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

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Update 12:00 p.m. October 15, 2015:

The state Senate approved the legislation this morning. The bill now goes to Gov. Snyder's desk.

Original post October 14, 10:23 p.m.:

The Legislature is close to approving the state’s share of money to help Flint with its water crisis. Children in the city are showing elevated lead levels after a state-appointed emergency manager switched water supplies. 

The state House approved the expenditure today and the state Senate’s expected to do the same tomorrow.

flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A state Senate committee has adopted on party-line votes legislation that would essentially eliminate “gun-free” zones in Michigan.

The bill would also close a loophole that allows people with concealed pistol permits to open carry in schools. But schools could no longer ban licensed concealed weapons.

Republicans may be trying to break up with Dave Agema, but Dave Agema is sending plenty of signals that he’s not about to break up with Republicans.

Jeremy Lim / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Legislature has sent bills to Governor Rick Snyder that make some big changes to Michigan’s civil forfeiture law, which allows police to seize and keep assets of people who are suspected of criminal activity even if they’re never charged or convicted.

The bills would make it easier for people to recover assets such as homes, cars, or bank accounts.

CedarBendDrive / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan State University has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to put a hold on an order to release the names of student-athletes who were suspects in criminal cases.

MSU is supposed to comply with the lower court order by the end of the month. But the university asked for a delay while the case is appealed to the state Supreme Court.

tedcruz.org

Republican candidate Ted Cruz brought his presidential campaign to Michigan and Kalamazoo today.

Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, was greeted enthusiastically.

             

“We need to bring the power out of Washington and back to ‘we the people!” That is what this campaign is about!” Cruz told the cheering crowd of several hundred people.

With the hand-wringing over what appears to be short-term, hasty-decision-making in Flint (the move by a state-appointed emergency manager to try and save money by breaking away from Detroit’s water system and to, instead, pull water from the the highly corrosive Flint River), the city’s water crisis has now become a political crisis as well.

Lawmaker wants to ban Great Lakes fish farms

Oct 1, 2015
micropterus_dolomieu / Wikimedia commons

A state lawmaker wants to make sure commercial fish farms will never be allowed to operate in portions of the Great Lakes controlled by Michigan.

State Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, says commercial fish farming could create a huge problem with waste.

“This waste could create algae blooms, all sorts of problems on the shore, as well as out on the lake,” he says.

On April 25, 2014, Flint officials toasted each other as they flipped the switch to the Flint River.
WNEM-TV

Governor Rick Snyder acknowledges the decision to switch the city of Flint’s water system was not vetted the way it should have been. The city faces a crisis now that the water going to homes is contaminated by lead.

“In terms of a mistake, I would say is there are probably things that were not as fully understood as when that switch was made,” he said.

People moving from Syria into Turkey.
European Commission DG ECHO

Gov. Rick Snyder says he’d like Michigan to welcome more refugees fleeing war and violence in the Middle East.

The governor told the new Michigan Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs he’s already been in touch with the federal government.

The Michigan presidential primary is underway. And by that we really mean that the ‘endorsements primary’ is underway.

You’ve got a friend

With 162 days until Michigan voters decide who they want to be their Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, the focus right now is really on the Republican side of things. 

Phil Dowsing Creative / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court has refused to hear a case that alleges the state and the struggling Highland Park school district are failing in their legal obligation to adequately educate students.

The so-called “right-to-read” lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

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

A Republican legislator is drafting a bill to ensure that state lawmakers who are expelled or quit remain out of office. But, it’s not clear if it’s possible to stop former Representatives Todd Courser or Cindy Gamrat from running for and winning their old jobs.

Ben Carson Twitter / https://twitter.com/realbencarson

Republican presidential hopeful Doctor Ben Carson made a campaign swing through Michigan today.

Carson made stops in Jackson and Spring Arbor University. He told an audience at the Christian college the U.S. is a “Judeo-Christian nation,” and immigrants should not be allowed to change the character of the country.

Carson told the crowd “secular-progressives” are trying to force change upon the country.

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.

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