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. 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.

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Politics & Government
5:41 pm
Wed October 23, 2013

Governor wants no-fault overhaul by year's end

If you're hurt in an auto accident, the personal injury protection part of Michigan's mandatory no-fault insurance will pay all of your medical costs. It's lifetime, unlimited coverage.
Robbie Howell Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is pushing the Legislature to overhaul Michigan’s auto insurance laws, and he wants it done before the end of the year. The governor says he’s trying to get doctors, lawyers, insurance companies, and hospitals to negotiate in hopes of finding a consensus. He says the goal is to make insurance more affordable while ensuring injured people get the care they need.

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Environment & Science
6:33 pm
Tue October 22, 2013

State proposes new “fracking” rules

A natural gas well.
World Resources Institute

State environmental regulators have rolled out proposed new rules to cover hydraulic “fracking” for natural gas. “Fracking” is a process where developers pump water and chemicals into a well to clear a path to hard-to-reach deposits of gas.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant says the rules are partially a response to public concerns over drilling innovations. They allow developers to use fracking to tap into hard-to-reach gas deposits. 

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Politics & Government
10:36 am
Tue October 22, 2013

The city of Highland Park is under financial review again

Highland Park Mayor Deandre Windom
Deandre Windom LinkedIn

A state financial review board gave one school district a reprieve, but steered the city of Highland Park back toward a state takeover.  Highland Park has been under some form of state receivership since 2002. The new review was required by the new emergency manager law.

Highland Park Mayor Deandre Windom said he still hopes to convince the state to accept his city’s deficit elimination plan.

“We’re going to sit down and explore our options and make sure we’re all of one accord and make sure the citizens of Highland Park are aware of us moving forward,” he said following the meeting of the state Emergency Loan Board.

The next step is for another team of financial experts to conduct a deeper review of the city’s finances before making its recommendation to Governor Rick Snyder. 

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Politics & Government
5:31 pm
Mon October 21, 2013

Highland Park could go back under state oversight; Ecorse schools get a reprieve

A state financial review board gave one school district a reprieve, but steered the city of Highland Park back toward a state takeover.  Highland Park has been under some form of state receivership since 2002. The new review was required by the new emergency manager law.

Highland Park Mayor Deandre Windom says he still hopes to convince the state to accept his city’s deficit elimination plan.

“We’re going to sit down and explore our options and make sure we’re all  of one accord and make sure the citizens of Highland Park are aware of us moving forward,” Windom said.

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Politics & Government
4:57 pm
Mon October 21, 2013

Governor Snyder shutting down controversial NERD fund

Governor Rick Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder’s controversial NERD Fund will be shut down this week and replaced. Its official name is the New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund. Governor Snyder used the fund to pick up costs he says should not be paid by taxpayers. But the governor would not reveal its donors, and critics say that created too many possible conflicts of interest.

The governor says it’s time to move on from that controversy. 

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Politics & Government
5:27 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Snyder aide moved off controversial fund, onto government payroll

Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration.

An advisor to Governor Rick Snyder has been moved to the state government payroll and off a fund paid for by anonymous private donors.

The arrangement was both unusual and controversial. Richard Baird has an office very close to the governor’s and the job title “transformation manager.”

Until Wednesday, Baird was paid out of the governor’s private so-called NERD Fund. Critics said that could hide conflicts of interest. So now, Baird is on the public payroll.

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It's Just Politics
1:43 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Hype surrounding same-sex marriage hearing lacked a reality check

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Prospective brides and grooms in same-sex relationships could not be blamed for feeling jilted this week – not by their partners, but by the Eastern U.S. District Court in Detroit.

They expected this would be their day - that Judge Bernard Friedman would strike down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, and they would be among the first gay and lesbian couples in Michigan to tie the knot.

Instead, disappointment. Anger. Tears, in some cases. Big expectations dashed because Judge Friedman did not uphold or strike down the amendment, which was approved by Michigan voters in 2004 by a pretty commanding majority.

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Law
3:50 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

Gay marriage case headed to trial

Beth and Lisa Bashert
Michigan Radio

Updated 5:35 p.m.

After federal judge Bernard Friedman ordered a trial on the constitutionality of Michigan's ban on gay marriage, attorney Jay Kaplan called the delay a disappointment. 

Kaplan is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project.  He says going to trial could work out better in the long run.

"He’s being cautious," Kaplan says of Friedman.  "Because if he renders a good decision, you don’t want to see that decision reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and having a factual record strengthens your opinion.”

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Law
12:03 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

Michigan affirmative action ban faces Supreme Court scrutiny

Crowds gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday..
Credit David Jesse @freephighered / Twitter

You can listen to Rick's story above or read the piece below.

A crowd marched yesterday on the United States Supreme Court. The rally drew people from Detroit and other parts of Michigan.

They chanted: “What do we want?” “Affirmative action!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” and “They say ‘Jim Crow!’” “We say, ‘hell no!’’’

“They say ‘Jim Crow!’” “We say, ‘hell no!’’

The protest was aimed at Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in university admissions. It was approved by voters in 2006. And it took place as the Supreme Court heard a legal challenge to the amendment.

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Politics & Government
9:01 am
Tue October 15, 2013

Supreme Court to hear challenge to Michigan's affirmative action ban today

A rally on the campus of the University of Michigan organized by the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action by Any Means Necessary (BAMN).
U-M

For the second time in a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether Michigan’s university admissions policies are constitutional.

Ten years ago, the challenge was to the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action to ensure diversity on campus.

Today, civil rights groups will argue against the state’s voter-approved ban on affirmative action.

Jennifer Gratz was here in Washington a decade ago.

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It's Just Politics
1:46 pm
Fri October 11, 2013

A lot can go wrong with a petition drive, but Right to Life has mastered the art of the initiative

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

The petition drive is the citizens’ direct route to changing laws. It’s part of the state constitution, Article 2, Section 9 (if you want to read it for yourself). The petition-initiated law is not subject to a veto by the governor. If the Legislature refuses to adopt it, the decision goes to voters as a statewide ballot question.

 

Right to Life of Michigan submitted petitions a week ago to initiate a law that would say people could no longer get abortion coverage as part of a basic health insurance plan. Consumers would have to buy separate coverage to get abortions paid for. The only exception would be an emergency abortion necessary to save a woman’s life.

 

“I had a similar bill that came to me that I vetoed,” Governor Rick Snyder reminded folks after the petitions were filed. “And that was the right answer in my view.”

 

Snyder vetoed this language when it was part of a bill sent to him last year by the Legislature because it did not include those rape and incest exceptions. That’s despite the fact that he has identified himself as “pro-life,” that is opposed to abortion, when he ran in  2010.

 

But not sufficiently so for Right to Life (which endorsed another candidate in the 2010 Republican primary.) Right to Life has a ready response when governors veto legislation it supports. So, once again, Right to Life launched a petition drive to enact as an initiated law what Snyder had vetoed.

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Law
2:57 pm
Thu October 10, 2013

Do federal drug laws trump Michigan's constitution? High court will decide

John Ter Beek
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear a challenge today to a local ordinance that bans medical marijuana despite an amendment to the state constitution that allows it.

The city of Wyoming, outside Grand Rapids, enacted the ordinance three years ago. It outlaws any activity that’s already prohibited by federal law. It was directed at the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana amendment, which conflicts with federal drug laws.

The city says it acted within its authority because federal laws trump state laws.

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Politics & Government
2:06 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

After right-to-work passage, Michigan Education Association retains 99% of members

Michigan Education Association president Steve Cook
Michigan Education Association MEA

The president of the Michigan Education Association, Steve Cook, says the state’s new right-to-work law has not put a big dent in the teacher union’s membership.

According to Cook, who appeared on Michigan Public Television’s “Off the Record,” only 1% opted to stop paying dues during the dropout period. But while Cook says that shows most school employees still support the union, he argues the law made retaining members more expensive.

“Between the efforts of right-to-work and the efforts to collect dues, it’s been very expensive for the association,” Cook said. “It’s taken our focus off other things we would have rather been doing.”

The MEA, along with the American Federation of Teachers, are also defending extended contracts negotiated by some union locals that could delay the effects of right to work for years into the future.

Politics & Government
12:00 pm
Sat October 5, 2013

Right to Life files abortion coverage petitions

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Abortion opponents have turned in more than 315,000 petition signatures calling on the Legislature to place new restrictions on health coverage.

The new law would require consumers to buy separate coverage for abortions.

Abortion opponents say they want to make sure that abortion coverage is not automatic when people buy insurance under the new federal healthcare law. The petition-initiated law would require consumers to buy a separate rider for abortion coverage.

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It's Just Politics
12:47 pm
Fri October 4, 2013

Politicians playing politics over a political-shutdown

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. So, in the midst of the partial government shutdown, it seems everyone has taken turns placing blame. It’s the Senator Ted Cruz shutdown, the Obama shutdown, the Tea Party shutdown.

The point here is not to own the shutdown, but to make someone else own it – to personalize it and dump it on the other side. We’re not talking about the policy side of it here, but how political operations are using the shutdown.

For example, here in Michigan, Democratic Party fundraising messages are calling it “Terry Lynn Land’s shutdown.” She has shut down the government, apparently, while still merely a candidate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

And, as the federal government grinds to a standstill, political fundraisers and message-makers are working overtime. This is an environment that is, as they say, target rich. There are people whose jobs are to take these moments that command people’s attention, incite passion, anger, frustration, and turn them into campaign cash and memorable political messages.

But when everyone’s talking about the same thing, it can also be difficult to break through the cacophony. And a lot of people seem to be working off the same talking points. Democrats have one set: critical services in peril; a country held hostage by the Tea Party. Republicans, another: Democrats did this. They won’t negotiate.

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It's Just Politics
2:24 pm
Fri September 27, 2013

Actions speak louder than Tough Nerd’s words

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

So, is it too soon to start thinking about Election 2014?

If you think so, think again. (Or maybe turn off your TV.)

“One Tough Nerd” is back on the air with a 60-second ad called “Michigan is Back,” and it’s basically the launch of Governor Rick Snyder’s campaign for a second term. That’s despite the fact that Snyder continues to insist that he’s not an “official” candidate and, furthermore, that it wouldn’t be a good idea right now: “When you have the official candidate kind of role, it makes it more confusing for people.”

He also said last weekend at a Republican conference on Mackinac Island that an early launch isn’t necessary because, unlike his political debut in 2010, people now know who he is and he doesn’t have to build name identification.

Yet, not even a week passed before the governor’s reelection campaign made what appears to be a significant ad buy, maybe more than $500,000. Not only is he on the air earlier than anyone else, he’s up four months earlier in the cycle than last time around when he was unknown.

So what gives? It’s interesting that a governor who makes a point of being a non-politician (or, as he prefers, “not your typical politician") is now cutting distinctions that only a politician would make – the kinds of fine-pointed legalisms that typically get teenagers grounded. Governor Snyder is a candidate and should be viewed as such.

We here at It’s Just Politics have never accepted that Snyder was committed to any course other than seeking a second term. And once again, his actions and behavior (as well as most of his words) have borne that out. So why would Snyder belie his own analysis by going up so early? Here are some ideas:

  • Habit. The last time around, Snyder also launched early. We were introduced to “One Tough Nerd” on Super Bowl Sunday 2010, when he was a largely unknown businessman running against some better-known established political names. It worked before.
  • Numbers. Most polls this far out show the governor running at least a little ahead of Mark Schauer - the almost-certain Democratic candidate. But, Snyder is still below that crucial 50 percent mark in every poll that we’re aware of. He’d certainly like to move that number up to a more-comfortable place, preferably before another poll comes out. That would appease Republican funders, too.  And this might be the moment, the public seems to be responding reasonably well to some of his very assertive actions in Detroit.
  • Image. If Rick Snyder wants to remain on top, he’s got to retain control of his image. And maybe the best way is to get out before the Democrats get busy trying to define and redefine impressions of “One Tough Nerd” in the public mind. (Democrats have already crafted their counter-persona, “One Weak Geek.”)
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Politics & Government
7:26 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

Drug test failure could imperil jobless benefits

State Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan (file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Jobseekers who refuse or fail an employer drug test would put their unemployment benefits at risk under legislation that has cleared the state House.

The measure would create a one-year pilot project to try out the idea. Employers would not have to participate, but could choose to report to the state if a job applicant either refuses to take a drug test, or fails one.

State Representative Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) says this would help ensure jobless benefits go to people who are serious about looking for work.

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Politics & Government
6:45 pm
Wed September 25, 2013

Bills would allow faith-based agencies to refuse to process adoptions in Michigan

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A state House committee has approved legislation that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to handle placements for religious reasons. Instead, under the legislation, an agency that has an objection would have to refer a qualified family to an adoption office that would handle the placement.

Almost all adoptions in Michigan are handled by private agencies that accept public funding. Faith-based adoption services are concerned future changes to adoption policies – such as allowing same-sex couples to adopt – could force them to violate their religious beliefs.

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Politics & Government
9:26 pm
Tue September 24, 2013

Governor Snyder to air first ad of ’14 campaign

Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) (file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The first campaign ad in the race for Michigan governor will start airing tomorrow (Wed.). In fact, Governor Rick Snyder is launching his ad campaign before he’s formally announced he’s a candidate.

The statewide ad buy is modest, but it comes as Snyder continues to insist he should not be treated as if he’s running for reelection.

“I’m not an announced candidate,” he says. “I’m happy being governor and I’m focused on being governor.”

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Politics & Government
11:06 pm
Sun September 22, 2013

GOP Mackinac conference a set-up for Snyder 2014 re-election bid

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island
All Things Michigan Flickr

About 1,500 Michigan Republicans were on Mackinac Island this past weekend. They were gathered for the state GOP’s biennial leadership conference, where much of the focus was on a reelection campaign by Governor Rick Snyder that has yet to be formally announced.

There were plenty of hints: Snyder basked in chants of “four more years.” He rolled out a campaign video. He invited people to sign nominating petitions to put him on the August primary ballot next year.

But when asked about a formal announcement on his reelection plans?

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