Mercedes Mejia

Reporter/Producer

Mercedes Mejia produces interviews for All Things Considered, including the music segment Songs from Studio East. She also produces content for Stateside. Mercedes relocated to Michigan from New Mexico, where she earned her BA in Latin American Studies and Journalism. She began in public radio as a reporter at KUNM in Albuquerque. She brings extensive video production skills from her work at Univision and Edit House Production.

Michigan's Capitol.
Graham Davis / flickr

Each week we take a look at what’s happening in Michigan politics with Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants. 

The state legislature is back to work, and as Sikkema predicted last year, talks are swirling around what to do with the state’s projected budget surplus. Estimates are putting it at about $500 million. What should be done with the money?

Mike Perini

The weather and temperatures in Michigan, and across the country, have been particularly brutal in recent days. Wind chill readings have dropped to 30 degrees below zero in some places. Some Michiganders are facing this weather without shelter.

We’re joined now by Ellen Schulmeister,  the executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. 

Writers online, and now speakers in informal speech, are using "because" in innovative ways.

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan talk about the American Dialect Society's 24th Annual Words of the Year vote. 

Curzan says, “It used to be that because had to be followed by a clause. So, I would say, ‘I don’t want to go outside because it’s really cold.’ And now I can say, ‘I don’t want go outside because  cold.’”

More words of the year include: selfie, Obamacare, and slash.

Click here for more on the Word of the Year for 2013.

Michigan's Capitol.
Graham Davis / flickr

It’s Thursday, the day we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

The legislature has wrapped up session for the year. And, after the holidays we’re entering an election year. Let's find out, besides the gubernatorial election, what other major elections should we be watching next year, and what might the legislature accomplish in 2014?

chrt.org

Last week, the Michigan legislature approved a voter-initiated law that bans abortion coverage in standard health insurance policies. The law does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

Joining us now to help us better understand the new law is Marianne Udow-Phillips, Director of the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation based at the University of Michigan. 

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

 


A major holiday performance happens this weekend in West Michigan. Students, teachers and parents at Mona Shores High School have spent thousands of hours preparing for the event, where they create a living breathing, and singing Christmas Tree — that’s five-stories tall, and holds more than 200 student singers.

It’s getting lots of national attention. In 2011, TLC featured the tree on its aptly-titled holiday show, “Extreme Christmas Trees.” This year, it’ll be highlighted on the Travel Channel.

The show is now in its 29th year.

Almost 300 hundred students from Mona Shores High School have been practicing for this show — held at Muskegon’s Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts — since Labor Day.

Bob Jagendorf / Flickr

 Today, Judge Steven Rhodes of the United States Bankruptcy Court ruled that while the City of Detroit did not negotiate with creditors in good faith, it did file for bankruptcy in good faith. His ruling makes Detroit eligible to file for the largest municipal bankruptcy in this country’s history.

David Shepardson, Washington reporter with the Detroit News has been following the bankruptcy. He joined us to talk about this historic ruling, and what to watch for in the coming months. 

Listen to the full interview above.

Storycorps website.

StoryCorps is celebrating its 10th anniversary of bringing us conversations that move us, make us laugh, make us think...and of course, draw some tears. 

Today, we talk with the founder of StoryCorps, David Isay about their new book "Ties that Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps”.

The Michigan House of Representatives.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Each Thursday we talk Michigan politics with Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

The Michigan legislature is on recess until the first week of December. This feels like a much more subdued legislative session compared to last year. Today we ask, what has the legislature checked off it's list, what bills are likely to come up in December?

Listen to the full interview above.

sushi ina / flickr

There is legislation pending at the national and state level that seeks to increase the minimum wage. In Michigan it's $7.40 per hour, just over the federal minimum wage of $7.25.  A person working full time and earning the minimum would pull down just over $15,300 per year before taxes. 

Now, there are three bills from Democrats in the state legislature seeking an increase of Michigan’s minimum wage to $9 or $10 per hour. Opponents of those bills say it would lead to layoffs, decreased hours, and a spike in prices. Proponents say now is the time to increase the minimum wage.

Today, we talked with Yannet Lathrop, policy analyst with the Michigan League for Public Policy and author of the study “Raising the Minimum Wage: Good for Working Families, Good for Michigan’s Economy.” 

Listen to the full interview above.

raquel4citycouncil.org / Facebook

Raquel Castaneda-Lopez is the newest member to the Detroit  City Council representing District 6 in Southwest Detroit,​ which includes the largest concentration of Hispanic voters in the city.  Lopez gained political experience running state Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s campaign in 2008. She has worked with non-profit groups for years with a focus on youth programs in disadvantaged communities.

Lopez says she want to keep the focus on the needs of her constituents - safety and access to city services for example. 

Each week we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

The election results are in and Mike Duggan will be Detroit’s next mayor. His tenure begins while the city remains under the control of an emergency manager. What does his win say about what Detroit voters want in their next mayor?

And then, the city of Royal Oak passed a human rights ordinance, it provides protections against discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Also, Lansing, Jackson, and Ferndale all passed ordinances to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Does this give us any indication of where Michigan is headed on some of these social issues? 

Listen to the full interview above.

It's Election Day, and federal election monitors are keeping an eye on voting in Detroit, Hamtramck and Flint. The Department of Justice wants to ensure those cities comply with the Voting Rights Act. 

Joining us to talk about the monitoring is Executive Assistant United States Attorney, Stephanie Dawkins Davis. 

"This is an effort to protect the integrity of the process. It isn’t that there has been any specific concern or that there has been any wrong doing in any of these jurisdictions. The U.S. government would like to protect the integrity of the process," Davis said.

Mercedes Mejia

This week, Zak Rosen with State of Opportunity reported on the school-to-prison pipeline. It's known to be pattern seen across the country of students being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

In Rosen's report we learned about Youth Voice, a student lead community organizing group that’s working to break the school-to-prison pipeline and revise Zero Tolerance policies. Today we talk with Chanel Kitchen, a member of Youth Voice.

To learn more about Youth Voice you can visit their Facebook page here

Listen to the full interview with Chanel Kitchen, just click on the link above.

The city of Detroit will elect a new mayor on Tuesday, November 5. Voters will also decide who will serve on the city council, voting this time by city district.  Joining us today are Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

Listen to the full interview above.

This week, Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes is hearing arguments on whether the city of Detroit is eligible for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. Both Governor Snyder and Detroit Emergency Manger Kevyn Orr have testified. They argue that bankruptcy is Detroit’s only path to solvency.

John Pottow weighed in on the matter on today's Stateside program. Pottow is professor of law at the University of Michigan who specializes in bankruptcy and consumer protection.

"I think the hardest issue about this is this Michigan constitutional provision about protecting the pensions," Pottow said. "This gets to what's animating the objectors and the unions is, why would the governor want to rush Detroit into bankruptcy? It's not what people generally clamor toward. And their concern is that because of this protection the workers have under the state constitution, that the governor might be trying to use the federal bankruptcy law as a way to get around the Michigan constitution."

Listen to the full interview above.

whitehouse.gov

After a partial government shutdown that lasted 16 days, an agreement was reached Wednesday night to reopen the government. While both Democratic senators from Michigan voted "yes" on the bill to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, Republicans in the House were split. In today's Weekly Political Roundup, we check in with our political analysts Susan Demas and Ken Sikkema.

No winners on this one

"Polls indicate that this is not a popular move. Everybody took a hit, especially Republicans. They certainly came out the worst in all of this," said Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics. "So, that might be some incentive to not go down this road again, but unfortunately this has become the way that we do business in this country, whenever we have a debt limit or we have to fund the government this becomes a time a great brinksmanship where people want to try and get more of their agenda passed then we have in the past." 

Republicans' "fundamental mistake"

"I think Republicans made a fundamental mistake here in trying to negotiate either an end or major changes to the Affordable Care Act, which they call Obamacare," said Ken Sikkema, former Senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants. "And, when you are in a negotiating position ... you don't ask the other side to give up on their most fundamentally held position.

"Republicans would have been better off if they had made their position something to do with entitlement reform, or debt reduction or maybe changes in the tax code because Democrats believe that all of those areas need change too. As long as they insist on tying this to de-funding Obamacare or ended Obamacare we are going to see the same result time after time, after time," said Sikkema.

Listen to the full interview above.

A partial shutdown of the federal government shutdown is now in day eight. There doesn’t appear to be a resolution in sight which leaves over 800,000 federal employees out of work. That includes people at the U.S. Attorney General’s office in Detroit. Today we talk with Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Thirty out of almost 200 people are furloughed at her office. 

"That's having an impact on the litigation mission of our office. Most of our criminal litigators are still here handling criminal cases, but it's our civil docket that's really taking a hit," said McQuade.

"Our people are working without pay, which is having a big impact, as you can image, on morale. The people that are furloughed are not being paid, but even the people who are here working are not being paid."

Listen to the full interview above.

It's that time again! The time of year when editors at The American Heritage Dictionary send out ballots filled with questions asking what is acceptable, or not, in English.

On this edition of That’s What They Say, Host, Rina Miller and University of Michigan Professor of English, Anne Curzan talk about some of the questions that came up on the usage ballot this year.

Question #1:

It is okay to use nauseous as causing nausea? Example: That was a nauseous rollercoaster.

Curzan says, “At this point nauseous means feeling nauseated not causing nausea. I think nauseous can sometimes mean offensive, but for the most part I think it means that we feel terrible.”

Question #2:

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s Thursday, the day we talk Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for MLIVE.com and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

Governor Snyder's "One Tough Nerd" commercials return signaling the start of a very long Election 2014 campaign season. And, we ask: Is the Tea Party losing steam? 

Listen to the full interview above. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

It’s Thursday. The day we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants and Susan Demas, columnist for MLIVE.com

This week, a bill that would require welfare recipients to do some kind of community service in order to get cash assistance or a welfare check passed in the Senate.  And another bill related to drug testing and welfare benefits cleared the state House Commerce Committee.

Then, the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference kicks off this weekend with nationally recognized guests including three potential presidential candidates set to speak there. They are Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. 

Listen to the full interview above.

On today's "All Things Considered," Host Jennifer White talks with Wayne County Sheriff, Benny Napoleon. He is one of Detroit's mayoral candidates, and he recently released what he calls his "One Square Mile Initiative" focused on reducing crime in Detroit by 50%. 

"Until we are affirmed as a save city, [crime reduction] has to be the continuous priority of anyone in leadership in this community. Recognizing we cannot do it with the number of police officers we have. Certainly we can do a better job employing people with the resource that we have, but if you are really trying to make this a safe city you can't do it with the number of people we have in this agency right now," Napoleon said.

Listen to the full interview above. 

Mike Duggan

The field for the next mayor of Detroit has been whittled down to two. Benny Napoleon, former Wayne County Sheriff and Mike Duggan, former CEO of Detroit Medical Center.

Duggan recently released his 10 point plan focused on rebuilding Detroit neighborhoods. 

One big issue facing Detroit is the amount of abandoned buildings, and how sparsely populated the city is now, which makes it difficult to provide services. Duggan joined us today to talk his ideas for addressing that problem. 

"If you’re in an area where you are down to a couple of houses per block, what we want to do is create incentives so that those houses that we cease in densely occupied blocks can be made available to people who would relocate from the block that only have one or two houses left and I think in a positive way we can convince people to move from the declining neighborhoods to the neighborhoods that are stable," he said.

Spc. Garett Hernandez/flickr

Over the past 12 years, nearly 50,000 American troops have been wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The visible injuries are often lost limbs from roadside improvised explosive devices. 

But, there are so many who are coping with the "non-visible" injuries: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, for example. The kinds of injuries that can worsen with time and tear apart a soldier's home life, or worse.

Today we talk with Rick Briggs, a retired Air Force Major who has come up with what he thinks will be a perfect refuge  for these vets: Camp Liberty, using the beautiful outdoors of mid-Michigan as a place of healing.

Briggs is also the manager of the veterans program for the Brain Injury Association of Michigan. 

Click on the link above to listen to the full interview.

It seems like if you, or your clothes, or your hair can be disheveled, it should be possible for them to be sheveled.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and Professor of English at the University of Michigan Anne Curzan discuss negative words without a positive counterpart.

Curzan explains, “The word gruntled, which was back-formed from the word disgruntled - people assumed if you could be disgruntled you could be gruntled -  goes back to 1938. The word wieldy has also been around for quite a long time. Consulate meaning something like comforted, existed in the 15th century through the 19th century it’s now obsolete. So, it’s not that some of the words have never existed, but they are certainly not common compared with their negative counterparts. And then a word like sheveled doesn’t seem to have ever existed.”

It’s odd when you stop to think about it that everyone who graduates from college is a bachelor of something.

On this week’s edition of “That’s What They Say,” host Rina Miller and Professor of English at the University of Michigan Anne Curzan discuss opaque abbreviations, and often forgotten acronyms.

“The B in BA stands for bachelor, and it’s the same word we use to refer to an unmarried man,” says Curzan.

“The word [bachelor] goes back to the 13th century in English. It used to refer to a knight, a young man, and could refer to a young man who had achieved the lowest rank of something. From there it’s come to mean someone who has achieved the lowest rank from university, the lowest degree.”

Of course back then those would have been all men, but now we have lots of women who are Bachelors of Arts, or Bachelors of Science.

Then there’s the abbreviations i.e. and e.g. that many people mix up. The latter, exempli gratia (e.g.) means “for example.” And, id est (i.e.) means “that is” as in "that is to say." Thanks to us you will never mix those two up again. 

Let’s turn now to acronyms once learned and quickly forgotten. LASER is the acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.  And, RADAR stands for Radio Detection and Ranging.

Finally, here’s an acronym you will want to talk about this week with friends, and that's SNAFU, which stands for Situation Normal All F’d Up.  

Thanks for joining us for another enlightening edition of “That’s What They Say.”

Ifmuth / Flickr

It's our weekly review of Michigan politics with Susan Demas, columnist for MLIVE.com and Ken Sikkema, former senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

We start with Medicaid, and while the expansion finally passed in the Senate the vote didn’t happen without a bit of drama and struggle.

"There was still an awful lot of controversy. There was some horse-trading involved with an issue Senator Tom Casperson, who represents the Upper Peninsula wanted, and that finally changed his vote. And, it was just a typical messy process which is what happens in the legislature," said Demas.

However, this isn’t the end of the story. The law passed without immediate effect. As it stands now, the law won’t go into effect until April. The Snyder administration says this will cost the state about $630 million in lost federal funds. Demas said there are still a lot of hurdles before Medicaid expansion goes into effect

Let's turn now to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley.  Tea Party activist, Wes Nakagiri says he plans to challenge the renomination of Calley at the Republican convention next summer. Nakagiri says Governor Snyder needs a more conservative lieutenant governor to help the administration stay the conservative course.  

"If this Tea Party challenge to Brian Calley is successful at the convention, it gives the Democrats a huge issue during the fall general election campaign. They will use the argument that the Lieutenant Governor is far too conservative or radical for the Michigan electorate," Sikkema said.

Click on the link above to hear the full interview.

A survey conducted by Michigan State University's Charles Ballard shows an improved approval rating for Governor Snyder.
MSU

The state Senate could vote on a bill to expand Medicaid in Michigan this week.

The legislation would extend health insurance to hundreds of thousands of low-income Michiganders through the federal Affordable Care Act.

On today's program we talk with Charles Ballard, an economist at Michigan State University about the pros and cons of Medicaid expansion in Michigan.

Prison bars
Ken Mayer / Flickr

Lawyers in Michigan are hoping a federal ruling will eventually change the way the state sentences juveniles in murder cases.

A federal court judge recently ruled that inmates who received mandatory life sentences for offenses committed when they were juveniles should have an opportunity to be re-sentenced. Michigan has more than 350 juvenile lifers, the second-highest highest number in the country.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that laws like Michigan's that automatically send some juveniles to prison for life without a chance for parole are "cruel and unusual punishment."

Cary McGehee is a civil rights attorney. She's provides pro bono legal counsel to two inmates currently serving mandatory life sentences. She says "...children who are involved in crimes really don't have the same recognition of the significance of their actions. They're much more likely to engage in impulsivity and reckless behavior.... When we go back to look at these individuals who were convicted when they were 14, 15, 16, 17 years old, these are factors that need to be considered to determine whether the sentence that was given to them was an appropriate sentence."

Listen to the full interview above.

Wikimedia Commons

Each week we take a look at Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, columnist for MLIVE.com.

Governor Snyder has been calling for increased funding for Michigan roads to the tune of $1.2 billion a year. This is one of the items he has not gotten a lot of traction on so far from lawmakers on either side of the political aisle.

According to Sikkema, the last time Michigan increased fees and a tax for transportation funding was back in 1997.

"The reason we keep going back to this sales tax issue is because Michigan is relatively unique. It has a sales tax on top of its state and federal gas tax and that sales tax doesn't go to roads it goes to schools and revenue sharing. There are only about three or four states in the country where all the taxes at the pump don't go to roads. Michigan is one of them," he said.

Are better roads, better for business?

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