politics

The election season is about to bring something that most everyone likes to complain about: political ads on television.

For me, the problem isn’t the barrage of political ads, it’s the lack of them.

Chances are, if you live in Michigan, you’re different from me.

You’re in.

I’m out.

You will get tons of what you might think are thoroughly obnoxious TV ads about Michigan political races.

Ads that say, "Debbie Stabenow is a big spender," or "Pete Hoekstra is an extremist."

Stuff like that.

And I won’t.

screen grab from YouTube video

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is calling for a special election to fill a vacancy in the Michigan House left by the departure of Democratic Rep. Tim Melton of Auburn Hills.

Snyder set primary elections for Nov. 8, if they are needed. The general election will be Feb. 28 to fill the seat for the House's 29th District. Both dates already are scheduled election days in Michigan.

Melton resigned effective earlier this month to take a job with StudentsFirst, a national education group. The special election would fill his seat for the remainder of a two-year term that expires at the end of 2012.

Melton was term-limited and would not have been eligible to seek re-election to the House in 2012.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

UAW and automakers fail to meet deadline

Last night was the deadline for Detroit automakers and the United Auto Workers to reach agreements on new contracts. The UAW and Ford Motor Company officials agreed to extend their talks, but the Associated Press reports talks with GM and Chrysler broke off just after midnight last night.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne sent a letter to UAW President Bob King saying they had let down Chrysler workers - "you and I failed them today," he wrote - From the Associated Press:

Up until the deadline, the negotiations that began over the summer appeared to be proceeding without the acrimony that plagued them in the past. But just before the 11:59 p.m. EDT Wednesday deadline, the CEO of Chrysler fired off a letter to UAW President Bob King saying an agreement likely wouldn't be reached because King didn't come to the table Wednesday night to finish the deal.

"I know we are the smallest of the three automakers here in Detroit, but that does not make us less relevant," Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The AP reports that despite the talk extension, negotiations appear to be going more smoothly with General Motors.

Governor Snyder says Michigan should act on health care exchanges

In his healthcare message yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder said Michigan's health care system is a broken one.

He rolled out a list of ideas to improve the situation which included a request to set up a statewide healthcare exchange. As Lindsey Smith reported, "the new federal health care law mandates states create their own exchange, join a regional one or wait until the federal exchange is in place."

Rick Pluta reported the governor is likely to face opposition on this idea from Republicans in the state legislature:

Many Republicans oppose the law and resist enacting any of the federal mandates before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on them.

The governor says that will put Michigan behind other states if all or part of the law is upheld.

The resistance doesn't just come from legislators. Michigan's Attorney General, Bill Schuette, is actively fighting against the federal health care law in courts.

Michigan servicemen to deploy to Afghanistan

From the Associated Press:

About 90 members of the Michigan National Guard are preparing for a year of service in Afghanistan.

An event was planned for Thursday in Grand Ledge for the Lansing-based soldiers. They'll do about 14 weeks of training before going to Afghanistan to conduct intelligence work.

The soldiers are from B Company of the Brigade Special Troops Battalion with the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Dan Wuan / Michigan Senate

Former NBA player and one of the “Fab Five” at the University of Michigan, Jalen Rose, told lawmakers at the state Capitol today parents need more school options for their kids.

Rose testified before a state panel in support of allowing more charter schools and schools of choice in Michigan.

He sponsored a charter academy that opened in his hometown of Detroit.

Rose says the school selects students based on a lottery, rather than test scores, so every kid would have a shot at getting in.

Governor Rick Snyder’s health care agenda is receiving a cool reception from Republicans in the Legislature.

One of Snyder’s proposals is to require doctors to report to the state the body mass indexes of children they treat. The move would track a growing problem of childhood obesity.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says he is not interested in tracking that kind of personal information.

"I have very strong concerns about that. Again, we need to encourage personal responsibility, I among many, and maybe first among many, who need to lose weight. So I’m willing to try to lead by example," said Bolger. "But the government recording that information causes me great concern and discomfort."

Bolger also says he has no plans to take up the governor's proposal to require insurance companies to offer health care coverage for treatment of children with autism.

Gov. Rick Snyder wants people to adopt healthier lifestyles  

Snyder says people need to take more responsibility for their own health if Michigan is going to reverse some dismal trends and save money on health care. That was part of a health care message he delivered at a Grand Rapids clinic.

Snyder says too many Michiganders smoke, are overweight, and don’t exercise.

Michigan ranks 10th in the country in people who are overweight or obese. Nearly two in 10 people still smoke.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

State board of education sets tougher testing standards for Michigan schools

Yesterday, at their meeting in Lansing, officials from the State board of education raised testing standards for K-12 students in Michigan.

The higher standards, also known as "cut scores," will determine which students are deemed "proficient" on the MEAP test (for K-8 students) and the Michigan Merit Exam (for high school students). More from the Michigan Public Radio Network's Laura Weber:

Students will be expected to answer about two-thirds of test questions correctly. That’s double the previous test-score cut-off for proficiency.

The tougher standards could result in more schools failing to benchmarks for student achievement. But board members say the test score standards will help better prepare students for college.

Brandon Howell at MLive posted charts on how the new standards will effect the percentage of students categorized as "proficient."

Republican Senate candidates try to stand out in the crowd

The six Republican candidates vying for the nomination to take on Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election held a debate last night. It was hosted by the Gerald R. Ford Republican Women’s Club. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith covered the debate and reported "all six candidates held many of the same views including lower taxes, cuts in federal spending, and repealing President Obama’s healthcare law. The difference was in the degree of conservatism."

The six candidates for the Republican nomination are school-choice advocate Clark Durant, anti-gay activist Gary Glenn, former judge Randy Hekman, former U.S. Congressman Pete Hoekstra, Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy, and Brighton businessman Chuck Marino.

Reports of another attack in Ann Arbor

The attack happened early this morning. The Detroit News reports:

Just after midnight, a 20-year-old woman walking near 400 S. First St. was approached from behind by an unknown male. He grabbed her arm and waist, and began fondling her chest and groin area, police said. The woman, who police describe as a non-student, was able to break free from the assailant. The man fled on foot heading north, police said.

Investigators are not saying whether they believe this attack is linked to six others in Ann Arbor, according to the Detroit Free Press

Police have received reports of six attacks from July 15 to July 26 that they believe may have been related. The attacks occurred mostly in the downtown area just off campus. All of the assaults occurred between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. In two cases, both July 18, women were raped. In the other four cases, women were grabbed or fondled, but managed to break free.

Chelsea Hagger / Michigan Public Radio Network

Former congressman Pete Hoekstra has been accepting endorsements and campaign donations to run for the U.S. Senate for weeks, but today Hoekstra formally launched his statewide campaign for the Republican nomination.

Hoekstra says he is glad to have the endorsements of some of his former rivals. They include former state Attorney General Mike Cox, who ran against Hoekstra in the Republican primary for governor.

Hoekstra says he and Cox may not have gotten along during that race, but they have buried the so-called hatchet.

 "Whatever hatchet there was, we’ve agreed to work together to make sure Michigan has a new senator. He and I have talked a number of times over the last few weeks, we’ve had great conversations. If there was a hatchet, it’s gone."

Hoekstra has also been endorsed by Governor Rick Snyder, another former rival.

Hoekstra says if he were elected to the U.S. Senate he would work to repeal "No Child Left Behind" school mandates and the new national health care regulations.

Hoekstra says he has met with many small business leaders who would rather see the federal government focus on deregulation than on tax breaks. 

"We need to get the economic engine going again, which is taking a look at the regulatory reform in Washington, it’s taking a look at repealing Obama-care and putting in place smart reforms for health care, and it is allowing for energy exploration in the United States," said Hoekstra.

Hoekstra is running in the Republican Senate primary against anti-gay activist Gary Glenn, businessman Peter Konetchy, former judge Randy Hekman, and school-choice advocate Clark Durant.

The winner of that primary will run against Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.

The Republican leader of the state Senate says he has no interest in making Michigan a right-to-work state.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says union workers have already made many concessions to help Michigan’s economic outlook.

user alkruse24 / Flickr

Michigan Republican legislators introduced legislation this week that they say will reform education in Michigan. The legislators call the seven bills they introduced the "Parent Empowerment Education Reform" package.

The bills have been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Eartha Jane Melzer of the Michigan Messenger summed up the effort this way: 

The seven bill package would remove limits on the number of charter and cyber schools, allow parents and teachers to force schools to convert into charters, and let districts hire teachers through private companies.

It also imposes new requirements on schools, specifying that students be allowed to simultaneously enroll in high school and college courses beginning in the 9th grade, that schools accept students from out of district, and that services be provided for homeschoolers and private school students.

In a statement on his website, State Senator Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair Township), and the chair of the Senate Education Committee said he and his colleagues are following through on Governor Snyder's request to "expand the schools of choice program, empower parents and ensure that every student has access to a quality education."

From Pavlov's statement:

"Every parent in the state wants the very best for their children," said Pavlov.  "Unfortunately, when it comes to educating our kids, adult issues too often get in the way.  The Parent Empowerment Education Reform package is about freeing parents to pursue the opportunities that work best for their children and giving schools the freedom they need to innovate and excel."

The Michigan Education Association published a statement calling the reforms an "attack on public education" and an attempt to privatize the system:

Many of the concepts introduced in these bills were first mentioned by Gov. Snyder in his education message this spring. But it's apparent that the attacks on public education continue. None of these bills are meant to improve education. This is more of the same push to destroy public education: schools run by private entities, back-door vouchers, policies based on rhetoric rather than research, and more state mandates -- despite the Republican cut of $1 billion from public schools earlier this year.

A state lawmaker has called for licensing of in-home health care workers to help combat fraud. He says recent fraudulent billings from some agencies cost the Medicare program $28 million.

State Senator Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids) says some fraudulent in-home agencies came to Michigan because other states require the groups to be licensed, and Michigan does not.

"Some of those folks have been chased out of their states because they've been caught or they know people are paying attention, and they're coming to states that don't have licensure."

Jansen says fraudulent in-home care agencies prey on the most vulnerable people in Michigan.

Congressman Gary Peters

DETROIT (AP) - U.S. Rep. Gary Peters says he's seeking election in the newly drawn 14th District.

The Democrat from Oakland County's Bloomfield Township serves the 9th District. He made the announcement on Thursday. Peters says the new district "bridges diverse communities," and he remains "committed to ... bringing our communities together."

The districts were redrawn by the state Legislature and signed into law in August by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

The 14th District is held by veteran Democratic Rep. John Conyers. It stretches from Detroit to Pontiac and dips below Eight Mile Road. The thoroughfare has come to symbolize the boundary between Detroit and its suburbs, black from white.

The redrawing puts Peters and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin in the same district. Levin has said he will run in the 9th District.

A fight is brewing at the state Capitol over whether Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law should be changed.

Backers of the legislation want drivers to be able to opt out of coverage that provides unlimited lifetime benefits for the most severely injured accident victims.

Pete Kuhnmuench, with the Insurance Institute of Michigan, says the option would save people money:

"We think putting more money back in the pockets of the consumers we think now is the right time to do that, given our economics," says Kuhnmuench.

A study commissioned by the measure’s opponents says most drivers would choose to underinsure themselves to save money.

The study says that would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A rally is scheduled Wednesday on the steps of the state Capitol protesting proposed changes to the state's medical marijuana law.

The Michigan Medical Marijuana Association president and other speakers during the rally in Lansing are expected to discuss the law and treatment patients and caregivers have received from law enforcement. The event starts at noon.

Michigan voters in 2008 approved use of marijuana to relieve pain and other chronic ailments. About 100,000 people have state-issued cards letting them have 2.5 ounces of "usable" pot and up to 12 plants. Registered caregivers also can grow marijuana for five people.

Michigan's Appeals Court has ruled some sales at dispensaries illegal.

Changes proposed by some Michigan legislators requiring stricter doctor-patient relationships before a patient could get authorization to use the drug.

user H.L.I.T. / Flickr

We received a lot of reaction from people about our story on the potential consequences of eliminating the mandatory personal injury protection (PIP) part of Michigan's no-fault auto insurance.

This seemingly bureaucratic story about potential changes to Michigan's insurance laws has a lot of devastating human stories behind it.

screenshot from HTV

The former state House Education Committee chairman is resigning his office to become a national school reform lobbyist.

Democratic state Representative Tim Melton (D-Pontiac) will work for the Students First organization in California starting in early September.

Students First is an organization headed up by a nationally polarizing figure in education reform, Michelle Rhee.

"I’ll be helping other state’s throughout the country pass reforms similar to the ones we did in Michigan," said Melton. "The Students First organization is a national grassroots advocacy for school reform. We’re going to really try to move the United States and this country forward as far as what the rest of the world’s doing on education reform."

Melton says the job will allow him to build on the work he did with the controversial "Race To The Top" legislation he spearheaded in Michigan.  

He is the third state lawmaker in the past couple years to leave office early for a different job. Melton says term limits could make leaving early a trend for politicians.

"I’ve got two young kids and I guess not knowing what’s going to happen after your term is up, and if an opportunity arises that allows you to do the thing that you’re really passionate about—you know, school reform to me is something that is a major issue," said Melton.

Melton’s departure will leave the House with 46 Democrats, to the majority of 63 Republicans. He was known for frequently working with and voting with Republicans.

He had contemplated a run at a House seat in Congress, but says he has reached the end of his career as an elected official.

The Michigan Court of Appeals says the Legislature violated the state constitution by illegally taking money from state employee paychecks to cover retirement health care costs.

State employees are in line to get back $60 million dollars that was withheld from their paychecks if this decision stands.

The court of appeals says then-Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature could not take three percent of state employee salaries for retirement costs after lawmakers failed to block three percent pay raises.

The pay raises were approved by the independent state Civil Service Commission, and could only be reversed by super-majorities in the House and Senate.

The appeals court said that was just another way to take away the pay raise, and violated the process set up by the state constitution.

Governor Rick Snyder says the money is needed to help cover a shortfall in the state employee retirement fund. He could ask the state attorney general to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the current Michigan legislature and Governor Snyder "adopted the plan earlier this year that requires state employees contribute 3 percent of their paychecks toward their retirement health care costs."

The plan was adopted under a previous legislature and then-Governor Granholm.

The headline has been changed as well. (previous headline "Court rules Michigan legislature and Gov. illegally quashed pay raise").

We regret the error.

 

 

Democratic lawmakers in the state Legislature say businesses should be required to give parents unpaid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences and other education related appointments with their kids.

State Representative Lisa Brown is a mother of three. She says business owners should understand the importance of active parental involvement in education.

"Juggling work and getting kids to a parent-teacher conference is not easy, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have that my kids have had teachers that make special time for me, because I work far from home."

The bill introduced this week would require businesses to give employees eight hours of unpaid leave per child, per school year. A spokesman for the House Republicans says he has not seen the bill, but he does not anticipate support for any mandates on businesses.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Thousands of teachers and local government employees will have to pay more for their health care benefits under a plan to be voted on tomorrow at the state Capitol.

The plan limits what school districts and local governments can pay for health benefits.

A legislative committee approved the measure today. It's expected to be voted on tomorrow by the House and the Senate.

It will require local governments to pay no more than 80 percent of their employee health care costs, or limit the payment to $15,000 a year per family.    

Nick Busse / Flickr

Republican leaders in the state Senate say they will push for a February 28th closed presidential primary date.

That’s one week earlier than the National Republican Party rules allow. National GOP rules state that only four states are allowed to hold primaries before Super Tuesday in March without penalty.

Michigan is not one of those states. Penalties could include having convention delegates stripped.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says they plan to stick with a primary on February 28th.

“Michigan is going to be really relevant in the decision making process because of this date, but I don’t think we’re doing anything outlandish that would cause the national committee to be upset with us.”

The Michigan Republican Party has not specified a desired primary date. The party is leaving the primary date decision up to lawmakers.

The chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Robert Schostak, says he is not too concerned with being penalized for the decision:

“The penalties are somewhat unclear. They haven’t been determined by the committee in finality. But if we would be penalized by losing delegates and we were trading that for relevancy, my sense is that the Legislature and the state committee that would be ultimately deciding on this are okay with it.”

Both the Republican and Democratic parties in Michigan were penalized in 2008 for holding an early primary. The parties were stripped of half their convention delegates.

The primary election is estimated to cost $10 million. Taxpayers would foot the bill.

It's never been done before - a successful statewide recall of a sitting governor in Michigan.

To put a statewide recall on a ballot, 1 in 7 registered voters in Michigan would have to sign a petition.

It's a daunting task and, as we've been reporting here at Michigan Radio, the Committee to recall Governor Rick Snyder did not collect enough signatures to get a recall on the November ballot.

It's something political commentator Jack Lessenberry called "impossible" last April.

I called up Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, to talk about the challenging logistics of a statewide recall effort and about what the Committee to Recall Rick Snyder is doing now.

You can listen to our conversation here:

The committee essentially needs around 807,000 valid signatures within a 90-day period to get on a ballot.

The committee collected around 310,00 signatures for the months of May, June, and July - short of the target for the November ballot.

So now the committee is rolling the goal posts forward.

user: Beverly & Pack / flicker.com

The White House has announced President Obama will make a statement shortly. We expect the president to address the downgrading of US credit. Click the "listen live" button above, to stream special coverage from NPR. 

The Lansing-based polling firm, EPIC-MRA, released a couple of polls today. 600 "likely Michigan voters" responded for each one (margin of error is +/- 4%)

One poll indicates that more voters are optimistic about the economy. From the Associated Press:

40%...  say the state economy has bottomed out and is starting to improve, while a third say it has
bottomed out but isn't getting any better...

In May 2010, when Michigan's jobless rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than now, only 35% said the economy was starting to improve.

The other polls show Senator Debbie Stabenow's (D-MI) and Governor Rick Snyder's (R-MI) negative job ratings.

57% gave Governor Snyder a negative job rating.

51% gave Senator Stabenow a negative job rating.

From the Associated Press:

The poll released Tuesday says 38 percent gave the Democrat a positive job rating and 11 percent were undecided...

Stabenow's favorability rating was at 47 percent. Her unfavorable rating was 35 percent and 17 percent were undecided.

Senator Stabenow faces re-election in 2012. So far, the candidates who have lined up for the Republican nomination to challenge her are:

  • John McCulloch - Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner
  • Randy Hekman - Former West Michigan judge Randy Hekman
  • Peter Konetchy - northern Michigan businessman
  • Chad Dewey - a businessman who is a "self-described constitutional conservative."

Former Former Republican Congressman and gubernatorial candidate, Pete Hoekstra, is reconsidering his decision not to run against Senator Stabenow.

screen grab from YouTube video

This past Monday, Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported on the growing controversy surrounding Detroit's light rail project. Reports indicated that private backers might pull out of the project. (Kresge Foundation President Rip Rapson told Cwiek  the foundation is committed to the project.)

As the clock ticks down to the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling, Moody's Investor Service became the first of the big-three rating agencies to put the United States' Aaa credit rating on review for possible downgrade.

Reuters reports:

In a statement, Moody's said it sees a "rising possibility that the statutory debt limit will not be raised on a timely basis, leading to a default on U.S. Treasury debt obligations."

user kulshrax / Flickr

As many political pundits predicted, the debate over the federal debt ceiling is reaching a new level.

President Obama said in a news conference today that if Republicans refuse to budge in budget negotiations, then a debt ceiling deal probably won't be reached.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There's a growing list of Republicans battling recall campaigns – Governor Rick Snyder, the leaders of the House and Senate, lawmakers who supported controversial measures, and lawmakers who approved changes to the tax structure.

In all, thirteen Republicans must stave off petition drives. But that growing number may not be what sends shock waves through the Capitol, according to the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, Bill Ballenger:

"I don't think it's even a question so much of how many recalls there are, the question is just scaring the living bejesus out of all incumbents thinking no one is safe, they're coming after us, and it only takes one recall successfully completed," said Ballenger.

Ballenger says successful recalls are rare and difficult, and the question of whether politicians should be recalled for the policy they support is open and ongoing.

"Many people have said the only basis on which there should be a recall is gross criminal neglect, misfeasance, malfeasance, whatever," said Ballenger. "Not for differences in policy. However, as long as the law is written the way it is, there can be a difference on policy decisions."

A recall campaign against Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville was given the green light this week.

Other top Republican officials facing recall campaigns include Governor Rick Snyder and House Speaker Jase Bolger.

All three say they are focused on their work and not on combating recall petitioners.

screen grab from YouTube video / Republican National Committee

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - In a sign that the 2012 election season is under way in Michigan, the Republican National Committee is running ads criticizing Democratic President Barack Obama's record on job creation.

The 30-second ad began running on cable stations nationwide Wednesday. Starting next week, it will air for three more weeks in Michigan and a dozen other battleground states that could prove crucial to winning the White House next year.

The ad's announcer lists the nation's economic ills and says it's time to "change direction."

Michigan Democrats have taken a similar tack in criticizing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, the target of a recall drive.

They've released a web video chastising the governor for reducing film credits and forcing layoffs through cuts to school districts and local governments.

Snyder calls the cutbacks necessary.

Karry Vaughan / Flickr

With the number of digital devices like smart phones and tablets exploding, communicating with one another electronically is becoming a common part of our society.

And as many high school teachers know, thumbing on a keyboard can even go undetected if you're good.

Now, some communities are banning the practice of texting and e-mailing during public meetings.

The Detroit News has a piece on the restrictions some local governments have put in place. The piece looks at the restrictions in Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, and Sterling Heights.

From the Detroit News:

Supporters say the issue is about transparency and integrity, not to mention common courtesy. They argue email or even text conversations could violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act, which requires decisions and most deliberations to be public.

"It's about maintaining the integrity of this council and futurecouncils," said Maria Schmidt, a city councilwoman in Sterling Heights, which amended its council governing rules earlier this year to ban electronic communication during meetings.

But critics of the bans say technology helps these officials do their jobsmore effectively and efficiently. They call the bans "short-sighted."

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