Politics & Government

election 2012
1:46 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

First republican announces candidacy against U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow

Hekman hopes to replace sitting U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the U.S. Capitol building in 2012.
Jonathon Colman Creative Commons

A former Kent County judge is the first republican to declare he’s running against U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election.

Randy Hekman has a number of titles. He’s pastor of Crossroads Bible Church in Grand Rapids, CEO of  research consulting firm Hekman Industries. He directed and helped start the Michigan Family Forum; a conservative non-profit group that tries to influence state policy. He served in the Navy, is an attorney and sat on the bench in Kent County probate court for 15 years.

Read more
Commentary
11:12 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Primary Problem

If you haven’t been traumatized enough by this seemingly endless winter and the governor’s budget proposals, I’ve got something that may really give you nightmares.

It’s presidential election time again. Now, you may be saying wait a minute. Wasn’t the last congressional election only four months ago? Well, yes. But the presidential election is next year, and the candidates are already out campaigning, though none of them are calling it that. I am aware that people who don’t know each other yet will meet, fall in love, and have babies before we finally get around to voting a year from November.

But presidents have a far longer gestation period. And one sure sign that the election season is on is that the leaders of our two great political parties are once again attempting to screw up the Michigan primary.

They’ve gotten pretty good at this, and last time, the Democrats managed to make themselves the laughingstock of the nation, by holding a primary that was both ruled illegal and invalid and which did not have a guy named Barack Obama on the ballot. 

Early indications are that they’ve learned nothing from their mistakes. Here’s the problem. For many years, the election calendar has worked like this. Iowa goes first, with a set of caucuses which pick that state’s delegates in January. Then, New Hampshire follows with the nation’s first primary election.

Then a couple other small states follow in February, and after that, the other states can do whatever they want. This is a good system, because it allows candidates without much money to be seen and tested in small states where you don’t need millions.

Iowa and New Hampshire are also now swing states that switch sides frequently in November. But Michigan party leaders are jealous. They want to go first. Last time they broke party rules and held a January primary which was a farce.

Read more
News Roundup
9:18 am
Fri March 4, 2011

In this morning's news...

News Roundup: Friday, March 4th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Slow and Slippery Commute

Freezing rain across parts of mid and southeast Michigan has led to a slow and sometimes dangerous commute this morning. There were numerous closures of lanes on freeways from Brighton to the metro-Detroit area. The National Weather Service in White Lake Township says the freezing rain is expected to change to rain by noon, the AP reports. A Winter Weather advisory is in effect for parts of the state. Temperatures are expected to reach the 40s today.

UAW President Blasts Snyder

Bob King, President of the UAW, says Governor Snyder’s budget proposal is an attack on workers, seniors and the poor in Michigan. “This governor has talked nicely, but these actions suggest he’s same agenda with every other Republican across this country" King said at a press conference yesterday. King says Snyder’s proposal to eliminate an income tax credit for the working poor, to cut the child care subsidy for low-income families, and to tax pensions are key examples, Sarah Hulett reports.

Asian Carp Legislation

Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region say it’s taking too long to come up with an action plan to stop the spread of Asian Carp. They are now calling for work on that plan to speed things up, Steve Carmody reports:

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp out of the Great Lake but that’s not fast enough for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years… we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible,” Stabenow said.

Recently, Illinois politicians have fought efforts to close canals linking Lake Michigan to carp infested waters near Chicago. But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports expediting a carp action plan, making its passage more probable.

State Legislature
6:41 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Marijuana Clubs come under fire in state Senate

Medical Marijuana
Troy Holden Flickr

People with medical marijuana cards may soon be unable to smoke together in their support groups. A bill approved by a state Senate committee would prohibit so-called “marijuana clubs” or bars.

Republican state Senator Rick Jones says people who gather to smoke marijuana away from their homes could easily become a danger on the roads to other drivers.

 “There’s really no good reason for people to gather and consume marijuana. If somebody really needs to know how to use it, their care provider can go to their home and teach them. They don’t need to gather in a bar-like atmosphere.”

Medical marijuana supporters say the bill is a continued attempt by lawmakers to add rules to the constitutional amendment approved by voters. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was approved by voters by a wide margin in 2008.

Greg Pawlowski is a representative of medical marijuana support groups. He told lawmakers that regulation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is an attempt to stifle the voices of patients. 

 “I applaud you so much for taking the time to talk to us, but now you need to hear what we have to say, and not talk amongst each other that we’re wrong. Because this is not an issue of being right or wrong, this is a human issue. I should not have to be a second-class citizen and have to have a patient card.”

Politics
8:30 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

UAW president rips governor, says policies are attack on middle class

Bob King, President of the UAW, says Governor Snyder's policies are an attack on middle class
Pobrecito33 Flickr

The fight over workers’ rights in Wisconsin and Ohio has become familiar fodder for news stories in recent days. But labor leaders in this state say Republicans in Michigan are just as hostile to unions.

UAW President Bob King says you need look no further than Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal to see an attack on workers, seniors and the poor.

King says Snyder’s proposal to eliminate an income tax credit for the working poor, to cut the child care subsidy for low-income families, and to tax pensions are key examples.

"This governor has talked nicely, but these actions suggest he’s same agenda with every other Republican across this country," King said at a press conference today.

King says Snyder has also made some anti-union moves.

He says the Snyder administration is undermining bargaining rights for home health and day care workers. And Snyder supports legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to set aside union contracts, and suspend collective bargaining in troubled cities and school districts.

Detroit
4:42 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

State Police ask for warrant in Aiyana Jones shooting

Aiyana Jones

The Michigan State Police have asked the Wayne County Prosecutors office to issue an arrest warrant in the Aiyana Jones case.

A Detroit Police officer killed seven-year-old Aiyana Jones last May, as a police team raided her family’s home looking for a murder suspect.

Read more
Politics
11:32 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Snyder: 'I knew the honeymoon would end'

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder defended his budget proposal in front of a group of Detroit business and civic leaders this morning.

The governor wants to get rid of the tax breaks Michigan gives certain industries, and replace them with smaller pots of money that would be issued as grants.

Snyder told the crowd Michigan has been offering tax incentives to certain businesses for years because its tax system is broken. And he says he’s been talking about his plan for fixing it since he was a candidate.

"People kept going around Lansing and saying: 'Well, he did what he said he was going to do.' And it was like that was a surprise."

Snyder says his proposal is more transparent, accountable and honest than what the state does now.

Read more
Commentary
11:08 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Unpopular Stands

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively overturned a Michigan law -- and undoubtedly angered and outraged the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.

The nation’s highest court said that the obnoxious protests that members of the Westboro Baptist Church stage at military funerals are fully protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Chief Justice John Roberts decreed that our nation’s fundamental commitment to free speech requires full protection of, quote “even hurtful speech on public issues.”

Now if you need reminding, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small group from Topeka, Kansas that mainly consists of the members of one large extended family. They believe homosexuality is evil and America deserves divine punishment for tolerating it.

Accordingly, they’ve been traveling the country picketing at military funerals, waving signs that say things like “God Hates America,” “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

Somehow, they believe our war casualties are fitting punishment for tolerance.

Michigan passed a law five years ago that was squarely aimed at the Westboro group. It essentially prohibited any such conduct within five hundred feet of a funeral.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling essentially makes it all but certain that the Michigan law will be struck down as unconstitutional, if prosecutors attempt to use it.  Now ever since the 1960s, conservatives have often complained that out-of-touch liberals on the nation‘s highest court were improperly distorting the Constitution.

Read more
News Roundup
9:02 am
Thu March 3, 2011

In this morning's news...

In this morning's news...
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Supreme Court Puts Michigan Law in Jeopardy

Michigan’s law barring protesters from funerals might be vulnerable after yesterday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Steve Carmody reports:

The nation’s highest court ruled in favor of an anti-gay group that pickets at military funerals. Michigan, like dozens of other states, passed a law in 2006 to prevent the protests from disrupting funerals here. At the time, the states were trying to prevent a fundamentalist Christian Church from Kansas from picketing military funerals.

New Poll: Snyder Popularity Decreasing

A new poll shows Governor Rick Snyder’s popularity among likely Michigan voters is down from January. The poll, released by ERIC-MRA, shows 44 percent of likely Michigan voters had a favorable view of the governor. Twenty-seven percent had an unfavorable opinion. That’s compared to January of this year when EPIC-MRA found 59 percent of likely Michigan voters viewed Snyder favorably and 8 percent unfavorably.

Same-Sex Health Benefits

Republicans in the state Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships, Rick Pluta reports. A resolution was approved yesterday by a Senate subcommittee that would reject the domestic partner benefits awarded in a decision earlier this year by the Michigan Civil Service Commission, the Associated Press explains. A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

Facelift for Cobo Center

Detroit’s Cobo Center will undergo a $221 million renovation. Cobo Center’s general manager says the three year project will allow Cobo to better accommodate the needs of the annual North American International Auto Show. The project will be ready by 2014. It’s the first major overhaul of the convention center since 1989.

Governor Snyder
6:51 am
Thu March 3, 2011

New poll shows drop in Snyder popularity

Governor Rick Snyder answering questions from the media
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

A new poll shows Governor Rick Snyder's popularity is falling among Michigan voters. The poll, released by ERIC-MRA, shows 44 percent of likely Michigan voters had a favorable view of the governor. Twenty-seven percent had an unfavorable opinion. As the Associated Press notes:

Shortly after the Republican took office, an EPIC-MRA poll of 600 likely voters found 59 percent viewing Snyder favorably and 8 percent unfavorably.

Fifty-three-percent of those in the new poll say they oppose Snyder's plan to tax pensions, while 41 percent support it.

In a article about the new poll titled, "Looks like honeymoon's over for for Gov. Rick Snyder," the Detroit Free Press reports:

Voters also did a U-turn on Snyder's job performance -- 38% positive and 15% negative in January to 32% positive and 36% negative in February -- and on the overall direction of the state.

In the late January survey, Michiganders seemed to have emerged from a decade-long funk: 43% said they thought the state was headed in the right direction.

That number slumped to 36% in the latest EPIC/MRA poll, with 42% saying Michigan is on the wrong track.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder will continue to talk about his plan to reinvent the state at the Pancakes and Politics breakfast in Detroit today.

State Budget
5:12 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

College presidents weigh in on budget cuts

University Presidents were at the Capitol Building Wednesday in Lansing, MI
Thetoad Flickr

Several university presidents visited the state Capitol to testify on the higher education budget.

Governor Rick Snyder has called for double-digit cuts to universities, but he says universities can recoup some of that if they find innovative ways to save taxpayers money.

Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, told lawmakers that universities have limited options when it comes to funding.

He says keeping tuition rates low also helps makes college more accessible to low-income students:

"Please remember there is a direct relationship between state aid and tuition. When there is more of one, we need less of the other," said Haas.

"In the long run, the best way for you to hold down tuition is to put all you can into higher education appropriations, permitting us to find financial aid for our neediest students."

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said higher education institutions understand the budget challenges the state faces, but she also could not promise to keep down tuition increases if there are big cuts in state aid to universities.

Politics
4:15 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Senate GOP prepared to reject unmarried partner benefits

Roberto Occhialini Flickr

Republicans in the Michigan Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships.

A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

A Senate budget subcommittee voted along party lines to reject the new benefits policy. Now, Republicans must muster super-majorities in the Senate and the House to reverse the decision by the independent Civil Service Commission to allow unmarried partner benefits.

The Granholm administration spent years negotiating the agreement with employee unions in an effort to ensure coverage for people in same-sex relationships.

But Governor Rick Snyder says that would cost too much money as the state faces a budget crisis.  

Senator Mark Jansen chairs a budget subcommittee. He says adding new benefits to cover unmarried partners could force additional costs onto other state employees who are already being asked to pay more for their health care.

Jansen says the Civil Service Commission made the wrong decision as the state faces a budget crisis.

“I do respect it, but we’re broke, and so now it literally is adding eight million dollars at least to my bottom line. I can’t afford to add anything anymore. So it’s time to take a breath and say, let’s help those that we have right now.”

Ray Holman is with U-A-W Local Six Thousand, which represents thousands of state workers. He says the Legislature should not renege on a deal that took years to negotiate.

“This was negotiated back in 2004 and the appropriate place to deal with this stuff is the bargaining table, and to respect the agreements that have been made. So this should be handled by the Civil Service Commission and we obviously deal with the office of the State Employer on these matters.”

If the Senate and the House don’t reverse the policy, it will take effect October first.

Politics
3:38 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Michigan funeral protest law in jeopardy

A sign at a Westboro Baptist Church picket in East Lansing last year.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Michigan’s law barring protesters from funerals might be vulnerable after today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court ruled in favor of an anti-gay group that pickets at military funerals.

Michigan, like dozens of other states, passed a law in 2006 to prevent the protests from disrupting funerals here.

At the time, the states were trying to prevent a fundamentalist Christian Church from Kansas from picketing military funerals.

The pickets were not opposing the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but against gay rights.

The ACLU challenged Michigan’s law after a couple attending a family friend’s funeral was arrested for having anti-George W. Bush signs on their car.

Dan Korobkin, with the ACLU, says the new court ruling may be enough to tip the balance in their challenge to Michigan’s law:

“Laws that are created to stifle unpopular speech, which is what the law in Michigan was created to do, always end up backfiring and punishing innocent people.”

Korobkin says they hope to hear soon from the federal judge considering their challenge to the state law, "the federal judge who is overseeing that case has already indicated that it is probably unconstitutional, but he hasn’t taken the final step of striking it down," said Korobkin.

State Budget
12:10 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Lawmakers to dig into Governor's budget proposal

Captiol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

Update 12:08 p.m.:

Lt. Governor Brian Calley is detailing the Snyder Administration's tax plans to members of the House Tax Policy committee at the Capitol, the Associated Press reports. And, as the AP notes, Budget Director John Nixon answered questions this morning from members of the House Appropriations Committee:

Gov. Rick Snyder's administration is trying to shore up support for some of its budget proposals that are running into opposition in the Michigan Legislature... The Republican governor's plan to eliminate tax exemptions on pensions is drawing opposition from some members of his own party.

Lawmakers also are concerned about proposed cuts to education funding and proposed cuts to tax revenue sharing payments made to local governments.

6:57 a.m.:

Lawmakers at the state Capitol are set to hear details today about Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal.

Legislative committees are scheduled to hear details about Snyder's tax restructuring plan, the Associated Press reports.

From the AP:

Lawmakers also will hear testimony from some university officials, including from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Universities could lose at least 15 percent of their state aid going into next fiscal year.

Groups concerned about proposed cuts to tax revenue sharing payments also are expected to testify. Snyder and lawmakers are trying to eliminate a projected budget shortfall of roughly $1.4 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder spent yesterday defending some of his controversial budget plans, including the taxing of pensions.

Read more
Justice
12:07 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro funeral protestors

The Supreme Court ruled in favor Fred Phelps and the funeral protestors
user dbking Flickr

In "Snyder v. Phelps," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

The Church got attention by picketing military funerals holding signs that read:

  • "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11"
  • "America is Doomed”
  • “Don’t Pray for the USA"
  • “Thank God for IEDs”
  • “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”
  • “Pope in Hell”
  • “Priests Rape Boys”
  • “God Hates Fags”
  • “You’re Going to Hell”
  • and last, but not least... “God Hates You.”

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects a fringe religious group that protested at the funeral of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq.

The court, on an 8-1 vote, ruled that the soldier's father couldn't sue Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., for celebrating his son's death with vulgar funeral pickets and an online attack.

The case was a test of how far the First Amendment goes in protecting offensive speech.

Read more
Politics
10:22 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Michigan Works funding at risk

Michigan Works provides job training and education grants to people looking to get back to work
Mr. Juniho flikr

Budget cuts approved by the U.S. House of Representatives would close Michigan Works service centers.

The service centers are where people go to file for unemployment and can get training, education or use the Michigan Talent Bank.

The U.S. House budget proposal eliminates the federal funding that supports the centers.

Luanne Dunsford is the CEO of Michigan Works.

"If the house resolution goes through the funding for Michigan Works would be eliminated. The Michigan Works system serves over 3 million customers a year and our question is, where would those people go?

The U.S. House and the Senate are now negotiating budget proposals to decide the fate of several federal programs, including the Workforce Reinvestment Act which funds Michigan Works.

We want to get a better understanding of the kinds of services offered by Michigan Works. If you've used Michigan Works, what services did you use and what did you think of them?

Sarah Alvarez - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Commentary
8:47 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Glenn Beck and Detroit

Detroit was in an uproar yesterday, not because the schools are in crisis, or because the governor’s budget promises to make the city’s short-term fiscal problems even worse. 

Nor were Detroit’s leaders openly concerned about the effect the political crisis sweeping the oil-rich Middle East is having on gasoline prices and the auto industry.

No, what had them upset was the latest rant by the entertainer Glenn Beck, who holds forth on the Fox network. On Monday, Beck,  compared Detroit to Hiroshima, saying that today, Hiroshima is in far better shape. Beck said Detroit’s devastation is due to what he calls “progressive policies,” combined with corrupt government and labor unions. He said these forces combined to bail out the auto industry, which he thinks should have been allowed to die. I heard about this rant, and so reluctantly, I watched it, or most of it. It was, as I expected, classic Beck: Shallow, hate-filled, and full of half-truths.

Once upon a time, there was a rule about commentary. You could spout opinions, but your facts had to be accurate. Glenn Beck has never cared about facts, and the disgrace of Fox and whoever employs him is that nobody else requires him to do so, either.

Read more
News Roundup
8:40 am
Wed March 2, 2011

In this morning's news...

Michigan lawmakers will take an in-depth look today at Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Lawmakers to Dig into Budget Proposal

Michigan lawmakers will be in Lansing today pouring over Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal. Legislative committees are scheduled to hear details about Snyder's tax restructuring plan and proposed cuts to higher education, the Associated Press reports. The state faces a projected $1.4 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. Meanwhile, the Governor spent yesterday defending some of the more controversial proposals in his budget including the taxing of public and private pensions.

Auto Sales Increase

Auto sales rose by 27 percent last month. General Motors and Toyota had the strongest sales. GM saw gains for several reasons, Tracy Samilton reports:

  • Last February GM’s sales were weak, so this February looks much better in comparison
  • The company increased incentives in February
  • It’s easier for GM customers to get financing now that GM has its own finance arm, GM Financial

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians, who’ve been on strike since last Fall, say they are willing to return to work without a contract. The musicians say they’ll go back on stage “immediately and unconditionally” if Orchestra management agrees to binding arbitration, Sarah Cwiek reports. DSO officials did not immediately respond to the offer. But they issued a statement saying they “welcome receiving the union’s proposal.”

Detroit Public Schools
7:37 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools to stay on job through June

Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Robert Bobb, the Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools, will stay on the job through June of this year. Bobb's contract was set to expire on Tuesday, but Governor Snyder has extended his contract.

A spokesperson for the Governor told the Detroit Free Press that Bobb will stay on the job through June 30th.

As the Associated Press reports:

Bobb was hired in March 2009 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to fix the district's finances.

Bobb has started a number of programs to improve education and standardized test scores across the district. He also has uncovered numerous cases of theft and fraud involving district employees and vendors.

The district still faces a more that $300 million budget deficit as state per pupil funding continues to decline with the drop in enrollment.

Politics
5:48 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Flint wants - but may not get - permission to ask for city tax increase

State Representatives from Flint want to allow the city to ask residents to approve an increase in the city's income tax
Sean_Marshall Flickr

Flint’s state representatives could introduce a bill that would permit the city to ask Flint residents to approve an increase in the city income tax.   

The city faces a deficit of more than $17-million. Representative Woodrow Stanley says there aren’t many other options.  Flint can’t turn to a cash-strapped state for help.

"As a matter of fact, about 8.1 million dollars is being proposed to be cut from Flint’s revenue sharing," says Stanley.

But Stanley says getting such a bill passed will be an uphill battle, because of  strong anti-tax sentiment among Republicans in the state House.

Pages