Zoe Clark

Reporter/Producer

Zoe Clark is a producer as well as the co-host of the Friday afternoon segment It's Just Politics on Michigan Radio. She produces Morning Edition, Jack Lessenberry’s daily essays, and Michigan Radio’s local interviews, including those by All Things Considered host Jennifer White and Morning Edition host Christina Shockley. She is also a substitute on-air host. She has been at Michigan Radio since 2006.

Zoe began her collegiate studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She holds degrees in Communication Studies and Political Science from the University of Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor, where she was born and raised.

Email: zoeclark@umich.edu

Twitter: @ZoeMelina

Pages

It's Just Politics
2:41 pm
Fri January 11, 2013

Will Republicans and Democrats play nice in Lansing in 2013?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

The 97th Legislature of the state of Michigan began this week, having still not shaken off the hangover of last year, as Republicans forced through controversial issues like right-to-work during last month’s lame duck session. And, it’s probably fair to say that this is more than a double-aspirin hangover.

There are however, some efforts toward mending some of the very hard feelings leftover. “This past year has strained relationships,” state House Speaker Jase Bolger said on the House floor, “however, we can and should leave that past behind us.” Of course, that’s easy to say when you’re not the one still spitting the sand out of your mouth. But, Democrats and Republicans did negotiate for a peaceful opening day.

Yet, Democrats and unions have made it plain that forgive and forget is not in the cards.  They want the last two years, especially everything that happened in December, to be the main topic of conversation in Michigan politics for the next two years. And it certainly seemed like another thumb in their eye when the Michigan Economic Development Corporation paid for an ad in the Wall Street Journal touting Michigan as the nation’s newest right-to-work state under the banner of the very successful and super popular Pure Michigan brand. Democrats say it’s politicizing the brand and some marketing experts are even saying it might not have been the wisest choice.

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It's Just Politics
9:32 pm
Fri January 4, 2013

MI politics? Newton had it right: to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction

Matthileo Flickr

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It’s the first It’s Just Politics of the new year and we took advantage of our sabbatical to ponder what might be the big political news in 2013. We say “might” because, well, really, who would have thought at the beginning of 2012 that our biggest political story would be Michigan becoming a right-to-work state? The biggest story out of a year already filled with intrigue, political gossip and bombshells.

Right-to-work consequences

Certainly, there’s already intrigue afoot over how Democrats and labor are going to respond to the passage of right-to-work. It can be argued that the escalation really began in 2011. That’s when the Michigan Education Association, in particular, responded to some Republican anti-union legislation by launching a recall effort. They succeeded in recalling state Representative Paul Scott, then-chair of the state House Education Committee.

Skip ahead to November 2012 and Proposal Two. Prop Two failed, and, then, voila!, Michigan the country’s 24th right-to-work state. Now, that’s just a simple version of what’s a much more complex tale. But, it does give one a sense of how politics is played here in Michigan… kinda reminds us of Sean Connery’s line in “The Untouchables."

Connery: He pulls a knife. You pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital. You send one of his to the morgue.

When talking about Michigan politics, Newton had it right, “to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.”

Retaliation

Unions and progressives could try to challenge what happened in the lame duck session on the November 2014 ballot; not just challenging right-to-work but the new emergency manager law, too. The new EM law is a rewrite of the 2011 law that voters rejected via referendum in November. The organizers of that ballot drive are now crying foul, saying the new EM law is similar to the one that voters already said "no" to.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder and legislative Republicans made it impossible for voters to repeal this new EM law. We’ve talked about this often on It’s Just Politics: lawmakers can make it impossible for voters to repeal a law by adding money – appropriations – into the measure. Voters cannot repeal legislation with money in it. So, lawmakers added appropriations to the emergency manager and the right-to-work laws.

But, that doesn’t mean opponents still can’t go to the ballot.

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It's Just Politics
2:23 pm
Fri December 21, 2012

Governor Snyder's push for a new message for the New Year

Governor Rick Snyder
Snyder Administration

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta. Friday, December 21st, 2012

Governor Rick Snyder held a year-end roundtable with reporters today.  That’s on top of the public bill-signings and one-on-one interviews and meet-ups he’s held with various reporters and editorial boards in the past few weeks. These meetings are a December staple of the Lansing political-journalism culture. But, today’s additional roundtable with reporters raises the question: after hours and hours already spent being interviewed, why is the Governor holding yet another meeting with the press?

A likely answer: The governor wants to reset the conversation, at least a little, and shift some attention from controversies like Michigan’s new right-to-work law and his veto of concealed weapons legislation to some good news stories – or, at least, what he calls good news stories.

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It's Just Politics
1:21 pm
Sat December 15, 2012

With lame duck over, (political) eyes turn to 2014

State Capitol building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This week we saw the wrap-up of the Legislature’s lame duck session. It was big and messy and there’s still a lot to sort out.  But clearly the biggest news, history-making, really, was that Michigan will become the nation’s 24th right-to-work state. Right-to-work is a loaded issue with passionate supporters and
opponents. Thousands and thousands of protesters turned out to try and make their voices heard. This will be an issue that resonates for a long time. It has huge cultural consequences. But, as always, on It’s Just Politics, we want to focus on the inside mechanics, the down-and-dirty politics.

And, some of the politics during lame-duck sure was down and dirty. One of the final actions of the Republican-controlled Legislature was to make it much harder to recall elected officials. Recalls are among the retributions being plotted by labor in the face of right-to-work. This could be a bit of a game changer before that’s even started. That should have state Senator Partrick Colbeck, a Republican from a swing district in western Wayne County, breathing a little easier. Colbeck was a big backer of right-to-work and is now considering a top recall target by Democrats.

Republicans also made sure their work won’t be the target of a referendum campaign by putting an expenditure in it. GOP lawmakers also did this when they passed a new emergency manager law this week. We’ve talked about this before on It’s Just Politics: how Republicans in this session have used this provision in the Michigan Constitution that’s meant to protect the state’s ability to pay its bills. But, it’s being used, time and again, to shield laws from the threat of voter-reversal through a referendum.

This week, after months – years, really – of saying right-to-work wasn’t something he wanted, that it was too divisive of an issue, Governor Snyder signed the legislation into law. To many, it seemed almost like it was forced on him. Particularly after One Tough Nerd had been a Hamlet on the question, “to be right-to-work or not to be right-to-work…?” This has many political observers wondering: was this just a Kabuki  dance all along? Was there always a plan to “do” right-to-work?

Meanwhile, compare the Governor’s apprehension with Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger. Bolger, who just might be Lansing’s most-powerful politician right now, was *never* coy about the issue. No doubt about it: he wanted, pushed for, worked for right-to-work. And, how interesting it is that it was just a little over a month ago that Bolger was teetering on the edge of humiliation. House Republicans had mismanaged a couple of controversies (think the Roy Schmidt party-changing episode and “Vagina-gate”) and Bolger came close to becoming the first House Speaker in 20 years to lose his seat. But, he came back to Lansing after the election, seemingly unharmed,  and waged the battle over right-to-work.

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It's Just Politics
12:03 pm
Sun December 9, 2012

The big question: after Governor Snyder says he'll sign Right to Work... what happens next?

What a week it was.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Shouting and chanting filled the halls and rotunda of the State Capitol building on Thursday as Right to Work bills made their way into the state House and Senate. And, more protests are likely this week as the Legislature will take what are likely the final votes to send this so-called “right to work”-  or “freedom to work” bills as they’re known to some supporters and “right to work for less” if you’re on the union side – to the governor’s desk.

And Snyder will almost certainly sign them. This week, within the space of 72 hours, right-to-work went from “not on my agenda” to “on THE agenda” to Governor Snyder embracing the issue… even after months – years, really – of saying he didn’t want to take up such a divisive issue.

Here at It’s Just Politics, we’re wondering if it’s about time that the phrase “not on my agenda” has to be retired. The Governor has used the “not on my agenda” phrase before – over the issue of repealing the motorcycle helmet law and domestic partner benefits – and, yet, when these issues actually reach his desk: he signs them.

So, the question this week is: what changed in the Governor’s mind? What made him give-in? Was it simply a matter of inevitability? Right-to-work had just kind of taken on a life of its own after voters knocked down Proposal Two and a lot of interest groups were arguing that that could be interpreted as a referendum on “right-to-work” by Michigan voters; some Republican lawmakers took it as a sign that now was the time to try and introduce the issue. Maybe the governor just had to make the best deal he could once it became clear he was getting a right-to-work bill no matter what.

It certainly makes his life less complicated vis a vis a potential Republican primary in 2014. But it does complicate his general election prospects when this will almost certainly be used against him.

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It's Just Politics
1:50 pm
Sat December 1, 2012

Governor Snyder: Right to work, "takes the oxygen out of the room"

Governor Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, for political junkies, the best time is still Election Day. But, the lame duck legislative season sure ain’t that bad either for Capitol-watchers. And, this year’s lame duck sure is serving up plenty of plots and intrigue; almost all of it revolving around right to work, an issue that’s not even officially on the agenda. In fact, there’s no bill yet. Nothing in writing. But just the prospect, the very possibility of right to work, is sapping up Lansing’s energy; every lobbyist, every legislator is paying attention to it.

And that’s become a problem for Governor Rick Snyder. “It’s a divisive issue. And you just look at all the activity and there are a lot of things we are talking about otherwise and it just kind of takes the oxygen out of the room, so hopefully this is something that can get some closure relatively quickly,” Snyder said this week at the state Capitol.

The issue is hanging over and holding up school reforms, a tax rollback for manufacturers and other businesses, overhauling Blue Cross-Blue Shield… the list goes on and on. There’s a small subset of issues where Democrats in their minority wilderness in Lansing can try to pull a power play – and they’re threatening to without some assurances that right to work is off the table in the lame duck session. The tension is palpable. A platoon of State Police troopers was called to the Capitol as a preemptive measure on Thursday against a Wisconsin-style state Capitol takeover in case right to work does come up.

It would seem that Governor Rick Snyder could settle the uncertainty. But, instead, he says “On any of this, I’ve been very clear for the past 2 or 3 years – right to work is not on my agenda and that’s what I’m going to say on this topic and that’s it.” So, it raises the question: why won’t Governor Snyder put this to rest? Why doesn’t he make it go away by saying, “I will veto this if it reaches my desk”? Well, there’s a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, it wouldn’t make his troubles go away. It would only trade one set of problems for another. That’s because debating and certainly signing right to work would launch a war with labor. Recalls are already being threatened. Governor Snyder has aspirations to be a two-term governor. Vetoing or promising to veto right to work pretty much guarantees him a credible Republican primary challenge.

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It's Just Politics
4:55 pm
Fri November 23, 2012

The “It’s Just Politics” Lexicon of Political Euphemism, Evasion, and Parenthetical Honesty

Welcome to the post-Thanksgiving tryptophan edition of “It’s Just Politics,” and we are humbled by your support. Yes, “humbled,” we say. The word “humble,” it’s become a standard part of the election night victory speech. And it does appear to be a sincere acknowledgement that a candidate didn’t get elected on their own; there was campaign staff, volunteers, donors and, of course, voters.

But, it’s election night. The candidate has vanquished their opponent, people are screaming and cheering for the winner, and what that candidate decides to announce at that moment, what their feeling is “humbled?”

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

With that in mind, we’ve decided it’s back-to-school time with the “It’s Just Politics” Lexicon of Political Euphemism, Evasion, and Parenthetical Honesty. Our translator, Rick Pluta, has been covering Michigan politics for twenty-five years and has come to recognize the nuances of the political dialect. Like, when Governor Rick Snyder says “not on my agenda,” that actually means “ain’t sayin’ no.” Now, we’ve all done this, right? When you say this, you really mean that. Your teenager says, “I’ll be home by 10.” That really means tomorrow by sunrise.

To launch our lexicon, you will find a commonly used political phrase in Italics followed by its common meaning – outside of the environs populated by political types – in Bold. Feel free to play along and see how many translations you can come up with!

This is above politics = This is all about politics

I’m willing to listen = I’ve made up my mind

We need to set aside politics = They need to set aside their politics

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It's Just Politics
2:01 pm
Fri November 16, 2012

Post-election the Michigan Tea Party continues to try to flex its muscle

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta for Friday, November 16th, 2012

Before we get down to pure-politics this week, we want to first take a moment to remember former Michigan First Lady Helen Milliken, who just passed away. She was married to Michigan’s longest-serving governor, Bill Milliken, thus, making Ms. Milliken the state’s longest serving first lady. She was not a woman content to simply stand in the shadow of her husband’s accomplishments. She was part of that generation of first ladies, embodied also by Betty Ford, who made it clear that even though they were married to their husbands, they had their own opinions, their own causes, and their own accomplishments.

First Lady Milliken was an advocate for the arts, for environmental causes, feminism and abortion rights. She was an ardent enough activist in her own right that when Michigan environmentalists wanted to recognize environmental activism they named it the Helen and William Milliken Distinguished Service Award. She exerted some influence in making those Bill Milliken’s priorities, as well, even though at times it put both of them at odds with the more-conservative elements of the Republican Party.

And, interestingly enough, this brings us to the current Republican administration. There are some tensions between Snyder-Republicans and the right wing of the Republican Party, especially the Tea Party. The Tea Party continues to send the message that it is not planning on going away, that it’s going to continue to push Republicans in the most-conservative direction possible. And we’re really seeing this play out with two particular issues right now in Michigan: health insurance exchanges and right to work.

The politics of the Exchanges

The health insurance exchanges are the online marketplaces where people and small businesses will shop for health insurance under Obamacare. Like Orbitz or Travelocity, but for health insurance. Basically, Michigan has three options: a state-run exchange, a federally run exchange, or some type of hybrid. Governor Snyder and a lot of business groups wanted a state exchange. But, all year-long, state House Republicans kept saying, “No, not yet.”

First House Republicans wanted to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. When that didn’t go the way they wanted, they said the state should wait for the November election and see who’s elected president, with the idea that if Governor Romney was elected, then Obamacare would be repealed and the health insurance exchanges would be a moot point. But, as we know, that didn’t go the way they wanted either. And, now, they’re still dragging their feet, saying they still have more questions.

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It's Just Politics
6:40 pm
Mon November 12, 2012

So... did last week's election really change anything in Michigan?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It’s time for a post-mortem edition of It’s Just Politics and, as the saying goes, it’s time for political reporters to come down from the hills after the battle to bayonet the wounded. Are your blades sharpened?

All six of the state’s ballot questions were voted down with a majority of “no” votes. “No” was what the people who put Proposal One on the ballot wanted – voter rejection of the state’s super controversial emergency manager law. That was bad news for Governor Rick Snyder. Public Act Four was one of the first laws he signed as a big supporter of tough medicine for cities and school districts that find themselves in big financial trouble. The Governor’s chosen candidate for U.S. Senate, former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, lost to incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. His endorsement didn’t seem to do Mitt Romney much good in Michigan either. But still, he’s a happy guy… you can’t keep this nerd down.  

In fact, the Governor has five reasons to be happy: Proposals Two through Six went down in defeat, just as he wanted. It’s pretty interesting to note that after millions and millions of dollars were spent – on both sides of the proposals – that they all went down by pretty large margins. Proposal One made a race of it. But we just have to wonder if it didn’t get pulled down by the “just say ‘no’” campaign waged by Snyder, business groups, and many Republicans.

On the very top of the ticket, however, voters said “Yes” to Democrats. For the sixth time in a row, Michigan voted for the Democratic candidate for President. And, the Obama machine was just that – a machine. Data-driven, organized and relentless. Republicans thought they had a shot at Michigan – never happened. Meanwhile, as we mentioned, incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow won a third term in the U.S. Senate. The GOP thought they had a shot at the seat. Never happened.  Pete Hoekstra never seemed to recover after the China Super Bowl ad debacle. He won the primary, true, but his campaign never picked up steam.

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It's Just Politics
1:14 pm
Sat November 3, 2012

With three days to go, Michigan's must-watch races

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It’s so close, we can smell it: Election Day. Three days away. And, apparently, three was the magic number this week as three presidential polls in Michigan were released.

The Detroit News got political pundits talking with a Glengariff poll that showed Mitt Romney and President Obama locked in a battle for Michigan. The point spread was three points, inside the margin of error. This had Republicans saying, “It’s a race here in Michigan!” To which the Obama campaigned responded, “Not so much.”

“With all due respect, I don’t think The Detroit News poll reflects where this race is in Michigan, and everything we see, all the data we get suggests there is a wider gap there,” concluded Senior Advisor to President Obama, David Axelrod. In fact, Axelrod is so confident of a Michigan-win for the President that he says he’ll shave off his mustache if Democrats don’t take the state’s 16 electoral votes. Republicans responded by dropping off a razor and shaving cream at the Obama headquarters in Lansing.

But, since then, two other polls seem to support that Michigan still leans Obama. EPIC MRA did a survey for The Detroit Free Press that showed President Obama with a slight lead – 48 to 42 percent, the same as earlier polls. But, that still means the president is below 50 percent.  Undecideds are still making a difference. Finally, a new Public Policy Polling survey showed the President with a commanding 53-45 lead in the state, although it does show Governor Romney’s position has improved slightly since the last PPP poll.

Meanwhile, the Romney-affiliated Super PAC has ramped up its spending in Michigan, and the Obama campaign has bought ads in metro Detroit for the first time. But we’re still not seeing the levels of spending and attention that suggests Michigan is really a presidential battleground state. That's certainly not to say, however,  that we don’t still have some battlegrounds in the state...

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It's Just Politics
6:00 am
Sat October 27, 2012

Though you won't find his name on the November ballot, Governor Snyder hits the campaign trail

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics, October 26th, 2012

Next week, with just a week and a half to go before Election Day, Governor Snyder will board a bus to tour the state. The purpose of the trip: to focus attention on the Emergency Manager Law referendum and the five proposed amendments to the state constitution that you’ll find on the November ballot.

The Governor says he’s going all out, “I’m in campaign mode, to be open with you. I’m not running for office, as you know, right now… I’m setting up a schedule to say this is a campaign, because this is a campaign for Michigan’s future.” The governor is calling for a “yes” vote on Proposal One and “no” on the rest. This election has been called a referendum that will determine the success of the rest of his first term.

So, for us political junkies, it raises the question: can a governor, particularly one “in campaign mode,” really push the results of a ballot campaign in one direction or another. Typically, the answer is “no.” It’s often tried but usually a politician’s appeal or popularity does not rub off onto ballot proposals. Though they can gather a bit of media attention at first, endorsements are one of the most overrated political activities. The fact is, campaigns win or lose on the strength of message and organization. So, then, why do politicians engage in endorsements? Well, because politicians work with what they’ve got. A governor still has a platform, and it’s easier to sow seeds of doubt than to sell a ballot question. That’s why the governor is already working on a Plan B for a re-vamped Emergency Manager Law after the election, in case the EM Law is overturned.

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It's Just Politics
2:38 pm
Sun October 21, 2012

Voting for state Supreme Court Justices is a complicated affair

Immortalpoet Flickr

This week on It’s Just Politics we take a look at Michigan’s Supreme Court races.

State Supreme Court candidates appear on the non-partisan part of the ballot with no hint of party-affiliation, except if a candidate is an incumbent. But these justices are initially nominated by political parties at conventions. It’s slightly bizarre. The idea was the political parties would do the initial vetting, but then the candidates – and the Supreme Court – would be independent of partisan influence. As a matter of fact, an incumbent Supreme Court justice can nominate himself or herself without having to win at a party convention. Justice Charles Levin used to do that that until he retired in 1996. However, this hasn’t happened since, largely because of money.

The Supreme Court nominees don’t get the benefit of straight-ticket voting. But they do get all the other benefits of major party nominations. The Republican and Democratic parties and their kindred interest groups spend millions of dollars to get their candidates elected to the Supreme Court. Those kindred interests are business groups, the insurance industry for Republicans; the trial bar for Democrats. The campaigns go largely unnoticed, but they’re fierce, even personal sometimes.

There was the “sleeping judge” ad in 2008 that depicted then-Chief Justice Cliff Taylor as someone who slept through arguments (which wasn’t true). The ad helped make Taylor the first sitting justice to lose his job in an election in something like a quarter century. One year, Republicans ran an ad against a Democrat that showed this shady character’s shifty eyes and said as a judge, he favored lenient treatment for all kinds of horrid criminals. And, just this year, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said Republican Justice Stephen Markman would be sympathetic as a judge to Jerry Sandusky, the assistant Penn State coach charged with child molestation.

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It's Just Politics
7:00 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

Election 2012: Is Michigan a true battleground in the race for the White House?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

With just 25 days to go before the Presidential election, and a week since the first Presidential debate, a few pollsters and at least one analyst are putting Michigan into swing-state territory even though, as we’ve noted before, President Obama’s generally been given the edge in most polls in the state.

This week, Michigan enjoyed a round of visits from top flight presidential candidate surrogates starting with Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan on Monday. And, just today, we saw Anne Romney stumping for her husband, Mitt Romney, in the couple’s native-state.

So, the question remains, after five presidential election cycles with Michigan falling into the Democratic column, is Michigan an actual battleground state in 2012?

The right-leaning website Real Clear Politics says so. A Detroit News/WDIV poll shows the Obama lead shrinking since last week’s debate and a Gravis Marketing poll also puts the race for Michigan’s 16 electoral votes much closer than it has been. President Obama still leads, according to these surveys, but the momentum is moving toward Mitt Romney.

And, as we’ve said before, Michigan seems like it should be attainable for the GOP. It’s not like a Republican can’t get elected here statewide. Just ask Governor Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette or Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

But, aside from the Real Clear Politics call, no one else is really putting Michigan into that list of eight or nine states that are the focus of the fiercest competition (states like Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa). And, we’re certainly not seeing a big re-allocation of resources by the campaigns that would suggest things are changing in the mitten state.

One question that gets bandied about is: if Michigan isn’t a battleground state, then why are high profile campaign surrogates making regular stops here? Well, there are lots of reasons why candidates and their surrogates visit a state – fundraising, a quick visit to make sure a safe state stays that way. But President Obama hasn’t been here since April; Romney since August. In fact, this was the first time in decades that neither presidential candidate themselves visited Michigan during the entire month of September. In 2004, George W. Bush made John Kerry work for Michigan, which maybe meant he wasn’t able to spend as much time and money in places like Ohio and Florida – true swing states with lots of electoral votes.

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It's Just Politics
2:43 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

The debate over debates continues between the Stabenow and Hoekstra campaigns

Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow (pictured) and her opponent former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra have not been able to agree on a debate schedule this election cycle.
Studio08Denver Flickr

This week we saw the debate showdown between President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney. Political pundits are talking non-stop about how Romney pulled off a campaign reversal. Debates can be game changers. And, then, there are the Michigan debates, or lack thereof. We have a statewide race that pits incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow against former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra. They’ve both agreed to debates. They just haven’t agreed to the same debates.

It’s a debate… about debates

Hoekstra has the most to gain by debating. It’s why he’s pushing for more than just the two that he and Stabenow have agreed upon – at least in concept. One of those two debates, to take place at the Detroit Economic Club, isn’t really a debate but more of a joint appearance. As the incumbent with what appears to be a very comfortable lead,  Stabenow has the most to lose. Certainly we saw an example of that Wednesday night: the perils of a debate to a front-runner. So, it raises the question, if Stabenow has very little to gain from a Senatorial debate, why hasn’t Hoekstra agreed to dates for the two appearances both campaigns have accepted. Holding out certainly hasn’t seemed to help the Hoekstra campaign.

Foreign affairs

If you’re the Hoekstra campaign and you can’t get your opponent to debate and you’re looking for something that changes the conversation, pulls you out of a rut, what better than to take a few days to travel… to the Middle East; Israel to be exact. This past weekend Hoekstra flew to Tel Aviv in an effort to turn the conversation to a topic where he is taken seriously: foreign policy. When Hoekstra was in Congress he chaired the House Intelligence Committee and had a security clearance.

However, when Hoekstra returned from the trip and was asked about the officials with whom he met, he said he couldn’t say. He says this was because the trip was not State Department-approved and in order to get officials in Israel to speak with him, he had to promise them their anonymity.

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It's Just Politics
2:32 pm
Fri September 28, 2012

With 38 days until Election Day, interest groups try to bet on winning candidates

It's Just Politics, Friday, September 28th, 2012
Matthileo Flickr

We are now a little more than 925 hours from when the polls open in Michigan on Election Day. But, for some voting has already started. Absentee ballots have been available for a week now. Soon, they’ll go in the mail to households that have requested them and people will begin mailing them back and dropping them off. Which means, it’s getting close to the end game: people are making their final decisions before November 6th. But, we’re not just talking about voters here, lobbyists and interest groups are making decisions about candidates, as well.

These are the interest groups that swirl around elections – we’ve seen a lot of attention paid to 527 groups and so-called educational committees that are not actually part of a campaign – but still put out ads and mailers in support of a particular candidate. And, here in Michigan, these interests are keeping a close eye on the state House - where all 110 seats are up for re-election.

Recently, there have been some polls that should give a modicum of hope to Democrats. They’re in the minority in Lansing, and they need to turn 10 seats to take control of the state House. The Detroit News published a poll last week that suggests Democrats have the advantage in a generic matchup against  Republicans; meaning these people who were polled expressed a preference for a no-name Democrat in a match-up with a no-name Republican in legislative races.

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It's Just Politics
7:34 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

Just what do politicians do when they're in trouble? Change the subject, of course

There's little doubt by now you've heard, because it sure seems like everybody’s heard, Mitt Romney’s now-famous – infamous – 47 percent comment. It set the political grapevine ablaze this week with discussion and speculation that this is the gaffe that’s sunk the Romney campaign with 46 days to go until Election Day. Much like John McCain’s “Michigan moment” in 2008 when he pulled his campaign out of the state and everyone just kind of declared, "game over."

But there are still 46 days to go and Romney and many of his fellow Republicans are saying: Whoa, not so fast...  It ain't over til it's over. “A lot of folks would just as soon have this election be done now… The fact is elections are held on one day, November sixth, and not before," State Attorney General Bill Schuette, Romney's Michigan campaign manager, said this week.  It's a variation on the classic, "the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.”

Redirecting the Message

Political campaigns are really about three things: one is identifying your voters, another is making sure your voters get out on election day and the third - which is especially critical to getting out your voters as well as persuading the ones who are undecided - is “messaging.”  Because in politics, “messaging” is a verb. So, for the Romney campaign, the question is, how to pull off that pivot, how to change the subject. And the message of the moment is, "Hey, everybody makes mistakes."

“Well, I think Barak Obama has made a lot of mistakes, too. When he said the private sector is doing just fine. That’s nonsense. When a small businessperson is successful, he said that person didn’t build it. We know that’s not true," Schuette explained, trying to create an equivalency between the two candidates and the two campaigns. Those are things the president said that – taken out of context, certainly – but still were missteps that Republicans have now turned against him. Republicans have also reached back to 1998 when President Obama was still a state senator in Illinois to something he said, that he believes in wealth redistribution, ignoring that he also said he believes in free markets.

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It's Just Politics
2:30 pm
Fri September 14, 2012

A mixed reaction from Republicans over Snyder's Blue Cross Blue Shield overhaul

Governor Snyder announced his proposal for an overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield this week in Michigan
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

This week on It's Just Politics it’s all about the Blues. Blue Cross Blue Shield, that is. BCBS is, by far, the state’s largest health insurance company. It’s also a state government creation; created by state law. It has its own law, separate from all other insurance companies because it is Michigan’s “insurer of last resort,” meaning that Blue Cross has to take everyone who applies. Its mission: to make sure everyone who wants or needs health insurance in Michigan can get it.

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It's Just Politics
3:21 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

Will Michigan's ballot proposals get out the vote in November?

Immortal Poet Flickr

It's official. There will be six questions on the state's November ballot: Five proposed amendments to the Michigan Constitution and one referendum on the state’s emergency manager law. And, we’re looking at some big battles here; we’ll certainly see a whole lot of money pouring into these efforts to change state law. In this week’s It’s Just Politics we take a look at how these ballot questions just might work as vote-drivers.

It’s a GOTV Kind of a Year

This year we have very few undecided voters – that group of anywhere from a third to even less than a quarter of the people that wait until the last minute to make up their minds. A lot of people don’t vote at all – in Michigan, about 40 percent of registered voters don’t actually make it to the polls. That’s referring, however, to the presidential race. In a presidential election year  that’s the biggest driver that gets people out to vote. There’s no doubt though that more people are still undecided about races and questions that are lower on the ballot. So, for many political strategists, the question becomes: what happens if you can somehow persuade some of those people to get out on Election Day?

Can Ballot Questions Get-Out-the-Vote?

Certainly, ballot questions are used to determine policy on issues. But they can also motivate people to get out and vote on issues they care about like same-sex marriage, affirmative action or abortion. This year, in Michigan, we have questions dealing with union rights and taxes. Democrats are pinning some of their electoral hopes on the Protect Our Jobs ballot question. The Protect Our Jobs proposal would guarantee bargaining rights, reverse a bunch of anti-union laws passed by the Legislature and Governor Snyder, and make sure there’s no way lawmakers could pass a right-to-work law in Michigan.

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Welcome to Thursday!
8:53 am
Thu September 6, 2012

The countdown begins! Stateside with Cynthia Canty premieres this afternoon

Executive Producer of Stateside Zoe Clark (l) and Host Cynthia Canty (r) go over some notes for the show.
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

Good morning and a very happy Thursday to you! We’re just about six hours away from the premiere of Stateside and we couldn’t be more excited. We were busy yesterday in Michigan Radio’s Studio East (check out the slideshow) preparing for the show and we’ve got a busy morning ahead of us. Tune in this afternoon at 3 o’clock to hear Cyndy speaking with Governor Snyder, author and columnist Mitch Albom, and Michigan Radio’s very own Lester Graham who is covering the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina. Have a great morning!

- Zoe Clark, Stateside's Executive Producer

There are two ways you can podcast "Stateside with Cynthia Canty"

It's Just Politics
3:31 pm
Fri August 31, 2012

Politics and the campaign spouse; when partners become an issue

Ann Romney at this year's Republican National Convention
Newshour Flickr

This week on It’s Just Politics we’re talking political spouses.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta Friday, August 31st

There’s a whole lot of politics behind the role of spouses in campaigns. Just this week we saw Ann Romney speak about her husband, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, at the Republican National Convention. Over and over again we heard that her job was to “humanize” him. And, she got generally good reviews for the speech.

But this business of where spouses fit into campaigns and political strategies is a tricky game. Campaigns want to get a candidate’s significant other - presumably the person who knows the candidate like no one else - out there, in the public, making a case for their partner.

Double-edged Sword

But, spouses can also easily become involved in controversies. Opponents, for example, tried to use Michelle Bachmann’s husband and his counseling of gay people on how they can become straight as a campaign issue. And, just a few months ago, one of President Obama’s political advisors, Hilary Rosen, made a comment about how Ann Romney has never worked a, “day in her life.” That comment poked a serious hornet’s nest.  It would seem that there are just certain things you can say about a candidate that you cannot say about their spouse.

There was the infamous question from the 1988 presidential campaign when debate moderator Bernard Shaw asked Governor Michael Dukakis, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Many argued that it was Governor Dukakis’ passionless answer to this controversial question about his wife that cost him the election.  But, others, to do this day, argue that the question was totally out of line.

In 1992, Bill Clinton went on the attack during a primary against critics of Hillary Clinton telling California Governor Jerry Brown, “I don’t care what you say about me. But, you ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife.”

Johnson vs. Rendon

All of this, brings us to the race in the 103rd state House district in northern Michigan, where Democratic challenger Lon Johnson is trying to unseat first-term Republican incumbent Bruce Rendon. Representative Rendon sent out a fundraising letter that calls attention to the fact that Johnson’s wife is Julianna Smoot. Smoot is one of the people running President Obama’s reelection campaign, and a superstar of Democratic politics. The letter points out the connections the couple has to prominent national Democrats, including some wealthy donors, and devotes a couple of paragraphs to Smoot.

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