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by Alethia Kasben, Staff Writer

The Curious Case Of FOIA Reform

Posted: February 11, 2019 1:55 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Do Michigan's Political Leaders Read?

Posted: January 28, 2019 3:09 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 14, 2019 3:55 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What's Leonard's Advice For Speaker Chatfield?

Posted: January 7, 2019 12:38 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: November 26, 2018 3:59 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Both Parties Prepping Voters For Lack Of Straight Ticket

Posted: November 5, 2018 3:30 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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With Election Nearing, House Dems, GOP In Different Worlds

Posted: October 31, 2018 12:02 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Live NYT Poll Is Having Trouble Reaching Some Michiganders

Posted: October 1, 2018 4:01 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Slew Of Pre-Election Activity Coming To Capitol

Posted: September 24, 2018 1:22 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: September 10, 2018 1:45 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Judicial Nominees With Differing Ideals, Same Name

Posted: July 23, 2018 4:25 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some Happy Animal News To Start The Week

Posted: July 2, 2018 4:20 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: June 18, 2018 3:36 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: June 11, 2018 12:47 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: May 21, 2018 6:03 PM

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

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

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Leonard Standing By Engler At MSU

Posted: April 23, 2018 4:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Calls For Gun Control Get Loudest Applause At Dem Convention

Posted: April 16, 2018 4:42 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bubble Wrap A Bridge?

Posted: April 9, 2018 3:22 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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’Tis The Season For Politicians To Fill Out Brackets

Posted: March 15, 2018 5:01 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gun Issue Flaring Up In Oakland County House Seat

Posted: February 26, 2018 4:02 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aquilina Would Have Received National Attention As Candidate

Posted: February 5, 2018 5:07 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michigan Again In National Spotlight For Bad Reasons

Posted: January 29, 2018 4:04 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: November 22, 2017 3:29 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some Legislators Sleep Outside For Homelessness Awareness

Posted: November 13, 2017 3:41 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daughter’s Letter Latest Twist In 109th House Race

Posted: October 30, 2017 4:39 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michigan Dems Turn To Pumpkin Spice ‘Caucus’

Posted: October 23, 2017 1:50 PM

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

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

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

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

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Courser’s False-Flag Email Strikes Again

Posted: October 9, 2017 4:55 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: September 18, 2017 3:48 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Energy Group Emerges To Promote New Law

Posted: August 31, 2017 12:10 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hundreds Submit Comment On Potential ELCRA Statement

Posted: August 23, 2017 1:38 PM

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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Who Cares About Trump’s Poll Numbers?

Posted: July 17, 2017 3:56 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: July 12, 2017 4:34 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michigan World War I Flags Public Until 2018

Posted: July 3, 2017 2:52 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Permitless Carry Debate Differs From ‘Shall Issue’ Fight

Posted: June 12, 2017 3:53 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Knezek, Others Turn To Facebook To Share Kivela Memories

Posted: May 10, 2017 12:10 PM

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

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

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

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

To My Friend, John:

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

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

“What’s SISU mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those were our last words to each other.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my John Kivela.

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

Posted: May 8, 2017 5:05 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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State Rep. Wants Second Amendment Monument Moved To Capitol Lawn

Posted: April 24, 2017 2:56 PM

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: April 3, 2017 2:21 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: March 20, 2017 2:24 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Detroit Lawmaker Gets Some National Attention

Posted: March 13, 2017 3:58 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: March 2, 2017 4:36 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Studying Committees: Who Are The Bigger Players?

Posted: February 13, 2017 3:21 PM

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

Assignments for both Rep. Hank Vaupel (R-Handy Township) and Rep. Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston) stand out. Mr. Tedder, who is also an associate speaker pro tempore, chairs the Tax Policy Committee, is vice chair of the Health Policy Committee and sits on Communications and Technology and Energy Policy.

Mr. Vaupel chairs Health Policy and sits on Insurance, Tax Policy and Michigan Competitiveness. Competitiveness, which is chaired by Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), is already looking to be one of the busier committees this term, and currently has bills to repeal the Common Core State Standards and expand the Freedom of Information Act on the docket.

Rep. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) also received a solid haul. Ms. Theis chairs the Insurance Committee, is vice chair of Judiciary, and sits on Law and Justice and Regulatory Reform.

Three freshmen also received a particularly good slate of committees. Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) is vice chair on Regulatory Reform and will sit on Energy Policy and Insurance. With Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Midland) chairing Energy Policy, it will be busy again this term.

Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Mount Pleasant) is vice chair of Energy Policy, and will sit on Health Policy, Local Government and Regulatory Reform. And Rep. Beth Griffin is vice chair of Communication and Technology, and will sit on Education Reform, Energy Policy and Regulatory Reform.

All three freshmen could face tough re-election challenges.

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How Many M&Ms Has Your State Rep Eaten?

Posted: January 9, 2017 4:28 PM

Those working on the House floor tend to spend many hours in the chamber at a time, and there’s one thing that makes a room with hundreds of tired, possibly overworked people happy: candy.

On the House floor, members will bring their own food or pass around treats, but for the last six years, former Rep. Pat Somerville kept a jar of M&M’s on his desk for anyone interested.

Various members and staff could be watched going to and from Mr. Somerville’s desk during session (one day, he did not refill the jar and a handful of disappointed people tried and failed to visit his desk for their candy fix).

Mr. Somerville in his farewell speech last month crunched the numbers for each legislator. In total, during the last six years, the House has consumed 1,260 pounds of M&Ms. Yes, you read that right. Stocking the jar cost Mr. Somerville $4,183.

He also ranked the 96th, 97th and 98th Legislatures for how much they consumed. And the rate is going down (maybe members are trying to watch what they eat now).

The 96th Legislature – serving from 2011-2012 – came in first, consuming 477 pounds and costing Mr. Somerville $1,583. The 97th Legislature – serving from 2013-14 – came in second eating 426 pounds and costing Mr. Somerville $1,414. And the most recent Legislature, which rarely contained the full 110 members, came in last consuming 357 pounds and costing Mr. Somerville $1,185.

One looming question as we head into the first weeks of session is who will take over the candy jar responsibilities now?

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Is House Government Operations Committee Where Bills Go To Die?

Posted: December 20, 2016 4:14 PM

There is a general consensus among those who cover the House that Government Operations is the committee where bills are sent when they will never see the light of day.

During the 2015-16 term, legislation giving the Flint committee subpoena power, eliminating daylight savings time, establishing a part-time Legislature, urging the Legislature to meet during the summer to approve a road funding proposal and eliminating the prohibition on signs in the Capitol were all sent to the committee where they perished.

In total, the committee reported seven bills to the House floor during the term. More than 150 bills, resolutions and joint resolutions were referred there. But House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) pushes back on the idea that bills are sent there to die.

Mr. Cotter said he pushes back on the blanket statement that legislation is sent to the committee to die because “some bills have come out of that committee.”

“I think in both the House and the Senate it is a place where bills are sometimes held and other times are pushed through,” Mr. Cotter said.

Still, Mr. Cotter did acknowledge that “more times than not,” House legislation ends up dying in the committee.

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First Woman To Serve In House Honored In Office Building

Posted: December 12, 2016 4:31 PM

Just past the sergeants’ desk in the House Office Building lobby now sits a portrait of the first woman and first Native American to serve in the House, Cora Reynolds Anderson. The office building is also named in her honor.

The portrait was revealed last week and was painted by Joshua Adam Risner, an artist for the Michigan Capitol Commission.

Ms. Anderson was the first woman to serve in the House and the second woman to serve in the Legislature. Her time in the House was brief, serving one term in 1925-1926. She was elected only four years after woman achieved suffrage.

She represented Baraga, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties in the Upper Peninsula. Ms. Anderson chaired a committee on a reform school for young women located in Adrian and was a member of the Agricultural, Insurance and Northern State Normal School – now Northern Michigan University – committees during her time in the House.

Last week, House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) held a ceremony to unveil the portrait.

While the building has been known as the Anderson House Office Building from almost the time it opened in 1999, the new lobby portrait gives a much more visible presence to the building’s namesake.

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Something New For Michigan, Wisconsin Republicans To Argue

Posted: November 28, 2016 4:39 PM

Wisconsin and Michigan Republicans have long battled over where the GOP was founded, with those in Michigan claiming it was founded in Jackson and Wisconsin insisting the party was founded there.

Wisconsin Republicans argue a meeting on March 20, 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin was when the Republican Party was founded. Michigan Republicans, however, claim a July 6, 1854, convention in Jackson, Michigan, represented the birth of the Republican Party.

 

Well, after the presidential election this year, the two states’ Republicans may have another argument as to which one put the now president-elect, Donald Trump, past the 270 electoral votes he needed to win the presidency.

Most news media outlets called the race for Mr. Trump after The Associated Press called Wisconsin for Mr. Trump about 2:30 a.m. November 9.

However, some Michigan news outlets, including Gongwer, called Michigan for Mr. Trump prior to the AP’s call in Wisconsin (Gongwer called Michigan for Mr. Trump at 2:20 a.m.). There was no shortage of Michigan Republicans celebrating as some news outlets called the state for Mr. Trump and urged others to do so Michigan would get the credit for putting him over the top.

But that did not happen, and the networks and AP called Wisconsin instead.

In fact, the AP has not formally called Michigan for Mr. Trump other than to report today that the certified margin for Mr. Trump, pending a potential recount, is 10,704 votes.

Republicans in both Michigan and Wisconsin had been waiting a long time for their state to turn red during a presidential election (28 years in Michigan and 32 in Wisconsin). But with the bulk of news outlets calling Wisconsin first, and with a larger margin there, Republicans on the other side of Lake Michigan have some new fodder when arguing with the Michigan GOP about bragging rights in the party.

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Determining If Your News Is Real: A Guide

Posted: November 15, 2016 5:33 PM

Like many of us, I spent the much of the long, long, seemingly never-ending presidential election cycle watching a lot of my friends, family and former high school classmates who still show up on my Facebook timeline posting fake articles and sharing memes with quotes or anecdotes that were simply untrue.

Most of what I saw on my Facebook timeline was content that was pro-President-elect Donald Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton, the now defeated Democratic presidential candidate.

Indeed, Buzzfeed News took a dive into a thousand posts from six hyper-partisan Facebook pages and found 38 percent from Republican pages were wither a mixture of true and false or mostly false. For hyper-partisan left-wing pages, 19 percent of posts either a mixture of true and false or mostly false.

These stories included one saying the Pope endorsed Mr. Trump, other stories indicating Ms. Clinton and her family were involved in murders or “mysterious deaths.” Stories from pages on the left include a false claims that television networks did not fact check Mr. Trump during the first debate and a misrepresentation of a quote from the Pope saying he called Fox News journalism “terrorism.”

And I have seen people I love post these fake stories even before we hit this election cycle. I feel it was even more exacerbated this year because people began questioning the media and losing trust in reporters (an entirely different conversation).

So, let’s talk about how you can check an article and determine its validity. Let me begin by saying this list could be never ending and could be expanded upon by many in the industry and outside. This is what I attempt to do and what I tell those who ask me.

First, people should make an effort to get their news from a variety of sources, broadcast, print, local, national, global, whatever you can get your hands on. Also, look at what you’re reading; is it an opinion piece or a news story?

If you see a short piece on an issue followed by a panel of pundits discussing it on a broadcast network, go find an article or two from print publications to get the full context and story. The broadcast networks sometimes site a story where the topic came from, that’s a good place to start.

Also, looking for stories with as many sources as possible from both sides of an issue along with as much specific data as possible is important.

And just simply checking the date is helpful. I recently saw a story from the Los Angeles Times about a Klu Klux Klan rally becoming violent in Anaheim, Calif., and after checking the date saw it was actually from February.

Finally, a college professor put together this database of misleading news sources. Happy reading!

 

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The 2016 Election Is Coming To A Close (Thank Goodness)

Posted: November 7, 2016 2:49 PM

Covering the 2016 Michigan House races has been quite a blur, mostly because the presidential campaign has seemingly sucked up all of the energy. But I have had some good times interviewing most of the candidates in swing districts this year and walking with a few throughout the state.

Walking with candidates is one of the favorite ways to interview them because in that 45 minutes to an hour (or sometimes longer) as you walk or drive from house to house, you can learn about a person. In fact, an operative recently questioned the benefit for the candidate in those types of stories, and maybe the benefit is more for the readers of the story, but I still think it’s worth it.

I would have never seen Democratic candidate Bryan Mielke in the 99th House District leave his car running for 25 minutes on the street of a Mount Pleasant neighborhood. He was so used to knocking in more rural areas where he rarely walked from door-to-door. Luckily his car battery was in good shape.

In Harrison Township in the 24th District, Republican Steve Marino told me all about his first job at a convenience store where we parked before hitting a neighborhood. While we were there he stopped by the owner’s house so they knew it was him who was parked there. Seeing candidates interact with people they know personally in the community is always helpful.

The day I walked with Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) in the 71st District was also the same day the video of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump boasting about groping women came out. That was a missed opportunity to watch the video live with the representative because I didn’t see it until I got back to the office.

 

Of course the presidential election between Mr. Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton took a lot of the attention. Most if not all candidates told me the election still came up at the doors. I heard voters mention it in each of the districts I walked in.

It’s been a long few months, but it’s almost over. And then we can right back to it with caucuses choosing their leadership and then the all-consuming lame duck session of the Legislature.

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A Republican From Texas Has The Best Ad Of The Year

Posted: October 31, 2016 2:56 PM

Most of us living in the Lansing bubble, politician or not, have probably talked someone’s ear off about a wonky issue at least once. Our spouses, friends and random strangers who happened to ask a question can probably identify with Charlyn Daugherty, wife of a county commissioner in Texas.

The television advertisement has been making the rounds on the Internet with 3.4 million views. It shows Ms. Daugherty looking irritated with her husband, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, as he talks about the cost to hold people in the county jail while doing dishes, the tax rate while grilling and light rail cars at dinner.

“Gerald really doesn’t have any hobbies,” she says after one scene shows her annoyingly looking at the camera in Jim Halpert fashion during one of his rants. She notes most people leave their work at the office, but not Gerald.

He then tells his wife he likes helping around the house. Ms. Daugherty does not appear as enthused about the possibility.

“Please re-elect Gerald. Please,” she says at the end.

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The Politics Of Bill Sponsorship

Posted: October 10, 2016 3:07 PM

With 29 days before the election, the negative campaign ads are rolling in, and some Republicans in House and congressional races are criticizing their Democratic opponents for not getting legislation passed in the state House.

Rep. Holly Hughes (R-White River Township) is attacking former Rep. Collene Lamonte (D-Montague) for not passing legislation during her two years in office; Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) is doing the same against former Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge); and U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) is using the same tactic against his opponent, state Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline).

But these three Democrats have something in common: They held or hold competitive seats during a time when Republicans control the House. It is a longstanding reality in the Michigan Legislature that the majority party freezes out members of the minority party who hold competitive seats when it comes to passing their bills.

For Ms. Lamonte and Ms. Abed, they both unseated Republican incumbents in the 2012 elections. Was the Republican majority really expected to involve them in legislation when they certainly would be trying to take those seats back in the friendlier 2014 midterm elections?

Of course this is not only a Republican issue, when Democrats were in the majority, you did not see much legislation from Republicans holding swing districts passing the House.

For example, former Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc) held the 51st House District in the 2009-10 term when Democrats had majority. He did not see one of his bills become law.

And now-Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc) held the same seat in the 2007-08 term, though he did see one of his bills become law (and it was part of a noncontroversial large multi-bill package). Former Rep. David Law (R-Commerce Township), a top target of Democrats for the 2008 elections, saw none of his bills pass the House in that term.

It’s no wonder the majority party always gets more done by the time campaign season comes around.

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Dearborn House District May Have Best Campaign Ad

Posted: September 28, 2016 3:56 PM

Undecided voters in the 15th House District may have reason to be scared as Republican Terrance Guido Gerin of Dearborn, a professional wrestler, has recruited an Olympian wrestler in a recent campaign ad.

In the campaign ad, Kurt Angle, an Olympic gold medalist, is disappointed to come across an undecided voter and wrestles him to the ground.

“Don’t let this happen to you,” Mr. Gerin says, telling voters to choose him.

Mr. Gerin faces Democrat Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn in this strong Democratic seat. It is an extreme long shot for Republicans, but House Majority Floor Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) mentioned the seat at a campaign presentation this week. Probably just to bring up the professional wrestler on his side.

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I’ll Actually Miss Pettalia’s Caucus Calls

Posted: September 13, 2016 4:43 PM

I did not know Rep. Peter Pettalia personally, but in my more than three years covering him as part of the House, I knew he was one of those lawmakers who would return my phone calls and try to answer the questions I had for him.

Mr. Pettalia’s death Monday night in a motorcycle accident has led to an outpouring of tributes.

He was always genuinely kind to me. And I saw him laugh often. I remember one time I was speaking with him on the House floor when the invocation started, so I stood there near his desk during the prayer, which was unusually long. The priest was Catholic and Mr. Pettalia made some joke about Catholics praying for too long or too much, I don’t recall exactly.

“It’s okay, I’m Catholic, I can say that,” he assured me. Then we went along with the interview.

Mr. Pettalia’s desk is right in front of the media section on the Republican side of the House floor, so there will be a constant reminder of his missing presence for the rest of the year.

He also was in charge of calling the Republicans to caucus, the sometimes painfully long, all-too-frequent closed-door meetings of the members to discuss strategy and air differences.

I remember many, many (really too many) times this term where I saw Mr. Pettalia standing near the microphone and knew what was coming. I would groan in despair then (there have been a lot of late nights and long caucuses).

But during the next few months, especially during lame duck, I’ll actually miss Mr. Pettalia’s caucus calls.

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A Pro-Trump ‘Flash Mob’ Might Be Coming To A City Near You

Posted: August 29, 2016 3:10 PM

Michigan backers of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are being encouraged to join “flash mobs” throughout the state tomorrow between 4 and 5:30 p.m. to rally in support of Mr. Trump.

The Michigan Conservative Coalition is organizing the events and asks those attending to bring “bold” signs or flags in support of Mr. Trump.

“Join other grassroots activists across the state and help turn this state RED for TRUMP,” the groups says on the event’s Facebook page.

A full list of locations and local contact information can be found at the event page. But the group is hosting the flash mobs in several counties, including: Muskegon, Macomb, Saginaw, Baraga, Monroe, Washtenaw, Wayne, Grand Traverse, Kent, Eaton, Oakland, Otsego, Iosco, Kalamazoo, Manistee, Genesee, Calhoun and Jackson.

I think the group is using the term “flash mob” quite loosely and these will actually just be coordinated mini-rallies supporting Mr. Trump. If you look to the all-knowing Wikipedia, a flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act and then quickly disperse.

And while some may feel rallying in support of Mr. Trump is unusual and seemingly pointless, the rallies are supposed to last for an hour and an half. So no one will be dispersing quickly.

Flash mobs were quite popular for a time, especially in malls or train stations, places where people gather and a large group could quickly meet, put on a show and run away. Here’s an example:

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Libertarian Group Thinks Michigan Is Kind Of Free

Posted: August 15, 2016 2:20 PM

The libertarian/free market conservative think tank Cato Institute ranked all 50 states on “overall freedom” and Michigan came in at 24th, which is a drop of seven spots from 17th in the 2012 rankings.

So, why 24th? It seems surprising considering the dominance of Republicans in the Legislature and governor’s office during that time. Well, Cato says Michigan has “decent” policies, but they need to be “outstanding to overcome the headwinds” in global markets and to compete with neighboring states like Indiana, long a favorite of conservatives for its economic policies.

The main problems the group has with the state’s prohibition on public funds for religious K-12 schools, which it says impact choice, Proposal A, which is says does not allow local school districts to determine school budgets and the role of political parties in nominating judicial candidates. Those are longstanding laws in the state.

On travel freedoms, the group supported the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law and also praised cannabis freedom, because of the “reasonably broad” medical marijuana laws.

But on alcohol and firearm freedoms, it says the state is only about average.

Overall, the group ranked New Hampshire as the most free and New York as the least free. In New York, the group compared its tobacco taxes to prohibition.

The rankings are based on state laws as of December 31, 2014.

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Tlaib Interrupts Speech As Part Of ‘Moms Against Trump’

Posted: August 9, 2016 1:03 PM

Anyone who has ever covered or met former Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat, likely was not surprised to learn she was one of the people who stood up and interrupted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at this speech in the city yesterday.

And while the crowd did not seem to appreciate the interruptions – they would applaud louder after each interruption and in one case a person yelled they loved Mr. Trump as a protester was being escorted out – Ms. Tlaib said it was part of the process.

On her Facebook, Ms. Tlaib posted a photo of her with the other women who protested during the speech.

“It was truly an honor to stand up with these strong women. When we look back at this historic time in our country, we will know that we were on the right side of history,” she wrote. “No one should be silent and complacent with Nazi-like views. Every single anti-American movement in our country involved disobedience & courage to speak out.”

Ms. Tlaib said she and the other women involved in yesterday’s protests were motivated by his comments on women, sexual harassment and for Ms. Tlaib, when Mr. Trump accepted a Purple Heart from a veteran.

 Ms. Tlaib was one of the more passionate members of the House when she served from 2009-2014. So it’s unsurprising to me that she does not feel like she can stay silent about Mr. Trump. On Twitter, she told one person she would welcome similar outbursts at an event for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

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Colbert Kicks Off Republican Convention With Hunger Games Intro

Posted: July 18, 2016 2:12 PM

Along with whatever else occurs at the Republican National Convention this week, we will also have “The Late Show” Host Stephen Colbert’s antics to look forward to, which he has already started with a brief (and unsanctioned) run on stage where he was escorted off by security.

Mr. Colbert, in a video posted online, went on the stage in Cleveland dressed as Caesar Flickerman, the extravagant host from “The Hunger Games,” and launched the “the 2016 Republican National Hungry for Power Games.”

This act was clearly not supported by anyone in authority and a security person almost immediately showed up to escort him off stage. Mr. Colbert said he knew he was not supposed to be there.

“But to be honest, neither does Donald Trump,” Mr. Colbert says as he exits the stage.

It appears we will get to experience lots of Colbert fun for both the Republican National Convention this week and the Democratic National Convention next week as Mr. Colbert is airing “The Late Show” live for convention coverage.

Which is good, because I think we will all need a few laughs.

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Rep. Plawecki Leaves A Legacy Of Kindness

Posted: June 27, 2016 3:26 PM

As those who work in and around the Legislature return to work on Monday, many of us are dealing with the follow up of the unexpected and sad death of Rep. Julie Plawecki, 54, a Democrat from Dearborn Heights. Today I have heard many stories from her colleagues focusing on her kindness.

When legislators pass away during their time in office, their desks are draped with black cloth and flowers. With the Legislature gone, Ms. Plawecki’s desk won’t be visible to as many people until later in the summer. But still, the desk was draped on Monday.

Rep. Julie Plawecki’s desk on the House floor, draped today with memorial flowers and bunting.

As it is with 110 people serving in the House, I had only spoken with Ms. Plawecki a few times. But those who worked with her and knew her best have told me about her today and described her as sweet, passionate, genuine, kind, tough and a great legislator.

Ms. Plawecki left a mark on many that knew her, and her ability to make connections with those on both sides of the aisle has led to many feeling the grief of her unexpected death over the weekend. In fact, when I went to take a picture of the desk today, one of the House sergeants expressed his sadness at her death and said Ms. Plawecki was just one of the those lawmakers who was always kind, introduced her family to the sergeants and made her appreciation for them known.

One of the many tributes posted on social media since the news of her death comes from Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) who represented the House district before Ms. Plawecki and shares much of the district with her.

“What a leader she was. What a leader she was from the get-go. And she continued to lead on issue after issue until her untimely passing. Children. Seniors. Veterans. Energy. Health Policy. It was like she could do it all and was always happy to be doing it,” Mr. Knezek wrote on his Facebook. “I know her colleagues in the House are going to ensure her work lives on. I pledge that those of us in the Senate will do the same.”

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‘Hamilton’ Star To Work On Increasing Hispanic Voter Turnout

Posted: June 20, 2016 3:25 PM

The Pulitzer winning “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda said last week he will work to increase voter turnout among Hispanics. Can the musical’s mega-popularity combined with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals concerning Hispanics increase their voter turnout in 2016?

Even if you haven’t been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for the last month (like me). you’re probably living under a heavy rock if you haven’t heard of the Broadway hit “Hamilton” by now. Though the creator wrote an entire hip-hop musical based on our nation’s first treasury secretary, Lin-Manuel Miranda hasn’t been much involved in presidential politics this year. But last week, he told The New York Times he will work to increase voter participation within the Latino population.

“Our issues are on the table, from Puerto Rico to a wall to keep half of us out being a party platform,” Mr. Miranda told The New York Times. “It’s important that we get out and vote.”

According to Pew Research Center, only 8 percent of the U.S. electorate in 2014 was Hispanic even though 11 percent of registered voters are Hispanic. Also according to Pew, there are 231,000 Hispanic-eligible voters in Michigan – the 18th largest Hispanic statewide eligible voter population nationally.

And the “Hamilton” creator might have more pull with the population considering Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half – 44 percent – of the 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016 (also according to Pew).

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Old Petition Signature Bill Brings Back IE Debate

Posted: May 23, 2016 5:05 PM

The majority party in the House adopting legislation without having two-thirds of the chamber in support has long been a dramatic issue and was brought back to the forefront last week when legislation put a strict 180-day limit on signatures collected for ballot initiatives.

Democrats opposed the bill (SB 776*), which would prohibit petition signatures collected outside of a 180-day window from being counted by the state. Under current law there is a process to revive old signatures and some groups working to get on the 2016 ballot are pushing to ease the process.

When the bill was reported from the House Elections Committee, an amendment was adopted so the policy would not take effect until 2017, and those collecting signatures now would be unaffected.

But the House Republicans did not adopt that amendment, and the bill cleared the chamber with immediate effect although Democrats attempted to put up a parliamentary fight. Some watched session last Wednesday said Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt Township), who was presiding over the House at the time, did not properly gavel the immediate effect order.

However, House Clerk Gary Randall told me he did last week. And now, with the archived videos of House session, everyone can watch for themselves.

Indeed, when watching the immediate effect motion (at 1 hour and 42 minutes in) Mr. Leonard starts to go through the normal spiel where the presiding officer asks all those in favor to rise, but then as House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) shouts point of order, Mr. Leonard bangs the gavel. But he never said “immediate effect is ordered.”

If a record roll call vote had taken, the immediate effect motion would have failed to garner a two-thirds majority of the chamber. It takes 73 votes, and with 63 Republican members and no Democratic support, the Republicans would have been short. But the courts have ruled that on a voice vote like last week’s, two-thirds of the House is whatever the presiding officer says it is.

The fight concerning the immediate effect process has not gotten as much attention this term as it has in the past because many bills are passed with an effective date of 90 days after the bill has been filed with the Office of the Great Seal following the governor’s signature. And controversial legislation has not necessarily needed immediate effect this term.

And even if Mr. Leonard had made a mistake when presiding last Wednesday, it would not make much of a difference, as the House Republicans could simply request the bill back and gavel through immediate effect, still without the support of the Democrats.

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DPS EM Not Happy To Learn About Open Carry In Schools

Posted: May 16, 2016 1:34 PM

Former bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, the current emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, was not aware that adults can openly carry firearms in the state’s schools, and said last week he does not like that policy.

Mr. Rhodes, appearing on Michigan Public Television’s “Off the Record,” was asked about guns in schools and said, “I assume they are already banned?”

After finding out that adults are permitted to open carry in schools, and many her places, Mr. Rhodes said, “I didn’t know it and I don’t like it.”

The policy has long been debated in Lansing with many Democratic lawmakers saying the allowance of open carry in schools and other public buildings, like libraries, is due to a loophole in the law that should be changed. Some Republicans have floated a bill that would allow concealed pistol license holders to carry concealed in schools in exchange for banning open carry, but it has not gone far.

“It deprives children of a sense of safety and security,” Mr. Rhodes said.

Mr. Rhodes did not want to get into the policy debate, but basically said children don’t want to see guns in their schools.

“What I don’t want to wade into is whether open carry actually makes people more secure or not,” he said. “But I know that when children see guns, they feel less secure. I am talking about the perception, not the reality.”

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House DPS Vote In Stark Contrast To ‘Grand Bargain’

Posted: May 9, 2016 2:38 PM

Nearly two years ago, the House voted with an overwhelming majority to be part of the Detroit bankruptcy “grand bargain” and appropriate $194.8 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund to get the city out of bankruptcy, mitigate cuts to pensioners and assure no works from the Detroit Institute of Arts could be sold

Less than one week ago, after a 15-hour session, House Republicans approved a partisan plan under slim margins providing $500 million over 10 years to a new Detroit school district in an effort to improve education as the current district continues to struggle with the amount of debt it has accumulated, even under state management.

In 2014, members of the House erupted in applause for the package that was crafted in a bipartisan fashion with former Rep. John Walsh (R-Livonia) working with members of the Detroit delegation.

It was an interesting moment, the Republican-led Legislature working with Democrats to help financially rescue a city that had long since become a source of polarization.

In case you weren’t up at 4:30 a.m. after the House Republicans managed to get enough votes to pass the DPS plan, there was no applause. There were no Democratic votes in support. No one really seemed happy when it was over.

With the DPS package, Rep. Harvey Santana (D-Detroit), the Republicans’ favorite Democrat who is estranged from the other House Democrats, expressed frustration that his multiple bipartisan tours of DPS buildings led to no meaningful reforms in the legislation presented and passed.

The House Republicans who crafted the plan say it solves the debt issue, something many schools in the state would appreciate, provides start-up cash and assures financial oversight so the district doesn’t get back in the same situation.

The plan also would put strengthen penalties for teacher strikes or sickouts, allow more people to file a complaint about a strike or sickout, bar collective bargaining agreements from transferring to the new district and allow uncertified teachers to work in the district.

So why such a difference? Many of the same players are involved, though some are not serving in the House anymore, like Mr. Walsh.

It is more money, $500 million compared to a little less than $200 million. But it is spread out over a period of time.

Teachers participated in sickouts multiple times during negotiations, leading to schools closing. Though these days will be made up at the end of the year, it made House Republicans, and many others, angry.

And there’s the charter voice at play as well, with Detroit officials, the Senate and Governor Rick Snyder advocating for a Detroit Education Commission and House Republicans and charter schools insisting it is an effort to “choke out” charters in the city.

The House bills are now with the Senate, and it’s unclear how this will all shake out. But it does not appear likely that at the end of this process Governor Rick Snyder will joyfully sign the bills at an event in the city flanked by 20 officials by his side, as with the “grand bargain,” with members from both parties.

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Group Looks At Fundraising Industry Around Capitol

Posted: May 2, 2016 2:40 PM

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network last week noted that of the 315 fundraisers for state officeholders’ candidate committees and political action committees, half occurred on session days in Lansing, with many merely blocks from the Capitol and legislative office buildings.

The group also noted that of the House’s 102 planned session days in 2015, fundraisers were held on 82 of them, about 80 percent.

Should people be concerned that lawmakers are mingling and raising money from lobbyists and others immediately before or after they head to the Capitol to pass or advocate for legislation?

Potential new energy policy is one issue that has captivated Lansing off-and-on this term, with many lawmakers and lobbyists and business groups involved. MCFN reported last week that Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) held a fundraiser immediately before the Senate Energy and Technology Committee hearing at 8 a.m., and in fact, she left shortly after 8 a.m. to make it to her committee meeting.

I would assume someone on either – or both – sides of the issue donated to her at the event. Does it make a difference? The committee was not voting on legislation that day.

And would it make an issue if they voted that day? Lawmakers are going to raise money and the same people and organizations are likely to donate whether or not the event is a block from the Capitol on a session day or 20 miles from the Capitol on a non-session day.

But it does feel a little strange to see someone go from fundraising mode to legislating mode so quickly. Maybe it’s just part of the job.

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John Oliver Takes On Lead Poisoning

Posted: April 18, 2016 4:35 PM

Comedian John Oliver took on lead poisoning for his main segment of his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” and called the events leading up to the Flint water crisis the “perfect storm of incompetence from start to finish.”

Mr. Oliver didn’t spend his entire 18-minute segment on lead poisoning talking about Flint, and rather, he focused on lead abatement policies – or lack thereof – in today’s society.

While Flint, and the mistakes made there that led to the poisoning of many in the city, is a huge problem, Mr. Oliver also talked about the 7.3 million lead service lines in existence all over the country. And he points out that lead poisoning doesn’t generally occur in drinking water as it comes mostly from paint.

Mr. Oliver said other countries began banning lead in paint in the 1920s, but the United States embraced it until around the 1970s. So lead is still present in paint of many older homes and to completely get rid of it would cost $16.6 billion per year for a decade, he said.

However, Mr. Oliver said funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes has steadily declined since 2003, and this year was funded at $110 million. The office was only able to fund half of the applications for lead abatement grants last year, Mr. Oliver said.

So Mr. Oliver calls out Michigan’s U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chair of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held committee hearings on the Flint water crisis. Both expressed outrage on the Flint water crisis during those hearings.

He said they both voted to reduce funding for HUD’s lead abatement programs by $35 million.

“And the truth is, if you cut funding like that, a whole lot more children might get poisoned,” Mr. Oliver said.

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Orphaned Historic Safe Could Return To Capitol

Posted: April 11, 2016 2:58 PM

Twenty-five years ago, Kerry Chartkoff, a member of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, volunteered to house a massive safe, which was removed from the Capitol during renovations, and was never able to find a new home for it. Ms. Chartkoff, now moving from her home, is sending the safe to a state warehouse.

The safe, which weighs in at four tons, was once the official safe for the state treasurer in the 1920s. It held mostly documents but also could hold up to $1 million, Ms. Chartkoff told the commission Monday.

Ms. Chartkoff’s goal was to find a museum to take the safe, but since it is so large, was not successful. The safe originally was on the first floor of the Capitol, then moved to the ground floor and eventually removed to make room for emergency exit stairs.

The safe has remained in Ms. Chartkoff’s garage for 25 years because she could not stand to see it thrown away. She said it has been her hope that eventually the Capitol would re-take ownership.

However, the commission does not yet have a plan for the safe, and it is likely to sit in a warehouse temporarily. If a suitable spot is found, it could be used by the Capitol historian for artifacts.

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Country Singer With Ben Carson Song Running For Michigan House

Posted: March 22, 2016 2:40 PM

Justin Tranchita is a country singer, whose song “This is America” was chosen by former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson as a campaign tune, and also had a recurring role on a Discovery Channel pawn shop show. Now, he’s seeking the 32nd House District seat as a Republican.

Mr. Tranchita said some of Mr. Carson’s advisers will help him as he attempts to win the 32nd District, where Rep. Andrea LaFontaine (R-Nashville) currently serves. She cannot seek re-election due to term limits.

Mr. Tranchita’s “This is America” was a number one (on the Billboard plus Twitter Emerging Artists chart) hit two different times mostly because of Mr. Carson’s use of the song.

The song is a pretty clear criticism of current politics; it touches on government growth and sending weapons to the “enemy.”

Mr. Tranchita also sings: “Don’t water down my way of life in the name of liberty.”

As to why he decided to run for the House, Mr. Tranchita said public service has always been a part of his life, and there are many things he wants to see fixed in the 32nd District.

And now for your listening pleasure, Mr. Tranchita’s chart topper:

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Should Michigan Stop Participating In Daylight Savings Time?

Posted: March 14, 2016 12:17 PM

As we all head into work today, maybe more tired than usual for a Monday morning after changing our clocks during the weekend, some lawmakers are trying to make the case to scrap the Daylight Savings Time practice.

Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) is again introducing legislation to end the practice, but this year he is joined by Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township), and the two will each introduce legislation.

Mr. Irwin told Lester Graham with Michigan Public Radio that Daylight Savings Time was originally implemented to help save energy. But Mr. Irwin said it no longer serves a purpose.

“There’s this tradition that is no longer serving its purpose. … When I took a deeper look I found that Daylight Savings Time doesn’t just cause crankiness and irritability and absenteeism, loss of productivity at work, which are serious issues,” he said. “It also causes an uptick in car accidents, it causes an uptick in serious workplace accidents, so it struck me if we’ve got a practice we have being doing for many, many years, that no longer serves it purpose and causes a bunch of problems, we ought to look at changing it.”

Mr. Irwin hopes this year’s proposal, which has a “bipartisan energy” will help motivate the change.

Mr. Lucido wrote on his Facebook page that the state should simply change the policy so in the fall, we will not “fall back.”

“I have proposed that we eliminate the time change as some other states have. SPRING AHEAD AND LEAVE IT THERE. We would keep Day Light Saving / Central time and not fall back an hour this coming fall. We already are on this schedule for roughly 8 months,” he wrote.

This Gizmodo article largely agrees many of the “benefits” of Daylight Savings Time are not accurate, and the practice doesn’t save energy, keep us healthier or reduce accidents.

“A century ago, we didn’t have data to tell us whether DST made a real measurable impact; it was acceptable to run with it because, for all we knew, it was useful. Now, we know better. Day light savings sucks—and we need to get rid of it,” the author wrote.

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Michigan Pro-Wrestler Wants To ‘Fight’ For Dearborn In House

Posted: March 7, 2016 5:19 PM

A Republican professional wrestler – Terrance "Rhyno" Gerin – last week announced he is running for the open 15th House District seat currently held by Rep. George Darany (D-Dearborn).

Mr. Gerin said his campaign slogan will be: “I’ll fight got you,” Fox Sports reported.

Although the seat is open this year, Mr. Gerin running as a Republican will have a difficult path in the Democratic-leaning district, last won by a Republican in 2002, though his priorities do include teacher salaries, and he said he believes schools in the state are severely underfunded. If nothing else, Mr. Gerin’s entrance into the race will add some intrigue.

And although Mr. Gerin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have both worked with World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc, Mr. Gerin is not supporting Mr. Trump on Tuesday. He said he supports Ohio Governor John Kasich.

 

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Trump Rallies Taking On Alarming Edge For Reporters

Posted: February 29, 2016 5:01 PM

If you’re a reporter and you plan to cover Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rally in Michigan this week, it’s possible you may not want to let your guard down.

This week, a photographer was reportedly slammed to the ground by security at a Trump event in Virginia. There is video evidence. The photographer apparently stepped out of the media pen to get images of protesters being escorted out.

As someone who has covered a Trump rally, I can see how reporters could possibly be roughed up by the crowds attending those rallies as well.

In Birch Run, about 30 minutes after Mr. Trump held a media scrum, he then attacked the news media during his speech saying we would lie about the turnout at the very full event, among other things.

The crowd cheered.

Of course, candidates for elected office bashing the media and the crowding cheering is a time-honored tradition.

But at the Birch Run event, many were drinking before and during. It’s not the most comforting situation. When I wrote my story at a nearby bar afterward, the bartender said people were there looking to get “lit” prior to going the Trump rally.

This was in August. Since then Mr. Trump has joked about how he would not kill members of the media if he were to become president, and insulted many members of the media, mocking the disability of a New York Times reporter, for example.

And he continues to include insults to the media in his stump speeches, and the crowds continue to eat it up.

Katy Tur with NBC News tweeted last week that after Mr. Trump “bashed” the press, the crowd cheered, one person flipped off the media and another person swore at them.

“Just another Sunday,” she said of the incident.

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Jet Blue Ad Explores Reaching Across The Aisle

Posted: February 24, 2016 12:54 PM

In today’s polarized political climate, Jet Blue attempted a social experiment designed to encourage passengers to reach across the aisle, not on a political or social issue, but on a free trip to a destination everyone had to agree on.

With the presidential race sparking emotion everywhere and as a House committee begins taking up a Republican Detroit Public Schools solution, the lighthearted ad seemed appropriate today.

Maybe the ad – where the passengers don’t even yell at each other – will help inspire some bipartisanship in the Legislature. Or maybe lawmakers will just be jealous they weren’t on this flight and will not be heading on a free trip.

The advertisement received Ad Week’s ad of the day and attempts to show what can happen when people work together. I would argue it’s easier to get people to work together when they all get a free trip in the end, but it’s still a cute ad nonetheless.

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Democratic Presidential Candidates Could Debate In Flint

Posted: February 1, 2016 4:43 PM

During the weekend, the possibility of a Democratic presidential debate coming to Flint before the March 8 presidential primary emerged with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sort of agreeing on the event.

According to multiple reports, the two candidates have agreed they want a debate in Michigan before the primary. The debate would likely be held in Flint. But there is some disagreement on another debate the Sanders campaign wants in April.

The Sanders campaign says they first proposed a March 3 debate in Michigan and Ms. Clinton’s campaign didn’t want it.

The Detroit News reported during the weekend that the Clinton campaign called for the debate in Flint on March 3.

In response, Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager said they have been calling for more debates, including one in Flint.

“The Clinton campaign, after not accepting Michigan, now says they want it. We are pleased to do it on March 3 before the Michigan primary provided the Clinton campaign will agree to Brooklyn, New York, on April 14,” he said in a statement.

However, Mr. Weaver said Ms. Clinton has not yet agreed to a debate in New York in April.

“Why won't they debate in Brooklyn? What's the matter with Brooklyn?” He said.

As this debate on debates was taking place, a slew of Michigan Republicans took to social media to rip Ms. Clinton for trying to score political points off the Flint water crisis.

In recent years, Michigan has seen its share of debates over debates. Looks like we won’t escape 2016 without another.

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Celebrities Donate Water To Flint

Posted: January 25, 2016 3:17 PM

Celebrities continue to get involved in the Flint water crisis through donations, with AQUAhydrate – a California-based company involving Sean “Diddy” Combs and Mark Wahlberg, committing a donation of 1 million water bottles to the city and saying it will continue to donate water bottles until the crisis is resolved.

As reported by Mlive, Mr. Combs and Mr. Wahlberg teamed up with Michigan-native Eminem and entertainer Wiz Khalifa for the donation.

Others who have donated to the city include late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon, who donated $10,000, and the band Pearl Jam, who donated $300,000.

But with the national attention surrounding the crisis, it’s not attracting just donations. According to The Daily Beast, actor Matt Damon has joined others in calling for Governor Rick Snyder to resign due to the crisis.

And, if you’re wondering why Matt Damon of all people spoke on the issue – not that it would be that strange considering Cher’s comments on the governor – he co-founded a water advocacy nonprofit in 2009 called Water.org. The nonprofit works to “break barriers between people and access to safe water and sanitation.”

Mr. Damon was discussing a new Water.org initiative and was asked about the crisis in Flint.

“At the very least he should resign. At the very least,” he told The Daily Beast. “Listen, everybody’s entitled to a fair trial in the United States of America, but that man should get one. And soon. That’s just my personal opinion.”

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Not $900M, But $1M In Powerball Not Bad Either For Holland Woman

Posted: January 11, 2016 12:19 PM

While no one won the full Powerball prize of more than $900 million this weekend, one lucky Holland resident won $1 million the first time she had ever bought a ticket.

Imari Shelton, an 18 year old from Holland, had to ask her mom how to buy a Powerball ticket to get into the running. One of the five tickets she bought matched five numbers drawn and now the aspiring lawyer is $1 million richer.

“When I woke up on Sunday, my mom told me that someone who had bought a Powerball ticket at the Speedway had won $1 million,” Ms. Shelton said in a statement released by the lottery bureau. “As soon as I heard that, I grabbed my ticket and started checking the numbers. When I saw I matched five numbers, I started shaking. I asked my mom what it meant if I matched five numbers and she thought I was joking. After she looked at my ticket with me, we both started screaming.”

Now the jackpot is up to a record $1.3 billion. I also have never bought a ticket before and am hoping Ms. Shelton’s beginner’s luck will head my way this week.

But I’ll have some serious competition seeing that Ms. Shelton now has some extra cash to buy even more Powerball tickets.

“Winning $1 million feels unreal and I don’t know how to describe it, but winning $1.3 billion would be mind-blowing,” she said.

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House Leaders Claim Optimism On Bipartisanship, But Can It Happen?

Posted: January 4, 2016 1:31 PM

Energy, Detroit Public Schools, auto insurance and criminal justice reforms are just a few of the key issues those leading the House expect to come up in 2016, and House Speaker Kevin Cotter has said he is not closing the door on working with the Democrats.

But seeing how negotiations between the two parties fell apart in a non-election year, can the two parties work together leading up to the presidential election when House control is in play?

A few signs point to no. One being Mr. Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) has already said he is focusing on auto insurance reform in the early part of this year, but will likely not reach out to Democrats. They have long staunchly opposed Republican plans.

Another sign of difficulty on bipartisanship is both Mr. Cotter and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) point the finger at the other when it comes to why negotiations on various issues have fallen apart. Mr. Greimel has said the Republican caucus is divided and under the control of the party’s right wing.

Mr. Cotter says the Democrats are so focused on winning back the House in 2016 that they are not interested in working with Republicans to pass public policy.

The two parties have already worked together on the House energy plan, to get it out of committee. But the question becomes whether that pattern continues in the full House and on an eventual final vote to send a plan to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) has said he and Majority Floor Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) have a good working relationship. Given those two are heading the negotiations in the House on energy, their talks might stand a chance.

A plan to pay $715 million over 10 years to DPS is likely the toughest issue for the House. Mr. Cotter is waiting on the Senate to do anything on the issue, like introduce the bills, and will go from there. He has said it is not a top priority.

And for DPS to pass the House, Republicans want some significant reforms and accountability measures. Detroit Democrats will likely take the lead on this in the House. Will they be able to negotiate a plan with enough reforms to make Republicans happy enough to vote yes, but not so many that they lose Democratic support?

One positive point on the issue is Mr. Cotter and Mr. Greimel do agree that the funds should not solely come from the School Aid Fund.

“I think you’ve identified a point of agreement between myself and Leader Greimel,” Mr. Cotter said while laughing during a recent interview with Gongwer News Service.

However, that small point of agreement is not likely to carry the issue all the way to Mr. Snyder’s desk.

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Even The Oversight Chair Can (Unofficially) Lose Control Of Time

Posted: December 14, 2015 5:56 PM

Officially, the House Oversight and Ethics Committee adjourned at noon last Thursday after a normal hearing, but by my record the committee – unofficially – experienced a rare hiccup by adjourning at 12:01 p.m.

However, the official clock is the only one that matters. And on more than on occasion the official clock is slower than the clocks of us mere mortals. In the past this has happened when the clock is nearing midnight and the House does not wish to procedurally adjourn at the end of the day.

Under House rules committee meetings must be wrapped up as soon as the House enters into session. On Thursdays, that is at noon.

Committee Chair Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) was racing the clock while the committee worked on a bill, attempting to get the committee to move through the amendment process faster, at one point stopping Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) from explaining his proposed substitute.

In the end, though, my clock was not Mr. McBroom’s friend, and the committee still went that extra minute.

Of course, Mr. McBroom was not purposefully going long, and relied on his clerk who said the committee officially adjourned at 12 p.m.

And this occurred one day after House Democrats and Republicans had a major scuffle on the House floor over what else? The House rules.

In that instance both camps charged the other with not carrying out the rules property when the Democrats called for a record roll call vote on an amendment and the Republicans denied the motion.

Yes, yes, one minute – unofficially – what’s the big deal, right? Well, the rules are there for a reason, and the immortal John Bender in “The Breakfast Club” once suggested the results of ignoring the rules.



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Supporters Of Dog Breed Bans Make Case After Attacks 

Posted: December 7, 2015 12:23 PM

After a 4-year-old boy was brutally mauled to death by four pit bulls in Detroit last week, those who support local governments adopting ordinances to ban certain breeds have attempted to make their case on why the bans are appropriate and necessary.

And bans on the local level could be at risk, with SB 239* sitting in the House Local Government Committee. The bill would prohibit specific breed bans in the state.

The bill cleared the Senate 25-11 in October. Nothing has happened with the bill on the House side, but after two deaths from pit bull attacks this week, it’s hard to envision any movement in the House this year, or possibly ever.

Those who support breed bans showed it on editorial pages last week. Rochelle Riley, columnist with the Detroit Free Press, called for a ban on pit bulls in Detroit, where Xavier, the 4-year-old, was killed.

Ms. Riley criticized local officials for not previously adopting a ban, and said pit bulls in the city are roaming monsters. She also specifically calls out Sen. David Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), the sponsor of the Senate bill.

“I'd like to send state Sen. David Robertson … photos of Xavier Strickland's remains. No, I'd like him to drive down to Detroit and walk around the east side without a police escort. I wonder how fast he can run?” She wrote.

Mia Johnson, a founding member of National Pit Bull Victim Awareness, a coalition of more than 50 groups, and Joan Kowal, a volunteer advocate for Daxton's Friends and the creator of Out of the Blue, a memorial art exhibit for 42 victims of recent dog attacks, wrote a guest column for MLive, supporting local control on the bans.

“Enabling the proliferation of dogs well known to be dangerous and even fatal to people and other animals should not be in the best interest of any community,” the pair wrote.

Those who oppose breed specific bans say owners should be punished more severely if a dog exhibits aggressive behavior. The American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation are against breed specific bans.

The AVMF argues that pit bulls are actually a type of dog, not a breed. And relying only on what a dog looks like to determine its breed is not a reliable method. With bans, families are forced to put their dogs to sleep or move, even if the dog has no behavior issues, the group wrote.

“Any dog can bite, regardless of its breed, and more often people are bitten by dogs they know. It’s not the dog’s breed that determines risk – it’s the dog’s behavior, general size, number of dogs involved and the vulnerability of the person bitten that determines whether or not a dog or dogs will cause a serious bite injury,” the group said.

Jack Lessenberry, with Michigan Radio, suggested cities get tougher on dog owners, stricter punishments for the owner if the dog kills someone (though the owner of the pit bulls in the Detroit mauling was charged with second-degree murder today); if the person is involved in dog fighting or if they neglect or abuse their dog. He also wrote cities should prohibit dog breeding without a license and require the surrender of any dog that is not spayed or neutered.

“This would cost some money – but the long-term social and economic benefits would be more than worth it.,” he wrote. “This problem was caused by man, not dogs. Now, it is our job to fix it.”

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Leonard Secretly Roots For MSU In Columbus

Posted: November 23, 2015 2:44 PM

If you thought this Spartan was going to let Monday go by without figuring out how to write about Michigan State University’s win over Ohio State this weekend, you were wrong. Rep. Tom Leonard III, an alumnus of the Michigan State University College of Law, went into the notoriously hostile Ohio Stadium to watch the MSU victory “undercover.”

As a reminder, virtually everyone expected MSU to lose big. But the Spartans pulled through, winning 17-14 after a 41-yard field goal as time ran out.

Mr. Leonard traveled to the game his wife Jenell Leonard, the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office commissioner. While Mr. Leonard is technically wearing red, it is a campaign shirt and has nothing to do with the Buckeyes.

He is wearing a Detroit Tigers cap, and as anyone who has attended a Cleveland Indians game in Cleveland can attest, that is like throwing chum to the sharks.

Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt) and wife Jenell Leonard at the Michigan State-Ohio State football game in Columbus, Ohio

Of note, Mr. Leonard obtained his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. After the MSU-Michigan game in October ended in a stunning last-second Spartan win, Mr. Leonard said on his Facebook page that he was “still a Wolverine,” but added it was “time for Sparty to go get that national title.”

However, he did say Monday if Michigan pulls out the win against OSU at noon Saturday, he might have to root against MSU when they play Penn State at 3:30 p.m. If MSU loses, then the winner of the OSU-Michigan game wins the Big Ten East Division.

Other Spartans celebrating the victory Saturday with less conflicted emotions were House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), who wrote he was not ashamed and was crying after the game; Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), who graduated in 1980, wrote on his Facebook the snow that fell on the Lansing region didn’t matter, because the Spartans won; and Lt. Governor Brian Calley, another MSU alumnus, also tweeted throughout the game as he often does.

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Runner’s World Covers Calley, Bernstein Running NYC Marathon Together

Posted: November 16, 2015 4:08 PM

Earlier this month Lt. Governor Brian Calley helped guide Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein 26.2 miles through New York City during its annual marathon, and Runner’s World asked why a Republican would help a Democrat in a feature on the two.

Of course Mr. Calley and Mr. Bernstein have spent time together throughout the past year on a disability listening tour. Both are also veteran marathoners, and with Mr. Bernstein being blind, four guides were needed to get him through the crowded race safely.

The group completed the race in about 5 hours and 37 minutes. Mr. Calley told Runner’s World they wanted to help end stereotypes about what a person with a disability can do.

“We also want to send the message to policymakers across the country that people from across the political spectrum should be able to come together and work to create a better future for people with all different types of abilities,” he said to the magazine in a story published last week.

Mr. Bernstein has run 17 marathons and one Ironman triathlon – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run – but told the magazine his times have slowed since his hip and pelvis were shattered after being hit by a cyclist.

He travels to New York often to run outdoors with the Achilles Track Club, the group that recruited him to begin running in 2002. According to its website, the group’s mission is to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics.

Mr. Bernstein said he would like to have Mr. Calley guide him through the New York City Marathon again.

“For all intents and purposes, you’re putting your physical safety in the hands of another person,” he told Runner’s World. “The reason that Brian was so outstanding is that I could trust him so much.”

And Mr. Calley said battling through 26.2 miles together only strengthened their relationship.

“It takes your friendship to a whole different level,” he said “We were good friends before, but you run a marathon together, and it’s like you’re family now.”

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House Democrats – A Musical Caucus

Posted: November 2, 2015 2:40 PM

Calling all philistines, time to get you some culture: Rep. Erika Geiss is attempting to do something new by exposing her fundraiser attendees to some classical music through her violin, the instrument she learned to play 40 years ago.

Ms. Geiss (D-Taylor) started playing the violin when she was five years old. At her fundraiser, which will happen in January, she will be joined by Timothy Michling, who is the principal oboist of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Michling is also part of Ms. Geiss’ Lansing team, she said.

Another House Democrat who has attempted to use musical talents to fundraise is Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), who was going to sing for a group of attendees. However, he was unable to make his scheduled performance because of a late session day.

Ms. Geiss said it’s easy to fall into a fundraising routine, like constant golf outings, and she wanted to do something fun.

“(I wanted) to do something different. Give people a reason for people to want to come,” she said.

 

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Snyder ‘Rockin Out’ To Paul McCartney

Posted: October 22, 2015 2:58 PM

Governor Rick Snyder took some time out of his usual busy schedule to enjoy the music of Paul McCartney last night as House Republicans stayed late in session to pass a roads plan.

Mr. Snyder is seen rocking to The Beatles song “Hey Jude” in a video posted on Twitter by a metro-Detroit radio host.

Mr. Snyder’s dance moves are probably just what you’d expect, and even the governor needs a night out with his wife every now and then.

While Mr. Snyder was at the concert, the House Republicans were crafting their own road funding plan to get to $1.2 billion for the state’s crumbling infrastructure, so I’m sure he got right back to work when the show ended.

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Dantonio’s Forward For Schuette Book Irks Some Democratic Spartans

Posted: October 5, 2015 4:11 PM

Michigan State University football fans who are also Democrats were not pleased today when they learned MSU’s head coach, Mark Dantonio, wrote the forward for Attorney General Bill Schuette’s new book, “Big Lessons From a Small Town.”

Mr. Dantonio, who has not contributed toward the campaign of a candidate for state office in at least the 13 years of required electronic reporting, met Mr. Schuette through Peter Secchia, Mr. Schuette told reporters at an event for his new book.

In the forward, Mr. Dantonio writes that Mr. Schuette’s philosophies as he has gone through his career are similar to how the MSU football program operates. We also learn that when writing, Mr. Dantonio likes to throw in capitalized words for emphasis.

“It must involve a sincere COMMITMENT to every individual’s life; the ability to COMMUNICATE and solve their problems both big and small,” Mr. Dantonio wrote about the team’s philosophy. “It must be built on TRUST. Bill Schuette has worked a lifetime in establishing this with his constituency.”

Mr. Dantonio also writes that Mr. Schuette and MSU football have pushed themselves to succeed at high levels.

“He continues to REACH HIGHER as he pushes towards change and development in the state of Michigan and beyond,” Mr. Dantonio wrote of Mr. Schuette, borrowing from the slogan he adopted for MSU’s 2015 season. “His book is an example of the above; a passion for people born from a life filled with both success and adversity; that of a leader.”

The brief forward disappointed those who are Democratic or liberal activists (or both) and MSU football fans, and some went to social media with their frustrations. Mr. Schuette’s conservative record has, to put it mildly, made him unpopular with liberals.

Zack Pohl, spokesperson for the Michigan AFL-CIO, tweeted: “Schuette’s book has a forward by Dantonio? *hangs head*”

To this, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon replied “Go Blue!!”

Those at Progress Michigan also took to Twitter on Mr. Dantonio’s writings. Marissa Luna went straight to the source: “Don’t do this @dantoniomark”

And Sam Inglot was shocked: “WTH: @DantonioMark wrote the foreword for Schuette's new book? I'm going to be sick.”

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Greimel, Trump May Kinda, Sorta Agree On Something

Posted: September 29, 2015 11:51 AM

A surprising area of common ground may exist between House Minority Leader Tim Greimel and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, though Mr. Greimel is certainly not advocating for a Trump presidency.

At a Monday morning press conference in Lansing, a reporter asked Mr. Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) if he agrees with Mr. Trump that hedge fund managers should pay more taxes.

Mr. Greimel, who was discussing a plan from legislative Democrats outlining tax credits for middle class families, was caught slightly off guard.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I haven’t given the question of hedge funds a great amount of thought,” Mr. Greimel said. “But I do think everybody should pay their fair share. And certainly the wealthy and well connected should be paying their fair share.”

So, Mr. Greimel was asked if he and Mr. Trump had something in common. Mr. Greimel fumbled a bit, possibly not wanting to admit outright that he and the controversial Mr. Trump agree on something.

“Well I don’t know exactly … I think there are probably lots of different issues, you could look at lots of presidential candidates, and find things in common across party lines,” he said.

But is Mr. Greimel calling for a President Trump?

“In general, no,” he said.

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Leonard, Once A Mental Health Court Skeptic, Admits He Was Wrong

Posted: September 22, 2015 11:56 AM

In recent years, the Legislature has taken steps to address mental illness in the state and get people help before they commit serious crimes or go to prison. Rep. Tom Leonard III – who has assisted with legislation helping the cause – revealed to a committee today he was once a mental health court skeptic at the beginning of his career.

Mr. Leonard (R-DeWitt Township) spoke to the House Health Policy Committee this morning about his bill updating “Kevin’s Law,” which was passed in 2004 and hasn’t worked as intended.

Mr. Leonard’s bill, HB 4674*, would allow judges – when petitioned by a family member or friend – to order outpatient treatment for those who have had their mental illness confirmed by a physician before a serious incident occurs.

Issues with “Kevin’s Law” were brought to Mr. Leonard’s attention by Lt. Governor Brian Calley, and Mr. Leonard has been praised by many for bringing up the bill, including the Mental Health Association of Michigan.

But, as Mr. Leonard told the committee today, once upon a time, he was skeptical mental health courts could work.

Mr. Leonard said when he was working as a clerk for Genesee County Probate Judge Jennie Barkey, she began a pilot program for mental health courts in the state.

“I was looking at this and I said ‘judge, this is never going to work,’” he said to the committee. He also said he is more than happy to admit when he is wrong.

Mr. Leonard said during one proceeding, Ms. Barkey asked everybody in the courtroom if they thought a person going through the system would graduate from the program. Mr. Leonard said everyone in the room raised their hands indicating they thought the person would successfully finish the program – except him.

Ms. Barkey then told that person he not only would graduate from the program, but, “we are going to make Mr. Leonard come back a year from now and apologize to you.”

A year later, Mr. Leonard was working as a prosecutor and received a call from Ms. Barkey.

“Using some very colorful words, she let me know that (he) had graduated, and I better get my ‘you-know-what’ to his graduation the next day,” Mr. Leonard told the committee.

Mr. Leonard then co-sponsored each bill in the mental health court package that became law in 2013.

“It’s been a huge success,” Mr. Leonard said of the program.

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John Oliver Picks Up Courser, Gamrat Scandal

Posted: September 14, 2015 12:18 PM

The national attention on the scandal surrounding the extramarital affair and attempted cover up between now former representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat is not over yet with comedian John Oliver doing a segment on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.”

Mr. Oliver, like Jimmy Fallon who also included the scandal in a monologue last month, focuses on the fake email Mr. Courser wrote about himself having sex with a male prostitute in an attempt to distract from any truths coming out about the real affair.

“Todd Courser may have lost his job but he might have a bright future as a Midwestern erotica author,” Mr. Oliver quips about the email Mr. Courser wrote in May.

Mr. Oliver also plays a short portion of the audio where Mr. Courser explains his fake email plan to a former aide, who does not think it is a good idea, and the crowd eats it up. An old interview with The Detroit Free Press’s Kathy Gray explaining some of the stranger details surrounding the affair is also featured.

The roughly four-minute clip deserves a watch, but warning, this is HBO and Mr. Oliver does not shy away from using swear words.

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A Dust-Up Between Two St. Joseph Republicans On Solar Power

Posted: August 31, 2015 1:16 PM

There has been enormous criticism of Sen. John Proos’ bill that would make major changes to Michigan’s net metering program that allows electric users to receive a credit toward their electric bills for solar energy they generate from rooftop panels, but Monday saw a surprising new critical voice.

Former Rep. Charlie LaSata, now a Berrien Circuit judge, and like Mr. Proos, a St. Joseph Republican, tore apart Mr. Proos’ bill replacing the net metering program, saying it would make solar power unaffordable for residents. Mr. Proos succeeded Mr. LaSata in the 79th House District and held that seat from 2005-10 before moving to the Senate.

Mr. LaSata, who served in the House from 1999-2004, said in a Facebook post he has generated 100 percent of his power through solar panels during the last year.

Utilities argued last week during a committee hearing on SB 438*, sponsored by Mr. Proos, that net metering provides a subsidy and allows customers to avoid paying the cost of the grid.

The bill would replace net metering programs with a distributed generation program under which an electric customer could generate up to 110 percent of the customer's average annual electricity consumption. The key factor is that instead of current law where utilities give customers generating solar power from rooftop panels a credit for the power generated, the customers would instead have to pay for their electric use in advance and then sell back what they generate to the utility at a wholesale rate.

Mr. LaSata wrote that with solar power becoming more affordable, utility companies – who support Mr. Proos’ bill – feel threatened. He also said his family installed solar panels without any state subsidies or funds.

SB 438* would make solar power unaffordable for Michiganders and prevent us from directly using the power we produce,” Mr. LaSata wrote. “Please tell Senator Proos his bill is bad for Michigan. … There are only 1,800 net metering customers in the entire state. This is not a liberal or conservative issue, it is an American issue of self-reliance.”

It all makes for some unusual drama in the city that bills itself as the “Riviera of the Midwest.”

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Those Attending Trump Event Came For The Speech … And Beer?

Posted: August 12, 2015 3:16 PM

The Birch Run Expo Center was filled with a sold out crowd Tuesday night to hear Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tell them he could make this country great again, a crowd donning American flags on their shirts, bandanas or waving in their hands, that is if they weren’t holding a Budweiser tall boy or a plastic cup filled with wine.

During this Lincoln Day dinner for the Genesee and Saginaw County Republican parties concession stands remained open. Beer and wine were being served to the crowd, which was incredibly enthusiastic by the time Mr. Trump came on stage around 8 p.m. (doors opened at 4).

In fact, when I wandered to a Bagger Dave’s to grab a beer myself and file my story, the bartender told me attendees of the event were “getting lit” before even heading to the expo center.

Is this weird? I thought so. And others said it was not typical to serve beer at these kinds of events. It underlines that Mr. Trump is attracting interest from outside the usual voters that participate in Republican primaries. It also brings up the question of whether these 2,000-plus people who attended vote when the time comes or if they just wanted to see the Trump Show in person.

Saginaw County Republican Party Chair Amy Carl noted the individual parties received no proceeds from the concession sales.

After Mr. Trump’s speech, the exuberant crowd left the expo center, taking their energy with them, but leaving behind their beer cans so they would not be forgotten. Cheers!

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John Dingell Continues To Win Twitter

Posted: August 3, 2015 12:57 PM

If you still are not following former U.S. Rep. John Dingell on Twitter, you should start.

Mr. Dingell is the longest-serving member in the history of Congress. He left office in January, and the 89-year-old has a knack for Twitter (sorry to mention your age, Mr. Dingell). He already had emerged as one of the elected officials most skilled at using the medium while still in office and now has taken it to a new level in retirement.

Last Friday, in a spoof of celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show, Mr. Dingell read a few mean tweets of his own.

Mr. Dingell lost a bet with his wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), who succeeded him in the 12th District. If Ms. Dingell got to 5,000 Twitter followers in five days, Mr. Dingell had to read the mean tweets.

Of course, she exceeded 5,000 before the deadline.

One tweet, written by Moe Lane, said: “Didn’t Dingell … die? I mean, I don’t want him dead or anything. But seriously, didn’t he die?”

“Answer is no, I’m still breathing fire right now,” Mr. Dingell said.

He also tweeted the usernames of the authors of those mean tweets, encouraging others to follow them.

Mr. Dingell has been on fire at tweeting for some time.

Some of his favorite topics include the Detroit Tigers (though those haven’t been positive as of late) and the Sharknado franchise. “Sharknado” star Ian Ziering, aka Steve Sanders of “Beverly Hills 90210” fame, tweeted back at Mr. Dingell, and it is hard to imagine a more improbable conversation on Twitter.

Mr. Dingell even tweeted to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump “delete your account” after Mr. Trump insulted U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

If only Twitter had existed when Mr. Dingell was at the peak of his power, chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee, putting out major legislation at a time when Mr. Dingell was one of the most powerful, maybe the most powerful, member of the U.S. House.

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A Curious House Republican Analysis Of The Roads Situation

Posted: July 27, 2015 2:21 PM

A House Republican blog post boasting that the caucus has found $1.2 billion for roads from the General Fund in the last five years without raising taxes is perplexing.

The blog touches on other points as well – like continuing to work across the aisle to look for a solution and criticizing the handling of road funding in previous administrations during the first decade of the 2000s, what Republicans often refer to as the “lost decade.”

Some of these claims are difficult to reconcile.

On the point of contributing the $1.2 billion in General Fund dollars without raising taxes, House Republicans have in fact voted raise taxes with its plan that raised the diesel tax by 4 cents per gallon and to increase registration fees for hybrid and electric vehicles. These are much smaller tax increases than the 15-cent per gallon gasoline tax hike that passed the Senate, but still, they are tax increases.

House Republicans also voted to repeal the Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives low-income workers a credit on their state income tax equal to 6 percent of the federal EITC they claim. Republicans have labeled it “tax fairness,” but nonetheless, if enacted it will result in a tax increase for those workers.

It’s also confusing to post about continued work with Democrats when one week before the post House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) told Gongwer News Service he was not confident the House Democrats would play a huge role – or a role at all – in a road funding solution.

And since then, House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) has said he and Mr. Cotter have not met in person to discuss roads. Both parties have lambasted the other’s road funding proposals.

Finally, criticizing the “previous administration” – i.e. former Governor Jennifer Granholm -- isn’t necessarily fair. True, Ms. Granholm never pushed hard to raise revenues for roads and did not put forward a specific plan to substantially boost road funding.

But to rip her for not putting General Fund money into roads, and that is the specific criticism in the blog, overlooks the reality that Republicans controlled the House for seven years of the previous decade (2000-06) and the Senate for the entire decade. And a Republican, John Engler, was governor for the first two years of the decade, and he did not support putting General Fund into the roads either.

In fact, it was a point of pride for legislative Republicans not to turn to the General Fund for roads.

Mr. Engler relied on a 1997 gasoline tax increase and a huge billion dollar bond program to pay for road needs.

Also, when the economy crashed, the General Fund was hardly flush with cash to put toward roads.

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Inman Searches South Pacific For Earhart

Posted: July 20, 2015 1:30 PM

Rep. Larry Inman has a more interesting hobby than most legislators – finding the lost pilot Amelia Earhart.

Mr. Inman (R-Traverse City) recently returned from a trip to the South Pacific in search of clues regarding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in 1937, he told WKAR-FM’s “Current State” last week.

Mr. Inman’s interest in Ms. Earhart goes back decades. And he connected with the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery in 2012 and joined their trip last month to the island of Nikumaroro in search of evidence.

Mr. Inman has original engineering documents used to build Ms. Earhart’s plane, which led to his invite on the trip. He said the plane – if underwater near the island – would be covered in coral. The group sent vessels underwater to take pictures and they will be evaluated during the next month or two to determine if a plane, or a part of a plane, is there.

They can then compare the plane or its parts to the drawings Mr. Inman has of Mr. Earhart’s plane.

Mr. Inman told WKAR he was on the ground team and the group found nothing conclusive. He said some make up and face cream was found.

He is also continuing to work on a traveling exhibit on Ms. Earhart. Mr. Inman said he is talking with museums and others, including National Geographic, on the exhibit, which will consist of his personal collection.

Mr. Inman said Ms. Earhart’s courage and strides for women at the time led to his deep interest in her disappearance.

“The mystery of whatever happened to Amelia Earhart, the most popular and influential woman of the time. … how could she just disappear?” he told WKAR of why he was so invested in the lost pilot.

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Olumba Enters The House Chamber Late, Dems Cheer

Posted: September 24, 2014 3:52 PM

Certain House Democrats appeared ecstatic as Rep. John Olumba walked into the House chamber at 2:44 p.m. today; one hour and fourteen minutes after session began.

Democrats seated around Mr. Olumba’s (I-Detroit) desk cheered and pounded on their desks as he entered the chamber. Shortly after 2 p.m. Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), who sits next to Mr. Olumba, tweeted a photo of his empty chair saying: “It might be time to reinstate Olumba watch.”

Since the House has been back for eight sessions starting on August 27th, Mr. Olumba has been absent or walked in during late for all but one of them. On the September 10th and 11th his absences were excused.

Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) quipped to Mr. Singh via Twitter that Mr. Olumba was prepping for his next committee meeting, as earlier this year he was made chair of the House Appropriations Fiscal Oversight Subcommittee (the committee has never met and is not scheduled to meet in the near future).

Shortly after Mr. Olumba sat at his desk, Mr. Singh tweeted a picture of him and said “The Olumba watch is over.”

 

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GOP House Candidate Has Personal Reason To Fix The Roads

Posted: July 11, 2014 1:52 PM

Former Grand Rapids City Comptroller Donijo DeJonge didn’t ruin a tire or total her car due to the state’s crumbling roads, but while she was out campaigning she did trip in a pothole and break her leg.

Ms. DeJonge is running in the 76th House District against two other Republicans to try to unseat Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). Ms. DeJonge said on Friday the only reason she wasn’t spending her afternoon hitting the doors in the district is because she is on crutches.

She also noted that while her time on crutches is temporary those who permanently spend their time in wheelchairs have to operate on roads that are in such poor condition.

When she’s finally able to hit the campaign trail again, Ms. DeJonge will have a very personal story to tell voters on why she will do what she can to get to the $1.2 billion annually to address the state’s infrastructure.

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When Does Intent Actually Matter?

Posted: June 9, 2014 3:50 PM

Thursday, three House Republicans, including Rep. Peter Pettalia, posed for a photo with fashion magazines on the House floor while joking with Rep. Gail Haines. At one point, Mr. Pettalia reportedly said: “Don’t say we don’t understand women.”

Mr. Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) later told reporters he doesn’t remember actually making the comment, but said he must have if the reporter who snapped the photo said he did (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 5, 2014).

The photo, posted on Twitter with the quote from Mr. Pettalia (though the original post did not make clear who said it), with the three chuckling Republicans came across as something of a group “in your face” rebuttal to Democratic criticism that Republicans have an anti-woman agenda at the Capitol.

But upon further review, the comment was Mr. Pettalia’s alone with Rep. Ben Glardon (R-Owosso) and Rep. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville) along for the ride.

Mr. Pettalia has insisted he did not intend for it to be offensive. He said later he has a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, and he respects women.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Pettalia has found himself in a potentially offensive situation in the last month. He recently brought a pastor on the floor for an invocation that turned into a condemnation of gay marriage (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 20, 2014).

Mr. Pettalia said then the pastor didn’t intend for it to be offensive to anyone.

But how were Democrats supposed to know? The Twitter post looked like a group of Republicans wanted to sarcastically fire back at Democratic charges Republicans are waging a “war on women.” Mr. Pettalia and his colleagues insist it was a “lighthearted” moment that was misconstrued.

Clearly, the way Democrats have attacked the incident, they don’t care about the intentions of the representatives when they posed for the picture.

The incident serves as another reminder that in politics, intentions seldom, if ever, overshadow the action, especially when reduced to 140 characters on Twitter.

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What I Learned Covering A Presidential Event

Posted: February 7, 2014 4:37 PM

Today, President Barack Obama spoke to a select group of lawmakers, farmers, agriculture stakeholders and others within the Lansing community – being my first time covering the president, there were a couple of things that jumped out.

Leave early: Think about a time that might be too early, and leave 5 minutes before that. I thought getting to the Wharton Center parking garage at 11:15 a.m., 15 minutes before media was allowed to enter, would be obnoxiously early. I was wrong.

Don’t expect to see: There were desks for print media. Behind the high rise for cameras. I chose to stand in the area between the high rise and the barricade that separated the media from invited guests.

Bring snacks: I thought I wouldn’t be able to bring food, until I saw personnel searching through another bag and pull out someone’s entire Subway sandwich. Media had to be there at least two hours before the event was set to start, so snacks are a good thing to have. Note: most other reporters already know this, obvious by the plethora of trail mix I saw on tables.

It’s better when it’s at your alma mater: One of the first things out of the president’s mouth was “go green,” being a Spartan myself, it was pretty great. He then congratulated MSU on its Rose Bowl win and said he was there scouting for his March Madness bracket. Finally, he called us greedy because we “want to win everything.”

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House Dems Attempt To Discharge Various Tax Relief Bills

Posted: January 22, 2014 4:14 PM

With lots of talk now underway in the Capitol to promote tax relief to residents, some House Democrats on Wednesday attempted to use the House rules to get some of its sponsored tax relief bills out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.

However, the Democrats attempted to get their bills on the House floor with no avail. The motions to discharge the legislation were simply postponed for the day.

The bills (HB 4562, HB 4564 and HB 4565) currently sit in the House Tax Policy Committee and have not seen a hearing since introduction in April. The bills would repeal the pension tax, reinstate the child care tax deduction and restore the Homestead Property Tax Credit.

The effort comes two weeks before Governor Rick Snyder’s budget presentation and after Republican leadership has expressed an interest in providing tax relief. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) has said the changes made to tax code in 2011 were designed to make it more balanced, and changes including the pension tax likely won’t be repealed with the state’s surplus dollars. Mr. Bolger has also said tax relief will be a key part of the House GOP action plan in 2014.

Democrats made their unhappiness known on Wednesday.

“My bill is crucial in helping seniors plan their retirement without worrying about losing the money they’ve earned through the years,” said Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge), sponsor of one of the bills that might have been discharged, in a statement. “I’m disappointed that Republicans could not see the value in this legislation, and unfortunately the seniors of Michigan will continue to feel the weight of their decision.”

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Full House Went Back In Time Tuesday

Posted: December 3, 2013 5:09 PM

The full House took a trip down memory lane today when the wireless Internet stopped working, and the members could not vote or use their iPads to access the web.

Luckily, the representatives’ old laptops were still in storage, and even more surprisingly, so was a box of short Ethernet cords to get each of the 110 laptops access to the Internet.

Session began at 1:30 p.m., and eventually House Democrats and Republicans went into caucus while those working in IT retrieved and set up the laptops. About 4 p.m., the House decided to only handle second readings of bills and deal with voting tomorrow.

While technology usually allows for the Legislature to be more efficient, today it showed technical difficulties can grind the process to a halt. Of course, there was always the option for a manual roll call of the members to handle votes, but those are time-consuming and with nothing urgent on Tuesday’s agenda, there apparently was no appetite to give the clerk’s vocal chords a workout.

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Lyons Shoots Buck On First Day Of Hunting Season

Posted: November 19, 2013 12:03 PM

There has always been some snickering about the two-week recess the Legislature has long taken for the start of firearm deer hunting season and Thanksgiving.

But many legislators do hunt, and one of them, Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, reports she shot a seven-point buck on the first day of hunting season.

Ms. Lyons (R-Alto), returning a call a little before 7 p.m. Friday on a different topic, said she wasn’t available to talk earlier in the day because she was out in the woods and ended up shooting a seven point.

“It’s been a good day overall,” Ms. Lyons said in the voicemail.

As someone who has never hunted and knows nothing about hunting – or apparently deer – I had to look up the meaning of seven point. I learned points are the tip of the various tines on the deer’s antlers, and the more points, the more prestige for the hunter.

So we will see if any other lawmakers can top Ms. Lyons prior to their return to session in December.

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Rep. Franz, Bolger Using Shut Down Confusion To Boast State’s Work

Posted: October 10, 2013 6:25 PM

House Speaker Jase Bolger and Rep. Ray Franz have received calls, emails and social media messages to get back to work or negotiate with Democrats to end the government shut down.

Along with informing their constituents that the shutdown is a federal government issue, Mr. Franz (R-Onekama) and Mr. Bolger’s office have been bragging about the Legislature passing budgets early and paying down debts.

“(We’ve received messages) telling us to negotiate better with the president or with the Democrats, or to give up pay checks if we’re not going to keep the government open,” said Ari Adler, spokesperson for Mr. Bolger (R-Marshall). “So we have had to explain to them that is a problem in Washington, D.C. and not in Lansing. But we have used it as an opportunity to explain how we are getting things done in Lansing, and how we have been able to stay on top of solving problems for Michigan’s families.”

Mr. Franz said he has to make four calls today alone to constituents explaining to them he is not their Congressman, and that the state’s government is not shut down.

“We just simply try to educate that I am the state rep, and we’ve done our job, we passed our budget,” he said. “And we’ve done it early, with a pay down of debt and with putting money aside in a savings. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

He said in the messages or emails, constituents address him as Congressman Franz – “it was a nice promotion,” he joked – and they say: “We are opposed to the government shutdown, we expect you to you to do your job, get back to work … Obamacare is the law of the land, support it and vote for it.”

“They appreciate the education if you will. And it’s easy for them to misunderstand. If you’re not following this day-to-day and just catch the highlights on the news at 6 o’clock, it’s easy,” Mr. Franz said.

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Colbert Does Segment On Callton’s ‘Pot For Potholes’ Suggestion

Posted: October 9, 2013 1:11 PM

Last month Gongwer News Service and other media outlets reported on Rep. Mike Callton’s openness to a proposal legalizing marijuana, and then taxing it to help fund fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Now it’s getting the Colbert treatment.

On Tuesday night comedian Stephen Colbert, on his show “The Colbert Report,” which airs on Comedy Central, mocked the proposal, which Mr. Callton (R-Nashville) said it could be called “pot for potholes” (See Gongwer Michigan Report, September 18, 2013).

“Yeah, maybe that would work,” Mr. Colbert said. “But once they fix every pothole, what do you think they’ll legalize to fix every crack?”

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

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Oh My, Could Rep. Genetski Be In Trouble With His Chiropractor?

Posted: August 30, 2013 2:47 PM

Professional hockey players certainly skate back onto the rink bloody and banged up and probably not with the endorsement of their doctors. But how about members of the Legislature?

Rep. Bob Genetski’s (R-Saugatuck) team, the Coral Gable Whalers, won the Newcastle Cup – the championship trophy in the Holland Adult Hockey League -- in a 10-0 match, with Mr. Genetski scoring two goals, the Holland Sentinel reported on Friday.

However, the undefeated team’s press coverage may get Mr. Genetski in a little trouble with his chiropractor.

“My chiropractor told me not to play hockey for two weeks. I hope he doesn't read the Sentinel,” Mr. Genetski wrote on his Facebook.

No word on what sent Mr. Genetski to the chiropractor in the first place.

Mr. Genetski with the Newcastle Cup, courtesy of his Facebook page.

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The Textbook Answer To Rep. McMillin’s Common Core Textbook Question

Posted: August 15, 2013 4:00 PM

The debate over whether to use Common Core education standards has added a textbook dimension. But reviewing this latest assertion might need a textbook itself.

Common Core standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010, but a hold has been placed on the implementation of the standards unless the Legislature approves them.

Supporters say the standards are better than current ones, and will produce more college and career ready students. While opponents say the standards were created in secret, and are a government takeover of education standards that will cut out local control and parent involvement.

Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) is one of the main opponents of the Common Core standards. Mr. McMillin has said the state can beef up or change its standards without adopting the Common Core, and also has said once the state adopts the standards; it won’t be able to change or alter them in any way.

During a six-hour committee on the standards on Wednesday, Mr. McMillin repeatedly asked testifiers about a statement made by William Schmidt, a professor at Michigan State University, who was involved in developing the Common Core's math standards, concerning textbooks certain districts have bought in preparation for the Common Core standards implementation.

Mr. Schmidt, during a meeting on July 31, told Rep. Ken Yonker (R-Gaines Township) that a school district that spent more than $1 million on textbooks for the Common Core wasted its money.

“There is not a serious set of textbooks out there that really are worth anything. They don’t line up with the Common Core standards, they really don’t line up with anything,” he said. “I tell districts don’t buy a textbook until they are about 300 pages long. An 800-page eighth grade book is just a joke.”

Mr. McMillin, however, who was not present during Mr. Schmidt’s testimony, used the statement solely against Common Core.

“There is some teacher preparation but there’s nothing out there that even aligns, is it fair to even have us testing kids with a test that is aligned to the Common Core, when one of its premier performers said there are not good textbooks out there on the market to teach Common Core?” he asked.

But Mr. Schmidt’s statement itself was bashing most textbooks on the market that could be used to teach math by any standard, and was not specifically a slam at the Common Core.

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Plenty Of Laughs In Final House Session Before Island Meeting

Posted: May 29, 2013 2:40 PM

With the budget bills passed in the House and many members set to leave for the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Island Policy Conference later in the day, Wednesday’s House session had a much lighter feel.

Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) did not wear a tie to session on Wednesday, which violated House rules.

This prompted Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) to take of his tie and waive it around as he called “Mr. Speaker” to House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) after Mr. Bolger jokingly did not recognize Mr. Stamas because of his rule violation.

Then, Minority Floor Leader-elect Rep. David Rutledge (D-Ypsilanti), who was called by his new title for the first time and received a standing ovation from the chamber, called to Mr. Bolger to excuse absences.

“Because you are wearing a tie, it is my privilege,” Mr. Bolger said.

Earlier in the day, during the House Tax Policy Committee, Rep. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) and Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) also had some laughs.

Ms. O’Brien was acting as chair of the committee and said, “I wish it was under different circumstances.”

Ms. Barnett, the minority vice chair of the committee, responded, “me too. I wish I was sitting in that chair.”

To that, Ms. O’Brien laughed, “I do not second that motion.”

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Where’s Olumba?

Posted: March 6, 2013 3:34 PM

Rep. John Olumba (I-Detroit), who recently declared himself as an independent, is becoming a name that is almost always followed by a chuckle.

When his name is called for attendance in committee, there is a laugh by someone. When he shows up late to the House floor, no one is that surprised.

The day after he declared himself independent, he did not attend the House Insurance Committee to vote on important legislation, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan overhaul bills.

Last week he missed voting on legislation, again, because he was late. The bill, HB 4111*, would appropriate money for the health insurance exchange – only this time it was more noticeable because he missed a full House vote.

In his statement announcing he was leaving the Democratic Party, he wrote: “I declare myself to be to be a member of the Independent Urban Democracy Caucus that recognizes and puts as a priority, the poor and disenfranchised persons of this state, Detroit and other urban areas sharing socio-economic commonalties, and the African American population of this state.”

Given that mission, it is hard to reconcile how Mr. Olumba would miss the vote to fund the insurance exchange.

More broadly, Mr. Olumba appears to be losing credibility with his colleagues as a result of denouncing the Democratic caucus but then failing to show up.

Today, Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), who now has a seat next to Mr. Olumba’s on the House floor after seat assignments changed to accommodate Mr. Olumba’s independent status, tweeted a picture of Mr. Olumba’s empty seat and posted: “Rep. Olumba watch. Looking for my new seat mate.”

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