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Politics
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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Politics
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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Politics
9:20 am
Sun March 18, 2012

A strained relationship? What a Detroit consent agreement means for Gov. Snyder and Mayor Bing

Detroit Skyline
Ifmuth Flickr

Every week, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I have been taking a look at the politics behind the state's news headlines. This week: we take a look at what a possible consent agreement for the city of Detroit means for the relationship between Governor Rick Snyder and Mayor Dave Bing.

Politics
7:19 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Michigan primary politics: "Why can't I quit you?"

thetoad flickr

On Fridays Rick Pluta and I have been taking a look at politics in the state. But, before we could really get into our main topic of the week – state ballot proposals - we had a confession to make: We’re having a hard time getting over the Michigan primary. It might even be fair to say that we’re slightly obsessed. “Oh, primary, why can’t I quit you?” Pluta asked. It’s just too tough to quit.

Remnants of a primary

Yes, we know. The primary was almost two weeks ago. But a mere ten days can’t keep us from a good news story. “We saw earlier this week a Santorum campaign organizer in the state, John Yob – the Yob name is a venerable one in Michigan Republican politics – trying to organize a rally at the state party headquarters to, figuratively, at least, pound on the doors and demand justice for an even division of the primary delegates,” Pluta explains. You can find last week’s conversation over so-called “dele-gate” here.

The rally fizzles

Pluta went to report on the rally for Michigan Radio but, “very few people showed up… very, very few people.” Nevertheless, Pluta notes, “that it does raise the prospect of a convention fight - a floor fight - that would really be kind of an intra-party referendum on the leadership of the state GOP and a fight over who sits at the table when big decisions are made.” (Just in case you can’t get enough intra-party squabbles – and, if that’s the case you get major ‘political junkie’ points – you can find another darn good intra-party fight story here).

Now onto the feature presentation: Ballot proposals

Ok, we got the Michigan presidential primary out of our systems – at least for this week – and got to talking about the topic we had initially planned: a look at the various ballot proposals that were unveiled this week at the Capital. We saw a petition drive launched to create accountability in election spending. “Basically to require corporations to disclose when they spend money on their own political communication, primarily television advertising,” Pluta explains.

Also unveiled was a labor-rights ballot proposal. This got us to thinking about the politics behind ballot proposals. Sure, the folks behind these proposals are passionate about their causes and want their laws passed but there’s also the fact that ballot proposals can get out the vote in November.

The infamous Rovian-strategy

That would be Karl Rove, the so-called mastermind behind President George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004. “A lot of people believed that a Republican strategy to put a lot of wedge issues – social questions – on statewide ballots succeeded in drawing out conservative Evangelical voters to the benefit of Republican candidates. And, what people are seeing now with these ballot proposals, especially the union-rights ballot proposal, is an effort to [replicate] that,” Pluta explains.

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Election 2012
7:48 am
Mon March 5, 2012

One week after the MI primary, Santorum continues to dispute results

Gage Skidmore Flickr

Though the state's primary was almost a week ago, the Rick Santorum campaign is continuing to dispute the primary's results. The campaign has taken their fight over the way the Michigan Republican Party apportioned two of the state's at-large delegates to the Republican National Committee.

The campaign is also organizing a rally to be held later today in front of the Michigan Republican headquarters in Lansing. Santorum supporters will call on Michigan GOP leaders to reconsider their decision to award both the party’s statewide delegates to Mitt Romney.

They say party leaders changed the rules to avoid awarding one apiece to Romney and Santorum, who ran a close second in last week’s Michigan primary and won half of the state’s congressional districts.

Last week, after the committee voted in favor of giving the two at-large delegates to Romney, Mike Cox, the state's former Attorney General - and Romney supporter - called the decision, "kind of like third world voting."

A state Republican spokesman says that decision is now in the hands of the national GOP and calls the rally a needless distraction from the focus on helping Republicans win in November.

We took a closer look at the controversy over so-called "dele-gate" on Friday. You can take a listen at the link above.

Election 2012
12:43 pm
Tue February 28, 2012

Seven minutes of pure politics (Dirty-tricks, polls, and delegates, oh my!)

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney wants your vote. So does former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. And, Congressman Ron Paul. And... OK, you get the picture.
Gage Skidmore Flickr

It's here: The Michigan presidential primary.

You've got questions? We've got answers.

Join Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and me for seven minutes of pure-politics (you just gotta click the "listen" link above... really, it's that easy).

Want to know more about the Santorum campaign's so-called "dirty tricks"? We got that.

Want to know how Romney could win the state's popular vote... but Santorum could actually win more delegates? We got that, too.

Oh, and how about the latest poll numbers? Don't worry, we've got you covered.

So, take a listen... in seven minutes you'll get up to date on what you need to know about today's primary.

Presidential Primary
5:57 pm
Fri February 24, 2012

Huh? A vote for Santorum is actually a vote for Gingrich? And, other political junkie theories

Rick Santorum is one of eleven Republicans that want your vote on Tuesday, the day of Michigan's presidential primary
Gage Skidmore Flickr

Four days. We are now four days away from the state’s super-important, all-encompassing presidential primary (just in case you don’t feel like doing the math – that would be Tuesday). At this point in the campaign, the most recent polls are showing Mitt Romney with a slight advantage over his main rival in the state, Rick Santorum.

Polling galore

“We have a Rasmussen poll that puts Mitt Romney ahead of Rick Santorum – outside of the margin of error – which would be an actual lead,” Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network explains. And, then there’s the new poll by Mitchell Research and Communications which also shows Romney in the lead but this one, “is inside the margin of error… a statistical tie. But, I think perhaps more important than specifically where the numbers are at, it’s what direction we’re seeing the race take,” Pluta notes.

The all-important TREND moving towards Romney

Rather than just looking at one or two polls, political campaigns tend to look at the actual trend of the numbers: are the numbers moving in the direction of one candidate or the other over a certain period of time and what the spread is between the numbers. “A lot of times, a lot of the media focuses on ‘if the election were held today, then this would be the result’ kind of coverage. And, political professionals certainly care about that… but, they care more about what the spread is, what the gap is, between the candidates and what direction everything is taking. And, right now, everything seems to be moving in Mitt Romney’s direction,” Pluta explains.

So, where’s Newt?

Newt Gingrich, who, just a few short weeks ago was seen as Mitt Romney’s main rival for the GOP nomination, has not actively campaigned in the state. “We have confirmed, what we have long suspected: Gingrich is really leaving Michigan to Rick Santorum to chew on Mitt Romney,” Pluta explains.

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Politics
5:46 pm
Fri February 17, 2012

Michigan gets some lovin' from the Republican presidential candidates

Former Senator Rick Santorum (above) and Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney both want your vote in Michigan's primary on February 28th.
Gage Skidmore Flickr

By now, it's probably not news to you that Michigan holds the nation’s next presidential primary on February 28th. And, it’s likely to be a doozy.

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Politics
1:35 pm
Fri February 10, 2012

Taking a "pure-politics" look at the week's news...

Matthileo Flickr

Rick Pluta and I have been talking state politics on Fridays and today we take a look at Michigan's presidential primary, former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra's controversial TV ad, and Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal.

Michigan Matters

This was a huge week for Rick Santorum which, in turn, meant it was a big week for Michigan politicos. Michigan and Arizona hold the nation’s next primaries on February 28 (Maine holds a caucus tomorrow). That means the Republican candidates will be looking to Michigan for their next win. On Wednesday, Santorum told MSNBC that, “we think Michigan is a great place for us to plant our flag and talk about jobs and manufacturing.” For Santorum, his campaign needs to continue the momentum before Super Tuesday (on March 6) to be considered a serious threat to Romney. Romney, meanwhile, needs a win in Michigan to stop Santorum's momentum. Newt Gingrich will be hoping for a win in Michigan, although it’s unlikely after Tuesday night’s results, and Ron Paul will hope for a decent showing in the mitten state.

“Will Romney win? That sure seems to be where the smart money goes. But are there opportunities to make sure it’s not a [Romney] domination? That opportunity does seem to exist,” Pluta explains. Pluta and I recently explored what some of those opportunities are.

The Super Bowl ad that had many saying, "huh?"

We couldn’t talk about the week’s political news without mentioning the controversy that continues over Republican Senatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra’s campaign ad that premiered last Sunday in which an Asian woman speaks in broken English. The ad was called “racially insensitive” and “xenophobic” and it’s even been parodied by the website FunnyOrDie.com. Now, the Hoekstra campaign is out with another ad, this time it doesn’t mention China. And, one of Hoekstra’s opponents in the Republican Senatorial primary, Clark Durant, premiered an ad of his own. “Durant saw an opportunity, decided not to wait to run his first ad of the campaign… and it’s a lot more positive [than the Hoekstra ad] and… the subtle message is, ‘we’re better than this,’” Pluta notes.

A kinder, gentler budget

Finally, Pluta and I take a look at the politics behind the budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 that was unveiled by the Governor yesterday at the state Capitol. Unlike last year, this year the budget is, “very, very different… It is a much kinder, gentler budget.”

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Election 2012
3:58 pm
Mon February 6, 2012

China-bashing is nothing new in Michigan politics

Mandiberg Flickr

Former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra wants to be your next Senator. He’s currently running in the GOP primary to try and unseat Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow. Hoekstra’s campaign premiered a controversial ad yesterday that’s being called, “xenophobic,” “racially-insensitive” and a “mistake;” Hoekstra calls the ad, in which a young Chinese woman speaks broken English and thanks Senator Stabenow (in the ad, Stabenow is referred to as “Senator Spend-it-now") for helping the Chinese economy, “aggressive.”

As the political pundits are debating whether or not the ad is detrimental to the Hoekstra campaign – one thing is for sure: China-bashing is nothing new in Michigan.

While Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I usually talk state politics on Fridays, we just couldn’t ignore this story. So, take a listen as we dissect the ad and take a look back at past political ads that have targeted various politicians and their relationships with China.

And, for some visuals,  here are a few attack ads from the 2006 Michigan gubernatorial campaign:

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Election 2012
1:23 pm
Fri February 3, 2012

The Michigan Presidential primary is like that scene in Star Wars (kind of)

On Fridays, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I have been taking a look at state politics, we’ve been trying to dig a little deeper beneath the week's political news. And, it sure seemed like one story, in particular, was making all the headlines this week.  Headlines like, “Romney Rebounds with Victory in Florida,” and, “Where Has the Newt-Mentum Gone?”

Just like Star Wars… (Well, sort of)

This week’s 2012 GOP Presidential primary storyline got us thinking about that classic scene from Stars Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi where Princess Leia and Han Solo have been captured by Jabba the Hutt and Luke Skywalker tries to come to their rescue. Things don’t go as planned and Luke ends up captured, too. Trying to gauge the severity of the situation Han asks Luke, “How are we doing?” Luke answers, “The same as always.” Han, with his characteristically dry sense of humor, responds, “that bad, huh?”

“Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and crew sort of made us think of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, coming into the Michigan primary – which is now just about three weeks away – and Gingrich almost seems to be in a position of ‘now, I’ve got them exactly where I want them.’ You know, he’s an underdog, the odds are stacked against him… what Gingrich, Santorum and Paul all seem to be fighting is this aura of inevitability that is surrounding Romney,” Pluta explains.

Okay, so maybe it’s not an exact parallel but Pluta and I, at least, had a reason to watch some scenes from Star Wars. (And, just as a side note, there’s quite a bit in the Star Wars movies that can be compared to American politics. But, that’s a whole different story for a whole different time).

“A couple of weeks is a long time in American Politics.” – Peter Jennings

That well-known saying from Peter Jennings is something I always try to remember as I’m listening to or reading the latest from the political pundits. Yes, Romney surely seems to have the “Big-Mo” (the all-important “momentum” that Pluta and I have discussed before) coming out of Florida, but, let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a minute, shall we? Pluta explains that, contrary to conventional wisdom, there are some reasons that Romney could have a difficult time winning the Michigan primary:

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Election 2012
7:50 am
Mon January 30, 2012

Forget about Florida… What about the Michigan primary?

Unless you’ve been living on Mars, or, at least, somewhere where there isn’t radio, television or the internet, you’ve most likely heard MORE than enough about the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, the “game-changing” South Carolina primary and, of course, who could forget about tomorrow's all-important Florida primary.

Well, maybe you’re like me and Michigan Public Radio Network's Lansing Bureau Chief Rick Pluta and you feel like Michigan is getting left out of the conversation. Well, fear not, Pluta joined me on Friday to take a look at  Michigan’s Republican primary, scheduled for February 28th.

Romney has got this thing wrapped up... No, he doesn't. Oh wait, yes, he does.

We've got about a month to go before Michigan voters head to the polls for the state's presidential primary and it seems like one day we're hearing that Michigan's primary REALLY matters - that, indeed, the state will be influential in the Republican nominating process. But, then, just when we thought Michigan was important we hear the political pundits take back their political proclamations - claiming that no, in fact, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has got the state wrapped up. "I guess this is further evidence," Pluta says, "that anyone who is allowed to be a pundit should be required to wear something that says 'Don't follow me, I'm lost.'"

Michigan will matter... Really!

"Just a few weeks ago, we were written off," Pluta says, but, "things have changed so much since New Hampshire, we then had the Newt Gingrich surge... called Newtmentum. So, now... everyone is waiting to see what happens in Florida... and, then, we'll come out of that, and we'll go into Colorado and Minnesota - state's that really aren't as big as Michigan - and then, after February 7th, we have 21 days where there's nothing... and then the Michigan and Arizona primaries. And, Michigan WILL matter because momentum is everything going into Super Tuesday which happens shorty after Michigan and Arizona."

It's all about the "Big-Mo"... (Momentum, that is)

It's called the Big-Mo, or Big-Momentum, at least that's what political scientists and campaign strategists call it, and it's important. "I've talked to Republican strategists and they say, in a primary season, everything is about momentum. People are jumping in with whoever is surging and they're dropping off with whoever is lagging and so that's what you really, really want going into that all important Super Tuesday primary and Michigan is going to set the stage for that," Pluta explains. So, the idea is this: win Michigan and you go into Super Tuesday as a strong candidate with the air of inevitability.

Early primary = Fewer delegates

We reported quite a bit, last year, as the Michigan legislature tried to pick a date for the Michigan primary. Republican leaders wanted an early date for the primary - figuring that the earlier in the year the primary was held, the more influence the state would have in the national Republican campaign.

The only problem: Michigan broke the rules by holding an early primary. The date, "violates [Republican] Party rules and that will very likely result in Michigan's delegation to the Republican National Convention to be cut in half but, the [State] Legislature is really dominated by Romney supporters and what they wanted to do was... give Romney an early victory... that creates momentum going forward. It was actually considered more important for Romney to have that early momentum going ahead than to actually rack up as many delegates as he possibly could coming out of Michigan," Pluta explains.

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Politics
3:34 pm
Fri January 13, 2012

Checking in on the state's budget

Thinkpanama Flickr

We all like to know the balance in our checking or our savings account, right? My guess is, every so often, you go online or you go to the bank and you see what your balance looks like. Maybe, if you’ve got a few extra bucks, you buy yourself something nice. Or, maybe the account is a little dry and, then, you know it’s time to cut back. Well, just like you, the state has an account… given, it’s probably MUCH larger… with many more zeros than you have… but the idea is the same.

This morning, in Lansing, the officials that keep an eye on the state’s bank account met at what’s officially called the Revenue Estimating Conference. Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network was at the conference, and he spoke with me this afternoon from the Capitol building about what the numbers for the state's "bank account" look like for 2012.

To boil it down, consider some basic questions you might ask about your own finances:

  • How much? : Pluta reports that a figure of $1 billion in budget surplus has been tossed around a lot by reporters over the last few days, but once upcoming spending pressures for 2012 are factored in, that number comes down to roughly $457 million.
  • Spend or save? : Pluta says that according to the state's budget director, some surplus money could go into things like Medicaid and schools, but to improve the state's bond ratings, a portion will also likely go into savings.
  • What about the economy? : Economists also weighed in at the conference and according to Pluta, the general consensus was that Michigan saw decent economic improvement early on in 2011 with growth of about 64,000 jobs for the year, but in recent moths things have become more sluggish--a trend that is expected to continue in 2012. Economists predict growth to the tune of roughly 27,000 new jobs in the state.
  • What does the governor think? : Okay, so maybe you wouldn't ask yourself that question when thinking about your banking, but Pluta reports that regarding the state's money, Governor Rick Snyder plans to release recommendations soon, both about how the surplus should be used and what the next fiscal-year budget should look like.
Politics
6:39 am
Fri October 28, 2011

How state lawmakers are making sure you can’t repeal their laws

Michigan lawmakers are using a political maneuver to ensure that it's more difficult for Michigan voters to repeal unpopular, controversial bills.
Matthileo Flickr

In Michigan, voters are allowed to overturn laws they don't like. This is how it works: you try and get enough signatures to get a referendum to repeal the law on a ballot. If a majority of voters vote against the law... it's repealed. But there's a catch: laws that have appropriations attached to them cannot be repealed by voters.

Just this week, Michigan Radio reported on a proposal that would drastically alter the state’s no-fault auto insurance law. The House proposal includes a $50,000 appropriation that protects the measure from a voter-led ballot initiative.

This is the fourth time this year Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol have added appropriations to a controversial bill to keep it referendum-proof.

I spoke with Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, about this cunning, political maneuver. He’s been keeping an eye on this story for months.

Why We Should Care

For some, the words, “referendum,” “appropriation,” and “voter-led ballot” aren’t that important; in fact, maybe they just sound like more of the same insider politics. But, Pluta explains it this way:

If you’re a voter who does not think that anything the legislature does should ever be challenged, I guess you would consider [this] not too terribly important. But, if you do think that [the right to vote against a law in a referendum] should be preserved… then you might find the whole thing to be a little devious.

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