Politics & Government

Politics
3:40 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Contrasting Michigan policy, Toledo mayor considers domestic partner benefits

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell
Dan Bobkoff Changing Gears

Late last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a controversial law barring many live-in partners of state employees from receiving government health benefits. Snyder and some members of the state legislature cited cost as the primary reason behind the ban. But critics of the law, including the ACLU of Michigan, said the law unfairly targeted same-sex couples.

Now, just south of the border, things might be moving in the opposite direction.

According to a story in the Toledo Blade, the city's Mayor Mike Bell is planning to bring legislation concerning domestic partner benefits before the city council. The measure would give Toledo city employees the opportunity to extend their health care benefits to cover their live-in partners, provided couples sign up for the city's Domestic Partner Registry.

More from the Blade:

Both heterosexual and same-sex couples would be eligible for benefits under the proposed law...

"What we're trying to do is bring our city, form the standpoint of human resources and affirmative-action policies, in line with what's happening nationally," Mayor Bell said. "We're not the first train pulling out of the station here, we're actually in a way trying to catch up with the policies that make companies and cities competitive in the state of Ohio."

Other cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, along with Lucas County, the University of Toledo, Owens Corning, and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, offer benefits to domestic partners of employees, according to information provided by the mayor's office.

But, the Blade reports, some council members are already voicing misgivings about the policy:

George Sarantou said he has many questions about the proposed law and is concerned it could be too costly for a city that has struggled financially in recent years.

"Cost is always a factor when you're dealing with a budget," Councilman Sarantou said...

Councilman Rob Ludeman, meanwhile, expressed both financial and moral concerns about the proposed law. During his last term, Mr. Ludeman was one of two councilmen who voted against the Domestic Partner Registry.

"A lot of it was my own religious beliefs, but I think I represented a conservative constituency who were opposed to it, gay and straight people," Mr. Ludeman said.

Mayor Bell told the Blade that he doesn't believe the benefits will present any financial strain and said it comes down to fairness:

"When you're the mayor, you represent everybody," the mayor said. "Inside the city we have a lot of different lifestyles. All I'm trying to do is be fair to everybody. ... I'm trying to adjust our polices to the obvious that's in front of us right now at this particular time in history."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

It's Just Politics
2:40 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Size does matter... in emergency manager repeal

Fourteen point font…

That is what is standing in the way, apparently, of you getting to decide whether or not the state’s emergency manager law stays intact. As Rick Pluta, co-host of It's Just Politics, notes the whole emergency manager repeal was stopped in its tracks, "by an attorney with a pica ruler." And it, quite literally means, size does matter... at least when it comes to petition drives in Michigan.

The back-story

The Board of State Canvassers yesterday morning deadlocked along party lines (two Republicans vs. two Democrats) on whether to put a referendum challenging the state's controversial emergency manager law on the ballot. Though Stand Up for Democracy, the group pushing to put a repeal on the ballot, had gathered more than 200,000 valid signatures (40,000 more than what was actually needed), Republicans on the board pointed to the use of an incorrect type size on the petition itself as grounds for denying it access to the November ballot.

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Pluta and I take a look at the politics behind the board's decision... and, I should tell you:  it's a little unsettling.

"Hyper-partisan"

"There's this board, the Board of State Canvassers, it's bi-partisan: two Democrats and two Republicans. They get to decide whether or not a petition - in this case, the petition to repeal the state's emergency manager law - gets on the ballot. This board is not non-partisan. In fact, it is hyper-partisan. [These board members] are chosen by their parties to represent their party's interests," Pluta explains. But, it's not just their party's interests that these board members are representing... they're also representing their own paychecks.

Conflict of interest?

"Jeff Timmer, one of the Republicans on the Board of State Canvassers, [who voted against allowing the petition to go on the November ballot] works for The Sterling Corporation, the political consulting firm that was actually behind the challenge to this ballot's font-size," Pluta explains. "The opponents of the referendum, Citizens for  Fiscal Responsibility, is a Sterling client. Sterling and the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility even share a business address."

But, Timmer isn't the only one with a possible conflict of interest. "There's a Democrat on the board, Julie Matuzak, she voted to to approve a different petition - one backed by unions. And her day job with the American Federation of Teachers was to run the signature-gathering for that petition drive. So, she voted to let a petition go forward when it was her job to get [that petition] on the ballot," Pluta explains.

Doomed from the beginning?

On the same day that the emergency manager petition was not approved, three other proposals were given the OK. It begs the question: was this emergency manager petition in trouble from the beginning? Was there anything that Stand Up for Democracy could have done to inoculate themselves?

"Well, actually, they could have gone to the election board before they even started to gather the signatures and make sure that they were in compliance [with the font size] but they decided against this. They said even if they had gotten the OK that it still would have seen legal challenges," Pluta explains.

"And, I have seen this before – this sort of paranoia that keeps people from going to the board first and then they get knee-capped like this after they’ve gone to the trouble and expense of gathering the signatures. Some campaign professionals I know are just smacking their heads over this. The attorney for Stand Up For Democracy says they didn’t want to get bogged down in legal challenges before they even got started. But, you know, two union-led petition drives that are just anathema to Republicans – including the one to preempt a right to work law – were recently approved," says Pluta.

What happens now?

So, here we are: for now, the state’s emergency manager law will not be on the ballot in November. But, the attorney for Stand Up for Democracy says they're going to appeal this decision to the state Court of Appeals. And, what will happen there? "More politics," Pluta explains. "People will be looking to see what appeals court  panel gets the case and whether it's made up of judges with Republican ties or judges with ties to Democrats," Pluta says.

And, wouldn't we all just be shocked - shocked, I say - if this repeal becomes politicized in the courts...

Commentary
11:40 am
Fri April 27, 2012

Commentary: Democracy in peril

Sometimes it seems that everybody in the world is in favor of democracy, just as long as it gives them the result they want.

When that doesn’t happen, well, then they don’t like it so much. We saw two prime examples of this yesterday. The first was a state board of canvassers meeting, where the panel refused to put a repeal of the new emergency manager law on the ballot.

Read more
Politics
7:47 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Language approved to put bridge question on the November ballot

Jim Wallace flickr.com

A state board has approved ballot language proposed by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

They hope voters in November say “yes” to the measure that reads, in part: “The People should decide whether state government may construct or finance new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles.”

Matthew Moroun is Vice Chair of the Detroit International Bridge Company. He says the public can decide the ongoing dispute over whether to build a new bridge once and for all.

Read more
Politics
5:17 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Michigan election officials deadlocked on challenge to emergency manager law

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 along party lines this morning on whether to allow a challenge to the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

Update 5:17 p.m.

MPRN's Rick Pluta filed audio on the scene at today's Board of State Canvassers meeting. Here's what it sounded like - first the chants of "Shame!" from the crowd after the Board had a deadlocked, which meant the question would not be put to voters in November - and then the response from Herb Sanders, the attorney for the Stand Up for Democracy campaign.

Sanders says the next stop is the Michigan Court of Appeals.

12:27 p.m.

The Detroit News has more on the scene at the Board of State Canvassers meeting this morning:

Democrats Julie Matuzak and James Water voted to approve the petitions while Republicans Jeffrey Timmer and Norman Shinkle voted against it.

More than 140 supporters of repealing Public Act 4 began chanting "Shame, Shame, Shame" and shouting down the board members as "fascists" as they tried to exit the heated meeting.

An attorney arguing for the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, the group challenging the validity of the petitions, says the law uses the term "shall" - as in petitions "shall" use certain font and type sizes.

"'Shall,' in legal parlance, is a mandatory term," Pirich said. "It didn't say 'get in the ball park', it said it 'shall.' "We believe the petition is fatally flawed in that regard."

Herb Sanders, the attorney representing Stand Up For Democracy, a coalition of groups that launched the petition campaign, noted several Court of Appeals petition cases where the court used a standard of "substantial compliance" to determine a petition's validity.

11:59 a.m

The Board of State Canvassers has deadlocked along party lines on whether to put the referendum challenge to the emergency manager law on the ballot. Republicans on the board pointed to the use of an incorrect type size on the petition as grounds for denying it access to the November ballot. The ballot campaign can now go to the state Court of Appeals.

Politics
5:03 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

What's next for Public Act 4?

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.

The petition that would place Public Act 4, that's the emergency manager law, on the November ballot came before the State Board of Canvassers.  Earlier this week it was confirmed the group Stand up for Democracy had more than enough signatures to put the PA 4 up for repeal on the ballot. But then this question of whether the correct font size was used for the ballot was brought up.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 along party lines on whether to allow a challenge to the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

“It’s not really a surprise on a matter like this that you would see a split decision,” Demas says.

Demas adds that supporters of the petition were very upset about the deadlock, and says “they could have avoided all this if they had just gotten their petition approved before they circulated it, and if there was really a font issue, they would have been told.”

This question will most likely head to the State Court of Appeals. Ken Sikkema believes it’s important the courts make a decision consistent with similar cases.

He says, “If they in fact decide to keep this off the ballot, yes they will be criticized that they made a political decision, but if they can rest their decision upon the fact that its consistent with prior decisions then I think they are in fairly decent shape, otherwise the confidence and trust that some people have in the court is going to soften.”

Commentary
10:32 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Commentary: Reforming Michigan’s Supreme Court

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly cares deeply about our highest court, on which she has served for sixteen years.

For a long time, a number of things have bothered her about the court.  A University of Chicago law school study four years ago ranked Michigan’s Supreme Court dead last in the nation. Among its criteria: “Judicial independence from political and outside influences.”

Read more
News Roundup
9:06 am
Thu April 26, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

EM Repeal on November Ballot?

State elections officials say the campaign to reverse Michigan’s emergency manager law appears to have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But, the petition drive still faces at least one more challenge. Rick Pluta reports:

About 161,000 petition signatures were required. The state Bureau of Elections says the group Stand Up For Democracy has gathered more than 203,000 signatures and that’s plenty more names than they needed to qualify for the ballot. But opponents of the referendum drive say they will challenge the petition for technical violations of the law that specifies the size of the type used on petitions.  An evenly divided, bipartisan state elections board may reject the petitions on those grounds, or it could rule the campaign was still in substantial compliance of the law. Either way, the losers are very likely to take their grievance to the Michigan Court of Appeals to decide the fate of the ballot question.

Foreclosure Rates

Most Michigan cities saw their home foreclosure rates tumble during the first quarter of the year. One analyst says that might signal a trend for the rest of 2012. “Home foreclosure filings dropped between 20% and 30% in Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids during the first three months of the year. That's compared to the first quarter of 2011, according to Realty Trac.  Lansing was the only Michigan city on Realty Trac’s list to see an increase in home foreclosure filings between January and March,” Steve Carmody reports.

Michigan Wildfire

Officials say a wildfire in the northern Lower Peninsula has burned at least 1,500 acres and forced the evacuation of about 50 homes, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

WWTV/WWUP reports the fire burned near Mack Lake in Oscoda County's Mentor Township. The U.S. Forest Service says the fire was about 90 percent contained as of Thursday morning. There were no reports of injuries or structures being burned. An American Red Cross shelter was set up in the nearby community of Mio. Officials say rain was helping firefighting efforts. The fire is in the area of the Huron National Forest… The Oscoda County sheriff's department says the evacuated homes include some small subdivisions and most of them are seasonal.

Flint
7:48 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Flint emergency manager imposes contract changes

Sean Marshall Flickr

Flint's state-appointed emergency financial manager has imposed concessions on two union contracts and pushed through a new city budget for the city.

The Flint Journal reports the changes were among a dozen orders issued Wednesday by Michael Brown.

Read more
Politics
5:46 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Concerns remain over Air National Guard cuts

The latest budget proposal from the Pentagon calls for keeping C-130 airplanes at bases around the country to preserve jobs.
Josh Beasley flickr

Concerns remain over what the Obama administration's proposed budget could mean for the Selfridge Air National Guard base in Macomb County.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Shelby Twp.) says she's far from satisfied with the Obama administration's latest proposal to mitigate cuts to the Air National Guard. Miller's district includes the Selfridge base. Selfridge stood to lose hundreds of jobs under the Pentagon's original budget proposal for next year. 

After pressure from Congress and governors, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has come out with a proposal that would keep more C-130 aircraft in the National Guard. Panetta says that would restore 2,200 Air Guard jobs across the United States. 

Miller calls the plan "a slap in the face."

"Certainly I think the men and women of the Air National Guard deserve better than to be given more than old airplanes and temporary jobs," Miller said.

Selfridge no longer has C-130s. But it did before a 2005 base realignment. Rep. Sander Levin(D-Royal Oak)  says the development is promising, and that he'll push for basing some of the aircraft at Selfridge again.

Politics
4:45 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Online searchable "checkbook" proposed for state universities

A state House Republican says citizens should be able to see every expense for state universities.  

Representative Tom McMillin proposes a constitutional amendment that would require universities to list all their expenses. The items would be kept in an online searchable database.

Universities aren't lining up to support the idea.

Mike Boulus is head of the President's Council, a group that represents state universities in Michigan.

He says universities are in favor of transparency.

Read more
Politics
4:12 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Governor Snyder talks business climate, jobs, transport, and more at online town hall

Snyder discussed DDOT busses during his townhall meeting online Wednesday.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder discussed all kinds of issues during an online townhall meeting today. People participated in the town hall online and remotely from Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Detroit.

“My question is what can be done about the horrible transportation situation in the City of Detroit?” Shelia Foreman asked Snyder from Wayne State University’s TechTown. “I have had relatives lose their jobs because they cannot get to them. Do you have a solution for that?”

Read more
Politics
3:52 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Former Pontiac, Michigan emergency manager says law will fail

Pontiac, Michigan
Dave Garvin Flickr

Michael Stampfler, the former emergency manager in Pontiac, Michigan gave a speech last night at a Rotary International meeting in Wyandotte.

The Detroit Free Press reports he told the group the state's emergency manager law is "destined to fail."

Read more
Politics
2:44 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Group appears to have enough signatures to put emergency manager repeal on ballot

Update 2:44 p.m.

A report from Michigan's Bureau of Elections confirms the group "Stand Up For Democracy" appears to have enough signatures from registered voters in Michigan to put a referendum on the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

The recommendation from the Michigan Bureau of Elections is to "certify petition as sufficient."

A challenge to the referendum drive still remains. The Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility has challenged the petition drive alleging five defects in the format of the petitions:

  1. The type size of the petition heading, REFERENDUM OF LEGISLATION PROPOSED BY INITIATIVE PETITION purportedly does not comply with the requirement of MCL 168.482(1) that it be “printed in capital letters in 14-point boldfaced type [.]”
  2. The summary that appears on the signature side of the petition form is, in their view, “incomplete and misleading.”
  3. The petition omits the prior law, 1990 PA 72, which will be revived if 2011 PA 4 is suspended.
  4. The petition omits the effective date of 2011 PA 4.
  5. The petition omits 2011 PA 9, which was tie-barred to 2011 PA4.

2:02 p.m.

Citizens in the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition say they were notified by the Board of State Canvassers that the group collected 203,238 valid voter signatures needed to place the repeal of Public Act 4 (aka the Emergency Manager Law) on the November 2012 general election ballot.

According to the report, the group exceeded the 161,305 valid signatures needed by more than 40,000.

The Coalition still faces a challenge from a Republican group that claims the petitions should be invalidated because the wrong font size was used.

From a Stand Up for Democracy Coalition press release:

 “This is an important step in the effort to stand up for democracy in Michigan,” said Herb Sanders, director of the coalition. “This report clearly shows that people across the state want the opportunity to vote to repeal the emergency manager dictator law. Now it is up to the State Board of Canvassers to honor the democratic process and let the people vote.”

   On Thursday, April 26, 2012 the members of the State Board of Canvassers will meet in Lansing to decide if the petition will be placed on the November general election ballot. They will also have the opportunity to review a memo from the Secretary of the Board of State Canvassers that dismisses the challenges of a republican group seeking to prevent voters from deciding the fate of PA 4.

Commentary
10:50 am
Wed April 25, 2012

Commentary: Making foster care better for kids

Recently, I served as the master of ceremonies at the Council on American Islamic Relations annual banquet in Dearborn.

There, I met a family that had suffered an injustice at the hands of our state so terrible it was hard to believe it wasn’t a movie. Ahmed and Rehab Amer were Arab-Americans living a quiet life in suburban Detroit. But in nineteen eighty-five, their two-year-old son died after falling in the bathtub. The state immediately took their other kids away and charged Rehab, their mom, with negligence.

Read more
Politics
9:32 am
Wed April 25, 2012

Detroit City Council member: I've received death threats after consent deal vote

Detroit City Council member Saunteel Jenkins.

People in public life are in the spotlight, and are often the target of people's vitriol when they make unpopular decisions.

It's no different in Detroit.

Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins told WWJ she's received death threats after her vote to approve a consent agreement with the state earlier this month.

From WWJ:

“I’ve received some threats, yes,” said Jenkins. ”It’s especially unnerving when in addition to threats, people are picketing at your private home.”

Jenkins said it’s all over her “yes” vote supporting the consent agreement. While things haven’t escalated to violence, Jenkins has had to ask for police protection at least once...

Jenkins said when she ran for a seat on City Council, she had no idea how difficult it would be.

“I had no idea, but I keep saying, you can’t complain when you get what you asked for. I asked for this, but I had no idea. I knew it would be rough, but I didn’t know it would be this rough,” she said.

Jenkins told WWJ that other council members have also received threats - she didn't identify their names.

News Roundup
8:29 am
Wed April 25, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Gov. Snyder to Hold Online Town Hall

Governor Snyder is set to hold another virtual town hall meeting this afternoon in Lansing. Questions can be posted to the governor’s website, to his Facebook page www.facebook.com/rickformichigan or on twitter by sending messages to @OneToughNerd and using the hashtag #AskGovSnyder. The Governor last held a town hall meeting in March to discuss Detroit's financial crisis. You can watch the town hall, beginning this afternoon at 12:15 p.m., at www.livestream.com/snyderlive.

Residents Question Lansing Budget

City residents are questioning how Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero plans to spend money from a recent property tax hike. Steve Carmody reports:

The tax hike was approved last year. Many voters expected the money would be spent to hire back dozens of police officers and firefighters laid off in recent years. But Mayor Bernero's plan calls for bringing back just seven public safety officers. Bernero says he’d like to hire more cops, but the city can’t afford it. Some Lansing city council members complain the mayor wants to spend money on rehabbing a building for the police department. That's money they say could be spent hiring police officers. The city council has until the middle of May to approve or change the mayor’s budget proposal.

Federal Money for MSU’s Rare Isotope Project

Michigan’s Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow say a Senate subcommittee has significantly increased the recommended annual funding for a planned $600 million physics research facility at Michigan State University, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Michigan Democrats said Tuesday that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water has budgeted $30 million in the 2013 fiscal year for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. That's up from $22 million that President Barack Obama recommended Feb. 13 in his budget proposal. About $55 million in funding was stipulated by the original agreement. Michigan State won a national competition to land the project in December 2008, and design work is under way. Levin and Stabenow say construction of the facility will create about 5,000 construction jobs, with 400 permanent jobs after completion.

Politics
7:42 am
Wed April 25, 2012

The week in Michigan politics

This week we take a look at the politics behind Detroit's financial crisis
JS Fauxtaugraphy Flickr

Every Wednesday, we talk with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about the week in state politics. This morning we take a deeper look at the politics behind Detroit's financial crisis. Mayor Dave Bing's office presented the Detroit City Council with an austere budget this week that would cut some 2500 city jobs and slash $250 million from the city's budget. We ask: will such a drastic budget actually get passed by the July 1st deadline?

Politics
7:12 am
Wed April 25, 2012

Michigan Air National Guard Bases may not be losing jobs

U.S. Air Force personnel from 110th Air Lift Wing boarding a C-130 prior to their departure in support of the Operation Readiness Training, Air National Guard base, Battle Creek, Mich., June 6, 2011.
(courtesy of the Michigan Guard)

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Sander Levin says he's hopeful that a Pentagon decision to add 24 C-130 air transport planes will offset sharp job cuts planned at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recommended Tuesday that the military budget the Air National Guard planes and the 2,200 personnel needed to support them.

Levin says the announcement "is a positive step in the battle for equitable treatment of the guard." The Royal Oak Democrat says he'll press to see that the C-130s are based at Selfridge, 20 miles northeast of Detroit in Macomb County's Harrison Township.

The Obama administration budget for fiscal year 2013 now calls for cutting a net 450 part-time and 200 full-time jobs at Selfridge with the relocation of two-dozen A-10 Thunderbolt II air-to-ground attack aircraft.

Lansing
10:23 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Lansing's mayor defends budget plan

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero speaks at a public forum on his FY 2013 budget plan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

City residents are questioning how Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero plans to spend money from a recent property tax hike.

The tax hike was approved last year. Many voters expected the money would be spent to hire back dozens of police officers and firefighters laid off in recent years. But Mayor Bernero's plan calls for bringing back just seven public safety officers.

Bernero says he’d like to hire more cops, but the city can’t afford it.

"I’m not going to hire people that I’ve got to turn around and fire tomorrow. I’m not going to do it," says Bernero.

Some Lansing city council members complain the mayor wants to spend money on rehabbing a building for the police department. That's money they say could be spent hiring police officers.

Brian Jeffries is the Lansing City Council president. He wants more money spent on rehiring laid off police officers and firefighters.

"We thought we’d get more police out there.  That’s what we thought.   We thought we’d get more fire personnel out there," says Jeffries, "Basically all we’re being told is this is just going to back stop any future losses.”

The city council has until the middle of May to approve or change the mayor’s budget proposal. The council will hold its own public hearing tonight.

Pages