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by John Lindstrom, Publisher

Parting Is Such Sweet ...Yeah, You Know

Posted: December 30, 2019 11:02 AM

This reporter learned early how rough politics can be.

In the 1960 presidential election this 8-year-old political sophisticate was backing Democratic candidate U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy because, well, he was from Massachusetts and so was my Dad. It never occurred to me that Dad was backing Republican Vice President Richard Nixon because Dad was from Massachusetts. Only much later did I find out both Dad and Mom were backing Mr. Nixon.

On Election Day, at Royal Oak's Upton Elementary, after lunch, a Nixon rally was taking place among the pupils on what we called the battleground (it was a playground in theory). Kids were holding signs, many handmade, some provided by their parents via the Republican Party. They were shouting for Nixon and as I was feeling prospects were grim, I tried to go back to my third-grade classroom.

The class toady grabbed me by the collar and shouted, "Hey, he's backing Kennedy!" Instantly, I was surrounded by kids looking at me as an escapee from the freak show and saying, "Are you nuts?" and "Don't you know Kennedy is a Commie?" I stammered I could support whoever I wanted, when a fifth grader stuffed his fist in my face.

"You better say you're for Nixon or you're gonna get it," he snarled, to general approval.

At that, a safety patrol boy pushed through the gang. "Break it up," he said. "What's going on?"

The fifth grader, still with his fist in my face, said, "This kid is for Kennedy!"

Sagely, the safety patroller said, "He can back whoever he wants, even if he is stupid."

I wish I could say when the results were known the next morning I was magnanimous, conciliatory, generous in praise to my vanquished rivals. I wish I could say that. I will say that fifth grader never bothered me again, and the class toady went off to annoy others.

That was my introduction to the game. Henry Steele Commager, in his book "The Empire of Reason," said politics was entertainment to the young American nation as it lacked its own literature. And politics still is entertainment.

By 8, I was already fascinated by the power of storytelling and within a few years a growing interest in politics and history suggested political journalism was the right job choice for me. A high school career counselor later tried to convince me I was truly destined to be a shoe salesman, but I wanted to pursue journalism (though at one point my plan was to follow Hemingway and go from writing breaking news to living as a world famous novelist in Paris. I must figure out what happened to that).

Except for a very brief stint in corporate life, journalism has been my career. During all that time as a reporter, I covered government and politics, along with, at times, cops, business, schools. A high school buddy of mine, now one of the wealthiest people I know, asked once why I stayed in journalism when the pay compared to, say, finance, his field, was "so lousy." You never have a boring day when you're telling the world what's going on, I said.

Watching the world as it passes teaches you things. You learn quickly as a political reporter, as does anyone else involved in politics, that politics involves both elections and policy. Because we live in one of the few nations where we know with absolute assurance when each election will occur our notion of politics is centered far more, probably too much, on elections.

It's understandable. Elections square off the players on the actual field. All the practice and coaching comes down to what a candidate does or does not do to win. And once one contest is decided the focus turns to the next bout. Talking to a Republican leader the day after the 2014 election I said he should be happy with the results.

He said Republicans had to remember they were just some 710 days from the next election and had to start getting ready for the upcoming election now.

As an afterthought to elections, policy has become increasingly a tool of election strategy and tactics instead of a means to resolve problems. As such, policy is increasingly driven by ideology rather than pragmatism. It's true of all sides now, and yes, journalism has played a role in creating that reality as has technological innovations, social media, a partisan-based media subset and buckets of money aimed at winning elections.

It's why major problems can't seemed to get solved. Or even seriously addressed. Nationally, we must like mass shootings because we don't take any steps to stop them. Ideology stops us even when there are ways to craft policy that doesn't offend the Second Amendment and could help minimize the chances of random slaughter.

And in this state, an ideological insistence against raising taxes in any way has blocked dealing seriously with roads. We appear to like crappy roads. We don't seem to be adult enough to say revenues have to be raised to fix them and then find the most effective manner to do so.

Is there an answer? Well, one might be to recognize we ain't so smart. The other guy – whomever the other guy may be, female, male, trans, conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican, gay, straight, pick your religion, pick your race, pick your nationality – might be right. At least listen to them, and if they are wrong show them how they are wrong instead of just calling them stupid. We all are wrong and stupid sometimes.

Journalism, well-practiced journalism, does let folks get their say. Well-practiced journalism uses facts – provable, definable items, facts in context – and does not let assertions stand unchallenged if facts prove them untrue. Journalists struggle today against a technological universe that allows nonsense and lies to spread faster than reporters can report the facts.

Paul Johnson, the conservative historian, once wrote that people mattered more than ideas. Ideas do matter, they have influence, they help lead to positive change, but we also need to abandon or at least alter them if they lead to harmful results. People do matter more than ideas. My business, journalism, has played a big role in showing what ideas work and which don't, as well as helping convince people to change their minds when appropriate.

At least journalism has played that role. It is more and more clear that for politics and government to work as it should, journalism must act as the public's monitors. For most of my career I was interested in why people wanted to know things, which is what drove them to support journalism. After all, newspapers, magazines, news outlets like Gongwer News Service, TV and radio news only exist because there is an audience to pay for them.

The question is changed now. Now I want to know why people don't seem to want to know things. Why do they distrust and dismiss facts? Why do they adhere to beliefs even when they are shown they are incorrect? Why are they so uncomfortable at facing any challenge? Why do they seem comfortable ignoring events surrounding them and the effects those events could have on them?

So many, too many, local newspapers have shut down – and enough electronic outlets have been taken over by individuals and corporate structures more interested in preserving their point of view, enough major newspaper corporations have been taken over by cannibalistic companies intend on stripping their assets to boost their rewards – that the negative effects can already be seen.

A world without journalism is less safe, more corrupt, more expensive and less free. People don't like reporters, hell, every reporter knows that. People will like a world without reporters even less.

Which goes back to the idea that we ain't so smart as we think we are. The fifth grader with his fist in my face wasn't so smart. I wasn't so smart in being hooty after Kennedy won. Any politician who thinks he or she has all the answers isn't so smart. Anybody who follows that politician blindly really isn't that smart. We all need to accept we need to listen more, read more, think more, learn more and be less certain of our innate stable genius.

I trust we will. I don't know that, can't know it, but I trust we will. I'll be watching with all of you to see how it turns out. Good luck to us all.

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Not Guilty Yet And Maybe Not Guilty At All. My, What A Development

Posted: December 12, 2019 2:41 PM

The Michigan House Journal for December 11, 2019 will forever show the following on the attendance roll call: "Inman e/d/s. That would be Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) entered during session.

The tally on Roll Call Vote 353 of 2019, in the 100th Legislative session will likewise forever show that Mr. Inman voted yes on HB 4204 *along with 72 of his colleagues.

Okay, who saw any of that coming? Besides Mr. Inman, that is.

The astonishment was palpable Tuesday evening when the verdicts came down in Grand Rapids federal district court. Mr. Inman, not guilty of lying to a federal agent, and then the hung jury on the other charges.

But they had him dead to rights, so thought most people. They had the texts, they had the witnesses, they had the guy. Apparently, at least on one charge, they had Mr. Inman just like at other times they had John Delorean and Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry.

Mr. Inman is now a member of a very exclusive club. Of the more than 5,000 people who have served in Michigan's Legislature mercifully few have gone to trial on any criminal charges. Even fewer – so few it is not immediately possible to tell if any others have – came away with an acquittal.

Oh, not guilty yet, not guilty yet, we have to remind ourselves, since already steps have been taken to retry Mr. Inman on the issues of extortion and bribery. Yes, there is that still. But now the prosecutors have to decide if they will retry Mr. Inman, and if so, on those charges or perhaps related but lesser charges they might have a better shot at winning a conviction.

Which leaves blank for the moment the question of what if Mr. Inman is acquitted on everything?

Even so, Mr. Inman can easily claim at this moment he was right. Virtually every member of the House called on him to resign. He did not. Look where he is now.

Thousands in his district signed petitions to have him recalled, petitions now held up by legal technicalities. What becomes of those?

He is still denied his office. He is denied membership to committees. Because his behavior was unseemly. Well, throughout most of state history most legislators didn't have an office. Mr. Inman has, though, what they had: the ability to vote on the floor.

The Constitution gives each chamber the right to decide on the credentials of each member. Two legislators who were also not convicted of crimes, those being former Republican Sen. David Jaye and former Republican Rep. Cindy Gamrat, were expelled for behavior unseemly and beneath a legislator.

Could expulsion await Mr. Inman? Well, now you get into question of how icky is this? Mr. Jaye was accused of assaulting his then fiancée. Ms. Gamrat was having an affair with another House member (who himself resigned rather than be expelled). Those met the undefinable-but-know-it-when-you-see-it icky factor. Has Mr. Inman breached that vague wall?

Well, ummm, that likely is something the House will have to decide. Mr. Inman, no doubt, will be there on the House floor willing to offer his opinion.

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Have We Come To A Point On Possibly Changing Term Limits?

Posted: November 21, 2019 4:46 PM

Is it possible, truly possible, that after 27 years changes may come to Michigan's term limits system?

Changes, mind you, not repeal. And most likely changes to the legislative requirements of three terms for House members, two for Senate members and then that's it.

Might changes finally happen?

Wednesday's announcement of a lawsuit brought by eight former Democratic and Republican legislators challenging term limits as unconstitutional based on the U.S. Constitution because it denies them access to run does take a new tack in the arguments against term limits, though a federal lawsuit against the 1992 constitutional amendment failed in the late 1990s.

And it comes as Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has said discussions need to happen on term limits. Voters Not Politicians is interested in changing term limits. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is considering the issue.

All these developments point to an intensifying focus on at least changing term limits (plenty of people would love to repeal term limits but accept the political reality such a move likely would not fly), an intensity on taking action that has not been seen in all the other discussions of changing term limits.

But what drives this new intensity? In fact, it is the same points opponents to term limits have argued all along. One, that the time limits are too short for lawmakers to develop much of the expertise and knowledge needed to make policy based on actual policy matters and not just politics.

Second, that term limits leave lawmakers with too little time to develop the relationships, understandings and even friendships needed to build a political framework to enact policy questions.

At the press conference on Wednesday, lead plaintiff Republican former Sen. Roger Kahn said road funding is a perfect example of an issue that remains unsolved in part because lawmakers don't have enough time to both make relationships and gain the technical knowledge needed.

And Republican former Rep. Paul Opsommer said House members have their most productive term in their third and last term. Again, when they have both developed relationships and policy expertise.

Again, these have been the points all opponents of term limits have hammered on for now 27 years. They lead, however, to an overriding point which ironically was one argument of term limits to begin with.

Ability to learn and create relationships allows a lawmaker to build credibility and independence from partisan hackles, interest group influence and to some measure of popular opposition. The lawmakers can then actually work on the issues they think best will serve the public.

Which term limits was actually supposed to help happen through the argument that giving folks a short time frame means they wouldn't become beholden to anyone else. Good strategy using a bad tactic in term limits.

Bringing us back to the original question: Is it possible changes may come to term limits? Yes, it is more possible now than it ever has been. Besides the ongoing actions though discussions and legal efforts there is one other reason why.

Patrick Anderson, head of the Anderson Economic Group, has long said once term limits had a full workout – and by that he meant all the lawmakers who had been elected before 1992 were gone from office and only fully-term limited legislators had served through a full cycle – he would be willing to discuss whether changes to term limits are justified.

No one has taken him up on that offer to talk, Mr. Anderson said in an interview yesterday. Maybe all those interested in changes should pick up the phone and see what might transpire. That really might push term limit changes along.

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The Budget-Non-Budget And Elections

Posted: November 14, 2019 2:15 PM

What to make of a year when we have a budget but don't have a budget at the same time?

Maybe instead we should ask what will the voters make of it in slightly less than a year?

Any corrective resolution to the strange mishmash of the now current 2019-20 budget-non-budget awaits December, with the House deciding to do extra Thanksgiving shopping or another clean of the hunting rifles or celebrate Dear Santa Letter Week this past week.

And political pressure is building on both sides. There are protests to line-item vetoes and transfers made by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. There are complaints that the Legislature wouldn't negotiate, focused on wrong priorities, is trying to subvert the separation of powers.

For every claim and argument one side makes, there is a counter claim or argument. Every time someone blasts Ms. Whitmer for cutting, say, the tuition grants for students at private colleges another person can riposte the Legislature's tiny percentage increase in public university spending means the state's tuition rates will be pushed closer to the stratosphere.

Each side anticipates the other will bear the brunt of the voters' wrath, come November 2020.

Well, okay, maybe. But let this reporter suggest the budget fight will rank down the list of most voter concerns.

In the 2020 election, most voters will be worried or focused on President Donald Trump. Oh, the budget is likely to be an issue, for those voters who will care about it, but looking at 2020 how one reacts to the current budget situation, how much one may care, will be the cherry on the cake of how a voter reacts to Mr. Trump. Support Mr. Trump, that voter likely will blame Ms. Whitmer for any budget issues – again, if the voter even really cares – but, vote against Mr. Trump, why then the Republican-controlled Legislature was the problem.

That is the reality of 2020. But this year's budget-non-budget could have a greater effect on the 2022 election, especially in regard to Ms. Whitmer.

Depending on how the 2020 election goes, Ms. Whitmer will have to deal with a reality beyond her control. If a Democrat is elected president, traditionally the president's party has trouble in the off-election, which means Ms. Whitmer could have problems. She would be the first Democratic governor to stand for re-election with a Democrat in the White House since 1962. Should Mr. Trump get re-elected, she may get the benefit of reaction to him.

But the issue she mainly got elected on in 2018 was fixing the @#%*(^$%@#*#$$%%&%&?/\! roads. A major program to get road and infrastructure repair failed to make it into the current budget-non-budget, so we aren't much closer to a fundamental road fix.

At this stage Ms. Whitmer will need to have a program, a really big program, to fix the roads in place by 2022 (or alternatively some kind of program and really good way to knock the Republicans for not making it bigger) to maintain voter confidence in three years overtake any national effect on her.

The best chance for that big program was this year. So, the 2019-20 budget-non-budget may yet play a big election role. Just keep the popcorn handy for the 2022 show.

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Power Plays, They're Not Just For Hockey

Posted: November 8, 2019 2:35 PM

Herewith a question: Which is more likely to be accomplished first, a U.S./China trade deal or a budget agreement between Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican-controlled Legislature?

Candidly the odds may be better than Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping could come to some arrangement than Ms. Whitmer and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

For the first time in decades we have an honest-to-Pete power play underway between a governor of one party and the Legislature of another party. And there is a serious implication this could go on a long time.

Mr. Shirkey's spokesperson has flat out said the majority leader does not trust Ms. Whitmer, that a budget agreement is conditioned on her agreeing to surrender through the rest of her term, and theoretically surrender for every governor hereafter, part of her authority. One should expect Ms. Whitmer doesn't have a lot of trust for the Legislature right now, either.

You have to go back to the 1970s when the Democratic-controlled Legislature tried to force Republican Governor William Milliken to bend to its will on the issue of Medicaid-funded abortions to find anything similar to this situation. He refused, and the Legislature decided to adjourn the fight to another arena.

Mr. Shirkey is demanding Ms. Whitmer sign a bill that puts a hard dollar limit on funds she could transfer via the Administrative Board in the budget. Ms. Whitmer, of course, transferred more than $600 million of appropriated funds between programs largely because the Legislature did no serious negotiating with her when the budget was in process.

The only governor to use the Administrative Board transfer route was former Governor John Engler (and two critical members of the board at that time were Democratic Secretary of State Richard Austin and Attorney General Frank Kelley. All the top officials in the current Ad Board are Democrats). Which raises another question: If Republican Bill Schuette were now governor and transferred the same amount via the Ad Board would a Republican Legislature make the same demand of him to limit his powers?

Yeah, no.

What incentive would Ms. Whitmer have to agree to such a demand? As a trade-off could she then demand the Legislature simply accept her budget proposals unchanged? How loudly would lawmakers laugh at that demand?

The separate but equal provision is at play here, just as much as funding for a whole variety of worthy causes – many of whom doubtless Ms. Whitmer didn't relish taking the action she took against – and is equally important. All three branches of government have tested the limits of each other throughout the state's history.

Rarely, though, have we seen such a demand that one branch concede.

For now, it looks like the clock is running on the Lansing power play. It may be a more interesting faceoff than what the Red Wings have been providing fans with lately.

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Not Just Who We Have Lost, But What Have We Lost?

Posted: October 24, 2019 1:08 PM

Think of who we have lost just this year. John Dingell, Damon Keith, Billy Huffman, Don Gilmer and last week former Governor William Milliken.

Think more, however, of what we have lost. That is a knowledge of governing, of how to accomplish things. And in that how to accomplish big things. Even when government was divided among the parties, these people (Mr. Keith, of course, was a federal judge) who were enmeshed in the game, and the dozens of men and women they worked with, knew how to craft tactics and deliver winning strategies that left all sides savoring a little victory.

Not all the time, of course. They each had failures. Nor were these accomplishments reached easily. Every one of their accomplishments on civil rights, the environment, education, the environment, taxes, was a tremendous struggle. Sometimes they involved furious shouting matches, as anyone who watched the massive struggle between Mr. Milliken and legislative Democrats on changes to workers' compensation can attest.

Yet, goals were reached and working relationships maintained.

Why? How? Why was this possible from starting in the late 1950s to the early 1980s? Since about 1983 and 1984, big government accomplishments, big BIPARTISAN government accomplishments, have become fewer and fewer. An ability to work together and reach agreement has given way more and more to bitter partisanship and one-sided victories.

What did these individuals bring, what did these individuals know and understand that we do not?

Was it generational? They were either of the World War II generation or the Silent Generation. They grew up and in some cases were young adults during a troubled world between the Great Depression, World War II, post-war economic uncertainties, the Cold War and the Korean War. Facing often massive difficulties and very uncertain futures, did they understand inherently a need to work together to solve their problems? Did they have a shared commonality that was lost as economic good times greeted the Boomer generation? The time frame in which they were most active politically, beginning in the late 1950s, would correspond to when most of them would have been in their early to mid-thirties the ages, when most a generation begin to take leadership roles.

Was it because they served before term limits took effect? Before the voters instituted term limits, there was a greater overall sense of bipartisanship. Lawmakers were more likely to socialize, often share apartments between partisan members. More bills were jointly sponsored by Democrats and Republicans. Plus, legislators had more time to study issues, become expert in them. The caucuses had less overall sway and while the caucus leaders had control there were fewer instances in which was deemed necessary to impose a hard position.

Whether there was one influencing factor or not, one thing about that time period is clear: People like Mr. Milliken, Mr. Dingell, Mr. Huffman and Mr. Gilmer and most elected officials understood things actually needed to be accomplished and politicians needed to stay true to their overall partisan principles. Rarely was there a situation where a purely partisan stance took place. It happened, yes, but not often.

There was a sense, which now seems essentially lost, that agreements had to be forged so the main goal of the legislation – on whatever subject, education, health care, taxes, transportation – was achieved but Democrats could say their principles were still respected and Republicans could say the same.

Which also meant, each side recognized they were not getting all the wanted. They could still take the agreement to their voters and say, "We aren't giving up on…" name your policy. But the big goal was mostly reached.

In other words, instead of the current definition of compromise too often being, "you surrender, and we have compromised," a compromise actually meant, "nobody is getting everything, but everybody is getting something."

Of course, people will complain about these leaders, say they held up or forced through vital, unneeded, critical, superfluous, important, self-serving, necessary, stupid legislation depending on the complainer's ideology. Did that actually happen? Well, yeah. It was a political time then, too, after all.

Still, with these leaders and the so many men and women who served with them, an awful lot got done. An awful lot of major legislation and judicial rulings that still provide the basis for so much in the state and nation got done. There have been some big accomplishments since, yes, but really not so many.

These leaders are gone, sadly. If their understanding of how to accomplish things is gone as well is what now has to be decided.

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John Engler, Kinda Champion Of The Poor, Sorta Maybe A Little Bit?

Posted: October 18, 2019 3:58 PM

If there was one thing former Governor John Engler was definitely, completely, totally in favor of it was thoroughly overhauling Michigan's social safety net, and not to make it bigger.

Yet, still, there was one thing he did that was reflected in Governor Gretchen Whitmer's announcement on Thursday of a less restrictive assets test for people eligible for basic services.

Make no mistake, farm-raised Mr. Engler was a champion of work. Practiced it, believed in it, preached it, believed completely in the essence of personal responsibility. Assistance was only for those who absolutely needed help, and ideally only for a short period of time. Otherwise one must work, and more for a person's own sense of wellbeing and personal worth than what it might save the state in tax dollars. Though saving the state tax dollars was always also equally high on Mr. Engler's list.

From the very beginning of his administration in 1991, he took steps to circumscribe the state's social welfare system. He first did so by ending General Assistance, which was welfare paid to single individuals. If a single person was able-bodied enough to work then he or she must, he and many others felt.

The Legislature fought him on it, but he won by transferring funds for General Assistance to other programs through the State Administrative Board – setting in motion then, Ms. Whitmer's own actions taken on the 2019-20 budget several weeks ago.

Mr. Engler pushed for work or education requirements for those on welfare. He pushed for lifetime limits on welfare benefits. He…well, you get the picture.

Advocates for the poor set up a poor person's camp on the Capitol lawn. Mr. Engler was protested at speeches. His public popularity sank like a stone in this first months. He didn't care.

And yet, he did take one step that both bolstered his attitude on self-reliance and provided help to at least some folks.

Mr. Engler sought a waiver from the federal government to change the asset rules regarding the poor to disregard ownership of a car. It couldn't be a luxury car, mind you, it would have to a banged-up beater that got you to work and back and not much more.

That was why Mr. Engler sought the waiver. He knew in places like Detroit public transit wasn't good (and the discussion about John Engler and public transit can be held another day) and if he was going to push and promote and require people to find work, they needed transportation to do so. That meant they needed a car to get to where jobs were.

And the state got the waiver.

In expanding the asset limit, Ms. Whitmer's administration made reference to the expansion the administration of Governor Rick Snyder made in 2011 covering a car, a second car actually. And a second car can be used to get to a job as well as help take care of a person's family. If both adults in a household are making little more than minimum wage, then they likely need both the second vehicle as well as assistance with food and other necessities.

Which goes back to Mr. Engler's thoughts and makes one wonder a little if he had any vision of his waiver request coming to this point?

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On The Massive Social Upheaval Thing

Posted: October 10, 2019 4:03 PM

Trying to guess what the U.S. Supreme Court will do based simply on oral arguments is all too often a question stuffed in a riddle blanketed by a problem smothered in a quandary and finally swallowed by an enigma.

Thus it was this week in the oral arguments in R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, the case arising out of Garden City where Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman, charged she was fired after she told her employers at the homes she would present as a woman and dress in women's clothes.

In one reading, it seemed the court was largely leaning Ms. Stephens' way. In a second reading the seemingly eternal bathroom question loomed large and threw the matter into doubt.

However, Justice Neil Gorsuch's question dealing with the "massive social upheaval" a decision in Ms. Stephens' favor would entail did lead to a bit of eyebrow raising. After all, isn't fomenting massive social upheaval something the Supreme Court is supposed to do? It doesn't seem to have had any problem doing so throughout history.

What is doubly interesting is how Mr. Gorsuch tied that question to earlier comments on how he was close to Ms. Stephens on whether federal law outlawing sex discrimination was in her favor.

After all, literally decades of Supreme Court decisions had ruled that sex discrimination dealt with all kinds of factors one had perhaps not initially considered, from questions on pregnancy to appropriate attire. Decisions not specifically aimed at sex discrimination, for example dealing with gay couples, also touched on the issue.

Mr. Gorsuch has written on judicial respect for the textual element of laws. Hence, the argument by Ms. Stephens' lawyer, David Cole, that firing Ms. Stephens for presenting as a woman when she was born a man poses an issue of sex discrimination because the decision to fire her was based on her sex clearly had resonance for many of the justices.

It was Harris Homes' lawyer John Bursch, the former Michigan solicitor general, who focused his arguments on the massive social upheaval concern. Holding for Ms. Stephens would have effects far beyond this one case, he said, or any case about firing an employee. Again, there is the bathroom question, but he added locker rooms, the makeup of athletic teams, and other issues to the debate.

Again, though, isn't creating massive social upheaval kinda something the Supreme Court does? One presumes the justices, along with the rest of the country, have heard of Brown v. Board of Education. Declaring racial segregation unconstitutional has to rank pretty high on the massive social upheaval index. So have previous decisions dealing with women's rights, with same-sex rights, with defendant's rights, with religious rights, free speech rights, and on and on.

How the court will rule on this case, we will know soon enough. What its decision will be premised on, that too will be revealed. And whenever one reads any court decision one has to remember in his classic "The Common Law" former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a judge makes a decision and then comes up with the reasons for the decision.

Whatever the decision, whatever the reason for the decision, we can presume the court will argue it will all fit into the constitutional goal of creating a more perfect union. We can know, as well, whatever the decision many people will question whether it does in fact help perfect the union.

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What Game Is This Now?

Posted: October 3, 2019 4:29 PM

In remembering legendary reporter Cokie Roberts, former Michigan State University professor and renowned columnist George Will said, "If you don't like the game of politics, I don't see how you write about it well. She liked the game of politics, and she understood it was a game."

What game have we now in Lansing? The 2019-20 budget fight has taken on dimensions long-time observers – in other words, old people – have never seen. Standoffs and confrontations are the stuff of state history, payless paydays and micro government shutdowns. This however, ahhh, well, you see…

What has happened in the last 10 days? Republican legislators handed off a budget written mostly by them alone to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, then absented themselves for several days, followed then by Ms. Whitmer signing the budgets while vetoing 147 sections, topped by the Administrative Board for the first time in better than 20 years approving a salmagundi of transfers to then be waived and waved away somewhat mournfully by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) saying the budget is done, fare thee well.

With the advent of abstract expressionist lawmaking in Lansing come the critics. Republicans saying Ms. Whitmer was trying to force the state to accept her 45-cent a gallon fuel tax increase and she was a hypocrite for vetoing $375 million in one-time additional road funding to fix at least a couple damn roads. Democrats saying Ms. Whitmer had no choice as Republicans would not negotiate and $375 million is about $2.2 billion less than most people who presumably know something about road construction say is needed on an annual basis to actually fix the damnable roads and the rest of the budget was a sloppy mess. Then there have been some critics saying from the gender politics standpoint the male Republican leaders were trying to intimidate Ms. Whitmer and disrespected her authority.

Oh, and one lobbyist said he has heard a couple Republicans say their cars aren't harmed going over potholes and nobody likes orange barrels anyway so this means there will be fewer of them and everyone will be happy. Very well then.

And again, what game is this? Who now is supposed to move? Who's on offense or defense or on the fence entirely? If there is a ball, what shape is it, where is it and what is to be done with it? What court is it in, what zone, whose wicket?

While no one has really said so, it appears the people are supposed to make the move now. Meaning we've gone a long way back to the Colosseum and deciding who becomes a lion's lunch. One guesses there is a hope the public will push back and demand action to, if not fix, at least then to cobble a recognizable budget. How that pressure is to come we shall see, perhaps. Mr. Shirkey says there will be no supplemental budget, but what's wrong with budget additions, budget addendums, budget adjuncts, budget additional allocations or whatever language suits for the moment's political purpose?

What game is this? Well, might as well just call it writing a budget 2019-version.

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Gravel, Really Not Much More To Say, Just … Gravel

Posted: September 26, 2019 4:19 PM

Ages ago, when the state was anchored in what was really the worst recession since the Great Depression, the one from 1979 to 1983, Governor William Milliken's administration was desperate to find any way to cut spending. Someone suggested they close half the restrooms in state buildings. An analysis was conducted and determined when calculating lights, saving water, soap, paper and cleaning costs it would all add up to the state saving at least 20 grand on an annual basis. The cost of one state worker at the time.

This reporter found out about it and called Budget and Management Director Gerald Miller. Yes, they had looked at closing the restrooms, he said. But, said our reporter, doesn't it worry you that you'll create an image the state is in such rotten shape you can't even take a leak?

"That's why we aren't doing it," Mr. Miller said, "because of the reaction it would generate."

That conversation came to mind when Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) told the Detroit Free Press Michigan has too many roads and maybe some should be allowed to return to gravel. One presumes be deliberately returned to gravel instead of the chaotic natural way so many roads seem to be returning to gravel.

Is that really the image the state wants to present? 'Cause that is the image the state's going get, like it or not.

The reaction the idea has on social media isn't an enthusiastic rush to embrace gravel roads along with its potholes, mud pots, washboards, stones cracking windshields and unbreathable dust. Most reactions from ordinary folks can be summed up as, "Seriously? Are you seriously suggesting that?"

It does seem counterintuitive as a policy matter to suggest roads should revert to the finest technology of the 19th century. Of course, natural preservation of the environment is a worthy goal, and restoring habitats is as well a lofty public ambition. But were paved roads supposed to be part of that mix?

If Michigan decides sure, let's return a few roads to gravel, how would that proceed? What metrics would be involved? Would you have local fights from residents and businesses demanding their roads remain paved? Would local governments be able to appeal a decision? Wouldn't we see legislators, who once argued roads needed to be built in their areas, now arguing their roads needed to stay paved?

And again, what kind of image would that present? And would that be an image the state would be willing to dispute? If Ohio or Indiana or Wisconsin tries to attract businesses by showing off their beautiful roads (and compared to ours, well, it needs no further comment) and then saying what about Michigan? "Great place to locate if you're shipping freight by mule-train and buckboard."

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Watch Yourself, History Replay Maybe In Line

Posted: September 8, 2019 3:36 PM

The Legislature was determined to force the governor to bend to its will. Legislators were sure they had a strategy the governor could not beat.

Instead, the Legislature was beaten. And they knew it, and didn't try it again.

It happened, it really did, and we can wonder now if it will happen again. Oddsmakers would probably put money on Governor Gretchen Whitmer if the 100th Legislature tries tactics similar to what the 79th Legislature attempted and failed at.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has said, in effect, the Legislature will not raise more money for road repairs and will send Ms. Whitmer a 2019-20 budget, presumably with fewer than two weeks left in the fiscal year, reflecting that decision.

If Ms. Whitmer signs the budget, she has basically given up any genuine hope of seeing a road construction plan with new revenue, at least revenue approaching $2.5 billion, for likely all her current term being enacted. But there will be a budget, which, of course, will also fall short of many of her other goals.

If she vetoes the budget, she puts herself in position to still get some kind of a deal for road funding, what she campaigned on and what she decisively won the governor's race on. But, of course, there will be no budget with the 2019-20 fiscal year days away from starting and the specter of a government shutdown looming.

Who then is in the better overall position? The governor.

In 1978, what roiled the Legislature was the question of the state paying Medicaid recipients for elective abortions. The Legislature was all Democratic, but as anti-abortion as the current all Republican Legislature. The then governor, Governor William Milliken, strongly supported Medicaid abortion funding as he believed all women in the state had to have the same access to full medical care.

Several times the Legislature sent measures to block Medicaid-funded abortions. Each time Mr. Milliken vetoed it, and the Legislature was unable to override the veto.

Then the Legislature hit on a new idea: write a ban on Medicaid abortion in virtually every relevant line of the state's social services budget. All the stuff in the bill dealing with Medicaid. Don't bother with the regular welfare and food aid sections, just make it so he has no options other than sign or veto the Medicaid section. In other words, if Mr. Milliken vetoed that part of the budget nobody on Medicaid would get any health care for anything, from treating a hangnail to treating brain cancer.

Think of the political trauma the governor would face, and while he's running for re-election!, legislators thought. The sight and idea of children and the elderly being turned away from needed health care because the governor is going to defend abortion rights for the poor will be devastating to him.

One legislator, Democratic Rep. Eddie Mahalak, was almost giddy with delight at the strategy.

The Legislature passed the bill. It was presented to the governor. Some legislators speculated on whether Mr. Milliken would sign it or let it become law without his signature (if the governor takes no action on a bill presented to their desk within 14 days while the Legislature is in session, it becomes law).

Mr. Milliken vetoed the Medicaid section, probably still the biggest line-item veto in terms of dollars. And in his veto message he said, "A major policy should not be slipped past the public in this matter. We should deal with it openly, based on the courage of our convictions." Abortion was legal, he said, the issue is whether only affluent women or all women could avail themselves of the procedure if needed.

Lawmakers were stunned. So many honestly thought Mr. Milliken wouldn't test them. Though he had already been in office almost 10 years they clearly didn't know him very well.

Now they were stuck. They knew they could not override the veto. And after trying to sort out some sort of a new plan, they were forced to send him a medical services budget clean of all reference to abortion except for a $1 line item, which Mr. Milliken vetoed.

Astonishingly, some six years later, under then-Governor James Blanchard, legislators held a press conference announcing they were going to attempt the same tactic. Mr. Blanchard wouldn't dare veto the entire budget, they assured reporters.

This reporter asked, "Why not? Milliken did.' Then-Rep. Fred Dillingham, who was leading the press conference said, "Well, there's a rumor that he did that, but he didn't really."

This reporter stood up, walked to a stack of public act books, picked up the 1978 edition, opened it to the veto message and – while the press conference was still underway – put it in front of Mr. Dillingham. Mr. Dillingham went silent, said finally something on the line of "well, we'll have to look at this," and ended the press conference.

The Legislature did not attempt that tactic.

Why then could we expect Ms. Whitmer to take the same tack if the Legislature sends her a budget without a road funding proposal? Because, she has the upper hand.

There is no way the Legislature could override her veto, to begin with. And why even attempt something that you can't win on in the first place?

Second, Ms. Whitmer ran on the issue of fixing the roads. She has pushed the issue virtually every day she has been in office. The voters knew fixing the roads meant coming up with more money. Maybe not 45-cents a gallon, as she initially proposed, but they knew they would have to pay more in some fashion to get roads fixed.

Third, not just the voters but the business community, the Republicans' major ally, is behind a road plan and recognizes it will need to raise revenue, and wants it done.

Fourth, even if you test a government shutdown it could only last a few days at best. Individuals, businesses, local governments, schools will howl so loudly that a continuation budget bill will appear quickly, sapping the Legislature of its last major weapon.

Fifth, pay attention to history. We ain't changed that much over the years, and what was true then is probably still true today.

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Political Agenda Setting In The Next Month

Posted: August 29, 2019 3:22 PM

Okay, the next 33 days is intended for the state to develop a 2019-20 budget and a road plan. How much of either we get is partly the issue here. Because the next month will also be critical in setting agendas for two future events: the elections of 2020 and 2022.

In setting those agendas, however, the politics of the next month will be critical. Critical to see who can put the greatest pressure on who to win the month. For all the ya-ya, blah-blah come October 1 over the people "won" whatever they "won" out of whatever comes of the discussions between Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), the real winner will be which of politicians gets closest to her/his ultimate goal.

Which then triggers the political agenda setting and strategizing for first the critical 2020 election and then the equally critical 2022 election.

The absolute best hope of getting a budget including a plan to invest $2 billion plus into road and infrastructure comes this month. If the two parts are broken, the chance of a serious plan to fix roads being passed anytime during the remainder of the 100th Legislature diminishes dramatically.

Oh, some road proposal would get passed, certainly. But if the experts say fixing the state's roads needs an ongoing investment of $2 billion or more you can bet a pothole whatever road plan is passed beyond September will fall short of that funding, and therefore fall short of Ms. Whitmer's goal. Anything passed after the passage of the rest of the budget will not include the major revenue source needed – from wherever it comes – to meet the full ongoing construction need.

Well, 2020, election year, passing tax increases is very unpopular during election years. The best hope of passing a significant revenue increase is in the next 33 days with the additional funds going to work in 2020.

So, Ms. Whitmer will have to rally her troops to put as much pressure as they can on the legislative leaders to move on revenue. A revenue decision will not come just from three folks talking in a closed room. It will come with unrelenting pressure not just on Mr. Shirkey and Mr. Chatfield but on their various caucus members who will end up putting the real pressure on the leaders.

And opponents of revenue increases will have to push just as hard to convince lawmakers to hold firm. They have a somewhat tougher task because the push to reroute spending for roads means various budget areas, and their constituents, will be left short of funds and fuming, and they will have to adequately explain how no new revenue will keep up sufficient funds for ongoing road maintenance and construction.

Again, we're looking not just at the next month, but the next 27 months. However this September is resolved, big campaign slogans and attacks will be the result. Remember, the big goal in Michigan government next year is control of the House. If Republicans win, they can help stall the Whitmer agenda and force her into a 2022 race with voters asking, "Did you fix the roads?"

If Democrats take the House next year, then two-thirds Democratic control of state government will put a ton of pressure on Senate Republicans leading up to 2022.

The 2020 House campaign could easily shape up to this Democrat raised/tried to raise your taxes; this Republican blocked fixing your roads.

Some months back, this reporter said Mr. Shirkey would be the key player in deciding a final resolution. With Ms. Whitmer and Mr. Chatfield largely fixed in their positions, that hasn't changed much. Mr. Shirkey's suggestion to split the budget from the road package is more a high-stakes ante to call everyone's bluff than it is a major policy position.

After all, it's not just Ms. Whitmer who wants a road plan. Mr. Shirkey and Mr. Chatfield's constituents want a road plan too. Everyone wants a road plan. Okay they disagree on how to pay for it, but they want a plan, they want something to actually start fixing the roads. And, frankly, they are tired of the ongoing argument so they want to see a plan that everyone agrees will actually take care of the issue.

Mr. Shirkey then remains the guy with the hand everyone plays against. Now comes the political action that will drive how the players call his hand, and helps set up the election games for the next several years.

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Is The New Revenue Question On Roads Actually Truly Solved?

Posted: August 22, 2019 3:11 PM

Lynn Townsend was the Chrysler CEO just before Lee Iacocca took over and said something once that could be applied to just about anything. Consumers, he said, want an "Imperial at a Dodge Dart price."

Everyone wants the best, most expensive of anything and they don't want to pay a penny for it. We're all guilty of this, which helps explain a major reason why Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature have stalled getting an agreement on fixing the state's roads.

How are we going to pay for a serious infrastructure rehabilitation process? At least one player in this game, that being the House Republicans, has been adamant about not raising taxes to pay for more than $2 billion in road fixes. Senate Republicans have mostly been resistant, but still willing to wiggle a bit.

Opposing raising more money is the argument the public can't be burdened with more taxes. Sometimes it's a winning argument, but here's the thing: that argument has probably lost and lost a long time ago.

Proof? Well, earlier this month voters in Ingham County's Meridian Township approved a tax increase to fix up their roads. That adds Meridian to a list of, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, some 700 local governments in the state that have assessed additional taxes, all approved by voters, for roads and other infrastructure needs.

There are 29 counties levying 31 different millages for roads, according the County Road Association of Michigan. The largest county of these is Washtenaw. Ontonagon starting levying a millage in 1936 – many drivers on Michigan roads today can be forgiven for thinking 1936 is when their particular road was last repaired.

How much these millages raise has to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The counties combined raise more than $59 million a year for roadwork. A good chunk of change, but still far less than the $2 billion plus Ms. Whitmer and others say is needed in the state.

Beyond what the taxpayers across the state have already agreed to pay, we see now that soybean farmers are paying to help local governments determine the safety of bridges their heavy bean-laden trucks cross. On their own, without government prodding, they are ponying up cash to help not just their industry but local residents.

One could then argue that by action if not express verbal support, the public has answered the question on raising new money to fix roads. One could further argue the answer is yes, raise money. No one would argue people like paying more money, but they will do it when they see it is needed.

It's kind of a dad-thing, you know. "Honey, the washer is broken." Dad: grumble grumble grumble, fiddles with belts, bolts, drums, nearly shorts out the house and then snaps, "Then let's just go get a new damn one."

Has not the public finally reached its spouse moment on paying for roads? Could not policymakers look at the widespread voter results from localities in almost every county over a very long time frame and conclude the public is sick of making do and will pay for new?

It is probably something policymakers should think about as they bump along Michigan roads towards home.

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Now Performing Amazing Feats Of Absurdity, Oakland's Commissioners!

Posted: August 15, 2019 2:46 PM

If politics is show business for ugly people, then roll up kiddies because there is one grand boffo farce on stage right now in Oakland County.

And this reporter guarantees you no one is laughing harder at this show from his post somewhere in the divine eternal than L. Brooks Patterson.

Beyond comical, though, the pratfalls the county's Board of Commissioners have performed are also sadly ironic, given the legacy of Mr. Patterson.

You may not have liked or agreed with Mr. Patterson's politics, you may have cringed at his comments – especially those spearing Detroit – but whatever your party or your ideology you had to admit Mr. Patterson ran one hell of a top-notch county administration for the last 25-years.

The board of commissioners on the other hand leave one in doubt if any of them could successfully execute a takeout order for lunch.

Does the list of slipups, screwups and very naughty word-ups need repeating? Of course it does, at least in abbreviated form.

Mr. Patterson dies from pancreatic cancer. His funeral is scheduled for Thursday, August 15, which if you're reading this today is today. Also initially scheduled for Thursday, August 15 is a commissioner meeting to select Mr. Patterson's replacement. The commissioners, who have 30 days to select a successor or a special election is called, decide meeting during Mr. Patterson's funeral equals bad optics, so the meeting is reset for Friday, August 16.

Commissioner Chair Dave Woodward, who has wanted to be county executive, resigns his seat so he can be named county executive. Except in doing so, he deprives the county's Democrats of a board majority – the board is now 10-10 Dem/Republican where it was 11-10 in favor of the Dems – which could be an impediment in naming a Democrat the new executive.

As a side comic interlude, County Commissioner Republican Shelley Taub was caught texting her board colleagues to "DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!" their public email to avoid Freedom of Information requests. She tells a reporter it was dumbest thing she ever did. Ya think?

Back to the main action, a special three-member committee is named, two Democrats, one Republican, to interview the applicants for executive. They announce five interviews. Wait a sec, weren't there 21 applicants? Yeah, well, they're interviewing five. Which they do, only the Republican member boycotts the interviews.

Then today, again that would be Thursday, August 15, Mr. Woodward decides to drop out of the executive race. And he is withdrawing his resignation so he can get back on the board of commissioners. Wait a minute, wasn't something else happening today? Oh yeah, MR. PATTERSON'S FUNERAL! MR. WOODWARD PULLED OUT OF THE EXECUTIVE RACE DURING THE FUNERAL!

As one Oakland Democrat said to this reporter, "People weren't even allowed to mourn during the funeral."

And that's just the highlights, folks. There have been plenty of other diverting moments in this burlesque.

One is so tempted to repeat Will Rodgers' comment about not being a member of an organized party, except neither party has displayed much organizational prowess these last weeks.

Many people shake their heads, wondering why with Mr. Patterson so desperately ill the commissioners did not develop a sensible plan for naming a successor. One also suspects developing a sensible succession plan is the kind of action Mr. Patterson would have strongly suggested.

Well, Mr. Patterson always liked a good laugh. He has to be having one now.

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There Was A Little Girl At A Gun Show And What Justice Scalia Said

Posted: August 8, 2019 4:04 PM

There was a little girl, no more than five, sitting on a stool intently watching what looked like a Disney movie on an iPad while her parents were just as intently listening to a gun dealer instruct them how to convert the semi-automatic rifle they were buying into a fully automatic weapon.

That happened at a gun show several years ago in Oakland County this reporter attended out of sheer curiosity. It was something brought back to mind this week. It's brought back to mind when there is a mass shooting, which sadly means in the three-plus years since that show I have thought of it often.

I'm well familiar with guns. I have no basic objection to guns. There have been times when things got a little odd in my different neighborhoods where I debated having a weapon and consulted with cops and gun experts I knew on what to buy (they all said forget about a pistol, get a pump-action shotgun. "You'll hit everything with that," one said to me).

We come again, yet again, to the question of what we can do to stifle if not end casual mass slaughter, since pleas to embrace and love all humanity fail. We again have to decide whether we will even debate the question in a way that leads to some action.

Because we haven't ever gotten to the point of deciding whether we should do something. For all the locations we can roll easily off the tongue – Columbine, Atlanta, Aurora, Wedgewood Baptist, Sikh Temple, the Navy Yards, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Pittsburgh, now El Paso and Dayton and of course Kalamazoo – have we done anything?

People say focus on mental health. Okay, the mental health community in this state and in the nation won't argue in one way with that. Mental health care has always been the afterthought in the health care debate, so by all means take on mental health. There is one type of gun violence we likely could reduce if more attention were paid to mental health, and that is suicide. Mass shootings, well the research seems less definitive on how effective that would be.

Attack video games? Really? Not to be churlish, but the Japanese spend far more per capita on video games than we do and how many mass shootings have they had? Of course, if their rules on gun ownership were the same as ours … ah, yes, the vexed question.

It is well established owning guns is a constitutional right. The U.S. Supreme Court held it was and held it was not connected to the militia provision in the 2nd Amendment, in its controversial D.C. v. Heller decision of 2008.

But what else did the court say in that decision? Let the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority decision, tell us:

"Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the

question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues," Mr. Scalia said.

"Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms," he continued.

"We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those 'in common use at the time. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of 'dangerous and unusual weapons.' It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service — M-16 rifles and the like — may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment's ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty," Mr. Scalia said.

The Legislature has before it a number of bills dealing with what are called red flag laws, HB 4283*, HB 4284*, HB 4285*, SB 156*, SB 157 *and SB 158*. It is completely up to the Legislature whether it will or not deal with those bills. It seems Mr. Scalia, though, has laid out the legal standards permitting action on the bills should the Legislature choose to do so.

One other thing about the gun show that has stuck with this reporter: it was strictly forbidden to carry a loaded weapon into the show. You had to surrender any weapon you had to several nice older ladies who ensured they were unloaded before entering. I've always wondered what the gun show organizer understood that we somehow do not understand.

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Mentorship, A Quality Which Seems Now Lacking

Posted: July 24, 2019 3:48 PM

It is hardly a headline that the old leave us. It is the nature of life after all. When they do go, we remember what they accomplished and the wise among us regret what we may have yet learned from them.

In recent weeks, several former senior legislators have died, and their loss has raised the question of what in fact we have lost. Further, it goes to a question of how, especially under term limits, lawmakers and policymakers in the state find a way to recover and make good use of the value those former lawmakers and officials could provide.

Among the complaints term limits opponents have made is that our system, in place since 1992, hurts the ability of lawmakers to develop experience and build relationships.

But since the deaths recently of former Sens. Billy Sunday Huffman and Gary Corbin (and though he was not an elected official, I would add Bob Berg because of his positions with both former Governor William Milliken and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young), a number of people have complained that term limits has limited something else.

That is mentorship, the ability of former leaders, legislators, officials to provide newer and generally younger legislators and officials with insight, advice and counsel based on their experience, their victories and defeats.

Talk to former legislators, and those who served from the 1970s to the 1990s will tell you how Democrats and Republicans together would meet casually and almost always have the senior legislators talk about how issues were handled in previous sessions, how they assessed and dealt with problems, what they wished they had done differently, and how solutions had worked or hadn't. Every person who talks of those times says how incredibly valuable those sessions were, how those sessions helped them understand the background of issues, who had the best knowledge on the issues, specific legal and administrative booby traps to watch for, constituencies that needed to be consulted, how to work with the other side, and how, generally, to do the best job they could for their constituents.

The lifetime limits on legislative and state office service plays a major role in limiting the ability for mentorships. Pat Anderson, a principal author and supporter of term limits, has said now that the full effect of term limits has been realized – in other words, that no lawmakers in office prior to term limits taking effect are still in office – a reasonable change could be to alter the lifetime limits, so long as that amendment does not block the ability of newer people to serve.

Short of that, lawmakers and officials could take steps on their own to encourage current officials to meet with former officials to draw on their experience and knowledge. House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) did this in a way when he invited the former speakers to come together before he took the post. Doing so more often, in – as much as this reporter hates to suggest it – off the record lunches or events to discuss specific pending issues, could be encouraged.

True, all the best advice in the world won't stop someone from making the worst mistakes in the world, but that lies on the person acting not the advisor. Right now, the state seems stuck on a few issues. Would it hurt to have folks who have figured how to get unstuck to make suggestions?

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One Moment With U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Posted: July 18, 2019 3:10 PM

If you had not heard about U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) before this week, and you have been at least half-awake, you have certainly heard of her now.

Along with her fellow Democratic freshman U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Octavio-Cortez of New York, Ms. Tlaib is part of the "Squad" the four women formed, trying to push Democrats further left. Before this past Sunday, they were still known primarily to the political cognoscenti who wondered at their tangles with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

Then Sunday, President Donald Trump entered the fray through Twitter, saying they if the Squad members hate America they should go back to where they came from (which in Ms. Tlaib's case is literally Detroit). And it's been nonstop since then. Many commentators say Mr. Trump's attack is an attempt to define the Democratic Party and his eventual 2020 opponent through these four with his – well, sorry, but this is what they are – racist attacks.

Ms. Tlaib has always been unafraid to speak her mind and share her views. She was removed with other protestors from a Detroit Economic Club luncheon with Mr. Trump. She made it plain in her campaign for Congress that one of her goals was to see Mr. Trump impeached. She has been active on social media, has been for years, speaking up for Palestinians, showing off her family, and making statements. She posted a Facebook video after Mr. Trump's tweets saying no bully would silence her, and she urged everyone in her 13th District to join together to fight for working families.

These are all, in their own way to be expected. But the image of Ms. Tlaib this reporter best recalls comes from 2013. She was in the state House and working in the House Appropriations Community Health Subcommittee with then chair Republican Rep. Matt Lori. Both played a big role in developing the state's Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion, but given the animosity to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the Republican control of the Legislature, Mr. Lori's role was clearly bigger.

It was after the subcommittee had taken significant action to fund the program. This reporter was standing behind Mr. Lori waiting for another reporter to finish asking questions. Before I could get in to speak to him, Ms. Tlaib knelt beside Mr. Lori, whispering to him. What I could hear mostly was her thanking him for all he did for to move the bill.

Then she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

That instant has stuck with me. At one time, lawmakers showing emotion with each other, even members of the other party, was actually a regular happening. Thus, I remember then-House Republican Leader Bill Bryant weeping as he said his goodbye on the House Floor to Democratic Taxation Chair George Montgomery. Or when then-Democratic Sen., now Wayne Circuit Judge, Virgil Smith hugged then-Republican Sen. David Honigman when Mr. Honigman returned to the chamber after life-saving surgery.

Yes, those were mostly during the pre-term limits era, when lawmakers worked together and socialized together and tried to find solutions together. It's not that term limits makes any of that impossible, just far harder than it should be. And when the toxicity of partisanship is added to the stew, it is less and less likely to see genuine emotional moments between lawmakers. Well, less likely to see emotional moments that don't involve anger.

But that moment of heartfelt gratitude Ms. Tlaib showed Mr. Lori was one time in what was even then a toxic partisan time lawmakers could and did work together, and express their appreciation for each other.

Whatever happens with this latest controversy, for this reporter at least when he thinks of Ms. Tlaib, that is one moment he will remember.

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Debbie Dingell And The Worries She Expresses

Posted: July 12, 2019 2:47 PM

Like any politician, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell is active on social media, especially on Facebook. And it is through her Facebook page she has informed her constituents, friends and folks just browsing on her congressional activities, on reaching the new normal in her life without her husband, congressional legend former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, and her worries.

And those worries often focus on divisiveness. Not the general concept of divisiveness that is discussed and written about and speculated on in a general philosophical sense. But political divisiveness as it affects friendships and families.

In many ways, Ms. Dingell (D-Dearborn) uses her Facebook page as anyone else might. She makes ample use of Peanuts and Winnie the Pooh cartoons to wish people happy days. Of course, her page is festooned with photographs. There is the occasional video, for example of Ms. Dingell doing a little shimmy while singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" on July 4.

She also uses the page to help in her journey through grief. This also is not new. Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) will still write moving letters on Facebook to his young granddaughter who died. This week, Ms. Dingell posted a photograph of Mr. Dingell's grave at Arlington National Cemetery and how at first, this past Monday, which would have been Mr. Dingell's 93rd birthday, the cemetery was for a time closed due to flooding. But she felt she had to be there, and later that day the cemetery was opened and she was able to spend time with him.

And on that page she also expresses the pain of watching friendships possibly being shattered because of political animosity that exists not just in government but among friends and families.

In June, Ms. Dingell wrote of a breakfast group she had been part of for some 20 years, a group that has been an anchor for her. The members could disagree, sometimes strongly, on issues, but always, she said, respectfully.

Things have changed, she said. "I went today, and it was just plain uncomfortable and by the time I left most of those at the entire bagel place had become involved for or against I don't even know what." A friend, "someone I deeply respect," had come angry about Democrats, about the talk of impeachment, about guns, about other issues, she said.

"Others at separate tables then expressed opinions responding, one wanting me to support impeachment, others concerned about prescription drugs, others saying I was doing right thing. A third person, someone I know as a veteran, came over to tell me in no uncertain terms, using very harsh names and words what he thinks of Democrats, its leaders and how we keep America from being great. By now everyone present had become involved and aware and I know many felt very uncomfortable. I sure did." Though the friends still at her table, all Republicans, she said, urged her not to be bothered, Ms. Dingell said she was all day.

Once the breakfast group was to talk about sports, families, books, neighbors and, yes, politics, but now, "I told my friends this was why it had become difficult to meet them.....a simple gathering place is becoming one more place that divides."

It is not the only post where she has expressed those worries. Worries so many people have raised about splits in their own families or in their neighborhoods.

Mr. Dingell was a red-blooded Democrat, but had many Republican friends and praised them. Ms. Dingell started life as a Republican, had worked for former U.S. Sen. Robert Griffin, a Republican from Michigan, and then switched parties. The vicious divide between the two parties existing now is something one hopes politicians will grow out of eventually.

But the split happening in families and among friends: Could that prove to be the more serious split in the end, one that is harder to heal, one that causes greater lasting damage to us all? Should we, like Ms. Dingell, worry more about that split?

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Lindstrom For The U.S. Senate…Out Of Kansas, That Is

Posted: June 27, 2019 1:59 PM

Could a Lindstrom finally stand in the U.S. Senate chamber? Maybe.

No, no, no, this reporter is not running for the U.S. Senate. The only thing this reporter will run for is president of the Alfred Hitchcock Film Society, and even then, he'd lose over the vexed "Jamaica Inn" question.

However, cousin Dave is running, in Kansas.

David Lindstrom, one of the six sons of Uncle Paul and Aunt Harriett Lindstrom of Weymouth, Massachusetts, officially announced Thursday he is running for the Republican nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in the JayHawker state.

Cousin Dave arrived in Kansas because he is one of three of Paul and Harriet's boys to play pro-football (the Lindstrom family's prowess in football is legendary. People still marvel at this reporter's renown for bench-sitting as a third-string defensive tackle) along with his brothers Chris and Eric. Chris's son, Chris Jr., was just drafted in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons after a stellar career as the top offensive guard at Boston College. Dave had the longest career of the three brothers, playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and living in the Kansas suburbs of the Missouri city.

Possibly Dave's first major claim to post-football fame was as the focus of a lead story in the Wall Street Journal more than 20 years ago, which looked at his efforts as a Burger King franchise owner to hire folks on welfare and help them move into the working life. Not quite as famous was the reaction of my neighbors when I shouted to them early that morning, standing on the front porch in my bathrobe while holding the paper, "Hey, this story is about my cousin!"

Dave was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Kansas in 2002, and the GOP ticket that year, um, lost. He was then a top county official and has been a major local philanthropist.

He's running because current U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) is not. He's stepping down after four-terms in the chamber.

And Dave is getting in early for what a number of Kansas political observers think could be a crowded and fraught GOP field for the nomination. Only one other candidate has so far announced. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Kansan and former U.S. House member, has said he will not run for the seat.

Dave is pushing all the right conservative Republican buttons, which one might expect in Kansas. In a newspaper interview before he announced Dave said he worried about a growing embrace of "socialism," and that, "I think our country's under attack." Dave said he worries that some politicians are helping create an environment of "entitlement, as opposed to hard work." That, he said, is how he views socialism.

Now if Dave hired this reporter's brother Peter, a top opposition-research specialist out of Washington, D.C., to handle that part of his campaign, he'd be a guaranteed winner.

Except that Peter is a Democrat. Hey, just like football, we Lindstroms hit 'em from both sides.

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There's A Budget/Roads Fight A Fixin' To Come, Who's Got The Stronger Hand?

Posted: June 21, 2019 3:54 PM

We are entering an unusual period in Michigan governance. The economy is still pretty good. The state is relatively flush fiscal-wise. July 4 is soon upon us with parades and hot dogs and fireworks and cakes with flags and did we say parades already?

And we do not have a budget. Nor, unless all state leaders have the same divine dream at the same time and come to accord over coffee some morning next week, will we have a budget by July 4. Which means: There's a budget fight a-comin'. Which is directly tied into the road fight that's here already but hasn't yet put on the gloves.

So, what does the tale of the tape tell us? Who has the stronger hand in this robust discussion we expect soon? It's no surprise really, it's Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

But, let's be honest, and not to take away from Ms. Whitmer's position, the governor – any governor – has an advantage over the Legislature in settling a budget. There is the veto thing, after all. And the governor always has a bargaining advantage over lawmakers. Need a library, a rest stop, help with a development issue, let's see representative or senator, where were you exactly on that road tax vote?

Fixing the roads does exactly give Ms. Whitmer a bigger advantage. It was the issue she ran on, it was the primary issue that got her elected. She's come up with a proposal and been pushing it hard with the general electorate.

Of course, her proposed 45-cent hike in fuel taxes isn't popular. But getting Afghanistan's, sorry Michigan's, roads fixed is very popular. And creating a situation where the roads stay nice and fixed, like they are in most states, is also very popular. And Ms. Whitmer has kept pushing the idea of don't like my plan, come up with something else. That shows flexibility in finding a solution.

She was helped in that this week when House Democrats did come up with a plan that boosted revenue for roads, though not through a fuel tax hike. The House Dems taking that step silences one complaint majority Republicans have made: that Ms. Whitmer's defenders have not produced a plan. Now the focus goes squarely on the Republicans to produce an actual proposal that answers Ms. Whitmer.

House Republicans have done the most, thus far, on the roads question, but their somewhat non-specified strategy of cutting the budget, possibly selling assets and trying to redirect funding runs into a ton of overall management problems they as yet have not resolved. You can only sell an asset once, after all, and fixing the roads is an ongoing problem. Pulling money from schools for roads, that's a tough sell, as will be finding the money to replace the school money pulled for the roads.

Not that Ms. Whitmer will have an easy time. She'll take some body blows in getting a resolution. There will be, there will have to be, compromises. All sides will have to come out with what they can call a win in the fights. It could get tense. Right now, one suspects it won't come down to 11:59 p.m., September 30 before a resolution is reached. But we could be into football season before it's finished.

Of course, the way the Tigers are playing it may as well be football season already, except that means watching the Lions, so maybe the best show will be the budget/roads fight.

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How Does Flint Get Justice?

Posted: June 14, 2019 3:45 PM

The state dropped its cases against the Flint water crisis defendants on Thursday. Well, the state probably saved itself some embarrassment in doing so. Because this reporter was willing to bet cash money former Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon was not going to prison. Nor was the state's former chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, going to prison. In fact, probably none of the charged individuals were going to prison.

By dropping the cases, the state is free to file new charges, add new defendants. It is also free to not file charges.

No one should prejudge what the state will do. But the state has to come up with something seriously damning if it honestly hopes to send someone to jail. This reporter remains willing to bet cash money that almost no one will end up behind bars because of the injury done Flint and its residents.

The task of proving a mens rea – a criminal intent – of state officials involving Flint is going to be probably impossible. Seriously, does one honestly think state officials maliciously intended to harm the residents of one of the state's largest cities? Even if one does think that, prove it, and do so beyond a reasonable doubt. This reporter has sat on five juries, this reporter in three of them stood and pronounced the defendant guilty. This reporter also covered Mr. Lyon's preliminary examination and toted in his mind the large numbers of allegations defense counsel could rip up. This reporter knows what reasonable doubt is and that seemed all the state's case stood on.

Can't prove criminal intent, okay, can you prove criminal negligence? Maybe. But still that will be very hard to prove. And in some cases, if not most, next to impossible to prove.

And if the state can make a case, either involving criminal intent or criminal negligence, will it be able to prove its case to a jury located outside Genesee County? Because change of venue motions are going to fly thicker than a crowd of mosquitoes on a summer's night should the state get cases to trial.

Which brings us to the question of how does Flint get justice? Because Flint deserves justice.

Legally, of course, there are still civil cases. A type of justice can be earned that way, but will that account for everyone in the city?

Perhaps justice will have to handled in a financial manner. Assuring that every resident has health insurance forever. Special funding for the schools to provide the additional aides needed to help small kids. Special funding for college or technical training. Assisting homeowners with mortgages. Paying for the entirety of infrastructure improvements for decades to come. Greater incentives for economic development in the city.

Flint was harmed. That is a fact. Flint deserves justice. That too is a fact. If it is unlikely to see people imprisoned, what then is the manner the state should grant justice to this still wounded city? Whatever that manner is, the state better start working on it.

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Could We Finally Get Something Done About Special Legislative Elections?

Posted: May 16, 2019 4:40 PM

In case anyone was vacationing on the dark side of Neptune the last few days, the news was breaking Wednesday that Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) was indicted on extortion and bribery charges. House leaders have called on him to resign. He says he is innocent and will not resign.

The issue at hand is not whether Mr. Inman should leave office. The issue is what should happen should he or any other legislator leave office, either by resignation, expulsion or death.

What should happen is the people of the affected district don't wait freaking forever to have representation back in the House or Senate.

Over the last 20 something years we've seen this pattern played out too often. One of the most recent examples was with Lansing Mayor Andy Schor. A former member of the House, he resigned his seat as he was taking the mayor's office, and then Governor Rick Snyder scheduled an election for his successor in November 2018, as part of the general election.

It was nearly a full year before Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) raised her right hand to take the oath and most of the residents of Michigan's capital city had someone again acting on their behalf in the House. This goes beyond simply voting on issues, it includes advocating for the lawmaker's community, or communities, on legislature or grants and helping open the doors to bureaucrats to assist local residents.

This scenario has happened a number of times in recent decades. A lawmaker departs, for whatever reason, and if that lawmaker's district tends towards the party opposite the governor's party, the governor schedules the election for more than a year after the initial lawmaker left.

This is just not right. And generally doesn't happen elsewhere. In Ohio, our neighbors south of us, when a lawmaker leaves the Legislature (which seems to happen more frequently in Ohio than it does here) the party caucus of the departing lawmaker chooses the successor. Those decisions are made no more than weeks after the departure.

Having a caucus pick a successor likely wouldn't fit with our tradition of elections. Yet, we could still arrange, by statute, to ensure that a new legislator is named in a respectable time frame.

The time from legislative resignation to newly sworn-in legislator should take no more than 90 days. The governor calls the election dates, a primary 45 days away, with a general 45 days after that. This would likely require adjusting some of the current election timetables, but that should be the framework.

Obviously, exceptions would need to be made. If something happens within 90 days of the end of the year in an election year, and the lawmaker was term-limited, the person elected to succeed the lawmaker is named to serve for the remainder of the term, for example. When former Rep. Peter Pettalia died in September 2016, his seat went without representation for the rest of the year, including the always busy lame-duck session. Why shouldn't the state make it so that Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine) could have taken office immediately upon certification in that situation?

And to the complaint local governments would make on an election's cost, require the state pay for the election so long as it is only a legislative replacement election. The state could create a fund for legislative special elections, and just keep it rolling if there are none in one fiscal year (though Michigan has had special elections in every off-year since at least 2009). If local issues get tacked on to a special legislative election, then the local governments have to pay for their share of the fun.

Perhaps in the case of Mr. Inman we needn't worry. Perhaps. But there will be a legislative vacancy sometime, and it's just not right to deny folks their rightful representation for more than just a few months.

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Fun Times With Bob Berg

Posted: May 9, 2019 1:43 PM

Bob Berg died Wednesday, succumbing in a long battle against multiple myeloma. If you never got a chance to know him, well you missed someone who knew how to work with Republicans and Democrats, show commitment, honesty and thorough integrity through his posts as spokesperson for former Governor William Milliken and former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young.

But one does not know someone for more than 40 years, as did this reporter, without picking up a few stories.

Bob, for example, loved Porsches. Was rapturous about Porsches. He was delighted to regale you for … for… oh, hours, about how he cared for his Porsche, how he only had it serviced at one specific shop in Cleveland (and a tuneup there in the 1970s cost about two months of this reporter's wages), and then his long routine about preparing the car for the winter – because it could never be allowed out in the winter, God knows, not all with all the salt on the roads – with super-inflating the tires, draining the oil and putting in 20-weight oil and on and on.

One wretched January day during the 1978 blizzard, a radio reporter named Lee Foley punked Bob by running into Bob's office, next to Mr. Milliken's office, and shouting Bob's wife had an emergency with the kids, but her car wouldn't work so she had to take the Porsche and she had just showed up and the Porsche was COVERED IN SALT!

Bob, who was pale anyway, lost what color he had in his face, cried out, "NOOOOO!!!" and rushed from his office. Bob then spent much of day prowling the Capitol looking for Lee.

And Bob along with George Weeks, then Mr. Milliken's chief of staff and who we sadly lost last year, was also part of one of the best reporting stories this reporter can tell. And it involves Cindy Kyle, now communications director for the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, but from the late 1970s to early 1980s a top reporter at Lansing's Associated Press Bureau (and this reporter's darling wife).

In telling this story, you have to know in the days before 9/11/01 anyone could pretty much wander through any state office building without having to show ID, have an appointment, be searched, go through security and all the rest. That included the governor's office, and it was accepted that reporters could hang outside the door of Mr. Milliken's personal office and try to grab him or whoever was in the office with him for a quick interview.

You must also recall in the late 1970s personal computers were limited to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak's garage and most computers were the size of the Capitol. Which meant business was done by typing on typewriters, specifically IBM Selectrics. While all reporters knew how to type, many men did not. Typing in those Neanderthal times was still largely a woman's occupation.

It was late one evening during one of the many recessions Michigan suffered through in those years, and Mr. Milliken was meeting with then-House Speaker Bobby Crim, Senate Majority Leader Bill Faust, House Republican leader Bill Bryant, Senate GOP leader Bob VanderLaan, Management and Budget Director Jerry Miller and Bob (Berg) and George (Weeks).

Close to 20 reporters, including this one and Cindy, were right outside Mr. Milliken's office door, waiting for some signal they had all reached an agreement.

Finally, the door opened a crack, Bob leaned out and said an agreement was reached. All the leaders had to brief their caucuses and then details of the agreement would be released, he said.

BAM! That was all we needed, the reporters flew from the doorway to get bulletins out – which in the late '70s meant little more than sending smoke signals.

That is, all the reporters ran out except Cindy, who continued to stand by Mr. Milliken's door.

Bob looked into the office, said, "They're gone," and BAM! again as Mr. Crim, Mr. Bryant, Mr. VanderLaan and Mr. Miller rushed out and headed straight to one of the Selectrics stationed at the receptionist's desk, each holding a pile of notes from the meeting.

But all they could do is take the cover off the Selectric. One of them, Cindy doesn't recall who, sat at the typewriter and seemed to expect it would work by force of his will. "I don't how to type!" he finally shouted. "Who can type?"

But none of the other men could type either. A wail came up, "Who can type? Who can type?"

Cindy raised her hand and said, "I can type."

"THE GIRL! GET THE GIRL!" the leaders of Michigan all shouted. Cindy calmly walked to the Selectric, turned it on, rolled in a sheet of paper…

And typed while she asked questions. "The agreement will cut how much from the budget? Okay. And what about school aid, okay, yes. And there will be cuts where else? Okay. And, I'm sorry, what taxes were going to changed?" All the while, legislative leaders shouted at her all the details they had intended to keep secret from reporters.

Bob and George both stood there watching this, slack-jawed and continuously muttering some word that started, "mutha" something or other.

When she finished typing, Bob took the sheet and walked over to the copier. Our state's leaders, somehow still not realizing who Cindy was, were thanking her for her help. Bob brought over copies of the agreement to the leaders who then rushed off to their caucuses before another midnight session started.

When they left, Bob handed Cindy back the original typed sheet. "It's your story," he said, and boy was it ever.

Requiescat in pace, Bob.

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Shall We Return To The Ways Of Cursive Writing?

Posted: May 3, 2019 3:49 PM

There's a joke going around social media aimed at people of a certain age that if they want to make sure their children and grandchildren will never find out their secrets, they should write them down by hand and leave them in plain sight. The joke being that theoretically people below a certain age cannot read cursive writing so the secrets will be safe forever.

Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) has something to say about that. She has introduced legislation requiring the Department of Education to develop a curriculum on teaching children cursive writing and make that available to the state's school districts. Many school districts, maybe most, have done away with teaching pupils to write in cursive.

Should her HB 4483 *become law, it would add Michigan to the now more than a dozen states – Ohio was the latest – to have established at least a proposed curricula for teaching kids how to loop and connect letters, and at a minimum how to correctly hold a pen or pencil for the most efficient and less tiring manner of writing.

This goes beyond calligraphy and Spencerian script, reading old love letters between the grandparents and Mom's teenage diary, and the apparently growing – as well as expensive – hobby of collecting fountain pens and writing with exotic inks.

Handwriting was high tech for most of human history. Through letters, journals and official documents it kept alive all human activity. Development of items we take for granted, such as pencils and pens and inks – the development of iron ball ink was a major invention -- were in fact significant technologic developments, assuring transmission of information as well as recording the events that, at least theoretically, give us insight into current matters.

And, research shows handwriting plays a major in role in brain development, one that typing and God knows voice recording does not. That goes beyond just small children. Studies have shown college students who took notes in longhand remembered material better than did students who typed notes on a computer screen.

There are advocates who argue because typing has now totally dominated the world, kids should forget about learning handwriting, period. In which case, those who can write cursive probably could use it as a secret code and, dare one say it, take over the world. Okay, maybe that wouldn't happen.

This reporter, though, wonders if there are other benefits to handwriting such as forcing one to stare at something other than a screen. Doing that might help people notice other things, notice the real things of life not attached to a computer, like trees and flowers and a best friend's expression and the car that will run you over because your face is stuck looking at a phone while crossing the street.

Plus, learning handwriting means you can develop a truly distinguished signature, much like the Governor Gretchen Whitmer's very fine signature. One can tell she paid attention in handwriting class.

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Something To Ponder And Wonder Why

Posted: April 25, 2019 2:27 PM

Things happen that cause one to wonder. Anyone working in politics and government who then tries to explain what happens in politics and government to hapless civilians understand that concept since they are inevitably riddled with questions about "why do they do that," "what do you mean," "are you kidding," and "isn't that kinda stupid?"

However, something happened during a Senate committee meeting this week that left this reporter wondering, "Why?" Specifically, why wouldn't someone honor a Holocaust survivor?

It took place during the Senate Oversight Committee meeting. The panel was listening to and questioning Attorney General Dana Nessel on her newly formed hate crimes unit.

Hate crimes and dealing with hate crimes is kind of a vexed issue, since it is both a logical concept (most people probably would say if an innocent person were, for example, beat up because they are black or Jewish or gay or for whatever reason the perpetrator should face extra punishment) but also one that raises cautions (former Sen. Dan Cooper in the 1970s said everyone is allowed to be a bigot in their own home, and that is true: while ideally one should not be a bigot a person can be so long as the person does not act out that bigotry harming someone else).

Plus, the question has become fraught in today's hyper-partisan atmosphere. When Michigan's hate crime law, the Ethnic Intimidation Act, passed now a generation ago there wasn't much controversy. Enhanced penalties for crimes committed against specific individuals – for example, child sex abuse – is and was not a new idea and the state was still dealing with the murder of Vincent Chin (killed by two autoworkers during a recession because they thought he was Japanese) so lawmakers recognized the law was appropriate.

However, today in many ways we no longer see people as having different opinions than ours, they are our blood enemies to be opposed and defeated at every moment.

So it was clear the Republican majority on the committee wasn't immediately taking Ms. Nessel's arguments about the hate crimes unit at face value. Thus it is these days.

It was also clear in the audience there were people both supporting and opposing the hate crimes unit. Several opponents were seated in the row before this reporter, nodding and saying, "that's right" when some tough questions were thrown at Ms. Nessel.

It is critical to this story to know the day of the hearing was the state's Holocaust Remembrance Day. Ms. Nessel referenced that and how her family in Europe had suffered during the Holocaust. And when she finished testifying, Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) introduced Rene Lichtman.

Mr. Lichtman, now in his early 80s, survived the Holocaust in France, hiding with his mother as so many were forced to do. His father was killed, many other members of his family were killed in concentration camps in Poland.

That day's discussion was very important, Mr. Lichtman said, because "hate speech leads to, can lead to hate crimes." Not necessarily by the person uttering the hate speech, he said, but by someone hearing it and acting on it.

The Nuremberg Trials were about hate crimes, Mr. Lichtman said. "People were murdered. They didn't commit any crimes, they were murdered because they were Jews, gypsies, Bolsheviks."

He acknowledged, "I don't care if someone hates me as a Jew, if they think that," but "hate speech makes me very worried."

When Mr. Lichtman finished, committee chair Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) asked the committee and audience to applaud Mr. Lichtman. And virtually everyone in the committee room did so.

Virtually all of them applauded. The men sitting in front of this reporter pointedly did not applaud. They pointedly sat with their hands in their laps.

Having to ask questions of Mr. McBroom, this reporter was not able to ask the men why they did not recognize Mr. Lichtman. At 81 or 82 he is one of the youngest survivors now of the Holocaust. This reporter has known other survivors, now gone. He has friends born in displaced persons camps after their parents were liberated from the death and concentration camps.

Those who have lived our history, be it the civil rights movement, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the women and gay movements, or the Holocaust are all aging. One day the veterans of the 2016 election will be old. Why would you not want to hear their stories? Why would you not want to acknowledge them?

It causes one to wonder.

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Vis-à-vis Road Spending: How Do You Wish To Suffer?

Posted: April 18, 2019 3:25 PM

In what can surprise absolutely no one, a poll released this week showed 75 percent of those questioned disapproved of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's proposal to raise Michigan's fuel taxes by 45 cents to pay for a massive road improvement program.

Of course, 75 percent opposed it. Yeah, so?

Is the fact 75 percent oppose a tax increase enough of a reason not to raise taxes, whether the gas tax, the registration tax, the sales tax, beer tax, liquor tax, the oil and gas severance tax, the tobacco tax or pick a tax, to pay for what everyone agrees is desperately needed funding to fix Michigan's roads?

Nobody likes spending money, even for things critically needed. Everyone likes to shop, everyone likes to acquire the shiny new thingawhackawoo, but nobody likes to spend. It's one reason why shopping with credit cards is so attractive: Look, I bought the fully-loaded 2019 Willywillyyowwow and no cash, no filthy lucre, no coin of the realm, no legal tender actually vacated my wallet, thanks to my Giantdebtcard!

The power of free is astonishing. Add the adjective to anything and it instantly makes the item more desirable than anything else that could be imagined. An economist once ran an experiment one Halloween where he gave kids the option of a tiny snack-sized candy bar, say a Snickers, for free or spend one penny and get a Babe Ruth Louisville Slugger-sized Snickers. Yeah, virtually none of the kids coughed up a penny.

Along with not wanting to spend, there also remains an illusion that sufficient money is already hidden away in the state. In looking at Michigan's sorry roads, a student wrote recently in Hillsdale's student paper the state should take money from someplace else to finance improvements. The student didn't deny the roads needed fixing, just take the loot from someplace else. Where the student wanted the state to take the money from – university budgets, prisons, free lunches for poor kids, the State Police – was not mentioned. Of course, when people say take the money from someplace else, they never suggest where that somewhere else should be.

Still fixing roads must be paid for. It is uncontested there is not enough money now to pay for a sufficient road repair plan. Nor is it uncontested the public wants the roads fixed.

This raises a basic question in essential governing: There is a clear need for a service, there is an equally clear public desire for the service, and there is an equally clear opposition to paying for the needed, wanted service, what then do policymakers do?

Perhaps the question needs to be rephrased: How does the public wish to suffer? Would it rather not spend money on roads, but travel on roads that rival Afghanistan quality? Or spend money and then zip down well-maintained roads to yell at their public officials about high taxes?

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Wrapping One's Arms Around The Political Hugging Question

Posted: April 3, 2019 3:42 PM

Politics is a touchy-feely business. Well, it has been a touchy-feely business, with glad-handing, back slapping, the occasional headlock to argue out positions.

Now comes former Governor Jennifer Granholm to suggest the touchy-feelyness may need to be limited.

Her comment, via Twitter, stems from the question of whether former Vice President Joe Biden behaved inappropriately in his dealings with a Nevada legislator, Lucy Flores. Ms. Flores' complaint was that Mr. Biden touched and kissed her hair during a campaign.

This is not a small matter, since Mr. Biden appeared to have been on the verge of declaring he would run for president before this issue arose (and there are some observers who feel he might be the strongest Democrat to challenge President Donald Trump, especially in the Midwest states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio that Mr. Trump won).

The issue has also generated a growing debate, much of it, to gauge by social media, between women over what is and is not appropriate and whether this is keeping with or taking to an extreme the still evolving message of the #MeToo movement.

Ms. Granholm commented on Twitter, "Having hugged dear @JoeBiden a number of times, I am 100 percent certain that his intentions are to show empathy, warmth and support. "

She added: "AND in this era we all (me too, as a hugger) might reevaluate initiating contact beyond a handshake since so many feel it's an invasion of personal space."

Ms. Granholm is a renowned hugger. In her run for governor in 2002, she reached the point where she hugged instead of shook hands at some locales. At a Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame banquet during her administration, inductee and legendary Detroit sports reporter Joe Falls not only got a hug, he asked for a kiss and she gave him one.

Ms. Granholm's tweet generated considerable comments. Many encouraged her to continue hugging, many supported Mr. Biden, many said they had stopped hugging – at least one suggested it was out of fear of possible repercussions against him – and a number said a discussion on appropriateness was needed.

However, one person complained that the Democratic Party may come across as a party of scolds. Another worried that what might come of the #MeToo movement will be fear and not respect.

Will we see a more straitened political behavior going forward, at least in regard to human contact? Oh, probably. Will it improve the tone of politics? Well, ummm, let's just wait and see, shall we?

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Could Something Good Actually Come From The Measles Outbreak?

Posted: March 28, 2019 1:31 PM

Measles is back upon us and the state has now had more cases than it has had nearly a generation. Measles. A disease once nearly eradicated in this state and nation is back upon us. Could something, anything, good come from this?

Yes, actually. People might start to get their kids vaccinated again.

This reporter has written about vaccinations, been frank about how the question of vaccinations has pushed his sense of objectivity to the limit.

This reporter has written of Michigan's critical role in vaccinations, especially the polio vaccine. I have written how following a live national press conference in the 1950s that announced how the new polio vaccine worked and was safe church bells rang and special services were held in thanksgiving that such a devastating disease was brought to heel. Now people claim religious objections to vaccines, then church bells rang in celebration a vaccine had been found.

This reporter has also written how when the news of the polio vaccine was announced, his mother wept because her kids would now be safe from polio when kids she knew growing up outside Cleveland were struck down.

At least 22 cases of measles have been confirmed in Michigan in the last several weeks. There could be more cases that have not yet been confirmed.

So far as we know all these cases result from exposure to one infected person. One person, visiting the state, visiting south Oakland County who went to dozens of places during that visit and potentially exposed who knows how many people.

And now we have to consider how many people the newly infected people have in turn exposed.

Measles is a miserable disease. I know. I had it before a vaccine was available. The complications it can wreak on a small body are serious, deadly serious. Children die from measles.

Michigan has a lousy vaccination rate. Yes, thankfully, most parents do vaccinate their children. Yes, there are some people, a relatively small number, who have medical sensitivities or allergies to vaccines. Which makes it all the more critical that parents get their kids vaccinated to protect both them and those few who legitimately cannot be vaccinated.

The state has a major campaign to encourage vaccination, spurred on by a mother whose own unvaccinated child died of pertussis, a vaccine-preventable disease. The state now requires parents who would object to vaccines get information on vaccines before making their final refusal to enroll in school. These have helped improve the state's vaccination rate from dismal to lousy.

But measles might move more parents to act. Because nothing spurs action like fear.

How sad it is to have write that. How sad it is that a person cannot be persuaded by science and logic and a sense that if nothing else their child has a right to be free from a deadly disease if that is possible. How sad that one has to be scared to act, and how gallingly grateful must we be that they were scared to act.

Right now in Michigan the warnings have come true. Doctors and health officials and scientists and parents all warned what could happen if too few people were vaccinated and a disease entered into that situation. We have more cases of measles now than we have had in 25 years. In 2018 we had more cases of measles than we had had since 1994. What kind of a record to we want to reach in 2020 and beyond?

How about this record: no cases of measles, or pertussis, or mumps or chickenpox, or any of the other vaccine-preventable diseases? If that happened, then something good did come from something very bad. Be the right kind of statistic, get your kids vaccinated.

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What's In A Word? Well, A Lot In L'Affaire Engler/Nessel

Posted: March 21, 2019 3:27 PM

The easiest line in Shakespeare to remember is not "to be or not to be" but "words, words, words," the reply Hamlet makes to Polonius when asked what the Danish prince is reading.

So much of the argument over former Governor, and former Interim Michigan State University President, John Engler's interview or non-interview with lawyers for Attorney General Dana Nessel is over words, words and words.

Ignore for the moment the larger issues at play in the attorney general's investigation into how MSU handled the sex abuse scandal of Larry Nassar. This skirmish is between lawyers. And a lawyer's weapons are words, how and under what circumstances those words are employed, deployed and in some measure destroyed.

The headlines and commentary over the flap are focused on accusations Mr. Engler wants to lie or that the AG's lawyers have behaved unprofessionally. But the real fight lies in the words traded before the roundhouse rights. They are all polite, sometimes friendly, but also all calculated to land punches and duck others.

Ms. Nessel wants her investigators to interview Mr. Engler. Following discussions/negotiations it was agreed for an interview on Thursday, March 28, in Washington, D.C. Mr. Engler, though he has a home in Michigan, spends much of his time in Washington where he worked heading several associations after leaving office in 2003.

The email trail between Ms. Nessel's project manager for the investigation, Christina Grossi and Mr. Engler's lawyer, Seth Waxman, is a fascinating – for those who are fascinated by such things – lesson in how lawyers write and phrase their writings.

Take the heading on the letter emailed by Mr. Waxman to Ms. Grossi – the one where he said Mr. Engler would not participate in an interview unless Ms. Grossi was recused from the entire investigation because he accused her of inappropriate behavior – saying, "Re: Michigan State University Investigation – John Engler Voluntary Interview."

"Voluntary" interview. Not required, not subpoenaed, voluntary. It is a significant word because it sets the tone, as far as Mr. Waxman is concerned, as to interviewing Mr. Engler at all.

As has been pointed out, primarily by Mr. Engler's supporters, Mr. Engler was hired as the MSU interim president after Nassar was sentenced. He was not at MSU when Nassar committed his abuse. Unless, therefore, he is compelled to be interviewed, his lawyer is making the point Mr. Engler doesn't have to show up.

Reviewing how the pieces have moved on this board, Ms. Grossi agreed. While she persistently raised concerns about holding the interview outside Michigan, at one point she wrote, "I recognize that he is sitting for this interview voluntarily."

Then, in a furious email written at 6:21 a.m. on Tuesday – and, no kidding, nobody should ever write anything serious and determinative at 6:21 in the morning – when she apparently saw Mr. Engler was in Michigan to go to an MSU basketball game, Ms. Grossi wrote that if Mr. Engler "is not going to voluntarily participate…we will explore all legal resources available to secure his interview in Michigan involuntarily."

Which Mr. Waxman immediately parried in his letter, again in the heading and repeatedly in the body where Mr. Engler has "at all times been willing" to meet, never "communicated any unwillingness to do so," and again using the word "voluntarily" throughout.

Which leads us to another set of curious words in this whole affair: Ms. Nessel's statement. She defends Ms. Grossi, as she should because Ms. Grossi is part of her team, and says there's no reason for her to be recused because, pay attention here, "there is no current case nor is she investigating John Engler." Which means….hmm? There is no "current" case, and Ms. Grossi is not "investigating John Engler." Is Ms. Nessel giving Mr. Engler a pass on anything when there is a "current" case?

Finally, Ms. Nessel reminds everyone that Ms. Grossi wasn't actually doing the interview, the chief investigator was, and she holds that out to Mr. Waxman saying Ms. Grossi oversees the investigation, "including but not limited to arranging for our lead investigator to meet with" Mr. Engler.

However this gets resolved, it will be resolved in writing. Watch the words used and ignore the fireworks set off.

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Who's The Key Legislator On Roads? Try Mike Shirkey

Posted: March 7, 2019 11:59 AM

Let us presume the state allocates more than $2 billion in new spending for Michigan's roads and bridges. That is the goal set by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in her budget proposal this week, and we should presume when all the moaning, groaning, jawing, yawing, angst-riddled, nail-chewing, acid-reflux moments have passed, the state will have $2 billion-plus more to spend on trying, finally, to create a permanent fix to its roads.

For the moment, never mind how that number is achieved, whether through Ms. Whitmer's 45-cent gas tax increase, a combination of tax changes, tax changes and spending shifts, tax changes and bonding, a tax change-bonding-personalized billing for individual potholes-bake sale combination, whatever, $2 billion-plus will be raised for roads.

The question on the table is: who will be the person most likely to make that $2 billion-plus actually happen?

This reporter puts the early betting on Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

Yes, yes, Mr. Shirkey has cast considerable scorn on Ms. Whitmer's proposal. Like all Republicans in the Legislature he has shown no love for the governor's plan. But there are two critical factors to consider as we move into the debate.

The first is Mr. Shirkey's acknowledgement that new revenue will be needed to tackle a real fix to the roads. Probably at least $1 billion, he has said.

Second, and more important, Mr. Shirkey has previously been the key player in a major state policy that at the time, six years ago, many people thought would never come to pass.

Does the proper noun Healthy Michigan ring a bell to anyone? Yes, in 2018 Mr. Shirkey was the primary actor in getting passed a controversial work requirements proposal for Healthy Michigan. But without him, there is very good chance that some 700,000 people in Michigan would not have health insurance. He was the key figure in shepherding the Healthy Michigan plan into becoming law in 2013.

As was reported when Gongwer named Mr. Shirkey the newsmaker of 2013, he was and is a conservative's conservative who surprised himself by concluding that expanding, and changing, Medicaid was the right way to proceed on the issue.

His efforts made it possible for enough Republicans to reject rejecting the proposal – and taking plenty of criticism from other Republicans as they did – to get the policy through.

Which shows us what? That among conservatives, Mr. Shirkey is a realist as much as, if not more than, he is an ideologue. That he can find ways to make a policy that stays true to his principles and meets a public need.

Ironically, that is how things used to work in Michigan's government and in government generally. When a problem was critical enough, Democrats and Republicans would figure out a solution that allowed both to be true to their partisan principles. Those solutions were compromises. If you have forgotten what a compromise is, or have never heard of it before, look it up in a dictionary. Of course, the compromises weren't perfect. Of course, people called those who supported the compromises sellouts and cowards and words a family newsletter prefers not to repeat.

But the compromises got done and a lot of times, in their sometimes halting, half-way measure ways, they did some good. Healthy Michigan was a compromise. Has it done some good? Yes.

And Mr. Shirkey has already acknowledged a major investment in fixing the roads is a public need. Which means Ms. Whitmer's administration probably sees him already as the key player to reach a foundational agreement on the road to "fixing the damn roads."

Oh, the critics will howl Mr. Shirkey is too conservative, his statements show he won't support needed revenue, what about his staunch support for right-to-work, Medicaid work requirements and repealing the prevailing wage. Okay, fine. You put your money down, I'll put mine down, and I will bet my initial presumption – that the state comes up with $2 billion-plus for roads – does happen and that Mr. Shirkey is the key to getting it done.

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Mayor Mark Meadows And U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows And Confusion

Posted: February 28, 2019 4:16 PM

Technology has in so many ways made life more … convenient, you will shout. Yes, yes, my friends, it has made life convenient. Ask those of us who struggled through the horror of the Verizon blackout on Wednesday. My gosh, our cellphones were worthless without a wifi signal, how could we check emails, play Words with Friends, keep ourselves awake during committee meetings watching YouTube videos. How did humanity survive for 500,000 years before cellphones, we moaned.

Yeah, but the word I was seeking was confusing. Ask East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows. Or possibly ask U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina).

Few of us have unique names, after all, so getting emails intended for someone else is not an unusual occurrence, especially for those folks with a Yahoo or Gmail address. This reporter has been invited to Thanksgiving dinners in California, gotten complaints about not taking care of the parking at the apartment building I apparently own in London and had to spent part of a night calling Finnair in Helsinki to make sure the ticket for someone else named John Lindstrom was routed to him before his flight from Helsinki to Kuopio took off at 7 the next morning. All on his Gmail account.

Which leads us to Mayor Meadows – now in his second stint as East Lansing's mayor which was broken up by six years in the Michigan House – getting email and social media messages intended for U.S. Rep. Meadows.

Rep. Meadows is noted as one of the more conservative members of the U.S. House, is chair of the Freedom Caucus which is the uber-conservative caucus and is one of President Donald Trump's biggest defenders. Those who watched the testimony of Mr. Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen on Wednesday saw Rep. Meadows go after Mr. Cohen vigorously.

Mayor Meadows is a staunch Democrat and a pragmatic liberal who is overseeing major redevelopment of the city's downtown (which not everyone is happy about) and helped convince city voters to enact an income tax to provide greater financial security for the city's retirement system and provide more funds for police and fire protection and improving the city's infrastructure.

Late Wednesday, Mayor Meadows posted on his Facebook page that he had gotten a message saying, "You stupid ignorant man, defending the clown racist Trump. Shame on you. You will be remembered in the history books as a kiss ass defending a devil."

Mayor Meadows went on to say, "Have I mentioned that I receive bunches of Facebook messages and emails directed to Congressman Mark Meadows on a daily basis. I like getting them. And I like responding to them – especially those that are laudatory. I wonder how many votes he has lost."

Mayor Meadows also said Rep. Meadows had "truly embarrassed" the Meadows name. He said he sometimes calls himself Angel MM and Rep. Meadows as Devil MM. And as the mayor believes Mr. Trump to be a "serial liar" he also considered "Devil MM" a "damn fool."

Mayor Meadow's comments drew lots of responses, mostly praising him and criticizing Rep. Meadows.

But one person did wonder what Rep. Meadows might think if he gets emails intended for the mayor. One could imagine the representative trying to figure out why he would be expected to deal with afterhours parking in the neighborhood or why can't the city deal with the ratty looking house on Yibbittyyoppitty Street.

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Here's The Thing, A Court Already Ruled On No-Fault Rates

Posted: February 22, 2019 2:07 PM

Everyone hates Michigan's no-fault auto insurance system. Well, they hate it until they get in a horrid accident. But aside from that nagging terror at the back at everyone's mind they hate the no-fault system. Why? Well, because it's so damn expensive.

That is what has driven the push to find a way to lower rates for decades, almost since the day nearly 46 years ago no-fault took effect. Make it cheaper, the public wants, just make sure it cares for me forever should I have a chance head-on encounter with a Mack truck.

The latest effort to find a resolution is sort of a shotgun approach: try as many attempts as possible presuming something will get hit. No-fault reform is a priority of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, in fact mentioning a bid to lower insurance rates drew the only bipartisan standing ovation of her State of the State address. Both legislative houses have made it a primary focus, with hearings already underway.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has a proposal and has taken the issue to federal court.

And Detroit's own latest gazillionaire leader Dan Gilbert is ready to move ahead with a ballot issue if needed to force changes.

Surely, surely, something will work this time, folks hope.

With all the efforts underway, let us for a few moments focus on the court case of Mr. Duggan, however. Several analysts have suggested that a ruling by a federal judge that the rates charged by insurance companies allowed by the act, as well the mandatory scope of no-fault will be enough to terrify lawmakers into acting.

Except, a court has already held that the concept of no-fault was constitutional but there had to be a constitutional way to ensure affordable rates.

That would be Shavers v. Attorney General, a 4-3 ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court in June 1978. It had been the most anticipated Supreme Court case for a couple years. While waiting for the case, the Detroit Free Press ran an editorial saying something on the line of perhaps in our lifetime we will see a decision in the no-fault case.

Shavers was filed about the time no-fault went into effect in 1973 and challenged the whole notion of the law. It was not the only case to do so (this reporter regrets to confess that he got into a minor auto accident and was sued in small claims court to cover the other motorist's equally minor damages. I had insurance, he did not. My insurance company thought mine would be a good test case dealing with an uninsured motorist versus an insured motorist, so moved the case to circuit court. The plaintiff never showed up, the court threw out the case and as my reward my insurance company dumped me). But Shavers was the case before the Supreme Court.

Context always being important one of the major issues at the time was that of redlining and legislation to ban redlining was going nowhere.

In terms of no-fault, yes people were upset they had to buy auto insurance, but it was the rates, oy, the rates. Yeah, trust me, you'd love to pay 1978 rates now, but for 1978 they were hefty.

And it was on the rates the Supreme Court focused much of its attention. Justice, and former Governor, G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams wrote in his majority decision the act constitutionally provided benefits to the injured and did not exceed the Legislature's police power.

But, "the entire rate structure is suspect. The statutory stricture against 'excessive, inadequate or unfairly discriminatory' rates is without the … support of clarifying rules established by the (insurance commissioner), without legislatively sufficient definition, and without any history of prior court interpretation. The legislative due process mandate is thus reduced to mere exhortation. When we add that the statute authorizes insurers to utilize any classification scheme which 'may measure any differences among risks that may have a probable effect on losses or expenses,' it becomes clear that rates can be established on insubstantial bases which do not satisfy due process," Mr. Williams wrote.

That alone might have been enough for the Supreme Court to scrap the law. But they chose a different route. They gave the Legislature 18 months to fix the problem. And in that they achieved that rare phenomenon of legislative unity, because every single legislator said almost in unison, "Who the hell is the Supreme Court to tell us anything?"

Ah, but lawmakers did act and tried to handle the redlining issue as well in their solution by setting rules on how much rates could vary by rating territory. That seemed to solve the larger issue, at least for a little while.

So, courts are on record saying no-fault cannot allow a rate structure that provides little relief for the compelled purchasers. How Michigan lawmakers end up solving the problem this time around, well, we'll see.

However, having watched this issue since its nativity, let me venture to forecast that whatever solution is reached, in a few years people will complain about their auto insurance rates again. It's tradition, if nothing else.

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So, When Is A Tax Increase Needed?

Posted: February 14, 2019 3:51 PM

We are now getting down the featured match of the year. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has held her State of the State Address and said she will offer a proposal on transportation funding in her budget which is expected in now less than two weeks. Of course, all anyone can imagine is she will call for a tax increase of some kind and has to call for a tax increase if the state is going to finance the more than $2 billion analysts say is needed to fix and maintain our road system, the $2 billion she promised to add for roads in her first budget.

And in this corner the Republican leaders of the Legislature have indicated they might go along with more revenue for transportation, but are not as yet cozying up to a tax increase.

Meanwhile, you have all the contenders in the preview fights – K-12 schools, colleges and universities, water infrastructure, mental health – trying to punch out some more money for their needs and wondering if anyone will pay attention to them.

Ah, so complicated. Former President Franklin Roosevelt had it so easy when he was asked how we would pay for World War II. "Tax and bond, and bond and tax," he told Congress. Try getting away with that now.

Do we need a tax increase to pay for what almost everyone agrees are critical needs to our roads and other services? How do you know when a tax increase is needed?

Again, so complicated. There are many people, one can find them easily, who will argue we don't need a tax increase because if we just get rid of the waste, fraud and abuse we would find gadzillions in loot. Yeah, no. Greater efficiency is always needed and one has to assume at least a few state workers aren't completely honest (we are all human, after all). But there is no $1 billion or more in the state side of the budget that can be realized through eliminating WFA.

Well, we could just stop spending on things we don't need. Sure, but define what we don't need and see if you can get unanimity on that. Spoiler alert, you won't. Every penny the state spends someone claims and trying to take it away from them will be another major fight. Especially if you are looking at cuts of, again, $1 billion to $2 billion.

Can you justify a tax increase based just on the numbers? Maybe, but that is still more a political than mathematical question.

From the 2000-01 fiscal year to the 2018-19 fiscal year, Michigan's total budget went from about $36.9 billion to $55.9 billion. Yowzer, many will say. You can't find $2 billion out of that? Well, the total budget includes federal money of which the state has no real option in how it is spent. From 2000-01 to the current year, federal revenues went from $10 billion to $22.4 billion, or 27.1 percent of the total budget to 40.1 percent. (These are all figures from the Senate Fiscal Agency).

Interestingly, since 2008-09 the federal share of the state's transportation budget went from 52.6 percent to 27.2 percent now. A big part of that is federal funds are down by about $1 billion from 10 years ago, and the state has raised the gas and registration taxes so state revenues are up by about $500 million in transportation.

To fix the roads, there are plenty of people who will say, sure, raise the gas tax. But by how much? A panel of former legislative leaders said over 10 years it should increase by 47 cents a gallon. Is that too much?

There are other options still. Moving the sales tax charged on gasoline to transportation from schools is talked about, but now you have a constitutional problem that has to be okayed by the voters, which is a political problem galore. And if it passed, estimates from the House Fiscal Agency are that $610 million could flip over to roads instead of schools. Which will mean the Legislature will have to find another $610 million to replace the lost school money.


You could do a kind-of sideways tax increase maybe. The state could extend the sales tax to more services and require any part not going to the schools go to transportation. Again, big political headaches. Anyone remember the ill-fated sales tax on services from 2007 that was repealed after about a month?

Or you could just say, look, the state is $10.4 billion below the revenue limit set under the Headlee Amendment, just let's raise taxes for crying out loud.

Either way, lace up the gloves and get ready for a slugfest of some sort.

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Another Winter When State Government Shut Down

Posted: January 31, 2019 1:17 PM

With state government shut down because of arctic-like temperatures and folks – some of whom probably enjoy ice fishing and snowmobiling – complaining about keeping their thermostats set to 65 for the natural gas emergency, those who are old enough naturally want to compare this enforced hibernation to winter crises past.

And naturally those who can will remember the blizzard of January 1978.

No polar vortex here, this was an honest to God blizzard, arguably the worst in state history. The mid '70s featured a number of ferocious winters (followed by hellfire hot summers) but nothing topped them like the blizzard which struck the central U.S. on January 26 and 27, 1978.

The lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the central U.S. – and the third lowest in U.S. history, not caused by a tropical storm (for all you weather freaks paying attention) – was recorded in Mount Clemens during the storm. Detroit got off easy with slightly less than nine inches of snow. Lansing got close to 20 inches, Traverse City got about 24 inches and Muskegon – thanks to lake effect snow – got 52 inches.

And the cold, lord the cold and wind. Windchill estimates have since been recalibrated, but this reporter's brother, then a student at Case Western University in Cleveland, called to report that windchills were measured at close to -100 off Lake Erie.

A DJ on one of the Lansing stations, this reporter cannot remember which, begged people not to venture outdoors. "It is certain death," he said. No kidding, he did.

State government of course shut down. In the pre-personal computer/cell phone days one had to rely on radio, television and landline phones to communicate and find out if they were coming in or not. Gongwer News Service, which relied on the U.S. Mail, which also wasn't being delivered, had to shut down.

That was okay to this reporter who had come down with a bad case of flu. The only place I wanted to get to was the small grocery across the street from my north Lansing apartment building to get soup. But I couldn't do that because all the doors in and out of the building were frozen and blocked in with snow. It took a full day for the landlord to be able to get someone over to clear the doors so the residents could get out. (As an aside, a year later one apartment in the building was destroyed by fire. In a way, we were lucky it happened when it did because at least people could get out of the building.)

A former Associated Press reporter of my acquaintance, and a veteran of Chicago winters, couldn't see her car in her apartment parking lot so covered was it with snow. She ventured out to Lake Lansing Road and thumbed a ride in a Corvair. "Where are you going?" the driver said. "Downtown," the reporter said. "Cool," the driver said, and they slid along a vacant freeway to the Capitol.

The executive Lincoln could not get then-Governor William Milliken from the governor's residence to the Capitol, so the National Guard sent a half-track to ferry him to the building.

And when the workday was declared over, the AP reporter, having no other way back to her home, piled into the half-track with the rest of the Executive Office staff.

That created a bit of a problem for the state later. While trying to find Communications Director Bob Berg's house the half-track ran over a neighbor's tree. Later that year the Administrative Board recompensed the neighbor for the cost of the tree.

Stay warm everybody and try not to cost the state any money.

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The 2020 Campaign Is Now Upon Us

Posted: January 24, 2019 4:07 PM

We truly have never-ending campaigns, thanks in large measure because we are one of the few nations on earth where we know exactly when elections take place, and therefore can build a political economy around endless campaigning.

That semi-historical/philosophical comment aside we are now already deeply into the 2020 campaign and it has nothing, nada, zip, bupkis to do with the battalion of candidates who have announced they are running for president. No, we are sunk deep into the 2020 campaign thanks to an otherwise mundane court document.

In said document, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson asked for a stay of a trial scheduled to begin February 5 in League of Women Voters v. Benson which challenges Michigan's current congressional and legislative district maps for partisan gerrymandering. She requested the stay in the U.S. District Court in Detroit in part, but not a very big part, because the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on gerrymandering in cases from North Carolina and Maryland.

Mostly, though, she asked for the stay because the Department of State is in negotiations on a settlement in the case. And while a stay could involve as many as 34 total districts in Congress and the Legislature, it could lead to new maps for the 2020 election and the possibility that Senate members could have to run for election two years earlier than they otherwise would.

With that we are smack into the level of political hype we typically see just weeks before an election.

Republicans and conservative allies are accusing Ms. Benson, the first Democrat to hold the secretary of state post since the early 1990s, of trying to engineer the biggest partisan power grab in Michigan history. (I suppose Democrats could argue back that the 2011 district maps were the biggest partisan power grab on behalf of the GOP). They claim she is in a corrupt relationship with former state Democratic Party chair Mark Brewer, who is the League of Women Voters' lawyer and (according to one columnist) one of her "top funders" during the 2018 election. She must immediately recuse herself from the proceedings, they charge, but first she has to release all the documents developed during this process.

And she is trying to force the state to spend millions on elections in 2020.

Okay, everyone take a breath.

First, the only way there will be a settlement is if the court approves a settlement.

Second, if there is a proposed settlement, the court could easily sit on a judgment regarding said settlement because the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on said gerrymandering cases and will issue a decision, presumably, by the end of June.

Third, if the U.S. Supreme Court, given its now more conservative bent, rules that drawing district lines to favor one party over the other is peachy-keen (which it could) then the intervenors (Republican legislators and Michigan Republican members of Congress) in the case could call for the settlement to be rejected. And the court would probably reject it.

Fourth, the district court still has to decide if it will issue a stay or say negotiations be damned, let's have a trial anyway.

Fifth, presuming a settlement is reached, approved and survives the new U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the still Republican-controlled Legislature gets to draw the lines – the newly constitutionally enacted non-partisan citizens commission does not get its crayons to draw lines until after the 2020 census – and even if Democrats challenge that proposal the court could approve it.

Sixth, if the court rejects the legislative plan, it could draw the lines itself or appoint someone to draw the lines, which both sides may find fair or both sides may both hate.

Seventh, in the end the 2020 election will be decided by a variety of issues most on the mind of the voters in 2020, which could be anything.

Will any of what has just been outlined calm the waters now so roiled? Of course not, the ships are facing one another in battle formation and the guns have opened fire. We are fighting the 2020 election and waving the flag of truce from our little dinghy will be unnoticed.

However, could we make one point? Mr. Brewer gave Ms. Benson $500. A quick skim of her campaign finance reports shows dozens and dozens and dozens and you get the idea of people who gave her more money, including one couple who gave her a combined $13,600. Ms. Benson raised $1.547 million for her campaign, meaning Mr. Brewer's contribution was 0.03 percent of her total haul.

When last $500 was a major political contribution you could buy a newspaper, a couple of comic books, a Hershey bar, two doughnuts, a cup of coffee, a pack of smokes and still get change for a dollar. Some bald chap named Eisenhower was president at the time.

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How Did The Supreme Politician Get It So Wrong?

Posted: January 17, 2019 3:50 PM

For decades, many people in Michigan, regardless of their party or ideology, if asked who was the best politician they could name, the answer was: John Engler.

From his auspicious beginning getting elected to the House in 1970 when he was a fresh graduate from Michigan State University, to his unseating a long-term Senate incumbent in the 1978 primary, to taking control of the Senate majority in the early 1980s to his astonishing election as governor in 1990, Mr. Engler was a master politician. He had more than a determined will, more than guts, more than just plain smarts. He had vision and knew how to accomplish that vision. He didn't care if you disagreed with him. He didn't care that you hated him. He had a vision, he would accomplish it and even his opponents ruefully acknowledged he had them beat.

So how was it he failed as interim president of his alma mater?

Like any human, Mr. Engler made lots of mistakes in his political career. Unlike most people, he learned from those mistakes and rarely made them again.

He got bested, occasionally, in his political life. Former Rep. Lynn Jondahl once told this reporter of a time in the 1980s when the House and Senate were at a standstill on some budget issue. Mr. Jondahl was in the room when then-Democratic Speaker Gary Owen taunted then-Republican Senate Majority Leader Engler over a potential agreement.

"What's the matter, John?" Mr. Owen said, according to Mr. Jondahl. "Can't you control your caucus? I control my caucus. Why can't you control yours?" Mr. Engler said nothing in reply, just glaring at Mr. Owen. In fact, Mr. Engler did have several caucus members who disliked him intensely and would just as soon find a way to toss him out of his post. Those members were soon either gone themselves, replaced by Engler allies, or cowed into being loyal. You might best him once; you almost never got another opportunity to do so.

No one would describe Mr. Engler as a charmer. He hammered at points and facts and logic, often in hopes of wearying or overwhelming an opponent. But he also knew when he needed to turn the talk over to someone who could charm on his behalf. Admittedly, that wasn't often, as he generally either won over the opponent or simply brushed the person aside. But he did know that softness was sometimes needed.

He never believed in going small on something. Mr. Engler spoke often of how at his first inaugural former Governor George Romney told him to, "Be bold." Mr. Engler was. His proposals were always big and bold. Now, he'd take the deal, he'd go halfway, a quarter-way, a millionth of a way to his ultimate goal, and he'd live by the deal. But the next day he would start pushing for more, to get closer to his vision, taking deal after deal, until the vision was accomplished.

Presumably, that was what MSU's Board of Trustees was looking for when in the depths of the worst scandal in the school's history they called on Mr. Engler. Presumably they wanted bold vision and the guts needed to accomplish it. In some ways, Mr. Engler delivered. He achieved a legal settlement with the Nassar survivors in a couple months as opposed to several years, and amid talk it could top $1 billion, the number was $500 million. He broomed out many university administrative officials who drove the clown car that allowed Larry Nassar to escape culpability.

Students hated him, he didn't care. Faculty hated him, he didn't care. He had a vision, he was going to get that vision accomplished.

So, what happened? Okay, technology and social media helped drive his opponents. Mr. Engler's fateful interview with The Detroit News on Friday, had it happened, say, in the first term of his governorship in the pre-Internet era, would not have rocketed through the state and nation as quickly as it did. That said, Mr. Engler was always on top of technology. He knew what it could allow; it didn't bother him.

Our culture demands greater empathy, more understanding and acceptance. He has three daughters, a wife who takes no guff herself. When former GOP national committee member Chuck Yob said secretary of state was a good place for a woman on the ticket because "they like that kind of work," Mr. Engler said he was out of touch and needed to go. This was back almost 20 years ago, for Pete's sake. One has to think he understood current culture.

Except, presuming he does understand current culture, presuming he does at least intellectually understand that victims need and deserve special consideration and care, it didn't register with him. He simply seemed to think this was no different than politics as usual. He certainly acted, and God knows spoke, as if he was once more facing off against an opposition leader.

But he was facing mostly kids, wounded and abused. He was facing their parents, hurting and angry. He faced a whole university community, mortified, angry and even scared. He also faced the world, shocked, disgusted and demanding to know what happened and how will it get fixed?

Somehow, possibly the best politician in Michigan history didn't see any of that. Missed a population that, even though they didn't like him, didn't trust him, still needed him to assure them.

He missed that sense of emotional need, missed what he needed to do to help reclaim trust. Mr. Engler figured they needed swift resolution of the problem and to just move on.

Yeah, sure, swift resolution, okay, that was needed. Moving on? Well, yeah, that kinda comes on its own, not easily, but it does.

But there was a lot more needed. Something not tangible, not measurable, yet still overwhelmingly present and needing acknowledgement. And the smartest guy in the room this time was just plain blind to it all. Why was he dumb when he needed to be smarter than ever? We'll probably never know.

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Some Thoughts On Now Former Governor Snyder

Posted: January 10, 2019 1:35 PM

Already, with the changes Governor Gretchen Whitmer is enacting, it seems former Governor Rick Snyder is becoming a distant memory. That is the cruelty of life, politics and journalism. Last week you were top of the pops; this week people look at you and say, "I'm sorry, you are…?"

With time, though, some people will look back, some people will reflect and draw meaning and lessons from the eight years Mr. Snyder led the state, Some people will

What can we say then about Mr. Snyder?

The state is in many ways in a better place economically than it was when he took the oath in January 2011. But how much of that is due to Mr. Snyder's policies we will not know for some time yet.

Clearly, Michigan has done better because the nation's economy is much stronger. Why Michigan lagged the rest of the nation in a one-state recession during the time from 2002 to 2008 is still unanswered (and let us not forget the nation was not exactly bubbling during that time, if the phrase "jobless recovery" means anything to anyone). But as the Great Recession ended and the U.S. grew economically, so too did Michigan.

Which of Mr. Snyder's policies – the business tax cut, changes in regulations, the creation of a "right to work" status – had the most economic effect on the state, we don't yet know. Perhaps all of them did. Perhaps none did. Sadly, the only way we will be able to tell is how Michigan endures the next recession and how it grows out of that recession.

In terms of Mr. Snyder's political ideology, Mr. Snyder is a business conservative. In that, he hewed to fiscal policies designed to promote businesses by cutting their costs. That included tax cuts, of course, but also policies to cut debt.

Unlike a more classic smaller government conservative, who always is on the lookout to cut taxes and spending in any way possible, Mr. Snyder did not make spending cuts his primary priority. Though he certainly enacted plenty of cuts, one can talk to the higher education community about that, Mr. Snyder also saw the need for state investments and spending.

Also, while a business conservative is, well, conservative on fiscal policies, he or she also tends to adopt social policies acceptable to the larger public. That is not always a good thing, looking back at our history. But under some circumstances it can help lead the way to a more inclusive, open and tolerant society.

For example, many businesses have been ahead of government in recognizing and promoting LGBT rights.

As a business conservative, Mr. Snyder recognized the need for broader health care, which led to what was probably his best achievement socially and politically, the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion which brought health insurance to hundreds of thousands of residents. It is a success, though Mr. Snyder bungled some parts of his political strategy on the issue.

Which brings us to Mr. Snyder's lack of political background. While saying he was not a politician was popular, especially in the early days, it was limiting. It made it harder to both set broad policy and work with the Legislature to achieve that policy. There were too many times he respected his "legislative partners" and signed clearly unpopular bills, even though many legislators did not believe him to be a true Republican.

He did stand his ground on issues. Refusing, for example, to sign legislation that would have allowed guns on school grounds which was sent to him following the slaughter of small children at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a key example.

But not being a politician by nature also had its tragic consequences. Politicians, good politicians, learn to listen to people and recognize problems they raise. They learn to at least check things out and see if there really is a problem.

Too often business executives and top administrators put greater trust in metrics and systems.

So, we had the Flint drinking water crisis. Even before we learned homes were contaminated with lead, dozens of Flint residents appeared with containers of muddy, brown-tinted water from their taps. Too often Mr. Snyder's administration responded saying the water should be safe.

A good politician would have looked into the issue, trying to figure out why the water looked the way it did and what could be done to fix it. Sadly, Mr. Snyder was not the only politician lacking that instinct, even though we know some people in his administration expressed worries about Flint switching its water system to the Flint River, too many of his fellow Republicans failed as well. But with history, it will be Mr. Snyder who will take the greatest blame.

Clearly, there are lessons here for Ms. Whitmer and governors to follow. It will still take some time to assess what those are, however. Let's hope we don't miss them.

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Governor Snyder And The Legacy Thing

Posted: December 14, 2018 5:05 PM

During the fraught lame-duck legislative session underway critics of many of the bills in process have called on Governor Rick Snyder in his final days in office to preserve his legacy by vetoing some of the more controversial provisions. Bills that critics charge will change the structure of government and make administrating more difficult for Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and the other new constitutional officers, those are the measures many are calling on Mr. Snyder to veto.

But Mr. Snyder has made it pretty clear what he expects his legacy to be, and even though a newly released survey shows him leaving office with some of his lowest approval ratings ever he likely is not worried about that judgment.

What will be more worrying to Mr. Snyder is how the state will respond to the recession which will come (and according to some economists come as early as next year). If Michigan weathers the recession better than it has in recent downturns – fewer jobs lost, state revenues not thoroughly trashed and government possibly able to get through the recession without major budget cuts or tax increases – then Mr. Snyder can probably say his legacy will go down well.

As he leaves office, Mr. Snyder is keeping a gubernatorial tradition going back to at least former Governor John Engler. His overall approval ratings have fallen to just 28.5 percent of the public surveyed by the State of the State Survey from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. Those aren't his lowest approval ratings ever (in 2011, after his controversial business tax changes were enacted, just 19.3 percent said he was doing a good or excellent job).

And in his final approval ratings not being his lowest ever, he has beaten Mr. Engler and former Governor Jennifer Granholm who each left office with their lowest approval ratings. But they also, during their time in office, enjoyed higher approval ratings than Mr. Snyder did during his eight-year term. And they also left office during recessions. Mr. Snyder is the first governor to escape a recession altogether in decades.

Mr. Snyder made it clear during a press conference earlier this week that he views his legacy as the changes he made to Michigan's business tax structure and regulatory environment to help restore the state's economy.

The public still sees Flint and the unemployment scandal as part of his legacy, and one suspects Mr. Snyder will not ignore those when he writes his autobiography.

But he clearly he is betting on the changes made to the state's tax and finance structure as proving him right when history judges. And he has the luck of having the Legislature still under Republican control to ensure major changes aren't made to those when Ms. Whitmer takes office come January.

Again, if Michigan does better in the recession to come, Mr. Snyder may have some claim to a type of victory, at least regarding the economy.

However, let us not forget that the recession was ending or done when Mr. Snyder took office. How much, then, of Michigan's economic improvement is due to the tax and development changes Mr. Snyder championed and how much to an improving economy anyway?

And when we go into recession, it is useful to remember the state cut taxes more than 30 times when Mr. Engler was governor and still suffered more than most states. While Mr. Snyder's policies likewise fail at the critical moment?

Well, Michigan's economy is significantly different now than it was in 2002. It far less dependent on manufacturing, which Mr. Snyder can claim some credit for and which also occurred without much influence from him at all. That should help the state. But how much? That will depend on how large and how severe a recession the state will face.

The critical test of Mr. Snyder's economic legacy is coming. It is just a matter of when.

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What To Make Of the Lame-Duck Session Thus Far?

Posted: December 6, 2018 4:40 PM

In early autumn 1996 then Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus said to a couple reporters there should be no lame-duck session. There shouldn't, he said, because, "People aren't accountable then."

But then in the election, Democrats won back control of the House. And it was a roaring lame duck that year, as the Republican-controlled Legislature rushed to pass bills before the Democrats took hold of the House. Occasionally as Mr. Posthumus went by the press desks reporters would say, "Dick, didn't you say we shouldn't have lame duck?"

Horace Walpole is said to have first written the phrase "lame duck" in a letter in 1761. It was first bandied about in the London Stock Exchange in the 18th century to refer to brokers who defaulted, the idea being a lame duck cannot keep up with the flock making it easier prey.

In the 19th century it was used to refer to politicians who were beaten in an election or retiring. Those pols no longer have much real political influence, though they still have official authority.

That all said, it seems thus far the 2018 version of the lame duck session would make the 1996 free-for-all seem tame.

Lame duck sessions have always been a bit of a romper room rout. To people of a certain age in the Lansing area the terms "lame duck," "grants and transfers" and "Christmas Tree" are almost interchangeable. Term limits have made lame-duck sessions even more potentially explosive as lawmakers – this year that includes Governor Rick Snyder and roughly 40 percent of the Legislature – face the last chance to get projects they have worked on through their short tenures completed.

But this year, not just in Michigan but in Wisconsin, lame duck seems angrier, more driven to continue controlling the agenda into the next Legislature and new administration. A way to say you won even though you lost at the polls.

This lame-duck session is not without precedence. The 2012 lame duck session was startling for the explosiveness of issues like right-to-work which was approved despite an almost unprecedented protest forced outside the Capitol and confronted by an unprecedented police presence to keep the fragile peace.

2012 also signaled what has so far been taking place in this lame-duck session. In 2012 the voters repealed the controversial emergency manager law adopted in 2011. Mr. Snyder and the Legislature, arguing it was necessary nonetheless, re-adopted it with some changes. When it happened there were, admittedly, old hands, Democrats and Republicans both, who wondered if it wasn't too blatant a move no matter what the arguments for its passage were. Disagree with them or not, these folks said, the voters did pass their judgment, shouldn't it have been respected?

Those same questions have been voiced by some of, again, the old hands watching the current session with some concern and dismay. It cannot be coincidental that some proposals introduced and now being passed, such as SB 1250 *which pulls the campaign finance oversight out of the Department of State and puts it into a bipartisan commission, are unrelated to the election results that saw Democrats strengthen their weakened hands in the Legislature and win the top four Constitutional offices. If these ideas are good and would help improve government, why weren't they introduced and enacted before November 6?

Or more to the point, no one disputes that in lame-duck sessions past the outgoing controlling party tried to get as much legislation it favored through as possible, witness 1996. But 2018 is different in that much of the legislation seems and is aimed at changing the authority of the constitutional officers. One can expect much of it to face its day in court, as well, but would something of this nature been tried in years past?

No. The losing party's attitude would have been: We lost, we have to work harder to win it all back with the voters.

Which also raises the questions of what political risk there may be in taking the course the 2018 lame duck session seems to be heading. Democrats have called on Mr. Snyder to end the session, which he doesn't have a lot of authority to do. There have been protests, there are angry posts and comments all through social media (and oddly, as one who monitors all sides in social media, there has been little defense of the session coming from Republicans and conservatives on the sites). Could this lead to an even angrier electorate in 2020? Could there be threats of recalls against some legislators? Could be there be standoffs of a variety of critical issues or on the budget?

There is one inevitable conclusion, though. That is the dream of restoring civility in politics will, thanks in part to this lame-duck session, remain just that, a dream.

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Why The GM Announcement Seems So Familiar, And Why It Is New As Well

Posted: November 29, 2018 2:50 PM

When General Motors announced earlier this week it would shutter five plants and lay off close to 15,000 workers it seemed like familiar ground.

Yet with a new governor coming into an office and a president who so far is treating the announcement as a personal insult that needs a retaliatory strike more than a significant sign to the national economy, the announcement breaks very new ground.

Yes, the announcement alone won't collapse the economy into a recession so Governor Rick Snyder will in fact be the first governor to serve more than two years to get out without having to deal with an economic slowdown in at least 70 years.

And Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer now knows as she takes the oath of office on January 1 her agenda has been expanded immensely from roads and schools and auto-insurance rates to jobs and economic change. How it will change her administration's plans is yet to be established, but it is not something she and the state can ignore.

An earlier crisis with a GM plant made a profound change in the early administration of former Governor John Engler. GM in the early 1990s opened up a kind of bidding war on whether it would keep the Willow Run plant or a plant in Texas open. Mr. Engler said in opening one of his first State or the State addresses that Michigan would not lose Willow Run.

But we did. And that loss had a profound change on Mr. Engler's administration. He had hoped to get away from using incentives to lure or keep companies. He even tried to get other governors to agree not to (they weren't interested in his pitch). Mr. Engler had hoped that cutting taxes and regulations would be enough to both build the economy and make Michigan not recession-proof, but recession-resistant.

After Willow Run, Mr. Engler took to incentives very dramatically. They were part of the state's package along with cutting taxes and regulations.

Of course, cutting taxes and regulations didn't stop Michigan from going into a decade-long recession. They don't, nor can they. An economy comprises too many elements to be controlled by those government actions.

As she takes office January 1, Ms. Whitmer should take heart in projections made earlier this month by the Research Seminar for Quantitative Economics at the University of Michigan, that Michigan has restructured itself enough that it should withstand the next recession much better. The state is far less dependent on manufacturing, especially auto manufacturing.

Look at the Lansing area. Once the place where more cars were made than any other place in the country, and there are still lots of cars being made here, Lansing is now a major center for the insurance industry.

Even GM's announcement is in one way in line with the state's long-term goals. GM wants to focus on electric and autonomous vehicles. Michigan has spent much of the past decade making itself a center of autonomous vehicle research and development. Okay then. What's the problem?

The problem, of course, is thousands of people facing the prospect of losing their jobs and how the state responds to this. Here again is a challenge confronting a second challenge, and are we prepared for both? Because what has business complained of these last several years? A lack of workers available to hire. Here now will be workers. But will they be trained for the jobs available? Will they be willing to relocate to the places the jobs are centered? Will they accept the pay and benefits after working in the auto-related industry?

There is yet a third challenge: how will the general public respond to the GM news? Public confidence in the economy has been high, which helps keep people spending, i.e. investing, in the economy and keeping the state flush with tax revenue. To keep the economy going and the state funded, it is critical the GM situation be managed so the workers are helped, the company can refocus and rebuild, the state can maintain itself (and not go into economic crisis mode) and use this as evidence of whatever PR slogan the Whitmer administration will employ, the Renewed Michigan or some such.

And there is that fourth challenge, President Donald Trump. His reaction so far has been to seek revenge, not adapting and responding to a situation in a way that inspires confidence. Yes, he made a foolish pledge that no plant would close under his watch. As a business executive, which made him so attractive to so many people, he knew that businesses sometimes have to take losses and make sacrifices. He did, after all. Issuing threats, as he has done, does nothing to resolve the situation.

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Happy Thanksgiving, Let's Talk About School Capital Finances

Posted: November 21, 2018 1:18 PM

First, Happy Thanksgiving.

Second, to avoid political arguments around the Thanksgiving feast table, here is a topic to discuss: How should the state resolve the most significant forgotten item of the Proposal A school reform measure, the lack of a solution on school capital infrastructure spending?

Fine, fine, fine, yes it could put Uncle Phil to sleep faster than tryptophan, but nearly 25 years after the voters approved Proposal A it remains an unsolved problem and while munching on that third slice of pie don't you want something to talk about besides who won and who should have won?

It's an issue that has always mattered, been galling to a number of officials – especially to former state Treasurer Doug Roberts, who was one of the chief architects of Proposal A – and has come to light most recently because of a report from Moody's Investors Services released this week.

That report warned that unless something is done to improve the Detroit Public School Community District's rapidly deteriorating school buildings, the city's economic rejuvenation could be threatened. And the report said the only viable way to attack the issue is for the state to provide financial help.

Of course, don't many school districts, urban, suburban and rural, need help dealing with capital expenditures?

Mr. Roberts has a suggestion to help.

It is no exaggeration to say Mr. Roberts has gnawed at this problem for years. "We left the issue on the table," he said recently while talking about Proposal A.

The only real method for schools to finance for new construction or repairs is take out debt, which means raising local property taxes. Which then gets into the question of the value of the millages, which depends on property values. Millage values in places like Detroit, Flint and Inkster are worth far less than those in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills or Okemos.

When he was treasurer Mr. Roberts, to his continued regret, had to reject a proposal from the Hamtramck schools to build a new, desperately needed high school, because he did not think the local millage values would allow the district to maybe ever pay off the school.

But Mr. Roberts has a suggestion: finance school capital expenditures the same way the state pays for school administrative and instructional expenditures, through per-pupil grants.

He suggests those grants be roughly one-tenth the per-pupil grant for instructional purposes. So if the basic per-pupil grant is around $8,000 a student, then the capital expenditure grant would be about $800 a student.

That grant could only be used for capital expenditures, Mr. Roberts suggests. If a district had no expenditures in a school year it could bank the money for the future, but it could only go for capital needs and improvement.

With around 1 million K-12 students in Michigan that adds up to $800 million a year, minimum. But for Detroit, with more than 44,000 students in the 2016-17 school year it would mean $35.5 million going to building upgrades, improvements and repairs.

Even for the Upper Peninsula's tiny Ewen-Trout Creek Consolidated Schools, where there are quite literally more deer than people, its 189 K-12 students would net the district $151,200 for capital purposes. You don't think a school district couldn't use 151 grand for repairs, new technology and other upgrades?

How would the state pay for it all? Well, Mr. Roberts said it would have to tax for it. He leaves the decision of what tax to lawmakers. But he said the proposal could provide a big tax benefit making it more politically popular.

A statewide tax for school infrastructure means local property taxes could be reduced, he said.

So, before the first salvo on politics is fired over the salad or someone sputters, "What do you mean by that?" while stuffing stuffing, introduce the thought-provoking subject of school capital expenditures to your holiday gathering. You're welcome.

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The Importance Of Composition In A Photograph

Posted: November 15, 2018 4:46 PM

Oh, everyone has taken a picture of someone with a tree growing out of their head or with a person silhouetted against a blinding sun. And one should also remember how to position people in the photograph.

Lt. Governor Brian Calley learned this lesson during a recent photoshoot with Lt. Governor-elect Garlin Gilchrist. But, through the magic of Twitter, let Mr. Calley show you how important composition is.

It was the one photo that hitherto had not been released from the recent successful meeting the outgoing lieutenant governor held with the incoming lieutenant governor.

Anyone following Mr. Calley's social media accounts of late can see Mr. Calley has decided to have some fun in his last weeks in office, Thursday's photo being the latest example.

But looking at the picture, it does kinda have a "Coming this Christmas, to a theatre near you, in a world gone mad, two lieutenant governors …" movie poster vibe about it.

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A First Encounter With The Governor-Elect

Posted: November 9, 2018 1:53 PM

Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer is the star now. She has a big profile in The New York Times, a photo of her victory celebration tops a Brookings Institution story about a slow shift of white voters back to Democrats. Nationally the whole political world wants to get to know her, as she was not one of the flashy names who drew lots of attention and, yet, failed to win (like someone in Texas, for example.)

In Michigan, Ms. Whitmer has been known among the political cognoscenti but until she took the podium at the Women's March on the Capitol on January 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration, her overall state profile was not well known. And, of course, she had to defeat a flashy name in the primary, which she did handily, in Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.

Ms. Whitmer first ran for the Legislature in 2000, where at a campaign event this reporter and she were first formally introduced. She was confident but, as one might expect for a first-time candidate, still a little tense and tentative.

But in the coffee shop where the 2000 event was being held – the start of a final campaign push before the election – after being introduced to her, this reporter remembered when he first encountered Ms. Whitmer. She was in elementary school at the time.

Anyone living and working in the capital area will stumble on politicians and state officials frequently, at markets, sporting events, movie theatres (the number of times I ran into former Governor John Engler at Celebration Cinema with a large popcorn and various friends in tow cannot be counted) and the like. It isn't quite like folks living and working in Los Angeles bumping into movie stars but close enough.

My initial encounter with Ms. Whitmer occurred because of her father, Richard Whitmer, former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

In the late 1970s, Blue Cross was a major issue in the state. It wanted more autonomy, then-Attorney General Frank Kelley was after it on rates, the Legislature was being pushed to rewrite its operating statute. And the Blues also had the blues in part because of their then-CEO John McCabe. Mr. McCabe was gaining a profile for complaining about his salary and for wanting to push BCBSM more into the private market.

For reporters, BCBSM was a monolith to cover. They let little out, finding sources was always a tough task and they were locked on a message that would not admit any divergence.

Mr. Whitmer was a relatively new, high-ranking executive with BCBSM. He was the new public face as the insurance giant attempted to keep Mr. McCabe out of the spotlight. And he was booked to appear on the public TV show "Off the Record."

And this reporter was booked to be on the reporters' panel.

I'm not sure what Mr. Whitmer expected when he sat in the guest's chair, but what he got was a thoroughly tough questioning about BCBSM, how it was operating and whether its rate requests were justified. Once or twice Mr. Whitmer seemed stumped for an answer. And by the end of it all, he was sweating.

When the program ended, Mr. Whitmer walked out of the studio ahead of me and stopped by the control room door. The door opened, Mr. Whitmer smiled, said something like, "Was it fun?"

And out walked two little girls, one of whom will be sworn in as Michigan's governor on January 1.

"Oh cripes," I said, though probably I said something a touch more profane, "his kids were here watching this."

During the primary season, I asked Ms. Whitmer if she recalled that time. She did not, though she acknowledged it would have had to have been her and her sister watching the taping. The taping could not have ignited any of her interests in politics and government.

Still, in two months this reporter will be able to say he knew the governor way back when.

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The Campaign Is Now In Full Fear And Anxiety Mode

Posted: October 26, 2018 4:46 PM

Arriving early at the WDIV-TV studios in Detroit on Wednesday before the gubernatorial debate between Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette, this reporter happened to see Ms. Whitmer come into the building. She was wearing what looked like a sweatshirt with an embroidered slogan. I couldn't catch what the whole slogan said, but the last few words stood out: "Go damn vote."

Either the same day, or Tuesday, the Michigan Republican Party put out a press release asking whether Ms. Whitmer was flirting was socialism, about as negative a term as one can use to bait conservatives.

If anyone out there needs a refill on valium get it now before the state's supply is commandeered by every campaign manager, campaign finance manager, press spokesperson, volunteer coordinator, pollster, ad manager and candidate running for every one of the dozens of offices on the ballot.

The campaign has gone into full fear, anxiety and naked terror mode and everyone related to a campaign is affected. The first election this reporter covered was in 1972 and while every election is intense, 2018 is so insanely intense an overcaffeinated French poodle would seem calm in comparison.

What are Republicans scared of? That they will truly be swept away by a blue tsunami.

Republicans are warning that Democrats are carpetbaggers, mob-oriented leftists, ruby red Reds as well as the spawn of Satan and sending endless urgent emails exhorting, pleading, begging for money. Getting whomped by 20 or 30 points allows for a certain calm sagacity on the part of the loser; losing by 1 or 2 points is the worst thing possible in politics, reaping only bitter anguish, recriminations and despair. Oh, the agony of being behind by single digits, even the high single digits.

What are Democrats scared of? That being in the lead means their party members will fall into the bad habits of being complacent, figuring the race is won they don't need to vote and then watching the race go down to narrow defeat on Election Day. In happened in 2016 in Michigan when Democratic turnout dropped and President Donald Trump won by just more than 10,000 votes.

Or in 1990 when again Dems failed to show up and Governor James Blanchard lost to the newly-elected Governor John Engler. Hence the endless email warnings that Republicans are trying to steal the elections, the ads that Republicans are the tools of corporate fat cats (and spawns of Satan), ladling in corporate cash while the poor and middle-class suffer. And, of course, emails begging, pleading, upbraiding people for money. Win by 20 or 30 points it almost isn't your win, it's the public tossing out the scorned candidate; winning by 1 or 2 points is the best thing in politics, the battle won by sweat, toil, indomitable spirit and determination. Oh, the agony of being ahead by single digits, even the high single digits.

And Ms. Whitmer has a new ad, released 12 days before the election, with a basic message: vote. She is leaving nothing to chance on this, she has spoken about this in interviews the need and drive to get voters to actually vote.

She is only ahead of the Republicans by a few days at best because the GOP will get their drive to get voters to polls going as fast and as intense.

In these next several days, it isn't Halloween that is scary, it's the coming end of the election. Try to stay calm.

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Gilchrist Troubles: Real Concern Or Irrelevant To Who Wins Governorship?

Posted: October 18, 2018 5:14 PM

Should Garlin Gilchrist get to raise his right hand while standing on the Capitol steps on a cold January 1 early afternoon and take the oath as Michigan's lieutenant governor, one can hope this campaign has taught him a critical lesson. Namely: pay attention to things.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Bill Schuette's campaign has gone after Mr. Gilchrist almost as much as it has the actual Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Gretchen Whitmer. As to how successful that strategy will be, the results of November 6 will be the final arbiter. In the meantime, once could ask former President Mike Dukakis how much of a role going after then-U.S. Sen. Dan Quayle, the 1988 Republican nominee for vice president, played in that race. That's a rhetorical question, and Democrats are openly mocking the Schuette campaign for trying to make the race about the lieutenant governor when everyone knows no one votes based on lieutenant governor.

It is true, though, that Mr. Gilchrist has been getting attention for all the wrong reasons. When he was selected by Ms. Whitmer questions were raised about his overall lack of governing experience. Those questions have largely fallen away as attention has focused on his:

  • Failing to turn in all his paperwork related to his 2017 run for Detroit city clerk and failing to pay fines related to that failure;
  • Posting tweets nearly a decade ago seen as criticizing Israel and at least giving succor to Hamas, and most seriously;
  • The revelation that a duplex he had purchased in Detroit as a renovation project was still largely a wreck, the neighbors were upset and he had missed paying property taxes on it. The taxes have since been paid, and Mr. Gilchrist has said he ran out of money to continue the project and has had trouble raising funds because he was campaigning for city clerk in 2017 and lieutenant governor in 2018. Which may not have been the most sensitive way to characterize why he has struggled to raise the necessary funds.

Each of these incidents could be rationalized away if someone was trying to defend him. No, he should not have missed the campaign filing deadlines, but the political highway is littered with candidates who failed to meet deadlines. Should he have stood up for Hamas, well, he's not much more than a kid now and this was 10 years ago. Leaving a wreck of a building, again, no he should not have done that, but he took a chance on redeveloping a blighted building, an admirable idea, and urban America is full of abandoned buildings. Again, these are rationalizations.

But rationalizations won't do right now.

Mr. Gilchrist is also the lieutenant governor candidate to potentially cause the most headaches for the top of the ticket since Jim Damman in 1974 did for Governor William Milliken. But there is a major difference, Mr. Damman was accused – accusations never proven – of engaging in fraud. Mr. Gilchrist is accused of being careless and indifferent.

Nor is he the only person who needed to pay better attention. Ms. Whitmer's vetting staff did her no favors by not better finding these issues and resolving them to the degree they could be resolved before he was selected.

Putting aside his faults and talents, and he has both, Mr. Gilchrist was the key to important coalition building for the Democrats. Democrats were worried about losing the progressive wing of the party because Dr. Abdul El-Sayed lost the primary to Ms. Whitmer. They saw what happened two years ago. Jill Stein got 30,000 more votes for the Green Party than she did in 2012, in part because angry progressives voted for her rather than Hilary Clinton. President Donald Trump won the state by about 10,000 votes. It could be argued that Democrats were more pressed on coalition building than on meeting political basics in ensuring the candidate has no obvious detractions.

And paying attention for Mr. Gilchrist will mean more than minding his p's and q's when it comes to what he does off hours. Because there are no off hours for the person holding the state's second-highest office. He must pay attention to what is happening in the state and in the Capitol to get the policies he and Ms. Whitmer want enacted. We'll see, if Ms. Whitmer wins on November 6, if he has learned that lesson.

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Something The Next Governor Should Count On: A Recession

Posted: October 11, 2018 3:13 PM

If the economy does not collapse in the roughly 11 weeks left in Governor Rick Snyder's administration he will become the first governor since … ah…Alexander Groesbeck, maybe, Harry Kelly, possibly, to not govern the state during either a recession or a depression.

Neither Democrat Gretchen Whitmer nor Republican Bill Schuette can count on being so lucky.

What the two running to be Michigan's 49th governor also cannot count on is the numerous changes to taxes, regulations and other pro-business actions of the last several decades saving the state from recession. Those changes could arguably make a recession more tolerable for the state, which given the economic ravages Michigan has dragged through in decades past, would be positive in and of itself.

But no state, and for that matter no federal, government, can stop an economic movement that is driven as much by emotion as it is hard dollars and cents management. Nor can any government really cause an economy to, on its own, improve. That too requires emotional as well as fiscal and policy boosts.

Understanding that, there are some measurable signs something is happening and that in the next several years a downturn of some sort is imminent. For the most part economists see continued economic growth well into 2019, and possibly 2020 as well.

Still, there are worries. Yes, the stock market has been rousted in the last couple days. One has to remember market values are four to five times or more what they were in the nadir of the Great Recession a decade ago. So even a loss of 1,000 points or more has to be viewed in context.

But the market going up and down is an emotional driver. People get nervous when the market goes down, and pull back spending. When the market goes up, they spend more.

Still, there are clues one has to watch. Forget about the Dow Jones, the NASDAQ and the S&P 500, look at the Russell 2000. That index looks at small cap stocks, smaller companies, more dependent on U.S. economic activity. Since July, that index has been heading lower, possibly a sign of softness or at least anxiety in the U.S. economy.

Look at credit delinquencies. Okay, compared to 10 years ago delinquencies are absurdly low, running around 1 percent for all delinquencies: mortgages, credit cards, general loans. Yet those too have been rising, especially among credit cards. That indicates something more than someone forgot to mail the bill their briefcase; it indicates it's getting harder for some folks to pay those bills.

Look at automotive: demand for cars is falling. That is offset somewhat by demand for trucks and SUVs but overall sales, while still pretty good, are not leaping one year to the next. And for certain kinds of vehicles, such as RVs, factories in Indiana are reporting some drop in demand.

Then there's politics and policy. We have a tentative economic agreement with Canada and Mexico, but President Donald Trump still is pounding the tariff bludgeon threatening a major trade standoff with China and who knows who else. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the growing number of companies seeking tariff exemptions for their goods and materials.

There is the new tax law that Congress is touting which helped push growth significantly earlier this year. We'll see what that does once people actually fill out their returns and calculate their individual benefit or, as folks like to say, "negative impact." Plus, the federal deficit has grown badly which will make it tougher for the feds to help out in a recession.

Both Ms. Whitmer and Mr. Schuette are running on pledges of getting things done, fixing roads, fixing schools, protecting job gains, whatever. Meeting those pledges will depend on keeping a sound financial status quo. Once the state goes into a recession, big proposals take a back seat to keeping the books balanced.

So, to whomever wins, move as fast as you can to get as much going as you can, because it will assuredly get tougher when the inevitable recession strikes.

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Pondering A Big 'What If' On The Redistricting Ballot Proposal

Posted: October 4, 2018 12:07 PM

Supporters of Proposal 18-2 are quick to remind folks if the proposal is approved and amends the Constitution to completely change Michigan's redistricting system that it will prevent whichever party is in power from manipulating the districting system to its advantage.

Republicans, most Republicans who have gone public on the issue, fulminate the proposal brought by Voters Not Politicians is from Democrats trying to control future elections. VNP officials and supporters just as quickly say back that several Republicans support the proposal and that it would block Democratic districting daffiness as well. Just look at Illinois and Maryland, or Michigan in 1983, they say.

Nonetheless, there are some Democrats dreaming of what could be if – and it is a mighty big if – Democrats win the whole bazinga on November 6: the governor's seat, the House AND the Senate, and Proposal 18-2 is NOT adopted. How rare would a Democratic sweep of the governor's office and the Legislature be? It has only happened three times in the history of the state – 1932, 1936 and 1982.

Not only are Democrats thinking about it (they have told this reporter they are), there are a whole bunch of Republicans nervous about it. Not sweating buckets and popping Prozac kind of nervous, mind you, just generally nervous. (They, too, have told this reporter so).

Because if for the first time in 36 years in 2019 the Democrats do control the whole show and there is no change to the Constitution on redistricting, then the election map for 2020 is going to probably look very different.

There is nothing in the Constitution or law that prohibits the Legislature from drafting supplementary district maps between the census. Democrats, provided they comply with relevant state and federal law, could whip up a new map for the Michigan House for 2020. They have even odds it will survive a court challenge, so long as it meets the Apol standards and the U.S. Voting Rights Act, and voters could find themselves confronting new districts for the 2020 election.

Because 2020 is a presidential year, more Democrats are likely to vote and help keep control of the House in Democratic hands, though it's worth remembering the last presidential election in 2016 was a disaster for Michigan Democrats.

What would that 2020 map look like? Well, one Republican said to this reporter, "They're going to do to us what we did to them." There you are then, no favors tossed to the losers.

Should Democrats then get to draw the maps following the 2020 census for not only the Michigan House, but the Michigan Senate and the state's U.S. House districts, they may be in a position to, as Republican former Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow once told a caucus at a GOP convention, "Control this place forever."

Which raises two questions in an election that right now looks like it is leaning Democratic but Republicans still hope a fire can be ignited under their partisans' butts: Do Democrats vote against Prop 2 in hopes of redistricting ecstasy? And do Republicans vote for Prop 2, just in case they need the citizen redistricting commission as a backstop?

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One Difference Between 2010 And Today

Posted: September 27, 2018 4:00 PM

Here are two dates: October 10 and October 19, 2010.

The first date is that of the only actual debate between then Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder and the then Democratic candidate, former Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. It is also the first significant instance of when both candidates accused the other of lying. It had to do with whether a company Mr. Snyder had a major investment in, Discera, had set up facilities in China.

The second date is when Mr. Snyder's campaign issued the first ad that criticized Mr. Bernero. That was approximately two weeks before the 2010 election.

It wasn't all sweetness and light in 2010. Mr. Snyder survived a brutal slugfest in the Republican primary that year and Mr. Bernero had his own wrestling match with former House Speaker Andy Dillon.

Beyond the primary, though much of the campaign nastiness was national in a campaign dominated by the tea party and a vicious attitude toward then President Barack Obama.

Ah, 2010 is a fond memory of relative courtesy and calm compared to what is clear near savagery in the 2018 election.

The major candidates for governor have called each other liars. One accused the other's lieutenant governor's choice of essentially providing moral comfort to terrorists. That's before you get into the question of who is going to raise taxes, who will fix Michigan's roads, who will improve schools, maintain the economy, protect health care coverage and pick an issue.

And the viciousness doesn't end with the governor's campaign. Look at the attorney general's race. The secretary of state's race is getting tougher than most in the last 50 years. The Supreme Court race has its moments too, though in the last 20 years it has had tough races. Congressional and legislative races are getting bitter.

Surprisingly, so far, the U.S. Senate race has seemed relatively calm.

The only real difference between 2010 and 2018 is there was no U.S. Senate race eight years ago. Then like now you have an open race for governor. The entire Legislature is up for grabs, as it was then. All of Congress is in play, though there were 15 seats then. There were and are two Supreme Court seats in play.

Then as now, you also had a sitting president who a significant portion of the country despised. Then it was Mr. Obama. Today, it is President Donald Trump.

A big, big difference between then and now is both parties are playing full-on, scratch, claw and bite, head-thumping politics. Further, Mr. Bernero and Mr. Dillon were last-minute candidates, and Mr. Snyder had only become interested in running for office a year earlier. The gubernatorial candidates this year have had their eyes on the governorship for many years.

In 2010, Democrats seemed not asleep, but disbelieving of the electoral disaster befalling them. There is a famous video of Japanese residents of a town struck by the killer tsunami in 2011 watching not so much in horror as in total incomprehension as their city is completely swept away before them. The image is applicable to Democrats in 2010, not quite able to fathom what was happening as they watched it happen.

No more. Judging by the campaign we have seen, with still more than one month to go before the election, Democrats have learned well the lessons of that election year.

Republicans, obviously, never forgot those lessons and have never been afraid to play for keeps.

By the time this October 10 rolls around – which will be two days before the first gubernatorial debate and who can say what that will be like – someone might yet fondly remember the relatively calm election of 2010.

Actually, someone will remember the 2010 election fondly. He'll be leaving the Executive Office on January 1 and handing it over to someone who may be more a survivor than a victor.

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Something Fascinating About The National Popular Vote Movement

Posted: September 13, 2018 2:24 PM

Suddenly, there is great interest in the National Popular Vote proposal, which would be a sort of halfway dissolution of the Electoral College method of electing presidents. Two identical bills have been introduced in the House and Senate – HB 6323 *and SB 1117 *– to enter Michigan into a compact that would guarantee the presidential candidate who has the most popular votes is the winner of the presidential election.

That's not what is the really fascinating thing, though, about this proposal.

Committee hearings have been held on the proposal. There could be a vote on it come lame-duck session. It has bipartisan support with most the Senate Democratic Caucus, including Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), supporting the Senate version and two Democrats backing the House measure.

Still, that is not what is really interesting, at least to this cynical reporter.

The proposal – which would take effect when states with at least 270 electoral votes (the number needed to elect a president) sign on (though congressional approval may still be needed) and guarantees the person with the most popular votes gets all the electoral votes from the compact states – got some shade this week with revelations some supporters were at meetings in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, paid for by the backers of the idea. But that doesn't seem to have cooled the interest towards the proposal, yet.

No, what really interests this reporter is how many Republicans support this proposal, even though had it been in place there is a good chance former Vice President Al Gore would have been president, and almost a dead certainty former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would sit in the Oval Office today.

Supporters argue the proposal will change the whole scope of presidential campaigns. Battleground states would vanish. Instead every state would be important because every voter would be important. Republicans would campaign in reliably Democratic states like California to drive conservatives to the polls and Democrats would campaign in Texas to push Democratic turnout. That may happen, and a good thing all around.

Michigan in 2012, it is pointed out, only saw one major presidential candidate event, supporters argue. True, but we forget Michigan was very much a battleground state in 2016 with many events held by both main candidates.

Also, if all 50 states don't participate in the compact, couldn't one say there are still battleground states: those in the compact and campaigns will switch to campaigning just in compact states?

Issues rarely discussed now in campaigns may become more important, supporters say. Again true, but what could one say about a campaign such as 2016 when much of it was focused on personality? Would a campaign based on popular votes instead of electoral votes change that?

Republican supporters argue it is unknown if Ms. Clinton would have won, and Mr. Trump has said he would have changed his campaign to ensure victory in 2016. Of course, Ms. Clinton would have changed her campaign as well, and let us not forget Ms. Clinton had nearly 2.869 million more votes than Mr. Trump. It's hard to see that result changing much even if both candidates altered their strategies to a more national as opposed to battleground state campaign.

To this reporter, it makes it both heartening as well as fascinating there is some bipartisan support for a proposal aimed at increasing voter turnout and pushing elections to a greater relevancy to voters even as it could be argued such a system would not have helped recent GOP candidates. Most calls to eliminate the Electoral College have come somewhat leftward of most Republicans and this is kind of a halfway end to that system. Politics being politics, one also presumes there is a cynical motive hiding somewhere among the supporters of both parties on this issue.

For now, though, this skeptical reporter is satisfied it is genuine interest from all sides to better our elections. Let us all hold hands now for a chorus of "Kumbaya."

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Campaigning Just Got A Little Bit Tougher, Or Did It?

Posted: September 6, 2018 3:13 PM

A former Gongwerian would tell the story of how as a young, idealistic lad he helped at a polling place one city election. A city election, for mayor, council members, all on a nonpartisan ballot. A very elderly woman struggled to the polling place and our intrepid lad assisted her to the voting booth, then asked her if she would like help voting. Yes, she said in a wavering voice. And for whom would you like to vote, our Gongwer chappie asked.

“I want to vote for the straight Republican ticket,” the lady answered. Um, Ma’am, said our young Lochinvar, this is a nonpartisan election. “I want to vote for the straight Republican ticket,” the lady repeated. This exchange went on for a while until, as I recall the story, the most Republican of the nonpartisan candidates could be discerned.

If she is still with us voting, she will run into the same problem come November 6, as the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Wednesday Michigan’s controversial law banning straight-ticket voting will take effect this election.

How the political parties were planning and preparing supporters to vote come November is not known. Republican legislators pushed the bill in 2015, though it is estimated close to 40 percent of their base voted straight-ticket. Democrats, where it is estimated 60 percent voted straight-ticket (and possibly a significantly larger number of minorities voted straight-ticket) opposed it.

But since 2016, after a lawsuit challenging the law was filed, a preliminary injunction and then a final ruling at the U.S. District Court level held that it was unconstitutional. So for some time, party officials thought okay, maybe our straight-ticket voters will be all set.

Now that the federal circuit court granted a stay of the lower court decision affecting the November election, we are back to the issue of how do the parties make sure their supporters get the message that they will have to vote for every partisan candidate individually – from governor down to county commissioner and the rest – before they deal with nonpartisan seats AND the ballot issues?

This is not a minor issue. In both major parties a significant number of voters vote straight-ticket. Neither party wants to lose any of them. Sure, maybe a bunch of them will for a few seats at the top, governor, U.S. Senator, Congress and then take a walk. But the parties do not want that.

My colleague Zach Gorchow wrote earlier this week that Michigan Democrats could pull off the electoral surprise of this still young century and sweep state government. Not if people don’t show up at the polls – which has been a persistent problem for Democrats – and not if they don’t go through and tick off a vote on all the candidates.

And for Republicans the issue is just as critical if they want to build a dam against any possible blue wave. Getting voters to the polls has been less of a problem for them, since so many Republicans see voting as almost a religious obligation, but again an estimated 40 percent of the GOP vote straight-ticket. They have to be encouraged to make sure they vote on every candidate as well.

So with Wednesday’s court decision, campaigning got a little harder because the parties will have to stress firmly now what the voting rules will be.

Except, maybe they have already been doing that. Maybe the parties and the local committees and the candidates have already been stressing to supporters how they will have to vote. Maybe they already are telling them to go all through the ballot, voting at each name they want.

Maybe some of them are also telling the voters that they can vote on one issue, the Promote the Vote proposal that will ensure straight-ticket voting. Maybe some are saying vote no, because they don’t want straight-ticket. And assuredly some are saying vote yes, to preserve straight-ticket.

And maybe by 2020 the issue will be resolved, at least for that year.

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A Night Jerry Roe Faced A New Republican Party

Posted: August 31, 2018 2:16 PM

Jerry Roe, who died this past Sunday, was a helluva guy. A Montanan who came to Michigan at the behest of Republican leaders in the 1960s, the executive party director for 10 years, one of the guys who helped engineer the victory of U.S. Sen. John McCain (who died the day before Jerry) had over the Texas Governor George W. Bush in the 2000 Michigan presidential primary (and really honked off then Gov. John Engler). He knew everything about Michigan political history. Hell, he knew everything about Michigan history. He really knew everything about Michigan. Free Press Columnist Hugh McDiarmid Sr. wrote a story, complete with photo, about how Mr. Roe tracked down the obscure gravesite of former Governor Chase Osborn, the only governor from the Upper Peninsula.

He had a deadly accurate sense of humor and a laugh that could stun a moose at 100 paces.

And for reporters he was a Godsend as a source.

This reporter first met him in 1977 at the winter Lenawee County Republican Convention, watching for a story in the Adrian Telegram. Mr. Roe was the featured speaker that night.

Mr. Roe fell into what is now a lost tribe in the Republican Party, a party of Elly Peterson, former Governor George Romney and especially former Governor William Milliken and nationally people like Nelson Rockefeller and Michigan’s former President Gerald Ford. He was a Republican who saw that government had to be part of a structure that could further conservative ideas and expand rights to all while providing the services needed that business could not or would not. It was a group that believed America had to be an active participant in all things, especially in the world, leading but not necessarily domineering.

Recall that in 1976, some of the first major efforts to convert the party into a more anti-government, right-conservative trend found real success. Arizona’s Barry Goldwater had won the nomination in 1964 but was thoroughly thumped in the election.

Former Governor Ronald Reagan had nearly knocked off sitting President Ford for the nomination in 1976. Mr. Ford called him to the convention stage to help shore up party support, which was not enough. Former President Jimmy Carter beat Mr. Ford.

Mr. Roe was the entertainment in the meeting room at the Lenawee Intermediate School District training center. He was upbeat, despite the loss in November the Republican Party was still strong, it had shrugged off the misery of Watergate and voters would return to the party and great days were ahead.

Then he took questions. I don’t recall the specific questions, but they ran along the line of why does Lansing spend too much? Why are taxes too high? Why won’t the governor do anything about taxes? Why does the governor dedicate so much to Detroit? Why should we support Detroit?

The party’s winter convention was going to be held at Cobo Hall in Detroit in a few weeks and the convention’s main business was to name the delegates to the convention. And a lot of delegates weren’t happy about going to Detroit. I saw one delegate desperately trying to convince an alternate to go in his stead, and when asked why, the delegate said, “I don’t want to get shot.”

Mr. Roe sensed quickly the upbeat nature of his address hadn’t gone over, but he handled the questions well. He stressed repeatedly that Michigan couldn’t prosper and grow without Detroit doing so as well. He didn’t convince several delegates, though others applauded his comments.

In questioning Mr. Roe afterward, I asked him about the reaction he received, especially the reaction about Detroit. Oh, he said, people are upset now but they’ll understand how important the city is and why we can’t abandon it.

Though it took decades, most Republicans now take pride in the advances the city has made – at least those who didn’t use the 2014 Detroit bailout legislation vote against their political opponents. As was said above, Mr. Roe knew everything about Michigan, he was just 40 years ahead that night in Adrian.

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What Happened To Changing The Supreme Court Nomination Process?

Posted: August 24, 2018 10:54 AM

On Saturday and Sunday, the state’s two major political parties will nominate their candidates for the Supreme Court who then officially become non-partisan and run on a non-partisan ballot.

Yes, yes, we all know about this system which requires an enormous and bizarre leap of faith on the part of the voters if not the judicial candidates themselves.

And some Republicans are unhappy with Supreme Court Justice Beth Clement, the newest member of the court who sided with the majority in two of the last rulings of the 2017-18 session, which were also two of the most controversial decisions. She agreed that under current law school districts have the power to ban guns on their property and that the Voters not Politicians redistricting proposal could appear on the November 6 ballot as a constitutional amendment.

One group, which has called for prayers for both the Democratic and Republican conventions, called for GOP delegates to abstain from voting for Ms. Clement, apparently so she can be shamed into not “violating” the Constitution again.

Of course, whether Republicans abstain on her nomination is irrelevant, since as a sitting judge she can nominate herself. It may, however, have some bearing on her election bid if Republicans decide not to vote for her (but then, after voting for Justice Kurtis Wilder, who else are they going to vote in the two-person race, the Democratic nominees of Megan Cavanagh and Sam Bagnestos?)

Which brings us back to the question of what about this quixotic partisan-non-partisan system of selecting our Supreme Court justices?

Just a few years ago, former Justice Marilyn Warren and former Chief 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge and former Michigan Justice James Ryan led an effort to make major reforms to the state’s judiciary system. One of those changes was a call for an end to the partisan nominations for the non-partisan seats, and both former justices – okay, okay, Ms. Warren was the Democratic nominee, Mr. Ryan, the Republican one – thought that would be the easy fix.

Not so easy at all, it turns out. Former Chief Justice Clifford Taylor – who when he was named to the Supreme Court by former Governor John Engler pledged at the biennial Republican meeting on Mackinac Island that he would make sure “our seat” was protected – was sharply critical of the proposal.

The Kelly/Ryan proposal was just the latest, and though now six years old the most recent, of other proposals to change the system to minimize the appearance of politics in the business of judging. Former Chief Justice James Brickley, for one, pushed for changes that would have the justices named first by the governor and then run for election later.

No one disputes judges have political feelings, most adults do after all. We, however, also hope judges can set aside those feelings as they apply the law and interpret the Constitution. The fact the Supreme Court majorities in both the school guns and Voters not Politicians cases included a second “Republican,” Justice David Viviano, kind of reflects the court did try to look at the larger picture. The fact that most Supreme Court decisions in a court with a 5-2 GOP/Democratic are unanimous split also would argue the justices try to judge objectively.

Still, isn’t there just something kinda whacky about this get nominated by a political party and then PRESTO, you’re non-partisan system?

One distinguished justice certainly thought so, and former Justice Charles Levin went to the extreme of essentially creating a party that was dedicated just to nominating Supreme Court justices, in this case him, and he went on to win election and serve on the court for many years. No other justice has tried that system.

What is also kinda whacky is nobody really talks about our way of nominating justices anymore. We just go along with the whackiness every two years accepting it as we would the return of mosquitoes every summer.

Except we do try to do something about mosquitoes. Maybe we consider our judicial nominating system not quite as annoying.

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One Moment With The Queen

Posted: August 16, 2018 3:17 PM

It was 35 years ago. For all the world has changed, it may as well have been 350 years ago or 3,500 years ago. But it was 35 years ago when computers were finally small enough to fit in a suburban ranch house, telephones were still tied to walls or desks but you could have a CB in your car, you got your news through newspapers or the three TV networks, and when you listened to music you still mostly used LPs but a few technophiles were raving about something called a compact disc.

The Michigan Capitol hadn’t yet undergone its renovation, so it was an ungainly mess of half-floors, overfloors, offices stuffed into every possible place and in the House chambers an ungodly looking monolith – which was actually a giant speaker – stationed on the balcony above the speaker’s chair.

Oh yeah, you could smoke in the Capitol then.

Some newspapers had ventured into CRT’s for writing stories (I’m sure you can Google the term), but most reporters still pounded out copy on manual typewriters, of which there were a bunch shoved into the pressroom area. That itself was a rabbit warren of rooms attached to the main press room watched over by Wes Thorp. The AP was stuffed into one room. UPI was stuffed into another. WJR was stuffed into a third room and other radio and newspaper people worked at whatever desks they could snag. This once sacrosanct land is now a caucus room.

Gongwer News Service had appropriated two desks and two typewriters and a large pile of yellow dog paper in the largest room off the main pressroom.

Bill Ryan, the most important legislator in Michigan history (no, he was, he was. The Legislature wouldn’t be what it is without his actions as speaker), was the House clerk at the time, and despite all the activity in his small suite of offices it still seemed like a place of relative calm.

It also had a coffeepot, which made it a remarkably popular place.

It was May 1983, and a beautiful day as almost every day in May seems to be. House session was starting soon and this reporter had been pounding away at stories from whatever the committees had acted on. To stretch, I had gone to the back of the House where the document room was located to pick up the day’s calendar. Walking back, I decided to grab a cup of coffee from the clerk’s office.

Mr. Ryan was on the phone in his office. The sergeants were chatting with the secretaries, passing notes back and forth about school tours and such.

And squeezed in between the coffee machine and the office wall, sitting on a hard-wooden chair was a well-dressed woman, early middle aged, black, holding a cigarette, with a very serene look on her face. No one was talking to her, no one really seemed to notice her, at least not during the two minutes I was there. I poured myself a cup of coffee. The woman looked over to me. I nodded pleasantly in greeting as one does, she nodded back. I may have said, “How are you,” I don’t honestly recall, and if I did she said she was well. I gathered my papers and coffee and went back to my desk to keep pounding at the typewriter.

I listened to session open over the pressroom speakers while I continued to pound away. There was the invocation, there was roll call (they only recited the pledge on the opening day of session back then) then the chamber was gaveled quiet for a special presentation.

It was Aretha Franklin Day, called by then-Governor James Blanchard to commemorate her 25 years in show business. The House was presenting her with a special resolution.

Oh boy, I thought, Aretha is in the chamber. I gotta see this. I walked into the chamber and entered the press section.

And looking at the speaker’s podium I saw now the woman who had been sitting by the coffeepot in the clerk’s office, who had nodded a greeting to me, getting photographed and applauded by everyone in the chamber, including the reporters.

Well, except for this reporter who stood slackjawed and wide-eyed and said something that started, “Holy…”

Rest well, your majesty.

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The ‘Hesitant And Afraid’ Senator, Hmmmm

Posted: August 9, 2018 5:19 PM

Betty Jean Alexander, who at this moment appears to have pulled off the most stunning legislative upset of at least the last two decades, is described to be “hesitant and afraid” right now at the prospect of taking a seat in the Michigan Senate.


Leaving aside for the moment the philosophical thought that probably everybody elected to high office should be hesitant and afraid, one has to feel sympathy for Ms. Alexander.

Based on an interview with former Rep. LaMar Lemmons III, the whole idea of having her run sounds a bit like a bunch of nuclear physicists saying, “Hey, let’s just turn on the anti-matter machine and point it at Joey, what could go wrong?”

Mr. Lemmons said he was a little annoyed at Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Ms. Alexander was his last-ditch candidate, she wasn’t going to spend any real money, the only campaigning were some homemade signs and a few phone calls. She couldn’t win, which was probably the pledge made to her that convinced her to sign up to run. What could go wrong?

Let us also leave aside for the moment the inexplicable non-campaign of Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) to point out he has not conceded defeat, though he is grim about his prospects, and that given the problems that seemed to overwhelm Wayne County’s vote tabulation system on election night some folks are suggesting he should seek a full recount of the election. So technically right at this moment Ms. Alexander has not officially won.

Given though that she is a better position to win at this time than is Mr. Knezek, it is time to reflect on her dilemma and to remember a name.

Greg Gruse. That is, former Rep. Gregory Gruse (R-Madison Heights).

In the 1984 election won by former President Ronald Reagan Republicans did well nationally and in Michigan. For the election that year, Mr. Gruse was in his early 20s, a student at Wayne State University and a pizza cook. The incumbent representative was Democrat Wilfred Webb, a popular former school superintendent, a thorough gentleman and practical center-slightly left politician who was NOT GOING TO LOSE THE ELECTION. NOT POSSIBLE. To put it nicely, Mr. Gruse was seen by the GOP as the sacrificial lamb, a name on the ballot to make sure they had a candidate in every seat.

Mr. Gruse did better in the election, thanks to Mr. Reagan’s popularity, than previous Republicans. But he did not win. Everyone thought, that is. A day after the election one of the local clerks noticed the vote totals were switched in one precinct. Obviously, an election night oversight. The numbers were switched to be correct, and...and…and…House Democrats had already held a caucus, Mr. Webb was on the way home, in the pre-cellphone world they were desperately trying to get hold of him. The story was out. Mr. Webb got home, a neighbor walked up to him as he got out of his car, “I just wanted to see if you were okay,” the neighbor said, “Why wouldn’t I be okay?” Mr. Webb said, Mrs. Webb leaned out the door and said: “You lost.”

This reporter was able to track down where Mr. Gruse worked. Is he there, I asked. My husband is helping him move into the apartment above the store, a woman said, why? He has been elected state representative, I said. He cooks our pizzas, she said.

When the Legislature convened in January 1985 it was easy to point out Mr. Gruse. He was the poor chap whose eyes seemed unable to blink and who was clearly terrified of where he was and what he was doing.

He tried, God bless him, he truly did. He really worked to get a handle on what his job was now. The caucus assigned staff to work with him to build his confidence, to help him understand the complexities of working with budgets and legislation. They worked with him to get comfortable with the idea of speaking on the floor. But as hard as he and those around him tried, he just never got comfortable with it all.

And with the 1986 election, he gave it a fight. But Mr. Webb won back the seat. We have not heard from Mr. Gruse since.

Electoral surprises happen occasionally. Even if one doesn’t think he or she can win, that person should understand as well as prepare for the possibility of the political equivalent of winning the lotto and getting struck by lightning simultaneously.

Mr. Lemmons said in his interview that he was ready and willing to help Ms. Alexander when she needed it. All newly elected legislators need help, and Ms. Alexander should – presuming she will be the one sitting in the south end of the Capitol – be unafraid of seeking it out.

There is nothing wrong with being hesitant and afraid at this moment. But unless another stunning event occurs to keep her from office, Ms. Alexander now faces four years of making consequential decisions affecting not just her and her family but everyone in the state. Very quickly, Ms. Alexander must go from being hesitant and afraid to becoming ready and able.

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The Only Sure-Fire Way To Restore Civility In Politics Is…

Posted: July 26, 2018 3:17 PM

Oh, we hypocrites, we charlatans, we cry out for civility but only respond to the negative ads, the attacks, the dragging out of whatever irrelevant attitude from decades ago a candidate espoused to show how he or she cannot be trusted today.

Actually, it’s all part of evolutionary genetic makeup. We want the happy and joyous, or so we say, yet all we pay attention to is the dismal and despairing. Hey, it’s true. Reporters are asked why we print only bad news, the truth is nobody really wants good news. There is science behind this. The stories people pay more attention almost always have to do with death and sex rather than infrastructure repair. No really, it’s been tested.

For decades now we have mourned the loss of civility in our politics. Governor Rick Snyder has now published a letter calling for greater civility. It has been signed by more than 600 people, both Democrats and Republicans.

It was signed by Lt. Governor Brian Calley before he accused Attorney General Bill Schuette of basically not showing up to work. It has been signed by Mr. Schuette, after he essentially accused Mr. Calley of also clocking out early and often.

Mr. Snyder’s letter has been scorned by some. The Metro Times, for example, ran a piece saying screw civility (screw was not the word they used), “we want justice.”

Mr. Snyder’s letter does not define civility. We presume it to be a value commonly held and understood. Clearly it is not.

Essentially, to be civil, we must accept most people at face value, we must accept that they have the same basic interests – a secure income for they and their family, safe and pleasant neighborhoods, good schools, a type of security that cares for their needs through life – and don’t want to cheat other people to get those values. We know we can approach the same question from different sides and still find an answer that will suit us all. To be civil we understand that public servants serve people not ideologies.

Today, we no longer see the commonality in each other. We are self-isolating ourselves into tribes, hiding ourselves from people who we think do not agree with our perspective. There is research on this, of people moving into neighborhoods to be closer to like-minded folks. Friends of ours who live in Macomb County and supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election said they felt intimidated by their disapproving President Donald Trump-supporting neighbors.

We don’t see fellow human beings, we see enemies. We think, I will compromise when you surrender. It’s a strategy. It has worked, so It is now the strategy of all of us. It is a strategy that leaves common humanity broken and bleeding in the gutter.

There is an answer, there is a way to restore civility in America’s vibrant, beautiful land. There is a way that does not require a horrific tragedy to bring us together. To restore civility you must:

Get them all drunk.

I’m not kidding. Three and four decades ago, Lansing was a civil place, so was Washington, Columbus, Austin, Salem, wherever, because people socialized together, got drunk together. And there was a lot of drinking, but here is the point: you get people to relax, to eat together, drink together, swap jokes, talk about their homes, their kids, their parents.

And after about the third or fourth beer, people start telling the stories they don’t talk about: trying to find doctors for sick children, trying to hold onto a house when they were out of work, how their brother died in Vietnam or the Gulf or Iraq, how their old man was a bastard but their mother was an angel, or how the old man was broken by uncaring bosses, or how their mom worked three jobs after dad died young. The stories that get everyone rubbing their eyes, slapping people on the back, saying you’re a good man or a good gal and God bless you and we gotta do this again.

Republicans will still be Republicans, Democrats will still be Democrats. There will still be tough campaigns, but not so much bloodshed. In fact, candidates will actually say to their opponents after the elections, “I’m sorry, I had to run that ad.” And the opponent will say, “It’s okay, I know you did. I would.” I have heard this said.

It’s not just politicians that need to do this. Politicians spring from all the people. All the people therefore need to socialize, leave their bunkers and get to know each other again.

Get ’em drunk, and they will see that the enemy is whoever is pointing a gun at them, not someone who pulls a different lever in the voting booth. You want civility, get people into a bar and set up the drinks.

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Maybe Your Wallet Wants You To Buy A Newspaper

Posted: July 19, 2018 3:52 PM

Anybody who pays attention knows the journalism industry has struggled in recent decades, particularly as technology drives down both audience and ad sales, particularly – for newspapers and specialty magazines – classified ad sales.

Those who worry about such things, worry about the lack of an informed public due to the journalistic decline.

Maybe they should also worry about whether the taxpayers will pay more as journalism suffers.

An interesting study has recently been published suggesting that in communities where a local newspaper closes, the borrowing costs of a local government goes up somewhat significantly.

In addition, the study shows that in communities where local newspapers have closed, the number of local government employees increases as does the total public wage costs, and “the revenue per capita increases by about $85.”

The study, conducted by Penjie Gao at the University of Notre Dame and Chang Lee and Dermot Murphy of the University of Illinois at Chicago (and entitled “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance”), is a national study not specifically directed at Michigan.

But one could suppose the findings apply to Michigan as well.

The overall reason for the increase in government costs and borrowing costs – which can run from 5 to 11 basis points – is that governments tend to get less efficient when they no longer have a newspaper watching them. That watchdog thing, doncha know, that we were all told the press is supposed to provide. Seems, in a dollars and cents analysis, we do provide that role.

All of traditional journalism is taking body blows right now, but, no offense to my colleagues in television and radio, the biggest effect has been to newspapers and that affects the TV/radio folks as well. As a television reporter once ruefully confessed, “Print leads.” Most of the original reporting in this world is done by newspapers and brilliant news sources such as Gongwer News Service.

The more nuts-and-bolts stuff of government and the rest of the world tends to be covered by newspapers. TV and radio tend to show up for the big stuff, newspapers (and folks like us) grind out the rest.

Interestingly, the study says it is really newspapers, those things made of paper, which have the greatest effect. Online news reporting in local communities still doesn’t match what the fishwrap does in terms of watching local government. And even if there is a local online presence, when a newspaper dies, local borrowing costs eventually go up.

Right now, according to the Michigan Press Association, there are 203 daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan.

In 2000, there were 279. It would be interesting to see how the loss of those 76 papers has affected local government costs. And the papers that have survived have seen massive personnel cuts, which has also affected how well local government is covered.

Some people do get this. Several years ago the Birmingham Eccentric, a once grand weekly, was going to be closed. The community rallied, signed up people committed to subscribing and helped convince the company to keep the paper going.

There has to be a marketing campaign in this, something like; “Your newspaper = lower taxes.” Think about it.

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Campaigning And The Joys Of Social Media

Posted: July 12, 2018 1:55 PM

Ah, social media. How it has all brought us together, allowed us to rediscover friends once thought lost, share sparkling repartee, engage in thoughtful and respectful discussions on leading issues, watch endless cute videos of puppies and kitties.

Yeah, sure. Social media has primarily allowed us to release our inner 13 year olds to heap bilge, codswallop, invective, hateful spew and semi-literate balderdash on others and then feign astonishment when someone objects to the abuse.

So Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer has decided to get back at it and have some fun with her own version of reading mean tweets.

Reading mean tweets has become a staple of ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel’s show. It generally features a celebrity reading actual tweets from members of the public that debase the celebrity. The funny part of the feature is to watch how the celebrity handles the insult.

There are plenty of episodes available on YouTube. We would link to them, but they aren’t the sort of stuff one might feature in a family political and state government newsletter.

Politicians also get their share of insults. Politics has always been something of a game of forget about the issues, who can get the best dig in on their opponent.

Ms. Whitmer and her campaign have decided to take up Mr. Kimmel’s bit for one of their own.

In a Twitter video, Ms. Whitmer appears wearing a long-sleeved “Michigan Strong” T-shirt and reacts to the “shade” she has gotten.

The first crack is one calling on her to get back to the kitchen. “I hope you didn’t stay up all night thinking that one up,” she responds.

One tweet is from the Michigan GOP saying Ms. Whitmer won’t say where the money for her proposals will come from so the public will need to get out their wallets. To this, Ms. Whitmer looks annoyed and says, “Lame.”

There are a few obscenities tossed at her, which generally cause her to laugh and say she heard the same thing said in elementary school.

And to one tweet that says Ms. Whitmer looks “so fine” the writer wants to be a Democrat again, Ms. Whitmer said, “We’re going to win this election one vote at a time.”

At the end, Ms. Whitmer says the video is to give the public a chance to see what a tough environment politics can be and to say she will stay focused on the issues.

It would be interesting if – much like politicians participating in the ice bucket challenge of a few years ago – other politicians decided to join in and read mean tweets sent them.

If nothing else, it will give folks a chance to see something other than kitty and puppy videos.

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Sander Levin’s Last Parade

Posted: July 5, 2018 1:15 PM

For virtually every year of the 36 years he has served in Congress, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak) has walked the July 4th Parade in Huntington Woods. On Wednesday, he walked his last parade as a sitting member of Congress.

For some years, this reporter and my wife lived in a small Cape Cod house on Wyoming Street in the “flats” section in town (The bigger houses of the wealthier residents are closer to Woodward Avenue in the “hills” section of town). The parade went by our house, turning on Wyoming from Nadine. Our neighbors have held an annual Fourth of July party during the parade for 40 years and, since returning to the Lansing area, we have gone down occasionally to meet up with friends and catch the parade. We hadn’t been in a few years, so we went down on Wednesday morning. It was only as we approached town that I realized this would be Mr. Levin’s final parade as the Woods’ congressional representative.

Huntington Woods is essentially a one square-mile community bounded by Woodward and Coolidge avenues and 10 and 11 Mile roads. A tiny sliver is actually part of Royal Oak (but residents living in that sliver mostly think of themselves as living in the Woods). The Detroit Zoo and Rackham Golf Course carve out much of the southeast section of that square mile. The residents tend to be highly educated, professionals, and, yes, tend to lean Democratic. It’s a popular locale for folks who work in Detroit. A number of media professionals have lived there. So too have artists and musicians (When we were looking for a house, we toured one owned by a bass player for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; in the small basement he had 10 basses lined up. Some are better for Mozart, others for Copeland, he said).

Most of the residents could afford to live in places like Birmingham or Northville, many in Bloomfield Hills or the Grosse Pointes. But there is a hominess, a sense of neighborliness that binds the residents to the Woods. People will move into different houses during their lives – a small starter home, something bigger when they have kids, and then back to a smaller house when the kids have moved on – though, given how home values have boomed in the Woods, that may not be so common anymore (We are afraid to see what our old house is worth now).

The city government is aggressive in how it serves its residents. I don’t know if this is still true, but when we moved in, the city gave an annual wine and cheese party for new residents. It’s public safety division had a mission to answer every 911 call in less than 60 seconds. It was constantly checking sidewalks for repairs. In the winter, streets were plowed most times before people headed off to work. Residents complained about their tax bill but loved everything the city did and would not give any of the services up.

Of course, the city helps sponsor the Fourth of July parade. And Wednesday was Mr. Levin’s last parade.

For our first parade, in 1987, we went to the parade’s terminus at Scotia Park (in less than a square mile, the Woods has 14 parks). There, Mr. Levin held up the winner of the most beautiful dog contest, which immediately slobbered all over Mr. Levin’s face. “I’m the first politician who was kissed by a dog,” he deadpanned.

Mr. Levin turns 87 in a few months. He walks more slowly than he did in earlier years. Once, he, and sometimes his wife, would walk alone with no banner or other introduction. People knew him; he knew them. He moved back and forth on the street, shaking hands, greeting friends and supporters. Sometimes his brother, then U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, joined him in the parade.

On Wednesday, there was a banner from the Levin family. The Levin moving the fastest was Andy Levin, Mr. Levin’s son running to succeed him in Congress. Despite the 90-degree heat, Andy Levin, wearing red-white-and-blue suspenders, dashed back and forth across the road, shaking hands.

Former Sen. Levin was there as well, but looking thinner and moving more slowly with the help of a cane. He was greeted from many with applause.

Finally came Rep. Levin, in a dress shirt and tie, his shirt sleeves rolled up (his parade uniform) and wearing a baseball cap. He held a small American flag. He smiled and looked a little wistful as he went down Wyoming, shaking hands.

People started to stand to applaud him. Not everyone stood. Little kids probably wanted to know if he would throw them candy. But many of their parents and their grandparents stood and applauded and shouted out thanks and encouragement to Mr. Levin

Even with all the vitriol flowing through the American political arteries of this time, it is both astonishing and heartening to know that people still admire, still respect, still care for their elected leaders, at least some of them. We saw that with how many people, including women, still defended former U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit and former U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota when they were forced to resign following charges of sexual improprieties. Everyone who reviles President Donald Trump is amazed at those who adore the president, just as his backers can’t understand why anyone would not support him.

No matter one’s political leanings or thoughts, it is a good thing that many recognize not all, and certainly not most, politicians are scoundrels and scamps. It is good they recognize politicians who work hard, win sometimes and lose other times, but keep soldiering on for their constituents.

Which made it touching to see folks get out of their lawn chairs and applaud Mr. Levin, who waved, shook a few hands and then kept walking down the parade route to more applause.

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Thoughts About Reporting, Security, Shootings, The Sad Facts Of Life

Posted: July 3, 2018 11:11 AM

Very early in this reporter’s career, a well-dressed man walked into the newsroom where I was working, shouted, “Excuse me,” and then went on a furious rant for nearly 10 minutes, screaming about how he had been ignored. The reporters, copy editors and photographers stared at him in both amazement and terror.

I was at a desk some six feet away from him. Across the room, also sitting about six feet away, another reporter – as I recall, a Vietnam vet – watched the man as intensely. A third reporter crept up to me and asked if he should call the police. I cannot recall if I said, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t think he has a gun.” I remember thinking: what the hell do I do if he does have a gun?

Our editor, clearly very nervous, walked up to the man, introduced himself and was able to direct the man’s fury at him. After perhaps another 10 minutes, the man calmed down. He apologized, shook the editor’s hand, and, looking a little embarrassed, walked out of the newsroom.

Journalists across the country are today remembering such incidents in their lives and careers. Finally, after so many schools, universities, churches, factories, movie theatres, clinics and office buildings, it has become the turn for newsrooms to suffer the bloodshed of a mass shooting.

In the moments after the reports of the murderous attack at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, many reporters wondered: has it come to this, at last? The endless chants of fake news, the people at political rallies wearing t-shirts saying “tree-rope-journalist-some assembly required,” the people screaming at reporters, spitting on them, has it all finally come to the ultimate expression of hate?

From what we know, the alleged murderer harbored a long-standing grievance against the newspaper. We can still ask, though, if the growing enmity towards journalists tipped this person to cross to the unthinkable.

The Capital Gazette first made its mark in journalism history by opposing the Stamp Act. A number of Michigan journalism students worked there. Journalists from there have worked in Michigan. If there is any good to this horror, it is that people have had to think about what a community news source really means to their way of life.

At this publication, as editor and then publisher, I have had to deal with people who felt they had a grievance. Angry because a story was not covered, or that it was covered, or that they didn’t get mentioned, or that someone else was mentioned. Many minor things that to them were important and essential.

I have dealt with candidates, policy staff, lawyers, mothers of prisoners and legislators who were angry with us. I, and I am sure all my press corps colleagues, had to deal often with former Sen. David Jaye, who was never shy about expressing his complaints.

I wish I could say that until Thursday I had never worried about my and my colleagues’ security. In fact, in this world, with politics as our business, I have wondered and worried every day. I know about incidents that were stopped at the Capitol – one, for example, involving a man pouring out gasoline on the ground floor and attempting to set it alight before he was stopped – and other incidents not reported. I once followed a House sergeant as he ran to a representative’s office where protestors were blocking him from going to the House floor. I remember watching the sergeant open his jacket and click off the safety on his sidearm before he burst into the office, grabbed the representative and pulled him out so quickly the protestors at first didn’t realize what had happened. I know why the Senate staff was removed from the floor during Mr. Jaye’s expulsion hearing. I know why House sergeants kept a careful eye on former Rep. Todd Courser before he resigned. I have seen the wariness of State Police troopers when advocates of open carry rally at the Capitol. When Right to Work laws were passed, I was about six feet away from a line of troopers who clearly were getting ready to advance into the crowds of protestors to move them away. There have always been reasons to worry.

There are no policy prescriptions in this essay. There are questions: Aren’t we all sick of this crap? Will we ever do something about it?

And there is this bit of advice to the 2019 Pulitzer Committee: Don’t you dare give the gold medal for public service to any paper other than the Capital Gazette of Annapolis.

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Will Donald Trump Be Elected Governor Of Michigan?

Posted: June 22, 2018 1:44 PM

Here’s a question: who is going to win Michigan’s gubernatorial election, President Donald Trump or whoever is seen as the anti-Trump?

Not a trick question, that. Consider that one main issue in the GOP race for the gubernatorial nomination, especially between Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Governor Brian Calley, is who is more attached to Mr. Trump? On the Democratic side, the three candidates have supported policies that refute Mr. Trump and have said they will try to block some of his policies on issues like immigration.

But it is not just who is for and against Mr. Trump. We saw the same antipathy depending on how one felt about former President Barack Obama. Our state politics and policies often are more national driven than state driven, considering controversies on Healthy Michigan, guns in schools, questions about free speech on campuses and to what degree religious affiliations can affect how one conducts their business.

Even the talking points parties and candidates use in the state often parrot national talking points (which is why candidates and politicians should ignore talking points and speak their own mind).

We know national political figures, less so state officials. Say Rick Snyder to someone and that person is more likely to know the Michigan governor than the poet, but you never know.

However, say Mr. Trump’s name and everyone knows the president, and has an opinion on him.

People immersed in politics – politicians, journalists, policymakers, activists – also tend to be immersed in concepts, theories and research. So says a relatively new book by Daniel Hopkins, published by the University of Chicago Press and entitled “The Increasingly United States.” (Download it if you want to read it, it’s a ton cheaper than the printed edition).

The subtitle is “How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized,” and Mr. Hopkins looks not just at how national politics dominates our political discussions but how that is partly a function of greater homogenization. As he says, mom and pop stores and restaurants are becoming increasingly hard to find, but go to virtually any town and you will find a McDonalds or a Walgreens or Walmart, selling the same merchandise.

This is in many ways not new. The big issue in the 1950 election for governor here (according to the history books) between Governor G. Mennen Williams and former Governor Harry Kelly was communism, which had become the big issue nationally. Since the 1950s, with the growth of interstate highways and air travel, we became used to seeing chains – Big Boys, Holiday Inns, and, yes, McDonalds – along the way. We searched them out, knowing they would provide familiarity and expected comfort.

But, as Mr. Hopkins said, our increasingly national focus is at variance with what was initially expected. “At the time the U.S. Constitution was written, the assumption that citizens’ primary loyalties would lie with the more proximate state governments was uncontroversial,” he writes. That Civil War thing had something to do with that, after all, or as historian Shelby Foote put it, before the Civil War we would say, “The United States are…” and after the war we said, “The United States is.”

As someone’s whose career has focused on covering state politics, one wonders if a growing sense of nationalization really matters. Go to any industrialized nation and you will see the same grocery stores coast to coast and many of the same restaurants (and in Europe, at least, many of those will be McDonalds) and folks are still Irish or British or French or German. All states in the U.S. struggle with issues of education, economy, infrastructure and taxes, as does the national government.

Yet, at the same time, does it make sense for voters here to decide based on who one supports nationally? Maybe not, but can we escape it? Have we not made such decisions throughout our history, to an increasingly greater degree?

Which brings me back to the question: who will win Michigan’s gubernatorial election, Mr. Trump? Or the anti-Trump?

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A Real Resource, All Video, Pols And Policymakers Should Use

Posted: June 14, 2018 1:23 PM

Introducing this resource, let’s get philosophical-like and remember what George Santayana wrote: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement, and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

No one suggests politicians, legislators and policymakers are perpetual infants. Not in public, anyway. But those who have watched the governing process sometimes wonder why various proposals and tactics are tried by governors, legislators and others when similar proposals were tried in the past and failed to accomplish what was promised.

Didn’t they know any better?, wags often wag about such situations.

Probably they did not, and with the often bumbling history of term limits, they did not have to chance to learn.

Which brings us to a real resource that can help anyone running for office, in office, or working as a policy aide obtain some of the knowledge needed. And get that knowledge, and real wisdom, from folks who had been there, seen and endured the struggles, and enjoyed success or were forced to learn from failures.

This resource has been around for a long while, now, yet it still seems largely unknown.

Ladies and gents, welcome to the James J. Blanchard Living Library of Michigan Political History, a project of the Michigan Political History Society. Here are 35 lengthy interviews with many of Michigan’s top leaders of the last 70 years. They include Democrats and Republicans, elected officials, judges, one governor (to date, that being Mr. Blanchard), and people who had major influence though they were not elected officials (folks like Tom Downs and Richard McLellan).

Now, this reporter is not plugging this site just because his excessively bald head is the one interviewing former Treasurer Doug Roberts in the latest installment. This series of interviews – many conducted by former Rep. Lynn Jondahl or journalists, and former Sen., Bill Ballenger – is a fascinating collection of insights, stories, reflections, criticisms, self-assessments and more into how Michigan government developed, the issues lawmakers and voters faced, how proposals and solutions were reached.

It also allows one to get to know more the personal aspects of those leaders: how former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer grew up in a house without running water in Cassopolis; the early years of former UAW President Doug Fraser in Glasgow, Scotland; how former Speaker Gary Owen’s father was convicted of murder in Alabama and how Mr. Owen came to Michigan as a high school dropout to work in the auto industry and got involved in politics; former Republican Chair Elly Peterson remembering passing out sunflower seeds for GOP Presidential Candidate Alf Landon in 1936 in a pouring rain on Michigan Avenue in Chicago while the Chicago Tribune’s owner Colonel Robert McCormick shouted encouragement from his limousine; and how Mr. Roberts spent time as a professional duckpin bowler.

These interviews, some which go back more than 20 years, are important because many of those interviewed are gone. Ms. Peterson, Mr. Fraser, Appeals Judge Glenn Allen, former Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs, former U.S. Sen. And Supreme Court Justice Robert Griffin, and others. That makes the knowledge they imparted that much more important to maintain.

Since the interviews go back 20 years, it also injects some regret for the people that did not get interviewed such as former Governor George Romney, former House Speaker Bill Ryan, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Faust, former Justice Mary Stallings Coleman, former Lt. Governor and Justice James Brickley and so many others also now gone.

And the budgets for these interviews is somewhat limited (which is kind of an indirect plug for folks to perhaps help out the Michigan Political History Society). There are so many people who should be interviewed, for example Mr. Jondahl, former Rep. and Lansing Mayor Dave Hollister, former House Republican leaders Bill Bryant and Mike Busch, former Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow, all the former governors (as well as the soon-to-be former governor) former Speaker Lew Dodak, Eugene Wenger and former Sen. Jack Faxon who are two of the few remaining 1961 Constitutional Convention delegates, former Sen. Shirley Johnson, a lot of former Supreme Court justices, and there are more. Anyone involved in state government can come up with a list.

Journalists have not been interviewed to date, which is a pity, but those who spent decades toiling in covering the big top and all the side shows should be interviewed as well.

And as a journalist who has in nearly 50 years interviewed probably1,000 people, interviewing Mr. Roberts forced me to think: I am not interviewing him to get a lede for a story, I am interviewing him for the sake of history. But it is only of value if people learn from it and use that knowledge.

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Could Prevailing Wage Still Be A Factor On The Ballot

Posted: June 7, 2018 12:52 PM

An end to Michigan’s prevailing wage law has come. The initiated petition proposal will not appear on the ballot, at least formally. But could it still be a major factor on the ballot?

Yes, possibly. And if so, it may have something that will formally appear on the ballot to pay some thanks to: the recreational marijuana proposal.

No, we’re not smoking weed here when we pose this. We are trying to consider how opponents of the prevailing wage repeal, particularly unions and Democrats, might use this as a strategy to help drive turnout. Conversely, we are also trying to speculate how supporters, primarily business and Republicans, would counter such a move.

We all know that Michigan’s Constitution directs that the Legislature has 40 days to enact an initiated proposal. If it does not do so, the proposal then goes to the voters. In the last week we, of course, saw the Legislature take both these courses, by refusing to act on the marijuana proposal and sending it to the ballot in November but adopting the repeal of the prevailing wage provision.

Under Article II, Section 9 of the Constitution no initiative proposal adopted by the voters, “shall be amended or repealed, except by …three-fourths of the members elected to and serving in each house of the Legislature.” Should the marijuana proposal be approved by the voters this November, and you get 83 members of the House and 29 members of the Senate together – not always an easy task – the Legislature could repeal the recreational marijuana act despite the voters’ approval.

But what of the prevailing wage repeal? What would it take to repeal the repeal? And this is where the earlier discussion on the marijuana proposal plays its critical role.

Prior to lawmakers debating in the last weeks about whether they would enact the marijuana proposal, no one much thought about what happens to such an act when approved by the Legislature. Those initiated acts enacted by the Legislature were considered sacrosanct in a way. The voters wanted them, therefore they were to be touched only when absolutely necessary and then as lightly as possible.

But if the new political age has taught us anything it is that nothing is sacrosanct and accomplishing ends by – as the phrase goes – any means necessary has an attraction as well as a utility.

When lawmakers questioned if they should adopt the marijuana initiated proposal so they could amend or repeal it by a majority of those elected and serving, the old 56 and 20 count instead of 83 and 29, it struck open Pandora’s box, popped the genie out of the bottle and squeezed out all the toothpaste.

It gave Democrats and union members a new issue to press on supporters: elect a Democratic Legislature, elect a Democratic governor, and the prevailing wage repeal can be repealed. The voters could indirectly bring back prevailing wage, along with a number of other issues for which they condemn Republicans. It may be enough of an argument to get more blue-collar voters, who have been tending more Republican but who, like most voters, tend to vote what they see as their personal interest, out to the polls.

Recall that in 2014, Governor Rick Snyder saw his re-election majority plummet compared to his massive 2010 victory. In 2010 Mr. Snyder walloped then Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero by 590,301 votes. But by 2014, with Democrats running on a steady drumbeat of issues like right-to-work, the re-enactment of the emergency manager law after voters had repealed a similar measure, funding for K-12 schools and the privatization of prison food service, Mr. Snyder’s margin of victory over former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer was 128,342 votes, a drop of 460,000.

And from a Democratic electoral strategy standpoint, the repeal of prevailing wage has one big advantage: it happened five months before the November election. Right-to-work and the emergency manager re-enactment had occurred nearly two years before and the passion over the issues had waned. Could this be part of a greater effort to get voters riled enough that they could push the Legislature in Democratic hands? It’s a big stretch, of course. The Senate has been in GOP hands for almost 34 years, and the House has been Republican for eight years. Republicans have large majorities in both chambers, especially the Senate, where Democrats are at their lowest percentage of the body in 64 years.

It will be tough, especially in the Senate, to work that change. There’s no precedent in modern Michigan politics for one party flipping nine Senate seats in a single election, which is the task Democrats face.

Plus, Democrats will have to win over enough voters in more rural and conservative districts to see a change. This is where Republicans can work a counter-strategy, that prevailing wage protects taxpayers, that with time it will help boost the state’s economy just as, they will argue, right-to-work has. It could be enough to trip up Democratic arguments.

Going back to the original point, though, one could put money on a bet that denying the prevailing wage repeal a spot on the ballot means it will be a ballot issue anyway come November.

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We Do Progress, Even Slowly, How We Discuss HIV-AIDS Shows Us That

Posted: May 31, 2018 4:29 PM

First of all, a state report said it’s technically not called AIDS anymore. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is now technically identified as HIV Stage 3. One suspects it will be decades before the public refers to it as HIV Stage 3 in general usage, if it does ever.

AIDS, however, was clearly on the terrified mind of a young woman who this reporter talked to sometime in the late 1980s. There was a call to the newsroom, I picked up the phone, and a whispering, almost breathless young woman, her voice quavering both from fright and emotion, asked why we weren’t doing more stories on AIDS and who could get it. “Do you know women can get AIDS?,” she gasped out. “Heterosexual women can get AIDS! I didn’t know that. Why aren’t you telling people that?”

It is an astounding contrast to the mostly calm way state medical officials talked a week ago about updating Michigan’s HIV/AIDS testing laws.

What was once viewed as a plague that could destroy humanity and to some God’s judgment on a sinful world, is now viewed as controllable though currently not curable. HIV/AIDS can still kill you, and there is still something of a public stigma among some. But we can discuss the condition, recognize its seriousness, hope for continued successful treatments and cures, without shaking in terror.

It was not always thus. In society and in legislative halls, both, there was real fear.

The first reported Michigan cases of HIV/AIDS were of three people in 1981. They were diagnosed that year; they died that year. There were three HIV cases in 1982, two had AIDS; then 31 total cases in 1983, 72 in 1984, and then came the breakout year 1985 when there were 392 cases reported. The biggest year of reported diagnoses was 1992 with 1,533. By contrast in 2016, there were 748 total cases diagnosed, 353 of HIV Stage 3, AIDS.

From 1981 to 2016 there had been a total 29,904 diagnoses, 19,197 of those were of AIDS. A total of 13,187 of those diagnosed have died, 11,685 of AIDS.

People did not run in panic in the streets when AIDS first was identified. But the confusing nature of who could be infected and how left people visibly concerned.

And projections of how the disease could spread led to sometimes almost mindless fear which in turn affected policy. Former Grand Rapids Democratic Rep. Jelt Sietsema was particularly worried as legislation worked its way through the Legislature. He had no patience for anyone who counseled caution and restraint on bills trying to force out knowledge who might infect others. Once, shaken by speculation from an epidemiologist that like malaria AIDS might be spread by mosquitoes, Mr. Sietsema started shouting at one committee witness, “They say you could get this from mosquitoes! Mosquitoes!”

People who suggested laws shouldn’t delve into normally private matters as who someone has sex with were criticized as trying to deny the rights of people afraid of an incurable disease. Laws were changed to allow the state to check prisoners for AIDS, and lawmakers worked on bills for pregnant women to be checked without telling them they were getting checked. To that last effort, Democratic former Rep. David Gubow complained that women should have the right to know they were being tested. Republican former Rep. John Jamian dismissed that as a smokescreen trying to block the bigger issue of caring for children born to infected mothers.

By the mid-1990s, research and technology brought new hope the disease could be controlled. But then Michigan’s chief medical officer David Johnson worried the “good news will let us think we can let our guard down.” He was unconvinced the state had turned the corner on the disease.

The disease can still be a hot-button issue for some. HB 6020* and HB 6021*, which could change the penalty for an infected person exposing a non-infected person to the disease from a felony to a misdemeanor, may face opposition.

Still, in some ways the ability to now calmly discuss -- as officials and legislators have done -- a disease that once overwhelmed the culture, to do so without warning of Biblical judgments and to recognize how people can live with the disease as they live with so many other chronic diseases (and that it won’t be spread by shaking hands, hugging someone or getting bit by a mosquito) is in some measure real progress.

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Five Years In The Slammer For Not Showing Up To A Meeting. Hmmm.

Posted: May 24, 2018 4:29 PM

Decades ago, I mean so long ago if you said the word “Microsoft,” people would respond, “Gesundheit,” this reporter covered a county planning commission that’s distinguishing characteristic was that virtually no members of the commission ever showed up for a meeting. So officially, there were no meetings because there was never a quorum.

Then we consider a friend who served on a school board where the during public comment session one board member turned his back on the speakers, not wanting to acknowledge the existence of residents who favored a tax proposal to redevelop a school.

Now, if these folks had been township board members, why, they could be looking at five years hard time under HB 5950*. That bill is on the House floor after the Local Government Committee narrowly reported the measure on Thursday.

Under the legislation two members of a township board could compel the attendance of other board members and enforce orderly conduct by the board members. If a board member refuses to attend the meeting, or behave properly, that member could be sent down for misconduct in office.

The maximum penalty for misconduct in office is five years in prison, or $10,000.

Apparently, this legislation is for a special case, a way of trying to get a wayward township trustee back on the path to righteousness.

Still, if it were to become law, it would put township trustees in something of an unenviable place. Gracious, what would the public think of township officials?

This reporter has known many township officials and, let me assure you that all have been serious, committed to their township and sober.

Still, think of the conversations someone could have in prison: “What are you in for?”

“Robbed a couple banks, shot up some cop cars and blew up a bridge during my escape. You?”

“Took down a rival drug gang, fed what was left of them to the dogs. Hey, rookie, what did you do?”

“Oh well, I,I,I, uh, I,I, ah, failed to show up for township, ah, board of trustees meetings, and, um, um, well, made naughty comments during the meetings.”

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Is The Settlement The Easy Part Of MSU’s Struggle?

Posted: May 17, 2018 3:35 PM

In its front page story on the pending Michigan State University settlement with 332 victims of now-imprisoned serial sex assaulter Larry Nassar, the Wall Street Journal said the action “rocked” the campus.

Frankly, the only people who may have been rocked were those who did not know the determination of former Governor and now MSU President John Engler to accomplish certain objectives. People may also have been rocked by how quickly a settlement agreement was reached, less than four full months after his appointment, when it took years for Penn State University to reach a settlement in a child sex abuse case that involved far fewer victims.

The dollar amount of the settlement, $500 million, is spectacular, of course. But given that people speculated the university could be on the hook for perhaps as much as $1 billion to provide at least monetary justice to those who suffered from Nassar’s criminal actions, $500 million may be the least that could be done for hundreds of victims.

Will the other parts of how MSU must settle and resolve this scandal prove then as easy as it turned out getting a settlement would be? No.

Mr. Engler is not a popular man on campus, there is no dispute about that. The faculty doesn’t like him for a variety of reasons, not least because he is not an academic. Students don’t like him, in part because he does not represent a transformational figure as president and is not as comforting, perhaps, a person as many feel is needed now.

But there were enough members of the Board of Trustees – who it should be pointed out are also not popular folks on campus – who had direct dealings with Mr. Engler during his years in the Legislature and as governor, who knew they would get someone focused intently on resolving issues and that was a big reason why he was hired as the interim president.

In a letter he sent the campus community Thursday, Mr. Engler said, “My appointment generated controversy, but I accepted the challenge because I love MSU and know our best days are ahead. We will move through this difficult period and I know we will emerge stronger.”

To hear Mr. Engler in interviews, to read his weekly campus letters, leading up to Wednesday’s settlement announcement, one heard or read repeatedly his call for the university to get a settlement. That the full healing process could not truly begin until there was a settlement.

It was reminiscent of reporters and lawmakers hearing Mr. Engler in years past saying we had to get the budget done, or we had to get school finance proposal done. And saying it often, so that people knew that was his priority and it would be done. As he did in the Capitol, so he did in the shadow of Beaumont Tower.

So barring some last-minute upchuck as the settlement is ratified by the trustees and approved by the court, that aspect of the justice and healing process will be resolved. A financing method, that does not call on the state to pay for the agreement (another fact one could count on Mr. Engler resolving) will likely be set relatively soon.

And now for the hard stuff.

Mr. Engler has pointed out how the university is already enacting administrative and staffing changes to ensure that such a catastrophic nightmare – of one man committing hundreds of sexual violations and not being stopped because the people in charge didn’t know or didn’t believe what was said – could never happen again.

Will that be enough though? And are the changes needed something that goes beyond MSU?

Other Michigan college folks, when talking privately, acknowledge any of their universities could be slammed with a similar controversy. In fact, it is their private nightmare, that they could be next with such a scandal. But it doesn’t affect colleges only.

Across the nation a number of legislators have been forced to resign because of revelations of past sexual assault incidents. Former U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit, the longest serving member of Congress, was forced to resign because of sexual misconduct allegations. But it doesn’t affect politics only.

We know it affects every human endeavor, the arts, the ministry, science, business, medicine, and we know it in part because journalism has told us it has. And, of course, journalism has also been struck by the same horrid and sorrowful allegations.

Shakespeare’s line – “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves” – is true in this situation as it is so very often. Money alone cannot change us. Law and procedure cannot alone change us. So the really hard part lying ahead for MSU, lies ahead for us all.

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One Lawmaker Who Defied Her Times

Posted: May 10, 2018 3:20 PM

Here are some selected names: Bill Ryan, Bill Faust, Bob VanderLaan, Marty Buth, George Montgomery, Mary Brown, Jim O’Neill, Dan DeGrow, Shirley Johnson, Joe Young Sr. Ask someone who followed Michigan politics and government from the 1960s on what the difference is between the Legislature and governing before term-limits were enacted and now, and they may answer you with names.

Ask them who they could name from legislators elected since the advent of term limits to add to that list, and typically they look back at you blankly. And often they will say no one elected since 1992 is like anyone on that list.

But there may be at least one, one legislator who served solely in the era of term limits whose name could be added to that list.

The 10 people named above are just a few of a fairly long list of men and women, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal from that now long-gone pre-term limits era. A time that observers and participants of those years will say heralded a different standard.

These were legislators, observers will say, who cared about the public and generally could care less about the party. They could agree on what legislation should accomplish, then find ways to craft legislation towards those ends and generally still keep various Democratic and Republican principles intact. That process wasn’t easy, often involved intense debate, but usually worked out in a legislative product in which both sides could take pride.

Politics and governing today, both in Lansing and nationally, is more about party and particular viewpoints within each party. An ugly partisanship is the norm instead of a willing, though sometimes grudgingly willing, partnership.

And the facts of politicking today are not solely the result of term limits. Term limits does not affect most states and brutal partisanship is still the norm. No term limits in Washington, D.C., and what do you get?

But term limits hastened the advent of petty partisanship in Michigan, observers said. It denied lawmakers time to learn and develop expertise, time to develop relationships, time to secure one’s own confidence to speak one’s mind free of numbing and dumbed-down talking points and to tell one’s party to take a hike on some issues. Lots of smart, earnest, hardworking people have been elected since 1992 – when the public approved term limits – and got caught up in an assembly-line system that shaped them politically.

Which is why some observers say there hasn’t been anyone like a Bill Ryan or a Bob VanderLaan or a George Montgomery in now 26 years. Not their fault, really, poor lambs, just what they fell into.

Except for Patty Birkholz, some observers also say. The former senator and House member who died last week from cancer at 74, who served her entire service during the era of term limits, likely comes the closest to that independent governing sense of doing what was best, not necessarily politically expedient nor practical from a partisan perspective.

The Saugatuck Republican was a Republican, and generally a reliable vote for her party. But neither was she afraid to speak her mind and stand up against what prevailing party and ideological demands might be, because something else was better for the public and the state. She had the confidence and frankly the courage to stand apart when that, to her, was the best course even when her Republican colleagues disagreed.

That was particularly true of environmental protection, something living on the shores of Lake Michigan made critically important to her.

She had the confidence, which is rare today, to speak and act as she believed, and in so doing helped bring others along. It was the same quality that the 10 persons named above, and others during the 28 years between the adoption of the 1963 Constitution and the adoption of term limits, showed and was probably the defining quality of their personal leadership.

And it brings to mind a conversation this reporter had with a woman, from the Saugatuck area, during the 2006 election. She said she was working hard both to help re-elect Ms. Birkholz and then-Governor Jennifer Granholm. That surprised me, given their political differences. Why support both, I asked.

“Because they’re both great,” was the answer.

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What Do We See In This Photograph?

Posted: May 3, 2018 12:36 PM

Sometime ago this reporter became aware of a study of how people look at art. This study measured the differences between how the general public, hobbyists and professional artists looked at art. The study tracked eye movements of people viewing an art photograph. Someone from the general public might look at 30 points in the photo. A photo hobbyist, which this reporter is, would look at several hundred points in the photo.

A professional photographer, though, especially an art photographer, would look at 1,000 points or more in the photo. And for each point, one can assume, the professional photographer would compare and contrast light elements, perspective, focus, depth of field, how this photo compares with others of similar subjects.

So, class, let’s conduct an experiment. What do you see in this photo (which is a “head shot” sent by 28th House District Libertarian candidate Ryan Manier of Warren to Gongwer News Service for our elections app – which at $4.99 is the absolute best bargain on the web and if you claim to follow Michigan politics and don’t have the app, well then you’re just a hopeless fool. Available for both iOS and Android).

Of course, the first thing you notice is the light. It’s a flat light, failing to set off defined shadows. We can easily see that it is straight flash shot. All elements are in equal focus. But that it is flat light with equal focus, what does that say: that all things in the photo are given equal meaning, equal importance? Or is the photographer trying to hide the actual meaning of the photo by not emphasizing it through focus, depth of field or shadow?

What next do you see? Yes, the couch, of course, well done. Okay, clearly the couch needs a spring job, but reupholstering is a dying craft these days. The statement that creates is worthy of study. The couch is brown leather, is it to be symbolic of the foundation of earth, the foundation on which this couple is building their life around? That the couch seems to throw them together, are we then to take it that the earth itself has chosen this couple and has taken steps to bring them together?

Yet with this symbol of an earthly bonding, of course your eyes are then drawn to the sign saying “Freedom” behind them. Let’s have some suggestions on its meaning. Yes, interesting, a defiance perhaps of the bonding, a stipulation that the couple remains free despite the foundational pairing? Or? Yes, yes, perhaps an affirmation that they are free to be a couple. And what about the almost Arabic motif in the calligraphy? Are we suggesting universal freedom in this? What is the photographer trying to tell us?

And what of the couple? Yes, the absolute contrast between them. She, carefully posed, her hair elegantly coiffed, her dress simple and pure white, the simplicity of her jewelry and yet the daring color of her tattoo. All that speaks of elegance, urbanity, sophistication directly adjacent to his more rustic appearance in jeans and t-shirt, a thin beard. But it’s almost perfect, isn’t it, the earth joining cosmopolitan chic with a rusticated plainness? And their smiles, almost in defiance of Richard Avedon’s charge that a smile is a mask hiding one’s true character. Can we say that here?

Of course, the dog, yes, of course you saw the dog. Or at the least the pillow of the dog. What are we to draw from this? Was this a treasured companion now gone but immortalized by the pillow, brought together to show that they are a couple and more with a beloved pet who guards them in spirit?

Well done, well done indeed, yes I had the same thought of how in so many ways this is reminiscent of Manet’s classic Gare Saint-Lazare. A fascinating contrast, wouldn’t you agree?

Now, we haven’t much time, so what other elements draw your attention? The patriotic trappings, very good. Their position behind the couch, in some ways supplementing the foundation but extending beyond, implying nation beyond all else? Yet, what does it say that something clearly so important is made of cheap materials? Well, it could be that was all the couple could afford or find, yes. Could it be symbolic of something more, though, that their patriotic love is conditional? Perhaps could be easily cast off? No, I think you’re right, this is something requiring greater study.

The portrait of Sly Stallone as Rambo. That too is a fascinating element, you are right. There he is looking down on them. That cannot be coincidental. But is it symbolic of him guarding the couple, or warning them. His expression is fierce, it doesn’t give much confidence, does it? Yet, the weapon he holds is pointed away from the couple. Perhaps then it is a symbolic sign of protection.

All right, one last element, what do we see? The TV trays. I knew you would find them, the hint of them there on the right. Again, are they a promise of comfortable years ahead of happy domesticity? Or a bit of a warning of a life of banality and unrealized dreams? What is the photographer trying to tell us with the tray tables?

What an interesting study. Thank you all for participating in our in-depth study of this striking photograph. I hope this will help you all look for the many meanings and surprises one can find in…I’m sorry, what? AK who? I’m sorry, the what? That she’s holding? Yes, and she is holding….

Oh, the gun. Oh well, yes and she’s holding it upright. Yes. Yes, it does appear to be a semi-automatic, meaning it can fire multiple times and they are sitting closely together and what could be the symbolic meaning?

Oh goodness, I see that time has escaped us. Thank you all again for participating in our discussion. If you would like to participate in a greater examination of art, classes and lectures are available online, books at your library, or at your museum, no, no, no more about the gun, okay. We’re done here, all right, so goodbye, goodbye. Lord.

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A ‘Night Court’ Memory; Yeah, It Is Kinda About That ‘Night Court’

Posted: April 19, 2018 12:55 PM

Comedian and actor Harry Anderson was found dead in his home this week at age 65. He built a legendary following for his role as Judge Harry Stone on the 1980s NBC sitcom, “Night Court.”

In many ways his character was like himself, according to his friends and colleagues, a goofy guy who was also a magician, fond of hats and loud ties, who adored the music of Mel Torme. Of which much was made in the popular show.

Mr. Anderson’s co-stars, friends and fans took to the contemporary manner expressing grief, i.e. Twitter, to, well, express their grief. John Larroquette, who played prosecutor Dan Fielding on the show, said Mr. Anderson was “wicked smart,” and “wicked funny” with a big heart and the ability to “eat a hamster like no one I ever knew.”

John Ratzenberger, who played postman Cliff Clavin on “Cheers” (where Mr. Anderson first gained attention for a guest role as “Harry the Hat”) said of Mr. Anderson, “See you later pal.”

And then, there was this remembrance from Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack. No, no, no, no, no, she did not appear on “Night Court.” Nor for that matter did her sister, actress Mary McCormack.

But she had a night court memory which sort of related to “Night Court.”

Tweeted she: “My first lawyer job was a public defender in Manhattan, where we had 24-hour arraignments. I worked the overnight shift (midnight to 8 a.m.) whenever I could, because it paid extra and because, well, what’s more interesting than Night Court really.”

Ms. McCormack did not further tweet as to what some of those experiences may have been. However, anyone who has had an overnight adventure in Manhattan can anticipate that such court experiences had to have included drunkenness, lewdness and doppyness (in whatever way one choose to define doppyness).

She was asked who her “Bull” was, referring the massive bailiff in the show played by actor Richard Moll. “Billy was his name,” she replied.

Still, whatever those experiences in the real night court Ms. McCormack … enjoyed, perhaps, it’s hard to imagine they could have topped this:

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Free-Range Parenting. Do We Need Laws Allowing It?

Posted: April 12, 2018 2:23 PM

When I was five, Mom walked me to my first day of kindergarten at Royal Oak’s Upton Elementary School, which was about a half-mile from our house. She may have walked me one more day, and from then I was on my own. Oh poor little tyke that I was, right?

When I was six, Dad would give me 50 cents and I would walk up to Barry Drugs on Woodward Avenue, buy him a pack of L&M’s and get a comic book for myself with the change. My God, what barbarians parents were. And we let 6-year olds buy smokes!?! Savages!

Hey, my folks, as were all parents in the mid-20th century, were advocates of, ahem, “Free-Range Parenting.” Yes, that is an actual phrase, born of an age that believes in uglifying the English language. I mean, c’mon, it sounds like a menu option.

Free-range parenting is all the legislative rage now, except here in Michigan. At least so far. Utah has passed a law allowing for non-paranoid, sorry, sorry, free-range parenting. Other states have legislation introduced to allow the same. Essentially, these laws and bills provide legal protection to parents who let their kids walk to school or the park unsupervised. There is even federal legislation passed in 2015 including a provision protecting parents who allowed their kids to go to school on their own considering their age.

All this is to avoid situations where authorities have questioned parents who allowed their kids to walk home from a park by themselves, as happened in Maryland in 2014 and 2015.

No similar legislation has been introduced in Michigan. But, does such legislation need to be introduced?

There are good reasons why parents are hyper-protective of their children. My business is no doubt one of the reasons, with news reports of child abductions, school shootings, random crazies wandering the world, terrorism, dread diseases, the list goes on, regular news fodder.

Society has also become more stratified, income levels are not mixed as much in neighborhoods as they were. Wealthier and middle class families have abandoned some areas, and that, in part, is one reason some areas have seen more crime. More crime naturally leads parents to worry more about their kids.

Things were not ideal in the 1950s. True, school shootings were unknown, the threat of terrorism a sad worry yet to come and illegal drugs were harder to find. There were kidnappings, there were lunatics, there were dread diseases (and disease, before vaccinations, was the greater threat). We watched lots of movies at school warning us about strangers. It was not unusual for TV or radio news to warn one to “lock your doors and windows” because a dangerous man was at large. Parents worried about their children, of course, but that worry usually didn’t manifest itself unless you failed to show up for dinner.

Today, parents are also far more involved in the daily activities of their children, arranging play dates, ferrying the young ‘uns to soccer or music lessons or ballet or science or baseball-football-basketball-tennis-whatever camp. Parents spend far more time on a daily basis with their children. An over-protectiveness is natural.

Yet, neither do we want a situation as I once witnessed at a restaurant during Michigan State University’s Welcome Week. There one parent lectured another parent on how she had to approve of her kid’s roommate, of the dorm room, of contacting each instructor and telling the instructor what was expected of their teaching her kid and how junior was to be treated. That is bad for both the kid and society.

Kids do want to be able to do things on their own. Every parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt knows the moment when a kid says, with some annoyance, “I can do it.” Kids need to develop confidence and self-reliance. It helps with their education, not just in school but in learning how life works or doesn’t.

Of course, there is nothing to stop a parent from not letting their kids walk home on their own from school or the park. That is their choice and no one should be able to force them to do otherwise.

Let us hope, though, that legislation is not needed to equally respect the ability of parents to let their kids have appropriate independence.

And for the record, it is now a good thing that 6-year-olds are banned from buying cigarettes. If that were the law when I was six I could have gotten three comic books and a pack of baseball cards for my 50 cents. Sorry, my Dad’s 50 cents.

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Legislative Break Is Coming: Keep Looking Up And Look Out

Posted: March 23, 2018 12:12 PM

Michigan’s Legislature is off on a two-week break beginning next week. The break coordinates with Passover, Easter, the Tigers’ Opening Day, school spring vacations, all that sort of early spring stuff.

Or does it? Maybe the Legislature knows something. Maybe lawmakers don’t want to be in the Capitol during that two week period, the same two-week period a multi-ton space station is supposed to crash-land on earth with lower Michigan possibly a prime target zone. That couldn’t be the reason why the Legislature will be gone the next two weeks, could it? Huh, could it?

Okay, okay, let’s not get weird here.

Yes, the Tiangong-1 space station is out of control and coming down, real soon. How soon? Experts, like you can trust them, say any time within March 24 and April 19, with most pointing to April 3 as possibly the most likely day a 17,000 POUND SPACE STATION WILL COME HURTLING TO EARTH. Take it easy, just take it easy now.

But, but, isn’t that most of the time the Legislature is supposed to be gone on it’s fall, falling, collapsing, crashing, sorry, sorry, spring break?

The Tiangong-1 what, you say. It was launched by China in 2011, praised as a major advance in its space program. But in 2016 Chinese officials acknowledged they had lost control of the station and it began its descent, at first slowly but now it’s falling as much 6 kilometers a day. That’s like four miles a day it is getting closer to earth.

Wait a minute. What else happened in 2016? Did somebody get elected here, somebody who said China is trying to hurt us economically, someone who just imposed all kinds of tariffs that will affect China? Wait a minute, now, just calm down, you’re not saying that Tiangong-1 is coming down because…because…no, no, that would be whacky, we are not whacky, we are calm, calm and reasoned about the chances that a 17,000 POUND TUB OF SPACE STEEL WILL HIT MICHIGAN.

And come on now, Tiangong-1 could hit anywhere between 43-degrees north of the Equator and 43-degrees south. Most of the planet’s population lives in that area. What’s to worry?

What, you mean most experts say it is most likely to become a burning, tumbling, hurtling mass of destruction in basically a one-degree area at the very top and bottom of the hit zone? And the Lower Peninsula of Michigan is completely within that likely blitz smash mangle crumple crush devastate zone? What are you saying? How could the Legislature know that?

Yes, yes, okay, most of Tiangong-1 will burn up re-entering the atmosphere, big ball of flames lighting up the sky leaving small sections of the station to shred the state like space shrapnel. Why should we worry about that, you say?

Now, we are all going to wish the Legislature a nice break, aren’t we? We are going to smile and wave and say, “Have a nice time Mr. Senator and Ms. Representative, don’t worry about us left here without leadership when 17,000 pounds of burning steel will come hurtling through the atmosphere at thousands of miles an hour aimed directly at…” Stop it, stop it, I’m telling you. Get a grip, for God’s sake, you have a better chance of winning the lotto that being struck by…did you just hear something above us?

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

Posted: February 23, 2018 5:40 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maybe Appointing University Governing Boards Is Not The Best Idea

Posted: February 16, 2018 1:28 PM

In the last few weeks this reporter was in a Lansing area restaurant when one of the Michigan State University trustees came in with a friend. They shared a glass of wine while sitting in a corner. While this reporter watched, no one came over to the trustee to criticize him, denounce him, demand he resign the university.

All this may be apropos of nothing, except that at least in the Lansing area right now the only person more hated than the MSU trustees is convicted sex offender Larry Nassar himself. The university’s stunning failure to stop Nassar from sexually abusing girls and young women led not only to his conviction and the resignation of former President Lou Anna Simon, it has led the university’s faculty governance to pass a vote of no-confidence in the trustees. Another group calling itself the concerned faculty of MSU has posted an online petition that among other things demanded the trustees hold public hearings so the public could tell the trustees what they thought of them and then resign or be impeached.

And there’s been a series of newspaper editorials, including one from The New York Times, demanding the board members resign. As of this writing they have not done so.

And of course politics is part of the furious response as well.

Constitutional provisions have been introduced – HJR DD* which would require the elected governing boards of MSU, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University be appointed by the governor as are all the other university boards and HJR EE* that would limit the elected governing boards to four-year terms instead of the current eight years – but their potential success is uncertain. Both Democrats and Republicans like being able to nominate and elect folks to those boards.

Out of the horror of the Nassar scandal one issue not been talked about much is the potential effect it could have on all Michigan’s public universities. When lawmakers talk about change, they are not focusing on one school but all 15 universities. To date, even with three elected boards, the universities have been able to steer largely clear of rocks and sandbars that state politics can hide.

In recent years, universities in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi – where lawmakers and governors have greater authority over the universities – have been subject to fights and confrontations. Go back even further in history where in states like Texas and Washington, the legislatures enacted huge increases in tuition costs, not one penny of which went to the universities. Instead, those increases went to the states’ general funds.

Michigan does have a constitutional provision guaranteeing university autonomy. And the universities have used it both to the approval and annoyance of the Legislature and the public.

But there are other ways to assert political control and one of those could be making it that all university boards are appointed by the governor. Supporters say the fact those appointments would be subject to the Senate’s advice and consent provisions which would head off the possibility that politics would enter into university operations. But would it really?

What would be the odds that given the power to select all university governing boards a gubernatorial candidate, from any party, would not promise to select persons who reflect certain beliefs and values? Given certain political moods at different times, how likely is it those boards accountable to a governor and not the people or the university itself could resist being used to accommodate those moods?

That the governor can now name the governing boards of 10 schools and they do not kowtow to political whims may actually be more a benefit of MSU, UM and WSU’s boards being elected. Because they are truly accountable to the electorate at large that helps provide some cover to the other university boards. Lawmakers know there is effectively little they can do to force universities to bend one way or another so long as the three major schools are free from them.

But the shock and disgust at MSU does show that change is needed, yet it is a change that can be enacted not by law but only by collective will. The trustees or regents or governors or whatever they are called need to take it upon themselves to behave as true oversight agents. They need to insist on open accountability, on a public review of budgets, procedures, practices, contract review, personnel policies, academic certifications, student issues and the like.

A university president once told this reporter that governing boards should not question the school’s administration but accept that the administration has thought out the best options and enact them. If nothing else, the Nassar debacle demonstrates that governing boards should make university administrations squirm a bit and stand up to tough questioning.

If governing boards did do that, the MSU trustee might still drink his wine in blissful anonymity, but also could tell anyone who might ask that more was being done to ensure the best governance of a university.

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‘Any Human Sound’ – Where Was It At MSU?

Posted: January 25, 2018 12:41 PM

Watching Air Force One roll to a stop at Andrews Air Force base on the cold night of November 22, 1963, with its cargo of the remains of murdered President John F. Kennedy, journalist Theodore White wrote, “One wished for a cry, a sob, a wail, any human sound.”

So it was from Michigan State University during the months leading to President Lou Anna Simon’s announced resignation Wednesday. People asked for a human sound, any human sound that did not seem officious, bureaucratic, correct and ultimately cold from the university’s leadership. Almost to the very last, despite apologies and sympathy expressed by Ms. Simon and others at MSU, that human sound couldn’t be heard. Why and how it was missing, or why and how it was not heard, is a story not yet understood nor told.

But it is a critical element in the overall story. It is one part of the repeated criticism of the university, leveled by victims of Larry Nassar as well as by its critics, that MSU was tone-deaf.

Part of the tone-deaf complaint was that the university didn’t seem to understand the crisis it faced, from why the young girls and women who complained Nassar had assaulted them were not treated seriously to the delay in taking action to the seeming confusion about who told what to whom and when did they do whatever was being done. Or if MSU did understand the full implications of the crisis, why was it unable to convey that understanding to the public?

But part of the tone-deaf criticism, part of being and seeming tone-deaf, was also the surprising ineptitude officials showed in expressing the sympathy, concern and care the victims, their families and the greater community wanted and needed. Even when the university and Ms. Simon did express such sympathy it simply didn’t seem genuine, though anyone knowing Ms. Simon also knows it was genuine. Or, she and the university would express sympathy and then get backstabbed by their own supporters, and of that there is no better example than MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson’s now infamous radio interview. It was the backstabbing people remembered, not the sympathy shown.

Anyone who deals with people in grief knows and will tell you the worst thing you can say to someone in sorrow is something like, “It was God’s will,” or “They are in a better place.” While you may think you are being comforting – and likely you will think your words are true -- to those in pain it sounds callous. The best thing to say is, “I’m sorry,” and to say it as if you mean it.

That was missing here. By the time sympathy was stated it was already too late and to so many it seemed almost a legalistic reflex. The sympathy appeared too often tied to explanations or considerations or boilerplate.

One sad irony is that Ms. Simon showed her human side, made the human sounds but most effectively expressed them in her farewells to the Board of Trustees and to MSU faculty and staff. She spoke openly of how she loved MSU. She spoke of how much MSU means to her, where she earned her doctorate and worked for 40 years and was for most her time as president one of its best presidents, and what her friends and colleagues there meant to her. Ms. Simon is getting no sympathy from the world, and now it is unlikey she should expect any, yet at the very least one must acknowledge it took courage to go to Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom to hear personally the anguish the victims cried out knowing, as she must have, that she would also face fury.

As said above, why the failure to be at critical times human while at the same execute the legal and administrative duties the university had to execute as part of resolving the horror is not yet understood. Until it is understood, neither can it be told.

But in all crises to come, and crises will come, striking whatever institution is struck, the human element, the human sound, must be present and heard by that crises’ victims. We must hope that lesson has at least been learned.

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In Moments Of Grief And Grievance

Posted: January 19, 2018 3:52 PM

We live in angry times. We live through painful moments. The last months and particularly the last weeks have shown us the rawness of anger and pain. We have seen as well the limitations of politics and policy and justice to relieve and mend such anger and pain.

William Butler Yeats, whose words helped free a people as well as free souls, once wrote that he hoped in poetry to “hold reality and justice in a single thought.” But that task now seems beyond the ability of poetry, let alone politics, let alone justice. How can such a goal be achieved in the tears, anguish and pain expressed day after day in public against who was to be a healer? Or in the machinations of our politics where we all know the needs of some are hostage to the goals of others.

Better perhaps in such times to remember Robert Frost who in 1962, sent to the Soviet Union on a cultural mission, made comments about war as a poet that politicians scorned. Those politicians included then President John Kennedy who had asked Mr. Frost to his inaugural.

Mr. Frost was hurt by it all, felt he had been denied his chance to explain his views. “Poetry is about grief and politics is about grievance,” Mr. Frost said.

Politics will deal with these day’s grievances as it has always, we can hope successfully, we can hope judiciously and not vengefully. Out of the grief publicly shared we can expect, we can hope for poetry.

And then, well, Mr. Frost also once said: ”In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” And so we will.

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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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