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

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Politics & Government
6:16 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

Snyder: Proposal 2 is not a referendum on right-to-work laws

Office of Governor Rick Snyder Wikimedia Commons

Governor Rick Snyder says Proposal 2 should not be viewed as a referendum on whether Michigan becomes a right-to-work state that outlaws compulsory union membership.

Proposal 2 would guarantee collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.   

Governor Snyder opposes Proposal 2. He says it not only guarantees collective bargaining, but would be a sweeping re-write of labor laws as they deal with public employees.

“Proposal 2 could be devastating, in my view, of what it could do to the economic recovery in Michigan, but people need to make their own assessment of how to vote,” he said.

But he said rejecting the proposal would not convince him Michigan is ready to become a right-to-work state. 

“I don’t view it as just a green light to go ahead,” he said.

The governor has asked the Legislature to stay away from the right-to-work debate because it’s too divisive. But he has not said what he would do if the Legislature sent a bill to his desk.

One of the leading proponents of right to work in the Legislature says he won’t push the issue until he has the governor’s support.

It's Just Politics
2:38 pm
Sun October 21, 2012

Voting for state Supreme Court Justices is a complicated affair

Immortalpoet Flickr

This week on It’s Just Politics we take a look at Michigan’s Supreme Court races.

State Supreme Court candidates appear on the non-partisan part of the ballot with no hint of party-affiliation, except if a candidate is an incumbent. But these justices are initially nominated by political parties at conventions. It’s slightly bizarre. The idea was the political parties would do the initial vetting, but then the candidates – and the Supreme Court – would be independent of partisan influence. As a matter of fact, an incumbent Supreme Court justice can nominate himself or herself without having to win at a party convention. Justice Charles Levin used to do that that until he retired in 1996. However, this hasn’t happened since, largely because of money.

The Supreme Court nominees don’t get the benefit of straight-ticket voting. But they do get all the other benefits of major party nominations. The Republican and Democratic parties and their kindred interest groups spend millions of dollars to get their candidates elected to the Supreme Court. Those kindred interests are business groups, the insurance industry for Republicans; the trial bar for Democrats. The campaigns go largely unnoticed, but they’re fierce, even personal sometimes.

There was the “sleeping judge” ad in 2008 that depicted then-Chief Justice Cliff Taylor as someone who slept through arguments (which wasn’t true). The ad helped make Taylor the first sitting justice to lose his job in an election in something like a quarter century. One year, Republicans ran an ad against a Democrat that showed this shady character’s shifty eyes and said as a judge, he favored lenient treatment for all kinds of horrid criminals. And, just this year, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said Republican Justice Stephen Markman would be sympathetic as a judge to Jerry Sandusky, the assistant Penn State coach charged with child molestation.

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Politics & Government
4:40 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

Stabenow supports green energy subsidies despite A123 bankruptcy

A123 Systems Inc.'s battery manufacturing facility in Livonia, Michigan. The company filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday.
A123 Systems Inc. Facebook

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow is defending federal subsidies to promote green energy and advanced manufacturing businesses.

The loans, grants, and tax credits were part of the federal economic recovery package.

A company that got a quarter-billion dollar grant declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week. A123 employed hundreds of people in Michigan at facilities in Livonia, Romulus, and Ann Arbor.

Stabenow said the subsidies remain an important part of national energy and economic policy—even if some of the investments don’t pan out.

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Law
5:35 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

Lawsuit claims flaws in Michigan's parole system

The Department of Corrections is being sued over how it supervises parolees and handle parole violators.
Eddie Mingus flickr

A lawsuit filed this week alleges the state Department of Corrections has been too lax in supervising roughly 18,000 paroled felons in Michigan.

The lawsuit was first reported by The Detroit Free Press.

It was filed by the family of an elderly Royal Oak woman who was murdered in her home. Two fugitives on parole have been charged with the killing.

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It's Just Politics
7:00 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

Election 2012: Is Michigan a true battleground in the race for the White House?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

With just 25 days to go before the Presidential election, and a week since the first Presidential debate, a few pollsters and at least one analyst are putting Michigan into swing-state territory even though, as we’ve noted before, President Obama’s generally been given the edge in most polls in the state.

This week, Michigan enjoyed a round of visits from top flight presidential candidate surrogates starting with Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan on Monday. And, just today, we saw Anne Romney stumping for her husband, Mitt Romney, in the couple’s native-state.

So, the question remains, after five presidential election cycles with Michigan falling into the Democratic column, is Michigan an actual battleground state in 2012?

The right-leaning website Real Clear Politics says so. A Detroit News/WDIV poll shows the Obama lead shrinking since last week’s debate and a Gravis Marketing poll also puts the race for Michigan’s 16 electoral votes much closer than it has been. President Obama still leads, according to these surveys, but the momentum is moving toward Mitt Romney.

And, as we’ve said before, Michigan seems like it should be attainable for the GOP. It’s not like a Republican can’t get elected here statewide. Just ask Governor Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette or Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

But, aside from the Real Clear Politics call, no one else is really putting Michigan into that list of eight or nine states that are the focus of the fiercest competition (states like Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa). And, we’re certainly not seeing a big re-allocation of resources by the campaigns that would suggest things are changing in the mitten state.

One question that gets bandied about is: if Michigan isn’t a battleground state, then why are high profile campaign surrogates making regular stops here? Well, there are lots of reasons why candidates and their surrogates visit a state – fundraising, a quick visit to make sure a safe state stays that way. But President Obama hasn’t been here since April; Romney since August. In fact, this was the first time in decades that neither presidential candidate themselves visited Michigan during the entire month of September. In 2004, George W. Bush made John Kerry work for Michigan, which maybe meant he wasn’t able to spend as much time and money in places like Ohio and Florida – true swing states with lots of electoral votes.

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Law
3:40 pm
Thu October 11, 2012

Michigan Supreme Court hears medical marijuana cases

The Michigan Supreme Court has taken up two cases that address the distribution of medical marijuana.
user elioja Flickr

The future of medical marijuana dispensaries and growing cooperatives are on the line with two cases before the Michigan Supreme Court. The court heard arguments on those cases Thursday.

Isabella County Prosecutor Risa Scully said the medical marijuana act does not allow dispensaries where patients can share marijuana with each other.

“The act clearly delineates two methods in which a qualified patient may obtain their marijuana—they may grow it themselves or they may designate a caregiver to grow it for them,” Scully said.

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Law
12:21 pm
Mon October 8, 2012

Michigan Supreme Court opens session with no-fault, medical marijuana cases

The Michigan Supreme Court opens its 2012 session this week.
Subterranean Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court formally opens its 2012 session this week.

Its first cases deal with no-fault insurance benefits, Michigan’s open meetings law, and medical marijuana.      

The first arguments of the court’s session will be on the case of a woman who wants her auto no-fault coverage to pay for her treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

She was diagnosed after witnessing her son’s death in a motorcycle accident. She was following him in her car when he was struck by another vehicle.

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Politics & Government
4:16 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signs law requiring time for Pledge of Allegiance

Governor Rick Snyder has signed legislation that requires every schoolroom to display a U.S. flag, and give children the opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The new law will take effect with the start of the 2013 school year. It’s not known how many schools or classrooms currently don’t allow time for students to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The new law says time must be set aside for the pledge in every public school classroom every school day. But students don’t have to say the pledge if they or their parents object.  Forty-three other states have a similar requirement.

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It's Just Politics
2:43 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

The debate over debates continues between the Stabenow and Hoekstra campaigns

Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow (pictured) and her opponent former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra have not been able to agree on a debate schedule this election cycle.
Studio08Denver Flickr

This week we saw the debate showdown between President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney. Political pundits are talking non-stop about how Romney pulled off a campaign reversal. Debates can be game changers. And, then, there are the Michigan debates, or lack thereof. We have a statewide race that pits incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow against former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra. They’ve both agreed to debates. They just haven’t agreed to the same debates.

It’s a debate… about debates

Hoekstra has the most to gain by debating. It’s why he’s pushing for more than just the two that he and Stabenow have agreed upon – at least in concept. One of those two debates, to take place at the Detroit Economic Club, isn’t really a debate but more of a joint appearance. As the incumbent with what appears to be a very comfortable lead,  Stabenow has the most to lose. Certainly we saw an example of that Wednesday night: the perils of a debate to a front-runner. So, it raises the question, if Stabenow has very little to gain from a Senatorial debate, why hasn’t Hoekstra agreed to dates for the two appearances both campaigns have accepted. Holding out certainly hasn’t seemed to help the Hoekstra campaign.

Foreign affairs

If you’re the Hoekstra campaign and you can’t get your opponent to debate and you’re looking for something that changes the conversation, pulls you out of a rut, what better than to take a few days to travel… to the Middle East; Israel to be exact. This past weekend Hoekstra flew to Tel Aviv in an effort to turn the conversation to a topic where he is taken seriously: foreign policy. When Hoekstra was in Congress he chaired the House Intelligence Committee and had a security clearance.

However, when Hoekstra returned from the trip and was asked about the officials with whom he met, he said he couldn’t say. He says this was because the trip was not State Department-approved and in order to get officials in Israel to speak with him, he had to promise them their anonymity.

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Politics & Government
10:34 am
Wed October 3, 2012

Hoekstra trying to get traction in Senate race with foreign policy

Pete Hoekstra is running against Sen. Debbie Stabenow for the U.S. Senate.
Rick Pluta Michigan Radio

Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra is trying to make foreign policy a bigger issue in Michigan’s U.S. Senate race.

Jobs and the economy seem to be tops in voters’ minds, and Hoekstra says he does not expect that to change.

But the Republican nominee says the recent turmoil in the Middle East should make President Obama’s handling of foreign affairs an issue.

Hoekstra says that’s why he staged a quick visit to Israel over the weekend to meet with unnamed academics and government officials.

Hoekstra chaired the House Intelligence Committee as a member of Congress.

He says incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow endorses the President’s foreign and energy policies.

“She’s continuing to send a signal that says, We’re going to rely on a part of the world that right now we’re screwing up. It’s going to be less stable. It’s going to be more anti-American, and that’s where we’re going to get our energy from,” says Hoekstra.

Stabenow says she thinks the President is doing a good job, and her campaign will continue to focus on jobs and fair trade.

She supports the use of more renewable energy resources.

Politics & Government
7:08 am
Tue October 2, 2012

Felons with "four strikes" now face at least 25 years

Violent felons convicted of four offenses now face at least 25 years in prison, under a law signed by Governor Rick Snyder.

In a written statement, Governor Snyder says the new law holds chronic offenders accountable, while giving some peace of mind to victims and their families. 

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Education
7:08 am
Mon October 1, 2012

Welfare benefits lost if children miss more than 10 days of school

User: macattck flickr

A new policy goes into effect Monday that takes away welfare benefits from families with children who miss more than 10 days of school without an excuse. Families that apply or re-apply for cash assistance will have to prove their kids don’t have too many unexcused absences.

David Akerly of the state Department of Human Services says that information is easily available from school districts. Akerly says the policy is not about saving money. It’s meant to be a strategic attack on one of the causes of poverty, “which is education, lack of it, not being in class, not finishing school," he said.

Karen Holcomb-Merrell of the Michigan League for Human Services said transportation, homelessness, and other stresses on a family can contribute to truancy.

“It’s not clear to us what they intend to do to help the families that are having trouble getting their kids to school," said Holcomb-Merrell.

David Akerly said it’s easier to connect families to help when their kids are in school.

*correction - An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the quote to David Akerly. It has been corrected in the copy above.

It's Just Politics
2:32 pm
Fri September 28, 2012

With 38 days until Election Day, interest groups try to bet on winning candidates

It's Just Politics, Friday, September 28th, 2012
Matthileo Flickr

We are now a little more than 925 hours from when the polls open in Michigan on Election Day. But, for some voting has already started. Absentee ballots have been available for a week now. Soon, they’ll go in the mail to households that have requested them and people will begin mailing them back and dropping them off. Which means, it’s getting close to the end game: people are making their final decisions before November 6th. But, we’re not just talking about voters here, lobbyists and interest groups are making decisions about candidates, as well.

These are the interest groups that swirl around elections – we’ve seen a lot of attention paid to 527 groups and so-called educational committees that are not actually part of a campaign – but still put out ads and mailers in support of a particular candidate. And, here in Michigan, these interests are keeping a close eye on the state House - where all 110 seats are up for re-election.

Recently, there have been some polls that should give a modicum of hope to Democrats. They’re in the minority in Lansing, and they need to turn 10 seats to take control of the state House. The Detroit News published a poll last week that suggests Democrats have the advantage in a generic matchup against  Republicans; meaning these people who were polled expressed a preference for a no-name Democrat in a match-up with a no-name Republican in legislative races.

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Politics & Government
3:50 pm
Thu September 27, 2012

Group opposed to emergency managers files lawsuit

A lawsuit claims no state-appointed managers should be running Michigan cities or school districts until after voters determine the fate of the emergency manager law in November.

The action was filed today in Lansing by lawyers opposed to emergency managers.

The lawsuit says Governor Rick Snyder lost the authority to name managers to run struggling cities or school districts once the referendum on Public Act Four was put on the November ballot.

That suspended the law enacted last year, but the governor claims authority to name emergency financial managers – with less-sweeping powers – under the law that preceded it.

That makes no sense, said attorney John Philo.

“Something strikes me as very wrong about that. The presumption should be that until the people decide, we go back to our standard form of government, which is elected officials.”

Philo said there’s nothing in law that says we then revive old law to fill the gap.

“We don’t. We go back to our standard form of government, which is elected officials,” said Philo. “We’re almost treating elected officials as an aberrant form of government when we do this. That’s our standard – it’s elected officials. We go back to that until voters have their say in November.”

There are seven Michigan cities and school districts being run by state-appointed financial managers.

The lawsuit says those managers should be ordered to step down and turn their operations over to mayors, city councils, and school boards.

*This post was updated from an earlier version

It's Just Politics
7:34 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

Just what do politicians do when they're in trouble? Change the subject, of course

There's little doubt by now you've heard, because it sure seems like everybody’s heard, Mitt Romney’s now-famous – infamous – 47 percent comment. It set the political grapevine ablaze this week with discussion and speculation that this is the gaffe that’s sunk the Romney campaign with 46 days to go until Election Day. Much like John McCain’s “Michigan moment” in 2008 when he pulled his campaign out of the state and everyone just kind of declared, "game over."

But there are still 46 days to go and Romney and many of his fellow Republicans are saying: Whoa, not so fast...  It ain't over til it's over. “A lot of folks would just as soon have this election be done now… The fact is elections are held on one day, November sixth, and not before," State Attorney General Bill Schuette, Romney's Michigan campaign manager, said this week.  It's a variation on the classic, "the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.”

Redirecting the Message

Political campaigns are really about three things: one is identifying your voters, another is making sure your voters get out on election day and the third - which is especially critical to getting out your voters as well as persuading the ones who are undecided - is “messaging.”  Because in politics, “messaging” is a verb. So, for the Romney campaign, the question is, how to pull off that pivot, how to change the subject. And the message of the moment is, "Hey, everybody makes mistakes."

“Well, I think Barak Obama has made a lot of mistakes, too. When he said the private sector is doing just fine. That’s nonsense. When a small businessperson is successful, he said that person didn’t build it. We know that’s not true," Schuette explained, trying to create an equivalency between the two candidates and the two campaigns. Those are things the president said that – taken out of context, certainly – but still were missteps that Republicans have now turned against him. Republicans have also reached back to 1998 when President Obama was still a state senator in Illinois to something he said, that he believes in wealth redistribution, ignoring that he also said he believes in free markets.

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Politics & Government
8:50 am
Fri September 21, 2012

For-profit insurance companies look forward to a more open marketplace in Michigan

Blue Cross Blue Shield building on Lafayette in Detroit.
Wikipedia

There was another day of hearings yesterday on Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed overhaul of Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan.

Other insurance companies say any reforms should make it easier for them to compete with the Blues.

Other insurers have long complained about their inability to win a bigger piece of Michigan’s insurance marketplace. Blue Cross covers four million Michiganders.

Rick Murdock is with the Michigan Association of Health Plans. It’s an organization of 15 for-profit insurers that compete with Blue Cross.

"There’s no disputing the fact that Blue Cross-Blue Shield has 70 percent of Michigan’s commercial insurance market – a monopoly by any definition," said Murdock.

A Blue Cross representative said the proposal will create more competition, and Blue Cross will, for the first time, pay taxes. But he also said the Blues’ marketplace advantage comes from being a not-for-profit company not focused on maximizing profits, and that would not change under this overhaul.

Health
1:40 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

State Senate committee begins examination of Blue Cross Blue Shield overhaul

Blue Cross Blue Shield would undergo major changes under proposed legislation.
Wikipedia

State Senate hearings began today on a proposed overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The plan calls for Blue Cross to become a customer-owned not-for-profit corporation that’s regulated just like other insurance companies.

Right now, Blue Cross has to accept all applicants, regardless of their health. Starting in 2014, the Blues’ role as “insurer of last resort” will become unnecessary. Due to the federal healthcare law, insurance companies will no longer be able to reject people because of their health conditions.

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Politics & Government
6:15 pm
Tue September 18, 2012

Snyder makes second China trip

Gov. Rick Snyder is on his way to China on a mission to build stronger business ties between Michigan and Asia’s largest economy.
  
Gov. Snyder and members of his administration say he has two goals – to boost the more than $2 billion a year in goods and services exported to China from Michigan, and to convince Chinese companies to make Michigan their U.S. operational base.
 
“There’s an estimated one trillion dollars of investment that China is looking to make by the end of the decade," said Sarah Wurfel, the governor’s press secretary, "and Michigan is certainly ripe for that.”

The governor’s itinerary covers five cities over 10 days. It includes opening a Michigan business office in Shanghai. The visit coincides with the U.S. filing an unfair trade complaint against China with the World Trade Organization. It includes allegations of protectionist actions that hurt U.S. auto companies.

Politics & Government
4:39 pm
Mon September 17, 2012

Some county clerks in Michigan sue over citizenship question

Voting booth
suttonhoo.blogspot.com

Update 4:39 p.m.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is being sued for ordering a citizenship question onto forms handed to voters at their local precincts. It asks people to check a box affirming their U.S. citizenship. But no one can legally be denied a ballot for refusing to check the box.
    
Jocelyn Benson directs the Michigan Center for Election Law, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She said Secretary of State Johnson is acting outside the realm of her authority.

"And it's not going to prevent non-citizens from voting, but it is something that will create and has created some confusion in our elections process," said Benson.

The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Johnson's office would not comment specifically on the lawsuit. But she has said the question is simply meant to remind people that only U.S. citizens can vote in elections.

3:06 p.m.

Some county clerks are suing the state over boxes on voter forms that ask people whether they are citizens.

The lawsuit will say that Secretary of State Ruth Johnson does not have the authority on her own to put the boxes on election forms. A voter cannot be denied a ballot for refusing to check the box.

Earlier this year, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that would have required voter forms to include a citizenship question.

(we'll update this post - check back)

It's Just Politics
2:30 pm
Fri September 14, 2012

A mixed reaction from Republicans over Snyder's Blue Cross Blue Shield overhaul

Governor Snyder announced his proposal for an overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield this week in Michigan
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

This week on It's Just Politics it’s all about the Blues. Blue Cross Blue Shield, that is. BCBS is, by far, the state’s largest health insurance company. It’s also a state government creation; created by state law. It has its own law, separate from all other insurance companies because it is Michigan’s “insurer of last resort,” meaning that Blue Cross has to take everyone who applies. Its mission: to make sure everyone who wants or needs health insurance in Michigan can get it.

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