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.


Politics & Government
7:04 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

Tea Party activist to challenge Michigan's Lt. Gov. for Republican nomination

Wes Nakagiri
Wes Nakagiri/Facebook

Tea Party favorite Wes Nakagiri says he will challenge the re-nomination of Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley at a Republican convention next summer.

Tea Partiers have demonstrated their ability to dominate Michigan Republican conventions and cause heartburn for party leaders. Three years ago, they almost denied Rick Snyder his choice of Calley as a running mate after failing to stop Snyder from winning the Republican primary.

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It's Just Politics
12:50 pm
Sat August 24, 2013

Can Snyder/Calley ticket survive the Medicaid fight?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is trying to burnish his conservative credentials as the Snyder administration takes on the Tea Party in the Medicaid expansion fight.

“I’m a voice on the inside that comes from the right side of the political spectrum,” said Calley on the Michigan Public Television show “Off The Record.”

Calley is trying to erase the political target on his back. He has become the focal point of Tea Party rage over the push for expanding Medicaid to cover more working poor people and other centrist sins of the Snyder administration, deemed by many Tea Partiers as insufficiently conservative. 

Now, the Tea Party doesn’t really harbor hopes of knocking down Governor Snyder with a primary challenge next year. But it does believe the Tea Party is a necessary element of any coalition to ensure a Republican victory next year, and it knows, that (even if Rick Snyder is pretty much guaranteed re-nomination in a primary election) Calley – or whomever the lieutenant governor candidate will be – has to be nominated at a state party convention.

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3:46 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Michigan Court of Appeals rules in favor of minister who didn't report suspected child abuse

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals says a minister cannot be charged with failing to report child abuse based on conversations with a parishioner.

The court ruled those were privileged conversations.

This particular question had never been litigated before. And it is how far do privacy protections for clergy extend when it comes to reporting child abuse?

In this case, a woman went to her pastor, John Prominski, for advice when she suspected her husband was abusing her daughters. Their first talk was in 2009.

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Politics & Government
1:02 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

State will step in to certify Detroit election results

Had the votes been discarded, Mike Duggan (right), would have placed second in the Detroit mayoral primary.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

The state will take the extremely rare step of stepping in to certify the results of Detroit’s mayoral primary. That’s after a Wayne County elections board refused to count 18,000 write-in ballots because they were improperly marked by poll workers. Michigan’s Elections Director Chris Thomas says those ballots should be counted.

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9:29 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Federal judge says hundreds of Michigan's juvenile lifers should be eligible for parole

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A federal judge says 363 inmates in Michigan prisons sentenced to life without parole as juveniles should get parole hearings.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that laws like Michigan’s that automatically send some juveniles to prison for life with no chance of parole are “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette has been trying to limit the scope of the ruling to five inmates who challenged their sentences and to all future cases. He says families of murder victims deserved the certainty of knowing those sentences would stand.

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It's Just Politics
1:44 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

For politicos, Election 2014 isn't so far away

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Tuesday’s local primaries have come and gone. The November runoffs are set. But don’t think people, political people, aren’t looking ahead even further… to next year’s primaries and beyond.  We have big statewide races for governor and an open U.S. Senate seat, and some big congressional races.

At this juncture, it still looks like Democrats are succeeding in their plan to avoid expensive, bitter primaries in their big, key races. In the “D” column, former Congressman Mark Schauer looks uncontested as the candidate to face Governor Rick Snyder. Congressman Gary Peters is in line to be the Senate nominee without a fight. And, this week, in northern Michigan, retired general and former Kalkaska County Sheriff Democrat Jerry Cannon announced his plans to challenge Republican Congressman Dan Benishek. The First Congressional District is one of the state’s very few true toss-up races and Democrats have big hopes to win it come 2014. In fact, the campaign arm of the House Democratic conference is already airing radio ads in northern Michigan. The First is considered winnable by the right pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, conservative Democrat. And, interestingly enough, Democrats think their chances in this seat will actually improve next year without President Barack Obama at the top of the ballot.

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1:20 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

Grand juror clears Bolger, Schmidt of crimes in election scandal

Roy Schmidt and Jase Bolger.

There will be no criminal charges in the election-rigging scandal that embarrassed state House Speaker Jase Bolger and cost another lawmaker his job. Judge Rosemarie Aqualina in Lansing says there’s no evidence any crimes were committed.

This wraps up a year-long inquiry based on a complaint filed by Democratic leaders.

The investigation focused on the leap by state Representative Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids from the Democrats to the Republicans.

Bolger encouraged and helped arrange the party switch, which added one more vote to his House Republican majority.

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6:06 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

Michigan Supreme Court says children in custody battle will stay with foster family

Michigan's Supreme Court.
photo courtesy of the MI Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a grandmother to return four children who are the center of a custody dispute to their foster family while it decides whether to take the case.

The Michigan Court of Appeals awarded custody of the four children to their grandmother last June. The court said Michigan law automatically gives preference to relatives when parents' rights are terminated -- especially relatives with an existing relationship with the children.

In this case, the appeals court found the grandmother, who lives in Florida, to be in good health, employed as a registered nurse, and can meet the children's needs.

But the Muskegon County prosecutor and a court- appointed guardian argued the children were already in a stable environment with a foster family and shouldn't be moved.

In a brief order and without further explanation of its reasons, the Supreme Court said the children should be returned to the foster family they were living with while it makes further decisions in the case, including whether to hear the appeal.

10:26 am
Tue August 6, 2013

Michigan's new tax on pensions challenged in court

Retired Battle Creek school teacher Connie Cole Burland waves a sign at a state Capitol rally to oppose Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to tax pensions.
Rick Pluta Michigan Public Radio Network

A class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of retired public employees against the state for extending Michigan’s income tax to pensions.

Extending the income tax to pensions was part of a tax overhaul adopted by the Legislature in 2011 that scrapped the Michigan Business Tax.

People born after 1945 started paying taxes on pension income last year.

The lawsuit claims the state broke a promise made in writing to retirees.

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7:29 am
Sat August 3, 2013

Pontiac schools edge closer to getting an emergency manager

Pontiac Middle School.
pontiac.k12.mi.us Pontiac School District

A state review team has determined the Pontiac school district is saddled with so much debt it’s in a financial crisis.

Now it’s up to Governor Rick Snyder to decide whether he agrees with that determination.

The state-appointed board found the school district’s debt has continued to grow over the past five years and it’s now almost $38 million dollars in the red with no credible plan to dig out. The district has missed paying some critical bills, including employee health insurance premiums.

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5:51 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

Officials reject school board recall petition drive

The Lansing Capitol
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The elections board in Washtenaw County has rejected a recall petition drive aimed at local school board members. It’s one of the first such actions since the Legislature passed a law making it harder to recall elected officials. The Washtenaw County Elections Commission ruled the petition was not sufficiently clear on why six members of the Ann Arbor Board of Education should be removed by voters.

The board did not rule on whether the petitions were factual. That’s also required under the new law. Washtenaw County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum says he thinks that would violate the Michigan Constitution.

“For us to make those kinds of determinations flies in the face of what the Constitution provides that the sufficiency of reasons for a recall is a political question, not a judicial question. It’s a political question... means it’s up to the people.”

Kestenbaum says he expects the recall law will eventually face a court challenge.

Politics & Government
10:05 am
Thu August 1, 2013

Public employee unions begin contract talks with state

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada.

It was smiles and handshakes Wednesday as public employee unions opened contract talks with the state. The current contract expires at the end of 2014, but the new contracts need to be ready by the end of this year -- just in time for Gov. Rick Snyder to put together his next budget proposal.

Jan Winter is the governor’s top negotiator. She says the state is looking for ways to get employees more engaged in decisions that affect how they do their jobs.

“At the same time, we’re looking at all the operational considerations and requirements in all of the collective bargaining agreements,” Winter said. “And working jointly to address those, so that we’ve got the most-efficient government possible.”

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Politics & Government
9:14 am
Wed July 31, 2013

State, unions open contract talks; right-to-work at issue

Credit The Toad / Flickr

The state of Michigan opens negotiations today with employee unions, and one of the big questions is how the state’s new right-to-work law will affect the bargaining.

The unions say the right-to-work law does not cover state civil service workers. They say the law is trumped by the independence of the state’s civil service system. They say that’s how the Michigan Constitution set it up.

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7:00 am
Wed July 31, 2013

Preparing for the possibility of judge striking down gay marriage ban

Paul Holland (left) and Austin Ashley (right) plan a commitment ceremony in September before headed to New York to be formally married. They say they’d get married in Michigan if the state’s same-sex marriage is struck down.
Rick Pluta

Some county clerks are already planning what to do if a federal judge overturns Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages. There are efforts underway to create a gender-neutral version of Michigan’s marriage license and county wedding applications.

Paul Holland and Austin Ashley are planning a commitment ceremony in late September.

Things appear to be coming together. A service at a Buddhist temple, followed by a reception with dancing, drinks, a cake. Well, if they can settle on a cake. Holland says there’s a disagreement there.

“One of us is going to have to give in and give something to the other one, or we’ll just flip a coin, or however it needs to be resolved.”

Sometime later this year, Holland and Ashley plan a trip to New York to be formally married in a state that permits same-sex weddings. Those plans could be altered depending on a decision by a federal judge in Detroit on or shortly after October 1. 

Ashley and Holland say they’d hold a legal wedding ceremony in Michigan if U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman strikes down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban and allows gay weddings to go ahead.

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9:37 am
Mon July 29, 2013

State attorney general responds to challenge to same-sex marriage ban

Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, with their adopted children.
DeBoer Rowse Adoption Legal Fund

The state attorney general’s office has filed its response to a lesbian couple’s claim that Michigan’s marriage and adoption laws discriminate against their children.

Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer are suing the state to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage. The amendment to the Michigan Constitution was approved by voters in 2004.

Rowse and DeBoer originally sued to win rights to jointly adopt the three children they’re raising together. U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman suggested they should expand their challenge to include the marriage amendment. So they filed a 34-point amended complaint last September. It says the marriage amendment violates their family’s rights to equal protection.

Expanding the scope of the lawsuit upset social conservatives like Gary Glenn of the American Family Association. He helped draft the amendment and was a leader of the campaign to adopt it.

“We believe it’s the duty of the governor of this state and the attorney general to enforce state law and uphold and defend the vote of the people and our state constitution,” Glenn said. “Even in the face of a decision by a federal judge who presumes to take it upon himself to have the power to overrule millions of Michigan voters.”

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8:17 pm
Sat July 27, 2013

Michigan Attorney General to challenge changes to Detroit pensions

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
AG's office

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state constitution protects Detroit pension benefits from being reduced or eliminated by the city’s bankruptcy.

Schuette says he will be in court Monday asking to join the case on behalf of pensioners.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes took control of lawsuits challenging the bankruptcy filing because it puts city pension benefits in jeopardy. But he has not ruled on the substance of the question, which is whether the benefits are shielded by protections in the Michigan Constitution.

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5:10 pm
Fri July 26, 2013

Supreme Court dismisses wrongful death lawsuit in suicide case

The Michigan Supreme Court
photo courtesy of the MI Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled the family of a man who committed suicide cannot sue the Kent County Sheriff’s Department for failing to carry out a court order that might have saved his life.

Stephan Bradley’s family says he might not have killed himself if deputies had acted on a warrant that he should be brought in for a psychiatric evaluation. Instead, nine days after the warrant was issued, Bradley committed suicide. An internal inquiry found department procedures were not followed.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by his sister was dismissed because governments cannot be sued for not doing a job as well is it should be done. The sister went back seeking a contempt of court judgment on the same grounds seeking similar damages. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that was essentially the same lawsuit and ruled local governments are still immune from that type of litigation.

It's Just Politics
1:49 pm
Fri July 26, 2013

Duggan and Dugeon poised for alpha-battle

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This week, it’s another shenanigans edition of It’s Just Politics. Thanks to Jack Lessenberry for his explainer on the latest political mischief coming out of Detroit. It’s important to note this kind of political behavior is nothing new: Very crowded primary ballots with names that are very similar; recruited by opposing campaigns. Efforts to divide the vote can also take into account ethnicity, gender when one side recruits candidates with no hope of winning but, can maybe split the vote to sink another campaign come Election Day. No matter what you think of political games, they’re pretty normal.

Mike Duggan, former hospital CEO, prosecutor and problem-solver for the late Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara launched his Detroit mayoral write-in campaign after he was booted from the ballot after one his opponents challenged him for filing his nomination petitions before he was a city resident for a full-year. But a lot of experts were giving his write-in effort a pretty good shot at getting him into the two-person runoff this coming fall. He’s topping the polls and appeared to have a good shot at winning a spot on the November runoff.

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Politics & Government
3:24 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

Governor cheers ruling dismissing bankruptcy lawsuits

Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr

Governor Rick Snyder cheered the news that three lawsuits trying to block the Detroit bankruptcy filing have been dismissed.

Instead, U.S. bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes says he will decide whether those issues will
play a part in the process.

Governor Snyder says that will make the process a lot simpler for everyone involved.

"One of the benefits of the bankruptcy process is you can, hopefully, consolidate all these lawsuits into one place in a much more organized, thoughtful fashion," he says.

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4:33 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

Michigan Court of Appeals blocks further action in Detroit bankruptcy case

Peter Martorano Flickr

The Michigan Court of Appeals has blocked further action in three lawsuits filed in Lansing that attempt to stop the Detroit bankruptcy case. The decision comes on the eve of the first hearing before a federal bankruptcy judge.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has stopped any further proceedings in the Ingham County lawsuit while a three-judge panel looks into the case.

The appeals court stayed a judge’s order that the bankruptcy filing be withdrawn, and it ordered the next round of arguments to be filed no later than the close of business Friday.

But it’s possible U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes will order all lawsuits dealing with Detroit’s bankruptcy to run through his court.

Detroit city employees and pension funds say the bankruptcy filing is contrary to the Michigan Constitution. That’s because the state Constitution has specific protections for public employee pensions that could be reduced by a bankruptcy.