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

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. 

DonaldJTrump.com

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.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The focus is on the November elections with the Republican and Democratic summer nominating conventions wrapped up. Democrats, following their meeting over the weekend in Lansing, are hoping presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will lead them to a string of down-ballot victories if she wins the White House.

“We know in Michigan, that when our voters turn out, we win,” says Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon. “Our voters tend to turn out better in presidential elections, but this is an interesting year.”

Car accident
Ted Abbott/Flickr

A group of insurance companies that sets a mandatory car insurance fee does not have to say how it comes up with that fee. That decision came today from the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association was created by an act of the Legislature, but it’s run by insurance companies. This year, the MCCA collects $160 on every insured vehicle. The money is used to pay the most-expensive medical bills of victims of car crashes.

The Michigan Supreme Court has seen a sudden rise in unanimous decisions during the 2015-2016 term.
Flickr user Joe Gratz / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Michigan cannot apply changes to the state’s sex offender registry law retroactively. That ruling came today from a federal appeals court. But the court also went further and said the law is flawed in many other ways and isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.

Miriam Aukerman is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says the Legislature should take another look at the law.

There is a saying in politics that three-quarters of what you do in a campaign doesn’t matter -- you just don’t know which three quarters until after the campaign is over.

That’s because there are so many variables that can make a difference once the voting starts, so candidates, campaigns, and political parties do all they can to gain every marginal advantage.

flickr user Gage Skidmore / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a pitch for the support of factory workers and African-American voters today at a campaign stop at the Lansing suburb of Dimondale.

His speech focused largely on the economy and border protection.

Part of his pitch for African-American support was to blame Detroit’s crime, poverty and unemployment on the Democratic leadership, including his rival Hillary Clinton.

Marijuana plants.
user A7nubis / flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

If it has roots and leaves, in Michigan, it’s a plant. That’s the legal definition now that the Michigan Court of Appeals has made a ruling in a medical marijuana case.

           

Lorenzo Ventura was challenging charges that he exceeded the number of plants he was legally allowed under Michigan’s medical marijuana law. He was convicted and sentenced to two years of probation and 120 hours of community service.

 

The law adopted eight years by voters ago does not provide a definition. The dictionary did not offer any guidance in this instance.

 

How much of a role will the state of Michigan’s economy play in deciding your vote in November? Last week, the presidential candidates acted as if it might be a big deal as they both made stops in Michigan to deliver speeches on jobs and the economy. 

Michigan, and Detroit, in particular, remain economically emblematic. But there are two stories to tell and the candidates each packed a different one for the trip. 

Rashida Tlaid says Donald Trump's rhetoric has caused damage that will take years to address.
flickr user Gage Skidmore / http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Republican Donald Trump says that no business should pay more than 15% of income in taxes, and he's calling for a temporary moratorium on federal regulations.

In a speech at the Detroit Economic Club today, Trump also proposed allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of childcare from their taxable income. The current Child and Dependent Care tax credit is capped at 35% of qualifying expenses or up to $3,000 for one cared-for individual or $6,000 for two or more.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both coming to Michigan this week which begs the question: is Michigan in play come November?

Marijuana plants.
user A7nubis / flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The campaign to legalize marijuana in Michigan says there’s still time to get the question on the November ballot. That was a core issue in the most recent briefs filed last week in the MI Legalize campaign’s challenge to an elections board decision that petition drive fell short in the required number of signatures.

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

 

Michigan stripped the voting rights from people who live in Detroit, Flint, and other cities and school districts placed under emergency management.

That was a central argument today as opponents of the law took their legal challenge to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.  

Attorney John Philo says the law is also racist in the way it’s been applied.

Actor Melissa Gilbert has won a prize she no longer wants. Gilbert was the only candidate in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District primary. Now she’s going work to get her name off the November ballot.

Gilbert says she’s not healthy enough to campaign and to serve, if elected. But her campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Mike Bishop has also struggled.

The child star of "Little House on the Prairie” avoided media interviews and community events, and ran into criticism over comments she made on national TV shows as well as tax troubles. 

LucasTheExperience / Flickr

Employers in Michigan would have to let workers earn paid sick days under a petition drive that got the OK to start collecting signatures. A state elections board says the petition meets all the technical requirements of Michigan campaign laws.

A similar drive to put paid sick time on the November ballot folded this past spring.

“We didn’t have enough signatures,” said Danielle Atkinson, one of the organizers with Raise Michigan. “Unfortunately, it takes a lot of money to get an issue on the ballot, and we just fell short.”

After tomorrow's congressional and legislative primaries, just 97 days remain until Election Day 2016. Of course, it's never too early to look ahead to the 2018 elections and, at least one petition campaign is already making plans in that direction.

A Flint resident holds a jug of tainted Flint water.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state official once in charge of keeping drinking water safe to drink in Michigan faces criminal charges.

The charges allege Liane Shekter-Smith covered up information that could have averted the Flint water crisis.

Smith is one of six state employees charged today with misconduct and neglect, among other things.

Open Books

A state panel will be named soon to look into improving Michigan’s dismal literacy rate. Governor Rick Snyder signed an executive order Wednesday creating the new PreK-12 Literacy Commission.

Michigan has one of the nation’s worst literacy rates. It’s ranked 40th when it comes to student literacy in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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