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

Thetoad / Flickr

UPDATED AT 10:30 on 5/22/14 with a correction.

Legislation providing $195 million to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement is on its way to the floor of the state House. A state House committee approved its part of the so-called “grand bargain” today. It’s designed to help pull the city out of bankruptcy, guard against the sale of city owned masterpieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and minimize cuts to pensions.

But timing is becoming tight for the Legislature to approve the state’s part in the so-called “grand bargain.” 

Mike Duggan

There could be a first vote tomorrow in the Legislature on an almost $200 million deal to aid the city of Detroit. Mayor Mike Duggan was one of those who testified prior to the historic vote. Duggan says, overall, he supports the plan.

“I want you to be comfortable we’re not going to be coming back in two years, four years, six years – that we’re going to solve this once and when we do solve it once, you’re going to be proud of how progress is made,” Duggan told the House Committee on Detroit’s Restructuring and Michigan’s Future.

Congressman John Conyers is asking Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to put his name on the August Democratic primary ballot. The veteran lawmaker is asking the state’s top elections official to reverse a decision by the Wayne County clerk.

In the filing, Conyers' legal team says two nominating petition circulators should not have been disqualified for not being registered voters.

Conyers says they were registered, but, in fact, that shouldn’t matter because the requirement itself is unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment.


So now that the Michigan Senate has approved a new, higher minimum wage, with bipartisan support (14 Rs, 10 Ds) no less, this is practically a done deal. Right?

Not so much. The headlines and stories that said it would “kill” the petition drive are speculative and premature.

This Senate bill is – at the bottom of it all – an effort to pull the rug out from under the ballot drive to raise the Michigan minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It's a cause beloved by Democrats and progressives.

So why then did 10 out of 12 Senate Democrats go along with it? Particularly after some had already blasted the proposal as a gimmick and too paltry – especially for workers earning the lower tipped wage?

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

The long, harsh winter slowed the state’s economic recovery. And it took a bite out of tax revenues, leaving Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature with less money to work with as they put the finishing touches on a new state budget.

A budget conference today looked at all kinds of factors affecting the state’s economy, to come up with a new revenue forecast for lawmakers to use.

There are still a few variables that could affect the state’s short and long-term economic future. New home building is one. The auto industry is another.

Michigan Radio

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr was in Lansing today.  He told a state House committee Detroit’s bankruptcy settlement and recovery plan cannot succeed without an infusion of money from taxpayers.


Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, may have just turned up the heat in the fight over increasing Michigan’s minimum wage. But the petition campaign – headed by Raise Michigan – is already planning its pushback.

Richardville proposed yesterday his own legislation to raise the state minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15, and a boost for tipped workers, too. But, really, this is not so much about raising the minimum wage as derailing the petition drive underway to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour plus a really big raise for tipped workers.

The Richardville proposal is separate from an earlier bill sponsored by Senator Rick Jones, R-Eaton Rapids, that would also raise the minimum wage. That one also meant to blunt the petition drive.

Both were introduced because it appears the petition drive is on track to turn in the necessary number of signatures before the deadline at the end of the month. Under the Michigan Constitution, once those signatures are certified, the state Legislature would have 40 days to vote it into law. If it doesn’t – the question goes on the November ballot.

And the polling shows, it’s pretty popular. Popular enough, Democrats hope, to boost turnout among their voters who tend to stay home in mid-term elections.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

The state House has approved a transportation funding package that would ensure about $450 million a year is spent on to road repairs and maintenance.

That’s still far short of the $1.2 billion Gov. Rick Snyder wants to fix and maintain roads.      

But supporters of the plan say it’s a good first step.

“Good roads equal good jobs, and a strengthened economy, so let’s work together to put Michigan back to work,” said state Rep. and House Transportation Committee Chairman Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

Detroit Institute of Arts
Maia C/Flickr

The state of Michigan would tap into its “rainy day” savings to put almost $200 million toward the Detroit bankruptcy settlement under bailout legislation introduced today. The savings account would be repaid from tobacco settlement money.

The state payment is part of a so-called “Grand Bargain” to mitigate cuts to pensions, and ensure that works owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts aren’t sold off as part of the city’s bankruptcy.

endangeredspecieslawandpolicy.com

The November ballot could be crowded with hunting questions.

A state elections panel today certified petition signatures for a referendum on Michigan’s wolf-hunting law. That’s in addition to a referendum on an earlier version of the law.  

Meanwhile, a third petition drive is underway that would preserve the wolf hunt.          

All this could lead to some confusion on the November ballot, and the outcome of the election.

Chris Thomas is Michigan’s director of elections. He said, historically, the practice has been the one with the most votes wins.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) says he’s very concerned that war-weary Americans are growing more withdrawn from world events.

Rogers gives up his congressional seat next year as well as his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee to pursue a new career as a talk radio host. The lawmaker has served in Congress since 2001 and has intelligence chairman since 2011.

Rogers says he sees plenty of evidence that the U.S. may be entering a new isolationist period.

(courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

An energy company has agreed to pay a $5 million fine and plead no contest to a misdemeanor anti-trust charge as part of a plea deal. Under the bargain, Encana Oil & Gas USA also promised to help the state pursue legal action against another oil company.


Update: 1:25 PM, Monday, May 5th, 2014

 

Well, blow the “trumpet of shame” on us. Right after we predicted here that the prospective challengers to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley would fall short, Wes Nakagiri goes and turns in 33 signatures from the ranks of Michigan Republican State Central Committee to get his name placed in consideration at the party’s summer convention. The rules require at least three signatures from committee members in at least three congressional districts. It appears Nakagiri’s crossed his t’s and dotted his i’s, but the Michigan GOP’s policy committee still has to affirm the signatures. That could happen at its July meeting, if not sooner. Calley’s still the odds-on favorite to win re-nomination.

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We’ve talked quite a bit already about the friction within the Michigan Republican Party between the GOP establishment and its perpetually perturbed Tea Party wing. The Tea Party’s restless longings are coalescing lately around the possibility of toppling Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley from the ticket.

It almost happened four years ago as many in the Tea Party deemed Republican nominee-for- governor Rick Snyder as insufficiently conservative, and tried to put one of their own on the ticket in place of One Tough Nerd’s choice, then-state Representative Calley. And when that effort failed (but not by much), they felt robbed.

“In politics, you know, they do whatever it takes! They scratch! They claw! They bite!” said one angry delegate to the 2010 GOP summer convention.Tea Partiers now harbor some hopes of pulling it off this year as a payback for the Medicaid expansion, Common Core, the autism insurance mandate and other Snyder administration initiatives.

But Lieutenant Gov. Calley seems to have warded off that challenge – for the moment.

gophouse.com

Gov. Rick Snyder says he’s sensing progress in negotiations with the Legislature to put $350 million of state money toward Detroit’s bankruptcy settlement. That money would help fund pensions and ensure the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts don’t get put up for auction.

Snyder says the bargain has to include an end to legal challenges to the bankruptcy. He would also like to have a financial oversight panel to help manage the city’s finances post-bankruptcy.

LiveStream

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is spending a couple of days in Lansing for closed-door meetings with state officials. His primary mission is to convince reluctant state lawmakers to support the Detroit bailout package.

The state’s share, which would have to be approved by the Legislature, is $350 million dollars. That would help mitigate cuts to pension benefits as part of the city’s bankruptcy, and ensure the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts are safe from the auction block.

Susie Blackmon / Flickr

A state agriculture commission has adopted a new rule on livestock in residential areas. It gives local governments more authority to ban or regulate raising farm animals in backyards.

It’s Michigan minimum wage redux. This week, conservative Republican state Senator Rick Jones introduced a bill to increase Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15 an hour. The measure would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.65 to $2.75 an hour.

Yes, you read that correctly. A Republican lawmaker wants to increase the state’s minimum wage.

Craig Camp / flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder says Michigan needs to do more to attract seasonal migrant laborers to work on farms this spring and summer.

Last year, Michigan asparagus farmers lost about 2 million pounds – or 10% of their crop – because they didn’t have enough workers. Michigan competes with Texas and California for farm labor, and Gov. Snyder says there are already concerns that Michigan won’t be able to lure enough agriculture labor this year.  

“And so we want to get the word out to people, particularly in that category, to say: Please, come to Michigan. You’re welcome here.”

History suggests that this election year should be friendly to Republicans. That’s because Republicans are more likely to turn out in mid-term elections than Democrats, and the party out of the White House, especially in a president’s second term, tends to have an advantage. With about six and a half months to go before the November election, a lot of Republicans are harboring hopes that this is going to be a good year to be a Republican.

But here’s a question: Which kind of Republican is it best to be this year?

In Michigan -- just like nationally -- there’s some tension between the three threads of the GOP coalition. That’s the  Establishment Republicans, the Tea Party, and the Liberty Movement.

We’ll get a better idea of how big this fight is (and if it’s a fight at all worth talking about) after this coming Tuesday’s filing deadline. We’ll see exactly where and how many Tea Partiers will “primary” an establishment Republican figure, and where the Republican establishment (and by that we mean chamber of commerce Republicans) will try to dislodge a Tea Partier from Congress or the Legislature.

Michigan Attorney General

  State Attorney General Bill Schuette has asked a federal appeals court to put the legal challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage on a fast track. Schuette is defending Michigan’s ban.

Schuette’s filed a motion with the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to skip a hearing before a three judge panel and go directly to the entire 15-judge court. That could shave months, maybe as much as a year, off the appeals process. Schuette says the question needs to settled regardless of who wins in the end. 

President Obama was in Ann Arbor this week at the University of Michigan to throw his Democratic base some red meat* by stumping for the minimum wage. He called on Congress to pass legislation to boost the national minimum wage and he also endorsed a petition drive under way in Michigan to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.40 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

Democrats’ hopes of keeping control of the U.S. Senate in 2014 rest largely with keeping the seat that Sen. Carl Levin is retiring from later this year. Republicans appear to be in good shape come November because their voters are typically more likely to turn out in the off cycle, and because the party out of the White House typically does well in midterm elections.

Republicans also think they can win by relentlessly reminding the public of Obamacare. But what if Democrats can jujitsu that? That’s the political point of these presidential visits.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed the state’s response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' invasive species report. Schuette says his biggest complaint is the report fails to outline an aggressive plan to stop Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.              

The report came out in January, and it outlines possibilities without making specific recommendations on what should happen next.

That was a disappointment, says Joy Yearout, Schuette’s communications director.

Congressman Dave Camp with John Boehner.
user republicanconference / Flickr

Michigan Congressman Dave Camp has announced he will not seek reelection this year. Camp joins a string of Michigan congressional veterans who’ve said they plan to sit out this year’s election.

Camp’s office sent out this statement:

“Today, I am announcing that I will not seek re-election to the United States House of Representatives.  This decision was reached after much consideration and discussion with my family.

A political stunner slapped all of our political cheeks awake this morning, just like that scene with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.

The news? Seven-term Republican Congressman Mike Rogers announced he is retiring from Congress. Retiring from Congress, but not the political circus. He is going to start a national radio show devoted to foreign policy and national defense, which is his bailiwick as the Chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee.

Rogers is also a well-known talking head. Last year, he appeared more than any other elected official on the Sunday morning news circuit. And he’s got the TV sound bites down, just last week on Meet the Press, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin, “goes to bed thinking of Peter the Great and wakes up thinking of Stalin.”

It’s not just how fond he seemed of Congress that is what makes Rogers’, who represents Lansing, Brighton, Howell and parts of Northern Oakland County, announcement so surprising, but his fondness in particular for the House of Representatives. In fact, there was speculation last year that the reason he didn’t jump into the race for Carl Levin’s open Senate seat was because he enjoyed his job in the House so much.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan's congressional Democrats are asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for federal recognition of the more than 300 same-sex marriages performed in the state this past weekend. The letter is signed by Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, and Reps. John Dingell, Sander Levin, Gary Peters and Dan Kildee.

A judge ruled last Friday that Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, but the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals put a hold on further same-sex weddings while it deliberates the Michigan marriage case.

Yesterday, Gov. Snyder said the marriages performed over the weekend in Michigan are legal, but they cannot be officially recognized by the state because of current law. Here's what he said:

In January, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the government would honor same-sex marriages in Utah in a case very similar to Michigan's. The Justice Department so far has said it's monitoring the situation in Michigan.

Michigan Radio

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has extended the freeze on same-sex marriages in Michigan. The court granted the state’s request to put a hold on last week’s decision that struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional.      

The panel’s 2-1 ruling continues the legal limbo of more than 300 gay and lesbian couples who were married during the weekend window before the door was closed.

Four county clerks opened their doors over the weekend to issue marriage licenses before they were stopped by the Sixth Circuit.      

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Update 5:05 p.m.

In a reversal from what it signaled earlier in the day, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary stay on the decision to strike down Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage. 

The court said it issued the stay to allow a "more reasoned consideration" of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's request for a hold on Friday's decision.

3:43 p.m.

DeBoer Rowse Adoption Legal Fund

Update 8:27 am:

Rick Pluta reports from Ingham County that the first marriage there was performed at 8:05 am.

7:21 am Saturday:

Now four counties – Washtenaw, Oakland, Muskegon and Ingham – plan to open this morning to issue marriage licenses. Come back for updates from our reporters in the field.

Update 11 pm Friday:

The political campaign ad season is upon us. We’ve already seen the first trickle of ads here in Michigan, but we know the spigot is barely open at this point.

And, this brings us to an interesting court case out of Ohio that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in just over a month. At issue is whether a state can preemptively enforce a ban on a supposedly false and misleading political advertisement.

This started when the Republican independent committee the Susan B. Anthony List wanted to put up a billboard that accused an Ohio congressman of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions. The Congressman cried foul under an Ohio law that forbids knowingly or recklessly making false or misleading statements about candidates.

The billboard never went up after the congressman threatened to file a legal complaint. But the Susan B. Anthony List and some other groups challenged the law. That lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality and that was upheld by the U.S Sixth. Circuit Court of Appeals – of which Michigan is a part.

loopkid / Flickr

New rules that are supposed to reduce the sale of stolen metal and car parts cleared are headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. “Scrapping” is a big obstacle to Detroit’s redevelopment.

Critics say the measure has too many loopholes. Democratic State Sen. Coleman Young of Detroit says the new rules aren’t perfect, but they will help solve the problem.

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