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

Former Michigan Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.
From Courser/Gamrat websites

State elections officials say there’s nothing in the law that says former Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat can’t run for their old seats in the upcoming special election.

Both filed after Gamrat was expelled by a two-thirds vote of the state House, and Courser quit as he was about to be removed. The two tea party lawmakers were embroiled in a sex-and-cover-up scandal.

A weekend of Republican partying on Mackinac Island wrapped up yesterday after 2,200 people with the time (and money) attended the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. 

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan Republicans have wrapped up their leadership conference on Mackinac Island. Senator Rand Paul won a straw poll of the 2,200 Republicans in attendance. Paul told the conference he’s the candidate who will shake things up.

Cindy Gamrat speaking at an August 14, 2015 press conference.
screen shot - LiveStream

Cindy Gamrat says she will run in the special election for the seat she was expelled from six days ago. The Allegan County Clerk’s office confirmed she filed for the special election. The primary for the seat will be held Nov. 3.

Gamrat was removed last week by a two-thirds vote of the House over her role in a sex-and-cover-up scandal. She says that decision was not fair to her voters.

The "Pure Michigan" campaign highlights beautiful and memorable places and experiences in Michigan.
user PunkToad / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state agency responsible for handling the Pure Michigan campaign and other economic development activities is shrinking.

The Legislature has cut funding to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and it’s lost American Indian casino revenue due to a dispute over the Michigan Lottery’s online gaming.

Gov. Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

The immigration question is causing turmoil in the Republican presidential primary, but Governor Rick Snyder is standing by his staunchly pro-immigration position. Snyder has declared this “Welcoming Week” with a particular focus on honoring immigrants.   

Snyder spokesman Dave Murray says immigrants are responsible for starting some of Michigan’s biggest and most-recognized businesses, including the Meijer retail chain, Vlasic pickles, and Dow Chemical. 

“The Establishment Strikes Back” could be a very apropos title for the latest episode of the Todd Courser-Cindy Gamrat saga.

That’s the one where Republican leaders (with some help from Democrats) succeeded in booting the prominent and troublesome Tea Partiers from the state Legislature.

Former Michigan Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.
From Courser/Gamrat websites

State Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, resigned early this morning as the House was about to vote on expelling him. That capped a 15-hour session with three earlier efforts that were thwarted. Courser says he called it quits because he could see how it would wind up.

Former state representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.
images from Courser/Gamrat offices

Update 2:15 p.m.

Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, says she's "shocked" a panel is recommending expulsion for her involvement in a bizarre cover-up attempt of her extramarital affair with another lawmaker.

Gamrat tells The Associated Press she won't resign before the House votes, possibly later Thursday. She says while no promises were made, she "was coerced" to admit to various allegations of wrongdoing with an understanding that the committee would support a censure.

Todd Courser
Rick Pluta / MPRN

  A special state House disciplinary panel will begin deliberating on a punishment for state Representatives Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, after wrapping up two days of hearings and testimony.

State Representative Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) weeps as she delivers an apology to the House committee considering disciplinary action against her and state Representative Todd Courser (R-Lapeer).
Rick Pluta / MPRN

State Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, offered a tearful apology this morning as hearings opened on possible disciplinary action against her and Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer.

She begged for forgiveness and asked for censure rather than being removed from office.

The special state House committee set up to look into the conduct of Republican state Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat is scheduled to meet tomorrow and Wednesday.

Reps. Courser and Gamrat are accused of using state resources to, among other things, cover up an extramarital affair.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent. Enbridge performs inspections, but won't share what they find.
Credit an Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

The state of Michigan has signed a deal with Enbridge Energy that heavy crude oil will not be shipped through a pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

But the agreement doesn’t change anything as far as protecting the Great Lakes.

Enbridge Line 5 wasn’t built to carry heavy crude oil and never has. 

Washtenaw County Prosecutor's office

Officials say a backlog of more than 11,000 untested rape kits found in an abandoned Detroit crime lab is almost cleared. In some instances, the cases go back more than three decades. But, some victims will still have to wait years for justice.

The untested rape kits were discovered six years ago. A combined state, local and private sector effort was launched to clear the backlog.          

Former Michigan Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.
From Courser/Gamrat websites

A select committee will begin its work to help whether state Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat will keep their jobs following a just-released internal investigation that says the two are guilty of misconduct.

  

The report by the non-partisan House Business Office says the two tea party lawmakers used state computers, staff and other resources for a variety of political and personal purposes, including efforts to cover up their extra-marital affair.

Once again lawmakers are starting over as another road funding plan collapsed late last week in Lansing.

What really happened?

The latest effort to come up with more than a billion dollars for roads had pitted Republicans against Republicans. The GOP has a 63 to 46 advantage over Democrats in the state House, and a 27 to 11 margin in the state Senate. Those numbers led to the idea that GOP leaders could develop a Republican-only roads solution without having to deal with the Democrats.

Former state representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.
images from Courser/Gamrat offices

The state House has taken an initial step toward disciplining two lawmakers caught up in a sex-and-cover-up scandal. The House adopted a resolution to create a special committee to “examine the qualifications” of state Representatives Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell.

The tea party-affiliated lawmakers face questions over whether they used public resources in a plot to cover up their extra-marital affair. 

The Michigan unemployment rate (red line) graphed with the overall labor force in Michigan (blue line).
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s monthly unemployment rate dropped to 5.3% (the red line in the graph above). That’s the lowest it’s been in 14 years, and it matches the national average.

But the drop this month is due mostly to fewer people out looking for work.

More from the Michigan Department of Labor, Technology and Budget office press release:

MSU football players approach the field.
Matt Radick / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Court of Appeals says Michigan State University must release the names of student-athletes who may be suspects in criminal cases.

MSU redacted the names of witnesses, victims, and suspects from campus incident reports requested by the sports network ESPN as part of its investigation into which colleges are most lenient with student-athletes who are suspected of crimes. ESPN did not object to striking the names of witnesses and victims, but said the names of the suspects were necessary to its investigation.

cindygamrat.com

One of the key figures in a cover-up scandal that’s rocked the state Capitol is expected to speak out tomorrow.

State Representative Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, has remained silent and out of public view since the scandal broke last week. House leaders are looking into allegations that she and state Representative Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, tried to force their office staffs to be part of a scheme to cover up their extra-marital affair. Both are vocal social conservatives and part of the tea party movement. 

Wikimedia Commons

A group of unions has launched a petition drive to double Michigan’s corporate income tax and use the additional revenue for roads.

Union leader Tom Lutz is with the Citizens for Fair Taxes Campaign. He says corporations should have to give back about half the net tax reductions that resulted from the state’s 2011 business tax overhaul.

Federal Department of Corrections

A federal appeals court says U.S. marshals in Detroit were on the wrong side of the law when they tried to deny a newspaper access to booking photos of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and police officers accused of corruption.

But the judges in the case also say they were forced to this particular result, and they’re not happy with their decision.

Courser web site

State Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, claims Michigan Republican leaders are on a campaign to destroy him as he faces an internal investigation into abusing his office to cover up an extra-marital affair.

Courser posted a rambling, 27-minute audio statement on the internet where he acknowledged being a “broken messenger” (using the phrase multiple times), but blamed the “Republican establishment” for trying to bring him down. 

Melissa Gilbert, the actor who gained fame playing Laura Ingalls on TV’s Little House on the Prairie, says she’s running for a mid-Michigan congressional seat as a Democrat.

  Gilbert made the announcement via e-mail and social media. Michigan’s Eighth Congressional District seat is currently held by freshman Republican Mike Bishop. Gilbert has lived in Howell since 2013 with her husband, actor Timothy Busfield. He is a Michigan native.

Michigan lawmakers and the Snyder administration are writing up new energy policy. It’s a big deal that almost no one is paying attention to. And that means the issue will be driven by special interests.

Courser web site

The state House leader has ordered an investigation into whether two Republican lawmakers used their publicly funded offices to try and cover up an extra-marital affair.

State Representatives Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) and Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) have been Tea Party favorites and alliance of two often at odds with their own party’s leaders.

The Detroit News obtained audio recordings made by a staffer where Courser can be heard outlining his plan to create a fake scandal in an effort to paper over the real one.

Holland BPW

President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emissions will have a profound effect on Michigan’s energy policy overhaul, but no one agrees yet on how.

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration says it’s withholding judgment. Valerie Brader is the director of the Michigan Agency for Energy and the governor’s top advisor on energy policy.

A group of unions is launching a petition drive to raise the corporate income tax rate in Michigan. But is that really their end game?

UGA College of Ag & Environment / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A homeowner in Howell has to pay the city for cutting the grass in the public right of way in front of his house. That’s the decision from a federal appeals court.

  

Lawn-mowing in Howell became a federal case after the city pulled a tree from the strip between the sidewalk and the curb and replaced it with saplings without the homeowner’s approval.

The Mackinac Bridge on a warmer day.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The National Wildlife Federation says it’s making plans to sue the federal government.

The environmental group says the U.S. Department of Transportation is not enforcing a law that requires “worst-case” disaster plans for underwater pipelines to be on file.

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