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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Law
2:06 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Detroit bankruptcy decision to wait a week

Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina
Ingham County

Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina says she will decide next Monday whether the bankruptcy filing violates the Michigan Constitution, and its protections for pension benefits. 

Ronald King is an attorney for city pension funds. He says the bankruptcy can still go forward. But he says the state should not proceed on anything that might threaten pension benefits.

"Maybe the courts will disagree with us, but there is a constitutional protection in place that guarantees or protects accrued pension benefits, and we have an obligation to at least play that out."

That could be a problem when it comes to dealing with Detroit's heavy debt burden. Pension funds are among the city's largest creditors. The state says the case belongs in federal court. 

It's Just Politics
4:04 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

Snyder might not own Detroit, but he owns its bankruptcy

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

The Detroit bankruptcy filing is Michigan’s biggest news story of the year, with effects that will ripple out in all kinds of ways; many that are unpredictable.  It would be naïve to suggest that politics will not be a big part of how this plays out – if it hasn’t already.

So let’s run the bases on this, starting with Governor Rick Snyder. Snyder approved the bankruptcy filing, the largest in U.S. history, and it is now part of his legacy and his resume (whether he likes it or not) as he prepares to seek reelection next year. Every painful and controversial decision by a federal bankruptcy judge will be laid upon Rick Snyder by Democrats. Snyder may not own Detroit, but he sure owns its problems.

This is an awkward place for any leader to be, although not an unusual one. This is a governor being controlled by events, not controlling them. A couple years ago Snyder relentlessly, positively insisted that bankruptcy for Detroit was not an option; almost unthinkable. Now, he says there was really no other choice.   “This is a difficult situation – but the answer is, by not doing this path, where would we be? And, so, this is an opportunity to say ‘let’s get that fresh start’ and show the rest of the country why Detroit can be an exciting place that can grow into the future,” Snyder said yesterday evening, about two hours after the Chapter 9 filing.

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Politics & Government
6:36 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

State Senate may vote next month on expanding Medicaid in Michigan

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

There could be a vote in the state Senate in late August on a bill to extend Medicaid health coverage to thousands of un-insured working poor people.

That’s despite Governor Rick Snyder’s call for a vote earlier than that.

The governor has said waiting until late August could jeopardize the state’s ability to get federal approval, and then sign up people in time for coverage to begin when the new federal healthcare law takes effect in January.

The state House has already passed its version of a Medicaid bill.

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Economy
6:24 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

Michigan's jobless rate ticks up

Michigan’s monthly unemployment rate jumped slightly to 8.7%, as more people are competing for jobs.

There are actually about 9 thousand more people working in Michigan.  But there are also more people who told the government’s monthly employment survey that they are looking for work.

Michigan’s rate of unemployment and under-employment is 16.1%. That includes people who’ve stopped looking for work or part-timers who’d like to be full-time.

The state’s jobless rate from this point 12 months ago is down six-tenths of a percentage point.

Politics & Government
10:17 am
Wed July 17, 2013

Legislation would allow petition campaigns to cap public employee benefits

Leon Drolet
Wikipedia

There’s legislation pending in Lansing that would allow voters to amend local charters to cap public employee compensation and benefits.

Courts have held that local initiatives don’t trump collective bargaining rights.

Former state Representative Leon Drolet heads the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance. He says the legislation is an effort to get around that, to let voters run ballot drives and amend city charters.

“There would still be a collective bargaining process,” Drolet explained. “They would still set benefit levels, but there would be a cap on what the city could agree to, and what could be part of that negotiating process. Right now, there’s no cap.”

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Environment & Science
5:30 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

Should hunting wolves be allowed in Michigan? You'll see another petition drive this summer

Al Warren

The petition drive to put a second referendum challenging a Michigan law that allows wolf hunting can go ahead.

A state elections board has approved the form of the petition today.

Now the campaign can start gathering signatures to put the question on the November 2014 ballot.

If the campaign succeeds, it will be the second hunting referendum on next year’s ballot.

The first challenges an earlier wolf hunting law.

Jill Fritz is with the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign. She says the second hunting law was passed with a specific purpose.

“And that was to stop our referendum from maintaining protection for Michigan’s wolves. We all know that,” said Fritz. “Everybody understands that, and that’s why we’re doing the second referendum.”

Opponents of the referendum on the hunting law asked the panel to strip any mention of wolf hunting from the summary on the petition describing what it would do. They said the hunting law encompasses more than wolves.

The request was refused.

Kent Wood is with the Michigan Wildlife Coalition, which opposes the referendum drive.

“Really, truly, the next step for us is to continue to organize our campaign the signatures, our decline to sign campaign.”

Wood says a court challenge is not out of the question.

Despite these petition efforts, a wolf hunt is scheduled to take place this November.

It's Just Politics
2:44 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

A short history of politicians’ declarations of independence

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Welcome to our post-Independence Day edition of It’s Just Politics and, today, we’re talking Independents.

This week, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel let it be known he wants the “D,” for Democrat, stripped from the column alongside his name in the Macomb County directory. Hackel told The Macomb Daily that he doesn’t think being a Democrat, or a Republican for that matter, really makes a difference in his job as county executive. And, that he doesn’t really consider himself a party person.

This certainly isn’t the only incarnation of Hackel’s independent streak. He has refused to endorse the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor, Mark Schauer. Nor, will he utter an unkind word about Governor Rick Snyder; and he’s been silent on the controversial right-to-work law.

But this latest episode did prompt a statement from Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson, who embraced Hackel and praised his service to the Democratic Party.

We should be clear: Hackel is not making noises about leaving the Democratic Party. But there is a history in fickle Macomb County – Michigan’s hotbed of political disharmony – of Democrats bailing.

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Law
9:59 am
Thu July 11, 2013

Legal challenge to Michigan's ban on gay marriage will be heard in October

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, with their children.
Paul Sancya Associated Press

A federal judge in Detroit has set an October 1 hearing date for a legal challenge to Michigan’s ban on gay marriage and adoptions by same-sex couples. April DeBoer says the ban violates the civil rights of the three children she and her partner are raising together.

Judge Bernard Friedman wants to hear how attorneys for the state and for the couple -- DeBoer and Jayne Rouse -- think the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act affects this case.

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Politics & Government
10:25 am
Tue July 9, 2013

Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether a governor can reverse clemency decision

Governor Jennifer Granholm
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Governor Jennifer Granholm exceeded her authority when she reversed her decision to commute the life sentence of a convicted murderer.

Matthew Makowski is serving a sentence of life without parole for murder and armed robbery. 

During her final days in office, Governor Granholm used her executive authority to commute his sentence to make him eligible for parole. The paperwork was filed and sent to the state Department of Corrections.

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Politics & Government
3:17 pm
Wed July 3, 2013

No vote on Medicaid expansion as supporters and opponents prod state Senate

The crowd waiting for the Michigan Senate Government Operations Committee this morning. Despite calls for a vote, there won't be one today.
Rick Pluta MPRN

Update 3:17 p.m.

The Michigan Senate met today in a chamber stripped of desks and carpet. The state Capitol is being refurbished during the Legislature’s summer recess.

Despite the construction, Senate Republican leaders decided to hold a brief session today which included a meeting to discuss Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

In the end, the Senate adjourned for two weeks without voting on expanding Medicaid coverage to almost half a million uninsured people in Michigan.

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It's Just Politics
3:04 pm
Fri June 28, 2013

Medicaid is the cure for Snyder's summertime blues

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

The Legislature’s off on its summer recess and Governor Rick Snyder is on a Pure Michigan tour of Republican senators’ districts to hammer them for leaving Lansing without voting on his top policy priority, the Medicaid expansion.

We are now at another point in this administration where Governor Snyder is trying to grab hold of the Lansing agenda and shape it to his liking. This is the Nerd’s version of offense: hitting members’ districts, trying to engage the public to compel recalcitrant Republicans to interrupt their summer recess to approve the Medicaid expansion, something that is fiercely opposed by the Tea Party.

And, that’s a good reason why state Senate Republicans, out of principle, political expediency or both, have not been able to get a majority of the GOP caucus to support the expansion – or, at least, putting the question up for a vote. Which is what’s so frustrating to Governor Snyder, who thinks there are enough votes in the state Senate to support the Medicaid expansion. It’s just that most of the votes are Democrats. Twelve of them; we’re pretty sure they’d all vote for it. Which means it would only take eight Republican senators to pass it or, seven Republican senators with Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley casting the tie-breaking vote.

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Law
1:40 pm
Fri June 28, 2013

Judge strikes down Michigan ban on partner benefits

A federal judge struck down a Michigan law that denies health care to gay and lesbian partners
Flickr/Marlith

In a preliminary ruling, a federal judge has struck down a state law that prohibits public employers from offering health coverage and other benefits to the live-in partners of gay and lesbian employees.

The state law was aimed at at least 10 Michigan school districts, municipalities, counties, and community colleges that made provisions to ensure the benefits of employees in same-sex relationships covered by their partners and any children they might be raising together. That after voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions in the Michigan Constitution.

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Politics & Government
10:52 am
Thu June 27, 2013

After Supreme Court rulings, advocates ready to fight for gay rights in Michigan

Gay rights advocates.
Aimee Hechler imgur.com

Listen to Rick Pluta's full story above.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on gay marriage don’t really change the legal status of same-sex couples in Michigan. In 2004, voters amended the Michigan Constitution to enact a sweeping ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But there’s a lot happening on the issue in courts, the Legislature, and on the campaign trail.

The Supreme Court’s decision returns gay marriage battles to Michigan and the 34 other states that prohibit same-sex marriage.

Gay rights groups here have set their sights on November of 2016. That’s when they hope to run a ballot question to reverse the state’s gay marriage ban. 

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Law
5:18 pm
Wed June 26, 2013

Understanding how today's Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage could affect Michigan

From the rally outside the Supreme Court.
Aimee Hechler imgur.com

Update 4:30 p.m.

Earlier this month, Michigan Radio's Lester Graham spoke with Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez - a gay couple in Michigan and the parents of two-year-old Lucas. The two were legally married in Washington D.C. last December, but they live in Michigan - a state that doesn't recognize their union:

"...it is very difficult for us to be in a two-parent family and not have that recognized."

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Politics & Government
11:35 am
Tue June 25, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court voting rights decision could impact areas in Michigan

U.S. Supreme Court.
TexasGOPvote.com Flickr

In its decision announced this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday "effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965," according to the New York Times.

In a 5-to-4 vote, the court said Congress is relying on outdated voting data in subjecting areas to federal oversight. More from the NYTimes:

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Politics & Government
5:27 pm
Fri June 21, 2013

The impasse on Medicaid expansion is complicating other political issues

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has called on state Senate Republicans to return to Lansing to vote on the Medicaid expansion. If not, Snyder says he could see the pattern repeated on raising more money for roads, student performance standards, and other controversial issues. He’s already been rebuffed on creating a state-run insurance exchange. 

But the governor says he remains optimistic that there is a path to winning an expansion of Medicaid.

Gretchen Whitmer is the state Senate Democratic leader, and she supports the expansion. She says the vote never happened because too many Republicans fear a Tea Party backlash, and she expects it will happen again.

She said this signals future problems ahead with issue like infrastructure, and called the Tea Party pressure "the tail is wagging the dog."

The governor wants the Legislature to tackle road funding once a Medicaid deal is approved. He wants that done within 30 days, but the Senate is not expected to reconvene until late August. The governor says that would be too late.

Scott Hagerstrom is the Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity. He says his group won’t stop trying to block policies that could lead to a growth in the size of government.

“The governor pushes on – ‘relentless positive action’ – and it’s never really over. It’ll never be over until he’s out of office, so on that note, we’ll just have to continue to educate Michigan citizens.”

Hagerstrom says that will hold true in the future as the governor pushes for more revenue for roads or any other tax or fee hikes. He says there are some things the governor has done that conservatives like.

Hagerstrom says his group will push the Legislature to keep the governor in check.

It's Just Politics
2:21 pm
Fri June 21, 2013

Medicaid impasse: Tea Party pushes around a Nerd

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This week on It’s Just Politics, we break down the breakdown over the Medicaid expansion. We’re thinking a bit about Mick Jagger right now (something along the lines of, “You can’t always get what you want") and Jagger might just have been singing that tune for Governor Snyder, who, yesterday, was once again denied by the Michigan Legislature. This time, by the state Senate, they left town, out-of-dodge for the summer apparently, without voting on an expansion of Medicaid.

The Medicaid expansion is the governor’s top policy objective at the moment and, so, Mr. Relentless Positive Action ain’t too happy. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘angry,’ but, obviously this is not my normal demeanor. What word you’d like to put on it, I’ll leave it to you.”

Peeved? Vexed? Splenetic. We’ll step away from the thesaurus, now, and breakdown this breakdown. First of all, Rick Snyder played a big part in creating this problem for himself. He and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley were both missing during some critical days of these negotiations. This was the final week of session before the Legislature’s summer break and, yet, face-to-face Medicaid negotiations were delegated while the governor went on a trade trip to Israel and the lieutenant governor was on a tour of the U.P.

Both of those trips were cut short as things melted down in Lansing, but precious time was lost. There are things only a governor can promise and he has to be in the room to do it. But, the governor may have set the stage for this impasse two summers ago when he signed into law the new legislative district maps; a lot of very safe Republican seats. When you do that, you also give outsize influence to the more extreme elements of your party. No wonder you can’t get Republicans to support you, governor. That’s how you set it up.

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Politics & Government
10:45 am
Fri June 21, 2013

Buena Vista, Inkster schools could be dissolved under bills headed to governor

Inkster High School. The Inkster school system could be shut down under the legislation.
Dwight Burdette wikimedia commons

The Michigan House has given final approval to bills that will allow the state to dissolve small, struggling school districts.

The legislation now goes to Governor Rick Snyder.

The first two districts affected would be Inkster and Buena Vista.

They’re small, losing students, and don’t have enough money to open in the fall. Republicans say the legislation will ensure students have a place to go when classes begin. They also hope it will encourage struggling districts to consolidate.

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Politics & Government
6:40 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

Michigan governor slams Senate Republicans for taking summer break without Medicaid vote

The leader of the State Senate, Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), said he hopes to address Medicaid expansion when the Senate comes back.
courtesy of Richardville's office

Governor Rick Snyder is calling on state Senate Republicans to return to Lansing.

That’s after the Senate adjourned for its summer recess without voting on a Medicaid expansion under the new federal healthcare law.

The episode left hard feelings, and dimming prospects for extending health coverage to many thousands of low-income working households.

One Tough Nerd angered by lack of action

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Education
5:48 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

Teachers rally in Lansing for more support of public education

A few hundred demonstrators rallied in front of the state Capitol today.

They called for more support for public education. They say Republican policies in Lansing to encourage more charter schools and online learning would come at the expense of students in traditional public school classrooms.
    
Stephanie Keiles is a middle school teacher in the Plymouth-Canton district who helped organize the rally. She says teachers are growing frustrated.

“We just felt like our profession’s been demoralized, that things are being done that are not in the best interest of kids, and we don’t like where everything is headed, and how can we stop it?”

Democratic candidate for governor Mark Schauer was among the speakers who addressed the crowd.

Governor Rick Snyder’s office released a statement that per-student financial support has grown over the past three years since he took office.

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