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Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosts the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

Ballots
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Plans to move ahead with a ballot recount in Michigan are on hold. The state Republican Party and President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign have filed an objection to the recount request by Green Party nominee Jill Stein. A state elections board meets tomorrow morning to consider the objection.

Cheyna Roth / MPRN

The estimated cost of recounting all the votes in Michigan’s presidential election continues to rise. State officials plan to charge Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein almost $1 million to conduct the recount. But Secretary of State Ruth Johnson guessed as much as $2 million.  Republican Party attorney Eric Doster thinks it will be closer to the $10 million cost of running a statewide election.

user Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Republican Donald Trump is officially the winner of the presidential race in Michigan. A state elections board certified the results today, but now a recount looms.

This afternoon, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers will, in all likelihood, certify the results of the November 8th election - bringing Campaign 2016 to an official close and opening the door to Recount 2016.

Unprecedented

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are about to become the center of the U.S. political universe as the Green Party and its presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, try to upset the order of things and make elections officials in those three states go back and check their work.

After Tuesday’s historic election, Republicans will continue their firm control of Lansing.

Going into last week, predictions, even among Republicans, were that the GOP would lose at least some seats in the state House of Representatives. There were times, in fact, during the campaign, that some even wondered whether Democrats might take control of the House.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and state environmental officials have declared western Lake Erie is an “impaired” waterway that needs to be cleaned up.       

The problem is algae blooms that threaten plants and wildlife. The blooms are caused largely by phosphorous runoff from agricultural fertilizers. Two years ago, the algae blooms forced Toledo to declare a drinking water emergency.

Mike Alexander is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says Michigan and other states and Canadian provinces that border western Lake Erie are already working on the problem.

Consumers Energy / Flickr/user

The state Senate has adopted an overhaul of Michigan’s energy policy. It’s designed to ensure reliability as the state’s big utilities replace aging coal-fired plants that have to shut down.

The plan is supported by utilities, but opposed by smaller suppliers that compete with utilities for customers like large factories and school districts. 

State Senator Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek) is the plan’s primary architect. He says it requires the smaller suppliers to answer some questions if they want to compete:

Flickr user Gage Skidmore / Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

President-elect Donald Trump won Michigan Tuesday by the narrowest margin in the state’s history.

Pollsters say rural and blue collar voters put Trump over the top by the narrowest of majorities – just over a quarter of a percentage point -- .27 percent. You’d have to go back to the 1940 election – Wendell Wilkie versus President Franklin Roosevelt – to find a margin nearly as close.

For the first time since 1988, Michigan appears to have helped elect a Republican president. The state’s 16 electoral votes will go to Republican nominee Donald Trump if the narrow victory holds.

Scott Hagerstrom is Trump’s Michigan campaign chairman. He says the results show Trump’s unconventional campaign strategy worked.

“He went into Detroit. He went into Flint – against what everyone said, but he did because he is, that’s what he’s going to do for our country,” he said. “He’s going to be a fighter for the American people.”

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008.
Marc Nozell / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

President Obama was in Michigan today as part of a tour of battleground states. The president is trying to drum up support for Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic ticket on the day before Election Day.

Obama spoke to a crowd of about 9,000 people at the University of Michigan. He told first-time voters in the audience that this year has been a strange one in politics. The president said he’s been frustrated by a lot of the news coverage of the campaign.

Michigan is getting the battleground treatment in the final days of Election 2016 with visits from both Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But there is more at stake than the White House.

Bill Clinton in Flint.
Cheyna Roth / MPRN

Michigan is getting battleground state attention from the presidential candidates and their top emissaries. Republican nominee Donald Trump is in Macomb County today. Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton stopped by a couple of churches in Flint before addressing a packed union hall in Lansing.

“We are stronger together,” Clinton told the crowd. “Michigan proves the virtues of solidarity. The UAW proves the virtues of solidarity.”

Clinton said he thinks the race would not be so close if there were more attention on issues.  

Troy Holden / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state agency responsible for Michigan’s medical marijuana program says changes are in store. That’s after an audit found it’s not tracking doctors who approve medical marijuana cards.         

The report by the state Auditor General found one doctor was responsible for more than 11,800 medical marijuana cards -- one-fifth of all the cards approved. Another 22 doctors approved more than half of all medical marijuana cards.

The Michigan Republican Party has announced that it will not have one, large party on Election night in Michigan.

This is unusual as both parties traditionally hold election night events for folks running for office and for party activists and donors. The celebrations are usually held at big convention halls or hotels so folks can watch election results come in - think balloons, confetti, and victory speeches.

Gorchow told us that we need to be more skeptical of polls.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan is appealing a court order that blocks the state’s ban on Election Day “selfies” with ballots in polling places. A federal judge ruled earlier this week the “ballot selfies” ban violates First Amendment free speech rights.

The state says it’s late in the game to be changing the rules. The election is now less than two weeks away.

Campaign representatives will look at ballots, but they're not allowed to touch them.
flickr user Michael Dorausch / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal judge says Michigan cannot enforce a ban on Election Day “ballot selfies.”

Voters who used their smart phones to take pictures of their ballots in past elections risked losing their vote, and criminal prosecution. But U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff in Grand Rapids ruled the “ballot selfies” ban appears to violate the First Amendment, and threatens to ensnare people who are just trying two celebrate their vote, and share it on social media.

“This whole election, it’s being rigged.” That’s the message coming from Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. And, there are certainly some Trump supporters who believe it.

But, is there any truth to that claim? Can an election be rigged the way Trump seems to be suggesting?

user cedarbenddrive/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder faces a decision soon on whether to sign or veto a bill he doesn’t like. It deals with how the state raises money for the Medicaid program. A plan adopted by the Legislature scraps a tax on health insurance claims. The bill would replace it with a complicated new funding system.

      

Snyder administration officials say the federal government would probably reject it, and deny the state many millions of Medicaid dollars. But legislative leaders want to push the issue.

      

Bytemarks / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan’s unemployment rate has edged up slightly as more people join the workforce to compete for jobs. The monthly jobless rate rose by one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.6%. Total employment in Michigan grew by 11,000 people last month. But a lot of people also joined or re-joined the workforce in hopes of finding a job.

Ari Adler is the spokesman for Governor Rick Snyder said that’s good news.

Researchers at Virginia Tech received samples of Flint water (both clear and discolored) from residents. Dr. Edwards and his team there were among the first to call attention to lead contamination in Flint's water.
Flint Water Study / Facebook

The Legislature is going to work on toughening standards for lead in drinking water, although finishing the job may have to wait until next year.

State Senator Jim Ananich (D-Flint) has sponsored a bill to reduce the allowable levels of lead in drinking water. His bill would take the standard from the current 15 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 parts, and then to five pbb. He says the eventual goal is zero exposure to lead.

He says Michigan should adopt the toughest lead rules in the country following the Flint water crisis.                                     

Flint river
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A state lawmaker from Flint says it’s time to toughen the rules on lead in drinking water. State Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, has sponsored a bill to reduce the allowable levels of lead in drinking water.

He wants stricter rules to gradually reduce allowable lead levels with a goal of zero exposure to lead.

      

“We saw what happened” in Flint, Ananich said. “It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy what happened here in Flint, in my hometown, so we obviously should be leading, I think, in making sure it never happens again.”

There are three weeks to go until Election Day and Republicans are in despair, while Democrats are paranoid because no one is quite sure what the Donald Trump Effect will be on the ballot come November 8th.

It appears the Trump campaign is in a free fall, the statistical analysis website 538 now rates Trump’s chances of winning Michigan at 7.7 percent.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The campaign to outlaw fracking in Michigan is asking the state Court of Appeals to strike down a 180-day time limit on collecting petition signatures to put a question on the ballot.

A law signed by Governor Rick Snyder in June says signatures that are older than 180 days can’t be counted. It’s very similar to a rule that was used before that by state elections officials.

That rule has twice now thwarted the anti-fracking campaign’s efforts to get a question before voters.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A complaint filed in Ingham County calls for a grand jury investigation into Governor Rick Snyder’s spending on a legal defense team. It accuses him of misconduct and abusing taxpayer dollars.

The legal action takes aim at Governor Snyder’s hiring of a private law firm to look out for his interests as state, federal, and county prosecutors conduct criminal investigations into the Flint water crisis.

The complaint says the governor violated the Michigan Constitution and state procurement laws by unilaterally approving a contract that he has a personal stake in.

woman holding sign that says women for trump
Rick Pluta / Michigan Radio

A couple dozen Donald Trump supporters waved signs outside a rally in Detroit Monday for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Rosanne Ponkowski was one of those pro-Trump demonstrators. She carried a sign that said “Women for Trump.”

Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will make a post-debate stop Monday in Detroit.

This will be Clinton’s first Michigan visit since August 11th. The trip coincides with the October 11th deadline to register to vote in the November election.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made five trips to Michigan since the Republican national convention.

The Clinton campaign hopes to avoid an Election Day surprise like the presidential primary loss to Senator Bernie Sanders last March. Sanders campaigned for Clinton in Michigan last week.

DonaldJTrump.com

Some Republicans are calling for Donald Trump to step aside as the Republican presidential nominee, but that would not remove his name from the ballot in Michigan.

It’s simply too late to remove Trump’s name from the ballot, says Michigan Elections Bureau spokesman Fred Woodhams.

"There’s nothing in law to allow the Secretary of State, or anyone else, except a judge, to change the ballot," says Woodhams.

Woodhams says absentee ballots have already been finalized and mailed, which means voting has effectively begun in Michigan.

firefighter
U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some Democratic state lawmakers are calling for the Legislature to add breast cancer to the list of conditions covered by a state health care fund for first responders. The fund was created two years ago.

State Senator Curtis Hertel said policymakers were slow to recognize the risk to female firefighters, in part, because there are so many more men in the profession. But he said new studies show the dangers to female first responders.

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

Private and parochial schools in Michigan will be allowed apply for grants that reimburse them for some state-ordered health and safety programs.

That’s despite a provision in the state constitution that forbids direct or indirect taxpayer support for private or religious schools.

Governor Rick Snyder is not on the ballot this year but he is using Election 2016 to burnish his image and protect his legacy.  

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