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

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.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The state House has approved by a one-vote majority Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to expand the agency that’s supposed to turn around some of Michigan’s most-troubled schools. The Education Achievement Authority is currently running 15 schools in Detroit.

e-cigarettedirect.com

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants electronic cigarettes to be regulated in Michigan as tobacco products. E-cigarettes deliver a dose of nicotine to users in a mist. There is a bill in the Legislature to ban e-cigarette sales to minors, but would not tax them like cigarettes or subject them to other tobacco-related regulations.

The governor says it makes more sense to simply treat them as a tobacco product.

It looks like a referendum on the controversial issue of wolf-hunting is headed to the November ballot – again. This will be the second hunting-related ballot question (and, possibly, not the last) voters will decide in a little less than eight months.

The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Campaign turned in petition signatures to the state Bureau of Elections just yesterday. It takes 161,305 signatures, and we can reasonably expect the campaign has enough names. Because, after all, they’ve done this before.

Most recently, just last year, when Keep Michigan Wolves Protected filed enough signatures to suspend and challenge the first Michigan wolf hunting law adopted after the gray wolf was taken off the federal endangered species list. That is the first referendum challenge and it is already on the November ballot.

But the Legislature, as well as Gov. Rick Snyder, would not be thwarted. They adopted a second law to allow wolf hunting (among other things), and that is the target of this newest referendum campaign.

endangeredspecieslawandpolicy.com

The campaign to repeal Michigan’s new wolf hunting law filed petitions today to put their challenge on the November ballot.

The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Campaign says it has 225,000 signatures. That’s well over the 161,305 needed to qualify for the November ballot.

This would be the second hunting referendum on the ballot. The Legislature passed a new hunting law to sidestep an earlier petition drive and referendum.    

USFWS Midwest

The campaign to stop wolf hunts in Michigan says it has more than enough petition signatures to get a referendum on the November ballot. This would be the second ballot challenge to a wolf hunt because the state’s first wolf hunting law was blocked by a petition challenge that will also go before voters in November.

The Legislature got around that by passing a new law that’s the target of this ballot drive.

Jake Neher / MPRN

The Legislature has approved a mid-year budget bill that includes $215 million for roads. It now goes to Governor Rick Snyder.

State Representative Joe Haveman chairs the House Appropriations Committee. He says a lot of the money will go to reimburse local governments for money they’ve already spent clearing streets and patching potholes.

There was an interesting article this week in The New York Times with a strong focus on politics in Michigan. It dealt with a particular aspect of the Democratic Party’s trouble winning in off-presidential years: the coveted white male voter. Yes, working class, high school-educated, married white men are wanted.

Republicans, in fact, have relied on dominance among white males to win elections for many, many years now. And a lot has been made of the fact that right now Republicans are facing big troubles winning over minority voters - African American, Hispanic - as well as immigrants and single women, a weakness that Democrats have been able to use.

But Democrats have been, for many years, losing the white male vote. Remember the Reagan Democrats? White, blue collar, many of them union members, with a strong presence in southeast Michigan and, over time, they stopped being Reagan Democrats and just became Republicans.

Exit polls from The Washington Post show President Obama lost white voters by 20 points in 2012 to Mitt Romney, the largest losing margin among whites in 30 years. Now, of course, every election is different. We know not as many voters will cast a ballot in 2014 as 2012 because it’s a midyear election when the presidential race isn’t on top of the ballot which creates, in turn, less voter excitement.

Lauri Rantala / Wikimedia Commons

There’s a movement in Lansing to regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes. The smokeless devices deliver a nicotine-laced mist that users inhale. The effort has been slowed by a disagreement. It’s about whether e-cigarettes should be regulated and taxed like tobacco, or separately.

We are one week, halfway through, the trial in federal court in Detroit centering on the challenge to Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The arguments are supposed to go on for another week, and then we’ll wait for the judge’s decision. But the case’s mere existence, the fact that it’s occurring, is having an effect on the political landscape in Michigan.

And, it should be noted that these hearings are not taking place within a vacuum. Just this week we saw two more gay marriage rulings. Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was struck down and Kentucky was ordered to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

There is also another federal case underway here in Michigan that is challenging the state’s refusal to allow live-in partner benefits for public employees. It’s the mechanism that was created to allow same-sex couples to use their benefits to cover partners and children who would otherwise be denied coverage under Michigan’s marriage amendment, approved by voters in a statewide election 10 years ago.

MichigansChildren / YouTube

The list of Michigan school districts that have budget deficits is shrinking, and more districts are digging out of debt. That was the report today from the state Department of Education to lawmakers.

There are 46 districts on the deficit list today, compared to 50 at the end of last year.

“I’m encouraged that we’re trending in the right direction as far as the number of schools heading into deficit and the number of schools heading out of deficit,” said State Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, who chairs the Senate K-12 budget subcommittee.      

Salt trucks
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Lawmakers in the state House want to more than double the amount of emergency money for Michigan roads being ripped apart by nasty winter weather.

Last week, the state Senate approved $100 million to help fix potholes and plow roads. On Wednesday, a state House panel added another $115 million dollars for roads to the bill.  

“I think people are going to look at that and say that’s the way we’re giving back to the public – better roads as quickly as possible, a lot of it going to locals,” said Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

DeBoer Rowse Adoption Legal Fund

Michigan’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is now on trial before a federal judge.

Ahead of opening arguments today, demonstrators supporting and opposed to the gay marriage ban in front of the courthouse as April DeBoer and Jayne Rouse showed up with their attorneys. DeBoer says they initiated the lawsuit so she and her partner could adopt the children they’re already raising together.

A political controversy in Lansing that just won’t die is back: auto no-fault insurance. There is yet another Republican effort to muscle through an auto no-fault overhaul, this time being led by state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

There’s a lot in this proposal, released just yesterday, but one of the main things is a cap on the state’s currently unlimited medical benefits if you are injured in a crash. Under the Bolger plan, these benefits would top out at $10 million. Other parts of the proposal include limits on hospital fees and payments for in-home care, incentives to avoid litigation, and a guaranteed rate rollback in the first two years of coverage.

Essentially, there is something in this plan for all of the special interests that have a stake in the auto no-fault system – hospitals, insurance companies, trial lawyers – to dislike. But, Bolger says, bring it on.

Flickr

At the state Capitol, House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, says he still hopes to get an overhaul of Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law through the Legislature this year.  He rolled out a new plan to end Michigan’s unlimited lifetime medical benefits coupled with the promise of a rate reduction.

“We do seek to ensure more drivers, make our auto insurance more affordable,” said Bolger at a news conference to announce the proposal.

Village hopes a private prison brings jobs, money
Flickr user Still Burning / Creative Commons

Former Michigan Gov. William Milliken says more than 350 prison inmates sentenced to life without parole as juveniles deserve a chance at freedom. Milliken – along with more than 100 law school deans and retired judges and prosecutors – filed a brief today with the state Supreme Court.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The campaign to raise Michigan’s minimum wage will now begin collecting signatures.

A state panel gave the petition campaign the OK to go ahead. The Board of State Canvassers said the petition complies with the law, and now the campaign has until mid-May to collect 258,000 valid signatures. That would put the question to the Legislature. If lawmakers don’t adopt it, then it would go on the November ballot.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new round of harsh winter weather is on the way. Snow, rain, and freezing rain are all part of the forecast for the Lower Peninsula, and the Upper Peninsula could be in for a blizzard.

Dealing with this year’s record and near-record cold and snow is already busting budgets as overtime, equipment, and supply costs are going higher than planned.

“This is a record winter in terms of cold, snow and we still have more to come,” said Gov. Rick Snyder.  

flickr Kate Gardiner

State lawmakers say they’re concerned about the time and expense of plans to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. And some experts say it’s time to plan for the worst.

State invasive species experts say Michigan does not have the luxury of waiting for a final plan to ensure Asian carp don’t infest the Great Lakes and upset the food chain. 

This week on It’s Just Politics: a couple of interesting events of which we’re taking note. The first item out of D.C., where the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week quickly and quietly approved an increase to the nation’s debt ceiling. No big arguments. No conditions. Which is an anomaly. Raising the debt ceiling has become a battle over the nation’s fiscal soul.

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