Politics & Government

Politics
11:49 pm
Tue July 26, 2011

Snyder tours Detroit neighborhood, promotes new bridge crossing

Governor Snyder addresses the media after touring the Delray neighborhood in Detroit.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor will benefit Michigan’s economy, but should also benefit the community that hosts it.

Snyder toured Detroit’s Delray neighborhood with community leaders today Tuesday. Delray is the proposed site of the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

Snyder says the trade crossing would boost international trade and benefit the whole state—but it should also benefit Delray.

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Newsmaker Interviews
6:11 pm
Tue July 26, 2011

Republican Congressman Huizenga and debt ceiling crisis

Congressman Bill Huizenga represents Michigan's 2nd District.
US Congress

President Obama and Congress have yet to find a solution to the nation’s debt crisis. Last night, President Obama and Speaker Boehner separately addressed the nation. They gave their explanations of why a deal hasn’t yet been reached. 

Republican Congressman of Michigan, Bill Huizenga talks with us about debt ceiling debates in Washington and what his concerns are moving forward.

Politics
6:09 pm
Tue July 26, 2011

State opens contract negotiations with employees

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions have begun a new round of contract negotiations.

The Snyder administration has set a big savings target -- $265 million - or an average of about $6,000 per state worker.

Jan Winter is the governor’s lead negotiator. She says saving $265 million in employee costs will be tough.

“Go the table, work as hard as you can. A lot of things can happen and we’re counting on working out good deals here.”

Winter says one idea is to ask state employees to pay more for their benefits.

“One of the things that we have looked at, clearly, moving to something like an 80/20 split on a health plan would mean well over $100 million in gross savings. We have a lot of ideas, and we’re hopeful the unions have lots of ideas, too.”

Cindy Estrada is the lead negotiator for UAW Local Six Thousand, the biggest state employee union.

She says workers are also looking to fix the state’s budget troubles.

“We want to create a Michigan, a state that in 10 years to come is more efficient, has better quality for the citizens that receive those services, and I think we can do that – if workers and management get together and we look for new solutions and we be really creative and stick to the commitment that we’re going to make structural changes, we can get there, definitely.

But Estrada says the savings should not come out of state employees’ benefits or paychecks since they’ve given up nearly $4 billion in concessions over the past decade.

The unions say state government could find big savings if it reduced the number of managers and outside contracts.

Civil Rights
5:13 pm
Tue July 26, 2011

Justice Department agrees to help Michigan Muslim group

user: modenadude flicker.com

The Justice Department has expressed an interest in helping a Muslim civil rights advocacy group in Michigan. The Council on American-Islamic Relations is concerned the Pittsfield Township community may influence the approval of a neighborhood Muslim school. The Michigan Islamic Academy in Ann Arbor wants to move to a new building in Pittsfield to accommodate its growing student population. In a meeting last month, some people spoke against the Muslim school. C-A-I-R asked the Justice Department to monitor the next meeting on August 4.

Lena Masri is the staff attorney representing the Michigan Islamic Academy. She says some comments were blatantly racist.

"Comments against Muslims, Islam and the operation of a Muslim school in their backyard, but also concerns such as traffic and noise and light – concerns regarding issues that are non-issues," Masri said.

The Pittsfield Township Planning Commission did not return calls for comment.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Election 2012
3:03 pm
Tue July 26, 2011

McCulloch drops bid for the U.S. Senate

John McCulloch ended his bid for the U.S. Senate 11 days after he started it.
John McCulloch

Now that a candidate with a lot of name recognition has entered the race to unseat Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election, a candidate with little name recognition has dropped out.

Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch announced he is withdrawing from the race (he entered the race just 11 days ago) and endorsing Republican Pete Hoekstra's bid.

From the Associated Press:

Hoekstra initially said he wouldn't run, but jumped in five days after McCulloch said he was entering the race to unseat Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow.

Hoekstra accepted McCulloch's endorsement Tuesday at Oakland County GOP Headquarters in Bloomfield Township. County Clerk Bill Bullard and Sheriff Mike Bouchard also endorsed Hoekstra.

Last week, The Associated Press reported Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson switched his endorsement from McCulloch to Hoekstra since McCulloch wasn't running.

Other Republicans still in the race include former Kent County Judge Randy Hekman and Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy.

Politics
10:06 am
Tue July 26, 2011

Feds suspend Flint's energy grants

Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The federal government will suspend two energy grants in the city of Flint because of the potential misuse of funds.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Energy are investigating stimulus funded grants dating back to 2009, according to the Flint Journal.

Flint Mayor Dane Walling said his office is cooperating with the probe and has launched investigations of their own into the energy grant programs:

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Politics
9:04 am
Tue July 26, 2011

Courts say same-sex partners do not have custody rights

The state Supreme Court has refused to take the case of a lesbian woman who wants the right to visit the children she helped raise with her ex-partner.

The court’s decision lets stand a lower court ruling that same-sex partners do not have custody rights in Michigan.

Renee Harmon and Tammy Davis were together for 19 years, and during that time started a family together. Davis served as the biological mother via artificial insemination to their three children. After the relationship broke up, Harmon was denied visitation and sued for parenting time.

Michigan does not recognize same-sex relationships - nor does it allow unmarried couples to adopt.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Harmon lacked the legal standing to sue.

The state Supreme Court allowed that decision to stand by refusing to take the case.

The court divided on party lines in its decision. Republican majority voted not to take the case. Democrats said the court should.

In her dissent to the order, Justice Marilyn Kelly wrote the case raises so many questions regarding the state constitution and parents’ rights that it “cries out for a ruling from the state’s highest court.”

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Election 2012
6:56 am
Tue July 26, 2011

Kildee considering run for Congress

Dan Kildee says he is considering a run for his Uncle Dale Kildee's Congressional seat.
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

With U.S. Representative Dale Kildee announcing his plans to retire after next year, his nephew, Dan Kildee, says he is seriously considering a run for Congress. Dan Kildee is the President and CEO of the Center for Community Progress, and a former Genesee County treasurer. He also ran for Governor early last year before dropping out of the Democratic race.

The Associated Press reports that Kildee told the AP yesterday that, “running for Congress ‘has been on my mind for some time.’ He says he plans to announce his decision soon.”

Congressman Dale Kildee announced his retirement earlier this month. He has spent 18 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, a total of 47 years, as a Democratic Congressman representing the area around Flint.

State Law
6:32 am
Tue July 26, 2011

State attorney general files charges under state’s new human trafficking law

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in Lansing on Inauguration Day. (Jan. 1st, 2011)
Covair Owner Flickr

The state attorney general’s office has filed the first charges under the Michigan’s updated law against human trafficking. A man is accused of forcing two teen-aged girls in Detroit to become prostitutes.

The man is charged with two counts of inviting teen-aged girls to parties and then forcing them to work as prostitutes, collecting all of the money, beating them for not earning enough, and sexually assaulting them himself. The attorney general’s new Human Trafficking Unit is trying to extradite him from California.

A study done last year for the Michigan Women’s Foundation found as many as 160 cases a month of girls being sold online or through escort services in Michigan. The study did not track how often teen-aged girls and boys are offered on the streets or in hotel rooms. But human trafficking is becoming more common across the country.

The Michigan Women’s Foundation says the new charges and penalties are useful – but the state should also have a “safe harbor” law that ensures people forced to become prostitutes are treated as victims and not as criminals.

Politics
4:22 pm
Mon July 25, 2011

State workers balk at call for more cuts

State workers protest outside Cadillac Place in Detroit Monday.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

State workers say they’ve already sacrificed their fair share to help alleviate Michigan’s budget crisis.

That was the rallying cry of hundreds of union workers who protested outside state offices in Detroit Monday. Governor Snyder wants another $260 million in concessions from state workers

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Politics
1:58 pm
Mon July 25, 2011

Airport projects halted in Michigan, other states

Contractors at airports in Traverse City, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek have been ordered to stop work by the FAA.
user thienzieyung Flickr

Update 1:58 p.m.

In a press release, the Federal Aviation Administration says they had to order contractors at airports around the country to stop working after Congress failed to pass legislation that reauthorized funding on 'critical airport modernization projects.'

The deadline for the FAA funding extension passed last Friday night.

U.S. Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood is quoted in the press release:

“Construction workers across America will lose their jobs and local communities will be hurt the longer this goes on. Congress needs to pass an FAA bill to prevent further economic damage,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”
 
“Unless Congress acts quickly, more work on projects critical to our nation’s aviation system will come to a halt. Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, NextGen system testing, and airport certification.  The list goes on and on and this is just the beginning,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.
 

Here's a list of airports affected by the stop work orders.

The FAA says "nearly 4,000 FAA personnel, many needed to oversee various aspects of these projects, were furloughed on Saturday" and that the work-stoppage could "significantly increase the ultimate costs of construction for taxpayers."

12:21 p.m.

KALAMZOO, Mich. (AP) - Obama administration officials say contractors have been told to stop work on airport modernization projects across the country including the Kalamazoo, Traverse City and Flint areas because Congress has failed to pass legislation necessary for the work to continue.

Officials said Monday that stop-work orders have been issued for dozens of major projects.

The Federal Aviation Administration says they include a $14.4 million tower construction project at Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, an $11 million tower construction project in Traverse City and a $1.9 million tower fire remediation project in Flint.

The House and Senate are at a stalemate over air service subsidies for rural communities and a Republican proposal that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize, among other issues.

Commentary
11:00 am
Mon July 25, 2011

Michigan's Immigrant Problem

Over the past year, you’ve probably heard of the controversy in Arizona, where the legislature last year passed a tough law designed to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. This was followed by similar laws in other states, including Utah, Alabama, and closer to home, Indiana. Court battles are now going on over whether these laws are constitutional, since immigration policy is normally seen as the responsibility of the federal government.

Many who oppose these laws say they intimidate legal immigrants and even those whose ancestors may have been citizens for centuries, but may vaguely “look Mexican” or “look Arabic.”

Farmers and growers in a number of states have reported difficulties recruiting the migrant workers they depend on, precisely because of such laws. Nevertheless, a number of proposed Arizona-type laws are being talked about in the Michigan legislature.

Well, Michigan does have an immigrant problem, but not the one you might think. We need more immigrants - lots more. Throughout history, immigrants have been the most productive, most industrious and most job-creating members of American society.

Here in Michigan, and especially in Detroit, they are needed more than ever. In case you didn’t notice, we were the only state in the union to actually lose population over the last decade.

The population of Detroit is in virtual freefall, with now probably fewer than seven hundred thousand in a space meant for two million. The best thing for our dying central city would be a large infusion of talented, hard-working immigrants.

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News Roundup
8:57 am
Mon July 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, July 25th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Contract Talks Begin

Contract talks between the United Auto Workers and Detroit automakers kick off today. Tracy Samilton reports that, although the union and auto companies are on better terms than perhaps any other time in history, it could still take weeks to reach a deal. Car companies want to reduce their labor costs and other issues will include health care, pensions, and how many skilled trades workers there should be. The current contract ends September 14th.

Unconstitutional Recalls?

State House Speaker Jase Bolger says the process citizens use to launch recall campaigns in the state is unconstitutional. Bolger is facing a recall campaign himself and has filed suit to block it, Sarah Hulett reports. From Hulett:

State House Speaker Jase Bolger has filed suit to block the recall against him. At issue is the fact that county election commissions are made up of a judge, the county clerk and the county treasurer. Bolger says that violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution. More than a dozen state officials – including the governor and attorney general – are currently the targets of recall campaigns.

Cooler Temps thru Wednesday

We’ll have a bit of a weather ‘cool down’ over the next few days. But, of course, when temperatures were in triple digits, calling it a ‘cool down’ is only relative. “High temperatures are expected to be around 85 degrees today with low humidity levels… The somewhat cooler weather will continue Tuesday. But the heat and humidity will return Wednesday and Thursday, with highs hovering again around the low 90s,” the Detroit Free Press reports.

Politics
7:11 am
Mon July 25, 2011

MI Congressmen Benishek, Clarke going on road

U.S. Reps. Dan Benishek and Hansen Clarke of Michigan have announced plans to tour together in each other's districts. The joint tours will be focused on ways to promote job creation in northern Michigan and Detroit.

Both are freshmen in Congress.

Benishek is a Republican from Crystal Falls whose district encompasses parts of the northern Lower Peninsula and all of the Upper Peninsula. Clarke is a Democrat from Detroit, and his district includes a portion of his home city and a number of its suburban communities.

Benishek and Clarke's offices say the lawmakers are planning to embark on the first joint tour in the U.P. on July 29. Benishek then will travel with Clarke in Detroit on Aug. 12.

Politics
6:49 am
Mon July 25, 2011

State to open contract talks with request for concessions

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MIchigan
Aflyingpsychofly Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions will open contract negotiations this week. The first topic of bargaining will be whether state workers will give up the salary and benefits they’ve already been promised.

The new state budget is not balanced yet. For one thing, the budget assumes millions of dollars in savings in employee costs. State state worker unions have yet to agree to those cuts. In fact, the state can’t even begin to negotiate unless the unions agree to re-open the current contracts. Kurt Weiss is with the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

“We know it’s a significant number. We know it’s a painful number.”

Weiss says the alternative to concessions is layoffs and privatizing services. The largest amount of money would come out of the state Department of Corrections.

State employee unions say state government is currently top heavy with managers and has too many contracts – and the Snyder administration should look those first before looking to squeeze more from frontline workers or lay them off.

Politics
4:40 pm
Sun July 24, 2011

State workers to rally ahead of contract talks

Gov. Rick Snyder signs the 2011-2012 budget as Republican lawmakers look on. The governor is banking on $145 million in concessions from state employee unions as part of that budget.
michigan.gov

State workers are scheduled to rally in Detroit tomorrow to protest wage and benefit cuts. Governor Snyder is seeking $145 million in concessions from state employees for the fiscal year that starts in October.

An official with one of the largest state employee unions, Ray Holman of UAW Local 6000, says over the last decade the state has shed more than 12,000 positions.

"And what that means for the average, for example, Department of Human Services caseworker, is they may have 700 to 1,000 families they’re responsible for."

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Politics
4:30 pm
Sun July 24, 2011

Lawmaker: Recall process is unconstitutional

A target of one of the many recall efforts active in the state right now says the process citizens use to launch the campaigns is unconstitutional.

State House Speaker Jase Bolger has filed suit to block the recall against him. At issue is the fact that county election commissions are made up of a judge, the county clerk and the county treasurer. Bolger says that violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution.

"The constitution specifically prohibits one branch of government from having authority under another branch when it’s under their purview. So we think it’s an important legal question that ought to be answered."

More than a dozen state officials – including the governor and attorney general – are currently the targets of recall campaigns.

Politics
4:19 pm
Sun July 24, 2011

Speaker orders cuts for state House staff

Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).
gophouse.com

The speaker of the Michigan House has ordered representatives to cut their office budgets by almost 14 percent. Smaller cuts were also ordered for Democratic and Republican party staff and non-partisan House of Representatives staff.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says the cuts are necessary to keep the state’s budget balanced. He says the reductions do not necessarily mean there will be layoffs.

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Politics
3:29 pm
Fri July 22, 2011

AP: Federal officials subpoena Flint city records

Officials in Flint have been asked to produce documents and audio and video recordings as part of a federal probe into at least $1.3 million in grant spending by the city.

The Flint Journal is reporting through a Freedom of Information Act request that it has learned federal officials have subpoenaed the records from four city departments.

Documents, check stubs and e-mails from the past two years are being sought. Federal authorities also conducted a May 25 raid at Flint City Hall.

Many of the records requested pertain to city economic development workers and personnel files of two administrators. The newspaper says both administrators cited the investigation and declined to comment.

A federal grand jury was convened July 6.

Mayor Dayne Walling says the city is cooperating in the probe.

Commentary
10:00 am
Fri July 22, 2011

Building the Future

I had dinner the other night with perhaps the most amazing man in Michigan, a man who has been hard at work creating the future for more than half a century .

I’m talking about the inventor Stanford Ovshinsky, a man whose life story is better than any novel, and who has more than four hundred patents to his name. If you have a laptop computer, you have him to thank for the nickel-metal-hydride battery that powers it.

His inventions include the processes that makes solar cells practical, and the first rewrittable CDs and DVDs. Five years ago, he left the company he had founded to do all these things -- Energy Conversion Devices -- and promptly started a new firm. Ovshinsky Innovation, LLC.  After all, he was then barely in his mid-80s.

Today, he and his wife Rosa, a Chinese-born physicist, are hard at work on photovoltaics, which means harnessing a form of solar energy for practical purposes.  Ovshinsky is convinced that he can bring down the cost of solar energy considerably below coal, and and that hydrogen is the automotive fuel of the future.

By the way, he has a long and distinguished track record of making predictions that those in the know laughed at -- and then proving them wrong. There are those in many countries who think he may be the greatest living scientist. What makes that especially amazing is that he never even graduated from high school.

He does, however, have at least seven honorary doctorates from distinguished schools including the University of Michigan.

Ovshinsky still works more than full-time; after all, he doesn’t turn 89 till November. He usually wears a three-piece suit, and is the most sartorially distinguished inventor I have ever met.

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