Politics & Government

Politics
12:05 am
Mon March 12, 2012

Detroit financial review team avoids court, pushes on toward deadline

The state team reviewing Detroit’s finances has avoided a scheduled court date—and possible contempt of court--by disbanding a controversial sub-committee.

An Ingham County Circuit Court Judge had ordered the team to appear in court Monday.

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Politics
12:06 pm
Sun March 11, 2012

MSU study: Citizenship tests aren't good measure of civics knowledge

A Michigan State University researcher says the United States citizenship test does not reliably measure an applicant's civics knowledge.

Paula Winke, an assistant professor of second language studies at MSU, says citizenship of some half-million immigrants may have been determined randomly.

Immigrants must correctly answer six of 10 questions on a verbal naturalization test. Winke says those questions are randomly selected by an immigration officer from a pool of 100 questions.

She says some questions may be more difficult than others.

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Politics
6:46 pm
Sat March 10, 2012

Michigan Democrats pick their favorites in state races

DETROIT (AP) — Democrats have chosen their favorites for this fall's Michigan Supreme Court and education board races, hoping once again to give their candidates a five-month jump in fundraising and campaigning over Republicans.

Votes at Saturday's state convention in Detroit were nonbinding, since Democrats can't nominate candidates until the party's September convention. Republicans will nominate candidates in August.

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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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crime
4:49 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Michigan mandated inmate DNA tests leading police to suspects quicker than expected

A DNA self-collection kit.
Pelle Sten Creative Commons

new state law that mandates inmates give DNA samples is helping police solve dozens of cold cases.

Since the mid 90s, all inmates have had to give DNA samples when they exit prisons and jails in Michigan. They could volunteer the DNA before they were released, but they didn’t have to.

“Obviously when someone refuses to give a sample, something’s up,” Michigan State Police Captain Greg Michaud said.

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Politics
4:32 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Inkster avoids emergency manager, Michigan governor approves 'consent agreement'

Governor Snyder today signed off on a consent agreement for the city of Inkster.

The move will help the southeast Michigan city avoid getting an emergency manager.

A team appointed by the governor to review the city of Inkster’s financial condition recommended a consent agreement with the city.  The Inkster city council signed off on the agreement last week.

The governor says the consent agreement will allow the state to “assist Inkster’s elected officials, in moving their city forward and returning it to a solid financial footing.”

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Politics
3:58 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Detroit Mayor Bing floats the idea of a $150 million state bridge loan

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Update 3:58 p.m.

Mayor Bing's office issued this statement in response to today's reports:

Mayor Bing has not asked Gov. Snyder for a loan from the state for  $125-$150 million. In response to a reporter’s question about whether he would ask Gov. Snyder for bridge funding for the city, the Mayor simply replied, "That's possible." When the reporter later asked how much he would like to ask for, the Mayor responded with the above mentioned range.

“The city continues to implement the financial restructuring plan the Mayor announced in January to save $102 million this year and $258 million in 2013,” said Kirk Lewis, Mayor Bing's chief of staff. “The savings to keep the city financial solvent will be achieved through the plan, including the ratification of previously announced tentative agreements with the city’s labor unions.”

1:44 p.m.

There’s discussion today about whether Detroit might ask taxpayers to help Michigan’s largest city through a cash crisis.

The city could run out of money in May, or sooner.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said he might or might not ask the state for a $150 million bridge loan.

He said earlier this week in his State of the City address that some assistance from Lansing will be necessary to fix Detroit’s finances.

Governor Rick Snyder said he hopes a legally binding plan to get Detroit’s  spending under control will avert a state takeover.

Geralyn Lasher is the governor’s communications director.

“From the governor’s perspective, you have to have it to be a complete plan. Certainly, the dollars at the state level are extremely limited. We need to be very smart and efficient in how the dollars are spent.”

Lasher says a short-term cash infusion is out of the question without a long-term plan to balance the city’s budget.

Republican leaders have reacted skeptically to the idea. A state review team is expected to make its recommendations by the end of the month on whether the governor should name an emergency manager to run the city.

Politics
10:01 am
Fri March 9, 2012

Records: Detroit contractor extorted $58.5 million

DETROIT (AP) - Federal court records claim a Detroit businessman and ally of disgraced ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick obtained $58.5 million by extorting contractors and through other illegal conduct.

The allegations surfaced in a seizure warrant affidavit that was unsealed Thursday and reported by The Detroit News.

The affidavit provides the most detailed account to date of the alleged trail running through the racketeering conspiracy case against Ferguson and Kilpatrick. It says Ferguson spent a fraction of the cash on his kids' college education, his girlfriend and construction equipment.

Ferguson's attorney, Gerald Evelyn, said he hadn't read the affidavit but has challenged FBI searches in a separate bid-rigging case against Ferguson.

The 43-year-old Ferguson is awaiting trial in separate federal corruption and bid-rigging cases.

News Roundup
8:51 am
Fri March 9, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 9th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Corporations to Disclose Political Spending?

A ballot campaign is trying to amend the state constitution to require businesses to tell the public when they run their own political ads.  A petition drive will try to put the question to voters on the November ballot. Rick Pluta reports:

The amendment takes aim at the 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited political expenditures by corporations as a long as they are not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign. The amendment would require businesses to report political expenditures within 24 hours and identify themselves on their ads. Unions are specifically excluded. Benson says labor organizations are bound by other disclosure laws.

“Occupy” Homes

A group of anti-foreclosure activists says Chase bank continues to wrongly foreclose on people’s homes. And as part of the “Occupy our Homes” movement, they plan to fight for eight Metro Detroit homeowners they say are victims. “Chase bank and other mortgage lenders signed a consent agreement with the federal government in the wake of the national foreclosure crisis. The group says they want Chase to work with the homeowners—but they’ll physically defend the home from foreclosure if necessary. They’re also taking up the case of seven other families across Metro Detroit,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

Detroit Corruption

Detroit businessman Bobby Ferguson, a friend of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, obtained more than $55 million through extortion and other illegal conduct, according to federal records. “The allegations surfaced in a seizure warrant affidavit that was unsealed Thursday… The affidavit provides the most detailed account to date of the alleged trail running through the racketeering conspiracy case against Ferguson and Kilpatrick. It says Ferguson spent a fraction of the cash on his kids' college education, his girlfriend and construction equipment. The 43-year-old Ferguson is awaiting trial in separate federal corruption and bid-rigging cases,” the Associated Press reports.

Detroit
6:44 am
Fri March 9, 2012

Detroit mayor to ask Mich. for $125M-$150M loan

Ifmuth Flickr

Update 7:15 a.m.:

Bing spokeswoman Naomi Patton said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday morning that the mayor has no such specific plans, however, to seek the help from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Original post:

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing plans to ask the state of Michigan for a $125 million to $150 million loan to shore up Detroit's finances and avoid a state-appointed emergency manager.

Bing's plans to seek the help from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder were reported Thursday evening by The Wall Street Journal following an interview with the Democratic mayor.

The Detroit News reported Friday that Bing's office confirmed the plans. Bing spokeswoman Naomi Patton tells the newspaper a request hasn't yet been formally made to Snyder.

The Associated Press sent emails Friday morning seeking comment from Patton and the governor's office.

Detroit faces cash flow problems and a nearly $200 million budget deficit. Bing and Snyder have said they would prefer to avoid an emergency manager. A consent agreement is a possibility.

Politics
11:51 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

"Occupy" group takes aim at Chase bank, foreclosures

A group of anti-foreclosure activists says Chase bank continues to wrongly foreclose on people’s homes.

And as part of the “Occupy our Homes” movement, they plan to fight for eight Metro Detroit homeowners they say are victims.

Chase bank and other mortgage lenders signed a consent agreement with the federal government in the wake of the national foreclosure crisis.

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Politics
9:05 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

Judge strips power from Ambassador Bridge owners in construction dispute

A judge has stripped the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge of control over a key construction project, and transferred total control to the project’s joint partner, the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Judge Prentis Edwards had found Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) officials in contempt of court for delaying the Gateway Project.

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Political Roundup
5:02 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

State politics and public safety

Gov. Rick Snyder delivered a special address on public safety this week. His plan calls for fighting crime in some of the state’s most violent cities.

The 34 point plan includes hiring 180 additional state troopers, increasing staffing at crime labs, decreasing urban blight, and linking welfare benefits to school attendance.

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Politics
4:56 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

Autism coverage bills clear Michigan Senate committee

Flickr
cedarbenddrive Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate soon could vote on bills aimed at requiring insurance companies to cover some types of treatment for autism.

The Senate's Health Policy Committee on Thursday approved a bipartisan package of bills related to autism coverage, sending the bills to the Senate floor. They go to the House if the Senate passes them.

One bill sets up a fund to help reimburse insurers for paid claims related to diagnosis and treatment of autism. That provision is included in hopes of lessening opposition from business and insurance groups.

Previous efforts to mandate autism coverage have stalled in Michigan.

More than half the states require insurers to provide autism coverage. Gov. Rick Snyder says it's time or Michigan to join them.

Politics
3:01 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

Consent agreement may be part of Detroit's future

DETROIT (AP) - A high-stakes game of political brinksmanship could result in a consent agreement that keeps a state-appointed emergency manager out of Detroit.

But elected officials and municipal unions first would have to agree on concessions aimed at shoring up the city's financially-battered books.

Gov. Rick Snyder says he prefers a consent agreement with the city, which faces cash flow problems and a nearly $200 million budget deficit.

A consent agreement likely would include stiff requirements and still could lead to a manager if Detroit fails to comply. But it could help keep civic pride intact while retaining local control.

Mayor Dave Bing for months has used the threat of an emergency manager to cajole city unions into accepting wage and health benefit reductions. Deals have been reached but remain un-ratified.

Politics
1:30 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

Michigan group wants corporate donors to be revealed

Former Michigan secretary of state candidate Jocelyn Benson announces launch of a ballot campaign to require corporations to disclose their political spending. The rollout took place on the steps of the state Capitol in Lansing.
Rick Pluta MPRN

Corporations would have to report their spending on political advertising and lobbying under a proposed amendment to the state constitution. Organizers announced the drive today, although they won’t start gathering signatures until later this month.

All amendments to the state constitution must be approved by voters.

A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on their own political ads. The court says it’s up to states to decide whether to require disclosure.

Jocelyn Benson was the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2010 for Michigan Secretary of State, and is leading the effort to adopt the amendment.

“It’s really important when you think about our role not just as voters, but as consumers – when we buy products, we deserve and we have a right to know if the money we spend on companies or on products are being spent to influence political campaigns or lobby elected officials. This amendment would create that right,” said Benson.

The amendment would require companies to immediately disclose any spending for a political purpose, and where the money came from. Benson’s campaign is aiming for the November ballot.

The Associated Press reports that "backers have until July 9 to collect the 322,609 signatures needed to get the measure on the November ballot."

Politics
11:29 am
Thu March 8, 2012

Judge: Bridge owner loses control of construction

Flickr
The Ambassador Bridge Jim Wallace

DETROIT (AP) - A judge has ordered the company that controls the Ambassador Bridge to surrender control of its portion of a project on the U.S. side of the international crossing to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards ordered Thursday that an account be set up to fund the work.

A next court hearing is March 22.

The Detroit International Bridge Co. has said it's making progress on its share of the $230 million Gateway Project and pledged to complete the work.

In January, Edwards put 84-year-old billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top executive, Dan Stamper, in jail for contempt of court for failing to follow orders on the project, which includes connecting the bridge with Canada to area interstates.

They were released by the Michigan appeals court.

Commentary
10:42 am
Thu March 8, 2012

Republicans complete action on two anti-union bills

Yesterday, I talked about a major effort the state’s labor unions were launching to counteract what they feel is a major assault on collective bargaining. They are attempting to amend the constitution to make it impossible to take collective bargaining rights away from any group, no matter the circumstances.

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News Roundup
8:02 am
Thu March 8, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, March 8th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder on Public Safety

Governor Rick Snyder delivered an address on public safety yesterday in Flint. Rick Pluta reports:

The governor presented his plan to fight high crime rates in Michigan cities in front of a room filled with police officers, prosecutors, and other local government officials. The plan has 34 separate initiatives and would cost tens of millions of dollars. Governor Snyder wants to hire and train 180 new state troopers to work in high-crime cities, put more scientists in crime labs, and place parole officers in local police departments. But the governor says he also wants to link welfare benefits to school attendance, attack urban blight, and start up a 15 million dollar urban jobs program. The governor says he will submit a budget request to the Legislature within two weeks.

Bing Delivers State of the City Address

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing delivered his third State of the City address last night. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Bing gave few details about how he’ll deal with the city’s most immediate threat: running out of cash. Bing said both he and Governor Snyder “agree that an emergency manager is not the best option” for Detroit. Bing has hammered out tentative cost-saving agreements with the city’s major unions. But they have yet to be ratified by members. The state could grant Detroit’s elected officials powers to impose new contracts and make other sweeping changes through a consent agreement. That’s seen as an increasingly likely option for the state to help Detroit get through its cash crunch.

State’s Unemployment Rate Drops

The state’s unemployment rate is continuing to drop. The state’s seasonally unadjusted rate was 9 percent in January. “During the past year, Michigan’s unemployment rate is down nearly two full percentage points. The state’s unemployment rate is now at its lowest mark since September 2008.  It’s also about five percentage points lower than at the height of the recession in 2009. Manufacturing and Professional services saw the biggest jump in new hires,” Steve Carmody reports.

Politics
12:35 am
Thu March 8, 2012

Bing: State must offer Detroit "tangible support" to avoid cash crisis

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says the city is “at a critical and pivotal time like none in Detroit’s history."

But during his third annual State of the City address, Bing gave few details about how he’ll deal with the city’s most immediate threat: running out of cash.

Bing said both he and Governor Snyder “agree that an emergency manager is not the best option” for Detroit.

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