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

Pages

Politics & Government
12:12 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

Wolf hunt one step closer in Michigan, bill on its way to Snyder

user metassus Flickr

Legislation that could allow a limited wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula cleared the state House Wednesday, and is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

The grey wolf was recently removed from the federal endangered species list.

State Representative Jeff Irwin is a Democrat from Ann Arbor. He was one of the “no” votes.

“This is an animal that just came off the endangered species list. The populations are not even healthy or even abundant, and I don’t think it’s the right time to talk about shooting wolves in northern Michigan,” Irwin said.

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Politics & Government
4:44 pm
Wed December 12, 2012

Snyder, Treasurer: Review should spur Detroit to move quickly to fix finances

Bernt Rostad flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says the Detroit mayor and city council are operating under some tight deadlines if they want to avoid a state takeover.

A formal state Treasury review of the city’s finances is underway.

Governor Snyder’s been critical of the slow pace and infighting that have delayed Detroit’s compliance with a consent agreement with the state.

Mayor Dave Bing and the city council took some actions this week, but the governor said things need to move more quickly.

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Politics & Government
6:14 pm
Mon December 10, 2012

Capitol set for Tuesday's right-to-work vote

Ifmuth Flickr

At the state Capitol, Democrats are preparing their last-ditch effort to slow or stop legislation that would make Michigan the 24th so-called “right-to-work” state.

Republicans in the state House are expected to send the legislation to Governor Rick Snyder Tuesday.

Thousands of demonstrators are expected to turn out at the Capitol.

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Politics & Government
6:31 am
Mon December 10, 2012

'Right-to-work' bills face critical vote

(File photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

There’s plenty of drama expected this week in Lansing as Republicans in the Legislature appear ready to send to Governor Rick Snyder bills that would make Michigan a so-called “right-to-work” state.

The next chapter in this drama will open this morning with a conference call between a judge and the litigants in a lawsuit that’s trying to stop or at least slow down the “right-to-work” momentum in Lansing.

Union activist Robert Davis filed the lawsuit late last week against the state House of Representatives. He wants the judge to rule the Legislature violated the state’s open meetings law last Thursday when it continued to meet and vote as the Capitol was closed for several hours to keep out demonstrators.

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It's Just Politics
12:03 pm
Sun December 9, 2012

The big question: after Governor Snyder says he'll sign Right to Work... what happens next?

What a week it was.

Shouting and chanting filled the halls and rotunda of the State Capitol building on Thursday as Right to Work bills made their way into the state House and Senate. And, more protests are likely this week as the Legislature will take what are likely the final votes to send this so-called “right to work”-  or “freedom to work” bills as they’re known to some supporters and “right to work for less” if you’re on the union side – to the governor’s desk.

And Snyder will almost certainly sign them. This week, within the space of 72 hours, right-to-work went from “not on my agenda” to “on THE agenda” to Governor Snyder embracing the issue… even after months – years, really – of saying he didn’t want to take up such a divisive issue.

Here at It’s Just Politics, we’re wondering if it’s about time that the phrase “not on my agenda” has to be retired. The Governor has used the “not on my agenda” phrase before – over the issue of repealing the motorcycle helmet law and domestic partner benefits – and, yet, when these issues actually reach his desk: he signs them.

So, the question this week is: what changed in the Governor’s mind? What made him give-in? Was it simply a matter of inevitability? Right-to-work had just kind of taken on a life of its own after voters knocked down Proposal Two and a lot of interest groups were arguing that that could be interpreted as a referendum on “right-to-work” by Michigan voters; some Republican lawmakers took it as a sign that now was the time to try and introduce the issue. Maybe the governor just had to make the best deal he could once it became clear he was getting a right-to-work bill no matter what.

It certainly makes his life less complicated vis a vis a potential Republican primary in 2014. But it does complicate his general election prospects when this will almost certainly be used against him.

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Politics & Government
5:16 pm
Sat December 8, 2012

Detroit pastors protest 'right to work' in Lansing

A small cluster of protesters oppose so-called “right-to-work” legislation outside the state Capitol on Saturday.
Rick Pluta/MPRN

Supporters and opponents of so-called “right-to-work” legislation are preparing for the coming week – and Tuesday’s expected votes by Republicans to send the bills to Governor Rick Snyder.

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Breaking
4:14 pm
Wed December 5, 2012

Demonstrators in Michigan's Capitol protesting 'right-to-work' talk

Protestors fill the rotunda in Michigan's Capitol.
Rick Pluta MPRN

Shouting and chanting demonstrators have filled the rotunda of the state Capitol to oppose the possibility of Michigan becoming a 'right-to-work' state.

Rumors swirled that the Legislature is about to take up legislation to make Michigan a right-to-work state.

Right-to-work laws limit the power of labor unions.

These state laws can ban contracts that compel employees to join a union, or that compel them to pay fees to that union. Without some type of compulsory payment or membership requirements, unions lose a lot of their power.

Those opposing these kinds of laws call them "right-to-work-for-less" laws.

Some say they’re concerned that Governor Rick Snyder appears to have edged closer to accepting the idea of right-to-work.

He still has not endorsed a measure, and no bill has been formally introduced in the state Legislature.

As we've reported earlier, the bill could take many forms:

It could be a sweeping measure that covers every workplace. It could only cover public employee unions. It could do that, but exempt police officers and firefighters.

No one has yet formally introduced a bill. Republican state Representative Mike Shirkey said he’d like to, but is mum on details.

“We’re going to let the legislative process run its course, and I’m optimistic. You’re not going to get anything more than that from me, sir,” said Shirkey.

Democrats in Lansing are outnumbered by Republicans. But they promise to put up a fight if the Legislature takes up a right-to-work bill.

State Representative Tim Greimel is the new leader of the Michigan House Democrats. He says Democrats will use every legal means possible to stop a right-to-work bill.

“We’re not going to cooperate on issues that are important to the governor, that he needs our votes on, as long as he’s pushing this extremist right-wing agenda that would cut wages and benefits for Michigan’s middle class and working families,” said Greimel.

Ari Adler is the press secretary for state House Republicans.

“It would be unfortunate for the House Democrats and for the people of Michigan if they decided to become a one-issue caucus if they refused to work with Republicans on anything else because of a disagreement one particular issue,” said Adler.

Tea party groups were also at the Capitol to push the Legislature’s Republican majorities to adopt a right-to-work bill before the end of the lame duck session.

*This post has been updated

Politics & Government
6:07 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

'Right-to-work' builds momentum in Michigan

A button from a 1970s socialist party - a whole different 'right to work' campaign.
dannybirchall flickr

The question hanging over the state Capitol is whether the Legislature will take up a so-called “right-to-work” bill during its lame duck session.

Activists on both sides of the issue showed up in force to lobby lawmakers.      

A growing chorus of conservatives says this is the moment for Michigan to join 23 other states that have enacted laws to end the closed shop and allow workers to opt out of paying union dues.

Scott Hagerstrom is with the group Americans for Prosperity, one of the champions of right-to-work.

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Politics & Government
12:06 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

Lobbyists descend on Lansing in anticipation of right-to-work bill

The group Americans for Prosperity pitched a tent on the lawn of the state Capitol as part of the lobbying effort in support of right-to-work.
Rick Pluta MPRN

Activists on both sides of the issue are lobbying Lansing lawmakers over a so-called “right-to-work” bill that could be introduced in the lame duck session.

Tea party activists and union supporters crowded into the halls of the Capitol Tuesday as Republican leaders held talks on whether to take up legislation that would end the closed shop and allow workers to opt out of paying union dues.

Governor Rick Snyder says the issue is not on his agenda – but won’t say what he would do if a bill reaches his desk.

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Politics & Government
1:18 pm
Mon December 3, 2012

Emergency manager law rewrite could spring this week

Benton Harbor is one of the Michigan cities currently under state management.
Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and legislative leaders are talking about a possible replacement to the emergency manager law that was rejected by voters nearly a month ago.

The governor says he’d like to see it done before the Legislature wraps up its “lame duck” session.

Governor Snyder says a new law would have to respect voters’ decision that the old emergency manager law was too sweeping. 

Under one version being discussed, local governments in financial trouble could ask the state for an emergency manager – otherwise, they would face the prospect of federal bankruptcy.

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It's Just Politics
1:50 pm
Sat December 1, 2012

Governor Snyder: Right to work, "takes the oxygen out of the room"

Governor Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, for political junkies, the best time is still Election Day. But, the lame duck legislative season sure ain’t that bad either for Capitol-watchers. And, this year’s lame duck sure is serving up plenty of plots and intrigue; almost all of it revolving around right to work, an issue that’s not even officially on the agenda. In fact, there’s no bill yet. Nothing in writing. But just the prospect, the very possibility of right to work, is sapping up Lansing’s energy; every lobbyist, every legislator is paying attention to it.

And that’s become a problem for Governor Rick Snyder. “It’s a divisive issue. And you just look at all the activity and there are a lot of things we are talking about otherwise and it just kind of takes the oxygen out of the room, so hopefully this is something that can get some closure relatively quickly,” Snyder said this week at the state Capitol.

The issue is hanging over and holding up school reforms, a tax rollback for manufacturers and other businesses, overhauling Blue Cross-Blue Shield… the list goes on and on. There’s a small subset of issues where Democrats in their minority wilderness in Lansing can try to pull a power play – and they’re threatening to without some assurances that right to work is off the table in the lame duck session. The tension is palpable. A platoon of State Police troopers was called to the Capitol as a preemptive measure on Thursday against a Wisconsin-style state Capitol takeover in case right to work does come up.

It would seem that Governor Rick Snyder could settle the uncertainty. But, instead, he says “On any of this, I’ve been very clear for the past 2 or 3 years – right to work is not on my agenda and that’s what I’m going to say on this topic and that’s it.” So, it raises the question: why won’t Governor Snyder put this to rest? Why doesn’t he make it go away by saying, “I will veto this if it reaches my desk”? Well, there’s a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, it wouldn’t make his troubles go away. It would only trade one set of problems for another. That’s because debating and certainly signing right to work would launch a war with labor. Recalls are already being threatened. Governor Snyder has aspirations to be a two-term governor. Vetoing or promising to veto right to work pretty much guarantees him a credible Republican primary challenge.

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Politics & Government
5:35 pm
Thu November 29, 2012

Right-to-work rumors dominate lame duck session

Right-to-work rumors have raised the stakes of this lame-duck session.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The Legislature is wrapping up the first week of its “lame duck” session with lots of things to do – but everyone is wondering if Republicans intend to put “right-to-work” legislation on their end-of-the-year to-do list.

The halls and lobbies of the Capitol were packed with union members urging the Legislature to not take up a right-to-work bill in the “lame duck” session.

Additional State Police troopers were called in as a precaution.

Governor Rick Snyder said he would rather see lawmakers focus on things other than right-to-work.

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Politics & Government
5:15 pm
Wed November 28, 2012

Governor Snyder gives special address on energy and environment

Office of Governor Rick Snyder Wikimedia Commons

Governor Rick Snyder covered topics ranging from urban farming to "fracking" in his special address on energy and the environment today.

He said the state should do more to deal with blight and encourage urban farming in cities with lots of vacant land.

The governor said too much abandoned property in Flint, Detroit, and other cities is going to waste when it could be put to a new use.

“And all I’ve seen in my two years as governor is a lot of discussion about right-to-farm, and urban farming,” said Snyder.

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Politics & Government
5:27 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

Snyder administration proposes industrial tax phaseout

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley want the Legislature to enact a major tax overhaul before its current session ends in two or three weeks.

It would phase out Michigan’s tax on business and industrial equipment.   

It is widely agreed the tax discourages investment and is a particularly large burden on manufacturers.

The phase-out would take 10 years, with smaller businesses benefiting first.

Lieutenant Governor Calley said Michigan’s economy is still rooted in manufacturing.

“Eliminating this disincentive to invest will help improve our climate for job growth. Our whole state will benefit,” said Calley.

The holdup has come from local governments and school districts, which rely on that revenue.

David Lossing is the mayor of the city of Linden, near Flint, and president of the Michigan Municipal League. Lossing said there are still too many questions about this plan, and it could force many communities to cut services.

“We want to make 21st Century communities. We want to make these places where people want to live, want to shop, want to open a business, and so forth. If you throw us over the cliff, we’re not going to attract the businesses that we think we need to have to make us prosperous," said Lossing.

The plan would guarantee money for police, fire and other emergency services, but only if voters approve the plan in a statewide election. Other services could face cuts.

The state House Tax Policy Committee will hold a hearing on the proposal Wenesday.

Politics & Government
10:43 am
Mon November 26, 2012

Governor Snyder in Canada today

Michigan Governor Snyder in Canada visiting with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Gov. Snyder Twitter

Governor Rick Snyder is in Canada today to talk trade and regional cooperation.

He's in Toronto to attend a conference on public-private partnerships. The former business executive and investor relies heavily on agreements with the private sector to meet his goals.

Snyder is expected to announce an agreement with other Great Lakes states on a Canadian trade office. Canada is Michigan’s biggest international trading partner.

The governor’s economic plans envision a thriving Chicago-to-Montreal trade zone with Michigan as a center point.
    
The governor will also meet with his Ontario counterpart, Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The subject of a new Detroit-Windsor bridge will be part of their discussion. Michigan voters just rejected a ballot question that could have hindered the project.

It's Just Politics
4:55 pm
Fri November 23, 2012

The “It’s Just Politics” Lexicon of Political Euphemism, Evasion, and Parenthetical Honesty

Welcome to the post-Thanksgiving tryptophan edition of “It’s Just Politics,” and we are humbled by your support. Yes, “humbled,” we say. The word “humble,” it’s become a standard part of the election night victory speech. And it does appear to be a sincere acknowledgement that a candidate didn’t get elected on their own; there was campaign staff, volunteers, donors and, of course, voters.

But, it’s election night. The candidate has vanquished their opponent, people are screaming and cheering for the winner, and what that candidate decides to announce at that moment, what their feeling is “humbled?”

With that in mind, we’ve decided it’s back-to-school time with the “It’s Just Politics” Lexicon of Political Euphemism, Evasion, and Parenthetical Honesty. Our translator, Rick Pluta, has been covering Michigan politics for twenty-five years and has come to recognize the nuances of the political dialect. Like, when Governor Rick Snyder says “not on my agenda,” that actually means “ain’t sayin’ no.” Now, we’ve all done this, right? When you say this, you really mean that. Your teenager says, “I’ll be home by 10.” That really means tomorrow by sunrise.

To launch our lexicon, you will find a commonly used political phrase in Italics followed by its common meaning – outside of the environs populated by political types – in Bold. Feel free to play along and see how many translations you can come up with!

This is above politics = This is all about politics

I’m willing to listen = I’ve made up my mind

We need to set aside politics = They need to set aside their politics

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Developing
6:24 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Feds accuse Michigan Supreme Court justice of fraud

michigan.gov

Wednesday, November 21st, 12:38 p.m.

We began a new post on this story here. Here's an update from the Associated Press:

The lawyer for a Michigan Supreme Court justice accused of fraud says she'll file a claim to keep a Florida home out of the hands of the government.

Steve Fishman offered brief comments Wednesday, two days after prosecutors sued to take control of a house owned by Justice Diane Hathaway and husband Michael Kingsley.

The government says they temporarily transferred the home to a relative while trying to negotiate a short sale on a Michigan property. After the sale went through, and mortgage debt was erased, the Florida home went back to Hathaway and Kingsley.

The government says ING  Bank was cheated.

Fishman declined to respond to the fraud allegation but says Hathaway and Kingsley will fight to keep the property in Windermere, Fla.

No criminal charges have been filed.

Tuesday, November 20th 6:16 p.m.

The U.S. Attorney has filed a civil complaint against Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway and her husband, accusing them of fraud in a series of real estate transactions that allowed them to broker a short sale. The complaint seeks the forfeiture of the couple's of the couple’s $750,000 Florida home.

3:17 p.m.

MPRN's Rick Pluta spoke with Michigan Radio's Cynthia Canty about his report that Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway has cleaned out of her office. Hathaway has denied the report.

"Clearly the easiest way to settle the question once and for all would be to look in the office.... I was told I would have to get permission from Justice Hathaway.... I called her office and was told simply 'your questions have been answered,'" said Pluta.

You can listen to Pluta's conversation with Canty below.

2:00 p.m.

This message was sent by Marcia M. McBrien, Public Information Officer at the Michigan Supreme Court: 

Please be advised that Justice Hathaway has sent the other justices and Court staff an e-mail stating that the rumors that she is going to resign are NOT true.

12:40 p.m.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway and her attorney say it's not true that she is about to resign, or that she has cleared out her Lansing office.

"She is not resigning. Period," says criminal attorney Steve Fishman, who represents Hathaway as she is investigated over real estate transactions. "Rumors of her resignation are greatly exaggerated."

Hathaway also sent an e-mail to Michigan Supreme Court employees saying she is not resigning.

Fishman and a woman identifying herself as Hathaway's senior law clerk says a junior law clerk moved out of Hathaway's office at the Michigan Hall of Justice last week.

11:32 a.m.

A source inside the state Hall of Justice confirms that Justice Diane Hathaway has cleaned out her Lansing office and the locker where she keeps her robe at the Michigan Supreme Court.

Hathaway is reportedly under investigation by the FBI over real estates transactions. She has not communicated officially with the state Supreme Court whether she intends to resign.

*Clarification - We updated our headline to reflect the new information we've learned from the court.

Politics & Government
11:04 am
Mon November 19, 2012

Blue Cross overhaul hearings in Lansing today

Blue Cross Blue Shield building in Detroit.
Wikipedia

Hearings on overhauling Michigan’s biggest health insurance provider continue today in Lansing.

Critics and competitors say other insurers have been forced to subsidize Blue Cross because the company negotiated contracts with many hospitals requiring them to accept payments lower than what they offer any other insurance company.

The practice led to anti-trust lawsuits and an order by the state insurance commissioner banning what’s called “most favored nation” clauses without his prior approval.

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It's Just Politics
2:01 pm
Fri November 16, 2012

Post-election the Michigan Tea Party continues to try to flex its muscle

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Before we get down to pure-politics this week, we want to first take a moment to remember former Michigan First Lady Helen Milliken, who just passed away. She was married to Michigan’s longest-serving governor, Bill Milliken, thus, making Ms. Milliken the state’s longest serving first lady. She was not a woman content to simply stand in the shadow of her husband’s accomplishments. She was part of that generation of first ladies, embodied also by Betty Ford, who made it clear that even though they were married to their husbands, they had their own opinions, their own causes, and their own accomplishments.

First Lady Milliken was an advocate for the arts, for environmental causes, feminism and abortion rights. She was an ardent enough activist in her own right that when Michigan environmentalists wanted to recognize environmental activism they named it the Helen and William Milliken Distinguished Service Award. She exerted some influence in making those Bill Milliken’s priorities, as well, even though at times it put both of them at odds with the more-conservative elements of the Republican Party.

And, interestingly enough, this brings us to the current Republican administration. There are some tensions between Snyder-Republicans and the right wing of the Republican Party, especially the Tea Party. The Tea Party continues to send the message that it is not planning on going away, that it’s going to continue to push Republicans in the most-conservative direction possible. And we’re really seeing this play out with two particular issues right now in Michigan: health insurance exchanges and right to work.

The politics of the Exchanges

The health insurance exchanges are the online marketplaces where people and small businesses will shop for health insurance under Obamacare. Like Orbitz or Travelocity, but for health insurance. Basically, Michigan has three options: a state-run exchange, a federally run exchange, or some type of hybrid. Governor Snyder and a lot of business groups wanted a state exchange. But, all year-long, state House Republicans kept saying, “No, not yet.”

First House Republicans wanted to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. When that didn’t go the way they wanted, they said the state should wait for the November election and see who’s elected president, with the idea that if Governor Romney was elected, then Obamacare would be repealed and the health insurance exchanges would be a moot point. But, as we know, that didn’t go the way they wanted either. And, now, they’re still dragging their feet, saying they still have more questions.

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Arts & Culture
10:31 am
Fri November 16, 2012

Lincoln movie calls to mind his connections to Michigan

Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad looking at an album of photographs.
Library of Congress

"Thank God for Michigan."

It’s supposedly what Abraham Lincoln uttered in May of 1861 as 75,000 Michigan volunteers marched into Washington – the first to answer his call for help from what were then the western states in preserving the union.

But there’s no proof Lincoln said that, according to Bob Garrett.

He’s an archivist who researched Lincoln for the Michigan Historical Center in Lansing.

“Who knows? A lot of things like this get passed around and, you know … I don’t know. I would call that apocryphal. Maybe he said it. He might have. He very well might have, but I have not seen any evidence that he said that,” Garret said.

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