Michigan Watch

Michigan Watch is Michigan Radio’s investigative/accountability reporting unit. Headed by veteran reporter Lester Graham, Michigan Watch provides in-depth reports on topics of importance that may require a longer and more involved examination. These include the workings of state government, education, the environment, and jobs and the economy. Among the specific topics covered by Michigan Watch have been the influence of money and politics in Michigan elections, changes to the state’s mandatory no-fault insurance system, following Michigan families that have been removed from welfare, and separating truth from fiction in election advertising.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan could deregulate the electricity market, allowing people to choose where they buy electricity.

In downtown Frankenmuth there are two very popular restaurants: the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and right across the street, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. Both are famous for their chicken dinners. And the owners are cousins -- both of them are Zehnders.

Aaron Olson

You might be asked to sign a petition next year to cut Michigan legislators’ pay and make their job part-time. The state constitution will have to be amended to accomplish that.

There could be some unintended consequences in doing that.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The State of Michigan spends a huge part of its budget on prisons. In recent years a new program has helped reduce the prison population and helped prisoners stay out of prison. Despite its success, the state plans to cut much of the program’s funding.

Some people who’ve been in and out of prison are getting out and staying out thanks to a program called Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative or MPRI.

“After 33 years of doing time, they finally got it right. And today I’ve got a life. I own my own business. I’m living the American dream and it started at MPRI,” Harry Hampton said.

Hampton has been in prison four times. When he’s been released before, he got no help.

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A Canadian official says construction of a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit can start soon, maybe 2015.  It’s just a matter of waiting for some money from the U.S. government.

While Canada is putting up the money for the bridge, the U.S. has to build a new customs plaza which is expected to cost about 250-million dollars.

Until then, the Canadian government will continue to negotiate land purchases in and around the Delray neighborhood of Detroit where the New International Trade Crossing will land in the U.S.

stevendamrun / Flickr

If you’re gay or lesbian and you want to adopt a child, not every adoption agency in Michigan will be willing to help. If you do find an agency that will help, you might run into more discrimination.

Even if you have a home, pass the background checks, and otherwise meet the state requirements for adoption, you can be turned down by an adoption agency if you don’t meet its standards.

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About a decade ago, judges stopped approving adoptions for lesbian and gay couples. It stopped after a controversial move by a Supreme Court Judge.

Nancy Wheeler is a judge in Washtenaw County who used to preside over the juvenile court where adoptions are recognized. She granted dozens of what are called ‘second-parent adoptions’ to same-sex couples.

“I thought that it was an outrage that we encouraged and, in fact, had a lot of gay and lesbian foster parents, but didn’t allow both parties to adopt the children. So, these children had been in foster care with these same parents sometimes for a number of years and then they were adopted by one,” Judge Wheeler explained.

She reasoned if one person could be an adoptive parent, then two could.

Love-Ramirez family

In Michigan, if you’re gay or lesbian, you can’t get married.

And for LGBT partners who adopt children it’s nearly impossible for both to have parental rights. That causes legal difficulties in providing a secure future for the kids they’re raising.

Two-year-old Lucas has two dads, Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez.

Diego is an airline pilot, and Kent works at Michigan State University.

“We’ve been together just over ten years. And we married in a religious ceremony five years ago and just legally married in Washington, D.C.," said Kent.

Kent and Diego are the only parents Lucas has ever known. But, the State of Michigan does not recognize one of them as a parent.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio


My Michigan Martini (recipe by Lester Graham)

5 parts Knickerbocker gin

1 part Vya Extra Dry vermouth

1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters

Add several ice cubes to bartender's mixing glass. Add dash of bitters followed by vermouth and gin. Stir 20 - 30 times (do NOT shake). Strain into martini glass. Add twist of orange (or try a twist of lemon).

If you think about states known for distilled spirits such as bourbon and whiskey, you might think about Kentucky or Tennessee. But Michigan is becoming home to its own distilleries. That's being driven in part by a growing interest in craft cocktails.

The first thing you’re likely to notice in these craft cocktail bars is all the fruit and jars of fresh herbs such as mint and rosemary. You’re not going to find premixed bottles of corn-syrup-laden sweet and sour here. It’s all about real aromas and flavors.

Right now, there are several craft cocktail bars mostly in southeast Michigan (see some favorites at the end of this story).  One of them is The Last Word where we talked with manager Robben Schulz. He says they’re always looking for new spirits to give their drinks some depth, some interest. Some of them are being made here in Michigan.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Three townships in the Lansing region will be considering proposals to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression.

In a coordinated effort, Delhi, Meridian, and Delta township officials could vote on protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination with the next several weeks.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Broadcasters are fighting a new rule to disclose more about who’s buying political ads. The Federal Communications Commission wants TV stations to post information about the political ads they air on a government website.

That will make it a lot easier to find out what groups are spending money to influence voters.

Recently, I met Rich Robinson in the parking lot of his office in Lansing. He was taking me on a little trip.

It appears a superPAC and other political groups are coordinating their purchases of TV ads running in Michigan.  This means a more efficient use of secret money to influence voters.

Michigan TV stations across the state are running a series of ads critical of President Obama and his administration.

Here's an example of one of the ads.

The Michigan legislature will soon vote on whether to shift more of the state’s tax burden from business to households.  Last year the legislature and the governor shifted about one-and-a-half billion dollars in tax payments from small and medium sized businesses to retirees and the working poor. This year there’s a proposal to cut another business tax. That proposed tax cut could mean higher real estate taxes for homeowners and revenue cuts to local governments.

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Elected state officials in Michigan can be more secretive about money than federal officials. At the state level, the disclosure laws on money and politics make it easier to hide conflicts of interest and influence on politicians.

When Governor Rick Snyder delivered his State of the State address last January, he tucked into it a quick mention about making state government more open.

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