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

Famartin / Wikimedia Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A package of bills to allow speeds of up to 80 miles an hour on rural highways in Michigan has stalled in the state House. A key bill in the package came a few votes short, which stopped the rest of the bills because none can become law if they all aren’t passed.

Supporters like state Representative Brad Jacobsen say they’ll regroup and try again soon.

He says people are already traveling faster than the current 70 mile-an-hour limit.

According to the poll, Governor Snyder's approval rating has fallen to 39.7%.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says the federal government has not been held fully accountable for its role in the Flint water crisis.


The governor says he’s cleaned house at the state Department of Environmental Quality and is ready to do more. But he says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also to blame.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Two presidential candidates paid a visit to Michigan on Monday.

In Ypsilanti, more than 9,000 people packed Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center today to see Bernie Sanders speak. 

A story circulated recently that took the Republican-led state Senate to task ostensibly for voting to uphold the Michigan statute that outlaws sodomy. The story was widely circulated and re-posted, but there was no actual basis in fact to what started as a blog post.

Gov. Rick Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder had to push past a throng of protesters as he prepared to present his budget plan for the coming fiscal year. Much of the plan focuses on crises that emerged last year, including the Flint water crisis.

"Drink the water, Rick! Drink the water, Rick! Drink, the water, Rick!” was the chant of protesters just outside the doors. They could be heard inside the room throughout Governor Snyder’s budget rollout to state lawmakers.

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

The lawyer in charge of state Attorney General Bill Schuette’s investigation into the Flint water crisis says some people may be charged with serious crimes before it’s all over.


Todd Flood says criminal charges could include official misconduct by public officials and involuntary manslaughter, depending on what the investigation uncovers. The inquiry will cover both the lead contamination of the drinking water, and outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease that caused 10 deaths.


Gov. Rick Snyder

A state elections board has approved one petition that seeks to recall Governor Rick Snyder, but rejected several others.

The rejected petitions include efforts to remove the governor for his handling of the Flint water crisis. The rejected petitions were mostly due to spelling and grammar errors that could have made the drives susceptible to a legal challenge. 

Recall leader David Bullock vowed the effort to remove Snyder over what happened in Flint is not over.

Michigan presidential primary voters will head to the polls a month from tomorrow. But, if you think the action is waiting until then, think again.

Hillary Clinton speaking at the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church in Flint on Sunday.
Sandy Svoboda / WDET

Hillary Clinton took a break over the weekend from stumping for support in New Hampshire to bring her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to Flint, where the city faces a public health crisis due to lead in the drinking water.

Clinton’s visit capped an hours-long church revival meeting filled with songs, sermons, and a pastor with a sense of humor as he noted the packed seats at the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church.

“I got a question: Where y’all been?”  asked Elder Kenneth Stewart to peals of laughter from the congregation.

The ballot campaign to add LGBT and women’s rights to the state constitution is kaput, at least for this year.

Suspending the campaign

The Fair Michigan campaign succumbed to the reality this past week that it was not going to get the establishment support and financial backing it needed to put the question of adding gender equality and LGBT rights to the state constitution’s equal protection clause.

The Snyder administration is now in over-drive to create both the perception and the reality that the state is engaged in making rapid progress in dealing with the Flint water crisis.

It’s practically a political certainty that Governor Rick Snyder will announce a plan for cleaning up the Flint water crisis tomorrow evening when he delivers his sixth State of the State address.

Flint water takes front seat

State of the State speeches tend to be laundry lists of accomplishments and ambitions, but it’s what the Governor says about Flint, and how the state is going to tackle the water crisis it helped to create, that will command the most attention.

The state Legislature returns to the Capitol this week and Governor Rick Snyder will kick off the political year in Lansing with his State of the State address next week.

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

Five new centers have been set up in Flint to get water filters and testing kits to city residents.

It’s another step to address the lead contamination crisis in Flint as Governor Rick Snyder faced a growing crescendo of criticism over the weekend on the state’s handling of the crisis.

Gov. Rick Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver met today to discuss the city’s water crisis, and the state’s role in solving a problem it helped create.

State-appointed emergency managers decided to save money by using the Flint River for drinking water damaged pipes. That move damaged pipes and caused lead to leach into the water. 

Following the meeting, Governor Snyder publicly apologized for a second time for the state’s role in Flint’s water crisis.

“We want to work closely together to earn the trust of the people of Flint,” he said.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a controversial elections bill, but has called for a fix to clear up some confusion in the new law.

The new law puts limits on local officials’ ability to campaign for millages and other local ballot questions in the two months before an election. Local officials say it’s basically an effort to silence them.


Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that eliminates the choice of voting a straight-party ballot with a single mark on Election Day, despite the fact that the option has been upheld twice by voters.

However, voters will not have the opportunity to challenge the new law on the ballot because Republican lawmakers tucked into it a $5 million spending provision that makes it immune to a referendum.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A surcharge paid by Michigan utility customers for electricity generated by wind and solar energy is disappearing.

With the new year, DTE Energy Customers will no longer pay a 43-cent monthly fee for renewable energy. The state’s largest utility, Consumers Energy, dropped the fee last year.


Michigan State University must release the names of 300 student-athletes listed in police reports as suspects in criminal investigations. That’s under a Michigan Supreme Court order issued today.

ESPN requested the records under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act for a series on whether college-athletes suspected of crimes get special treatment.

MSU provided campus police reports, but redacted the names of student-athletes named as suspects.

MSU said, unless they’re actually charged, that’s an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

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

Donald Trump used a visit to west Michigan to take aim at Ford Motor Company’s plans to expand production in Mexico. He says, if elected President, he would threaten manufacturers with big tariffs on imports to discourage them from building plants across the border and overseas.

“If you build that plant in Mexico, I’m going to charge you 35 percent on every car, truck part that you send into our country,” he said. “Every single one.”

Trump spoke to a crowd of several thousand. He says the country’s leaders are weak, and he would engage in tough negotiations with car companies to build new plants in the US and Michigan.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Updated 5:30 p.m. 

Flint has a new ally in its push for federal funds to fix the city’s water problems.

Michigan’s legislative black caucus is urging Gov. Rick Snyder to issue a state of emergency to address the continuing health concerns caused by the dangerous lead levels in Flint’s water.

The former Carstens Elementary School building, on Detroit's east side, is one of many, many schools that have been shuttered in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s slowing down his plans to fix Detroit’s schools in order to get the process moving. In the face of resistance from Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature, the governor says he wants to break up the work, focusing first on retiring the district’s massive debt.

UNHCR / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s closer to lifting the “pause” on his efforts to bring more refugees from Syria and the Middle East to Michigan.

The federally-created Council of Governors has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow. This is the group of 10 governors (always five Republicans and five Democrats) that gives the federal government the states’ perspectives on national security issues.

This is also the group that Governor Snyder said he wanted to conduct a review of federal security policies after the self-proclaimed most pro-immigration governor called for a “pause” in resettling refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries after last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Egypt.

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

The Michigan Supreme Court has let stand an amendment to the Grand Rapids city charter that decriminalizes marijuana.

The amendment was approved by Grand Rapids voters in 2012. It makes possession of or sharing marijuana a civil infraction punishable by fines ranging from $25 to $100 with no jail time.

It also makes marijuana cases a low police priority, and forbids city law enforcement officials from referring marijuana cases to the Kent County prosecutor’s office.

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

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether courts may step into resolve a dispute between dueling factions of a Baptist congregation without violating the separation of church and state.

The court agreed today to decide whether it will take the case or allow a lower court decision to stand.

user eyspahn / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A state House committee has adopted a bill to eliminate the straight ticket voting option on election ballots. And the committee linked the measure’s future to a bill to make it easier to vote absentee.

Republicans say it’s a compromise that will require voters to educate themselves about candidates.

There are just two more weeks before the Legislature’s done for the year and House and Senate Republicans are spending them setting things up for election season 2016.

There’s a very partisan debate underway at the state Capitol about eliminating the straight-ticket voting option on the ballot. Straight-ticket voting is what allows voters to make just one mark on the ballot to cast all their votes for candidates of one party or the other.

rock478 / morgueFile

A deaf high school wrestler is suing the Michigan High School Athletic Association for the right to have a sign language interpreter alongside the mat during tournaments.

Ellis Kempf, 18, is the wrestling squad captain at Royal Oak High School. He’s been deaf since the age of two due to meningitis, and can’t wear his hearing aids during matches. Kempf used a sign language interpreter alongside the mat until the Michigan High School Athletic Association said that’s not allowed.

Alex Cheek / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

There’s a collection of tax breaks rapidly moving through the Legislature to lure a center that stores massive amounts of data. Supporters say the incentives would help build a new industry in the state.


The Las Vegas-based company Switch says without the tax breaks – and they must be approved by the end of the year – it will take its server farm to another state that will offer the incentives.