It's Just Politics

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

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

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The debate over debates continues between the Stabenow and Hoekstra campaigns

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

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

It’s a debate… about debates

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

Foreign affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redirecting the Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immortal Poet Flickr

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

It’s a GOTV Kind of a Year

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

Can Ballot Questions Get-Out-the-Vote?

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

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

Politics and the campaign spouse; when partners become an issue

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

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

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

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

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

Double-edged Sword

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

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

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

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

Johnson vs. Rendon

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

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It's Just Politics
2:36 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

Red state? Blue state? Taking a look at Michigan's (political) identity crisis

It's a "swing-state" edition of It's Just Politics this week. The big political question in the mitten-state currently seems to be "Is Michigan a true battleground - a swing state - in this year's presidential race?" You certainly would not be blamed for thinking so considering all of the campaign love that Michigan got this week.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta - Friday, August 24th, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden was in Detroit on Wednesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in West Michigan yesterday campaigning on behalf of fellow Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and, just today, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan visited Commerce Township.

Are we a (politically) fickle state?

This level of attention would seem to suggest that Michigan is a battleground state alongside  those perpetual swingers: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Colorado. There are certainly reasons to believe why this could be the case, even though Michigan has gone for the Democratic nominee in the last five presidential cycles. But, if you look back even further, the five cycles before that, Michigan voted for the Republican presidential candidate every time.

It would appear that we are a fickle state. Michigan may be blue, but it elects Republicans in statewide races all the time: Governor Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson – just to name a few. And, even while Democrat Jennifer Granholn was governor, Attorney General Mike Cox and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land were both Republicans.

Interestingly enough, Michigan’s record tilts more heavily toward sending Democrats to Washington D.C.. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow are, of course, Democrats. And, in this election cycle, Republican Senate nominee Pete Hoekstra hopes to alter that trend, like Spence Abraham did –albeit for just one term – in 1994.

What do the polls say?

In this year's race, President Obama’s generally been given the edge in most polls in the state, even though Mitt Romney was born in Michigan and his father was governor here. But, just because he can claim "native-son" status, the Romney name does not always equal ballot magic. Romney's brother, Scott Romney, lost his reelection bid to the Michigan State University and his mother Lenore Romney failed in her U.S. Senate bid back in 1970. A former sister in law, Ronna, who ran with the Romney name also lost a Senate race.

A poll was released this week by Foster McCollum White and Associates for the Fox TV station in Detroit that gave Romney a four point lead over President Obama; and a slight lead for Pete Hoesktra over Senator Debbie Stabenow.

But, then, another poll was released this week that put President Obama and Senator Stabenow in the lead. So, it begs the question - which poll is right? The reality is there’s no objective measure for regular folks to use to judge the credibility of a poll. The only reality to compare it to is… other polls.

Is Michigan a swinging state?

So, aside from the polls - the question remains: are we a swing state or not? It would seem if the presidential campaigns didn’t think Michigan was relevant to them in November then they wouldn't be spending so much time here. But, one can argue that there are a whole lot of other reasons why candidates visit a place. Certainly, persuading voters is a big one. Keeping the base energized is another - especially in a year like this when it seems like most people have made up their minds who they want, or who they don’t want in the White House.

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It's Just Politics
1:31 pm
Fri August 17, 2012

Romney's choice of Paul Ryan has some Republican lawmakers going off-message

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan
Monkeyz_Unkle Flickr

This week, it’s a trickle down edition of It’s Just Politics. Trickle down: as in how Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate will play down on the rest of the November ballot.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta, Friday, August 17th, 2012

Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan is best-known as the author of a controversial budget plan. And, it’s that plan that’s really been driving most political conversations this week which means Paul Ryan is not only Mitt Romney’s running mate, but is on the ticket with every Republican running this year, including Michigan lawmakers.

We’ve seen the Democratic messaging about how the Ryan plan will  end Medicare, "as we know it." In fact, even Romney has said the Ryan budget plan is not his budget plan, but every Republican is, at least, being asked where they stand on it. So, while it may create some problems for congressional candidates – say, a Republican like Dan Benishek in northern Michigan, where there are a lot of seniors, it also allows them to talk about the need for “entitlement reform.”

Speaking of Entitlement Reform…

This week a memo was obtained by the online news site Politico that outlines the new nomenclature that is to be used by Republican candidates when talking about the Ryan budget and federal spending. So, out with “entitlement reform,” “privatization,” and the phrase: “every option is on the table.” Instead, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee suggests these words: “strengthen,” “secure,” “preserve,” “protect.”

Closer to Home

This messaging fits pretty snugly into the campaign narratives that we’ve seen already in Michigan. In congressional races, they’ll talk about Medicare, Social Security, and the nation's debt. In state House races, the issues will be on a parallel track, framed around the unpopular pension tax, funding for schools and roads and what Republicans in Lansing will say were tough, but responsible, decisions to get the state’s budget house in order.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate race, Republicans have been trying for months to make an issue out of the fact that Senate Democrats – including incumbent Debbie Stabenow – still have not approved a permanent federal budget. GOP Senate nominee Pete Hoesktra is trying to hang her with the nickname “Debbie Spends-A-Lot.”

The Hoekstra campaign therefore was no doubt prepped and ready for that “adult conversation” about federal spending going into this week, when it was hit with a blast from the past. A Democratic operative made RollCall.com aware of an interview that Hoekstra had done on WAAM in Ann Arbor in which he comes out against the 17th Amendment – the direct popular election of U.S. Senators. “The direct election of U.S. Senators made the U.S. Senate act and behave like the House of Representatives.  The end result has led to an erosion of states’ rights,” Hokestra explains.

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Politics
2:53 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

Can Democrats win back the state House in November?

We are now three days out from Tuesday’s Primary where there was a lot of attention paid to the state’s Republican Senate primary and various U.S. Congressional races. So, we thought it was time to give state lawmakers and their races a little love.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta, August 10th, 2012

Primarily Speaking

In just about two thirds of these local races the primary pretty much determined who the winner will be in November. Because of the way the lines are drawn, most districts are decidedly Republican or Democratic. So, the primary settles the question three months before the general election.

That leaves just about a third of the races left; races that are really fought between a Republican and a Democrat… where incumbency, the strength of the national and statewide tickets and fights over issues and policy matter.

Can Democrats Win Back the State House?

Control of the state House is in play this year. In 2010, largely on the strength of a surge nationwide for Republicans, the GOP took a commanding majority – 64 to 46 – in the state House.  Out of 110 seats, Democrats need to turn at least 10 of them to win back control. That’s a lot. But we’ve seen dramatic swings in recent House elections. So, Democrats see it as tough, but do-able.

In the Thumb, Democrats lost the Republican primary. That’s because incumbent Republican Kurt Damrow ran into some problems and he had become such a liability that his local Republican Party kicked him out. Former Democratic Representative Terry Brown won’t have as easy a time against Dan Grimshaw.

In Grand Rapids, Democrats won the Republican primary when the badly damaged Roy Schmidt barely won re-nomination over a write-in opponent, but only on the strength of absentee ballots cast before the scandal over how he switched parties and tried to rig his own re-election by recruiting a fake Democrat broke into the news. Political-newcomer Winnie Brinks is the Democrat on the ballot. And, Schmidt’s name is toxic. Candidates typically love high name identification, but not this kind.

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It's Just Politics
3:53 pm
Fri August 3, 2012

Write-ins, shenanigans and predictions (Oh my!): Primary Day in Michigan

Primary Day is Tuesday, August 7th in Michigan
Lower Community College Flickr

Tuesday is Primary Day in Michigan and it’s probably fair to say that this could be called the summer of the write-in candidate. There’s an unusually high number of people trying to win various primary races across the state as write-in candidates.

These are the candidates that for one reason or another didn’t file for the primary ballot but are hoping to still win by having voters write in their names on the August 7th ballot.

Write-ins Galore

In West Michigan, a Democrat on the Muskegon City Commission wants to make sure Republican U.S. Congressman Bill Huizenga doesn’t go unchallenged in November. In the 76th state House District in Grand Rapids, Winnie Brinks is running to be the Democrat to fill an empty spot on the November ballot to face the winner of that district’s Republican primary. State Representative Roy Schmidt is the only Republican on the primary ballot after jumping parties and trying –with the help of state House Speaker Jase Bolger – to engineer a shady arrangement to avoid a serious November election challenge. But that scandal has compelled another Republican – Bing Goei to launch a write-in challenge.

A write-in candidate like Bing Goei has the challenge of getting voters to do something they’re not used to doing: Marking a box with a blank next to it and then filling in the name. And Goei has to get more Republicans to check that box and write his name than people who simply mark the ballot by Roy Schmidt’s name.

Democrat Winnie Brinks does not have that problem. She just has to get enough people to write her in to qualify for the November election – five percent of whatever the top of the ticket gets.

But that is a problem for Nancy Cassis, the former state Senator who is trying to notch a write-in victory in the 11th Congressional District Republican primary over tea party opponent Kerry Bentovolio, who is on the ballot.

This is the district – of course – from which Thaddeus McCotter resigned. Cassis has talked about handing out wristbands with her name on them for people to wear into the polls. Ostensibly so that they know HOW to actually spell her name.  But, there’s some question as to whether that would violate election laws on bringing campaign materials into a polling place.

Political Shenanigans

And, it seems, it wouldn’t be a primary without those good ole pre-Election Day shenanigans. You know how you get those annoying campaign calls – usually it seems right when you’re in the middle of dinner – Well, a call was sent out endorsing Republican Senate candidate Clark Durant. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything too wrong with that; robo-calls are pretty normal in the current political environment. The problem however, with these calls was that they were made at midnight.

It’s probably safe to assume that if you’re a voter and you’re getting a political call at midnight you’re probably not too happy. In fact, it might just leave you with a negative impression of the candidate. Durant’s campaign says these calls endorsing Durant’s campaign were not from their super PAC, so the thought is that maybe a different campaign or, possibly, Democrats were up to no good.

In Ingham County there have been reports of anonymous push polls in a state House Democratic primary. Push-polls are phone calls where a voter is asked a question that isn’t really a question. Something like, “if you knew that candidate X kicked puppies, would that make you more likely or less likely to support him?” In this case, Democrat Walt Sorg says the push poll makes it sound like he wants to raise taxes to build electric car charging stations.

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It's Just Politics
2:57 pm
Fri July 27, 2012

Roy Schmidt goes from political prize to the GOP’s white elephant

Every Friday Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta take an inside look at state politics

There was a continued drip, drip, drip of new details to emerge in the state Representative Roy Schmidt ballot scandal. The latest: a new set of text messages obtained by The Detroit Free Press and MLive.com from the Kent County prosecutor’s office.

"Dirty as hell"

One text is from Schmidt’s nephew to Matt Mozjak , the patsy who Schmidt recruited to appear on the ballot as a sham Democrat to ensure that he wouldn't have a real Democratic opponent once he made his jump to the Republican Party as a part of a scheme hatched with state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

In one of the texts, Schmidt’s nephew writes to Mozcak, “obviously my uncle is dirty as hell” and, “he’s got a lot of powerful [people] behind him.”

And it just keeps piling up on Schmidt.  The first state House Republican – Representative Ken Yonker, also from the Grand Rapids area – has endorsed a write-in opponent in the Republican primary. Schmidt has gone from a trophy for the House Republicans to a white elephant.

None of which, of course, is good news for House Speaker Jase Bolger, who continues to resist calls to step down as the top dog in the House. The pressure, however, has not reached anything close to critical mass.

Save me... from myself

So, what does a politician do when he's been caught in a political scandal? Well, how about introducing some legislation? House Republicans have drafted new election  reform bills. But Democrats are calling it hypocritical. “I find it fascinating that the speaker of the House is issuing press releases about election reforms because he’s the one who got caught," said Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum.

Election reform: The issue du jour

Now, Democrats have their own elections package and they say they’re coming up with more.  It appears the stage is set for a whole lot of election reform one-upsmanship in the state House. Bolger says only serious election reforms will be considered - he wants nothing that’s about scoring political points. But, Democrats say Republicans don’t have credibility on this issue.

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It's Just Politics
4:11 pm
Fri July 20, 2012

Damning report, text messages lead to political embarrassment for GOP lawmakers

Republican Representative Roy Schmidt and Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger found themselves in hot water this week after text messages between the two were revealed.

State Representative Roy Schmidt was back in the headlines this week; tagged in a prosecutor’s report as a liar and a cheat – but not a lawbreaker – for his last-minute party switch from Democrat to Republican and scheme to pay a patsy to be the fake Democrat on the ballot against him. It was just two short months ago that Schmidt was welcomed to the House Republican caucus with cheers and applause when he announced his party-switch. State House Speaker Jase Bolger was credited with engineering the political coup of the year. In fact, it was the first party switch by a sitting Michigan lawmaker in two decades. But, as it turns out, it wasn’t such a well-planned operation.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta, July 20, 2012

A Damning Report

This week, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth issued an eight-page report outlining the plot between Bolger and Schmidt. The report shows not only a plot for Schmidt to switch parties so late in the game that Democrats would not have time to put one of their own on the ballot, but also to pay one Matt Mojzak, a 22-year-old Schmidt-family friend, to be his fake Democratic opponent. Mojzak’s fee was to be $450. It was then upped to a thousand dollars as he started to get cold feet. Checks were cut from Schmidt’s campaign fund, but never handed over as Mojzak said he wanted nothing more to do with Schmidt or the scheme.

The Republican prosecutor said Schmidt and Bolger tried to undermine the integrity of the election and that it was shameful but, not illegal. Apparently, paying someone to be on a ballot – to basically fix a political race – is not a crime in Michigan.

Embarrassing Texts (What Else is New?)

The scathing report was made possible because Forsyth was able to trace back the scheme to text messages that were sent between Bolger and Schmidt. Yes, folks, another text-message scandal. Political-observers from around the state have been making light of the texts between Bolger and Schmidt. Though they're certainly not as steamy as the infamous Kwame Kilpatrick-texts, they do seem to show a budding "bromance" between Schmidt and Bolger. You can hear a couple of the texts (yes, for your enjoyment, we did a reenactment) at the audio link above.

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Politics
6:02 pm
Fri July 13, 2012

Get your tickets: Ballotpalooza coming to Michigan Nov. 6

Join Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta every Friday for a spin around Michigan politics.

Ballotopia. Ballotmania. Ballotpalooza: These are all nicknames given to the situation that we’re seeing right now as various groups and organizations try to get Michigan voters, come November, to amend the state's constitution. On Election Day, we could see up to six ballot proposals and a referendum on the state’s  controversial Emergency Manager law. If all of these ballot proposals are, indeed, approved this would be the most statewide ballot questions on a single election day since 1982.

Grassroots campaigns? Not so much

It's nice to think that, in our democracy, these ballot campaigns are being led by grassroots groups - regular folks - trying to change their state's law. But, that's  not the case in this election cycle. Each  of these ballot initiatives have backers - some business groups, some union groups - with deep pockets. It costs a lot of money to organize these campaignsand to get people into the field to gather signatures. In fact, that’s why we saw some ballot campaigns fizzle this summer like the group trying to get a question about marijuana legalization on the ballot.

Just Say "No"

The deadline for these ballot campaigns to submit to the state enough valid signatures - more than 320,000 -  was Monday.  And, in the midst of the petition filings,  we saw some push back against "ballotmania. A "just-say-no" to every ballot question campaign has popped up. It's a coalition of businesses that thinks the easiest way to kill everything they don’t like, especially the ballot questions dealing with unionization – these have to deal with constitutionally protecting collective bargaining rights - and a mandate that the state increase the amount of energy it gets from alternative sources to 25 percent by 2025, is blanket opposition.

Be Careful What You Wish for...

At first glance, it seems like business groups would be in favor of some of these ballot questions, like the amendment that would require super-majorities in both the state House and Senate to raise taxes. Seems simple, right? Businesses tend to not like taxes, but there is some concern in the business community that a super-majority requirement for new taxes could actually make it harder to cut taxes. That's because, typically, when the Legislature cuts or eliminates a tax, it has to come up with some replacement for that lost revenue. Even something that’s considered a net tax cut – like last year's elimination of the Michigan Business Tax or this year's tax on industrial equipment  – required the state Legislature and Governor Snyder to replace some of that revenue. If lawmakers had had to meet a higher bar for other revenue – like last year’s  controversial tax on pension income – they couldn’t have touched the business or industrial equipment tax.

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It's Just Politics
1:25 pm
Fri July 6, 2012

Snyder and GOP go from 'In a relationship' to 'It's complicated'

Governor Snyder surprised many political watchers this week by vetoing three Republican-sponsored elections reforms bills.
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

This week on It's Just Politics: It's all about relationships. Specifically, the relationship between Gov. Rick Snyder and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. And, the status on this one just went from “in a relationship” to “it’s complicated.”

A Gubernatorial Veto

The Governor vetoed three bills this week – they were part of a Republican elections package, most of which he signed. The three vetoed bills would have required people applying to vote for the first time or for absentee ballots to check a box affirming they are U.S. citizens. Another would have required photo ID for an absentee ballot. And, the third would have required state training for people who want to register voters. The Governor said the bills that he vetoed were too confusing and might discourage people from voting when the should should be making it easy to vote.

Lansing Democrats, Republicans Shocked

By vetoing these bills, Snyder not only broke with legislative Republicans, but also with established Republican Party opinion on how elections should be conducted. It's a classic divide between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives versus liberals, and it reflects how each side thinks the other party games the system to pirate elections. Republicans are concerned with ballot security - making sure only people who are supposed to vote actually cast a ballot. Democrats are more concerned about ballot access - that as many people as possible are allowed to vote.

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

These recent vetoes have many political-watchers wondering: What does this mean for the relationship between Gov. Snyder and Republicans? Is the Governor standing on principle, or showing there is a price to be paid for blocking his plans for an international bridge, road funding, opposing him on immigration and health care. The joke around town used to be that when Governor Snyder said something was, "not on my agenda” that really meant: "I’ll sign it if you send it to me.” Not so much any more.

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It's Just Politics
5:20 pm
Fri June 29, 2012

Stuck between a rock and a hard place: Moderate state Republicans post-healthcare ruling

Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is officially the law of the land.  The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. The health and welfare of millions of people right here in Michigan is at stake. And, it has broad policy implications. But, of course, this is It's Just Politics... which means Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and Zoe Clark, Michigan Radio's resident political junkie, are not talking policy but, instead, the politics of the Court's decision.

Rick Pluta: A couple of weeks ago we had the Left galvanizing around what’s become known as “Vagina-gate.” A couple of female lawmakers sanctioned, silenced for a day, by state House Republican leaders for things said during a heated abortion debate. It gave the Left a memorable moment to create what appears to be a stark choice to get their people out in November. Now, the Right has this health care decision. Attorney General Bill Schuette – one of the state’s top Republicans and Mitt Romney’s Michigan campaign chair - says this decision is also a political tool.

Bill Schuette: "This decision, I believe, is going to raise the stakes in November. I think it will energize, it will cause a firestorm of protest to be exhibited in the ballot box in November and I think, in the end, it is going to be one of the things that is going to cause Mitt Romney to be the next President."

Zoe Clark: And, so, the Right is incensed. They’re going to use this issue to get out the vote in November, to protest this decision. And Schuette also says, in effect, don’t let this issue whither on the vine.

RP: Right. There are things the state has to start doing to comply with the health care law. The most immediate one is to create these so-called healthcare exchanges where people and businesses can shop online for coverage. And the attorney general is counseling the legislature: Don’t do it. And, of course, Governor Snyder has called for these exchanges. Snyder is not a fan of the law but he is a fan of the exchanges and says it would be a mistake to wait to implement them.

ZC: So, Rick, this seems to be just one more issue where we're seeing division between the very conservative Attorney General, Bill Schuette, and a more-moderate Governor, Rick Snyder.

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It's Just Politics
8:45 am
Sun June 24, 2012

Romney changes his economic message, The Vagina Monologues comes to MI, and ballot-mania continues

Every week in It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta and I sit down and take a look at what's been making news in state politics. On tap for this week's extended edition: the Romney campaign shifts its economic message as state economies see improvement, Vagina-gate continues at the state Capitol, Democrats in the state's 76th District find a candidate to run against former-Democratic Rep. Roy Schmidt, we update the latest news on the state's many ballot proposals, and remember two state lawmakers who recently passed away.

It's Just Politics
1:33 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

Romney shifts campaign message as state economies improve

Mitt Romney in DeWitt, Mich. on last week's bus tour
Rick Pluta Michigan Radio

Today on It's Just Politics, co-hosts Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta discussed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Michigan campaign tour this week.  Romney also made campaign stops in Michigan last month, during which, Pluta says Romney's grim assessment of the Michigan economy created some friction with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's more positive message of economic recovery in the "comeback state."

"We've talked about this before," said Pluta, "this tension between the messaging of a Republican governor, like Rick Snyder, who's saying, 'Look, we're making changes; things are improving; what we're doing is working,' and Mitt Romney coming into the state and saying, 'You're not doing that well.' It's basically a message of pessimism, and making the case for change."

On his tour this week, Pluta says, Romney has changed tones. The presidential hopeful lauded Snyder, saying he would do for the country what Snyder has done for the state.

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Politics
11:01 am
Thu June 21, 2012

As states see improving economies, Romney campaign tries to change the message

Mitt Romney
Gage Skidmore Flickr

In a Bloomberg piece this morning, Michael C. Bender is reporting that, “Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter.”

But Romney doesn’t just have a Florida messaging “problem.” Last month, Rick Pluta, co-host of It’s Just Politics, and I took a look at the same problem that the Romney campaign is having with Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Michigan’s improving economy.

During a visit to Michigan in May, Romney said, “These last few years have been hard on the people in Lansing, and frankly, they've been hard on the people of America.” This message didn’t quite mesh with Governor Snyder’s statement that, “if you look at where we're at, we’re the comeback state in the United States today.”

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It's Just Politics
6:59 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Just how does a politican decide whether or not to back an income tax rollback

Zoe Clark: It's Just Politics, I'm Zoe Clark.

Rick Pluta: And, I'm Rick Pluta.

ZC: And, Rick, I think it’s only fair to say that Democratic lawmakers at the state Capitol are not happy.

RP: Indeed, they’re mad.

ZC: Mad about the passage of an income-tax reduction.

RP: And they made their point known on the House floor.

ZC: So, of course, when it came time to actually vote, Democrats rallied together and voted a resounding, “No.”

RP: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Zoe, don’t go that far. Yes, they railed against it. Said it’s too little by way of “tax relief” – that phrase that gets tossed about when we’re discussing tax cuts -- for middle class families compared to all the tax exemptions and credits that were scrapped last year by Republicans in the name of tax fairness.

ZC: Democrats say this is the wrong use of $90 million earmarked for so-called “tax relief.” They say it’s also pretty paltry and that Republicans are just playing election year politics. But they still voted for it. So, what gives?

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