Michigan Watch

Michigan Watch is Michigan Radio’s investigative/accountability reporting unit. Headed by veteran reporter Lester Graham, Michigan Watch provides in-depth reports on topics of importance that may require a longer and more involved examination. These include the workings of state government, education, the environment, and jobs and the economy. Among the specific topics covered by Michigan Watch have been the influence of money and politics in Michigan elections, changes to the state’s mandatory no-fault insurance system, following Michigan families that have been removed from welfare, and separating truth from fiction in election advertising.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s been more than three months since parts of the Detroit area were flooded by torrential rains. People are still cleaning up the mess. Organizations from around the nation are helping, but it’s a huge job.

In Berkley, AmeriCorps volunteers are in Duane Van Geison’s basement, cutting up waterlogged wood frames and cleaning up a mess. It smells like rotting wood and mildew.

Upstairs, Van Geison is huddled by a space heater, trying to keep warm. He’s 74 years old and disabled. He's no longer able to walk downstairs.

More and better jobs?

Oct 30, 2014

Incumbent Republican Governor Rick Snyder has been vague about what he would do in the next four years in office, saying only, "We're on the road to recovery." He also says he'll pursue "more and better jobs." Political observers expect Snyder will continue on the path he's established, working to stimulate businesses while keeping a tight rein on state spending.

In an ad, Snyder says, "Our unemployment rate is the lowest in six years with nearly 300,000 new private-sector jobs." 

In the race for governor, few things are disputed more than education funding under Gov. Rick Snyder. Challenger Mark Schauer claims Snyder cut funding by a billion dollars. Snyder has called that a lie and says he’s added a billion dollars. They’re both sort of right and they’re both wrong.

“Both sides have truth. Neither is lying, per se,” said Mitch Bean.

He is a former director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency. That’s a nonpartisan agency within the Michigan House of Representatives. Now he’s a consultant and he’s been looking at the budgets to try to find out exactly what has happened to money for schools.

The bottom of the ballot is often ignored. That’s where the non-partisan races are located and includes candidates running for Michigan Supreme Court. Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad recently reviewed a radio ad being aired on behalf of two of the candidates running for the three open seats.

Incumbent Justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra were both put on the court by Gov. Rick Snyder.

A radio ad sponsored by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce makes this statement:

“Viviano and Zahra use common sense on Michigan’s Supreme Court. They’re rule-of-law judges.”

That statement colors the rest of the ad.

Politicians like to take credit for improving the economy, and challengers like to blame sitting officials for damaging it. In the race for governor in Michigan there have been plenty of both those kinds of accusations. Lester Graham with Michigan Watch examines how much politicians can really affect the economy.

Outside a Michigan WORKS! employment office, I asked a few unemployed people if they thought any state politician could make a difference in creating jobs.

Davina Carey has been out of work since June. “Hopefully," she said, laughing. "I mean, I don’t know.”

The Truth Squad at Bridge magazine has had a busy summer looking at ads in the race for governor. The close race between Republican Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer has meant many ads on TV and online. Some are just not true. Others are slightly misleading. We went over a couple of them with the Truth Squad’s editor.

The Truth Squad at Bridge magazine is handing out "fouls" to Democrats and Republicans. Political groups are airing ads on behalf of the candidates running for governor in Michigan.

First let’s look at an ad put together by the Democratic Governors Association. In it a school teacher, Kim Stanley, ties together three separate issues.

user memories_by_mike / Flickr

The pieces are falling into place for Detroit to eventually emerge from bankruptcy with a lot less of its budget-servicing debt. But the city of Detroit’s budget could still be a house of cards. Many of its revenue sources are not stable.

Bankruptcy does not mean Detroit escapes all of its money problems.

It’s heavily dependent on a city income tax. If another economic dip is around the corner, that source of revenue would shrink.

Casino taxes are stagnant.

The Truth Squad at Bridge Magazine reviewed a couple of TV ads put on the air by Republican Terri Lynn Land’s campaign for U.S. Senate. But, there’s a pretty substantial gap between the "truth" and the
"whole truth."

These two TV ads from the Land campaign attack the Democratic candidate, Congressman Gary Peters.

A Republican group is attacking Democratic congressional candidates, using online sites that resemble news websites. One of those 20 websites is called the “South Michigan Update.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Testing students to assess their progress in school could get a lot more political before the year is out.

Legislators and the Michigan Department of Education clashed this year over a test to assess Common Core state standards. If the past is any clue, lawmakers with the help of the governor could simply take away the Department of Education’s authority and give it to a state agency more friendly to their point of view, such as Treasury. Gov. John Engler made exactly that kind of move several times during his time in office.

Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad is reviewing the ads and claims in the race for governor between incumbent Rick Snyder and challenger Mark Schauer.

Democrat Mark Schauer is airing his first campaign TV ad and the Truth Squad has a couple of issues with it. First, there’s this statement:

“Rick Snyder’s economy might work for the wealthy, but it’s not working for the rest of Michigan.”

Now, that’s pretty standard political positioning, but Ron French with the Truth Squad says it’s unlikely, if not impossible, that only the wealthy are benefiting from the improvements in the Michigan economy since Rick Snyder took office.

“For one example, the unemployment rate has dropped from 11 percent to 7.5 percent. The Truth Squad questions whether it’s only the wealthy who have gotten jobs during that time,” French said.

Several political campaigns during the primaries got very nasty. Things haven’t been quite so nasty in the governor’s race … yet.

Most of the ads we’ve seen about Gov. Rick Snyder and challenger Mark Schauer have not been ads the candidates bought. Outside groups produced them and aired them.

The Democratic Governors Association paid for an ad attacking Republican Gov. Snyder.

Bridge magazine’s Truth Squad has been reviewing political ads in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District's Republican primary campaigns.

The Third Congressional district stretches from north of Grand Rapids to south of Battle Creek. The incumbent is Justin Amash, a libertarian and Tea Party favorite. He’s being challenged in the Republican Primary by Brian Ellis, who has backing from many business leaders and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Bridge magazine’s Truth Squad has been reviewing political TV ads in Michigan’s Fourth Congressional District Republican primary.

Paul Mitchell’s campaign ran an attack ad against Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, which included this claim:

Primary elections in Michigan will be held on August 5. Voters in parts of Detroit and Wayne County will decide between two Democratic candidates in the 13th Congressional District. The incumbent is John Conyers Jr. The challenger is The Rev. Horace Sheffield III.

Before we start talking about 2014, let me take you back 50 years:

“In your heart, you know he’s right. Vote for Barry Goldwater.”

“Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Civil rights groups are asking to meet with Detroit officials about a controversial water shut-off campaign.

The ACLU and the NAACP want to meet with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to find a “fair, humane, and meaningful review process,” which would include adequate notice and a hearing to determine whether individual water customers can’t or won’t pay their bills.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit is going to hold a little get-together to persuade former residents to come back home.

Mayor Mike Duggan wants former Detroiters to visit the city for a homecoming. The idea is to attract people who wrote off their relationship with the city. The "Detroit Homecoming" is aimed to bring them back for a visit, a little flirtation. After all, Detroit should be getting through its messy bankruptcy by then. It will be a little brighter, with thousands of  new LED streetlights. The parks are being mowed.

The city of Detroit says it’s sold $1 million dollars worth of vacant homes that will be fixed up and occupied. Nearly 70 auctioned properties have been sold.

These are purchase commitments from bidders, not cash in hand, but reaching the million-dollar mark gives Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Land Bank some bragging rights.

Of the 16,000 properties the city owns, 2,000 are salvageable. At an open house of properties to be auctioned last month, Mayor Duggan said the city would start putting up two houses a day for auction.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week the Detroit Journalism Cooperative is looking at how the city of Detroit is functioning under bankruptcy. Until recently, almost half the streetlights of Detroit were dark. Thousands of new streetlights are replacing the old broken ones.

I caught up with one of several crews installing streetlights in neighborhoods around Detroit. James England is the foreman.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week Michigan Radio and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative are looking at how the city is functioning under bankruptcy. One of the biggest problems facing Detroit is the huge number of abandoned houses, buildings, and vacant lots. Here's a look at what’s changed in the six months since Mayor Mike Duggan took office.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week Michigan Radio and our media partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative are looking at how the city is functioning under bankruptcy and the leadership of Mayor Mike Duggan.

At the beginning of the year, Mayor Duggan said to watch what happens in six months. We’ll review the changes throughout this week, but we thought we’d start with a look at the mayor himself.

Tammy Coxen

The City of Detroit might be going through bankruptcy, but the commerce of Detroit is growing in some areas. A new business that will open this summer is the latest in a fast-growing trend.

Tucked away in the Eastern Market on Riopelle Street is a nondescript building. Go through the squeaky, jail-like door and you'll see one of Michigan’s newest whiskey, gin, and vodka distillers, the Detroit City Distillery.

Right now, though, it’s mostly a dusty construction site. There are no whiskey barrels here- yet. They’re stored at a licensed facility. There’s no copper pot still- yet. It’s being manufactured in Germany right now.

But they do have a classic wooden bar. Michael Forsyth and his partners found it in a vacant storefront in downtown Detroit and bought it.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Workers removed some of the plywood covering up a house in the Osborn neighborhood on Sunday to allow potential buyers to check out one of the houses the city will put up for auction.

Saturday, people visited available houses in the Boston-Edison neighborhood.

Detroit owns 16,000 properties. Some of them are houses in good enough condition to sell.

Bidding starts at $1,000, but the buyers have to bring the property up to code and either live in it or rent it to someone.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit officials are launching a new effort to reduce the rate of preterm births in the city. The rate of premature births in Detroit is 18%, among the highest in the world.

The city, Wayne State University and Detroit’s leading health systems are working together on the effort called Make Your Date.

Mayor Mike Duggan outlined how the program simplifies the way pregnant women can find prenatal care.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Impressions of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder are more negative than positive among voters, even when you factor out the heavily Democratic city of Detroit, according to a poll released yesterday.

This poll was commissioned by Michigan Radio and its partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

The poll is unique because it does not include voters from the city of Detroit.

Among the data was a question asking how voters would rate the job Rick Snyder has done as Michigan’s governor. Since Snyder is a Republican and voters in Detroit are overwhelmingly Democratic, you might expect Snyder to do really well outside the city. But 52% of voters rated Gov. Snyder as having done a

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A new poll shows Michigan voters outside of Detroit approve using state money to support the so-called “Grand Bargain” to bolster City of Detroit retirees’ pensions and protect the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection.

The poll was commissioned by Michigan Radio and its partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

(See DJC partner Bridge Magazine's coverage of the poll here.)

It found almost half of voters outside the city of Detroit support the state government contributing $350 million to help solve some of the sticky issues of the bankruptcy. Forty-nine percent favor the contribution, 34 percent oppose it.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There‘s one kind of pollution that researchers believe robs kids of their future like no other.

Scientists have found evidence it diminishes their intelligence, causes behavioral problems, even increases the likelihood they’ll end up in prison.

This toxin’s damage is known.

We even know how to protect children from being exposed to it.

Yet tens of thousands of Michigan children are poisoned by lead every day.

Jessica Jeffries showed me the work that was done on her upper-floor apartment of a two-story house in Detroit.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

On the one-year anniversary of his appointment, Detroit’s emergency manager spoke about the latest developments in the city's bankruptcy in a speech at the University of Michigan.

One thing in the works is getting a $120 million loan from Barclays of London. A state board approved the loan today. The Detroit City Council also approved the deal, despite concerns that the money might be used to pay big-money bankruptcy consultants. But, emergency manager Kevyn Orr says, ‘not so.’

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit's municipal bankruptcy has made the world aware of what Michigan already knew. Detroit is broke. No matter how it turns out, bankruptcy is not going to change things very quickly. Detroit will still be broke. That’s going to force the city to get creative.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: the state of Michigan is not going to bail out Detroit.

And the state of Michigan is not going fully restore revenue sharing from the sales tax with cities such as Detroit.

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