advertisements in the millions by the turn of the calendar to 2020, it's clear that number will continue to drop. Especially when your opponents keep hammering that point to the public.

By comparison, the numbers in the same poll for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) were 44 percent approval, 35 percent disapproval and 21 percent did not know. A number over 20 percent despite being just over one year removed from a successful 2018 campaign over Mr. James.

With all this in mind when do things overall with both campaigns begin to change? The Michigan presidential primary is March 10; one would think the current holding pattern would begin to break around that date.

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Packers Fans In Senate Take Playful Shot As Serious Work Looms

Posted: January 10, 2020 3:35 PM

It was a brazen move by not one, but two members of the Senate at the end of session Thursday, for allegedly violating floor rules regulating decorum by members of the chamber.

I'm speaking, of course, about Senate Rule 3.902 governing floor privilege and conduct.

Two members, Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) and Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) allegedly violated a subsection of the rule stating: "No senator shall use a display, exhibit, or prop on the Senate floor during discussions, debate, statements, or the announcement of the introduction of a bill, resolution, joint resolution, or alternative measure."

What was the alleged misconduct? Well, just look:

Mr. McBroom has long been known as one of few openly admitted Packers fans in the Senate, with his cheesehead hat being a staple at his desk, while Mr. VanderWall decided to liven up his attire in support while the two decided to rub it in in the chamber dominated by Detroit Lions fans during statements at the conclusion of Thursday's session.

Mr. McBroom went on to give a short speech praising his Packers for their pending NFL playoff appearance this weekend.

To this Sen. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford), the majority floor leader who runs floor sessions, jokingly took a jab at the two for alleged violations of Senate rules regarding props on the floor.

Since the two were not introducing any legislation or debating a legislative measure, it was not immediately clear if their attire was in fact a violation.

Mr. MacGregor, however, did give the Packers credit for their success and past Super Bowl championships, adding, like a true Lions fan, that when it comes to their chances: "One day."

The banter was the final exchange during the first week of the 2020 session. With tough negotiations ahead on addressing the remaining budget funds vetoed or shifted by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Round two of discussions on a long-term road funding plan and work on the 2020-21 budget beginning next month, a little banter may not have been such a bad idea.

Besides, it's not as if it's all the Lions' fault when it comes to Detroit sports these days. Earlier it was pointed out that the combined loss total in calendar year 2019 for the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons was 226, which according to a Detroit sportswriter is the worst in the city's professional sports history.

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From Harsh Remark To … The Bat That Binds?

Posted: December 5, 2019 1:06 PM

In divided government it's clearly necessary despite the occasional, or frequent, disagreement to shake it off and move on to work together in performing the general functions of government.

With that in mind, after Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) referred to legislative Democrats and Governor Gretchen Whitmer as being "on the batshit crazy spectrum" to a group of Hillsdale College Republicans last month during the legislative break, the question was how will leadership between the two parties move forward.

Well, now we may be starting to get an idea.

Mr. Shirkey quickly issued a statement retracting his comment as being in poor taste and later apologized to Ms. Whitmer.

On Wednesday the House and Senate were able to, after nearly two months without movement on addressing the current budget impasse, move a series of bills that appears to be the foundation of a deal.

The major item to address is to come to some resolution about the State Administrative Board; Mr. Shirkey has wanted legislative changes to keep the governor from using the board on the scale she used it while Ms. Whitmer does not want to diminish executive power for herself or her successors.

So, with lawmakers back in town this week and the fact that it is Mr. Shirkey's 65th birthday on Thursday, Ms. Whitmer took the step of giving Mr. Shirkey a birthday cake prior to session.

Ms. Whitmer however decided to have some fun with the cake she provided to the majority leader.

The cake Ms. Whitmer was a yellowcake with … well, just have a look.

Weeks ago, the standoff seemed to be stretching on with little hope of an end in sight with both Republicans and Democrats digging in and Mr. Shirkey's words seemingly being a moment where the overall frustration reached a boiling point.

As people speak of partisanship becoming more intense, things could have taken a sharp turn for the worse as lawmakers returned.

Following the apology and this attempt at levity being made it begs the question: Could this be the bat that binds?

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Dems, GOP Want You To Know Political Opponents Are Scary For Halloween

Posted: November 1, 2019 2:37 PM

On Halloween Thursday most were focused on those dressed as goblins, zombies and other creatures of the night making their way around towns across the state.

But of course, the rain changing to snow just in time for the evening commute was potentially scary for some as the colder season made its first appearance around the Lansing area.

So why wouldn't state Republicans and Democrats want to get in on the act of shining a light on what they and their respective bases may consider scary?

Which, of course, is going to involve someone from across the aisle being frightful for one reason or another. I mean, what else would one expect outside of the traditional photos of people in clever costumes or urging people to have a safe holiday?

The Michigan Republican Party was in on the scary portrayal of political opponents game Thursday, with the state party's official Twitter account posting its latest attack on Governor Gretchen Whitmer and a digital advertisement taking aim at her budget vetoes and State Administrative Board transfers to undercut the Republican Legislature's budget sent to her desk.

Sure, the attacks from the Republicans in social media have been a steady stream for weeks.

But the party wants you all to know in the spirit of the season that Ms. Whitmer is "The East Lansing Slasher" in this clip:

Scary, right?

I won't opine on who's right in their approach to the recent standoff following budget passage, but I will note that Senate Democrats chose to get in on the act as well.

The Senate Democrats' target, however, was Michigan native and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The caucus conducted an unscientific Twitter poll for the holiday and asked who would scare residents most if there was a knock on their door.

Ms. DeVos received 78 percent of the vote, while Count Dracula was a distant second at 8 percent, following by a ghost or zombie at 7 percent apiece.

Senate Democrats then used this elaborate graphic to accompany its results:

I'm sure everyone reading this far were frightened out of their shoes with that one, too.

That being said, the takeaway is there is no limit to what politicos can come up with to engage their base and have some fun in taking their shots during holidays.

I'm curious to see what Republicans and Democrats come up with for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Come to think of it, some lawmakers have been posting about "No Shave November" today. Seeing who participates around Lansing and how it turns out could be entertaining to observe during the course of the month. Or scary.

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Senator Honors Predecessor By Displaying Huge U.P. Sculpture

Posted: October 21, 2019 1:41 PM

While the lion's share of focus on bipartisanship and crossing the aisle has recently been trained on the Legislature and governor's office in light of a sharply contested budget fight, a smaller moment of bipartisan outreach took place recently at the Binsfeld Office Building that houses Senate offices.

Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) met in his office downtown recently with Gary Mack, son of the late Sen. Joe Mack (D-Ironwood), the initial lawmaker to hold the 38th Senate District seat that Mr. McBroom now represents and a legendary figure in Michigan politics.

According to a release from the senator's office, the son of the former Democratic Upper Peninsula senator came to the meeting bearing a gift: a large sculpture of the U.P. given to the late Mr. Mack by the Michigan Technological Institute.

The younger Mr. Mack and his family have lent Mr. McBroom the sculpture to display prominently in his office. The senator in a release invited visitors to his office to check out what is now part of the décor in his office.

First elected to the House in 1960, the late Mr. Mack ran for the 38th Senate District seat in 1964 when his House district was abolished and took the newly created Senate seat. He served in the Senate until July 1990.

He died in 2005.

In a statement issued following the visit from Mr. Mack, the senator praised his earlier predecessor's work for the U.P.

"His hard work and efforts on behalf of developing natural resources, outdoor recreation, economic development, and the rights of the individual earned the respect of his peers and, above all, the deep and sincere gratitude of the working men and women of the Upper Peninsula," Mr. McBroom said.

Mr. Mack in a release highlighted some of the bipartisan spirit of the fellow Yoopers by noting his response to family members who asked him if their father would approve of the outreach and of the seat's current occupant.

"I told them that McBroom works for the U.P. and is almost as conservative as dad, so it would be okay," Mr. Mack said.

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Talk Of Drinks Of Choice And Football

Posted: October 11, 2019 1:30 PM

Politics can be a long string of serious, or at times harsh, conversations and exchanges.

Thursday's Senate Advice and Consent Committee hearing, where multiple committee members briefly were having a bit of fun with tongue in cheek quips, was a break from that pattern.

The committee was taking up the appointments of the two newest members of the Liquor Control Commission, Republican Commissioner Geralyn Lasher and Democratic Commission Chair Pat Gagliardi.

Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) set the table immediately by prefacing his line of questioning to Ms. Lasher with a disclosure on the scope of what beverages he imbibes.

"I don't drink. Chocolate milk is my beverage of choice," Mr. McBroom said, drawing some laughter from the audience.

From there he went on to question Ms. Lasher on several items. Mr. McBroom and others on the committee noted differences between the way the LCC operates in Michigan compared to neighboring states including Wisconsin. Differences in taxes on liquor and spirits between that of Michigan and bordering states like Wisconsin were also mentioned.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing), later in the hearing, went the opposite direction from that of Mr. McBroom's admission in comments addressing Mr. Gagliardi.

"We should all remember that Wisconsin has got the highest binge drinking rate in the country," Mr. Hertel said. "I don't know what they're drinking so much about. They have the Packers, we have the Lions. It would seem that nothing makes me want to drink more than the Lions."

To this, Mr. Gagliardi asked to make a comment.

"Amen," Mr. Gagliardi said.

Granted, the Lions have their history of driving fans to drinking, whether it be alcohol or heartburn medicine. They are currently in second place behind the Packers heading into their upcoming "Monday Night Football" matchup.

One thing is likely following this specific instance of banter: after Monday's game one of the two, Mr. McBroom the Packers fan or Mr. Hertel the Lions fan will be enjoying their drink of choice more than the other.

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Peters Parody Account A Lighter Attack Before Race Truly Heats Up

Posted: July 26, 2019 2:45 PM

In an era where social media further fuels the fire of partisan politics, an increasingly common front in election cycles for taking a swipe at an opponent is the parody Twitter account.

This spring, some political observers may have noticed the emergence of a parody account taking potshots at U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) as he has begun his campaign for a second term.

The account, which identifies Mr. Peters instead as "Larry Peters" (it was recently switched from "Jerry Peters"), is highlighted by references to the senator being a supposed unknown among constituents.

Such attacks on social media are, again, not uncommon. One could easily find parody accounts of state lawmakers, members of Congress, statewide elected officials and many taking aim at President Donald Trump.

Who runs the account is unclear, although a likely bet would be a conservative staffer for a state or national Republican group such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has taken shots at Mr. Peters in digital ads in recent months using the moniker.

The attack has largely stemmed Morning Consult's quarterly polling of approval and disapproval ratings of members of the U.S. Senate. Mr. Peters in the rankings has had among the highest rate of people saying "I don't know" rather than expressing approval or disapproval of him, with 43 percent being undecided in the first quarter of this year and dropping to 40 percent more recently.

All of this has led to a string of knocks and jabs at Mr. Peters such as this scene moviegoers may remember from the film World War Z:

Of course, the campaign is still in its early stages and the calendar could flip to 2020 before the campaigns of either Mr. Peters or his Republican opponent John James open up on each other with information from opposition research.

For now, jabs such as this from conservative groups and jabs at Mr. James from progressives on his 2018 campaign comments strongly supporting Mr. Trump appear likely to serve as the opening salvos to rally their respective bases until campaign season ramps up in earnest.

By then, who knows? Perhaps there will be a John James parody account as well.

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Clashing Dynamics Abound In James-Peters Race

Posted: June 7, 2019 12:55 PM

After developing a base of support in 2018, Republican businessman and Iraq War veteran John James is hoping to take the experience gained from a stronger-than-expected performance to secure a different result in his second stab for elected office as he targets U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

Based on the sharp response from state and national Democrats upon his announcement, Mr. James is likely in for a bruising campaign against Mr. Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) in what is considered a top swing state in the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump.

Mr. James' entry into the race puts Mr. Peters, one of two Democrats running for a seat in a state won by Mr. Trump in 2016, into the column of the few potential pickups the Republicans have in next year's U.S. Senate map.

A poll earlier this year on a hypothetical matchup put the race as a statistical tie. Mr. Peters, meanwhile, in a Morning Consult poll had 43 percent of those polled not able to identify him.

However, it will be a tightrope walk for Mr. James during the campaign who sought in his campaign announcement to label himself as independent-minded and not in lockstep with Mr. Trump. During the 2018 campaign he aligned himself closely with the president on numerous issues, highlighted by his being with the president "2,000 percent" remark Ms. Stabenow turned on him during campaign speeches repeatedly.

Democrats have quickly hastened to point out his past remarks and cited the deletion of many of his statements backing Mr. Trump from social media following his defeat last year.

A poll this week from The Detroit News and WDIV-TV showed only 36 percent of Michigan voters would cast ballots for Mr. Trump again and 51 percent saying they would vote for someone else. Several of the top Democrats running in the presidential primary also polled as defeating the president in the state next year.

Mr. Trump's net approval in Michigan has dropped 20 points since taking office, according to monthly tracking by Morning Consult.

After only winning the state by 10,704 votes, getting out the vote is clearly the name of the game, for both parties.

Republicans have made efforts to diversify their slate of candidates. Mr. James, who is African American, was still however only after to capture about 5 percent of the vote in heavily African American and solidly Democratic Detroit last year.

Mr. James has a strong resume and story, having graduated from West Point and serving as a helicopter pilot in Iraq. After his honorable discharge, he came back to Farmington Hills and took the reins at the family business, James Group International.

However, Mr. James is not alone in having military credentials during this campaign, a strength he touted regularly during the 2018 race. Mr. Peters is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate committees on Armed Services and Homeland Security. He also served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and volunteered again shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

One final point to consider after 2020 is if Mr. James were to be defeated again, unless it were a very close race, it could very well wear off some of the shine on his viability as a candidate. Jumping in now rather than building his resume and run for governor in 2022, as some Republicans have wanted, is a risk that he clearly is willing to make.

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Justices Reign 'Supreme' In Podcast Talk With 10-Year-Olds

Posted: April 12, 2019 3:15 PM

Each year, thousands of schoolchildren hit the pavement around downtown Lansing and visit the Capitol, state museum and other state government buildings, but not all of them get the chance to talk one-on-one and put their parents' elected statewide elected officials in the hot seat.

Some do, one recent example being the hosts of the "Talking With 10 Year Olds" podcast, the work of a fifth-grade class at Laingsburg Elementary School. One of the hosts recently toured the Michigan Hall of Justice, which houses the Michigan Supreme Court, later snagging a sit-down with Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Justice Elizabeth Clement.

The latest episode of the podcast was released Friday, clocking in at just over 20 minutes.

For a pair of officials who spend their days weighing and writing on complex legal questions, the opportunity to take a break and have some laughs with students sounded like a welcome, albeit brief, departure from the daily grind.

A "rapid-fire round" of questioning during the tail-end of the encounter was where both the justices and students shone.

When asked what theme song the Supreme Court should adopt, the two agreed on "We Will Rock You" by classic rockers Queen.

As to what color justice would be if they could make justice be any particular color, the two made obvious references to their alma maters.

Ms. Clement, a Michigan State University graduate, quickly said "green" before Ms. McCormack, a University of Michigan graduate, said "blue and gold, obviously."

Further confirming the Supreme Court's house divided was when asked if they prefer MSU, U-M or another school.

"Go Blue," Ms. McCormack said.

"Go Green," Ms. Clement instantly replied.

One area of agreement was which Marvel superhero would they want to be. Neither was able to name one until the hosts began listing the popular comic book and movie characters, both eventually claiming they would prefer to be Wonder Woman.

In an obvious play to their careers, the "bonus round" was playing short snippets of songs and having them guess what show it was.

First to be played was the theme from "Law and Order."

Second was "The West Wing."

Ms. McCormack guessed it after a brief pause, knowing why it was being played and had a brief moment of fun with the young hosts.

"I've never watched it," Ms. McCormack joked.

Ms. McCormack, when asked, admitted her connection to the show, noting that her sister, Mary McCormack, was a cast member on the show and campaigned for her sister in 2012 as did much of the cast.

"Sweet," one of the hosts said.

"I'm going to watch it someday," Ms. McCormack continued.

The final song was "Stop In the Name of Love" by the famous 1960s Motown group The Supremes.

The two then noted that that should perhaps be their theme song instead of the Queen song.

One host noted that at least two former justices were from their hometown of Laingsburg (former Chief Justice Cliff Taylor and former Chief Justice Robert Young, Jr.), drawing further laugher when she noted, "odds are we may be colleagues someday" before asking what it would take to become a Supreme Court justice.

"You need to work very hard," Ms. Clement said, taking a moment on a more serious note to point out that with seven members it is important to learn how to work together at a young age.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Supreme Court explained that one of the hosts of the podcast recently toured the Hall of Justice with her class. The girl's mother is a regional court administrator for the Supreme Court. The girl's mother had also seen that Ms. Clement had done an interview for a high school blog recently and asked her to take part in the podcast. Ms. McCormack decided to join her.

The spokesperson said the justices make efforts to be accessible to schoolchildren and be visible on social media.

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U-M Presidential Debate Would Highlight MI Return To Swing State Status

Posted: April 5, 2019 1:44 PM

The University of Michigan has put itself in a position to join Michigan State University in elite company next year.

I'm speaking, of course, about the possibility of hosting a general election presidential debate, a high-profile affair the former has never been among the select few granted the chance to host while the latter has.

This week the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced the UM in Ann Arbor is one of six applicants, all but one being a university, to be considered for hosting one of the three 2020 presidential debates.

Also applying for consideration to host one of the presidential debates are Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee; Hartford, Connecticut; Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska; the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana and the Utah Debate Commission along with the University of Utah in Salk Lake City, Utah. No timeline has been announced for when the three final debate locations will be named.

There has been a minimum of two presidential debates each election since 1976 and more recently there have been three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate.

MSU hosted a presidential debate October 19, 1992 inside the Wharton Center.

The following month, Michigan flipped from supporting Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1988 to supporting Bill Clinton.

Mr. Clinton's win ushered in a string of Democratic presidential wins in the state, snapped by Donald Trump's narrow victory in 2016.

The timing of another presidential debate being hosted in Michigan comes at the first time since that 1992 election when the state had last truly been a swing state, having after 1992 solidifying itself in the Democratic column until Mr. Trump narrowly broke through a long-time firewall Democrats had secured in several key Midwest states.

One can imagine how attractive a Michigan debate would appear on paper to the Commission on Presidential Debates.

In 2016, Mr. Trump won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes, which along with the narrow flipping of a few other states gave him the presidency. But in 2018, re-energized Democrats nationally came out in huge numbers.

In Michigan, the party increased turnout and flipped the governorship, attorney general and secretary of state's offices, flipped two U.S. House seats and made legislative gains.

It would also further feed the Beltway narrative since 2016, with a presidential debate being the latest chapter in the swing-state nature of Michigan of recent years. Mr. Trump has already held multiple rallies in the state since his election, including one a week ago in Grand Rapids.

Democratic candidates are already making initial campaign stops here and a primary debate is already scheduled for this summer in Detroit.

How times have changed would be another interesting thing to watch if Ann Arbor were to host a debate.

In 1992, MSU was host to Mr. Bush rebounding and delivering a strong debate performance after infamously, during a debate in Richmond, Virginia four nights before, he had been considered lethargic and nervous, having impatiently looking at his watch multiple times during the proceedings. At MSU he was much more energetic and on offense.

Ultimately the stronger performance, of course, did not win Mr. Bush the state a second time in November.

Compare what may be considered minor body language gaffes with the hotly contested 2016 debates, where Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump exchanged a flurry of fierce swipes.

With an ever-increasing partisan political climate since 2016, one could only imagine the possibilities for fireworks in a key swing-state war of words between Mr. Trump and his Democratic rival before tens of millions of viewers.

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Session Rolling At Normal Pace By At Least One Metric

Posted: March 29, 2019 4:23 PM

With a large level of turnover within both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature ahead of the new legislative session along with there being a new Democratic governor it would appear at first glance session is starting off slowly.

Committees have not yet reported a large number of bills and budget subcommittees only began meeting during the last few weeks before lawmakers left town for a two-week spring recess.

By one metric, however, the 2019-20 Legislature is squarely within the normal range of past legislatures: the time it took to have the first bill of session reach the governor's desk.

On March 21 Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed PA 1 of 2019, a bill that retains a judgeship for the district court in Menominee County.

Looking back over the past 10 legislative sessions dating back to 1999, the first public act in the first year of each two-year session has been signed by a governor between the second half of February and the first week of April.

During the 2017-18 session the first public act of the session was signed on March 30, 2017, a bill meant to reduce the frequency of parolees and probationers committing new crimes.

The earliest public act to be signed during the first year of a two-year session was PA 1 of 2015, signed February 19, 2015, revising the presidential primary election date for the 2016 election.

Only one other time in the past 10 sessions, in 1999, was there a first public act of a two-year session signed in February (February 25, 1999) and only once, in 2003, was the first bill signed in April (April 3, 2003).

In all other sessions, the first bill of each two-year session was signed in March.

When committees begin to pick up the pace of reporting bills for potential floor votes, they will have hundreds of bills to choose from, also par for the course.

So far members of the House have introduced 424 bills, 56 resolutions, six joint resolutions and five concurrent resolutions. Over in the Senate, there have been 249 bills, 29 resolutions, six concurrent resolutions and five joint resolutions filed through March 21, at which time members adjourned until April 9 for spring recess.

Who has been the most active in introducing legislation so far?

On the House side, two members have introduced 18 pieces of legislation: Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) and Rep. Jeff Yaroch (R-Richmond). For the Republicans, next in line with the most bill introductions thus far are Rep. Pamela Hornberger of Chesterfield and Rep. Hank Vaupel of Handy Township.

For House Democrats, Rep. Vanessa Guerra of Saginaw had the most pieces of legislation introduced (10), with two others having introduced eight apiece: Rep. Sheldon Neely of Flint and Rep. Kristy Pagan of Canton Township.

Over in the Senate, Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township) has so far introduced 34 bills. His total more than doubles any other individual member of the chamber.

The most bills introduced by another Republican is 16, by Sen. Tom Barrett of Charlotte. Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) also has 16 introduced bills, the most of any Democratic senator so far, following by Sen. Sylvia Santana of Detroit who has introduced 15 bills.

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Go Green Or Go Blue? Politicians Filling Out Brackets In A State Divided

Posted: March 22, 2019 5:14 PM

Politicians this week have taken a few moments' break from politics to get in on the Madness. March Madness.

For many Michigan households, split loyalties over the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans intrastate rivalry creates truly a house divided.

Elected officials in Michigan are getting in on the act this week. For Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, it is more of a gubernatorial ticket divided, with the former being an MSU graduate and the latter a Michigan grad.

Ms. Whitmer unveiled her tournament bracket on Tuesday. She, not surprisingly, has the Spartans winning their first national title since 2000, defeating the Wolverines in a Final Four matchup along the way.

Mr. Gilchrist has also had some fun with the rivalry this week, posting to Twitter a picture of himself with students in a classroom of a school he visited Thursday shortly after the first games of the tournament were tipping off.

"@govWhitmer our basketball rivalry may not have gone in my favor, but this little guy's hoodie is spot on #GoBlue" Mr. Gilchrist said.

The youngster's hoodie was emblazoned with the words: "My two favorite teams are Michigan and anyone who beats State."

To which Ms. Whitmer replied playfully in a tweet: "3 for 3. Just saying. #GoGreen."

Ms. Whitmer, however, was promoting some state pride later Thursday, giving some backing to the Wolverines when Democratic Montana Governor Steve Bullock tweeted support for the Montana Grizzlies, who played Michigan for the second consecutive year in the first round Thursday night.

"My friend Steve, our U of M is going to beat your U of M. Just saying," Ms. Whitmer said.

The Wolverines, a No. 2 seed, did their part, defeating 15-seed Montana 74-55. Two-seed MSU struggled earlier Thursday for a large part of their matchup, a 76-65 win over the Bradley Braves, also a 15-seed.

Mr. Gilchrist unveiled his bracket on Wednesday. The lieutenant governor did not have either Michigan or MSU winning in it. In fact, he had neither Michigan or MSU making the Final Four, with both teams being defeated in the Elite Eight by Gonzaga and Duke, respectively. Mr. Gilchrist has Duke winning this year's title over the University of Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) went the same route as Ms. Whitmer in his bracket, with MSU toppling Michigan on the way to winning the title over Virginia.

Among other members of the Michigan Congressional delegation who announced picks, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) chose Michigan to win the title and MSU to lose to Duke in the Elite Eight, while U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Saint Joseph) has Michigan winning the title and the Wolverines beating the Spartans in the Final Four along the way.

And as for the most famous and high-profile bracket-picker of that last decade, former President Barack Obama?

Mr. Obama chose Duke to win it all, over the University of North Carolina. His bracket has Duke beating the Spartans in the Elite Eight and the Wolverines in the Final Four.

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Lawmaker Asks Not So Far-Fetched Question: Space Force, Mich. Chapter?

Posted: March 8, 2019 11:48 AM

Space Force: Coming to a Michigan military base near you?

That appeared to be the thought behind questioning posed by Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb Township) Thursday, who was sitting in on a Senate Advice and Consent hearing for Major General Paul Rogers, the governor's appointee as adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard and director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

During the Senate's advice and consent hearing process, each director that has come before the committee has been subjected to several questions from committee members as well as other senators who are on committees that will be dealing regularly with the various departments.

Each appointee so far has faced their share of questions on lesser-known programs within their department or issues of specific concerns to a senator's district.

On Thursday, Mr. MacDonald's questions centered on President Donald Trump's executive order issued in June 2018 to create a sixth military service branch, the United States Space Force.

"Can Michigan's present and closed military bases be reconstituted to play a pivotal role in hypersonic and low-Earth orbit defense proposed by the Pentagon?" Mr. MacDonald asked.

Mr. Rogers said it is too early to tell where the U.S. Department of Defense will go with the president's order to create a Space Force.

"There's a great deal of interest within the Department of Defense in space-based capabilities. We're very reliant on satellite systems," Mr. Rogers said. "The National Guard, in meetings I've just had recently, we've been looking at where the National Guard, what role it plays within that larger DOD enterprise, in the Space Force. So that is an emerging topic, that's something a lot of people are working on right now."

The president has spoken of the creation of such a service branch during his time in office. However, Mr. Trump has little power in launching a new military branch, with Congress having control of the purse strings to fund a military expansion.

Despite the concept being a long-shot to get off the ground and it being questionable if Mr. Trump's successor would continue down the current path, there already is a significant decades-long buildout of infrastructure for missile defense and space capabilities within the nation's military.

When Mr. Trump announced his order last year, The Associated Press reported that Air Force Space Command was created in 1982 and thousands of personnel provide various services to the Defense Department related to space and cyber issues. Also, the Space and Missile Systems Center at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in California has several functions for the military, including satellite and aircraft launch oversight as well as the creation and purchase of space systems for the Pentagon.

Concerns over creating a Space Force have included cost and the buildup of a new layer of federal bureaucracy. There is also concern it would prompt conflicts between military branches that already oversee parts of the existing program such as NASA and various intelligence gathering programs.

Mr. Rogers did note that there is also significant interest in commercial space travel and development of space technology, something the state would have to weigh very carefully.

"Do you feel that Michigan can be a key player in this?" Mr. MacDonald said.

Mr. Rogers suggested that the state should think long and hard about its role in developing technology or wherever it may wish to go by looking at what the state has in workforce and resources.

"I'm not in a position to project that far," Mr. Rogers said.

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James, Peters Would Make For Another Marquee U.S. Senate Matchup

Posted: February 25, 2019 12:24 PM

After being passed by twice for United Nations Ambassador position, the wait-and-see question now as it relates to Farmington Hills Republican John James is: will he try a second time for U.S. Senate?

Clearly the enthusiasm for him among Republican Party faithful has not waned in the slightest since his defeat in November at the hands of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), as evidenced by the strong response he received from Michigan Republican Party state convention attendees when he appeared onscreen via video message.

Newly elected party chairperson Laura Cox appeared to hint at the possibility of another run by Mr. James, this time against U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), by telling convention attendees in Lansing she has someone in mind, but it will take some convincing.

"Let's hope we can convince them," Ms. Cox said.

Facing significant headwinds as a party during the 2018 election cycle, Mr. James emerged as a rising star within the party as Republicans lost the governorship, attorney general and secretary of state races along with two U.S. House seats and several seats in both legislative chambers.

In Mr. James, an Iraq War veteran and business owner who drew some national attention, Michigan Republicans found a strong fundraiser who also had a strong delivery of his message on the campaign trail.

The first-time candidate in an otherwise disappointing election for Republicans translated his strengths into earning the most votes of any candidate for the party in November. Still, it wasn't enough, losing by 52 percent to 46 percent to Ms. Stabenow. Mr. James earned 1,938,818 votes according to official results, more than 275,000 behind Ms. Stabenow.

Turnout last November was about 4.3 million, or more than 57 percent, which was more in line with a presidential year instead of a gubernatorial election cycle. Turnout in the 2014 elections was 41.6 percent.

Democrats, caught off-guard in 2016 when President Donald Trump flipped the state for Republicans for the first time since 1988, were energized and were able to get out the vote in a way that they were unable to do in 2016.

After the narrow Republican win by Mr. Trump in 2016 by about 10,000 votes, and Democrats driving mid-term gubernatorial election turnout to levels not seen in decades, anything is possible next year.

Still, it could be an uphill climb in a second run for Mr. James because like him, Mr. Peters' last election was also in a bad year for the Democratic Party.

Mr. Peters won his seat in 2014 over Republican Terri Land by 54.6 percent to 41.3 percent, or more than 414,000 votes. And that was in a poor year for Democrats in which the Republicans gained nine U.S. Senate seats and 13 U.S. House seats nationwide. In Michigan they picked up seats in both the House and Senate, and then Governor Rick Snyder won easy re-election.

As in the 2018 election cycle, most national election forecasts in their initial forecasts have the Michigan U.S. Senate seat listed as lean Democrat or moderately likely to remain in Democratic hands.

Clearly Republicans will be itching for some payback at the polls and Michigan will be solidly in the swing-state category that it has not been in presidential election years for some time. Having Mr. James as the marquee candidate directly below Mr. Trump on the ballot next year could help drive GOP turnout. Democrats, meanwhile, will be working to recruit as strongly to build on their 2018 gains while trying to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016.

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Gilchrist Provides Senate Dems An Ally For Procedural Floor Games

Posted: February 15, 2019 1:39 PM

Senate Democrats were able to showcase Thursday the benefit of having a new ally in their corner in the era of divided state government that allowed them to keep Republicans on their toes during a contentious vote with Democratic Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist presiding over the chamber.

This was highlighted beginning when Senate Majority Floor Leader Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) moved to suspend the rules to bring HCR 1* to the floor.

The concurrent resolution was to reject Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer's proposed restructuring of the Department of Environmental Quality and elimination of three oversight boards the Republicans passed last year and have dug in on preserving.

Majority Republicans adopted the resolution to overturn the executive order – the first time the Legislature has done so in 42 years – but not without some procedural hiccups for Senate Republicans along the way.

When Mr. MacGregor moved to suspend the rules a voice vote was required to begin the process.

Republicans of course when the question was called said "aye" and Democrats in their turn as expected called out "no." The volume of the calls from each side were close, the side with the louder call being the side that is ruled in the majority.

But wait! Mr. Gilchrist ruled in favor of the minority Democrats. Viewing the Senate session video one can make out the Democrats off-screen seemingly catching the Republicans off-guard by getting the best of them in volume.

This forced Mr. MacGregor to quickly call for ordering the yeas and nays, to get a roll-call vote on suspending the rules to move forward. For the past eight years, the Democrats were the ones who had to request the yeas and nays. Now that's something the Republicans will have to get used to seeking.

Along party lines by a 22-16 vote the rules were suspended and HCR 1* was brought to the floor.

Six Democrats spoke in opposition to the resolution. The first, Sen. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, began his speech and was notified by a hand-written note mid-speech to verbally mention his words were his no-vote explanation, thus allowing him to exceed the five-minute time limit before his mic would have been cut at the podium.

This procedural verbal notice of their explanation in favor or against a bill was later turned against the lone Republican speaker who delivered a speech defending the resolution, Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan, who did not verbally note his explanation of his support for HCR 1*. As he was nearing the close of an impassioned defense of the three panels that Republicans want to preserve, his mic was cut at the five-minute mark.

Following speeches, HCR 1* was up for a voice vote, as is normal procedure for resolutions.

Again, Republicans called out yes and, again, Democrats called out no, with the volume.

But Mr. Gilchrist struck again, calling the vote in favor of the Democrats, prompting Mr. MacGregor to order the yeas and nays.

Following the successful ordering of yeas and nays, a party-line roll-call vote of 22-16 was recorded and the resolution passed. It was the first time the Legislature had completely rejected an executive order since 1977.

With Mr. Gilchrist presiding over the chamber, the historic vote experienced some procedural speedbumps, easily overcome. But it served notice that Senate Republicans will have to remain on their toes on contentious items before them as the Democrats have an ally presiding who can afford them procedural advantages.

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No Early Partisan Fireworks In Advice And Consent Process

Posted: February 8, 2019 4:37 PM

Having a specific committee for advice and consent of the governor's appointments to departments appeared prior to session to be a setting where both parties, facing divided state government for the first time in eight years, might see some partisan fireworks.

So far, no fireworks have been launched during the first week of hearings held by the Republican-controlled Senate of appointments made by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

In fact, the hearings, each having lasted between 45-90 minutes, have been largely cordial, with members only occasional pressing for more specifics.

When the Senate Advice and Consent Committee was announced it appeared that Ms. Whitmer's appointees may face a harsher spotlight than those under Republican former Governor Rick Snyder. That is, when hearings, mostly pro-forma, were held.

Department of Transportation Director Paul Ajegba's hearing was largely a conversation about how terrible Michigan's roads are and what funding levels, if anything beyond the Legislature's 2015 plan for more funding that reaches $1.2 billion in 2021, would it take to make a serious dent in repairs. Mr. Ajegba dodged multiple questions on specifics of Ms. Whitmer's plans to fix the state's roads, preferring the governor to roll out plans in the coming weeks in her State of the State speech and budget presentation.

Mr. Ajegba faced several questions about various programs and laws enacted by the Legislature that appeared more of a way to get district-specific matters on the director's radar. Not the most earth-shattering material, but good for the director to know the Legislature will be studying his budget closely when Ms. Whitmer rolls out any specifics on how to "fix the damn roads."

Flat budgets were a question raised of Treasurer Rachael Eubanks, who essentially called the question a budget matter that will need to be figured out by the Legislature. Questions were also raised on addressing pension shortfalls.

For Department of State Police Director Joseph Gasper, the focus was on attraction and retention of staff, partnerships with local law enforcement to improve public safety in historically violent urban areas and making sure the MSP's crime lab is not falling behind on processing evidence.

And in the case of Children's Ombudsman Lisa McCormick, the focus of her hearing was on her independence and some background questions on her knowledge of complaints against Larry Nassar while working as an assistant prosecutor for the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office.

Committee chair Sen Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township) said he did not expect a major change in process, but the key would be to determine competency of appointees and making sure there are no red flags meriting their rejection.

So, unless an appointee has some past financial troubles or legal history that might cause considerable heartburn for lawmakers, it appears most if not all appointees should have little problem staying on after the 60-day period provided for lawmakers to approve or reject a department head.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), who has in the past pushed for having more thorough advice and consent hearings, said they should be conducted regardless of the party structure in the Capitol.

Mr. Ananich succinctly summed up the process to reporters this week: "If you put forward people who can't handle questioning … than they don't belong in that position."

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Senate Office Musical Chairs Contrasts With House

Posted: January 18, 2019 4:15 PM

Among the many quirks that set both legislative chambers apart, one need not look much further than the setup in both the House and Senate office buildings.

For House members, office locations by district are specifically assigned and remain in place in the Anderson House Office Building regardless of who is elected or from which party.

It's a different story in the Connie Binsfeld Building that houses Senate offices, where after each four-year term a sort of game of musical chairs unfolds in the office selection process for members, which Senate staff explain is a lottery process.

This means guests, lobbyists and reporters coming to find members who hail from certain districts with the new four-year cycle having just begun will have to brush up on which member from which district is located where when paying a visit.

A look at the office assignments from the last four years compared to the makeup of offices for the recently sworn-in Senate shows a significant shuffling of offices: 29 of 38 offices by district were in different locations than they were in the previous four years. Even the phone numbers have changed in many instances for new senators compared to their predecessors from the same district.

There are a number of reasons for that level of shakeup along with the lottery itself being in place. Term limits is a major driving factor.

Only eight members who have served one term are back for a second. Many of the new senators are past House members, while others are newcomers to state politics. Among the new senators, a few of them also beat incumbents.

With that level of turnover comes a whole new slate of majority and minority party leaders being elected within their caucuses who assume offices inside the Capitol. Leadership status does not stick with any particular district, so that tosses some districts' offices back to the Senate Office Building while others move over to the Capitol.

Also, only offices located on the side of the Senate Office Building facing West Allegan Street provide a panoramic view of the Capitol building across the street.

If an incumbent senator, or any member for that matter, could try and snag an office with a great view, who can blame them?

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First Introduced Session Bills: A Mixed Bag Of Bright Shiny Objects

Posted: January 11, 2019 1:47 PM

Lawmakers in the early days of session are ready to get to the task of beginning to legislate, which leaves reporters wondering what early priorities individual members want to start with.

In most sessions the first bill introduced in each chamber is a sort of statement of leadership priorities, also a sort of bright shiny object for reporters and others to watch for prior to being introduced.

A look at the last 10 legislative sessions as it relates to the first bills introduced in the House and Senate, however, shows a mixed bag in terms of success in getting those early session priorities to the governor's desk.

On Wednesday the House introduced a pair of civil asset forfeiture bills that have bipartisan backing and the support of Attorney General Dana Nessel. The first Senate bill of the session will be introduced sometime next week and what it will be has not yet been revealed.

In the previous two legislative sessions, no first bill introduced in either chamber made it to the governor's desk. Former Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof failed in both of the last two sessions to have bills repealing the state's prevailing wage to pass, while now-House Speaker Lee Chatfield last term introduced the income tax rollback that narrowly failed on the House floor.

The last bill that was the first introduced in either chamber during a session to be signed by the governor was during the 2013-14 session, introduced in the House by now-Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. He introduced legislation that changed the formula for calculating fees for Freedom of Information Act requests, capped at 10 cents the per-page cost of copying documents and allowing for individuals to file suit if a government body delayed or declined a FOIA request.

In the last 20 years only once did both the first House and Senate bills make it to the governor's desk: during the 2007-08 session. The first Senate bill that year requested a federal waiver to provide certain incentives for Medicaid recipients to adopt healthier lifestyle behaviors. On the House side, transparency legislation was signed that required disclosure and reporting of legal defense fund for elected officials involved in criminal, civil or administrative matters. The House bill was passed in response to the text-message scandal that led to the resignation and imprisonment of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

During the 2005-06 session the first House bill providing tuition waivers at public universities for children of deceased or disabled members of the armed forces was signed into law.

Before that, during the 2001-02 session, the first Senate bill was signed into law, eliminating the statute of limitations for certain cases of criminal sexual conduct in which DNA evidence was obtained.

And during the1999-2000 session the first Senate bill was a bill allowing for a state income tax cut of 0.1 percent in 2002. The bill was part of a series of bills introduced in both chambers that put together cut the state income tax rate from 4.4 percent to 3.9 percent by 0.1 percent per year over five years.

The mixed bag continues the further back one goes the mixed bag continues.

One of the more influential first bills was the first introduced in the Senate in the 1993-94 session. The tax legislation eventually led to Proposal A and the state's current system for school funding.

Will the first bills in either chamber this session be signed, or have anywhere near the broad sweeping impact of that 1993-94 bill? That chapter in the state's history has not yet been written.

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Time Will Tell If Gutting Paid Sick Time, Minimum Wage Prompts Backlash

Posted: November 30, 2018 6:28 PM

Proponents of minimum wage increase and paid sick time initiative petitions took a risk in putting measures before a Republican Legislature and governor and are paying for it with the now almost certainly to be successful legislative gutting of their adopted proposals.

Two questions will be posed immediately after the legislative deed is done: what next, and will the risk being taken by those who helped draft and pass the changes eventually result in a backlash?

Republicans adopted the One Fair Wage and Michigan Time to Care group petitions in September with the intent after the election to make changes requiring only a simple majority and a governor on their side of the aisle rather than waiting and having a three-fourths majorities needed in the House and Senate and Democratic Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer providing a firewall against such moves come January.

The minimum wage law raises the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2022 and eliminates the lower tipped minimum wage to bring those workers in line with the regular minimum wage by 2024.

Senate Republicans Wednesday passed SB 1171*, spreading out the minimum wage increase to $12 per hour until 2030 *instead of by 2022, essentially erasing the effect of the initiative because under the previous minimum wage law the current minimum wage adjusted for inflation would have been about $12 per hour anyway. SB 1171 *would also return tipped employees back to a lower minimum wage with their minimum wage rising to $4 per hour by 2030.

The paid sick time bill, SB 1175*, changes the law by requiring one hour of paid sick time earned for every 40 hours worked instead of every 30 hours and caps sick time at 36 hours annually instead of 72. The bill also limits the application of the requirement to employers with at least 50 employees, as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides. Far more workers would be covered under the initiated law.

Officials who spearheaded the minimum wage have questioned the legality of doing what they are now doing during lame-duck session, citing a 1964 attorney general opinion that declares an initiative petition enacted by the Legislature cannot be amended until the next legislative session. Attorney general opinions can be overturned by the courts.

One Fair Wage leaders in September threatened to sue if the Legislature amended the law during lame-duck session and Michigan Time to Care said this week it will do the same.

Democrats say 1964 attorney general opinion has been generally accepted precedent while Republicans counter there is no reference to the Constitution or past legal cases in the 1964 opinion, adding they are on safe legal ground.

If there is a legal battle it will be an epic one once waged.

Bringing the proposals back for the 2020 election to take advantage of having Ms. Whitmer in office if they get the necessary signatures is the obvious fallback move, something the Michigan Time to Care organizers are already preparing to do. This time, the Legislature would likely let the initiative go to the ballot because it could only pursue the adopt-and-amend strategy if Ms. Whitmer agreed to any changes.

So, while things are flaring up now during the lame-duck session, the battle is far from over and time will tell whether the risk taken by Republicans pushing the changes to the new laws end in a similar reckoning.

The risk of course is that the business groups that are pushing the changes may misfire by going too far, prompting the proponents of the original proposals to bring back the same proposals again in 2020, protected by a Democratic governor from adopt and amend and a three-fourths majority requirement for changes if voters approve that would be all but impossible to achieve.

If measures are placed on the 2020 ballot the risk for those advocating the changes now might be having to face measures that go even further as well, forcing an expensive effort to urge voters to reject a future proposal. The public, either way, could be having the debate and vote that was originally intended.

Or negotiations could be held before a vote in the House with Democrats to pull back somewhat from what passed the Senate to something all parties could live with.

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U.S. Senate Candidates: U-M Or MSU? 'Inquiring Minds Want To Know'

Posted: October 19, 2018 4:16 PM

It was a house divided inside the MotorCity Casino in Detroit this past Monday when the most important question of the final debate between Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican challenger John James was asked by the moderator.

"There is one question, inquiring minds want to know, I'm going to guess this room is split about 50-50. Saturday's a huge matchup: Michigan – Michigan State. Who's for Michigan? Who's for Michigan State? Do tell," moderator Carol Cain with CBS Detroit and the Detroit Free Press asked.

Of course.

The question came after candidates had been sparring for nearly an hour on immigration, the economy, recreational marijuana, health care and other issues.

Ms. Stabenow (D-Lansing), a Michigan State University alumna, noted the game will be a wonderful contest after both teams pulled off impressive wins last weekend.

MSU, which has struggled this season, upset No. 8 Penn State 21-17 in the final minutes of their game, while No. 12 Michigan started slow but thrashed #15 Wisconsin 38-13.

The win put MSU's season (4-2) back on track and lifted them to No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings and Michigan (6-1) rocketed to No. 6 following a series of Top 10-ranked upsets last Saturday.

The game will go a long way in determining whether MSU is in the hunt for a Big Ten title, and whether Michigan is finally rebounding after a decade of mediocrity coupled with an inability to come through in big games.

"We're split right down the middle," Ms. Stabenow said of her family. "My son went to U of M, my daughter went to Michigan State, one brother U of M, one brother Michigan State. But I've just got to say, 'Go Green.'"

Ms. Cain was right about the split within the audience, with about half the crowd applauding her, while Mr. James, a Farmington Hills business executive and Iraq War veteran, playfully gave a thumbs-down and booed before responding.

Mr. James, knowing like everyone Michigan has had a rough past decade and that MSU has won the rivalry game in eight of the last 10 years, cracked jokes about the state of the university where he received his second Master's degree after attending West Point.

"I was really excited to see Coach (Jim) Harbaugh win a big game against a ranked opponent. That was really exciting," Mr. James said.

Michigan, as fans of both teams in the rivalry likely know, has lost 17 consecutive road games against ranked teams dating back to 2006. Saturday's game is the latest opportunity to break one of the longest active streaks in college football.

"I think we won maybe negative one game the time I was there," Mr. James said. "So, I had to claim Michigan, but I, uh, I'm 'Go Blue' all the way."

About half the crowd, the other half cheered. A house divided, indeed.

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Here's A Logo Yoopers Will Appreciate

Posted: October 12, 2018 1:19 PM

For Rep. Scott Dianda, the Upper Peninsula is clearly way bigger than it's given credit for in the overall scheme of things.

That is apparent in the campaign of Mr. Dianda (D-Calumet) and in his legislative priorities serving the 110th House District, and, he hopes, serving the 38th Senate District after next month's election.

He outlines his love of the U.P. concisely in his latest television advertisement that came out October 4.

Too much loss of funding. Too much population and brain drain. Too many jobs moving to more populated regions. He promises to fight for keeping the remaining mining and logging industry jobs where they are and to expand technical training programs needed to attract and retain the next generation of workers.

The line in the ad that drew attention was over his vow to "stop sending our money to bail out Detroit," a reference to his vote against the Grand Bargain to bring Detroit out of bankruptcy. He later said he was comparing himself to his opponent, Republican former Vulcan Rep. Ed McBroom, adding he wants more money in the U.P. to provide more opportunities in his backyard.

The bailout line was noted recently, but one thing to take note of is a symbol of Mr. Dianda's reverence for the U.P. as a whole: check out the scale of the U.P. and the Lower Peninsula in his campaign logo at the end of the ad.

Those who know their geography know the U.P. is smaller, just over 16,450 square miles out of the more than 56,800 square miles making up the landmass that is Michigan. The size of the Great Lakes is more than double that of the U.P. at more than 38,500 square miles.

Michigan's population was also estimated at 9.96 million in 2017, with the U.P. having around 300,000 of that total, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures released in May. This is about 3 percent of the state's total population.

The U.P.'s population has been in decline since 2000. Reports from media outlets in recent years have highlighted a series of plant closures in the region in the past few decades and the departure of young people for college or jobs who never come back.

For Mr. Dianda, the logo is worn as a pin while on the campaign trail and is on his identification pin when on the House floor.

Whoever wins the 38th Senate District race, which has been an extremely tight fight for months, will need to continue being the biggest champion for the U.P. and work to make the U.P. as big of a presence as Mr. Dianda tries to portray in his logo and pin.

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Could Third-Party Candidates Burn Dems In November Again?

Posted: September 21, 2018 3:12 PM

As the general election approaches one thought has to be in the back of the minds of Democrats, confident in their chances of making significant gains in the state Senate, with some even daring to dream of their first majority since 1984: could third-party candidates burn them again?

It's happened before.

The closest the Democrats have come to flipping the chamber was 2006, a wave election for the party where control of the House flipped and then-Governor Jennifer Granholm won re-election in a landslide. Democrats, meanwhile, sat at a 22-16 minority and needed three pickups to secure a 19-19 tie in the Senate, allowing them the tie-breaking vote via the lieutenant governor.

Democrats only took a single seat. Why? Green Party candidates played spoiler in the other two key races, that's why.

In the 13th Senate District in Oakland County, Republican former Rep. John Pappageorge beat Democrat Andy Levin by 776 votes. The Green Party candidate Kyle McBee took 3,118 votes, likely the difference.

The same was true in the 32nd Senate District, then consisting of Saginaw and Gratiot counties, where Republican Rep. Roger Kahn defeated Democratic Rep. Carl Williams by 520 votes. Again, it was a Green Party candidate, Lloyd Clarke, who was the likely difference by earning 2,326 votes.

The Republicans came away in 2006 holding the chamber with a 21-17 majority, with that majority growing in the years since to the 27-10 majority it now holds, with one vacancy in a heavily Democratic Detroit-area seat that will be filled by a Democrat in November.

With a look at the Senate map for this November, where Democrats have multiple key opportunities for picking up seats and others that are edging into play, an unsettling pattern for Democrats, or perhaps Republicans, emerges.

Nearly every competitive seat on the table for the Democrats has at least one third party candidate running that could siphon away votes.

In the 29th Senate District race featuring Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township), the Libertarian Party is running Robert Vannoller of Lowell and Louis Palus is running for the Working Class Party.

Up the in 38th Senate District where Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) and Republican former Rep. Ed McBroom of Vulcan are slugging it out, the Green Party has Wade Roberts of Wetmore in the mix.

The Libertarian Party has Mike Saliba of Clinton Township running in the 10th Senate District, a hotly contested race between Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights) and Republican Michael MacDonald of Macomb Township.

See the pattern? It continues further down the list of prime Democratic targets they will need to win to flip the chamber.

For the Libertarian Party, they recruited Joseph LeBlanc of Plymouth for the 7th Senate District, Jeff Pittel of Sylvan Lake in the 12th Senate District, Chad McNamara in the 17th Senate District, Katie Nepton of Dimondale in the 24th Senate District and Max Riekse of Fruitport in the 34th Senate District.

Not all third party candidates will hurt Democrats, however. Mr. Riekse is a conservative who has run as a Republican in the past, for example. Libertarians can hurt Republicans more than Democrats depending on the type of Libertarian candidate. And some good news for Democrats is far fewer Green Party candidates this time.

Sharp observers will note to this point I have left out the 20th Senate District, where Sen. Margaret O'Brien (R-Portage) is facing former Democratic Rep. Sean McCann of Kalamazoo, where Ms. O'Brien defeated Mr. McCann by 61 votes in 2014. A race Democrats would love to have back.

In 2014 the Libertarian Party ran Lorence Wenke of Galesburg, who earned 7,171 votes and was the difference in the race, though there was some evidence he hurt Mr. McCann too by pulling votes in Kalamazoo.

Mr. Wenke is running again on the Libertarian Party slate, although in the August primary (where Mr. McCann took more than 9,000 votes more than Ms. O'Brien) he only received 202 votes.

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Jones Juggling Options To Stay Involved After Senate Term Ends

Posted: September 14, 2018 3:55 PM

One of the Michigan Senate's most vocal (and for reporters quotable) members may be term-limited, but he promises he will be remaining active in the community once his term expires at the end of the year and possibly still involved in Lansing politics.

So those among the Capitol community (or reporters at outlets large and small that never are denied a solid quote) who are jonesing for regular one-liners after the end of the year may be in luck.

Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) recently told Gongwer News Service he is weighing multiple options for once his responsibilities at the Capitol cease.

That comes as no surprise given Mr. Jones, who is term-limited in the 24th Senate District, has been a sort of bill-introducing machine during his time in Lansing while also churning out bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs at a prolific rate.

The quips, canned comments and being able to stop dead opposing testimony in committee with bizarre lines are well-documented.

His sharp comments sometimes have landed him in hot water, such as in 2012 when he compared long-time Lansing public relations company owner Kelly Rossman-McKinney, who is now running for the Democrats to fill his seat, to a prostitute.

Nonetheless, Mr. Jones appears ready to jump in the fire come the end of the year.

"I would love to work for Governor Schuette, if successful," Mr. Jones said.

Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette is in a highly competitive gubernatorial race with former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer. The race is considered a toss-up, although recent polling has shown Ms. Whitmer with the lead.

Another option he is weighing is being a consultant for a group combatting female genital mutilation.

Mr. Jones was the sponsor of a bill among a package of legislation signed into law in July 2017 strengthening penalties for performing female genital mutilation and helped shepherd it through the Judiciary Committee and the Senate.

The package was in response to several cases of mutilation that were discovered in the Detroit area that drew statewide and national headlines. Female genital mutilation is already illegal under federal law, but the package passed last year increases penalties to further crack down on and eliminate the practice.

In March, Mr. Jones was invited to England to speak about the Michigan legislation at a workshop at the University of Oxford.

"Now they're interested in me helping other states or nations pass similar legislation," Mr. Jones said of the group.

Mr. Jones, 66, said he has no interest in slowing down once his legislative duties are over.

"I have to work," Mr. Jones said, adding every morning he gets up and wonders "how much fun can I have today."

During the current legislative term covering Mr. Jones, he has been in classic form on numerous occasions.

In May, when challenged on a bill to ban marijuana-infused beer in Michigan over stifling entrepreneurship that is being allowed in other states and Canada, he replied: "I'm so happy that instead of becoming stoners in Michigan, they'll go to Canada or they'll go to California."

And in July 2017, when asked about legislation to end the ability for state employees to extend their health insurance benefits to someone living with them, he responded that if a state employee's boyfriend or girlfriend want to enjoy state benefits to "make a commitment and get married. If you want it, put a ring on it."

Several more examples come to mind. Depending on his next gig, my peers and I may continue to get such lines for some time.

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Johnson Contradicts Contrition In Upcoming Documentary

Posted: September 7, 2018 4:24 PM

“It’s b-llshit.”

That’s the statement by former Highland Park Democratic Sen. Bert Johnson in an upcoming documentary on the charges against him in a corruption case that cost him his 2nd Senate District seat, flying completely in the face of his brief, contrite apology in federal court Thursday morning when being sentenced.

This was the meat of his apology before U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman Thursday when apologizing for his conduct and putting his past legislative work in doubt in the eyes of the public: “My breach of the public trust puts all that in question. I never should have hired Glynis Thornton. This is my failing and it’s on me.”

So which is it?

The timing of the documentary trailer’s release, which features Mr. Johnson denouncing the case against him, comes one day after being sentenced in U.S. District Court to 90 days in prison, two years of supervised release (with the first 90 days spent in home confinement) and 240 hours of community service within the 2nd Senate District he previously represented along with restitution.

Keep in mind Mr. Johnson’s sentence was lighter than the recommended sentence of between six and 12 months imprisonment, three years of supervised release and restitution.

Mr. Johnson in the trailer explains how he was voted to a job to work on behalf of a state with 10 million people while trying to make a difference and be a voice for the people.

He speaks of working in Lansing every day, but the record reflects that Mr. Johnson had a poor attendance record during his time in office.

“And somebody want to take it away from you. Somebody wants to say ‘you’re not the guy anymore.’ Frustrated is not the word. It’s bullshit,” Mr. Johnson said.

<p><a href="https://vimeo.com/288624898">Bertram Johnson vs The United States of America - Teaser</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/atlasindustries">Atlas Industries</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

The upcoming documentary “Bertram Johnson vs The United States of America” was produced by Southfield-based video production company Atlas Industries. The film features Mr. Johnson from the time of his indictment, guilty plea and conviction.

It is unclear in the trailer when the statements by Mr. Johnson were made but likely were weeks or months before his apology in federal court. Whenever he was filmed he strongly denies the single felony count of conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program he pleaded guilty to March 2 and the second more serious charge of theft from a federally funded program that was dropped as part of a plea deal.

Mr. Johnson claims he is still the same guy that served in the House and was elected to the Senate in 2010. He resigned his seat after his guilty plea in March.

Mr. Johnson’s case stems from hiring a woman as a part-time community liaison from March 28, 2014 through January 2, 2015. According to the indictment from a federal grand jury, Mr. Johnson hired her to repay her for a $10,000 loan she gave him, but she was not required to do any work while on his office payroll. The employee was paid more than $23,000 during her employment in Mr. Johnson’s office.

However, his painting of Ms. Thornton in a negative light and deflecting blame while on camera is also telling. In spring 2017 a secret recording of Mr. Johnson speaking about the agreement and asking her not to discuss the arrangement with federal law enforcement authorities was released.

Mr. Johnson refers to the fallout in the case in the trailer: “There’s just someone willing to say anything scurrilous about me because she’s in trouble.”

The trailer also shows Detroit television station clips of his being indicted in April 2017 and reporters attempting to ask him his thoughts on facing up to 10 years in prison.

Mr. Johnson also takes a swipe at the media in his comments.

“The media’s not in a race to be right, they’re in a race to be first,” Mr. Johnson said. “People actually believe this stuff. If it’s on the internet it must be true. If it’s on the TV and if a white guy says it about a black guy? It must be true!”

Well, what happens when Bert Johnson says it? In a federal court before a judge. Is that true?

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Could Intra-Party Divisions Undercut Dems Shot At Blue Wave?

Posted: July 3, 2018 3:29 PM

Enthusiasm for months has been high among Democrats, watching the party score special election victories across the country. While dreams of a blue wave in November are on party member’s minds, there are a number of things the party must guard against to see their plans come to fruition after experiencing failures in the last few elections.

Among them would be intra-party divisions, more specifically between the establishment and the party’s more liberal wing – the progressives --which came home to roost in 2016 in losing the state to then candidate now President Donald Trump in the fall, a result few saw coming.

Much has happened since then. A sharp spike in enthusiasm among Democrats has brought new blood into the party. But while party officials have in recent months touted their renewed efforts to improve its outreach and party infrastructure the division between the two wings of the party is still something to watch and should be a concern among party faithful.

The most visible example of the divide among Democrats this cycle has been in the gubernatorial primary between the establishment pick Gretchen Whitmer and newcomers Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar who have sought to tap into the Bernie Sanders more liberal wing of support.

Last week’s decision of Anthony Kennedy, 81, to retire from the U.S. Supreme Court, has also reopened the divide between the two wings of the party across the country, with supporters of both former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders pointing their fingers at each other for allowing Mr. Trump to win and putting the country in the situation where he gets to pick a more conservative replacement to the long-time swing vote in the 5-4 conservative high court majority. It’s a situation Democrats worry about, but Republicans and social conservatives delight over.

Another recent example is last week’s move by the Michigan Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus releasing its definition of the word “progressive.” The response on the Caucus’ Facebook page quickly turned into an argument over who designed the definition and how, with further debate on centrist Democrats or more liberal members undermining the party.

It still is out there on the legislative level as well.

Among the most frequent comments I’ve heard, mainly from non-establishment Democratic candidates, in recent weeks while putting together primary election stories, are those stating that the party needs to be more open to the new wave of people coming to the party in light of the 2016 election. That the establishment turned off rank-and-file supporters in 2016, allowing Donald Trump to win the state. And that the party runs the risk, or has to an extent, taken its base for granted in recent years.

One candidate told me she has supported the party for a number of years and it would be beneficial for the party to “embrace them with open arms” in speaking of newer, more liberal wing of voters trying to become involved in recent years.

Another candidate spoke of hearing a number of instances of long-time Democratic voters while he was out knocking on doors that increasingly do not identify with the party and feel the party is taking them for granted.

Despite all the talk about enthusiasm, another key fact to remember is the Republicans are just as fired up, regardless of the spotlight shining on Democrats in recent months. Mr. Trump rallied the GOP ahead of the 2016 election and despite the seeming inevitability of a Ms. Clinton presidency the Democrats were socked top-to-bottom on the ballot.

Republicans have quietly scoffed at the Democrats’ optimism and gone about their business in preparing to defend their majorities and hold on statewide offices in November.

The Republicans could very well surprise again: they have more money to spend, a deeper bench and the message of presiding over the state’s reversal of economic fortunes in the past eight years. Throwing in intra-party divisions, potentially undermining a prime opportunity for electoral gains, is exactly what the Democrats should hope to avoid.

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Potshots Large & Small: Campaign Season Is Hitting Its Stride

Posted: June 15, 2018 2:48 PM

What’s one clear sign that campaign season has arrived in full force? The growing stream of emails announcing every last thing a candidate is doing, saying, announcements of a candidate’s growing popularity or lead in polls (mainstream or internal) and of course the large and small tit for tat shots.

In fact, shortly before beginning to type this blog I had a campaign donation email roll in from the campaign of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing). It was one of multiple legislative and statewide campaign emails that came in a steady drip-drip-drip throughout the morning.

The Republican U.S. Senate primary race between Farmington Hills business executive and Iraq War veteran John James and Grosse Pointe business executive Sandy Pensler appears to be slowly heading in that direction, with a few light warning shots being fired from each side in recent weeks.

Most recently was when the Pensler campaign sent out a tweet acknowledging the U.S. Army’s 243rd birthday Thursday. The James campaign quickly pointed out the photo used in the tweet, which is no longer available, was a stock photo of the U.S. Marine Corps.

James campaign staff proceeded to pile on, with campaign consultant Stu Sandler posting tweets and calling the image something or someone else. A picture of New York City was posted saying “Sandy Pensler wishes a happy birthday to Grand Rapids” as well as tweets of actor and comedian Steve Martin and actress Jennifer Aniston, claiming Mr. Pensler wishes actor Tom Hanks and actress Courteney Cox, respectively, a happy birthday.

Pensler campaign spokesman Tom Shields dismissed the gaffe as “inside baseball kind of issues” that “makes volunteers feel good” and are not significant.

Stock photo gaffes occasionally happen in campaigns in Michigan and elsewhere. Sometimes they are of more consequence, although this one would seem to be relatively minor.

The Twitter exchange is of less consequence than the back-and-forth on debates in recent weeks, with one tentatively close to being confirmed for July 6. Debate on debates? Also a common primary campaign tactic.

One of the first more direct attacks came earlier this month when the candidates questioned each other’s conservative credentials by pointing to past campaign contributions to Democrats.

Mr. Pensler recently began running a campaign advertisement citing a $500 campaign contribution to Detroit City Council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez in 2015.

It was quickly pointed out that Mr. Pensler donated $1,000 to former Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia in 2002 and gave $500 to former U.S. Rep. Bob Carr of Michigan in 1994.

Clearly, opposition research is alive, well and starting to bear some initial fruits.

With a little over seven weeks before the August 7 primary the two will without a doubt get several far more significant practice reps in before one of them must begin taking much sharper swings against the seasoned Ms. Stabenow.

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Peters Gets Bad Lip-Reading Treatment In Zuckerberg Hearing

Posted: April 30, 2018 4:25 PM

Between the awkward questions and the slow drinking of a water glass during questioning, it was inevitable highlights of the April 10 appearance of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before a joint session of the U.S. Senate commerce and judiciary committees would end up being treated to a spirited dubbing with different wording.

Bad Lip Reading, a popular YouTube channel that spoofs various television shows, movies and political footage, gave the hearing a new flavor last week called “Interrogating Zuckerberg.”

In the original hearing, senators grilled Mr. Zuckerberg over how Facebook has handled user data, stemming from a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica. Millions of Facebook users’ data was improperly shared with the firm that worked with President Donald Trump’s campaign; the company has reportedly said the data was legally acquired and did not use any of the data for its 2016 campaign work.

With hours long questioning condensed down to nearly six minutes, the YouTube clip features senators dubbed asking foolish and irrelevant questions with the narrator using intentionally mocking, folksy voices, with Mr. Zuckerberg looking at them and awkwardly replying.

And an exchange between U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and Mr. Zuckerberg is included, beginning at about the 1:40 mark:

Mr. Peters” “I’d just like everyone to know that my van is for sale.”

Mr. Zuckerberg: “Great.”

Mr. Peters: “I don’t know how you feel about that. But if you guys would kind of like drive it and stuff, then, I’m pretty sure you’d wanna buy it.”

Mr. Zuckerberg: “No.”

Mr. Peters: “Well, cuz’ this van, I mean, it’s special.”

Mr. Zuckerberg: “No”

Mr. Peters: “No, hey, I’ll send you a picture and you’ll say ‘I want this in my driveway.’”

Mr. Zuckerberg: “No, please don’t send anything.”

Mr. Peters: (whispering) “Ok, well then I guess you’re stupid.”

Mr. Zuckerberg: “It’s just a van!”

Mr. Peters: (raising voice) “I told you, it’s a special van!”

The video also makes fun of footage of Mr. Zuckerberg slowly drinking from a glass of water which was widely panned during the hearing. The YouTube video makes it sound as though he’s loudly slurping the water and then blowing bubbles, prompting one senator to threaten to punish him with a spanking.

Other highlights of the altered footage include Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington asking if she should shave her head, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asking if World War I was a horrible event, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas asking Mr. Zuckerberg if he would like to be friends after the hearing and if Mr. Zuckerberg has ever smelled a girl’s feet.

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Snyder Opposition Could Give GOP Free Vote On Medicaid Work Rule

Posted: April 20, 2018 5:03 PM

Following this week’s committee and full Senate vote on legislation that would allow for filing to obtain a federal waiver to enact work requirements for Medicaid recipients, the only thing that is certain is that the vote is a politically safe one with the increasing likelihood that Governor Rick Snyder will not support the legislation.

Even before SB 897* passed the Senate 26-11 Thursday with a single Republican defection, several additional exemptions were carved out and the process for reporting income was softened a bit, among other changes.

Outside of a small number of relatively evenly divided swing districts where such a vote could cost someone a few votes in November there is little political risk in taking such a vote, especially with the possibility the legislation will not become law this term. Not doing so for nearly all members of the caucus might be worse in that it could upset their base.

A spokesperson for Mr. Snyder issued a statement saying the bill is not a reasonable or responsible change to the state’s social safety net, adding the stability of Healthy Michigan, the state’s Medicaid expansion program, should not be jeopardized by major changes.

Although the statement said negotiations will continue, one could read that as being a veto threat if the bill is not significantly watered down.

Mr. Snyder’s major achievements in office include overhauling the state’s tax code, helping craft the deal to get Detroit out of bankruptcy and Healthy Michigan. Clearly he’s not going to let one of his signature accomplishments in office be drastically changed, especially if there’s the risk of it being damaged in the long run.

Regardless of whether the legislation goes the distance, Republicans can at least vote and take a stand on an issue that resonates with their base in what increasingly appears to be a potentially rough election year. This is also the year to try and accomplish such a change: if Democrats were to take the House or the governor’s office it would be a long time before they are in a position to make a go of it again.

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Engler’s Standing With Nassar Victims Damaged

Posted: March 16, 2018 4:40 PM

Michigan State University Interim President John Engler’s reiterated Thursday that the embattled university likely will have to come to some sort of settlement with victims of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse.

However, while that’s a much different approach than former President Lou Anna Simon, those words were largely lost when Mr. Engler asserted that legislation providing a wider statute of limitations for victims and removing some government immunity has negatively affected negotiations with victims.

Victims and their attorneys slammed Mr. Engler’s statements, calling him a “liar” about the status of negotiations.

Mr. Engler, facing questioning from the Senate Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee, echoed a legal analysis the university had commissioned which said the legislative package passed Wednesday by the Senate would expose universities, religious institutions, local and state government as well as businesses to massive liability and at risk for lawsuits totaling billions of dollars.

He also said the statute of limitations and governmental immunity provisions are a way of “changing the leverage at the table of negotiations” in the middle of the process and killing momentum for coming to a reasonable solution. That did not sit well with the senators on the subcommittee.

Mr. Engler has a difficult balancing act in protecting MSU from legal exposure, protecting students and in fixing a campus culture that led to Nassar not being stopped from abusing young girls and women for 20 years despite several university officials being told of his conduct.

Mr. Engler is right: The Legislature is moving to change the rules affecting these cases.

However, Mr. Engler is also trying to have it both ways.

He sounds supportive of compensating Nassar’s victims by saying he wants a settlement by the end of the current semester while Ms. Simon asserted the university’s right to file motions to dismiss those cases on the basis of the statute of limitations, government immunity and other reasons. Yet by opposing the legislation, Mr. Engler also is making the case the university should retain the right to seek the lawsuits dismissal on those technical grounds.

Acknowledgment that the university will inevitably have to settle on some level, and that he would like to do so by the end of the spring semester, is a commendable goal. It may be an unrealistic timeframe given he effectively burned the bridge, or at least charred it a bit, in terms of receiving the benefit of the doubt from victims that on his watch MSU will negotiate in good faith.

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Combs Appointment Creates Tough Confirmation Hearing Choice

Posted: February 9, 2018 3:22 PM

The appointment to the Civil Rights Commission of a person with a history of opposition to same-sex marriage and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights issues presents a dilemma for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and the Senate.

Governor Rick Snyder recently appointed Jackson pastor Ira Combs to one of three vacancies on the eight-person panel.

Since the 1980s Republicans have controlled the Senate and the overwhelming majority of hearings for gubernatorial appointees when the governor also is a Republican, when they are held, typically lack drama and are pro-forma. Gubernatorial appointments to most boards and commissions, and department director posts, take effect unless rejected within 60 days by the Senate.

With Mr. Combs, a charged and contentious hearing is all but certain if Mr. Meekhof (R-West Olive) were to choose to schedule one.

Years ago Mr. Combs unsuccessfully sought to prevent Jackson High School students from forming a local Gay-Straight Alliance chapter; last year he was among those who opposed the city of Jackson from adopting a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes the LGBT community. He has also has filed amicus curiae briefs in anti-LGBT lawsuits.

The appointment has drawn sharp opposition from Equality Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, all three openly gay Democratic members of the House as well as several other Democrats.

Earlier this week Mr. Meekhof told reporters his party’s caucus was still discussing whether to hold a hearing on Mr. Combs’ appointment. On Friday a spokesperson for the majority leader said there was still no decision.

The Senate has very little history in recent decades with controversial appointments. During Governor John Engler’s administration such hearings were not held, but they were during Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration with relatively few issues.

Few hearings have been held during Mr. Snyder’s administration and those that have been held have not been controversial.

Mr. Snyder has defended the appointment, citing Mr. Combs’ past body of work on race issues and those regarding people with disabilities.

“Let’s see his service on the commission and again hopefully we’ve got a commission that’s open to having open discussions on all different kinds of topics and people can learn from having a different perspective,” Mr. Snyder told reporters when asked about the appointment following his budget presentation Wednesday.

If Mr. Combs were to be subject to a hearing it would bring up a number of questions.

Among them is whether the level of diverse views Mr. Snyder and supporters speak of would be healthy or would it create problems whenever LGBT-related issues come before it.

Also, can a commission dedicated to investigating discrimination against Michigan residents be undermined when one member has a publicly documented opposition to one segment of the population?

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Success For Self-Funded Candidates In Michigan A Mixed Bag

Posted: January 12, 2018 5:33 PM

Each election season brings candidates who opt to primarily use a sizeable chunk of their personal fortune to fund their campaigns for higher office.

This year is no different in Michigan politics, with U.S. Senate candidate Sandy Pensler, a business executive, entering the Republican primary and dropping $5 million into his effort.

Quickly the campaign of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) cried foul in fundraising email blasts, accusing Mr. Pensler of trying to buy a Senate seat. Mr. Pensler has called Ms. Stabenow ineffective while in office and says the infusion of funds is necessary to get his message out since the incumbent has nearly $7 million in the bank already for the race.

Such efforts to quickly get a large-scale campaign rolling and the countering accusations are par for the course in Michigan and nationally. The trend toward federal and state candidates choosing to risk large sums of their own money grows more common with each passing cycle.

The Washington D.C.-based non-profit, nonpartisan research group Center for Responsive Politics, has a well-compiled list of self-funded candidates for U.S. House, U.S. Senate and presidential candidates for each election cycle dating back to 2000 at www.opensecrets.org. Candidates listed are those who put in $500,000 or more of their money in a race.

The list is compiled based on Federal Election Commission campaign finance reporting data and lists several Michigan examples of candidates tossing in six and seven-figure sums for congressional races.

Most recently, U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden Township) won the 10th U.S. House District seat in 2016 by spending more than $3.6 million of his own money.

In 2014 it was a similar story for U.S. Rep. David Trott (R-Birmingham), spending $3.62 million of his own money to win the 11th U.S. House District seat.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land lost to now-U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) after spending $3.6 million of her own money.

Mr. Mitchell lost the GOP primary in an earlier bid for the 10th U.S. House in 2014, putting $3.56 million into that year’s race, while Grand Rapids businessman Brian Ellis self-funded just over $1 million in an unsuccessful 3rd U.S. House District primary against U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township).

In 2012, former Democratic state Rep. Steve Pestka of Ada spent $1.6 million in his loss to Mr. Amash.

In 2006 former Detroit city councilman Keith Butler put more than $544,000 into a failed Republican U.S. Senate primary to Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, who went on to lose to … Ms. Stabenow.

And Detroit-area lawyer David Fink, a Democrat, dropped $1.2 million into a failed 9th U.S. House District bid in 2002.

Gubernatorial races in recent years are a mixed bag as well, with Dick DeVos spending tens of millions in his failed 2006 bid against former Governor Jennifer Granholm and in 2010 Governor Rick Snyder spent $6 million to win his race. And in this election cycle, Shri Thanedar has put $6 million into his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, though he has spent a fraction of it so far.

Candidate quality, overall campaign, a candidate’s opponent and the prevailing political winds are all key factors in whether or not a self-funded candidate can succeed. The debate over “buying” a political office or being well-funded to get one’s message out is also common and bound to happen.

Between 2000 and 2016 nationally, the success rate of candidates putting $500,000 or more of their own money on U.S. House, U.S. Senate or presidential campaigns is 18.6 percent out of nearly 390 total candidates.

The odds are long, but it does happen, and opting to go that route has a mixed track record in Michigan of getting one across the finish line. Something to chew on as races begin heating up.

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Election Year: Play It Safe Season Has Arrived

Posted: January 5, 2018 2:35 PM

It’s an election year, so those who follow politics and know how the legislative process works know what that means: it’s time to play it safe.

Year-end stories I and other reporters have written list goals for what to try and push through or take initial steps on in the coming year.

But we all know that there really isn’t a full year to get many of these items moving. The time has come, once budget work begins in earnest in February, for there to be a marked drop-off in pushing for any major initiatives, until it’s safe after Election Day or in 2019.

Unless there’s some emergency need to tackle a pressing issue, most major proposals, especially controversial ones that may require a tough vote will not get very far after January or February.

So if the Legislature wants to act on matters such as, say, driver responsibility fees, they are likely going to have to hit the ground running once they return on Wednesday and be close to a final compromise within a month or so.

Another matter that may need heavy lifting with a short turnaround period would be the response to the new federal tax law that could result in the estimated $1.4 billion in additional state revenue. The federal law essentially did away with the personal exemption in favor or expanding the standard deduction. Since Michigan’s income tax law allows state personal exemptions only if there are federal personal exemptions, the state might be in line for the extra revenue.

State officials have already been saying a fix is needed to offset the windfall. Lawmakers will either need to push through some sort of quick fix or find a compromise to take in some or all of the money and put it to good use in a way that won’t upset taxpayers. Again, how best to play safe and not upset the very people who will determine whether they have a job at the end of the year?

One can otherwise expect the myriad of non-controversial smaller and mid-level pieces of legislation going through the process to continue with a fair share of them eventually being passed and signed.

Even though almost none of them will go anywhere, expect members on each side of the aisle to also periodically roll out bills that are little more than red meat for their respective base. Par for the course, but it’s always interesting to see what new versions of bills that will not pass will be unveiled at taxpayer expense.

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Municipal Retirement Fix Complex, Elusive For Many Reasons

Posted: December 8, 2017 3:32 PM

Call it a missed opportunity on municipal retirement system changes. Call it a fair treatment for first-responders who risk their lives every day. A first step in finding a solution. Or even accepting political reality.

Depending on who you talk to, this week’s overnight session in which Republican leadership in both chambers removed a controversial enforcement measure from a proposed municipal retirement package and replaced it with the content of a task force report can be seen in a number of ways.

A few things were made clear after leadership realized they did not have anywhere near the votes for enacting a process, pushed by Governor Rick Snyder, to allow more state intervention in underfunded community retirement benefit systems.

The controversial final step of what was originally proposed, to enable the use of a financial management team – similar to an emergency manager – with broad local budget authority to make changes if retirement funds were not being funded adequately, was not politically feasible.

From the beginning it was known there would be no Democratic support unless the legislation mirrored the task force report.

For Republicans, there are a number of caucus members in both chambers that could have been put in an awkward position to vote on what was the original proposal given the vehement opposition by police fire fighters, both rank-and-file and management. Their caucus has a member in each chamber running for the party’s nod for attorney general. A gubernatorial candidate. Some members are weighing runs for higher office such as Congress as well as many running for re-election. Others still have backgrounds in the very professions they sought to legislate.

Voting for something that could have, arguably, negatively affected health care and pensions for those who protect the public each day likely would have been a major problem.

Police and fire fighters fall in a nonpartisan category, like members of the military, in which politicians are virtually always supportive of, want to be seen as supportive of and to have their political support. They are an important, powerful constituency to have on your side in elections.

Making broad sweeping changes to the benefits of public safety officers, who may be one’s neighbors or friends, is also more difficult politically than justifying changes to pensions for, say, teachers. Educators and educator groups have significant sway as well. However, educators, more so in recent years, tend not to enjoy nearly the same level of positive public perception granted to police and fire fighters. Unlike the municipal employee retirement bills, potentially stronger changes to teacher benefits did pass earlier this year.

What passed may have been a missed opportunity, or as Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) put it, “a few first downs” rather than a touchdown.

Following the task force report, despite no enforcement mechanism with teeth, was an obvious first step.

Should the municipal employee retirement benefit situation worsen, however, despite the bills passed this week, public safety officers may find themselves facing a similar, or what they might argue worse, solution staring them in the face in the future.

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Regional Millages Further Expose Partisan Charter School Rift

Posted: October 27, 2017 3:03 PM

Legislation to allow charter schools to have access to regional enhancement millages has led to a familiar story unfolding: Republicans promoting strengthening school choice while Democrats decry it takes away from traditional public schools and hands free money to charters to slip into corporate shareholder’s pockets.

Get some popcorn, pull up a chair and watch the remaining fireworks. Barring some stunning upset vote in the House or a veto, those who have watched charter schools take hold over the past couple decades know SB 574* is likely to go to distance.

Policy debates over charter schools are a sure bet, hot-topic in Michigan where one can expect passions to run hot and virtually no one ever being convinced to move an inch, much less change sides. Topics such as guns, abortion, religious freedom matters and unions, among others, easily come to mind.

It’s an example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.

Which makes the largely muted opposition from traditional public school groups and associations somewhat puzzling.

SB 574* would enable charter schools to be eligible for funds made available by regional enhancement millages. Up to 3 mills can be approved for intermediate school districts by a vote of the public to benefit schools within their roughly county-sized districts. The bill would allow charters to get a share in new and renewed millages. The six existing ISDs with them already in place would remain as-is out of fairness to what voters at the time of their approval supported.

The fact that the millages are purely optional on a local level even if the bill is passed could be a reason behind the lack of open opposition. Perhaps there are simply bigger battles for such groups to fight on this or other policy matters. Or perhaps with charters being a reality for nearly a quarter century, it’s simply inevitable that such funding policies would begin to be pursued.

Regardless of the reason, both Republicans and Democrats, on cue, dug in on their respective sides.

Both sides to a degree have a point.

Republicans and charter school officials have said since they pay their fair share of taxes in their community they should have the choice to allow those dollars to benefit all.

Democrats have expressed deep concerns over charter school transparency and the possibility of money not benefitting students but out-of-state companies.

For now it’s a matter to watching the show as it winds its way through the Legislature and waiting for the next battle to begin.

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Driver Responsibility Fees: A Showdown Between Snyder, Legislature?

Posted: October 20, 2017 12:49 PM

As the Legislature plots a course on forgiving driver responsibility fees on some, if not all, of the more than 300,000 Michigan drivers saddled with them, a story we’ve heard before is beginning to emerge: the potential for butting heads between Governor Rick Snyder and his fellow Republicans who run both legislative chambers on a fiscal issue.

The Senate moved Thursday on amended legislation that would forgive about half of the state’s outstanding driver responsibility fees, or those six years or older. The Department of Treasury would be tasked with enforcing payment of those less than six years old as the program is phased out.

Meanwhile, the House is on track to move on a proposal of its own within the next couple of weeks. However, House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) remains dedicated to full forgiveness, wanting a clean break with a program passed in 2003 that a number of lawmakers consider a mistake for their predecessors to have passed in the first place.

Adding another layer to the proceedings is Mr. Snyder’s opposition to forgiving the fees. His administration has pointed to a $35 million hit to the state budget as well as concerns over inequity in allowing some to be forgiven.

All of this sets up what could be an interesting showdown when it comes to negotiations between both chambers and Mr. Snyder.

Support for eliminating a program long bemoaned as being unfair to residents and keeping hundreds of thousands of drivers from having reliable access to get to work is bipartisan and strong. A number of lawmakers who see it as a poorly conceived money grab used to help plug budget gaps in the 2000s under the previous administration say it has to go. Time has also shown the negative affect it’s had on residents.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) was right when he said all sides are “in the same book, they’re just not on the same page yet.” The House and Senate more than likely can hash out a plan that would pass both chambers with a strong majority.

Except, Mr. Snyder opposes the plan, at least the one that provides full amnesty. And the governor seldom declares support or opposition to any bill until it formally reaches his desk, so he clearly feels strongly about the matter.

The most recent example of this story playing out was when Mr. Snyder vetoed legislation that would have accelerated the phaseout of applying the state sales tax to the value of a trade-in when purchasing a vehicle. Mr. Snyder tends to draw a line in the sand on budgetary matters such as these. For now, the Legislature appears to have blinked, last month putting a potential veto override on that legislation on hold.

Which brings me, finally, to the crux of the matter. If the Legislature were to pass driver responsibility fee legislation that were to be vetoed, would Mr. Snyder’s fellow Republicans want to move on a rare veto override and embarrass a governor of their own party?

Consider the fact that the Legislature has a number of moving parts and, theoretically, over time that $35 million Mr. Snyder has pointed to could be leveled off in the budget by other legislative action.

Also key: what if the most recent attempt at auto insurance reform disintegrates, failing as it has multiple times in recent years? Forgiving driver responsibility fees and putting the program in the dustbin of history could provide Republicans, and really to an extent Democrats as well, a much-needed major legislative accomplishment to fall back on before the election season starts next year and the desire for large policy action falls to the wayside.

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Colbeck Vs. The World (Or Caucus)

Posted: October 13, 2017 12:39 PM

Political insiders were able to bear witness this week to a bizarre as well as rare if not unprecedented public rebuke of a lawmaker when Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof stripped Sen. Patrick Colbeck of his committee assignments.

Chatter was widespread around the Capitol halls and committee rooms following the move, largely centered on what’s been described as ongoing friction between Mr. Colbeck (R-Canton Township) and the other 26 Republicans of the Senate majority caucus.

Lack of courtesy notification by Mr. Colbeck of being in other members’ districts during his gubernatorial campaign. Openly criticizing caucus actions while on the campaign trail. Accusations of being uninterested in advancing caucus goals.

All were cited on background as being part of a growing chasm between Mr. Colbeck, Mr. Meekhof (R-West Olive) and the rest of the caucus, which came to a head during a closed caucus last week when he voiced displeasure over his treatment, prompting a sharp rebuke from other members.

Mr. Colbeck and the rest of the caucus are elected by the majority of voting residents in their districts. Like any other profession, one is held to certain standards of conduct and be part of a team. Lawmakers, of course, are public officials and are to be held to an even higher standard.

Was Mr. Colbeck not being part of the team? Was he going his own way, having built a reputation during his time in office as one of the most outspoken and most conservative members of the Republican caucus? The background from sources seems to point in that direction.

If I, or anyone reading this blog, were to repeatedly break rules or engage in what would be considered insubordination, one would be subject to discipline or sanction.

Mr. Colbeck was already given a first slap on the wrist by Mr. Meekhof by being the only caucus member not given any committee chair posts this term.

Whether this latest punishment fits the crime is the ultimate question. Political insiders and reporters have been unable to point to an instance of a lawmaker being permanently stripped of all committee assignments who wasn’t in any sort of legal trouble.

Mr. Colbeck is still able to meet in caucus; could that have been an option before taking away committee assignments? Mr. Meekhof’s spokesperson said the majority leader doesn’t want to get into “a public about caucus dynamics.” So whether this was an option is unclear.

The fact of the matter is Mr. Colbeck’s ongoing actions, and Mr. Meekhof’s reactions, affect the former’s ability to do his job and serve the 7th Senate District he represents. As Mr. Colbeck pointed out it’s going to take much more work to do district business. He’s effectively been cut off at the knees and to an extent it was his own doing.

Mr. Colbeck says the action was a swipe at his gubernatorial campaign. He’s been running as an outsider, so I’m not sure how this doesn’t have the base of support he’s gathered further solidify around him. The only question is whether he can build out beyond the conservative wing that’s in his camp.

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The Trott Ripple Effect On State Senate Races

Posted: September 15, 2017 11:59 AM

It’s one thing that this week’s announcement by U.S. Rep. David Trott not to run for another term shakes up the 11th U.S. House District race in creating a potentially crowded GOP primary field.

But there’s a major side effect – Mr. Trott’s decision could result in the shakeup of as many as four state Senate races on the GOP side.

Take the 12th and 13th Senate districts in Oakland County.

Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) in a statement following Mr. Trott’s announcement said he’ll be strongly considering his options. Mr. Knollenberg is up for a second Senate term and would likely win in the Republican-leaning district.

In June, Rep. Michael McCready (R-Bloomfield Hills) said he’s been considering moving “two blocks” out of the 13th Senate District to Bloomfield Township, which is in the 12th Senate District, so he’d be eligible to run to replace term-limited Sen. James Marleau (R-Lake Orion) instead of taking on an incumbent Republican in Mr. Knollenberg.

If Mr. Knollenberg were to enter the congressional race, Mr. McCready likely wouldn’t need to move to run for a Senate seat. He could stay put and run in the 13th. If he were in the 12th Senate District, Mr. McCready would face Rep. Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston) in a primary.

Also consider the 7th Senate District in northwest Wayne County.

Term-limited Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township) is in the race for governor.

Rep. Laura Cox (R-Livonia) is considered a top choice to run for the seat and the favorite if she does. Ms. Cox is among those seriously considering running for Congress in light of Mr. Trott’s decision.

If Ms. Cox opts for a congressional run, that could open up the GOP field in the 7th Senate District to other possible candidates such as Rep. Jeff Noble (R-Plymouth) or Republican former Rep. Laura Toy, a slew of local officials. And perhaps Democrats would give the Republican-tilting district a serious look if they weren’t facing the popular Ms. Cox.

Then there’s the 15th Senate District in western Oakland County.

Term-limited Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township) has already formed a committee to run for secretary of state, but has expressed interest in the congressional seat.

Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township) and Rep. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) are also considering entering the congressional race. Mr. Kesto appears likely to do so.

Mr. Runestad and Republican former Rep. Hugh Crawford have filed committee paperwork to run for the 15th Senate District, while Mr. Kesto has been considered a potential candidate.

If Mr. Kesto and/or Mr. Runestad were to enter the congressional race it could clear a potentially crowded primary for Mr. Crawford, who’s not weighing a run for Congress.

For each race it’s too early to tell how things will shake out. Mr. Trott gave everyone plenty of time to consider their options prior to next April’s deadline to file.

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Sometimes Bills Just Need Some Seasoning

Posted: September 8, 2017 12:17 PM

During a press conference this week I was reminded that not every bill introduced by lawmakers is perfect and ready for prime-time.

“Legislation sometimes takes a season or two,” Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said in re-introducing legislation he sponsored in the previous term to allow what are known as dental therapists to perform some procedures like filling cavities.

That comment made me think back to seasoned legislation I’ve covered prior to arriving in Lansing as well as Michigan legislation that I’m told can be considered old friends.

Quite often one hears lawmakers talk about bills introduced being an effort to update or improve on passed legislation. The fact that some ideas aren’t quite up to snuff on the first go-around or that it’s just not the right time politically to get something across the finish line shouldn’t be a surprise with that in mind.

Some legislation comes up time and again but goes nowhere. One topic that I covered in North Dakota that also comes up in Michigan is expanding civil rights law to provide protections against discrimination toward members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Banning smoking in public buildings was one that took significant effort over several years to achieve. Legislatively in Michigan, through ballot measure in North Dakota. Efforts in North Dakota to raise the tax for a pack of cigarettes from being among the lowest in the nation continues to fail both at the ballot box and in the Legislature, however.

Other legislation in Michigan that took several years or longer to finally pass include the repeal of the mandatory motorcycle helmet law, online retailers being treated the same as brick and mortar stores for sales tax purposes and providing compensation from the state for the wrongfully convicted.

A quirky one I had to cover in North Dakota was attempts at repealing the state’s Sunday morning business closing laws, also known as blue laws. Outside of fast food restaurants, gas stations and hospitals, virtually nothing in the state is open before noon on Sunday. Although some changes allowing some restaurants wanting to serve alcohol at 11 a.m. was passed, the law remains.

Each session opponents talk about unfairness to retailers and being unfriendly to business. They’re countered by lawmakers urging there to be a set-aside half day per week to be with family, go to church or avoid the rat race in general. Democrats came within a couple votes of finally overturning it earlier this year but couldn’t twist the arms of a couple members of their own caucus in the Senate at the 11th hour and it failed once again.

Sometimes all it takes is seasoning, and the political winds shifting course, for an idea to finally have its day.

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Keep ’Em Coming: Quirky Bills And Items Keep Session Coverage Fresh

Posted: September 1, 2017 1:58 PM

As the fall session is set to start, the push begins to get significant policy proposals across the finish line before the end of the year and election-year activity kicks into high gear.

The flurry of fall activity will no doubt wear out even the most energetic of souls involved in the process.

One approach to avoid burnout I learned during my first legislative session in North Dakota is to keep it fun. One way to do it is watching for the inevitable quirky, bizarre niche pieces of legislation that are to be introduced.

Where did that take me?

Rather than getting bogged down too early covering gavel-to-gavel a thorny agency budget, I found myself in 2013 listening to debates stretching for half a day on why North Dakota should allow the sale of bottle rockets within the state.

You’d be surprised how many people will step to a podium to wax nostalgic over their childhood summer nights during Fourth of July weekends firing off bottle rockets, only to be countered by medical professionals displaying graphic pictures of eyeballs hideously damaged in accidents stemming from the tragic flight paths of errant rockets.

Instead of covering as many hearings on Medicaid expansion or abortion restrictions as I could have, I found myself covering the successful move to purchase the childhood home of Lawrence Welk to keep it operating as a state-owned tourist site.

I won’t lie: I had very little idea who he was initially prior to looking him up. I only recognized the name at the time because of a scene from the movie “American Beauty” when Kevin Spacey’s character, following a fight at the dinner table, complains about the dinner music playing in the background by saying “I’m tired of this Lawrence Welk s--t!”

My Capitol pressroom mentor from The Associated Press I’ll always remember for sniffing out stories on quirks around the building. One of his best was a story on how the House Appropriations Committee room smelled like body odor. Another was when a dress code for media appeared in the pressroom telling reporters not to wear items including bib overalls and tube tops. Neither is my style.

Earlier this year, prior to my move back to Michigan, the North Dakota Legislature was a little light on the quirky bills due to a budget crunch.

But it was entertaining to hear a lawmaker admit on the House floor during debate on an unsuccessful bill to go from having two license plates on motor vehicles to one that he not only didn’t put a front plate on his sports car for a long time but also had a sort of wink and nod comment about having a lead foot on the interstate.

Another time, after multiple incidents of freshman lawmakers had made awkward public or social media comments that drew fire, I was able to get my hands on a memo Republican leadership had provided their caucus, a sort of “how to talk to the media for dummies” kind of deal.

It’s an entirely new cast of characters here in Michigan, but I’m sure keeping an eye out for items to keep the daily routine from getting too mundane will bear fruit in time.

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Nothing’s Perfect: Solar Energy Down During Eclipse

Posted: August 25, 2017 12:37 PM

While a majority of Lansing and Michigan residents Monday afternoon were looking skyward (hopefully with proper protection) to witness the solar eclipse that was visible throughout the country, an observation on the event’s impact on solar power generation was quietly observed closer to ground level.

Michigan Public Service Commission and Michigan Agency for Energy spokesman Nick Assendelft pointed out the following day on social media the effect the brief period of roughly 80 percent blockage of the sun had on the solar array located outside the offices of the two agencies outside of Lansing.

The solar panel array at the PSC/MAE offices was operating with an output of 15.881 kilowatt-hours at 1 p.m. Monday, according to charts and data Mr. Assendelft posted on Twitter the next day.

“There was a dip in production at 1:30 p.m. that was most likely due to cloud cover. Otherwise, it does appear that the array “saw” the eclipse,” an analysis stated in Mr. Assendelft’s tweet.

Data bears out the affect. By 1:30 p.m. when the cloud cover mentioned had hit the output of the array was at 4.934 kilowatt-hours.

The lowest ebb in output was recorded at 2:15 p.m., when it was at 2.169 kilowatt-hours. This was shortly before the peak eclipse viewing time in Lansing at 2:24 p.m.

Output steadily returned as the moon moved out from in front of the sun, with the array back at 8.878 kilowatt-hours and climbing by 3 p.m.

Solar energy company SolarEdge provided a map showing the effect across the country with the hundreds of thousands of arrays of different sizes at www3.solaredge.com/us/pveclipsetracking.

The eclipse also highlights a challenge with solar power: how to make it feasible when the sun isn’t shining.

Like wind energy, where obviously it’s not windy all the time within the range where generation is possible, the main problem is how to store power generated for when conditions aren’t right. Storing in batteries and a number of other experimental methods are being explored.

Of course, all forms of energy have their shortcomings. No amount of technology will ever make coal and natural gas completely clean and free of emissions regardless of the ad campaigns and lobbying of recent years to promote clean coal and natural gas.

For nuclear, rising costs in recent years has been a significant hurdle, as have been the safety concerns and where to store radioactive waste.

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Justice Served To Wrongfully Convicted Better Late Than Never

Posted: August 18, 2017 12:00 PM

Two Michigan men this week became charter members of what will in the long term be a small but slowly growing fraternity in the state: those wrongfully convicted who are compensated by the state financially after release.

The orders to provide money to Edward Carter and Marwin McHenry for being victims of the occasional mistakes made in the justice system come after a 12-year process to put what became PA 343 of 2016 on the books.

Mr. Carter will receive more than $1.76 million for a rape conviction that was overturned in 2010 after spending more than 35 years in prison. Mr. McHenry will receive more than $175,700 following a wrongful conviction for a 2012 shooting in Detroit.

Better late than never, although nothing can fully make up for time away from family as well as the stalling or derailing of a career in the workforce.

Michigan is now among 32 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government with some form of compensation law on the books, according to the Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

Compensation varies by state. Texas allows payment of up to $80,000 for each year wrongfully served while Wisconsin pays $5,000 a year with a capped maximum of $25,000, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Under Michigan’s law those with overturned convictions can pursue compensation of up to $50,000 a year for each year of imprisonment plus costs for legal fees.

Mr. Carter and Mr. McHenry, under the orders issued by Judge Michael Talbot, will receive 20 percent of their compensation within 30 days. Once they’ve proven their lawyers have been paid their legal fees they’ll receive the rest of their money within another 15 days.

Mr. Talbot said it seemed like a quick turnaround for state government.

I’m not sure what was on either of their minds in the courtroom in Detroit Wednesday when they received their compensation; I didn’t catch Mr. McHenry afterward and Mr. Carter didn’t take questions from the media.

Laws such as this one are just one example of an evolving justice system following the tough-on-crime days of decades past.

Most states in recent years have been grappling with ways to reduce criminal justice system costs by expanding treatment and alternatives to incarceration to reduce recidivism and the ballooning costs of holding prisoners.

Reporters were told the next hearing for compensation for a wrongfully convicted individual will be heard in Grand Rapids next month rather than in Detroit. The reason? He couldn’t afford the cost to travel to Detroit for his own hearing.

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Pothole “Fix” By Michigan Woman Catches On Globally

Posted: August 7, 2017 1:13 PM

If local and state leaders were able to provide funding to plug the high number of potholes dotting streets across the state, attempts at activism and art such as those started by a Michigan woman in 2015 and have become a global trend would no longer be catching people’s eyes.

The issue of one of motorists’ most common gripes, and what some creative individuals have chosen to do about it to make a point about the need for a fix, was highlighted Monday in a piece at www.openculture.com.

The website references a 2015 effort by Hamtramck artist and student Paige Breithart who planted flowers in a number of what she considered an endless number of potholes in her community.

Following local media coverage at the time, the idea has caught on.

The effort to highlight fixing what can be a safety hazard for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike has since gone global. The website shows how similar forms of protest over bad roads have sprouted up in other states, Canada, Great Britain and Bosnia, among others.

The story also references local officials being irritated by the discreet form of public protest over constituent concerns with local services. Officials are correct that seeing an obstruction in the road, albeit a colorful one that’s pleasing to the eyes, could cause a distraction or potential accidents.

What’s interesting is the story notes how quickly the potholes are typically fixed once attention is brought to them to not only eliminate the hazard but also what may be an embarrassment.

It makes one wonder what such attempts at art and public involvement would evolve into if local and state officials were able to make the significant road improvements the public and even lawmakers harp on quite frequently.

Perhaps at some point one will start to see public artwork emerge made out of litter along roadways, for example:

I remember my brother once had to do a regular segment for a television station he worked at in another state, documenting complaints in residential neighborhoods where a majority of drivers would speed regularly. The use of a television camera and radar gun didn’t seem to work; his reporting on the angry responses and gestures by motorists was amusing, but unfortunate. Sometimes highlighting things in a public way doesn’t work.

Perhaps in that case staging fake ducklings, rabbits or turtles crossing the road might get people to watch what they’re doing rather than a camera.

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Scaramucci Visit To Area Last Year Recalled

Posted: July 31, 2017 6:34 PM

Blink and one may have missed the 11-day tenure of White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci prior to his ouster on Monday.

Mr. Scaramucci’s brief stint front and center in the administration of President Donald Trump had one Lansing-area politico reminiscing recently about an even more brief appearance, this one a visit to Lansing last summer by the former Wall Street financier.

Rick Cole, who served as press secretary and chief of staff for part of Democratic former Governor Jim Blanchard’s administration, took to Facebook on Friday to describe a business luncheon last summer in Lansing at Capital Prime, a suburban Lansing steakhouse. Mr. Scaramucci appeared at the luncheon.

He said following a “rather entertaining presentation” by Mr. Scaramucci, Mr. Cole decided to ask about Mr. Trump and his knowledge of the economy.

In his post, in what was referred to as a rough quote, Mr. Cole said he asked: “You are here with people who have put a great deal of their hard earned money in your trust. And now you tell us you are on Donald Trump’s council of economic advisors. Everyone in the room knows that Donald Trump is among the most unethical businessmen anyone has ever heard of. How do you square that circle?”

Mr. Scaramucci replied that if Mr. Trump were elected he’s going to need someone with extensive economic expertise at his side to assist him. Mr. Cole said Mr. Scaramucci seemed to imply the president wasn’t very knowledgeable.

Mr. Cole said he had a pleasant conversation with Mr. Scaramucci afterward and had a copy of his most recent book autographed.

Mr. Scaramucci came into the communications position with press secretary Sean Spicer being pushed aside. Mr. Scaramucci quickly drew headlines over threats to fire those leaking information to the press as well as receiving sharp criticism over a vulgarity-laced rant to a reporter with the New Yorker.

Mr. Cole said in his Facebook post that during the brief visit with Mr. Scaramucci that he had no thoughts that he would rise to become Mr. Trump’s communications chief.

Fewer people likely expected Mr. Scaramucci’s tenure to be so brief.

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There’s Nothing Wrong With An Intraparty Fight

Posted: July 14, 2017 2:13 PM

A split Republican caucus in the House with help from a number of Democrats was able to push through a tax incentive package designed to attract large new businesses to the state despite the House Republican leadership opposing the package.

Now it’ll be up to those running for office next year to make the case as to why he or she voted the way they did regardless of whether the incentives draw a Foxconn or other major players to the state or not.

Supporters say the package keeps Michigan competitive while opponents said it’s an attempt at choosing favorites.

Between the amendments adopted and the allegation made by the House speaker that the Democrats and Governor Rick Snyder had come to some sort of deal, some intraparty differing of the minds likely led to the caucus split in the House as well.

Such debates are healthy to not allow political policy to become stagnant and to keep lawmakers on their toes.

What caught my attention in speaking this week with Republican current and former House members running for Senate seats in 2018 were the references to someone being able to compromise versus having someone with a consistent, unbending ideology in Lansing.

There’s something to be said about someone that sticks to his or her guns and doesn’t bend on certain deeply held principles. There’s also something to be said about understanding that you win some and you lose some and not everything is going to specifically benefit your district.

Finding the right balance of compromise and sticking to one’s guns is a major challenge a lawmaker faces.

When I was in North Dakota there were always a few lawmakers from each side of the aisle lobbyists and officials knew were incapable of being swayed on issues, which led to a degree of isolation and unwillingness to even deal with them. There were also a handful at the other extreme, being opportunistic on legislation to the point where it was obvious they were angling for their next job or office.

I’m sure over time I’ll observe a similar dynamic at play here as well.

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Which Is Better? A Government Insider Or An Outsider?

Posted: July 7, 2017 5:35 PM

In the early stages of the new campaign season one of the most common talking points is already being thrown around: a candidate touting outsider status and not being part of the political establishment.

One of the most recent examples was when former Supreme Court Justice Robert Young Jr. announced his candidacy in the Republican race to challenge U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018.

Business executive Lena Epstein quickly pounced, calling herself an outsider and saying Michigan voters want outsiders like her with business experience. She pointed to Michigan going for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election as an example.

Such statements are an old friend to candidates, reporters and the public alike during campaign season. It raises the question of which is better, an insider with experience or an outsider to shake things up?

Calling oneself an outsider is the go-to catchphrase to draw attention, since the idea of change is what is always at issue in an election.

Likewise, one who says their experience in government will allow them to jump right in and make a difference without as much of a learning curve can also be appealing.

It’s important to remember that all politicians were outsiders at one time. The voters have to give a candidate a chance to move from outsider to insider.

That’s the appeal of outsiders: they bring new perspectives to the equation through their personal as well as private sector experience.

For insiders it’s about being able to continue their work and, for some, moving up the ranks in terms of seniority.

One needs to look no further than former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump as recent outsiders to win the presidency.

Mr. Trump had decades of business experience and was an entrepreneur with his ventures and television show. Mr. Obama served as a state senator in Illinois prior to joining the U.S. Senate for less than one term before entering the White House.

Closer to home, Governor Rick Snyder was a consummate outsider with no elected office experience before winning the governorship. When John Engler won the governorship in 1990, he was an insider in the sense he was the Senate majority leader with 20 years of experience in the Legislature. But he was challenging the incumbent governor, Jim Blanchard, so perhaps that made him the outsider in that race, or at least the change candidate.

During my career I covered a mayor once in Ohio who had previously been a soap opera actor years earlier. In North Dakota one of the city commissioners I covered was also my dentist for a time.

In that U.S. Senate race, Mr. Young was an outsider when he arrived on the Michigan Supreme Court in the 1990s. Now his opponent, Ms. Epstein, is saying those 20 years on the court make him an insider. Mr. Young says he would be a disruptor.

Ms. Epstein is running as an outsider, but she’s joined at the hip to Mr. Trump as a strong supporter who co-chaired his 2016 Michigan campaign, so is she an outsider as someone not holding elected office but an insider as someone tied into the White House?

Sometimes whether one is an outsider or an insider is in the eye of the beholder.

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Too Long Or Not: Campaign Length Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Posted: June 30, 2017 5:17 PM

One thing that catches my attention each election cycle is the traditional set of talking points over the length of political campaigns.

In reaching out to potential candidates people fall into two camps: those who think election cycles are becoming too long and those who think it’s never too early to lay a foundation.

I would say both claims have long become a moot point as we’ve entered the era of permanent campaigning.

One needs to look no further than how as one election ends, another begins, particularly on the federal level.

After Republicans won in November, the Democrats immediately began to juggle not only licking their wounds but developing plans to resist the incoming administration’s agenda and start looking for 2018 candidates.

Republicans clearly aren’t resting on their laurels as it concerns 2018, and just this week President Donald Trump already held his first 2020 reelection fundraiser.

Four years earlier the roles were reversed, with Republicans conducting their 2012 “autopsy” and Democrats not wanting to get complacent.

Already this cycle there already are a number of House and Senate districts across the state with potential wide open fields emerging.

The oft-used line for those who say it’s too early is that the public hates long drawn-out elections and don’t pay attention until the very end.

True.

However those with campaign experience as well as those without name recognition know it’s the smaller number of hardcore party faithful that do the lion’s share of the initial legwork to decide on who ends up as their nominees on the ballot.

Therein lies the rub: when does one get their ducks in a row, enter the fray and gain the most momentum? Timing is everything, as with location in real estate.

One positive aspect of having long campaign seasons is that there’s at least a portion of the public that cares and is actively engaged in the process.

Most would agree regardless of how long a campaign lasts an active and informed public is healthy to keep the system in check.

The negative would be the endless barrage of advertising.

Or, in the absence of advertising, what happens on both sides of the political aisle: a sort of daily outrage among people over something said or done on the other side, initially spreading like wildfire through social media.

Despite a large swath of the public’s supposed distaste for endless politicking, no one seems to be able to look away, sort of like a car wreck.

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Some Insight On A Part Time Legislature

Posted: June 23, 2017 6:23 PM

When I was completing my final weeks covering North Dakota politics before coming home to Michigan one of the first questions sources and friends out west asked me was what type of Legislature Michigan worked under.

I’d explained it as a full-time professional Legislature somewhat like Congress. So it was interesting in the final days before I left to see the petition drive announced May 30 to change Michigan to a part-time Legislature.

It’s interesting, the possibility of shifting twice in a couple years from a part-time citizen Legislature in North Dakota to a full-time professional one here to a part-time Legislature again if the proposal pushed by Lt. Governor Brian Calley is successful.

When I was in North Dakota the system is rather simple compared to Michigan. That happens when you have a state with an estimated population of 758,000 compared to 9.9 million in Michigan.

In North Dakota legislative session is limited to 80 days every two years in odd-numbered years. If the Legislature has extra days left when they complete their work they can come back if needed. The governor can also call special sessions.

During the interim they organize a number of interim committees. A number of studies, usually 40 or 50-soms, are parceled out between the committees to review and draft legislation prior to the actual session.

The majority of lawmakers there are farmers, business owners, bankers, lawyers and retirees.

Outside of retirees who have the time, other legislators have to work out how to manage their professional lives in order to serve from early January to usually late April or the first few days of May every other year.

Those who aren’t fans of the part-time Legislature model, as well as those who may want to run but don’t believe they can, point to efforts to address their professional lives as a shortcoming of the system. Another is the perception that it limits the pool of people with the resources to serve.

In a sparsely populated state with a number of towns with 30, 20, 10 or even fewer people, the argument might hold more weight than in a state like Michigan.

The full-time Legislature idea isn’t very appealing among North Dakotans, who prefer the idea that really anyone could serve if they have the drive to do it. The state is more of one big community and the idea of a professional Legislature to them puts more of a barrier between them and their elected representatives in their mind.

One thing that did catch me off guard in my final weeks in North Dakota was when I spoke to a number of lawmakers and state officials in my talks about Michigan.

North Dakota doesn’t have term limits. Multiple officials I’d spoken with said they used to be supporters of term limits but changed their minds. At least one lawmaker said, coincidently, it was conversation with Michigan lawmakers on term limits that made him revert opposed.

Not exactly the same topic, but what I found from those conversations was that sometimes all it takes is getting information or feedback from those who operate under a different system to find out if it works for you as well.

We could find out eventually how many minds in this state are ripe for a possible legislative change.

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An Introduction From The New Guy

Posted: June 16, 2017 5:57 PM

Learning the ropes and the political landscape as I take on my new role here with Gongwer News Service is like drinking water from a firehose, but I’m glad to be here to do it.

I joined Gongwer this week after more than eight years away from Michigan, working as a reporter in North Dakota.

To back up a bit, I was born in Port Huron and moved to Davison while in grade school. In spring 2007 I graduated from Central Michigan University.

I’m also not the only reporter in my family. My younger brother Matthew Smith reports for WXYZ Detroit. My twin brother (fraternal, not identical) started out as a reporter, working in Kentucky and in Michigan before leaving the business. He’s a high school history teacher in Adrian.

After a couple short reporting stints, one in Davison and the other in Tiffin, Ohio, I found myself looking for work and took a leap of faith by moving to Williston, North Dakota in spring 2009.

North Dakota currently produces more than 1 million barrels of oil per day. They would be second after a little state called Texas.

I knew if I could successfully report on an oil boom it could open any number of doors professionally. So far, the rest is history.

There was no shortage of stories, with swarms of people came from all over the country for oil work, an increase in crime and the lack of affordable housing. Some reports at the time put rental prices on par with prices in Manhattan.

Luckily I never endured such rent. But I was busy. I saw my first couple of gray hairs. And a number of times when I’d go grocery shopping there would be entire shelves virtually picked clean as though the store had been bought out prior to a hurricane.

That punched my ticket to The Bismarck Tribune and nearly five-and-a-half years of covering the statehouse.

Even in my first week in Lansing I can already notice significant differences. The process of passing a bill is a bit more complex. In North Dakota a major difference is that every bill receives a hearing and a floor vote; in the three sessions I covered there were approximately 850 to 950 bills per session.

Unlike Michigan, North Dakota is a part-time citizen Legislature. They meet for up to 80 days in odd-numbered years.

In 2013, my first session, they reached the 80-day constitutional limit for the only time in state history. I still remember arriving at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning for Day 80 and not leaving until 6 a.m. Saturday. What wasn’t fun about that was that I had to be to work at a weekend side job in retail at noon that Saturday. What was fun was checking my bank account the next pay period after racking up about 20 hours of overtime.

So from the wind-swept prairie back to my home state it was when the opportunity presented itself.

Needless to say I’m thrilled to be back and being able to continue with state government reporting.

I have no doubt I’ll enjoy learning the lay of the land, I’ll also enjoy rooting for the Tigers, Red Wings, and Wolverines without being so wildly out of place in terms of my allegiances.

Well, I’m sure I’ll catch some grief being in Spartans territory, but I digress.

That’s my story as I begin to dive in here in Lansing. I look forward to begin hearing more stories of those I meet and cover as I get acquainted with my beat.

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