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

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Law
9:05 am
Fri November 29, 2013

Michigan Supreme Court to decide separation of powers case

Michigan Supreme Court (file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a judge can ignore part of a state law that limits what a jury can consider as part of a criminal case.

The defendant in the case was charged with reckless driving that caused a fatality. His lawyer asked the judge to order the jury to consider a lesser charge. The judge agreed, even though state law specifically doesn’t allow that. The judge said the law violates the state constitution, and its separation of powers doctrine.

Politics & Government
11:56 am
Tue November 26, 2013

Federal judge orders parole hearings for more than 350 'juvenile lifers'

A guard tower stands overlooking the yard at one of the state prisons in Jackson
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Judge John O'Meara's order says the state has until January 31st to send him a plan for how it plans to deal with those inmates sentenced as juveniles to life in prison.

It must ensure every inmate sentenced to mandatory life as a juvenile has a "fair, meaningful, and realistic" opportunity for parole.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has argued a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Michigan's juvenile lifer law and others like it should only apply to current and future cases.

Schuette could try to appeal Judge O'Meara's order.

It's Just Politics
6:32 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

Dems try to leverage minimum wage for maximum political benefit

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Putative Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer rolled out his proposal this week to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.25 over three years; which, as of right now, would make it one of the highest state-mandated minimum wage in the nation.

That’s sparked a debate over the efficacy of the minimum wage – does it encourage prosperity by pushing more money into the economy? Or does it stifle hiring and job creation?

But we’re here to discuss the red meat politics of the minimum wage. Mark Schauer’s announcement sets the stage for a classic class warfare throw down. So, instead of diving too deep into the policy side, let’s take on the political calculation that’s part of choosing that number of $9.25.

Polling shows big support nationally for a minimum wage of $9 an hour. There is some Michigan public opinion research that’s not quite as reliable, but still suggests it’s about the same - about 70 percent favor it.

But that support plummets as the suggested minimum wage goes up, especially above $10 dollars an hour. This shows the risk in using the minimum wage as a political wedge. To a point, it has populist appeal, but people still fear the consequences of setting wage floors. So the key is to find the sweet spot, and Mark Schauer seems to have settled on $9.25. (He says the policy-side reason is that number will make up for the erosion of its buying power over the last four decades.)

Which brings us to the next question: why now? Why not keep beating the Democratic drums - pension tax, school cuts, with a little right-to-work thrown in just to fire up the base.

The answer: Because the base isn’t fired up. And the most recent polling shows Rick Snyder expanding his lead over Schauer. No matter how much Democrats may dislike what they’re seeing in Lansing, a lot of them are still not warming up to Mark Schauer, who is low-key, to say the least.

The minimum wage is supposed to be a jolt to try to put some electricity into his campaign.

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Politics & Government
7:45 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Michigan unemployment rate remains at 9%

Michigan is adding jobs but the unemployment rate remains the same.
Tracy Samilton Michigan Radio

Michigan is adding jobs, but the state’s unemployment rate remains stuck at 9 percent as more people compete for available positions. That’s according to the latest jobless numbers from the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

Michigan’s unemployment rate was unchanged from August through October. The September and October jobs report was combined because of a delay in data-gathering caused by the federal government shutdown.

There has actually been a modest increase in hiring. But, at the same time, more people are looking for work.

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Politics & Government
7:38 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Budget director’s brother’s company proposed $5 million state project

SpecialKRB / flickr

A company run by the brother of Michigan’s budget director proposed $5 million dollar project that is now part of the state budget. And his company is now bidding to win the contract.

The contract is to run pilot projects to test privately managing public schools technology. The idea came from iSchool Campus, which is run by Budget Director John Nixon’s brother.

John Nixon says he told the governor’s office, the Legislature, and his staff that he would not and could not play a role in deciding which company gets the contract. And he says he’s made sure there is no conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict.

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It's Just Politics
2:39 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

Disclosing names of 'issue ad' donors a wedge within the MI GOP

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This week we saw yet another split in the Republican Party. But this intra-party fight had little to do with the usual Tea Party v. Establishment narrative. Instead, the imbroglio was over “issue ads.” Or, to be even more specific: disclosure of who is paying for issue ads.

Issue ads can sound and look an awful lot like campaign ads but they don’t directly or explicitly endorse a candidate by saying “vote for Candidate X” or “oppose Candidate Y.” It’s these magic little words – “vote,” “elect,” “support,” – that make a political ad a political ad.

But issue ads can say Candidate X did a horrible thing or Candidate Y is an amazing person. Take for example this ad from the 2010 Republican Gubernatorial Primary: “Raising taxes in this economy is crazy. But that’s what Congressman Pete Hoesktra wants to do… Call Congressman Hoesktra and tell him raising taxes is crazy.” Language like that makes it an issue ad. It says “call Congressman Hoekstra” but it doesn’t specifically say how to vote.

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Politics & Government
9:00 pm
Thu November 14, 2013

Split among GOP elected officials over 'dark money'

Jake Neher MPRN

Republicans in Lansing are split over whether people who bankroll so-called “issue ads” should be allowed to remain anonymous. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson proposed a rule to require disclosure just hours before Michigan Senate Republicans voted to block her effort.

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Law
5:35 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

Michigan Supreme Court names Court of Claims judges

Credit Matthileo / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court has moved quickly to name judges to serve on a revamped Court of Claims to hear major lawsuits filed against the state. This comes one day after Governor Rick Snyder signed the court shakeup. And it caps a fast and controversial path to shaking up the court.

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Politics & Government
10:47 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

Duggan makes first Capitol visit as Detroit mayor-elect

dugganfordetroit.com

Detroit mayor-elect Mike Duggan made his first visit to the state Capitol since he won last week’s election to run Michigan’s largest city.

Duggan says he was looking to build relationships and renew old acquaintances from decades working in politics and government.

But Duggan says he did not come with any specific requests for the city. One reason is he still does not know how much authority he will have.

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Law
5:42 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

Governor signs bill to move Court of Claims

Governor Rick Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a bill that will shake up pending litigation against the state, and legal challenges to some of his administration’s most-controversial policies. The measure moves the Michigan Court of Claims out of the Ingham County circuit. Instead, those cases will be handled by judges on the state Court of Appeals.

“I thought it was an improvement over existing practice, which is very limited in terms of the judges that represent the citizens of our state, so it’s an improvement so I signed it,” said Snyder, adding that one county’s voters should not be choosing judges who make decisions on big claims against the state.

“It really allows statewide representation in terms of judges across the state to hear cases as opposed to the 3 percent of the population that’s represented by Ingham County judges.”

But the new law also moves lawsuits challenging the state’s emergency manager and right-to-work laws out of a venue run by judges elected in a predominantly Democratic county. The Court of Claims was placed in Ingham County four decades ago.

Health
3:17 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

Michigan submits application to add more low-income families to Medicaid

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan officials hope to know by Christmas whether the Obama administration has accepted the state’s plan for extending Medicaid coverage to thousands of working poor people.

The state formally submitted its proposal to the federal government today.

The state wants waivers from the usual Medicaid rules so it can charge co-pays, set up health care savings accounts, and use financial incentives to encourage patients to adopt healthy behaviors.

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It's Just Politics
2:09 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

Pot, LGBT local ballot questions offer a peek into what may lie ahead

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Puta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Election 2013 is now in the history books. So, it’s time to do what all politicos like to do: look at the results and figure out what they mean as Michigan approaches Election 2014. Now, of course, one has to be careful about taking the results of low-turnout mid-term local elections and using them to predict what they mean for the future. But, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s begin the analysis…. starting with drugs.

 

Marijuana to be specific.

 

Ferndale, Jackson, and Lansing all voted on Tuesday to allow people over 21 to possess, use, and share an ounce or less of pot on private property without facing local criminal charges. It’s not a huge surprise that this was passed in liberal, progressive Ferndale. Lansing leans left so it’s also not a huge bombshell but one could make the argument that because it’s the seat of Michigan government, that is sends a message, makes a statement of sorts, about marijuana decriminalization. Most telling, however, is that a conservative city like Jackson approved the measure. It’s also interesting to note that these were commanding victories; voters in all  three cities approved the new laws by over 60 percent.

 

So, it begs the question: what’s next? Do advocates look to other towns - possibly Traverse City, Saginaw, Hazel Park, Mt. Clements - to push the question? Or, is it time to go statewide?

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Law
12:39 pm
Thu November 7, 2013

Michigan's High Court to rule on life-without-parole sentences for minors

California inmates will be housed in a Baldwin prison beginning in 2011
Flickr user Still Burning Creative Commons

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the state's juvenile lifer law applies retroactively to more than 300 inmates. The question is whether those inmates are entitled to parole hearings or if the decision only applies to current and future cases. 

The U.S. Supreme Court decision still allows life-without-parole sentences for minors. But it said courts have to hold hearings to decide whether there are circumstances like abuse or neglect, or whether a defendant was coerced into committing the crime.

The Michigan Supreme Court has also agreed to decide another question: whether minors convicted of assisting in a murder can be given life-without-parole sentences at all. The question is whether that violates the state constitution.

Law
9:00 am
Thu November 7, 2013

Task force rolls out strategy to fight trafficking

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

A state task force says a new approach is needed to address human trafficking in Michigan.

Among its recommendations: Minors who are sold for sex or cheap labor should not be charged with prostitution, delinquency or some other crime.

“A 15-year-old girl who is forced to have sex is a victim and not a criminal,” says state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who convened the commission. “Everyone needs to understand this.”

Advocates who participated say that means doing more than just changing laws. 

“How can we get them into that category of victim and out of that category of criminal?” says Bridgette Carr of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan.

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Election 2013
10:14 pm
Tue November 5, 2013

Royal Oak voters uphold LGBT ordinance

LGBT rainbow flag flapping in the sun
user Marlith Flickr

Voters in Royal Oak approved by a wide margin a local ordinance that protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Royal Oak is the 30th Michigan community to adopt an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance. And gay rights supporters say that should put pressure on politicians at the state Capitol to do the same.

“I think as more non-discrimination policies are passed at the local level, that it does make quite the statement that are legislators are not doing the job that our citizens are expected of them,” said Emily Dievendorf of Equality Michigan.

There is an effort underway to add LGBT protections to Michigan’s civil rights law. But a bill to do that has not been formally introduced.

The Royal Oak city council approved the human rights ordinance last March. Opponents went to the ballot in in an effort to block it.

It's Just Politics
1:40 pm
Fri November 1, 2013

A politico's guide to what to look for in next week's elections

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Local elections across Michigan are coming Tuesday. And, there are also some interesting races across the country. The results of which politicos and prognosticators will be mining for hints, tips, and adumbrations (yes, we really just did use the word “adumbrations”) of what Election 2014 may have in store.

Elections in 2013, like in 2014, will be in the off-presidential cycle, with similar dynamics in play. Here in Michigan, we’ll have big statewide races next year for governor and U.S. Senator, and two or three congressional races that could be hot.

So, for us, 2013 is a kind of scouting report, a chance to look for any developing trends. Similar to January 2010 when Republican Scott Brown’s Senate victory in super-blue Massachusetts was a preview of the November 2010 national GOP blow-out. Brown’s win was seen as an early indicator of the election to come.

This Tuesday we’ll be watching for anything that defies expectations.

Republican Chris Christie is expected to win reelection in New Jersey and Democrat Terry McAuliffe is expected to win in Virginia; a state that was once reliably conservative but has become purple as its demographics change.

We’ll be watching for both an upset and the margins of victory.

If it’s a blowout, Republican leaders in Michigan will use that as evidence to argue for a more centrist approach to campaigning in 2014: Be conservative, but appeal to the middle. That could make a difference not just in primaries next year, but also the Republican nominating convention - where Tea Partiers have been pretty dominant lately.

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Law
8:37 pm
Thu October 31, 2013

Bills would let prosecutors, guards carry concealed guns in pistol-free zones

Daniel Weber Flickr

County prosecutors, assistant prosecutors and jail guards could carry concealed guns in schools and other pistol-free zones under bills before the state Legislature. Elected prosecutors would get a lifetime exemption to the law that forbids most people from carrying concealed guns in pistol-free zones.

Supporters of the legislation – which cleared the state House Judiciary Committee Thursday – say guards and prosecutors face threats on and off the job.

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Law
6:47 pm
Wed October 30, 2013

GOP lawmakers want court of claims out of Ingham circuit

Joe Gratz Flickr

Lawsuits filed against the state would go to a new division of the Michigan Court of Appeals under a bill approved today by the state Senate.

Right now, the Michigan Court of Claims is part of the Ingham County Circuit Court. That’s where Lansing and the state capital are located.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” said state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge). “You’re only going to draw from 3 percent of the population. What would they have said if I said, I’m going to put them all into Eaton County or all into Clinton County? That also would make no sense.”

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Law
8:53 pm
Tue October 29, 2013

Conference looks at prescription drug abuse

v1ctor Casale Flickr

A two-day conference in Lansing is looking at ways to fight abuse and trafficking in prescription narcotics.

Health and law enforcement agencies say prescription drug addiction is a growing problem among teenagers.

Detroit U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says southbound U.S. 23 and I-75 have become corridors for prescription drug traffic.

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It's Just Politics
4:05 pm
Fri October 25, 2013

Few issues reveal the political divide like auto insurance…

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Insurance sure is a hot political topic these days with hearings in Washington on the glitches with the HealthCare.gov website, and the recent fight in the Legislature over the Medicaid expansion. So what better moment to re-kindle the controversy over Michigan’s auto insurance rates and the no-fault law?

Which is exactly what Governor Rick Snyder did this week when he re-started talks among the groups with an interest in an overhaul of the law. That includes doctors and hospitals, insurance companies, and trial lawyers – all major political players in Lansing.

And, certainly, people who’ve been injured in car and truck accidents have a big stake.

Auto insurance is intensely political. (So much so that some states even have elected insurance commissioners.) Pretty much everyone runs the risk of being hurt in a crash, and everyone who owns a vehicle - under Michigan’s no-fault insurance law - is supposed to carry liability coverage.

People are always upset by insurance rates, but none more so than people who live in cities with high premiums. Cities like Detroit and Flint.  Insurance rates actually affect elections. Some city dwellers use out-of-town addresses on their driver’s licenses and voter registration to get lower rates, which also means they don’t vote in local elections.

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