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Blog Posts

by John Lindstrom, Publisher

The Game Of Which Congressperson Do We Lose

Posted: January, 11 2018 3:02 PM

We are now less than three years before finding out officially that we will lose a member of Congress. Yes, Michigan’s population has grown, which is good when the country is growing, but not as fast in relationship to other states to prevent us from losing at least one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. If we see a big upsurge in growth over this year, 2019 and the first few months of 2020 we might be able to stave off a loss and stay at 14 seats, but not, at this moment, is that likely.

Which brings us back to the lamentable game we as a state have had to play since 1980: which congressional seat, which congressional member do we lose. We went from 19 seats to 18 with the 1980 census, to 16 with the 1990, to 15 with the 2000, and the current 14 with the 2010 census.

Before looking at that more closely, here is a side game. And here is the answer: U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph).

The question is: In January 2019, which Michigan congressperson will have served continuously for more than a decade? Mr. Upton, presuming he runs and presuming he wins, will be the only one. Yes, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) was elected in 2006, but he was then defeated in 2008 before returning with the 2010 election. While he will have served at least 10 years, it has not been continuous.

That speaks to the stunning change that has occurred to Michigan’s delegation. The longest-serving member of the U.S. House, former Rep. John Dingell, decided against running in 2014. Former Rep. John Conyers was the dean of the House until claims of sexual improprieties forced him to resign last month. And then U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak), who has served for nearly 40 years, announced he would not seek re-election. And add to that former Republican U.S. Reps. Dave Camp and Candice Miller as well as former Democratic U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak leaving office and since 2000 nearly 200 years of congressional service from Michigan has ended.

And not just years of service, but real power. The representatives who have left Congress were the chairs and ranking members of major committees. Until the last session, Mr. Upton was chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Now no Michigan representative is a committee chair.

Which means what when we get down the shedding part of the game? Two caveats. One, there is always the chance someone will decide not to run in 2022, that makes the task easy. Second, the answer could be complicated if the Voters Not Politicians redistricting proposal win at the polls in November. It is very hard to say what it could mean in terms of how lines will be drawn and who will be the odd congressperson out.

If it doesn’t pass, and the Legislature is left to make the redistricting decisions, the fact that most Michigan’s delegation are newbies means there are very few powerful names to protect. Not that the Legislature was always worried about protecting persons, such as when Mr. Dingell had to square off against Democratic colleague former U.S. Rep. Lynn Rivers after they were tossed together in a district.

But add term limits to the mix and very few if any lawmakers drawing lines in 2021 will have served in any capacity with any of the current U.S. House members in the Legislature. Meaning, there won’t be as many legislative friends U.S. reps will be able to call on for some aid in Lansing.

As to where a seat may be lost, well, for nearly 40 years that has always come from the Detroit area. Will it still?

Here is a thought. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) has proven relatively popular with his district, he has been a major thorn to President Donald Trump and he is disliked by the business community and what has been labeled the Republican establishment. If the state is forced to mix districts up is it too far-fetched to suggest Mr. Amash might have to go up against someone like Mr. Upton or U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland)? Especially if the district would favor Mr. Upton or Mr. Huizenga more?

We’re just playing a game, after all. Ponder the possibilities.

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But, What If The State Wanted That $1.4 Billion?

Posted: January, 4 2018 3:42 PM

State government finds itself in an enviable position, possibly being enriched by as much a $1.4 billion because of how the new federal tax law is structured. For those still recovering from holiday overindulgence and too bloated to get the gist of the story, the federal tax changes effectively do away with the personal exemption in favor of expanding the standard deduction, and because Michigan’s personal income tax law allows state personal exemptions only to the extent there are federal personal exemptions the state could see an unexpected benefit of as much as $1.4 billion.

So far, everyone has been very noble in saying the state should not have that money, that it was intended as a tax cut on the federal side and should not be a tax increase on the state end. It would amount to an annual tax hike of $170 per taxpayer and dependent. Governor Rick Snyder, Treasurer Nick Khouri, newspaper editorials (yes, they still write them occasionally) and others have said steps need to be taken to ensure the people aren’t on the hook for that money.

It is a little surprising, nonetheless, that no one thus far has raised a peep about: Wait a minute, couldn’t we use that money?

If Michigan decided to hold onto the $1.4 billion there are a number of different areas that could lay some claim arguing spend on us and then the taxpayers will save money in different, tangible areas.

One of this reporter’s neighbors said immediately when the topic of the $1.4 billion came up, “Spend it on roads.”

Even with increased funding beginning to work its way to the Department of Transportation, long-term highway financing remains uncertain. Another $1.4 billion could go a long way towards the state repairing more roads and bridges. One could also argue it will save the average taxpayer what they would spend on rotten road-related car repairs, tires and other costs. Plus, think of the marketing for economic development better roads affords the state.

Or Michigan’s universities. They too have a legitimate claim to more money since they are still working through not just Mr. Snyder’s cut in 2011 but former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s major cut in 2003. State funding of universities has shrunk dramatically over the last two decades, forcing the universities to raise tuition rates which in turn is making it more and more difficult for the children of the working class and middle class to afford college at all. Spend $1.4 billion on us, the universities could say, and we can hold the line better on tuition, meaning you save money there. Plus, think of the marketing for economic development by promoting a better educated and trained workforce.

How about Michigan’s local governments? They can tell you how they have taken it on the chin financially between the Great Recession, restrictions in the Constitution on recouping some of their property tax revenues and controversial changes in revenue sharing. They can also argue the state is more interested in them dealing with retirement costs than with local services. Spend the $1.4 billion on us, they could argue, it could all go towards long-term retirement costs and local residents would not then see cuts in police and fire protection, in public works maintenance, libraries, recreation services and the like. Or we wouldn’t have to ask the local taxpayers to contribute more in taxes to pay for those services or for the retirement benefits. Plus, think of the marketing for economic development by promoting are well-protected, well-maintained, cost-efficient communities.

Yeah, well, tough luck guys, it is pretty clear the state is going to find a fix of some sort to ensure the $1.4 billion does not come to state coffers. That being the case, one could just say, okay fine then, the people will just end up having to pay that money out one way or another.

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2018 Projections, We Got ’Em

Posted: December, 28 2017 2:10 PM

It’s the New Year. And with the New Year, people enjoy projections. Here are mine, delivered in the following context.

Decades ago, before laziness overtook me, this reporter was working on a book related to Michigan history which required me to go through newspaper articles about Michigan government in the 1930s and 1940s. In so doing, I was surprised to see that the issues the Legislature dealt with were largely the same issues the Legislature was wrestling with in the 1980s.

Roughly, those issues could be summed up as the economy, education, the environment. The economy included not only business and jobs (remember, this was during the Great Depression and then World War II) but state revenues. Education was both about making sure kids got at least some schooling all across the state as well as the quality of said schooling. The environment issues were more resource-related than ecologically minded, but ecology played a role in concerns about loss of habitat and species for hunting and fishing.

There were other issues that didn’t come up in the ’80s: what the state might be able to do to help European Jews claim residency here and flee the Nazis, Michigan’s effort in the war. There were issues in the ’80s that were not mentioned 40 and 50 years earlier, such as civil rights, women’s rights, abortion.

In all, it creates something to think about as we venture into 2018. We look for projections of the New Year. Okay, unless we are all melted during a nuclear attack (which doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. At least I am old enough to remember my duck and cover lessons). I project Michigan will see a new governor elected as well as a new Legislature and its members of Congress. The weather will be cold, then pleasant, then hot, then pleasant and finally cold again. It is unlikely any of the state’s pro teams will win a league championship. Michigan State will beat Michigan, as many times as is needed. There are all the projections one can safely make.

Well, all but these: since my lost days as an historian I have watched government at work and see the issues remain thematically as much as they did in the 1930s with one major addition. Largely then, state government works on the economy, education, environment and equality with numerous variations on those themes, and with factors of one theme touching on one or all the others. Some of these issues will affect or perhaps decide the election. A number will be important all year and some for just a short while. Something in each of the themes will get people extremely agitated and concerned, other aspects will be greeted with a shrug.

Yes, you may complain these projections are all obtuse and obscure. But these projections will be closer to 100 percent correct than anything else will be.

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A Memory Wrought From A Funeral

Posted: December, 21 2017 3:03 PM

There once was a kiddie caucus in the Legislature, in the House specifically. It was 40 years ago, and the members of that caucus ranged in age from the mid-20s to 40. They were all Democrats, all liberal, and a bit of an annoyance to a mostly moderate and conservative Democratic majority.

On Tuesday, the oldest member of the Kiddie Caucus, former Rep. Lynn Jondahl, now 81, and a United Church of Christ minister, presided over the funeral of Curt Hanes. And at that funeral former Speaker Bobby Crim let out a story about what was one of the biggest political/legislative stories for many years.

Curt had been well-known reporter and columnist for the Lansing State Journal in the 1960s. He was a walk-on player for the Michigan State University football team under legendary coaches Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty, was a stalwart MSU supporter all his life, penned better lyrics for the MSU fight song (called “Spartan Thunder,” and they really are better lyrics, the funeral crowd sang them), before he was hired as chief of communications for the House Democratic Caucus. He later was a speechwriter for former Governor Jim Blanchard. He was always good for a drink and a laugh, and he was sharper than a saber.

Curt died of cancer at age 88. His funeral was crowded with former state officials, both Democrats and Republicans, former staff and a bunch of reporters (reporters never really retire, they’re always ready to tell a story).

As an intro to Mr. Crim’s story, on September 28, 1977, the Legislature overrode a veto by former Governor William Milliken. The bill itself was a technical measure on evaluating administrative rules. Hardly a sexy issue, but it created the essential format for how rules are reviewed that exists today. The Senate had earlier overridden the veto. There was a question if the House could. Mr. Milliken had worked hard to assure it was not overridden. But on that day, with a short House, the House voted 74-5 for override. Six Republicans joined the solid Democratic majority (and on the Democratic side, keeping the kiddie caucus on the bus for the vote was the biggest challenge). It was the first override in 26 years, and one of only three in the last 66 years.

At Curt’s funeral, Mr. Crim said he had stopped into Curt’s office that fateful day to go over what the legislative plans were, so Curt could prepare for any press releases or news conferences needed. Just working the calendar today, Mr. Crim said, nothing big today. Curt settled back for a quiet day.

Once in the House, though, Mr. Crim saw he had a short house and that the six Republicans who said they would support an override were present. He immediately put a call of the House on, locking the members in the chamber, announced they would act on the override, and once caucuses were done, ran the vote.

The override dominated headlines all across the state. Mr. Milliken was furious and assured the six GOP defectors he would not forget them. It fostered all sorts of speculation about what relations between the Legislature and Mr. Milliken would be like going forward. Along with the PBB crisis, the override ranked as the biggest political story of the year.

But what Mr. Crim remembered and said at the funeral was walking past Curt’s office after the vote while Curt eyed him grimly and said, “So, that was nothing big, was it?”

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What Could A Thermidorian Reaction Mean To Michigan Politics?

Posted: December, 14 2017 3:04 PM

On November 8, in Macomb County, former presidential assistant Steve Bannon spoke to the county’s Republicans, and in so doing praised Alabama U.S. Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore, whom Mr. Bannon promoted heavily.

On November 9, The Washington Post reported Mr. Moore had been involved with four teenage girls, one just 14, when he was in his 30s.

On Tuesday, Mr. Moore, heavily expected to win a special election for the U.S. Senate, lost the race to Democrat Doug Jones. Even Mr. Jones was surprised by his win, and Republicans were shocked.

Then on Wednesday, a friend, and former high school history teacher, asked this reporter if I thought we were in the midst of a Thermidorian Reaction.

Of course, I don’t have to remind any readers the phrase Thermidorian Reaction refers to when the French national convention – acting on 9 Thermidor Year 11 (which was French Revolution talk for July 27, 1794) – denounced Robespierre as a tyrant, arrested he and 21 of his associates, and then the next day beheaded them all. And you thought politics was tough today.

Now, historians will refer to a Thermidorian Reaction as that moment when a populace turns against a leader or a movement in a sudden and dramatic fashion. Obviously, pressure has to build before the reaction, but the moment itself is sudden, generally unexpected and momentous. One could argue that Mr. Trump’s election was a type of Thermidorian Reaction.

It is a little early to say the Alabama results mean politicians will march off to the rhetorical guillotine. But it does provide lessons for all parties here in Michigan, as well as nationwide.

GOOD CANDIDATES: Anyone can run for an office, but it helps a party and the public if there are good candidates on the ballot. In Michigan, in part thanks to term limits, candidate shopping is becoming more predominant. One has shown up at a party gathering and found pieces of paper on the chairs saying in effect: “Want to run for office, tell us who you are.” Parties, political activists and the community have to look beyond the talking points blah blah all candidates spout and figure out who they are. What baggage do they carry? What have they done that proves they can do the job? Are they direct in their dealings? To build good candidates, it also helps a party to have a good farm system. That has especially been a problem for Democrats in recent years. Former House Minority Leader Dianne Byrum said in 2016 she was surprised that not a single Democrat ran for the board in her township.

THE BASE IS MORE THAN BASIC: There is no question that both Mr. Jones and Mr. Moore politically lived or died because of their base. Mr. Moore won the lion’s share of white voters. Mr. Jones won near unanimous support from black voters. Across the nation, and Michigan is no exception, Democrats appeal less to white voters, especially rural white voters, while Republicans struggle to reach minority voters. This creates challenges for both parties. To be a party that claims to reach out to all persons in governing, they also have to reach out to all persons in politicking, so for each the base needs to grow.

Growing the base does not mean ignoring it, though, and here the Democrats were helped significantly by Mr. Moore. He turned out to be such a bad candidate that a significant number of Republicans voted for someone else – either Mr. Jones or a write-in – or didn’t vote at all. Meanwhile Democrats worked furiously to build up support and to get voters to the polls. The turnout among black voters was especially astonishing. However, given the relative closeness of the race all three elements had to work in Democrats favor. If any one of them failed, then Mr. Jones would have lost.

You can see that as well in Michigan in 2016. Neither now-President Donald Trump nor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was particularly popular. But Democrats failed to work as hard as they should have, missing serious campaign opportunities and really failing to put on as big a turnout effort as they needed.

Detroit voters have been lambasted for not showing up in November 2016, but take Detroit out of it. Look at results from counties all across the state compared to 2012. In some, Democratic turnout was nearly half what is was in 2012. Some votes went to Mr. Trump, yes, but not so much to prevent Democrats from winning if they had gotten their voters out. People I know who worked for both former President Barack Obama’s campaigns and Ms. Clinton’s have said the Clinton campaign didn’t seem as well organized, wasn’t on top of the best data on voter locations, and didn’t put the push into reaching voters Mr. Obama had. If the Clinton campaign had been more like 2008 and 2012, would Democratic turnout in other counties have improved? It’s not enough to have a base, you have to work that base harder than anyone else.

And finally, DON’T THINK YOU CAN HIDE. I’m sorry, but in all the post-Alabama analysis everyone seems to forget the single key factor that led to Mr. Moore’s defeat: The Washington Post. If the Post had not found the women Mr. Moore allegedly abused and not run the story when it did, Mr. Moore would have won an easy victory. Exposing his essential flaw engendered all the other factors – voting for write-ins, reducing GOP turnout and inspiring Democratic turnout, especially with black voters – to happen. In lectures I have given to aspiring politicians I have made it clear if you have done something, it will be found out eventually.

The elements may be there for an American Thermidorian Reaction. Alabama showed that. Could Michigan be the next to sharpen the blade? It’s up to the voters. Politicians take note.

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In World Gone Mad, Let’s Talk Balanced Centroidal Power Diagrams

Posted: December, 7 2017 5:15 PM

One can be forgiven for thinking the world is going to hell in, well a handbasket is far too slow, let’s say a Koenigsegg Agera RS whose brakes have gone out. News tends not to be happy, but the news lately has been just oppressively depressing. It matters not what side you are on, it just isn’t happy out there now (and this reporter, of course, earns his daily bread by reporting the unhappy events).

What better time to talk about reapportionment. Seriously, why wouldn’t you want to lose yourself in census tracts, communities of interest, contiguity and balanced centroidal power diagrams right now?

Balanced who? Ah, in talking about reapportionment here we are not talking about the Voters Not Politicians organization which is expected relatively soon to file its petition signatures for a ballot proposal to change Michigan’s redistricting system or the fight that will ensue as Republicans charge the VNP effort is one to put Democrats in charge of drawing lines (and taking that responsibility and advantage from Republicans).

No, we are talking in fact about a paper published by two Brown University researchers and one from the University of California-Riverside that argues they have developed an algorithm that would allow drawing district lines that are compact, contiguous, almost exactly even on population and without partisan influence or interest.

According to the paper, the districts drawn under the system would be convex polygons with an average of fewer than six sides (yes, math is part of the discussion) and which would be contiguous. Of course, the beauty of a convex polygon is it is sort of an ugly straight-sided blob with pretty much every community in the district contained as a whole. Districts drawn for partisan favor often consist of weird elongated spokes that snatch sections of one area and then sections of other locales miles away. Instead of a blob these districts can look like parts of animals or like cancer cells snatching and destroying other tissues.

These polygons are the balanced centroidal power diagrams discussed in the paper (and there is a lot more math in the paper). To derive them, one has to select a starting point which would be in the center of the eventual blob and then calculate population dynamics. In larger population areas there would be more but smaller blobs; in areas of sparser population, fewer but larger blobs.

The paper includes a number of experiments conducted of how redistricting would work in a number of states, alas Michigan was not one of the states, including California, New York, Florida, Alabama, Texas and Illinois. Using census data and their formula they came up with a series of polygonal blobs in all the states. They even, in their conclusion, said some adjustments may be needed to account for populations divided by water, something Michigan would have to consider with populations living on islands such as Beaver Island and Mackinac Island.

The proposal could in theory be used if either voters do adopt the VNP proposal or if redistricting remains the province of the Legislature.

And while it might go a long way to reducing political influence in district drawing, it couldn’t completely end it. Just as General Buck Turgidson warned in “Dr. Strangelove” that we could not allow a mineshaft gap, arguments over where the polygonal centers are placed could take on a political tone. Arguments about adjacent communities being split into different districts would continue, as would arguments about whether specific ethnic and interest groups were being fairly represented.

Still, at a time when we are withstanding so much rancor and stress, staring at district lines drawn as balanced centroidal power diagrams might provide some meditative calm when it is most needed.

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Michigan’s Public Records Law Functions Like A Shield

Posted: November, 16 2017 3:02 PM

Virtually every reporter in Michigan has had the experience of a public body using the state’s Freedom of Information Act as a tool to delay or prevent the release of information that should be public, and those in our office are no exception.

So my Gongwer colleague Zach Gorchow and I decided to have a “chat” about it – electronically, from desks situated about 50 feet apart. Here it is:

Zach Gorchow: John, we've talked many times lately about how Michigan's Freedom of Information Act has become more of a shield for government to avoid or delay the release of information instead of a real tool for the public to access public documents. And that's really become evident of late.

John Lindstrom: It has indeed, which clearly was not the intent of the authors of the law.

ZG: You had an awesomely bad experience with a state department recently. What happened?

JWL: It was a good example of the overall silliness of how officials are trying to use the law. In this case, I'll give the employees of the commission I was covering a touch of slack because they weren't quite sure what to do. I had covered the Indigent Defense Commission, which was discussing proposed changes to its foundational act. They were working off a document every member of the commission had and that every lobbyist there had, but which had not put out for the public.

When the meeting was done, I tried to get a copy of the document for a story. They were uncertain what to do and said I should file an FOIA request. It was a pain, but I did and I emphasized that though they had essentially a week to reply I needed expedited consideration. Now the commission folks were sympathetic and had the chair of the subcommittee who had worked on the proposed changes to call me, and we had a good interview. But ...

ZG: Under FOIA, public bodies have five business days to respond to an information request. They can, and usually do, take a 10 business day extension. Then at some point, if the public body grants your request, you get the records. But there's no time frame in the law. Continue...

JWL: I weren't waiting no more time for this document. So I called a source and they gave it to me. And when the required time to respond came about, I received an email from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs that they needed more time to review what I think was an eight-page document. I wrote them back, not telling them I already had the document, and expressed some surprise it would take more time to review a document that had essentially already been made public via the lobbyists having copies. But do what you need to do, said I. Eventually, nearly two weeks later, I got an email telling me they were granting the request and providing me with the documents at no charge.

I think the "no charge" was almost the biggest surprise.

ZG: Yes, we could discuss the $19,000 the Department of State Police requested for a FOIA request a few years ago or the thousands of dollars the Unemployment Insurance Agency wanted earlier this year.

There's this conflict. The spokespersons for each department, by and large, do a good job of responding within the short news cycles today, where there's a deadline every minute.

JWL: Oh yeah, the 19 grander. That's a sure way to both blow a budget and effectively mute coverage.

They do, I think most spokespeople do an excellent job.

ZG: But then once the spokesperson, more accurately, the spokesperson's boss, decides to route a reporter through FOIA instead of just handing the information over via phone or email, then the reporter gets put into a maze where it takes at best weeks and often months to get the information sought.

JWL: Exactly. Which of course delays any effort the reporters have to work on any major investigation.

ZG: Speaking of which, that's a good segue to the story we ran Wednesday on the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency wrongly finding about 37,000 people committed fraud to get jobless benefits between October 2013 and August 2015.

So first, here's the story: If you're not a subscriber, you should jump in now.

On August 11, I sent a FOIA request to the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) asking for the last known city in the U.S. mail address of all those folks who were wrongly accused and had fraud determinations reversed as well as their home county.

JWL: I well remember it.

ZG: The UIA took the 10-day extension. Then it informed me it was denying the request. It cited a section of the Michigan Employment Security Act that prohibits the disclosure of any information that could lead to the identification of claimants and/or employers. To be clear, part of my initial request did ask for names, and upon getting their response, there was no question that information was off-limits.

JWL: So after discussing it, you then...

ZG: But instead of partially denying my request and giving me the information on hometowns, not full addresses, just hometowns, they denied the whole thing.

So per the FOIA, I appealed to the head of the supervising agency. They granted the appeal, but only gave me a list of the hometowns and counties. It didn't indicate how many lived in each one.

So when I asked why that information was omitted, the FOIA officer treated it as a new request and then denied it -- CITING THE SAME SECTION that on the appeal I demonstrated did not in fact make the information I was seeking non-public.

I appealed again, and finally, three months later, I had the records I had sought in August.

JWL: There is a Marx Brothers quality to all this.

ZG: I could also point out that in the original denials, they greatly oversimplified, not coincidentally I assume, the section of the Michigan Employment Security Act that they said made what I wanted non-public. When I looked at the full text it was obvious by the plain language of the statute that the hometowns, home counties and number of people wrongly accused of fraud in each was not covered by the exemption.

JWL: Which takes us back to the original point, using the FOIA not to provide transparency but as a shield against transparency. I strongly suspect many folks would figure they had hit a non-negotiable roadblock with their response and not have looked up the state statute and checked it over.

ZG: Exactly. And I should point out, in both cases after the state granted my appeals, I received the information within a few days. Which is good. But it also says that the state easily could have and should have provided this information months ago.

Part of me thinks, "Yay, our appeal won!" The other part of me says, "Waitaminute, that means we were right and the people the state pays to be experts on the FOIA were wrong."

JWL: I suspect it was more a tactic attempted on their part, which we were able to overcome. But why, when the material is clearly public, should we or anyone be forced to go through such an exercise? We are dealing with the public's business, performed by public servants. There are some legitimate confidentiality issues, as you ran into, but that affects a distinct minority of issues. Any reporter who covered Detroit government under former Mayor Coleman Young knows what a total block the city made of the FOIA into its affairs, and we are nowhere near that. And I do praise Governor Rick Snyder for making all the emails related to the Flint water crisis public. Still, this is a troubling trend that I worry goes beyond just trying to make sure everything is being done according to Hoyle.

ZG: Yes, the Kilpatrick administration in Detroit was notorious for forcing people to sue to obtain public documents. You mentioned that what we are seeing today is not what the sponsors of the law intended. What was the expectation at the time when the Legislature passed the FOIA legislation?

JWL: Remember, it passed after Watergate and I think there was an expectation that government would do all it could to restore public trust by making it easy for the public to get documents. There was a legitimate sense among lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans both, that this was the right thing to do. Local governments weren't all that happy about it because they anticipated big costs in complying with requests. The law was eventually amended to deal with that, but that change also led to giant costs for documents. Since the business community made the most use of the FOIA, by and large they could pass off the costs. That's trickier for reporters, especially in an age when the industry is struggling. And I don't think a proper cost structure has really been developed with technological advances (most documents are stored electronically now and easier to find). There are times when one feels the FOIA is an example of the old saw, "No good deed goes unpunished."

ZG: Right. Is public information really public when a government can charge thousands of dollars to obtain it? That was rhetorical question, obviously.

JWL: But the genuine answer is, no, not really.

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The Supreme Court Is Cool, Think About It

Posted: November, 9 2017 12:05 PM

When then Justice Mary Stallings Coleman swore in Rep. Abe Lincoln – I’m not lying, she did, look it up – she called our system of government a “three-way street.” Yes, she did, I’m not lying.

That comment has confounded governmental scholars, philosophers and highway engineers for some 40 years.

It also has absolutely nothing to do with what happened at the Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday, but seemed a way to lead into what was probably the oddest spectacle in the court’s history.

Justice Bridget McCormack led the court in a team trust exercise. Team trust exercises, you know, those things companies send their executives off to do that usually involve falling backwards into another person’s arms and which often end up as part of a desperation plot for a sit-com in its waning years.

There was no falling in this exercise. Ms. McCormack had the six members of the court form a human pyramid. Human pyramids are usually the province of young people. Often a beach is involved. More often beer is involved.

But without a grain of sand or a keg in sight, Ms. McCormack engineered the court into a pyramid on the Court’s floor just ahead of the counsels’ lectern. Justice Kurtis Wilder is first on the floor, with Ms. McCormack next to him. She surrenders her place to Chief Justice Stephen Markman, then directs Justice Brian Zahra (I mean “directs,” points her finger to the floor, gives him an encouraging slap on the shoulder, and he is on the floor), then guides Justice Richard Bernstein to the second level, has Justice David Viviano join him and finally herself summits the structure. She also has the biggest grin for the photo.

Then she tweeted about it, saying, “Guys, the @MISupremeCourt did a pyramid today…” Which was followed by glowing tweets about how cool the Supreme Court is, and our Supreme Court is better than yours, and don’t you just love the Supreme Court? Love, cool, the Supreme Court. Something seems off about that sentence.

Yes, I am, too, telling the truth. There is video of it,

Former Justice Joan Larsen didn’t participate, probably because she had some lame excuse about getting sworn into the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Whatever.

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How Cheap Can You Successfully Run For Office?

Posted: October, 26 2017 5:22 PM

Not to put too fine a point on it, but November 2018 is still more than a year away. But this is politics, ours is one of the few democracies in the world that one can always know when the next election is, we are never not running for office in ‘Murica, so you’re probably too late if you want to run for office in November 2018. Better start building your campaign for November 2024.

No, kidding, kidding, yes, actually, you can still run for office in 2018. If you feel the call of the people and the need to serve, you have some six months before you have to formally declare your candidacy. Ideally, you should now, however, start framing messages, determining what your campaign will focus on, deciding what office you want, developing a slogan, enlisting volunteers, interviewing consultants and getting a budget together.

Oh, budgets, money, hmmm. Just for the sake of argument, let us say you are a frugal person and intend to be a frugal public servant. You not only want to drain the swamp, you want to can it, sell it as soup and use the revenue to cut the budget, gosh, for environmental protection. That’s good public fiscal management, in your eyes.

How cheap can you go to run a successful campaign in Michigan? Say you want to run for the Michigan House, how tightly can you squeeze the Washingtons and still win?

Depends, a quick survey of several consultants say. Money is now mother’s milk to politics. One local firm puts on their website that they have helped raise more than $500 million in campaign funding.

But there is no basic budget you can count on. The circumstances surrounding the race will govern entirely what you need to spend, the consultants say.

If you find yourself with no primary opponents, in a district that is fairly compact and swings heavily towards one party – Detroit for a Democrat, or anywhere in Ottawa County for a Republican, for example – such that if you win the primary you have won the general election, then you might be able to run a winning campaign for as little as $5,000 to $20,000, consultants said. That’s essentially lunch money in politics today.

If one faces a primary, however, and a contested general election, the cheapest one can reasonably expect to spend on a winning campaign will be between $70,000 and $100,000, considering the cost of advertising, doing social media, mailings, any opposition research and all the other weapons of modern politics. And figure that the winning candidate will likely spend closer to $100,000 than $70,000.

Most campaigns will not fall into that category. As one consultant put it, 30 races will take up 90 percent of the money spent in all the campaigns.

Still, even a $5,000 campaign is a sizeable chunk of money for most folks. Find yourself being handed a bill for $5,000 and you will likely wince at the bottom line. It doesn’t matter what it is being spent on – house repairs, a kid’s braces, new and needed appliances, down payment on a car, or on a campaign – most people get momentarily antsy before signing the check. A campaign also has the disadvantage of not having any guarantees. Buy a washer and dryer or a car, there will be a warranty. Run for office and even in an easy race the improbable can become the astonishing upset story of the year.

Which brings to mind Margaret O’Connor. A Republican from Lodi Township in Washtenaw County, she served in the House from 1987 to 1992. She didn’t like introducing bills. She probably set a record for voting no on bills, especially bills spending money. She drove Democrats crazy because try as they might, they could not defeat her. She could be stern and hard, but if anyone needed help she was generally the first one on the scene to help. She’s 90 now and some years ago it was reported she was playing a major role in documenting Lodi Township’s history.

And when it came to campaigns, she re-defined cheap. She did not like spending money on campaigning, so she didn’t. Her grandkids would make up posters for her. Democrats would send out mailings, put up ads; she would talk to groups, do some doors, show up for any debates, and win. Probably her biggest campaign expense was gas money.

Could she get away with that now? Would even Ms. O’Connor have to spend at least $5,000 to win a safe seat? Maybe, but I can only imagine the glare she’d give when she pulled out her wallet to pay for the campaign.

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Making Things Up, And Why We Don’t

Posted: October, 19 2017 5:04 PM

Once working at a newspaper, this reporter was editing a story when my myopic eyes shot open at a prominent local official quoted as saying, well, quite a number of things the only one of which this family newsletter will publish being, “My ass.” I bellowed across the newsroom for the reporter to get to my desk, demanding to know: “Did he say this? Did he actually say this?”

The reporter almost giggled in response. “You mean you’ll print it?” he asked. Being about six inches taller than him and never mind how many pounds heavier I stood over the reporter and said again, “Did he say this?”

Well, no, the official had not. For reasons known only to himself, the reporter thought we editors were not really reading his copy. So he decided to test us. He was told another such test would lead him out the door, permanently.

This comes back to mind with the recent poll conducted by Politico and Morning Consult showing as many as 46 percent of people asked thinks the press makes things up about President Donald Trump. Not too surprisingly, more Republicans than Democrats think the press makes things up, but no matter what one’s political identity, an uncomfortably disturbing number of people think reporters make things up.

Accusations of “fake news” have not publicly, at least, shown up much in Michigan’s capital. Nor really have they shown up much nationally either, since “fake news” as many people use it refers really to news they don’t like or dispute.

And God knows in the long history of journalism, reporters have made things up. The names of Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke and Jayson Blair live forever in shame and as a cautionary tale to every reporter of what happens when the story that is too good to be true turns out not to be true. Stephen Glass’s journalistic crimes were captured in a 2003 movie, “Shattered Glass.” Earlier this year, CNN even found itself caught when it was forced to apologize to Anthony Scaramucci, Mr. Trump’s former communications chief, retract the story he was cited in and several of its reporters resigned.

Reporters have also been hornswoggled by folks who made stuff up and passed it off as news. An editor I once knew talked about how as a young reporter at a country weekly he wrote an item phoned in about a chap driving to Florida for the winter in his new Cadillac. Turns out, the chap was a homeless alcoholic. He wrote a furious column about the people who called in the fake news, and then they wrote back that they could do whatever they wanted with their newspaper.

Which brings us to now, to here, to what we do, and have done in this state, reporting on state government and politics for 56 years.

We ain’t dopes here. We’re not liars and fabulists. Our only agenda is to report news, actual news, stuff that is and can be confirmed. We have sat on more stories than I care to recount because they couldn’t be confirmed, so we weren’t running them. There have been many, many days when everyone in this office has pounded telephone keypads simultaneously searching out a confirmation as quickly as possible for a story. When we have to keep a source’s name out of a story, there is a real person behind that anonymous confirmation and we can get back to him or her if needed. We have spiked stories that didn’t pan out.

We only stay in business through our subscribers’ trust that they can count on what we report. That’s it. End of story.

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Guns And Helplessness

Posted: October, 5 2017 5:05 PM

A couple years ago this reporter dropped off his wife at a sewing exhibition in Novi, then decided to go to the gun and knife show located exactly next door. It was a sort of shotgun and sewing machine kind of day.

The irony that loaded guns were not permitted into the show where hundreds of weapons and untold thousands of cartridges were for sale was noted. It was a fascinating display of the history of weaponry from some original muskets to modern high-powered weapons. Various T-shirts expressing political outrage were available along with a wide variety of flags (including the Confederate battle banner).

And at one table a gun dealer carefully instructed a very focused customer on how to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic weapon. I lingered over a display of handguns – trying to discern the difference between a $100 pistol and a $1,000 pistol that looked pretty similar – eavesdropping on the conversation. It was a pretty simple operation, the dealer told the youngish customer (whose wife and kindergarten-aged daughter playing on a iPad stood by) although most the details of the instructions are lost to me now.

Standing there I wondered, is this at all legal? And if not, who do I tell, how would I prove it? Somewhat troubled I left the show a while later.

This has come back to me frequently since the Sunday massacre in Las Vegas. More than a year ago, after the slaughter at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, I wrote about how surprised I was that there wasn’t more shock at the horror. Following Sunday’s deadly toll, there seems a little more surprise and upset, possibly at the recognition that now one more place can be added to movie theaters, churches, nightclubs, crowds watching marathon runners, college campuses and other locales as places where there is no real safety for anyone.

Even so, a grim acceptance, an almost helpless languor about mass murder has settled on too many people. And, candidly, a silliness pervades the debate, that there is nothing to be done or that this is not the time to discuss changes.

Anyone who has followed lawmaking and policy knows the latter comment is absurd. In the 1970s, this state faced a spate of horrifying explosions, involving double-bottom tankers, that killed a number of people. No one said this was not the time to discuss or act. Then-Governor William Milliken prohibited double-bottom tankers from driving in the Detroit area and the Legislature approved laws that have helped since prevent more explosions and tragedies.

More recently, when people in Michigan and across the nation were killed through pain medications that were improperly compounded, nobody wrung their hands and wailed, “Oh dear, we cannot discuss this now.” No, regulators began trying to determine what changes were needed to prevent future tragedy.

Tragedy and crisis requires lawmakers to look at all issues that, even if it cannot eliminate all future tragedy at least make it less likely and provide citizens with protection.

Clearly officials fear touching one of the third rails of politics, the issue of guns. In recent decades the Second Amendment has become all but sacrosanct. The right to bear arms is well established. People have a right to hunt and to protect themselves.

But no amendment is unlimited. The First Amendment’s right to free press doesn’t protect child pornography. The Fourth Amendment’s right against unreasonable searches doesn’t allow the police to rummage through your car on the least suspicion. And the First Amendment’s right to freedom of worship doesn’t let you toss virgins into volcanoes to appease the fire gods.

Even in the controversial Heller decision, then-Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, recognized the part of the Second Amendment that talks about “well regulated” means the amendment allows at least some regulations of firearms.

Better controls of automatic weapons may not stop all mass murder. But will doing nothing in any context be acceptable to the public?

The sense of helplessness that seems to overcome people at these times, the idea that we must jolly on bearing acceptable losses, the sense this reporter had listening as a young man learned how to create an automatic weapon, cannot be proper when so many suffer. Is it due to legislative inactivity, to outright fear of electoral consequences? If so, how do we change the attitude?

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Some Thoughts On, Well, Degenerates

Posted: September, 28 2017 3:44 PM

For anyone who took a week-long nap and now wants to catch up on the world: President Donald Trump went on a tirade over professional football players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, which has triggered a national debate, which led to Michigan State Police Director Kriste Etue to post a meme on Facebook calling said protesters “degenerate,” which led to her eventually calling the post a mistake, and led to calls for her to either resign or be fired, which led to Governor Rick Snyder saying he wouldn’t fire her because she had apologized.

That summation is the only easy thing in this episode that has stunned, upset, enraged and baffled people.

Ms. Etue had enjoyed a relatively positive posture with the public and politicians. She was seen as hardworking, dedicated to the State Police and the state, and generally fair.

The department was not without issues, especially dealing with the numbers of minority troopers.

And the department had become the center of controversy following the death of Damon Grimes, who was pursued by a State Police trooper and then hit with a Taser. The State Police has changed its policies regarding pursuits in the city following the incident, though they said it was not necessarily due to the tragedy.

And Ms. Etue is not the only state official to opine about kneeling athletes. Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is also running for governor, earlier this week issued a statement essentially saying the protests are wrong. Yet he has not drawn fire as has Ms. Etue.

Then again, Mr. Schuette did not say that professional football players are “millionaire ingrates who hate American and disrespect our armed forces and veterans” as well as being “a bunch of rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates.”

The meme Ms. Etue posted, and then deleted and expressed regret over, did say that.

“Degenerates” is the billion-dollar word here. Had that not appeared, Ms. Etue still would have taken heat for the “entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American” comments. Degenerates, though, summons images of depravity and disgust that amp the uncomfortable squirm factor.

Had Ms. Etue written something on the line of believing it is everyone’s patriotic duty – Jehovah’s Witnesses perhaps excepted – to stand for the anthem, that probably would have gone unnoticed.

As it is, her comments raise a jumble of questions, arguments and counter-arguments. Does she not have the right to say what she did? Yes, but doesn’t what she said raise legitimate questions about whether she will ensure equitable treatment and service to all citizens? Is she a racist? Prior to Tuesday no one would have suggested so. In an interview years before this incident, Ms. Etue said she had prioritized outreach between the State Police and community leaders to mitigate the chance of a Ferguson, Missouri-type uprising happening here.

Should she resign? Well…um…that’s kinda up to her now. Should the governor fire her. Well…um…that’s kinda up to him now. Should she have made a stronger apology? Yes, that she should have. Should the governor have made a stronger statement criticizing her use of words? Certainly wouldn’t have hurt. Can she still be effective? Yes, but she made the job five times harder on herself.

In all the controversy, it is striking is how relatively tepid the little official reaction has been. And there has been little reaction to this point, which in a hyper-sensitive political age is surprising.

Typical of what official reaction there has been is a statement from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans which said the comments damaged the State Police’s credibility and called on Mr. Snyder to “treat this as the serious breach of trust that it is and take the steps necessary to make sure that this type of disrespect from our state’s law enforcement leadership will not be tolerated.” No call for her resignation or firing. If she were still a teenager, it almost sounds like a call that she be grounded for several weeks.

Which leaves us with the recognition, however, this will all be resolved, many will be unsatisfied.

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A Somewhat Unexpected And Determined Opponent To A U.S. Con-Con

Posted: September, 22 2017 12:45 PM

A proposal calling for a federal constitutional convention was reported to the full House last week. It was supported by all three Republican members of the Government Operations Committee. Presumably, all the Republican committee members would proudly proclaim they are conservatives.

Don’t tell that to the Michigan Conservative Union, which has thrown itself with fervent ferocity into a fight to oppose the Con-Con resolution, HJR V*.

In its most recent newsletter, the MCU trashes the idea of calling a federal constitutional convention, and for the same reason that liberals generally raise: a con-con could not be limited and who knows what would come out of it?

The proposal in HJR V* is part of an effort from a group called the Convention of States, which calls for a convention to impose new fiscal requirements on the federal government (primarily a balanced budget proposal), limits on what the federal government can do so the states have more power and term limits on federal officials.

The organization says those changes will restore the U.S. Constitution to what was intended – of course constitutional scholars have pointed out a number of constitutional drafters, Alexander Hamilton comes to mind, wanted a stronger federal government and initially James Madison wanted Congress to rule on all laws passed by states – and be a limited convention to those items.

Comes now the MCU to bellow balderdash at the limitation claim. They are quick to quote not only former President Madison but the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who said in a televised interview, “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. I mean, whoa. Who knows what would come out of that?”

They also quote former Chief Justice Warren Burger and former North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin, chair of the famous Watergate investigation committee, saying a convention could not be reined in once it began.

The MCU is an organization that supports ideas like limited government and lower taxes. And what it fears could come of a con-con – limitations on the First Amendment, repeal of the Second Amendment? – is not clear.

What is clear is that the group doesn’t trust what today’s Americans and their leaders might do with a federal con-con.

The group points out that in 1788, a year after the Constitution was ratified, both New York and Virginia wanted to call a second convention. Virginia, in fact, took steps to call for a new convention two days after it ratified the Constitution and called for 40 amendments to be adopted. In 230 years, a total of 27 amendments have been adopted.

President George Washington, Vice President John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Hamilton (both in the cabinet), Mr. Madison in the U.S. Senate and John Jay, the first chief justice, did not want a second convention, the MCU said.

“Can it be safer to have one now, then when it was too risky for the founders?” the MCU said.

Calling on their members to contact lawmakers to oppose HJR V*, one can presume the MCU is not likely to change its mind.

And, in terms of a balanced budget, the federal government can do it, if the economy is strong and the discipline is there. It’s been done several times in the last 50 years. It’s probably churlish to point out that the last times the federal budget was balanced, Democrats were president. But it does show an amendment isn’t required to get it done.

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Candidates: Don’t Say You Aren’t A Politician, Because You Are

Posted: September, 15 2017 2:42 PM

Campaign season for the 2018 election got underway on November 9, 2016, which makes this reminder a little late in coming, but it still should have some value as an awful lot of folks have yet to show up for the party.

Attorney General Bill Schuette just announced he is running for governor, joining a growing crowd that includes Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township) and former Sen. Gretchen Whitmer. All sorts of politicians and politicians in waiting are wrestling now with running for Congress in the 11th District. And the countdown still goes on for who will run for either the House or Senate in the Legislature.

Especially for the newbies, there is a critical fact of running for office, or playing a key role in the running of an office, you must remember. You may not like it, but it’s a fact, so face up to it now.

You run for office, you’re a politician. You manage a campaign, work on strategy, raise funds, you’re a politician. If you pass out fliers or make phone calls for a candidate, you’re politically active, politically engaged but not quite yet over the line. But if you run for office, or you are intimately involved in the strategizing and managing of the campaign, you are a politician.

Please keep that in mind should you find yourself at some point during the campaign claiming to voters you are not a politician. Because the moment your name goes on ballot or the instant you have made it happen that a person’s name is on the ballot, that magical moment when you need votes, you are a politician. You have lost your amateur status. You are now in the game.

Which is good. One may and one generally will be frustrated with politics, but politics is how things get done. If one decides to stop complaining solely and be an active participant (in addition to complaining), kudos to that person.

But be straight about it, too. Maybe you weren’t a politician before crossing the threshold. Now you are, and don’t say you aren’t. The voters know anyone running for office is a politician, so play fair with them.

Instead of saying “I’m not a politician,” try “I got in the race because I was tired of how other politicians weren’t getting things done,” or maybe “I’m a politician you can count on.” Whatever you choose, just don’t try to hide the fact that you are a politician and therefore you are running for governor, for U.S. Senator, for Congress, for the Legislature, for county commission, for city council, for school board.

And if the idea of saying you are a politician is too painful for you, well, then don’t be one.

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That Bill Milliken Could Be Such A Devil

Posted: September, 7 2017 3:28 PM

Hey, this reporter first tripped into the Capitol complex 40 years ago this week, when Knapps was still a real department store and the lobbyists lunched at Dines, which means he’s been waiting for a commutation from the governor longer than a good share of the current crop of legislators have been drawing breath.

So this reporter gets to share a memory. Because once he plopped into his office chair on the ninth floor of what was then the Michigan National Tower, his superiors decided, “Hey, he’s new, he’s young, he’s dumb, let’s have him cover the SBT revision.”

The SBT for those who have mercifully forgotten or never knew was the Single Business Tax. It was the first purely value added tax in the United States. When it was finally euthanized about a decade ago it was the only value added tax in the U.S. It replaced more than a half-dozen business taxes – including an inventory tax which meant that store shelves often looked like Soviet empty shelves the day before inventories were completed (“Your kids are hungry, lady? Too bad, come back after the inventory assessment.”) – into a single, get it?, business tax.

The biggest moan about the tax was if a company lost money it still had to pay taxes. Of course, most businesses didn’t pay the tax because they weren’t big enough. The vast majority of the taxes were paid by fewer than 100 companies in the state. Guess who they might have been.

But the advantage of the SBT was it provided revenue stability for the state, especially during recessions. Which we had a lot of.

Anyway, after the SBT was enacted in 1975 problems were discovered that needed fixing and this stalwart young lad was thrown into the byzantine labyrinth of obscure tax policy to report upon. A few weeks before I was covering horse shows at kids’ camps and now I was trying to describe to readers the ferocious committee debates on whether to use jewelry store or grocery store assumptions for assessments. Pay me $50 cash and I’ll tell you what that means.

The one advantage of that assignment was that I got to watch some real legislative mastery. Both the House and Senate were controlled by Democrats then. No really, they were. Seriously, Democrats controlled both houses. Look it up. Of course, it was also pre-term limits, and young ’uns, no offense to the current 146 but they got nothin’ on the lads and lassies of the 79th Legislature. Those lawmakers had time to study up on issues and committee meetings were almost like stepping into intellectual salons as Democrats and Republicans dissected, debated, parsed and postulated on various nuances of every issue.

And they were matched by then-Governor William Milliken, a Republican, who was, and is, smarter than a fox and twice as wily. He was represented in the committee trenches by Management and Budget Director Gerald Miller, nicknamed Dr. Strangetax, who probably had memorized Mathus’ classic text, “Principles of Political Economy.”

Chairing the House Taxation Committee was Rep. George Montgomery of Detroit. He was old, he needed a cane, he chain-smoked Pall Malls, his voice was raspy, if he thought you were a son of a bitch he made sure you knew it every time he saw you, and he was a genius. He understood everything on taxes, tax law and legislative procedure. Few before him and almost no one since him could match him on those subjects.

Chairing the Senate Finance Committee was Sen. Patrick McCollough of Dearborn. He was young, sharp though not as well versed in taxes as Mr. Montgomery, and ambitious. He was gunning for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1978 and saw changing the SBT as a big political leg up on the opposition and put him in a good spot to run against Mr. Milliken that year. And he sponsored the bill that would eventually become law altering the SBT. It doesn’t hurt to know that the two tax committee chairs were not really friends.

The actual fight on the legislation is not the point of the story. A compromise was reached and a bill presented to Mr. Milliken for signature.

For the signing ceremony in Mr. Milliken’s relatively compact office in the Capitol, Mr. Milliken was at his desk, flanked by Mr. Montgomery and Mr. McCollough on either side. Rep. Martin Buth, who sadly died a few weeks ago, the Republican vice chair of Taxation and Mr. Montgomery’s best friend was also there as was I recall, as was Republican Sen. Bob VanderLaan, and of course Mr. Miller.

Mr. Milliken carefully scanned the bill, signed his name, checked his watch and put the time down. Remember, this bill was sponsored by Mr. McCollough.

As Mr. Milliken made a show of capping his pen, he looked down at the bill, and said, “I think I will give this bill…” And Mr. McCollough was all smiles, he stepped forward, his hands were out.

“To you, Rep. Montgomery,” Mr. Milliken said, and he swept the bill off his desk, turned in his seat and handed the bill to Mr. Montgomery, “to thank you for the outstanding work you’ve done on this important issue.”

For an instant Mr. Montgomery was dumbstruck, leaning on his cane, his hand shaking a little as he took the bill. His eyes kept motioning towards Mr. McCollough who had dropped his hands, stepped back with a frozen smile and furious look in his eyes.

In fact, everyone present wondered if the governor somehow got confused. But then we and Mr. Montgomery suddenly caught on to what was happening. Mr. Milliken was stiffing his potential opponent, right there with reporters watching and cameras rolling. Mr. Montgomery grinned so wide his teeth were in danger of falling out as he thanked Mr. Milliken and all the while he looked at Mr. McCollough with a “lookie here sonny boy” gleam.

It was Mr. Buth who said, “Governor, I believe Sen. McCollough also deserves some credit.” And Mr. Milliken whirled in his seat and looked up at Mr. McCollough in complete surprise.

“Why senator!” he said, “of course.” And he dashed off his signature, handing the bill off, saying, “And thank you for …all of your efforts as well.”

Mr. McCollough made his remarks. Mr. Milliken looked at him with an expression that said, “Ah ha, yeah, sure kid,” said thank you when Mr. McCollough finished, then whipped around back in his chair, saying , “Thank you again, Rep. Montgomery.”

The proceedings concluded, Mr. Milliken slipped into the side offices. Mr. McCollough stepped up to the reporters. Mr. Montgomery stood in Mr. McCollough’s sightline, carefully looked over the first signed copy of the bill, then slowly creased it and put it in his coat pocket. It didn’t matter that Mr. McCollough was on camera, he watched Mr. Montgomery through the whole procedure.

This reporter went back to his manual typewriter and thought, “This covering the Legislature could be fun on occasion.”

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Why The Capitol’s Civil War Cannons Don’t Refer To The ‘Civil War’

Posted: August, 24 2017 5:17 PM

The march of white supremacists and neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and its horrendous, deadly effect has sharpened people’s attention to images and symbols.

Things unquestioned for decades are now being questioned. Why were they created? Why were they put in the place where they are? Why do they say what they say? All these have come up as many people in the public try to learn or remember the history that has lead them to this time.

So, a question: Why do the plaques with Civil War cannons that were returned to the Capitol grounds two years ago, the plaques that say what unit the cannons were from and in what battles they fought, not refer to the Civil War but refer instead to “the War of the Rebellion?”

The answer is both simple, and a view into the history of how we view the Civil War, and how important the use of the phrase “Civil War” became to reaching a sense of accommodation, and even forgiveness. It is an example that fits into the reconsideration we now see towards our view both of the war and the history afterwards.

To recap what the cannons are. They are replicas of the 10 pound Parrot Guns that were part of the 1st Regiment Michigan Light Artillery out of Coldwater, under the command of Colonel Cyrus Loomis. The battery fought in numerous engagements, including three of the most critical battles of the Civil War’s western front: Murfreesboro, Chickamauga and Chattanooga.

Kerry Chartkoff, Michigan’s former Capitol historian (now retired in Ferndale, California), said Michigan was more involved in the Civil War than almost any union state. Michigan was relatively isolated in the mid-19th Century. It had a small population. It had no real military at a time when states routinely had military units. And it was nearly broke, so it couldn’t afford a military.

But it was also a militantly anti-slavery state, and when the South seceded, Michigan men responded both to oppose what they saw as an act of treason in the secession and to help end slavery. Without ever instituting a draft – though as Ms. Chartkoff said, sometimes heavy persuasion was needed – nearly half the men of military age in Michigan volunteered to fight. Through private donations it raised the money for the men and the materiel, no matter how expensive. Michigan supplied more cavalry units than any other state – including the famous 7th Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer’s command that broke J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry at Gettysburg – and those were not cheap to supply, Ms. Chartkoff said.

What was then Michigan’s new Capitol was completed in 1879, and the Civil War still hung heavily on Michigan’s memory. Literally every family in the state was affected in some way by the war, Ms. Chartkoff said. When the Capitol was opened, two cannons from the Loomis Battery were placed on either side of the main entrance.

The cannons were donated for a metal drive in World War II. But when the Capitol was restored in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ms. Chartkoff began a mission to restore the grounds as closely as she could to when the Capitol was opened in 1879. That meant getting cannons back.

The effort took more than 20 years, and the final push was spurred by Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) and Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake). In 2015, replicas of the cannons were restored to the Capitol grounds.

And so were plaques, and Ms. Chartkoff said those plaques duplicate the exact wording used in the original plaques nearly 140 years ago. Who wrote the wording? Probably John Robertson, she said, who was adjutant general for the state and who wrote the official history of Michigan’s effort in the Civil War.

But why say the “War of the Rebellion?” This where language gets caught up in history and defines history.

During the war itself everyone simply called it, “the war.” And that was true for some years afterwards. Mr. Robertson’s history is titled simply “Michigan in the War,” Ms. Chartkoff said.

But in the north, the victorious North, it was also being called, “the rebellion,” or the “War of the Rebellion.”

Technically, the Civil War was not a “civil war,” not as historians and political scientists define it. You did not have two sides fighting to take control of the government and institute their way. The South was trying to break off and create its own country. But to the North this was seen as rebellion. The Emancipation Proclamation refers to the states “in rebellion against the United States.”

The official archive of the U.S. military about the war referred to it as “the War of the Rebellion.”

For most of the rest of the 19th century it was settled business for much of the northern states that it was a war of rebellion.

The South saw things differently. Soon after the war Southerners began to refer to it as the “war between the states.” The mention of secession or rebellion not included.

As time passed there was also a desire, on both sides, growing to repair the rift that had split the nation. The South wanted to be brought back into the national fold, and many in the North wanted to forgive and accept them back in. C. Vann Woodward’s classic “The Strange Career of Jim Crow” shows how this feeling regrettably worked its way into both anti-black feelings and anti-black laws.

By the early 20th Century, newspaper reports showed how a debate in the U.S. Senate over language dealing with pensions for veterans of the “War of the Rebellion” led to one senator recounting how a U.S. soldier was killed in the Spanish-American War and buried next to his Confederate father killed in the Civil War. The message, or as we would say today the “dog whistle,” being that if the son of a Confederate was willing to die for the reunited country then we needed to look past the idea of rebellion.

Roughly beginning at that time, then, the war became the “Civil War,” and thus it has remained.

When you look at the cannons and their plaques, then, you are seeing a bit of history reborn, when the pain of the war was still fresh and the reason for the war still a point of anger and pride.

It is a history that now seems to be reborn all across the land.

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The Torture Of Party Loyalty

Posted: August, 17 2017 4:33 PM

One could hear it in Attorney General Bill Schuette’s voice as he was interviewed on radio about President Donald Trump’s latest comments on the white supremacist-led violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The attorney general made it clear where he stood, against the racists who called for all white people to rise up in hate.

One could also hear the strain, the anguish, yes even the torture, as Mr. Schuette tried to separate himself from Mr. Trump, indirectly criticize Mr. Trump, without actually having to directly criticize the president by name.

One could say being a political party member in some ways is a little like getting married. Except in joining a party you are the one expected to stay true in good times and bad. The party can change focus, lose election after election, have horrible leaders, and the party member is expected to stay true.

Both the Democratic and Republican party members have gone struggled through such angst in years past. Republicans anguished in the 1970s over then President Richard Nixon. In the 1990s, Democrats struggled with knowing President Bill Clinton’s behavior was inexcusable and aching on how to express that without saying it was also impeachable.

Locally, when the reporting of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s text messages exposed him as a perjurer who wrecked the careers of two police officers investigating him, Democrats across the state were paralyzed about what to do. It was not until Mr. Kilpatrick, many months into the tortuous scandal, shoved two law enforcement agents that the party’s leadership turned on him.

And now it is Republicans’ turn once more. Mr. Trump defied the odds and won the presidency, consolidating Republican control on U.S. government. He is unconventional and courts controversy. Republicans have had to grin sheepishly and deal with that.

Yet Mr. Trump has not acted in one critical role as president. Despite all the clear evidence of the hate-filled rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville that led to murder (if you have not seen the Vice news documentary which shows you the moment the murder occurred, it is staggering) the president has equivocated. It was violence on all sides; no, wait a minute, it was the Nazis; well, no really, the left was just as bad and they are trying to change our culture.

A president has a duty to provide clear moral leadership in moments of crisis. Has Mr. Trump met that test?

Anyone with eyes that function, and that includes most Republicans, knows what happened. They know that last weekend a horror was perpetrated by a band of people who openly proclaim they want to wipe away nearly half this nation who they call degenerates, animals, filth, scum.

Most in this country are no more than three generations removed from a war in which their great-grandfathers, their grandfathers, their fathers, their uncles fought and died against the likes of those who nearly 80 years later raised their mighty Tiki torches to the skies to proclaim their supremacy. Most people in this good nation, whatever their party, know the truth.

Antifa? No one condones vandalism, no one condones gang fights in the name of any political movement. But there is one clear difference between the leftist Antifa and the playacting Reichstag of Charlottesville: Antifa has not called for genocide. The white supremacists and neo-Nazis, by saying people will die, by saying America has to be cleansed of blacks, of Jews, of Muslims, of anybody unlike them, have embraced genocide.

Michigan Republican Chair Ron Weiser knows all about genocide. He said so in his comments reacting to Mr. Trump, how members of his family died in Auschwitz. We cannot go back to that, he said, we dare not.

Republican after Michigan Republican has blasted the president on Charlottesville. But most not directly, not by name.

The two Republicans who have done so most explicitly are U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township), a longtime Trump critic, and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, who in a Tuesday Facebook post said: “Today, President Trump had the opportunity to clearly refute the ideology spread by groups such as the KKK and white supremacists and failed to do so. This shouldn’t be a tough decision.”

Is calling out Mr. Trump by name critical? Would it somehow convey sincerity of their anger, their disappointment at Mr. Trump at this time if they used his name?

Or with so many fellow Republicans turning their back on him now, is that sufficient? They have rejected his words and attitude. Do they need to do more?

Just a week ago, before Charlottesville, this reporter ran into a former top GOP legislator. “Are you still a Republican?” I asked jokingly.

“I’m still a Republican,” he said, “Sometimes it’s not easy, but I’m still a Republican.”

One suspects for that Republican and so many more it is a lot harder now to suffer through party loyalty. A lot harder.

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Sen. Horn Asks ‘Should Government Be Run Like A Business’ And…

Posted: August, 10 2017 2:37 PM

On Facebook the other day, Sen. Ken Horn said he was preparing to write an editorial and he wanted to ask a general question. He set some rules for replies, basically no finger pointing at any individual or party.

The question Mr. Horn (R-Frankenmuth) asked: “From your experience and personal perspective, can government be run like a business? Can it be run like a free-market system?”

And he got answers. In all more than 100 responses and replies to those responses were posted to his question. Mr. Horn appears to have read every single one and engaged in questioning and debating on some of the points raised.

Given that the tone of many, if not most, internet conversations tends to veer off the original point and turn blisteringly vile, the discussion following Mr. Horn’s question was largely on point and, remarkably, civil. No more than maybe two times did Mr. Horn criticize a commentator for “fingerpointing.”

The discussion also was surprising in what was the overall conclusion from the commentators. For decades now, a main thrust of political discussion is that government should be run like a business. It’s a popular line, especially with Republicans.

The overall conclusion from Mr. Horn’s commentators is: No, government cannot be run like a business – largely because businesses and government have different purposes – but should adopt business practices in its overall operations.

Make no mistake, government didn’t come off as everyone’s popular party guest. A number complained about government coercion (and Mr. Horn said he had a government teacher who once said the foundation of government was coercion), about its size, about regulations, about whether workers get proper credit. Several said government could be run like a Mafia family.

At times, the conversational thread drew in specific areas like education and police, with questions on competition for schools and a fairly long discussion on competition for police services.

In a more general tone, Mr. Horn raised a question to a comment from Diane Bristol who said, “I think as big as government has gotten, it must be run as a business. It isn’t what our forefathers intended, but until (if/when) it is downsized, I don’t see an alternative.”

To that, Mr. Horn said, “Your comment causes me to wonder, have we over-regulated our governments so much that they can’t run efficiently now?”

Colin Berbreuter quoted the British author C.S. Lewis in saying, “The state exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.” And Mr. Horn responded, “Yes, I think you have the nut of it.”

And to Kathy Briggs Fisk, who said the business CEO “who listens to his employees is the most successful,” Mr. Horn said, “Bingo! This is kind of where I was heading. As an old business owner, I recognize similar characteristics. You’re probably more right than you know.”

Later in the conversation, Ms. Fisk said, “If the government officials can’t go and clean the bathrooms they create then they should not be there. Never put yourself above because tomorrow it could come around. Mr. Horn, who said he hated turnover and tried to treat his workers well to avoid it, joked, “Would love to see some of my colleagues with a toilet brush in their hand.” Note to Mr. Horn, Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming) has posted a picture of him cleaning a bathroom at his restaurant.

Mr. Horn said top lawyer Richard McLellan won with a post saying, “No, but many operating principles apply to both government and business. Honesty, treating people fairly, respect for your employees and many more are applicable to both.”

Mr. Horn said to that he was looking to write a short piece about his experience in small business, and how it relates to governing.

Mr. Horn also said that his piece may surprise people.

At the end of the day, Mr. Horn posted, after engaging in dozens of comments, “Dang…now I’m kinda worn out!”

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Something Said About Flint And How It Relates To Today’s Headlines

Posted: August, 3 2017 1:48 PM

When the Flint drinking water crisis was still relatively new and the main obsession of everyone in the state, a top Republican state official said something to this reporter. And what was said has come back to mind in recent weeks.

The official made his comment in relationship to Flint, primarily a state matter. The headlines the official’s comment reflects on are national in scope.

And the headlines have to do with the failure of the U.S. Senate in the last week to come up with a health insurance alternative to the controversial (and to Republicans much reviled) Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Most folks just call it Obamacare.

The headlines all have a steady drone: “Republicans Reluctantly Acknowledge a Failure of Governing,” New York Times; “The Dysfunctional GOP is Failing to Govern,” The Washington Post; “GOP Reluctantly Admits They’ve Failed at Governing,” Political Wire; “Congressional Republicans Failing to Govern?” Fox Business; “Republicans Prove They Have No Clue How to Govern,” Chicago Tribune.

Even Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, a Michigan native, has raised concerns. In statements the party released, she has said the party needs some accomplishments from Congress to run on in 2018. “We’re going to have to make the case to Republican voters as to why they need to return us to the majority and that’s going to come from getting things done here in Washington,” she said.

And as the U.S. Senate was getting ready to vote on health care legislation, votes that failed to approve, at this point, an end to Obamacare or its replacement, Ms. McDaniel said, “It’s critical that we fulfill the promises that we campaigned on. … And it’s not just a question of whether we can repeal and replace Obamacare; it’s a question of can we govern when we’re given the majority. That’s what voters are going to be looking at this week.”

What then did the official say during the early days of the Flint crisis that relates to the current headlines? Understand, this official is a lifelong Republican, someone who likely voted for President Donald Trump but as a good soldier doing his duty and not from any enthusiasm.

In early February 2016, as the official acknowledged the Flint crisis belonged to his party, he said to this reporter: “We keep saying we have to run government like a business. But government isn’t a business. You can’t run it like a business. We’re real good at being the party of ‘no,’ but we have to show we can govern.”

Those are words anyone, of any party, should remember whenever they seek election to any position.

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A One Tweeter’s Campaign Against The Part-Time Legislature

Posted: July, 21 2017 2:12 PM

Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, always speaks in measured, respectful tones. In his suit, white shirt and tie he leaves the impression that to him business casual means you wear loafers. It comes as a surprise to some, then, that he is a passionate auto racing fan. And he is also a frenetic tweeter.

And what has he been tweeting about recently? Why it’s Lt. Governor Brian Calley’s proposal to create a part-time Legislature. Mr. Studley is opposed to it. Actually, it’s pretty clear he loathes the proposal, though knowing Mr. Studley he would not use such immoderate language to describe his impressions.

Since Mr. Calley announced the proposal, in its first guise (it’s been changed since), on May 30, Mr. Studley has tweeted 88 times on the subject.

The part-time Legislature proposal is not all that he has tweeted about. He’s tweeted often on Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 under the Mackinac Straits; he has tweeted about Justice Joan Larsen’s appointment to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; he has tweeted about auto racing.

The largest number of his tweets though are about the PTL.

Many of those tweets include links to newspaper articles about the proposal, warning “be careful what you wish for, or “poorly thought out part-time Legislature plan.”

Most of his worries can be summed up in a tweet from July 2, where Mr. Studley said: “Poorly thought out part-time legislature plan would further strengthen permanent, full-time bureaucrats in Lansing.”

Other tweets have said Michigan relies on a strong system of checks and balances, which Mr. Studley said, would be lost if the proposal limiting the Legislature to meeting 90 days a year were to pass.

Lately Mr. Studley has started to get more aggressive in his tone. On July 4, the day after Mr. Calley announced the plan would be re-drafted, Mr. Studley tweeted: “Part-time legislature plan stalled because it’s an ill-conceived hatchet job on the people’s branch of state govt.”

The same day, he also tweeted” “Ironic. Former State Rep. and two-term Lt. Gov suggests the establishment is to blame for his failed petition drive.”

Also on July 4, not coincidentally the day the nation declared its independence from a king, Mr. Studley tweeted that the “ill-conceived plan” would “turn state govt into a monarchy.”

His most recent tweet came earlier on Friday, where Mr. Studley said, again, the proposal would “further empower permanent, full-time bureaucrats.” And this time he included a thumbs-down emoticon.

The controversy over this proposal is far from done, and Mr. Studley has many more tweets to write. What might he tweet should the proposal ultimately lose? Perhaps, more interestingly, what would he tweet if it won?

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A Campaign Song For Kid Rock? He’s Got It Covered

Posted: July, 13 2017 3:44 PM

Kid Rock has promised us a big announcement. His webpage is full of Kid Rock for U.S. Senate goodies for sale, but nothing suggesting he is a serious candidate for the Senate seat now held by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing). Most political observers are so far treating this as entertainment, the political equivalent of a summer movie: fun, but not “Citizen Kane.”

Of course, two years ago most political observers felt the same about a real estate developer from New York City running for president, that he was in the race for entertainment and possibly monetary value only. What happened to that guy again?

So, at this point for grins and giggles, let’s think about Kid Rock – would he be listed on the ballot as Kid Rock or under his birth name of Robert Ritchie, another thing to check on – running for the U.S. Senate seat in Michigan in 2018.

He would (presumably) be the most tattooed candidate for the U.S. Senate Michigan has had. Or possibly the most tattooed candidate for any office ever in Michigan. He probably has been busted more times than any other candidate.

And debates. Just think of Mr. “Rock” squaring off in a GOP debate, especially against former Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. Soft-spoken, Harvard-educated propriety in Mr. Young versus Mr. “Rock.” Tickets could be sold for it.

Against all his possible opponents, though, there is no question Mr. “Rock” will have a clear advantage in a campaign song. Music is an important element in a campaign, helping build identity, keeping campaign crowds engaged while they wait on a candidate at a rally, as well as giving a psychological push to supporters.

In the past, candidates would get songs composed for their campaigns (this blog has already recalled former President Gerald Ford’s 1976 song, “I’m feeling good about America”).

Today, the campaign trend tends more to using pop songs already familiar to the audiences. President Donald Trump, whom Mr. “Rock” supported in the 2016 election, liked using Rolling Stones hits at his rallies, for example.

As far as songs goes, Mr. “Rock” has won the race. Mr. Young and business executive Lena Epstein will have to concede they got nothing that can go up against him. Having been a top selling artist for nearly 30 years, Mr. “Rock” not only has buckets of material he could use, he could draw from different artistic periods.

Should he use “Bawitdaba,” from his rap period, off the album “Devil Without A Cause?” Probably not. Sends a bit too much of a chaotic image for Republican voters. “Rock ‘n Roll Jesus,” from the album of the same name? Again, a big risk of possibly offending voters, especially evangelical voters.

Well, what about “Half Your Age,” again from “Rock ‘n Roll Jesus?” Ooooh, no. It would too easily offend women voters. “Redneck Paradise” from “Rebel Soul” has the added benefit of Hank Williams Jr. Still, coming from Mr. “Rock’s” country music period it may send the wrong the regional tones for a Michigan race.

“All Summer Long,” again from “Rock ‘n Roll Jesus,” is fun, very Michigan-specific, but not really inspiring from a political standpoint. Plus, it does mention consuming probably illegal substances and engaging in, shall we say, physical activities. That might not be a turnoff for Mr. “Rock’s” prototypical supporter, but why take the risk?

Clearly, in studying Mr. “Rock’s” canon – can his work be considered a canon? – there is one song above all he could use to good campaign effect. It has a simple melody, a strong country-rock beat, the lyrics are bold without being arrogant, condescending or offensive. And the video has a strong Michigan connection along with various touchstones that could attract many conservative GOP voters.

From the album “Born Free,” the title track, “Born Free,” which, if he does run in the 2018 U.S. Senate election, just has to be Mr. “Rock’s” campaign song.

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Okay, Term Limits, And Another Thing….

Posted: June, 29 2017 12:17 PM

More and more people about the state are questioning Michigan’s term limit system. But the questions always seem to miss one salient point that should be considered.

Just to recall: Michigan voters put term limits into place 25 years ago this upcoming November. It was part of a populist rush to reclaim the Legislature from some nefarious evils that were not banished with term limits nor will they ever be banished.

Michigan was one of a number of states to adopt term limits. Since that rushlet of populist support around the country in the early and mid-1990s, no state has enacted a term limits proposal since 2000. There are a total of 15 states with a term-limited system on their Legislature. In six states, terms limits were repealed either by their legislature or their supreme court. Interestingly, no one has successfully attempted to revive term limits in those states where it has been banned.

From the beginning it was evident term limits was fraught with hopeful but failed dreams. This reporter has long been on the record saying the evidence that term limits has failed is voluminous. It isn’t worth the wasted electrons to repeat, again, what those failures are.

It also appears Michigan will have to limp along with term limits for a long time to come. The public is disinterested in ending it despite its many ills. No one appears to have either the stamina or financing to bring a repeal proposal to the ballot.

But people are talking about changing term limits. Largely that is because of the part-time legislature proposal Lt. Governor Brian Calley is floating, a proposal that some critics charge would leave the Legislature as powerless as a new-born kitten. That term limits discussion, however, always focuses on the idea of extending the current terms – three terms in the House and two in the Senate – or by allowing lawmakers to serve their entire service in one house.

There is another part of term limits, though, that never is discussed: the life-time limit. All discussion is predicated on the idea that once how many ever terms are served, a lawmaker can never again be elected to service. Why?

If one of the criticisms of term limits is that a legislator fails in most cases to develop expertise and legislative management skills until the bitter end of his/her short service, why should they be banned from ever returning?

Michigan is one of just six states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, with a lifetime limit and the other five states allow their legislators to stay longer. Nine states allow legislators to run again after serving a number of consecutive terms if they sit out for a set period of time.

It’s not unusual now for lawmakers in their 20s or early 30s, people who are little more than damn kids, to get elected. Most House members will not serve in the Senate. If someone is elected to the House at say age 25, why should they be banished from ever serving again when they turn 31? What sense does that make?

Someone who has legislative experience will go on to get experience in business, in raising a family, in coping with health care issues, working with schools, dealing with local government as a citizen/resident of that local government, and yet we as a state have said, tough, we don’t want that knowledge in the Legislature. This is someone who has gained new experience, and understands legislative procedure, the process of developing workable proposals and made contacts within government structure. Not allowed to come back. Ever.

Even a middle-aged person, someone who leaves office in his/her 40s or 50s, will gain new experience dealing with retirement issues, finance, health care, end of life questions, possible age discrimination, personal fulfillment, all that could have an effect and be affected by policy. We’ll see you at the legislative reunions.

If, as seems likely, it is impossible to simply end term limits, and if the idea of extending continuous terms is difficult, what about a change saying that a House member can be re-elected after an intervening period of three consecutive House elections? For a Senate member, make it two consecutive Senate elections. That, at least, would fulfill the idea that a person return to whatever constitutes the real world after serving in the Legislature so they can live under their policies. And it would allow them to seek a return to possibly fix those policies without first getting lost in the Capitol looking for a restroom. The voters would still decide if they want that person to return (which was the great fallacy of term limits. The voters always were the ones to decide who served, not the lawmakers) and if they defeat the person, okay. The former lawmaker can try again in another election if he/she chooses.

People supported term limits because they wanted better government, or so they said. However term limits can be changed – adding terms or ending the lifetime ban – may actually take a step towards the better government people said they wanted. What’s the harm in trying?

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Part-Time Legislature And The Old ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved’ Bit

Posted: June, 22 2017 12:43 PM

These days, grocery store magazine racks cater more to Hollywood breakups or stories of courageous celebrities soldiering on without their hunky half-talented whoever, but those of a certain age remember being compelled to stand in grocery lines with their mother while the magazines had a sob-story feature called “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”

One can hear in the critics of Lt. Governor Brian Calley’s part-time Legislature some of the same frustrated voice that graced those stories.

The “can this marriage be saved” story always put the lie to Tolstoy. Reading these pieces, one recognized that no, every unhappy family is not unhappy in their own way, they all pretty much were unhappy for the same reasons: neglect, abuse, poverty, lack of communication, emotional exhaustion, family pressure and disapproval, emotional distance.

And generally one of the spouses would voice at some point a cry along the lines of what else can I do?

Which is where the frustration at the part-time Legislature proposal comes in. There is a general cynical sense among political observers that, in this political age where no one trusts anyone and where people especially don’t trust anyone who knows what he or she is talking about (could we expect legislation any day to allow for amateur heart surgeons, with full malpractice immunity, to be introduced?), that if Mr. Calley’s proposal does make it to the November 2018 ballot, it will pass. That means in January 2019, Michigan’s 100th Legislature will be limited to meeting for 90 days and they will all still be term limited to boot.

Which has led some observers to look out over the political landscape and say: “What else do you want?”

Over the decades, Michigan has not been lacking, one can argue, in providing the voters what they wanted. Starting with the Headlee Tax Limitation Amendment in 1978. That alone had a massive effect on limiting government operations. For more than a decade, voters said they wanted property tax cuts, big property tax cuts. Big property tax cuts were put on the ballot and the voters voted them down. Nobody ever seemed to figure out why, because they also kept asking for property tax cuts. Finally, the voters approved Proposal A.

Then the voters decided people are in office too long, so they supported term limits. One can quibble, and people do, about its overall effectiveness. But the voters wanted it; they got it.

In most recent years voters decided wanted a more conservative Republican government, and they got it.

Now, do they want a part-time Legislature, too?

Earlier this week, a top Republican official in the state, worried about the PTL proposal, moaned, “They wanted all this stuff. We gave it to them. What do they want now?” They wanted tax cuts, they got tax cuts; they wanted regulatory cuts, they got regulatory cuts; now they want tax credits, we’re trying to give them tax credits; they wanted no motorcycle helmets, we gave them no motorcycle helmets; they want switchblades, who knew they wanted switchblades, but we’re giving them switchblades, the official said.

“What do they want now?” the official said.

It would probably be unfair, though tempting, to say voters want everything at no cost to themselves. But it is fair to ask what do voters really want of their government and why do they think a part-time Legislature will be the answer to that need?

One suspects the answers could be more complicated than paying more attention around the house, being more loving in public, or communicating more. However, there may be both political and policy equivalents to those answers.

So, can the marriage of the public to their government be saved?

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Civility And ‘This Changes Everything,’ Or Does It?

Posted: June, 15 2017 4:48 PM

Civility is all the rage now, which, as one thinks about it, is an ironic way of describing the issue. But, it is true. Civility is under discussion in all sorts of places. The concern over the lack of civility is creating new expression and worry. Governor Rick Snyder has discussed it. The Mackinac Conference held by the Detroit Chamber had civility has a theme of its recent meeting. This reporter discussed it with the Michigan Townships Association.

A cynic could ask why are so many people worried about civility now? Are Republicans all worried about civility only because their guy was elected president and is unpopular? A Democrat could say how come Republicans weren’t worried about civility when people were posting photos of former President Barack Obama being lynched in effigy? To which Republicans could say, when former President George W. Bush was depicted as Hitler where were you? And Democrats could reply, it was okay Republicans who violated their marriage vows to cook up an impeachment of former President Bill Clinton? You get the idea.

Then with all this new worry about civility on Wednesday in Alexandria, Virginia, James Hodgkinson of Illinois – who was a critic of President Donald Trump on social media – stood outside a fence line and began shooting, with legally purchased weapons, at Republican congressional members, their staff and others there to practice for the annual congressional baseball game against the Democrats. When the firing ended, former Michigan legislative staffer Matt Mika was shot as many as five times, four others – including U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise – were wounded and Mr. Hodgkinson was mortally wounded.

A distraught U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) – who was in Michigan’s Senate when Mr. Mika worked with then-Rep. David Palsrok – said in an interview the shooting changed everything.

Mr. Bishop was at home plate, practicing with the Republican congressional baseball team, when the shooting started. In the interview, he said people would have to rethink everything they do, because “who knows when this will happen again and I don’t know how to prepare for it.”

Has the shooting changed everything? Even as news of the shooting broke the conservative website Townhall sent out an ad to win a free Rhino 357 magnum pistol. And the Montreal tourism bureau had a Facebook ad that made heavy emphasis on how it was a “safe” city.

When would it happen again? One could say almost immediately. Also on Wednesday a gunman went into a San Francisco UPS center and moments later four people were dead, including the gunman.

Mr. Bishop is right. The shooting does change everything, certainly for him and the other victims. Anyone who has been caught in a horrifying situation – a massive car accident, a terrifying diagnosis, or a shooting – must be changed. The question is how will Mr. Bishop and the others be changed? And because they are in Congress, what will their change mean for others?

The loss of civility in politics and public life is nothing new. Former Governor William Milliken has warned against blind, vicious partisanship for decades. The incivility has now taken more violent forms.

When this reporter spoke to the Michigan Township Association, I said, “Your enemy is the guy who points a gun at you, not the guy who pulls a different lever in the voting booth.” How sadly prescient that comment turned out to be. From incursions on free speech perpetrated by all sides, to street fights between right-wing and left-wing thugs in Berkeley, and dozens of other depressing examples over the recent past the disuniting of the United States is arguably in full vigor.

We should talk about a loss of civility. Is talk enough? No. Talk must become change. We must prepare for change. We need to change ourselves. But let us hope that change is not at the point of a gun.

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What It Would Take To Fix Schools? A Longer School Year Maybe?

Posted: June, 8 2017 2:05 PM

Charles Ballard, a well-known professor of economics at Michigan State University, has often held forth on the state of Michigan’s economy and public finance. Subjects heavy with math.

At a forum earlier this week, Mr. Ballard dealt with a different math question: “Professor,” he told members of the Michigan Education Policy Fellowship Program at MSU, “what percentage of 100 is 58?” That was a question posed to him by a student in one of his classes, he told the group.

The state of education has been an issue for decades. Someone born the instant “A Nation at Risk” was released in 1983 will be constitutionally eligible to run for president next year. In those years, our confidence in the condition and progress of education, in Michigan and the nation, has not improved.

Comes then Mr. Ballard before a room of education specialists and expresses a frustration that is familiar to anyone with frequent contact to folks in higher education. To wit: the profs today moan often about the students they are getting. Those students may have high school diplomas, but as Mr. Ballard asked: did they truly get 12 years of education? Judging by the remedial work so many college students have to do, the answer could be many did not.

Mr. Ballard did say many students who come to college are superbly prepared, but not enough are so prepared.

“We are undereducated, undertrained and underskilled from pre-school to Ph.D.,” Mr. Ballard told the officials, who all seemed to nod knowingly.

How, then, would he solve the issue? Some of his prescription involves money, especially to ensure poorer districts have better programs and that all school buildings are structurally sufficient.

But his biggest proposal dealt with the calendar. “If I were czar, the K-12 school year would 195 days,” he said. Fifteen days longer than the current 180 days. Over a 12-year period those extra 15 days would cumulatively add up to another full year of school, he said. Mr. Ballard suspected that would have some positive effect.

He didn’t ignore curriculum, but discussed changes that could likely please all political sides.

“We need to teach more of all three ‘R’s,’” he said, emphasizing the, uh, “ritin’” r. There is now lots of focus on reading and arithmetic during elementary and high school, which is good, he said. But too many students come to college unable to write, Mr. Ballard said to even more vigorous nodding from the crowd.

And he called for more repetitive teaching of basic skills, so he would not confront another college student asking what percentage 58 is of 100.

Mr. Ballard said these were among the changes he would enact were he czar. Enacting them in the standard political way would be tough. First the tourism industry would fight the idea of an expanded school year, saying it would rob them both of workers and families being tourists.

And it would cost money, meaning higher taxes. Mr. Ballard has never been shy about supporting a graduated income tax and the sales tax on services, and he wasn’t shy about promoting them this time either.

Perhaps, though, what was most interesting about Mr. Ballard’s comments was they dealt with a different concept of improving education. Much of the debate on fixing schools swirls around pedagogical philosophy, political attitudes and some social scientific measuring. His prescription was more mechanical. It is akin more to changing spark plugs and adding some oil, instead of installing a new engine with a different fuel system into an old but otherwise serviceable jalopy.

Well, add these thoughts to the ongoing debate. Education as an issue has a calendar all its own, one that seems to never get days off.

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About That Keeping Your Job In A Part-Time Legislature; Yeah, Ahh…

Posted: June, 1 2017 4:29 PM

One has to suspect Lt. Governor Brian Calley would have scolded seriously Michigan’s 132 legislators of 1873.

Mr. Calley, as he said earlier this week, wants the Legislature to meet no more than 90 days in session a year.

In 1873, the lawmakers met for 121 days. Much more to Mr. Calley’s liking probably would have been the Legislature of 1862. Then in the midst of the Civil War, lawmakers met for 19 days.

If, as Mr. Calley has said, Michigan’s lawmaking can be done in 90 days, then why were the lads of 1873 (and they were all men back then) dawdling?

Mr. Calley’s proposal has raised many questions of what powers the Legislature would have left. As my colleague Zach Gorchow admirably showed, Michigan would have arguably the weakest Legislature in the nation with one of the most severe term limit systems put on top of part-time status. Would that make the governor more powerful? Lobbyists more powerful?

And how part-time would the Legislature be, since the governor could call lawmakers back in for special sessions to do his or her bidding. It was to avoid those special sessions that legislators decided to become full-time. Nothing in the Constitution prevents the Legislature from meeting for a shorter period, they just have to be willing to come running when the governor calls them.

But another assertion by Mr. Calley raises questions. If the Legislature were part-time, he said, legislators could keep their day jobs and just go back to them when session is done.

Really? This reporter knows lots of people working lots of different jobs, none of whom get to take an annual three-month leave beginning in January and come back as if nothing happened during that time.

In 1873, things were considerably different. Of the 100 House, members 45 were farmers. There were just six farmers in the 32-member Senate. There were 12 merchants in the House, four in the Senate. There were 21 lawyers in the Legislature, 13 in the House and 8 in the Senate. There were a number of lumbermen, a blacksmith, two journalists, two editors, one printer, one drover (look it up) and two who had “miscellaneous” professions. One could only guess what those miscellaneous jobs might have been.

Since the Legislature then met primarily in the winter, one suspects the farmers had less to do, agriculture being considerably lower tech than it is now. Animals would have to be tended, but family members could have handled those chores. The physicians probably had someone keeping the leeches fed and the laudanum stoked. Lawyers likely had much of their work handled by scriveners. And the drover … uh, well, probably didn’t do much droving during the winter.

The economy and in some measure government functions were more akin in 1873 to the 17th century than to the 21st century. Today’s economy and government are far more complex, interrelated and expected to do more.

In the 1960s, not only were we promised jet-packs – a lie – we were also told that in 50 years, technology and automation would slash our work time to a couple hours, three hours a day, tops. Another lie, as life 50 years since the debut of Sgt. Pepper has proven. We are busier, we have more to do, much of it to feed the technology that often seems more enslaving than emancipating.

So, again, who would get three months off, each year, for a maximum of 14 years, and then just trot back to the office/factory floor/classroom/etc. after 90 days? What would their annual reviews be like?

Which raises another question: could being elected to the Legislature suddenly make that person more marketable? Former Speaker Gary Owen, born and raised in Alabama, which has a part-time legislature, once said a sharecropper could be elected to the legislature there and suddenly find himself made a new bank vice-president. Might part-time legislators find themselves hired for jobs that conveniently would arrange for 90 days off each year? And hired for what reasons?

A drover might not have worried about such questions. As Michigan citizens ponder the part-time legislature proposal, will they?

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One Day With Joyce Braithwaite-Brickley

Posted: May, 25 2017 3:52 PM

She was tough. Joyce Braithwaite-Brickley could be steely, fix one with a glare and silently compel one to simply turn around and vanish. In the days when reporters had relatively free rein to spend time in the governor’s office complex without security clearances and strict appointments, Ms. Braithwaite (before she married Lt. Governor Jim Brickley) was almost best known for just reaching out and slamming her office door shut before a reporter could utter a syllable.

She was the most ferocious of a ferocious troika (Chief of Staff George Weeks and Communications Chief Bob Berg, being the others) who protected former Governor William Milliken and counseled him. At a farewell dinner for Mr. Milliken hosted by reporters, this reporter joked the three of them would kill to protect Mr. Milliken and they probably had. And everyone in the room knew of the three Ms. Braithwaite was the most likely to draw blood if needed.

But like Tessio in The Godfather, it was business, not personal. She protected what and who she cared for, but she was also open, engaging, funny and completely personable.

There was a September day, sometime in the1980s, when Mr. Weeks’ son, Don, sponsored a day’s sail around Mackinac Island. Don was publishing a magazine and had given a free ad to a schooner company that hosted sails around the Island so he could hold the party. Invited were other advertisers, contributors to the magazine (which is how this reporter and his wife, Cindy Kyle, herself a one-time Capitol Associated Press reporter were invited), along with Don’s family and friends. And friends included then-Supreme Court Justice Brickley and Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley.

The Brickleys had been very careful and circumspect during their romance. There were rumors, but they were always correct in public and there was nothing anyone could pin down. Once though, Cindy and I were attending a performance of Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight” at Michigan State University. We were seated in the balcony and Ms. Braithwaite and Mr. Brickley were seated below but directly in our line of sight. When the house lights were up, they sat with their hands in the laps, chatting breezily as old friends might. When the lights went down, they held hands and drew closer.

On the day of the sail, they were now married and had moved to Traverse City.

The waters were choppy when the schooner pulled away from the dock, the winds were up, but it was sunny and still warm. In the ship’s hold, a luncheon buffet was waiting.

Cindy and Joyce found themselves together down in the hold and started chatting. The schooner turned to the leeward side of the Island and the winds, coming from the east, picked up. The water turned black and the waves were going over the sides of the pitching ship. Several passengers wondered if they should start a chorus of “Nearer my God to Thee.” The schooner’s captain ordered the sails dropped as he started the engines. Lunch was forgotten as a number of passengers lost their breakfast.

But from the hold came howling laughter. Cindy and Joyce were now engaged in a madcap, Keystone Komedy of trying to keep the food and plates from flying onto the floor, jumping from one spot to another, grabbing one plate as it launched, then a second, tossing the first where the second had lain while they would catch a third. And all the time they were doubled over in laughter as if they had just invented the greatest version of Whack-a-Mole ever seen. On deck, everyone was hoping they could get last rites before they went down, but from the hold there was a real party going on.

We made it back to the docks, food was available to those with settled stomachs, and we spent the remaining couple hours until the ferry back to Mackinaw City shopping.

With the clouds the day had turned chilly. Expecting a nice day I had worn only a Polo shirt and not brought a jacket.

On the ferry ride back we were sitting next to Mr. Brickley and Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley. He joked about how his Supreme Court office was in the former Traverse City mental hospital, which was probably appropriate, and Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley kept asking me if I wasn’t cold. I’m fine, I kept assuring her.

While Mr. Brickley talked about how he developed an opinion allowing unrelated people to live together in a rental house, Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley got up from her seat and walked to the end of the row. Moments later she was behind me and had thrown her jacket over my shoulders and was holding it to me. She stayed that way for the rest of the ride to the Mackinaw City docks.

Since Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley’s death a week ago, I have tried to remember if I had seen or spoken to her since that time. As a justice, I saw and spoke to Mr. Brickley often before he left the court and then later died of multiple-myeloma. But I can’t recall getting another chance to talk to Joyce.

So for all her famous toughness, her ferocious loyalty, her slamming doors on reporters, I will remember Joyce best for her laughing with Cindy in the hold of a pitching schooner and giving me her jacket on a chilly ferry ride. It’s a much better memory.

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Three What? Big? Detroit?

Posted: May, 19 2017 2:47 PM

Okay, let’s settle this issue finally. Which means in a cultural/political sense it will never be settled, but let’s discuss it.

Is it the Big Three? Or is it the Detroit Three? And by “big” and “Detroit” we aren’t talking about linemen for the Lions or any three players for the Pistons. We are talking automakers.

The question arises because as the Revenue Estimating Conference was hearing economic forecasts they heard of Michigan’s headquartered automakers – General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler – as both the Detroit Three and the Big Three.

Reference to the Detroit Three came from the economists for the University of Michigan’s based Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics. The state’s economists – from the Department of Treasury as well as the Senate and House Fiscal Agencies – referred to them as the Big Three.

It is actually fascinating that what one might think of as a straight-forward question of which auto company sells the most cars ends up being lost in various PR spins, national inventories and a whole buncha other stuff.

But, if looking at sales alone, internationally then the Detroit-based automakers are no long top of the heap. We have actually known this for some years, yet for anyone older than, say, 50 and a Michigan native there’s a bit of an emotional tug recognizing how life and economics have changed what has been our biggest home industry.

Most authorities agree that in 2016 the top international seller was Volkswagen, followed by Toyota and then General Motors. I say most, because some put Daimler as third in sales. It gets complicated as different sources debate whether GM sales should include its affiliation with the Chinese manufacturer SAIC or not. It really isn’t worth an argument.

In the U.S., GM is still the biggest seller with, according to Ward’s Automotive, more than 17 percent of the market share, followed by Ford at 14.64 percent. Toyota comes in at third with 13.78 percent and then Fiat-Chrysler was fourth at 12.56 percent.

In 1965, GM had 49.59 percent of the U.S. market. I chose that year because what was then called Toyoda Motors showed up on the charts in the U.S. with … well, it was here capturing 0.06 percent of the market. Triumph, remember those lovely British sportscars, had it beat at 0.18 percent of the market.

Things changed rapidly over the years, driven by geo-political, eco-political, demographic changes, quality concerns and other matters. They are smaller in terms of their economic profile, but the Detroit manufacturers are still massive economic powerhouses.

And while a major goal of Michigan policymakers is to build the state’s economy so it no longer lives and dies just on the basis of the auto industry, even when the state truly reaches that goal, it is hard to think we will not be an automotive state no matter what kinds of vehicles are created.

Which brings us back to the main point, is it the Detroit Three or the Big Three? For the rest of the world it is probably the Detroit Three. For we Michiganders, one suspects the bias always will be to refer to the Big Three.

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What Those Who Are Left Will Try To Understand

Posted: May, 11 2017 2:20 PM

Consider a strange, sad irony: While working on the last stories of the day Wednesday, I was listening to music, specifically an album by the jazz genius Bill Evans. The album included his version of the “MASH” theme song. The subtitle to that theme song is, “Suicide is Easy.”

If we had not known before, we know now that suicide is hard, hard on families, hard on friends, hard on co-workers, hard on anyone who trusts in an understandable relatively orderly version of the world.

And the suicide of Rep. John Kivela (D-Marquette) has been hard on a system and a community that depends on that system and on life to be orderly and understandable.

Few people reach adulthood without learning intimately about death and grief. One recognizes death intellectually, but until one has dealt with the hard reality of losing a grandparent, a parent, a friend, a favored neighbor, someone who has touched his or her life, no one can say they understand the pain and then the exhaustive emotional duty of adjusting to someone missing.

Still, knowing that people will die, knowing they can die of a long illness, as former Reps. Alfred Sheridan and Joe Young Sr. and other legislators did, or of an unexpected illness, as Rep. Julie Plawecki did last year, or from a horrid accident, as Rep. Peter Pettalia did last fall, does not prepare one for the emotional shock of suicide.

Those left behind understand that a person suffers emotional pain. As my colleague Alethia Kasben showed in a Wednesday story, fellow legislators, aides and others reached out to Mr. Kivela when he was released after being arrested. For most people this, one hopes, would have been a tangible sign that people care, that whatever one is feeling now it can get better

Why someone cannot see beyond the despair they suffer is something that defies the medicine and science of depression. That reality is another hard thing those left behind will struggle with as they try to make sense of something that is to them insensible. And for politicians the suicide of another politician shreds the structure, order and sense politics is built on.

Suicide makes no sense. Intellectually we know this. Even with the horrific pain one must feel, those left must now try to how to understand how one could not overcome the pain for a few moments to rescue themselves, to go on, to seek help. Because help is always available. We know this, we think everyone knows this.

Those of us who have lost friends and loved ones to suicide, and seen friends and family members saved from the brink, know our understanding is incomplete. We don’t know why it is incomplete because we can never fully understand the pain another person suffers. But we know, despite our caring, our concerns, we cannot fully know.

Ms. Kasben’s story also showed how willing people were to express their emotions, to tell Mr. Kivela they loved him and to tell others that they loved him. It is a different time from several decades ago when there was a greater reluctance to express such emotion openly. Yet, even love is not enough sometimes, and those left face the hard question: Why?

There are more hard things to come now in the wake of Mr. Kivela’s death. More pain suffered by those behind. An order will be restored, but for as long as his colleagues serve and his friends remain it will never quite be as it was. And their memories will always be tinged with unanswerable questions.

Suicide is hard. It is very hard.

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Are We Seeing An Angry Rejection Of A Decent Society?

Posted: May, 4 2017 4:11 PM

A thought: Is in any way the vicious politics we now experience and the rancor we heap on each other a byproduct of us taking a decent society for granted? That because we live in a society that does and is supposed to respect each person, recognize their views and needs have we fostered a reaction that instead trumpets blame, mistrust and anger? Or can we promote anger and enmity because we believe we can always fall back onto the decent society to protect us?

The idea that we live in a decent society and have taken it for granted was posed this week by noted conservative commentator William Kristol at a forum on President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. The forum was sponsored by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University (full disclosure, this reporter has a family connection to IPPSR).

Mr. Kristol, once labelled “Quayle’s Brain” as he was chief of staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle and a founder of The Weekly Standard magazine, was joined by Ron Fournier, now the publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business but once the Associated Press White House Bureau chief during the tenures former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Zoe Clark of Michigan Radio moderated.

If you missed the forum, well, too bad. It was a good exchange of thoughts and insights. Neither Mr. Kristol nor Mr. Fournier were complimentary to Mr. Trump. Mr. Fournier said he could not think of a more insecure man elected as president. Mr. Kristol said Mr. Trump was a weekly TV reality show.

Both recognized Mr. Trump was a symbol of change that people said they wanted, and that he drew his political lineage from people like Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and even, to some degree, former President Barack Obama.

They worried Mr. Trump’s election would help push the electorate towards even more radical choices in the future, and they really worried about what the public’s distrust of the institutions that are the foundational support for the country could mean in coming years.

Which brought a supporter of Mr. Trump to the microphone to say Mr. Trump had a world view which matched the world view of his supporters. It was a world view that said politicians had failed.

But, Mr. Kristol said, politicians had not failed. It was something of a surprise to hear that comment from someone who has spent much of his career criticizing politicians, egging them onto to various policies and conflicts.

His argument was that the world of the last 70 years is a much better world than the 50 years previous. It was marked by equalities of races, genders and orientations, it was better educated, more economically secure, saw science produce miracles of medical cures as well as improved agriculture to reduce famine and make communications and knowledge more widespread, he said. Some of these improvements were partly due to political decisions made by politicians who also committed the funds needed to makes these changes real.

Too often now, Mr. Kristol said, people view all our progress as just mounting debt.

Mr. Fournier disagreed, saying he thought the political system was “obviously corrupt.”

Moments later Mr. Kristol then said our recent history has been to a “more decent society that we take for granted.” And taking that society for granted has played a large role in forging an angry populace that wants change, but change from what?

It is an interesting point. Ours is a world that someone living in the 1930s or ’40s would not recognize. Our problems remain persistent and as yet unsolved, yet one can also say it is a better world in many respects. If, and it is a big if, we accept the premise that ours is a decent society, why then is there so much effort to tear that down?

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Which Of These Celebrities Did Not Appear Before The Legislature?

Posted: April, 27 2017 11:09 AM

There’s a popular game on Facebook, at least this week, that has a person list 10 musical performers and challenge his/her friends to determine which performer they did NOT see in concert.

Besides allowing people to get a good glimpse into the musical tastes of the players, it has also engendered odd spinoffs. One wag asked people which one of the 10 concerts listed he attended. Another listed 10 garage bands and asked which band did none of her kids play for. Another person listed an alarmingly disturbing number of *NSYNC concerts and so affrighted this reporter he has no idea what the point of her game was.

One person, a former official in former Governor John Engler’s administration, said simply she had not been to nine concerts, let alone 10.

Why limit this to just musicians and concerts? Here’s a game: which of these political, athletic or entertainment celebrities did not appear in Michigan’s Capitol to testify or appear before a committee, a rally or a special session:

Jim Brown

Howard Jarvis

Ted Nugent

Sr. Helen Prejean

Willie Nelson

Al Kaline

Ward Connerly

Magic Johnson

George Cadle Price

Cesar Chavez

Jack Valenti

Muhammad Ali

Now think about it for a moment. Ready? Okay:

Jim Brown. Possibly the greatest running back in football history, and by all accounts the greatest lacrosse player ever, Mr. Brown just sort of materialized at the back of the Senate chamber in 2007, where he shook hands but was never introduced from the podium. He was in Lansing to promote a program aimed at ending gang violence.

Howard Jarvis. The father of the California tax cut movement, and later a fabled extra on “Airplane,” Mr. Jarvis spoke to a rally of several thousand people from the Capitol steps shortly after the success of Proposition 13 in 1978. He encouraged support for tax cut drives then moving through Lansing.

Ted Nugent. The Motor City Madman, rock and roller, fanatic gun and hunting advocate, and right wing icon, has been something of a fixture in Michigan politics for several decades. But he actually testified in 1998 before a committee chaired by then Sen. David Jaye for expanded concealed weapons rights. It was insulting, he said, to have to go to gun board to get a concealed weapon permit when his Second Amendment rights were “guaranteed by the Constitution but given to me by God.”

Sr. Helen Prejean. The internationally renowned opponent of capital punishment and author of “Dead Man Walking” was invited by then-Sen. George McManus to help rally opponents of the death penalty. There was discussion of starting a petition drive to allow for capital punishment. At a press conference, Ms. Prejean was challenged by Mr. Jaye, who was a bit tongue-tied against the better prepared Ms. Prejean.

Al Kaline. The Detroit Tigers great was enthusiastically welcomed by both chambers of the Legislature after his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ward Connerly. The face of the effort to end affirmative action in California was in Michigan several times as the state went through a campaign to end affirmative action constitutionally. After one committee appearance, Mr. Connerly got into an informal but intense debate with then-Sen. Virgil Smith (now a judge and father of the recently resigned Sen. Virgil Smith).

Magic Johnson. Reaching the House podium following a massive parade when the Michigan State University men’s basketball team won the 1979 NCAA men’s basketball championship (in a game with Indiana State and Larry Bird that changed the scope of the sport), the then sophomore Mr. Johnson said he hoped people would support MSU “whether I go or I stay.” Reporters looked at each other and said, “He’s going to the NBA.”

George Cadle Price. WHO? Mr. Price was the first and one of the longest-serving prime ministers of Belize. It’s not exactly clear why he was in Lansing in 1979, other than to promote tourism and economic development. A House staff member who oversaw what was known as the document room played a big role in getting him a chance to speak to the House chamber when session was not in, and then desperately dragooned other staff, reporters and tourists into the chamber to hear Mr. Price speak.

Cesar Chavez. The leader of the farmworker’s movement spoke to the House in late 1979. He was soft spoken, wore a work shirt and pants, spoke of how the workers felt they had a mission to bring food to all people and completely enraptured everyone who heard him.

Jack Valenti. Best known as the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and a fixture of the annual Oscars broadcast, Mr. Valenti had also been a top aide to former President Lyndon Johnson. He appeared to speak before the House Judiciary Committee in the early 1980s against a bill to regulate movie theaters. A very sharp dresser, Mr. Valenti also surprised people because he was, ah, less tall than expected.

Muhammad Ali. The Greatest. He came to the Legislature in 1997 to promote efforts for greater protections for children. Because of his Parkinson’s disease, he did not speak himself but an assistant delivered his testimony. And probably no person attracted more attention to his appearance than Mr. Ali. People were desperate to meet him, and he was thoroughly gracious.

Willie Nelson. Okay, you’re thinking he spoke about legalizing marijuana or urged farmer rights. But beyond playing in a number of venues in the Lansing area, he did not appear before a rally or the Legislature. If you picked him, you win.

Other notables have come before the people and the Legislature, and will in future. But this was today’s game. How did you do?

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How Two Opposite Things Can Exist

Posted: April, 20 2017 12:39 PM

Unemployment is down. By any measure Michigan’s economy is improved since 20089, whether because of the national economy or because of specific state policies or a combination of the two. One doesn’t need a statistician to see hiring signs on display at businesses across the state.

Yet, child poverty is up in Michigan. And up significantly since 2008. According to the latest Kids Count study, more than 22 percent of the 2.2 million children under the age of 17 living in the state in 2015 were poor. In 2008, it was 19.3 percent, bad enough but still better than 2015.

How does such a contradiction occur? The two facts are completely counter to one another. If unemployment goes up, then one expects child poverty to increase. Ergo, one would say, if child poverty has increased, so too must have unemployment.

But unemployment is down, down to 5.1 percent seasonally adjusted in March, according to figures released by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. The state still has not regained all the jobs it had in 2000, but since 2010 employment has increased by hundreds of thousands. In March, 4.666 million people were working in Michigan.

Yet, since 2008, child poverty is up.

Part of the explanation may lie with the timeframes used. In 2008, Michigan was still struggling through its one-state recession but had not yet gone into the full horror of the Great Recession. The average labor force size in Michigan during 2008 was 4.92 million and the average number of people working was 4.52 million people, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

In 2015, the end year measured in the Kids Count study, the average labor force was 4.75 million and the average number of people working was 4.49 million. In one sense, the economy in 2008 was still a little stronger than the economy in 2015. Except in 2015, the state’s unemployment rate average 5.4 percent and in 2008 it averaged 8 percent.

Two years later, just last month, the total workforce was more than 4.9 million – close to 2008’s average – and the number of people working exceeds the average number of those working in 2008. Perhaps then the 2017 Kids Count book will show some improvement in child poverty.

This, however, is not a story of playing with numbers to get the results one wants. It is part of the task of seeing how two apparently contradictory conclusions can still be correct. It does not delve into how one solves the contradictions.

Since 2008 the nature of jobs has changed. The state has seen improvements in jobs needing more skills, a higher level of education and training. Lower skill jobs have lagged in growth. And lower skill jobs pay less.

What has also lagged, and any economist of any ideological stripe will concur, is incomes since 2008. A Michigan worker was once of the highest-paid workers in the U.S. No longer. Per capita income in Michigan in 2015 was $42,427 while nationally it was $47,669.

The $5,000 difference would go a long way towards paying off the annual average cost of child care per child, according to the Kids Count book (the average annual cost is more than $6,700). And with more than 66 percent of children under the age of 5 living in households where all the parents have to work, child care is a requirement for these kids.

Someone working full-time, earning Michigan’s new minimum wage rate of $8.90 an hour earns $18,512 a year. What does deducting $6,700 in childcare do that annual income? Is that the most efficient use of those funds, adding to further economic growth?

The economy is better. Child poverty is up. These are facts. They are not mutually exclusive nor do they cancel each other out. They are not pleasant co-existing realities, but they are realities. The trick is not really in proving they can exist simultaneously.

No, the real trick in the end – keeping the economy growing and lowering child poverty -- will be much harder to pull off.

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Blogger Hopes Cindy Gamrat ‘Prevails’

Posted: April, 13 2017 3:30 PM

Former Rep. Cindy Gamrat, the fourth lawmaker in Michigan history to be expelled after she had an affair with a colleague and was complicit in his quarter-baked scheme to hide it, came back into the public spotlight this week filing suit against the House, former Speaker Kevin Cotter, and a whole passel of others, including her estranged husband, blaming them all for ruining her life.

Well, she does have chutzpah.

And she has supporters, how many, unclear, but one of them wrote on the Right Michigan website this week that he hoped she prevailed in her case. Doing so, Jason Gillman (who goes just by Jason now on his posts) acknowledged it would require a judge issuing “Solomonesque” opinions that “prevent the ongoing abuses by political mafia in Lansing who assume the ability to override the decisions of the voters, making accountability next-to-impossible.”

Might take more than a Solomon-like judge though to rule in Ms. Gamrat’s favor, though. One that ignored a key section of the Michigan Constitution might work better.

In the post, Mr. Gillman says Ms. Gamrat’s life was changed by her personal decisions, that she must have caused “spectacular” pain on her family. He also says all of her mistakes “can be forgiven in the ways that matter” in a spiritual setting.

He also makes it quite clear that he feels she was expelled because she had proven to cast “outstanding, and logical” conservative votes and was owned by no one.

The political leaders, he said, “amplified her mistakes in order to expel her from the elected office she held.” She was not tried – though she was at one point charged, those charges later being dropped – but “summarily removed of held political positions, by a body that was not the electorate.”

The only legitimate authority to remove a legislator is through the electorate, he said, adding he hoped the courts would find that way as well.

The same argument was made by supporters of former Rep. Monte Geralds, and certainly by former Sen. David Jaye, the other legislators expelled during Michigan’s modern era.

There is a bit of a problem with that argument though, found in Article IV, Section 16 of the Constitution: “Each house shall be the sole judge of the qualifications, elections and returns of its members, and may, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all the members elected thereto and serving therein, expel a member.” That is about as far sweeping a grant of sole power over who sits in a chamber as one could imagine and will be a tough legal hurdle for Ms. Gamrat to clear.

“I truly hope she prevails,” Mr. Gillman said. He does not say in the blog if he is putting any money on her prevailing, though.

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Court Case Reminds Us Of Something We Rarely Hear About Now

Posted: April, 6 2017 3:31 PM

The title of the case is what catches the eye first, In Re: Ohio Execution Protocol. And then one remembers that is not something Michigan has had to deal with, not for 170 years.

Somewhat surprisingly, there has also been little push to allow for executions in the state in recent years.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case itself has to do with Ohio’s use of lethal drugs to execute prisoners, and whether that violates U.S. Constitution’s provisions against cruel and unusual punishment. For states with the death penalty, this has been a fairly big issue recently, with Arkansas announcing an enhanced schedule of executions before it runs out of the drugs, and other states saying they have brought back execution options such as the electric chair.

Restoring the death penalty to Michigan, something Michigan banned in 1847 (the first English speaking government to do so), once was a very popular subject and still comes up as a possible constitutional amendment.

In 2015, former Sen. Virgil Smith introduced a proposal allowing for capital punishment if a peace officer were killed in the line of duty. It was backed by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) and Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall (R-White Lake), but the issue never came to a vote.

The last time the Legislature did vote on a proposal to allow for capital punishment was in 2004 in the House and it fell short of the needed votes to move the measure on to the Senate.

Petition drives to bring the death penalty back have been run over the decades. One in the 1980s, sparked by then Oakland County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson, got the bare number of signatures needed but was doomed when it was discovered a number of signatures lacked addresses. Apparently that circulator had told signers not to put their addresses down in case wanton murderers with nothing else to do would go through the petitions, pull out random names and addresses and then go murder the signers. It was a self-protection thing, but it helped keep the proposal from getting on the ballot.

At a time when crime was clearly on the upswing and many people were terrified, a call for Michigan to bring back executions was everywhere. As a young grunt reporter for the Adrian Daily Telegram, this reporter wrote a story that the county prosecutor was looking for a new part-time prosecutor. At a county meeting that night, an older gentleman took the floor shouting the county shouldn’t get any more prosecutors. “We need capital punishment now!” he thundered to applause.

The part-time prosecutor, who was hired, was charged with handling mostly traffic violations. And speeding is not a capital crime, not yet anyway.

Why Michigan’s public seems so disinterested in capital punishment is a bit of a mystery. Possibly it is because crime overall is down. Possibly it is because executions in other states have turned into tortuous affairs that take years to resolve. Possible it is because we have been spared grisly and particularly horrifying murders of late.

Likely there will come a time when the issue resurfaces. Until then, Michigan will draw closer and closer to its bicentennial of being the first English speaking government to ban executions.

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Fake News, We Passed Around Lots Of Fake News Before The Election

Posted: April, 4 2017 3:14 PM

Ah. Oxford and visions of the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, the Ashmolean Museum, Blackwell's bookshop, Inspector Morse mysteries, punting on the Thames and Michigan voters passing around fake news.

Indeed, while you take high tea today – you do take high tea, don’t you? – you can discuss how the Oxford Internet Institute conducted research on how much fake news was shared on Twitter by Michigan voters in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. Not to spoil the ending for you, but it was a lot of fake news.

The study was released last week, here is the Economist’s take on it, but even in this hypernet age it takes time for some things to get distributed and the story is only now making the rounds here.

The Oxford dons decided to study Michigan because it was a battleground state that President Donald Trump won by some 10,000 votes.

The study found that 23 percent of all the tweets distributed by some 140,000 Michiganders selected for study consisted of politically fake news.

And such a lovely definition they used for fake news. It is of “an untrustworthy provenance.” More technically, fake news “falls under the definition of propaganda based on its use of language and emotional appeals.”

Another 23 percent of the tweets came from what are described as professional news sources.

The rest of the tweets were of other content, in other words probably about puppies and kitties.

Which means of the politically-themed tweets, nearly half fell into the category of fake news.

When other political content was considered, such as stuff on the Wikileaks …leaks and news about Russian hacking, most of the politically oriented tweets came from sources other than professional journalistic sources.

Philip Howard, the chief investigator for the study, said of the results, “I think it’s safe to say that’s a bad thing for public life and the political conversation” in Michigan.

Meaning, fake news could make Michigan politics bubble and squeak.

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If The Income Tax Is Ended, Here Would Be A Quick, Easy Replacement

Posted: March, 30 2017 3:39 PM

Eliminating Michigan’s personal income tax remains under consideration, generating hope among supporters it would be the catalyst to drive major population growth and business development. Of course, it would open a nearly $10 billion hole in the budget if the tax were eliminated. Which raises the inevitable question of what would the state do to close that hole?

Actually, there is a potentially easy fix. Surprisingly, no one has really talked about it. But we know how much money the fix would raise. It could be done through simple legislation.

And it’s not new, either. In fact, it is something that has been talked about for decades.

Nor is it an absurd notion. Nothing at all on the order of closing that $10 billion hole by massive budget cuts that would close every university and every prison and a bunch of other stuff.

Or something like requiring every man, woman and child in Michigan to consume 20 packs of cigarettes a day. Or, having every man, woman and child file for and pay for a Freedom of Information Act request of 2,000 pages of state documents. Trust me, with this last idea, the money raised would allow Michigan to repeal the income tax and maybe the sales tax as well.

No, no. This proposal would require a modest adjustment in how people act. Residents of most states already do this activity.

And truly it would bring in a ton of money. The state has tracked how much money it could raise for nearly 40 years. Seriously, it has.

For the 2016-17 fiscal year alone it would raise nearly $12.5 billion. That’s what the state said.

By now, if you have spent any time dealing with state finances, you know what this fix could be. And when I say it could be a potentially easy fix, that is because it would not require much tinkering with the law.

However, 10 years ago when then Governor Jennifer Granholm proposed a variant of this fix, it sparked a massive political fight and after it actually became law such a backlash that the Legislature and Ms. Granholm repealed it shortly afterward.

Still, no one disputes if the income tax is repealed revenues will have to be raised elsewhere.

Why not, then, require sales taxes paid on services? If people don’t have to pay income tax, why not pay sales tax on a haircut, the plumber, a medical visit, a round of golf, a funeral? The latest state report on tax credits, deductions and exemptions (what used to be, in the non-politically correct days, called tax expenditures) put the amount the state loses by taxing services at just below $12.5 billion. In fact the report said that if all sales and use tax exemptions were eliminated – including that for grocery stores – the state would realize $17.6 billion.

The Constitution requires that 4-cents of the 6-cents sales tax go to the School Aid Fund. Changing that would require an election. But the governor and the Legislature could probably say prisons and medical services and whatever are contingent to education and pay for everything out of the SAF.

However, we know how difficult actually convincing the Legislature to impose the sales tax on services would be. We know how difficult coming up with nearly $10 billion to replace the income tax would be. Might be easy, relatively, to eliminate $10 billion. That, however, would not result in immediate massive growth and the state would still have mammoth responsibilities to meet.

Hard decisions will be needed, whatever the Legislature decides.

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The Role Michigan Played In Saving Lives, Through Vaccines

Posted: March, 24 2017 2:29 PM

State pride and history really ought not to play a role in something that should be common sense. But when the contrast of history is so striking to today’s reality, then reminding one of what was once may help in convincing them of what should be done now.

Fair warning: this reporter has struggled mightily to be an honest, objective broker of information in his career. Not an easy task when one covers politics. There are some subjects, some involving sports teams, for which this reporter makes no pretense of objectivity. Vaccination is a subject where I try to understand the viewpoint of anti-vaxxers, I try to thoughtfully convey their views in stories.

And then I think of the kids I knew growing up, trying to grow up healthy, when vaccines for so many diseases were not available. I think of myself, and the miseries I endured. I think of my mother weeping when…well, to continue.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the federal Centers for Disease Control and a number of other organizations, announced the I Vaccinate campaign to help boost vaccination rates of Michigan children. We should be grateful most parents do vaccinate their kids. But still, Michigan has a lousy vaccination rate. Too many parents have religious or philosophical objections to vaccinations, or they believe nonsense that has been scientifically disproven time and time and time and time again regarding vaccines and autism.

That Michigan has such a poor vaccination is galling when one considers this state’s history in vaccines. Scientists the world over have labored heroically to create vaccines, and no location can claim primacy in this ongoing battle.

But here, in this state, we have reason to be proud of what we did to further public health through vaccines.

There was, of course, Michigan Biologic Products. For more than 70 years it produced vaccines not just for Michigan residents but for the U.S. military and people in need across the globe. Former Governor John Engler spearheaded its sale in the 1990s. It was the last of its kind, a government-owned vaccine manufacturer, when it was sold and is still in business as Emergent Biosolutions. Its chief product is an anthrax vaccine.

MBP made a wide variety of vaccines. In its last years as a public entity it sent hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses to help refugees from the genocide in Rwanda. And when a budget standoff between then-President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress forced the shutdown of the CDC in the 1990s, one could call the CDC and hear a voice message saying if you represented a public health agency in need of certain vaccines, call Michigan. Michigan would have the vaccines.

However, the most famous Michigan connection to vaccines stems from a two-month fellowship at the University of Michigan that a young doctor from New York, Jonas Salk, had under Thomas Francis. Mr. Francis was a leading virologist and those two months gave Mr. Salk his life’s passion. He wanted to conquer viruses, and no virus was more terrifying than polio.

When Mr. Salk finished his residency, he couldn’t get a job. He was Jewish, and hospitals and universities had quotas limiting how many Jews could get jobs or admissions. We have at least advanced from that. Mr. Francis wrangled money to get Mr. Salk back to Ann Arbor, where over the next two years the two men developed a vaccine for a flu strain.

Mr. Salk won appointment to the University of Pittsburgh and there began research into how many strains of polio virus there were and he turned that into research into a vaccine. By 1953, he had developed a vaccine but it needed critical tests.

Mr. Francis oversaw the tests and in April 1955 held a press conference. It was so important a press conference it was broadcast live to 54,000 physicians sitting in movie theatres across the county. Eli Lilly and Company paid a literal fortune to broadcast it live over radio. Millions of Americans tuned in. Department stores turned their public address systems to the broadcast. Judges suspended trials so everyone in the courtrooms could listen. This was how devastating a disease polio was, a disease that struck down kids my mother knew in Cleveland and my father in Boston. The whole nation paused to hear a press conference broadcast from Ann Arbor about polio.

The results: the vaccine was safe and effective. And before the press conference ended, church bells rang across the nation. Special services were held in churches and synagogues. Every newspaper trumpeted the news, here is how the Chicago Tribune handled it (and for extra fun, you get to see the whole paper for that day).

The contrast to today could not be more striking. Parents opposed to vaccines do so for religious reasons, and I try to understand. But in 1955, churches rang their bells and held special services of thanksgiving because a vaccine was proven. What has changed in whose theology?

And parents wept, with relief, with joy and with sadness at the memories. So too did my mother.

Polio was conquered, but other diseases were common and this reporter suffered through chickenpox, measles, mumps, and those are the ones I remember. Kids would be missing from my classrooms for weeks, weeks, for diseases they caught. It was common for teachers to put together lesson plans and gather up books to give a family so their children would not be too far behind when they were finally well enough to come back to school. My mother brought bags of schoolwork home to me several times. With time, vaccines for so many other diseases, such as mumps and chickenpox, were invented. Someone like myself can look at disease reports and be pleased of few, if any, reports of diseases that once were common.

This is our history. We do not wish this to be our future. In launching I Vaccinate, officials talked about how people no longer recall the effects of these diseases. Many people have not forgotten the past so much as they never knew what happened and the effects it had.

I have not forgotten. And to any parent questioning whether to vaccinate their kids, look to our history, consider the suffering and anguish and outright fear people had, and then get your kids to the doctor.

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Lift Your Bottles And Cans In A Toast To The Carbonated Thief           

Posted: March, 23 2017 4:11 PM

In his role as state’s chief prosecutor, Attorney General Bill Schuette has popped the cork on a crook seeking to guzzle away Michigan’s redeemable bottle deposit money.

Mr. Schuette announced that John Custer Woodfill of Flint pleaded guilty to hauling more than 10,000 bottles and cans out of Indiana and redeeming them in Michigan.

It was a caper that involved a partner, now deceased, who set up a recycling racket in Brownstown, Indiana. The partner would buy the cans at 60 to 80 cents a pound, which would be a large number of cans and bottles, and then Mr. Woodfill would truck them to Michigan where he would then hit the Kansmackers.

He even created phony barcodes which allowed him to get goods past discerning code readers.

He will be formally sentenced May 2. However, as part of his plea he will forfeit the truck and pay $400,000 in restitution.

Mr. Schuette didn’t say if $400,000 represented the actual amount Mr. Woodfill and his partner conned from the state. But it would represent, at 10-cents a hit, 4 million cans and bottles.

That’s more bottles and cans than even Newman and Kramer probably conceived of in this classic bit from Seinfeld:

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Good News For Michigan Tourism, And Immigration, Sorta

Posted: March, 16 2017 1:29 PM

Okay, if you believe that scientists warning us about hot air are just full of hot air, stop reading this blog now and focus on the NCAA tournament.

If you do think science may be onto something regarding climate change – the Great Barrier Reef probably thinks they do – then Popular Science magazine has some good news for Michigan tourism. Or for people moving to Michigan.

Popular Science was the bible of this reporter’s 12-year old persona. Never was I more engrossed than I would be about reading about jet cars hitting 500 miles an hour, Werner Von Braun on fuel cells, small submarines (something for the cottage), developments of gas-turbine engines, tiny cameras that put you in the spy business, debates on whether disc or drum brakes were better.

And the articles are just as fascinating, but taking something of an ominous tone. Why don’t scientists know why humpback whales are massing? Can planting wildflowers really help save bees?

And where should we all live in the year 2100? Popular Science is here to tell you, and it is Sault Ste. Marie. No really. Check out the link and the video. This first hit their website in late December, but it is being shared vigorously on social media.

First one to get to 2100, tell the rest of us how it is all working out.

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Memories Of The ’76 Ford Campaign, In Music

Posted: March, 9 2017 11:26 AM

Pink Martini is a hard band to categorize. The simplest way is to say they are jazz-pop, but that fails to bring in the Afro-Cuban styles, the upbeat tempo of remade folksongs from it seems half the world’s nations, the swing versions of composers such as Schubert and Ravel, the quirky kind of free verse songs they compose, and the fact they sing in at least a half-dozen languages fluently. Let’s see, they sing in English, French (they first gained world notoriety for a French song they composed), Spanish, German, Japanese and Turkish. Yup, half a dozen.

Well, they also sing in Yiddish. And Arabic. And Armenian. And Russian. They may also sing in Esperanto for all that, though nothing has shown up in their recordings. Who cares if you don’t understand the lyrics, do you understand “La Traviata?” It’s the music, guys, the music.

To make sense of the rest of this post, if you have not heard Pink Martini, here is their lead singer China Forbes and the band in one of their most popular tunes, “Hey Eugene,” when the band performed on the Dave Letterman show:

What does all this have to do with the unsuccessful 1976 campaign of former President Gerald Ford? Well…..

Before presidential campaigns decided to appropriate top hits for their campaigns, they actually had their own campaign jingles. Great tunes like “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge,” “Buckle Down With Nixon,” and “I Like Ike.” There was a time when these had value, when politics was more entertainment than blood sport. They would be played in parades and rallies, and supporters would sing and get inspired.

And Mr. Ford had a campaign song in 1976, so did the winner that year, former President Jimmy Carter. Mr. Ford’s largely forgettable song was “I’m Feeling Good About America,” (Mr. Carter’s tune was just as forgettable) heard here in a folk version:

Mr. Ford lost a close race in 1976 and the song vanished from memory.

Until this week. Pink Martini had a concert in Grand Rapids. The band leader and pianist Thomas Lauderdale said the band actually got started in part for political reasons. He was thinking of running for mayor of Portland, Oregon, where the band is centered, and he played a lot of fundraising events. How the band went from playing fundraisers in Portland to being a hit in Paris is another story.

During the Grand Rapids show, Pink Martini did an arrangement of the Ford campaign song. They put it up-tempo, changed the key, added some dynamite rhythm, and with Ms. Forbes belting out the lyrics, trust me, if the GOP had played this version of the song the results in 1976 might have been different.

There is no authorized recording of Pink Martini’s “I’m Feeling Good About America.” Plenty of audience members had their phones out to capture the concert, but this reporter respects copyright law too much for that. One can hope it will show up on a future album.

In one ethereal way, one could say Mr. Ford and former First Lady Betty Ford might have heard the song, since their resting place is about a half-mile from the concert hall.

Mr. Lauderdale, though, did draw applause from all political sides – supporters of President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were at the concert – when he said wouldn’t it be nice if we had Gerald Ford now.

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It’s Been Warm Lately, Which Really Is Not A Good Thing, For Farmers Anyway

Posted: February, 24 2017 3:38 PM

At the annual Michigan Farm Bureau luncheon earlier this week each table had a small basket of apples.

“Enjoy those apples while you can,” said one Farm Bureau official. “We may not get many this year.”

Ah the joys of a warm February. Playing golf months early. Getting out the grill. Putting the top down on the car. Buying cheap apples.

Skiers are not the only ones who like winter. Farmers do too. Snow and cold are important to a number of crops, and nature has an internal calendar based on the temperature. And the warmer temperatures of the last several weeks are causing concern for crops, especially fruit but also cover crops.

This year has not yet hit the astonishing heatwave of 2012, when the temperature in Lansing hit 85-degrees on March 21 and high temperature records collapsed all across the state and the Midwest. Yes, people celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in shamrock-themed bathing suits that year, but it also meant that Michigan’s apple trees budded and blossomed a month earlier than usual.

And by late April that year a major freeze swept across the state, killing much of the young fruit on the trees. By autumn of 2012 if you could find apples, one needed a second mortgage to afford them.

“If we don’t get some more winter soon,” the Farm Bureau official said, “It could be bad.”

Which means more than just pawning an engagement ring for a dozen Galas. A relatively scorching winter could have a big effect on the state’s agricultural exports, hurting one of the state’s top industries. That, of course, could affect farm revenues which in turn affect state revenues which further, in turn, could affect policy decisions.

Yes, warm winters mean lower utility costs, which mean consumers will save money, and theoretically could afford some of the higher commodity prices. But they may spend that money on apples from Washington or New York State rather than from Michigan growers, which again hurts that sector of the economy, hurting the state.

Now the polar bear in the room one must tread lightly around is the question of climate change. But this bear might not be hibernating when one considers this warm spell coming after 2016 was determined to the warmest year on record, and the third consecutive year the warming record was beaten – which includes 2014 and 2015 which had bloody cold winters in our part of the world.

Some cooler temperatures may sweep into the state over the next week, which could bring some relief to the farm community. But if March overall stays warmer, then summer may be less fruitful this year.

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Wonky Thoughts: Income Tax Cuts, Economic Growth, Population Growth

Posted: February, 16 2017 3:41 PM

Michigan’s personal income tax turns 50 this year, and as a birthday present legislative Republicans want to kill it.

This scenario from what one might call a middle-aged dystopian horror story is premised largely on the idea that ending the tax will help boost Michigan’s economy. Which might happen, it might.

Then again, Governor Rick Snyder, who has come about as close as he ever has to outright opposing a proposal, also came up with an idea that could grow the economy. In fact, based on some data, Mr. Snyder’s proposal might be better to grow the economy than a tax cut. His idea: grow the population.

On Wednesday, the House Tax Policy Committee reported HB 4001*, which would phase out the income tax over 40 years. Mr. Snyder very strictly criticized the action as the committee acted without a lot of discussion on budget cuts or other taxes to replace what would cause a massive funding shortfall for various state programs and services.

Much has been made by supporters that eliminating the income tax could help spur faster economic growth ala states such as Texas and Florida.

That, however, presumes taxes alone would define the strength and attractiveness of a state’s economy. And taxes alone do not. No one has mentioned Alaska, for example, which has no income tax and right now is struggling economically.

And compared to Florida and Texas, Michigan suddenly doesn’t look too bad. For most of 2016, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Michigan either held its own or was beating those states. Final 2016 gross domestic product data for the states has not been released by the bureau. But in the first quarter of 2016, Michigan’s GDP grew by 2.6 percent, in Texas it grew by 0.3 percent and in Florida by 2.1 percent. In the second quarter, Michigan’s GDP grew by 2.3 percent as did Florida’s, but Texas saw its economy drop by 0.8 percent.

Then in the third quarter the Bureau of Economic Analysis said Michigan’s GDP grew by 4.2 percent. Texas did edge us out, with GDP growth of 4.3 percent, but Florida was behind with still good growth at 3.6 percent. There is a chance, then, Michigan could beat them both in 2016 when final numbers come in.

But those wanting to eliminate the income tax do have a point. In 2015, Florida and Texas were among the 10 fastest-growing state economies. In fact, four of the seven states without income taxes, Washington, Nevada, Florida and Texas, showed up on the list (the other three without an income tax are South Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska).

The total list of fastest-growing states economically was, from 10th to first, North Carolina, Nevada, Washington, Florida, Utah, Montana, Colorado, Texas, California and Oregon. Six of those states have income taxes. California and Oregon each had GDP growth of 4.1 percent for the year, with Oregon’s fractionally higher.

And all of those six states have top income tax rates higher than Michigan’s current 4.25 percent (most have flat income taxes. Montana and California’s graduated income taxes start at 1 percent, Oregon’s starts at 5 percent). Colorado has the lowest of the flat income tax rates at 4.63 percent. California’s tops the list with a maximum income tax rate of 13.1 percent.

So maybe having an income tax doesn’t define economic growth.

Some of those top growing states have natural resources or attractions. Texas has oil and minerals. Florida has nice weather. Don’t laugh. Nice weather helped boost Florida’s population which boosted its economy. Texas has learned that resources are both a blessing and a curse. Oil is down now, but its minerals are doing well (unlike in Montana which has seen mining decline). And in the 1980s during the massive oil bust, Texas was desperately trying to find money anywhere it could, including boosting college tuitions where not one penny of the increase went to the schools. Instead it went to the Texas general fund.

One absolute consistent for those states, though, is population growth. Significant population growth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau between 2015 to 2016 all but one of those 10 states saw their population grow by more than 1 percent (California, with growth of 0.66 percent is the exception).

In contrast, Michigan’s population grew during the same time by, don’t bother with a drumroll, an un-staggering 0.11 percent.

What is striking is what industries saw some of the biggest growth in those states. Some saw manufacturing growth. Some did okay with resources. But almost all of them reported sizeable growth in areas such as finance, insurance, business services. Washington reported big increases in retail. Another area many states reported big growth in: real estate.

While technology allows anyone anywhere to make use of those sectors, finance, insurance, services and especially real estate are still industries associated with population growth.

Okay, even population growth is not a perfect indicator of economic growth. North Dakota has been leading the nation in population growth, but low oil prices have started to hack away at its economic growth.

But, most typically the states with bigger population growth do better economically.

Which brings us back to Mr. Snyder’s call to boost the state by 70,000 people to a population of 10 million by 2020. Compared to these other states, that is still fairly weak population growth at less than 1 percent overall. Yet, would it, could it have a bigger economic payoff than eliminating the income tax?

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Really Puzzled About No RPA In The Budget?

Posted: February, 10 2017 3:08 PM

Reporters paced around reflecting ponderously about radical prognostications asserting rumors, positively alarming reports, pointing at remarkable possibilities about: relentless positive action.

Particularly, repeating aphorisms promoting action relentlessly positive at ….Okay, that’s enough of that.

The point is: what was missing from Governor Rick Snyder’s 2017-18 budget presentation earlier this week? A call to relentless positive action.

Oh, Mr. Snyder was positive. He called for action, whether he did so relentlessly is up to the listener. But his catch phrase simply wasn’t uttered.

In the last year or so, the phrase hasn’t been as prominent as it was in his first years as Michigan’s chief executive. But generally, Mr. Snyder has slipped the old RPA in somewhere in his remarks. When he does he often clearly gets a giggle while the listeners give out a groan.

But, it just wasn’t there on Wednesday before the House and Senate Appropriations committees. We have reviewed our notes, plumbed our memories, and the conclusion is it was an RPA-less presentation. Well, that’s just revulsive peccable artifactitous, it is.

No doubt, it was an oversight of which one can expect Mr. Snyder to rue poignantly about. Also, no doubt, Mr. Snyder will remind us all of needing RPA soon, relatively presently anon in fact.

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Najaf, The State And The Refugee Executive Order

Posted: February, 2 2017 1:58 PM

Najaf was a highly educated man, a soil scientist. He was a graduate of Michigan State University. He did critical work in examining and cataloging the soils of his native Iran, important for agricultural, ecological and developmental work. He taught at one of the country’s major universities. He had a lovely house with his wife, herself a teacher, and his three children.

Najaf was also a refugee. His house was burned down. His wife was accused of being a CIA spy. He lost his job when the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the nation’s universities closed. The authorities attempted to murder his son. After meeting with smugglers in Tehran, the entire family fled secretly into Pakistan, but in so doing were caught in a massive sandstorm where they feared they might get separated and lost.

Eventually, with the help of a now-retired U.S. district judge, Najaf and his family settled in the Lansing area. A few years later, this reporter and his wife met Najaf and his family, and we all became close friends.

For the next 120 or so days, refugees from Iran are not allowed in this nation. Nor are refugees allowed from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Syria under an executive order from President Donald Trump with Syrian refugees barred indefinitely. What happens after that we do not yet know officially, but we can make a good guess based on some of the reactions and some of the indications coming from the president’s administration.

We can also make a good guess as to what the overall effects could be to Michigan and its economy, as well as to the nation.

For Governor Rick Snyder has made immigration an important hallmark of his administration, in trying to build the state’s economy. Mr. Snyder also called for the state to grow its population to 10 million people, another 70,000 folks, in three years. Unless companies start giving their workers breaks for frisky time, the state will only be able to grow to 10 million people with immigration.

That would mean attracting immigrants like Najaf, educated and skilled, and his family, also all educated and skilled. Najaf sadly died several years ago from cancer. His children all took the skills they learned in Michigan to other states. His wife had a successful business as a couturier (which is how we met them, she made my wife’s wedding dress) designing and sewing clothes for some of the most successful women in politics and business in the state. She is now retired and living with her children and grandchildren.

Najaf is also not Najaf’s name. His family did not want his real name used. In the past they were cautious about speaking out, for fear of attracting reprisals against family and friends in Iran. Now, since Mr. Trump’s order, his wife is not just concerned about Iran but also the country she and her children are citizens of, the United States.

Mr. Trump says he is concerned for the security of the nation. That is a proper duty of the president. However, and put aside legitimate constitutional questions on Mr. Trump’s executive order, in acting precipitously, and candidly with no real evidence that refugees pose an imminent threat, Mr. Trump may have taken steps to harm the nation’s economy and eventually its security. Which of course, means harming Michigan’s economy as well.

That is borne out further in reports on Thursday that Mr. Trump may enact limitations on H-1B visas. These are the visas sought after by highly trained technical workers, of which our nation’s companies need many. Mr. Snyder, several years ago, also talked about attracting more people with H-1B visas to Michigan in an effort to build our technical industries.

According to the Wall Street Journal, it is estimated that as many 500,000 jobs requiring such skills are open in the U.S. Could not Americans handle those jobs? Of course, so long as they were trained and so long as corporations were willing to pay them (because folks who hold H-1B visas, as has been shown in previous press reports, are generally paid less). Filling those jobs with Americans may take some years, though to get enough people with enough training.

Corporate America, especially in the high-tech sector, is considering what now to do. Executives from some companies have suggested that instead of expanding operations here they look at nations like India to either expand or to contract with supplier firms. How would that help our economy? And, our security?

If H-1B visas are at risk, what other workers and industries are at risk? Already, the agricultural industry is concerned about finding enough workers. There have been reports that a year ago one Michigan farmer, unable to find workers, plowed over his asparagus crop. How could an ongoing situation with fewer farm workers affect food prices, agricultural incomes, the mix of crops grown? Again, could not Americans fill those jobs? Sure. I haven’t seen the postings in the want ads yet, but …

Northern Michigan’s tourism industry, especially in places like Mackinac Island, relies heavily on short-term visas to hire workers. Could those be affected? If so, since the tourist season runs longer than the typical summer vacation for schools, how easily could workers be found willing to move north for six months? And if the international workers who have come, in some cases for decades, suddenly cannot come north to work, what effect could that have on the economies of their home countries?

What effect would all this have on Michigan’s economic growth and stability? On its revenues? On fixing roads, improving schools, providing security?

Najaf and his family came back to Michigan 30 years before this was a concern. Were he seeking asylum now, being from Iran, he’d have to wait another few months at a minimum.

Najaf played a role in Michigan and the world’s economic development. He did research, he mapped and inventoried the soils of a number of Michigan counties, he was hired by the United Nations to do soil assessments in third-world nations.

Najaf was also used to hard times. As a child his family had to flee from their village when the Soviet Union invaded Iran during World War II. He was jailed briefly while in college because he supported controversial Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (whom the U.S. and Britain deposed because he wanted to nationalize the oil industry).

He was also remarkably optimistic. Were he still with us, I know he would probably be concerned now. But he trusted people implicitly, and with a booming laugh he would say we will all be fine, and finish by saying, as he always did, “Thanks be to God.”

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What Governor Would Take Up Arms For His State? The Boy Guv Did

Posted: January, 26 2017 4:02 PM

On this Michigan Day, when we commemorate the 180th anniversary of Michigan’s admission to the Union, let us ask: Would Governor Rick Snyder lead our armed forces into battle?

Would former Governor Jennifer Granholm shoulder arms and march to the front to defend our state from the infamous threat from, say, Ohio? Would former Governor John Engler lead a charge? Would former Governor Jim Blanchard stare down the Buckeye enemy from the trenches? Now former Governor William Milliken, an Army Air Corps gunner shot out of the skies during World War II, we know would head our victorious valiant forces as they marched in triumph. And so would our other governors too, in theory, anyway.

One who did lead our forces at our state’s beginning was the Boy Governor, Stevens T. Mason, in the mighty Toledo War. Unfortunately, the show of arms may have delayed Michigan’s entry into the Union.

The complex story of the dispute over the Toledo Strip has been told in a number of books. It stems from the technology and cartographic mastery of the late 18th Century, along with some poorly worded laws from Congress (thankfully, Congress has never again written laws poorly, has it?), and took some decades to sort out. Actually, it took more than a century to sort out.

In brief, both Michigan and Ohio wanted claim to the Port of Miami – now Toledo – for its critical value to commerce. The land in that area near Lake Erie and the Maumee River was known at the time as the Great Black Swamp because constant flooding left it difficult to traverse. But the Maumee and other waterways allowed for river transportation and in the 1820s and 1830s the country was made to build canals, especially after the success of the Erie Canal, which were the fastest routes to new trading areas, and Toledo had much more to gain from canals than did Detroit.

A number of surveys, some paid for by Ohio and Michigan, some ordered by Congress, did not resolve the territorial issues. A U.S. survey led by former Ohio Governor Edwin Tiffin seemed to favor Michigan, and population grew rapidly along the state’s southern border. By the late 1820’s Michigan had reached the required number to create a state. But its bid to hold a constitutional convention in 1833 was rejected by Congress.

That rejection was probably due in part to the power Ohio had in Congress and the concern President Andrew Jackson had of losing Ohio support.

Mr. Mason, named the territorial governor by Mr. Jackson, and a good-looking hothead, convened a constitutional convention in 1835, even though Congress had not authorized same. At roughly the same time Ohio ordered county governments formed in the Toledo Strip. Mr. Mason and the territorial Legislature responded with legislation making it a crime, punishment: five years at hard labor, for Ohioans to convene governments.

Ohio responded by sending 600 militia into the area.

Our bold governor responded by marching with his appointed militia general at the head of 1,000 men into Toledo. Wouldn’t you like to see Mr. Snyder at the head of the ranks? Threats over the months were escalated. Shots were fired occasionally. Blood was shed. Well, a Monroe County sheriff’s deputy was stabbed with a pen-knife when he was arrested by an Ohioan in Toledo, but it counts. Blood was shed.

This was actually a big deal at the time. It was a huge headache for Mr. Jackson who clearly favored Ohio, but wasn’t getting much love for his position. His attorney general sided with Michigan, and former President John Quincy Adams – who was elected to the U.S. House after losing to Mr. Jackson – considered Ohio’s treatment of Michigan one of the most unjust he had ever seen.

Mr. Jackson removed Mr. Mason and replaced him with John Horner. Michiganders pelted him with vegetables. Politics was rough even then. Then they re-elected Mr. Mason. Congress finally passed a bill that Mr. Jackson signed allowing Michigan into the Union if it gave up Toledo. Instead it would get the rest of the Upper Peninsula. At the time, the U.P. was seen as a wasteland but it was before copper and iron were discovered.

Michigan held a convention to approve the deal. The convention refused. And there as we went into the winter of 1836-37 things stood.

What finally turned the tide? What finally led us to become a state? Waddya think? Money. Yup. Holding all these surveys, mounting troops and whatnot nearly left Michigan bankrupt, and Congress was about to distribute a budget surplus to…the…states. Territorial governments were going to get bupkis.

Mr. Mason quickly convened a new convention, and probably did so without proper authority, which finally late in December in Ann Arbor approved the deal giving up Toledo and getting the U.P. It became known as the Frostbite Convention. Michigan was admitted to the Union in January 1837 following congressional approval. It also apparently got some of the loot.

Disputes with Ohio over the border lasted until 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court determined the border in Lake Erie.

But remember our governor was at the head of the troops to help generate our entry as a state, even if it really didn’t help matters. In 2018, perhaps we should ask candidates for governor if they would lead Michiganders into battle.

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A Tense Anticipation To The Inaugural

Posted: January, 19 2017 4:02 PM

This is being published fewer than 24 hours before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in as President Trump. The reaction in Lansing to the upcoming next president is nervous.

Inaugurals always draw a mixed reaction, based on party preferences. Republicans are excited. At a minimum they are excited a Republican is being inaugurated president even if individually some are not all that excited about the specific Republican. Democrats, of course, range from bemused annoyance to outrage to being in one of several stages of mourning.

However, what is interesting is how nervous people are about soon-to-be President Trump. It is a nervousness shared mostly by folks who work in and around government. The people that understand the mechanics of making government work and how dramatic, sudden change can both toss a variety of wrenches into the works and dramatically affect people who rely on the services those works produce.

Mr. Trump holds two distinctions as he raises his right hand to take the oath on Friday. He is, first, the oldest president to be sworn in (it is a measure of the improvements in medicine, one can suppose, that his age has not been much of an issue).

He is also the only president who has not served the public in some fashion. He has no military background. Certainly no previous electoral experience. Never served on a city or county board. Unless at some time Mr. Trump was a notary public, he does not have a background of public service.

Not having previously served does not disqualify him, but it does mean Mr. Trump has not had the personal experience of negotiating the system and trying to make it work as seamlessly as possible.

Government is complicated for a variety of reasons. Two major ones are that government is trying to provide some good to the public while at the same time trying to make sure members of the same public aren’t trying to take advantage of that good. Following the path to reach both goals is often a slow journey, certainly slower than one wants, and usually involves crossing and merging with other paths for other services.

Once the paths reach their goals, however, the effects can be enormous. In some cases enormously good; in others, enormously bad; and sometimes the effects are both good and bad.

Which is what makes people nervous about Mr. Trump. He has called for massive change. Actually, that’s not unusual. People running for president typically do call for massive change. What makes people nervous is no one knows if Mr. Trump knows how to engineer change and the potential effect the change will have.

And in Mr. Trump’s case, no one knows if he even would care what the effects are.

This nervousness has been seen most in the health care community because of Mr. Trump and the Republican Congress’ intent to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Replacing it with what no one yet knows, but early indications are not promising to those who have benefitted under Obamacare. The more than 600,000 recipients of health insurance under Healthy Michigan are especially nervous.

But it is not just health care wonks who are nervous. Mr. Trump’s attacks on trade policy could have an effect on Michigan’s economy since the state is cheek-to-cheek with one the largest trading partners with the United States. The state is, in fact, looking to build a new bridge to enhance that trade. Could Mr. Trump have an impact on the forthcoming Gordie Howe Bridge?

Governor Rick Snyder has visited a lot of countries to encourage businesses there to do business here. Would trade changes affect those efforts?

Mr. Snyder also called for the state to actively add population. Mr. Trump has called for big changes in immigration. Since Mr. Snyder is clearly hoping for some immigration to get to 10 million people, could Michiganders be expected to produce those needed thousands the biological way if immigration is limited?

And Mr. Trump has called for big tax changes but also big spending increases, especially for infrastructure, so what effect might that have on the state budget?

Finally, there is the question of being a governmental neophyte, how much can Mr. Trump actually get accomplished. There is an old story that former President Dwight Eisenhower was asked what was the biggest difference between being a general and being president.

Ike supposedly answered: “When you’re a general and you tell people to do things, they do them.”

One can see now why this inaugural inspires such nervousness.

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Hank Fuhs Runs Into Politics Social Media Style

Posted: January, 12 2017 3:34 PM

Hank Fuhs Jr. is the Michigan Republican Party secretary. He is a Republican through and through, and he is a thoroughly nice guy. He always seems to have a big goofy grin. He likes sending out emails to who knows how many people before every holiday, wishing them happiness. He’s a graduate of Ferris State University, studied at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the National War College, and is an Air Force veteran.

And this week he smacked head on into what seems to constitute civil discourse on social media. Being a Republican, one might think he was trashed by Democrats. But no, not at all, no, no, no. Nope, Mr. Fuhs was savaged by fellow Republicans on Facebook.

Why? Because in two posts, Mr. Fuhs called for respect for President Barack Obama. Both were written Tuesday evening, just before and then just after Mr. Obama’s farewell speech.

Before the speech (and this reporter takes the liberty of correcting the typos that Mr. Fuhs did apologize for), Mr. Fuhs wrote, “It’s important to listen out of respect to President Obama tonight … I salute all past and present presidents … go America.”

And then after the speech, Mr. Fuhs wrote, “President Obama just gave a great speech. Everybody heard his request … work together to keep and make America great …proud to be an American. Thanks again President Obama and VP Joe … a good man.”

That doesn’t sound too subversive. Sounds, in fact, exactly like the kind of actual civility that both politicians and Americans say they want. Sounds like the kind of civility new Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) promised the House would see in the 99th Legislature.

Tell that to a chap named Jonathan West who responded to the second post: “Are you that f---ing retarded? Obviously, yes you are. Just wow s---bird.” He extended his remarks, but you get the picture.

His was typical of the tirades launched against Mr. Fuhs. A Mike Flynn said, “Obama pos” (POS for those who do not know is not a compliment). Mary Ann Warner Landon said, “I have no idea how this Obamanite got on my friend list either…Goodbye.”

It went on and on. Both posts featured fury unbound. Karen Aninos Bidwell posted an emoticon of the emoticon vomiting, followed by her writing, “OMG tears are streaming down my face from my extreme laughter at all these great responses. 5 stars for them all.”

Mr. Fuhs actually responded to her when she also asked how he could be a Republican.

“I try to be respectful to all,” he said.

And David Walch said Mr. Fuhs sounded “like a RINO.”

No, Mr. Fuhs is not a RINO, for later he posted that all had to work together under President-elect Donald Trump. And all through the general election phase of the campaign, he frequently would post reminders to Republicans to stick with Mr. Trump, often mentioning the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court.

And Mr. Fuhs had defenders, both Democratic and Republican, who praised him for his leadership and gentleness. Those included Republican former Sen, Beverly Hammerstrom, who wrote, “You took the high road as always.”

Mr. Fuhs was off to a conference and could not reached for comment on how he viewed and reacted to the viciousness to which he was exposed.

But the comments, which anyone who follows social medial knows have become run-of-the-mill blather from all sides about all people, shows something else. Despite our professed desire for civility, for just plain manners in our political discourse, we actually enjoy being mean SOBs.

Shakespeare said something about this. What was it? Something about the fault not being in our stars but in ourselves. Perhaps Mr. Fuhs would agree with Will.

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Defined Contribution Backers Take An Unexpected Shot

Posted: January, 5 2017 3:29 PM

For two decades now a battle has waged over the issue of defined contribution retirement plans for public workers, and the fight will not soon end. Opponents of shifting public workers into those 401(k) plans, however, this week picked up a major new weapon they can use: the revelation that some creators of defined contribution plans felt they should work with, not replace, pensions.

Almost exactly 20 years ago former Governor John Engler won a fight to require that all newly hired state workers use a defined contribution system for their retirement. Current state workers could switch from the defined benefit (better known as a pension) system to defined contribution. Few did.

Mr. Engler lost in his attempt to have public school employees, at least newly hired ones, also use defined contribution plans. Over the years the issue has come up again and again. Last month, the most serious effort in years to compel new school employees to use defined contribution was floated in the Senate by Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof (R-West Olive). Mr. Meekhof was forced to withdraw the bills involved because he was unable to convince a majority of his caucus to support them, and even more troubling, could not win the support of Governor Rick Snyder.

Clearly, though, the issue will continue to be raised and fought. With a new House described as more conservative than the House that left office in December, the issue may get new life and support. Those who will push for the change requiring new school workers to have defined contribution retirements will also have some strong allies.

Such allies would include the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has long been a critic of public pension plans and their costs. It has accused the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System of mismanaging the system for a generation and of giving misleading figures to the Legislature in December when Mr. Meekhof’s proposal was being considered.

Supporters of defined contribution, best known as 401(k) plans, tout lower costs to taxpayers and the workers having the ability to control their retirement accounts. Opponents argue about the instability of the stock market and therefore the uncertainty a person will have enough money for retirement though they may have saved a substantial sum. And there is the fact that workers have to save a lot to have a shot at a meaningful retirement income, when their current wages and economic position may not allow for big savings

Which makes an article that appeared this week in the Wall Street Journal really quite stunning. In the piece, several of the individuals who pushed hardest back in the 1980s for companies and governments to use 401(k)s feel the retirement plans have failed to meet their promise. They said they had anticipated the plans would be part of a three-legged stool to fund retirements along with Social Security and pensions. Instead, companies dumped pensions and rushed to use 401(k)s as their sole retirement system, mostly because they are far cheaper to administer.

The founders also acknowledged they didn’t expect some of the massive swings in the stock market and the effect those would have on retirement plans.

Nor did they realize how little Americans could or would save for retirement. Studies have shown Americans are singularly unprepared for retirement. Only about 50 percent of all households nationwide have retirement savings (young persons are the least likely to do so), and overall total median savings for retirement of all households, according to the Wall Street Journal, are just $2,500. Households with retirement savings have an average of $50,000, but even with Social Security added, $50,000 will get a retiree precious little aside from the occasional nice meal out over 20 to 30 years in retirement.

It’s not that Americans are completely feckless in terms of their own financial well-being. Many people have trouble saving given that wages and salaries have stagnated over the years, but costs of housing, food, transportation, medical care and other essentials have tended to increase.

And yes, some parents of 401(k)s oversold their children’s benefits. One routinely said in the 1980s a person could save just 3 percent of his or her income and retire comfortably so long as their investments made 7 percent gains on average. But 7 percent gains on a regular annual basis can be tough, especially when the market takes dramatic hits as it did in 1987, at the end of the tech bubble in the late 1990s and following the housing market collapse from 2007 to 2010.

Ironically, one of the 401(k) fathers himself took a major hit with the market collapse in 2008 and now says he will have to work into his mid-70s if he wants to maintain his lifestyle in retirement. “A pension is pretty valuable,” the piece quoted Herbert Whitehouse, once of Johnson & Johnson.

The fight over public 401(k)s or pensions will not be decided by one newspaper piece. But that piece could prove to make the fight more striking still.

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Oh, Christmas Tree And Christmas Tree Tax And …Say Again?

Posted: December, 22 2016 4:53 PM

Approaching Christmas there is always a debate on the question of real or fake. Christmas trees, of course.

It should be no surprise where the Michigan Christmas Tree Association stands on the question. They are completely pushing for people to buy real Christmas trees – 98 percent of which come from Christmas tree farms, where three seedlings are planted each for tree cut, and where, according to the association’s webpage, the trees make the most environmental as well as economic sense – and in fact include a link on hints for first-time Christmas tree purchases on caring for their fir or spruce of Scotch pine. That link refers to putting a fake tree where it belongs, the association says, in the garbage.

The association is also, along with Christmas tree groups across the country, trying to see instituted a checkoff program that would help fund research into agricultural issues involving the trees as well as marketing.

The proposal calls for growers who harvest and sell a minimum of 500 trees annually to have a 15-cent per tree fee to help cover the cost of the checkoff program.

The program would be similar to programs used for the dairy and meat industries as well as other commodities.

The state association’s board of directors has voted to support the proposal which needs approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Given a discussion that got quite involved in social media this year, with a new mother asking if her baby’s first Christmas tree should be real or fake (with it appears an almost even split on the question, with supporters of the fake tree saying it is less mess to worry about) this reporter, who has always had a real tree aglow in his house, suggests research on a variety of tree that sheds less would be a noble expenditure of checkoff funds.

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Farewell To One Of The Administration’s Top Millennials

Posted: December, 16 2016 2:43 PM

State Budget Director John Roberts will depart soon for the private sector, and when he leaves one of the highest ranking members of the Millennial Generation leaves the administration as well.

But Mr. Roberts is not the highest ranking millennial. Depending on you define the millennial generation, Lt. Governor Brian Calley is the highest-ranking millennial.

Again, depending on the definition, Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon is also a millennial.

But there is no question that Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt Township) is a millennial and will be one the highest elected persons of that generation when he becomes speaker in January.

Millennials are a bit indistinct because demographers vary on how they define when the oldest millennial was born. Baby boomers were easy. Born nine months after the end of World War II and born as late as 1964, you are a boomer. But millennials, well, some demographers start them as early as 1976 but most seem to pick 1980 as the start. The ending point varies between 2000 and 2004. What the kids born after 2004 are to be called – the iPhone Generation? – has not yet been decided.

That means the millennials are moving into their time to screw everything up. Why not? The millennials complain the boomers screwed everything up for them (note that the smaller group of Gen Xers are kind of lost in all this. One could feel sorry for them, but then they also aren’t getting blamed for anything). The boomers complained about the WWII generation screwing things up for them. The WWII generation complained about the generation before them creating the Great Depression and World War II.

The millennials now get to await the iPhoners saying the millennials ruined everything and the iPhoners alone will have to fix it. Boomers hope the millennials enjoy hearing the next generation whine as much as we have enjoyed hearing the millennials whine.

This endless cycle is reassuring in its own strange way. It also, though, reinforces the point that has been true of every generation: the individuals who define a generation are themselves defined by what their parents instilled in them and what they themselves determine to accomplish.

Which takes us back to Mr. Roberts. Full disclosure: Mr. Roberts’ father, former state Treasurer Doug Roberts, is a close friend of this reporter, and yes his sons, John the budget director and Doug Jr. the Consumers Energy lobbyist, are friends as well.

Which means this reporter can also speak to the sense of responsibility and duty Mr. Roberts the budget director had drilled into him. His family, almost through every branch, has been dedicated to public service. In his father’s house there is a photograph of former President Dwight Eisenhower standing next to then-French President Charles DeGaulle and behind them is Emory Roberts, Mr. Roberts’ grandfather. Emory Roberts was a chief agent of the U.S. Secret Service, and for decades protected presidents, vice-presidents, first ladies and visiting kings. Except for a brief jaunt in the private sector, Doug Roberts Sr. has spent his entire career in service to Michigan, either in state government or with Michigan State University.

Doug Roberts Sr. also made an important demographic decision that goes to one quality of millennials separating them from earlier generations. Millennials are not as insular and clannish as earlier generations. They relate more easily to people of different ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds.

The Roberts family was located in East Lansing instead of wealthier areas surrounding Lansing. While East Lansing is mostly a city of comfortable but not princely homes, with families earning well though not necessarily princely incomes, there are neighborhoods that a little leaner. And because of MSU, there are many people of different backgrounds. Doug Roberts Sr. wanted to be sure his kids got to know people different from they, learning how to work with them, respect them, be friends with them.

Mr. Roberts the budget director is a conservative Republican. But unless you made a point of asking him about politics, you wouldn’t know that. You would know that he is hardworking with a cell phone almost always pressed to his ear, he projects that. He projects his politics only when he feels it appropriate.

One would wish that was a trait of all millennials, just as we would wish it true of all generations. It is not true of all millennials, just as it is not true of all generations. But it is true of Mr. Roberts.

And as millennials now enter the age when they will run the world, Mr. Roberts is one that can give some hope they won’t make too bad a hash of it all.

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What Does A ‘More Conservative’ House Mean?

Posted: December, 8 2016 6:12 PM

In the one month since President-elect Donald Trump stunned the world and Michigan’s and the nation’s political world was solidified as Republican, there has been much talk that the incoming House Republican Caucus in the 99th Legislature will be more conservative than the current caucus.

In an interview with Gongwer News Service earlier this week, incoming Speaker Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt) said the caucus would be more conservative. But he did not define what that would mean.

A number of Lansing wags, including some Republicans, have joked, “More conservative than what?” and “How can they be more conservative? How is it possible to be more conservative?”

This week this reporter happened to overhear a conversation between a current Republican House member and a top tea party activist.

The tea party activist said, “I’m so glad we’ll have real conservatives” in charge of the House.

The lawmaker said the caucus will be a more “principled” caucus. Governor Rick Snyder is a moderate, he said, “he’s very moderate.’” And the Senate is sort of in the middle, the legislator said, which means how things will shake out may take some time to determine.

From an intellectual standpoint the conversation and the speculation about what a “more conservative” House could mean comes as political historians sort out the changes in conservatism overall. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an interesting article on the 40th anniversary of the first major history of conservative thought, “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945” by George Nash, and it looked at how intellectual conservatism has changed to the form that Mr. Trump now represents.

From a practical standpoint, the lawmaker was right, it will likely take some time to sort out how the House will differ from the other Republican-controlled branches of state government – the Senate, the governor and, candidly, the Supreme Court – and what that means for actual governing. One could reasonably expect this is something that will take the full 99th Legislature to resolve, if it ever is resolved.

One can guess at a few things though. Teachers, police officers and firefighters all relaxed when legislation to make changes to their retirement and retiree health systems was pulled from action during this lame-duck session.

With a more conservative House, it is reasonable to expect those bills have an easier path out of the House over to the Senate, and then we will see how Mr. Snyder will deal with them. Whatever other legislation the House may have in mind might require looking at whatever other subjects are current in conservative thought. And then, again, we will have to see how the Senate and Mr. Snyder react, followed by how the more conservative House would respond to any changes. Will a “more principled” House be less likely to accept compromise in any guise?

It’s speculative, but given that Mr. Trump seems determined to have a corporate policy of directly confronting corporations, what might happen if a state company, let’s call it Wooden Shoes International, decides to move production of whatever from Michigan to, say, the Netherlands, and Mr. Trump arm twists a deal to give them a big tax break to stay? Would a “more principled” House, that may oppose targeted tax breaks go along with the president or stand firm on principle and refuse to buckle to his way? Imagine the Twitter war that would incite.

The idea of a more “principled caucus” also reminds one that conservative historian Paul Johnson, in his 1980s history “Intellectuals,” argued that principle was less important than people.

Possibly what is needed now and first is a definition of what “more principled” itself means before one can speculate on how the House will pursue policy.

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Trump’s Biggest Critic Now Seems A Kind-Of Fellow Republican

Posted: December, 1 2016 4:13 PM

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash is a Republican, officially. He’s really a libertarian and cuts both parties or joins with both parties depending on the issue, but officially, technically he’s Republican. Republicans have tried and failed to knock him out of office by running primary opponents against him. He is popular in his district, with his constituents seeming to enjoy his willingness to blast both parties.

But now Mr. Amash (R-Cascade Township) has a really big target in his sights, and the shots he has landed thus far have gained him significant national notoriety. It could also possibly leave an opening against him by another Republican.

Mr. Amash's target is President-elect Donald Trump. No critique probably is more significant than the one he fired this week in response to Mr. Trump’s position on people who burn the American flag.

On Monday, Mr. Trump tweeted: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Mr. Amash tweeted the next day: "Nobody should burn the American flag, but our Constitution secures our right to do so. No president is allowed to burn the First Amendment.”

Much has been made of how Mr. Trump’s comments vary with his earlier thoughts on flag burning; how the late U.S. Justice Antonin Scalia endorsed flag burning as falling under First Amendment freedoms; and how U.S. courts were unlikely to overturn earlier decisions upholding flag burning.

Mr. Amash’s comment, though, seems to have cut to the heart of the issue more directly, suggesting the president-elect either doesn’t understand the Constitution or doesn’t care about it.

Mr. Amash was never a supporter of Mr. Trump, refusing to vote for him, though offering the president-elect his good wishes when Mr. Trump notched his surprising November 8 victory.

Since then, Mr. Amash has been pretty sharp against Mr. Trump. He criticized Mr. Trump’s efforts to convince Carrier Corporation to keep jobs in Indiana, saying we live in a “constitutional republic, not an autocracy.”

He has also said the swamp Mr. Trump should drain first is that involving his business and international contacts.

Mr. Amash did praise Mr. Trump for choosing his constituent, Betsy DeVos, as secretary of education. And he has urged Mr. Trump to select U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) as his secretary of state.

Otherwise, Mr. Amash has been at least as sharp a critic of Mr. Trump as any Democrat.

Clearly, Mr. Amash is acting on principle, but could this open the door to another Republican taking him on in the 2018 primary?

If Mr. Trump proves to be successful and gets much public support during the first two years of his administration, could Mr. Amash’s criticisms become a political liability? Could another politician run and position him/herself as in Mr. Trump’s corner, there to help the president?

Why not? But that is now less than two years away. Until then, Mr. Amash and the soon-to-be president will likely continue to wage their Twitter tussle.

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President-Elect Trump: ‘I Don’t Think We Can Lose Michigan’

Posted: November, 23 2016 5:05 PM

In an interview with The New York Times, President-elect Donald Trump made headlines Tuesday for his comments on his disinclination to prosecute his opponent Democrat Hillary Clinton (“lock her up” chants during the campaign to the contrary) and on his views that he does not have to separate himself completely from his business interests while in office.

However, Michigan residents may find his comments about his last frenetic trips into Michigan before the November 8 election quite interesting.

Those comments, in what has become familiar as Mr. Trump’s rambling, staccato speaking style, actually occupied a good share of the beginning of the interview.

Mr. Trump actually rambled into the question of Michigan, and his very last campaign stop, post-midnight in Grand Rapids on November 8, by starting the interview talking about building better relations with the Times.

Mr. Trump was ferociously critical of the press during the campaign (and his supporters echoed those feelings, with one person photographed wearing a T-shirt that essentially called for reporters to be lynched). Mr. Trump said he had great respect for the Times, but it had been “very unfair” to him during the campaign. He also said he would like to “turn it around” because it would make his job easier. What he meant by turning it around was not clarified.

He then moved into a discussion of how hard he and his transition team were working, and that the public would be impressed with his Cabinet choices.

He then segued into a discussion of his last days on the trail, doing lots of speeches, and his determination to do as many as six speeches a day during the final days and hours of the campaign.

So many people wanted to come to his rallies, Mr. Trump said, that “We came up with a good system” to put projectors up outside the venues so that the people outside could watch the speeches.

And he said the last speech “ended at 1 o’clock in the morning in Michigan.

“And we had 31,000 people, 17,000 or 18,000 inside and the rest outside. This massive place in Grand Rapids, I guess. And it was an incredible thing. And I left saying, “How do we lose Michigan? I don’t think we can lose Michigan.”

He decided to make late appearances in Michigan “because we heard that day that Hillary was hearing that they’re going to lose Michigan, which hasn’t lost in 38 years. Or something. But 38 years.”

Ah, actually Mr. President-elect it’s been 28 years since a Republican won a presidential race in Michigan. No matter, one could say.

Mr. Trump said when he heard of all the top Democrats coming to Michigan in the final days, including President Barack Obama along with Ms. Clinton, he said, “Let’s go to Michigan.”

Given that Mr. Trump won Michigan by the razor-thin margin of 0.224 percentage point, strategically Mr. Trump probably made the right choice to go into Grand Rapids for his final campaign appearance.

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Mike Rogers Has A Terrific Campaign Story, But He Has To Tell It

Posted: November, 17 2016 3:18 PM

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers probably didn’t expect to end up in the headlines this week.

Certainly, the Brighton Republican was probably looking forward to contemplating headlines announcing he was the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency. What he got instead was headlines saying his forced departure from the transition team of President-Elect Donald Trump was evidence of growing turmoil in the office, as Mr. Trump pulls together an administration after his surprising victory.

Should one have a chance to meet up with the former U.S. Army officer, former FBI agent, former Michigan Senator and former well-respected chair of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee (and now radio host and television news analyst), certainly one should commiserate on the recent controversy Mr. Rogers found himself innocently caught up in.

But one should also ask him to tell one of the best ever campaign stories.

No, no, this reporter’s lips are sealed. This has to come from Mr. Rogers.

It’s a story that goes back to his days in the Michigan Senate. To, if I recall aright, the 1998 campaign.

I heard of the story while interviewing former Sen. Loren Bennett of Canton Township, who said, “You gotta talk to Rogers. He has the best story of going door to door.”

In so many years of covering candidates, there have been some amazing stories that crossed this reporter’s path. Including one from former Sen. Burton Leland of Detroit, who told of being just about to knock on a door when the door exploded open, a man burst from it running faster than a human ought to be able to, followed immediately by a woman who leveled a pistol at the man and started shooting. That’s a good story.

Mr. Rogers’ story is right up there with Mr. Leland’s, though no weaponry is involved.

Spurred by Mr. Bennett, Mr. Rogers was contacted. He hemmed, he demurred, he protested. And finally he told the story.

This is all I will say: the story involves a hot day and a small child. A small boy-child.

Even Mr. Trump would like this story.

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The People; Ah, The People; Democrats Need More Of Them

Posted: November, 10 2016 2:52 PM

“The people have spoken. The bastards,” said the late former Rep. Bob Mahoney.

It is a perfectly nonpartisan comment. Any politician who loses, regardless of party, can utter these words at the appropriate time.

Democrats will be forgiven for muttering the phrase. Nothing went as it was expected to on Tuesday. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost the state to President-elect Donald Trump. Democrats gained no ground in the Michigan House. They lost five of the eight statewide education posts. Their touted candidates for three U.S. House seats got buried in landslides.

It might be better this year, though, if Democrats asked themselves, “Where were all the people who could have spoken, dammit?”

It has been pointed out that a singular and sharp decline in Democratic turnout in Michigan cost Ms. Clinton the state and its 16 electoral votes. And the focus has been on a failure to turn out sufficient Democratic voters in Detroit and Wayne County overall. It is the area with the largest concentration of Democratic voters.

This is hardly fair, since Ms. Clinton’s turnout was down in most counties during a year when overall state turnout was actually up. State officials estimate total turnout this year at about 65 percent, compared to 62 percent in 2012. If Ms. Clinton won the same number of votes in, for example, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Cheboygan, Easton, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties (and she still would have lost in most those counties) as President Barack Obama did in 2012, she would have had another roughly 24,300 votes in the state.

She lost Michigan by 13,107 votes.

This same scenario was played out across the nation. Preliminary figures show that Ms. Clinton, who narrowly won the popular vote cast nationwide, had some 5.6 million fewer votes than did President Barack Obama in 2012 (and 2016 will be the fifth time the elected president finished second in the popular vote). Had she tallied the same as Mr. Obama, the United States would inaugurate its first woman president on January 20, 2017.

Already party activists and sympathizers are debating what could be done to ensure that does not happen in the future. Drastic measures such as restructuring the party leadership structure, making the party more of a populist oriented organization and reforming the nomination system are under discussion.

However, if one is a Democrat it might help to build in Democrats the same voting discipline that Republicans seem to enjoy. It always seems to take a greater effort to mobilize them to the polls than it does Republicans.

What it would take to build such discipline is unknown, but if Democrats looked at voting as regular and necessary as brushing their teeth, it just might bring more of them to the polls.

Perhaps, Democrats should also widen their base. Doing so could help boost turnout. For decades, Democrats came from all areas in the state, from agricultural areas, from small industrial towns in otherwise agricultural counties, from woodland locations.

Now, there are places where there is little if any Democratic presence. Years ago a rural Democratic chair said the local party was so small they could hold their annual convention in a phone booth with room for a ping pong game. That seems as true today in much of Michigan as it did then, except there would be no phone booths available.

Former Michigan House Democratic leader Dianne Byrum said in her somewhat rural area not a single Democrat showed up on the ballot below the level of county official. There was not one Democrat running for her township board, Ms. Byrum said.

Can Democrats continue to depend on an urban focus for its party structure? In a close election, when every vote truly counts building a bigger presence in less populated areas could pay big dividends. Republicans certainly benefited from big support in the smaller counties in this election.

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Locker Room Talk And The Never Trumpers

Posted: November, 4 2016 9:55 PM

For all that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said of locker room talk, the following was learned from a conversation this reporter had while in a locker room.

A lifelong Republican, a business person, someone who proudly said he had never voted for a Democrat for president, someone who said he could not stand Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, said to me, “I can’t believe it, but I did it. I voted for her.”

Why is that? I asked.

“We have to have stability. She knows government and how it works. He will create chaos. We can’t have that, we can’t afford it,” he said.

That was last week’s locker room conversation. This next is from a locker room conversation held this week. Again with a Republican, and a political activist, who spoke about his mother who had not voted for some years. She has voted in this election, he said.

“She voted for Hillary,” he said. “She doesn’t like her, but she hates Trump.”

In the last two weeks there has been a focus, and properly so, on the last minute drive down the field Mr. Trump and his campaign are waging. Ms. Clinton’s campaign has not yet had to line up for a goal line stand, but Mr. Trump is arguably drawing too close to the end zone for Democratic comfort.

In the last week especially there has been much discussion on which candidate has the better campaign staff, the most volunteers, the most money, the most signs. Back and forth chatter has gone on and on over where the candidates are going, where their top supporters are going, to fire up enthusiasm, to drive turnout. Of course, there has also been talk about who is the most anxious at this time (from this standpoint, it looks like both are about equally nervous). Also, there has been talk about what effect absentee and early voting will have.

But no one has talked about that group called the Never Trumpers.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Stu Sandler, of Grand River Strategies, posted on his Facebook page a plea to all the Never Trumpers to go away for a week and let those trying to get Republicans elected alone to do their work.

There is no doubt most Republicans will vote for Mr. Trump. But how many won’t? And what effect could those voters have?

Beyond the locker room, I have heard from a surprising number of Republicans who are either not voting for president, voting for a third-party candidate or voting for Ms. Clinton. My uncle, 91 years old, a retired big-deal Detroit lawyer, who held a poolside reception during the 1980 Republican convention at his house in Bloomfield Hills that Time Magazine featured in a photo (my mother’s right knee can be seen in the picture), decided for the first time in his voting life to not vote for anyone for president. One can argue that helps neither candidate, or one can argue that it helps Ms. Clinton. It strikes me it helps her rather than helps no one.

In fact, of the Republicans I have been friends with for many years, of those who told me whom they are supporting, most are supporting Ms. Clinton. It’s a one-time deal, I am assured. It’s only because of Mr. Trump, and usually they wave a dismissive hand at this point in the conversation.

Again, I have no doubt most of my Republican friends will support Mr. Trump. But put it this way: not a one of my Democratic friends is supporting Mr. Trump.

In the State of the State survey released this week by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, the results showed of those saying they were strong Republicans 95 percent were voting for Mr. Trump and 2 percent for Ms. Clinton. Of Strong Democrats, 96 percent were voting for Ms. Clinton, and 1 percent for Mr. Trump. Of “not-strong” Republicans, 74 percent were voting for Mr. Trump and 9 percent for Ms. Clinton. Of “not strong” Democrats, 89 percent were voting for Ms. Clinton and 6 percent were voting for Mr. Trump.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the survey showed that of people identifying as very conservative, 72 percent supported Mr. Trump and 14 percent supported Ms. Clinton. On the very liberal side, well, Mr. Trump should be happy with the 5 percent he got, while Ms. Clinton got 91 percent.

Small percentages, one can argue. But if a race is as close as this may turn out to be, small percentages can add up to a quite a bit.

So what of the Never Trumpers? What effect could they have? Maybe in the end they will have no effect. Maybe they will have more than one might expect.

However and whatever the effect, I know it will be talked about in the locker room beginning November 9.

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Looking At The Season Of Miracles

Posted: October, 27 2016 4:42 PM

Forget Christmas, the true season of miracles will occur on November 8, or at least so hope many Republicans. And they are not without some reason to hope.

The presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has so dominated news coverage and discussion that politicians and political observers in Lansing have little to say about races for the Michigan House. Both parties are dumping lots of money into the races, each party is targeting whatever scandal – no matter how minor – that might make a difference with voters.

But honestly, almost no one seems to care about the individual state House races or the races for the U.S. House. Observers still wonder and worry about what happens in the presidential race and how that could affect the outcome in the House and in the congressional races.

Presuming Ms. Clinton wins, at least in Michigan if not nationally, (and speaking off the record virtually every Republican expects she will win) there is the fear her winning by a big margin will overpower everything Republicans have done and lead to a Democratic House and at least one Democrat winning one of the contested U.S. House races.

Hence, comes now the season of miracles. Political dynamics, political strategy and money are no longer enough. Blind, unswerving faith in Mr. Trump’s victory, in the political equivalent of talismans and good luck charms, has overtaken many of his supporters.

Those beliefs can be monitored on social media, especially following the last debate between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump. A lot of credence is given to attendance at Trump rallies, at the thousands of people more than the number of people attending rallies for Ms. Clinton. That in itself, these supporters say, is proof of the true – and vast -- support Mr. Trump can claim, proof that despite everything the lying press, the rigged polls and the efforts to rig the election that he will win on November 8.

Thera are also those who see a miracle but don’t ascribe them to magic.

A top Michigan Republican strategist and fundraiser said the other day the Republican Party will be in great shape after the election. “We’ll still control the House. Not a single member of Congress will lose, and Trump, I think people are in for a big surprise on Election Day,” this insider said. The public will recognize she must not be president, he said. The people are starting to realize, he said, that “Hillary Clinton is Richard Nixon in drag.”

Of course, the miracle could occur. All the dynamics at this time, 12 days before the election, point to Ms. Clinton winning, but people win lotteries on much worse odds.

There are indications polls between she and Mr. Trump are tightening, including here in Michigan. While the polls have narrowed, Ms. Clinton still leads outside the margin of error in Michigan and other states, so Michigan could hardly be called a tossup.

History also suggests final results tend to show the winning candidate getting a higher percentage in the end than polls suggested. One only has to look at 2012 where polls suggested a very close race between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Yet, Mr. Obama won convincingly.

Even more telling, polls in 1980 suggested a razor thin race between President Jimmy Carter and former California Governor Ronald Reagan. Mr. Reagan won in a landslide.

The truly critical factor will be voter turnout, and on that Ms. Clinton appears to have a significant advantage in terms of people on the ground to help drive turnout. In some states, such as Florida, reports say she has nearly five times as many staff and volunteers working as does Mr. Trump.

What is unknown now is how the early voting will affect the results, and who the early voting favors at this point. In 2012 nationally about 16 percent of all the votes cast were cast early. Observers think this year early voting could account for as much as 40 percent of all votes cast.

While Michigan does not allow no-reason absentee voting, state officials say that Michigan is also seeing a boost in absentee ballot returns. Nearly 165,000 more absentee ballots have been turned in at this point than with 12 days out in 2012, officials said.

Once the votes are cast, of course, no amount of campaign contact can make a difference with that voter.

What will have to be most worrisome to Ms. Clinton’s supporters is how much she is disliked. One Clinton volunteer, who also volunteered for Mr. Obama in 2008, said in that year voters were excited to vote for him. This year, people are supporting her but without real enthusiasm, the volunteer said.

But as much as she is disliked, Mr. Trump is liked even less. Aside from his enthusiastic core of supporters, there is no excitement for Mr. Trump among Republicans. If Ms. Clinton were not the Democratic nominee, one wonders if most Republicans would even acknowledge Mr. Trump.

All that said, Mr. Trump’s biggest supporters still have hope of a miracle. Whether a victory by Mr. Trump would be called a miracle by others is doubtful.

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The Michigan ‘Hombre’ Connection

Posted: October, 20 2016 2:49 PM

“We have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out,” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said during the final 2016 presidential debate on Wednesday.

It was one line of many that grabbed attention and the public imagination during the debate with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The Golden Harvest, Lansing’s rightly renowned and popular diner, memorialized all the best lines and a few others in its Thursday menu – according to photographs posted on social media. If you were dining there on Thursday you could have chosen from “3 Party French Toast,” “Putin’s puppet omelet,” “Nasty Woman pancakes,” “Trump is a master debater omelet,” “Spy vs. spy waffle,” “Trumped up trickle down sandwich,” and of course the “Bad hombre quesadilla.”

Republican commentator Ana Navarro – who abhors her party’s candidate and has had a jolly time this campaign trashing him – said that when Mr. Trump uttered the word “hombre” he showed he knew two words of Spanish: hombre and taco. (Ms. Navarro will appear along with former Vermont Governor Howard Dean at the Michigan Political Leadership Program’s fundraising dinner and breakfast in March. Gongwer News Service is a supporter of MPLP).

In all this we should also remember that Michigan has an important artistic connection to “hombre.”

Elmore Leonard was arguably one of Michigan’s best novelists, a vigorous writer in the style of two other great Michigan authors, Ernest Hemingway and Jim Harrison. While best known now for his crime caper books, among writers he was revered for his clean, sharp, muscular and edgy style. His rules for writing should be followed for any piece of writing, from a campaign handout to an epic novel.

When he started his writing career, the Detroit-area native, who died in 2013 in Bloomfield Hills, specialized in Westerns. It was a hugely popular genre in the 1950s and ‘60s, though it has faded in popularity.

Mr. Leonard wrote a bunch of great Western novels and short stories. Two in particular stand out: “3:10 to Yuma,” and “Hombre.” “3:10 to Yuma” was a short story later turned into a terrific movie starring Glenn Ford (avoid the Russell Crowe mishmash made decades later.)

“Hombre” was published in 1961 to critical applause and still stands as one of Mr. Leonard’s best books.

In 1967 it was turned into a movie starring Paul Newman and directed by Martin Ritt. The picture was part of Mr. Newman’s “H” period that included “Hud,” “The Hustler,” and “Harper.” All four are taut, emotionally complex and entertaining films. “Hud,” also directed by Martin Ritt, and the “The Hustler” are masterpieces.

Roger Ebert said of “Hombre,” it was “absorbing and suspenseful. … Hollywood seems at its best when it returns to its traditions and nothing is more Hollywood than the big, socially significant Western.”

“Hombre’s” story has to do with a white man raised among the Apaches who returns to white society and finds himself with a stagecoach of passengers who are attacked by thieves. In guiding the passengers to safety John Russell, the hombre, must resolve critical ethical dilemmas, especially one to save a woman being tied up in the desert to die of thirst.

Besides being greatly entertaining, one can wonder if “Hombre” has a message applicable to the messy state of presidential politics in 2016. One doubts Mr. Trump was trying to imply that. But perhaps Mr. Leonard saw the message as relevant in a variety of settings when he first wrote the novel.

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Besides The Election, Another Serious Question To Consider

Posted: October, 13 2016 4:23 PM

While our focus is centered on the election, there are many serious issues before us that seek discussion and action. We were reminded of one of those this week with the release of a study on a disturbing question.

This week, researchers at Michigan State University – who conducted the research along with researchers from the University of California, San Diego; the University of Pittsburgh; the University of California, Davis; Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University – released a study dealing with the issue of reproductive coercion and how health care workers can talk to their patients, their female patients, about such coercion.

Put bluntly, reproductive coercion has to do with men taking actions to force women to become pregnant. That could include prohibiting the woman to use birth control and tampering with their birth control. Such tampering can include damaging condoms such that they become ineffective.

While this may have been described and defined academically only as recently as 2010, it is an old, old practice. In his memoir “A Journey for Our Times,” the great New York Times reporter Harrison Salisbury talked about a series he did on New York gangs in the 1950s and how gang members would boast about using a pin on their condoms to give their girlfriends a surprise.

The practice raises many questions on a number of different fronts. And as so many things do when first discussed, the disturbing practice brings up the question of whether it falls into the realm of public policy. Should officials act on this in some way, and how?

In fact, this question has come up in a legislative context already.

There are already some legal means to deal with paternity and child support should a pregnant woman deliver. But this issue delves into deeper questions.

The issue the public and lawmakers have struggled with for decades, well before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, is whether or not abortion rights should exist. That is the question at hand. No one really is opposed to life, and no one really feels a woman should be denied a choice in having a child. Each person has his or her answer to those broader questions. It is the specific question of abortion rights that has sharpened the focus and hardened the lines between people.

Earlier this year, the state enacted HB 4787, PA 149 (it took effect last month) which outlaws coercive abortion. And no woman should be forced into having an abortion. All sides can agree on that in principle, while there may be differences over specific sections of the law.

What about, though, a case where a woman is denied the right to make a choice on becoming pregnant? Should anything be done from a public policy standpoint, and if so what? Inherently we sense the injustice of such an occurrence.

During the debate on HB 4787, those questions were raised. At the time, supporters of the bill said the focus was on coercive abortion. The issue of coercive pregnancy should be dealt with at another time, they said.

And release of the study reminds us there are issues still to be answered. The study attempts to deal with some of the issues such as helping health care workers find out about coercive pregnancy as part of abusive relationships.

In a broader context though, how could it be resolved from an official standpoint, given the difficult and opposing positions different sides have? Forcing a woman to become pregnant is clearly wrong, but what can be done about it?

And will these questions be considered? For that too is a decision to be made, one that may prove to be difficult to resolve as well.

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Former Rep. Wenke At The Franklin Graham Rally

Posted: October, 7 2016 5:30 PM

Rarely has the weather for early October been so spectacular in Lansing. Aside from brief, and somewhat intense, showers, the days have been bright and warm with luscious clouds dotting the azure sky. It was on such a day this past Tuesday that evangelist Franklin Graham brought his rally to the Capitol convince the religious-minded to vote.

Thousands of people – maybe as many 5,000 or possibly more – gathered at the Capitol to listen to Mr. Graham, son of Billy Graham, warn against sin and urge people to vote next month.

There was also one person at the rally, proclaiming a different message: former Republican Rep. Lorence Wenke, now a Libertarian.

Mr. Wenke carried a shield-shaped sign he had made, saying “The Constitution is our shield against Bible based discrimination toward our gay neighbors & friends,” topped by the rainbow flag. He posted photos of him holding the sign on his Facebook page.

And he said it was a lovely day. There was no unpleasantness. Several people stood with him to pray, obviously in hopes he would change his opinion which would not happen, he said.

Several rally participants even confessed to him they were gay, Mr. Wenke said.

It was in 2004 that Mr. Wenke made his first stand as a state elected official on the issue of gay rights. That year, legislators attempted to put a constitutional amendment before the voters to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Wenke was one of two House Republicans, the other being former Rep. Leon Drolet, to vote against the proposal thus keeping that particular resolution from the ballot. (A petition drive quickly mounted, got a similar issue on the ballot which was approved.)

In the years since Mr. Wenke has been stalwart in his support of gay rights, saying. “the Christian world I grew up in” would not approve of his views.

The war on the issue has been won, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2015 upholding the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, Mr. Wenke said, though “there are still some battles to be fought.”

In fact, the sign he carried on Tuesday before the Capitol was carried before the U.S. Supreme Court the day it ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Mr. Wenke held that sign, his wife held another, and they were there with hundreds supporting the ruling.

“It was a great day,” he said. “That sign is well traveled.”

And, “When I heard Billy Graham’s son was coming I thought it just doesn’t get any better for an opportunity to demonstrate,” Mr. Wenke said.

He said he did not know if Mr. Graham saw the sign. Mr. Wenke said he tried to stand in a position so no one’s view would be blocked by the sign. A woman with an umbrella, a participant in the rally, held the umbrella over him for 45 minutes to shade him from the sun.

A number of people came to pray around him. “It doesn’t offend me or outrage me to have people pray around me,” Mr. Wenke said, and a number of people gave him their cards in hope they could meet for more prayer.

Mr. Wenke said he had several quiet conversations with some rally attendees who acknowledged they were gay. One young man talked to him for a half-hour, worried over requirements that businesses would be required to serve gay couples when it was against their religion, but then said he too was gay.

In one of the photos Mr. Wenke posted he is standing next to a woman. Mr. Wenke said she would not give him her contact information, but asked that he post the photos on Facebook. So he did.

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A Quick Look Back To Another Hillary Clinton Campaign Stop

Posted: October, 6 2016 5:38 PM

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is coming to campaign in the Detroit area on Monday, almost 20 years to the day she campaigned in Michigan, but not at that time for her husband, then President Bill Clinton.

On October 14, 1996, Ms. Clinton came to a fund raiser and then a rally in the Lansing area on behalf of Debbie Stabenow. Ms. Stabenow, then a former state House and Senate member and the 1994 Democratic lieutenant governor candidate, was running for the U.S. House that year. She was challenging U.S. Rep. Dick Chrysler who had been elected to the seat in the 1994 Contract with America Republican rout.

In her brief remarks, Ms. Clinton spoke about the need to improve education, especially making sure that all schools were connected to the “information superhighway” as the “bridge to the 21st century” was built.

Ironically, 20 years later, many students – especially high school students – carry with them a device far more powerful than virtually any computer in 1996 could have been. And the smart phones they have cost a fraction of what the 1996 computers would have cost.

But she also called on voters in the 8th District to elect Ms. Stabenow, which, Ms. Clinton said, would help retake Congress from the Republicans and help ensure Mr. Clinton won re-election.

Ms. Stabenow did win that election (of course, so too did Mr. Clinton) and in 2000 she defeated former Sen. Spencer Abraham. Ms. Clinton was involved in her own election at the time, and both she and Ms. Stabenow joined the U.S. Senate together.

Ms. Stabenow is now one of Ms. Clinton’s biggest supporters. One expects she will be at the campaign event next week.

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What Bodes For Editorial Endorsements This Election?

Posted: September, 29 2016 4:05 PM

The Detroit News on Thursday announced its surprising, or not, endorsement of Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson for U.S. president, and by so doing has launched the season of endorsements for Michigan newspapers.

A quick review of virtually all Michigan’s daily newspapers finds no other that has endorsed a candidate for president at this point. For the record: Gongwer News Service does not and has never editorially endorsed candidates, and that will remain the case in 2016.

For those papers that will endorse a candidate, the tension over whether to endorse Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton takes on a greater interest than one can probably recall since …well, maybe since newspapers had to decide about endorsing a third term for then President Franklin Roosevelt.

The decision by the News to endorse someone other than a Republican for the first time in its 143-year history is in keeping with every other major newspaper across the nation that has endorsed to this point. Mr. Trump has not been endorsed by a single major newspaper, so far.

And this is absolutely fascinating. Because in the history of the two-party system, newspapers have tended to endorse Republicans for president. Yes, yes, yes, all the sputtering about the liberal media will get you nowhere on this. Facts show, newspapers tend to endorse Republicans.

Which makes perfect sense. Newspapers are businesses. Small newspapers – until recent years when they have been bought up by chains – were small businesses in local communities. Folks that run businesses tend to be conservative. Meaning that small newspapers tended to be conservative as well.

In the 1970s, I worked for a weekly paper called The Independent. My publisher boss instructed me the only thing independent about the paper was its masthead. “We are a Republican paper,” he said emphatically.

This election has put many of those newspapers into anguish. And it is a similar anguish a number of Republicans have gone through about Mr. Trump. The News editorial outlines its reasons for not supporting him and why they are supporting former Governor Johnson (its biggest concern about him is in foreign affairs. Since Mr. Johnson didn’t seem to know where or what Aleppo, Syria is, that’s a reasonable concern).

But aside from the drama of will newspapers or won’t newspapers back Mr. Trump there is a bigger question: will it matter whether they do or don’t?

Here is the sad fact about editorials: not many people read them. Most people who read newspapers stick with the news they care about (and local news tends to be more important than national and international), sports, entertainment, lifestyle, business items. Editorials, most people would shrug their shoulders at.

Editorials are important to the class of readers known as leaders, those folks who because of their business or government or social or political positions or activism are viewed as people who can help mold and influence opinions on a more personal level.

Even with that, fewer and fewer newspapers have their own editorial voice. Many chain papers run the same editorials. Many papers run editorials only a few days a week. Some have given them up altogether.

This is not completely a new phenomenon. When I was a snot-nosed reporter at the Adrian Daily Telegram, our editor would slap an AP story into the editorial slot and that was that. Once we ran an AP story as our editorial assuring the world Congress would support a bill, and on the front page we had the AP story announcing Congress had defeated the bill. Oh well.

One reason for fewer editorials is there are fewer people to write them, given how newspapers have been forced to slash staff. Plus there are more alternatives available to publish or link to. Were William Allen White alive today he’d probably turn his back on the Emporia Gazette and write up a blog instead.

Editorials also in one way hearken to the ideal of a civil discussion, the ability to have a difference of opinion and try to respectfully convince people of one’s point of view. Those days seem long gone, given over to the attitude that if you don’t support my view – which is fed and reinforced by endless exposure to ideological sources that express one’s extreme viewpoint -- you are a fool and a traitor to boot.

Welcome then to presidential editorial season. May it be an enjoyable one.

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The Astonishing Toll Of The 98th Legislature

Posted: September, 15 2016 11:29 AM

The tragic death of Rep. Peter Pettalia on Monday brings to seven the number of legislators who began the 98th Legislature in January 2015 and who will not be there in three months when it adjourns.

And that number will likely get larger before the session concludes.

Seven. Four resignations (one following a felony conviction, one to avoid certain expulsion), two deaths and one expulsion. It is an astonishing total, and probably unprecedented, for any Legislature.

By the end of the session, the number of legislators who have left could rise to at least nine. That will depend on the will of the voters in several townships. If Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) and Rep. Charles Smiley (D-Grand Blanc) win their respective bids for township supervisor they have said they will resign from the House in November to begin their local duties. Rep. Thomas Hooker (R-Byron Center) is also running for township supervisor hasn’t said yet what he would do in terms of his state office if he is elected.

Still, seven lawmakers gone already: Mr. Pettalia, the late Rep. Julie Plawecki, and former Reps. Todd Courser, Cindy Gamrat, Brandon Dillon, Derek Miller and former Sen. Virgil Smith.

Only two of those departures were beyond the control of the legislator. Death, sadly, is not unknown to the Legislature. But for two legislators to die in office in one session, let alone barely three months apart, is startling. The sudden circumstances of their deaths – Ms. Plawecki collapsing of a heart attack while on vacation, Mr. Pettalia killed in a traffic crash on his way to Lansing – adds a special poignancy.

Generally, those legislators who have died in office succumbed after long, difficult illnesses, such as Rep. Alfred Sheridan or Rep. Joe Young Sr. Their colleagues were with them, encouraging them, empathizing with them, just sitting with them at times. Their deaths were still painful to their colleagues, but accompanied by a sense that they were released from their struggle.

Ms. Plawecki and Mr. Pettalia remind lawmakers and others of the too often cruel fragility of life. Their deaths made real the street-corner evangelist’s cry that “Not another hour is promised you!” Anyone with any wisdom should reflect carefully about these tragedies and how anyone can suffer the same fate.

Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat – he resigned before he would have been expelled, she was expelled – are examples of human hubris. Sexual infidelity is sort of a side industry of elective politics. It happens in every capital city. But legislators rarely fool around with each other. And their brainless plot to try to deflect their scandal – by sending out a phony letter accusing Mr. Courser of every other lascivious act imaginable – established a new low for moronic tactics.

Mr. Smith also suffered a hubristic and disturbingly violent moment with his opening fire on his ex-wife’s car. He too never offered anything remotely resembling a public apology and clung to his Senate office and paycheck as long as he could.

In the past when lawmakers got caught they had the backbone to at least to own up and say how stupid they had been.

Mr. Dillon’s and Mr. Miller’s departure fall into a category that has become more common since the advent of term limits: resigning to take another job. Mr. Dillon resigned to take the post as Michigan Democratic Party chair and Mr. Miller left to become Macomb County treasurer.

Before term limits, a lawmaker resigning to take another job happened once only in a very great while. Since term limits took effect, it has happened more frequently. It’s not an every week or month occurrence, certainly. But it has happened more often.

Most of these vacancies have been filled or will be with the November elections. Still, between 5 to 7 percent of the 148 legislators who took their oaths of office in January 2015 will not be there when the gavel comes down on sine die adjournment in December. People give a lot – money, time, sweat, their good humor, their families – to win state office. They bring big plans with them to Lansing when they win. The only profound lesson here is that in lawmaking as in everything else, whatever one plans, something else will happen.

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When Do We Next Go Bust?

Posted: September, 8 2016 4:01 PM

Yes, of course there is an election underway. And yes it is September and the autumnal equinox is nigh, and the world is in love with football and pumpkin-spice-lattes and TrumpClinton or ClintonTrump as one prefers.

But it is springtime for the financial season, for the annual round of prognosticating, forecasting and just plan blind guessing about the future of the economy and the state budget. Summer is kind of a break for most people about worrying about state finances.

Come September, we start to get back into finances. The fiscal year ends, the fiscal year begins. We pay closer attention to economic trends, business cycles, state cash flow.

And the one question everyone wants to ask but fears to ask is: when’s the next recession?

Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Nationally, going back to President Number One, we have averaged a recession about every three to four years. Before the reforms of the New Deal in the 1930s we got to average them about every two years. The longest we have gone between recessions is 10 years, during the 1990s. The second longest went between the national recession ending in 1961 and the one that started in 1969. The third longest period was seven years and eight months, between the national recession that ended in 1982 and the one that began in 1990.

Pay attention to the next longest period between recessions. That period is seven years, four months, and counting. We are currently in the third longest period between national recessions, from the official end of the Great Recession in June 2009 to today.

In Michigan, because of its heavy reliance on manufacturing, the dates on national recessions don’t mean much. Michigan struggled through a one-state recession throughout the first decade of this century, and our Great Recession certainly did not end in June 2009.

For almost six years, however, we have seen job growth and with it revenue growth.

One day, however, that will end. At least for awhile, it will end. We all know this. All the tax cuts, all the changes in regulation, all the efforts to promote certain industries will not be able to stop the next recession. People may complain about the relative slow growth of the U.S. economy, but slow growth may have a salutary effect in not overheating the economy and triggering a recession.

But a recession will come. When? Gosh, that’s what all the folks with many college degrees and who stare at computers (and look at numbers, not video games) are supposed to come up with.

Chatting with those folks casually, however, one senses they do not see a recession until maybe 2018. Maybe late in 2017, but most likely not until sometime in 2018. They see job growth continuing until at least then, nothing terribly dramatic happening in terms of fiscal and monetary policy, and relatively stable resource production (especially energy products).

If a recession does hit in that time frame it means Governor Rick Snyder will be the fifth consecutive governor to have a recession start on his watch (former Governor George Romney was the last governor to get away without having to deal with a serious recession). How he will handle a recession is something yet to watch.

When the next recession strikes, we will also have to see how well Michigan weathers the blow. While Michigan is still more heavily reliant on manufacturing than most states, how reliant it is, though, is down quite a bit.

At least in terms of jobs. In 1990 figures show that 21 percent of the wage and salary jobs were manufacturing dependent. In 2015, just 13.8 percent of the jobs were so dependent.

Manufacturing has seen actually seen an increase, in 2010 12.1 percent of jobs were manufacturing dependent. But the nature of manufacturing has changed dramatically, needing far fewer people as it has grown more automated.

In 1990, nearly 25 percent of the jobs in Michigan were in goods producing industries. In 2015, 17.5 percent of the jobs were in those industries while 82.5 percent were in service related industries.

Could that mean we have an easier time when we next go bust, that we will see fewer layoffs and less impact on state finances? Well, we will find out when next we have a recession.

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Michigan Avenue A Sad Entry To Capitol

Posted: September, 1 2016 3:49 PM

The Mall is the royal road leading to Buckingham Palace in London. The tree-lined road has a red color to mimic a red carpet going up to the British monarch’s residence, and it is closed to traffic on Sundays to allow pedestrians to walk up to the palace and to St. James Park.

The Avenue des Champs-Elysees runs from the Place de la Concorde in Paris to the Place Charles de Gaulle where it terminates at the Arc de Triomphe. It runs along the Jardin des Champs-Elysees and the Grand Palais.

Michigan Avenue running up towards Michigan’s Capitol is a miserable, gutted, cratered, cracked and crumbling mess of asphalt, concrete and, so far as anyone can tell, Silly Putty. The only piece of the road that is presentable is the last quarter mile that comes up to the Capitol itself.

Anybody coming to visit the Capitol coming I-496, and who exits off Grand Avenue, thankfully only has to see that last nicely maintained section of Michigan Avenue.

Anyone who thinks to themselves after visiting the Capitol, “Hey, let’s go down Michigan Avenue to see Michigan State University” then is exposed to the mess that road has become.

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce has recently called for greater attention to development along Michigan Avenue. As part of that, the chamber has said the road needs to be fixed.

And the chamber is merely echoing comments dozens of people who work in and around the Capitol have said for years.

Michigan Avenue is the gateway to the Capitol, the general complaint goes, and why would the state and the city want anyone to drive down that road as they approach the Capitol.

Anyone who regularly drives Michigan Avenue knows that the only way to prevent blowing a tire or wrecking a wheel is to straddle the endless line of potholes, which usually means driving between lanes, across lanes, on just about anything except the sidewalks. Even emergency vehicles try finessing the road as they travel down.

It is doubtful Michigan Avenue will ever approach the splendor of the Mall or the Champs-Elysees. One can hope, however, that perhaps with some additional pressure from different people, a motorist will be able to travel towards the Capitol without fearing major damage to the motorist’s vehicle and without the motorist getting a major headache.

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How About That 2018 Gubernatorial Race?

Posted: August, 25 2016 2:33 PM

What an election. What. An. Election. The presidential election? No silly goose, the gubernatorial election of 2018.

Yes, yes, that election is more than two years away. Yes, no one has officially declared their candidacy, except for a fair amount of wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean, know what I mean interactions. Yes, no one has held a campaign rally, no one has printed signs, public relations flaks have not yet been loosed to endless spinning.

Yet, yet, yet, with all the news happening that involves the various top expected-players for the state’s top elected spot can anyone doubt a fascinating tone for the actual election is being set?

Take the fight that broke this week between Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette. Mr. Schuette has said repeatedly in his nearly six years as the attorney general that Michigan is led by a great team.

He has also never made a secret of his desire to run for governor. The investigation he has launched into the Flint drinking water crisis, outside of its function to ensure justice, also stands as a prime political opportunity to show off Mr. Schuette standing for those harmed.

And this week that exploded into a big issue as Mr. Snyder said the state is being impeded in assisting Genesee County residents over the question of Legionnaire’s Disease by a confidential court order. Mr. Snyder directed the Department of Health and Human Services to contest the order, issued a week ago, saying that it could affect efforts to help health work.

Mr. Schuette’s team called the governor’s action ridiculous, that the order is there to allow outside agencies to review data and nothing in the order could impede public health work (because the Genesee County Health Department will now work directly with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instead of the Department of Health and Human Services). Spokespersons on both sides let out their best snide snaps in the skirmish. But it gives Mr. Schuette the opportunity of saying while showing that he will let no one stand in the way of justice.

While that has been going on, Lt. Governor Brian Calley has had to juggle a few issues himself.

He has been the administration’s spokesperson on the numerous and complex issues of human development and emotional health. When Mr. Snyder’s budget proposal to begin the process to merge Medicaid mental health payment administration with Medicaid HMOs foundered and sank, Mr. Calley was the face of a work group to develop some overall principles on the issue.

Now, the Legislature requires a proposed plan on dealing with Medicaid mental and physical health financial administration be presented by January. That means the state has to come up with the plan and mental health advocates are worried the state, through DHHS, will ignore the principles the workgroup developed.

The person the advocates targeted to make the complaint: Mr. Calley. DHHS officials are assuring the advocates the workgroup principles will not be ignored. But talk to virtually any of the advocates and it is clear they are wary of DHHS.

Which puts Mr. Calley in a position of both having to stick by the administration while he supports and assuages a key group. The image of Mr. Calley as the compassionate conservative could be very important to a gubernatorial campaign. But the image of advocates for the most vulnerable claiming Mr. Calley failed them could be equally damaging.

Then, Mr. Calley’s guy for president, which is Republican Donald Trump, has been spending his time trashing Michigan’s economy, which is diametrically opposed to the Snyder-Calley mantra of Michigan being the Comeback State.

Mr. Snyder and Mr. Calley both have praised the state’s improving economy, and saying much of the credit goes to its improving manufacturing sector.

What does Mr. Trump do? Why, he comes into the state and says manufacturing is a disaster. He took the hallmark of the Republican economic agenda in Michigan, tossed it straight into a dumpster, and of course did it on national television.

That puts Mr. Calley – and technically also Mr. Schuette who also endorsed Mr. Trump – of having to support the standard bearer while wishing Mr. Trump would shut up.

On the Democratic side it has been quieter, but no less busy.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) has been quick to lambaste Mr. Trump when the numerous opportunities arise. And he is also showing his concern for the state’s environment, biking trails and kayaking along Michigan’s waterways and raising alarms about invasive species.

Of late, the waterway Mr. Kildee has been most concerned about is the Flint River and its effect on the city. But it’s summer. In the past congressional members running for governor have walked from their home to the Mackinac Bridge, why not do a little kayaking and build the image of a man concerned for all the state?

Meanwhile, former Senate minority leader – now Ingham County Prosecutor -- Gretchen Whitmer has been focused on helping the prosecutor’s office recover from the sex for hire scandal involving former prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III. And she has written about and praised the work of the stunned staff.

Which, for those thinking politically, also gives her the image of the focused public servant trying to fix a mess given her. Which one can imagine being a message she may want portrayed in, oh a couple years’ time.

What an election. Am I right?

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Why Do We Kick Judges Off The Bench At 70? Ummm, Well….

Posted: August, 18 2016 2:06 PM

Donald Trump turned 70 in June. It’s a good thing for him he is running for president, because the Republican presidential nominee could not run for judge in Michigan. At 68, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, could run for judge in Michigan, but she wouldn’t have the chance to do so again after she turns 70 in October 2017.

Then, Mr. Trump also could not run for judge in his home state of New York because there too the maximum age for judges seeking office is 70. If Ms. Clinton chose to run for judge in New York , she would face the same age limit there that she would here. If she ran for judge in her birth state of Illinois she could run as often as she wanted because that state’s age limit on judges was declared unconstitutional.

But if she ran for judge in her former state of Arkansas, oh boy. In the Razorback State there is no technical age restriction on being a judge, but if a judge older than 70 runs for re-election they forfeit all of their earned retirement benefits. I don’t know but I suspect Black’s Law Dictionary would define Arkansas’ law as “vos screw” (the translation of which is roughly “screw you”).

The question of age limits on judges has come to the forefront in Michigan because of Appeals Judge Peter O’Connell’s fight to run for at least one more term on the Court of Appeals.

His approach is certainly novel: At 68, Mr. O’Connell’s current term ends when he turns 70, meaning he cannot run for re-election under Michigan’s Constitution in 2018. So he filed to run as an incumbent judge against fellow Appeals Judge Michael Gadola this year.

The legal argument in his case has focused more on whether Mr. O’Connell can run as an incumbent.

But his point, he has said numerous times, is to end the age discrimination against judges. It would be best for the Constitution to be amended, he said, but until then he is making his arguments in the courts.

It is a weird fact in American politics and government. There are minimum ages to run for office, 35 for president, 30 for governor in Michigan and U.S. senator for example.

But virtually the only office that has a maximum age limit is that of state judge. A total of 33 states, including Michigan, have such age limits. In most states the age limit is 70, others it’s 72 or 75. In Vermont, it’s 90.

Moreover, this is a development that came in the second half of American history. The U.S. Constitution says nothing about it. Michigan’s constitutions of 1835 and 1850 had no judicial age limits.

But then age limits showed up in Michigan’s 1908 constitution, and set at 70. Why? Well, candidly this reporter did not have time to search out the arguments in the journals for that constitutional convention. However, Michigan’s age limit is one of the longest on record.

And in the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention, Robert Danhof (himself a distinguished judge in Michigan history) chaired the committee that proposed the new constitution adopt the 1908 judicial qualifications, including the age limit. He said nothing about the age limit for judges, and so far as I can tell nor did any other member of the convention.

Why did this practice begin in the first place? The only explanation I have been able to find is that states saw it as a way of getting rid of judges viewed as no longer effective. But that is a thin argument.

Perhaps it was concern about the ability of one to serve at what was once seen as an advanced age. Life expectancy was much lower then, and until people started getting more serious on issues like smoking and diet it was very common up until the 1970s and 1980s to see people – men mostly – die in their late 30’s and 40’s.

Former U.S. Sen. and astronaut John Glenn, now 95, was 40 when he orbited the earth in February 1962. He said people worried that he was too old to make the flight and that it might be cruel to subject an older man to those rigors.

But of all the miracles of science, one of the most astonishing is the overall improvement in the health and ability of older individuals. It’s not just due to pharmaceuticals. Diet, exercise, intellectual pursuits, growing social communities and technology play a major role in this. Consider, this blog is being written on actor Robert Redford’s 80th birthday. At 80, he looks better than most men did as teenagers.

Consider as well, while it is clear companies try to help older, more experienced workers out the door in favor of younger, cheaper workers, age discrimination is illegal in Michigan under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Except, of course, for judges. And that is something so many judges at all levels, including former Supreme Court Justices Michael Cavanagh and Marilyn Kelly as well as former Appeals Judge William Whitbeck, have said should be changed.

Would the state’s voters change that provision? It’s a long shot anything could go on the November ballot, and whether anyone would try to mount a petition drive for 2018 is uncertain.

If nothing else, Mr. O’Connell’s efforts have brought the issue back to public consideration. And that question really is why in Michigan and most other states is it acceptable for older intellectually active persons to run for president of the United States but not for state judge?

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Sudden Silence From Some Trump Supporters

Posted: August, 11 2016 3:58 PM

The new convert is often the most strident believer, and for a while a number of Michigan Republicans who had hesitantly, even reluctantly endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump were some of his biggest, loudest supporters on social media.

Lately, though, they have gone silent.

In fact, they have gone so silent regarding Mr. Trump and almost all politics that if they make comments at all it is generally about family and sports.

What happened?

Well, Mr. Trump has gone off script a few times, to put it mildly.

There is no point in naming names on these Republicans. Many of them have been noted before in this blog and other places, they are well known among other Republicans, they have held important positions assisting top elected officials (including former presidential candidates) and they are no strangers to social media.

They also all supported other Republicans besides Mr. Trump for their party’s nomination. Several were openly frustrated at the prospect of having to endorse Mr. Trump.

What unified them and led them to Mr. Trump is their disdain and even hatred for the Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

During both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, they were all over social media cheering on Mr. Trump and blasting Ms. Clinton. After Ms. Clinton made her acceptance speech to Democrats in Philadelphia, one of them posted on Facebook, “Make America Great Again! #NeverHillary!”

So far as this reporter can determine that was the last pro-Mr. Trump statement any of these folks have made, at least online.

What is striking is how this silence tracks completely the comments Mr. Trump has made that have outraged and confused the general public. From his insulting behavior and comments towards Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayan Khan who was killed in Iraq, to his initially refusing to endorse U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona (who Mr. Trump had earlier insulted), to calling for Russia to hack Ms. Clinton’s emails and suggesting he has no qualms about Russia seizing Crimea from Ukraine, to his comments about Second Amendment supporters possibly stopping Ms. Clinton (which many have taken as a veiled suggestion she should be assassinated or a call for armed rebellion) to his baffling charge that President Barack Obama founded the terrorist group ISIS, there has been almost no comments from his reluctant supporters online.

There have been no criticisms, no calls for him to get back on track and focus on issues, no suggestions Mr. Trump apologize where appropriate, no attempts to finesse his comments. There was one comment from one wondering how Ms. Clinton could object to the Soviets (his word) looking at her emails, but no question about the appropriateness of calling on another nation to influence an election, and nothing promoting Mr. Trump in his comments.

When Mr. Trump spoke to the Detroit Economic Club on Monday in a speech Republicans generally hailed for his outline of his economic proposals and for holding his tongue when people protested, there were no comments at all. If ever there was a moment to praise their candidate this was it.

Even more stunningly, these supporters of Mr. Trump said nothing attacking Ms. Clinton during her speech in Warren on Thursday. They let the chance to take down their opponent a couple notches and back their guy go right past them.

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A Cautionary Tale From One FOIA Case

Posted: August, 4 2016 3:38 PM

In Michigan newspaper history, the Greenville Daily News was probably the first newspaper to use offset type (which is a big deal to the few printing addicts in the state), but the Greenville paper recently notched what is likely to be a more troubling first.

So far as we can tell, Greenville’s Daily News became the first newspaper in Michigan sued by a local government, in this case by Montcalm County, for filing a freedom of information request against it.

Now in the end, the judge in the matter ruled against Montcalm County, which meant the county was required to give up all personnel data about its sheriff’s deputies requested by the newspaper.

And the records released by the county following the FOIA request showed the county undersheriff, Mike Williams, was found to have been disciplined for losing nearly 11 grams of cocaine lent the department by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency as part of a training exercise.

On Tuesday Mr. Williams won the Republican nomination for sheriff, which with no Democratic opposition means he will be the sheriff.

One of Mr. Williams’ opponents was deputy Charlie Mahar. The released records showed Mr. Mahar was once disciplined for having a sexual affair with a woman who had filed a criminal sexual conduct complaint against her husband. Mr. Mahar was investigating that complaint.

Openness in government won in this case. But anyone who has watched politics and supports the most open form of government possible cannot help but feel a bit of a chill following this case.

Montcalm County did not sue the paper out of malice or plain stubbornness. The county said it had an actual issue. The Freedom of Information Act requires the county release documents, but another law provides for privacy rights for public workers on records older than four years. The county had, in fact, asked the newspaper to revise its request and ask for records no older than four years old. The Daily News refused, and it appears it was wise to insist on the full records.

In its suit, the county sought a declaratory judgement on whether it had to release the documents or protect the privacy of its workers. The newspaper argued back there was no room for such a lawsuit in the FOIA: either the paper could sue to compel discovery of the documents, or individuals could sue to stop release of documents they feared would be embarrassing. Presumably that means the two men could have sued to stop the release.

The court agreed with the Daily News and Montcalm County decided not to fight the issue further.

But here is where advocates of open government need to be concerned.

What do local governments do when they run into what they consider a legal problem? They turn to the Legislature to fix it. One can say Montcalm has raised a legitimate issue, and there is nothing to stop it and other local governments from raising that concern to the Legislature.

Public employees also would likely urge action to protect them from anything they consider embarrassing.

We are, however, in the midst of a presidential election where in many respects the key issue is the judgment of the two main candidates. Did Republican Donald Trump show poor judgment in, well maybe just about anything, from his business operations to what he says? Did Democrat Hillary Clinton show poor judgment is using a private email server?

Did not the voters in Montcalm County have the right to know if there were any questions of judgment and behavior in two of the candidates for sheriff that could affect their vote for the position?

More to the point, as taxpayers and voters at large, should we not have the right to know about the overall performance of public workers? Does open government require that right?

It would not be surprising to see this issue come back again, but this time to the Legislature which alone can amend the FOIA to list documents that can be closed from view. The Legislature has done so in the past, and supporters of open government need to watch this carefully in the coming months and years.

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What Bernie-Or-Busters Could Learn From John Engler

Posted: July, 28 2016 2:43 PM

The Democrats are having a far better convention than did the Republicans last week. Better, but by no means perfect. And the main source of Democratic difficulties lies with supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont).

A number of his supporters are refusing to support Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. How many that is and will be is unknown, but it is enough to have caused constant booing in the Philadelphia convention center, some arrests outside, and fury at Democratic party officials for emails – apparently revealed by Soviet, sorry Russian, hackers – showing their disdain a year ago for Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Sanders was even booed by his supporters when he called for support for Ms. Clinton or when he made his extremely gracious gesture calling for Ms. Clinton to be nominated by acclamation. (Which brings to mind 1972 Democratic nominee George McGovern having to face down some supporters during the Miami convention when they made new demands on what he had to do to keep their support. In the end, their demands didn’t matter much.)

The Bernie-or-Busters fury led to comic Sarah Silverman saying they were being ridiculous. And some Democrats worry about their possible effect on the November election should it be close between Ms. Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

It is not just their feeling the nomination process was stolen from them (Mr. Sanders agreed to play by the party’s rules and even though you may not like them, he lost under those rules), what is most important to the Bernie-or-Busters and what they demand is a fundamental change in politics that releases it from what they see as corporate domination so it focuses more on people in actual need and policies to promote greater economic equity.

And while they recognize their fight may take a while, once they are in a position to command they want immediate change, not change done incrementally, and not through the often sidestepping process of compromise.

Change in politics, however, is a little like setting a new record in track and field. Bob Beamon may have destroyed the record in the long jump by jumping nearly two-feet further than anyone else in his Olympic jump (his record held for more than 22 years. I saw the jump live on TV in 1968, the video is still astonishing, and it is the greatest moment in sports I have ever seen.) But most records are broken by fractions: a second faster, a half-inch further.

It is very rare massive change occurs in one step in politics. For every 1964 Civil Rights Act, for example, there are hundreds of laws, proposals, policy changes leading up to that moment and hundreds more to follow which strengthen the change and move into new policy areas.

Which is why Bernie-or-Busters should consider the example of former Governor John Engler. No one would mistake life-long Republican conservative Mr. Engler for an admirer of Mr. Sanders. But it is not his politics but his methods that are instructive.

The idea of compromise is an anathema to people. No one can get through a single day without compromising, but the idea of compromise implies to many weakness, vacillation, a lack of commitment. No one would mistake Mr. Engler for vacillating or having a lack of commitment.

Mr. Engler had goals and met many of them. How? By compromising. By taking the best deal he got, living up to it, but using that deal as his new base and immediately trying to move the state closer to his vision. It may have taken years to do, in the end, Mr. Engler achieved his goals.

The most dramatic example of that came the July 1993 night when Senate Democrats proposed ending all property taxes for schools. Mr. Engler stunned his staff, his cabinet and Senate Republicans when he told them to take the deal. When Republicans voted that night to repeal property taxes many had a dazed, glazed look of confusion and fear of what might come.

What came in the end was the massive property tax cut change Mr. Engler had sought for years and a radical new school policy creating charter schools that he had also championed. Mr. Engler did not get everything he wanted – he wanted to do away with teacher pensions and move them into 401(k)s for example – but he got enough to claim victory.

The Proposal A school change, though, is only one example of how Mr. Engler would move sideways and sometimes ignore what his backers wanted to achieve a goal. He wanted to get rid of the Single Business Tax. He got a law that eliminated it over 20 years. But he won.

The Democrat’s convention ends Thursday night. The Bernie-or-Busters vow to fight on. To be successful in the future, instead of just protesting, they should perhaps check out the policy and practical example of a Beal City farm boy who grew up to become a political master.

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Time To Revisit No-Reason Absentee Voting?

Posted: July, 26 2016 2:57 PM

Attorney General Bill Schuette has confirmed he is appealing, and appealing immediately, a federal court decision issued last week that struck down Michigan’s newly enacted ban on straight-party voting.

The Legislature passed and Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill ending the practice after more than 100 years. But U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin Drain ruled ending straight ticket voting could drastically affect minority voters, and thus it was unconstitutional.

The state municipal clerks asked that no appeal be made of the ruling until after the November election. Mr. Schuette feels it is important to try to get some resolution on the matter before absentee ballots were printed and distributed in late September.

When the bill was working its way through the Legislature late in the fall and early winter of 2015, this reporter talked to a couple Republican local clerks and who served in areas that voted heavily Republican.

I wasn’t able to talk to enough clerks to make a solid story, but what several clerks said has stuck with me.

These Republican clerks were largely neutral on ending straight-party voting, but they told me that if straight-party voting was eliminated, it was vital the state adopt a no-reason absentee law.

Mr. Snyder, in fact, called on the Legislature to consider such a law when he approved the straight-party voting ban. The House passed HB 4724* allowing for no-reason absentee voting but the Senate has refused to move the legislation.

The reason the clerks, Republicans remember, wanted no-reason absentee voting was to help to manage the voting process, to keep it timely and orderly. Ballots, especially in Michigan, are long. It takes time for voters to go through each office, and the longer it takes the process to vote, the more frustrated voters in line get. The more frustrated a voter gets, the more likely the voter is to not vote. And no clerk wants to see a voter drop out.

Getting around the issue of how long it takes to vote can’t be solved just by adding more voting booths and workers, they said. The workers are volunteers and it is often difficult to recruit enough as it is, the clerks said. And voting booths cost money and storage space.

Voters could just vote for the top of the ticket and leave, cutting time. But the clerks took it quite personally that voters should vote for all races and issues. Voting for the library board is certainly as important to those candidates as is voting for president. Likewise, all residents will be affected by tax decisions which should be decided by the largest number of voters possible.

Yes, there are the arguments that a voter should vote for the person. But as each party spends its time urging voters support every one of their candidates and not one of the rogues on the other side, one can see how the attraction of straight-party voting might work. And as the GOP clerks I spoke with said, straight-party voting saves time and makes running an election more efficient.

Whatever happens with Mr. Schuette’s appeal will have no effect on enacting no-reason absentee voting. However, the brief legislative September sessions will take place before absentee ballots are available. No doubt local clerks, Republicans and Democrats both, would be interested in seeing some action on HB 4724*.

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The GOP Convention Isn’t Sending Real Good Vibes

Posted: July, 21 2016 3:52 PM

Have a bad convention, you generally have a bad campaign.

And unless Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump creates some miracle during his acceptance speech on this the last day of the 2016 Republican National Convention, the show in the city where this reporter’s parents were married will go down as a bad convention.

Now, it is not completely destined that a bad convention means a bad outcome for the party in November. Clearly the candidate, and whatever all the candidates encounter during the campaign, plays a large role in the outcome.

But a look at the last century shows the party’s with the roughest conventions have resulted in candidates losing the election. Even the surprising loss in 1948 for Michigan native, New York Governor Thomas Dewey, was presaged by a rougher convention than anticipated (there was some disagreement on a platform plank for a civil rights bill, and Mr. Dewey won nomination on the third ballot after defeating a slew of candidates that included Michigan U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, California Governor Earl Warren, U.S. Army general and hero Douglas MacArthur and most notably Ohio conservative U.S. Sen. Robert Taft).

How did the Democrats do following their organized messes in 1924, 1968 and 1980? Or the Republicans in 1964, 1976 and 1992? A bad convention makes it harder to pull together the needed energy and organizational discipline for the hard months to November. And the historic polling data is pretty clear in modern times: The candidate with a lead at Labor Day, about a month after the conventions, wins the popular vote (but as Al Gore found, not necessarily the vote that matters the Electoral College vote).

And this week? Well, we seem to have already forgotten about the rules fight on Monday that led to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) shouting uselessly at the podium that a call for a roll call vote on the rules was being ignored followed by the delegations of Colorado and Iowa walking out.

And the kerfuffle during the nomination process on Tuesday, the 19 delegates for the District of Columbia were tallied as voting for Mr. Trump when it fact none of them was pledged to Mr. Trump has fallen away. Again, their efforts to be recognized to protest were ignored.

Melania Trump’s otherwise pleasant speech on Monday evening got caught up in a controversy on plagiarism. Not a major controversy perhaps, but a friend of this reporter – a former reporter herself, now a teacher and a Republican in Alabama – said on Facebook that she intends to use the speech on her lesson on plagiarism to her writing classes.

Then, there was Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s speech on Wednesday. Gosh-a-roo, what to make of a speech where Mr. Cruz was probably booed more for not endorsing Mr. Trump than Nelson Rockefeller was booed in 1964 for defending Republican liberalism (Republican liberalism, it really did exist, look it up).

Michigan political strategist Stu Sandler said on Facebook that the Texas delegation, staying at the same hotel that he is, had several different views. Some were upset with Mr. Cruz, some were surprised at the booing he received.

Former Michigan Republican Chair Saul Anuzis, who was a top campaign official for Mr. Cruz, said on Facebook there was some disappointment that Mr. Cruz did not make an endorsement. However, Mr. Anuzis also said Mr. Trump had approved the speech, and former U.S. Speaker Newt Gingrich said Mr. Cruz called on supporting candidates with conservative, constitutional views.”

Mr. Cruz, Mr. Anuzis said, “laid down a challenge for ALL candidates to stick to our core principles.”

Then when Mr. Cruz said he was not going to endorse someone who attacked his wife and suggested his father may have had a hand in the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy, former Michigan Cruz official Wendy Day said she did not “blame him one bit.”

But, again, a bad convention does not make a loss inevitable. The candidate plays a huge role in that. Ah yes, the candidate.

Mr. Trump did not help the convention nor himself with his New York Times interview in which he said the U.S. might not defend its NATO allies if those allies were behind on the bill. Then there was the way the controversy over his wife’s speech was allowed to fester into the convention’s third day. An anonymously sourced report claiming Mr. Trump’s son, Don Jr., had offered the vice presidency to Ohio Governor John Kasich in which Mr. Kasich would have control of domestic and foreign policy (which is kind of the president’s job) only further fanned the flames (Mr. Trump’s son has denied the claim).

Mr. Trump has already lost top Republican stalwarts in Michigan such as Betsy DeVos and former State Treasurer Doug Roberts. Such comments may make it harder to keep other top Republicans on the ship.

Therefore, to end this convention on a high note, Mr. Trump will have to pull off the political equivalent of handing out $1 million bills and a free puppy to everyone in the hall. The campaign awaits.

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When Last We Left The Vice Presidential Search In Michigan

Posted: July, 15 2016 1:45 PM

Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence is now the putative Republican vice presidential candidate, running with putative GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump. And attention is focused on Virginia U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (The former Virginia governor) as the vice presidential pick of putative Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

But once the vice presidential speculation train stopped in Lansing.

It was 20 years ago, in the summer of 1996, when then-Republican Governor John Engler was viewed and vetted for the running-mate spot with Republican presidential candidate, then-U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.

It was serious speculation, and Mr. Engler was one of several governors being considered for the post. Reports at the time said then-Ohio Governor George Voinovich and then-Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge were among those being considered. Mr. Voinovich was later elected to the U.S. Senate and Mr. Ridge became the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The first story Gongwer News Service published on the speculation had Mr. Engler’s spokesperson, John Truscott, saying that to the “best of my knowledge, no one in the Dole campaign has asked for anything,” related to the vice presidency.

He added if there were contacts, they were between the Dole campaign and Mr. Engler.

Now president of Truscott Rossman, Mr. Truscott said at the time in 1996 he was being shielded from some of the Executive Office’s activities, so that he would not have to lie to reporters when asked about the speculation.

He did say documents from Mr. Engler on his background and as part of a security check were provided to the Dole campaign.

In that first story, Mr. Truscott said Mr. Engler was convinced that he would not be chosen for the spot. And in the end former U.S. House member Jack Kemp was chosen as Mr. Dole’s running mate.

And Mr. Truscott said Mr. Engler was always convinced that as a Washington insider, Mr. Dole would not choose a governor for vice president. At that time, Mr. Truscott said, Republican D.C. officials were more comfortable with other D.C. insiders instead of governors, even though then-President Bill Clinton had been a governor and former President Ronald Reagan had been a governor.

Probably the incident in the speculation that drew the most attention, though, was the revelation that Mr. Engler had a draft deferment during the Vietnam War for weight. He was about two pounds over the limit allowed by the U.S. Army.

That drew criticisms from some, including national columnist Mark Shields, who wrote about a person he knew so desperate to get into the service he ran around the building sweating off pounds while the recruiters waited so he could enlist.

Mr. Truscott said he suspected that revelation came from someone in the Dole campaign, someone who did not want Mr. Engler as the vice presidential candidate.

While Mr. Engler was not on the ticket in 1996, there was talk that he would be a top candidate for president in 2000, or at least for vice president.

But Mr. Truscott said at a Republican Governors Association meeting, when all the staff was told to leave the room, Mr. Engler said that if Republicans were going to win back the White House, the next president had to come from that room.

Mr. Truscott said everyone in the room then looked at Texas Governor George W. Bush.

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Assault On Schuette’s House: Protests At Homes Don’t Work

Posted: July, 7 2016 2:24 PM

There is a saying, of course it’s an old saying, that goes: “safe as houses.” The etiology of the phrase indicates historically it was meant to imply something was assured to happen. For example, one could say, “It’s safe as houses that Attorney General Bill Schuette will serve coffee at the next event.”

But the phrase itself carries an emotional weight. What safer place do we think of or yearn for than home? An even older saying has it that a man’s house (or a woman’s house) is his (or her) castle, a place both of physical and emotional security.

That said, is it inevitable that protests geared at a person’s house will fail? Protesting at a person’s house, putting that person into a sense of jeopardy, crosses an emotional boundary, and does crossing that emotional boundary help accomplish what the protestors seek? One would be hard-pressed to find a case where it does.

And does a protest at a person’s house make it more likely previously uninterested individuals will oppose the protestors rather than take up their cause?

More fundamentally, does not a person have a right to at least some unmolested privacy and calm?

Of course the issue under discussion is the protest held Wednesday at the Midland home of Mr. Schuette. Several dozen people calling themselves members of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands marched on the front lawn of the house, hunt large signs from trees on the Schuette property and poured what they have since identified as Hershey’s chocolate syrup on the driveway. This was in protest to the continued operation of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 running under the Straits of Mackinac.

Mr. Schuette’s office has also charged group members banged on the windows and doors so that Cynthia Schuette, Mr. Schuette’s wife, thought they were trying to break in. A spokesperson for the organization made no comment on that, but said, “If public officials continue to threaten our safety, then we will continue to threaten their security.”

The protest generated a lot of comment on social media, and virtually all of it was vehemently opposed to the protest (this reporter found one Twitter comment that did not directly support the protest but wimpily said something on the line of what did you expect?).

Quite a few comments opposing the protest came from known Democrats and liberals, in other words people who would oppose Mr. Schuette politically, including Brandon Dillon, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party

The strongest comment came from Democrat, former Rep. and former official in the administration of Governor Jennifer Granholm, Maxine Berman, who wrote on Facebook: “I don't care what you think about Bill Schuette – and believe me, he's not one of my favorite guys – but attacking an elected official's private residence is utterly disgusting. The people responsible (and they seem quite willing to take responsibility) represent the basest part of American politics. Every elected official, while perhaps never really off-duty, is also a private citizen and the official and his or her family has a right to peace and security in their own homes. And oh, by the way, protesters, you just made a martyr out of him.”

Her comment was liked by dozens of people, including Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack and Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), former Lt. Governor John Cherry, former Sens. Deb Cherry and Ken DeBeaussaert and a number of well-known columnists.

What happened in Midland on Wednesday also, however, is not new. In 2012, as many as 1,000 people protested the emergency manager law in Governor Rick Snyder’s then Superior Township neighborhood. And since he has moved to a condominium in downtown Ann Arbor, he has been subject to several protests outside his house related to the Flint water crisis.

Also in 2012, a protestor hung a sign saying “Vaginas Are Revolting” at the house of then Speaker Jase Bolger, in the wake of a House decision to not allow then Reps. Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum to speak on the floor after Ms. Brown referenced her vagina during a debate on an anti-abortion bill and Ms. Byrum shouted vasectomy when Republicans cut off her microphone.

Going back even further, in the 1990s, disabled right activists surrounded the state’s Executive Residence, blocking in then-First Lady Michelle Engler and her three daughters.

And from those past protests what were the practical results? Did state policies in any way change because protestors protested a residence? The answer is concise: no. Will Wednesday’s protest change the status of Line 5? Umm, no. Whatever the final decision on the future of Line 5, signs and chocolate syrup at Mr. Schuette’s house will have no effect.

Ms. Berman is dead on when she said, “you just made a martyr out of him.” Emotional sympathies usually tend towards the person attacked rather than the attacker, and from a strategic and tactical standpoint it is hard to see how the Midland protestors will gain anything.

Then to the basic question: does someone have a right to unmolested privacy? The answer might be better found in all the complaints about fireworks than it is in the specific protest. People complain about fireworks because they invade the emotional sanctity of their home and lives. They expect they can enjoy peace at home and that everyone else can as well, so the answer would be yes, one has a right to peace at home. Obviously people have a right to demonstrate for their points of view, so do we have an issue of conflicting rights (though in this case it appeared the protesters were trespassing, not just staying on the public sidewalk)? And if so should the balance go to one right, peace at home, more than to the other?

Questions all to be considered, one hopes, in the peaceful, unmolested comfort of one’s home.

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The New Budget Ends A 42-Year Streak

Posted: June, 30 2016 3:26 PM

This week, Governor Rick Snyder signed two budget bills totaling more than $50 billion.

Close to this time in 1974, then Governor William Milliken signed about a dozen budget bills totaling probably a fifth of the 2016 total (non-K-12 school spending totaled close to $4.5 billion for 1974-75 with schools nearly doubling that total).

There is one critical and surprising way in which the budget for the upcoming fiscal year and the budget for the year following former President Richard Nixon’s resignation is alike. And no, it has nothing to do with what departments were funded (most of those have changed so many times about the only two that have their same names and functions now as they did in 1974 are the Department of State Police and the Department of Corrections).

No kidding, this tidbit of budgetary trivia will make a great bar bet for the wonkish lounge lizard needing to score a few points.

Got it yet? No, you probably won’t find it on Google. You have to attack the stacks and drag out the dusty volumes of yore. This reporter did (which reminds me, I must talk to the building’s custodial staff).

Okay, let’s kill the suspense. 1974 was the last time before this week a budget was adopted and signed by the governor without any line item vetoes. No, not one, nada, zilch, zippo, bupkis in terms of line item vetoes. In fact, it appears 1974 is one of the rare years when there were no gubernatorial vetoes at all.

Mr. Milliken was not shy in vetoing bills and issuing line-item vetoes, but not that year. Former Governor James Blanchard had line-item vetoes every year he was governor, even the one year Democrats controlled both houses. Former Governor John Engler issued line-item vetoes, even when the GOP controlled both houses, every one of his 12 years in office. Former Governor Jennifer Granholm issued a line-item veto each year she was in office.

And until this week, Mr. Snyder had issued a line-item veto in each budget.

Of course, public school advocates were hoping he would veto a provision in the school budget where some funds were being allocated to private and parochial schools for administrative purposes. He did not and those public school advocates have promised a lawsuit to challenge its constitutionality.

There you are, 42 years apart there is budgetary harmony and peace. Well, harmony and peace at least in terms of line-item vetoes.

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Thoughts On Something Beyond The Realm Of Policy

Posted: June, 23 2016 4:20 PM

Not quite two weeks ago I arrived at the Orlando airport, hearing a recording of Mayor Buddy Dyer welcoming everyone to his city, reminding those on the escalators heading down to the rental cars that Orlando was more than just theme parks. Some 36 hours later, Mr. Dyer was addressing his city and the nation in the wake of the most horrific mass shooting in U.S. history, that left 50 people (including the shooter) dead and dozens more wounded.

When the shooting occurred I was at a beach house on an island, several hours from Orlando, sharing the house with family members, who, except for my wife and I, are Orlando-area residents. We had arrived in the late afternoon, and shortly after we had unpacked and headed to the Gulf of Mexico, a bird flew into a transformer somewhere, knocking out power to maybe one quarter of the island. Well, despite the muttering on how much we were spending and losing power, we noodled along.

The power came back at the house not long before Omar Mateen went into the Pulse Nightclub. As I went around the house turning off lights and resetting clocks while the others slept, he was driving towards his murderous mission.

After such horror we turn as we do, as we almost have to, to questions of policy. What could we collectively do and should have done by law or rule or requirement to have stopped this, to prevent it from happening? And policy is difficult, and complicated and controversial. So it was U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) sat on the U.S. House floor trying to push for action. So it was that Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) tweeted the day after the shooting, “I literally never want to hear again that LGBT people in the bathroom are a threat to public safety.”

The day after, at 7 am, I already knew what had happened, having read the news alerts on my phone. But no one else in the house did. I am a reporter, it is my inclination by trade and by the human need to communicate, to inform people. But I wondered, did I have a right to do so, to disturb this holiday, to tell everyone what happened in their hometown?

When I did tell the others, they were surprised, said how horrible it was, but little else. Perhaps it was the initial shock and they had to process the reality of the tragedy.

Or was it something else I was seeing? Was it possibly the exhaustion that accompanies acceptance I was witnessing?

If so, is there anything in policy that could affect such acceptance?

Some months back, I wrote a blog post that talked about how a Lansing lawyer was stunned how younger lawyers now assumed Michigan roads would always be terrible. Because, despite all the talk, nothing had ever been done to raise enough money to repair the roads. Michigan roads would always be terrible, they said, so why be upset?

There is no comparison to roads and murder. None. And the horror of this tragedy is fraught with so many additional elements: the targeting of the LGBT community, whether Omar Mateen was truly a soldier of madmen who have perverted a great faith or simply a self-aggrandizing maniac looking for a big final headline, the question of whether accessibility to high-powered weapons is within the meaning of the Constitution, that it may be inappropriate to even mention anything else.

But the Orlando massacre was one of almost 150 just in 2016 so far where at least three people have been shot. And those figures are on top of a sickening pile of similar tragedies that accumulate year after year.

I am of an age where if someone says Charles Whitman, I know exactly who they are referring to and why. His rampage shocked a nation in part because it was something no one thought possible in a civilized land. Can we even name the killers anymore? Without looking them up what is the name of the Aurora theatre killer, the killers at San Bernardino, at Sandy Hook, at Umpqua Community College, at Virginia Tech, at Charlestown, at Columbine? What is the name of the man held for killing six people in Kalamazoo earlier this year? And their victims, the now thousands of victims, can we name them? Where is their memorial?

And even more sadly, we know it will happen again. We expect it to happen again. Hence the exhaustion, in part at our own sad acceptance. During Northern Ireland’s troubles, if small children heard that someone had died they assumed he or she had been shot. They lost the ability to understand how death is supposed to occur. In a way, so have we.

Policy can have some effect on some issues related, whether it is in the realm of guns or mental health or I have no idea what else.

Yet there is something more fundamental still, beyond the ability of policy to affect, that could help. W. H. Auden spoke of it in his poem “September 1, 1939.” You should read it if you have not. It’s online.

Unless and until we can master that basic answer, then I fear the exhaustion I saw will is what we will live with, knowing another mass killing will occur despite our hopes, and hoping against hope the inevitable does not touch us.

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Taking A Hike On The Presidential Race May Not Be Bad For Snyder

Posted: June, 9 2016 3:22 PM

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon held a press conference Thursday and did something a little unusual for him: he did not criticize Governor Rick Snyder.

Mr. Dillon criticized plenty of other Republicans, including Lt. Governor Brian Calley, Attorney General Bill Schuette, U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township, and his partisan counterpart Republican Party Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.

But not Mr. Snyder. Nor for that matter did House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) face Mr. Dillon’s criticism.

Those Mr. Dillon did criticize have endorsed New York business executive Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president, and have said nothing about Mr. Trump’s controversial comments blasting U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Mr. Curiel is presiding on a trial involving the now defunct Trump University, and Mr. Trump said in an interview that Mr. Curiel had treated him badly and could not judge fairly because of his Mexican heritage.

The comments have drawn scorn and sharp criticism from a number of top Republicans, including U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). Mr. Ryan called the comments a textbook example of a racist comment.

Mr. Dillon blasted the above named Michigan Republicans for not criticizing Mr. Trump for his comments.

Mr. Cotter has criticized Mr. Trump.

Mr. Snyder has not criticized Mr. Trump, but then he has not endorsed Mr. Trump. He has this year said he would not be involved in the 2016 presidential race, a point he emphasized last week on Mackinac Island during the Detroit Regional Chamber conference.

On Mr. Trump, at least, Mr. Dillon had nothing to criticize Mr. Snyder for. Fear not, Mr. Dillon will never hesitate to criticize Mr. Snyder, but on this issue at least Mr. Snyder got a pass.

Which shows there can be some advantages to Mr. Snyder’s decision to stay out of the presidential election. Neutrality can be a difficult path to follow, and will draw its own critics (and Mr. Snyder should expect some in the Republican Party to blast him for abandoning the party).

But when confronted with such a lightning rod figure as Mr. Trump, staying out of the race could easily spare Mr. Snyder a major headache. Given that Mr. Snyder has still a number of major headaches to resolve, having one less will be something of a blessing.

If nothing else, while so many Republicans now are trying to make the best that they can out of their nominee who doesn’t seem to care whom he may offend, Mr. Snyder won’t have to worry about defending Mr. Trump or whatever he might say or do during the rest of the campaign. That could give him some leverage when he talks to and tries to work with Democrats. It may also help give him a bit of a lift when he is still taking blows over the Flint water crisis and other issues.

While Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza suggested that Mr. Snyder is so unpopular it might help Mr. Trump if he does not get Mr. Snyder’s endorsement, in the end it may be Mr. Snyder who really benefits.

Republicans now hope Mr. Trump will somehow refrain from offending anyone else during the campaign. In the likely event Mr. Trump does offend someone, Mr. Snyder may have taken the wisest possible stance a Republican can take this election year.

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Remembering Ali’s Visit To the Michigan Legislature

Posted: June, 6 2016 1:29 PM

Sometime in April 1997, I encountered Michigan’s then-children’s ombudsman, Richard Bearup, and asked him what was happening. Nothing, he started to say, then snapped his fingers and said:

“Wait, Muhammad Ali is coming to talk about the report.” (The report being one his office issued on recommendations on dealing with child neglect and abuse.)

What followed was a quick recitation of the details of when Mr. Ali was coming (at that point it still had been kept from most of the Senate and House) and as dignified pleading as I could muster to get to meet Mr. Ali (I did not plead well enough, I guess).

The short, maybe two-paragraph story we had about Mr. Ali’s pending appearance, ran through the Capitol community like lightning.

And the following story appeared in the May 1, 1997, edition of Gongwer News Service/Michigan Report on Mr. Ali’s appearance:

Accolades were heaped on former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali Thursday, who appeared before the Legislature to praise the efforts of the state's children's ombudsman to combat child abuse and neglect.

Known as "the Greatest" during his legendary boxing career, Mr. Ali was called one of the greatest citizens of Michigan by Lt. Governor Connie Binsfeld during his appearance before the Senate. Mr. Ali lives in southwestern Michigan. His wife, Lonnie, was unable to attend the day's activities as planned because she had flu.

"I can think of no finer citizen for the abused and neglected children in Michigan than the Greatest," Ms. Binsfeld said. "And it will take the best to win the uphill battle of ending abuse and neglect of children."

Afflicted with Parkinson's disease, Mr. Ali did not speak during his appearances but watched with keen interest at the attention he gathered. Dressed in a gray suit and red patterned tie, and accompanied a personal assistant and several security aides, Mr. Ali moved carefully down the center aisle of the Senate after receiving an award, shaking hands by taking a legislator's right hand in his left and then extending his right hand.

Mr. Ali, whose testimony to a joint meeting of Senate and House committees was read by Kim Forburger, an assistant to the family, was promoting public support for the recommendations of Children's Ombudsman Richard Bearup as well as other proposals by Ms. Binsfeld's Children's Commission.

"(Mr. and Mrs. Ali) cannot strongly enough urge you to take bold and decisive action on its 61 specific recommendations," Ms. Forburger said of the ombudsman's report. "The children's watchdog is, in effect, barking."

Among the points made by the Alis based on the Ombudsman's report:

  • Abusive and neglectful parents are allowed to keep or get back their children "despite unspeakable physical and sexual abuse," and other indications of unwillingness or inability to end abusive behavior;
  • Abusive parents should not be given social work before an investigation is completed;
  • Too often child abuse cases have extensive histories of prior abuse that was not addressed; and
  • "Reasonable efforts" to keep families together, which is required by federal law, is not defined.

In the testimony, the Alis also supported recommendations by the Binsfeld Commission to relax confidentiality restrictions on family matters to allow for quicker responses to neglect and abuse cases; to identify at-risk families early; to use care by relatives instead of foster families; and establish medical passports for children.

Sen. Joel Gougeon (R-Bay City), chair of the Families, Mental Health and Human Services Committee, said a package of bills based on the recommendations of the ombudsman and the Binsfeld commission should be introduced later this month, but action is not anticipated on the floor of either house until after the summer recess.

Mr. Gougeon said some issues are still being negotiated with the governor's office and others. But he emphasized that the package will have bipartisan sponsors and be introduced in the Senate and House.

"This is not a partisan issue," he said.

Rep. Ed LaForge (D-Kalamazoo), chair of the House Human Services and Children Committee, said, "We will do the work you want us to do."

Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian), who chaired a Senate Democratic task force on child abuse, expressed disappointment that more bipartisanship was not displayed but said he is happy Republican senators "now admit we have a problem. It amazes me that almost a year has passed since we issued our report and not one bill has made it to the Senate floor for discussion."

He said the Ali appearance puts the spotlight on the issue and help boost chances for action on proposals he has been advocating for the last six years.

After his appearance before the Senate and House committees, where members praised him for his work on children's issues, Mr. Ali departed to a standing ovation of the audience.

A new report by Kids Count in Michigan showed that almost 43 percent of confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in 1995 occurred in families with at least one prior confirmed incident of maltreatment and over 12 percent had at least 3 prior incidents. The Family Independence Agency received over 121,000 complaints of suspected abuse that year.

"It is very disturbing that so many children are being abused or neglected over and over again," Pat Sorenson, vice president of Michigan's Children, said. She said Mr. Ali's testimony puts public attention on the issue of child welfare.

The House was more effusive than the Senate when Mr. Ali arrived. Freshman Reps. Kwame Kilpatrick (D-Detroit) and Ron Jelinek (R-Three Oaks) gave short tributes to the man who once floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Mr. Ali, seated at the rostrum, closed his eyes and leaned his head forward at times during the tributes; at other moments, his eyes darted around the chamber.

"You are a champion as always, you are my hero," Mr. Kilpatrick said. "But you are not a hero because of your boxing skills. It is your dedication to working with children, with our communities, that makes you a great man and we thank you for your presence."

Mr. Kilpatrick leaned over to hug Mr. Ali, who kissed him on his cheek. The former boxer also kissed Mr. Jelinek, who counts Mr. Ali as one of his constituents, after he boasted that Mr. Ali is "one of our great Michigan sons." Mr. Ali moved to Michigan around 15 years ago. He is a native of Louisville, Kentucky.

On his way out of the chambers Mr. Ali thrilled lawmakers, staff aides and floor sergeants, mugging for photographs, giving his legendary boxing pose and playful glare.

Rep. Ted Wallace (D-Detroit) waited until Mr. Ali was well beyond him down the center aisle before shouting, "Hey, Muhammad, let's go a couple rounds!" Mr. Ali turned around and when Mr. Wallace yelled, "you'll go in two," Mr. Ali stirred again, as if he would gladly take on the tall contender from Detroit.

Rep. Barbara Dobb (R-Commerce Township) posed with Mr. Ali for a photo, saying she had done the same with President Clinton. "I told him it was more exciting than the president. The man has lived a more accomplished life. He smiled."

Barbara Culp, a floor sergeant, was thrilled like a star-struck teen-ager that Mr. Ali kissed her. "Did you see that? He bent all the way down to kiss me. Then I had to wipe off my lipstick off his cheek."

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Charter Schools, Underrated Part Of Proposal A, Now No. 1 Legacy

Posted: June, 2 2016 11:52 AM

How interesting. Legislation to provide a hoped solution for the struggles of the Detroit Public Schools has two key elements: a way of providing hundreds of millions of dollars and a commission that would make decisions on school locations. And what is the focus of all the controversy?

One might think it is hundreds of millions going to Detroit, because, well, it’s hundreds of millions of dollars going to Detroit. The history of Michigan politics over the last 50 years has often centered on money going to Detroit. But no, that is not the controversy.

It has to do with the proposed Detroit Education Commission. It has to do with the fear of charter school supporters that the commission will be the first step to overall state control of charter schools.

And because of this, the politics of charter schools, one can ask what was the true lasting impact of the 1994 Proposal A school finance reform: was it a fundamental change in how schools are financed, or was it the creation of charter schools with its political import and intent?

And has the state now reached a pivot point in the politics of charter schools, one that is splitting some elements of Michigan Republicans?

For all its nearly 23 years history, since the July night in 1993 when then-state Sen. Debbie Stabenow proposed an amendment to a property tax cut bill to eliminate all property tax revenues for schools and then-Governor John Engler told Republican senators to take the gambit, the focus on Proposal A has been on its tax implications. It made major cuts to the state’s property taxes, created a state financing system for schools through the sales tax, and helped provide greater equity between districts. It was hailed as the vanguard of a new national movement to reform school financing (that proved a false prophecy).

Not lost in the political struggle, but not the focus of it either, was the push to create a new kind of institution called charter schools. Remember the idea of charter schools was only bounced around by education intellectuals some 30 years ago, and Mr. Engler got hold of the idea and was determined to get it enacted in Michigan. The history of Mr. Engler’s thinking and how he made charter schools part of a property tax proposal is well documented in a 2011 doctoral dissertation at Michigan State University written by James Goenner (it’s online).

With the enactment of charter school legislation, and the first charter schools in the fall of 1994, charter schools have become one point in the quadrant of four key issues that can almost instantly define one as a conservative or liberal: abortion, guns, taxes and, yes, charter schools.

Charter school politics may not have surfaced as often as debates on the other issues, but when they have surfaced they have been as intense and divisive as all the others. Why else would the Legislature been in full session on December 30, 2002, counting the moments up to when constitutionally it had to adjourn, arguing over a bill Mr. Engler wanted to allow 15 charter high schools in Detroit?

And when the Legislature defeated that bill, how did Mr. Engler react? He vetoed a bill that had taken decades to develop to create a regional transit system in Detroit, making it clear the veto was due to the failure of the charter school bill. It was more than another decade before a regional transit bill passed the Legislature.

Now charter school politics has taken center stage again through the DEC. DEC supporters argue it will not affect charter schools, that choice will remain active and vital if it is approved. Charter school supporters are, to put it mildly, not yet persuaded. The DPS legislation may not move until something is resolved on the DEC.

On this issue as well we have seen splits among Republicans, best summarized by the standoff by the Republican-controlled Senate which has supported the DEC, and the Republican-controlled House, which has said anything that impedes school choice will fail.

But that split is also represented by John Rakolta, president of Detroit-based Walbridge and a leader in the effort to win approval of SB 170* (which includes the DEC). Full disclosure, Mr. Rakolta’s sister, Patti, sang with this reporter in high school choir. (She was better). Mr. Rakolta also is a Republican (and in the previous decade he was a major donor to mostly GOP causes and candidates), but has been public about his frustration with the party over the DEC and its effect on charter schools.

It is remarkable, but with curbs on property tax increases for homeowners now taken for granted, and a considerable closure in the per pupil funding gap, today the top effect from Proposal A has become charter schools. With their unlimited ability to grow (remember, for many years, there was a cap of 150 on the number of university-authorized charters), the desire of many parents for a different public school option, the resultant loss of funding to traditional schools and the political heavyweights choosing sides with severe consequences for legislators who cross them, there can be no other conclusion.

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The Not Exactly Half-Pint Implications Of The Melissa Gilbert Withdrawal

Posted: May, 26 2016 3:49 PM

The surprising, nay stunning, announcement earlier this week that health issues were forcing Melissa Gilbert to abandon her Democratic campaign for Congress in Michigan’s 8th District has some more far reaching implications.

More than just affecting the tenor of the race in the 8th District, where U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) is running for his second term, her decision will affect at least two other key races.

Even though most observers forecast Ms. Gilbert would have trouble defeating Mr. Bishop in the largely Republican-leaning district, she was still seen – at least before her campaign exhibited real organizational problems – as a big potential force for Democrats.

Republicans certainly worried about the actress – whose character on the television show “Little House on the Prairie” was affectionately called by her father, played by Michael Landon, “Half-Pint” – otherwise they would not have exercised such effort attacking her on her tax issues or her comments on whether director Roman Polanski, convicted of molesting a teenaged girl, should be permitted back in the United States.

More than just attack emails, though, Ms. Gilbert’s presence in the campaign meant money, both for Democrats and Republicans. Not only could she have helped raise money for Democrats in her district but for candidates across the state, and even nationally.

Republicans, on the other hand, could use the looming terror of her presence to raise money for candidates across the state as well. That she will no longer be a candidate hurts GOP fundraising efforts, at least a bit.

But that really is the only bad news for Republicans with her departure. Her leaving the race puts a crimp in Democratic hopes in two other districts as well.

Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) is waging a pitched fight against U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) in the 7th District. And former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson is expected to be the party’s nominee in the open 1st District.

Because it is an open seat that includes some traditional Democratic areas, and the Republican candidates for the seat will have a slugfest in the primary, Mr. Johnson has better odds in the 1st District.

Decades ago what is now the 7th District featured the religious and social conservatives that now are the biggest Republican faction nationwide, so Ms. Driskell faced tough odds. But her well-reviewed background in the district and the fact that so many people in the district are lukewarm about Mr. Walberg, gives her a better shot than many Democrats have had.

Ms. Gilbert’s departure certainly will hurt fundraising in those races. But it also takes some of the shine off the state’s political star quality making it harder to gin up interest for candidates. Let’s face it, there are really no big races in Michigan – for governor or U.S. senator – and unless Michigan really is in play in the presidential race, there will be less here to drum up excitement.

Had Ms. Gilbert stayed in the race, and had she shown more enthusiasm, it would have helped encourage Democrats to work harder in those seats. She could also have made a couple campaign appearances in each seat to build interest, solidarity for the whole ticket, coverage and money.

There might still be visitors to the 1st and 7th districts. However, it’s a good bet one of those visitors will be Mr. Bishop since he will have more time on his hands this fall than he may have had.

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The Coming Redistricting War. It’s Not Too Late To Get Ready

Posted: May, 20 2016 4:45 PM

Population estimates of Michigan’s and the nation’s metropolitan and micropolitan (what a word) areas were released on Thursday, and in our always looking-for-the-next-election political climate, there are potential implications for the elections of (steady now) 2022 to 2030.

Because census numbers mean redistricting, and while the estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau are not those that will set off the scrambling and howling that will all be part of the reapportionment fight in 2021, they offer some interesting hints at what could be driving districting decisions just five years from now.

First, while it is nice that Michigan has gained some 45,000 residents since 2010 and now has an estimated population of 9.922 million, that will not save us from losing at least one member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Unless some very strange situations occur to boost Michigan’s population by say 1 million people in the next four years (which will boost problems of land use, housing, transportation, schools and many others in quick order), we must steel ourselves to the inevitable loss of one more member of Congress. And steel ourselves to the inevitable fight over the consolidation of districts.

Beyond that obvious situation, though, the census figures offer some intriguing bits of information that could and likely will play a hand in the redistricting effort.

One is the growth of some cities, and where that growth is focused. Primarily, that growth is in cities and metro areas with major industries and growing industries, as well as cities with big universities.

Consider Ann Arbor, which has seen its population grow by some 4,000 people since 2010. The Lansing-East Lansing area has grown by nearly 700 people. Kalamazoo has grown by more than 1,000. Mount Pleasant has seen much smaller growth, but growth still.

Other cities, such as Jackson, Saginaw and Flint, have seen declines, but over the years the declines have grown less pronounced.

Many of these are areas that trend Democratic. But some of that potential effect would be offset by growth in suburban areas that trend Republican. Grand Rapids has grown by some 7,000 people in five years, and it is more Democratic in heavily Republican Kent County. But Kentwood, definitely Republican, has grown by almost 3,000 people itself in the same time frame.

The Metro Detroit area continues to grow, to 4.3 million, even though Detroit itself lost population. But the pace of Detroit’s loss slowed dramatically from 2014 to 2015. If the city continues to see the development it has enjoyed in the last several years, it is conceivable the city could actually grow slightly in population in the next several years. If it does, that begins to put some new pressures on how district lines are drawn.

And one trend that seems to show no sign of abating is declining population in mostly rural areas, areas that tend to vote Republican.

Beyond what these numbers mean in the assured fight over redistricting under the current law, they also emphasize to both parties how critical the 2018 election will be. Democrats will fight even harder in that race to win control of at least one part of state government to have some hand in district drawing.

Also, while advocates for changing Michigan’s redistricting system have ruled out an election effort in 2016, what might the changing population dynamics of the state say about their efforts in 2018 or 2020?

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It’s Early, But Potential Gubernatorial Democrats Having A Good Time

Posted: May, 12 2016 3:45 PM

The starter’s flag for the 2018 gubernatorial election does not technically drop until after the presidential election in November, but already it is turning into an interesting potential race, especially – surprise, surprise -- on the Democratic side.

The Republican side has had potential candidates galore for years now, starting with Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette with a large crowd of potential contenders right behind, including Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof (R-West Olive). Possibly Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, possibly U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township).

Let’s face it, though, what has made the potential GOP gubernatorial race interesting is how the party stalwarts are facing and finessing a large pile of massive problems that cover the nation and state and which so far has not left them looking good. Item 1, the Flint water crisis; item 2, Donald Trump; item 3, Detroit Public Schools; item 4, trying to embrace Donald Trump; item 5, a blistering review of the Grand Rapids Veterans Facility; item 5, sweating out who Donald Trump picks as his vice presidential candidate.

With all that to tussle with, one would think Democrats might worry about being ignored. But no, they seem to be doing just fine at the moment.

First comes U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), who has been a national face of the water crisis and a vocal leader in trying to win more money for the city in Congress.

Then there is Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who is riding the crest of positive news of the city’s new popularity and revitalization. Plus, he has taken a major role in fighting for Detroit schools, especially against the House-passed proposal that would allocate less money to the district than the earlier passed Senate plan. Mr. Duggan has furiously insisted he will not run for governor, but his name remains in the ether nonetheless.

And then there is former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, newly named the interim Ingham County prosecutor and who Gongwer News Service reported this week is reviving her leadership PAC in big effort to help House Democrats retake the chamber in the 2016 election.

Being the minority party is never much fun, but it does allow a freer hand to blast the majority party for any and all of their activities. Republicans employed this strategy for years and fairly effectively to work themselves into the largest party in the nation for now.

And with the seemingly endless controversial issues facing the state now, Democrats are using the ability to criticize and contrast Republicans fully, winning some public points as they do.

The biggest beneficiary of this is Mr. Kildee. Many Democrats have long wanted him to run for governor, and he flirted with the idea in 2010. He was elected to Congress in 2012, succeeding his uncle, Dale Kildee.

Even before the water crisis, Mr. Kildee was an active presence, vocal, accessible, lending a sympathetic ear and urging empathetic action. The drinking water crisis has given him a huge opportunity to be both partisan and statesmanlike.

Mr. Duggan has enjoyed mostly positive reactions to his efforts to clear vacant properties, improve Detroit services and draw new businesses into the city. Lately, his outspoken comments on fixing Detroit schools have also put him squarely in the way of any GOP efforts he considers damaging to the school system.

Ms. Whitmer was another top Democrat in the state that officials expected would run for a higher office, but declined in 2014. She could go into a race talking about having to confront Republicans on a daily basis when she was in the Legislature. Her tenure as Ingham prosecutor will be short, but she can use the post to say she helped restore trust in an office hideously damaged by outgoing prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III who has been charged with inducing a woman to become a prostitute.

And her move to help Democrats running for the House could be a boost both strategically and tactically, helping her build critical contacts and supporters if she does run for governor.

It is a long way to 2018, and the state will be affected by national politics, the national economy and possibly new crises. But right now, Democrats who could top anyone’s list as gubernatorial candidates are enjoying the fruits of being the opposition party compared to their Republican brethren.

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The Republican Anguish, Live On Facebook And Twitter

Posted: May, 5 2016 11:53 AM

Thanks to the miracles of social media, in addition to videos of kitties and puppies, reflections on what someone just had for lunch, and tear-inducing button-busting pictures of triumphant school kids there is a new phenomenon online that will give one just all the “feels”: the anguish so many Michigan Republicans as well as Republicans nationwide are enduring over their now assured presidential candidate, New York City real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump.

The struggle is neatly summed up by two well-known Michigan Republicans: Jamie Roe, co-founder of Grand River Strategies, and Jim Murray, president of AT&T Michigan.

Mr. Roe (full disclosure, Mr. Roe is a former neighbor and continuing good friend of this reporter) struggled with the Republican race all through the year but on Wednesday, after Mr. Trump won the Indiana primary and his remaining opponents dropped out of the nomination race, he posted this on Facebook: “#NeverHillary Let’s get to work and make America Great Again!”

Then there is Mr. Murray. When Mr. Trump was clearly the GOP nominee, national Republican Chair Reince Riebus tweeted: “We all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton.” Mr. Murray tweeted in response: “To hell with that.”

And there it is, the torment many Republicans are facing across the nation.

These tweets and posts have generated multitudes of responses, some supportive, some not, some insulting, some insightful, some reflective, some really insulting, some philosophic, some with horrid spelling, and a few that are downright repulsive.

But all the comments stick mostly to the point of does a Republican support Mr. Trump? Does a Republican stick to his or her party despite his or her clear discomfort with the nominee? If they do not, can they be a true Republican? Which is more important: party, principles or the country? Should these Republicans view themselves first as Americans and let what they feel is best for the country define their decision rather than that of their preferential party?

Each person has an answer, and each person thinks it is the correct answer at least for them.

In the comments to Mr. Roe’s post, there was an exchange with Tony Daunt of the Michigan Freedom Fund that nicely puts some of the anguished argument into focus. Mr. Daunt wrote: “Some of us care more about principles than blind stupid party loyalty to a disgusting pig.”

Mr. Roe replied: “How does Hillary match up to your principles?” To which Mr. Daunt said; “I’m not voting for Hillary.”

This all raises a number of points. The first being this is nothing new in the political world. In 1972, when former Alabama Governor George Wallace was running a strong campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, many Democrats anguished over whether they could support him should he be the nominee.

Former Governor William Milliken, a Republican, has famously bucked the party when he felt it did not represent his views. He has been pilloried by some conservatives, but he has retorted that no one has the right to tell him or anyone else what his political views should be or what his party is.

Another point is: What is driving the anguish Republicans feel, Mr. Trump or the likely Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Republican hatred, and that is what it is, of former President Bill Clinton and Ms. Clinton has churned and burned for than 20 years. If the Democratic nominee were, say, Vice President Joe Biden, would Republicans be as troubled? Would they say, “I can back Joe and in four years we elect someone else” easier than they could say, “I can back Hillary”?

And finally, for this entry, while the Republican anguish is drawing all the attention, many Democrats are worried as well. While everything tells them they should win the presidency in November, some of posts reflect a real worry: Will Democrats assume the election is won and slip back into a lazy mode, not working hard enough and not showing up to vote? They only have to look back to the 1988 election to be reminded of what happens when they let up on the gas.

What really worries some Democrats was expressed by one person who said, his words, if Republicans were “stupid enough” to name Mr. Trump as their nominee, would the American people be “stupid enough” to elect him president?

How it all plays over the next six months, we know individual reaction to the campaign will play over social media. As we watch it all unfold, we will witness “feels” of all sorts play out to the end.

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Remembering Politicians Who Understood Politics Was Just Business

Posted: April, 29 2016 3:36 PM

Sometimes unpleasant things have meaning, and so it is this reporter has often talked about how the “Tessio Rule” should always apply to politics.

It seems particularly urgent one should abide with the rule, in light of the stunning news earlier this week about Oakland County Republican activist Paul Welday.

If you have not seen “The Godfather,” then you really should because it is one of the greatest motion pictures ever. It is about the Mafia, and hence a number of unpleasant things occur. Toward the end of the picture, one of the Corleone family’s most loyal lieutenants, Sal Tessio, has been discovered to be a traitor and as he is being led off to his death (the scene is available on YouTube) he says with as much dignity as he can that his treason was just business, not personal, that he always liked the head of the Corleone family.

That is a lesson needs to be learned again and again in politics. It is a lesson Mr. Welday understood inherently. And it is a lesson known and practiced by a number of individuals Michigan has lost in the last year.

Ken Brock, Matt Davis, Curtis Hertel Sr., and now Mr. Welday, two Democrats, two Republicans, all died, and much too early, in the last year, And all of them understood where the personal and the political separated.

Each of them was a dedicated advocate for their position and party, none of them were shy about sticking it to the other party. But that was business, always just business. Life itself is personal. In life itself, politics steps aside.

Out of the fray, off the field, they held no animus. They believed firmly in what they stood for, which meant they also understood there was a chance they could be wrong and the other guy was right. Which also meant they could learn from the other guy. Which also meant they understood the emotions the other guy would feel, the difficulties the other guy would endure, they knew the difficulties their families would endure, understood that in large part they played their role in politics so they could make things better for their families and for every family. Which also meant if they did not agree on anything political, they understood and agreed on all things essential. And the essential things are always people and not ideas, and they knew that.

The late Sen. Harry Gast -- whom we also lost in the last year, but who at 94 enjoyed the long life denied Mr. Brock, Mr. Davis, Mr. Hertel and Mr. Welday -- once said it was time “to put aside principle and do what’s right.” And these four men subscribed to that philosophy, which made them all the better.

It has always been hard in politics to understand that essential rule. There are sides to take, positions to hold, opponents to defeat. It is easy, far too easy, to be consumed into the warrior state of politics, to presume the other side is less than you are and fit for subjugation.

But as people come together this weekend to remember Mr. Welday, it is important to recall that he was a husband, a father, a friend, a colleague, a patriot and then somewhere farther down the list a Republican. The same was true for Mr. Brock, Mr. Davis and Mr. Hertel (only Mr. Hertel and Mr. Brock were Democrats).

In a political world, during a particularly political year, they all remembered the best politicians weren’t political at their core. That made them all good politicians, but it won’t be the main reason they will be remembered.

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Thoughts About Charges In The Flint Water Crisis

Posted: April, 21 2016 3:07 PM

To begin, for all you who moan when you are called to jury duty, this reporter has served on five juries. This reporter has in fact been the foreman on four of those juries, and in the three cases that were criminal, this reporter had to stand up, look at the defendants (and they were both men and women) and pronounce them guilty.

Second, nearly 20 years ago then-Sen. Mike Rogers – later a member of Congress – who was a former FBI agent, said on the Senate floor that he could find a law to arrest anyone under at any time. Both liberal and conservative cynics have noted that with the vast number of laws we have on the books in what we all cherish as the freest nation in the world every one of us is guilty of several felonies we have never even heard of.

That background stood behind several thoughts which came to this reporter as he watched national media cover Attorney General Bill Schuette announce criminal charges had been filed against two state workers and one Flint city worker in the Flint water crisis.

Echoing Mr. Rogers, to the cynic, to a cynic completely unsurprising that charges were brought and that more will be brought. Once a criminal investigation begins it is very unlikely some charges will not be found, with questions of public appearance and money spent playing as large a role as serving justice. But that is to a cynic.

To an experienced juror, one of probably very few, this reporter also wondered how Mr. Schuette’s team will prove its case. A jury determines the facts that decide if one is guilty or not, but in the closed jury room there are many elements that go into deciding what the relevant facts are. A major element can be intent. There are crimes where intent matters little, such as manslaughter. Jurors do consider why someone may have done what they are accused of doing. And jurors will consider a defendant’s frame of mind even if intent is never mentioned by either side during a trial.

How then will Mr. Schuette’s team show actual criminality when a juror may wonder if the defendants weren’t involved in CYA exercises gone horribly wrong?

One other thought occurred as Mr. Schuette promised Wednesday’s announcement was just the beginning of charges filed. Trials are held for several reasons, one obviously to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and to mete out punishment to those found guilty.

Another reason for trials, a reason we often forget, is to ensure we need no more trials. The guilty being sentenced, the anguish of those who have suffered from the crime is supposed to convince everyone else not to commit crime.

Trials are supposed to help prevent crime. Eternal judges will decide if they succeed.

In this situation though, could it be enough of a motivation to help prevent other drinking water crises? The public already has seen the problems of contaminated water go far beyond the Genesee County seat. Investigations since Flint’s crisis was announced have shown issues with lead contamination in water systems across the nation.

Earlier this week, in the latest State of the State Survey from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, the governing priority the largest number of people said was the infrastructure of our cities. A total of 32.5 percent of those asked said it should be the state’s top concern, and before this survey infrastructure repair barely had a pulse as an issue.

That the issue is on everyone’s mind, though, does not mean the hard and expensive work to accomplish those improved roads, water and sewer systems will occur.

So, the final thought following the announced charges was: could these have some effect in compelling action to upgrade our national infrastructure? What lead can do to a person, beginning in childhood, is all too well understood. Doing something about it requires a will to act, which is something we all too often fail to muster.

Could the threat of criminal charges be the spark igniting action? Could knowing one might go to jail if they do not take steps to improve water systems and pay attention to public concerns be enough to force the hard work needed? If Flint leads to criminal charges, could it also happen in other places where water systems are corrupted, where it is known they are corrupted and where no action is taken?

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A Century Of Wonky Love

Posted: April, 14 2016 3:12 PM

If anyone could write a love letter to a wonkish organization, well, this would be the letter.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan has celebrated its 100th anniversary this week, and the nearly 10 million souls in this state are lucky for that. The CRC has been an organization willing to wade into the murky, weed-choked ponds of public policy and made them a little clearer for the citizens to ingest. In so doing, it has helped change this state.

Granted, not many people ingest the CRC’s findings. Which is a shame. One does not read CRC reports, papers and now blogs for their poetic prose, their masterful character descriptions, their facility at turning a plot. No, one reads CRC publications because these are people who know what they are talking about.

If you are serious about policy in Michigan you rely on the CRC to help outline all the nuances, the context and potential effects of budget issues, tax proposals and major policy issues in Michigan. If you do not follow the CRC, then you cannot seriously claim to be serious about policy in Michigan.

The CRC’s research is first-rate and if it is somehow possible to have a status higher than first-rate then the CRC’s analysis has summited that peak.

Just over a decade ago, Tom Clay, the late Tom Clay, Michigan’s former budget overseer who joined the CRC when he retired and who loved numbers and golf with equal passion, did an analysis of the state’s budget and warned that it was unsustainable and would go into deficit unless changes were made. The power of that analysis, which he would refine as time passed, led him to hold some 400 presentations across the state talking about the budget.

Folks, if someone holds 400 presentations on the state budget – the state budget, mind you, not legislative sex scandals – that someone has written a pretty damn good analysis.

And go back to the early 1960s when the state wrote, argued over, voted on and adopted a new Constitution. CRC’s work on the Constitution was without peer, from a massive analysis and comparison of Michigan’s then 1908 Constitution to a document that outlined what the new constitution would do, and which included a 100-question quiz (example of the questions: “Temporary state borrowing is permitted to a limit that is now equal to about how much?” Well…your answer?) A total of 250,000 copies of that document were printed. Given by how narrow a vote the Constitution was approved, it is very likely those 250,000 copies played an outsized role in the Constitution’s victory.

Even if reading about budgets and tax schemes is not one’s interest, there is one set of documents the CRC prepares that all voters should read: its analysis on ballot issues. Ballot issues are often arcane. The CRC’s explanations are exactly the tonic needed to help understand what a ballot issue will do. Even reporters who follow this stuff for a living make use of the CRC’s analysis. Whatever is on the ballot in 2016, watch for the analysis the CRC will provide.

While praising the CRC one also has to praise those who made it possible. On that budget analysis document are listed the names of men (they were all men more than 50 years ago) whose names are synonymous with the history of the state. There listed are Henry Bodman, Prentiss Brown, Joseph Hudson, Lynn Townsend and George Romney among several dozen others. They and their predecessors in 1916 were elites – well-to-do, educated, socially involved – but they were the kind of elite who in some ways thought everyone needed a shot to join the elite club. To reach that club, they understood the public needed some of the advantages they had.

And one of the biggest advantages an elite has is information. Information is the currency that pays for good decisions.

The CRC is a critical link in providing needed information about the issues that affect us now and will affect us. It provides all Michiganders with a big advantage, and we are lucky, and we should be very grateful for that century of superlative work.

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‘False Imprisonment?’ Kids, Let Me Tell Ya…

Posted: April, 7 2016 3:17 PM

Former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat have preserved their right to sue the House of Representatives. They have not sued the House yet, but in their notice of intent filed with the Court of Claims they argue they were forced out of office in an unconstitutional manner – with violations of due process, equal protection and protections against double jeopardy – and that they were subject to “false imprisonment” and “unlawful arrest” during the 16-hour session last September that led to their ousters.

“False imprisonment.” “Unlawful arrest.” Oh, young’uns, you don’t know long sessions at all.

For the record, 26 straight hours is the longest single legislative session this reporter can recall enduring, and that was just the session. It was the Christmas Eve session in 1993 that led to the final arrangements of the Proposal A school finance system. Add to that the multiple hours spent trying to stay conscious afterwards as reporters wrote and edited their stories. Of course, it was also Christmas and whisked to a holiday cocktail party in Detroit, this reporter was peppered with questions about the deal. I have no idea if anything I said made any sense whatever. One chap robustly thumped me on the shoulder, saying, “Well, at least you’re here.” And I began falling over, thinking, “Dear God, I am falling over and can’t stop myself.” I believe a wall may have intervened. There’s unlawful arrest for you.

One Associated Press reporter told me later he was at a party that night as well and a friend joked he had just heard on the radio there was a processing error on the bills and the Legislature had to come back to fix it. The reporter began to weep. False imprisonment, with torture, I say to you.

Of course, that Christmas Eve session followed months of sessions that seemed to go on to no end. From the moment in October when former Governor John Engler put forth his school funding proposal the Legislature seemed to go without stop. During one session, the leaders broke for a meeting at midnight and people were told to come back… at 4 a.m.

Locking people into session once was so common it was almost unnoticed. Several times a year the House or Senate put on a Call of the House (or Senate), especially as they tried to finish budgets or faced controversial issues that had to be resolved. (And to the Senate, back then reporters were allowed to use the restrooms in the anterooms. Just making note).

Ah, but can anything really top the budget crisis of 2007 for your false imprisonment and unlawful arrest? As the days counted down in the standoff between former Governor Jennifer Granholm and legislative Republicans it got rank.

No, it did. In the House particularly, the chamber kind of never actually adjourned… for pretty much a month, including Saturdays and Sundays. If not for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the chamber would never have been cleaned. Keep that in mind. As the calendar ticked toward October 1, the start of the fiscal year, and the pizza boxes, coffee cups, pop bottles, sandwich wrappers, old candy bars, chewing gum and wrappers, sheet after sheet after sheet of proposal papers, old newspapers, and other things known only to the Almighty piled up, and lawmakers went on without sleep or slept at their desks, the familiar aroma of a long, long, long party was triggered. There’s imprisonment against your will.

If therefore, being confined to session for a long period does constitute false imprisonment and unlawful arrest, before they take it to court would it not be wise for Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat to recall the reason why the House was in session for so long on September 10 and September 11?

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Some Remembrances Of Speaker Curtis Hertel

Posted: March, 31 2016 1:08 PM

Funeral services were held Thursday for former Speaker Curtis Hertel who died unexpectedly last weekend.

His death has shaken the Capitol community as few others in large part because during the period of joint power in the House, in 1993-94, he, as the Democrat, along with co-speaker Republican Paul Hillegonds were able to find ways to craft bi-partisan solutions to issues. It wasn’t always easy, especially with the governor’s office and the Senate held by Republicans, but it still occurred.

Funerals always bring out stories that bring out dimensions to a person that a simple obituary cannot. Here are several:

On December 6, 1995, while he was the House minority leader, Mr. Hertel was able to bring to the House, as his guest, Detroit Archbishop Adam Cardinal Maida to deliver the invocation. It was not the first time an archbishop had shown up to deliver an invocation, but it still was a big deal for Mr. Hertel.

However, on the same day speaking to the House after the archbishop was Shawntel Smith, the then reigning Miss America. It was hard to say who exactly caused more excitement.

But the occasion also caused Mr. Hertel to be furious with Gongwer News Service. In a short story announcing the visit of both the archbishop and Ms. Smith we referred to the archbishop as “Mr. Maida” on the second reference as we do with a “Mr.” or “Ms.” For all persons.

Mr. Hertel was on the phone to us quickly, fulminating loudly: “He isn’t a Mr. He’s an archbishop.”

We remember next March 6, 1997, an easy day to recall since it was the day then-President Bill Clinton spoke to a joint session of the Legislature.

The Capitol had been converted to meet security concerns for the president’s visit. Mr. Clinton met with lawmakers in Mr. Hertel’s office, as the top ranking Democrat in state government (except for then-Attorney General Frank Kelley).

And Mr. Hertel sat next to Mr. Clinton at the podium in the House. Mr. Clinton was speaking on the need to improve education in the U.S. In his remarks before the president’s, then-Governor John Engler talked about what Michigan was doing to improve education.

Mr. Clinton paid only scant attention to Mr. Engler as he looked over the text of his address.

Suddenly, without looking up from his text, Mr. Clinton’s right hand nudged Mr. Hertel, and one could see the president ask if Mr. Hertel had a pen. Mr. Hertel quickly fumbled in his suit jacket, and pulled out a pen that he handed Mr. Clinton. From the House gallery it looked as if Mr. Hertel had presented the president with a cheap ballpoint (since people rarely carry nice fountain pens anymore). When Mr. Clinton handed the pen back, Mr. Hertel looked at it carefully before putting it back in his jacket.

A moment later, Mr. Clinton asked again for the pen, and Mr. Hertel fumbled again before handing the same pen to Mr. Clinton. When the pen was handed back, Mr. Hertel looked again at it carefully.

One had to presume that Mr. Hertel kept the pen as a souvenir.

Finally, in early December 1998, in what were the last days of his tenure as speaker, Mr. Hertel found himself having to go on an errand of contrition. The hot issue those days was a change in the state’s revenue sharing system. Democrats were trying to pull out the best deal they could (and the changes made then and since have remained a hot issue with Michigan cities), and a bill bounced back and forth across the Capitol faster a ball at an Olympic table-tennis match.

But Democratic then-Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick, several years before his scandal plagued term as Detroit mayor) did something, what exactly was never reported, to honk off then-Sen. Glenn Steil. The Grand Rapids Republican was the leader of the effort to change the revenue sharing language, and there was some worry that he might get some draconian portion added to the bill.

Mr. Hertel came to the Senate chamber, sought out Mr. Steil (the two did not really know each other) and spent a good 10 minutes apologizing for Mr. Kilpatrick, explaining his position, saying it would not happen again and if Mr. Steil had any questions Mr. Steil should come to him directly.

Reporters asked Mr. Steil what the issue was about. Besides saying it was due to Mr. Kilpatrick, Mr. Steil wouldn’t say further. But he did say, “I respect Curtis for what he did. He shouldn’t have to have do it, but I respect him for it. He did the right thing.”

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Thinking About Milliken And Flint

Posted: March, 24 2016 4:15 PM

Our colleagues at Bridge Magazine have published a tribute to former Governor William Milliken as he approaches his 94th birthday on Saturday.

Written by Dave Dempsey, who earlier wrote a well-received biography of Mr. Milliken (and whose father Jack was director of the then-Department of Social Services under Mr. Milliken) the piece focuses on Mr. Milliken’s record of promoting and protecting Michigan’s environment.

The article has been shared on social media and drawn fond remembrances of Michigan’s longest-serving and now longest-living governor. Former House Speaker Gary Owen, probably as blue a blue-dog Democrat as ever, posted that Mr. Milliken was the only Republican for governor he voted for. “A man who wanted to do the best he could for everyone,” Mr. Owen said.

It is serendipitous that the piece comes out the day after the Flint Water Advisory Task Force issued its report blasting state government, and by implication Governor Rick Snyder, for its failures in the Flint water crisis.

Mr. Milliken endorsed Mr. Snyder in the last two elections, and Mr. Snyder has praised Mr. Milliken. And both have had some similar experiences in their time in office.

In particular, both had a major crisis involving toxic substances. Mr. Snyder of course has had the Flint situation with lead contaminated drinking water.

And Mr. Milliken had the PBB crisis, when cattle feed contaminated with polybrominated biphenyls affected the state’s food chain in the 1970s.

As one of the few reporters who has covered both crises I have thought much about Flint and PBB, how they occurred, how the state reacted. One crisis now is old enough to reflect on what may have been the final outcomes; the other is still new enough that it will likely take decades before any final effects are tallied. There are similarities and stark differences between the two.

First, the origins of the two crises. PBB was a purely industrial calamity that state government had to step in to resolve. No government officials poured a compound that was supposed to be sold as a fire retardant into feed and shipped it off to Michigan farmers who then fed it to their cows (and also chickens, pigs, sheep). That was all done by workers in a Michigan Chemical factory owned by private enterprise.

Flint cannot claim the same parentage. Flint is a government-made crisis, and it is primarily a state-government made crisis. There are no similarities in any way to the two crises’ origins (emergency managers were named to help Flint get through its financial mess, PBB was a total screw-up) and neither are there any similarities to who was to blame.

There similarities in initial government response to the crises. State government, particularly the then-Department of Agriculture, was slow to react to growing evidence of a problem affecting dairy cattle in the early days of the PBB crisis. But it was almost more a sense of disbelief, and a suspicion – wrong as it turned out – that the problems may be due to the individual farm management. Not every farm was affected in the state, because not every farm used the tainted feed. Plus, the agriculture industry worried about the possible impact the crisis could have as did the department.

Like Flint, with PBB there were scientists who warned there was a problem, and who faced bureaucratic resistance. Like Flint, it took scientists showing ongoing problems to really force the state into action.

Once the crisis was proven, there was fallout for some top state officials, just as there has been with Flint. B. Dale Ball, who died at 94 in 2010, and who had been a well-respected director of the Agriculture Department, was helped into retirement because of the crisis.

What then are the differences? Well, the potential size and scope for one. The Flint crisis seems at this time to be limited primarily to the city. At the time the PBB crisis potentially affected everyone in the state. With the passage of decades the total health effects of PBB are still not completely known, though there are some signs negative effects may not have been as widespread as feared. With Flint, the biggest fears are what potential effect the contamination could have on the city’s children and their future lives, and how the city will recover from the crisis.

To this reporter, the biggest difference seems the overall response of government and the public. Which speaks to how both have changed.

Both Mr. Milliken and Mr. Snyder took responsibility for their respective crises. Yet, when looked in the total context of how each crisis developed, the Snyder administration has fumbled and struggled more. PBB took some time to become a reality; in Flint, when the city switched to the Flint River as its drinking water source, people complained almost immediately. The complaints were not about lead at first, no one knew about lead contamination.

It did take time for the state to recognize PBB. Once it was realized, state government accepted it had a problem it had to address.

From the beginning Flint’s water was a problem, yet government not only did not react, it was dismissive. Even when top administration officials raised concerns – generally when a top official raises a concern, one expects the bureaucracy to respond – there was pushback against them.

Then, there is the overall tone of how officials responded. Neither Bill Milliken nor Rick Snyder caused their crisis. If anyone had cause to blame and castigate a bad player, it was Mr. Milliken. Yet in public, he did not look back, he did not assign blame. There were problems that needed fixing, he said, but to my memory he never called out Michigan Chemical or its corporate parent, Velsicol.

Mr. Snyder has said local, state and federal government share in the blame for Flint. He has done so to the point the task force he appointed criticized him for doing so. The issue is not that Mr. Snyder is not correct to a degree, but to what purpose does his criticism serve?

Finally, the biggest difference in how government has reacted is how bitterly partisan Flint has become compared to PBB. Oh, in 1978 Democrats tried to make Mr. Milliken directly responsible for the PBB crisis during the election. Tried, but failed. The public didn’t buy it.

But in response, Republicans did not accuse the Democratic Legislature of sitting on its hands in response to PBB.

With Flint, both parties have made the water crisis a political issue and showered criticism on each other unceasingly.

Which brings the last point: how the public has reacted. The 1970s was a cynical time, after Watergate, assassinations, Vietnam. And those directly affected, particularly the farmers, were understandably angry at state government. Yet, the public overall seemed to expect and feel that government would respond and take care of the issue. In part that was because it had seen both parties in Lansing and Washington try to work together to resolve problems.

No such confidence exists now with the public. Decades of partisan dysfunction and an overwhelming cynicism has shattered any sense of trust in government. It is more than a partisan breakdown in the public, there is a real sense that government cannot solve the problem it created, and may not care to.

One could ask which governor you would rather have in charge during the Flint crisis. But it is a useless question.

One could better ask why did state government not learn the lessons of the PBB crisis. One could ask, and should, if Mr. Snyder and the Legislature will take their cue in solving Flint from the tone Mr. Milliken and lawmakers of 40 years ago took in solving PBB.

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Free Speech And Corporate Fervor And The Election

Posted: March, 15 2016 4:12 PM

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had relatively peaceful travels through Michigan. Oh, he had some shouters at his Warren rally and he led the crowd in chanting U-S-A. But no one rushed the podium as happened in Cleveland, or had supporters and opponents face a standoff as they did in Chicago.

These incidents have engendered a renewed debate on the idea of free speech and free press, and who supports it and who represses it. Are Mr. Trump’s opponents trying to suppress the free speech of his supporters? Or is it the other way round: are his supporters trying to suppress the opponents’ free speech? Watch social media, and Michigan political pros and advocates have gotten into a lively, and mostly friendly, debate on the subject.

In our history, free speech and its corollary free press have really been more praised than protected. In his classic “Emergence of a Free Press,” the late Leonard Levy pointed out that during America’s Revolution every state had laws requiring a free press, unless you didn’t support the revolution. Back the crown and you had no rights.

But maybe, having watched the Donald-Hillary-Marco-Bernie-Ted-John show march through Michigan in the last weeks, the issue here is less one of free speech and more one of let’s call it corporate fervor. Free speech refers to protection from government control and censorship. It relies on reason and the need to let competing thoughts be expressed. Corporate fervor, practiced by our individual corporate sense and therefore practiced in corporations, religions, politics and any exercise bringing different people together, is a more consuming emotional commitment.

After all, stand in any Capitol dome and shout, “Down with America” and pretty much the worst that will happen is the shouter will get odd looks. Be a General Motors employee and stand in GM headquarters shouting, “Buy Toyotas!” and see how fast you become an ex-GM employee. What then of free speech? Corporate fervor permits actions taken against an employee harming the brand. And we expect it, and do not challenge that power.

Retail politics is so named because a candidate and the candidate’s team is doing a selling job, which means corporate fervor drives the effort.

Corporate fervor dictates total commitment to the brand, and total defense of the brand (or your school, your church, your team, your candidate, your country). Meaning Pepsi employees not only make Pepsi, they only drink Pepsi. It also means they do their utmost to get exclusive rights for Pepsi in as many locales as possible, squeezing out Coke. It also means they see their product or service as something no product or service can be: perfect.

In politics, total commitment to the brand means more than just backing Donald or Hillary or Marco or Bernie or Ted or John (good thing we no longer have 32 candidates running for president). It means giving into them totally, never bad-mouthing anything about them anytime -- from how they comb their hair to how they slurp their soup – and making of them something that does not exist: perfect humans. Anyone who has been close to a political campaign operative has seen how totally and completely that person has embraced the candidate. It is more than for this person the candidate can do no wrong, it is for this person the candidate will solve all ills.

The near messianic status accorded products and candidates extends to the market. Everyone has embraced corporate fervor in some way. Everyone has a bias so total to a particular product or service it cannot be shaken – doesn’t matter if it is McDonalds or Gillette or Mr. Clean – this you buy and nothing else. You would rather go without than use the other product. Given the other product, you will more likely trash it than even open the box. And if you ever are moved away from that product – you start drinking Coke rather than Pepsi, for example – you feel as if part of your soul has vanished. No kidding, ask someone who has switched products after a lifetime of loyalty how they felt.

With candidates that belief, that loyalty and total commitment is even more visceral. Attack a candidate, you have attacked the supporter personally. And the supporter responds, usually in some type of counterattack. In this election, we have seen that more than we have in decades. And it has affected one candidate more than others, and the counterattacks, often urged on by the candidate, are often violent. Which in turn drives the opposition in its corporate fervor to react more intently. Which then…but you get the idea.

If it is corporate fervor, and less free speech, driving our politics, then maybe we should hope at some point our politics responds as do our corporations. CEOs don’t urge their customers and employees to attack and destroy the competition, but to see how their products and services might better suit one’s needs. They recognize maybe the customer needs a different product for the time being, but being attentive to the customer they will bring them back. One can be fervent and open-minded at the same time.

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What Worries Karl Rove?

Posted: March, 10 2016 5:31 PM

What worries Karl Rove is Donald Trump, and the New York business executive’s victory in the Michigan GOP primary on Tuesday would not have made him feel any more at ease.

Mr. Rove, a top aid and strategist to former President George W. Bush, a leading Republican strategist and fundraiser, a Wall Street Journal columnist and known on YouTube for what is called the 2012 election meltdown, is clearly worried about Mr. Trump as the Republican nominee for president. He worries about the effect that would have other Republicans running for Congress and for governor’s posts.

More than that, he worries about what it would say to have a president like Mr. Trump who is as well known for his comments and actions as he is for any of his policy statements.

Mr. Rove was in Michigan recently along with Jim Messina, who managed President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, to speak in Livonia and Grand Rapids for the Michigan Political Leadership Program (Gongwer News Service is a supporter of the program at Michigan State University). He spoke in Livonia on the same day as the Republican debate held in Detroit, something he and Mr. Messina watched on an Ipad as they were driven to Grand Rapids.

Mr. Rove refused to say had the nomination sewn up, though he did say Mr. Trump was the likely nominee. That had to have been strengthened by Mr. Trump’s victories in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii on Tuesday.

And if Mr. Trump wins the winner-take-all primaries in Florida and Ohio on March 15 (or wins at least one of them) his claim to win the nomination could be all but unstoppable. Or at least Mr. Trump’s supporters hope and his detractors fear even though he would still be short of the 1,237 delegates needed at the GOP convention in Cleveland this summer.

As a political technician, Mr. Rove worries at the possibility of a large number of Republicans who will refuse to support Mr. Trump. In the Virginia primary, for example, exit polls showed that 54 percent of the voters were unhappy with Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

And a quarter of the Republican voters asked in Virginia said they couldn’t support Mr. Trump if he were the nominee, Mr. Rove said.

There is always some drop-off or crossover of party members, both Republicans and Democrats, to the other party, Mr. Rove said, which could be as high as 9 percent. But a 25 percent drop-off in support for the party could have a significant effect on Republican officials and candidates.

Mr. Rove said he would worry about the electability of any Republican running for the U.S. Senate in a state won by Mr. Obama, quickly rattling off New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, along with the possibility of North Carolina, Mississippi and Nevada. Losing in five of those states would give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

And he said as many as 20 Republican members of the U.S. House could be at risk if Mr. Trump is the nominee.

Beyond the partisan worries, beyond the grim knowledge Mr. Rove has that every one of Mr. Trump’s foibles and insults will be played to the hilt by Democrats to voters to maximize Democratic support, there is manner of Mr. Trump and the presidency.

It is an office that commands a certain standard of behavior, a standard that has rarely been breached. Mr. Rove did not speak to that so much directly, but he was clearly personally disturbed by Mr. Trump.

Has the country ever elected a “serial bankrupt,” Mr. Rove asked.

Mr. Trump’s comments on Hispanics have left him with 12 percent support among them and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney could not get elected with support from 27 percent of the Hispanic population. “Donald Trump is deluding himself” that he has their support, Mr. Rove said. “Do you think there are a lot of Latinos out there that say he doesn’t respect my heritage and where I came from. This is something he would need to awaken in the months ahead if he were to become the Republican nominee and undo the damage.”

One incident especially stuck with Mr. Rove as he talked with reporters. It was the incident last fall when Mr. Trump mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski who suffers from a chronic condition that limits his arms and hands.

What would the parents of a disabled child think watching that, Mr. Rove said. Would they be forced to ask, “Is my president going to respect my child?”

But it was also clear talking to Mr. Rove that he was unsure Mr. Trump had the ability to recognize his failures in behavior and to correct them.

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An Economic Look At Trump, Sanders’ Popularity

Posted: February, 25 2016 2:09 PM

Adjusted for inflation, in 1973 the average working man in the United States made $53,294. In 2012 that same man (sorry, this statistic looks at working men) made $50,383.

After 40 years and nearly $3,000 a year less in pay, Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard asks is it any surprise that both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders have been so popular with voters this year?

Since the 1970s a variety of factors – some the natural result of new technologies and the people that work in that industry but many of them political in nature – have combined to leave the average working person feeling badly stretched economically, while those at the higher end of the economic scale have seen enormous good fortune, Mr. Ballard said recently.

How much good fortune? In 1976 the top 1 percent of earning households in the U.S. made 9 percent of the total national income, Mr. Ballard said at a business breakfast event hosted by MSU’s Broad College of Business. By 2012, they were earning 21 percent of total national income.

That works out, he said, to a $1 trillion a year difference between 1976 and 2012.

It also helps explain why while Michigan has seen the highest individual income in history, only half the people of the state have actually seen an increase.

In fact compared to the entire nation, Mr. Ballard said, Michigan is an anomaly. Nationally all income levels have seen increases in the past 40 years (though again the highest income groups have seen the biggest increase, more than 50 percent compared to the lowest level). In Michigan, except for a tiny increase for those in the lowest 10th percent, every income group earning up to 50 percent of the income distribution saw their inflation-adjusted income decline.

Part of that change is due to people not being on the right side of the “skills bias technical change,” in other words not having enough education and not being involved in technology and therefore losing out on a major economic change, Mr. Ballard said.

But much of it is also due to factors affected by economic and policy decisions, he said, such as financial deregulation, weaker unions, international economic competition, less progressive taxation, immigration of lower-skilled workers, the reduced value of low-skill workers and reduced value of the minimum wage, as well as changing social norms that accept the idea of chief executives earning hundreds of times the rate of their lowest-paid workers.

This was all an economic analysis of why Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders have been drawing crowds, and did not take into consideration factors like racial animus, fear of terrorism, disappointment that President Barack Obama did not pursue a more liberal agenda.

But Mr. Ballard used statistics to explain an anger that is palpable when listening to what people are saying amongst themselves. Recently on Facebook a man fumed that in the 1970s working in heating and cooling he earned $10 an hour and a new truck cost $8,000. Now the same job pays him $15 an hour and a truck can run him $40,000. The fellow didn’t say who he would back for president but one can guess he might be supportive of someone promising major changes in governance.

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Some Republican Ruminations About Flint

Posted: February, 18 2016 3:02 PM

One spends enough time as a reporter covering politics that one gets to know a lot of people on all sides of the political spectrum. One gets to know them as individuals, one understands that outside of their partisan viewpoints (no matter how intense and passionate) they have similar interests and talk easily amongst themselves about kids, the games, vacations, which plumber to use. The really important things in life, in other words.

The Flint water crisis remains the most critical issue in the state. And never wanting to waste a good crisis, both parties are attempting to use the disaster to their benefit.

Which makes conversations this reporter has had recently with Republicans, mostly, so very interesting. We met in a variety of settings -- at a funeral, at lunch, at the gym and other places – so they were all at ease, off the clock, during the conversations. Some are in government (and fairly high in government) some are business folks, some retired. All are well read, all thoughtful, all very up on the news. Some were in Lansing, some in Detroit. Some are old friends. Some this reporter has known professionally for years.

And all of them recognized Flint as a failure, a spectacular failure, of state government. They also worried that it was particularly a failure of their party, as they almost universally said: “Our guys.”

No matter the setting, or the day, or the circumstance of the conversations, or who was speaking (and not everyone speaking would have known each other), there was an almost stunning repetition to each conversation’s tone: They brought up the Flint situation, and they said, unprompted, it was a failure of state government and their party.

They acknowledged mistakes were made by Flint city officials and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but they said those errors were not as critical as the mistakes and the attitude state government showed while the crisis was brewing.

One, a retired business executive, said with all the complaints about the water that went on for a year before the discovery the water was tainted with lead “Were they paying any attention to people at all?”

Another, a government official, said, “We screwed it up. This is on us.”

All agreed that whatever it took to fix the problem and ensure it did not happen again had to be done. One hinted that maybe the state should not spend money on any other project in any other place in the state until Flint’s water situation was solved.

The ones who were in government worried that Flint showed that many of their fellow Republicans have lost the sense of what it meant to be in government and what government is supposed to do.

“We keep saying we have to run government like a business. But government isn’t a business. You can’t run it like a business,” one said. Turning briefly to the presidential campaign, the person said, “We’re real good at being the party of ‘no,’ but we have to show we can govern.”

As one of the conversations drew to a close, one of the government Republicans looked over and asked: “Do you think the old man can get through it?” In other words: Would Governor Rick Snyder be forced to resign? After this reporter’s hedging reply, this person nodded with a look that suggested he would not be surprised if Mr. Snyder did leave office early.

It is impossible to say if these attitudes are reflective of most Republicans or most people, and what they may mean to state action and policy. It is an election year, Flint will be an issue, and both parties will try to use the crisis to their advantage even as efforts are underway to resolve the crisis. Republicans will stick with their guys, just as Democrats will stand with theirs.

But it was an interesting to hear conversations where the speakers understood the differences between politics and governing and how governing should not be drowned in the political well.

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The Flint Water Crisis Congressional Hearing: Why There?

Posted: February, 4 2016 3:15 PM

Why was Congress first to hold hearings on the Flint Water Crisis?

There in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday in the Capitol, were Environmental Quality Interim Director Keith Creagh and a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, both squirming some as they were hit by Republicans and Democrats on why there was such an utter collapse of government function in managing the Flint water system and in protecting the citizens of Flint from lead-contaminated water.

Wednesday’s hearing may not have been the emotional-historic equal of the Army-McCarthy Hearings (for anyone under the age of, say, really old, those may – should -- be viewed on YouTube) but it was a fully intense and even riveting moment in the history of Flint’s crisis.

But why was the hearing, the first meeting of lawmakers to question officials on Flint, in Washington? Why have there been no hearings in Lansing, before the Legislature?

Lawmakers have hearings. They can even have investigative hearings. Legislators can have hearings on pretty much anything they want. And over the years, Legislators have held plenty of hearings on a wide variety of topics, everything from budgetary issues to policy changes in state departments to oversight hearings with witnesses subpoenaed and sworn in under oath.

There are a multitude of investigations taking place – criminal and civil inquiries by the U.S. Attorney, Department of Attorney General and Genesee County prosecutor. Governor Rick Snyder appointed a task force to look into what went wrong. The Office of the Auditor General is conducting a review. The EPA is investigating its own conduct and auditing Michigan’s drinking water program.

But all of that takes place behind closed doors. Michigan’s legislators, who could have wrangled some answers in public for the public, so far have not held hearings on Flint.

And let us not forget they could have had hearings going back to September and October when it was finally confirmed that the city’s water system was contaminated with lead. It seems perfectly normal to have legislative committees call up state officials, try to determine what had happened and why, and what was going to happen to fix the situation. Then Legislators could have held ongoing hearings to monitor the progress of what the state was doing and how it was working.

They have not.

In contrast, almost immediately after the crisis became a national story a month ago, the U.S. House of Representatives – which is run by Republicans, the same party overseeing the Legislature – has held a hearing, and this comes after congressional members from both political parties have proposed a variety of financial and structural solutions to the city’s problems.

It is perfectly appropriate for Congress to hold a hearing on the Flint situation. Likely every city with water infrastructure older than 30 years in the U.S. has lead service lines as part of those systems (lead service lines were banned only in 1986), so the problems that affected Flint could theoretically affect any of those cities. Plus, a major federal agency sat on a critical document that could have spurred federal action to help the city, clearly something on which Congress would want answers.

Why hasn’t the Legislature been as anxious to get those answers as well?

Hearings are in the Legislature’s future, we are told. Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), the chair of the House Oversight and Ethics Committee, has said he will hold hearings once some of the first investigative reports are made public in the next month. The Senate Republican majority, however, has rebuffed calls for hearings there despite requests from Senate Democrats.

The public will surely anticipate the House hearings in Lansing, and hope they have some of the same impact as the congressional hearing already held.

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A Funny And Yet Sad Moment In The Flint Story

Posted: January, 28 2016 5:11 PM

There was a time when Flint was a place where cars and great basketball players came from, and someday that again may be the way the city is seen. Now, it is the crucible for how government works or does not, what government should do or should not do, and how people who should never have been hurt are helped. It is the most important story in the United States, it will be a case study turned to again and again (one expects) for lessons on how to make government work or at least how to avoid creating the same problems again.

For reporters this moment is essential, the time where everything has a Flint aspect and we must cover it all (those of us left, that is, in an industry destroyed by technology and people just being cheap).

So it was Thursday when reporters had called in to listen to and question U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) on their proposal to free up as much as $400 million in federal money to help with fixing Flint’s water system. This was potentially a big part of a much bigger story.

And it also became the moment when the absurd happened, something both funny and sad.

The conference call press conference was drawing to a close. The press aide in charge had asked reporters for one more question. Somewhere in the staticky ether there was a voice, a male voice, that spoke up. One could sense the reporters and politicians waiting on the question from this unrecognized voice.

“Yes, you had called me?” said the voice. “I’m…” and he went on to give his name.

Ms. Stabenow chuckled and said it appeared someone had gotten on the line. Perhaps the conference call had gotten connected with a party line, someone else suggested.

Then the unknown caller started reading off his Social Security number. “Oh no, sir, don’t give out your Social Security number on a conference call,” Ms. Stabenow called out in alarm.

Clearly, however, he could not hear the rest of the people on the call as he seemed to be conversing with a series of clicks and buzzes.

Everyone on the conference call laughed at the strangeness of it all, and quickly hung up.

Except this reporter stayed on the line for a moment, trying to determine what was going on with the unknown caller.

The fellow was trying to keep from getting cut off from some service. Clearly behind in his bills, he was explaining there was a holdup in his disability getting approved and he was sorry to be behind.

It was unseemly to listen further, so I put down the phone.

But that moment stood as a reminder that once the Flint water story no longer dominates the news there will be problems and pain and solutions not yet found for government decisions yet to be made and stories yet to cover. There will be other stories on other miseries to come.

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A Hint Of Good Economic News … Kinda

Posted: January, 21 2016 3:06 PM

Long memories can be a curse, especially when something said in the immediate moment nags you until you track down a memory triggered.

So it was with something said a week ago at the January Revenue Estimating Conference by Gabriel Ehrlich of the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics at the University of Michigan.

His presentation focused on Michigan’s economy and its near-term future.

Part of that discussion was on jobs, which, after all, has been virtually the only economic statistic that Michigan residents have paid attention to in the last 20 years. And in his presentation Mr. Ehrlich reminded us that we hit the peak of employment in second quarter of 2000, when we averaged 4.7 million people working.

Through the long slog of first Michigan’s single state recession and then the national Great Recession, the state lost more than 858,000 jobs and hit the modern bottom of the barrel the third quarter of 2009 with probably about 3.82 million people working.

Since then the state’s jobless picture has improved, slowly, sometimes haltingly, but it has improved.

And by the fourth quarter of 2018 Michigan should average roughly 4.45 million jobs, a growth of 624,700 jobs since its employment nadir. That, Mr. Ehrlich said, is 73 percent of all the jobs the state had lost.

Which triggered a thought and memory for this reporter: How good is that really? And how does that compare to … what was the number? When did … who? Was it someone from RSQE or the late Gary Olson, former Senate Fiscal Agency executive director, who said we wouldn’t see the same number of jobs we had in 2000 until … was it 2020 or 2030 or later?

Even with electronic archives, it takes a bit to find what one is looking for, especially when that thought may be little more than a vapor. But, for once, this thought was more than half-baked.

However, its discovery in many ways raises more questions than it does resolve them.

In January 2012, George Fulton, the director of RSQE, told the Revenue Estimating Conference that the Great Recession had forced him to recalculate his expectations on when the state could see employment at the level it enjoyed in 2000. Before the recession, both he and Mr. Olson had projected Michigan would not hit its 2000 employment level until the 2020s.

That January 2012, Mr. Fulton said he now thought the state would not hit its 2000 jobs level until 2030. That’s 2030, just a few years shy of Michigan’s bicentennial.

But Mr. Fulton also said if personal income growth continued, that date could be brought back some years, and that Michigan could still do very well even if it did not hit its 2000 levels of employment.

That means Mr. Ehrlich’s forecast is relatively good news, sort of, kinda. Especially when one combines his projection with the latest unemployment figures that show in December more than 4.5 million people were working and the total labor force approached 4.8 million.

One could then draw a conclusion Michigan will hit its 2000 employment levels again sometime in the 2020s, right? Presuming we are not once again ravaged by a recession – take note Wall Street – we should be good with jobs some years before 2030. Good news, right?

Then again, that means a child born the day Michigan had its highest number of jobs in 2000 will likely legally be able to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate sometime in the 2020s. That is rather depressing to think about. More than 20 years to recoup what we once had. Whoopee.

There’s no point to get lost in the endless arguments why it has taken so long to get back to the heights. It looks like we will beat the 2030 forecast. Huzzah, I suppose.

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An Unprecedented, And Sad, State Of The State Faces Gov. Snyder

Posted: January, 14 2016 3:32 PM

Governor Rick Snyder takes the podium for his State of the State address this upcoming Tuesday, and he faces an unprecedented situation.

Before, depending on the state’s economy, governors have been criticized, disdained and disliked when they took the podium. On rare occasions, governors faced opposition related to policy questions, which is reflected in the reaction they get when they address the Legislature, but that opposition is generally rooted in partisan differences.

Mr. Snyder will take the podium Tuesday knowing that to a large number of his fellow Michiganders, being disdained and disliked is not the worst of what he faces. With the mess of the Flint water situation, with an unknown number of Flint children facing elevated lead levels and now reports of increased incidents of Legionnaires disease in Genesee County, Mr. Snyder will speak on Tuesday knowing that to many he is – and this is a difficult thing to say, but clearly it is true – hated.

Demands he resign, coming not just from Michigan but around the country, and demands he be charged with criminality demonstrate how much his favor has fallen with so many people.

A protestor standing outside the Capitol on Thursday held a sign that likely speaks for many, though what it said was almost as ugly a thought as one could imagine: “Snyder’s Legacy Is Murderer.”

Even among those who back Mr. Snyder, there is utter bewilderment at how a situation went so horribly wrong, why the administration took so long to respond to it and why, even after it took steps to address the problem, it still seemed out of touch with the people of Flint.

Mr. Snyder did not turn the taps on Flint’s water, but it was his policy that set in place the actors who made the key decisions that did switch the source of the water. It was Mr. Snyder’s administration that seemed too often too casual and dismissive of complaints from city residents.

If any governor in this state before held a State of the State address while facing the reality that he has lost the confidence of so many and that his administration stands morally indicted, this reporter has no knowledge of it.

But what strikes this reporter above all is how horribly, humanly sad this has become.

And how tragically ironic it is for Mr. Snyder. Ironically tragic because Mr. Snyder genuinely loves children. His outgoing Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore once said in a conversation that if anyone wants to meet Mr. Snyder, that person should have a toddler in tow. Mr. Snyder will walk past a roomful of Fortune 500 CEOs to talk to a little kid. He actually has shown that interest at some of his major appointment announcements, when Mr. Snyder seemed to want to take more time talking to their kids than introducing his new appointee.

Yet, kids have been harmed. The one thing no one would want to have happen has happened.

Therefore, unlike his previous State of the State addresses, Mr. Snyder will be watched far more closely. He knows what his task is, both on Tuesday and for the people of Flint and the state.

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Criticism Continues To Pile On Snyder

Posted: January, 7 2016 3:55 PM

Governor Rick Snyder has often said he is not a typical politician, but lately he is getting beat up like a typical politician.

All across social media – which is now the gauge of public opinion – Mr. Snyder’s name has been attached to adjectives he cannot be used to in his life. None of those adjectives are pleasant.

He was already being hammered over the scandal involving the Flint water system. Earlier this week when he signed legislation ending Michigan’s straight-ticket voting option he was skewered by Democrats (nothing new in that).

But then he signed SB 571*, which made both campaign finance changes and eliminated the ability of local governments to communicate in most ways with constituents on local ballot issues 60 days before an election. Mr. Snyder has called for the Legislature to modify that provision (and his signing statement with the bill makes it sound like he is calling for no major modifications) but it is clear from some of the responses posted in various places that many people do not trust Mr. Snyder or the Legislature to actually make any changes.

Full disclosure: this reporter’s sister serves on a library board. I have not spoken with her since the bill was signed, but she made her views on the bill clear during the holiday season. I suggest the governor not sign up for a library card in Oakland County for a while.

Outside of social media, this reporter has also heard people so furious over the signing of SB 571* that they suggest court action could occur or even call for mass acts of civil disobedience by government officials during the election season to test the state on the bill.

Given that the signing happened almost simultaneously with MLive announcing it was laying off 29 staff, some people saw connections between a loss of journalists and legislation they charged stifled governments. A Jamie Iseler said on Facebook, “One Tough Nerd, who boasted of transparency, has become One Big Embarrassment of Opacity.”

The outrage over SB 571* cannot compare to the growing national outrage – helped along by stories on MSNBC and NBC News – over the Flint water crisis. Beyond Cher calling for Mr. Snyder to be shot at dawn and filmmaker Michael Moore calling for him to go to jail, there are people all across the country posting comments on the Flint scandal.

One such person, Anthony Hayes in Henderson, Kentucky, posted a comment that seems particularly apt. He wrote: “The Republican that the people wanted and voted in, well, you got your man. Lead man.”

Mr. Snyder has often said he is not a typical politician. Politicians are clearly hated throughout the world. But politicians are the people entrusted to solve problems. A politician solving problems could say that he or she is not a “typical politician.” Perhaps, then, Mr. Hayes comments should be seen not as an insult, but as a challenge.

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What A Curious Thing House Democrats Have Done

Posted: December, 17 2015 2:27 PM

Rep. Erika Geiss of Taylor and Rep. Leslie Love of Detroit, both Democrats, have been called on the carpet by their caucus for being the only two Democrats to vote for a bill that the rest of the caucus opposed.

How very strange.

A week ago the House voted on legislation, HB 4686*, that makes it harder to sue a city for a defective sidewalk. This reporter has actually had some experience dealing with the question of bad sidewalks and how engineers want to keep the plugs (which is what most call the concrete squares of the sidewalks) so there is less than 0.25 of an inch difference in the rise between each one. In my experience, both as a homeowner and a reporter, I have seen plugs with better than eight inches of different rise (thanks to tree roots) on some streets. Besides looking terrible, they can be a big factor in injuries.

And a sidewalk program can be very expensive for a community to undertake, no matter the complaints homeowners make. When city finances are tight, as they have been in recent years, local officials have to balance things like cops, firefighters and sidewalks. Which do you think would likely win when money is short?

But, bad sidewalks can lead to injuries, sometimes serious injuries when people trip, so there are legitimate reasons to argue cities should be liable in those cases.

You have a difference then, which can lead to a difference among members on how to vote on the situation.

Which makes the House Democrats reaction to Ms. Geiss and Ms. Love so very, very odd. They voted for HB 4686*, the rest of their caucus did not. Ms. Geiss and Ms. Love have been stripped of caucus leadership positions and told they will not receive support from caucus staff.

Or so we believe. So they have said. The Democrats have provided themselves with plausible deniability by refusing to comment. Unfortunately for them, refusing to say yea or nay on whether punishment was meted out means everyone believes it was, and makes the caucus look … well, it doesn’t lead to people feeling all warm and fuzzy about them.

Had the caucus taken a position on this bill, effectively tying every member to vote a certain way? That is unclear.

Put it this way: faced with two members who voted against the caucus on a bill, what would Bill Ryan or Bobby Crim or Gary Owen or Lew Dodak or Curtis Hertel Sr. (all former Democratic speakers) have done to the members? Outside of asking for an explanation, they wouldn’t have done a damn thing to them. If the rest of the caucus complained (and the controversy over HB 4686* is not the first time people have been upset at fellow members when there has been a split on an issue), those leaders would have talked to the other members and had everyone resolve their differences on a personal level.

Being fellow Democrats, or fellow Republicans, does not mean everyone will agree 100 percent of the time on all issues. Legislators are supposed to be thinking humans not automatons, and thinking humans have perfectly valid reasons to disagree on an issue. Doesn’t make them bad or disloyal, just means they disagree. If they agree on 98 percent of everything else, why get edgy on something that by no stretch defines a party’s beliefs and purposes?

Oh well. Bill and Bobby and Gary and Lew and Curtis were of different times. That the Legislature is the powerful force it is really is mostly due to folks like Bill and Bobby and Gary and Lew and Curtis – and quite a number of Republicans as well – but they were all of different times.

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A Thought , A Gloomy Thought, About Roads

Posted: December, 10 2015 1:23 PM

Suddenly, no one is talking about roads. For years, roads, fixing roads, funding for fixing roads, had been the one subject everyone in Lansing and maybe the state talked about. Groaning about the roads was universal, topped only by groaning about state government’s seeming inability to do anything about it.

Then, a plan was developed and passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Snyder. It will take a bit before any additional money starts going to road repairs, and there is controversy of course on the types of taxes raised, and whether the plan will end up getting as much money to the roads as proponents hope (and whether it’s reliance on the General Fund will hurt schools, universities, corrections and other programs). But we have a plan now, and since it became law, Michigan roads have no longer been the center of conversation.

Which made a conversation this reporter had recently both striking and jarring. The conversation was with a Lansing lawyer who has worked on state issues as well criminal matters, and involved a discussion she had with a number of lawyers in Detroit.

All the Detroit-based lawyers were young. None were older than 40, so they essentially are part of the millennial class.

The Lansing lawyer said while working with the other lawyers the conversation turned to Michigan roads. The younger lawyers all had a hopeless attitude about the roads, said the Lansing lawyer.

Michigan roads, they said, have always been terrible. When one considers the fight over road funding has gone on for decades, and complaints about the roads first gained significant volume in the 1970s, this is an understandable view from their perspective.

What was most depressing, though, was that these younger folks also said that Michigan roads would always be terrible. There was no will, no real interest and determination, to really improve them, they said, so bad roads are our endless fate.

And it didn’t matter at all if the state raised funds to fix the roads, because the state would never raise enough money needed, because, again, there is no will to really fix the roads, the Lansing lawyer quoted the younger lawyers as saying.

So, in the end, who cares, they felt. The roads will always be bad, money will always have to be spent fixing cars and trucks damaged by the roads, so why make a fuss about it. They seemed unimpressed with concerns about road quality and its possible effect on economic development. Deal with it, the attitude seemed to be. Bad roads are eternal; focus on what can be changed instead, appeared to be the message.

Granted, this was a small group of people and their feelings cannot be ascribed to everyone. Still, it was surprising to hear such a sense of hopelessness on what has been a major concern. One wonders how widespread the attitude might be, and whether such a sense of hopelessness affects more than just the question of roads.

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Recalling A Forgotten Representative

Posted: December, 3 2015 12:11 PM

Some politicians cast big shadows and are remembered long past the times they served. Most strut and fret for their time on the political stage and then are resigned to being answers to trivia questions long after. And some are forgotten altogether.

The House on Tuesday remembered one member who was so forgotten no one noticed, and that includes reporters, when he died.

Clem Bykowski, Clemens Bykowski formerly, was honored in HR 189* adopted on Tuesday.

He was elected to succeed a scandal-ridden lawmaker, made a very bad tactical mistake within days of his taking office and then left after one of the shortest terms in legislative history.

Mr. Bykowski was such a small presence in the Legislature his name doesn’t even show up in the indexes of the Michigan Manual (though he does have a small reference in lists of past legislators as a footnote, he doesn’t even get his own listing as a former representative).

Mr. Bykowski died in October. He was 91. He and his wife, Ruth, were together for 70 years. The couple had three children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was living in Canton when he died.

He was a veteran of World War II. He had been a Detroit cop until injuries forced him to retire. He did get elected to the Wayne County Commission, where he served until fate intervened.

Fate being former Rep. Casmer Ogonowski. “Cas,” was a Detroit Democrat, very personable, the kind of guy you loved having a drink with at the bar and he always gave the impression of being a real operator. Though from the more conservative sections of Detroit, he was aligned in many ways with former Mayor Coleman Young. Mr. Ogonowski, like the then mayor, was a major backer of bringing casino gambling to Detroit.

Mr. Ogonowski got into huge trouble when he was convicted of federal charges of bribery for accepting money to help someone get a liquor license and lottery license. He faced expulsion, but in March 1982 handed in a letter of resignation, sparring himself that indignity.

Governors and legislators didn’t wait around on scheduling special elections in those days, and fewer than three months after Mr. Ogonowski was gone Mr. Bykowski was elected to the House, defeating his Republican opponent by a margin of almost five to one.

Mr. Bykowski was thin with a prominent mustache. He frankly looked older than his 58 years. He smoked a cigar, this reporter recalls. He was put at a desk near the front of the House chamber and just a few seats over from then-freshman Rep. Burton Leland.

And he worked his House desk phone a lot, calling allies and friends. As he did, he was often eyed by Mr. Leland.

Because it was 1982, legislative districts had just been redrawn following the 1980 census. Detroit had lost a couple seats and Mr. Bykowski’s district and Mr. Leland’s were now thrown together.

Then Mr. Bykowski made his mistake. It happened just a couple days after he had been sworn in. The House was going long that day, well past midnight, as it worked on budget and budget cutting and a host of other issues.

It was never made clear why, but Mr. Bykowski got an excuse and left the session early to return home. Directly after he left the chamber, the House prepared to vote on some procedural issue. Mr. Leland’s hand shot up and he called for a record-roll call vote.

And that continued the rest of the night. No matter how insignificant the issue, on every procedural step taken, Mr. Leland called for a record roll-call vote. People knew what Mr. Leland was doing, but were powerless to stop him.

Mr. Leland was, after all, creating Mr. Bykowski’s voting record, or rather his non-voting record. When he went door to door during the primary election, he intended to show that Mr. Bykowski had a pretty poor record of voting for being in office for such a short time.

There wasn’t enough time for Mr. Bykowski to recover from his error. Session ended early that June so lawmakers could campaign in the new districts.

That August, in a five-person Democratic primary, Mr. Leland bested Mr. Bykowski by better than 2,300 votes.

Mr. Bykowski served out the rest of his short term – which with elections meant he was not in session much – left Lansing, and until Tuesday was really not heard from again in the chamber in which he once had served.

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A Little Analysis On Medicaid Expansion Across The States

Posted: November, 12 2015 2:45 PM

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – which critics call Obamacare – is still controversial. And one of the most controversial aspects of the act, especially in Michigan, is the expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

Michigan is one of 31 states that expanded Medicaid eligibility so lower income persons could access to health insurance. Now, some 600,000 low income workers have gotten services through the Medicaid expansion, called Healthy Michigan.

Still, it is a controversial issue – having only passed the Legislature after a protracted fight – with many conservatives arguing the state should drop the program. It is controversial in other states as well. In Kentucky, for example, the newly elected Republican governor has said he will take steps to end the program when he takes office.

There have been several studies in Michigan and other states on the effect of the expansion on medical treatment and access to healthcare.

But earlier this fall the Albany, New York-based Rockefeller Institute of Government released a study done in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation that looks at the Medicaid expansion through a different lens: the economic and fiscal condition of the states that expanded Medicaid eligibility.

The political aspects are well-known since many of the states had governments dominated by Democrats. Many states did, but as Michigan showed there were states dominated by Republicans that also enacted the program, states like Ohio, Indiana and Arizona among them.

But this study is possibly the first that looks at some of the economic and overall fiscal conditions of the states that enacted the expansions.

Among the findings, most states that expanded eligibility were in better overall economic and fiscal condition than the states that did not expand Medicaid. And in those non-expanding states, poverty was a greater problem and median incomes were lower. The median level of poverty in those states among the population was 13.9 percent compared to 12.9 percent in the expanding states.

The expansion states had a lower rate of uninsured persons, 11.5 percent, than in the non-expanding states, 13.4 percent.

The expanding states also had higher tax capacity, raised more in tax collections and raised higher revenues than non-expanding states.

The expanding states also spent typically more on Medicaid and K-12 education than non-expanding states. Though curiously, the non-expanding states tended to spend more on issues like higher education and roads than did the expanding states.

The expanding states also tended to have a larger percentage of their total state workforce employed in health care than did those of non-expanding states.

The study itself did not draw political conclusions from these economic statistics, but one has to consider the role these factors may have played in convincing lawmakers in Michigan and the other expanding states that expanding Medicaid was good policy overall. And as expansion remains controversial and unpopular with some, it will be interesting to see how these factors might stave off attempts to end the programs.

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One Republican On Road Funding And The General Fund

Posted: November, 5 2015 2:09 PM

It was at a social function in the last week that this reporter encountered a Republican and unprompted the Republican spoke on the road funding debate.

In the days since the encounter, of course, the Legislature has passed the 600/600 plan – $600 million in new revenues, $600 million in cuts or additional revenues from the General Fund to go towards highway construction and repairs. The higher taxes and fees begin in 2017 (after the 2016 election) and the General Fund effects will not begin until the 2018-19 fiscal year (when Governor Rick Snyder and most the legislators involved in the decision will be packing up their desks to leave) – so some of the Republican’s comments are no longer pertinent from a time standpoint.

They may still be relevant from the standpoint of historical context and future impact, however.

It’s no secret that enthusiasm for the road proposal is tepid. People are glad there is a proposal, that Mr. Snyder has said he will sign, but it’s a forced gladness, the same forced gladness one shows when getting socks from one’s grandmother at Christmas.

The Republican encountered will not be glad with the proposal.

It was understood that the Republican and I were speaking on background. This Republican is in the very significant Republican category, an advisor to administrations – including the current one – and legislators for decades.

And this Republican was seething at use of the General Fund for transportation purposes. This reporter was a bit surprised at the vehemence this Republican expressed.

“Do they not understand the General Fund is not to be used for road funding, wasn’t intended to be used for road funding?” The Republican then answered the question, “Of course, they don’t.”

The Republican reminded this reporter of history: that when the voters changed the Constitution in 1978 to take the state’s highways department and make it the Department of Transportation it was to accomplish several things. One purpose was to ensure that all forms of transportation – roads, public transit, airports – were funded.

A second main purpose was to ensure that transportation had its own funding sources, primarily fuel taxes and registration taxes, and not be reliant on the General Fund. And for most of nearly four decades transportation did not get any General Fund monies. Only when the state’s transportation taxes failed to meet the federal match did the state tap some funds from the General Fund.

Using the General Fund for transportation is a bad idea because with the next recession that will get cut from GF spending, although continued improvement of the roads is good for the economy overall – by both providing jobs and attracting businesses – the Republican said.

Plus, with less direct money coming in the state will be tempted to bond more for roads, and indeed that is being considered, which overall is a poor fiscal choice, the Republican said. Former Governor John Engler did that in the 1990s with the additional funds he got, and the state now has to fix those roads while still paying off the bonds, the Republican said.

Since the Legislature has approved the plan I have not been in touch with the Republican, though I would be surprised if this person has had any change in opinion.

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The Subject Was Term Limits, The Discussion Elevated For Once

Posted: October, 29 2015 3:09 PM

It was an early morning discussion this week before the Capital Issues Forum, and the discussion was thoughtful and elevated. Considering the subject was term limits, which brings out passions, a thoughtful, elevated conversation was a fine way to have bagels and coffee.

The Capital Issues Forum generally meets monthly to hear about a topic either in the news or in the public eye. On Wednesday, Pat Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group, and Jeff Williams, CEO of Public Sector Consultants, discussed the history and effects of term limits in Michigan.

Both were present at the creation of Michigan’s current term limit system. Mr. Anderson, in fact, was one of the principal authors of the proposal. Mr. Williams saw early on that the proposal was popular with the public.

Both also disagreed with its overall effectiveness. Despite a flurry of states in the early 1990s adopting term limits, no other state has done so since then, Mr. Williams said, and it has not ended career politicians, it has just put them on a different career path, and exacerbated gerrymandering and made the Legislature weaker.

Mr. Anderson said term limits is working as intended and, in fact, follows a national tradition that stems from the beginnings of the republic.

The first Congress, created under the Articles of Confederation, was itself term limited, he said, and yet passed the Northwest Ordinance, one of the most important statutes in U.S. history and which allowed for the creation of Michigan.

Term limits follows the concept of rotation in office, to allow for persons to serve for a period of time and then return to their homes, Mr. Anderson said. That was the way government began and then it was interrupted for a period.

It was an interruption that lasted most of the nation’s history, Mr. Williams said.

The campaign to enact term limits in 1992 was successful, despite opponents vastly outspending supporters, Mr. Anderson said. And sometimes opponents outright lied about what term limits would do. In one radio ad, opponents warned that allowing term limits would mean drugs and prostitution would be legalized and the Great Lakes would be drained, he said.

Term Limits has continued to be popular and it is working, he said.

Mr. Williams acknowledged that some of the effects that critics warned of did not happen. For example, some people thought with term limits lobbyists would be more powerful. The failure so far to enact a road funding proposal shows that is not true, he said. It has also made it harder for lobbyists to actually interact with lawmakers, but it has pushed the concept of making connections.

Mr. Williams also said that there was a sense of self-term limits before the proposal was enacted. Legislators like former Rep. Dominic Jacobetti (who served about 40 years) were the rare exception. Before term limits were enacted the average House member had served 10 years and the average Senate member had served 11 years.

Plus, it did not end career politicians, Mr. Williams said, but altered their career paths. Lawmakers often remain in public life but go from the Legislature to run a school system or work in a city. And they will leave the Legislature mid-term, if needed, he said.

Term limits has also, Mr. Williams said, clearly led to the executive branch getting more power and the Legislature being weaker.

Also, he said, it has fundamentally changed redistricting. Before term limits, districts would be drawn to favor some incumbents. Now, districts are drawn to favor parties and that pushes gerrymandering, Mr. Williams said.

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With The Canadian Election, Any Change In The Bridge Status?

Posted: October, 21 2015 4:26 PM

With Liberal Party Justin Trudeau winning the Canadian prime minister’s seat in the surprising majority victory his party enjoyed Monday, does that portend any changes in the new Gordie Howe international bridge between Detroit and Windsor? According to one Liberal Party insider from Windsor, there should be no change in how Ottawa will view the bridge’s importance.

Upgrading Canada’s infrastructure in terms of roads and rail projects was a major emphasis of the Liberal Party’s campaign that stunningly ousted former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Monday’s election.

During the campaign, Mr. Trudeau called for investing $125 billion (in Canadian dollars) into infrastructure projects, and said the federal government would go into a slight deficit for the next several years to finance those projects.

Where the issue of the federal deficit in the U.S. is such a major issue, it likely surprises many on the U.S. side that Canadian voters would take eagerly to electing a party that promises to run a deficit.

Canada some decades ago had a disastrous financial status which it corrected by, take note, cutting some spending and raising taxes. Raising lots of taxes. Its federal budget has remained largely in balance since, thanks in large part, again, to Canadians paying overall higher taxes. Mr. Harper had promised to maintain that stance had his Progressive Conservatives won power again.

Though Mr. Trudeau pushed infrastructure improvements hard during the campaign, he didn’t talk much about the Gordie Howe Bridge, the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor that has been the subject of such controversy in Michigan.

However, The Windsor Star posted a story late Wednesday quoting a local Liberal leader who said the bridge’s importance is such that its status for development and construction should not be affected.

Dwight Duncan, who was once Ontario’s minister of finance and who represented Windsor in the provincial parliament for 18 years, said the new bridge is too important to Canada’s economy for the new Liberal government to disturb its progress.

That viewed was backed up by University of Windsor political scientist Lydia Miljan. Nothing in the Liberal’s platform suggested disrupting trade relations with the U.S., Canada’s largest trading partner.

The governing board for the bridge project on the Canadian side consists of members all appointed by Mr. Harper, and technically the government can change the entire board once it takes office and cabinet ministers are settled. Ms. Miljan did not think there would be a wholesale change of board members. Changes in the board would probably happen gradually, she said.

Mr. Duncan worried more that local officials might not see some of the local economic impacts hoped for because of, well, politics. The Windsor area, along with Ontario overall, is a bit more left than the Liberals area and elected several members of the New Democratic Party, the really left party in Canada, to Parliament. Without a Liberal MP from the area to plead their case, local officials may have to push more themselves to get the local results they want, Mr. Duncan suggests.

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How’s Come Utah Figured How To Raise Money For Roads?

Posted: October, 8 2015 2:55 PM

Is there any point to reminding people that Michigan roads are bad? No, of course not. What W.C. Fields once said of drunkenness could be said as well of the moonscape of Michigan roads: “It was so common, it was unnoticed.”

Is there any point to reminding people that efforts to reach a decision on how to finance improvements to the roads always seem to fall short of a final, conclusive decision on a finance plan? Probably not. Despite ongoing discussions between Governor Rick Snyder and the legislative leaders, despite indications of improved conversations and hope an agreement could come at any time, there is a cynical sense among legislators, lobbyists and others that if no agreement is reached and enacted by December, there will be no action on roads until possibly the lame-duck session in December 2016.

So what explains Utah? It has a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, and it would be hard to find a more conservative state. Yet earlier this year Utah enacted a very hefty increase in its gas tax, raising the tax by some five cents from its current rate of 24.5 cents, and increasing it in the future with inflation. In addition, voters in 17 of the Beehive State’s 29 counties will vote on a special sales tax increase to pay for more local transportation improvements.

So how did Utah do it? An article published by the Pew Center for the States gives clues, but for Michigan officials trying to get action on roads, the clues must be maddening.

The article speaks of how state leaders worked with local businesses and chambers, fanned out across the state, talked about what the state could do and where federal funds fell short of meeting transportation needs. The article said officials took two years to talk about the plans before there was action.

And that is what must seem maddening. Getting more money for roads has so far been one of Governor Rick Snyder’s biggest policy disappointments. He has been after more transportation funding throughout his five years in office, and that comes after former Governor Jennifer Granholm also called for more funding, and after transportation groups have pushed the issue for well more than a decade.

In pushing for more road funding, business groups have gotten involved, there has been advertising, there have been public information campaigns, Mr. Snyder has hauled around chunks of concrete that have fallen off bridges. And, so far, nothing.

But the Pew article does mention one thing, essentially in passing, that may have helped build support. In the lede of the piece, the article says churches and schools were brought into the coalition. It nowhere says anything more about working with churches and schools, but could that be a factor that might help win the argument here?

For example, there are a number of churches and church groups in the Detroit area that have made improving public transportation a mission. If they are already interested in transportation, could they not play a role in helping build support for more funding since that will also help raise money for transport?

In heavily religious Utah, the role the churches played may have had an effect in winning an increase in funds. Perhaps that would be a role people could debate in Michigan, while they wait for the next lame-duck session.

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Lapping Up The Sunshine, Trolling For Votes

Posted: October, 1 2015 3:14 PM

Most people who get away to the Caribbean are there for the sunshine, the ocean breezes, fresh seafood and plentiful quantities of rum. Saul Anuzis was in the Virgin Islands recently, and he was trying to soak up votes for Ted Cruz.

Mr. Anuzis, a former Michigan Republican Party chair and national committeeman and now a top strategist for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is running for the Republican nomination for president, was featured in a Washington Post article that discussed how the GOP candidates are out in the hustings in tropical paradises, looking for delegates.

Mr. Anuzis describes it, in the piece, as “niche farming for delegates.”

The residents of America’s island holdings in the Caribbean and the Pacific cannot vote for president in the general election. But they do send delegates to the national political conventions and those delegates vote for their party’s nomination for president. When you face the possibility of a crowded field, every delegate counts, whether they are from Iowa’s farms, New Hampshire’s woods, Michigan’s factories or the sunny, daiquiri-dappled beaches of the Virgin Islands.

Mr. Cruz is by no means the only political stranger in paradise, the Post notes. And while beach-bumming for votes is likely the most enjoyable assignment, the candidates are spending just as much time in states that do not have early caucuses and primaries to secure support.

But the image of working for votes in Nebraska, important as it no doubt is, doesn’t match the picture the Post painted of Mr. Anuzis in a park in the Virgin Island talking to two voters while roosters strutted about and crowed.

Or the image of Dennis Lennox, another Michigan operative for Mr. Cruz, being stuck in Guam as the result of a typhoon. Those who know Mr. Lennox know that his Facebook page is often full with photos of his far-flung travels, but those pictures are generally of palaces and cathedrals in Europe and not so much from places like Guam. Guam is better known for its U.S. military bases than for Romanesque architecture.

It’s worth it, Mr. Anuzis said, as making the effort to ask voters wherever they are could help what he called a marathon to the convention finish line.

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5,382 People Have Served In The Legislature, Most No More Than 2 Terms

Posted: September, 24 2015 3:28 PM

Since the first Legislature took office in the mid-1830s, can anyone name the one person who elected to 21 terms?

He, it was a he, was from the Upper Peninsula. Need more clues? He was Italian-American. Got it yet? He was ….okay fine, everyone knows it was Dominic Jacobetti, he who ran the House Appropriations Committee.

And everyone knew he was the longest serving legislator in Michigan history. First elected in 1954, he was re-elected every two years after that, and died shortly after being re-elected in 1994.

Okay, that was easy. Now, who can name the 2,603 legislators who were elected to one term? Anybody?

Actually thanks to Janice Murphy, a research librarian at the Library of Michigan, there is a spreadsheet that can tell you who was elected to just one term. Everyone from John Barber, born January 1, 1792, to former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.

The spread sheet can also tell you the 1,285 legislators who were elected to two terms. Or the 613 that served three terms.

Or the one legislator, Jackie Vaughn, who was elected to 18 terms.

In fact, it is astonishing to note that of the 5,382 men and women – mostly men – who served in the Legislature from the 1830s to this day, well more than half were elected to no more than two terms.

In fact, to be precise, 72.2 percent, or 3,888, were elected to no more than two terms.

On the other end, 0.00018 percent of the legislators were elected to at least 10 terms, meaning they were in office for at least 20 years. That is 95 legislators in all. All of those served at least part of their time in Lansing during the 20th century.

Now, not all the 3,888 lawmakers elected to two terms or less were defeated in their bids for re-election. Some were, of course. Others would have been beaten while running for other offices, or as in the case of William Brodhead, elected to other office. Mr. Brodhead was elected to the U.S. Congress.

Most, however, probably decided not to run again. And before the advent of term limits, that was how most legislators ended their careers. They felt they had done as much as they could, or perhaps did not want to go through another election, and decided not to run again.

A total of 587 legislators were elected to five terms or more, meaning they served at least 10 years. That would include some legislators who served their entire time under term limits, winning three terms to the House and then two to the Senate. In other words, not quite 11 percent of all legislators served 10 years or more.

Or, to put it another way, most legislators were like Theodore Graves Houk, elected to two terms, than Oramel Baum Fuller, elected to six. It is a reasonable question to ask if, given the option, most would still follow Mr. Houk, rather than Mr. Fuller.

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Having A Gander At The Senate Republican Blog

Posted: September, 23 2015 4:13 PM

A relatively new entry to the blogosphere has shown up on viewing screens, and it’s from Michigan’s Senate Republicans.

The blog said in its initial post that its mission is to highlight the 24 men and three women who make up the caucus, “and their work on issues facing our state.” Photos, videos, graphics and “first person articles” will be featured.

A Senate GOP staffer also said on Facebook the blog will feature a mix of personal and legislative stories.

And the first installment in the newly created blog came from Sen. John Proos (R-Saint Joseph), who spoke about using an emergency plan app to help prepare for the possibility of natural or man-made disasters.

Ever since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there has been a greater focus on ensuring that individuals have plans and emergency kits available should a disaster strike their homes, and Mr. Proos points out that a phone app, available at, can help a person get ready for possible disasters.

Certainly, one cannot diminish the importance of preparing for an emergency. But on his Facebook page, Mr. Proos raises an intriguing image that certainly could have been employed in that blog post.

He spent the day at the St. Joseph County Fair, and raved about seeing friends, eating great food, looking at baby goats just born, and “even hurdled a pig!”

But there are no pictures, no description, no commentary of this porcine-related athletic accomplishment. And clearly the people want to see that feat. It also could be worked into emergency planning. A line such as, “Planning for an emergency is like hurdling a pig, you never know when you will have to jump” would work splendidly.

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Gravlax Anyone? State Is Offering Salmon For Sale

Posted: September, 17 2015 2:12 PM

Now that we may turn attention away from legislative hijinks, at least for the time being, the time has come to focus on really critical things. Critical things such as what to eat at tailgates and autumnal bonfires.

How about some salmon? Think of it, smoked salmon, salmon on the grill, salmon hash, salmon with salsa, gravlax, and all courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Well, obviously you have to buy it and then prepare it, but the DNR is making salmon available to the public. And this salmon isn’t just from schools, this stuff is qualified research salmon.

Which is to say: scientists from the DNR collect eggs and sperm from salmon swimming back to home waters to spawn, and then sell the adult fish, after such researchables are collected, through American-Canadian Fisheries.

American-Canadian processes the fish, using remaining eggs for caviar, breaking out fish suitable for pet food markets as compared to human consumption, and then wholesales the fish which is then sold to retailers.

The fish for sale is marketed through a number of retailers in northern Michigan. There are three retailers in Brethren: Andy’s Tackle Box, Hank & Sons, R & J Resorts; two in Oscoda: AuSable River Store and Wellman’s Bait and Tackle; and then Lixie’s Fish Market in East Tawas and Tippy Dam Campground in Wellston.

And for making gravlax, Jacques Pepin will help you out:

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The Final Lesson From … Whatever This Was: End Term Limits

Posted: September, 11 2015 1:46 PM

I am old. I am cranky. I am cynical. Yet, I still am possessed with a sense of wonder and awe and simple adoration. I marvel at the night sky, at the dawn breaking over the ocean’s horizon. I delight in a baby’s laugh and am a sucker for videos of puppies and kitties.

And for the first time in more than 40 years of observing, reporting, analyzing and yes, respecting Michigan government and politics, I sat Thursday and into Friday slack-jawed, eyes wide as saucers, my brain a cauldron of synaptic overuse in wondering awe at whatever the bloody hell was going on at the Michigan House of Representatives in regards to expelling – or maybe not – Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) and Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell).

I watched, I listened and decided I have stayed quiet too long, for more than 20 years too long.

One factor could have helped enormously in taking the unpleasantness regarding expulsion, and instead of letting it dissolve to the soggy, sloppy mess that happened Thursday and Friday, kept it as a process with some dignity and respect to Michigan’s people: an end to term limits.

The time has long since come, dear fellow citizens, to rid ourselves of term limits. It was a noble, though wrong-headed, experiment to provide more responsive leadership to the state’s needs. It has not. Those who supported the effort in 1992, and those supporting it now, were and are completely sincere. Many of my friends supported term limits, some still do.

But term limits have failed, failed utterly. And the best evidence of that is the disaster that occurred before Mr. Courser finally resigned and Ms. Gamrat was expelled.

I have been witness to every expulsion proceeding, except that in the 1880s. Before the Courser/Gamrat situation, every other proceeding was under the control of legislators who had served before the advent of term limits.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats can take pride in how they handled the current situation. The unintentionally ham-handed proceedings were candidly a result of term limits. Unlike the previous expulsion efforts, there was a decided lack of intentional bipartisanship, and an overall failure to demonstrate the proper concern for the integrity of the institution.

Instead, the Courser/Gamrat scandal was treated as an enormous annoyance, better to be dealt with quickly if clumsily instead of efficiently, effectively and with at least some dignity. And the scandal has been an excuse for both sides to employ inappropriate and useless partisan tactics that has impressed absolutely no one.

In the previous expulsions, the leaders of both sides stood together to say the matter would be handled fairly and completely. Their open concern was for the good of the House or Senate. Just like in war, in an expulsion, there should be no parties.

Prior to term limits, and in the early years of term limits, that ultimate concern was understood.

Why? What makes the difference? Why should term limits so corrupt the ability to come together when both sides must come together?

The greatest benefit of the pre-term limit era was the ability for legislators to get to know one another and respect each other. Yes, there was the ability to develop expertise on subject matters, procedure and budgetary issues. But it was the ability to work with each other, craft compromises that respected each other’s political beliefs, and to understand that when they had to oppose each other it was business, not personal.

It is impossible to understate the importance and significance of that human characteristic in governing. It is a characteristic one starts to see in the legislators who have been here the longest under term limits, and then it vanishes when they do.

That characteristic of mutual respect also mutes much of the political rancor. The parties still took their shots at one another in years past and ran feverish campaigns. But they did not equate their opponents with Satan; they did not see them as lost souls doomed to eternity.

And when faced with something like an expulsion, this ability to work together was invaluable. The respect for both the institution and the state’s people took precedence over principles – that all too often are convenient rather than sincere – and party affiliation.

Look, both Democrats and Republicans failed in handling this expulsion with dignity. And it began right at the beginning. Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) should have been shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, hell, hand in hand, saying their first priorities were to protect the House and the people when the scandal erupted. They should have worked out all details of the investigation and the special committee together, or at least in close enough consultation that neither side could complain of the other. They should have instructed their caucuses of what was going to happen and how everyone was going to behave during the process.

Whose fault is it that they didn’t? Honestly, it is the fault of the voters who convinced themselves term limits was the best option for good government.

Essentially, all pre-term limited lawmakers were gone by 2005. So in 10 years, how many really significant, meaningful policy changes have been enacted? Tax cuts, shifts, increases don’t count because they are as solid and long-lasting as Jell-O in the sun on the Equator. How many significant policies that really help the state have been enacted in 10 years? I can think of one.

Before term limits there were men and women in the Legislature who were great, truly great: Bill Ryan, Harry Gast, George Montgomery, Pete Kok, Mary Brown, Paul Hillegonds, Jim Dressel, Lynn Jondahl, Shirley Johnson, Bill Bryant, Joe Forbes, Morris Hood, Bobby Crim, Bill Faust, Mike Busch, Bob VanderLaan, Dick Young, I could name another dozen or more. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives – all who cared about the state more than party or ideology.

I truly mean no disrespect to the men and women who have served under term limits, but could any be singled out for the almost indefinable quality of great? Hardworking, yes; intelligent, well most of them, yes; sincere, dedicated, -- yes to each. Great? No. I am sorry, but no. Some had the potential to be great; they did not have the time to show greatness.

Certainly life was not ideal under a Legislature without term limits. There were knaves and crooks (David Jaye, Cas Ogonowski come to mind), and one of the worst scandals to ever hit the Legislature happened. But even in the painful resolution of those incidents, lawmakers who had worked together were able to put aside, or at least limit, partisanship for good resolutions.

And I could certainly, as a citizen, without term limits, encourage rotating committee chairs, moving members out of certain committees and putting them elsewhere to ensure more openness and less coziness with special interests.

Yes, I know Congress has no term limits and look at it. However, in a state Legislature, members have an inherent closeness that defies Congress. Most the issues affect all the state, maybe in greater or lesser degree, but the problems of Detroit are the same problems in Adrian or Marquette. Alabama’s problems may not be those of Wyoming, and New Hampshire may not care about Nevada’s issues, for instance.

Legislators also have friends, colleagues and family all over the state. Just think of the people you know and where they are from. You will name a dozen places in Michigan quickly. No member of Congress has family in every state (at least I don’t think so). This is not trivial; it speaks to why legislators can better respect and work with each other: Legislators have a commonality of place, therefore a commonality of concern that is lacking too often in Congress.

Many people have argued for a part-time legislature. Which gets you what? I have watched legislatures for more than 40 years now. Name one part-time legislature that works splendidly? I’m waiting. No, part-time legislatures are no better than any other, and are subject to their own political games that render them no more effective than what we have seen here.

And a part-time legislature with term limits? Sweet angels above, protect us.

In the course of legislative history, is there really anything more absurd than the spectacle of lawmakers sitting hours, munching pizza and subs, joking with each other, when the issue to be decided is if fellow members are cast out? This is what Michigan had to watch on Thursday and Friday, because this is the House, the Legislature, we deserve.

We the voters decided something that seems more like a high school dance committee is what we need to govern, and on Thursday and Friday that is pretty much what we got.

I have no illusions. Term limits will be hard to repeal or even amend. But for the good of our state, truly, truly, truly, term limits must go.

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Okay, Correction, The First Legislator Ever Expelled Was…

Posted: September, 3 2015 12:39 PM

I owe former Rep. Monte Geralds an apology.

Mr. Geralds was expelled from the House in 1978 after being convicted of embezzling from a law client. As I have previously written, he undertook his expulsion with dignity and grace. He was the first legislator in Michigan history to be expelled.

Or so I thought, and have reported for 37 years. So too did all the reporters covering the expulsion, so too did the legislators acting on the expulsion (which helped define the weight they felt when acting on the expulsion). And when the Senate expelled Sen. David Jaye in 2001, we again referred to Mr. Geralds as the first. And with expulsion talk swirling on Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat, again we reported Mr. Geralds was the first.

But we were wrong, and thanks to a research librarian at the Library of Michigan we know now that the first legislator expelled in Michigan was Rep. Milo Dakin of Saginaw, a shingle inspector, serving his second term in the House when he was expelled in April 1887 for trying to bribe his colleagues.

Milo Dakin. Who was this fellow, this nefarious blackguard who so besmirched the House that the 94 members present and voting in the evening of April 28, 1887 (Mr. Dakin was present, but did not vote) decided unanimously to expel him, only to have him vanish in a way from history?

Well, he was an orphan at 13, a war veteran at 16, a laborer who worked on a farm, in mills and in the winter months in the woods as a shingle inspector. And who at 26 he was elected to the House as a fusion candidate, when the Greenback Party and the Democrats ran together.

From the Michigan Manual of 1887, Mr. Dakin describes himself thus: “His early years were such as usually fell to the lot of the children of our early pioneers. His parents both dying when he was but thirteen years of age, he was thrown upon his own resources. At fifteen he enlisted in Company C, Ninth Regiment Michigan cavalry, and served until the close of the war, eighteen months in all.” His little biography does not say, but in testimony during his House trial he pointed out that his regiment was attached to the army of William Tecumseh Sherman. So, with Mr. Sherman, Mr. Dakin marched to the sea, fighting in the engagements that leveled Atlanta and captured Savannah and effectively destroyed the Confederacy’s economy. He was discharged honorably.

He had no real education. After the war, he worked on a farm in Ionia County, then a sawmill in Montcalm County before removing to Saginaw County where he worked the saw mills in the summer and inspected shingles in the winter, and did this while serving in the House.

So what got him into trouble?

The House Journal that includes his trial and blustering oratory leading up to his expulsion vote is available online. Essentially, the city leaders of Saginaw wanted the Legislature to enact changes to their charter, and Mr. Dakin was expected to be one of the people to make that happen. How the charter was to be changed was not clear from the brief research.

It also appears Mr. Dakin offered a substitute to the Saginaw bill which horrified the city leaders. What it contained and why it so horrified the Saginaw fathers is also unclear. However, one does wonder if that substitute wasn’t part of what happened next.

Mr. Dakin was accused of getting money from Saginaw leaders, politicians and private citizens, to give to legislators and to help come up with names that could benefit from the money. Mr. Dakin was then accused of writing down a list of lawmakers and putting a price next to them. For the times it was probably big money, but the anticipated bribes ranged from $5 to $25.

Mr. Dakin acknowledged he was getting money from the Saginaw leaders, and expected the money, but it was to put on a dinner at the Eichele House, his Lansing rooming house, ostensibly to convince lawmakers to vote for the bill. The prosecution questioned how different amounts could be allocated to different men if it was all supposed to go for a “feast.” There were also accusations about spending it all on beer and cigars (which would have bought a lot of both at the time) and Mr. Dakin walking with a confederate to “North Lansing.” What that reference means is unknown, though the city had several houses of ill repute and one could wonder if it was a nudge-nudge-know what I mean statement.

Another remarkable thing about the expulsion was how quickly the House handled it. In little more than a week after charges were made, the House held a trial on the floor (after appropriating $200 to Mr. Dakin to hire his lawyers) and then voted to expel him.

In arguing for his expulsion, Rep. Gerrit Diekkema of Holland said, “I am also sorry for poor Dakin. God knows I am sorry for him; but the reputation of ninety-nine men sitting here in the Legislature of the State of Michigan should rise high above all feelings of mere sorrow for one man.” Their duty, he said, was to protect the good name of Michigan, instead of showing sympathy for one man who admitted he had done wrong.

Little is known of Mr. Dakin after he left the Legislature. He apparently stayed in Saginaw, married and had two sons. His wife died a number of years before him, and he died in 1927, eight years before Mr. Geralds was born.

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No, Not Everyone Is Backing Detroit’s Rebirth

Posted: August, 27 2015 2:56 PM

Some years ago the then edition of The Almanac of American Politics described Michigan politics as not being a battle of Democrat versus Republican, labor versus business, or urban versus rural. No, the almanac said Michigan politics is all about Detroit versus everyone else.

It certainly was true. So true, that once when this reporter was walking through the Capitol (when there were no particular Detroit issue before lawmakers) a couple on a tour saw me, figured since I was wearing a tie and a jacket I must be someone in authority (boy, were they wrong), rushed up to me and said, “Sir, please don’t give any more money to Detroit.”

Now, since Detroit has worked itself through bankruptcy and the downtown has seen an incredible redevelopment, we have a sense that the whole state is pulling again for the Motor City and excited to see it revive.

Except that an awful lot of people are not pulling for Detroit – would just as soon see Detroit vanish, in fact.

Exhibit one to the argument, a Facebook post put up Thursday by Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Township). To be fair, Mr. Brandenburg has never been one to hide his feelings, and has in the past been quick to criticize Detroit and its politics.

What triggered Mr. Brandenburg Thursday were comments made by Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) in a Detroit News column that, “We cannot have a great state without a great city like Detroit.”

Mr. Brandenburg read that with interest. “I have heard this rap before and I totally disagree!” he wrote.

“First, Michigan is and always will be a great state despite Detroit. I happen to think Michigan would do just fine without Detroit. If, over the last 50 years, Detroit would have been managed in a positive manner such as Grand Rapids or St. Clair Shores, it would not face the problems it faces today. Not to mention, the city would have contributed far more revenue into our state’s coffers than it has over the last 50 years.”

Mr. Brandenburg may have his points, but it is tricky in a Facebook post to argue the city should have been better managed when it was hit with a number of factors neither Grand Rapids nor St. Clair Shores faced. Just one would be a crook for mayor, and that would be Louis Miriani in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Detroit was both at its population and economic peak, who thought it was just fine that people moved out of the city. I doubt many mayors in Grand Rapids or St. Clair Shores would so argue. Detroit also possessed a cultural structure that set the way for the city to blow up in 1967, followed by a massive loss of population.

More than Mr. Brandenburg, however, seemed to feel this way. As of this writing, only one person has commented on the post really defending the city (though one person called Detroit a basket case and applauded Governor Rick Snyder for taking the city through bankruptcy, and another prayed it would rebound). One person said Detroit was “costing the burbs” and that Michigan “could always do fine without Detroit!!”

The animosity between the city and the state is not as great as it once was, but it is there. It is still a divide that policymakers and the public will have to deal with for some time to come.

But despite Mr. Brandenburg’s post, it is also clear many, many people in the state want Detroit to thrive. Last year in Mackinaw City, a shuttle bus driver to the ferries to Mackinac Island (again, wearing a tie and a jacket and the chap mistook me for someone who mattered) said to me, “Sir, please do something to help Detroit.”

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Something To Think About As The New School Year Approaches

Posted: August, 24 2015 4:09 PM

School begins soon. It means books, school clothes, bake sales, forgotten lunches, athletics, school tests, anguish over homework, anguish over grades, anguish over lice.

Oh yes, lice. So many parents have learned the true meaning of nitpicking in recent years, it isn’t funny.

Well, here’s some news sure to make one … well, a scratch your head joke is probably not appropriate. But certainly it is news to think about:

Super lice have arrived in Michigan. We are serious. According to a series of reports, Michigan is one of 25 states that have reports of super lice, resistant to common over-the-counter treatments that parents have relied on. These lice have mutated into varieties that are not affected by the pesticides used in those over the counter products.

They still do respond to prescription treatments, according to reports. But that also raises the risk that they may mutate further into varieties that laugh in little lice ways at the stronger chemicals.

Plus, reports are these lousy things can possibly transport from one tow-headed scalp to another more quickly.

State officials have not yet issued any new guidelines on these wee nasty little beasties (the current manual was issued fairly recently, in 2013, but the first scientific reports of the new louses have come in the last few weeks), but hygiene, of course, remains paramount (along with corralling one’s wiggly rug rats into position to examine their scalps).

Remember, children are our future. Guess we must assure the future is not too, ahem, lousy.

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Why Do Reporters Report Bad News: Let’s Consider L’Affaire Todd/Cindy

Posted: August, 20 2015 1:30 PM

This reporter took his seat at a going away gathering for his neighbor and friend, off for a year’s research in the West Bank, and for the first time in more than a week did not have a conversation about Rep. Todd Courser and Rep. Cindy Gamrat.

This, mind you, after earlier that day it was alleged Ms. Gamrat (R-Plainwell) would tuck in Mr. Courser (R-Silverwood) would take naps on her couch. Something that set all other tongues wagging.

No, the folks at the table were mostly social scientists. Their only interest in politics was whether Donald Trump could somehow become president.

Their conversation was not scandal free, however. The scandal they were interested in was an academic doozy down at the University of Illinois (a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed gives a good background of the case though there have been new developments since) and their fears about the power of personal donations being used to suppress academic speech, even unpleasant academic speech.

That conversation was the exception to the rule that talk, commentary, discussion, gossip about the Courser/Gamrat affair since the story broke wide open 13 days ago. It dominates every conversation in Lansing.

This week, a chance encounter with an extremely high state official revealed that at a meeting where important state policy issues were on the agenda, all anyone wanted to talk about was Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat.

And a Gongwer reader snapped in an email looking at Wednesday’s House action that the House could create a special committee about the two representatives but not do something to fix Michigan’s disastrous roads. Deal with them, the emailer fumed, don’t deal with important stuff.

Every reporter has had to deal with people blasting them for reporting only bad news and insisting they are interested only in good news.

Okay, here’s the answer: first, reporters report plenty of good news, it just doesn’t get acknowledged. Are we saying the fact that Tigers’ pitcher Daniel Norris hit a massive home run against the Cubs in his first ever major league plate appearance was not covered?

However, just as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, good news for one is often bad news for someone else. Mr. Norris hit a home run, good news for the Tigers, bad news for the Cubbies. Democrats win, bad news for Republicans; Republicans win, bad news for Democrats.

Second, it is human nature to focus on bad. It just is. It’s a holdover from evolution. We remember, focus and sometimes obsess about the bad as a survival mechanism. In one sense, it is a way of reminding ourselves that there but for fortune go we.

Just go to lunch and listen to the conversations around you: from one table, “The damn plumber didn’t show up when he was supposed to.” From another: “Of course, she left her lunch at home so I had to take that to the school before I came in, so I was late.” From a third: “I don’t know why they insist on us using that format, it’s just so stupid.”

And can anyone honestly say, honestly and truly say, they do not look at an accident when they pass it by?

Whether it’s the scandal involving Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat, or the scandal at the University of Illinois, or it’s the plumber not showing up, it is simply human to focus on bad news.

I am willing to be proven wrong. Try spending the next 24 hours talking only about good, nice, beautiful, happy things. Not one complaint, not one snarky observation, not one whine or moan or grumble is allowed. You must only talk about good things for the full 24 hours. Let me know how it goes.

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Lessons From Legislative Expulsions Past

Posted: August, 13 2015 1:11 PM

In recent days the talk of expelling legislators has come up in various places. The reasons for the new talk about the ultimate legislative penalty are obvious from the headlines of the last week involving Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) and Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell). There is no particular reason, then, to recount why anyone would discuss expulsion.

But as one of the few reporters remaining who covered the two expulsions in history, that of Democratic Rep. Monte Geralds in 1978 and Republican Sen. David Jaye in 2001, it is important to note several lessons learned from those traumatic events.

EXPULSIONS ARE NOT EASY: This might seem obvious, but it needs repeating repeatedly. Expulsions are not easy, on anyone. Riding the wave of rage that the public and even lawmakers can have toward a miscreant legislators, swimming through a chorus of calls to “throw the bum out,” making such a decision seems easy. Just cut the rope and let the dope sink, one thinks, and save yourself.

But passing judgment, deciding who gets tossed from the lifeboat, is very hard. I have served on five juries (just lucky, I guess). I have even had the task of looking a defendant in the eye and pronouncing him or her guilty. I know what it is to be in a jury room when we concluded all the evidence pointed to guilt, and yet, we still hesitated. We still had to go around the room and be sure we were ready to change this person’s life inexorably. We are the ones doing it. Someone is only guilty because we the jurors say he or she is. In the same way, a legislator is only expelled because his or her colleagues decide the person must be expelled.

There was real anguish in the House over expelling Mr. Geralds, and in the end 20 House members voted against doing so. At the last, just before the vote, then-Rep. Morris Hood Jr. (father of the current senator) told his colleagues if they had any hint of doubt they could not vote to expel.

There was clearly less anguish and more anger at Mr. Jaye, but it was an anger wrought of frustration, of exhaustion, of an inability to convince him his behavior was inexcusable and could not be tolerated. The members did not like taking the action. Former Sen. Thaddeus McCotter who chaired the special committee that recommended he be expelled said later Mr. Jaye had broken the hearts of his colleagues. Getting to the point of taking the step to expel him was hard.

COMMIT A FELONY, YOU WILL BE EXPELLED: This standard was set by Mr. Geralds’ expulsion. There was a sense the Legislature would not tolerate a member who was guilty of a felony, but until he was expelled it was never made clear. Some years before former Sen. Charles Youngblood, convicted of attempting to bribe a state official, resigned as the Senate prepared to expel him. And when Mr. Geralds was convicted of embezzling from a law client, he was under extraordinary pressure to resign, but he refused.

The Constitution prohibits someone convicted of a felony involving a breach of the public trust from serving in the Legislature. In 1978, the House asked then-Attorney General Frank Kelley if embezzlement was a breach of the public trust. Yes, but, Mr. Kelley said. Had Mr. Geralds committed the embezzlement while in office it would automatically be a breach. But the crime occurred before he took office, so it did not technically fall into that category.

The matter was left to the House, and by its action expelling Mr. Geralds made it clear a felony conviction would not be tolerated.

The lesson was not lost on former Sen. Art Cartwright. The Detroit Democrat had been convicted of falsifying expense reports. Little more than a week after Mr. Geralds was expelled, Mr. Cartwright resigned rather than face the same prospect in the Senate. Two decades later, former Sen. Henry Stallings, also a Detroit Democrat, who was also convicted of a felony, was minutes away from facing an expulsion vote when he resigned.

BEHAVIOR MATTERS: In his desperate attempts to stay in office, Mr. Jaye repeatedly said he had not been charged with a crime involved alleged assaults of his then fiancée. He offered seven amendments to the expulsion resolutions to change the action to a censure and making reference to the fact he had not been charged. The amendments were rejected.

Throughout his years in the Legislature, Mr. Jaye was notorious for being quick to anger, caring not a whit for anyone’s feelings, being willing to insult anyone in the Legislature or in the state, and just acting like an arrogant, boastful, boorish … twit. He seemed to have no sense of propriety. He was actually astonished that people would be upset when he dropped a gun on the floor of the House Republican caucus room just off the House floor. He was arrested for drunk driving and would publicly play the penitent, but privately acted as if was no big deal. He was actually shocked and pouty when former Rep. Shirley Johnson blasted him for being a loud and prominent racist (and she was attacked by many of Mr. Jaye’s supporters). During his expulsion hearings he seemed to have no understanding that he should not have had topless photos of his fiancée on his Senate computer.

What he showed, and what could apply in current circumstances, is that behavior that is unbecoming of a representative of the people is enough to get one expelled. Hijinks and practical jokes occur in the Legislature, since the Legislature has been known to devolve to the level of a fraternity party. But ongoing, constant, unending activities that demean the institution will not be tolerated, even if it means removing one.

BEHAVIOR MATTERS, PART II: Neither Mr. Geralds nor Mr. Jaye felt they should be expelled, clearly. Mr. Geralds handled his ordeal with dignity and grace. Mr. Jaye handled his with his well-known hubris.

On the day he was expelled, Mr. Geralds spoke briefly and calmly to the House. He outlined why he believed he should be retained. He made no attempt to change or derail the resolution expelling him. He had no lawyers with him. He was by himself. Mr. Geralds did not vote on the issue, leaving his judgment to his colleagues. And when he was expelled, he shook hands with his colleagues, wished them well, came to reporters and shook their hands and said he understood why he had been expelled. He would not criticize the House no matter how he was asked.

When Mr. Jaye was expelled, Senate leadership was worried enough about how he might act that all staff, except for critical Senate secretary staff, were barred from the Senate floor. Senate sergeants hovered near his desk. State Police officers were outside the chamber. Mr. Jaye had three lawyers with him. As already has been noted he attempted to change the resolution. And he did vote on the matter and was one of two no votes on the resolution.

But he was, as he had always seemed to be, over the top. Earlier in the day, the Senate had held its annual Memorial Day commemoration. Mr. Jaye said he wished the veterans who had been in the chamber earlier, could be in the chamber now to “watch the trampling of civil rights.”

That led to former Sen. Walter North, an Air Force veteran, to snap that he had not served his country “to provide freedom to people who abuse their office.”

And then-Senate Minority Leader John Cherry said Mr. Jaye was incapable of accepting blame. He would say he was sorry, Mr. Cherry said, and then blame others for his troubles.

When he was finally expelled, Mr. Jaye and his lawyers held a press conference in the Capitol rotunda that was more theater. Mr. Jaye proclaimed he had won a great moral victory for the people. He was suffering, he said, “payback by the GOP bosses” and that he had been subjected to a witch-hunt and Gestapo-like tactics.

At the same time he made those charges, his former colleagues told reporters if Mr. Jaye had acknowledged his difficulties, expressed genuine remorse and sought help he could have spared himself.

THE FINAL LESSON: There is an inherent contradiction in politics: You have a right to run for office; you have no right to hold office. You are in office at the sufferance of the public, and your colleagues have the duty to ensure that everyone in office recognizes that fact and behaves in a manner that respects the public’s dignity as well as the chamber’s. That ultimately is the reality anyone serving in office has to remember. They are a servant.

And when the servant is a legislator who belittles the job the public hired him or her for, the public is right to expect the legislator to either correct that behavior or be removed.

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On Col. Loomis, Whose Regiment Operated Canons Returning To Capitol

Posted: August, 6 2015 2:12 PM

Over the upcoming weekend, if you are not engaged in the Lansing area with either the folk festival or the jazz festival, you can witness the return of the Civil War cannons at the Capitol.

The guns will be replicas of the 10-pound Parrot Guns, used by light artillery during the war. The guns were easily maneuverable and could be deployed in a variety of settings, and could fire projectiles as far as 3,000 yards (more than 1.5 miles). Their iron barrels, however, made them often subject to cracking, and with no recoil troops had to reposition the guns after each firing.

The original guns – which can be seen in old photographs and an etching of the Capitol commissioned for its 100th Anniversary in 1979 – were part of the “Loomis Battery.” The original guns were apparently donated during metal drives in World War II, which is why they vanished.

The original guns were part of the “Loomis Battery.” But who was Loomis?

Cyrus Orlando Loomis was born in upstate New York, either in 1818 or 1821 (there seems a dispute on the date). When he was 16 his family moved to Michigan, and he began clerking for the law in Detroit. He moved to Pittsburgh where he was admitted to the bar, and where he married. His wife died at age 21 after their son was born, and faced with ill health himself he returned to Michigan, settling in Coldwater, in 1856.

At Coldwater, there was a group called the Coldwater Light Infantry.

When war broke out in spring 1861, Mr. Loomis vowed he would do all he could to preserve the Union. The Coldwater artillery offered its services to the U.S. Army and became the 1st Regiment Michigan Light Artillery. At Fort Wayne in Detroit, then Private Loomis was elected a 2nd Lieutenant for the regiment by the men who would serve under him. During the war he was promoted eventually to colonel, the rank he held during the battery’s most important engagements. After the war, he was promoted to brigadier general.

The battery, which would eventually become known as Loomis’s battery, was assigned to the western campaign. The battles on the east, Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, etc., are better known. But Winfield Scott, the commanding Union general at the war’s beginning, plotted a strategy to choke the south economically by seizing the Mississippi River and its major ports. So Vicksburg, New Orleans and Mobile Bay were just as critical battles and sieges.

And that meant battles in the western campaign, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga and the like, were critical to push the Confederates away and keep them away from recapturing economic strongholds.

The Loomis Battery fought in four important battles. Perryville, which forced the Confederacy out of any meaningful presence in the border state of Kentucky, was the first. The second was Murfreesboro, which resulted in the highest percentage of casualties both armies would suffer. On the field, Murfreesboro was a draw, but it was a Union victory because it convinced the Confederates to abandon Tennessee.

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought in northern Georgia and was a disaster for the Union. The Loomis Battery fought in the battle and retreated with the Union to Chattanooga, where the Union Army of the Cumberland was besieged.

Now under U.S. Grant, the combined forces of the Union’s western armies attacked the Confederate forces at Chattanooga in a series of battles and maneuvers that stretched over October and November 1863. The battle ended with a stunning, almost accidental maneuver by the Union, sweeping the Confederates out of Tennessee for good and opening the way for General William Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Despite fighting in such intense actions, the Loomis Battery lost just 12 men in battle. But it lost another 28 men through disease.

After the war, Mr. Loomis was a tax official for the U.S. government and then got into business. He became very ill in 1871, described as being paralyzed and insane. He died in an asylum in Washington, D.C., in 1872. At his funeral in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, four companies of Michigan troops and two companies of U.S. troops were present.

The ceremony with the cannons takes place at noon Saturday.

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A Very Detailed Look At How Turnout Matters In An Election

Posted: August, 5 2015 2:21 PM

Surely, by now we have all heard enough stories about how turnout matters in an election that we want to stuff our ears with “I Voted” stickers so we do not have to hear any more.

But thanks to commentary by Kurt Metzger and the Oakland County Elections website, even regular folks can see how turnout can change an outcome in an election, and how little changes can have a huge effect. It’s the type of information that political wonks and election workers have pored over after acquiring precinct data. Thanks now to the grand, great and glorious interweb, the data is available.

Mr. Metzger is now mayor of Pleasant Ridge, but he was for years renowned as a top demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau and then Wayne State University.

On his Facebook page, Mr. Metzger noted that voters in the Pontiac School District, which includes the city but also sections of wealthier communities in Oakland County, rejected creation of a five-year sinking fund that would generate tax funds to pay for school repairs (which Pontiac does need). The district is under a consent agreement with the state to end a deficit.

The proposal was defeated by 116 votes. According to the Oakland website, the totals were 2,634 votes yes and 2,750 no.

The proposal won 18 of the 21 precincts in Pontiac (in two precincts it lost by just two votes). And in most of those precincts it won by a better than two-to-one margin.

But the proposal did not win a single precinct outside the city. And in those precincts the opposition margins were also mostly bigger than two-to-one. The one precinct in Orion Township that voted on the issue had the distinction having the closest non-Pontiac vote – defeated by just eight votes – and one of the worst losing percentages, losing five-to-one. Just 12 people voted there on the issue.)

“Pontiac residents had a turnout rate of ONLY 7.6 PERCENT, while non-Pontiac residents turned out at 16.2 percent,” Mr. Metzger wrote. Not exactly a sterling showing by either region in the belief of representative democracy, but there you are.

Pontiac residents backed the proposal by 65.5 percent, while out-city voters opposed it by 79.2 percent, he said.

Mr. Metzger points out that Pontiac voters could have won the issue while still smarting from a pathetic overall voter turnout. With just 179 more voters, presuming they voted at the same 65.5 percent for the proposal, the issue would have won and Pontiac still would have a voter turnout of 8 percent.

Yep, just 0.4 percent more than the number that actually showed up, and the issue could have won.

The Oakland website also shows one other ironic figure: Mr. Metzger’s notion is not at all far-fetched as more yes voters showed up at the polls than those that voted no. By about 60 voters, more voting yes went to the polls than filed absentee ballots. The no side really won the issue with absentee voters, as there were 170 more no votes by absentee than there were yes absentee votes.

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Michiganders Trust Government … Wait, What?

Posted: July, 30 2015 2:32 PM

We are a whiny people. We complain about the weather, about the wait for a sandwich, about traffic, about the line in grocery stores. And we especially complain about government.

It does not matter what one’s views are, there seems no end of complaints about government: it spends too much, it spends too little on what it should spend, it has too many regulations, it doesn’t regulate enough, it’s stepping on our rights, it just does what the big money folks want, it takes years to get anything done, and so on.

Knowing that, it comes as a bit of surprise to be reminded that most of us trust government, at all levels, at least part of the time.

Not surprisingly, we trust the government closest to us – local government – more than we do state or the federal governments. But a majority of us trusts all government levels at least some of the time.

That comes from the latest survey released by the State of the State Survey from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.

Asked how often they trusted government at the local, state and federal level, a majority of nearly 1,000 participants said they trusted each level at least some of the time.

Over its 20-year history of querying Michigan residents about their thoughts on the economy and politics, the survey has asked questions on overall government performance. Over the years, those performance numbers have tended to go down as the economy and international crisis and political turmoil have gone up.

But the questions asked in this latest round of the survey were different. Respondents were asked how often they could trust their government. That is a decidedly different take than how one would judge a performance.

Local government was the clear winner. A total of 80.1 percent said they could trust local government all or some of the time (and 41 percent said they could trust it all the time). Just 12 percent said they seldom trust local government and 7.9 percent said they almost never trusted it.

Trust in state government was lower, though it hardly dropped like a stone as one commentator put it. Nearly 69 percent (68.8 percent to be precise) of the respondents said they could trust state government some or all the time. Another 19.1 percent said they seldom and 12.1 percent said they almost never.

Admittedly, compared to 41 percent saying they trusted local government nearly always, the 19.8 percent who said they trusted state government nearly always was a big drop. But still, a big landslide margin of folks said they trust state government at least some of the time.

The federal government fared much worse, and yet even it was trusted by most Michiganders at least sometimes. A total of 54.5 percent said they could trust the federal government all or some of the time. Of that 15.9 percent said they could trust almost all the time, not a huge difference from the number that felt that way for state government. And 38.6 percent felt they could trust the federal government some of the time, almost the same percentage (39 percent) as said they trusted local government some of the time.

Yes, the percentage who said they could trust the federal government was much higher, 27.6 percent, and 17.9 percent said they almost never trusted the federal government.

These findings are in fact remarkable. They suggest despite a political climate often intent on tearing the national fabric into shreds that people are willing to trust themselves and the people who work for them more than we might think.

The findings also suggest resolutions to political and policy problems can be found, resolutions that most the public will support if politicians approach the public from the posture of working with them as part of the overall agreement.

People will always complain, it’s part of human DNA. But maybe the complaining reflects just an immediate annoyance and doesn’t go to full measure of what we feel. If so, time to start digging deeper into public attitudes.

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Same-Sex Weddings Could Be A Tax Windfall For The State

Posted: July, 23 2015 12:40 PM

Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. Obviously not everyone is happy about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, and, as there has been every time we have seen major social change, many people are worried about the collapse of civilization. But while we await general pillaging and sacking by vandals, barbarians and Ohio State fans, why not rake in some profit as well?

Could same-sex marriage prove to be a tax boon to the state?

Stateline, the newsletter covering the states by the Pew Charitable Trust, raises an intriguing question in a recent article. Could a rush to wedding business mean extra tax revenues to the states in the form of sales taxes and income tax withholdings? The article says yes.

According to some forecasters, same-sex weddings could mean nearly $3.2 million in additional taxes to Michigan over the next three years. As same-sex weddings become more of a common event, some of that additional revenue will taper off.

But initially, economists and fiscal officials are projecting a rush of same-sex couples to get married. And a big wedding means spending big money: on reception halls, caterers, dresses/tuxes, limos, invitations, DJ’s or bands, hotel rooms, and yes, wedding cakes. That adds up to sales taxes, income taxes paid by newly employed people, hotel taxes, etc.

The article forecast that California, New York, Texas and Florida will see the biggest boom (California could see more than $31 million, the article projects), but Michigan’s take could be pretty decent.

When same-sex marriage was allowed in Florida some months back, tourist organizations ran a series of ads highlighting same-sex marriage and encouraging people to plan their weddings for Florida.

Why not here, then? Mackinac Island is a popular wedding destination, why not promote it as such for same-sex weddings as well? Soft-focus romantic shots of couples along a Great Lake shoreline? Couples holding hands against the autumn leaves? This could be worth a few coppers to our treasury, so why not?

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Bishop Compares Greek Crisis To Granholm Days

Posted: July, 9 2015 11:56 AM

An item on U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop’s Facebook page caught our attention the other day.

In it, Mr. Bishop (R-Rochester) said: “Watching Greece defiantly and brazenly march down this path of self-destruction brings back unwanted memories of the Granholm regime. Same results.”

Really? The same results? Ah, no.

If two people ever came close to outright hatred of one another during the time they were in state government, it was Mr. Bishop and former Governor Jennifer Granholm. The two, for whatever reasons, never got along. The animosity started well before Ms. Granholm was governor and Mr. Bishop was Senate majority leader.

The two sparred famously when Ms. Granholm was attorney general and Mr. Bishop was in the House. He chaired a committee which held a hearing on a bill to put limits on the attorney general’s powers (a bill former Governor John Engler was interested in). Ms. Granholm called it shameful; Mr. Bishop asked if she were a lawyer, and well, things just never got better.

The nadir of whatever relationship they had occurred in 2007 when the Legislature and Ms. Granholm had a standoff on the upcoming 2007-08 budget. After some six straight years of budget cuts, she had called for tax increases to restore some services. Mr. Bishop led the Republican effort to block tax increases and continue with cuts; Ms. Granholm revised her tax proposals, but still pushed for tax increases. Eventually enough Republicans voted for the tax increases, but that came as the state government shut down from midnight September 30 to about 4 a.m., October 1. You missed the shutdown? Gosh, you weren’t one of the 200 to 300 people forced to watch the late night soap opera then.

We all have unpleasant memories in our lives, and few of us have the grace to finally let go of grudges. But, please, even as bad as the state’s situation got in 2007 (and it got much worse later on) it was nothing like what Greece is suffering through now.

Michigan was never in danger of bankruptcy, never in real danger of defaulting (the worry was raised, but the state was prepared to pay its bonds. Unlike Greece, the state had the money; it was just a matter of how payment would be authorized). It succeeded in maintaining a high credit rating despite its ongoing economic struggles. The state continued to win praise for its overall financial management. Ms. Granholm never threatened to defy the markets or the state’s creditors. Nor had Michigan been bailed out during its struggles as Greece had been. No banks were closed. Credit card transactions were not denied. People were not limited to getting $60 a day. Relatively bad as it was, Michigan’s unemployment rate did not hit 26 percent (which it did in Greece last December).

And, anyone present during the siege of 2007 knows that it wasn’t just one person who stubbornly stuck to a position that caused the devastating shutdown (yeah, yeah, I know that four hours while the rest of the state was sleeping was devastating to … well, pride, I guess. Sure didn’t seem to affect much else other than some campers at state parks that got kicked out of their camp sites). No, definitely more than one person demonstrated stubbornness during those months.

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Here We Go: Michigan Roads Are Better Than…

Posted: June, 24 2015 2:48 PM

The sorry state of Michigan roads, and that said roads’ state is getting sorrier still, is no mystery to anyone who travels Michigan roads or to people who debate the issue. And debate especially that nagging question of how to pay for fixing said sorry roads.

Which brings us to Yemi Kolapo.

Ms. Kolapo is a Nigerian journalist and former government official who has traveled several times to the Lansing area. She was part of a program at Michigan State University in 2007 for Nigerian government officials and journalists, and returned in 2008. She has remained in contact with Gongwer News Service since then.

Ms. Kolapo was back in town this week for a visit before she returns to Lagos to help start a new newspaper. She asked what the big issues were in Michigan these days and listened with interest to the discussion on roads.

As it happened, this reporter needed to pick up his car from the dealer after some routine maintenance. Ms. Kolapo tagged along as the dealer van took us down the freeway to the dealership and then we drove city of Lansing streets – which included a few rough sections, at least we would think they were rough – back to downtown.

“If you think these roads are bad,” Ms. Kolapo said as we drove along, “You should see the roads in Nigeria.”

Could this be the slogan we need to express both reality and hope to Michigan motorists and visitors? Should we post at each border crossing: “Welcome to Michigan, Our Roads Are Better That Nigeria’s”?

Well, it …it might…it…it gives me a headache, but if there’s no more money for roads, might be some loose change be hanging around for some new signs? Maybe we can compare our roads to those in other lands. What are the freeways like in Mali, one wonders.

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Lakeside At Frank Kelley’s 90th Birthday

Posted: June, 22 2015 2:14 PM

On a sparkling, warm June Saturday, former Attorney General Frank Kelley celebrated his 90th birthday with a big crowd of some of the state’s most renowned legal officials from the 1970s to 1990s.

Mr. Kelley actually turned 90 on December 31st last, but holding a party along the shore of Lake Lansing may have been a mite frosty on that day.

Former Attorney General Frank Kelley speaking at his 90th birthday celebration.

Decked out in a casual blazer, Mr. Kelley greeted, among others, former Governor James Blanchard (once an assistant AG in his office before he ran for Congress), former Supreme Court Justice Michael Cavanagh. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan President Dan Loepp (who had a more humble professional beginning under Mr. Kelley), former Circuit Judge Lawrence Glazer (who also wrote a well-received biography of former Governor John Swainson) and a gaggle of old reporters who were more interested in the bar. The liquid kind of bar, not the legal kind.

In fact, more than 50 people attended, most of whom had worked for Mr. Kelley at one time or another.

And it wasn’t all Democrats at the party either. For example, Richard McLellan attended and immediately handed his iPhone to a reporter to get a picture of him and Mr. Kelley, suitable for posting on Facebook.

Former Governor William Milliken was also invited, but couldn’t attend. He spoke with Mr. Kelley by phone, and Mr. Kelley praised him to the crowd.

Jack Lessenberry, the Metro Times and Michigan Radio commentator, emceed the event. He has co-authored Mr. Kelley’s autobiography (which will be available this autumn), and assured the crowd the he had labored mightily to ensure there was some truth in the book.

Introducing Mr. Blanchard, Mr. Lessenberry said not only was Mr. Kelley the former governor’s father, he was Mr. Blanchard’s mother as well.

“I’ve been outed,” Mr. Blanchard joked.

Mr. Kelley said he finally was able to give a speech without worrying about getting a vote.

And Mr. Kelley said he was grateful, and had tried to spend his life being grateful.

If everyone, he said, got up in the morning, looked in the mirror and said three things they were grateful for, it would change their lives.

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The Legislator Murdered In Charleston

Posted: June, 18 2015 1:06 PM

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was among the nine people barbarically murdered Wednesday night following a prayer meeting.

He was also Sen. Pinckney, a Democrat in the South Carolina Legislature, a veteran of nearly 18 years’ service.

Mr. Pinckney was the youngest black man ever elected to the South Carolina Legislature when he was first elected to the Palmetto State’s House in 1997 when he was 24.

He was first elected to the Senate in 2000.

In the Senate he had sponsored legislation requiring police officers to wear body cameras, saying it would help establish the truth of what happens in police stops.

The South Carolina Legislature was in session on Thursday, and Mr. Pinckney’s chair was draped in black cloth.

The entire Senate stood with that chamber’s chaplain at their podium as he said he “would miss that booming voice from one of the gentlest men I have ever known.”

The chamber also showed the members a video from earlier this year, as Mr. Pinckney spoke about the death of Walter Scott who was shot in the back by a police officer following a traffic stop. In the video he urged lawmakers require body cameras that would “let sunshine into the process,” and while he called for prayers for Mr. Scott’s family he also called for prayers for the officer charged in the shooting, “because the Lord teaches we should love all.”

Mr. Pinckney was 41 when he died. Police in North Carolina on Thursday arrested a suspect in the murders.

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Surprising Silence From One Quarter

Posted: June, 15 2015 3:32 PM

Over the weekend the MLive editorial board published a very sharply critical editorial of Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature, accusing them of trying to turn Michigan into a “backwater, intolerant, anti-economic development state.”

And while the editorial garnered thousands of responses and lots of commentary on social media, one group was surprisingly silent in response: that would be the legislators who supported the controversial measures and Mr. Snyder’s administration.

The editorial pointed out how, like most newspapers, the MLive editorial board endorsed Mr. Snyder for re-election, but had urged him to use “his bully pulpit to address critical policy issues and better represent” the entire state. But several bills – and most particularly Mr. Snyder signing HB 4188*, HB 4189* and HB 4190* that now establishes in law that adoption organizations may refuse services based on sincerely held religious beliefs – are putting the state on the path to “state-sanctioned discrimination and it is inexcusable.”

The adoption legislation seems to have generated a real sense of anguish and even betrayal by many individuals, and that pain is clearly reflected in the editorial.

More than 3,600 comments have hit the MLive website about the editorial, most critical of Mr. Snyder and the Legislature, but plenty as well defending the Legislature and Mr. Snyder.

The editorial got much comment on the main social media sites as well, particularly Facebook and Twitter. On those sites, the commentary was almost universally opposed to the legislation, especially the adoption bills. A number of commentators identified themselves as Republicans who said they were upset with the direction of their party.

But unusually quiet were the legislators and defenders of the administration.

Now, rarely do governors or their staff respond directly to editorials. But in this social media age, quite a few legislators have taken to the Internet to talk about policies, promoting those they like and criticizing those they don’t, and criticizing those who support the policies they oppose. Those lawmakers were slammed as hard as Mr. Snyder in the editorial.

Yet, after reviewing the Facebook pages of most the legislators who voted for the adoption package, nary a word in defense of their action or in rebuttal to the editorial.

Even more strangely, clearly identified Republicans – some of them legislative staffers – who have never been hesitant to comment on political issues in the past and get into debates on the subjects, have on this issue and the editorial been as silent as stones.

Perhaps with some time there will be some reaction. Word of advice for anyone wishing and itching to jump into the fray: the longer one waits to react when something has been in print, the less the impact one might have.

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Who’s Who From Michigan In The Congressional Baseball Game

Posted: June, 10 2015 11:31 AM

Of the 55 names on the rosters for Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game, three are from Michigan.

On the Republican side – with a team of 34 at this point – are U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland).

On the Democratic side, so far (according to the official webpage) with just 21 players, is U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint).

It’s Mr. Kildee’s third time playing the game Of course, since Mr. Bishop and Mr. Moolenaar only just arrived in the Capitol earlier this year, this will be their first game. Since the Democrats have a six-game winning streak going into Thursday’s event at Nationals Park, maybe the Democrats feel they don’t need more players and maybe the Republicans feel they need to load the lineup to combat the Democrats’ pitching and defense.

The game, played more or less annually since 1909, provides funds for Washington, D.C.-based charities. This year proceeds will go to the Washington Literacy Council, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.

And there is wagering going on, in the form of meat products. Mr. Kildee and Mr. Moolenaar have put a bet on the game. If the GOP wins, Mr. Kildee will provide Mr. Moolenaar with Coney dogs from Angelo’s Famous Coney Island in Flint.

If the Democrats keep their winning streak going into a seventh game, then M. Moolenaar will send to Mr. Kildee a BLT from Tony’s in Birch Run, topped with one pound of bacon.

One presumes the sandwich comes with a side of Lipitor.

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Some Thoughts On Political Showmanship

Posted: June, 5 2015 2:07 PM

Politics has been called show business for ugly people. And ugly things do happen in politics.

But a good politician has to be mindful of how he or she employs showmanship, especially to avoid upsetting the audience or creating issues for their candidacy.

By now everyone is aware that on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) committed a grievous error, and that he has appropriately and correctly apologized for it.

Just days after Beau Biden, oldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, died of cancer and the day before his funeral, Mr. Cruz was in Howell for the Livingston County Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner.

In giving his stump speech for the GOP bid for president, Mr. Cruz cracked a joke about Mr. Biden. While many in the audience of some 500 laughed, others looked uncomfortable.

When the speech ended, a reporter asked Mr. Cruz about Mr. Biden, Mr. Cruz said it was heartbreaking what Mr. Biden was going through. Asked then why he told a joke about Mr. Biden, Mr. Cruz impatiently waved the reporter off and walked away.

Mr. Cruz a little later properly apologized for the comment. His apology itself is rare in this age of blood-sport politics, and he should be commended, though it came in the form of a prepared written statement his campaign released.

But the incident also shows politicians have to train themselves to sense their audiences better, to change course on prepared comments if they get a feeling, "This isn't going to work here. In fact, this is not right at all."

During the Wednesday speech, Mr. Cruz began talking about the Second Amendment.

He said, "Vice President Joe Biden," and then paused a moment.

There was a clear tension in the air at the banquet center where he was speaking. Everyone knew about the vice president's tragedy. It had been mentioned in the invocation before the speeches. Now Mr. Biden's name was raised, and what would that mean?

Mr. Cruz should have both recognized the concerned air in the audience at Mr. Biden's name, and recognized himself, "No, I can't use the standard joke now, it's not appropriate. It's not right."

Instead he told the joke.

Every politician, every person is rightly subject to criticism. Sometimes they are rightly subject to ridicule. But we have to remember there are times and events that mandate higher standards in our behavior.

Grief is something that has to be honored. Every one of us who has lived to adulthood has had to confront tragedy and grief, and that pain needs to be respected.

There will be time enough, God knows, for the intramural bludgeoning that passes for higher political discourse today. But sometimes it has to stop, and we have to remember that whatever our differences we all have eyes, we all have organs and dimensions and feelings, if we are pricked we all bleed. We must at times be better than we typically are.

We trust that Mr. Cruz's visit to Michigan has reminded him of our limitations and similarities; that he and other politicians will recall that showmanship cannot trump statesmanship.

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What Everyone At The Conference Really Wants To Know

Posted: May, 27 2015 12:14 PM

MACKINAC ISLAND – What does everyone attending this, or any, Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Conference, really want to know? What’s in the bag?

Attendees to the conference are always given a vinyl briefcase/backpack (it seems to alternate between years, this year it is a briefcase, last year it was a backpack) filled with little promotional gifts from the different sponsors of the conference.

So what is in this year’s bag?

Fudge from the Grand Hotel. And, of course, a toothbrush from Delta Dental.

A Michigan-shaped bottle opener, one of the freebies provided to attendees of the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Conference.

Anyone who has flown Delta Airlines is well familiar with their ginger cookies and pretzels, and there were packages of those.

Before eating all the goodies, one should wash one’s hands, so there is a container of hand sanitizer from Kelly Services.

A lot of electronic aids are included in this year’s bag. Ascension Health provided ear buds. Consumers Energy provided folks with a multi-USB port* device. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan gave out portable chargers for cell phones and tablets.

Solicitation is strictly forbidden on Grand Hotel property. How one could stop that, no one has said. Truscott Rossman has provided copies of their lobby guide, and one can guess how that might be used, here on the island and elsewhere.

Lots of late-night parties are held during the conference, and the firm Conway MacKenzie provided a keychain/ LED flashlight to assist one in finding their way back to the hotels after the partying.

Probably the niftiest item is a sawn-steel bottle opener in the shape of Michigan’s two peninsulas provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Who knew that Grand Traverse Bay could open a bottle of suds?

And the Michigan Health and Hospital Association provided everyone with sunscreen. Sadly, this year that item will not be used much. The Island is under heavy fog and rain and blessed with 100 percent humidity.

In fact, the one item often included, but not this year – and several people have been heard looking through their bags and asking, “Where is it?” – is an umbrella. A demand not met this year.

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What Happened When State Jobless Rate Last Matched The U.S. Rate?

Posted: May, 20 2015 4:04 PM

Word came Wednesday that for the first time since September 2000 Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April matched the U.S. rate with each reporting 5.4 percent joblessness.

September 2000 was very momentous month. But so much has happened in the nearly 15 years since it may be hard to recall all that was going on.

One thing that was significantly different was that technology had not become the over-obsessive and controlling force it is now. And in 2000 people thought technology already was overwhelming. But computers were still mostly desktops. Cell phones made phone calls. That was about it. Some phones did allow text messages but it was easier to type out a message in Morse Code on a telegraph key than send a text. You wanted to take a picture, you used a camera and unless you had lots of money it was mostly likely a picture on film. The Emmys were awarded that month and network television dominated. “The West Wing” and “Will and Grace” were top shows. There were no Netflix shows because there was no Netflix. If you wanted to listen to music, you stuck a CD in a player.

The effect that technology has had to all we do wasn’t yet that overwhelming. But technology (though access to Google, Wikipedia and of course Gongwer’s fabulous archives) does help to refresh our memories to what was happening that month.

The Olympics opened that month in Sydney, Australia. There were international protests against economic summits. Those were the highlights from the international world.

In the U.S., President Bill Clinton was in his final months in office, while Hillary Clinton was running for the U.S. Senate in New York. Democratic Vice President Al Gore was locked in a presidential battle with Texas Governor George W. Bush (the really interesting part of that battle really started in November).

And in Michigan, then-U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow was running a tough race against then-U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham. In case you missed it she won in an upset, he went on to be U.S. Secretary of Energy for several years. Ms. Stabenow is now in her third term.

But there were two big issues that Michigan focused on that month: one electoral and one legislative.

Electorally Michigan was locked into an intense fight over a proposal to amend the Constitution to allow state-financed vouchers for parochial schools. It was an emotionally divisive issue in the state, splitting parties and ideologies. That emotional aura though was not reflected in the results, with proposal being crushed by voters.

September marked the start of a major ad war on the issue, with charges that school districts were breaking state campaign law.

Also that month, Michigan’s Roman Catholic bishops issued a letter saying Catholics in the state were compelled to vote for the voucher proposal. That was immediately challenged by a number of prominent Catholics, including incoming state superintendent of public education Brian Whiston, who said the voucher proposal was the wrong policy for Michigan.

And in the Legislature, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow battled, sometimes intensely and personally, with Republican House Speaker Chuck Perricone over legislation that would require health insurance companies to offer coverage for diabetes care. Mr. DeGrow supported it, Mr. Perricone did not and the business community was also all-in against the bills. But they were passed.

Also that month, while Michigan’s jobless rate of 3.9 percent matched the U.S. rate (the U.S. economy was enjoying its last few months of the dot-com economic boom), Standard & Poor’s gave Michigan a AAA credit rating. The other agencies followed suit soon after.

Michigan was able to hold onto that AAA rating for a few years, then the decade-long recession became too much.

With our unemployment rate down so much, perhaps another AAA could come in the next several years.

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Ah Yes, Do You Know Senator … I’m Sorry, What Was Your Name Again?

Posted: May, 15 2015 3:54 PM

Oh dear, it appears Michigan residents need a little help with their civics. It might be helpful should they run into either U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) or U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) at a parade, or picnic, or some other politically suitable activity.

A poll released Friday by Marketing Resources Group shows a large majority of adult Michiganders, presumably all educated, presumably reasonably aware of their state and federal governments, could not name either senator.

No, 61 percent could not come up with a name. Well, could not come up with a correct name when asked to name Michigan’s two U.S. senators. Broken out by the sexes, 54 percent of men could not name either senator, while 67 percent of women could not.

While most could not name either senator, Ms. Stabenow – who has been in the chamber since 2001 – did fare a little better than Mr. Peters, who only took his seat (succeeding former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin who had been in office for 36 years) in January.

A total of 36 percent of those asked could name Ms. Stabenow. Again, men did slightly better at 44 percent to 30 percent for women.

But just 15 percent could name Mr. Peters, and it was 15 percent of both men and women could name him.

On average, just 11 percent of those questioned could name both senators, and that was 11 percent for women and 12 percent for men.

Vice President Joe Biden fare much better than our two senators. A total of 69 percent of those asked could name him.

The poll was conducted of 600 likely voters, and conducted April 13-17.

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Not To Be Nitpicky, But Here’s A Head Scratcher For You

Posted: May, 4 2015 2:47 PM

For those who are looking for odd bits of knowledge to use as an ice-breaker at the bar or that awkward party, why there’s nothing better to review than the weekly disease reports issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

These are the initial reports sent to the state by physicians and hospitals of various infectious diseases. Often the initial reports are revised as more information and better diagnoses are rendered (so for example, earlier this year we thought we had had 10 cases of measles in the state so far in 2015, but that has been revised to one confirmed case).

Also occasionally operator error plugs a disease report in the wrong place. For example, some years ago the state reported a case of anthrax. When this reporter checked on that it turns out the wrong disease was indicated and it was really a case of blastomycosis or something equally unfun.

The disease report has recently gone through a sharp little update. The website has been re-formatted and redesigned so that it is much cleaner to the eye and quite a bit easier to read.

And we have lots of new diseases to check on too. Now we don’t have to worry just about Hanta Virus (never reported in Michigan, thank all powers that be, since it causes an unpleasant end) we can also be terrified of “Hanta Virus, Other” and “Hanta Virus, Pulmonary.”

Along with reporting rabies, animal or human, we now also report animal bites: 789 thus far in 2015; 3,466 in 2014. Just keep your hands to yourself, folks.

The ever infectiously popular strep throat now has a listing.

And what to make of this category: “Unusual Outbreak or Occurrence?” Listen up folks, we’ve had 68 of those so far this year. And we had 291 such unusual outbreaks or occurrences in 2014. Well, it was an election year. Hmmm, would spontaneous combustion fall under that category?

Finally, yes, yes, we now report cases of head lice. So far in 2015, 2,380 reported cases. In 2014, 5,944 cases. So, can’t think of how to start the conversation at the latest PTA meeting? Give you’re a scalp a little scratch for dramatic emphasis and intone: “Say, did you know Michigan reports 2,380 cases of head lice so far this year?”

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Pscholka Intern Wins Rosenthal Award

Posted: April, 30 2015 3:35 PM

Kyle O’Meara, an intern in the office of Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), was the winner of the 38 annual Daniel Rosenthal Award given to legislative interns.

The award is named for Dan Rosenthal who as a student in Michigan State University’s then newly created Legislative Student Intern Program in 1977 worked for then-Sen. Jack Welborn. He died in June 1977 of a congenital heart defect.

His family created the award in his honor and past winners have included well-known Oakland County Republican leader Paul Welday and Emily Dievendorf, the former head of Equality Michigan who recently announced she is running for the Lansing City Council.

Mr. O’Meara is graduating from the University of Michigan and then going into law school.

Another intern in Mr. Pscholka’s office, Kaue Gobbi, won the runner-up award, the Vern Ehlers Award, named for the former member of Congress and legislator. A native of Brazil, Mr. Gobbi will intern this summer at the Irish Parliament in Dublin.

Also winning finalists awards were Domonique Clemons, working in the office of Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Trent Wolf, working in the office of Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Oak Park).

Speaking at the ceremony, former Rep. Lynn Jondahl spoke of the important work interns provide lawmakers. In 1977 and 1978, when the House was debating whether to expel former Rep. Monte Geralds, who was convicted of embezzling funds from a law client, Mr. Jondahl said his intern was assigned to research the question of whether lawmakers could expel someone who had been properly elected.

And Mr. Jondahl encouraged students from more than programs focusing on law and government to become legislative interns. Students studying any subject – medicine, business, labor relations, were among the fields Mr. Jondahl mentioned – could bring valuable perspectives to the Legislature.

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Yes, There Was Once Such A Thing As An ‘Open Caucus’

Posted: April, 21 2015 2:17 PM

The recent controversy over whether or not Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) had leaked confidential information from the House Republican Caucus – Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said yes and booted her from the caucus, she says no – it rustled memories in those who can still remember when a rare animal existed in the Capitol known as an open caucus.

Oh yes, they did exist. This is not some unicorn-like mythical creature. Open caucuses once not only existed, they were ample, they were common, they got to be a bit of an annoyance.

They first evolved in the late 1970s, shortly after both the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act were adopted. The time was one of general openness in government, a more casual sense that pretty much everything should be accessible and accessible in an easy way.

There were exceptions to the open caucus rule, of course. Leadership caucuses, or issues involving matters of discipline remained closed. Republican members and staff could not sit in Democratic caucuses and vice versa. Nor were lobbyists invited. But nothing stopped anyone from hanging around near the doors, picking up the often loud conversations, or stopping people who went in and out of the caucuses to ask what was going on.

But reporters were always allowed in, and always went. Generally, real news came out of the caucuses. Some seemed to be endless rounds of lawmakers repeating each other. But mostly enough interesting fodder was harvested to use for a story.

In one caucus at the beginning of the crushing recession of 1979-1983, then Rep. David Hollister outlined what the state would see happening to newly jobless people if the economy did not improve – how and where they would cut back spending, how they would get rid of all their assets in hopes of raising cash and hanging on until they were forced to seek state assistance – and he was absolutely correct.

Sometimes the caucuses were physically exhausting. During one intense House session, Republicans would call lightning caucuses to go through strategy, meeting on the fourth floor of the Capitol, with Democrats responding in the then Appropriations room located on the ground floor. Reporters and members were gasping after running back and forth, to and fro from the caucuses and when the final vote on whatever the issue was finally took place, it was a relief.

Open caucuses roamed the Capitol range only for a few years. They were almost endangered right from their first existence. A couple significant instances began to signal they would soon go extinct.

A Senate Democratic caucus held in a west-side hotel, featuring championship bellyaching and demands from the members, was headlined in a front-page Detroit Free Press article, “Raucous Caucus.” The embarrassment didn’t change attitudes and behavior so much as it changed the idea all caucuses should be open.

Then when the House went through a difficult and controversial series of votes on workers’ compensation changes (which was made more difficult by the fact the electric voting machine died, forcing every roll call vote to be a voice vote) a Call of the House was instituted.

Then-Rep. Morris Hood Jr. demanded a closed caucus to discuss the bills. There being a Call of the House, the only solution seemed to be to toss the reporters out of the press room’s news conference area (which was then behind the House chambers) and somehow shoehorn the Democrats into the room. While it was technically closed, anyone within 30 feet of the room could hear Mr. Hood’s rage exploding non-stop. When the doors finally opened, the members saw reporters waiting to talk to them about what the reporters had heard.

The open caucus vanished finally by 1983, as lawmakers wrestled with a controversial income tax vote and the last thing they wanted was the public to know how they were thinking.

But they were real, really real, and some of us are alive to tell the story.

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‘Core Principles’ Has A New Editor

Posted: April, 14 2015 1:44 PM

Core Principles, the conservative newsletter Republican former Rep. Jack Hoogendyk started, has a new editor, Cindy Duran.

Mr. Hoogendyk, who lost to former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin in 2008, has essentially phased himself out of the newsletter since moving to Wisconsin in 2013. He would still produce a newsletter occasionally, but said in a newsletter announcing the shift that he decided to give up the newsletter this past December.

In Ms. Duran, who ran against and lost to Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) in the last primary, Mr. Hoogendyk said he has an editor who shares his conservative views.

Ms. Duran said in an introductory letter that she highlighted limited government, lower taxes and more individual rights she talked about in her campaign. “Faith and family were, and continue to be, issues that were important to people I talked to during my campaign,” she said, adding that they would continue to be highlighted in the newsletter.

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Something About Taxes, With A Week Remaining

Posted: April, 8 2015 2:55 PM

The deadline to file taxes is a week from today, April 15. And there is a bit of a conundrum the state has to deal with that is not discussed.

Nor will it be discussed, at least not on the record by any officials at the Department of Treasury. Or on background by them. Or for that matter, even off the record. Probably the best anyone could do in getting a response is a type of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge-know what I mean” shrug of the shoulders and uncomfortable clearing of the throat when the question is posed.

Here is the issue: same-sex marriage is not, at the moment, legal in Michigan. Except for some 300 couples married during a brief period when the U.S. District Court in Detroit overruled the 2004 constitutional amendment, same-sex couples married in other states, or married by sympathetic clergy here, are not considered married in Michigan.

But those couples can file a joint return on their federal 1040 U.S. tax return. The 2014 instructions from the federal IRS clearly say that a same-sex couple married in a state or country that recognize same-sex marriage can file a joint return even if they live in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

In Michigan, however, the tax instructions for individuals and couples clearly say that a same-sex couple must file their MI-1040 separately even if they have filed a joint return federally (although, somewhat confusingly, the instructions for tax preparers say a couple that files a joint federal return must file a joint state return).

Okay, first complication the state has to deal with: the requirement that same-sex couples file separately does not apply to those 300 or so couples that who married during that one weekend in March 2014, and whose marriages have been recognized by the state (following a court ruling). If those couples filed jointly with their federal returns, they can file a joint return with the state.

Now, second complication: who are those couples? It’s not like the state has a list. They could spend some taxpayer money to research marriage licenses issued during that time, but then you would have to find some way to target some 300 returns out of nearly 5 million returns the state receives. Is that really the best use of the state resources and time, one could ask.

Are you beginning to sense the next complication the state has to confront? Hmmm? No?

Okay, next complication: How can the state tell if any couple filing a joint state return is a same-sex couple or not? There is nothing on the state return requiring identification by gender.

You can tell by name, one might insist; that would tell the state if it is a same-sex couple. Okay, how about a couple named Chris and Chris (a Gongwer-specific example)? Is Pat male or female? Lynn? Beverly? Jean? Jamie? And those are just few names common in European-based languages.

So, here is the question: Does the state spend time and taxpayer money trying to determine which of the several million joint returns filed may be filed inappropriately by same-sex couples who are not authorized to file said joint returns?

There is an answer. A real answer. But you could lay odds the department will not publicly discuss what the real answer is. Oh, you’re all bright folks. If you can figure out your taxes, you can figure it out.

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Opening Day, Lacking Some Of The Pomp Of Old Perhaps

Posted: April, 6 2015 2:49 PM

Forget melting snow, the bulbs bursting through the semi-frozen ground, the first whiffs of charcoal grilling a steak or robins sighting up a worm or two; the real first sign of spring in Michigan is Opening Day for the Tigers.

The opening of the baseball season has historically been a time of some good-natured pomp involving the governor and generally the Detroit mayor. But in recent years, the hardball pomp has seemed a little less pompous.

Governor Rick Snyder was in the stands when the Tigers took the field Monday at Comerica Park against the Minnesota Twins, and spokesperson Sara Wurfel said Mr. Snyder was excited to cheer the Tigers on as they chase another American League Central Division title and post season play.

But, the governors historically were a bit more active on opening day. The governor on the mound or behind the plate were always press events, but lately that seems to have faded some.

In his book, Stewards of the State, George Weeks included a series of pictures of former governors either throwing the first pitch or donning a catcher’s mitt to catch the ceremonial first pitch. The earliest picture was of former Governor Fred Green catching a decidedly high pitch in 1928.

Also pictured is former Governor G. Mennen Williams looking rather kid-like in a catcher’s crouch in 1953 and then a more sophisticated looking but grinning Mr. Williams tossing the first pitch in 1958.

Possibly the most interesting photo is that of former Governor Luren Dickinson, Michigan’s accidental governor, looking a bit like a lost kid – a kid who was nearly 80 with a white mustache – in the crouch looking out for the pitch while a ball sits forlornly at his feet.

Also included is a picture of former Governor James Blanchard really leaning into tossing the ceremonial first pitch, his teeth fiercely gritted, at the 1987 home opener. Mr. Blanchard has always been a ferocious Tigers fan. This reporter was at that 1987 game and watched as Mr. Blanchard nearly fell out his ground level box seat as he leaned over to grab a foul ball headed his way.

Mr. Weeks, a longtime political reporter and commentator, was also once chief of staff to former Governor William Milliken. In the late 1970s, Mr. Milliken’s staff told reporters if they wanted to get a picture of the governor warming up for the opener they would find him tossing a ball on the Capitol’s east lawn. And there Mr. Milliken was, his suit coat doffed, his sleeves still buttoned and tie tight, with a Tigers cap on his head playing catch. Reporters and photographers moaned about the setup shot, but there they all were shooting film, and Mr. Milliken’s picture appeared on the front page of most front pages the next day.

But probably the best gubernatorial preparation for opening day was from former Governor Jennifer Granholm. Asked in her first year if she was warming up for the ceremonial first pitch, Ms. Granholm laughed and said she would probably throw like a girl.

“And I’m the only one who can say that,” she said.

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Could Healthy Michigan Be Snyder’s Biggest Accomplishment?

Posted: April, 1 2015 4:02 PM

With the news this week that in less than a year more than 600,000 people have signed up for the state’s Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion plan, it is arguably time to ask if the program could prove to be Governor Rick Snyder’s biggest accomplishment.

Yes, he is just a few months into his second term. It is impossible to predict what could happen in the three years-plus of his term. Former President Jimmy Carter once advised presidents – and it could apply to governors as well – to throw out the agenda. If one can finish one’s term getting even half what they wanted done, they’ve done pretty good considering the uncontrollable nature of humans and the world.

And yes, this governor has tackled big projects and controversial ones as well. His success rate on those has been mixed. His tax proposal of 2011 scrapping the Michigan Business Tax for a Corporate Income Tax (and adding the income tax to many retirees) had a huge effect, but one that still is hard to measure.

His enactment of right-to-work legislation was dramatic, controversial and again with an effectiveness still hard to measure. Michigan’s economy is growing, is improving, but how much of that is due specifically to the tax and labor changes enacted in the last four years, and how much to the state riding a growing national economic wave that has pretty much helped every state?

Mr. Snyder was less successful in getting the Legislature to take part in building a new bridge between Canada and Detroit (though he was able to get around that impediment). In a month’s time, we will know whether he will be successful in convincing voters to go along with a tax increase for road construction and repair.

And he was not successful at all in convincing lawmakers to enact a state health insurance exchange or to have a joint state/federal exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

Which means Healthy Michigan could yet stand as his most significant tangible achievement. First, it was clearly the most politically skillful accomplishment of his administration. That is due as much to the legislative leaders and lawmakers who made passing the proposal their mission as much as it is to Mr. Snyder. But with the ferocious political hatred towards the ACA and its branches still largely unabated from his Republican Party, Mr. Snyder took a political risk in advocating for the program and dedicating himself as intently towards its enactment.

More important than that, though, is the actual practical effect of the program.

More than 600,000 people, with incomes of 133 percent of the federal poverty level, have signed up for the program in the year since it was launched on April 1, 2014. That is nearly twice the number Mr. Snyder and former Community Health Director Jim Haveman anticipated would sign up during the first year.

Together with the number of people that signed up for health insurance in Michigan through the federal exchange, and more people covered through their companies, the number of uninsured people in Michigan has been slashed at least in half.

Even more important, when a person signs up for Healthy Michigan they are to undergo a doctor’s visit, and more than 344,000 have undergone primary care visits. More than 35,000 have gotten mammograms, another 17,000-plus have gotten colonoscopies.

That means someone’s life was saved. Who? Who knows? Who cares? Someone’s life has been saved.

You could not have that many people go through these physical exams without someone discovering they were hypertensive and who now have their blood pressure under control and therefore spared a stroke or heart attack. Or that they discovered they were diabetic and now can control their blood sugar, again helping prevent a heart attack or blindness or amputation. At least one of those mammograms had to have discovered cancer in an early stage, and saved a mother or grandmother. You could not have 17,000 colonoscopies without at least one person then getting treatment to save him or her from cancer.

And that is the real accomplishment of this program. Agree or not with Healthy Michigan politically, no one can honestly deny that least one person’s life has been saved through the program. As the old Talmudic scripture says: Save one soul, it is as if you have saved the entire world.

Tax cuts, well, taxes go up and down. Bridges, roads, well, they get built, they fall apart, they always have to be fixed.

But to say you executed something that saved lives, that’s good, that’s damn good. So the early voting on Mr. Snyder’s biggest accomplishment? It has to be with Healthy Michigan.

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All About The McLellan Roast, Well, Not Really

Posted: March, 19 2015 3:22 PM

Did you not attend the Michigan Political History Society Roast of ultimate insider Richard McLellan? Really? Only about a dozen people attached to Michigan government did not. Did you expect a full report on the gathering? You did. Oh, sorry, it was off the record.

Well, as off the record as anything can be in the age of social media. A number of attendees tweeted and posted various items on Twitter and Facebook.

While some of the jokes were merciless, there were also funny but friendly barbs from Mr. McLellan’s Michigan State University’s classmates and student government colleagues, former Governor James Blanchard and former MSU President Peter McPherson (former Governor John Engler also attended, but remember everything there was off the record).

For those who thought he was an only child, Mr. McLellan’s sister Mary did say she loved him like a brother (again, that was off the record).

However, a caricature of Mr. McLellan was placed outside the actual curtilage of the roasting room, which means that was not off the record. It is reproduced here, autographed by Mr. McLellan’s admirers and people he owes money to. There is at least one reference to skunkworks in the signatures.

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A Different View On The Talent Question

Posted: March, 17 2015 4:26 PM

Talent now being the top dollar word and concept in state government, a look over to Michigan State University is in order for a summit finishes today looking at training for talent in a slightly different way.

For several years, university officials across the county have looked at creating “T” individuals, and Monday and Tuesday some of the top figures in the country on the subject were speaking at MSU.

“T” has to do with talent, of course, but it also has to do with training people to convey more than just one specific skill set. A lot of the focus on talent development seems to be aimed at ensuring people learn specific skills or crafts. The “T” concept is a way of taking the idea of a well-rounded individual and making him/her a person mastering specific skills and concepts at the same time.

It’s a way of ensuring that a person can communicate, collaborate and cooperate with others while still meeting specific skills. Being a “T” person means doing away with an “I” person concept – you will truly sound very cool if you master these ideas, at least at academic bars – which is someone who is “deep in one discipline.” The idea of the “T” is that a person be “deep” in a discipline and a system. A system has defined as a broader service concept, such as transportation, education, healthcare.

But then the goal with “T” training is to add the “crossbar” to the “I.” That means a person is knowledgeable in several disciplines and systems, and has developed the communications and collaborative skills needed to work with other people and express competence in those disciplines and systems.

The ability to communicate and collaborate is critical, said Robert Kegan of Harvard (who is considered the superstar of this area, and has written several well-known books about the subject) because solving major problems can never be accomplished by just one person. It takes several people from different disciplines to work together to come up with proposed resolutions to problems and to see them through, he said.

The summit opened on Monday, when Governor Rick Snyder was launching operations for his new Department of Talent and Economic Development. Officials at the summit said they had tried to get Mr. Snyder to attend, but the governor was unable to come.

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What Do All Five Governors Have In Common?

Posted: March, 5 2015 2:23 PM

Besides being governor, of course? Remember these are Governor Rick Snyder, as well as former Governors William Milliken, James Blanchard, John Engler and Jennifer Granholm. It would be hard to imagine they could have much in common, or agree on anything, from where to have lunch to state tax policy.

But they all agreed to join in inviting everyone to a March 18 roast of Richard McLellan to benefit the Michigan Political History Society.

Since the 1960s, Mr. McLellan has been one of the top brains in town, putting his advice and hand to virtually every policy issue that state has overseen. That includes the good and controversial, since he was an author (well, maybe not officially) of the now infamous “skunkworks” proposal. And yes, he has been associated with the Republican Party all his life, but isn’t shy about saying he will vote, and has, for Democrats when he agrees with their ideas.

His major passion for decades, which has put him in the thick of controversy, is education, and he has pushed for proposals and alternatives that have succeeded in annoying everybody at some time or another.

Unknown to most people, Mr. McLellan has also joined with former state mental health director Frank Ochberg to develop a group helping journalists deal with the effects of trauma, since reporters are often the first on the scene at natural disasters, public health crises, terrorist attacks, and cover, and suffer in, war zones.

Okay, one can hear the reader muttering to him/herself, “I can make fun for Richard for free, why do I have to pay $150 to see others do it?” Well, Lordy, why pass up an opportunity to watch Mr. Blanchard, former legislators George Cushingberry and John Kelly, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and his former law partners Rex Schlaybaugh and William Whitbeck (among others) lampoon him for being named an African chief, his many wanderings around Antarctica, for his love of ballet, and for how many buckets of popcorn he and Mr. Engler devoured at the movies? What are you, nuts or something?

Besides, the proceeds go to the Political History Society, which in an era of term limits helps to remind people that they may be on the verge of making the same mistake done 20 years before.

You have until March 13 to reserve tickets (call 517-485-9127). The roast starts at 5:30 p.m. (for drinks and chow), Wednesday, March 18, at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, 219 South Harrison Road in East Lansing.

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Probably As Cute As It Gets In The Legislative World

Posted: February, 25 2015 3:57 PM

The fourth grade class from Hill Elementary in Troy visited the Capitol on Wednesday.

Of course, part of the tour is to see the Senate Appropriations Committee room, which is the former Supreme Court chamber.

The Senate Appropriations Judiciary Subcommittee was preparing to meet on the upcoming 2015-16 budget, and after Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) thrilled the students with a brief discussion on the budget, Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. walked in.

He got a picture taken with the kids. He asked if any had any questions (none did), and then Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph), the subcommittee chair, came in. He asked a couple questions of the school’s teachers and then called the meeting to order.

Mr. Proos officially welcomed the students. Asked how many were visiting the Capitol for the first time, most of the students raised their hands. Asked how many of the teachers and adults were visiting for the first time, probably half raised their hands.

Asked how many had met a chief justice before, Mr. Young raised his hand.

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Courser, Gamrat Endorsements Raise Social Media Furor

Posted: February, 20 2015 2:25 PM

Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) first came to prominence two years ago when he came closer than anyone thought possible to beating Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak in Mr. Schostak’s bid for re-election. Since then Mr. Courser has been a lightning rod for the ultra-conservative wing of the party.

Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) has been identified as a tea party leader for some time. She and Mr. Courser have pursued what they have called a liberty agenda since taking office. She was an organizer of a tea party “pow wow” held last Month in Mount Pleasant.

And both announced late Thursday they were endorsing Ronna Romney McDaniel for the Republican Party chair’s position over Norm Hughes and Kim Shmina, both candidates more to the liking of the tea party. Ms. Gamrat was more positive in her endorsement, Mr. Courser was more half-hearted.

But the endorsements electrified their social media contacts, generating a slew of comments. While both were defended for their decisions, the tone overall seemed to one of anger and betrayal. Ms. McDaniel is not seen by many tea party partisans as one who will move the GOP to a more staunchly conservative – both fiscally and socially – party.

Joe Jurecki snapped at Mr. Courser, “Once you send them to the swamp you see their true colors.” R. George Dunn said, “The indoctrination tactics must work.”

And Lanny Valentine was furious that Mr. Courser had turned his back on Mr. Hughes after, “All Norm did for you and the conservatives. Shame on you. Didn’t take long to see you can talk the talk but CANNOT walk the walk.”

Respondents were no kinder to Ms. Gamrat. A Stefanie Stimmet blasted: “I cannot believe this. If those we elect based on their conservative values will not stand true to those values, what hope is there for this nation?!! I simply cannot believe your endorsement, Cindy. Very, very disappointing.”

Andrew Hulbert went further and said: “Shocking and disappointing endorsement coordinated with Todd shows how rigged the coronation really is.”

Mr. Valentine also said on Ms. Gamrat’s post that the last 10 years in the Republican Party had been the “worst I have seen for true patriots.”

Mr. Dunn, who supports Mr. Hughes, added the “field of battle has changed in this MRP. It is near impossible to compromise with lawless attitude. The Oath of Office means something and to not believe it is treason, by truth telling.”

But fellow tea party activist Wendy Lynn Day weighed in on Ms. Gamrat’s defense (Ms. Gamrat is endorsing Ms. Day for a vice chair post). “Wow, I am surprised at how personal and mean people can get. Apparently, she is entitled to an opinion, as long as it is one you think she should have. I thought that was liberals who did that.”

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A Budget Lesson, Sort Of...

Posted: February, 11 2015 10:17 AM

John Roberts gets tossed to the wolves today. As Michigan’s new budget director he gets to present his first budget to the Legislature and then can go home and nurse his wounds. It is the way the world works.

And really, what a strange job is budget director. What child, when asked, says he or she wants to grow up to be a budget director? Where did they come from? Why are they here? Are they friendly?

Such imponderables are beyond answer. However, one of the most famous of Michigan’s budget directors had a thought on whence budget directors came onto this planet.

Gerald Miller, who ran the state’s finances during the 1970s and early 1980s under then Governor William Milliken, once spoke to a meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists. He said thus:

“A doctor, an engineer and a budget director were arguing over whose profession was the first. The doctor said, ‘Look, go to the Bible. There was chaos, God created the earth out of the chaos, created man out of the earth and breathed life into him. Giving life, that’s what doctors do. So doctors are the first profession.’

“Then the engineer said, ‘Hold on, there was chaos, God created the earth out of the chaos, formed the mountains, the oceans, the rivers. That’s engineering. So engineering is the first profession.’

“Then the budget director spoke: ‘Who created the chaos?’”

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The Curious Situation In Nebraska

Posted: February, 2 2015 12:47 PM

An issue that showed up recently in Michigan is the question of whether the state’s electoral votes should continue to be allocated on a winner-take-all basis (as they are in all but two states, Nebraska and Maine) or should be allocated on which presidential candidate won the majority in a congressional district.

Republicans here have pushed the change to the winner-take-all system, tired that Democrats have won the last six presidential elections in Michigan, and arguing that the current system is unfair to voters who don’t support the candidate getting a majority of the voters’ votes. Democrats – who, for historical point, never challenged the winner-take-all system during the five presidential elections Republicans won before the current Democratic streak began in 1992 – have opposed it, saying it would be unfair and make Michigan insignificant. Governor Rick Snyder has said the issue should not be dealt with until after the 2020 census.

But something appears to be happening in Nebraska, one of the two states that allocates its electoral votes on local results, that suggests the issue is not one really of electoral fairness and integrity, but just who gets to control the results.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Republicans in Nebraska are considering switching the state to a winner-take-all state. Nebraska is a solidly Republican state, and Democrats are probably as rare as wheat farmers in the Cornhusker state. But, in 2008, Democrats in the Omaha region were able to claim one electoral vote because President Barack Obama won that area’s congressional district. Republicans there are furious that the state showed up as split and want it to appear solid when they win the vast majority of votes statewide. Democrats are arguing back that switching to a winner-take-all state will be unfair and not reflect voter intent.

In other words, the arguments are flipped compared to how Republicans and Democrats in Michigan argue about the issue. Which suggests that the real question is how a party thinks it can get the most that it wants.

Of course, if the country decided to drop the Electoral College system and elect the president simply on the basis of who gets the most votes the issue of how to allocate electoral votes would be moot. But, that probably won’t happen.

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The Full Lyrics To ‘Michigan, My Michigan’ Because …

Posted: January, 26 2015 4:12 PM

Because today, January 26, is the 178th anniversary of the date Michigan joined the union in 1837, after we gave up trying to get Toledo in exchange for all of the Upper Peninsula.

“Michigan, My Michigan” is kind of the state’s anthem. Sung to the tune of “Oh, Christmas Tree” (or “Maryland, My Maryland).

The song’s lyrics were originally written during the Civil War, shortly after the murderous Battle of Fredericksburg. The lyric’s author, Lee Brent Lyster, was the wife of a Michigan veteran. The mayor of Grand Rapids rewrote the lyrics in the 1880s, but they still had a martial tone, and then in 1902 Douglas Malloch wrote new lyrics for a convention of women’s clubs meeting in Muskegon.

It is these lyrics we generally sing:

A song to thee, fair State of mine,
Michigan, my Michigan.
But greater song than this is thine,
Michigan, my Michigan.
The whisper of the forest tree,
The thunder of the inland sea,
Unite in one grand symphony
Of Michigan, my Michigan.

I sing a State of all the best—
Michigan, my Michigan.
I sing a State with riches blessed—
Michigan, my Michigan.
Thy mines unmask a hidden store,
But richer thy historic lore,
More great the love thy builders bore,
Oh, Michigan, my Michigan.

How fair the bosom of thy lakes,
Michigan, my Michigan.
What melody each river makes,
Michigan, my Michigan.
As to thy lakes, the rivers tend,
Thine exiled children to thee send
Devotion that shall never end,
Oh, Michigan, my Michigan.

Rich in the wealth that makes a State,
Michigan, my Michigan.
Great in the things that make men great,
Michigan, my Michigan.
Our loyal voices sound thy claim
Upon the golden roll of fame;
Our loyal hands shall write the name
Thy home will never be the same, my Michigan
Oh Michigan, my Michigan.

Generally, only the first verse is sung. Charles Ballard, the well-known economics professor at Michigan State University, is also a singer himself and almost always ends his public presentations by exhorting the crowd to sing “Michigan, My Michigan” with him. He did so last week at a forum of the MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, and the crowd boisterously joined in.

So, warm up your warblers and sing, Michiganders.

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The ‘Fine Tooth Comb’ Re-Emerges

Posted: January, 12 2015 11:18 AM

Now more than 40 years after it was created, the fabled Michigan Quote Board has reappeared in the national prints. Well, maybe the national prints and electrons.

George Will, former Michigan State University instructor (and recent, controversial, graduation speaker) and nationally syndicated conservative columnist, twice used a phrase first uttered decades ago by former Sen. Harry DeMaso in his most recent column.

The column had to do with U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch. Here is the first use of the comment:

“Senate confirmation hearings put nominees on notice that, as a Michigan state legislator reportedly once said, ‘I’m watching everything you do with a fine-toothed comb.’”

He repeats the comment at the close of the column. Mr. Will quoted Mr. DeMaso at least one other time, in the 1980s when the Quote Board first gained international fame.

He says Ms. Lynch should be confirmed to succeed current Attorney General Eric Holder, but the Senate should also put a number of questions to her, all of which he outlines.

He also quotes Mae West, who said, when deciding between evils, “I always pick the one I never tried before.” Sounds like she could be have been in the Legislature.

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The Last Time Patricia Burnett Charmed The Capitol

Posted: January, 7 2015 2:10 PM

Patricia Hill Burnett, artist, former Miss Michigan, feminist, Republican and glamour queen died last week in suburban Detroit at age 94.

She was remembered for her portraits of important women, for her being an early advocate of Betty Friedan and the women’s rights movement and for being absolutely charming.

While noted for her work painting the likes of famous women, such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Ms. Burnett also was known for painting state leaders.

Her portrait of former Governor William Milliken in the Capitol is one of two painted by women artists (former Governor George Romney was the first to have a portrait painted by a woman) and she was commissioned to paint other officials.

Her most recent portrait was of former Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, which was unveiled in September 2011.

Ms. Burnett was 91 at the time, and while the event featured former Governor John Engler and former U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, Ms. Burnett stole the show.

The portrait shows a seated, robed Mr. Taylor casting a somewhat skeptical and bemused eye at the observer.

When she unveiled the portrait to Mr. Taylor, Ms. Burnett told the audience that he uttered the three words no portrait artist wants to hear: “Who is it?”

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What The Dog Did In The Night-Time

Posted: December, 22 2014 3:01 PM

The classic question from Sherlock Holmes was about the curious thing the dog did in the night-time. Of course, the dog did nothing in the night-time, which was the curious thing.

In one of the more unusual, shall we say, cases from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to come along, we can answer your curiosity right away what a dog used by the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department did in the night-time: it bit the subject of a search and rescue mission.

However, rarely do canine chompers, flip-flops, tipsy women, people tripping over one another, public urination and classic Japanese cinema work their way together into a court-case. But in this case, they do. Yes, a person was injured; yes, the county may be out some money; but, no offense, this does almost read like the setup of a great 1930’s screwball comedy. Perhaps the parties could be persuaded to adjourn the matter to a richer court. Hey, maybe some state film incentive money could be used.

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The Sad Story Of The Best Legislative Farewell Speech Ever

Posted: December, 3 2014 1:55 PM

We are in that time, the lame duck tradition of legislative farewells. In the days before term limits the farewells tended to be relatively few, reserved to those lawmakers who were retiring and the few who had been beaten. The speeches tended to be fond remembrances and encouragements to the fellow lawmakers. And those remaining would often praise those leaving. Emotions often ran high. Once, House Republican Leader Bill Bryant broke down while saying farewell to Democratic member George Montgomery.

Now, of course, thanks to the factory-like system of term limits, legislative leaders can schedule years in advance how many farewells will be needed and when lawmakers can make their speeches. And as the years have gone by, the speeches have tended to get longer as lawmakers tend to pour all they have learned in their short tenures into their last major oration.

But whose was the best farewell ever? Oh, without question the speech of former Senate Democratic leader William Faust in December 1994. It was the best. And in so many ways it was also the saddest.

Mr. Faust had been elected to the Senate in 1966, after owning several small newspapers in the Downriver area and serving in local government. He spent many years growing up in Lansing, where he said he played ping pong with a teenaged boy who would go on to be known to the world as Malcolm X.

In 1966, Mr. Faust was terribly injured in a car crash and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. In the late 1970s, he was elected the Senate majority leader, ably keeping in line a caucus of intense personalities. When two recalls in 1983 and subsequent special elections in 1984 put Republicans in charge of the chamber, he served as minority leader for several years, hoping to win back control of the chamber and resigning as leader when that effort failed.

He was passionate about Michigan’s state library. He played a key role in the restoration of the Capitol, saving some of the original glass panels from the Senate ceiling that were being hurled into dumpsters by workers.

And while he was always seen as an almost courtly gentleman, Mr. Faust could be tough. He led the Senate to reject some appointments by then Governor William Milliken. When Mr. Milliken told him that appointments were his domain, Mr. Faust snapped back the Senate could reject a nominee because they didn’t like the color of his tie.

Mr. Faust also knew the Constitution and law, and whenever there was a difference between legislators on the Constitution, he almost always won. In his last interview before he left office, he said the one piece of advice he would give a new lawmaker was to read the Constitution. Don’t they now, the reporter asked. No, he said.

So, what would you think Mr. Faust would say in his farewell address on the last session day of 1994, before he prepared to retire to a house he had retrofitted Up North? After 28 years, after seeing some of the most momentous legislative changes in state history, after serving as leader for a number of those years, what would someone like that say in farewell?

This is what he said, this is the entire farewell: “I want to thank the members for all the many courtesies they have shown me, and I want to thank the folks back home for 28 great years.”

There you have it. A total of 28 words expressing one salient thought: gratitude. Who can say more or better than that?

But while it was the best farewell speech ever, it was also possibly the saddest. That last day in session, Mr. Faust began to suffer chest pains. He was taken to the hospital, and never left. He had coronary bypass surgery and his gall bladder removed, but nearly 30 years in a wheelchair had left his system too weak to fight off infection. Bill Faust died on January 21, 1995.

And as grateful as he was, those who remember him know they were the ones who were truly grateful.

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Oh So Close, DCH Just Short Of Healthy Michigan Goal

Posted: November, 25 2014 3:44 PM

The Department of Community Health announces how many people have signed up for the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expanded eligibility each Monday afternoon, and the numbers posted for this week put the state tantalizingly close to what it thought was the maximum number of enrollees for the program.

According to the DCH website, as of Monday, the state had 469,698 enrollees in the Healthy Michigan program.

When the program launched in April, state officials projected there would be 470,000 enrollees by the end of 2015. The program eclipsed its 2014 goal back in July.

Because of the average number of people who have been signing up for the program on a daily basis, it is logical to presume that the state crossed the 470,000 enrollee threshold on Tuesday.

But unless DCH issues a special notice, we will not know until the new figures are released on Monday, December 1.

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Is Lakewood Club A RICO-Inspired Municipality? The Court Guffaws

Posted: November, 24 2014 3:11 PM

When the very first sentence in a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is, “Of all the tax avoidance schemes, this case certainly involves one of the strangest,” well, one just has to read on about Clarence Otworth and the tiny village of Lakewood Club.

Lakewood Club is located in Muskegon County. It is less than two miles square and has about 1,200 people, according to the 2010 census. Although it is a growing town, the 2000 census showed it had about 1,000 people. It’s mostly middle class, but a significant section of the population lives below the poverty line.

And according to Otworth in his federal suit, Otworth v. Budnik, it is all a fraud and has defrauded him by requiring him to pay property taxes. His mortgage holder, Fifth Third Bank, has also been complicit in this fraud, he argued.

The basis of his claim is that Lakewood Club was illegally incorporated in 1967 and therefore is not lawfully permitted to claim property taxes against him. Mr. Otworth charged in his case that the municipality, its officials and the bank officers who pay his taxes through his mortgage escrow are involved in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violation. It has caused him serious physical injury – he charged that he suffered a torn aorta because of the stress of paying the taxes – as well as financial injury.

The district court rejected his claim, and so too did the Court of Appeals.

In her decision, Judge Karen Nelson Moore did not concede a single point to Mr. Otworth, saying he failed in every instance to actually make a case and prove any of his charges.

And even, she wrote, if there is some discrepancy in the incorporation of Lakewood Club it has been rendered moot by the fact the state has acquiesced in its existence.

Ms. Moore also quotes an 1874 decision involving Kalamazoo Schools saying that if every community had to defend its original organization, then “few of our municipalities can be entirely certain of the ground they stand on” and potentially subject to “infinite trouble, embarrassment and mischief” by a litigious soul.

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Analysis: Land Hemorrhaged GOP Voters

Posted: November, 19 2014 3:13 PM

When the votes were all counted U.S. Sen.-elect Gary Peters won election to the U.S. Senate over Republican Terri Land in about as close to a walk as any candidate enjoyed in Michigan on November 4.

But what if all the Republicans, or those who lean Republican, who voted had voted for Ms. Land? Would she have won? Ah, probably. At least, that is the speculation based on one analysis.

Ed Sarpolus with the polling firm Target Insyght put out an email on Wednesday saying that based on his estimate 225,556 Republicans split their ticket to vote for the Democratic Mr. Peters.

Results are not yet final, but unofficially, Mr. Peters netted 1,702,460 votes and Ms. Land received 1,288,126 votes.

According to Mr. Sarpolus, Ms. Land received 1,277,116 votes from straight-ticket Republican voters and 11,016 from Republican-leaning independents.

Mr. Peters received 1,366,930 straight-ticket Democratic votes, another 98,964 from Democratic-leaning independents, then 11,010 votes from Independents.

And, according to Mr. Sarpolus, Mr. Peters got 225,556 votes from Republican-leading independents.

Well, what if all those votes, presuming they are from Republican-leaning voters, had gone to Ms. Land? Then a very different situation would have occurred.

Presuming there were no other changes in total votes cast, if 225,556 voters had voted for Ms. Land instead of Mr. Peters, then she would have netted 1,502,677 votes to Mr. Peters’ 1,476,904 votes. In other words, in a tight race Ms. Land would have won election.

Just one more thing for state Republicans to ponder as they try to decide how that race got away from them.

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Governor Snyder Recalls A Knock At The Door

Posted: November, 13 2014 3:52 PM

The Capitol rotunda was crowded Thursday afternoon with veterans of World War II and their families, and Governor Rick Snyder used the occasion to recall how the global conflict touched the lives of every family.

The event was organized by MLive media, which has had a special project throughout the year of documenting the state’s veterans. More than 600,000 men and women from Michigan served in the U.S. military during the war. More than 10,000 were killed. And of the remaining, just some 39,000 are still with the state.

Since the youngest World War II veteran would now be in his or her mid-80s, a number of the guests – who sported hats and t-shirts indicating their branch of service, with one hat identifying the survivor of a kamikaze attack – were in wheelchairs or using walkers and canes.

Mr. Snyder, of course, was born more than a decade after the war ended. But his older sister was about seven at the time the allies were finally victorious.

He said his family had come to visit his grandparents, who were living in Lansing.

There was a knock at the door and his sister answered it.

The cousin, home from the war, was standing at the door. Mr. Snyder told the crowd that his sister recognized their cousin, but called to her mother and grandmother.

When the two ladies arrived at the door they let out a scream, Mr. Snyder said. That may have seemed odd, but it wasn’t, he said.

Because the family had been told their cousin was missing in action. In fact, he had been captured and was being held in a prisoner of war camp in North Africa, Mr. Snyder.

Records of prisoners were notoriously bad during the war, with many captured servicemen never allowed to let their families know where they were.

So when the war ended, and the cousin was reunited with U.S. forces and then returned home, his parents were no longer in their old house. The cousin had then gone to Mr. Snyder’s grandparents’ house because he didn’t know where his parents were, he said.

And it reminded the crowd of how the war touched everyone, from the ration cards each family had to wondering if someone would come home. There are 39,000 veterans in Michigan who did come home from the carnage that encircled the globe.

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How State Government Reacted When The Fitzgerald Sank

Posted: November, 10 2014 2:11 PM

The gales of November sank the Edmund Fitzgerald on this day in 1975, 39 years ago.

You would not know that by reviewing what state government did that week.

The focus instead was on ongoing budget issues, a new vacancy in the Supreme Court and on the Senate defeating a bill dealing with sex education.

The loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald was the last major shipping disaster on the Great Lakes. All hands aboard were lost. It became the subject of song and legend.

Still, during the first days after the disaster, it was strangely absent from the world of state government.

That, of course, is not completely true, as the State Police and other emergency personnel in the state reacted quickly in hopes of finding survivors, and failing that the dead to return to their families.

Yet, in the Capitol, according to Gongwer reports of that week, there was essentially silence on the Fitzgerald.

Former Justice John Swainson, who had recently and probably unjustly been convicted of perjury related to changes of bribery (but not of bribery itself), hand-delivered a letter of resignation to then-Governor William Milliken. Mr. Milliken praised the action as upholding the integrity of the judiciary.

The state, which was still struggling through what was then the worst recession since the Great Depression, had already rejected one executive order budget cut, and was now debating a second EO to get the 1974-75 fiscal year in balance.

And the Senate rejected legislation that week that would allow sex education classes to teach about contraception and venereal diseases. It would in fact take several more years before legislation allowing for contraception to be taught would be approved.

But there is no easily-found indication of legislators expressing concern on the floor of the ship’s disappearance. There were no resolutions. No announcements of investigative committees. No indication flags were ordered flown at half-staff. It appeared to be business as usual.

But today, who remembers the budget fight of November 1975 or the Senate not passing a sex-ed bill? Instead, they remember the Edmund Fitzgerald sank with 29 crewmembers aboard in the icy waters of Lake Superior.

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If You Thought The Election Ended On Tuesday…Well, Consider

Posted: November, 7 2014 1:14 PM

Oh you exhausted, you weary, you tired and travailed, you nauseated and heartsick, you thought you could finally take comfort. You braved the crowds, or the lack of crowds, on Tuesday and voted. You retired to the comfort of your home thinking, at last, at long last, at long sweet last the election is over and I can turn on the tube and not have to see commercials bashing candidates and focus again on commercials for …Christmas, oh yes that’s coming now. But at least the election is over.


Those of us who have patiently counseled the timid and timorous on why elections are so long (because the United States is essentially the only major nation in which we always know when the election is and it is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – even in odd years, don’t forget city elections) are here to tell you that as of Tuesday at 8:01 p.m., when the polls closed for the 2014 election, the 2016 election season got underway.

Don’t believe us?

Well, then, I shall refer you to a top Republican in Michigan. No point to citing his name in this dispatch, but Gongwer has quoted him, all the papers have quoted him, he’s been on all the media, his Twitter is followed by thousands, he has been advisor to the top Republicans of this state and to a few nationally.

So, says I, on Wednesday the day following the election – the election which is supposed to be over – what’s next on the agenda? Here I thought he would give me a list of policy issues he expected the Legislature and Governor Snyder to tackle.

No. What he said was: “We have to remind Republicans that we just finished a low-turnout election and that in 735 days there will be a high-turnout election, and there will be 50 seats open in the Legislature and if we want to protect our gains of this election we have to get ready for 2016 now.”

Take comfort friends. Once 2016 is past, there will come November 6, 2018, and November 3, 2020, and, well, on to the ends of days.

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A Distant Electoral Echo In Tuesday’s Results

Posted: November, 5 2014 2:05 PM

Going into Election Day, the race for governor was too close to call. Polls showed public support razor-thin and tight between the incumbent Republican governor and his Democratic rival, a former Senate leader. The Democrat was trying to ride popular discontent over a major controversy into the Executive Office.

A long, long night was expected as poll watchers would wait and see who would win.

But election night, at his Detroit Renaissance Center hotel victory party headquarters, the incumbent Republican celebrated a huge win, one that he had held from the moment the first returns were announced to the moment before midnight he claimed his re-election victory.

It happened like that one day ago. It also happened like that 36 years ago.

Governor Rick Snyder’s re-election win over Democrat Mark Schauer bears a ghostly echo of former Governor William Milliken’s final re-election victory over Democrat William Fitzgerald.

The 1978 election bears some other similarities to the election just past. Democrats were battling to maintain congressional power nationally while an unpopular Democratic president (then former President Jimmy Carter) was in office (Democrats were helped that year because the public was still not over its post-Watergate anger at Republicans and shortly before the election Mr. Carter was able to make some major strategic moves to bring Israel and Egypt closer to peace, but they were also hurt because of economic malaise and high inflation) and took a few body blows, but held onto Congress.

In Michigan, the state was still recuperating from what was the first “worst recession since the Great Depression” which had hammered the state in 1974 and 1975 (there were at least two more, far worst recessions to come along with a few other recessions tossed in for good measure in the years following). The state had rebounded, but was still short of its economic peak.

Mr. Milliken personally was popular, but a growing more strident conservative wing of the party distrusted him, and among many Republicans there was discomfort at Mr. Milliken’s support for Detroit and his public support of environmental protections.

Mr. Fitzgerald, like Mr. Schauer, was the former Senate Democratic leader. He had been the majority leader (Mr. Schauer held the minority role), and he had lost his post as part of a caucus dispute on his leadership. Mr. Schauer gave up the post when he was elected to Congress in 2008.

Also unlike Mr. Schauer, Mr. Fitzgerald survived a rough primary battle with several other Democrats to take on Mr. Milliken.

For Democrats in this 2014 election the issues they attempted to win the public on were education cuts and unfair tax increases on pensioners.

In 1978, the predominant issue was PBB and the potential effect it could have on the public, and what role did Mr. Milliken may have had in possibly hiding its presence.

PBB was a fire-retardant chemical that accidentally got mixed into cattle feed, poisoning thousands of dairy cattle across the state, getting into the food system, and effectively getting into the bloodstreams of, oh, probably everyone living in Michigan in 1973. Farmers held very public, very sobering slaughters of their affected cattle. The method the state employed to dispose of slaughtered cattle was the subject of a prolonged trial. The Legislature and Mr. Milliken worked out a comprehensive bill to deal with testing residents, compensating farmers and preventing future contamination. PBB was the subject of Ron Howard’s first directorial effort, a television movie that starred he and Art Carney. While devastating to cattle in the high concentrations, studies over the years showed the effects on humans were extremely slight.

And it was the issue Mr. Fitzgerald thought could win him the executive office. He hammered at it relentlessly. During a debate with Mr. Milliken, he pressed the issue so much, Mr. Milliken finally snapped at him, “Cease and desist, senator, cease and desist.”

So, Election Day in 1978 dawned and the sense most had was that it would be a race that would take all night to resolve.

But from the first returns, Mr. Milliken had a devastating lead that he never lost. Just as Mr. Snyder did Tuesday night against Mr. Schauer.

Unlike Mr. Snyder though, Mr. Milliken won in a landslide, netting 56 percent of the vote. There was a smaller total of voters for governor that year than this (but by fewer than 300,000) and Mr. Milliken netted more votes, 1.628 million, than Mr. Schauer did on Tuesday, 1.605 million.

Another difference was that Mr. Milliken was the GOP outlier that year. He won, but the Republicans got beat soundly in all other races. The House ended up with one of its largest partisan splits under Democratic control, 70 Democrats to 40 Republicans. On Tuesday, except for U.S. Sen.-elect Gary Peters and the state education boards, Democrats got smoked by Republicans.

Still, how this election ended up in Mr. Snyder’s favor after the lead up remains a fascinating electoral echo.

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One Endorsement Missing For Both Candidates

Posted: October, 27 2014 3:21 PM

The polls continually show a tight race for governor among the voters, but based on newspaper endorsements alone, Governor Rick Snyder is clearly beating his Democratic rival, Mark Schauer, by a landslide.

But at least one newspaper was not convinced to support Mr. Snyder. It was something of a pyrrhic victory for Mr. Schauer, however, because the Traverse City Record-Eagle didn’t endorse him either.

There was a lot of talk over the weekend about the Detroit Free Press editorial endorsement of Mr. Snyder, and as much on its anguished, indeed tortured, and regretful decision.

That the paper criticized Mr. Snyder almost more than it praised him, didn’t really bother Mr. Snyder’s campaign, which issued an email release saying Mr. Snyder was “running the table” on endorsements from Michigan newspapers (the Toledo Blade, which has many readers in Monroe and Lenawee counties, endorsed Mr. Schauer).

Except for one Michigan newspaper – one ball if we continue the billiards analogy – sitting in the middle of the table, seemingly untouched by the cue ball at any point.

The Record-Eagle continued with a fine American tradition of saying a plague on both your houses.

The paper rejected Mr. Snyder’s claim of not being a politician, blasting him for signing a right-to-work bill that was “shamefully” passed by the Legislature, said he has failed to get meaningful action on transportation funding, and said most of the job growth in the state has been due to the comeback of the auto industry.

While the Record-Eagle did credit Mr. Snyder for his attempts to get the state to accept elements of the Affordable Care Act and to get a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, underway, it summarized the governor saying, “He has not been the independent voice he promised to be.”

But Mr. Schauer fared no better with the newspaper, which said that he has not provided a substantive agenda for voters to make a decision. He has mainly criticized Mr. Snyder and the voters need more than that, the newspaper wrote.

The newspaper did suggest breaking the one-party lock on state government could be a good thing. Instead of saying Democrats could perhaps win the House or Senate, it said defeating Mr. Snyder could lead to that. One-party control has “led to much bad policy” and “trampling” of alternative views, the newspaper wrote.

That wasn’t good when Democrats completely ran state government, the Record-Eagle said (for those who remember those days more than 30 years ago), and it is not good now.

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It’s Will Carleton’s Birthday, Do Your Cultural Duty

Posted: October, 21 2014 3:05 PM

October 21 is Will Carleton’s birthday. But you knew that. Didn’t you? For now 95 years it has been the law that on October 21 each year the schools are to teach one of Mr. Carleton’s poems to school children, so surely you can quote Michigan’s most famous poet, outside of Philip Levine maybe. (Oh, don’t tell me you don’t know Philip Levine.)

Mr. Carleton was born in Hillsdale County in 1845, attended Hillsdale College, was a newspaper man and attained fame for his poems that dealt with more practical reality than many a line of Victorian era verse.

His most famous poem, “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse,” dealt with an elderly woman forced to live off charity because her family refused to help her.

But he went on to write many volumes of poems, so your teachers surely had you learning a new one each year. He retained some popularity long after he died in 1912. Johnny Cash, a poet himself after all, admired his work.

And with the question of income inequity now again a popular political argument nationally, to do its part for this important cultural day, we present the final stanza of Mr. Carleton’s poem, “A Million Millions.”

Just think! A million millions!-

The care of all those millions!

And after all, what would befall

A life with all those millions?

Would not the lucre clog my brain,

And make me hard and cold and vain?

Might not treasure win my heart,

And make me loath with it to part?

How could I tell, by mortal sign

Betwixt my money’s friends and mine?

And then, the greed, and strife, and curse,

The world brings round a princely purse.

Perhaps my soul,

Upon the whole,

Is best without the millions!

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A Tidbit On The History Of Proposal A

Posted: October, 16 2014 3:25 PM

When the history of Michigan’s, well, history-making Proposal A education funding proposal is finally written, it would be well to search out a long-forgotten document as a key to its overall formula.

So says, Doug Roberts, former Michigan treasurer, who was himself as critical as anyone to developing the 1994 proposal. Mr. Roberts spoke Wednesday at the Capital Issues Forum, a monthly gathering who early in the mornings over coffee and bagels hears presentations on different issues.

Mr. Roberts discussed some broad and basic issues about Michigan’s economic background. But he also talked about the many issues he had played a hand in, and of those many were the ongoing struggles to come up with property tax and education reform.

The final result came eventually in Proposal A. But while people generally focus on the tax and school funding elements of the proposal, Proposal A was a profound restructuring of Michigan education.

And much of the genesis for some of those changes came seven years earlier out of a commission headed by Edgar Harden and Phil Runkel. Both men were themselves legends in Michigan education fields. Mr. Harden had been president of both Northern Michigan University and Michigan State University. Mr. Runkel was still, at that time, Michigan’s superintendent of public instruction, and would be one of the best-known advocates of public education in the state.

In 1987, they headed a commission to look at major changes in state education funding and structure. Mr. Roberts was at the time a deputy state school superintendent, and worked on the commission.

When the commission’s work was completed, it was basically ignored, lost to other issues. But Mr. Roberts held onto the commission’s product.

When in 1993 the Legislature ended all property taxes for education, then-Governor John Engler, shortly after the bill was signed in August of that year, came to Mr. Roberts and asked him to come up with a proposal – which would be the essential guts of Proposal A – in 60 days so he could make his proposal to the Legislature. At first, Mr. Roberts said that would be impossible, but that was the timeframe.

So he pulled out the now dormant Harden-Runkel Commission Report and used it as a basis for many of the ideas in Proposal A.

One of the major ideas was how to tackle the expanding gap between wealthy school districts and poorer ones. The Harden-Runkel commission had proposed that increases to districts be based on equal dollar increases not equal percentage increases.

For example, each district might see an increase of $100 in a student’s foundation grant instead of a 1 percent increase. On a percentage basis an equal dollar increase would mean more to the poorer district than to a rich district. There would still be a gap, but poorer districts would begin to see the disparity close to some extent.

That provision was made a part of Proposal A’s structure, and was one of the more important points to promote greater school equity, he said.

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Okay, Political Junkies, How Do You Measure Time?

Posted: October, 9 2014 3:03 PM

On a daily basis, measuring time involves looking at clocks, be it a grandfather clock, a watch or one’s cell phone.

When looking back on one’s life, one tends to measure time by events – buying a house, getting married, having children, taking a memorable vacation. How often have we tried to place a particular timeframe by comparing it to an event? “Let’s see we bought that car about the time Hermione was born, so that would have been…” Sound familiar?

Okay, so all ye politically oriented types: How often do you measure other life happenings by when elections occurred?

The question came up as this reporter and a lobbyist were discussing when a restaurant opened. We narrowed it down to the election occurring about the time the doors were thrown open, in this case the 2010 election.

Which led to speculating how often elections, and other major political events, tie themselves into your memory, just as births, deaths, marriages, broken bones, house purchases and what have you?

Does somehow the election Proposal A was approved stand out as a landmark for something that happened at home? Or does when former President Bill Clinton spoke to the Legislature come into play when calculating the last suit you bought? Do you ever start a sentence with something along the line of, “Well, it was back when Granholm won re-election, remember we…” Or, maybe, “No it wasn’t then, don’t you remember, Reagan was at the Detroit convention and we …” Has a sentence similar to “No, I’m telling, you we had to replace the tires the day they had that big right-to-work protest and then downtown was all blocked” ever pass from your lips?

Certainly election and political events have become a more reliable and regular measuring tool than, say, the Tigers winning the World Series.

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Read This To Understand Legislative Politics And Judicial Interpretation

Posted: October, 3 2014 1:52 PM

Who doesn’t want to understand how and why legislators vote? No really, who doesn’t want to know why a lawmaker votes the way a lawmaker does?

And who doesn’t want to get some understanding about why judges rule the way judges rule, all this shilly-shally political claptrap about “judicial activists” and “rule of law” notwithstanding?

Comes now to your rescue the always voluble and mostly learned and generally wise Appeals Judge William Whitbeck, who in a dissent, yes a dissent, outlines as well as anyone why lawmakers vote the way the way they do and what the heck it is judges are doing to try to make sense of it all.

The specific case has to do with whether gun club members can shoot guns, of course, within 150 yards of an occupied dwelling. The majority in the case (who also wax philosophical on the issue of judicial interpretation) say yes. Mr. Whitbeck says based on the language of the law gun club members cannot fire firearms 150 yards of the house.

In reaching that conclusion, Mr. Whitbeck quite directly and intelligently outlines a number of realities that grind against the philosophical principles we try to live by.

He outlines, for example, six different reasons why a lawmaker may vote for a bill, and only one of those reasons really goes to the point of whether it is a good bill or not.

Then he dissects the judicial requirement of interpreting the “fiction” of a collective judgment of the Legislature (or, I suppose, Congress, city council, county board, school board, garden club board of directors, et al) reaching this fair amazing conclusion:

“This court and the Michigan Supreme Court state, endlessly and perhaps even liturgically, that our goal is simply to give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Again, this presumes a collective intent, when I suggest, no such collective intent may exist. But – fortunately and perhaps because we know we are not really Galahads searching for the Holy Grail of collective legislative intent – we often follow that statement with a qualifier: the language of the statute itself is the primary indication of the Legislature’s intent.”

It is worth the read if only in that this dissenting decision may be more instructive than the question raised by the case itself is significant. Although, according to the court, should you live within 150 yards of a gun club, investing in bulletproof glass could be a wise decision.

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GOP Stalwart Praises Latest DGA Ad

Posted: September, 24 2014 1:27 PM

How can you tell when Republicans are worried about the re-election of Governor Rick Snyder?

One way might be to note comments left by a stalwart Republican leader on his Facebook page. The ad referred to was started on Tuesday by the Democratic Governors Association, and there is a clear tone of dismay in his compliments.

“Just watched the new DGA ad with the woman writing the letter to Governor Snyder about raising taxes on pensions. Effective, hard hitting ad. The themes are strong. I must say the Schauer campaign is running one of the most message disciplined campaigns I’ve seen since the Engler campaign on property taxes. It’s apparent their focus groups and polls show those messages move voters; they definitely emotional and personal. Hope our counterattack begins soon, because these ads will cut.”

The person writing the comments knows something about message driven campaigns, because he helped lead one. Specifically, he led the 1990 campaign for then Sen. John Engler which resulted in the defeat of then Governor Jim Blanchard. If you haven’t guessed by now, the chap reluctantly tossing bouquets to the campaign of Democrat Mark Schauer is Dan Pero, one of the best known Republican strategists around.

After this, it will be interesting to see how both sides react to his comments.

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Healthy Michigan On Crest Of 400,000 Enrollees

Posted: September, 23 2014 3:27 PM

Sometime this week, certainly before Monday, September 29, the number of people who have enrolled in the Healthy Michigan expanded Medicaid program should top 400,000.

A day ago, Monday, September 22, the Department of Community Health said more than 395,000 people had signed up.

Presuming the program – which enacted the Affordable Care Act’s call to expand eligibility for Medicaid to persons earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level – does hit 400,000 it will have done so in slightly less than six full months after the program went on line on April 1.

It is not inconceivable that the program could hit 470,000 or more enrollees before the end of the year.

That figure, 470,000, was the estimated total the program would hit in in enrollees sometime in 2015.

For 2014, estimates were the program would have 320,000 enrollees, but the state beat that figure by early summer.

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Justice Brian Zahra, Hockey Player, Blackjack Player, Stoner

Posted: September, 19 2014 11:23 AM

On the Supreme Court bench, Justice Brian Zahra portrays a sober, dry fellow speaking a sonorous monotone.

In the online videos he’s produced for his campaign for re-election to the court, Mr. Zahra has also revealed he is a hockey player, hockey coach, been at the tables in Las Vegas and is a serious Stoner. In fact, has played blackjack with one of the Stones.

To learn all this, however, one has to stay focused since Mr. Zahra imparts this hot info in the same flat, sonorous, monotone he employs while asking a litigant questions on, say, easements for a septic field.

The videos are part of his Ask Justice Zahra effort on YouTube and Facebook. In recent editions, he’s veered from answering questions about how the court works to getting more personal, in a monotonal way.

In one video, he’s in a locker room, wearing a coach’s jacket, saying his best moment on ice was as an assistant coach to his son’s junior hockey team which won its tournament, and then segueing that into talking about his family coming together – including his grandfather coming from Malta – to watch him being sworn in as a judge in 1995.

He ends that video a little awkwardly, putting on a helmet to handle a coaching session.

His latest video has a touch of the absurd all about it. Here is Mr. Zahra, in a powder blue sport shirt, sitting in a chair in what we presume is his home, with a dog (we presume his, though he never tells us the pooch’s name) very calmly, very dryly, very flatly though with a touch of growing enthusiasm, responding to a question about which band is his favorite.

It’s the Rolling Stones, he says. Now he likes modern pop and rhythm and blues, and a lot of blues bands, but classic rock is his favorite genre and the Stones is his band. He saw them first as a teenager at Cobo Hall, and then as he grew older would see them in venues “outside the city of Detroit.”

One his favorite stories, he said, is in the 1990s going to Las Vegas with his then fiancée, now wife, Sue, to see the Stones at the MGM Grand.

Then they were playing blackjack quite late, when, Mr. Zahra calmly informs us, “We were quite surprised” when Stones guitar master Ron Wood showed up at the table and played blackjack with them.

“That was very entertaining, a lot of fun and a great memory,” Mr. Zahra says as the sound of the Stones comes up.

You know, if Mr. Zahra had done Mick Jagger’s rooster walk in his robes, this video would have killed. Just sayin’.

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A Two-Person Poll And Why Were There Binders Full Of Women?

Posted: September, 18 2014 12:16 PM

From the stage where a then unknown Irish band named U2 once played, a panel of political campaign experts spoke to journalists and political types about campaigning and some of the interesting things that can occur, like getting stopped by cops and reminding presidential candidates about binders and women.

Ken Brock for the Democrats along with Katie Packer Gage and Dan Pero for the Republicans spoke at a function called Tales from the Trail, sponsored by the Michigan Press Association, MLive and the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, held at Harpers in East Lansing, and shared the common experiences of total saturation in a campaign and complete belief in a candidate and a candidate’s message.

There was also some moaning, mostly about reporters (what do politicians know anyway?), but possibly the most interesting stories had to do with two moments in two separate campaigns,

First, binders full of women. Remember that? No, it has nothing to do with some lothario’s giant black book. It had to do with the awkward way in which, during one of the 2012 presidential debates, former Massachusetts Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney described the process used to identify women to serve in his cabinet. Here is video of the moment:

The comment became one of the hallmarks of the campaign, used by critics to argue that Mr. Romney was out of touch and even belittling.

Ms. Gage was deputy campaign manager to the Romney presidential campaign, and she said Mr. Romney had a habit of repeating information that was recently told him. That created some headaches for campaign staff both to be sure Mr. Romney was fully briefed and that they didn’t create a problem for him.

As they were doing debate preparation for his appearance with President Barack Obama, the issue of pay equity was discussed. One staff member reminded Mr. Romney that he had been presented with binders listing women who met the qualifications for his cabinet, Ms. Gage said.

Well, the rest, as often is said, is history.

The second moment was what Mr. Pero called the “two-person poll.”

It happened in the 1990 gubernatorial campaign when then-Sen. John Engler upset former Governor James Blanchard. Mr. Pero was Mr. Engler’s campaign manager and the campaign decided not to do internal polling.

The two were headed for a speaking engagement in Macomb County and Mr. Engler was driving. He liked driving himself during the campaign, Mr. Pero said. Mr. Pero did not add, though he didn’t need to, that Mr. Engler also liked to drive fast.

In the rearview mirror appeared two motorcycle cops.

Great, Mr. Pero said, now they were going to be late for their event. Mr. Engler pulled the car over, and the two cops approached, one on either side.

Mr. Engler lowered the window and the cop on the driver’s side said, “Excuse me, are you Sen. Engler?”

“Yes,” Mr. Engler said.

“We thought so,” the cop said. “We just wanted to tell you that we’re voting for you.”

Mr. Pero said based on that “two-person poll” Mr. Engler and he knew they would win.

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