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
4:59 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

Bing frustrated with delay as Lansing waits on light authority

Plan Phases from The City of Detroit Public Lighting Strategy Executive Summary
detroitmi.gov City of Detroit

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says the pace of the city’s recovery is being slowed by delays in Lansing. The mayor says the Legislature is taking too long to create an independent authority to help Detroit and other cities keep their street lights on.

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It's Just Politics
1:31 pm
Fri August 17, 2012

Romney's choice of Paul Ryan has some Republican lawmakers going off-message

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan
Monkeyz_Unkle Flickr

This week, it’s a trickle down edition of It’s Just Politics. Trickle down: as in how Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate will play down on the rest of the November ballot.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta, Friday, August 17th, 2012

Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan is best-known as the author of a controversial budget plan. And, it’s that plan that’s really been driving most political conversations this week which means Paul Ryan is not only Mitt Romney’s running mate, but is on the ticket with every Republican running this year, including Michigan lawmakers.

We’ve seen the Democratic messaging about how the Ryan plan will  end Medicare, "as we know it." In fact, even Romney has said the Ryan budget plan is not his budget plan, but every Republican is, at least, being asked where they stand on it. So, while it may create some problems for congressional candidates – say, a Republican like Dan Benishek in northern Michigan, where there are a lot of seniors, it also allows them to talk about the need for “entitlement reform.”

Speaking of Entitlement Reform…

This week a memo was obtained by the online news site Politico that outlines the new nomenclature that is to be used by Republican candidates when talking about the Ryan budget and federal spending. So, out with “entitlement reform,” “privatization,” and the phrase: “every option is on the table.” Instead, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee suggests these words: “strengthen,” “secure,” “preserve,” “protect.”

Closer to Home

This messaging fits pretty snugly into the campaign narratives that we’ve seen already in Michigan. In congressional races, they’ll talk about Medicare, Social Security, and the nation's debt. In state House races, the issues will be on a parallel track, framed around the unpopular pension tax, funding for schools and roads and what Republicans in Lansing will say were tough, but responsible, decisions to get the state’s budget house in order.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate race, Republicans have been trying for months to make an issue out of the fact that Senate Democrats – including incumbent Debbie Stabenow – still have not approved a permanent federal budget. GOP Senate nominee Pete Hoesktra is trying to hang her with the nickname “Debbie Spends-A-Lot.”

The Hoekstra campaign therefore was no doubt prepped and ready for that “adult conversation” about federal spending going into this week, when it was hit with a blast from the past. A Democratic operative made RollCall.com aware of an interview that Hoekstra had done on WAAM in Ann Arbor in which he comes out against the 17th Amendment – the direct popular election of U.S. Senators. “The direct election of U.S. Senators made the U.S. Senate act and behave like the House of Representatives.  The end result has led to an erosion of states’ rights,” Hokestra explains.

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Law
5:01 pm
Mon August 13, 2012

Michigan House Panel to assess state's fireworks law

user hanabi MorgueFile.com

A state House panel will look at how Michigan’s new fireworks law is working, and could recommend changes.

There have been complaints about loud explosions late into the night since the law was passed earlier this year.

State Representative Harold Haugh wrote the law, which allows retailers who buy a license to sell more-powerful fireworks. It also preempts any local fireworks bans on the day before, the day of, and the day after 10 national holidays.

Haugh says the law is a success, and it does not stop local governments from enforcing noise ordinances.

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Transportation
4:23 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

Calley: Ballot question would not stop bridge project

The Ambassador Bridge, seen from above
Elaine Ezekiel Michigan Radio

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says a ballot proposal to require the public to vote on a new international bridge in Detroit won’t stop the project. But he says it could put a halt to future infrastructure projects, including a badly needed upgrade to a rail tunnel in Detroit.

Calley says Governor Rick Snyder’s deal with the Canadian government to build a new international bridge in Detroit pre-dates the ballot question. But he says there are other international crossings in Michigan.

“As we look at Sault Sainte Marie, we look at Port Huron, and we look at the rail tunnel where cargo goes back and forth between our nations, there will likely be a need for expanded transportation options all along our border, and all this does is limit that," he said.

The amendment would require a statewide vote to use public resources on an international bridge or tunnel.

The ballot campaign is financed largely by the Ambassador Bridge company, which is trying to stop a competing span. A spokesman says it would not affect the privately owned Detroit rail tunnel, unless tax dollars were used for the upgrade.

Politics
2:53 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

Can Democrats win back the state House in November?

We are now three days out from Tuesday’s Primary where there was a lot of attention paid to the state’s Republican Senate primary and various U.S. Congressional races. So, we thought it was time to give state lawmakers and their races a little love.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta, August 10th, 2012

Primarily Speaking

In just about two thirds of these local races the primary pretty much determined who the winner will be in November. Because of the way the lines are drawn, most districts are decidedly Republican or Democratic. So, the primary settles the question three months before the general election.

That leaves just about a third of the races left; races that are really fought between a Republican and a Democrat… where incumbency, the strength of the national and statewide tickets and fights over issues and policy matter.

Can Democrats Win Back the State House?

Control of the state House is in play this year. In 2010, largely on the strength of a surge nationwide for Republicans, the GOP took a commanding majority – 64 to 46 – in the state House.  Out of 110 seats, Democrats need to turn at least 10 of them to win back control. That’s a lot. But we’ve seen dramatic swings in recent House elections. So, Democrats see it as tough, but do-able.

In the Thumb, Democrats lost the Republican primary. That’s because incumbent Republican Kurt Damrow ran into some problems and he had become such a liability that his local Republican Party kicked him out. Former Democratic Representative Terry Brown won’t have as easy a time against Dan Grimshaw.

In Grand Rapids, Democrats won the Republican primary when the badly damaged Roy Schmidt barely won re-nomination over a write-in opponent, but only on the strength of absentee ballots cast before the scandal over how he switched parties and tried to rig his own re-election by recruiting a fake Democrat broke into the news. Political-newcomer Winnie Brinks is the Democrat on the ballot. And, Schmidt’s name is toxic. Candidates typically love high name identification, but not this kind.

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Politics & Government
4:39 pm
Wed August 8, 2012

Fight over vote counting in the House reaches Michigan Court of Appeals

The fight over how the Republican majority in the Michigan House of Representatives counts votes has gone to the state Court of Appeals.

Democrats sued Republicans to require recorded votes on a procedural motion that determines when a new law will go into effect.

The motion to make a law effective immediately requires a two-thirds super-majority that Republicans don’t have in the House.

Michael Hodge is the attorney representing Democrats in the lawsuit.

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Politics & Government
3:48 pm
Mon August 6, 2012

Casino ballot question debated in court

user cohdra MorgueFile.com

The owners of Detroit and tribal casinos were in court today to try to keep a proposal off the November ballot. The proposal would amend the state constitution to allow eight rival casinos to open in Michigan.

The opponents of the proposed amendment say it would also have the practical effect of re-writing state gaming regulations – and that’s not allowed.

Peter Ellsworth is their attorney. He says voters have a right to know what they’re being asked to decide.

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Law
4:00 pm
Fri August 3, 2012

MI Supreme Court approves EM Law referendum for Nov. ballot

Michigan Hall of Justice
Subterranean Wikimedia Commons

Update Aug. 3 4:00 p.m.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon said at a press conference following the Supreme Court ruling, that putting the Emergency Manager referendum on the ballot means the state will have to revert to previous legislation about Emergency Financial Managers.

Dillon says the current Emergency Managers running cities in Michigan will all be re-appointed except for Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown.

Brown has served as Mayor of Flint within the last five years, and is not eligible to be an Emergency Manager under the old law.

Dillon says the state will name a new Emergency Manager for Flint.

Aug. 3 1:30 p.m.

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered the referendum on the state’s emergency manager law onto the November ballot.

A divided court ruled the ballot campaign’s petitions met the letter of the law, that the type on a critical portion of the petition was, in fact, 14 points, which is what the law requires.

The Supreme Court decision requires a state elections board to put the challenge to the emergency manager law on the November ballot.

At that point, the emergency manager law is suspended, but what happens next is not certain. In a statement today, Gov. Rick Snyder said:

While I fully support the right of all citizens to express their views, suspension of the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act may adversely affect Michigan communities and school districts mired in financial emergencies. It promises to make eventual solutions to those emergencies more painful.

One of the act’s primary goals is to identify financial emergencies before they become full-blown crises. Suspending the law limits the state’s ability to offer early intervention and assistance, and eliminates important tools that emergency managers need to address financial emergencies as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This is critical given the state’s responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens, regardless of the city in which they live or the school district they attend.

Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette say the old emergency manager law is resurrected -- the seven emergency managers currently serving will continue, but with diminished authority.

The referendum drive says otherwise – that there is no emergency manager law, and the emergency managers are out of a job.

It could take another court fight – or extraordinary action by the Legislature to settle the question.

Others have also released statements on the ruling:

  • American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker:

The Michigan Supreme Court has listened to reason and the hundreds of thousands of citizens who signed petitions calling for the repeal of PA4. Michigan voters know that the Legislature granted extreme powers to unelected Emergency Managers in this bill, and deserve the right to vote on this issue in November.

  • Detroit Mayor Dave Bing:

We respect the Michigan Supreme Court’s opinion, protecting the constitutional right of citizens to use the petition process. However, the Financial Stability Agreement (FSA) remains in effect and is still a critical tool to help fiscally stabilize the city...

The Financial Advisory Board will also remain in tact as will its oversight function to make sure the City is moving forward in restructuring. The court’s decision is not expected to affect the bond issue we need to maintain the city’s cash flow, and the city must complete the bond issue to fund city operations. The bottom line is the City’s fiscal challenges remain, and Public Act 4 was one tool to help us.  Without P.A.4, we will continue to execute our fiscal restructuring plan.

  • Flint Mayor Dayne Walling:

The legal decision does not change anything about the City of Flint's finances, however. It is my hope that there can be cooperation at all levels in the public and private sectors to address the deep rooted challenges we face in Michigan's communities. This is a time when we need to stop fighting over control and instead work together in equal cooperation.

It's Just Politics
3:53 pm
Fri August 3, 2012

Write-ins, shenanigans and predictions (Oh my!): Primary Day in Michigan

Primary Day is Tuesday, August 7th in Michigan
Lower Community College Flickr

Tuesday is Primary Day in Michigan and it’s probably fair to say that this could be called the summer of the write-in candidate. There’s an unusually high number of people trying to win various primary races across the state as write-in candidates.

These are the candidates that for one reason or another didn’t file for the primary ballot but are hoping to still win by having voters write in their names on the August 7th ballot.

Write-ins Galore

In West Michigan, a Democrat on the Muskegon City Commission wants to make sure Republican U.S. Congressman Bill Huizenga doesn’t go unchallenged in November. In the 76th state House District in Grand Rapids, Winnie Brinks is running to be the Democrat to fill an empty spot on the November ballot to face the winner of that district’s Republican primary. State Representative Roy Schmidt is the only Republican on the primary ballot after jumping parties and trying –with the help of state House Speaker Jase Bolger – to engineer a shady arrangement to avoid a serious November election challenge. But that scandal has compelled another Republican – Bing Goei to launch a write-in challenge.

A write-in candidate like Bing Goei has the challenge of getting voters to do something they’re not used to doing: Marking a box with a blank next to it and then filling in the name. And Goei has to get more Republicans to check that box and write his name than people who simply mark the ballot by Roy Schmidt’s name.

Democrat Winnie Brinks does not have that problem. She just has to get enough people to write her in to qualify for the November election – five percent of whatever the top of the ticket gets.

But that is a problem for Nancy Cassis, the former state Senator who is trying to notch a write-in victory in the 11th Congressional District Republican primary over tea party opponent Kerry Bentovolio, who is on the ballot.

This is the district – of course – from which Thaddeus McCotter resigned. Cassis has talked about handing out wristbands with her name on them for people to wear into the polls. Ostensibly so that they know HOW to actually spell her name.  But, there’s some question as to whether that would violate election laws on bringing campaign materials into a polling place.

Political Shenanigans

And, it seems, it wouldn’t be a primary without those good ole pre-Election Day shenanigans. You know how you get those annoying campaign calls – usually it seems right when you’re in the middle of dinner – Well, a call was sent out endorsing Republican Senate candidate Clark Durant. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything too wrong with that; robo-calls are pretty normal in the current political environment. The problem however, with these calls was that they were made at midnight.

It’s probably safe to assume that if you’re a voter and you’re getting a political call at midnight you’re probably not too happy. In fact, it might just leave you with a negative impression of the candidate. Durant’s campaign says these calls endorsing Durant’s campaign were not from their super PAC, so the thought is that maybe a different campaign or, possibly, Democrats were up to no good.

In Ingham County there have been reports of anonymous push polls in a state House Democratic primary. Push-polls are phone calls where a voter is asked a question that isn’t really a question. Something like, “if you knew that candidate X kicked puppies, would that make you more likely or less likely to support him?” In this case, Democrat Walt Sorg says the push poll makes it sound like he wants to raise taxes to build electric car charging stations.

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Law
3:15 pm
Wed August 1, 2012

Schuette: Teen lifers don’t deserve re-sentencing

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette Facebook.com

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for murder or complicity in a murder should not get re-sentencing hearings.

Schuette says a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan’s mandatory life without parole law for juveniles should only apply to future cases. He has asked the state Supreme Court to limit the scope of the federal decision.

Randy Wood is a spokesman for the attorney general. He says Schuette believes re-sentencing hearings would be a mistake.

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Politics & Government
7:30 am
Wed August 1, 2012

Inkster District Court Judge removed from bench

The Michigan Supreme Court has removed Inkster District Court Judge Sylvia James from the bench for misconduct – including stealing public funds.

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Health
7:12 am
Wed August 1, 2012

Online exhanges for health coverage not ready yet

User: cncphotos Flickr

There's been no action by the state House yet on creating online exchanges for people to comparison shop for health coverage.

That’s after another day of hearings by two state House committees on the question.

Governor Rick Snyder is pushing the Legislature to act quickly so Michigan qualifies for federal planning grants, and does not risk being forced into a federal system.

Representative Al Pscholka chairs the House budget subcommittee that would fund the exchange.

He says the numbers are big, and he wants to step carefully.

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Education
7:49 am
Tue July 31, 2012

Changeup underway in the way state grades schools

Woodley Wonder Works Flickr

Michigan will change how it measures success and what it calls under-performing schools. In the future, schools that fall short will be called “priority schools,” and receive some coaching, and other help developing improvement plans.

The state recently won a waiver from the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act  to give it more flexibility in its school improvement plans.

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Courts
7:46 am
Tue July 31, 2012

MI Supreme Court: Jury can decide if confession was false

Michigan Supreme Court Building, Lansing, MI
Subterranean Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a murder trial on hold since 2009 will go forward without expert testimony on the phenomenon of “false confessions."

A man charged with murder in Livingston County says he is innocent of killing his brother and his sister-in-law – even though he confessed to the crimes. 

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It's Just Politics
2:57 pm
Fri July 27, 2012

Roy Schmidt goes from political prize to the GOP’s white elephant

Every Friday Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta take an inside look at state politics

There was a continued drip, drip, drip of new details to emerge in the state Representative Roy Schmidt ballot scandal. The latest: a new set of text messages obtained by The Detroit Free Press and MLive.com from the Kent County prosecutor’s office.

"Dirty as hell"

One text is from Schmidt’s nephew to Matt Mozjak , the patsy who Schmidt recruited to appear on the ballot as a sham Democrat to ensure that he wouldn't have a real Democratic opponent once he made his jump to the Republican Party as a part of a scheme hatched with state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

In one of the texts, Schmidt’s nephew writes to Mozcak, “obviously my uncle is dirty as hell” and, “he’s got a lot of powerful [people] behind him.”

And it just keeps piling up on Schmidt.  The first state House Republican – Representative Ken Yonker, also from the Grand Rapids area – has endorsed a write-in opponent in the Republican primary. Schmidt has gone from a trophy for the House Republicans to a white elephant.

None of which, of course, is good news for House Speaker Jase Bolger, who continues to resist calls to step down as the top dog in the House. The pressure, however, has not reached anything close to critical mass.

Save me... from myself

So, what does a politician do when he's been caught in a political scandal? Well, how about introducing some legislation? House Republicans have drafted new election  reform bills. But Democrats are calling it hypocritical. “I find it fascinating that the speaker of the House is issuing press releases about election reforms because he’s the one who got caught," said Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum.

Election reform: The issue du jour

Now, Democrats have their own elections package and they say they’re coming up with more.  It appears the stage is set for a whole lot of election reform one-upsmanship in the state House. Bolger says only serious election reforms will be considered - he wants nothing that’s about scoring political points. But, Democrats say Republicans don’t have credibility on this issue.

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Law
4:04 pm
Thu July 26, 2012

Michigan Senate panel approves anti-abortion bill

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Rick Jones
Michigan Senate Republicans

The state Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation that would require clinics and doctor’s offices where abortions are performed to be licensed and inspected. Critics of the bill say its real purpose is to put abortion providers out of business.

Rick Jones chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“The purpose is to make sure that clinics are licensed and safe. Certainly, a state that licenses junkyards, tattoo parlors, and used car lots would want to license abortion clinics,” he said.

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Environment
9:00 am
Thu July 26, 2012

Just how much land should the state of Michigan own?

Bug Girl Flickr

Of all the land in Michigan, the state owns a little less than 7 and a half percent.  That’s about four and a half million acres. And, some people think that’s too much. Some people think it’s not enough. Regardless, every few years, there’s a new call to take a look at how much land is owned by the state, and how it’s being used.

Governor Snyder signed a law recently that limits how much land the state can acquire while the state Department of Natural Resources conducts a study of what the state has and how it’s used.

“The state itself owns millions of acres of land, let alone cooperating with the private sector and there’s no cohesive strategy on how we manage our resources for both terrestrial things like – land-based things, but also aquatic. So one of the things I’d like to see in the special message is setting the framework of how we’re going to evolve over the next few years to have comprehensive strategy for how we’re going to manage land and aquatic resources in the state of Michigan," the Governor said recently.

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Law
4:35 pm
Wed July 25, 2012

MI Supreme Court will decide on EM law ballot challenge

Font size explained
Dario Corsi Redhead Design Studio

It’s now up to the state Supreme Court to decide whether the referendum to challenge Michigan’s emergency manager law will appear on the November ballot. The court spent 90 minutes today listening to arguments on whether a dispute over type size is enough to keep the question off the ballot.
    
John Pirich is the attorney for Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. The business-backed group is trying to knock the referendum off the ballot. Pirich says it’s not enough to trust that a computer program used by petition printers is accurately measuring type size.  

“Everyone knows what a computer can do. I can make letters get scrunched. I can make letters get elongated. They say 12-, 14-, or six-point font, whatever it might say, but that can be manipulated," he said.

Supporters of the referendum say the petitions were correctly printed in the proper font size. They also say the will of more than 200,000 petition signers should not be ignored.

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Politics & Government
5:34 pm
Tue July 24, 2012

VIDEO: Protester hangs 'Vaginas Are Revolting' banner on Bolger home

A still apparently from "Laura Love's" video
user lauralovemusic1960 YouTube.com

Police in Marshall confirm they’re investigating what appears to be an instance of a protester trespassing and hanging a banner on the home of state House Speaker Jase Bolger.
    
A woman who calls herself Laura Love posted the 11-second video to YouTube that shows a banner hanging from a porch.

“‘Vaginas Are Revolting' in front of Jase Bolger’s house. I did that. Yeah.”

A Marshall police spokesman says a neighbor reported the incident last Thursday. The police now have the banner.

The woman in the video appears to be the same person who organized a protest the day before at the state Capitol. Her group of about a dozen people stood in the gallery of the state House, sang a song about vaginas to the tune of the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” clapped, and danced for several minutes before re-taking their seats. They were hoping to be kicked out, but no action was taken.

Politics & Government
5:32 pm
Tue July 24, 2012

Opponents say casino question should be blocked from ballot

The MGM Grand Casino in Detroit
Mike Russell. Wikimedia Commons

Opponents of a proposal to allow eight new casinos across Michigan say they will ask the state Court of Appeals to order the question off the November ballot.

The Protect MI Vote coalition is made up of business groups, as well as the three Detroit casinos and three tribal casinos.

Attorneys for the group say the proposal was poorly drafted because it combines an amendment to the state constitution with a re-write of Michigan’s law that regulates casino gaming.

John Truscott of Protect MI Vote says that makes the ballot question confusing and misleading.

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