Zoe Clark

Reporter/Producer

Zoe Clark is a producer as well as the co-host of the Friday afternoon segment It's Just Politics on Michigan Radio. She produces Morning Edition, Jack Lessenberry’s daily essays, and Michigan Radio’s local interviews, including those by All Things Considered host Jennifer White and Morning Edition host Christina Shockley. She is also a substitute on-air host. She has been at Michigan Radio since 2006.

Zoe began her collegiate studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She holds degrees in Communication Studies and Political Science from the University of Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor, where she was born and raised.

Email: zoeclark@umich.edu

Twitter: @ZoeMelina


So now that the Michigan Senate has approved a new, higher minimum wage, with bipartisan support (14 Rs, 10 Ds) no less, this is practically a done deal. Right?

Not so much. The headlines and stories that said it would “kill” the petition drive are speculative and premature.

This Senate bill is – at the bottom of it all – an effort to pull the rug out from under the ballot drive to raise the Michigan minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It's a cause beloved by Democrats and progressives.

So why then did 10 out of 12 Senate Democrats go along with it? Particularly after some had already blasted the proposal as a gimmick and too paltry – especially for workers earning the lower tipped wage?


Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, may have just turned up the heat in the fight over increasing Michigan’s minimum wage. But the petition campaign – headed by Raise Michigan – is already planning its pushback.

Richardville proposed yesterday his own legislation to raise the state minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15, and a boost for tipped workers, too. But, really, this is not so much about raising the minimum wage as derailing the petition drive underway to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour plus a really big raise for tipped workers.

The Richardville proposal is separate from an earlier bill sponsored by Senator Rick Jones, R-Eaton Rapids, that would also raise the minimum wage. That one also meant to blunt the petition drive.

Both were introduced because it appears the petition drive is on track to turn in the necessary number of signatures before the deadline at the end of the month. Under the Michigan Constitution, once those signatures are certified, the state Legislature would have 40 days to vote it into law. If it doesn’t – the question goes on the November ballot.

And the polling shows, it’s pretty popular. Popular enough, Democrats hope, to boost turnout among their voters who tend to stay home in mid-term elections.


Update: 1:25 PM, Monday, May 5th, 2014

 

Well, blow the “trumpet of shame” on us. Right after we predicted here that the prospective challengers to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley would fall short, Wes Nakagiri goes and turns in 33 signatures from the ranks of Michigan Republican State Central Committee to get his name placed in consideration at the party’s summer convention. The rules require at least three signatures from committee members in at least three congressional districts. It appears Nakagiri’s crossed his t’s and dotted his i’s, but the Michigan GOP’s policy committee still has to affirm the signatures. That could happen at its July meeting, if not sooner. Calley’s still the odds-on favorite to win re-nomination.

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We’ve talked quite a bit already about the friction within the Michigan Republican Party between the GOP establishment and its perpetually perturbed Tea Party wing. The Tea Party’s restless longings are coalescing lately around the possibility of toppling Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley from the ticket.

It almost happened four years ago as many in the Tea Party deemed Republican nominee-for- governor Rick Snyder as insufficiently conservative, and tried to put one of their own on the ticket in place of One Tough Nerd’s choice, then-state Representative Calley. And when that effort failed (but not by much), they felt robbed.

“In politics, you know, they do whatever it takes! They scratch! They claw! They bite!” said one angry delegate to the 2010 GOP summer convention.Tea Partiers now harbor some hopes of pulling it off this year as a payback for the Medicaid expansion, Common Core, the autism insurance mandate and other Snyder administration initiatives.

But Lieutenant Gov. Calley seems to have warded off that challenge – for the moment.

It’s Michigan minimum wage redux. This week, conservative Republican state Senator Rick Jones introduced a bill to increase Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15 an hour. The measure would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.65 to $2.75 an hour.

Yes, you read that correctly. A Republican lawmaker wants to increase the state’s minimum wage.

History suggests that this election year should be friendly to Republicans. That’s because Republicans are more likely to turn out in mid-term elections than Democrats, and the party out of the White House, especially in a president’s second term, tends to have an advantage. With about six and a half months to go before the November election, a lot of Republicans are harboring hopes that this is going to be a good year to be a Republican.

But here’s a question: Which kind of Republican is it best to be this year?

In Michigan -- just like nationally -- there’s some tension between the three threads of the GOP coalition. That’s the  Establishment Republicans, the Tea Party, and the Liberty Movement.

We’ll get a better idea of how big this fight is (and if it’s a fight at all worth talking about) after this coming Tuesday’s filing deadline. We’ll see exactly where and how many Tea Partiers will “primary” an establishment Republican figure, and where the Republican establishment (and by that we mean chamber of commerce Republicans) will try to dislodge a Tea Partier from Congress or the Legislature.

President Obama was in Ann Arbor this week at the University of Michigan to throw his Democratic base some red meat* by stumping for the minimum wage. He called on Congress to pass legislation to boost the national minimum wage and he also endorsed a petition drive under way in Michigan to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.40 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

Democrats’ hopes of keeping control of the U.S. Senate in 2014 rest largely with keeping the seat that Sen. Carl Levin is retiring from later this year. Republicans appear to be in good shape come November because their voters are typically more likely to turn out in the off cycle, and because the party out of the White House typically does well in midterm elections.

Republicans also think they can win by relentlessly reminding the public of Obamacare. But what if Democrats can jujitsu that? That’s the political point of these presidential visits.

A political stunner slapped all of our political cheeks awake this morning, just like that scene with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.

The news? Seven-term Republican Congressman Mike Rogers announced he is retiring from Congress. Retiring from Congress, but not the political circus. He is going to start a national radio show devoted to foreign policy and national defense, which is his bailiwick as the Chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee.

Rogers is also a well-known talking head. Last year, he appeared more than any other elected official on the Sunday morning news circuit. And he’s got the TV sound bites down, just last week on Meet the Press, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin, “goes to bed thinking of Peter the Great and wakes up thinking of Stalin.”

It’s not just how fond he seemed of Congress that is what makes Rogers’, who represents Lansing, Brighton, Howell and parts of Northern Oakland County, announcement so surprising, but his fondness in particular for the House of Representatives. In fact, there was speculation last year that the reason he didn’t jump into the race for Carl Levin’s open Senate seat was because he enjoyed his job in the House so much.

The political campaign ad season is upon us. We’ve already seen the first trickle of ads here in Michigan, but we know the spigot is barely open at this point.

And, this brings us to an interesting court case out of Ohio that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in just over a month. At issue is whether a state can preemptively enforce a ban on a supposedly false and misleading political advertisement.

This started when the Republican independent committee the Susan B. Anthony List wanted to put up a billboard that accused an Ohio congressman of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions. The Congressman cried foul under an Ohio law that forbids knowingly or recklessly making false or misleading statements about candidates.

The billboard never went up after the congressman threatened to file a legal complaint. But the Susan B. Anthony List and some other groups challenged the law. That lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality and that was upheld by the U.S Sixth. Circuit Court of Appeals – of which Michigan is a part.

It looks like a referendum on the controversial issue of wolf-hunting is headed to the November ballot – again. This will be the second hunting-related ballot question (and, possibly, not the last) voters will decide in a little less than eight months.

The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Campaign turned in petition signatures to the state Bureau of Elections just yesterday. It takes 161,305 signatures, and we can reasonably expect the campaign has enough names. Because, after all, they’ve done this before.

Most recently, just last year, when Keep Michigan Wolves Protected filed enough signatures to suspend and challenge the first Michigan wolf hunting law adopted after the gray wolf was taken off the federal endangered species list. That is the first referendum challenge and it is already on the November ballot.

But the Legislature, as well as Gov. Rick Snyder, would not be thwarted. They adopted a second law to allow wolf hunting (among other things), and that is the target of this newest referendum campaign.

There was an interesting article this week in The New York Times with a strong focus on politics in Michigan. It dealt with a particular aspect of the Democratic Party’s trouble winning in off-presidential years: the coveted white male voter. Yes, working class, high school-educated, married white men are wanted.

Republicans, in fact, have relied on dominance among white males to win elections for many, many years now. And a lot has been made of the fact that right now Republicans are facing big troubles winning over minority voters - African American, Hispanic - as well as immigrants and single women, a weakness that Democrats have been able to use.

But Democrats have been, for many years, losing the white male vote. Remember the Reagan Democrats? White, blue collar, many of them union members, with a strong presence in southeast Michigan and, over time, they stopped being Reagan Democrats and just became Republicans.

Exit polls from The Washington Post show President Obama lost white voters by 20 points in 2012 to Mitt Romney, the largest losing margin among whites in 30 years. Now, of course, every election is different. We know not as many voters will cast a ballot in 2014 as 2012 because it’s a midyear election when the presidential race isn’t on top of the ballot which creates, in turn, less voter excitement.

We are one week, halfway through, the trial in federal court in Detroit centering on the challenge to Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The arguments are supposed to go on for another week, and then we’ll wait for the judge’s decision. But the case’s mere existence, the fact that it’s occurring, is having an effect on the political landscape in Michigan.

And, it should be noted that these hearings are not taking place within a vacuum. Just this week we saw two more gay marriage rulings. Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was struck down and Kentucky was ordered to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

There is also another federal case underway here in Michigan that is challenging the state’s refusal to allow live-in partner benefits for public employees. It’s the mechanism that was created to allow same-sex couples to use their benefits to cover partners and children who would otherwise be denied coverage under Michigan’s marriage amendment, approved by voters in a statewide election 10 years ago.

A political controversy in Lansing that just won’t die is back: auto no-fault insurance. There is yet another Republican effort to muscle through an auto no-fault overhaul, this time being led by state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

There’s a lot in this proposal, released just yesterday, but one of the main things is a cap on the state’s currently unlimited medical benefits if you are injured in a crash. Under the Bolger plan, these benefits would top out at $10 million. Other parts of the proposal include limits on hospital fees and payments for in-home care, incentives to avoid litigation, and a guaranteed rate rollback in the first two years of coverage.

Essentially, there is something in this plan for all of the special interests that have a stake in the auto no-fault system – hospitals, insurance companies, trial lawyers – to dislike. But, Bolger says, bring it on.

This week on It’s Just Politics: a couple of interesting events of which we’re taking note. The first item out of D.C., where the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week quickly and quietly approved an increase to the nation’s debt ceiling. No big arguments. No conditions. Which is an anomaly. Raising the debt ceiling has become a battle over the nation’s fiscal soul.

In 270 days – come Election Day 2014 – it’s not just candidates you’ll be voting for, there are likely to be plenty of ballot questions, too. And, much like 2012, when there were half a dozen ballot questions, we might just see a repeat of Ballot-o-palooza.

Ballot questions can sometimes get people who might not be super-invested in voting for a candidate to actually get out and vote for a particular issue. For example, 2004, when a slew of anti-gay marriage ballot proposals may very well have helped George W. Bush win reelection.

But it’s not easy to get ballot questions passed. Voters tend to shy away from passing new laws via ballot. In fact, if you don’t start out with more than a 60% approval of your question, the chances are you won’t win come Election Day.

In 2012, $154 million dollars were spent on ballot questions and yet all six were defeated.

Which raises the issue: Money spent on ballot questions is often money that would otherwise be spent on other campaigns. Thus, the decision to go to the ballot with a certain issue raises lots of questions: Is it the best use of money, personnel, volunteers? How will it affect turnout – that’s if it affects turnout at all.

What will this year’s dynamic be?

Well, look for news early next week on the minimum wage ballot drive that would initiate a law raising Michigan’s minimum wage to somewhere between $9 and $10 an hour.

User: mattileo/flickr

Rick Pluta joined us to talk about the politics behind Gov. Snyder’s re-election bid, about Snyder’s Super Bowl ad, and about Snyder’s likely Democratic opponent Mark Schauer.

Rick Pluta is the Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and my co-host of It’s Just Politics.

Scott Beale / Flickr

The "Designated Survivor" is the person from the President’s Cabinet who sits out the big, official political gatherings – like the State of the Union speech, or a Presidential Inauguration.

That survivor would be there if something unthinkable happens. The government would still go on. Someone would be in charge.

So that got us thinking about Michigan: What does Michigan do if a catastrophe wipes out the top echelons of state government?

Does Michigan have a plan?

Well, yes! It’s the “Emergency Interim Executive Succession Act.” Public Act 202 of 1959 reads:

“If the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, the elected Secretary of State, the elected Attorney General, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House of representatives are not able or are unavailable to exercise the powers and discharge the duties of the governor because of a disaster, the available emergency interim successor highest in order of succession shall exercise the powers and discharge the duties of the office of governor.”

In the case of the unthinkable – whether it’s zombies, or an attack on the state - if the entire line of succession is wiped out or incapacitated, there is still a plan for someone to be in charge.


* "This is not a bailout"

Gov. Rick Snyder used the phrase “this is not a bailout” five times in the 26 minutes he used to announce the first details of a “grand bargain” to settle the Detroit bankruptcy and the fight over pension benefits.

The governor’s plan would commit as much as $350 million over 20 years to help dig Detroit out of bankruptcy and keep the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts off the auction block.

The money would most likely come from what Michigan is getting from the national tobacco settlement, that 15-year-old cash cow that’s been tapped for college scholarships, economic development, Medicaid – the list goes on. And now it might be part of the Detroit bailout (but don’t call it a “bailout").

So, there’s this plan and a revenue stream to go along with it. Now, the governor just has to sell it to the Legislature.The Michigan Constitution requires every dollar that goes to the state to go through the Legislature’s appropriations process.

And we wouldn’t exactly call this a done deal or an easy sell. After all, this is an election year. And Republicans, especially those west of Lansing and north of Clare, have little reason to go along with a political hot potato like aid for Detroit. At least two Senate Republicans, probably more, are looking at primaries. Plenty of House Republicans are also looking over their shoulders for a Tea Party primary challenge. Politically speaking, there are probably more reasons not to do this than to do this.

Before we dive into this week's It's Just Politics, we gotta give a shout out to the Washington Post who named co-host Rick Pluta one of Michigan's best state capitol reporters in America. Cheers, Rick!

“We are reinventing Michigan,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in last night's State of the State address; an address that could (in a much-abbreviated form) double as a reelection campaign speech. It was filled with a lot of good news of revenue surpluses, money for early childhood and schools, etc.

A little something for everyone.

For conservatives -- who have not fully embraced this governor -- Snyder joined the call for a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution. For moderates and independents, Snyder used the speech to try quell some of the controversy that’s being created within and about the Michigan Republican Party.

Here’s what he said: “Publicly tonight, I’d like to make a call to all citizens of Michigan, to ask us to have a greater degree of civility and respect towards others of different backgrounds and different views. The future of Michigan is dependent on having people understand that differences are a positive power, that we can find common ground and let’s work to bring Michiganders together, not divide us.”

Control – the ability to command and direct events – is the elusive ambition of politicians. Politicians seek office promising to get things done or, in some rare cases, to stop something from getting done. But, mostly, they want to control their fates. We all want that, of course, but, it is not that simple.

Public life is complicated and messy.

Take, for example, Gov. Snyder. In just less than a week, Snyder will deliver his fourth State of the State address. He’ll wax on about the accomplishments of the last three years as he also proposes an agenda for this year and lays the groundwork for his reelection bid.

And, yes, we say his reelection bid. Though the governor has not yet announced he will seek reelection, as we’ve talked about before on It’s Just Politics, Snyder is certainly already acting like a candidate. The governor’s reelection campaign has already bought airtime, just like they did four years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday. (One more reason we know Snyder will run again: He’s said the Detroit Lions will be in the Super Bowl before he leaves office… yet another thing he can’t control.)

Going into the 2014 election, Gov. Snyder and other Republicans would like to be focused on good news like revenue surpluses and balanced budgets. But something always seems to get in the way. And, this week, that was the continuing drama surrounding former state Treasurer Andy Dillon’s personal and professional life.

Lansing these days could be renamed Surplus City, where we’re just looking for ways to spend the money that Michigan is expected to rake in this year. It appears our deficit days are behind us; we are now looking at a tidy little budget surplus. Early estimates put the number in the hundreds of millions of dollars range but we’ll get an official projection a week from today when the state holds the next revenue estimating conference.

People come to the Capitol and watch as economists talk about, ya know, economic things and come up with an official budget number. And one thing is certain: No matter how big the surplus is, there will be more ideas on how to spend it than actual money to spend. And, there’s already a list including road funding and more money for schools and universities.

Democrats also say they want to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit and Homestead Property Tax Credit. And, there will likely be talk about more money for local governments. These are things that Democrats, as the minority party in the Capitol, would typically have little influence over. But they have a little more to work with right now. That’s because, for one thing, it’s an election year, if -- as expected -- Republicans put more money into schools and universities -- it becomes harder for Democrats to use those as campaign issues. There’s also controversial questions like road funding and auto insurance, issues that aren’t likely to get resolved without some measure of Democratic cooperation.

So, we are faced here, with a fiscal philosophical question: What is a budget surplus?

The Republican angst over gay rights continues this week.

Driven and riven by the continuing commentary on the topic by Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema, in this case on AIDS and partner benefits. “Folks they want free medical because they’re dying between the ages of 30 and 44 years old… For me it’s a moral issue. It’s a biblical issue,” Agema told a local Republican holiday gathering last week in West Michigan (thanks to the Herald Palladium for audio of remarks).

And, as they often do, Agema’s comments have already gotten a lot of attention; inciting what has become a now-predictable ritual of condemnation from Democrats and Republicans. However, Republicans are complaining not so much about what Agema said but, instead, how he said it.

This is not the first time that Dave Agema has made comments like this. There is a history here. Agema has always made it plain he considers homosexuality to be nothing but a deviant lifestyle. His detractors say he’s a bigot. His supporters - and he certainly has them within the state Republican Party - say he’s a truth-teller. In fact, former state Representative Jack Hoogendyk, a prominent Tea Party leader, recently called him “a prophet.”

What is it about Decembers in Lansing? Last year, it was right-to-work. This year, the controversy is over a petition initiative, a veto-proof law that will require people to buy separate insurance for abortion coverage. It could not be part of a basic health insurance package in Michigan.

It was an initiated law, put before the GOP-led Legislature by the very, very influential anti-abortion group Right to Life. As we’ve noted before on It’s Just Politics, Right to Life is virtually unrivaled in its ability to organize a petition campaign, and to squeeze votes out of the Legislature, especially when Republicans are in charge.

So, that’s it, right? Law is passed. All done.

Well, not so fast. Because what is begotten by a petition drive can be challenged by a petition drive. Michigan’s pro-choice movement thinks it can take down this new law with a referendum. In fact, meetings have started to try to organize a ballot drive.

We’re into the 2013 winter holiday season, which means we’re just a few weeks away from 2014 and a new round of big statewide elections.

That includes Governor Rick Snyder’s reelection bid -- which isn’t quite “official” yet, despite an active campaign committee, ads, and political consultants.

Still, it’s good to be a Republican governor these days. The presidential race is in the rearview mirror, the economy’s ticking up slowly, and people are looking at Washington and seeing nothing but gridlock and dysfunction.

But Democrats still see opportunity for putting one of their own into the governor’s office in Michigan, as well as eight other states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. Politico says the Democratic Governors Association has secured a commitment from President Obama to fundraise, campaign, and provide material support to help pick up those states.

This week, on our tryptophan recovery edition of It’s Just Politics, we’re talking money: salaries, wages, and how they’re becoming an issue in the campaign for governor.

Last week, gubernatorial-hopeful and former Democratic Congressman Mark Schauer, called for an increase in the state minimum wage. Schauer wants to increase the rate to $9.25 an hour over three years.

And, like we talked about last week - this is a subtle twist, not just hammering Governor Rick Snyder over his support for a pension tax, and school funding, but trying to give voters something to support, not just be against.

But giving voters things to be against is still an important part of any campaign narrative, and this week, for Democrats and Mark Schauer it was all about serendipity; a nexus of timing and opportunity.

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.

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.


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?

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.

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.

Prospective brides and grooms in same-sex relationships could not be blamed for feeling jilted this week – not by their partners, but by the Eastern U.S. District Court in Detroit.

They expected this would be their day - that Judge Bernard Friedman would strike down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, and they would be among the first gay and lesbian couples in Michigan to tie the knot.

Instead, disappointment. Anger. Tears, in some cases. Big expectations dashed because Judge Friedman did not uphold or strike down the amendment, which was approved by Michigan voters in 2004 by a pretty commanding majority.

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