Politics & Government

Commentary
10:28 am
Fri August 12, 2011

A Senate Surprise

Well, yesterday was not a great day for Pete Hoekstra, the former congressman from Holland. Two days ago, he was seen as the all-but-certain Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate next year.

With the nation’s economic crisis continuing, and more and more voters worried about the future, there seemed to be a growing chance that incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow may be vulnerable. Hoekstra, who got into the race last month after initially declining to run, thought he had a clear shot.

There were a few minor candidates, but they lacked funding or name recognition. But then yesterday, three longtime Michigan GOP heavyweights staged a coup of sorts. Two former state party chairs, Betsy DeVos, wife of Amway heir Dick DeVos, and Saul Anuzis, joined former U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham in endorsing a candidate.  And it wasn’t Pete Hoekstra.

Matter of fact, it wasn’t even someone who is formally in the race yet, though that will quickly change. The Big Three came out strongly for Clark Durant, a Grosse Pointer who is the founder of Cornerstone Schools, a group of charter schools in Detroit.

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State Legislature
7:45 am
Fri August 12, 2011

Claims tax awaits lawmakers’ return

A new tax on all health insurance claims waits for approval from lawmakers in the state House. As Michigan Public Radio’s Laura Weber reports, the tax is essential to balance the budget for the coming fiscal year.

Lawmakers must approve the health insurance claims tax in order to replace the existing tax on Medicaid HMOs. The federal government is expected to rule later this year that the existing Medicaid tax is illegal. To continue to receive funds from the federal government to help pay for Medicaid the state must approve the new tax on insurance claims.

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they do not like the new tax proposal – Republicans saying they will not vote for a new tax, and some Democrats arguing that it would disproportionately affect some seniors who had their pensions taxed earlier this year.

The House is expected to approve the tax changes when lawmakers return in a couple weeks.

Election 2012
6:21 am
Fri August 12, 2011

High profile endorsments change things up in GOP Senate race

Well, this changes things. Since former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra announced he would run for the Republican nomination to try and unseat Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2012, he was considered by many to be the GOP race’s frontrunner.

But, yesterday, three high-profile Republicans endorsed a candidate who isn’t really even a candidate yet. Former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis (who, at one point earlier this year, was thought to maybe want to throw his hat into the Senatorial race himself), former U.S. Senator Spence Abraham (who lost his Senate seat to Senator Stabenow in 2000), and ex-Michigan Republican Chairwomen Betsy DeVos have announced that they will back Clark Durant in the GOP race.

Durant, however, has not yet entered the race. From the Associated Press:

Durant is a charter school executive. He tells The Associated Press he hasn't yet declared his candidacy, but the endorsement "makes it so much easier to make that decision." Durant lost a Senate primary bid in 1990.

Anuzis, Abraham, and DeVos announced their support for Durant in an open-letter posted on Anuzis' website. An excerpt:

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Politics
5:38 pm
Thu August 11, 2011

The politics of Michigan's redistricting plan

New congressional district maps. Close up of southeast Michigan. Click on image to see another map.
Michigan House of Representatives

Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation that sets new congressional district boundaries. The maps were designed and passed by the Republican legislature earlier this year.

Today we take a closer look at the implications of the new district boundaries with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow for Public Sector Consultants.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White talks with Demas and Sikkema about who wins and who loses with these changes, as well as what voters should know before they head to the polls in November. 

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Commentary
1:10 pm
Thu August 11, 2011

Parents: The Forgotten Element

The world will probably little note nor long remember a meeting a legislative committee held in Lansing yesterday. But it should.

The subject was education reform, something that’s been a hot topic for the last few years - especially perhaps in Michigan.

What everybody agrees is that for many students, our schools no longer seem to work. In some places, notably Detroit, many fail to graduate from high school. Others graduate, but lack the skills to make a living or to get more education.

We don’t really like to think about the implications of that. But the bottom line is that we are turning out hundreds of thousands of  young people who have essentially no chance at legitimate jobs that will pay enough to allow what we think of as a decent lifestyle. Think about what that means for society.

In the modern economy, these folks’ future would be pretty hopeless even when times are good. Our politicians have been focusing on what’s wrong with the schools.

But what gets discussed too seldom is something that has little to do with what happens in the schools themselves. Even the best educators are terribly handicapped if they don’t have solid support from the students’ caregivers at home.

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Afghanistan
1:04 pm
Thu August 11, 2011

SEAL from Mich. among dead in chopper crash

The military says a 34-year-old Navy SEAL from Michigan was one of 30 American military personnel killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down by insurgents in Afghanistan.

The Defense Department released Heath Robinson's name Thursday, listing his hometown as Detroit.

The special warfare operator chief petty officer and others aboard the helicopter died Saturday in Wardak Province while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. He is the only Michigan resident listed among the fatalities.

Of those killed 17 were SEALs and five were Navy special operations troops supporting them. Three Air Force airmen, a five-member Army air crew, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter also were killed.

The crash, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul, was the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the nearly 10-year Afghan war.

Presidential Visit
11:06 am
Thu August 11, 2011

President Obama to Holland

President Obama visits Holland, MI this afternoon
The U.S. Army Flickr

President Obama is visiting West Michigan this afternoon for a tour of an advanced battery facility at the Johnson Controls plant in Holland. The president takes off from D.C. at 11:45 a.m. and is scheduled to touch down in Grand Rapids at 1:15 p.m. and then head to Holland by 2:25 p.m..

Of course, any presidential visit tends to warrant heavy media coverage. Here’s what news-outlets across the state, and around the nation, are saying about the President’s trip to the mitten state:

Politico.com: Obama’s visit draws mixed reviews

The Washington Post: Obama tries to change subject back to green jobs

The Grand Rapids Press: As President Obama visits Holland battery plant, should government be betting on technology?

MichiganRadio.org: Holland hopes to become leader in advanced battery manufacturing

The Grand Rapids Press: President Barack Obama's visit to Holland will be light on prominent Republicans

HollandSentinel.com: COMMENTARY — What about jobs, Mr. President?

The New York Times: Obama team turns its focus to tough re-election fight

News Roundup
8:59 am
Thu August 11, 2011

In this morning's news

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, August 11th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Obama to Holland

President Obama travels to West Michigan today to tour a plant in Holland that makes Lithium-ion batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles.  The plant that the President is visiting received a nearly $300 million federal grant. This marks the second time that the President has visited Holland to bring attention to the area’s investment in battery technology. After his stop in Michigan, the President heads to New York City for a fundraiser for his 2012 re-election campaign.

Seniors Challenge Pension Tax

Groups representing seniors and public employees filed briefs yesterday with the state Supreme Court challenging Michigan’s new tax on pension income, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

Extending the income tax to pensions was part of Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal that was adopted earlier this year by the Legislature’s Republican majorities.

Eric Schneidewinde, with the AARP of Michigan, says the tax violates a part of the state constitution that protects the pension income of teachers and other retired public workers.

Republicans say the tax treats everyone the same, so it does not specifically target public employee pensions.

Governor Snyder asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the pension tax before it officially takes effect in January. The court will hear arguments in the case early next month.

Michiganders Represent on Debt Commission

Two Michigan Congressmen, U.S. Representatives Dave Camp and Fred Upton, have been selected by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to a powerful committee that will work out a plan to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. Considering there will only 12 members, six Democrats and six Republicans, on the so called “super-committee”, it’s a pretty big deal for the state. Rep. Camp told Michigan Radio he believes if the panel takes a common-sense approach, it will be able to work together without the rancor that marked the debt-ceiling debates. The committee has until November 23rd to come up with a plan.

Election 2012
7:32 am
Thu August 11, 2011

State GOP to decide this weekend on "closed" primary or caucus

Cle0patra Flickr

The Michigan Republican Party State Committee will decide this weekend whether to hold a “closed” primary or caucus to choose the state’s Republican nominee for the 2012 presidential election. Last month, the party’s policy committee recommended a “closed” primary. From the Detroit News:

Many Republicans from the party's conservative tea party wing, who support candidates such as Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota or Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, prefer a caucus — based on party meetings at the precinct level — to determine the presidential delegates and believe a primary favors frontrunner Mitt Romney, who appeals to a broader political spectrum.

But the prospect of holding a handful of recall elections for GOP and Democratic state lawmakers at the same time as a presidential primary expected to draw far more Republicans than Democrats is a recent development that's making the primary more attractive…

Still, the primary — paid for by taxpayers at an estimated cost of $10 million — will be "closed" in name only. Nothing would stop Democrats from requesting a Republican ballot and meddling in the GOP presidential selection process. That meddling could be significant if an effort to recall Republican Gov. Rick Snyder makes it to the Feb. 28 ballot.

And, as Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry notes, the state knows a thing or two about so-called meddling in presidential primaries. “There would be the chance that Democrats and independents might show up in Michigan’s GOP primary, “ Lessenberry explains. “That happened in the year two thousand, when they helped John McCain give George W. Bush a whipping. If you have any kind of primary, stuff like that is pretty hard to prevent, since we have no party registration in Michigan. A Democrat can vote Republican or vice-versa, with no penalty. The alternative is some kind of closed convention, or caucus, but that limits public participation, which also could hurt the GOP, since primary campaigns help introduce the candidates to the voters.”

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Politics
5:57 pm
Wed August 10, 2011

Seniors challenge pension tax

seemann MorgueFile

Groups representing seniors and public employees filed briefs Wednesday with the state Supreme Court challenging Michigan’s new tax on pension income. The court will hear arguments in the case early next month .

Extending the income tax to pensions was part of Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal that was adopted earlier this year by the Legislature’s Republican majorities.

Eric Schneidewinde is with the AARP of Michigan. He says the tax violates a part of the state constitution that protects the pension income of teachers and other retired public workers.

“They cannot be taken away by just a law,” Schneidewinde says.

Republicans say the tax treats everyone the same, so it does not specifically target public employee pensions. Schneidewind says the AARP and other senior advocates are plotting ways to repeal the pension tax altogether.

Governor Snyder asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the pension tax before it officially takes effect in January.

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Politics
5:48 pm
Wed August 10, 2011

Attorney general wants medical marijuana law changes

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says opportunists have hijacked the state's medical marijuana industry.
kconnors MorgueFile

State Attorney General Bill Schuette is backing proposed changes to Michigan’s voter-enacted medical marijuana law. He says it’s been “hijacked” by people trying to make money, rather than offering relief to people facing terminal disease or a painful chronic illness.

Schuette says the result of a poorly written ballot initiative is the proliferation of shops that make a business of selling marijuana to people with easy-to-acquire medical cards.

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Politics
5:36 pm
Wed August 10, 2011

State deals another blow to Kilpatrick's book profits

Kwame Kilpatrick

A Wayne County judge has added the cost of prison time to former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s mounting restitution tab.

The State Attorney General’s office convinced Judge David Groner that Kilpatrick should pay the state just over $15,000—the price for his 166 days in state prison.

Groner is the same judge who sentenced Kilpatrick to prison time, after ruling the former mayor violated his probation.

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Politics
2:12 pm
Wed August 10, 2011

AP: Michigan Dems say no presidential primary here in 2012

There will be no presidential primaryelection for Michigan Democrats in 2012.

Chairman Mark Brewer said Wednesday that national convention delegates will be picked through party meetings around the state, starting next May.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is expected to run unopposed for a second term next year.

Brewer says Michigan Democrats will hold caucuses in May at approximately 200 locations. He says more than 200 people will be delegates or alternates at the national convention.

Politics
11:35 am
Wed August 10, 2011

Speaker Boehner names two Michigan congressmen to supercommittee

House Speaker Boehner speaks with reporters last month
Karen Bleier AFP/Getty

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton just issued the following statement:

“The Budget Control Act made a modest down payment on our debt in the short term and called on Congress – through a Joint Select Committee – to build on those savings with meaningful spending controls and program reforms that will continue the process of putting our fiscal house in order over the long term. I am humbled by the trust Speaker Boehner and our leadership team have placed in us, and I stand ready to serve on the Joint Select Committee alongside Chairman Camp and Chairman Hensarling on behalf of all House Republicans.

“Being from Michigan where families have endured 31 consecutive months of double-digit unemployment, I know how important it is to get our economy back on track and get Americans back to work. As someone who worked on the federal budget for President Reagan, I saw firsthand that sound economic policy is the bedrock of job creation and fiscal responsibility. And as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I know the exploding cost of health care is at the root of our long-term fiscal challenges; it's why our committee has already produced legislation to save taxpayers $90 billion, and that was just the beginning. Much more needs to be done to bring down health care costs, promote economic growth, and begin to tame runaway government. No one believes this is going to be easy, but working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both Chambers of the Congress, we will work to address our fiscal challenges and get America back to work.”

The Associated Press reports:

House Speaker John Boehner has named GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas to co-chair a powerful new committee that will try to come up with a bipartisan plan this fall to reduce the federal budget deficit by more than $1 trillion.

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Politics
8:42 am
Wed August 10, 2011

The Week in State Politics

State Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Allieosmar Flickr

Governor Snyder signed the legislative re-districting bills into law yesterday. The maps were approved by the state Legislature's Republican majorities. We talk about the politics behind the new maps and how much they'll change the 2012 election with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry.

Also, in this morning's Week in State Politics, we'll take a look at the Michigan Democratic Party's role in the recall elections in Wisconsin and what it means now that five public employee unions have said they'll come together to bargain with the state as the Snyder administration looks to find some $260 million in budget savings from state employees.

Election 2012
7:54 am
Wed August 10, 2011

McCotter heading to Ames, Iowa

Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (far right) of Michigan.
Republican Conference Flickr

Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter is heading to Iowa for the Ames Straw Poll. McCotter, a Livonia Republican campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination, will be competing in the statewide 'poll' this weekend.

“But it's really not a poll at all - and it's certainly not scientific,” the Associated Press reports. “Rather, it's a fundraiser for the state GOP and a day long political festival at Iowa State University. Presidential candidates make speeches and try to lure the most supporters to the event - with promises of food, live music and, sometimes, a lift to the site - in hopes of getting their backing in a nonbinding vote," the AP notes.

From the Detroit News:

McCotter and his Iowa strategist, Christopher Rants, say they don't know how he'll do in the Ames Straw Poll.

McCotter won't bus in voters or give them the $30 tickets needed to vote, as some candidates will. Nor has he run TV or radio ads in the Hawkeye state.

What McCotter will have in Amesisa tent where he will give away copies of his book, "Seize Freedom," and hand out Iowa's Blue Bunny ice cream.

"We could come in dead last,"Rantssaid. "This is an opportunity to meet a lot of folks and make a first impression. The only thing that will upset me is if we can't give away the ice cream."

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Economy
7:44 am
Wed August 10, 2011

State lets some families know aid is running out

Michigan has begun sending out notices to some families receiving welfare benefits to notify them that their federal assistance is running out. The Detroit Free Press reports the change may affect nearly 14,000 families who had passed a five-year federal limit but got the time extended. Notices began going out Tuesday that include contact information for caseworkers who will try to help families find other assistance programs.

Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan says the notices come at the same time the state is revamping how it hands out assistance. It's also planning to put into effect a four-year limit in most cases for families receiving welfare benefits.

The limit could begin Oct. 1. Critics say such a limit would boot some needy families off public assistance.

Changing Gears
6:10 am
Wed August 10, 2011

Taxing Cigarettes for the Arts

Fozzman Flickr

It’s a tough time for arts funding around the nation. Kansas, as an example, just cut all its state support. It’s a different story in the Cleveland area, though. That region has found a unique way to fund the arts, and it’s paying off big.

It’s made residents like Samantha Kane arts patrons of sorts. She says she smokes about two or three packs of cigarettes a week. We find her waiting at a bus stop with a stroller in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Since 2006, each cigarette she smokes contributes a penny and a half to Cuyahoga County’s arts organizations.

“I love that it goes to something instead of road work, or you know, padding congressmen’s pockets,” Kane says.

This county cigarette tax really adds up. The group that administers the money is doling out $15 million this year alone. That’s enough to catapult the Cleveland area to among the top public funders for the arts in the nation—many times more than what most states contribute.

“I tell people: you don’t have to smoke ‘em, just buy them,” says Cindy Einhouse, CEO of the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood.

It puts on shows, teaches dance and music, and provides summer camps for kids.

Einhouse says the recession hit her organization hard. The Beck Center almost closed its doors in 2009. A wave of private donations helped, but she’s grateful for this county tax.

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Politics
6:01 pm
Tue August 9, 2011

Unions promise to work together in state contract talks

Five public employee unions say they will bargain with the state as a single unit on economic issues. Governor Rick Snyder is asking the unions to find $260 million in savings.   

Cindy Estrada with the UAW says there is a common assumption that when the state asks for savings from unions, that means employee wages will be docked or workers will be laid off. But she says that should not be the case.  

“That doesn’t just happen by coming to workers and saying ‘you need to give back.’ It happens by looking at what are the real problems in the state.”         

Public employee unions representing more than half of the state’s workers say there are structural changes that should be made. And they say the changes could save the state more than Governor Rick Snyder asked for. Those changes include reducing the number of managers compared to frontline workers and fewer privatized contracts for public services.

Politics
5:25 pm
Tue August 9, 2011

Governor Snyder approves redrawing Michigan's political map

Governor Rick Snyder has approved measures that redraw Michigan’s legislative and congressional districts. The new maps were approved by the Legislature’s Republican majorities in an intensely partisan battle. But this may not be the final word on the state’s new district maps. 

Michigan loses a congressional seat in the new maps to reflect the loss of population in the most recent census. The new lines throw at least two incumbent Democrats into the same district.  

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