Politics & Government

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.

Politics
5:55 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Political Roundup: Impact of recall efforts on elected officials (audio)

A rash of recall petitions for Republican lawmakers in Michigan have recently emerged.

At last count, 16 lawmakers are being targeted for recalls including Governor Rick Snyder, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, and House Speaker Jase Boldger.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White spoke with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service and Ken Sikkema, former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants to examine these efforts.

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Politics
5:39 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Matt Moroun testifies against new bridge crossing

The Maroun family owns the Ambassador Bridge and have been vigorously fighting the construction of a second bridge over the Detroit River. Matthew Maroun testified against a new bridge today.
Mike Russell creative commons

A member of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Canada testified before a state Senate committee in Lansing today.

He spoke with a handful of lawmakers who appear annoyed by conflicting information.

Matt Moroun told lawmakers that a proposal to build a publically owned bridge between Detroit and Canada is unnecessary because traffic is down, and tolls would not cover the construction costs.

But he also says the company is prepared to build a second bridge.

That prompted this question from Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen:

“If you receive a permit, will you build a second span?”

Moroun answered:

“The next day we’ll start. Promise.”

Republican state Senator Mike Nofs asked why the Ambassador Bridge owners would want to build a second bridge.

“Why would you build a second bridge the next day if you can’t make the money? The tolls aren’t going to be there. The traffic isn’t going to be there," Nofs said. "It’s going to cost you a lot more money, and you have to expand the roadways on both sides, and you have a government against you apparently right now - Canada - why would you build a second span?”

Moroun says his family’s company needs to build another bridge because the Ambassador Bridge is about 80 years old, and costs a lot of money to maintain.

Democratic state Senator Virgil Smith from Detroit says the Ambassador Bridge owners are controversial figures in the city.

“If you want to proceed with this – with the new project, with the new bridge – I think you’re going to have to clean up a number of your actions in southeast Michigan to do so, or I don’t see it happening no time soon," Smith said.

Many state senators expressed frustration with what they view as a slew of contradictory studies about whether a publically owned bridge would be profitable to taxpayers, or a burden.

Hearings on the bridge issue will continue next week.

Politics
5:28 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Kalamazoo Public Safety Lt. alleges chief discriminated in promoting staff

Lieutenant Stacey Randolph alleges the chief discriminated against her in 2009 and 2010 when he promoted white male officers instead of her. The chief denied the allegations in a court filing this week.

Lieutenant Stacey Randolph is the first and only African-American female supervisor at the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department. She applied for a promotion on two separate occasions in the past two years. Both times a white male got the job. Randolph scored equal to or better than other candidates.

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Politics
5:19 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Democrats and some advocacy groups say Republicans rushing redistricting

Republicans hope to have their redistricting plans finished by July 1st, according to the Associated Press.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio
  • An error occurred ingesting this audio file to NPR

Redistricting is taking place this year because of the changes in population found by the 2010 U.S. Census.

Republicans are in control in Michigan, and they get to draw the new political maps which will delineate new political districts for the Michigan Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives for the next ten years.

Democrats and other advocacy groups are complaining about the process.

From the Associated Press:

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Historical
4:51 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

The Ambassador Bridge: Looking back, looking forward

Patricia Drury / Flickr

In his state of the state address, Governor Rick Snyder urged the legislature to approve the construction of a new bridge span between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Michigan Radio’s Political analyst Jack Lessenberry sat down with Michigan Radio’s Jennifer White to talk about the role the Ambassador Bridge has played in its 82 year history, and the reasons why a new bridge may be necessary. 

Billions of dollars a week move across the Ambassador Bridge. “It’s the most important trade crossing between the United States and Canada, and perhaps in the world,” says Jack.

The Ambassador Bridge was built largely as a beacon of prestige for Detroit in the roaring twenties, and would eventual grow to be a massive economic asset.

Jack would remind us though that “nothing lasts forever.” While the Ambassador Bridge was state of the art in 1929, it’s no longer adequate for the amount of traffic or the size of today’s tractor trailers.

--Cade Sperlich, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
3:02 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Ethanol subsidies put to test again in Senate

Nathan Laurell Flickr

Subsidies for ethanol are being put to the test again in the Senate as budget cutters try to demonstrate a growing appetite in Congress to end special interest tax breaks to help reduce government borrowing.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on two measures that would end subsidies for producing ethanol, a renewable, liquid fuel additive that comes mainly from corn in the U.S.

One measure would repeal a tax credit that provides 45 cents a gallon to oil refiners who mix ethanol with gasoline. The Senate rejected an identical measure Tuesday, 40-59. The other would eliminate federal funding for building ethanol blender pumps or storage facilities.

Critics say the subsidies are no longer needed. Supporters say ethanol helps reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Commentary
1:08 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

A Bridge Too Far

Once upon a time, two businessmen wanted to build a bridge across the Detroit River, using their own money to do it. 

The politicians were skeptical. It won’t make money, some said. They’ll sell bonds to finance construction, and people will lose their shirts. Detroit’s mayor had a different objection. He said that if the bridge was successful, the owners would get rich off the public. Funny, but I thought that’s how private enterprise was supposed to work. Eventually, a city-wide referendum was held, and people overwhelmingly voted for the bridge.

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Politics
1:00 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan gets $3.3 million for fighting food assistance fraud

user redjar

Michigan is getting 3.3 million dollars from the federal government to continue efforts to stop errors in the Food Assistance Program. Senator Debbie Stabenow said the state is improving on ways to stop errors, but there is a lot more work to be done.

"It is really an outrage when people are cheating and defrauding the system particularly when it’s something as basic as food for families. We have people in Michigan all across Michigan who have paid taxes all of their lives who never thought in their wildest dreams that they would be in a position where they needed to get some temporary help," said Stabenow. 

The senator said Michigan is keeping better electronic records on who is using the bridge card and how often it is being used. The USDA said Michigan was the most improved state last year in fighting food assistance fraud.

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Politics
10:30 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan gets $3M for fighting food stamp fraud

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan will get $3.3 million from the federal government for its past work toward stopping errors in state-administered portions of the food assistance program.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture award Thursday.

Stabenow says Michigan will receive the additional federal cash as a reward for improvements made during the 2010 fiscal year related to stopping payment errors.

Stabenow said the money should be used to make further improvements in the system to prevent fraud and other abuses in the food assistance program.

Stabenow also called for continued efforts at the federal level to stop fraud and abuse in the program.

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Politics
8:30 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court agrees to decide pension tax question

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to take up the question of taxing pensions.
Michigan Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court has agreed to Governor Rick Snyder’s request to make an early ruling on whether the new income tax on pensions violates the Michigan Constitution.

Governor Snyder made the request to avoid what potentially could be years of litigation.

The governor is trying to preempt an expected lawsuit from state employee unions. They say the tax on pensions will illegally reduce their agreed-to compensation under collective bargaining agreements.

The Michigan Constitution says the state may not “diminish” nor “impair” the financial benefits of pension plans.

The governor wants the question settled before the pension tax takes effect next year. The law extends the state income tax for the first time to pensions of people born after 1945.

The Supreme Court ordered oral arguments to be held in the case in September. The court has a Republican majority.

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