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

There was a continued drip, drip, drip of new details to emerge in the state Representative Roy Schmidt ballot scandal. The latest: a new set of text messages obtained by The Detroit Free Press and MLive.com from the Kent County prosecutor’s office.

"Dirty as hell"

One text is from Schmidt’s nephew to Matt Mozjak , the patsy who Schmidt recruited to appear on the ballot as a sham Democrat to ensure that he wouldn't have a real Democratic opponent once he made his jump to the Republican Party as a part of a scheme hatched with state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

In one of the texts, Schmidt’s nephew writes to Mozcak, “obviously my uncle is dirty as hell” and, “he’s got a lot of powerful [people] behind him.”

And it just keeps piling up on Schmidt.  The first state House Republican – Representative Ken Yonker, also from the Grand Rapids area – has endorsed a write-in opponent in the Republican primary. Schmidt has gone from a trophy for the House Republicans to a white elephant.

None of which, of course, is good news for House Speaker Jase Bolger, who continues to resist calls to step down as the top dog in the House. The pressure, however, has not reached anything close to critical mass.

Save me... from myself

So, what does a politician do when he's been caught in a political scandal? Well, how about introducing some legislation? House Republicans have drafted new election  reform bills. But Democrats are calling it hypocritical. “I find it fascinating that the speaker of the House is issuing press releases about election reforms because he’s the one who got caught," said Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum.

Election reform: The issue du jour

Now, Democrats have their own elections package and they say they’re coming up with more.  It appears the stage is set for a whole lot of election reform one-upsmanship in the state House. Bolger says only serious election reforms will be considered - he wants nothing that’s about scoring political points. But, Democrats say Republicans don’t have credibility on this issue.

Michigan House Democrats

Since most of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Michigan has been facing the ongoing of issue of implementing a Michigan health care exchange.

While Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has long called for the state to move ahead with the exchanges, many Republicans in the legislature are pushing back.

There is also a call from Republican members of the legislature and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, to wait until after the election in November to move forward.

State Representative Roy Schmidt was back in the headlines this week; tagged in a prosecutor’s report as a liar and a cheat – but not a lawbreaker – for his last-minute party switch from Democrat to Republican and scheme to pay a patsy to be the fake Democrat on the ballot against him. It was just two short months ago that Schmidt was welcomed to the House Republican caucus with cheers and applause when he announced his party-switch. State House Speaker Jase Bolger was credited with engineering the political coup of the year. In fact, it was the first party switch by a sitting Michigan lawmaker in two decades. But, as it turns out, it wasn’t such a well-planned operation.

A Damning Report

This week, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth issued an eight-page report outlining the plot between Bolger and Schmidt. The report shows not only a plot for Schmidt to switch parties so late in the game that Democrats would not have time to put one of their own on the ballot, but also to pay one Matt Mojzak, a 22-year-old Schmidt-family friend, to be his fake Democratic opponent. Mojzak’s fee was to be $450. It was then upped to a thousand dollars as he started to get cold feet. Checks were cut from Schmidt’s campaign fund, but never handed over as Mojzak said he wanted nothing more to do with Schmidt or the scheme.

The Republican prosecutor said Schmidt and Bolger tried to undermine the integrity of the election and that it was shameful but, not illegal. Apparently, paying someone to be on a ballot – to basically fix a political race – is not a crime in Michigan.

Embarrassing Texts (What Else is New?)

The scathing report was made possible because Forsyth was able to trace back the scheme to text messages that were sent between Bolger and Schmidt. Yes, folks, another text-message scandal. Political-observers from around the state have been making light of the texts between Bolger and Schmidt. Though they're certainly not as steamy as the infamous Kwame Kilpatrick-texts, they do seem to show a budding "bromance" between Schmidt and Bolger. You can hear a couple of the texts (yes, for your enjoyment, we did a reenactment) at the audio link above.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

GM Buyouts

Today's the deadline for more than 40,000 GM retirees to accept their former employer's offer of a lump sum buyout of their pensions. Otherwise, their pensions will be taken over by Prudential Insurance. “GM's Randy Arrix says the change is part of the company's efforts to create what it calls a ‘fortress balance sheet’ because getting underfunded pensions off the books strengthens the balance sheet. Some GM retirees are angry about the change, which they see as a broken promise by GM,” Tracy Samilton reports.

Lake Huron Fuel Spill

The U.S. Coast Guard says diesel fuel from a barge that sank in Lake Huron yesterday has reached Michigan’s shore. The Associated Press reports:

A 110-foot dredging barge sank early Thursday, and the tug pushing it overturned, spilling an unknown amount of diesel fuel. No injuries have been reported. The Coast Guard released photos Thursday evening showing a sheen from the spill on the shore near Lakeport State Beach, about 65 miles northeast of Detroit. The agency says waves and wind are delaying cleanup efforts. The barge's owner says it can carry 8,000 gallons of fuel and had 1,500 gallons when it sank. It's unknown how much fuel has escaped.

Health Insurance Exchanges

Governor Snyder says he hopes Republican lawmakers will act before the end of the summer to create an online place for people to comparison shop for health coverage. “The governor and Republicans in the state House have been at odds over the health care exchanges called for in the federal Affordable Care Act. GOP leaders say they wanted to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule before acting. Now that the court has upheld the law, Republicans say they still have a lot of questions. House Republicans will begin hearings next week. The governor says waiting too long puts federal grants to implement the law at risk, and could force Michigan into a national exchange run by a federal agency instead of the state,” Rick Pluta reports.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
USDA.gov

Tea Party favorite Gary Glenn announced yesterday that he is bowing out of the Republican race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by two-term Democrat Debbie Stabenow and that he'll throw his support behind Clark Durant. The Associated Press reports:

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Detroit Workers

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has imposed new contract terms on most Detroit city workers. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Detroit’s consent agreement with the state allows for city officials to impose contract terms under certain conditions. Bing says it was a tough but necessary move. The new terms include a 10 percent wage cut and the possibility of even deeper cuts if the city deems that necessary. Furious city union leaders say they're still contemplating their next move. They’ve talked about going to court—and some have even brought up the possibility of a strike.

Capitol Protests

The Legislature’s only session day in July was a magnet that drew protesters to Lansing. “There were demonstrations to support the right of women to breast feed infants in public, and to commemorate the second anniversary of the Enbridge Energy oil spill into the Kalamazoo River. The biggest protest was about 150 people who showed up to oppose new limits on abortion providers that cleared the state House last month and are now before the state Senate.  Singing and dancing broke out in the state House gallery by demonstrators who want to keep alive the controversy over the one-day silencing of two Democrats for comments made during a floor debate,” Rick Pluta reports.

Jobless Numbers

Michigan’s unemployment rate ticked up in June. “It’s the second month in a row that more people had trouble finding work in Michigan. The state’s unemployment rate stood at 8.6 percent in June, a tenth of a percentage point higher than it was in May. Michigan’s unemployment rate remains above the national average. But the state’s jobless rate is still lower now than it was a year ago when unemployment in Michigan stood at 10.6 percent. Michigan’s unemployment rate had fallen for nine straight months until May,” Steve Carmod reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

MI Education Funding

Public discussions began yesterday on overhauling how Michigan pays for schools. Rick Pluta reports:

Governor Snyder has asked a workgroup to come up with a plan that focuses less on per-student funding and more on proficiency. The workgroup’s first hearing included suggestions from the audience on what Michigan’s education system should look like. The workgroup will revamp the state’s 30-year-old school aid act. It will also revisit key aspects of the Proposal A school funding reforms. Governor Snyder has asked for the recommendations to be done in time to include in his budget proposal next year.

Voting Rolls

Michigan’s Secretary of State will soon ask again for access to immigration records. “The intent is to find non-American citizens who may have ‘inadvertently’ registered to vote in Michigan. For years, a person applying for a driver’s license in Michigan would also be encouraged to register to vote without a check first to see if the person was actually a U.S. citizen. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has asked for the immigration records before….but was denied. However…last week…the Department of Homeland Security granted a similar request from Florida officials. A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State says its unclear if the review process can be completed before November’s general election,” Steve Carmody reports.

A2 Art Fairs

Visitors from all over the state – and the county – are preparing to converge on Ann Arbor for the city’s annual art fairs. “The four-day celebration kicks off Wednesday, featuring four different fairs: The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, the State Street Area Art Fair and the South University Art Fair. The original Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is more than 50 years old. The fairs in downtown Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus typically attract hundreds of thousands of visitors,” the Associated Press reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Muskegon Heights Budget

The school board for the new charter school system in Muskegon Heights will adopt a preliminary budget later this afternoon. Lindsey Smith reports:

Muskegon Heights schools’ emergency manager hired a for-profit charter school company to run the public school system for the next five years. Mosaica Education Incorporated drafted the budget the school board will consider approving Monday.  The budget includes a couple of optimistic assumptions. Budget documents show Mosaica expects student enrollment to increase – from 1,300 students last year to more than 1,400 hundred this year. It also expects per pupil funding from the state to increase each of the next five years despite an overall decline during the last decade.The emergency manager has so far declined to say how much money the district is paying Mosaica.

Untaxed Online Sales

The state will lose about $242 million in tax revenue from Amazon and other online retailers, according to the Michigan Treasury Department. The Associated Press reports:

States have trouble collecting sales taxes from sellers that don't have a physical presence within their borders. Amazon owns Grand-Haven-based audio book publisher Brilliance Audio, but Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton says Michigan considers it a separate entity. The Detroit Free Press reports that job listings suggest Amazon is planning a software development center in Detroit. That physical presence would give Michigan greater ability to collect sales taxes on Amazon sales to Michigan residents. Laws requiring the collection of online sales taxes will take effect in California, Indiana, Nevada and New Jersey.

Juvenile Justice

Two hearings this week at the state Capitol will address problems in Michigan’s criminal justice system. “The U.S. Supreme Court last month struck down juvenile sentencing laws in Michigan and 28 other states. The laws automatically send juveniles convicted of serious crimes to prison for life with no chance of parole. A state House panel begins hearings tomorrow on what changes need to be made to the state’s sentencing law in light of the ruling. Also this week, the House Judiciary Committee opens hearings on legal representation for low-income criminal defendants,” Rick Pluta reports.

Ballotopia. Ballotmania. Ballotpalooza: These are all nicknames given to the situation that we’re seeing right now as various groups and organizations try to get Michigan voters, come November, to amend the state's constitution. On Election Day, we could see up to six ballot proposals and a referendum on the state’s  controversial Emergency Manager law. If all of these ballot proposals are, indeed, approved this would be the most statewide ballot questions on a single election day since 1982.

Grassroots campaigns? Not so much

It's nice to think that, in our democracy, these ballot campaigns are being led by grassroots groups - regular folks - trying to change their state's law. But, that's  not the case in this election cycle. Each  of these ballot initiatives have backers - some business groups, some union groups - with deep pockets. It costs a lot of money to organize these campaignsand to get people into the field to gather signatures. In fact, that’s why we saw some ballot campaigns fizzle this summer like the group trying to get a question about marijuana legalization on the ballot.

Just Say "No"

The deadline for these ballot campaigns to submit to the state enough valid signatures - more than 320,000 -  was Monday.  And, in the midst of the petition filings,  we saw some push back against "ballotmania. A "just-say-no" to every ballot question campaign has popped up. It's a coalition of businesses that thinks the easiest way to kill everything they don’t like, especially the ballot questions dealing with unionization – these have to deal with constitutionally protecting collective bargaining rights - and a mandate that the state increase the amount of energy it gets from alternative sources to 25 percent by 2025, is blanket opposition.

Be Careful What You Wish for...

At first glance, it seems like business groups would be in favor of some of these ballot questions, like the amendment that would require super-majorities in both the state House and Senate to raise taxes. Seems simple, right? Businesses tend to not like taxes, but there is some concern in the business community that a super-majority requirement for new taxes could actually make it harder to cut taxes. That's because, typically, when the Legislature cuts or eliminates a tax, it has to come up with some replacement for that lost revenue. Even something that’s considered a net tax cut – like last year's elimination of the Michigan Business Tax or this year's tax on industrial equipment  – required the state Legislature and Governor Snyder to replace some of that revenue. If lawmakers had had to meet a higher bar for other revenue – like last year’s  controversial tax on pension income – they couldn’t have touched the business or industrial equipment tax.

billschuette.com

On the heels of the Supreme Court decision upholding the majority of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, U.S. House Republicans are poised to vote to repeal it. But the effort is largely symbolic.

According to the Associated Press, the White House says the repeal would cost millions of American families the security of affordable health coverage and that President Obama would veto a repeal.

McCotter Resignation Will Cost State Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

A special primary to fill the seat left vacant by the sudden resignation last week of Republican Congressman Thad McCotter will take place the Wednesday after Labor Day. That’s a month following the regular primary date, and it’s expected to cost taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars. Rick Pluta reports:

Lt. Gov. Calley says state law and the U.S. Constitution require the state to fill the seat for the final few weeks of the year and Congress’s “lame duck” session. Calley says the special primary could have been coordinated with the August 8th vote if McCotter had made his decision a few weeks sooner.     The special election will coincide with the regular November election. The winner of the special election will serve until the end of the year and will represent the current 11th Congressional District. The winner of the regular election will represent the newly redrawn 11th to serve the term that begins in January.

Emergency Manager for Allen Park?

The city of Allen Park is one step closer to having an emergency manager. “Allen Park city officials actually requested the state do a preliminary financial review. That review found ‘probable fiscal stress.’ So, now, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley – because Governor Snyder is on vacation - has appointed a review team to take a deeper dive into the city’s finances. After that wraps up, the city will almost certainly face some type of state intervention under the emergency manager law. Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and Ecorse already have emergency managers.  Other cities, including Detroit, are under state-mandated consent agreements,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

Federal Report Released on Kalamazoo River Oil Spill

A scathing federal report on the 2010 Enbridge oil spill has just been released but it will probably not affect the company’s plans to build a new oil pipeline in Michigan. “The new pipeline would replace the one that broke in 2010 dumping more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.  Federal regulators say poor decisions by Enbridge are to blame for the spill. The Michigan Public Service Commission must approve a new pipeline. State regulators are expected to decide by early next year whether to approve the project.  Enbridge expects the new pipeline could be complete by the end of 2013,” Steve Carmody reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Ballots, Ballots Everywhere

Yesterday was the deadline for campaigns to file to get on the November ballot. “A measure that would require two-thirds super-majorities in the Legislature to raise taxes could be one of half a dozen ballot questions decided by voters in the November election. A campaign to stop a proposed new international bridge in Detroit also filed in the final hours before the deadline – as did one to protect union rights for home health workers who are paid by Medicaid. In total, if all of them are given the OK by elections officials, there would be six proposed amendments on the ballot in November. A referendum on Michigan’s emergency manager law could also be on the ballot if it survives a court challenge,” Rick Pluta reports.

Charter Schools Coming to Muskegon Heights

A private-for-profit-charter company will run the Muskegon Heights Public School district for the next five years. Lindsey Smith reports:

The state appointed emergency manager of the Muskegon Heights Public School district announced the deal yesterday afternoon. Mosaica Education runs more than 50 charter schools around the globe. Six of those schools are in Michigan.  The contract is signed but officials would not release it until the state signs off on the deal. So there’s a lot about the deal that we still don’t know – like how much Mosaica will make running the district.  Mosaica officials began interviewing candidates for teachers and staff right after yesterday’s announcement.

Kalamazoo Oil Spill Update

Federal regulators will release a report this morning that includes the reasons why an oil pipeline broke near Marshall, MI in July 2010. “Environmentalists want to see if problems with federal oversight of the pipeline industry will be cited in the report. The National Transportation Safety Board has spent the 23 months since the pipeline break analyzing everything from the pipeline company’s records to a section of the pipeline itself trying to determine why Line 6B ruptured. Enbridge has spent $765 million dollars cleaning up more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil from the spill,” Steve Carmody reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Ballot-Mania

Ballot campaigns have until this afternoon to turn in their petitions to get questions in front of voters in November. Rick Pluta reports:

There could be half a dozen ballot questions on this November's ballot – or more. They would outlaw a gas drilling process called “fracking,” guarantee collective bargaining rights for health care workers, ban using state resources on a new Detroit international bridge, and require two-thirds super-majorities in the Legislature for tax increases. Ballot questions to boost renewable energy targets, to ban a right-to-work law in Michigan, and to allow eight new privately owned non-tribal casinos have already turned in petitions. The petition signatures still need to be checked and approved by state elections officials before they can go on the November ballot. Meanwhile, a referendum on Michigan’s emergency manager law is being challenged in court.

Auto Supplier Profits Falling

A new study finds that profits for U.S. auto suppliers are falling because suppliers’ fixed costs have risen so swiftly. “Auto suppliers now have as many employees, machinery and other fixed costs as they had before the recession. John Hoffecker, with consulting firm AlixPartners, says suppliers need to be cautious about expanding, because demand for cars may not rise in the near term as much as some forecasts predict. Some forecasts say annual car sales will reach 17 million in just a few years. Hoffecker thinks that number is overly optimistic, and car sales will stay under 16 million at least through 2015,” Tracy Samilton reports.

More Crops Threatened

Michigan's hot and dry spring and summer are threatening the state's corn crops. “Michigan State University Professor Jeff Andresen says it would take a dramatic reversal in weather over the next two weeks to avoid permanent damage to this year's production. He says low corn production will drive up the cost of products that contain corn sweetener. Ethanol prices could also rise. Andresen says the state's sweet corn crop -- which is almost ready for market -- could be affected by the lack of rain as well,” Rina Miller reports.

Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

This week on It's Just Politics: It's all about relationships. Specifically, the relationship between Gov. Rick Snyder and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. And, the status on this one just went from “in a relationship” to “it’s complicated.”

A Gubernatorial Veto

The Governor vetoed three bills this week – they were part of a Republican elections package, most of which he signed. The three vetoed bills would have required people applying to vote for the first time or for absentee ballots to check a box affirming they are U.S. citizens. Another would have required photo ID for an absentee ballot. And, the third would have required state training for people who want to register voters. The Governor said the bills that he vetoed were too confusing and might discourage people from voting when the should should be making it easy to vote.

Lansing Democrats, Republicans Shocked

By vetoing these bills, Snyder not only broke with legislative Republicans, but also with established Republican Party opinion on how elections should be conducted. It's a classic divide between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives versus liberals, and it reflects how each side thinks the other party games the system to pirate elections. Republicans are concerned with ballot security - making sure only people who are supposed to vote actually cast a ballot. Democrats are more concerned about ballot access - that as many people as possible are allowed to vote.

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

These recent vetoes have many political-watchers wondering: What does this mean for the relationship between Gov. Snyder and Republicans? Is the Governor standing on principle, or showing there is a price to be paid for blocking his plans for an international bridge, road funding, opposing him on immigration and health care. The joke around town used to be that when Governor Snyder said something was, "not on my agenda” that really meant: "I’ll sign it if you send it to me.” Not so much any more.

Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is officially the law of the land.  The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. The health and welfare of millions of people right here in Michigan is at stake. And, it has broad policy implications. But, of course, this is It's Just Politics... which means Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and Zoe Clark, Michigan Radio's resident political junkie, are not talking policy but, instead, the politics of the Court's decision.

Rick Pluta: A couple of weeks ago we had the Left galvanizing around what’s become known as “Vagina-gate.” A couple of female lawmakers sanctioned, silenced for a day, by state House Republican leaders for things said during a heated abortion debate. It gave the Left a memorable moment to create what appears to be a stark choice to get their people out in November. Now, the Right has this health care decision. Attorney General Bill Schuette – one of the state’s top Republicans and Mitt Romney’s Michigan campaign chair - says this decision is also a political tool.

Bill Schuette: "This decision, I believe, is going to raise the stakes in November. I think it will energize, it will cause a firestorm of protest to be exhibited in the ballot box in November and I think, in the end, it is going to be one of the things that is going to cause Mitt Romney to be the next President."

Zoe Clark: And, so, the Right is incensed. They’re going to use this issue to get out the vote in November, to protest this decision. And Schuette also says, in effect, don’t let this issue whither on the vine.

RP: Right. There are things the state has to start doing to comply with the health care law. The most immediate one is to create these so-called healthcare exchanges where people and businesses can shop online for coverage. And the attorney general is counseling the legislature: Don’t do it. And, of course, Governor Snyder has called for these exchanges. Snyder is not a fan of the law but he is a fan of the exchanges and says it would be a mistake to wait to implement them.

ZC: So, Rick, this seems to be just one more issue where we're seeing division between the very conservative Attorney General, Bill Schuette, and a more-moderate Governor, Rick Snyder.

mattileo / flickr

Every Thursday we look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

In what some are calling a surprising decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. Michigan lawmakers were reacting to the decision throughout the day. Governor Snyder said he doesn’t like the law but he is going to try to follow it.

Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy / Flickr

It’s no doubt a historic day for Michigan Congressman – and the U.S. State of Representative’s longest serving member – John Dingell with today's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the federal Affordable Care Act.

As NPR’s Julie Rover noted in a story on Dingell in 2009:

“Dingell's quest for universal health care began in 1932, when his father, John Dingell Sr., was first elected to the House from Michigan. The elder Dingell quickly became one of the architects of the New Deal… In 1943, the elder Dingell, along with Senators Jim Murray of Montana and Robert Wagner of New York, introduced the first national health insurance bill. The so-called Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill was fought over for years, though it never became law. And when the elder Dingell died in 1955, John Dingell Jr. took over not only his father's seat, but also his quest for national health insurance.”

User goIfmuth / Flickr

It's Wednesday, which means it's time for Michigan Radio’s Christina Shockley to check in with political analyst Jack Lessenberry about what’s happening this week in Michigan politics. Today, Jack and Christina cover how there's a little something for everybody in the budget Gov.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Snyder Signs Budget

Governor Rick Snyder has signed the new state budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.  “It’s a spending plan he says leaves room for an election year tax rollback. The tax cut would be a small-but-welcome pivot from last year when Governor Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature shook up the state’s tax structure. The Michigan Business Tax disappeared, along with a dozen tax breaks for seniors, homeowners, and low-income households. Governor Snyder says the revenue picture is better this year, and a tax rollback offers unspecified benefits to the state’s economy.The governor is expected to sign bills to reduce the tax rate and increase the personal exemption in the next few days,” Rick Pluta reports.

Casino Expansion?

The push to allow more casinos in Michigan moved a step closer to the November ballot yesterday. Steve Carmody reports:

The group ’Citizens for More Michigan Jobs’ turned in more than a half-million signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. That’s about 200,000  more petition signatures than it needs to put the issue on the ballot. Emily Gerkin Palsrok, the group’s spokeswoman, says eight more casinos will generate thousands of jobs and boost state tax revenues. The operators of Michigan’s two dozen existing casinos oppose adding more gaming venues. They say Michigan’s gambling industry is already at a saturation point.

Ford Market Share

Ford Motor Company is hitting, or exceeding, most of its financial and sales targets. But the company will not meet one of its goals this year, Tracy Samilton reports:

Ford said last year it would increase its market share in the U.S. in 2012. Market share is a car company's percentage of total U.S. car sales. Now the company thinks it will  actually lose market share. Ford's Mark Fields says the company was unable to meet the higher than expected demand in the first quarter of this year in part because some factories didn't have enough workers. Fields says he thinks Ford will be able to fully meet demand for its cars by the fourth quarter of this year.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

SCOTUS Rules on Juvenile Punishment

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down state laws like one in Michigan that automatically sends some juveniles to prison for life with no chance of parole. The court’s decision says the punishment is excessive, and violates the Eighth Amendment. “Michigan has more than 350 people in state prisons serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says the ruling does not prohibit life without parole for juveniles. But she says the sentence should be very rare now that courts have to take into account factors like how big a role a child played in a murder, age at the time of the crime, and life circumstances,” Rick Pluta reports.

Detroit Layoffs

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced yesterday that by the end of July, Detroit will have 164 fewer firefighters. “Bing said in a statement that public safety is his top priority, but the city's fiscal realities have made protecting police and fire jobs untenable. Mayor Bing says he hopes a federal grant will allow the city to call back all but 56 of the laid-off firefighters. Detroit plans to make 2,600 job cuts citywide and slash a quarter-billion dollars in spending for the fiscal year that starts next week,” Sarah Hulett reports.

Fermi 2 Shutdown

The reactor at the Fermi 2 nuclear plan in Monroe County has been shut down, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Monroe Evening News reports crews idled the plant around 1:30 p.m. Monday when its steam condenser lost the vacuum that pulls steam across a series of cooling tubes. The condenser turns steam back into water after it's used to spin the plant's turbines. Plant spokesman Guy Cerullo says Fermi 2 "is in a safe, stable condition." Cerullo says plant operator DTE Energy is investigating the reason for the pressure loss, and he didn't know when Fermi 2 would be back in operation. He tells The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, that DTE "will operate once" it's "sure everything is in good shape" and it "can safely operate the plant.”

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

New Oil Pipeline in Marshall?

Enbridge Energy officials will to meet tonight with people in Marshall, Michigan to lay out their plans for a new oil pipeline. Steve Carmody reports:

Two years ago, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured near Marshall leaking more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Only last week state and federal officials announced the reopening of most of the Kalamazoo River, which has been closed to the public so crews could clean up the oil spill. Now, Enbridge wants to replace the old pipeline with a larger one that will carry more Canadian tar sands crude oil. The Michigan Public Service Commission must give its approval for the new pipeline. The commission isn’t expected to make a decision until sometime late this year or early next year.

Veterans’ Jobs Fair

There’s a jobs fair for veterans in Detroit this week that’s expected to draw thousands of job-seekers and business owners from across the Midwest. “The event is sponsored by the federal Veterans Administration, and co-hosted by the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.  Jason Allen, an organizer of the fair, says thousands of Michigan veterans are returning from duty in the Middle East, and they are natural fits for a lot of employers. More than one in 10 Michigan veterans are out of work and looking for a job. That’s higher than the overall statewide unemployment rate of 8.5 percent,” Rick Pluta reports.

Detroit Fireworks Tonight

Big crowds are expected for the annual fireworks show over the Detroit River, the Associated Press reports. “Tens of thousands of people are expected to pack Belle Isle, Hart Plaza and the riverfront in downtown Detroit on Monday as well as along the water in Windsor, Ontario. Sheriff's deputies from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County, along with the state police, are expected to support Detroit's public safety efforts during the event,” the AP reports.

Every week in It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta and I sit down and take a look at what's been making news in state politics. On tap for this week's extended edition: the Romney campaign shifts its economic message as state economies see improvement, Vagina-gate continues at the state Capitol, Democrats in the state's 76th District find a candidate to run against former-Democratic Rep. Roy Schmidt, we update the latest news on the state's many ballot proposals, and remember two state lawmakers who recently passed away.

The Romney campaign has made significant gains in a recent EPIC-MRA poll.
Rick Pluta / Michigan Radio

Today on It's Just Politics, co-hosts Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta discussed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Michigan campaign tour this week.  Romney also made campaign stops in Michigan last month, during which, Pluta says Romney's grim assessment of the Michigan economy created some friction with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's more positive message of economic recovery in the "comeback state."

"We've talked about this before," said Pluta, "this tension between the messaging of a Republican governor, like Rick Snyder, who's saying, 'Look, we're making changes; things are improving; what we're doing is working,' and Mitt Romney coming into the state and saying, 'You're not doing that well.' It's basically a message of pessimism, and making the case for change."

On his tour this week, Pluta says, Romney has changed tones. The presidential hopeful lauded Snyder, saying he would do for the country what Snyder has done for the state.

Allieosmar / Flickr

Every Thursday Michigan Radio's Jennifer White talks Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

It's been a week, now, since Democratic State Representative Lisa Brown was barred from speaking on the state House floor for using the word "vagina" during a debate on anti-abortion legislation. State Representative Barbara Byrum, a Democrat, was also banned from speaking on the floor because she spoke out of turn.

White, Demas and Sikkema explore why this story just won't seem to go away.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

In a Bloomberg piece this morning, Michael C. Bender is reporting that, “Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter.”

But Romney doesn’t just have a Florida messaging “problem.” Last month, Rick Pluta, co-host of It’s Just Politics, and I took a look at the same problem that the Romney campaign is having with Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Michigan’s improving economy.

During a visit to Michigan in May, Romney said, “These last few years have been hard on the people in Lansing, and frankly, they've been hard on the people of America.” This message didn’t quite mesh with Governor Snyder’s statement that, “if you look at where we're at, we’re the comeback state in the United States today.”

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

EM Repeal

Supporters of a referendum to overturn Michigan’s emergency manager law are continuing to try to make sure that a question whether to repeal the law is on the November ballot. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Supports of the repeal filed an emergency motion with the Michigan Court of Appeals Wednesday to speed the process along.

After a complicated legal process, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled the question should go on the ballot last week, but without specifying it could take “immediate effect.” So the order could sit for as long as 42 days.

Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, a lawyer with the pro-referendum group Stand Up for Democracy, says this asks the court to act within seven days to ensure the ballot question doesn’t get bogged down in the legal system.

But Bob LaBrant, a spokesman for the group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility—which initially managed to keep the measure off the ballot because of a dispute over petition font size, calls the move “meritless.”

LaBrant says the group will file an appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, possibly as soon as next week.

Casino Expansion?

A drive to allow eight new privately owned casinos in Michigan says it’s gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Rick Pluta reports:

Michigan already has two dozen tribal casinos and three privately owned casinos in Detroit.

Emily Gerkin Palsrok is with Citizens for Michigan Jobs. She says there’s room for more casinos, which would bring more jobs and tax revenue.

"Our signature collection has gone very well. We’ve had a very positive response. We’re going to have well more than the 322,000 – which is the minimum we need, and we’re going to be wrapping up our process in the next couple of weeks," Palsrok says.

The amendment is opposed by the existing casino operators. A spokesman for the “Vote No” campaign says people should not be allowed to buy a business opportunity by amending the state constitution.

Auto Quality

U.S. automakers have not caught up to their Asian competitors when it comes to quality  -- but American vehicles are still highly rated. 

“A company that measures consumer satisfaction says Lexus drivers reported the fewest problems during the first three months of ownership. Dave Sargent is a vice president at J.D. Power and Associates. He says Jaguar and Porsche tied for second and General Motors' Cadillac came in third in the quality survey. Sargent says Chrysler as a whole improved significantly compared with last year. Ford, however, was flat in the quality rankings. Sargent says Ford wrestled with its My Ford Touch technology, although the company has made improvements,” Rina Miller reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Romney Stumps in Mich.

Mitt Romney wrapped up a tour of small towns in Michigan last night. “Thousands of Romney supporters in shorts and sandals rallied on a beach near Holland, Michigan. With Lake Michigan as a backdrop, Romney used his speech to focus on how important a strong American economy and military are to the rest of the world. Romney hopes to win over his native state. Michigan hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate in more than 20 years,” Lindsey Smith reports.

"K2" Crackdown

On July 1, the state will launch a crackdown to clear store shelves of a type of synthetic marijuana called K2. Governor Rick Snyder signed a law yesterday that outlaws K2 and other designer drugs. “K2 is made of plants sprayed with a chemical to create a high that’s similar to marijuana – but with more dangerous side effects such as seizures and speeding heart rates. Because it’s still legal and not controlled, it can be purchased by children. The new law signed by Governor Snyder not only outlaws K2, but it also outlaws any derivative drugs that might be created by tweaking the recipe. One of those tools is to give the state Department of Community Health director and the Board of Pharmacy emergency powers to outlaw new designer drugs as they emerge.

Asian Carp DNA

Illinois officials are downplaying the recent discovery of Asian Carp DNA in a waterway a short distance from Lake Michigan. Steve Carmody reports:

Asian Carp are an invasive species that experts fear could devastate fish native to the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers routinely tests Illinois waterways for signs of the carp. One carp was caught a few years ago, just a few miles from Lake Michigan. Chris McCloud is a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He says a rapid response team spent two days searching the waterways for any signs of carp. McCloud says a second round of DNA testing is underway. He notes that past positive DNA tests have not led to the discovery of live Asian Carp in the Chicago area. Three electric barriers separate Chicago area waterways from carp-infested rivers and streams to the south.

Matthileo / Flickr

Every Wednesday, we speak with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. On tap for this week: Mitt Romney campaigns in Michigan, the debate over the word "vagina" continues at the state Capitol and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he'd like to rid the city of its top lawyer.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney began speaking a short time ago to a crowd in DeWitt, Mich. Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta sent along these photos. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith will be in Holland this evening covering Romney's campaign stop in West Michigan.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

A few thousand people crowded onto the lawn of the state Capitol last night to protest last week's silencing  of two female state lawmakers, and to watch a performance of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta was there and reports that, "the word 'vagina' was everywhere – emblazoned on signs and t-shirts. 'Vagina,' and virtually every slang variation, was part of the theatrical performance. People shouted it out and waved their fingers in Vs. 'Gimme the three Vs! Vagina! Voice! Vote!'

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