Zoe Clark


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


News Roundup
8:00 am
Tue April 17, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Brother O'Mara Flickr

They’re Back: Lawmakers Return to Lansing

After a two-week break, lawmakers are heading back to the state Capitol today. And, today’s tax filing deadline has kicked off political sparring over the state’s tax overhaul. “Democrats say a lot of the changes made last year should be reversed. That includes restoring the exemption for pension income. They are also calling to restore a dozen credits and deductions, including the tax breaks for raising children and charitable donations. Republicans say the tax overhaul made taxes more simple and fair and treats all income the same, regardless of its source,” Rick Pluta reports.

President Obama to Visit SE MI

President Obama is scheduled to attend two fundraisers tomorrow in suburban Detroit. The Associated Press reports:

The president plans to attend an evening event at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn. Later, he's set to appear at the Bingham Farms home of Denise Ilitch. She's the daughter of Mike and Marian Ilitch, owners of Little Caesar's Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. That event could collect up to $40,000 per donor… The president could raise $1 million at Wednesday's events. Obama last visited Michigan on January 27th when he spoke on higher education funding at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Engler: Tax Decisions Need to Be Made Quickly

Former Michigan Governor John Engler says politicians in Washington need to make important decisions now, despite the general election coming in November. Engler spoke to a gathering at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids yesterday. Lindsey Smith reports:

Engler says politicians have a lot of tough decisions to make to keep the U.S. competitive globally. That includes decisions on energy and education; but most importantly, he says, decisions about the tax code and the federal deficit. Engler says those decisions need to made as quickly as possible. Engler said lawmakers need to make long-term decisions about the tax code instead of one time quick fixes he says only add uncertainty for U.S. businesses. Engler says uncertainty about energy prices and the future of the new national health care law are also dragging down the economy.

News Roundup
8:38 am
Mon April 16, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, April 16th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Rehashing the Tax Debate

Democrats at the state Capitol see political opportunity in tomorrow’s tax-filing deadline, and they intend to use it to hammer Republicans on their overhaul last year of the state tax code. Rick Pluta reports:

Democrats believe the issue of taxes is a political winner for them this year. In Lansing, Democrats hope the tax question will turn the odds in their favor to win the nine or more additional seats they need to take control of the state House. Their message will target seniors paying taxes on pension income for the first time and people who take advantage of tax breaks and deductions that won’t be available when they file next year.  At the same, Republicans cut taxes for many businesses. GOP leaders say the sweeping re-write was necessary to streamline and simplify Michigan’s taxes, and free up money for businesses to create jobs. 

Romney Leads Obama in MI Campaign Donations

Federal Election Commission records show Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney out-raised President Obama through the end of February, the Detroit Free Press reports. “Obama had raised about $1.6 million in Michigan. That's far more than Obama had raised in the state at this point four years ago, but still less than Romney's $2-million total… Obama and Romney each have one Michigan city that towers above all others for fund-raising power. For Obama, it's Ann Arbor, where his campaign has collected $243,603. At $450,691, Romney's sweet spot is Bloomfield Hills, where he grew up,” the Freep reports.

Amtrak Delays

Amtrak says there will be some train cancelations and delays for three days beginning today on the routes from Chicago to Port Huron and Pontiac, the Associated Press reports. “Amtrak says the service interruptions are necessary to allow track work. It says normal travel times should return by early May. The passenger rail service says certain trains will be canceled Monday through Wednesday, while slowdowns of up to 90 minutes will continue until the work is done,” the Associated Press reports.

It's Just Politics
4:08 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

Beneath the helmet: Why did Governor Snyder sign the helmet law repeal?

On this week's edition of, "It's Just Politics," we discuss the politics behind the helmet law repeal
Matthileo Flickr

Michigan is the 31st state to allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill to lift the requirement on riders 21 years and older last night. But signing the repeal was not necessarily something the Governor wanted to to.

"This is one of those issues that the Governor says is, 'not on my agenda,' which is Snyder short-hand for, 'I don't want to deal with this,'" explains Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and co-host of It's Just Politics.

Why'd he do it?

So, the Governor's signing of the repeal raises the question: if it wasn't on his agenda, why did he sign it?

"I talked to [the Governor's] office," Pluta explains, "and his thinking about this evolved. He said at first that it wasn't on his agenda and then, if he was going to do it, he wanted it to be in the context of a overhaul of the state's auto-insurance laws - there has been no overhaul - but, the Governor still signed it. His office says that this [signing] recognizes that he has a partnership with the Republican Legislature, and that this is something, clearly, a majority of the House and Senate wanted."

Did the Governor blink?

This, however, raises another question: did the Governor blink? Meaning, do Republican lawmakers now know, with the signing of this bill, that just because the Governor says an issue is "not on his agenda" that he will, eventually, support it if it's sent to his desk.

For example, there's been a lot of inside-political talk about whether Governor Snyder would, if the state House and Senate passed such a measure, sign right-to-work legislation.

Governor Snyder’s spokeswoman has said that a fierce debate over "right-to-work" and other labor issues won’t help Michigan rebuild its economy. The governor has said he hopes the Legislature will put off a measure that would outlaw compulsory union membership or dues to hold a job.

But there are Republicans, such as Representative Mike Shirkey, who disagree with the Governor and believe that now is the time to introduce right-to-work legislation. One has to wonder: will Governor Snyder's signing of the helmet-law repeal embolden certain Republican lawmakers to introduce legislation that they know Governor Snyder doesn't support?

A Balancing Act

"It speaks to the balancing act that [Governor Snyder] is engaged in," Pluta notes. "On the one hand, he's trying to get the Legislature to buy into his priorities - priorities that Conservatives and Tea Partiers in the Legislature in particular are not enthusiastic about. And, he gets to say, 'maybe it wasn't on my agenda but I respected your priorities - now, you can respect mine.' Or, is it the other way around? Does this fuel this idea that the Legislature can send something to the Governor that's not on his agenda and he's more likely than not to simply accept it," Pluta says.

It's Just Politics

"It's a motorcycle story," Pluta explains, "that is the next chapter in the saga of how the Governor relates to a Legislature that is not always on the same page as him."

Political Roundup
9:39 pm
Thu April 12, 2012

Immediate effect sheds national light on Michigan, so what?

Michigan Legislature.
Michigan Municipal League flickr

Every Thursday we speak with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

This week it’s all about the politics and policy behind immediate effect, and why it's gotten some national attention.

Hundred of bills have passed in the Michigan legislature with immediate effect tacked on. Democrats have cried foul, and issued a court challenge accusing Republicans of not taking required roll call votes.

This gets into a lot of procedural specifics and we’ve been reporting on this for a couple of weeks. Then suddenly, it hits the national stage when Rachel Maddow, a MSNBC host, picked up the story. Maddow called it “revolutionary and radical beyond radical.”

Demas says, “I think Maddow needs to calm down and maybe spend a little time in Michigan before she starts reporting on the intricacies of legislative procedure here.”

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News Roundup
8:40 am
Thu April 12, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 12th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MI Foreclosures Decline

Realty Trac is reporting that Michigan’s home foreclosure rate is improving. “Foreclosure filings were down nearly 20% during the first three months of the year compared to the fourth quarter of 2011. The decline was even steeper compared to the same time a year ago. Daren Bloomquist is with Realty Trac. He says nationally foreclosure numbers haven’t looked this good since before the recession started in 2008. Bloomquist expects there will be a spike in new home foreclosures in the second half of the year,” Steve Carmody reports.

Ag Industry Grows

A new Michigan State University study shows Michigan’s agriculture industry has grown dramatically throughout the recession. Lindsey Smith reports:

Agriculture contributed more than $90 billion to Michigan’s economy in 2010. The economic impact of farming, food processing and the supply chain is twice as much as it was in 2004. “(Agriculture’s) critical to what’s happening in the state. And the story about our growth I think is significant versus other sectors of the state’s economy that have clearly been in decline,” said Chris Peterson, director of the MSU Product Center. Peterson says growing demand for food in big countries like China and India are a major factor in agriculture’s growth in Michigan.The latest report shows 618,000 jobs come directly from Michigan’s food and agriculture business sector.

Kalamazoo River Sheen

Officials say material apparently dumped into a storm drain has created a miles-long sheen on the Kalamazoo River. The Associated Press reports:

The Battle Creek Enquirer reports police were notified Wednesday about a possible spill near Albion. Booms were placed in the river to collect the material. Authorities say it appears the unknown material was apparently dumped into a drain at the former Union Steel site… Crews have been working to clean the Kalamazoo River further downstream since a 2010 pipeline rupture spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil near Marshall.

News Roundup
8:34 am
Wed April 11, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Conflict of Interest in EM Ballot Challenge?

While state elections officials inspect petitions seeking a referendum that could overturn Michigan’s emergency manager law, one of the key decision-makers could have a conflict of interest. Rick Pluta reports:

One of the people in line to decide the fate of the referendum to challenge Michigan’s emergency manager law has a business interest in the outcome. Jeffrey Timmer is a partner at the Sterling Corporation. Sterling is a political consulting firm that works for the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. That’s the group that’s filed several technical challenges to the petition in an effort to keep the question off the ballot…

While his firm tries to stop the referendum, Timmer also sits on the Board of State Canvassers. That’s the bipartisan panel that will make the initial ruling on the challenge. Timmer is a Republican who was appointed to the board in 2009. State elections officials say it is up to Timmer to decide whether he has a conflict and should recuse himself. Timmer did not return phone calls for comment.

EM for Muskegon Heights Schools

Governor Rick Snyder has determined a financial emergency exists in the Muskegon Heights school district. The next step is for the governor to appoint an emergency manager to the district. “Muskegon Heights Schools has run a deficit for at least six years in a row. The deficit is projected to be around $9.4 million by the end of this school year. Student enrollment has dropped by a third since 2006. Unlike any other city or school district, the school board in Muskegon Heights asked for a state takeover back in December. Emergency managers already run two school districts and four cities in Michigan. The City of Detroit is working under the terms of a consent agreement instead of an emergency manager,” Lindsey Smith reports.

High School Graduate Rates Remain Steady

The graduation rate for the high school class of 2011 in Michigan remained relatively steady compared to the previous year, despite new science and math requirements. Jennifer Guerra reports:

Wendy Zdeb-Roper is executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. She says most educators had "a certain degree of trepidation" when the requirements were introduced because they were concerned about graduation rates and how students would fare. According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, the average graduation rate dropped by only a little more than two percent – from 76 percent in 2010 to 74 percent in 2011. The new high school requirements were approved by then-Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2006.

7:28 am
Wed April 11, 2012

The Week in Michigan Politics

Contemplative Imaging Flickr

Every Wednesday morning, we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. This week: A group opposed to the repeal of the state's Emergency Manager law says the group pushing for a November ballot referendum has faulty petitions, a recall effort against Governor Snyder gets the go-ahead, and Muskegon Heights schools will soon be under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.

News Roundup
9:18 am
Tue April 10, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, April 10th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MI Court Lifts I.E. Suspension

The Michigan Court of Appeals has lifted a lower court order that delayed when two state laws took effect. The case is part of a procedural fight between Democrats and Republicans at the state Capitol. Rick Pluta reports:

State House Democrats sued Republicans for ignoring their motions for record roll call votes on a procedure, known as immediate effect, that allows a law to take effect as soon as the governor signs it – instead of three months after the end of a legislative session. Democrats won a court order last week that says Republicans have to recognize their motions for roll call votes. It also suspended two laws – one that forbids graduate teaching assistants from organizing a union, and another that bars teacher contracts that include paycheck deduction of union dues. The Court of Appeals lifted that order and took control of the case. But there will be another hearing on the case before the Court of Appeals makes a final ruling.

EM Repeal Petition Opposed

The group Stand Up for Democracy has been trying to overturn the state’s emergency manager law… they’re trying to get a measure to repeal the law on the November ballot. They’ve submitted petitions containing more than 225,000 signatures. But, now, opponents of that campaign say those petitions are flawed. "The group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility says the petitions aren’t legal because the heading is printed in a smaller font than what is required. A printer's affidavit says the heading size is correct. State election officials are expected to make a decision by late April," the Associated Press reports.

Flint Budget

Flint’s emergency manager and his staff are working this week to wrap up a budget plan for the city. Steve Carmody reports:

The plan will include a request for up to $20 million in bonds to help close the city’s massive budget deficit. Flint Finance Director Jerry Ambrose hopes the plan will be ready to submit to the state by early next week. He says the budget plan will address the need to do “less with less." Ambrose says layoffs and furlough days are likely. Michael Brown, the city's emergency manager, is negotiating with Flint’s city unions,  hoping to reach agreement on deep contract concessions. Flint firefighters have already reached a tentative deal with the city.

6:25 pm
Mon April 9, 2012

Congratulations, outsider: You're now an insider

Running for office as a "political outsider" can win you an election. The problem: the second you win, you're no longer an outsider

Every week Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of state politics. And, this week it's all about the political Catch-22 of running for office  as a 'political outsider.'

So, dear citizen, you think that things aren't working in Lansing or in Washington, D.C.

That's bad. Very, bad.

So, you decide to run for office. You file the paperwork, you campaign... and you win as a political outsider! Maybe, you even beat a long-time political incumbent. You're now off to the state Capital - or, even, the nation's Capital - and you're ready to shake things up.

That's good.

Well, actually... it just might be bad.

Why, you ask? Because the moment you take the oath of office, good citizen, you are now part of the system - you are a political insider. You, now, are an incumbent.

So, being a political insider is bad?

Not necessarily.

It can actually be good... take a listen (at the link above) and find out why.

News Roundup
9:11 am
Mon April 9, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder Recall

A group that wants to oust Governor Snyder will launch its second effort to collect enough signatures to put a recall question on the November ballot. “It will go before an Election Commission this afternoon looking for permission to let the petition drive go forward. The group Michigan Rising gathered half a million signatures last year, but that was well short of the 800,000 names of registered voters needed to put a recall question on the ballot. The group will ask an elections panel in Washtenaw County – where the governor lives – to approve its petition. Michigan Rising cites the state’s emergency manager law and cuts to school funding as the reasons to recall the governor. If the petition is approved, the recall campaign will have six months to gather signatures,” Rick Pluta reports.

State Fairgrounds

Governor Snyder is set to sign legislation today that will allow the state to sell the Michigan state fairgrounds. Tracy Samilton reports:

The Michigan state fair was first held in 1849, making it the second oldest state fair in the country. But the event lost money most years after 1970… Attendance dropped 39% over the final eight years of the Fair’s existence. In 2009, Governor Jennifer Granholm ended all state funding for the fair, and it closed. Today, Governor Snyder will sign bills which will authorize the state to sell the property. The 157 acre property is located just east of Woodward Avenue, close to 8 Mile.

Palisades Nuclear Plant Offline

Operators of the Palisades nuclear plant in southwestern Michigan say they've taken it offline for refueling. The Associated Press reports:

The plant has been under Nuclear Regulatory Commission scrutiny because of a series of safety problems in recent months. Operators say crews removed the plant from service about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. A restart date hasn't been announced. During the outage, Entergy says crews will place 64 new fuel assemblies. Other major work includes an inspection of the reactor vessel head, replacement of five control rod seal packages, an inspection of the moisture separator and re-heater heat exchangers,\ and an inspection of the plant's two steam generators.

12:31 pm
Sat March 31, 2012

Michigan's Democratic lawmakers cry foul over how Republicans are counting their votes

Matthileo Flickr

This week Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I took a look at the hullabaloo over vote counting at the state Capital.

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News Roundup
8:31 am
Fri March 30, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 30th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Negotiations Continue in Detroit

The Detroit City Council vetted a proposed state deal to fend off insolvency yesterday. "The deal is formally called a “financial stability agreement.” The city and state have been trying to negotiate a deal for two weeks now. But after yesterday’s meeting, it’s clear the two sides are still a long way apart. The Council is expected to take up the issue again on Monday. The city and the state have until April 5th to reach some kind of deal, or Governor Snyder could choose to appoint an emergency manager," Sarah Cwiek reports. Detroit is facing a $200 million budget deficit and could run out of money by the end of May.

Autism Treatments

The state Legislature has sent Governor Snyder a package of bills that would require health insurance plans to offer coverage for childhood autism treatments. Rick Pluta reports:

Governor Snyder called for the autism mandate in his State of the State address. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley has a daughter with autism. He says the case can be made for extending the mandate to other mental health disorders, but autism was a good place to start. Calley says the requirement will save taxpayers money because more children with autism will grow to live independently instead of requiring government assistance. But on the same day, the Legislature sent him the bills, a state Senate committee eliminated funding in his Medicaid budget for treating autism.

MI Economic Recovery

Things looked bleak in Michigan in January 2009, when the state’s economic activity index fell to 60 points. But, as Rina Miller reports, in January of this year it was up to 98 points. “The index looks at payrolls, exports, sales tax revenues, unemployment claims and other factors. ‘We're starting to see some sustainable progress in coming out of the depths of the recession,’ Robert Dye, chief economist with Comerica Bank, explains. ‘And in January, we really see evidence of this resurgence of the auto industry permeating into other parts of the economy,’” Miller reports.

News Roundup
8:58 am
Thu March 29, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news...

Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Sign Helmet Law?

The state Senate approved a measure yesterday to end the requirement that motorcycle drivers over the age of 21 must wear a helmet. Now, it’s up to Governor Snyder to decide whether the measure will become law. Rick Pluta reports:

Governor Snyder has not said whether or not he’ll sign the legislation. The Senate bill would allow people 21 and over to ride without head protection – if they carry extra insurance coverage. But that did not persuade state Senator Roger Kahn, who is also a doctor. He says helmets save lives and protect against injuries that would otherwise be more severe. Advocates for repealing the law say safety training is more important than head protection. People in Michigan’s hospitality industry also support the repeal. They say there will be more Michigan motorcycle tourism without the helmet requirement.

Jobless Rate Continues Decline

The state’s unemployment rate continues to decline. Michigan's jobless rate fell in February to 8.8 percent, and the state's total workforce grew by 14,000, according to the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. The last time the state’s unemployment rate was below 9 percent was in September of 2008. Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush took a deeper look behind the numbers – you can find his report here.

Gas Prices Worry Retailers

Michigan retailers are becoming more concerned about the impact rising gasoline prices will have on sales. “Michigan’s average gas price leaped over four dollars a gallon this week. The Michigan Retailers Association released a survey Wednesday showing lower sales projections over the next three months. Tom Scott is with the Michigan Retailers Association. He says rising gas prices will force retailers to spend more to ship their products and discourage customers from coming into their stores,” Steve Carmody reports.

The Environment Report
7:54 am
Thu March 29, 2012

Michigan Sen. Stabenow: We need to move as quickly as possible to stop the Asian Carp

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow says we need to move quickly to stop the threat of the Asian Carp on the Great Lakes' eco-system
Kate.Gardner Flickr

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the Asian Carp.

The invasive species is making its way up the Mississippi River and there’s concern that if the fish are able to get into the Great Lakes that they could drastically change the waters’ eco-system.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Stop the Asian Carp Act last year. The legislation required the Army Corps of Engineers to create a plan to permanently separate the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.

Stopping the Carp

I spoke with Senator Stabenow this week and asked her where things stand with the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan. “The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to give us specific recommendations on how to separate the waters… The problem is they say they won’t have this done until 2015. And, so, what we’re trying to do is push them to get this done much quicker,” Stabenow explains.

The Mississippi River: Not the only entry point for the Carp

A lot of attention has been paid to the Mississippi River as the main entry point where the Carp could get into the Great Lakes. But, Stabenow explains, “We also, now, are looking more broadly than just the Illinois River and the Mississippi River going into Lake Michigan. We’ve found that there have been some fish seen going across Indiana – in the Wabash River. At certain times, during the year, it connects to the Maumee River in Ohio and then actually goes into Lake Erie. And, so, this is a real challenge for us. There is, I believe, nineteen different tributaries and ways to get into the Great Lakes – that’s my biggest worry.”

Chicago shipping interests

Recently, we’ve been hearing more about the idea of permanently separating the waterways rather than a temporary solution. “I believe that we ought to be closing the [Chicago] locks until we get to a permanent solution. But, there is a lot of pushback from Illinois and Chicago,” Stabenow says. Those who work in commercial shipping in Chicago are against the idea of closing the locks. They say it would hurt their multi-million dollar business interests. “Personally, I’d say the other side’s interests are – not that we don’t respect them – but they’re small in terms of economic impact compared to what could happen having the fish go into the Great Lakes.

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News Roundup
8:34 am
Wed March 28, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Hold Town hall Meeting

Governor Snyder will be part of a town hall meeting today in Detroit to talk about the city’s finances. “The meeting comes as state and city leaders are trying to finalize a deal to resolve major cash flow problems. A state review team has determined Detroit is in “severe financial stress”. The city’s deficit is nearly $200 million. Snyder says he’s trying to be transparent about the financial situation. He’s expected to go over the facts at the town hall meeting. He’ll also field questions and probably some criticism from the audience,” Lindsey Smith reports.

State Senate to Take Up Helmet Law

The Michigan Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a measure to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law – and send it to Governor Snyder’s desk, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The measure was stalled because Governor Snyder wants the helmet law to be part of a larger discussion on finding savings in Michigan’s no-fault insurance system. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he wants to get the law on the books in time for the new motorcycle riding season. Governor Snyder has not said what he would do if a helmet law repeal reaches his desk. Supporters of the helmet law say it saves lives and prevents expensive-to-treat head injuries.

Case Against Militia Group Dismissed

A judge dismissed key charges yesterday against members of a Michigan militia who were accused of plotting war against the government, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The decision is an embarrassment for the government, which secretly planted an informant and an FBI agent inside the Hutaree militia and claimed members were armed for war in rural southern Michigan. Detroit federal Judge Victoria Roberts made her decision five days after prosecutors rested their case. Her decision affects all seven militia members who've been on trial since Feb. 13. Only weapons charges remain against two of the defendants.

7:48 am
Wed March 28, 2012

The week in Michigan politics

Ifmuth Flickr

Every Wednesday, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry takes a look at the week in state politics. On tap for this morning: the latest in Detroit's financial situation and what the arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act could mean for Michigan.

7:03 am
Tue March 27, 2012

Shenanigans in Oakland County: One of the best political shows in Michigan

Matthileo Capitol Flickr

Update 3/27/2012:

"The Michigan Supreme Court - in a decision that breaks along party-lines -  has upheld a state law that will let Republicans on the Oakland County Commission redraw their district lines. The Supreme Court says the law complies with the state constitution, regardless of whether it was designed to give one party a political advantage. The Supreme Court's three Democrats dissented from the decision," Rick Pluta reports.

Original Post 3/23/2012:

This week, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I decided to take a look at the political shenanigans playing out in Oakland County.

The Back-story

“There is a fight between Oakland County politicians – Democrats versus Republicans. It’s about the murky, dirty, filthy process of drawing new district lines for politicians to run in. In Oakland County, [the redrawing] is done by a bi-partisan panel. In this case, it’s a panel that has more Democrats than Republicans and the Democrats drew a map that the Republicans didn’t like,” Pluta explains.

So, some Republican lawmakers from Oakland County decided to have the state legislature change the redrawing rules. They devised a measure to allow the County Commission, which is controlled by Republicans, to redraw the lines. The measure was then passed by the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.

Democrats cried foul. They challenged the new law and, last month, Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette overturned it. Collette ruled the law violated the Michigan Constitution and that the governor and the Legislature illegally interfered in a local political question.

The question over the legality of the law made its way to the state’s highest court this week. On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides.

Politically-motivated maps

Republicans all along contended that the reason for the new law was to save taxpayers money. Democrats, and many pundits, said it was pure politics: that the GOP changed the rules so that Republican dominance on the County Board wouldn’t be challenged. But, this kind of claim is always hard to prove. Hard to prove… unless you have emails.

Busted: GOP emails released

This week, emails between Republican Oakland County officials and GOP lawmakers were released after the Oakland County Democratic Party filed a Freedom of Information Act. The emails appear to show, “officials in the offices of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s office and state Representatives – primarily Rep. Eileen Kowall – basically plotting and trying to find a rationale to kick this redistricting process back over to the County Commission where Republicans would control it,” Pluta explains.

‘It’s gonna be ugly’

In one email, Rep. Kowall wrote, “I guess it would also help to have (a) legitimate explanation as to why we waited until now, after redistricting plans have been submitted, to take these bills up.” She also wrote, “The quicker things move the better, ’cause it’s gonna be ugly.”

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News Roundup
8:44 am
Mon March 26, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, March 26th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Healthcare Overhaul

Michigan is one of 26 states challenging the federal Affordable Care Act in arguments that begin today before the U-S Supreme Court. Meanwhile, “there is a fight in the Michigan Legislature over moving ahead with the internet exchanges required by the law to help people find affordable insurance. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, says the state should wait for a ruling. Governor Rick Snyder says exactly the opposite. He says the state can’t afford to wait – that a delay could cost federal dollars and doom Michigan’s ability to adopt its own system if the federal healthcare law is upheld,” Rick Pluta reports.

Lansing Budget

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero will tell the city council tonight how he plans to cut nearly $5 million to balance his city’s budget. Steve Carmody reports:

Last fall, the mayor’s office was predicting the city might be facing up to a $15 million shortfall. Mayor Bernero says voter approval of a special public safety millage, lower health care costs and more state revenue sharing money than expected has improved Lansing’s revenue picture. However, Bernero says painful cuts are still needed to balance the city’s budget. Bernero says without additional concessions from the city’s unions Lansing will have to institute employee furlough days and possibly layoffs of some non-public safety employees.


The Michigan Supreme Court says a lawsuit challenging health insurance for the domestic partners of state employees won't be placed on a fast track, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The court on Friday declined to take the case away from the Michigan appeals court. The lone dissenter was Justice Stephen Markman, who says it's an important matter that deserves "expedited consideration" from the Supreme Court. Attorney General Bill Schuette is challenging the Civil Service Commission's decision to extend benefits to domestic partners or other unrelated adults living with some state employees. Lawmakers tried to overturn it but didn't have enough votes last year.

News Roundup
8:29 am
Fri March 23, 2012

This morning's news headlines in Michigan

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 23rd, 2012
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Concealed Weapons Changes?

Under a new proposal in the state Senate, people with concealed weapon permits could carry handguns in more places if they get additional training. “A bill that would overhaul parts of the state's concealed weapons law was approved Thursday by the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee.The bill wouldn't eliminate "no carry" zones such as schools, stadiums and churches. But licensed carriers who get training beyond what's already required in state law could get exemptions that would allow them to carry guns in those zones,” the Associated Press reports.

LGBT Protections

Democratic state Senator Rebecca Warren is calling for an expansion of Michigan’s civil rights law to protect people who are gay, lesbian or transgender from discrimination. Rick Pluta reports:

Warren says expanding the civil rights law would send a message that Michigan is trying to attract creative workers and entrepreneurs. Warren says the legislation would have no effect on the amendment that outlaws same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan. She doubts her bill will clear the Legislature in this session, but she wants to make sure the issue doesn’t go dormant. She also wants the bill to serve as a counterpoint to another bill that would outlaw local gay rights ordinances like the ones on the books in 18 Michigan communities.

Spartans Are Out

Michigan State University is out. The Spartan’s men’s basketball team lost 57-44 last night in their NCAA Sweet 16 tournament game against Louisville. “Tough defense by Louisville led to the defeat,” NPR’s Mike Pesca explains. “Some couch and garbage fires were reported near Michigan State University,” after the game, the Associated Press notes. But, no injuries have been reported.

News Roundup
8:56 am
Thu March 22, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup: Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
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Financial Crisis in Detroit

The state review team looking at Detroit’s finances yesterday formally declared the city to be in “severe financial distress.” Sarah Cwiek reports:

This means the review team will recommend some kind of state intervention in Detroit—whether it’s a consent agreement outlining steps the city must take to get out of financial distress (and likely giving elected officials some greater powers to take them), or appointing an emergency manager for the city. But, a Judge has issued an injunction forbidding a consent agreement before March 29th. The review team’s deadline to make a recommendation is March 26th. The state is appealing the injunction. Arguments are slated for today in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Oakland County Redistricting

A fight over drawing Oakland County commission districts has made its way up to the state Supreme Court. Rick Pluta reports:

The legal battle pits Democrats in Oakland County against Republicans in the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder. The issue is a state law that will toss out Oakland County’s current county commission map that was drawn by a board led by Democrats. The state law will turn that job over to the Oakland County Commission, which has a GOP majority. Hundreds of e-mails to and from county officials that were made public appear to show partisan motives behind the law. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the law soon. The court has a slim Republican majority.

Crops Threatened

It’s been an unseasonably warm month and that could jeopardize the state’s fruit crops. “While it's not unusual to have warm spells in early spring, it is unusual is for temperatures to average 40 degrees higher than normal for several weeks,” Rina Miller reports. "This is pretty much unprecedented," Matthew Grieshop, assistant professor at Michigan State University says. "It was back in the early 40s that we last had weather like this, and based on our experience, it looks pretty grim for the fruit growers."