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Opinion

Martin Brook
facebook.com/pg/brookforcongress/photos/

Last week, I spoke to a candidate for statewide office who lamented that she hadn’t been able to get out much among the people or keep up on important policy issues because she had to spend all day, every day on the phone, raising money. I also saw a candidate in a hotly contested congressional primary who told me the same thing.

LGBT Pride Flag
Tyrone Warner / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Let’s say there had been a Michigan Civil Rights Commission in 1961, and it announced that it was going to start investigating claims of discrimination against black people.

I’ve been asked to speak to a group in Mount Clemens today about the difference between Republicans and Democrats. That may sound easy to answer, but it’s not.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Now we know what incompetent governance cost at Michigan State University.

Half a billion dollars. That's the price to settle with 332 women sexually abused by Dr. Larry Nassar and a reserve fund to compensate women who still might come forward. It’s the prospect of a 2.5 percent budget cut to free up cash to make good on the settlement. It’s untold damage to the university’s reputation, to its attractiveness to would-be students and, yes, to the state.

ovshinsky standing behind a leather chair
European Patent Office European Inventor Award

Stan Ovshinsky barely had a high school education, and part of him was always more at home in machine shops like the one where began working when he got out of high school.

“For me, manufacturing has always had glamour to it,” he said.

Yet he is remembered as a scientist who made breakthroughs that took your breath away: The first workable solar cells, rewritable CDs and DVD’s, the nickel-metal-hydride battery that powers your laptop.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

"You're an editorial cartoonist? Wow, you must really love the current political climate! So much to draw about!"

I can't tell you how many times I've heard this in the past two years. Yes, there is plenty of material, but it often comes out like a fire hose — too much, too quickly (and in many cases already beyond satire).

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law giving Nevada a monopoly over legal sports gambling. And there were immediately voices clamoring to legalize it here.

They argued that the state would get more tax revenue as a result, and that it would boost tourism. Well, the tourism part sounds dubious to me, but I can easily believe that there is tax revenue in it. But will it be worth what it does to people?

Yesterday I mentioned a candidate for Congress who was frustrated that he had to spend so much time attempting to raise the money needed to run a competitive race.

He’s far from alone. Virtually every candidate I know complains about the same thing. These days, running in a competitive congressional race costs millions.

Anyone who thinks they know how Michigan’s fall elections will turn out is a fool, but this much seems fairly certain: The race for the 11th Congressional District will likely be the most expensive and the most hotly contested.

There’s no incumbent, since mortgage banker Dave Trott decided two terms were enough. The district, which consists of a collection of Wayne and Oakland County suburbs, leans Republican. But it is close enough that the right Democrat could win it in the right year.

Michigan Attorney General's official website

Back in the old days, when a politician got caught doing something questionable, we said “this doesn’t look good.” 

Today, they say “the optics are terrible.”

Well, whatever your terms, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette didn’t do his image any favors during a candidates’ forum four days ago. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, his main rival for the Republican nomination for governor, accused him of personally controlling the sale of millions in property he had inherited in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Calley also circulated documents showing that Schuette, who has said that he had placed all his assets in a blind trust, used members of his official staff to witness and notarize the documents transferring the property, apparently on state time.

You might think that’d be enough to raise the eyebrows of your average citizen, for whom how to sell spare resort property is never an issue. What’s worse is that the attorney general seemed to lie about it. When asked about Calley’s charges by reporters after the candidates’ forum, Schuette said, “I don’t even know what he’s talking about.”

According to the Gongwer News Service, Schuette was then asked if he had assets in the Virgin Islands, and said, “I’ll have to see what he is talking about, but it’s nonsense, it’s false.”

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Paddlesports are becoming Big Business in the Great Lakes state. The Coast Guard estimates some 650,000 kayaks, canoes and paddleboards ply Michigan waters every year. And that number is expected to grow seven percent a year, reports The Detroit News.

At that rate, paddlecrafts would outnumber registered power boats within three years. The crush of paddlers from rank beginners to advanced Great Lakes paddlers … threatens to overcrowd the 1,300 boat launches around the state.

Q Line
Tony Brown / Michigan Radio

Two years ago, southeast Michigan voted down what I think may have been the region’s best chance at a sensible and affordable regional transit service.

John Aucter / Michigan Radio

I may have gone a bit deep into the weeds on this one, but if you hang with me a minute, I do have an actual point.

Twenty-six years ago, Michigan voters faced a ballot proposal to amend the state constitution to impose strict term limits on all federal and state officeholders.

That didn’t get a lot of attention then, because the main event that year was the battle between the first President George Bush, his young challenger Bill Clinton, and third party candidate H. Ross Perot. Michigan voters picked Clinton, and also opted by a landslide for term limits. I was around then, and think many chose term limits because they wanted to get rid of longtime federal officeholders like Congressman John Conyers.

Jack Amick / Creative Commons

You’ve probably never heard of Melissa Chapman, who has spent the majority of her life in Michigan prisons. When she was 18, her violent and abusive boyfriend shot a man and forced her to help hide the body. She was sentenced to life in prison for that. She’s been there thirty years.

Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Mark Krinock, a neurosurgeon from Kalamazoo, asked me something via email yesterday that I’ve heard people asking for many years. “I am curious how the state of education can be in such dire straits when the lottery has contributed over $7 billion over the last ten years to the education system.” Dr. Krinock is a big supporter of public education, and is puzzled by this.

Why hasn’t the lottery taken care of education?

There was a hearing in the Michigan House of Representatives last week on a bill that would allow a parent who wished to anonymously give up a child to place it in a box attached to the side of a building like a hospital, or a police station.

When the baby goes in, two alarms are supposed to go off and notify both 9-1-1 and people inside the building to rescue the baby.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Apparently, hell hath no fury like environmental regulators who've been deceived.

Just ask Martin Winterkorn. The former Volkswagen CEO was indicted this week on federal conspiracy charges that he defrauded the United States, committed wire fraud and violated the Clean Air Act.

The reckoning was inevitable. Ever since regulators discovered VW’s scheme to evade diesel emissions rules almost three years ago, it’s only been a matter of time for ol’ Winterkorn to get the book thrown at him.

Legislation that allows parents to surrender their children to secured "baby boxes" has passed in Michigan's House.
safehavenbabyboxes.com

THIS COMMENTARY WAS UPDATED ON 5/19/18

State Senator Patty Birkholz, who died yesterday, was a classy lady who fought for the environment and tried to make this state a better place. She was a proud Republican who nevertheless wasn’t afraid to break from her party on occasion to do the right thing.

Shea Patterson playing for Ole Miss
MGoBlog / Flickr / https://goo.gl/64qT3b

Last season, for only the second time in Jim Harbaugh’s 14-year career as a head football coach, his team took a significant step backward. After leading Michigan to 10-3 records his first two years at Michigan, the Wolverines dropped back to 8-5, capped by a bad loss in their bowl game.

Michigan had great defense, but sputtered on offense, mainly due to sub-par quarterbacks. Of course, when injuries force you to use your back-up, then your back-up’s back-up, that’s gonna happen.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

It was an interesting week in the worlds of political satire and journalism. 

The John Ball Zoo's Amur tiger
Courtesy of John Ball Zoo

It often seems like we care less about each other than we used to – or at least, we are choosing policies not designed to help society in general or the next generation.

Our lawmakers have been happily giving tax cuts to the rich while letting our infrastructure fall apart. It is far more necessary for today’s students to get higher education and far harder for them to afford it. Racism and xenophobia seem to be exploding.

Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar
Michigan Radio

Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar are each accomplished men. The 63-year-old Thanedar came over here penniless from India, started companies and made fortunes, even though he also has lost one or two. El-Sayed, who at 33 is barely half Thanedar's age, is one of the smartest and most charismatic people I have ever met.

An aerial view of algae blooms in Lake Erie.
NOAA

Last week, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced that efforts to decrease those potentially toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie aren’t working. When I read that, let’s say I wasn’t exactly surprised. I moderated a large forum on this subject in Tontogany, Ohio last year.

Michigan's 14th congressional district
Public Domain

We could debate endlessly about what people want and expect from state government, but a few things are clear: First, we want a government we can trust and that will respond to what we want. And it is also very clear people are fed up with our current system of hyperpartisan gerrymandering, in which legislative and congressional districts are always drawn to ensure perpetual Republican control of the Legislature and a majority of seats in Congress.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

A few years after the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler, I found myself on the long porch of Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel chatting with Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

He was talking about the Chapter 11 process to help failing companies and how it helped Chrysler and GM survive – thanks to Obama's auto task force and American taxpayers.

It also forced the people running those companies – and those who would follow – to make hard decisions. I was reminded of that this week. In less than 24 hours, those who care got three separate looks at the financial health of Detroit’s three automakers and things looked different.

Shri Thanedar
shri2018.com

Shri Thanedar has a fascinating life story. Earlier this year he gave me his autobiography, The Blue Suitcase: Tragedy and Triumph in an Immigrant’s Life. I’ve only read parts of it, but it is more fascinating than most campaign biographies.

Last year, after selling much of Avomeen Chemical Services, the Ann Arbor laboratory he founded, Thanedar decided to run for governor, and has poured millions of his own money into the cause, flooding the airwaves with well-produced TV commercials.

John Auchter / Michigan Radio

There are two types of people in this world: Those who like black licorice and those who must be punished for not liking black licorice. This is because (1) black licorice is delicious and (2) it is the one true licorice.

One of the many promises Donald Trump made when running for President was to pull the country out of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States. Once in office, Trump decided to try to first renegotiate it instead.

That was months ago, and we’ve heard little about NAFTA since, apart from occasional stories that the negotiators are shuttling between the three capitals. News about it has been largely blotted out by the Russia investigation and a threatened trade war with China.

lion cub
Alias 0591 / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1f2P1w6

You don’t have to be a geneticist to know species need genetic diversity. That’s the key practical reason why most societies forbid incest. European kings and queens often married first cousins, and that helped spread hemophilia throughout the royal families of Europe.

Well, that’s at least as true of zoo animals. There are genetic records -- stud books, they are sometimes called – and what are called Species Survival Plans. 

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