Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosts the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

Ballot in a voting booth
MICHAEL DORAUSCH / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal judge says Michigan cannot enforce a ban on Election Day “ballot selfies.”

Voters who used their smart phones to take pictures of their ballots in past elections risked losing their vote, and criminal prosecution. But U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff in Grand Rapids ruled the “ballot selfies” ban appears to violate the First Amendment, and threatens to ensnare people who are just trying two celebrate their vote, and share it on social media.

“This whole election, it’s being rigged.” That’s the message coming from Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. And, there are certainly some Trump supporters who believe it.

But, is there any truth to that claim? Can an election be rigged the way Trump seems to be suggesting?

user cedarbenddrive/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder faces a decision soon on whether to sign or veto a bill he doesn’t like. It deals with how the state raises money for the Medicaid program. A plan adopted by the Legislature scraps a tax on health insurance claims. The bill would replace it with a complicated new funding system.


Snyder administration officials say the federal government would probably reject it, and deny the state many millions of Medicaid dollars. But legislative leaders want to push the issue.


Bytemarks / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan’s unemployment rate has edged up slightly as more people join the workforce to compete for jobs. The monthly jobless rate rose by one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.6%. Total employment in Michigan grew by 11,000 people last month. But a lot of people also joined or re-joined the workforce in hopes of finding a job.

Ari Adler is the spokesman for Governor Rick Snyder said that’s good news.

Researchers at Virginia Tech received samples of Flint water (both clear and discolored) from residents. Dr. Edwards and his team there were among the first to call attention to lead contamination in Flint's water.
Flint Water Study / Facebook

The Legislature is going to work on toughening standards for lead in drinking water, although finishing the job may have to wait until next year.

State Senator Jim Ananich (D-Flint) has sponsored a bill to reduce the allowable levels of lead in drinking water. His bill would take the standard from the current 15 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 parts, and then to five pbb. He says the eventual goal is zero exposure to lead.

He says Michigan should adopt the toughest lead rules in the country following the Flint water crisis.                                     

Flint river
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A state lawmaker from Flint says it’s time to toughen the rules on lead in drinking water. State Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, has sponsored a bill to reduce the allowable levels of lead in drinking water.

He wants stricter rules to gradually reduce allowable lead levels with a goal of zero exposure to lead.


“We saw what happened” in Flint, Ananich said. “It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy what happened here in Flint, in my hometown, so we obviously should be leading, I think, in making sure it never happens again.”

There are three weeks to go until Election Day and Republicans are in despair, while Democrats are paranoid because no one is quite sure what the Donald Trump Effect will be on the ballot come November 8th.

It appears the Trump campaign is in a free fall, the statistical analysis website 538 now rates Trump’s chances of winning Michigan at 7.7 percent.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The campaign to outlaw fracking in Michigan is asking the state Court of Appeals to strike down a 180-day time limit on collecting petition signatures to put a question on the ballot.

A law signed by Governor Rick Snyder in June says signatures that are older than 180 days can’t be counted. It’s very similar to a rule that was used before that by state elections officials.

That rule has twice now thwarted the anti-fracking campaign’s efforts to get a question before voters.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A complaint filed in Ingham County calls for a grand jury investigation into Governor Rick Snyder’s spending on a legal defense team. It accuses him of misconduct and abusing taxpayer dollars.

The legal action takes aim at Governor Snyder’s hiring of a private law firm to look out for his interests as state, federal, and county prosecutors conduct criminal investigations into the Flint water crisis.

The complaint says the governor violated the Michigan Constitution and state procurement laws by unilaterally approving a contract that he has a personal stake in.

woman holding sign that says women for trump
Rick Pluta / Michigan Radio

A couple dozen Donald Trump supporters waved signs outside a rally in Detroit Monday for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Rosanne Ponkowski was one of those pro-Trump demonstrators. She carried a sign that said “Women for Trump.”

Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will make a post-debate stop Monday in Detroit.

This will be Clinton’s first Michigan visit since August 11th. The trip coincides with the October 11th deadline to register to vote in the November election.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made five trips to Michigan since the Republican national convention.

The Clinton campaign hopes to avoid an Election Day surprise like the presidential primary loss to Senator Bernie Sanders last March. Sanders campaigned for Clinton in Michigan last week.


Some Republicans are calling for Donald Trump to step aside as the Republican presidential nominee, but that would not remove his name from the ballot in Michigan.

It’s simply too late to remove Trump’s name from the ballot, says Michigan Elections Bureau spokesman Fred Woodhams.

"There’s nothing in law to allow the Secretary of State, or anyone else, except a judge, to change the ballot," says Woodhams.

Woodhams says absentee ballots have already been finalized and mailed, which means voting has effectively begun in Michigan.

U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some Democratic state lawmakers are calling for the Legislature to add breast cancer to the list of conditions covered by a state health care fund for first responders. The fund was created two years ago.

State Senator Curtis Hertel said policymakers were slow to recognize the risk to female firefighters, in part, because there are so many more men in the profession. But he said new studies show the dangers to female first responders.

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

Private and parochial schools in Michigan will be allowed apply for grants that reimburse them for some state-ordered health and safety programs.

That’s despite a provision in the state constitution that forbids direct or indirect taxpayer support for private or religious schools.

Governor Rick Snyder is not on the ballot this year but he is using Election 2016 to burnish his image and protect his legacy.  

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s a court fight underway over Michigan’s ban on voters taking “selfies” with their ballots.

Michigan does not allow people to take pictures in polling places.  State officials say the photo ban helps protect against intimidation and vote buying.

Attorney Steve Klein filed the challenge in the US District Court in Grand Rapids. He says enthusiastic voters are already posting “ballot selfies” using their mobile phones with no idea they might be breaking the law.

It’s like November in September as absentee ballots in Michigan are in the mail and, for some, voting has already begun.

If history is any guide, about a quarter of Michigan voters will vote using an absentee ballot, even though some will probably lie to do it because not everyone can legally cast an absentee ballot in Michigan.

Researchers at Virginia Tech received samples of Flint water (both clear and discolored) from residents. Dr. Edwards and his team there were among the first to call attention to lead contamination in Flint's water.
Flint Water Study / Facebook

Governor Rick Snyder is boosting the position of Michigan chief medical executive to his official inner circle. The governor says he wants to streamline how critical public health information reaches him. That was one of the problems identified by a task force that looked into how the Flint water crisis occurred.

In the-not-too-distant past, chief medical executive in the Snyder administration was a part-time job. Now, the governor is elevating it to a cabinet-level position reporting directly to him.

Michigan’s 1st Congressional District is huge - almost 25,000 square miles - and it is where, with the pending retirement of Republican Congressman Dan Benishek, former Marine Corps General Jack Bergman – a Republican – is facing former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson.

People protesting near Flint's water plant ahead of Trump's stop there.
Rick Pluta / MPRN

Demonstrators lined a highway in Flint near the water plant today, ahead of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's visit there. Some of the demonstrators supported Trump. Many were opposed.           

Leslie Wilson blasted the timing of Trump’s visit, and the fact that no events were open to the general public.  

“It’s just ridiculous. Why he’s coming 60 days before the election. It’s ridiculous.”

 Wilson says she thinks the visit was aimed at attracting the support of skeptical moderate Republicans, and not people who live in Flint or other cities.

There are now two desks on the floor of the state House draped with black ribbon and bedecked with flowers.


Lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Tuesday to the news that state Representative Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, was killed Monday evening in a motorcycle crash. The desk of state Representative Julie Plawecki, D-Dearborn Heights, also remains vacant after she died this summer from a heart attack.


Representative's Home Page

The sponsor of the law to repeal Michigan’s mandatory helmet law was killed Monday night in a motorcycle crash. 

Michigan State Police report that State Representative Peter Pettalia was wearing a helmet when he died.

Pettalia was riding a motorcycle on M-33 in northern Michigan’s Montmorency County.

Pettalia was the sponsor of the 2012 law that repealed the helmet requirement for motorcyclists. A recent study found motorcycle fatalities in Michigan jumped by 23 % between 2014 and 2015 and researchers say the repeal of the helmet law almost certainly played a role.

According to John Philo, Michigan's emergency manager law "violates people's fundamental right to vote."
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A federal appeals court has upheld Michigan’s emergency manager law. As part of the decision, a panel of judges held there is no fundamental right to vote for local government officials.

Opponents of the law say they will appeal the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

A panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said Michigan’s emergency manager may be imperfect, but it does not violate voting rights in the Constitution, and it does not discriminate based on race.

Democrats in Michigan are breathing a sigh of relief now that the fight over straight-ticket voting in Michigan is over. For now, at least.

The U.S. Supreme Court torpedoed Republican efforts on Friday to deep-six a Democratic advantage in the Michigan election process.

Garretttaggs55 / wikipedia commons

Medical marijuana clinics in Michigan would have to be licensed and pay sales taxes under bills adopted by the state Senate.

The licensing would be handled by local governments, which could also set conditions such as hours of operation or where the clinics can be located.

The Senate votes were a surprise as the question of how to deal with the proliferation of medical marijuana clinics has languished for months.

Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A lawsuit filed today threatens to blow a $4 billion hole in the state budget.

The legal action says that’s how much the state shortchanges local governments every year.

The lawsuit says the state’s been playing a shell game with local revenue sharing payments.

John Mogk is a Wayne State University law professor who filed the lawsuit. He says the state has been improperly claiming payments made to school districts, charter schools, and for road repairs against local governments’ share of sales tax revenue.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

Former President Bill Clinton was a crowd-stopper today as he marched in Detroit’s Labor Day Parade on behalf of his wife’s presidential campaign.

The parade was often delayed as Clinton was stopped for selfies. He showed off a Detroit-made Shinola watch he was sporting on his wrist.

The visit comes two days after Republican nominee Donald Trump stopped by an African-American church in Detroit. 


Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tried to woo African-American voters in a visit today to a Detroit church.

Trump came under intense criticism earlier in the campaign after he said African-Americans have nothing to lose by supporting him. There was no evidence of the fiery and often-intemperate candidate in his remarks to the Greater Faith Ministries International congregation. 

Trump said he was mostly there to listen, and that he wants to use his business experience to help restore cities like Detroit.

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
user dbking / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is asking the United States Supreme Court to reverse two lower courts and allow the state’s ban on straight-ticket voting to take effect.

Lower courts have ruled the ban violates the rights of minority voters in cities who are most likely to use the option. It allows a voter to support a political party’s entire slate of candidates with one mark on the ballot.

Common Cause is one of the groups challenging the ban. Director of Voting and Elections Allegra Chapman says it’s time for Schuette to give up.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A federal appeals court just dealt a setback to Michigan Republicans trying to ban the straight-ticket voting option on the November ballot.

The judges of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reject a request from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. He asked the full court to review a decision that the state’s ban on the straight-ticket option violates voting rights – in particular the rights of minority voters in cities where long lines can be an issue on Election Day. This is the third court loss in a row for Republican officials defending the ban.