Politics & Government

Commentary
10:37 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Hope and Despair in Detroit

Two years ago, a band of young idealists crisscrossed Detroit, collecting signatures. They had a goal: To make the city a better place to live, with a decent, responsive, functioning government.

They thought the place to start was revising the city charter to  elect a council that would be responsible and responsive. For years, all nine council members have been elected at large, which meant they are in charge of everything and nothing.

They easily could and did ignore constituents they found annoying. Not that this mattered much; as it now stands, Detroit council members have the power to approve the budget and major city projects, but they are powerless to do small everyday things.

They cannot, for example, even ask the lighting department to replace a burned out bulb in a street light.

Worse, the system is set up to produce the worst possible results. Voters are supposed to select nine names from a primary ballot that may include two hundred names. Nobody can possibly know enough to do that, so they pick familiar-sounding ones.

In recent years, this had led to the election of a former school board member famous for being corrupt and the bizarre wife of a congressman who set new standards for bad behavior. Both are in jail now. In recent years, the council has also included an ex-congresswoman who lost her job after holding a fundraiser in a strip club and a once-famous singer who often did not appear to realize where she was or why she was there.

Well, the idealists made things happen. They got voters to approve writing a new charter, and this November, it will be on the ballot. If voters approve, Detroit in the future will have only two at large councilpersons. The other seven will represent manageable-sized districts of just over one hundred thousand residents each.

Other things the new charter would do include creating an inspector general who would investigate waste, abuse, fraud and corruption in city government, and enact mandatory disclosure rules on contractors and lobbyists making political contributions.

That’s the good news. Now for the bad.

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News Roundup
8:25 am
Mon May 9, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, May 9th, 2011

Budget Debate Continues in Lansing

Governor Rick Snyder enters a critical week as he tries to sell his tax and budget plans to state lawmakers, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The governor is still trying to build support from his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. There’s wide agreement on scrapping the Michigan Business Tax and switching to a corporate profits tax while giving most businesses a tax cut. But even a lot of Republicans are balking at a new tax on pensions as well as ending nearly two dozen tax breaks. A state Senate committee is expected to hold hearings and vote on the governor’s tax plan this week - with a Senate floor vote as soon as Thursday.

Train Money

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be in Detroit this afternoon for an announcement regarding high speed rail. The Obama administration designated billions of dollars for high speed rail projects in Illinois, California and Florida. But, Florida’s governor passed on the federal funds. It now appears Michigan may end up getting some of the money that was originally supposed to go to the Sunshine state… we’ll find out more at today’s announcement in Detroit.

Plane Cleared to Fly After “Security Threat”

It was reported yesterday that a Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to San Diego had to be diverted to New Mexico on Sunday over what authorities called a, “potential security threat.” The plane has now been cleared to take off again. From the Associated Press:

Albuquerque International Sunport spokesman Daniel Jiron says the 107 passengers aboard the flight were interviewed, as was the crew. He says passengers will be allowed to continue their trip. Jiron has declined to specify what the nature of the potential threat was. FBI spokesman Frank Fisher also declined to clarify. The flight was diverted at 10 a.m. MDT. Jiron says it was cleared to fly again around 12:30 p.m. but doesn't know what time the plane would take off.

Politics
1:01 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Michigan may get more federal money for high speed rail

The future of passenger rail service in Michigan may take a big leap forward today. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation will be in Detroit this afternoon for an announcement concerning “high speed rail." 

Michigan’s been down this track before. State transportation officials had high hopes last year when the Obama  administration planned to invest billions of dollars in developing  high speed rail projects across the country.  

State officials lobbied hard for the federal government to upgrade the  rail link between Detroit and Chicago, so trains could travel between the two cities at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. But, while the administration designated billions of dollars for projects in Illinois, California and Florida. Michigan only received a small amount of money to upgrade some Amtrak stations.  

But, Florida’s new governor decided his state didn’t want the two billion dollars the Obama administration was offering.  It appears Michigan and New York may end up splitting the money. We’ll find out  specifics later today. 

Florida’s not the first state to say “no” to federal high speed rail  money.  Wisconsin and Ohio also declined.  

Amtrak reported last month that ridership is rising on all three  passenger rail lines it operates in Michigan.

Politics
3:01 pm
Sun May 8, 2011

The race for Flint mayor begins

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tuesday is the deadline for anyone who wants to be the mayor of Flint to get their nominating petition filed with the city clerk. More than 2 dozen people have expressed an interest in being Flint’s next mayor, including the man who currently holds the office.  

Dayne Walling plans to turn in his nominating petitions before Tuesday’s deadline. He’s been mayor since a special election a few years ago.  

“I’ve been in the position for less than 2 years at this point.  A lot of the work we’ve had to do has been to clean up the old messes.”  

Not everyone is happy with the job Walling’s done as mayor. Under Walling’s watch, violent crime has soared as budget cuts forced the city to lay off police officers.

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Politics
5:31 pm
Sat May 7, 2011

Protesters rally against Gov. Snyder at Blossomtime Parade

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles (second to left) yells "traitor!" at Governor Rick Snyder as he walks down Main Street in Benton Harbor.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

People came from as far away as Wisconsin to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s appearance in a parade through St. Joe and Benton Harbor Saturday afternoon. The governor of Michigan is invited to be the Grand Marshall of the parade every year.

“They asked me some time ago to participate in this wonderful festival and event and I’m happy to be here. And to the degree that people are exercising their democratic rights, I respect that. But it’s mainly about a quarter of a million people having a great day enjoying a wonderful part of Michigan.”

About 150 protesters mixed in with those gathered to watch the Blossomtime parade. They followed Snyder throughout the parade chanting “Recall Rick now!” and “Shame!” But there were some cheers of support mixed in with the demands to recall Snyder.

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Politics
4:15 pm
Fri May 6, 2011

Breaking News: Attorney General files lawsuit challenging Civil Service Commission's authority

User cedar bend drive Flickr

Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a lawsuit challenging the state Civil Service Commission's authority to approve contracts that allow benefit plans to cover the live-in partners of unmarried state employees.

The lawsuit says the commission exceeded its authority under the state constitution.

The contracts extend benefits to unrelated adults in a household -- that includes same-sex partners -- as well as their dependents

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Politics
2:31 pm
Fri May 6, 2011

Governor Rick Snyder to act as grand marshal in Benton Harbor parade

Governor Rick Snyder
Official Photo

Governor Rick Snyder plans to act as the grand marshal of the annual Blossomtime Grand Floral parade in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, this saturday.

The Detroit News is reporting that groups are planning to protest the parade.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder is scheduled to serve as grand marshal of the annual Blossomtime Grand Floral parade in southwestern Michigan.

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Politics
12:35 pm
Fri May 6, 2011

Granholm portrait unveiled in the State Capitol

Update:

We have uploaded a copy of the portrait to our website and Facebook page, and people are starting to weigh in with their thoughts.

Michigan Watch's Lester Graham asked, regarding the position of Governor Granholm's hand on the globe to her right, "Is she pointing to Michigan or Canada?"

Peinck Muslimah, a regular Facebook page commenter, said, "Check out the windmill and new-tech car on the desk - and her hand on the globe is also symbolic: Granholm travelled [sic] often to try to convince foreign companies to invest in Michigan."

What symbols do you notice in the portrait?

 

Original article:

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm's portrait has been added to the portrait's featured in the State Capitol. She was the 47th governor of the state.

From the Associated Press:

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm's portrait has joined those of other governors at the Capitol. A portrait unveiling ceremony was held Friday morning. Granholm participated in the program.

Ferndale artist Charles Pompilius painted the portrait of Granholm, which includes a wind turbine and a mortar board. Those elements are meant to symbolize the ex-governor's work in the areas
of energy and education.

The Democrat was Michigan's first elected female governor, serving from 2003 through 2010.

The unveiling ceremony is to be followed by an invitation-only luncheon.

A bipartisan nonprofit foundation has been raising the money for the portrait, the frame and the Capitol ceremony.

The portrait is shown above.

Politics
11:49 am
Fri May 6, 2011

Michigan political roundup: budget proposals

Michigan Capitol in Lansing
matthileo / Flickr

This past Wednesday, the Michigan State House of Representatives approved their proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. Some pieces of the bill include a forty-eight month limit on welfare benefits, a cut to clothing allowances for poor children, a twenty million dollar cut to local bus systems, a ten million dollar cut to funds appropriated to the Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as the cutting of thirty-four State Police officers. 

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Politics
11:49 am
Fri May 6, 2011

Report: Detroit Public Library administrators accused of nepotism

The Detroit Public Library is being charged with mismanagement and nepotism.
user taubach Flickr

The Detroit Public Library is facing accusations of "nepotism, cronyism and mismanagement" according to a report published in the Detroit News.

The accusations are becoming public at a time when the Detroit library system faces an $11 million deficit and is  considering closing most of its branches. Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported that "one proposal would leave only five of 23 branches open."

The News says top executives at the Library have family members on the payroll and contracts worth thousands of dollars have been awarded to relatives.

From the Detroit News:

Hiring relatives is so common at the library that about one in six staffers have relatives among the 376 employees, according to an internal review obtained by The Detroit News.

"This nepotism and cronyism has led to the downfall of the city," said Reginald Amos, a retired Detroit Fire Department deputy chief and resident who said the family hires remind him of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration. "It's the friends-and-family plan. It's not about serving the people. It's self-serving."

The Detroit Public Library's human resource director, Trinee Moore - one of the officials accused of nepotism, told the News that there are safeguards in place to prevent preferential treatment and that the Detroit Public Library is no different than other businesses where family members are referred for employment.

So how do you know when the line is being crossed? Is nepotism just a fact of life in politics and business?

NPR's Steve Inskeep discussed these questions with a writer for Harvard Business Online

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Politics
11:05 am
Fri May 6, 2011

Citing protests, Rep. Pscholka bows out of Blossomtime Parade

State Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, has withdrawn from the Blossomtime Parade in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph because of planned protests at the event.
wn.com

A West Michigan lawmaker has decided not to take part in a parade in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph Saturday because protests are expected at the event.

State Rep. Al Pscholka says the Blossomtime Parade is not the place to protest Michigan’s new Fiscal Accountability Act.

Demonstrators are expected to rally against the recent actions of an emergency financial manager in Benton Harbor, where the elected city commission was stripped of all its powers.

Pscholka, a Republican from Stevensville, says in a written statement the parade is a wholesome community event and not the forum for a political sideshow conducted by professional agitators.

A staff member in Pscholka’s office says the representative has left the state for a family event and is not available for further comment.

Governor Snyder will be the Grand Marshall at the Blossomtime Parade.

Commentary
10:54 am
Fri May 6, 2011

Social Agenda

Former Michigan Governor John Engler is widely regarded as having been more conservative than Rick Snyder. And certainly, Snyder won the support last year of many prominent independents and even moderate Democrats who never would have voted for Engler.

Yet perceptions and reality aren't always the same thing. You might have expected what some people call the “radical right” to have had a field day imposing their social agenda on the state during the dozen years that John Engler was governor.

However, that mostly didn’t happen. Engler kept those folks pretty effectively bottled up. When they grumbled, he or his people would ask, “would you like a liberal Democrat in this office instead?”

In other words, push too hard, and you risk backlash. Now, nobody ever accused Engler of being stupid. He knew that while Michiganders can be induced to vote Republican, this is anything but a deep red state. There were three presidential elections during the Engler years; Democrats easily carried Michigan each time.

In between, John Engler was re-elected by astonishing landslides. Rick Snyder doesn’t seem to have a social agenda either, except perhaps not to wear ties when he doesn't have to.

Though he has said he is anti-abortion, he is an enthusiastic supporter of embryonic stem cell research. Otherwise, he seems totally focused on the economy. But his fellow Republicans in the legislature have other ideas. They have taken a number of actions that could possibly hurt their party and their governor in the long run.

Yesterday, for example, the House approved both the higher education and the elementary and high school education budgets.

The vote was close, in part because the cuts were too much for even six Republican members to support. But at the last minute, they slapped on another amendment punishing universities that allow benefits for unmarried partners. They can lose up to five percent of their funding.

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News Roundup
8:19 am
Fri May 6, 2011

In this morning's news...

In this morning's news, Friday, May 6th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

House Passes School Funding Measure

The state House passed legislation late last night that cuts funding to public schools, community colleges, and universities for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. The measure also sanctions universities that offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. The legislation cuts per-pupil funding by between $256 and $297. The bill passed by the state House last night is different from an education-funding bill that was passed in the state Senate. The differences will have to be reconciled before a final education funding measure is sent to Governor Snyder for his signature.

Benton Harbor Officials Want EFM Void

Elected city leaders in Benton Harbor are calling on Governor Snyder to remove the city’s state-appointed emergency financial manager. Lindsey Smith reports:

Snyder approved broader powers for emergency financial managers earlier this year. Benton Harbor’s city commission adopted a resolution (full resolution available here) declaring those new powers unconstitutional.

On Thursday, Benton Harbor’s emergency financial manager Joe Harris rescinded that and any further resolutions adopted by elected city officials (full order available here), in accordance with an order he issued earlier this year.

Harris stripped power from elected city officials in March. That included the power to adopt resolutions, even non-binding ones.

Swimming to Return in the Kalamazoo River?

Michigan health officials might lift a no-contact order on areas of the Kalamazoo River in Southwest, Michigan. The order, put in place after more than 800,000 gallons of oil spilled into the river last July, bans swimming, boating and fishing. Michigan officials are studying the effects of the spill and, if reports are positive, the no-contact order could be lifted.

State Legislature
6:09 am
Fri May 6, 2011

State House approves education budget

State Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan

The state House met late into the night last night to approve an education spending plan by a narrow margin. It took several hours for Republican leaders to wrangle enough votes to approve the budget proposal that cuts funding for universities and K-12 schools. Democrats argue the cuts would hurt graduation rates and opportunities for kids.

Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chuck Moss says Democrats’ complaints don’t tell the whole story on school funding.  

“Now I’ve heard a lot of talk about how we’re destroying our education system. I’d just like to say something that this budget cuts K-12, cuts School Aid by 3-point-five percent. The School Aid Fund has gone up 14 percent over the last 10 years."

Democratic state Representative Tim Melton tried to persuade Republican lawmakers not to vote for the measure that would move money from K-12 schools to reduce cuts to colleges and universities. He says it violates what voters intended when they revamped school funding in the mid-1990s.  

 “This is a historic vote, and I don’t think this vote should be taken lightly. We’ve heard conversations about Proposal A, and I wish folks would go back and read Proposal A, especially the new members of this chamber, and tell me one time in that bill do you see the word ‘community colleges’ or ‘universities,’ and keep looking, because it’s not in there."

The House budget proposal would also sanction universities that offer domestic partner benefits to their employees.

The House version of the budget must be reconciled with a Senate spending plan before it goes to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

Politics
7:15 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Benton Harbor emergency manager voids elected officials’ resolution

"This act is not about the finances of the city of Benton Harbor," City Commissioner Dennis Knowles says, "It’s about the extraction and gentrification of the people of Benton Harbor."
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Elected city leaders in Benton Harbor are calling on Governor Rick Snyder to remove the city’s state-appointed emergency financial manager.

Snyder approved broader powers for emergency financial managers earlier this year.

Benton Harbor’s city commission adopted a resolution (full resolution available here) declaring those new powers unconstitutional.

Thursday Benton Harbor’s emergency financial manager Joe Harris rescinded that and any further resolutions adopted by elected city officials (full order available here), in accordance with an order he issued earlier this year.

Harris stripped power from elected city officials in March. That included the power to adopt resolutions, even non-binding ones.

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Politics
5:57 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Senate approves measure to rein in environmental rules

The Republican controlled state Senate has approved a measure to rein in the authority of state regulators to enact environmental protection rules.

The bill says Michigan’s environmental protection rules cannot be stricter than federal rules unless a law is passed to allow it.

Republican state Sen. John Proos says environmental policy should reflect the fact that Michigan competes with other states for jobs.

"We can’t operate in a vacuum in Michigan," said Pross. "If it’s more difficult to do business in Michigan than it is in Indiana, businesses and industries who hire Michigan families could just as soon choose the less-expensive option or the more-efficient option. Every day, other states benchmark against us. We should do the same to make sure we put ourselves in the best position to compete."

Republicans and some Democrats have long complained that Michigan’s environmental rules and the people who enforce them are too zealous.

Democrats, like State Senator Rebekah Warren, say the measure would make it harder for experts to address environmental crises that may be unique to the Great Lakes region.

"Federal standards to protect water quality, in particular, are designed to be the floor below which states are not allowed to drop," said Warren. "They are not written by people that feel the special stewardship like we do here in Michigan over one of the world’s most-important freshwater resources."

Opponents of the bill say it would make it more difficult to respond to an environmental crisis and it would make the process of protecting air and water more political.

One Democrat crossed over to join the Republican majority to approve the measure. The bill now goes to the state House.

Politics
2:38 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Census shows 50% rise in vacant properties across Michigan

This house in Detroit sat abandoned for a while before a couple of artists bought it for $1,900.
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

The number of vacancies in Michigan rose by nearly 50% over the past decade.

According to the latest U.S. Census data, the number of vacant housing units across the state jumped from about 448,618 in 2000 to 659,725 in 2010.

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Politics
11:40 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Yachts shouldn't be eligible for tax write-off, says Michigan Congressman

Michigan Congressman Gary Peters wants to close a loophole that allows people to write off the interest they pay on their yacht loans.

Peters says current law allows people to deduct the interest on two residences.

"But the way the deduction is written, it’s anything that has a toilet, a kitchen and bedding, so yachts qualify, and so you’ll find that many people write off the interest in financing their yachts."

Peters says the loophole cost the U.S. Treasury a billion dollars in 2004, the last time the Congressional Budget Office examined the issue.

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Commentary
11:10 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Managing the Mess

When the news broke yesterday that retired General Motors vice president Roy Roberts would be the new Detroit Public Schools czar, the first thing I thought of was Henry Ford.

This is not because I have attention deficit disorder. No, I thought of something brilliant Hank the First once observed about his own career.  Ford said if he had asked about transportation needs in the 1890's, nobody would have said they needed an automobile.

They would have said they wanted a faster horse. For years, various people have been trying in various ways to beat life into a dying horse called the Detroit Public Schools.

They’ve tried appointed boards and elected boards; emergency managers, all sorts of superintendents and infusions of cash.

Nothing has worked very well. Sometimes they identify a particular problem, but the overall health of the system has remained poor. Now if you are not from Detroit, you may not think this matters much to you. Except that it does.

We as a state will all suffer, economically and otherwise, if kids can’t get a functional education in our largest city. Plus, the seeds of many of the problems that have ruined Detroit’s schools are present and growing in other school systems, urban, suburban and rural school systems across the state.

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Election 2012
10:58 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Land won't run for Senate in 2012

Terri Lynn Land, Michigan's former Secretary of State, has decided she will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2012. Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow is up for reelection next year. The Associated Press reports:

Land said Thursday in a statement on her Facebook page that she has decided against joining the Republican field to take on Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow is running for her third six-year term. She reported last month that she has $3 million on hand so far for her 2012 campaign.

Only one Republican candidate has entered the race so far. Former Kent County Judge Randy Heckman announced he would run for the seat earlier this year.

Former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who some speculated would run, announced last month that he would not run against Stabenow.

Stabenow has held the seat since 2000.

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