Politics & Government

commentary
10:50 am
Wed June 22, 2011

Reinventing Public Schools

What is perhaps most remarkable about Governor Rick Snyder’s dramatic plan to save the state’s failing schools is that it has sparked essentially no opposition. Though it is being talked about primarily in terms of Detroit, the new Educational Achievement System is eventually meant to be extended statewide.

Here’s how the governor says it will work. Those individual Detroit schools among the lowest-achieving five percent in the state will have the coming year to clean up their act. If they haven’t shown drastic improvement by next June, they will no longer be governed by the Detroit Public School system.

Instead, they will move to a new authority, the Educational Achievement System, which will be run by what sounds like a state school board. It will be chaired, at least for now, by Roy Roberts, the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Financial Manager, and consist of eleven members. Seven will be appointed by the governor, two by the Detroit schools and two by Eastern Michigan University.

Eastern, which was originally a teachers’ college, will be heavily involved in both running the new authority, and in helping these failing skills get up to speed. It is suspected that some of them struggled in part because of difficulties dealing with the notorious and often corrupt or incompetent Detroit school bureaucracy.

Supposedly, the new Educational Achievement System won’t just replace one set of officials with another; it should give individual schools and teachers and principals more freedom to figure out and solve their own educational problems, using whatever works.

Within a few years, the plan is to extend the authority’s reach to other failing public schools around the state. Now, there are a lot of questions for which we apparently don’t yet have answers.

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News Roundup
9:55 am
Wed June 22, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning news roundup, Wednesday, June 22nd.
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Budget Complete

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a new state budget into law. The budget is for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. The budget preserves funding for Medicaid health care, but cuts money for schools, universities, and local governments, Rick Pluta reports. “The governor says tough choices were necessary to retire a $1.5 billion deficit. And, he says that was done without accounting tricks and one-time fixes. The governor says the budget will help create a more inviting environment for businesses and young people,” Pluta reports.

Funding Grand Rapids

Elected officials in Grand Rapids adopted a budget for 2012 yesterday. The plan closes a $6 million budget gap in the city’s general fund. Lindsey Smith reports:

Grand Rapids took a couple measures last year to keep their budget out the red. Grand Rapids expects to deal with operating deficits until 2015, when city officials says city government will become financially sustainable again. The long term budget plan eliminates $80 million in operating deficits over the next five years.

Stormy Weather

Authorities say severe thunderstorms yesterday evening produced high winds that damaged two hangars at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, injuring at least three people, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

WOOD-TV reports members of the Civil Air Patrol were preparing for natural disaster training when they took cover in one of the hangars on Tuesday night. Winds ripped a door away, sending some of them into the air inside the hangar… The National Weather Service also reports heavy rains. And officials say lightning started a barn fire in Ottawa County's Georgetown Township. The Jackson County sheriff's department received reports of a possible funnel cloud. No tornadoes had been confirmed by the weather service.

State Budget
9:23 am
Wed June 22, 2011

Snyder signs budget

Governor Rick Snyder (R)
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a budget for the coming fiscal year. He says the spending plan includes some tough-but-necessary choices that were necessary to retire a deficit and to set Michigan on a path to fiscal responsibility.

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Politics
5:48 pm
Tue June 21, 2011

Ambassador Bridge owners vow to wrap up disputed Gateway Project

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge say a disputed construction project will get done by a court-imposed January 2012 deadline.

The Detroit International Bridge Company and the Michigan Department of Transportation have been in court for two years over the Gateway Project, a disputed construction project meant to better connect the bridge with surrounding highways

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Commentary
1:27 pm
Tue June 21, 2011

All About Jobs

Senator Debbie Stabenow came to Michigan last weekend, to visit some farms and talk with fruit and vegetable growers. She is, after all, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

For some reason, though agriculture has long been the state’s second biggest industry, those of us not involved in it tend to give it short shrift. So, mostly do our politicians.

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Politics
12:51 pm
Tue June 21, 2011

Bing Campaigns to Brighten Detroit's Image

People all over the country are submitting thoughts and photos of Detroit's image and challenges.
Submitted by Howard Duffy

About 50 reporters arrived in Detroit on Monday for a three day conference Mayor Dave Bing is calling "Transform Detroit." Bing said this morning, via Twitter, that Transform Detroit "is a media briefing that connects reporters with community leaders and positive happenings throughout the city."

He also tweeted that he hoped he would get some reporters to tell "GOOD stories" after the conference.
The city is trying to put its best foot forward.

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Politics
4:29 pm
Mon June 20, 2011

Redistricting fight begins this week

The Michigan House districts as they exist now.

The partisan battle over the state’s new maps of congressional and legislative districts kicks off Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Republicans are likely to get their plans adopted. They control the House, the Senate and the governor’s office. A legal challenge would probably be decided by the GOP controlled state Supreme Court.

Democrats charge Republicans manipulated the lines to put two Democratic incumbents together in one district – and to shore up the GOP base for some vulnerable Republicans.

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Politics
1:45 pm
Mon June 20, 2011

National: Supreme Court limits Wal-Mart discrimination case

Joe Gratz Flickr

The Supreme Court blocked a massive lawsuit charging Wal-Mart with sexual discrimination today according to the Associated Press.

From the AP:

The Supreme Court on Monday blocked a massive sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of female employees in a decision that makes it harder to mount large-scale bias claims against the biggest U.S. companies.

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Politics
12:49 pm
Mon June 20, 2011

Recall language against State Senator John Proos not clear enough...for now

State Senator Mark Jansen (R-St. Joseph)
senate.michigan.gov/gop

Lyn Earwood, who submitted the petition, says she will tweak the language to make it more clear and resubmit for approval soon.

The language was nearly identical to a recall petition Kent County officials approved this morning against State Senator Mark Jansen.

Both petitions stated opposition to the republican senator's support of the new tax structure that cuts taxes for most Michigan businesses and taxes income from public pensions.

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Politics
12:05 pm
Mon June 20, 2011

Abortion back on the agenda in Lansing

A state House committee could vote this week to outlaw a procedure critics call partial-birth abortion.
  
Similar efforts to ban the procedure in Michigan have failed in the past. Two bills were vetoed, and three laws that were enacted were struck down by the courts.
 
But that was before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on the procedure in 2007. Ed Rivet of Right to Life of Michigan says this time around, he expects less of a fight.
 

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Politics
9:58 am
Mon June 20, 2011

Recall effort against State Sen. Mark Jansen moves forward

State Sentator Mark Jansen (R-Gaines Township)
sentate.michigan.gov/gop

Add State Senator Mark Jansen to the growing list of republican lawmakers in Michigan facing a recall effort.

Kent County election officials approved the recall language this morning. Now volunteers can begin collecting signatures. They’d need 26,611 voter signatures to get the recall on the ballot.

Jansen says he’s taking the challenge seriously and is prepared to run a reelection campaign if he has to.

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Commentary
9:23 am
Mon June 20, 2011

Redistricting Woes

You have to admit that in Michigan, Democrats have been supremely unlucky when it comes to redistricting. For the last fifty years, Republicans have controlled the governor’s office whenever it was time to draw new districts.

This time they control everything - house, senate, and a majority on the state supreme court. That means they can impose  whatever plan they like, as long as it does a couple things.

First of all, all districts have to have more or less equal population. For Congress, that means exactly equal population. Based on where the census showed people lived, each Congressional district has to have seven hundred and five thousand, nine hundred and seventy-four people, give or take one.

There’s more wiggle room for legislative districts, but still, each one has to have within five percent of the target number of roughly ninety thousand per house and two hundred and sixty thousand for senate. There’s also the Voting Rights Act to consider.

Courts have held that means that a certain number of seats have to include a majority of voters who are members of the dominant minority group. Other than that, Republicans had a free hand. They finally unveiled their work at the end of last week.

And on the whole, I was pleasantly surprised. Naturally, since Michigan has to lose a seat in Congress, they combined the seats of two Democrats, Sandy Levin and Gary Peters, meaning one has to go. They also redrew the legislative lines to make it harder for Democrats to win back the state house and senate.

But some of what they did in terms of Congress is actually an improvement. For example, they took Calhoun County, which includes Battle Creek, out of the Seventh District, and put it into the Third, based on Grand Rapids. In terms of uniting communities of interests, Battle Creek would have been better off in the Sixth District, with Kalamazoo. But it is better off than where it was.

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State Legislature
6:39 am
Mon June 20, 2011

Busy week scheduled at the Capitol

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

State lawmakers have a busy two weeks ahead of them before they take a two-month summer break. This week, legislators will debate the threat of feral pigs to woods and farmland, whether the state should mirror a federal ban on so-called “partial birth abortions,” and how the state’s new political maps should be drawn.

Perhaps the most contentious issue at the Capitol right now is whether the state should build a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the Detroit bridge issue impacts everyone in the state. One reason for that is the bridge project is linked to federal road money that would go to every region of the state.

“This is part of a bigger issue in Michigan, and that’s infrastructure, period. I look at the roads in the state – whether they’re county roads, local roads, state highways – that infrastructure is important to people too. And I really think this is one piece of a much bigger issues that we have in Michigan.”

But Richardville says the Senate will not vote on any bridge legislation until lawmakers return from the summer break. Governor Rick Snyder had hoped to approve the bridge legislation before July. Snyder will, however, get to sign the state budget for the coming year into law. The governor is expected to sign the budget bills this week.

Politics
12:41 pm
Sun June 19, 2011

Tighter rules proposed on sale of over-the-counter drugs used to make methamphetamine

ppdigital MorgueFile

Michigan lawmakers are working on  bills that would more closely regulate the sale of over-the-counter drugs that can be used to make methamphetamine.

People who buy flu, cold and allergy medications that contain ephedrine or pseudophedrine already have to sign a pharmacy log.

Under the new law, they would have to swipe their driver’s license or state ID card at the pharmacy. An Internet-based, real-time database  would show when, where and how much of the over-the-counter drugs they bought.

State Rep. Amanda Price sponsored one of the measures:

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Politics
1:15 pm
Sat June 18, 2011

Financial manager repeal effort under way Saturday

People opposed to Michigan's financial managers law are intensifying their efforts to get a repeal on the November ballot. The law gives financial managers broad powers over financially troubled school districts and local governments.

A group called the Committee to Stand Up for Democracy has organized signature-collection efforts Saturday in 11 cities. Supporters say the law is needed to help financially troubled entities get back on their feet. Opponents say it's a power grab that let’s unelected appointees throw out union contracts and take authority away from elected officials.

Politics
10:25 am
Sat June 18, 2011

Things don't go as planned for anti-Islam activist

Pastor Terry Jones of Florida returned to Dearborn to share his anti-Islam views at the Arab-American festival.
rt.com

 From the Detroit Free Press:

After railing at Dearborn City Hall against Muslims and African Americans, Quran-burning Pastor Terry Jones and his supporters were thwarted Friday in their plans to speak out at a nearby Arab-American festival after a group of angry protesters confronted him. But a group of Christians sympathetic to Jones did rally at
the festival later, hurling insults through a megaphone at people attending the festival.

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Politics
4:45 pm
Fri June 17, 2011

Redistricting in Michigan: new political maps from the Michigan Legislature

The 15 Michigan U.S. House districts as they exist today.

Update: 4:45 p.m.

The Michigan Senate Republicans weigh in to defend their redistricting plan for the Michigan legislature. Amber McCann is the press secretary. She says:

"We're seeing the population density that was once more concentrated in southeast Michigan is moving broader across the state. I think Michigan has been thought of traditionally as a one-city state. I think we're seeing that is no longer the case."

McCann says the Legislature's GOP leaders would like to have the new district maps adopted and sent to Gov. Rick Snyder before July 1st. That's the beginning of the Legislature's summer break. State Rep. Barb Byrum (D-67th) says that time frame is too fast.

Update 3:37 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-12th) held a news conference today at 3:00 p.m. He said the proposed changes are unfair and hopes they will be challenged in court:

There are so many problems with these maps, they’re so unfair, outrageous that I trust it will be challenged in court.

He said:

Voters should be able to choose their members of Congress and what this map does is allow incumbent Republicans to choose their voters, and so I think it’s exactly backwards.

 

Update 2:47 p.m.

Two U.S. Representatives from Michigan, Sander Levin (D-12th) and Gary Peters (D-9th), say the Michigan House Republicans gerrymandered their districts.

Michigan House Republicans released their proposed map for Michigan's Congressional districts this afternoon. Because the state lost population, Michigan had to lose one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republicans are in control of the redistricting process and they chose to eliminate a district by moving Rep. Sander Levin into the district now held by Rep. Gary Peters.

Levin and Peters released a joint statement regarding the proposed map and are holding a press conference at 3 p.m.

Here's their statement:

“Voters in Michigan have never before faced such a shamelessly partisan redrawing of congressional boundaries. Instead of drawing fair lines that follow community and county borders in a logical way, the Republican legislature has drafted a map so skewed that it exploits every trick in the book to gerrymander districts in ways that benefit Republican incumbents. The Legislature and Gov. Snyder should reject this gerrymandered map and draw congressional boundaries in a way that puts Michigan voters’ interests squarely ahead of flagrant partisan advantage."

Update 1:52 p.m.

Republicans in the Michigan Legislature have released their proposed maps for new Michigan House and Senate districts, and new districts for the U.S. House of Representatives.

You can scroll through before and after maps in the images above.

The Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta points out that approval of these maps is like approval of a bill. Both the Michigan House and Senate will have to approve them, and then Gov. Snyder will have to sign off on them.

The maps also have to adhere to state and federal laws and preserve two of Michigan's majority-minority districts for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Because of the loss in population in Michigan, the state will lose one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives - going from 15 representatives to 14.

As expected, the proposed districts would move U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak), into the district now held by U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) meaning if they both wanted to keep their seat in the U.S. House, the would have to run against each other in the Democratic primary.

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Politics
3:04 pm
Fri June 17, 2011

Mayor Dave Bing: Dumas is out

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he’s requested and received the resignation of his communications chief, Karen Dumas.

The move comes just two days after a bombshell lawsuit filed by a former Bing aide. The suit claims Dumas created a hostile and unstable environment, and wielded unprecedented authority in the executive office.

Bing says he plans to return his focus to the challenges facing Detroit.

"The controversy of the last few days cannot and will not be a distraction to me or this administration."

Also out is Bing’s chief of staff, Shannon Holmes. Kirk Lewis will return to the administration to replace her. Lewis left the mayor’s office earlier this year, after reportedly seeking the job of emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools without Bing’s knowledge. The lawsuit filed this week, however, claims Bing knew about Lewis’s efforts, and even tried to help make it happen.

Commentary
12:44 pm
Fri June 17, 2011

Decline of the Middle Class

You might expect that the Legislature, our well-paid, elected representatives, would be most keenly concerned with the economy and trying to figure out how to make things better.

Well, once in a while they do show signs of being interested in that, but yesterday … not so much. The governor was forced to postpone efforts to get approval for a new bridge over the Detroit River, a project that would cost Michigan nothing and create at least 10,000 jobs. He doesn’t yet have the votes.

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News Roundup
7:51 am
Fri June 17, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Fallout from accusations in Detroit

After a former staffer filed a whistleblower lawsuit accusing Mayor Dave Bing of seeking to dissolve Detroit city council and the Detroit public school board by becoming the emergency manager of both, Mayor Dave Bing's office has been working to control the damage.

He has denied the allegations.

The Detroit News reports Bing might make changes to his staff:

Mayor Dave Bing is moving to fortify his staff and is in serious talks to bring a former lieutenant, a longtime government veteran and ex-television anchor to an administration suddenly rocked by scandal.

Bing is in discussions with former group executive Kirk Lewis to return to a top position, former Coleman A. Young chief of staff Charlie Williams to serve as a high-level executive and former WDIV-TV (Channel 4) anchor Emery King to provide communications consulting, three sources said.

The Mayor's communications chief, Karen Dumas, has told the Detroit Free Press that she'll resign from her post is she's asked to. Dumas was accused in the lawsuit, filed by Rocelle Collins and her husband, of creating a hostile work environment and causing Collins emotional distress. Dumas was quoted in the Detroit Free Press: 

"I understand that I am an at-will employee," Dumas, 48, told the Free Press on Thursday. "If it is determined now or in the immediate future, or whenever, that my presence isn't needed, then I will gracefully go."

The Detroit News reports that Collins says the city of Detroit was involved in writing the controversial emergency manager legislation. The author of the legislation, Representative Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) says he did not have any conversations with Bing or other city officials while writing the bill.

University of Michigan regents adopt budget cuts and tuition increases

The University of Michigan's board of regents voted to increase in-state tuition by 6.7% and out-of-state tuition by 4.9%. U of M, like many schools across the state, is working to deal with a sharp cut in their budgets from the state. In addition to tuition hikes, U of M will cut its budget.

From the Detroit News

The $1.59 billion fiscal year budget was approved by a 6-2 vote. Denise Ilitch also was named chairwoman of the board, replacing Julia Darrow.

The university will absorb a $47.5 million cut in state funding, the largest in its 194-year history.

"A $47.5 million reduction is a big blow," Provost Phil Hanlon said. "It requires a lot of tough choices across campus."

To manage the drop in state aid, all university schools, colleges and administrative units will undergo a 1.5 percent budget cut.

In addition, low-enrollment classes will be eliminated, and some university centers and institutes will be closed or downsized.

Employees will be asked to pay more toward their health care, and operational staff will be reduced through layoffs.

A school for pregnant teens and teen moms stays open After weeks of outcry at the planned closing of the Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, students, staff, and supporters celebrated as they learned their school would not close. Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported on the announcement: 

Preparations were under way at Catherine Ferguson Academy in the morning for a big rally to protest the school’s closure. Students were milling around in the hallways. Some were making signs. Across town, protestors were getting on a bus to join the demonstration.

But on the 14thfloor of the Fisher building, something else was happening.

"Good morning, everyone," Roy Roberts told reporters at a news conference he called. "I want to change your storyline."

Roberts announced that Catherine Ferguson Academy – along with two other schools – would be taken over by a charter operator, instead of closing.

Back at the school, staff and alumni and students celebrated with hugs and screams.

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