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

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. 

Ken Sikkema says if Donald Trump loses the presidential election there will be some who will say he lost the election himself, but others will say he lost the election because Republicans didn't support him.
Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

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.

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s staying out of the presidential race this year, but he’s not staying out of politics.

This past week, Snyder’s political operation picked more than a dozen Republicans to support in state races.

a guy doing something with a tool
American Panel

Michigan’s monthly job rate has dropped slightly, to 4.6%. But it’s not because more people are working. The one-tenth of a percentage point is because of a shrinking number of people competing for jobs.

The shift in the jobless rate is slight. But it is the second month in a row that the unemployment rate has dropped because the workforce got smaller.

There’s a new chief for the embattled state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) but the effort to restore confidence to the agency that was a huge part of the Flint water crisis is off to a rocky start.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Governor Rick Snyder has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to offer an opinion on whether it’s ever possible for the state to give money to a private or parochial school.

There’s a question over a $2.5 million budget in the new state budget. It’s set aside to reimburse private and religious schools for immunization reports, safety drills, and other state mandates that are not related to curriculum.

Troy Holden / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state has asked a court to dismiss a legal challenge filed by the campaign to legalize marijuana in Michigan.

The MILegalize campaign wants a court to order state elections officials to count petition signatures regardless of how long ago they were collected. The state is defending a rule that says signatures more than 180 days old can’t be counted, unless a campaign goes through the onerous process of making sure each signer is a registered voter.


The sultry days of summer are no break from politics. In fact, the state Legislature’s summer recess is becoming a political wedge itself.

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court

A federal judge in Detroit says more than 360 Michigan inmates convicted as juveniles and serving sentences of mandatory life without parole must get a chance at freedom.

This the latest chapter in a drama that’s played out over the past four years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life without parole for juveniles as unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge John O’Meara issued a temporary restraining order telling prosecutors they cannot seek the sentences again at new hearings granted under the ruling.

Soo Locks
Jim Newsome / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder wants Congress to go to work now on finding money to upgrade the Soo locks – even though no one knows yet how much it’s going to cost.

Governor Snyder sent a letter to all 16 of Michigan’s members of Congress asking them to start laying the groundwork for the case to fund a renovation that includes adding a new lock that can fit large, modern freighters.

From the letter:

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says it will be up to Governor Rick Snyder to hire his own attorney if the administration pursues an appeal of a court decision. It says the state owes roughly $550 million dollars to teachers for illegally withholding 3% of their paychecks to fund retirement health benefits.


Schuette’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bitely, says the attorney general doesn’t think the state can win the case. 

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

A federal judge says a Michigan law that takes aim at political fundraising by unions violates the constitution.

The law says unions cannot use payroll deductions to collect donations to a union political action committee. The law still allows businesses to use payroll deductions for donations to corporate political committees.


Andrew Nickelhoff is a union attorney. He says that goes against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says lawyers hired by Governor Rick Snyder at public expense are delaying progress in the criminal investigation of the Flint water crisis.

Legal troubles are piling for a Detroit-area state lawmaker. Representative Brian Banks, D-Harper Woods, faces new felony charges that he submitted fake paycheck records to get a loan.

Banks has eight prior felonies, and settled a sexual harassment lawsuit earlier this year. These newest charges date back to 2010. The charges filed in the Wayne County Circuit Court by the state Attorney General’s office include uttering and publishing and obtaining money under false pretenses.

Kids at a public school in Flint.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder traveled to a middle school in Oakland County to sign a $16 billion education budget for the coming fiscal year. He approved it despite questions over a provision that sends money to private and religious schools.

The latest re-invention of public schools in Detroit is underway with the state trying yet again to overhaul the district facing huge financial and academic difficulties.

But it’s still too early to declare victory.

This new plan out of Lansing is without the support of legislative Democrats, the Detroit delegation and Mayor Mike Duggan. But it does return the Detroit public schools back to the control of a locally elected school board. This is coming after many state appointed emergency managers over seven years have tried but failed to turn around the district.