Politics & Government

Crime
3:05 pm
Mon May 7, 2012

Feds say Highland Park's Davis created fake non-profit for spending sprees

Highland Park School Board member and union activist Robert Davis was indicted last month on charges of theft by federal prosecutors.

They accused Davis of stealing more than $125,000 from the ailing Highland Park school district.

Today, more details emerged from the indictment.

Robert Snell of the Detroit News reports on "newly unsealed federal court records" the paper obtained.

The records allege Davis controlled a bogus nonprofit group, "Citizens United to Save Highland Park Schools." The feds say Davis used the group's bank account for "an $84,000 spending spree at car dealerships, hotels, bars, restaurants and a custom-clothing store."

From The Detroit News:

The financial information was included in an FBI search warrant affidavit requesting permission to raid Davis' home in Highland Park last year.

The affidavit does not specify which car dealerships were patronized. But Davis paid a St. Clair Shores dealership $21,450 for a used silver Mercedes-Benz CLK320 coupe in May 2009, according to the Secretary of State.

That's at the height of the time Davis was stealing money from the school district, according to federal prosecutors.

The sixteen-count indictment says Davis stole the school district's money between 2004 and 2010. If convicted, he faces the possibility of 10 years in prison on each of the counts of the indictment.

Davis made headlines before the indictment was made public by successfully winning a court battle against the state's financial review teams for violating the Open Meetings Act.

Davis has maintained his innocence and his lawyer did not offer a comment on the newly unsealed records, telling the News he had not seen them yet.

Politics
10:48 am
Mon May 7, 2012

Anti-Sharia rally planned at state capital this week

A rally is planned in Lansing this week in support of legislation to ban Sharia law in Michigan.

The bill is sponsored by State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville). It makes no specific mention of Sharia. And Agema says his intent is not to single out the legal code of Islam.

"All this bill does - I don't care if it's coming from the United Nations or where it's coming from," said Agema. "If it's anathema to our state Constitution or our federal U.S. Constitution, I'm just clarifying to the judges: don't use it."

The legislation has languished in committee for months without a hearing. Agema says he hopes the rally will convince Republican leaders in the state Legislature to take up the bill.

Muslim leaders in Michigan say the bill is a distraction from the state's real problems. They say it can only serve to feed anti-Muslim sentiment.

"I think it's unfortunate that instead of dealing with the real issues such as the suffering economy and the crime rate that we have here in Michigan, that Mr. Agema is involved in these hijinks such as protesting this non-existent threat," said Dawud Walid of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan.

Two dozen states have passed similar legislation.

Politics
10:19 am
Mon May 7, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 2nd
Brother O'Mara Flickr

State could be forced to pay new Detroit officials' salaries

Under the consent agreement with the state, the city of Detroit will have to appoint new officials to lead the city out of its financial crisis. Who will pay the salaries for these new officials is a new bone of contention according to Jonathan Oosting at MLive:

The [consent] agreement... requires the formation of a nine-member Financial Advisory Board to oversee city budgets and hiring of a Program Management Director to oversee implementation of key initiatives.

The deal calls for the city and state to split the salaries of advisory board members, who each will make $25,000 a year, while the city is required to cover the full salary of the PMD, expected to earn triple figures.

As MLive.com first reported this weekend, some city leaders believe the state may end up assuming full responsibility for those costs.

Some council members feel the Headlee Act prevents the state from mandating new services without compensating the city for those services.

Oosting reports Detroit City Council is expected to meet in a closed door session with the city's law department this afternoon.

U.S. Attorney General says violence in Detroit is "unacceptable"

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told thousands of people gathered at an NAACP fundraising dinner that violence in Detroit is "unacceptable."

He told the crowd last night in Detroit that his administration is directing "unprecedented" resources nationally in order to reduce young people's exposure to crime.

Holder said an average of two young black men get killed each week in Detroit. He called the statistic "shocking."

Higher train speeds between Detroit and Chicago

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says Michigan, Illinois and Indiana are each contributing $200,000 for a study looking into the creation of a high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and Detroit.

LaHood says the study will seek ways to cut Amtrak passenger train times between the cities and to more efficiently move goods.

The Department of Transportation says the study will build on the progress that Michigan has made in achieving 110 mile per hour service between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

Politics
7:01 am
Mon May 7, 2012

GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney coming to Lansing this week

MItt Romney
(courtesy of MittRomneyCentral.com)

Mitt Romney will make his first visit to Michigan this week since the state’s February presidential primary. The apparent Republican presidential nominee will deliver a speech in Lansing.

Mitt Romney won a narrow victory over Rick Santorum in the Michigan Republican primary.

Romney will speak at Lansing Community College tomorrow afternoon. His speech is expected to focus on the economy, and he will say President Obama’s policies have failed to sufficiently lift middle class families.

The visit is a hint that Republicans may consider Michigan a battleground state.

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Politics
12:11 am
Mon May 7, 2012

Detroit NAACP celebrates 100 years, talks future of civil rights at annual dinner

The Detroit branch of the NAACP held its annual “Fight for Freedom fund” dinner last night.

There was celebration of the branch’s centennial anniversary this year. But there was also grave concern over continuing civil rights struggles.

The dinner is traditionally one of the Detroit NAACP’s largest—and most lucrative—events.

This year, it drew thousands of people, including much of Michigan’s political and business elite.

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elections
10:11 pm
Sun May 6, 2012

Kent County voters to decide on millage for community college

Organizers worked to get extra "yes" signs like this one out this weekend.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Volunteers in Kent County are making a last minute push to get out the vote Tuesday. They’ll be knocking on doors and making phone calls running up to Tuesday’s election.

Voters will decide on a county-wide millage increase to renovate outdated buildings at Grand Rapids Community College.

The millage would pay for basic improvements to almost every building on campus.

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Politics
4:01 pm
Sun May 6, 2012

Michigan voters to decide many issues on Tuesday's ballot

(file photo)
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Voters across Michigan go to the polls on Tuesday.

More than 200 communities are holding elections.   

Most of the questions involve school bond issues.

Bloomfield Hills schools are asking voters to approve a $58 million bond issue to pay for renovations to a high school. This proposal is a scaled back version of similar proposals that have failed in the past. 

Some school districts are asking voters to approve bonds to pay for technology upgrades.  For example the Allegan public school district is asking voters to approve an 18 million dollar bond issue.   Part of that would be spent on computers.

Not everything on the ballots involves schools.

The issue in Delhi Township, near Lansing, is sludge.    Or more accurately,  what to do with it.

The township is asking voters to approve a surcharge on their water bills to pay for a sludge dryer.   Supporters say the dryer would turn human waste into bio-fuel. Opponents say it’s just a waste of money.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Bloomfield Hills school bond issue had failed twice before. The current proposal, however, is not that same as previous bond issues. The copy has been corrected above.

Politics
9:54 pm
Fri May 4, 2012

Detroit City Clerk: Budget cuts "don't make sense," would compromise elections

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Detroit’s City Clerk says budget cuts would compromise her ability to run elections.

Janice Winfrey took her case to the Detroit City Council Friday.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing wants to cut the election department's budget by 25%, from $7.4 million to $5 million.

Bing says that’s part of across-the-board cuts that need to happen as the city grapples with state mandates to reduce its deficit--outlined in the consent agreement between the city and state.

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It's Just Politics
5:48 pm
Fri May 4, 2012

Dingell goes for 30; Snyder for Veep; U.P. secession; and an intra-party GOP fight

Flickr
Contemplative Imaging

Too busy to check in on all of the political news happening this week in Michigan? Or, maybe you just weren't able to fill your political appetite this week. Well, don't fret! Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta and I spent some time this afternoon taking a look at the week-that-was in Michigan politics in an extended edition of It's Just Politics.

On tap for this Friday:

  • A Florida political analyst sparks speculation about a possible Mitt Romney/Rick Snyder GOP presidential ticket
  • A group of unhappy Yoopers talks U.P. secession
  • Southeast Michigan Rep. John Dingell announces he'll run for a record 30th term in the U.S. House of Representatives
  • After a lot of "will he or won't he" talk, former Republican Rep. Joe Schwarz says he will not run as a Democrat in November against incumbent Rep. Tim Walberg
  • State Democrats caucus tomorrow to pick their presidential nominee and we ask: will it be President Barack Obama or President Barack Obama? (Our money is on President Barack Obama)
History
5:25 pm
Fri May 4, 2012

Past and present Democratic caucuses

In Michigan, President Obama is expected to be confirmed as the democratic candidate.
YouTube

Michigan Democrats hold their caucuses on Saturday May 5th. President Obama is expected to be confirmed as the democratic candidate.

Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry talks with Jennifer White about past and present Democratic caucuses.

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It's Just Politics
3:25 pm
Fri May 4, 2012

Up in smoke: The hazy politics of pot in Michigan

It's Just Politics: May 4th, 2012
Eggrole Flickr

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and I take on the politics of pot. It's a hazy situation and an issue that's getting chronic attention in the state (okay, okay, enough with the drug innuendo).

Where things stand

In 2008 voters – by a pretty large margin - voted to make medical marijuana legal in the state. But, the law is confusing. Not only is there the fact that it’s still illegal under federal law, there are also questions about if and how dispensaries should be regulated; the medical conditions for which  medical marijuana should be prescribed; the size and location of marijuana plants that one is allowed to grow... I could go on and on.

Pluta: Exactly… there are more questions than answers when it comes to this law because it is so vague. So, this week, we’ve seen some measures to add clarity to the law. But, because this law was a voter-initiated and approved law, to  change it, any measure has to have a three fourths majority in both the state House and Senate. Something that’s not in this package is dispensaries – that’s in court right now, but some lawmakers don’t want to wait for a state Supreme Court ruling. They say dispensaries could cure some problems – especially what to do when someone who is legally growing marijuana has more weed than they can use. 

Clark: So, just this week state Representative Mike Callton introduced a measure to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. But, Callton says he was against the medical marijuana law that passed in 2008.

Collton: “…I think what voters passed is nuts, just crazy insane.”

Pluta: So, why is he introducing this then?

Clark: That is, indeed the question.

Pluta: Callton and some others say it would be better for dispensaries to buy up, or otherwise take possession of, surplus pot instead of having it sold illegally on the street. There’s a division, though. Some Republicans basically consider dispensaries legalized dope dens.

Clark: So, that’s a debate that will take place probably this summer on dispensaries. What’s moving right now would require in-person doctor’s visits to get a medical marijuana card, a picture I.D., and police access to medical marijuana records.

Pluta: Medical marijuana advocates say some of this goes too far. In a couple of instances, it reverses what voters approved in the medical marijuana law and, so, they’re trying again. There is a petition drive in the field to put a question on the ballot to make Michigan a legalized marijuana state.  We’ll see if they can get enough signatures.

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Politics
3:08 pm
Fri May 4, 2012

Unnamed air carrier shows interest in Detroit's City Airport

A runway map of Detroit's City Airport
faa.gov

Detroit's Coleman A. Young International Airport, also called City Airport, might soon be seeing passengers for the first time since 2000.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Jason Watt, general manager of the Coleman A. Young International Airport, told the City Council on Thursday that the city has a letter of intent from a carrier interested in re-establishing scheduled passenger travel. He would not publicly identify the company.

The facility is still open for private pilots and cargo carriers, the Free Press reports, but prior to Thursday's anonymous show if interest, the airport's future wasn't looking particularly bright as city officials work to scale down Detroit's budget.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Commentary
10:48 am
Fri May 4, 2012

Commentary: John Dingell runs again

The tail fins on cars were just starting to take off the first time he ran. The nation had about half as many people as it does now.

Neither of his opponents this year had yet been born. For that matter, neither had Governor Snyder or President Obama.

John F. Kennedy was a freshman senator, General Motors was the world’s most powerful corporation, and nobody had ever seen a Japanese car. We are talking 1955, when, a few days after Christmas, a few thousand voters showed up for a special election, and sent a geeky-looking 29-year-old lawyer to Congress.

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News Roundup
9:12 am
Fri May 4, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 2nd
Brother O'Mara Flickr

National unemployment numbers released this morning

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released unemployment numbers this morning. The unemployment rate "was little changed at 8.1 percent."

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 115,000 for the month of April.

As Mark Memmott at NPR's Two-Way blog points out, "the economy needs to add more than 115,000 jobs a month to bring down the unemployment rate." So why the decline?

Mostly because the size of the "civilian labor force" shrank by 342,000 people, to 154.4 million. And the labor force "participation rate" edged down to 63.6 percent from 63.8 percent.

Assesing Michigan's fruit crop, worst in history

The fruit crop in Michigan got bitten by the bizarre weather. High temperatures in March brought the blossoms out, and freezes and frosts in April killed emerging buds.

More from the AP:

Farmers and extension agents say the one-two punch has all but wiped out the tart cherry crop, while other orchard fruits such as sweet cherries, apples, pears and peaches have suffered extensive damage. Juice grapes are another casualty.

Fifty-four-year-old David Rabe of Oceana County says he's been farming nearly all his life and has never seen it this bad. Only his asparagus may survive.

Flooding after rains move through the state

The flooding has caused problems for drivers this morning. Some roads in the Detroit and Flint areas have been closed.

The AP reports that both directions of I-75 at I-696 in suburban Detroit were closed today as the morning rush hour period approached.

A flash flood warning was issued for the Flint area, including Genesee and Shiawassee, counties due to the storm.

The National Weather Service has issued flood advisories, watches and warnings for parts of Michigan's Lower Peninsula following the storms.

More from the Flint Journal:

Hit with more than 5 inches of rain overnight, the county's creeks, streams and drains are swelling as residents cope with their own localized flooding this morning.

The National Weather Service said today that 5.4 inches of rain fell overnight, almost twice as much as the area usually gets in the entire month of May.

"It's bad everywhere," said county Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright. "The whole county got hit pretty well."

The 5.4 inches of rain recorded at Bishop overnight surpassed the total, normal monthly rainfall total for a typical month of May -- 3 inches.

Political Roundup
5:17 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Is eliminating the personal property tax a good thing?

The personal property tax is mostly a tax on business equipment, office furniture and manufacturing equipment.
IBM / The News Market

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

There’s an eight-bill package working its way through the legislature right now aimed at eliminating the personal property tax. This sounds like something that would affect individuals but this is actually a business tax.

Sikkema says, “This is basically a tax on business equipment, computer, office furniture and manufacturing equipment. It’s generally acknowledged to be a bad tax because it taxes new business purchases and business growth and investment.”

Demas indicates that some cities receive up to 40% of their tax base from the personal property tax. However, not all cities would be affected in the same way. Some cities wouldn’t be affected at all.

“The municipalities have been looking for ways that they can get some of that revenue replaced, but so far they haven’t had a lot of takers because their solution is a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the same money, and nobody really wants to tie the legislature’s hands with that," she says.

Sikkema believes eliminating the tax is a good move for Michigan. He says, “Other states, particularly in the Midwest have already eliminated it, principality Ohio. Michigan and Indiana are the only ones in the Great Lakes region that I’m aware of who currently collect the personal property tax.”

But he adds, “It’s not without its down side…for some it is a major source of revenue and republicans are trying to address that with this promise to replace it in the future.”

Demas adds, “I do think we do need to pay attention to however many communities there are that really rely on this and could be pushed over the edge, because certainly it’s not health for our state to have our cities keep getting financial managers.”

Politics
4:26 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Michigan Court of Appeals hears cases on emergency manager law

The state Court of Appeals heard challenges today to the determinations that Flint and Detroit face financial emergencies.

The challenges say state review teams violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act by not deliberating in public.
    
Attorney Andrew Paterson says the public has a right to know how a review team goes about its job.

"It is determining the financial condition of a local unit of government and it is reporting on that financial condition,” said Paterson.

Attorneys for the state say the review teams are not public bodies under the open meetings law.

The state says the teams only offer advice, and it’s ultimately up to the governor to decide whether cities and school districts are in financial emergencies.
    
Flint is currently being run by an emergency manager and Detroit is operating under the terms of a consent agreement with the state.

Politics
3:37 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Medical marijuana changes passed by Michigan House

user Laughing Squid Creative Commons

The Michigan House passed a package of bills aimed at clarifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The four bills passed by the House now go to the Michigan Senate.

The Detroit Free Press reports the bills passed with support from both Republicans and Democrats:

The bills were adopted on broad, bi-partisan votes, clearing the three-fourths majority hurdle needed to amend the law approved by Michigan voters in 2008. Similar majorities will be needed for approval in the state Senate, however, before the changes would become effective.

MLive reports protestors have demonstrated at the Capitol in Lansing, arguing the package of bills infringe on patients' rights.

"You are never going to appease everyone," said Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township. "That’s why I have confidence that everybody is a little disappointed in the language in the four bills, yet I believe it’s a good compromise and I believe that these clarify the voters intent the best we could."

Here are links to the four bills passed by the Michigan House of Representatives today:

Politics
2:53 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Vice President Snyder?

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delivering the 2011 State of the State address

That's what one conservative analyst is saying today.

In a column for Tampa Bay Online, Chris Ingram bases his prognostication on hotel room locations.

More specifically, hotel room locations for the Republican National Convention this August in Tampa Bay.

Ingram writes that Romney and Massachusetts got the best rooms for the convention... and Gov. Snyder and Michigan got the second best spot:

But there is a reason Michigan got the second-best hotel assignment: Gov. Rick Snyder. My bet is he's Romney's man for vice president.

What does hotel room location have to do with anything?

Ingram writes:

Access to the convention site, proximity to the best restaurants and bars, being inside the security zone, and not having to ride a bus (a really big deal if you're a Republican) are almost as important as fighting over abortion and gays in the party's meaningless platform.

Ingram notes Snyder's success at getting his pro-business agenda passed through the Michigan legislature, his background in private business, his credentials (an attorney with an MBA), and his appeal to moderates as more reasons Mitt Romney could pick Snyder as his running mate.

"Too bad he doesn't speak fluent Spanish," Ingram writes.

So what are the odds? Who do you think Romney will pick?

Politics
11:33 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Michigan legislature prayer group

Flickr user/jemasmith

The Roman Catholic church says a newly formed prayer caucus in the Michigan Legislature that specifically endorses Judeo-Christian tradition should open itself to officials of "any faith." About 30 lawmakers and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley sang "God Bless America" and prayed at Wednesday's launch.

The caucus says in its founding statement that it's "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles."

The statement has drawn criticism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations based on what the group's state director Dawud Walid says is its "exclusionary language."

 The Michigan Catholic Conference has weighed in as well, saying it hopes that "elected officials of any faith are made to feel welcome." Caucus co-founder Rep. Ken Kurtz says anyone may join.

Commentary
10:59 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Commentary: College for all?

It’s hard to see the future. If you had been around during the Cretaceous Period, sixty-five million years ago, it would have been obvious that the world belonged to the huge and magnificent dinosaurs which dominated the planet.

Nobody would have paid much attention to the little rat-like things called mammals scurrying around the forest floors. But in the end, they would inherit the earth.

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