It's Just Politics

Mondays at 8:50 AM

Politics can be messy. Politics can be confusing. But, that certainly doesn't mean politics can't be a joy-ride. Join It's Just Politics hosts Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta Monday mornings on Morning Edition as they drill down on what’s happening in Michigan politics.

Rick and Zoe tell us how the game of politics is not only fun and thrilling, but has a real impact on the policy-making that affects all of us.

Want to know what's really going on inside the state Capitol building? Or, why your lawmaker really voted the way they did? They've got the answers... and much more.

It's Just Politics – every Monday morning at 8:50 am on Michigan Radio.

Rick Pluta has covered Michigan government and politics since 1987. His first big Michigan political story was the brutal GOP presidential primary battle that pitted Vice President George H.W. Bush against former Congressman Jack Kemp and televangelist Pat Robertson. That battle spawned two competing state political conventions and the now-famous “I Survived the 1988 Michigan Republican Delegate Selection Process” t-shirt. He would pay money now that he did not pay then to get one. He collects political pins - a professional side hobby that’s hit the skids as cost-conscious campaigns have taken a tragic turn toward stickers. He is an excellent parallel parker. 

Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s resident political junkie. She fell in love with all things political when she was eight years old and begged her parents to let her stay up late to follow the 1992 presidential election returns. No way, they said. But she did convince them to wake her up when the race was called. (Which they did.) It was her job to wake up early for four years as the producer of Morning Edition on Michigan Radio. Now, in addition to being Michigan Radio’s resident political junkie, Zoe is the executive producer of the daily news-magazine Stateside and oversees interviews on All Things Considered. She is a better parallel parker than Rick.

Follow Rick on Twitter at @rickpluta and Zoe at @ZoeMelina

One month from tomorrow, voters in Michigan will decide the fate of Proposal 1, the ballot measure that would raise more than a billion dollars in new money for roads.

The voting begins

For some, voting has already begun. Absentee ballots for the May 5th vote have been out for more than a week. And, along with the absentee ballots, political pollsters have been in the field, too. They’re trying to figure out just where voters stand on the issue and for those pushing Proposal 1, it doesn’t look good.

Issues & Ale: It’s Just Politics

Wednesday, April 29 6:30-8:00pm
Brewery Becker
500 W Main St, Brighton, MI 48116

Michigan voters will be heading to the polls on May 5 to cast their vote on the controversial sales tax increase/road funding proposal.

We'll be heading to Brighton the week before that for this live  It's Just Politics Issues & Ale event.

“As we share in the bad times, we must equally share in the good times!”

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams fired up the rank and file at the UAW convention last week in Detroit. The meeting comes as the Union is preparing for a round of bargaining that will begin later this year with the domestic auto companies.

This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the DeBoer decision that briefly legalized same-sex marriage in Michigan in March 2014. To that end, there were some three-hundred one-year wedding anniversaries celebrated around the state yesterday.

Update, March 17th, 2015 1:15 PM:

In response to Governor Snyder's Executive Order moving the state School Reform Office (see original story below) out from control of the state Department of Education and into the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, the State Board of Education released the following statement, calling into question the constitutionality of the Governor's order:

Governor Rick Snyder will announce his new energy strategy for the state very soon and, anticipating that, Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature have rolled out their own plans to ensure affordable, reliable electricity.

Now, if you don’t think politics plays a role in energy policy, then you explain why utilities and energy companies have political action committees to make campaign donations. And the answer is energy plans are rife with politics because, first, it’s a very regulated industry, and, second, there’s a lot of money in those volts.

This week, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker is likely to become the third Midwest governor in as many years to sign legislation making his state right to work, the 25th in the country.

It was not that long ago that the right to work movement was essentially stalled. In 2011, no state had gone right to work in a decade.

Michigan Republicans held their winter convention this weekend in Lansing and elected Ronna Romney McDaniel as their new chair.

McDaniel has quite the Republican pedigree.  She is the niece of Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, granddaughter of Michigan Governor George Romney. 

Democratic state Representative Gretchen Driskell’s nascent campaign for Congress relies in part on the assumption that Hillary Clinton will be at the top of the Democratic ticket next year.

Update 2/12/2015:

 The Michigan Senate adopted legislation early today to establish a March 15th, 2016, Republican presidential primary.* It could position the state to join a Midwest super-primary sometimes dubbed the “Big Ten” primary.

Update 2/4/2015:

And, it's now been made official: Governor Snyder says the state will recognize the more than 300 gay and lesbian marriages that were performed in Michigan last March. Snyder says his administration will not challenger a judge's order issued last month to recognize the marriages performed during the window when they were legal.

Update Monday, January 26th:

The ax has fallen.

This afternoon, Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) and the Republican caucus developed a response that was both ruthless and nuanced to the Democratic insurgency on the House Appropriations Committee.

What happens in politics when you want to get rid of someone and they just won’t quit? We are, of course, talking about Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema.

Agema consistently courts controversy and has done his party no favors with social media posts that go after Muslims, gays and African-Americans.

At this time next year, we will likely be poised to dive into the Michigan presidential primary season. You might find this slightly nauseating but the presidential campaigns are already ramping up, particularly on the Republican side.

Governor Rick Snyder ended the lame duck session closer to his goal of more money for roads. But, we’re not ready to put this one in the ‘win’ column for the governor. Not yet, at least.

 That’s because the state won’t see a dime of this money unless voters approve the package in May.

The buzz has begun. Detroit is barely, officially, out of bankruptcy and suddenly the “Snyder for President” coverage begins.

 The national media is talking up the Nerd as a 2016 contender, “Rick Snyder, the Governor of Michigan, has not gotten the same attention as some of the other GOP governors who are looking at the White House,” New York Times political reporter Jonathan Martin told CNN this week. “He is someone who, at the very least, wants to be in the mix for 2016,” Martin explained.

The state House passed the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) yesterday and it’s fair to say it was a little dose of Republican Speaker Jase Bolger’s “here’s-how-bad-it-can-get-if-you-don’t-play-along.”

The RFRA was supposed to move in tandem with a measure that would add protections based on sexual orientation to the state’s civil rights law. That was a version that Bolger said he would accept, as long as there was a separate bill that would provide some cover for people who have religious objections to gay rights.

But LGBT advocates said there also should be explicit protections for transgender people. Bolger said he wouldn’t support that.

So, Bolger got the RFRA passed last night, without moving on the LGBT protections, showing the LGBT community just what can happen when you cross him.

Michigan had the lowest turnout in a Governor’s race this year since the John Engler-Geoffrey Fieger face-off of 1998. And, while a lot of Republicans sat out this year, it was mostly Democrats who stayed home in droves on Election Day.

So, despite the low turnout, conservatives can rejoice because Republicans will remain in control in Lansing for at least the next two years. But progressives can, perhaps, find some solace in the fact that getting initiatives and challenges on the ballot will be easier than it has been in 16 years.

(Shout-out to the Lansing political consulting firm Sterling Corporation and its attorney Bob LaBrandt for being the first to point this out.)

Proposals are by and large put on the ballot by petition drives. (The Legislature can also put questions on the ballot.)

The number of signatures required to get a petition on the ballot is based on the number of people who voted in the previous election for governor. So, fewer voters in 2014 means fewer signatures needed to get on the ballot in 2016.

 There’s a split in Lansing about how far and how aggressively to push for gay rights in Michigan -- specifically to update the state’s civil rights law.

Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act

This is as much a cultural split between Lansing lobbyists and the LGBT community and how they view their mission as it is a difference of opinion about tactics and priorities. However, it has now jeopardized, if not already doomed, the effort to update Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA).

The ELCRA already has protections against housing and employment discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and weight, among other things.  It’s long been a goal of Michigan’s LGBT advocates to add LGBT protections to the law.

History repeating itself

Thirty years ago, that effort cost state Representative Jim Dressel (R-Holland) his job. He lost his Republican primary in 1984 after he introduced a bill to add the phrase “sexual orientation” to the law.

This past summer, state Representative Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) suffered a similar fate for being the millennial Republican leading the effort on the GOP side of the aisle. His hope was to leave the introduction of the law a part of his political legacy.

Gender identity

But, efforts to accomplish that goal in this year’s “lame duck” session are now hung up on the words “gender identity.” That phrase would ensure that transgender people are also covered under the law.

A business coalition, put together and led by AT&T of Michigan President Jim Murray, was pushing the issue saying it’s not just a question of fairness, but talent - convincing people that Michigan is open, inclusive, and a good place to look for a job. Not only was it a persuasive group on its own but pretty much every multi-client lobbying firm in Lansing was also engaged in the effort.

A Republican wave on Tuesday.

Or was it? In Michigan, there is plenty of evidence that it was not, despite being a very good year for Republicans nationally.

More votes, less seats

No doubt there were a lot of Republican victories in the races for governor and the Legislature. But Rick Snyder’s 51 percent can’t be described as a blowout. A lot of the races in swing states were also quite close.

In fact, Democrats actually won more votes in state House races than Republicans. Democrats won more votes but got few seats.

In the 110 state House races, Democrats won 50.9 percent of the total vote. Republicans in aggregate got 48.9. Yes, Republicans won 63 seats but is 48.9 percent of the vote really a “wave”?

Dems win big in education

With one exception, Democrats swept the education boards - the state Board of education and the boards for Michigan State, Wayne State and the University of Michigan. That matters because, even though they are elected positions, almost no one knows who these candidates are.

That makes these board elections some of the most-reliable measures of core party strength - the stalwart yellow dog Democrats, rock-ribbed Republicans straight party ballot voters.

We should note, too, that the one exception is where a Green Party candidate ran a pretty aggressive campaign in the Spartans’ home turf of Lansing and East Lansing. That very well may have siphoned off enough votes from the Democrat to tip the race in the other direction.

 As we head into the last weekend before the election, Rick Snyder and Mark Schauer (and plenty of others) are making their final swings through the state, launching their final push to get out the vote.

These final few days are all about reaching voters, the would-be, possible voters and persuading, inspiring them to get to the polls.

Democrats Need Excitement

There are more registered Democrats in Michigan than Republicans. Michigan is a blue state. But Democrats don’t turn out to the polls the way Republicans do, particularly in midterm elections. That’s why in the past six presidential cycles, Michigan has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate but why, because they’re elected in the midterms, we have a Republican governor, secretary of state, and attorney general.

It’s toward that end that the D’s have a big attraction coming this weekend. President Obama is scheduled to campaign with Schauer and Democratic Senatorial candidate Gary Peters in Detroit on Saturday.

Nationwide, many Democrats are avoiding the president, but not here in Michigan. Instead, they’re betting the upside of the president’s visit will be bigger than the risk.

They’re hoping that the president can convince the legions that stepped out to support him in 2012 that they need to step out once again in 2014, even if his name is not at the top of the ticket.

We are now a week and a half away from Election Day and this is the breakout time in any campaign season. The closing days when candidates and campaigns make their final pitches to try and close the deal with voters.

Although a lot of voters have already voted. As many as a third of the ballots in Election 2014 will be absentee ballots filled out before November 4th actually arrives.

Closing Arguments Coming Earlier

And that means as many as a third of Michigan voters have already made up their minds and won’t wait for November and the campaigns’ closing arguments. The fact that so many voters now use absentee ballots has pushed up the late-campaign attack ads; the ones that are really jarring.

Bobby McKenzie, Democrat running in Michigan’s 11th Congressional district, recently released an ad attacking his Republican opponent David Trott. It’s an ad that The Washington Post called “one of the most brutal attack ads you’ll even see.”

 Welcome to this fundraising edition of It’s Just Politics.

No, we’re not talking about Michigan Radio’s Fall Fundrive that’s underway (although the number is 888-258-98… ah, stop us!).

Instead, we are talking about Election 2014 campaign fundraising.

Endless pleas

If you’re on a campaign or party list you are well aware of the seemingly endless pleas for campaign cash.

“The entire team is still here. There is nothing we’d rather be doing than going home and taking a break. But we know how important this midnight deadline we’re facing is. If we don’t meet it, that means we could lose.”

Or this one from Senate Republicans, “Friend, I’m really disappointed and worried. I’ve been counting on your support to end Harry Reid’s disastrous control of the US Senate on November 4th….”

Tuesday, Oct. 28, 6:00 - 7:30pm

Detroit Beer Company

1529 Broadway
Detroit, Michigan 48226

Michigan Radio is teaming up with the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Magazine for a special pre-election Issues & Ale event. Join our It’s Just Politics team of Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta along with columnists from the Free Press and Bridge Magazine as we take a fun, and fast packed look at prospects for Election 2014....just one week before the November election.

Planned Panelists:

Zoe Clark: Executive Producer, Stateside; Co-host, It's Just Politics

Rick Pluta: Capitol Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network; Co-host, It's Just Politics

Stephen Henderson: Editorial Page Editor, Detroit Free Press

Nancy Kaffer: Columnist, Detroit Free Press

David Zeman: Editor, Bridge Magazine

John Bebow: President, Center for Michigan

Stop by, have a drink, and join in the discussion. Free admission!

With news out today that President Obama will be campaigning for statewide Democratic candidates Gary Peters and Mark Schauer at the end of the month, I thought it would be a good time to revisit a prediction my It’s Just Politics co-host Rick Pluta and I made in September.

That prediction? That, although many political pundits continue to talk about the president’s unpopularity nationwide, Barack Obama would make an appearance in Michigan before Election Day.

President Obama will return to Michigan. Back to campaign and to inspire Obama voters to get out and vote in the mid-terms. (It’s Just Politics, September 27th, 2014)

It is absolutely true that the president’s approval ratings are nothing to write home  about (in fact, they appear to be at their lowest level today since he took office) but, as Pluta and I have talked about before on IJP, this is a get-out-the-vote election. Democrats are relying on their core supporters, their base voters, to get them to victory at the polls on Nov. 4.

Though there are more Democrats in Michigan, Republicans do a better job of turning out in mid-term elections, when a president is not at the top of the ballot.

That’s why, although Michigan is a blue-state, we have a Republican governor, secretary of state and attorney general (all positions that are elected in non-presidential years, when Democrats tend to stay home).  – It’s Just Politics, Oct. 11, 2014

In order for Democrats to get their voters to the polls they need big names to help excite the electorate and there aren’t bigger Democratic names in this election cycle than President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama (who was in Detroit last Friday) and Hillary Clinton (who will visit Michigan tomorrow).

 We’ve been talking for months now on It’s Just Politics about the fact that Election 2014 is really going to be about which party does a better job of getting out its core voters, especially whether Democrats can get their voters to the polls on November 4th.

Though there are more Democrats in Michigan, Republicans do a better job of turning out in mid-term elections, when a President is not at the top of the ballot.

That’s why, although Michigan is a blue-state, we have a Republican Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General (all positions that are elected in non-presidential years, when Democrats tend to stay home).

That explains why we’re seeing a competitive race for governor, although some recent polls show Republican Governor Rick Snyder opening a wider lead (some polls, not all).

Meantime, almost every poll shows Democrat Gary Peters opening a wider lead over Republican nominee Terri Lynn Land for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat.

 “I would like to clear-up the biggest piece of hogwash on TV today.”

That quote was from Governor Rick Snyder at his first campaign town hall this week, pushing back on claims that his administration cut one billion dollars from the state’s education budget.

“They’re lying to you,” the governor told the town-hall audience on Tuesday evening in Kalamazoo.

And, it’s not just the governor, GOP officials and lawmakers have also released statement after statement calling the billion dollar cut a lie, as well as demanding TV stations pull the ad from rotation.

It’s looking more and more like Republicans and Democrats are doubling-down on getting female voters to the polls in November. As Rick Pluta and I talked about last week in It’s Just Politics:

Michigan is not a decisively blue state because so many Democrats sit out during the mid-term elections … It’s largely why we have a Republican governor, attorney general and secretary of state (many Democrats stayed home on Election Day four years ago). So, the challenge for Democrats is to convince Democrats to get out and vote, especially younger voters, minorities and females, who are statistically more likely to stay at home. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been hearing SO much about the so-called ‘War on women’. 

But, really, it’s a ‘war FOR women.' Women’s votes. Young women’s votes.

We linked to this anti-Obama ad that’s been airing for the past few weeks:

The persuadable voter. Political independents. There are not as many of them as there used to be. And they don’t seem to be the center of this campaign season as they have been in previous years (remember the ‘Soccer Mom’ or ‘Security Mom’?).

This year’s campaigns seem much more focused on getting out base voters. And, that is why we present a bold prediction: President Barack Obama will come visit Michigan before Election Day.

Democrats have pinned their hopes this year on Democratic-voter turnout. Michigan is a decidedly blue state. Democrats have a five or six-point behavioral - that is how people vote, not what they call themselves - advantage in Michigan. That advantage is why Democrats have won the last six presidential elections in Michigan.

But, Michigan is not a decisively blue state because so many Democrats sit out during the mid-term elections. And, that gives Michigan Republicans their best changes in statewide races. It’s largely why we have a Republican governor, attorney general and secretary of state (many Democrats stayed home on Election Day four years ago).

But, there’s another part of the equation: Republicans can’s win on their own. Yes, Michigan Republicans typically have a turnout advantage in mid-term elections, but it doesn’t get them all the way to victory. To win, Republicans have to win at least a slim majority of the independents who turn out to vote.

This week, former Governor Bill Milliken knocked us off the edges of our seats when he started making candidate endorsements (Ok, maybe we weren’t at the edge of our seats).

But Michigan’s political watchers are always interested in who the state’s famously iconoclastic and moderate Republican Governor will endorse.

In 2004, Milliken endorsed Democrat John Kerry for President. In 2008, it was Republican John McCain. Although he withdrew it just a few weeks before the election.

Four years ago, Rick Snyder, in an effort to burnish his centrist bona fides, sought and received the imprimatur of Milliken.

And, now, this election-cycle, Milliken has endorsed Democrat Gary Peters for U.S. Senate and Democrat Mark Totten for Attorney General.

One has to wonder how the Republican base is going to view the fact that the current governor is the only Republican (at least so far in this election cycle) to get the Milliken endorsement.

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak doesn’t seem to mind. “He’s not relevant any longer,” Schostak recently told WJBK TV.

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