Sep 30, 2007

Michigan Political History Society to honor former Gov. Jim Blanchard

It was 25 years ago that a young U.S. Congressman from Lansing broke the Republican’s 20-year ownership of the Michigan Governor’s seat. The nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan Political History Society is celebrating that milestone in Michigan history with a 25th Anniversary Celebration of Governor Jim Blanchard Friday at the Lansing Country Club.

“It's obviously not the exact date he was elected, but it was the fall of 1982 that be became governor,” said David Murley, the President of the Michigan Political History Society.

The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the country club at 2200 Moores River Dr. in Lansing with the program beginning at 7 p.m. Bob Bowman, the state Treasurer under Blanchard – the youngest state treasurer in the country at the time of his appointment - and current President and CEO of Major League Baseball, the interactive media company of MLB- will serve as emcee. Tickets are $100, and the money raised will be used to continue the society’s work of conducting interviews for oral histories of Michigan’s notable political figures.

The oral histories the society has collected for the past 10 years include notable Michigan political figures like former Attorney General Frank Kelly, former UAW President Doug Fraser and former state Republican Party Chair Elly Peterson. The collection will be renamed the James J. Blanchard Living Library of Political History.

The Society has a list of some 50 people it wants to interview and put on DVDs for distribution to Michigan Government Television (MGTV), Michigan PBS TV stations, university libraries and the Michigan Historical Museum and Library. Among that list are people such as U.S. Rep. John Dingell, Blanchard and the Levin Brothers: U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin.

“Every few years when a major political figure in Michigan passes away we kick ourselves for not interview them sooner,” Murley said. “We just want to hear from them things like why they got into politics and what was behind some of the major decisions they made.”

Murley, a registered Republican, said he has no problem with celebrating the accomplishments of a Democratic governor, and he said political figurers who have worked to better Michigan no matter what side of the political spectrum they try to accomplish that goal from should be honored.

“You just can’t deny that Jim Blanchard was a major political figure in the postwar era,” he said.

Blanchard was born on Aug. 8, 1942 in Detroit. He had an early interest in politics, and it first came to bloom when he was elected as the senior class president at Michigan State University. He graduated from MSU in 1964 and in 1965 he received a Masters Degree in business administration from MSU in 1965. He then graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1968. He returned to Lansing following law school and went briefly into private practice before working for the Michigan Attorney General from 1969-1974.

He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 18th District in 1974, and he served four terms in the House from 1975-1983. As a relatively junior member of the House, Blanchard achieved his greatest legislative achievement by helping Chrysler secure the federal loan guarantees that kept it from going bankrupt and closing in 1979.

In 1982 he was elected the 45th Governor of Michigan, ending 20 years of Republican control of the Governor’s seat, beginning with George Romney in 1963 and William Milliken in 1969. Blanchard served two terms. He was reelected in 1986 by the largest margin of any governor in Michigan history.

In his first year in office Blanchard faced perhaps an even worse economic situation than Michigan faces now, but some aspects of that situation are very similar. Michigan faced a $1.7 billion budget deficit, the threat of bankruptcy and record high double-digit unemployment of more than 17 percent in 1983. Blanchard pushed for a temporary hike in the state income tax rate that helped Michigan climb out of the financial mess, but it came at a steep cost. Two Democratic Senators were recalled for voting on the increase, giving Republicans control of the Senate they still maintain today.

The state is facing a similar situation with a $1.8 billon budget deficit, and an anti-tax group threatening to recall selected lawmakers if they vote for an increase in taxes. The group, the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, is led by former state Rep. Leon Drolet, now a Macomb County commissioner.

Blanched lost his bid for a third term to Republican John Engler in a brilliant campaign by Engler and his supporters. Following the loss, Blanchard went again into private law practice, but he still kept a hand in politics. In 1992 he ran the successful Michigan presidential campaign for President Bill Clinton. The two became friends when Blanchard served as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and Clinton was the governor of Arkansas.

In 1993 Clinton appointed Blanched Ambassador to Canada, and he served in that post until 1996. Blanched was able to run for Governor again under the term limit rules, but he lost in the Democratic primary in 2002 to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Blanched was brought back into the current budget situation when Granholm tapped him and Milliken to head the 12-person, bipartisan Emergency Financial Advisory Panel in January to come up with some solutions to the financial and budget situation facing the state. In February the group that consisted of state budget directors, legislative leaders and longtime Lansing policy experts from both political parties issued its report that said “a combination of cuts in spending and creating a modern tax structure that abandons the focus on the economic system of the 20th century will address the shortfall and combat the immediate shortfalls and position the state to thrive in the future.”

For tickets to the event all Linda Cleary, administrate director of the Michigan Political History Society, at (517) 333-7996.

Sep 29, 2007

Senate fails to reach budget compromise 24 hours before a government shutdown

LANSING –The Senate adjourned shortly before midnight on Saturday, apparently no closer to a budget solution that will stop a government shutdown in some 24 hours.

The Senate convened at noon today, but most of the day was spent at ease of the call of the chair as the Republicans and the Democrats spent the majority of the day in closed-door caucuses or in face-to-face negotiations. Despite rumors of an impending deal that included a boost in the state income tax rate and a sales tax on some discretionary luxury items that will keep the state open it never became a reality.

The Senate finally went into open session to conduct public business at 8:35 p.m., and one of the first actions was that Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Troy, appointed Sens. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland and Michael Prusi, D-Ishpeming to the conference committee for House Bill 5198. The bill was passed with a bipartisan vote of 24-13 late Friday night, and it would allow a sales tax on some services in the state to go forward. The committee would work with three members of the House to decide what services would see a sales tax and how much.

The Senate then approved Senate Bill 799 by a vote of 36-1 that would transfer $20 million from the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps (MCCC) Endowment Fund to the General Fund.

According to the analysis of the bill from the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency, the bill would amend the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps Act transfer the $20 million from the balance of the MCCC Endowment Fund to the General Fund, for the fiscal year that ended Sunday. This amount is the entire balance of the permanent investment of the Fund.

Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps (MCCC) is a special program that provides a variety of service opportunities for young adults age 18-25 to conduct conservation and recreation projects in state parks for a one-year term of employment at minimum wage to help prepare them for future employment by enhancing on-the-job skills, offering many training opportunities and providing hands-on work experience. The crews work to protect some of the most significant and threatened natural resources in the state, including marshes, fens, oak barrens and lakeplain prairies.

The transfer would entirely eliminate the program next year. The funds from the MCCC Endowment Fund are used as a match for a Federal Wildlife Grant, which would be in jeopardy with the elimination of the program.

Following that brief action, the Senate quickly went back to standby mode at 8:45 p.m. until it adjourned shortly before midnight. The Senate’s last chance to avoid a government shutdown will occur at 2 p.m. Sunday when it tries again to reach a deal on a budget to present to the Governor.

Sep 27, 2007

Students rally to protest tuition increases

LANSING – It looked more like a pep rally or a tailgate party Wednesday as hundreds of students representing all of Michigan’s 15 publicly financed colleges and university rallied in front of the Capitol steps to protest the increase in tuition and to urge the Legislature to increase funding for higher education.

The large crowd decked out in school colors carried signs, cheered and chanted. Gabriel Pendas, President of the United States Student Association, fired the crowd up and encouraged them to register to vote with the registration materials that were on hand, and he also urged them to lobby for a new law that gives students a tax break on their student loan payment for students who graduate from Michigan colleges and universities and live and work in the state following graduation. Maine just passed the bill this summer.

“This is democracy right here,” he said. “This is what democracy looks like right here; people who are engaged in the process.”

Despite last-minute budget negotiations going on to save the state government from a shutdown on Monday, there were Legislators on hand to address the students.

“As you stand out on the Capitol lawn you are our future,” said Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor. “Investing in your education is investing in Michigan.”

In May the state had to make up an $800 million deficit from the current year budget that ends on Sunday, and included in one of the one-time fixes was a delay in paying the schools $160 million. That led to tuition hikes that averaged 11 percent and some incoming students will see increases as high as 21 percent. Students demanded the delayed payment be made to the schools and demanded increases in funding for colleges and universities.

The state is facing a $1.8 million budget deficit in the budget that begins Monday. However, Republicans refuse to vote for a tax increase even though many admit publicly it is required to balance the budget, and Democrats refuse to vote for cuts until Republicans vote for a tax increase.

“We’re not her to deliver a partisan message because proper funding of higher education is not a partisan issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek. “This affects both Democrats and Republicans.”

Michigan wants to be a leader in life sciences, alternative energy, advanced automotive manufacturing and homeland security through the Governor’s 21st Century Jobs Fund, but many believe that will require investment in education and other areas. Much of the opposition to the tax increase is because of a mistaken belief that Michigan is a high tax state, and Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Chelsea, said the states with the lowest tax rate are also the states with the lowest wages.

“I am so glad you are here; the timing could not be better,” Byrnes said. “Minnesota has one of the highest tax rates in the country, but they also have the highest graduation rates for both high school and college.
“That’s where the jobs and companies are going,” she said.

But the tuition hikes present unique problems to students who must find more money to pay for school or drop out, which is happening all too often as college becomes less and less affordable to poor and middle class students. Jason Davis, a student leader at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said he has had to work 40 hours a week since he was a sophomore in high school to pay for college, and he has had to work up to 46 hours a week to pay for the tuition increases.

“This is an issue that had not been addressed for far too long,” he said. “Year after year the tuition increases, and I have to work more, which means less time for studying.”

Christopher Allen, a medial student at Wayne State University School of Medicine, said he had $20,000 in school loan debt when he began medial school, and that debt is contributing to a shortage of general practice doctors.

“When we have high debt we have people go into higher specialties that bring in higher income to pay that debt,” he said. “That creates a shortage of primary care physicians.”

Governor addresses the state

LANSING – Gov. Jennifer Granholm took the unusual step of addressing the entire state at 6 p.m. Thursday, saying she has issued an Executive Directive to begin shutting down all but essential government services at midnight on Sunday unless a balanced budget agreement is reached before then, but at the same time she said productive negotiations are ongoing.

“The Constitution is clear, without a balanced budget in place the state cannot write a single check,” she said.

She said since February she has advocated for a balanced budget that includes a combination of cuts, reforms and new revenue, and she will not approve a budget that contains massive cuts to education, health care and public safety. The Governor also restated she would not accept a continuation budget unless an agreement was in place

“The Legislature has had more than enough time to avert this crisis by adopting a balanced budget - that's the one lawmaking-duty the Legislature is given by the Michigan Constitution," Granholm said. "These same leaders have demanded that we adopt a so-called continuation budget so they can have another 30 days to do what the Legislature has failed do to in almost eight months."
"All a continuation budget does is continue to spend money we don't have," she said. "It's not an answer to our fiscal problems, and in fact, it will only make them far worse."

Granholm urged residents to contact their legislators and urge them to put loyalty to Michigan above loyalty to party and reach a compromise.

Insurance rally brings out large crowd to urge fairness in insurance rates

More than 2,000 people gathered on the steps and in front of the state Capitol Wednesday to rally for fair and affordable insurance, wearing t-shirts that said, “enough is enough,” carrying signs and chanting “move those bill.”

The event was organized by Sen. Martha Scott, D-Highland Park, who has been fighting the practice of “redlining” since she was elected to the Senate some five years ago. Redlining means an insurance company refuses to insure an auto or home based solely on the geographic area where the person lives, provides an inferior product based on geography or at a higher price. Drivers and homeowners in Detroit and other urban areas can pay as much as 365 percent more for insurance coverage based on their location. Scott has stood up at the end of every single Senate session to urge the Republican majority in the Senate to take up her bills addressing the problem.

“I’m so excited you are here,” she told the large and enthusiastic crowd. “I have waited for this day for a long, long time.”

Scott was joined by her fellow Detroit area legislators and legislators from urban areas to urge an end to the practice of basing the rate people pay for auto insurance - that is required by law to be carried - to be based on location, zip code and credit report instead of the person’s actual driving record. One speaker said a driver in Detroit pays more for auto insurance than a driver in the suburbs with a drunk driving convention on their record.

“While I represent Flint and I am proud of Flint, I know you can all use the extra money you are paying for inflated insurance rates to put back in your pocket,” said Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint. “I experienced redlining when I first bought a home in Flint, and I was directed to a part of town I didn’t particularly care for.”

Scott was also joined by number of religious, community and political leaders from Detroit, as well as two busloads of United Auto Workers (UAW) from all over the state.

“I’m so proud of Detroit and the Detroit City Council,” said Detroit City Council Member and Motown icon Martha Reeves. “I’m here to tell you I have experienced the same problems we are fighting, and we are tired of being charged.”

In January Scott introduced Senate Bill 37 that will create an affordable and accessible insurance task force within the Office of Financial and Insurance Services, and she also introduced SB 38 that prohibits insurance rates from being based on where the person lives. Both bill were referred to the Committee on Economic Development and Regulatory Reform where they have yet to be taken up by the committee.

“We will not be silent and will not consent,” Scott said. “We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it.”

Scott plans on introducing a package of bills next month that will help the state live up to the 1978 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that guarantees insurance is available to everyone at a fair and equitable price.

The bills, according to a Senate Democratic press release, would “allow the Insurance Commissioner to rule that rates are excessive; prohibit the use of credit scoring and other socio-economic based factors in setting premiums; allow the Insurance Commissioner to order refunds; and allow policyholders to ask the Attorney General to intervene if rates are found excessive. In addition, it would require the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association be subject to the Open Meetings Act, with the Insurance Commissioner a voting member. It would also prohibit surcharges for gaps in coverage.”

Scott is also working with Detroit entrepreneur Ulrich Baker on a bill that will use Individual Development Accounts (IDA) to possibly self-insure. IDA’s are similar to 401Ks in that they are designed to assist low-income families save for the purchase of a major asset, like a home or a college education, with matched savings.

“We live in a country where we have a free market where we have competition,” Baker said. “If insurance companies don’t to it right we will do it ourselves.”

(Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats)

Sep 26, 2007

Senator predicts budget agreement in sight

Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids, told a room full of Michigan nonprofit executives Wednesday that he expects the Legislature to reach a budget deal and avoid a government shutdown before the deadline on Monday.

“I do believe today and tomorrow are going to be historic days for us,” Jansen said at the annul Nonprofit Day sponsored by the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) at the Lansing Center. “I’m going to predict in the next 24 to 48 hours, like the UAW, we are going to have a tentative agreement.”

The House and Senate leadership had originally been scheduled to be part of a panel discussion on the budget at the annual event, but they were locked in fevered negotiations as the budget deadline draws nearer. Jansen and fellow freshman lawmaker Rep. Kim Meltzer, R-Clinton Township, served as pinch-hitters for the leadership

In the case of a budget shutdown much of the slack for human service needs and emergency relief help will fall to some of the more than 1,000 non-profits that the MNA represents. The theme of the annual nonprofit day is “Looking through the crystal ball: Where do we go from here,” but no on at the conference expected the budget to still be up in the air when the date for the 8th annual event was chosen last year.

“As partners with government, government and non-profits provide some essential services to our citizens,” said Karla Hall, an MNA board member. “The financial health of our state is of great importance to us.”

Although both House and Senate Republicans have, with the exception of Rep. Chris Ward, refused to vote for any tax increases, they have admitted publicly it will take a combination of cuts, reforms and new revenue to make up the $1.8 billon budget deficit.

“It we don’t get it done, shame on us,” Jansen said. “It won’t be a perfect solution, and everyone is probably going to be mad.
“If both sides are mad then I probably did something right,” he said.

Some Republicans have welcomed a government shutdown, and that prospect drew cheers at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference held last weekend. However, Meltzer is not one of those Republicans welcoming a shutdown. As the owner of a small tool and die shop, she said a shutdown would have the same effect on many Michigan residents as the short labor strike by the UAW had on her shop.

“In my opinion, the worst thing we can do is shut down the government,” she said. “I am a Republican and I have heard some Republicans say shut it down we don’t need government, but government provides some needed services.”

She favors the 30-day continuation or temporary budget passed last weekend by the Senate but frowned upon by Gov. Jennifer Granholm unless there is an agreement in principal in place.

“I think a continuation budget is the best way to go, even if I wasn’t an advocate for a continuation budget at first,” Meltzer said. “We simply owe it to the people not to shut government down.”

Following the legislators, a panel featuring long-time Lansing lobbyists weighed in on the budget, and they have been around Lansing and the Capitol much longer than lawmakers in the era of term limits. Although they were less enthusiastic than the lawmakers about getting a budget in place in time, they believe the budget will get done, and they expect to see an increase in the income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.5 percent. But they think it will take a continuation budget just to get a short-term budget in place.

Jeff Williams, a senior vice-president at Public Sector Consultants, said any government reforms will take anywhere from 3-8 years to have a positive effect on government spending, including going to a retirement plan that utilizes a defined contribution plan for state employees.

“If you think Michigan is going to fix the next eight years in 48 hours you are mistaken,” he said. “Show us a budget for 12 months.”

Tom Hoisington, the president of Public Affairs Associates, said the rancor and posturing between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House that we are seeing in the media is not what’s going on behind closed doors. However, he said the plan of cutting taxes 30 times since 1993 to spur economic development and lure companies into investing here has not helped the economy or the budget.

“This is part of a failed experiment that began 10 years ago,” he said. “It was if you cut taxes they will come; they have not.”

Sep 24, 2007

Anti-union ad prompts discussion of advertising polices for bloggers

Some small cracks have been revealed in Michigan’s strong progressive/liberal blogging community when the leading liberal blog, Michigan Liberal, ran an anti-union blog ad.

The ad takes you to an anti-union blog called “Labor Pains,” which is part of the larger anti-union group called “Union Facts.” The ad copy says, “It's no longer Unions vs. Management. Now it's Unions vs. Employees: Union "leaders" embezzle and waste dues dollars. Union "leaders" use members' money on their own political agenda. Union "leaders" are trying to suppress an employee's right to secret ballot elections. Read more...”

Aside from the operators of the Michigan Liberal getting some angry emails from readers and posters, Michael Huerta, a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) from Perry who operates the blog FARLEFTFIELD, took the symbolic step of taking the link to Michigan Liberal off of his blogroll. He said with the attack on labor unions in Michigan with so-called right to work laws pending in the state Legislature and the UAW strike against General Motors running the ad is bad timing, at best.

“Obviously, reasonable minds can differ,” he said. “It just seems like you work so hard for something good, and you get stuff like that.”

Huerta said he has had contact with Eric Baerren at Michigan Liberal, who is acting as the blog’s quasi-managing editor, and although Huerta disagrees with the e reasoning for running the ad, he remains cordial and supportive of Michigan Liberal.

“I don’t want to get in a flap over this, and it’s hard to say anything bad about the site,” Huerta said. “Michigan Liberal is one of the best sources for organizing and finding out about events in the state.”

Baerren says he has gotten a few angry emails, but once he explained the ad policy people understood his position.

“Michigan Liberal is pro-labor; it has been pro-labor in the past, and it will be pro-labor in the future,” he said. “If the right to work proposal gets off the ground we will be fighting against it.”

Mainstream media outlets have dealt with the problem of running questionable ads and conflicts of interest by adopting a consistent policy and keeping the sales and editorial departments segregated and independent as possible. But with the new medium of blogs there come new problems, and accepting ads from political opponents is one of them. Most blogs are just platforms for people’s opinions, but because some of the more popular blogs have such high traffic counts, advertisers are turning to blogs to reach a younger, targeted audience. The problem can be especially acute when the blog is operated by just one person, or in the case of Michigan Liberal by a quasi-board of four people, as well as many contributing writers and diarists.

“It’s kind of a big tent when you are talking about progressives,” Baerren said. “Obviously, you are going to get a lot of differing opinions.”

Baerren said he has adopted the same basic policy for advertising used by Daily Kos and The Nation Magazine. The policy gives him the discretion to reject ads that are plainly false, obscene or libelous, or ads that come with an overt attempt to influence editorial content. The policy also says running an ad does not imply endorsement of the product or cause, but if an ad is rejected for content then it leads to the danger that an advertisement that does run has an implied endorsement.

“You don’t endorse advertising, but you can’t condemn advertising either,” Baerren said. “When you start vetting ads for content you can have problems.
“I think it’s a bad idea when you start to vet for content,” he said.

The ad comes from a type of syndicate called Blogads that bloggers with at least an average of 1,000 hits a day can subscribe to. An advertiser contracts with the company, and he can choose a blog based on the number of hits, the content of the blog and their target audience. Blogads sends the ad to the blog, and the operator can accept the ad, reject it or do nothing and in three days it runs automatically, all for a small fee. Baerren said there was plenty of internal debate before deciding to do nothing and allowing it to run. That gave him time to post an explanation on the reason for running the ad.

“I wanted the blog post to run before the ad ran,” he said. “Most of the comments we got from the post were that they understood once they understood why we did it.”

Michigan Liberal was started in March of 2005 by Matt Ferguson, a former radio reporter, a former Democratic candidate for the U.S. House from the 8th Congressional District and a political consultant. It quickly became the leading liberal blog, but Ferguson stepped away from daily operations and posting on the blog when he took a job with The State of Michigan following the November elections.

In addition to Baerren, the blog is now operated by co-owners Laura Packard and Jon Koller and outreach coordinator Julielyn Gibbons. Both Packard and Gibbons have worked very hard to establish a cohesive liberal “blogosphere” by organizing various meet-and-greets with bloggers and elected Democratic officials, introducing other bloggers to each other, encouraging bloggers to carry each other’s links, organizing a blogger picnic this past summer, organizing a bloggers caucus at the Michigan Democratic Party convention last winter and they put together a guide to blogging they make available to new liberal and progressive bloggers.

(For full disclosure, Kevin Shopshire is a former diarist on Michigan Liberal under the screen name kjbas58.)

Sep 23, 2007

Senate budget bill will pink-slip more than 600 state employees

LANSING --In what many Senators called a historic session, the Senate passed four bills in an attempt to balance the budget before the Oct. 1 deadline during a special session Sunday night.

The Senate approved a supplemental appropriations bill, Senate Bill 511 that makes painful cuts to the executive branch, the judiciary, the legislative branch, community colleges and universities to the tune of some $900 million by a vote of 20-18. Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, cast the lone Republican no vote, saying the cuts were too deep and unrealistic and delay the entire process.

“The majority of the cuts in this bill are unrealistic,” he said. “I will vote for cuts, but only for cuts that are realistic.”

The bill still leaves a projected budget deficit of $568.8 million the Democratic House must deal with, and the fix, besides the cuts, includes $219.4 million of one-time revenue that are estimated to be received from the Michigan Business Tax.

Highlights of the cuts include a cut of $7.6 million from the Attorney General's budget that could result in the elimination of approximately 107 employees or 19 of the departmental work force, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. It will cause the elimination of 25 employees or 18 percent of the workforce from the Department of Civil Rights, 38 employees or 16 percent from the Department of Civil Service, 143 employees from the Department of Environmental Quality, from Judiciary 59 employees will be axed or approximately 11 of the judicial workforce, 31 employees from the Legislative Auditor General will go, from the Secretary of State the closure of approximately 25 branch offices and the layoff of approximately 80 employees and from the Department of Treasury approximately 137 employees will get a pink slip.

The Senate also passed House Bill 5194 along party lines, but it stripped the income tax rate out of the bill, removes a service tax and tie-bars it to the “reform” bill just passed. The House had tried for the past week to increase the income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.6 percent with HB 5194, but they did not have the votes. Instead, they sent a shell or vehicle bill to the Senate to get the process going.

“We did out job tonight and we reduced government,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester. “We will send this back to the House and if lighting strikes they will get something done tonight or maybe tomorrow.”

The Senate also passed SB 237 along party lines that cuts $363 million from the School Aid Fund.

SB 622 was also passed along party lines 21-17 that will allow the Michigan Department of Corrections to privatize the corrections mental health program by allowing them to contract with “third-party providers.”

Garcia, who has been very involved in budget negotiations and has been the target of a threatened recall by the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance for his actions, said if nothing is done by tomorrow, he will introduce a plan that bridges the gap between the House and Senate and the Governor’s plan.

“The public has not paid me to sit on my hands and do nothing,” he said.

The Senate adjourned at 9:49 p.m. Sunday, and they will reconvene at 2 p.m. Monday.

Sep 20, 2007

Veteran journalist says no vote for income tax increase jeopardizes Michigan

NOVI - Veteran journalist Jack Lessenberry told a group of West Oakland County Democrats that the budget and economic situation in Michigan is the worst he has ever seen it.

“However bad you thing the situation is in Michigan, it’s worse,” he said. “There is no way to exaggerate the situation.”

Lessenberry has worked as a foreign correspondent and executive national editor of The Detroit News, reporting from more than 40 countries. His writing has appeared in such national publications as Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe. He is also a professor of journalism at Wayne State University, and his freelance columns appear in The Metro Times, The Traverse-City Record Eagle and The Toledo (Ohio) Blade. He is also a senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.

Lessenberry was extremely critical of the state Legislature’s inability to pass a budget, or approve a much needed income tax increase. He said no company would want to move to Michigan with the government in disarray, the roads and infrastructure crumbling and the state’s biggest assets, the schools, being starved. He says as a professor at Wayne he sees far too many promising students drop out of college simply because they cannot afford the tuition, especially in light of an 18 percent increase in tuition this summer.

“It’s not even a raise in taxes, it’s a restoration,” Lessenberry said. “I’m not a farmer, but farmers settled this state.
“They know that to prosper they cannot eat next year’s seed corn,” he said.

He lashed out at the Republicans refusal to vote for the income tax increase because of the fear of a recall from a man who has never had a job where he was not paid with tax dollars.

“Republicans believe in taxes they just believe in taxing the poor,” he said. “They are turning Michigan into Mississippi with ice storms. It’s very scary for those of us left in Michigan.”

Despite speaking in front of a room full of Democrats, he pulled no punches and also had hard words for Democrats too. He took Gov. Jennifer Granholm to task for a lack of leadership on the budget. He said she should have bought a half hour of TV time to tell people the budget situation in a quasi fireside chat and use the political capital she gained in the election with an overwhelming victory and being term-limited.

“We will be the laughing stock of the nation if we have a shutdown,” Lessenberry said. “The governor took far too long to take a principled stand. She let Mike Bishop take a major role.”
“I just do not understand why the governor did not take the lead on this,” he said. “She has no political capital to lose.”

Lessenberry was also critical of the 10 freshman Democratic House members in vulnerable seats who did not cast an up or down vote for the income tax increase during last weekend’s marathon House session.

“They are gutless wonders,” he said. “They refused to vote because they want to hang on to a job they are going to lose in six years; the state of Michigan is at stake here.”

Lessenberry had some bold predictions for the presidential primary, saying Hilary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. He also said he did not expect Barack Obama to be her running mate no matter how well he did in the primaries because Lessenberry thinks asking voters to vote for two firsts in the same election – a woman and African-American for president and vice-president - was asking too much. He expects her running mate to be a male Senator from a Middle Western state. However, he had no idea who the front-runner was in what he called a particularity weak Republican field

“Hilary Clinton is already the Democratic nominee; she has already been anointed,” he said. “Usually, it’s the Republicans who settle this first.”

He said the U.S. Congressional districts have been so effectively gerrymandered he expects little change there, but there could be a race in the 7th District where GOP U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg faces a challenge from the Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer and in the 9th District where long-time Republican Joe Knollenberg faces a challenge from Democrat Gary Peters.

“He (Walberg) is somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan. The last time I said that I got an angry note; Genghis Khan was angry at being compared to Tim Walberg.”

Lessenberry said he was less than excited about Peters' chances of winning because he called him a “lousy campaigner.” He said Peters was qualified, smart and capable, but he is not a good campaigner. He said he singe-handily allowed the first Republican to be elected to the position of attorney general in Michigan in almost 40 years.

“You need to get Nancy Skinner out of there first," he said. “The last thing the Democrats need is a bruising primary.”

The state House will be an interesting place next year with 44 members term-limited, but Lessenberry said it will be a good year for Democrats.

“Democrats will pick up a few more seats,” he said. “I do not see Republicans taking control of the House.”

Sep 19, 2007

Battle over sulfide mining permit pits traditional foes

The fight over granting a mining permit for Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company to mine copper and nickel in the Upper Peninsula is pitting a couple of old foes against each other; environmentalists and labor unions.

The company wants a permit for the mine located in Michigan’s largest undeveloped tract in southern Marquette County’s Yellow Dog plains under the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River that flows directly into Lake Superior. The decision makers from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took public comment Wednesday at the Lansing Center before it makes a decision. No decision will be made until at least Nov. 14 at the earliest, and DEQ and DNR officials made no comment and only took testimony from the public at the hearing.

The mine needs five permits to begin operations, and the five officials who will make the decision on each permit were on hand for the hearing. The company must obtain a mining permit, a groundwater discharge permit, an air use permit, a lease from the DNR for use of state-owned surface property and a mining reclamation permit. Public hearings were held last week in the UP, and many UP residents make the trip to Lansing to testify again. Many UP residents have formed a Marquette-based, grassroots organization called “Save the Wild UP” to fight the mine.

“I think protecting the area is far more important than my personal gain,” said Andrew Sorney, an engineer who lives near the proposed site. “I believe the area needs to be protected.”

Opponents of the mine say it will drain the aquifer, destroy wetlands, destroy wildlife habitat, destroy fisheries, pollute the air and pollute the water. But environmentalists are extremely concerned about the effects of the sulfide produced at the mine. It’s an unwanted substance that is combined with the nickel that when it comes into contact with the air or water produces acid that leeches into the groundwater and runoff to the river and to Lake Superior. Although ore mines have existed in the UP for many years, the new mining technology is causing new concerns, despite new, tougher mining standards in Michigan.

“We need to be very specific about what we require of these mines; this permit does not adhere to the standards of the statute,” said James Clift, the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, and a member of the workgroup that helped write the new mining standards. “I believe a new generation of mining is going to come to the UP, but it’s not Kennecott.”

Although the speakers advocating rejecting the permits outnumbered those urging approval of the permits by a more than 2-1 margin, there were some supporters.

“We believe this project is critical to help grow and diversify our economy in Michigan,” said Doug Roberts, Jr., the Director of Environmental and Energy Policy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “Wages and jobs in Michigan continue to fall: this project will help stabilize wages and the economy.”

Proponents of the mine say it will create 120 permanent jobs in an area that desperately needs jobs, create 300 construction jobs, have a payroll of $8-10 million, create numerous spin-off jobs and be the only mine in the U.S. producing much-needed nickel.

“This project will benefit this area,” said Tony Retaskie, the Executive Director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council. “I personally feel this mine will benefit our community, as mines have for more than a 100 years.”

Some supporters believe the company has met the strict guidelines to be environmentally safe and have reduced the potential for acid to develop.

“We feel that both jobs can be created and that the natural resources can be protected,” said Mike Fikes, the Legislative Director for the Michigan Laborers’ District Council that represents 13,000 active and retired construction laborers in Michigan. “The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Some opponents said the jobs the mine would bring would only be a short-term gain that would harm the economy of the area in the long run and not solve the unemployment problems in the long run.

“I think this is just a bad business decision,” said Duncan Campbell, a businessman from East Lansing. “We are destroying our tourism industry, our water and our habitat.”

Opponents of the mine brought forth a number of objections, including the reputation of Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company.

“There are volumes and volumes of information on Kennecott front the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency),” said Ray Francis, a contractor from Traverse City. “Their track record is not very good.”

Many people were upset that the DEQ has not had an independent review of the data supplied by Kennecott, especially on the toxic air and metal residue put out into the atmosphere by the ventilation system.

“I am deeply, deeply troubled by the fact that the DEQ seems to be accepting Kennecott’s data without doing their own due diligence on it,” said James Campbell of Northville, who also owns property near the mine. “The miners are going to wear breathing devises, but the air is being emitted unfiltered.”

There was considerable concern over air pollution caused by the ventilation system that consists of exhaust air from the mine being vented through a 50-foot tall stack with no air pollution controls. Phil Power - the former owner and publisher of HomeTown Communications Network and founder of The Center for Michigan, a non-profit and nonpartisan "think-and-do tank" – presented evidence of the harm the air pollution will cause. He said the underground blasting of copper and nickel would create a plume of toxic dust particles that will cause serious harm to the flora, fauna and fish in the pristine area.

“This is not just anti-mine rhetoric,” Power said. “It is based on Kennecott’s own supplied data.
“We strongly urge the DEQ to obtain an independent study of these dust particles.”

Concerned citizens can still submit written comments by mail or e-mail until 5 p.m., Oct. 17. Comments can be mailed to: DEQ/DNR Kennecott Comments
Office of Geological Survey
P.O. Box 3025
Lansing, Michigan 48909-7756.

Sep 17, 2007

Senate passes a one-month continuation budget

LANSING – Just a few hours after a press conference where Gov. Jennifer Granholm said she would veto a continuation budget if it is not linked to a tax increase, the Senate did just that today, passing Senate Bill 772 and 773 along party lines.

“The idea of a continuation budget to solve the budget problem is ridiculous and ludicrous,” said Sen. Gilda Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods. “…If the goal is to shut down government then a continuation budget surely accomplishes that.”

The bill provides a temporary budget for one month for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Senate Republicans, who control the Senate, said it would allow bond payments so the state does not default and payments will be made to local school districts. The state has to make up a $1.8 million budget deficit. The bills passed on a straight party line vote of 20-17, and Sen. Valde Garcia (R-Howell) was absent.

“If we came to an agreement today on how we can balance the budget with reforms, cuts and revenue it is doubtful if we can put the necessary rules in place to pay our bills in time by the first week of October,” said Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy.

The Democratic controlled House met in a marathon session all weekend and today to try and pass a state income tax increase to 4.6 percent from 3.9 percent. Both the Senate and House have said it will take a combination of cuts, reforms and new revenue to balance the budget. However, the Senate refuses to pass any tax increases, and no House Republican will vote for any increase either.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, used sports analogies like “it’s gut-check time” and the Senate was “punting,” saying a continuation budget may be necessary, but an agreement on a 12-month fix should be in place first.

“This is accepting defeat and waving the white flag,” he said. “What’s worse is we don’t even know what is in the bills because it appoints a 10-person committee.”

Michigan-based non-profit provides comfort to wounded troops

The thousands of soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan are receiving some much needed creature comforts with care packages from southeast Michigan.

Operation Quiet Comfort (OQC) is a Michigan-based group with members from all over the country that provides care packages to wounded soldiers brought into Combat Support Hospital (CSH) that include such essential things as pajamas and underwear to razors and portable CD players with three music CDs. With the quick extraction from the battlefield and improved medial treatment that is saving the lives of hundreds of wounded soldiers that would have died from their wounds in past wars, the wounded arrive at the CSH with just what they had on them on the battlefield with all personal items left behind.

“There are some basic needs that need to be met when the men and woman come into the hospitals,” said Amber Sherman, a Volunteer Project Coordinator for Public Relations for the Midwest who lives in Roseville. “When the soldier comes in they literally have just their BDUs and boots on, and they are usually cut away.”

In addition to the basic clothing OQC provides, they also provide what are known as “Go Bags.” The basic black backpacks include such essential toiletry and comfort items as the CD players, stationary and personal items. They also receive what are known as the Four Freedom Gratitude Quilts. These are made of denim squares cut from jeans, and the squares are signed by groups and individuals that include messages of support. The quilts were inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Congress in 1941 that includes the four basic freedoms the military is protecting: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

“There are not many groups out there that do what we do,” Sherman said. “It’s really important the troops know we support and care for them here at home.”

Quiet Comfort was formed in 2004 by Lori Pate in her home in LaSalle Township, a rural community in southern Monroe County. The concept quickly took off, and Pate is the president of a board of directors for the tax-exempt nonprofit charitable organization that boasts directors from places like Mansfield, MO.; Shawnee, Kan.; and Middleport, N.Y.

“She simply saw and need and a void and filled it,” Sherman said. “It has just grown and grown and grown.”

Despite the divisive politics over the invasion and fighting in Iraq, Sherman said that is something that the group does not even cares about or concerns itself with. Volunteers include both opponents of the continued fighting in Iraq and those that support it.

“Our mission is to support our injured troops, only,” she said. “We are not here to support the war or not to support the war; our focus is the troops.”

Although there are members from all over the country, the boxes to ship the go bags and clothing to the 38 overseas hospitals the group supports is done here in Michigan. It was originally done in Pate’s home, but it has grown so large that it has moved into donated warehouse space. The packing days occur about six times a year, but that can change depending on need. For example, the recent troop surge in Iraq increased the packing days.

Sherman said there are numerous volunteer opportunities available, and you do not have to be a member to help. Many groups and individual donate money and items to go in the bags, and they also gather to write the notes of support. Many groups also hold fundraisers to help buy the items and pay for shipping. The fundraisers are very unique, and they resemble some of the fundraisers held for Jerry Lewis’s Labor Day telethon. For example, Sherman just held a yard sale where she raised $600 for the cause, and a farmer in Dundee who operates a corn maze is donating half of the ticket sales to the group.

“We get a lot of Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops to help because our projects are easy to do,” Sherman said. “But there is nothing typical about our fundraising, and if a member has an idea that works we say go for it.”

The only real shortfall has been finding enough quilters to get each wounded service member a quilt.

“We are always looking for quilters,” Sherman said. “We need anyone who can sew a straight line.”

Anyone can join, and there is no membership fee. You can join by simply becoming a member of their yahoo group, and the only requirement is to be able to raise a $1 a month for postage.

Sep 13, 2007

Senate Republican budget proposal cuts $6 million from Veterans budget

LANSING - Senate Republicans sent a mixed message to military veterans in Michigan the last two weeks with both a huge cut to the Veterans Affairs budget and an ambitious package of bills addressing veteran’s affairs.

Last week the Senate Republicans rolled out a package of 33 bills aimed at supporting Michigan military personnel by offering programs and incentives for health support, financial and economic incentives and educational opportunities. But on Tuesday, the Director of the Senate Fiscal Agency briefed the Appropriations Committee on Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop's, R-Rochester, proposal to balance the budget that begins Oct. 1 with $1 billion dollars in cuts and one-time revenue fixes.

That proposal cuts includes $2.2 million from the Michigan Military and Veterans Affairs Department, and it reduces grants for Veteran Service Organization by $3.9 million. At a time when more and more U.S. Army combat troops and Marines are returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq with both physical and mental health problems and National Guard call ups are the highest since World War II the veteran's budget is taking a $6 million hit.

At this point it’s unclear how much the proposed measures in the 33-bill package will affect the General Fund budget. Many of the measures will affect other budgets, like higher education. However, higher education is also suffering from cuts under the current Senate budget proposal. In addition to cuts already suffered by colleges and universities to fix a deficit in the current budget, a 2.5 percent increase for higher education and eliminating a similar increase for community colleges is proposed in the budget that begins on Oct. 1.

According to a press release from the Senate Republic Caucus, the package of bills from the Senate “would eliminate a one-time service fee from the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code for honorably discharged veterans who are totally disabled, providing them with a special registration for private passenger vehicles. The disabled veteran would continue to receive subsequent registration plates and tabs free of charge.”

The bills would also allow children of active military personnel who are transferred out of state to keep their in-state residency status for determining college tuition; allow spouses and children of an active duty member of the armed forces stationed in Michigan to be considered a resident when determining college tuition; prohibit the lapse of life insurance policies for active duty military personnel; and ban foreclosure or seizure of the property of an active duty member while they are deployed and for six months after they return.

On Wednesday the Senate Senior Citizens and Veterans Affairs Committee began hearing testimony on of some the first bills in the package with an overview. Hearings are to begin next week on specific bills. Expected to be presented to the Committee next week is Senate Bill 751, which sets aside state contracts for veteran-owned businesses. Additionally, SB 732, SB 733 and SB 734, which designates certain veteran-owned businesses as Michigan patriot businesses, will also be before the committee.

It’s unclear how the cuts to the Michigan Military and Veterans Affairs Department will affect any of these bills.

Sep 12, 2007

Coulter Quote of the Week: Dedicated to the organizers of the Counter Coulter event

This week’s Coulter Quote of the week is dedicated to the good folks at Livingston County Voter’s Voice and the Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton who are sponsoring a “Counter Coulter” event to provide a positive counter to the queen of hate’s appearance in Livingston County.

Jonathan Cohn, a senior editor at The New Republic magazine, will appear at the Howell Opera House at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 to lead a discussion on the state of health care in the country. The price of admission is a donation. Cohn is appearing free instead of charging $30,000 plus expenses like Ann Coulter. The proceeds will go to The Livingston County Free Dental Clinic for Children. Coulter’s process will go to fuel more hate.

Cohn is also a media fellow at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and a senior fellow at Demos a non-partisan public policy center. Cohn writes about domestic politics and policy with a primary focus on health care. In April he published his first book “Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis --- and the People Who Pay for it." Cohn has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone and Slate. A graduate of Harvard University, he now lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two children.

Without further ado, here are a few recent gems of hate from the queen of all hate commenting on the Iraq report. I have no idea why they would ask her to comment on that either, but they did.

"They want us to lose. They hate the troops. They think the troops are a bunch of illiterate, toothless rapists. ... They've been against this war from the beginning. The same people who say the surge isn't working didn't want us to go in. ... They want America to lose. They are rooting for al Qaeda." ---Fox News 9/10/07

"I don't know that Americans are so against the war. ... We keep having votes from our representatives [to keep funding the war] while I hear about these mysterious polls showing that the nation is ablaze with anti-war fervor. ... I don't think I'd count on having much influence with authentic Americans. This is just, you know, a well-funded group of people without jobs. ... They want anarchy. ... They hate the United States of America." ---Fox News 9/10/07

Senate Democrats take up challenge and introduce revenue-producing bills

LANSING – Responding to Sept. 11's Appropriations Committee meeting where the Director of the Senate Fiscal Agency, Gary Olson, outlined Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop's, R-Rochester, proposal to balance the budget that begins Oct. 1 with $1 billion dollars in cuts and one-time revenue fixes Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, introduced a package of bills the next day to increase revenue as a part of the solution to the budget crisis.

Brater and Democrats on the Appropriations Committee were dismayed at what they called “draconian” cuts in the budget and simple gotcha politics, and they were more appalled when the Senate Republicans, who control the Senate, acknowledged the budget will have to balanced with a combination of cuts, reforms and new revenue but said they will only act on a tax increase proposal from the Democratic-controlled House and indicated they will do nothing until they get one they can vote on. The state faces a $1.7 billion budget deficit.

The bills make a number of technical changes to the income, sales and use tax acts and can be amended to provide needed revenue for critical state services. Although a number of revenue increasing measures have been discussed recently, Lansing insiders believe the most likely option will be a proposal that raises the income tax from its current 3.9 percent to 4.4 to 4.6 percent, a tax on services or a 1 percent increase in the sales tax. It’s expected the House could vote on some of these proposals as early as Friday.

“Today I introduced a package of bills that will help us solve this budget crisis in a swift and responsible manner," Brater said in a press release announcing the package "These bills allow us to come together in the Senate to enact a long-term, comprehensive fix that will protect critical services and allow us to invest in our people. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to move forward and meet our responsibilities to the people of Michigan."

The cuts Olson outlined would only cut the budget deficit by about $1 billon, and that would leave approximately $700 million to go, presumably made up in in a tax increase initiated by the House. The cuts include eliminating a proposed 2.5 percent increase for K-12 School Aid, eliminating a proposed 2.5 percent increase for higher education and eliminating a similar increase for community colleges. The cuts would also include $116.8 million in cuts to the Department of Human Services, $78.6 million in cuts to the Department of Community Health and $50 million in cuts to Corrections, $23.4 million in cuts to all other departments and $75.4 million in cuts to state employee economic funding. But Olson also gave Senators a look at a proposal that balances the budget with cuts alone.

It would include all the cuts already outlined, as well as a huge cut in statutory revenue sharing, - money local municipalities get to help pay for police, fire and other local services - by $398.7 million. The already hurting City of Detroit would suffer the most with a loss of $208.9 million

Sen. Mickey Switalski, D-Roseville, the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. John Gleason, D-Flushing, also sponsored revenue bills in the package.

"We were elected to act and this package will help us do just that,” Gleason said.

America and Michigan marks the sixth Anniversary of 9/11

HOWELL - Ceremonies, memorials and events marking the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon yesterday.

The ceremonies were held in every town, city, hamlet and burg across the nation. It was marked nationally in Washington, D.C. where the President held a moment of silence and General Peter Pace spoke at the wall of the Pentagon where the hijacked airliner crashed into; in New York City relatives of those who died in the World Trade Center and on the two hijacked airplanes gathered at Ground Zero in New York to honor their lost loved ones; in Michigan the Governor ordered the flags in the state flown at half-mast and a moment of silence and locally in Livingston County a pair of ceremonies were held. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox spoke at American Legion Post 141 and the third consecutive year the Livingston County Teen Age Republicans (TAR) organized a ceremony of the lawn of the Historic Livingston County Courthouse in downtown Howell.

The TAR event honored the military, local firefighters, police, EMS personal and the 3,000 people who lost their lives on that historic day. The crowd was much smaller than in the past, especially in comparison to the event held on Sept. 12, 2001 on the day after the attack when the huge crowds lined the sidewalk and overflowed into Grand River Avenue.

“Hank you for coming out showing your support,” said Staff Sgt. Jamison Yager. “It has been six years, and the flags and bumper stickers have begun to disappear.

“Remember, freedom isn’t free,” he said.

But some 100 people braved the chilly, windy weather to participate in the event.

“We are cold tonight, but I have heard you have not been cold until you have spent a night in Afghanistan,” said Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, a Colonel in the National Guard. “You have not been hot until you have worn full body armor in Iraq.”

However, the 9/11 event has conflicted many people. They want to show their patriotism and honor the sacrifice of those that died in the attack, as well as the people in the Armed Forces, but they also feel 9/11 has been used as a political tool to get the U.S. into the Iraq war that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, as well as it being used as an a tool to restrict civil liberties and circumvent the U.S. Constitution. Frank Grundman is one who feels the same way, and he is suspicious that political parties have grabbed onto the event to bolster support for the Iraq situation, although he said that was pretty much absent in this event than in past ones.

“I guess it just bothers me that an event that brought the country together like nothing I have ever seen in my lifetime has been used to justify something that has driven a huge wedge between people in this country,” he said.

Sep 11, 2007

Senate Republicans blame House Democrats for stalled budget

The Vice-Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee laid the blame for the stalled budget process at the door of the House Democrats at a hearing Tuesday where Gary Olson, Director of the Senate Fiscal Agency, gave a budget briefing on Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop's, R-Rochester, proposal to balance the budget that begins Oct. 1 with $1 billion dollars in cuts and one-time revenue fixes.

Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, said back in May the Governor proposed a budget that was $1 billon more than the project revenues, and if Democrats want to balance the budget their way, they need to propose a tax increase the Senate can vote on.

“If you don’t like the cuts we are making put up the tax increase and get the votes,” he said. “We are trying to meet you half way. Don’t ask me to do your job too.”

The budget is facing a $1.7 billion projected deficit, and Bishop’s plan leaves some $700 million short of a constitutionally- required balanced budget. Olson also presented a budget balanced completely with cuts and one-time fixes to give Senators a look at the painful cuts required. The options required to balance the budget with just cuts included an early retirement proposal for state workers that could shed up to 6,700 workers and estimates of projected revenue from the Michigan Business Tax. Olson also talked about a continuation budget to avoid a government shutdown and even defaulting on general obligation bonds.

“Defaulting on bonds is an option, but that’s something the state will take years to overcome, as well as hurt our credit rating,” he said.

Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, accused Senate Republicans of playing gottcha politics by daring the House Democrats to vote for a tax increase when they know they are not sure if they have enough votes in the Senate to get it passed. She also said the proposed cuts would have a serious negative effect on families, people’s health and their safety.

“I don’t know why we are even wasting time looking at this,” Brater said. “Looking at bridge collapses in other states, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say if we don’t balance the budget with some new revenue people will be hurt.”

Brater also pointed out that since 1999 the state has had 40 percent less revenue when you adjust for inflation because of the past tax cuts, and she also pointed out that under former Republican Gov. Bill Milliken, Michigan had 52,673 state employees. In 2006 there were only 52,255 state employees.

Some Senators were also disturbed at the amount of one-tine fixes and tricks used over the years to balance the budget that included draining a $1 billon rainy day fund, selling the tobacco settlement money and early tax collections.

“I’m struck at how we used so many one-time fixes,” said Sen. Michael Switalski, D-Roseville. “We always acted like things would get better if we just got through this year, and we have been doing that for the past six years.”

The committee did not vote on any proposals. But Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, said the Senate should pass the proposal so the Senate and the House can work on a compromise.

“I think, ultimately, the Governor’s proposal of balancing the budget with a combination of cuts, reforms and revenue is going to be the way to balance the budget,” he said. “We will have something to show them on paper.”

Group holding a Counter Coulter event

Livingston County Voter’s Voice and the Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton are sponsoring a “Counter Coulter” event to provide a positive event in response rightwing pundit Ann Coulter’s appearance at Cleary University’s Economic Club Speakers Luncheon Series in Howell on Oct. 1 at the cost of $30,000.

Jonathan Cohn, a senior editor at The New Republic magazine, will appear at the Howell Opera House at 7 p.m. on the same day Coulter is speaking to lead a discussion on the state of health care in the country. The price of admission is a donation. Cohn is appearing free, and organizers say once the $100 cost of renting the venue is met the rest will be donated to The Livingston County Free Dental Clinic for Children.

“A number of us decided back in May there should be something positive instead of the hate speech and racist comments from Coulter,” said Jim Swonk, the president of Voter’s Voice and the President of the Board at the church. “We’re just trying to do something positive while she’s in the county.”

Livingston County has suffered with a lingering reputation as a racist community because the former Grand Dragon of the Michigan Klan lived on a farm in rural Cohoctah Township just outside of Howell, as well as having a very small minority population in the county.

“There are a lot of people in the community upset that she is coming,” Swonk said. “We hope to get a good response, and we have room for 200 people.”

In addition to being a senior editor at The New Republic magazine, Cohn is also a media fellow at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and a senior fellow at Demos a non-partisan public policy center. Cohn writes about domestic politics and policy with a primary focus on health care. In April he published his first book “Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis --- and the People Who Pay for it." Cohn has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone and Slate. A graduate of Harvard University, he now lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two children.

Although organizers here began the planning for the event five months ago, they were buoyed by the recent "Thank Ann Coulter" campaign at Xavier University in Cincinnati where a coalition of student and progressive groups raised the same $25,000 speaking fee Coulter received and donated it to student groups at a Counter Coulter rally while Coulter was speaking.

The Voter's Voice is a group for independents, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans formed in 2002 for people concerned about politics and public policy.

“We try to take out the spin from both the right and the left,” Swonk said, who is also a former Democratic candidate for state Senator.

Howell Opera House is located at the corner of Grand River Avenue and Walnut Street in downtown Howell.

Sep 10, 2007

New progressive online newspaper and blog launched

A new venture was launched in Michigan today, and I am very happy to say I am a part of it. The online newspaper/blog the Michigan Messenger was launched today, and it’s a collaboration of professional bloggers and journalists across Michigan with the goal of breaking news and influencing the conversations about issues that face our state.

It is part of the Center for Independent Media’s - a not-for-profit organization that fosters diversity of ideas in the national debate by educating and training people on the use of new communications technologies – New Journalism Program. The Center for Independent Media was founded in April 2006 after a four- month intensive research study. The research project's objective was to understand how blogs work to broaden ideological diversity in the media, and how to reinforce these positive effects.

The goal is to train and equip citizen-journalists, and the group is a mix of journalists, writers, academics and bloggers. The goals of the program are to strengthen networks of progressive blogs on a state-by-state basis, and the Michigan Messenger joins The Minnesota Monitor, the Iowa Independent and the Colorado Confidential in breaking and reporting frontline political news.

With newsroom consolidation and most newspapers and newspaper chains closing down their Capitol bureaus, we will be taking and reporting on stories the mainstream, corporate media and the overworked and underpaid reporters may not get to or choose to ignore. It should be noted this is a “soft launch” as the bugs are worked out, the layout is finalized and the look and the feel of the site are ironed out. But the reporters, also known as fellows, are already writing and posting stories.

It’s an exciting start-up project, and it is very similar to the start-up of a daily newspaper. I fortunate enough to be part of the first start-up of a daily newspaper in Michigan in half a century when on September 7, 2000 the bi-weekly newspapers the Brighton Argus and the Livingston County Press became the Livingston County Daily Press and Argus. This carries some of that same excitement, and I am proud to have been a part of both ambitious and historic launches.

The nine other reporters are a very diverse group of individuals. Newsroom diversity has long been a goal of the Michigan Press Association that has rarely been met, but they truly accomplish that goal here. I have worked in newsrooms in Blissfield, Adrian, South Lyon, Southgate, Brighton and Howell, and this is by far the most diverse newsroom I have ever been a part of.

It is a progressive blog, and much like the Wall Street Journal and most mainstream newspapers that have a conservative bent we will have a progressive viewpoint. However, we subscribe to the code of ethics put out by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). That simply means we are accurate, identify sources when possible, are fair, never plagiarize, act independently, avoid conflicts of interest or revel any unavoidable conflicts and admit factual mistakes and correct them.

Renewable Portfolio Standard needed to create demand for alternative energy

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and clean, alternative energy was a hot topic at Saturday's Michigan Policy Conference at the Lansing Center sponsored by the Michigan Prospect.

Renewable Portfolio Standards mandate a certain percentage of a power company’s supply to consumers be generated from renewable fuel sources. Many people believe this is an absolute necessity in moving alterative fuel sources – like wind power, solar energy and ethanol – forward and making it a viable industry in the state and easing the country’s dependence on foreign oil and energy.

“Twenty four states have an RPS law on the books,” said Mark Beyer, the Director of Marketing Communications and External Relations for NextEnergy. “They have sent a signal to the world they are in the game, and Michigan has sent a signal it is not.”

NextEnergy is a nonprofit corporation founded in 2002 with a $30 million seed grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to implement an economic development strategy to accelerate research, development and manufacturing of alternative energy technologies and create jobs in Michigan.

RPS has not met with much success in the Legislature. RPS bills introduced in the House in early 2005 died in committee. Critics oppose the standard because it adds costs to utility bills. A pair of bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate in the current session. Rep. Robert Jones, D-Kalamazoo, introduced House Bill 4539 on March 28, and it was referred to the House Energy and Technology Committee where it remains. In the Senate, Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, introduced Senate Bill 219 on Feb. 20, and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy Policy where it also remains.

The difference between the two bills is the House bill requires a larger percentage of renewable energy sources sooner than the Senate version. The House bill requires utility providers like DTE and Consumers Energy to provide 7 percent of their total energy sold to consumers be from renewable sources by Dec. 31, 2009, and that requirement grows to 20 percent by 2020. However, an analysis by the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency estimates it will also increase utility bills by the same 7-20 percent margin.

The Senate bill requires only 7 percent of energy come from alternative sources with a deadline by 2015, and it allows the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) to exempt a provider from the requirements of its portfolio standard.

There are many things in the works to both save energy and to provide alternative energy. In Detroit, there is a move to use empty lots to grow food and push urban farming. Many homes are also using cisterns to catch runoff rain water to water lawns instead of using municipal water, and there is also a push to use solar powered shingles on roofs.

“In the old days when you hung your clothes out to dry it meant you were too poor to have a dryer,” Beyer said. “Now it means you’re smart enough to know it saves energy; my alternative energy was sunshine and a nice breeze.”

Although those are great ways to save energy, Beyer said they do not create many jobs, and that’s what NextEnergy wants to do. He hopes an RPS will create a demand so that entrepreneurs will meet that demand and create jobs. It’s also hoped Michigan will be a leader in providing alternative energy equipment, like manufacturing the equipment that provides wind power.

“There are all these great alternative sources,” he said. “The demand can be created, but we need the RPS to help.”

But proponents of renewable energy say all of these new sources will not completely erase the need and demand for fossil fuel sources, and it’s imperative that any new and existing generating plants be built safer and pollution free as much as possible.

“You cannot build enough wind farms or solar plants to provide enough energy for Michigan,” Beyer said. “You will still need the large plants that employee hundreds of workers, so you just need to build them right.”

Sep 8, 2007

Policy summit brings diverse progressive groups together

LANSING – Only something as ambitious and progressive as the inaugural Michigan Policy Conference sponsored by the Michigan Prospect could bring together such diverse progressive groups - such as the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) to the Jewish Labor Committee to organized labor and environmental groups - under one roof.

More than 500 people from Michigan’s progressive community gathered at the Lansing Center Saturday for an all-day summit to work toward getting all of Michigan’s diverse groups working toward building a progressive movement with common goals. The day featured breakout sessions and speakers, like former Gore-Lieberman 2000 campaign manger and Democratic National Committee member Donna Brazile and former Lansing Mayor and state Representative David Hollister. The summit centered on three policy areas: health care, clean energy and education.

Hollister opened the conference with a summary and preview of the day, and as a former mayor, state Representative and most recently the former director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth he has a unique insight into the three policy areas.

“Michigan and the nation are in a phase of transition,” he said. “It’s a time of tremendous change, and it’s also a time with exciting opportunities.”

Hollister said the aging of America is one of the biggest concerns facing the nation. He said today there are more than a million Americans who are 100 years old or older, and people age 85 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. In 1950 there were 17 workers supporting one retiree, but that has shrunk to just three workers supporting one retiree today. That has placed a tremendous strain on both Social Security, as well as health care, as people live longer.

“It has a massive impact on things we do in America,” he said. “As we get older, what do we spend money on? Health care.”

Hollister said the health care system in the U.S. is broken and dysfunctional. We spend more than 17 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on health care, but there are still 48 million Americans without quality health care; with the number growing everyday. The escalating health care costs are making it difficult for U.S. automakers to compete globally because foreign governments are helping foreign auto companies compete by providing health care for employees for help with health care costs.

“Now, we are talking about legacy costs and shedding legacy costs,” he said. “Shedding legacy costs means more people without heath care.”

Hollister said the economy is also changing, and it illustrates a need for more investment in education. In 1950, 60 percent of jobs were for non-skilled labor, but now most jobs require at least two years of post-secondary education, requiring a K-14 education system in Michigan. Workers now have to be both functionally and technologically literate. We are also in a global economy because one out of six people now work for a foreign corporation.

“We are paying for the war in Iraq with money we are borrowing from China,” he said.

Hollister said entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations and government have to be partners in the new economy. He also said all of the real job growth and success is occurring regionally instead of locally and statewide, such as the North Carolina region, the Boston metro area or the Atlanta region. Hollister also said it’s going to take investment in the state to make it grow, such as the Governor’s 21st Century Jobs Fund designed to spark new investment and creating high-tech companies and jobs and make the state a leader in life sciences, alternative energy, advanced automotive manufacturing and homeland security. The plan was to invest $100 million a year in those areas annually for a decade, but that only occurred in the first year in 2006.

“Unfortunately, the second year funds are tied up in the legislative process,” he said. “It is tied up in the budget mess.”

But Hollister said although things look bleak in Michigan with a 7 percent unemployment rate in the state and a looming budget crisis, things have been worse in Michigan.

“I was there in 1980 when the unemployed rate was 17 percent,” he said. “I was there when if five Japanese banks had not bailed us out we would have been bankrupt. We are not in a financial crisis, we are in a crisis of will.”

Sep 6, 2007

9/11 event by TARS is nothing more than a pro-Iraq occupation rally

Tuesday marks the 6th anniversary of the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil when 19 Al-Quida terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one in a field in Pennsylvania killing almost 3,000 people.

Tuesday will also mark the third time the Livingston County Teen Age Republicans (TAR) will use the anniversary to gather support for President George Bush’s failed policies, support for the Republican Party and support for the Iraq occupation/civil war. The event will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the lawn of the Historic Livingston County Courthouse in downtown Howell. We can be certain that there will be firefighters and Republican politicians. It has not been announced who will be there, but I can almost guarantee U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers will be there. He has been pretty scarce in the 8th Congressional District all summer, but I’m betting he will be there. He has been, apparently, hiding from his constituents who want an end to the Iraq occupation.

I think it’s great we remember those who died in the horrible attack and pay tribute to the men and women of the police and fire service who risk their lives everyday, but Sept. 11 and 9/11 has been used by Bush as justification for every unpopular policy and goal he was pursuing. It has been his justification for invading a sovereign country that posed no threat to the security of the U.S. that plunged us into a four-year bloody occupation, it served as justification for shredding the Bill of Rights, to spy on U.S. citizens, to institute a backdoor draft, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and to torture people. Bush has also used 9/11 to silence critics and to brand anyone who disagrees with him an unpatriotic traitor.

I fail to see why this event is more important than other important and watershed event in American history. Why aren't the TARS holding a rally to mark Pearl Harbor Day, D-Day, V-J Day, V-E Day or even the day the Berlin wall came down? I have heard the argument that they mark 9/11 because it happened in their lifetime, so does that mean we can expect this event to end in 10 years or so when those born after Sept. 11, 2001 enter the TAR ranks?

There have been, so far, 3,753 members of the U.S. Armed Forces killed in Iraq. In Livingston County, nine with ties to the county have been killed in Iraq, and that’s more the entire 12 years of hostilities in Vietnam. In July they put the names of two of those county residents killed in Iraq on the veterans memorial located on the same courthouse lawn the 9/11 event will be held, but there was no rally or publicity from the TARS. These are peers of the TAR members, but they prefer to memorialize people they never knew.

It seems scary that I would ever agree with Rush Limbaugh, but I partly agree with him when he pointed out the basic unfairness of the 9/11 victims' families being paid greater benefits than family members of American military personnel killed in action. It’s happening right here in Livingston County only the payment is not in dollars.

I went to two of these events in the past, but one was sponsored, or at least organized, by the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus held on the very same courthouse lawn the day after the actual attack. It was an amazing event. It was one of the most moving events I have ever attended. The next one I attend was little more than an attempt to rally support for the Iraq fiasco, and the solidarity of the country had long given way to Bush’s quest to invade Iraq at any cost. It had become what it is today, a partisan political event.

Prior to Labor Day I had heard some of my favorite liberal talk show hosts talk about rumors of a major PR campaign by conservatives after Labor Day to pave the way for an attack on Iran. Just like clockwork, Rogers had an OP-ED piece in the Detroit Free Press called “Beware of Iran,” and Kelster93 does excellent job writing about it over on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I’m sure we will here more about Iran on Tuesday.

I urge you to attend to pay respects to the people who died in the attack and to recognize and honor the sacrifice made by fire and law enforcement. Just ignore the political rally for Bush and Iraq. In fact, I would recommend you count how many times Iraq is mentioned, especially linked with 9/11 and the alleged “war on terror.” Also keep a county of how many times Iran is mentioned.

Sep 5, 2007

The Republican hits just keep on coming in 2007

One of the main reason Republicans were turned out of power in 2006 and lost control of both the U.S. House and Senate was because of their culture of corruption. Republicans vowed that would end after the scandal-filled 2006 that saw scandals like Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney and Jack Abramoff just to name a few. That has not happened, and even though 2007 is not even over yet, we have seen plenty of GOP scandals in 2007. This list, although not complete, was first compiled - for the most part - by a fellow blogging guru, Senate 2008 Guru. Here is the list so far:

January 23, 2007: Republican radio personality Scott Eller Cortelyou of Denver arrested on suspicion of using the Internet to lure a child into a sexual relationship.

January 29, 2007: Republican former Jefferson County, Colorado, Treasurer Mark Paschall indicted on two felony charges "in connection with an allegation that Paschall solicited a kickback from a bonus he awarded one of his employees."

January 31, 2007: Republican Congressman Gary Miller is named by Republicans as ranking member of oversight subcommittee of House Financial Services Committee despite the FBI's investigation into his land deals.

February 14, 2007: Major Republican fundraiser Brent Wilkes and former CIA executive director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo are indicted by a grand jury for corrupting CIA contracts,

February 16, 2007: Major Republican donor Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari, aka Michael Mixon, is indicted in federal court on charges of providing material support to terrorists. He was a donor to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), and among the Republicans accepting the tainted money were U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton.

March 5, 2007: Ethics complaint filed against Republican Senator Pete Domenici for his role in the Attorney Purge scandal.

March 6, 2007: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney found guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury.

March 8, 2007: Republican former U.S. Congressman and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich admits to extramarital affairs.

March 23, 2007: Former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, an oil and gas lobbyist who became an architect of George W. Bush's energy policies, pleads guilty to obstructing justice by lying to a Senate committee.

March 27, 2007: Criminal charges filed against Republican Pennsylvania State Senator Robert Regola in connection with the death of a teenage neighbor who was shot with the senator's gun; he is accused of three counts of perjury, allowing possession of a firearm by a minor, recklessly endangering another person and false swearing.

March 27, 2007: Ronald Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, "indicted on charges of defrauding investors and banks of $1.6 billion while chairman of Collins & Aikman Corp., an auto parts maker that collapsed days after he quit."

March 28, 2007: Robert Vellanoweth, a Republican activist and appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter and felony driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, after a crash that killed three adults and one child.

March 29, 2007: Rep. John Garfield, R- Rochester Hills, was arrested in the East Lansing area by Michigan State University campus police on suspicion of drunk driving. Despite registering a .14 – almost twice the legal limit of blood-alcohol limit – the charges were later dismissed because the police improperly pulled him over, and he avoided his second drunk driving conviction.

April 18, 2007: The FBI raids the home of Republican Congressman John Doolittle, investigating his ties to Jack Abramoff.

April 19, 2007: The FBI raids a business tied to the family of Republican Congressman Rick Renzi, as part of an investigation into his business dealings.

April 23, 2007: The FBI questions Republican Congressman Tom Feeney about his dealings with Jack Abramoff.

April 23, 2007: Federal auditors find repeat violations of federal election law from the 2004 Senate campaign of Republican Senator Mel Martinez.

April 24, 2007: Charles "Tony" Baltimore, a senior staff member in Congressman Mike Rogers' Lansing office, was arrested on domestic assault charges. Baltimore was arrested at a downtown Lansing club after what police described as an "altercation with a female companion.”

April 26, 2007: David Huckabee, son of Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, is arrested at an Arkansas airport after a federal X-ray technician detected a loaded gun in his carry-on luggage.

May 4, 2007: Bruce Weyhrauch and Pete Kott, former Alaska state Republican legislators, were arrested and accused of soliciting and accepting bribes from the corrupt VECO Corporation.

May 4, 2007: Republican state Assemblyman Michael Cole is censured and stripped of his leadership position after the married father of two spent the night at a 21-year-old intern's apartment.

May 11, 2007: A field coordinator for Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry is indicted for voter fraud in North Carolina.

May 12, 2007: NBC News breaks the story that the FBI is investigating Republican Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons for suspicion of accepting bribes in exchange for securing government contracts.

May 15, 2007: Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy is arrested for drunk driving (he pled no contest on June 1, but didn't publicly disclose the event until June 11).

May 18, 2007: Republican former South Dakota State Representative Ted Klaudt is charged with eight counts of second-degree rape, two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of sexual contact with a child younger than 16, two counts of witness tampering and one count of stalking against two foster children in his care.

May 21, 2007: Republican state Senate candidate Mark Tate is indicted on nine counts of perjury and two counts of election fraud by a grand jury.

June 11, 2007: Republican Senator Larry Craig is arrested for lewd conduct in the men's bathroom of an airport.

June 19, 2007: South Carolina Republican state Treasurer and South Carolina Chairman of Giuliani for President Thomas Ravenel is indicted by a grand jury on cocaine distribution charges.

July 2, 2007: President George W. Bush commutes the sentence of former Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby following Libby's conviction on obstruction of justice and perjury.

July 3, 2007: A grand jury report declares that the sale of public land to Republican Congressman Ken Calvert and his business partners violated the law.

July 11, 2007: Republican state Representative and Florida co-Chairman of McCain for President Bob Allen is arrested for soliciting a male undercover police officer, offering to pay $20 to perform oral sex.

July 16, 2007: Republican Senator David Vitter holds press conference acknowledging being on the D.C. Madam's list and past involvement with prostitutes.

July 16, 2007: Story breaks that Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski was involved in a sweetheart real estate deal.

July 19: Republican former state legislator Coy Privette is charged with six counts of aiding and abetting prostitution

July 24, 2007: Michael Flory, a 32, the former head of the Michigan Federation of Young Republicans pled guilty in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in Ohio that he sexually abused a colleague during Young Republicans convention in the summer of 2006. The teary-eyed college student he overpowered in a downtown hotel room gasped and dabbed her eyes as Flory replied to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Peter Corrigan's question, "Are you indeed guilty?"
"Sure - yeah," Flory said.
The victim, who is 22, declined to speak after Flory's guilty plea.
She and some supporters lamented when the incident became public last winter that Flory and his followers within the Republican organization had been smearing her reputation in retaliation for accusing Flory of rape.
"People were using every opportunity to try to trash her, on Web sites or whatever," the prosecutor said. "He's been running around telling everybody what a piece of trash she is, so she was very happy to see him plead guilty."
Flory gained some notoriety at age 18 when he gave a televised speech to the Republican National Convention in the Houston Astrodome in 1992. The Michigan Young Republicans' Web site once hailed him as "one of the rising stars of GOP politics in America" and declared that "Mike has earned a great name for himself."

July 26, 2007: Media report that Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski will sell back land purchased in a sweetheart deal, following close scrutiny of the shady transaction.

July 29, 2007: Glenn Murphy Jr., recently-elected Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation, is accused of sexually assaulting a sleeping man.

July 30, 2007: The FBI and IRS raid the home of Republican Senator Ted Stevens following investigations into Stevens' dealings with the corrupt VECO Corporation.

August 2, 2007: Bush administration senior adviser Karl Rove disregards a Congressional subpoena and refuses to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

August 6, 2007: Investigation called for after House Republican Leader John Boehner leaked classified information regarding a secret court ruling over warrantless wiretapping.

August 8, 2007: Republican Senator Larry Craig pleads guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct following his June 11 arrest.

August 9, 2007: Major Republican donor Alan Fabian is charged with 23 counts of bankruptcy fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and perjury.

August 15, 2007: Republican state House candidate Angelo Cappelli is arrested for perjury and grand theft.

August 22, 2007: Republican political consultant Roger Stone resigns his role with the New York state Senate Republicans after reports surfaced that he made a "threatening, obscenity-laced" phone call to the 83-year-old father of Governor Eliot Spitzer.

August 27, 2007: Story breaks that Republican Senator Larry Craig was arrested and pled guilty - he had not publicly disclosed the events to that point.

This is not to say Democrats have not had a few scandals of their own in 2007, and one is too many. However, Democrats do not hold a candle to the Republican culture of corruption.