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For The Week Of February 17, 2018 Through February 23, 2018

About That No Fault Thing: Do Not Mess This Part Up

By John Lindstrom
Posted: February, 23 2018 5:40 PM

If there are any advantages to getting older it is this: those who have circled the sun more than others have had the chance to see a lot of ideas get reworked and retried. And they can generally tell those younger what will or will not work. One hopes younger folks might listen.

People have complained about auto insurance rates for a long time. The focus in the decades-old fight on auto insurance rates has been over the unlimited medical care provided for by Michigan’s no-fault insurance. Frankly, that probably should be the focus overall.

Now a number of House Republicans have proposed eliminating no-fault altogether, in HB 5518*, HB 5519* and HB 5628*, and throwing the entire system back into the pure tort system. That Michigan once had. That Michigan got rid of. That at least one Michigander suggests lawmakers think very carefully about going back to, very carefully, very thoughtfully with considerable retrospection and investigation and serious contemplation. Take all the time you need, and more time than that before embarking on this course.

This reporter can speak from some experience about life in the tort system compared to the no-fault system. And yes, there has been at least one horrifying accident in this reporter’s household experience – where thankfully there were no major injuries because the driver had finally been convinced, by this reporter, to always use her seatbelt – and it is the kind of accident that has often been the focus of the no-fault debate. But that is not the kind of accident I am talking about.

It’s the fender-benders. It’s where someone backs into you or runs into your car or truck’s rear. No injuries, just property damage.

Since no-fault has been enacted, it’s a relatively simple process to get claims made, repairs made and repairs paid for. Certainly, it’s an annoyance, having to check out body shops or mechanics and getting estimates. But generally, the insurance works very quickly to get the repairs dealt with and paid for.

And then there’s the tort system. Haven’t I told you, I’m sure I have, about the time, about a year before no-fault became the law of this land, when my 1969 Olds Cutlass got rear-ended? No, I haven’t? I haven’t told you about how I was told get it fixed and the insurance will take care of me, which I did and had to pay for, and then waited while my insurance company tussled with the other guy’s insurance company over who was paying for what, and whose fault it was, and I waited, and waited, and waited some more before finally getting a settlement that didn’t completely cover the repair? Well, you’ve been told now.

And some of the legislation will now allow uninsured drivers. Yes, I know uninsured drivers are a problem because they cannot afford insurance. But I know what it is like to deal with a driver who could afford insurance but didn’t get it and sued me to force me to pay for his damages. And this was after no-fault had become law, with its requirement that everyone get insurance. My insurance company decided to defend me, the suit got dropped, and then so did I by my insurance company. And the new legislation will allow folks to go without insurance because, oh, because the sky is blue and the birds are singing so sweetly you cannot hear the crunch of bumpers.

Whatever happens with auto insurance in this state, think carefully about how fast one wants simple repairs done and paid for, and how, whatever the law ends up looking like, that process is not made more inconvenient. After all, we really don’t want another older guy smirking a superior smirk and saying, “Told ya so.”

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Mid-Term Elections At Risk From … Communication?

By Christopher Klaver
Staff Writer
Posted: February, 21 2018 11:32 AM

There is evidence that Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 elections, and leaders of that nation have already threatened to do the same in the 2018 mid-terms.

With Michigan having several of the top now-Republican seats targeted by Democrats, we could be among the targets for these operatives.

So what do we have to look forward to as the election heats up: social media posts?

Make no mistake, there are some substantial crimes listed in the indictment handed down late last week. The charges allege that Russians, not only from their country but from ours, posed as Americans and conducted political activities without disclosing who they truly were and without registering as foreign agents.

There is a legitimate state interest in prohibiting, or at least disclosing, any foreign interests conducting electioneering. We should know who is providing campaign funds and assistance to whom.

But the crux of the news coverage has been that those involved “interfered” by posting false messages in an effort to spur divisions in the electorate. One recent story said the Russian operatives coordinated rallies on both sides of a contentious issue to bring the two sides together where they could clash.

If efforts to rile up voters with false information bring the downfall of our democracy now, after more than 200 years of it, then we get what we deserve.

False, or at least questionable, assertions and allegations about political candidates, denigration and name calling have a long, proud history in our political process.

That these messages can travel further and faster through the web does not change the nature of the communication, nor each voter’s responsibility to determine the veracity of the information before acting or passing it on to others.

If voters are not going to do some of their own research on the candidates and the sources of their information, they are going to fall victim to those trying to drive election results, whether it be foreign operatives or domestic interests not necessarily aligned with their own.

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What To Do About Choosing University Trustees?

By Zachary Gorchow
Posted: February, 20 2018 4:24 PM

This is sort of a rebuttal to and sort of a continuation of a blog my colleague John Lindstrom wrote last week on the debate about whether the members of the governing boards for Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University should continue to be elected by statewide voters.

The MSU Board of Trustees, as a result of its fealty to former MSU President Lou Anna Simon and in particular the comments of Trustee Joel Ferguson (D-Lansing) minimizing the significance of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal, has brought Michigan’s unique system of electing university governing boards front-and-center.

Relatively few large public universities have their trustees elected by voters. Among the 13 public universities that make up the Big Ten Conference, MSU, U-M and the University of Nebraska are the only three with boards chosen by voters, and Nebraska uses a district system instead of the statewide one in place for MSU and U-M (and Wayne State). In the Big Ten and nationally, governors tend to appoint most of the large public university governing boards.

The MSU board’s approach has prompted legislation to move Michigan’s three large research institutions to gubernatorial appointment for their governing boards. The legislation is likely going nowhere because Democrats have reacted negatively to the idea, and it will take Democratic votes in the Michigan House to attain the two-thirds majority necessary to put a constitutional amendment before voters.

The politics of the situation are easy to understand. If voters adopted the constitutional amendment, it would allow Governor Rick Snyder to replace the governing boards of all three universities. Democrats control the U-M and WSU boards, and the MSU board is a 4-4 split. Instantly, there would be, presumably, 8-0 Republican majorities on all three boards.

University boards would move to a spoils system. Critics of this system have noted it means appointees tend to be political supporters of the governor, even if they are well-qualified. And it means that the governor’s political opponents, even if also well-qualified, have no shot. Further, it means when a new governor takes office that quality board members will get replaced upon the expiration of their terms simply because they belong to the opposite political party.

The system’s supporters have countered that once appointed, the members are largely freed from partisan political concerns.

This is the system now in place for Michigan’s 10 other public universities (I’ve seen several people refer to 12 other public universities, but two of those are the University of Michigan-Dearborn and University of Michigan-Flint, which fall under control of the same board of regents as the main campus in Ann Arbor).

Part of the hue and cry about ceasing election of the MSU, U-M and WSU boards stems from the idea of taking the choice away from voters. And from a philosophical standpoint, that makes sense.

The realities of how those elections work, however, are completely at odds with that lofty ideal.

The candidates for the board are nominated by the political parties’ state convention delegates. As Rep. Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis) pointed out last week, that means Republican nominees result from those who can meet conservative litmus tests even on issues that have nothing to do with university governance. No one said so on the Democratic side, but those hoping to win Democratic nominations generally have no chance unless they have the blessing of the United Auto Workers and/or other major unions.

Republican convention delegates elect their nominees through one-person, one-vote secret ballot. Theoretically, Democratic delegates elect their nominees through an open ballot process with votes apportioned according to congressional district through in practice, powerbrokers sort out the nominees in advance and the convention rubber stamps those choices.

And then voters, carefully vetting the nominees based on the issues, make their grand pronouncement on who is fit to lead the three universities in November elections in even-numbered years.

Well, no. Voters generally have no idea who the candidates are or what they stand for unless there’s a famous name in the mix. Former MSU head football coach George Perles didn’t get elected to the MSU board because of his views on tuition and the cost of room and board.

So voters default to their basic partisan leaning, whether through using the straight-ticket voting option or going through the candidates one by one.

There’s a reason Mr. Ferguson lost re-election in 1994 and won back a seat in the 1996 elections. It’s the same reason Republicans dominated the board races in 2010 and 2016 while Democrats did so in 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2014.

In big Democratic years, Democratic university board candidates win. And in big Republican years, Republican candidates win. 1994 was a historic Republican sweep, so Mr. Ferguson lost. 1996 was a solid Democratic year, so Mr. Ferguson won.

Defenders of the current system note, rightfully, that upending the U-M and WSU boards because of the fiasco at MSU makes little sense. Indeed, blowing up the electoral system for the three universities because of a hopefully once-in-a-century scandal at MSU feels like a knee-jerk reaction.

There’s no way to know if a board consisting of members chosen through a different system would have responded differently.

That said, regardless of the MSU situation, the current system, which dates to the 1908 Constitution, has flaws, and they are obvious. A serious research project by the Legislature into whether there’s a better system would be fascinating and maybe even lead to genuine reform.

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