It's Just Politics

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 “I would like to clear-up the biggest piece of hogwash on TV today.”

That quote was from Governor Rick Snyder at his first campaign town hall this week, pushing back on claims that his administration cut one billion dollars from the state’s education budget.

“They’re lying to you,” the governor told the town-hall audience on Tuesday evening in Kalamazoo.

And, it’s not just the governor, GOP officials and lawmakers have also released statement after statement calling the billion dollar cut a lie, as well as demanding TV stations pull the ad from rotation.

It’s looking more and more like Republicans and Democrats are doubling-down on getting female voters to the polls in November. As Rick Pluta and I talked about last week in It’s Just Politics:

Michigan is not a decisively blue state because so many Democrats sit out during the mid-term elections … It’s largely why we have a Republican governor, attorney general and secretary of state (many Democrats stayed home on Election Day four years ago). So, the challenge for Democrats is to convince Democrats to get out and vote, especially younger voters, minorities and females, who are statistically more likely to stay at home. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been hearing SO much about the so-called ‘War on women’. 

But, really, it’s a ‘war FOR women.' Women’s votes. Young women’s votes.

We linked to this anti-Obama ad that’s been airing for the past few weeks:

The persuadable voter. Political independents. There are not as many of them as there used to be. And they don’t seem to be the center of this campaign season as they have been in previous years (remember the ‘Soccer Mom’ or ‘Security Mom’?).

This year’s campaigns seem much more focused on getting out base voters. And, that is why we present a bold prediction: President Barack Obama will come visit Michigan before Election Day.

Democrats have pinned their hopes this year on Democratic-voter turnout. Michigan is a decidedly blue state. Democrats have a five or six-point behavioral - that is how people vote, not what they call themselves - advantage in Michigan. That advantage is why Democrats have won the last six presidential elections in Michigan.

But, Michigan is not a decisively blue state because so many Democrats sit out during the mid-term elections. And, that gives Michigan Republicans their best changes in statewide races. It’s largely why we have a Republican governor, attorney general and secretary of state (many Democrats stayed home on Election Day four years ago).

But, there’s another part of the equation: Republicans can’s win on their own. Yes, Michigan Republicans typically have a turnout advantage in mid-term elections, but it doesn’t get them all the way to victory. To win, Republicans have to win at least a slim majority of the independents who turn out to vote.

This week, former Governor Bill Milliken knocked us off the edges of our seats when he started making candidate endorsements (Ok, maybe we weren’t at the edge of our seats).

But Michigan’s political watchers are always interested in who the state’s famously iconoclastic and moderate Republican Governor will endorse.

In 2004, Milliken endorsed Democrat John Kerry for President. In 2008, it was Republican John McCain. Although he withdrew it just a few weeks before the election.

Four years ago, Rick Snyder, in an effort to burnish his centrist bona fides, sought and received the imprimatur of Milliken.

And, now, this election-cycle, Milliken has endorsed Democrat Gary Peters for U.S. Senate and Democrat Mark Totten for Attorney General.

One has to wonder how the Republican base is going to view the fact that the current governor is the only Republican (at least so far in this election cycle) to get the Milliken endorsement.

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak doesn’t seem to mind. “He’s not relevant any longer,” Schostak recently told WJBK TV.

Democrats in Lansing are not waiting any longer to push civil rights protections for gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

And the fact that Democrats are now out in front, signals this is no longer about adopting a policy, this is now political.

For several sessions, Democrats have introduced legislation to add LGBT protections to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. But last year they were persuaded to wait by civil rights groups who at long last saw a policy success in their grasp. That’s if they could get a Republican to take the lead (because, of course, the GOP runs the show in Lansing).

This week, however, those hopes essentially fell apart as prospective Republican co-sponsors bailed, and GOP leaders put unacceptable conditions on taking up the bill.

Now, the sole, lonely Republican publicly backing LGBT rights in the civil rights law, says he has not given up. “We’re still working and talking with colleagues and educating,” said Republican state Representative Frank Foster. Interestingly enough, as we talked about last month on It's Just Politics, Foster lost his primary in August to a more socially conservative Republican. There's continued debate over whether or not  his loss was do in part because of his support for adding LGBT rights to Elliott-Larsen.

 “This is Rich Baird ... " was the opening of the voice mail message left by Gov. Rick Snyder’s right-hand man and “transformation manager,” Rich Baird. The message was for union leader Carla Swift. And after that intro, it got nasty.

“I didn’t figure you would pick up on this call. It would take courage to talk to me face-to-face. Um, number one, you’d better be careful. I may be suing you …”

The voice mail from Baird is a response to a column that appeared last weekend in the Detroit Free Press, where Swift said Baird and other members of the Snyder administration play by their own set of rules.

Back to Baird’s voice mail: “I am sick and tired of you people and your unbased attacks. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

It seems it’s not possible for an election campaign season to glide by without a debate over debates -- the one-upsmanship between various campaigns about who’s more willing to throw themselves open for an adversarial Q and A rife with drama and wonkiness.

Historically, the most memorable moments of debates are the human ones -- Governor Sarah Palin in the 2008 Vice Presidential debate asking then- Senator Joe Biden, “Can I call you Joe?” or Governor Rick Perry’s famous, fatal stumble in the Republican presidential debate in 2012 at Oakland University, forcing an embarrassing “oops” after he forgot the three federal departments he’d eliminate.

The public says it wants debates. Candidates say they’re anxious to debate. But in Michigan, so far, in 2014, we haven’t seen any debates scheduled in either the race for U.S. Senate or governor.

Democratic Senate nominee Gary Peters is certainly trying to make hay over the absence of debates. It plays into the Democrats’ narrative that Republican Terri Lynn Land is unprepared for the job. Mark Schauer, Democratic nominee for governor, is also pushing to share a stage with Gov. Rick Snyder.

 Natural disasters, like the rain and floods that pounded metro Detroit this week, present a unique challenge for chief executives like Governor Rick Snyder. Natural disasters are certainly not like the slow work of trying to mend an economy, for example.

With natural disasters, all of an administration’s emergency planning is stress tested in real-time with real-life consequences. Years ago, Governor John Engler said a big natural disaster is any governor’s worst nightmare.

And, like most things with government, there are political consequences to natural disasters. How, for example, the public measures the way a chief executive handles the situation.

Here in Michigan, with the November election just two and a half months away, this was an important week for Governor Snyder. Which is why, when the magnitude of what was happening in metro Detroit became clear, the governor cut short a trip to the Upper Peninsula - a trip that included a fundraising event in Marquette - and returned downstate to reassure people that he was aware and in charge.

His administration certainly did not want a repeat of last winter, when Snyder was excoriated for not, at first, being visible during a powerful ice storm that knocked out electricity to big swaths of the state. We should note as well, however, that the governor’s Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer, was also not particularly visible during that ice storm.

So, this week, Governor Snyder flew south by helicopter, surveyed the damage and talked to the media. It was this latter part of his trip - speaking on WJR’s The Frank Beckman Show - that the Governor tried for a little empathy. “I’ve been through a lot of things like that… We just recently had holes in our roof from storm damage to our lake house, in terms of, yeah, we have a vacation place, and I had a limb come down from holes in the roof, had water running through the place. Those experiences are not pleasant ones, and we had to take some trees down,” the Governor said, trying to go for the common touch, the ‘I feel your pain’ explanation.

 Here we are, trying to shake some more truth out of Tuesday’s primary results. And there is still at least one lingering result that has people continuing to wonder what exactly happened and why. And that would be Republican Representative Frank Foster’s primary loss to Tea Party challenger Lee Chatfield.

It’s not that people didn’t think a Tea Party win was possible. In fact, the Tea Party took aim at quite a few GOP incumbents over their votes for the Medicaid expansion and the Common Core education standards.

But every single other incumbent state lawmaker survived.

In Foster’s case, though, there were a couple of distinctions. Foster was identified by a political newsletter as one of Lansing’s most lobbyist-wined and dined. It’s never good when an incumbent is targeted as having “gone native” in Lansing or D.C.

Tuesday may be primary election day, but the truth is we’re already off to the races. The voting has begun. Absentee voting. Absentee ballots are the first ballots cast, but the last to be counted on Election Day. And more and more they can make the difference between winning and losing.

That’s because voting absentee is on the rise in Michigan -- nearly doubled over the past 10 years. More than one in four (27 percent, to be specific) of the ballots cast in 2012 were absentee. And that’s why the smart campaigns focus early on absentee voters. They keep track of who requests an absentee ballot, and then quickly steer campaign propaganda in that voter’s direction.

It is also why the Michigan Democratic Party -- with an eye toward November -- has been quietly carrying on an absentee voter experiment. Voters in Detroit and Lansing, can now apply for their absentee ballots online.

 There are some big stakes in the primary elections less than two weeks away, and fierce fights over congressional and legislative nominations are getting a lot of attention.

Not that it’s likely to boost what is usually anemic turnout in the primaries, and that’s despite the reality that most seats are so firmly partisan that the primary is actually the decisive election that really determines who goes to Lansing or Washington.

Like other politicos, we’ve paid a lot of attention to the face-off between the Republican establishment and the GOP’s Tea Party wing. And while that fight is playing out in some state House and Senate races, and some big Congressional races, it’s also playing out locally. Very locally.

We’re talking about the humble precinct delegate.

Cue the James Bond theme as we take up electoral espionage. We’re talking campaign black ops. Political spying.

We learned this week that Republicans here in Michigan sent two young operatives equipped with a tiny video camera in a pair of glasses to infiltrate a Mark Schauer for Governor campaign event -- looking for whatever they might find. And what did they get? Found out.

Our ace operatives bungled the job. Dropped the disc with the video where it was found by Democrats. Who, then, made it public, including their brief conversation with Dem lieutenant governor candidate Lisa Brown.

Republicans didn’t deny the operatives were theirs.

Democrats and the Schauer campaign cried foul calling it sneaky, dirty tricks. They got some newspaper headlines. Effective messaging helped along by the fact that it fit did neatly into a narrative courtesy of some missteps -- or what seemed to be missteps -- by Governor Rick Snyder’s campaign.

This week, pretty much unnoticed, the deadline came and went for opponents to file challenges to petitions filed by the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management campaign to initiate a law. This is part of the ongoing political battle over wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula.

The CPWM petition drive would create a new version of the law to allow wolf hunting, and it would take future decisions on designating game animals and put it with the state Natural Resources Commission instead of the Legislature.

Now, not everyone may recognize that petition campaign. But, if you signed a petition to oppose Asian carp in the Great Lakes, you signed a petition to allow wolf hunting in the UP. If you signed a petition to allow active duty military personnel to get free hunting and fishing licenses, you signed a petition to allow wolf hunting.

It’s been almost six months since Mike Duggan took over as mayor of Detroit. He took over a city however, run by someone else: state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

But, that doesn’t mean Duggan has been denied all the rites of passage of the job including the schlep to Lansing to ask the state Legislature for something. Every mayor has to do it. And Duggan had to go to Lansing with a really big ‘ask.’ We’re talking about the $195 million dollar rescue package for his city (that’s right, ‘rescue,’ ‘settlement.’ Just don’t call it a ‘bailout.’)

Getting the Republican-led state House and Senate to go along with sending almost $200 million dollars to a Democratically-controlled city was not an easy task.

"Unfortunately, this is an issue that I would admit there are too much politics going on." That was Gov. Rick Snyder last night, after it became clear that a major roads funding package was not going to get passed in the state Senate.

"...If we were sitting at the kitchen table as a big family,” he continued, “and you looked at this issue, we would have solved this problem.”

Sure. Or our big family would fight about who wrecked the roads in the first place and that it was your fault – you and your big truck – which is why we can’t have nice roads and don’t you know I have a primary and, by the way, I haven’t forgotten who wrecked the roads that you won’t fix because you should.

But, we digress.

There were a lot of reasons why this road-funding deal failed to come together, despite some recent instances of actual bipartisanship, like increasing the state’s minimum wage and the Detroit rescue package. But those were exceptions in this era of Republican hegemony in Lansing.


With money to fix roads hanging in the balance, presidential politics could stand in the way of the new trend of bipartisan action on big, controversial issues.

But, really, any notion that there’s a new era of bipartisanship at the state Capitol should be shelved, despite the Democratic and Republican coalitions in the Legislature that pushed through deals on increasing the minimum wage and the Detroit rescue package. And that’s because each was an anomaly that brought Democrats to the bargaining table in Republican-controlled Lansing.

When you break down the Detroit votes, for example, you see two very different pictures in the House and in the Senate. In the House, almost all the Republicans voted for the rescue. A few Democrats were the holdouts. In the Senate, Democrats made up the difference as most Republicans -- 16 out of 26 -- voted “no” on the main bills in the Detroit package.

What this says is the parameters of each deal were different (even when we’re talking about the exact same legislation) depending on whether it’s the House or the Senate.  For example, a larger proportion of the Republicans in the Senate have serious primaries.

This week at the annual Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference on Mackinac Island, Governor Snyder joined the chorus of people calling for an update to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights act to include protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people… sort of.

There is a lot of spoon-feeding to the press here on the Island – a litany of press conferences and media scrums. And, yesterday, one of those press conferences was held by a group of business leaders who want LGBT protections rolled into the civil rights law.

Meanwhile, at almost the exact same time as these business leaders were making their announcement, the Governor was talking to us, telling us he thought the legislature ought to take the issue up.

But, did he actually endorse it? “I’m encouraging them to say there’s been a lot of dialog and discussion on this. It’s been healthy in the public and I think it could be an appropriate topic for the legislators to take up. I would appreciate that,” the Governor said. And, that statement is fairly typical of the multiple exchanges we had with the governor on this topic.


In Lansing yesterday with the state House approving that $195 million for Detroit, a lot of us were anticipating a close vote. A very close vote.

There was a lot of back and forth about how many votes the Republicans would have to put up and how many the Democrats would have to put up. But, in the end, it wasn’t even close.

Other than the dust-up over the Detroit Institute of Arts millage the package passed by big lopsided margins and overwhelming Republican support. Which, when you think about it, is a very interesting dynamic: overwhelming GOP support for the state coming to the aid of a city run by Democrats.


So now that the Michigan Senate has approved a new, higher minimum wage, with bipartisan support (14 Rs, 10 Ds) no less, this is practically a done deal. Right?

Not so much. The headlines and stories that said it would “kill” the petition drive are speculative and premature.

This Senate bill is – at the bottom of it all – an effort to pull the rug out from under the ballot drive to raise the Michigan minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It's a cause beloved by Democrats and progressives.

So why then did 10 out of 12 Senate Democrats go along with it? Particularly after some had already blasted the proposal as a gimmick and too paltry – especially for workers earning the lower tipped wage?

There's all sorts of political news coming out of Lansing and Detroit this week, from the political fate of a long-time Michigan congressman, to a political move by a top Republican lawmaker to derail a ballot proposal boosting Michigan's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. And of course, there is news on that perennial Michigan topic of fixing our potholed, crumbling roads. 

There's so much political news that we decided to bring in Michigan Radio's "It's Just Politics" team of Rick Pluta and Zoe Clark to sort it all out for us. 

*Listen to the full interview above.


Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, may have just turned up the heat in the fight over increasing Michigan’s minimum wage. But the petition campaign – headed by Raise Michigan – is already planning its pushback.

Richardville proposed yesterday his own legislation to raise the state minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15, and a boost for tipped workers, too. But, really, this is not so much about raising the minimum wage as derailing the petition drive underway to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour plus a really big raise for tipped workers.

The Richardville proposal is separate from an earlier bill sponsored by Senator Rick Jones, R-Eaton Rapids, that would also raise the minimum wage. That one also meant to blunt the petition drive.

Both were introduced because it appears the petition drive is on track to turn in the necessary number of signatures before the deadline at the end of the month. Under the Michigan Constitution, once those signatures are certified, the state Legislature would have 40 days to vote it into law. If it doesn’t – the question goes on the November ballot.

And the polling shows, it’s pretty popular. Popular enough, Democrats hope, to boost turnout among their voters who tend to stay home in mid-term elections.


Update: 1:25 PM, Monday, May 5th, 2014

 

Well, blow the “trumpet of shame” on us. Right after we predicted here that the prospective challengers to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley would fall short, Wes Nakagiri goes and turns in 33 signatures from the ranks of Michigan Republican State Central Committee to get his name placed in consideration at the party’s summer convention. The rules require at least three signatures from committee members in at least three congressional districts. It appears Nakagiri’s crossed his t’s and dotted his i’s, but the Michigan GOP’s policy committee still has to affirm the signatures. That could happen at its July meeting, if not sooner. Calley’s still the odds-on favorite to win re-nomination.

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We’ve talked quite a bit already about the friction within the Michigan Republican Party between the GOP establishment and its perpetually perturbed Tea Party wing. The Tea Party’s restless longings are coalescing lately around the possibility of toppling Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley from the ticket.

It almost happened four years ago as many in the Tea Party deemed Republican nominee-for- governor Rick Snyder as insufficiently conservative, and tried to put one of their own on the ticket in place of One Tough Nerd’s choice, then-state Representative Calley. And when that effort failed (but not by much), they felt robbed.

“In politics, you know, they do whatever it takes! They scratch! They claw! They bite!” said one angry delegate to the 2010 GOP summer convention.Tea Partiers now harbor some hopes of pulling it off this year as a payback for the Medicaid expansion, Common Core, the autism insurance mandate and other Snyder administration initiatives.

But Lieutenant Gov. Calley seems to have warded off that challenge – for the moment.

It’s Michigan minimum wage redux. This week, conservative Republican state Senator Rick Jones introduced a bill to increase Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15 an hour. The measure would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.65 to $2.75 an hour.

Yes, you read that correctly. A Republican lawmaker wants to increase the state’s minimum wage.

History suggests that this election year should be friendly to Republicans. That’s because Republicans are more likely to turn out in mid-term elections than Democrats, and the party out of the White House, especially in a president’s second term, tends to have an advantage. With about six and a half months to go before the November election, a lot of Republicans are harboring hopes that this is going to be a good year to be a Republican.

But here’s a question: Which kind of Republican is it best to be this year?

In Michigan -- just like nationally -- there’s some tension between the three threads of the GOP coalition. That’s the  Establishment Republicans, the Tea Party, and the Liberty Movement.

We’ll get a better idea of how big this fight is (and if it’s a fight at all worth talking about) after this coming Tuesday’s filing deadline. We’ll see exactly where and how many Tea Partiers will “primary” an establishment Republican figure, and where the Republican establishment (and by that we mean chamber of commerce Republicans) will try to dislodge a Tea Partier from Congress or the Legislature.

A political stunner slapped all of our political cheeks awake this morning, just like that scene with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.

The news? Seven-term Republican Congressman Mike Rogers announced he is retiring from Congress. Retiring from Congress, but not the political circus. He is going to start a national radio show devoted to foreign policy and national defense, which is his bailiwick as the Chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee.

Rogers is also a well-known talking head. Last year, he appeared more than any other elected official on the Sunday morning news circuit. And he’s got the TV sound bites down, just last week on Meet the Press, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin, “goes to bed thinking of Peter the Great and wakes up thinking of Stalin.”

It’s not just how fond he seemed of Congress that is what makes Rogers’, who represents Lansing, Brighton, Howell and parts of Northern Oakland County, announcement so surprising, but his fondness in particular for the House of Representatives. In fact, there was speculation last year that the reason he didn’t jump into the race for Carl Levin’s open Senate seat was because he enjoyed his job in the House so much.

The political campaign ad season is upon us. We’ve already seen the first trickle of ads here in Michigan, but we know the spigot is barely open at this point.

And, this brings us to an interesting court case out of Ohio that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in just over a month. At issue is whether a state can preemptively enforce a ban on a supposedly false and misleading political advertisement.

This started when the Republican independent committee the Susan B. Anthony List wanted to put up a billboard that accused an Ohio congressman of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions. The Congressman cried foul under an Ohio law that forbids knowingly or recklessly making false or misleading statements about candidates.

The billboard never went up after the congressman threatened to file a legal complaint. But the Susan B. Anthony List and some other groups challenged the law. That lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality and that was upheld by the U.S Sixth. Circuit Court of Appeals – of which Michigan is a part.

It looks like a referendum on the controversial issue of wolf-hunting is headed to the November ballot – again. This will be the second hunting-related ballot question (and, possibly, not the last) voters will decide in a little less than eight months.

The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Campaign turned in petition signatures to the state Bureau of Elections just yesterday. It takes 161,305 signatures, and we can reasonably expect the campaign has enough names. Because, after all, they’ve done this before.

Most recently, just last year, when Keep Michigan Wolves Protected filed enough signatures to suspend and challenge the first Michigan wolf hunting law adopted after the gray wolf was taken off the federal endangered species list. That is the first referendum challenge and it is already on the November ballot.

But the Legislature, as well as Gov. Rick Snyder, would not be thwarted. They adopted a second law to allow wolf hunting (among other things), and that is the target of this newest referendum campaign.

There was an interesting article this week in The New York Times with a strong focus on politics in Michigan. It dealt with a particular aspect of the Democratic Party’s trouble winning in off-presidential years: the coveted white male voter. Yes, working class, high school-educated, married white men are wanted.

Republicans, in fact, have relied on dominance among white males to win elections for many, many years now. And a lot has been made of the fact that right now Republicans are facing big troubles winning over minority voters - African American, Hispanic - as well as immigrants and single women, a weakness that Democrats have been able to use.

But Democrats have been, for many years, losing the white male vote. Remember the Reagan Democrats? White, blue collar, many of them union members, with a strong presence in southeast Michigan and, over time, they stopped being Reagan Democrats and just became Republicans.

Exit polls from The Washington Post show President Obama lost white voters by 20 points in 2012 to Mitt Romney, the largest losing margin among whites in 30 years. Now, of course, every election is different. We know not as many voters will cast a ballot in 2014 as 2012 because it’s a midyear election when the presidential race isn’t on top of the ballot which creates, in turn, less voter excitement.

We are one week, halfway through, the trial in federal court in Detroit centering on the challenge to Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The arguments are supposed to go on for another week, and then we’ll wait for the judge’s decision. But the case’s mere existence, the fact that it’s occurring, is having an effect on the political landscape in Michigan.

And, it should be noted that these hearings are not taking place within a vacuum. Just this week we saw two more gay marriage rulings. Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was struck down and Kentucky was ordered to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

There is also another federal case underway here in Michigan that is challenging the state’s refusal to allow live-in partner benefits for public employees. It’s the mechanism that was created to allow same-sex couples to use their benefits to cover partners and children who would otherwise be denied coverage under Michigan’s marriage amendment, approved by voters in a statewide election 10 years ago.

A political controversy in Lansing that just won’t die is back: auto no-fault insurance. There is yet another Republican effort to muscle through an auto no-fault overhaul, this time being led by state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

There’s a lot in this proposal, released just yesterday, but one of the main things is a cap on the state’s currently unlimited medical benefits if you are injured in a crash. Under the Bolger plan, these benefits would top out at $10 million. Other parts of the proposal include limits on hospital fees and payments for in-home care, incentives to avoid litigation, and a guaranteed rate rollback in the first two years of coverage.

Essentially, there is something in this plan for all of the special interests that have a stake in the auto no-fault system – hospitals, insurance companies, trial lawyers – to dislike. But, Bolger says, bring it on.

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