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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

A lot of attention is being paid today to the usually almost-anonymous job of being a presidential elector.

This afternoon at the state Capitol, in the state Senate chamber, Michigan’s 16 votes for president will be cast by presidential electors - one vote for every congressional district in the state, plus two at-large electors.

It’s a little-noted honor to be an elector. Typically, it’s held for party stalwarts looking to be a footnote to history.

For many Flint residents, trips to a nearby water distribution center is a regular part of life.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals says the state must start delivering bottled water to households in Flint that don’t have working filters.

A coal-fired power plant
Holland BPW

A major rewrite of Michigan’s energy policy is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

The main focus of the bills is helping utilities replace coal-fired plants that are shutting down. That’s expensive, and utilities demanded guarantees they won’t lose too many customers to alternative energy suppliers.

The compromise still preserves much of the state’s program that allows a percentage of customers to choose their energy company.

State Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, chairs the House Energy Committee. He says finding common ground wasn’t easy.

user eyspahn / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The attorney for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein says a state inquiry into ballot irregularities shouldn’t focus strictly on problems in Detroit.

The recount last week turned up large discrepancies in 20 Detroit precincts between the number of votes counted and the number of ballots that were stored. That was before the recount was stopped by a court order.

There’s one more week of “lame duck” in Lansing as the Michigan Legislature wraps up its 2015-2016 session.

Lame duck - the period between the November election and the end of the year - is when the going gets weird in Lansing.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There are 363 Michigan inmates in state prisons closely watching how the state of Michigan and local prosecutors implement two U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The decisions struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles. The lifers were convicted of murder and sentenced in the late 1980s and 1990s under a get-tough approach to juvenile crime.

The laws were a response to a wave of violent crime that swept the state and the country.

Derek Key / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A bill on its way to Governor Rick Snyder would compensate people who were wrongly convicted of a crime and imprisoned. The legislation would allow former felons to collect $50,000 for every year spent in prison. They would also have to agree not to sue the state.

State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, says it’s only fair that the state compensate people who did not belong in prison.

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

More courtroom drama tomorrow is expected as Michigan Republicans and the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump continue try to shut down the statewide ballot recount.

The recount was requested by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. But Republicans say, with one percent of the vote, Stein has no chance of winning in the end, and so has no right to demand a recount.

The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed.

But state Elections Director Chris Thomas says he won’t stop the recount without the OK from the federal judge who said it should go forward.

The largest vote recount in Michigan’s history has been ordered to begin this afternoon at noon.

Very early this morning, federal judge Mark Goldsmith ordered the state to, “cease any delay in the commencement of the recount of the presidential vote cast in Michigan as of noon…”

Voters in Midland cast ballots for Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians on Tuesday.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith issued his ruling regarding the presidential recount a little after midnight, following a rare Sunday hearing in his Detroit courtroom.

Goldsmith heard arguments over the logistics of the recount and how much the state would have to spend, but in his written opinion, he said what’s most important is the integrity of the presidential election in Michigan.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein's lawyers argued that waiting until Wednesday to start a recount would cut too close to the Dec. 13 deadline to have it finished.

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:

President-elect Donald Trump.
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.

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.

A person marking a ballot.
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.

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.                                     

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