Oct 29, 2007

Detroit News editor chosen as the most biased in Michigan mainstream media

The Michigan Messenger readers have spoken, and after a week of online voting the Big 3 of media bias are Detroit News editor Nolan Finley, radio host Frank Beckmann and Detroit Free Press reporter Dawson Bell.

We asked our readers to nominate which journalists were the most biased, and from that list we asked them to vote last week on which journalists from a list showed the most bias. This is the result. Actually, political pundit Bill Ballenger was tied with Bell for third place, but I am exercising my power as the unofficial media critic at MM to cast my tie-breaking vote for Bell. However, I will play closer attention to Ballenger.

The voter turnout was a little disappointing, but it's certainly consistent with the voter turnout we see for general elections; and it was even better than most primary elections. When you consider that only about a quarter of the registered voters actually decide who is going to run the state, the 43 votes cast in this informal poll isn't all that bad.

Finley was the big winner - or loser depending on your point of view - with 27 percent of the vote, followed by Beckman with 25 percent of the vote and Bell and Ballenger with 16 percent. Also receiving votes were Tim Skubick with three votes; George Weeks, two votes and Murray Feldman with one vote. In the comments section I also received write in votes for Chris Christoff, the Detroit Free Press Lansing bureau chief; Chad Selewski of the Macomb Daily; nationally known sports writer, best-selling author and radio host Mitch Albom; and Detroit News columnist Laura Berman.

Among the other comments I received was that I was concentrating only on conservative media bias. My answer to that is that the myth that has been floated around since the 1970s is that the media is liberally biased, but that is simply not true. I am pointing out the predominant bias of the mainstream media. An argument was also made that some of our slate of candidates are not journalists. However, anyone who conveys information to the public fits our definition of a journalist.

Finley is a columnist and the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, and as a columnist he is expressing his opinion, which by its very nature is biased. But it's clear where his bias lays. It's very hard to find bias in the newspaper's straight stories, but as the editorial page editor, it follows Finley's bias that sets the tone for the entire newspaper. Clearly, his biggest obsession is Gov. Jennifer Granholm. He seems to blame her for everything but the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. He must not be aware that the governor, any governor, cannot influence macroeconomic activity through the two most important factors: monetary policy and fiscal policy.

In a recent column about the governor's leadership on the budget situation, he used a quote in a column he said was from Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township: "Why doesn't she take control of these negotiations?" asks Dillon, and then answered, "Because she doesn't have leadership instincts."

When called out on the source of the quote, Finley changed the online version and attributed the quote it its rightful owner; Granholm opponent, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

According to the Detroit News official bio, Finley is the "Editorial Page Editor of The Detroit News, a position he's held since May 1, 2000. He directs the expression of the newspaper's editorial position on various national and local issues, and also writes a column in the Sunday newspaper. Prior to that, Finley was the newspaper's Deputy Managing Editor, directing the newsroom. Previously, he served as Business Editor, and in various editing positions on the city, state and metro desks. He was also a reporter, covering Detroit City Hall during the Coleman Young administration. Finley has been with the newspaper since 1976, starting as a copy boy in the newsroom while a student at Wayne State University.

Beckman hosts a show on conservative talk radio station WJR weekdays from 9-11:30 a.m., and he is an occasional columnist for the Detroit News. He shares a similar obsession with Finely for the governor while claiming he is fair and balanced and looking out for us. He seems to be a Bill O'Reilly wannabe with a rather large ego. His bias seems to fit in at WJR, and it's a mystery how the most powerful radio station in a state that has been blue since 1992 located in one of the most liberal cities in America can get way with not having one non-conservative voice on the air.

Beckman drew the ire of progressives in early October when he taped an interview with the governor for replay later in the day, and then he allegedly used a YouTube clip supplied by a conservative blog from an old debate about a completely different topic to accuse the governor of lying to the public about tax increases.

Bell covers Lansing and politics for the Detroit Free Press, and he is the only reporter on the list. Finding bias in a straight news story is difficult, but bias there can cause the most damage because it is not so obvious. Bell helped start the "ipod for every student in Michigan" controversary last spring when he mistakenly wrote in a story that House Democrats were proposing a $58 million line item to buy every student an ipod that was really for new technology. Republicans made hay with that line, and it continues today.

Ballenger is one of the most well-known and respected political pundits in the state. According to his official biography as the former Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government at Central Michigan University, Ballenger "…is a former (Republican) state representative and state senator, an ex-state racing commissioner and director of the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulation. Mr. Ballenger also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education & Welfare in the administration of President Gerald R. Ford." He also writes and publishes the newsletter "Inside Michigan Politics," and he is a regular panelist on the political talk TV show "Off the Record."

Oct 26, 2007

New online magazine gives inside look at Lansing

The conventional wisdom in Lansing is if you really want to know what's going on under the Capital dome you ask a lobbyist, but now a new online magazine called the "Dome" will shed some light on the lobbyists themselves, and on the other people who shape policy in Lansing.

The magazine has been online less than two weeks, and it aims to cover “the people, issues and events shaping Michigan politics and policy.”

“We’re not trying to get into the daily stuff of who called who what name,” said Publisher Tom Scott said. “We want to look at the bigger picture.
“Newspapers don’t do features any more, and we want to fill that niche,” he said.

Scott is a story himself. He was Gov. James Blanchard’s deputy press secretary in his first term and served as press secretary during Blanchard’s second term. He is currently the vice-president of public affairs and communications for the Michigan Retailers Association, and the magazine is a part-time labor of love for him. He published the traditional monthly, glossy magazine “The Michigan Lobbyist” from 2003 to 2006, but he said too many people thought it was simply a trade magazine just for lobbyists.

“It concentrated on the lobbyist corps, but it was not a trade magazine,” Scott said. “It didn’t pass the doctor’s office test.
“It was well-received, but a lot of people simply did not understand it.”

When Scott decided to bring the magazine back he began lining up advertisers for a traditional magazine, but he also wanted to make the magazine much broader. Features on the people who effect and shape policy will be a major focus of the magazine, and that will include lobbyists, as well as lawmakers, academics and even the policy people who work for the nonpartisan Legislative Service Bureau (LSB) and even the party caucuses.

“I wanted to bring it back with a new name and a broader base,” Scott said. “A funny thing happened on the way to publication: I fell into the 21st Century.
“There are still costs associated with publishing online, but not nearly as much as publishing a traditional magazine,” he said.

The magazine will carry 2-3 features on policy makers, opinion columns by well-know policy makers, book reviews on Michigan policy, news briefs, policy events and even an advice column by former Michigan First Lady Paula Blanchard and her partner Patty McCarthy. Scott said although the magazine is structured as a traditional monthly magazine, some content will change daily, weekly and monthly. It is entirely advertiser driven, meaning that the content is free, and the articles will be written by freelance writers.

“I’m a traditional journalist; I still tend to think in terms of a monthly magazine,” Scott said. “It’s a work in progress. There will be some things that may go away, some will stay and some new things will be added.”

Along with Scott’s discovery of the 21st Century and high-tech news sources, he has added some multi-media features. The current issue features video of a lively panel discussion on the 1983 recalls sponsored by the Michigan Political History Society recorded in 2004 on the eve of the California recall. Scott said he initially planned to publish a transcript of the discussion, but he realized how many pages it would take, coupled with advice from friends, he decided to post the entire video.

“With all the stuff about recalls I remembered there was an excellent program put on by the Michigan Political History Society,” he said. “It really was an excellent panel discussion.”

The inaugural issue features a cover story about lobbyist Dennis Muchmore, who, ironically, also graced the cover of the premiere issue of Michigan Lobbyist magazine back in the Spring of 2003. Scott said although it’s not a major focus of the magazine, the Dome will put a human face on lobbyists. Outside of Lansing lobbyists often have a bad image and reputation, but inside Lansing many are respected professionals.

“If you really look at it, everyone has a lobbyist,” Scott said. “If you are a member of a professional organization you have a lobbyist, if you are a member of an advocacy group you have a lobbyist and if you are a member of a charitable organization you have a lobbyist.
“These are very interesting people,” he said. “Yes, they are lobbyists, but they are intelligent, interesting people with various backgrounds, hobbies and families.”

Oct 22, 2007

Looking for the big 3 of media bias

Every reporter has heard the unfair charge of liberal media bias, and bristled at what many see as a political strategy hatched by the right. Now, with your help, we plan to take a look every week at the three worst Michigan reporters, columnists, commentators and pundits; the Big 3 so to speak. As we have seen from the attacks on Media Matters from people like radio host Rush Limbaugh and TV host Bill O'Reilly, they do not like having a spotlight focused on them.

Charges of media bias have been around a long time, and are hard to pinpoint and to get rid of.

Benjamin Franklin was accused of being biased in 1728 when he wrote an article advocating the printing of more paper money, but failed to mention his own printing company stood to profit by printing that money. At the turn of the 20th Century major cities had multiple daily newspapers, and many of those dailies were published by political party members and even served as the official publication of the party. That slowly began to change as the separation between the newsrooms and the editorial page widened and newspapers adopted strict codes of ethics.

But the charges of so-called liberal media bias really took off during the Republican administration of Richard Nixon when the media was full of negative press reports on the Vietnam War, reflecting the mood of the country. I November 1969, Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, made a landmark speech blasting what he labeled the liberal media's opposition to the war. In that speech he uttered the famous line accusing the media of being "nattering nabobs of negativism." Former Nixon aide and presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan wrote in conservative publications in the 1970s that the "the liberal media establishment” reporting on Watergate brought down a president.

The assault on the media has continued ever since. This is where you come in.

Based on an informal survey of many bloggers who write about politics, this is the list of commentators that was suggested, to be whittled down to the Big 3: Nolan Finley, Frank Beckmann, George Weeks. Dawson Bell, Dave Renkiewicz, Tim Skubick, Murray Feldman and Bill Ballenger.

Finley is Editorial Page editor of The Detroit News, and as such he sets the tone for the page. He has been a constant critic of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. His column runs every Sunday. Beckmann hosts a morning radio show on conservative radio station WJR and also writes a column for the Detroit News. He is also a Granholm antagonist.

Weeks was a political columnist for The Detroit News for 22 years before his recent retirement, but now his weekly column is syndicated by Superior Features, running in the Traverse City Record Eagle. For 14 years, Weeks served on the staff of Republican Gov. William G. Milliken in various positions including press secretary.

Bell is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press covering Lansing and politics. Renkiewicz is the host of the “Live with Renk” show on Sunday on conservative talk station WBCK in Battle Creek. Skubick is the host of the long-running political talk show “Off the Record,” and he covers Lansing for various TV and radio stations.

Feldman is the business reporter for Fox TV 2. Ballenger is a former Republican member of the Michigan Senate and House, a noted political pundit and the editor and publisher of “Inside Michigan Politics.”

We want readers' help in picking the top three, and so we are attaching an online poll to choose the winner. We will announce the winner a week from today. Please go to Michigan Messenger to cast your vote.

Book says term limits are partly to blame for Michigan's budget mess

Wayne State University Professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson blames the inexperience of Michigan’s 148 legislators, caused by term limits, for the state government shutdown and failure of the Michigan Legislature to pass a balanced budget on time this fall.

“This is a perfect example of the lack of experience," said Sarbaugh-Thompson, author of the book “The Political and Institutional Effects of Term Limits.” “An experienced legislature would not have let this get so far down the road.”

Sarbaugh-Thompson is a professor of public administration, public policy and American politics. She has spent the last 10 years researching the effects of term limits in Michigan that limit legislators to serve six years in the House and eight years in the Senate. The limits went into effect in 1998. Her book, published in 2004 with four other professors, looks at the effects of term limits in other states as well as Michigan.

She said the inexperience of the House and Senate leadership are also to blame for the shutdown and not being able to get a budget done on time. Sarbaugh-Thompson pointed to the fact that both House and Senate members on both sides of the aisle conceded they needed a tax increase to balance the budget, but no one was willing to work a deal or compromise. She said it takes at least two terms to be comfortable in the House, but there are freshman representatives chairing important committees.

“If you think of it in terms of the business community, why would you make a junior executive the CEO,” she said. “They spend so much of their time just trying to get up to speed and understand what’s going on.”

Sarbaugh-Thompson said the issue of taxes is another example of the problems with term limits. She points at the tax cuts for 15 straight years as an example and former Gov. John Engler's role in that. A strong, long-serving executive was able to ramrod harmful tax cuts by an inexperienced Legislature with no real decrease in spending, showing how term limits can have a negative effect on the separation of powers.

“The real mistake was the Engler tax cuts,” Sarbaugh-Thompson said. “He drained the rainy day fund and did not cut spending.
“He did not have a strong legislature that could ride herd on him. ”

Sarbaugh-Thompson said the race to cut taxes has forced cuts on the very things that attract people and companies to Michigan. She pointed to the Infrastructure Report Card put out by the American Society of Civil Engineers that gives Michigan's infrastructure a grade of D-minus. Many state roads are so bad it costs auto owners an average of $300 a year in extra maintenance costs, and road congestion in the Detroit area costs commuters $939 per person per year in excess fuel and lost time.

“The thing that people do not understand is that when you cut taxes it costs people more,” she said. “The roads are the perfect example.”

She said term limits have not accomplished anything its backers claimed it would accomplish when it was sold to Michigan voters, who approved the constitutional amendment in 1992.

It was said more people would run for office, and voter turnout would increase because of the increased competition for more open seats. That has not happened, and her research shows voter turnout remains low. There is more competition for open seats in the primary, but traditionally primaries have always had low voter turnout. There is less competition in the general election because Republicans who controlled both the House and Senate in 2001 drew the district boundaries to make safe Republicans districts, making the general election less important than the primary in many districts, she maintains. It has worked so well that in the last election in 2006 more people voted for Democratic Senate candidates, but Republicans still maintained their 21-17 seat advantage.

The inexperience caused by term limits has also given lobbyists much more influence over legislators as they try to figure out complex issues and bills. Lobbyists have always assisted with drafting legislation, but that role has expanded under term limits. Sarbaugh-Thompson said a lobbyist pushing an important piece of legislation can safely mislead a lawmaker, and by the time the legislator catches on they have been term-limited.

“Proponents of term limits promised they would sever the cozy relationship between lobbyists and lawmakers, but it has not happened,” she said. “You have to ask someone for answers.”

Term limits has also caused serious partisan polarization in Lansing. Because the only real races are in the primary, candidates have had to play to the extreme base of their party. The leaders are more extreme than in the past, and it has led to legislators having to signs inflexible things like anti-tax pledges that ties their hands in working toward good government. Often, party loyalty has taken over for loyalty to the state and the residents. That tends to disenfranchise at least half the residents at all times, she believes.

“The state should be governed from the middle,” Sarbaugh-Thompson said. “You really need to be in the middle to govern for the commonwealth of the people.”

Term limits also have politicians looking for their next political office before they even have a proper understanding of their current job. Often, decisions and floor votes are made more based on how they will play in their next primary election than how they will help Michigan. Many people believe this is the reason it has taken so long to get a budget completed in October, a process that’s usually done by June.

“They are more politically ambitious than ever,” Sarbaugh-Thompson said. “Future elections are playing a huge role in what is going on today.”

Of the 15 states that have term limits, Michigan, Arkansas and California have the shortest. Sarbaugh-Thompson supports at a minimum lengthening the time legislators can serve, giving them 12 years in each body. But she prefers getting rid of the limits altogether.

“You can vote for a convicted felon after 20 years, but you can’t vote for your state representative after six years,” she said. “My philosophy is that voters are smart enough to know who isn’t doing the job, but that doesn’t poll well.”

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has proposed a term-limits change that allows the lawmaker to serve 14 years, all in one chamber or in combination. The Senate Campaign and Election Oversight Committee is expected to hold hearings soon on a proposal that would cut the number of years a lawmaker can serve from the current 14 to 12, but they could serve it all in one chamber.

Oct 20, 2007

Voter project aims to increase the power of Michigan nonprofits

LANSING – Michigan’s nonprofit agencies reach and help thousands of Michigan residents, many of them in underserved and underrepresented areas, and the Michigan Participation Project (MPR) hopes to tap into the power of those connections by getting them to the polls on election day.

The MPR a 501(3C) nonpartisan, nonprofit initiative dedicated to expanding the political role and power of Michigan’s varied nonprofit agencies, and it is under the umbrella of the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) that represents about a 1,000 nonprofit agencies. Membership includes trade associations, human service agencies and advocacy organizations. The voter project hopes to increase voter turnout and give the people the nonprofits serve more of a voice in the political arena. Nationwide nonprofits employ some 11 million people and serves many millions more, and that many people can have a major effect on an election.

“Many nonprofits don’t know what they can and cannot do legally,” said Tiffany Aurora a staff member with the MPR and a public policy associate with the MNA. “They don’t realize they can be involved, and they just have to be non-partisan.
“Nonprofits get a much better pulse of what’s going on in the communities they serve,” she said.

The project is part of the national Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network, and they currently have participation projects in eight other states including Michigan. The project was launched in Michigan just before the 2006 General Election, and although it really did not have enough time to make a major difference in the election, it did get more people involved in the process.

“We heard a lot of stories on how we got people involved in the process for the first time who had never been involved politically before,” Aurora said.

The MPR meets its goals with a number of resources, such as with publications that give guidelines on what nonprofits can do in elections, ideas for getting out the vote, information and the forms to register people to vote, information on where to vote, information on hosting a candidate forums and various fact sheets. Many of the materials can be directly downloaded from their web site, including voter registration materials.

MPR staff will even come out to your agency to conduct a two-hour training session on vote participation.

“Our training is very broad because we have so many nonprofits out there that cover so may different areas,” Aurora said. “There is also a lot of information on our web site, and I would encourage people to take advantage of all the information there.”

Oct 16, 2007

MIS is more lucrative to Michigan than the Super Bowl

BROOKLYN - A report released Tuesday by Gary Wolfram, an adjunct scholar at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says the Michigan International Speedway in Jackson County has an economic impact greater than the Super Bowl, bringing in more than $400 million to Michigan’s economy.

NASCAR racing has become a huge American sport, and the two premier NASCAR races held at the two-mile oval in scenic Irish Hills generates more than $400 million in total economic activity, with more than $260 million of that in direct economic benefit, according to the report. The track employs more than 5,000 people at its events, generating an annual payroll of about $5 million, and it pays $2.1 million in annual property taxes.

In contrast, Super Bowl XL in Detroit in 2006 only generated an estimated $302 million, according to a study commissioned by the Detroit Super Bowl Host Committee.

Vendors, fans and race teams at the weekend NASCAR races buy many items from local suppliers from spray paint equipment and auto parts to beer and ice. On race weekends the track hosts more than 60,000 fans — 60 percent of them from the other 49 states and more than a dozen nations.

“For me, the two races are the highlight of my summer, and we save all year for the tickets, the food and other necessities,” said race fan Jason Elliott of Fowlerville in Livingston County. “We load up the NASCAR bus and camp in the infield all weekend.”

The track is so important to Michigan’s tourism industry and has become such an economic engine that State Senator Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, and Rep. Mike Simpson, D-Liberty Township, recently founded the Michigan Auto Racing Caucus (MARC), which they will co-chair. The bipartisan caucus aims to increase awareness of auto racing entertainment in Michigan and promote its positive impact on the state’s economy.

“The Michigan International Speedway has a dynamic impact on the Jackson area, both economically and culturally,” Schauer said in a press release announcing the formation of the caucus. “Despite the economic and budget crises we currently face, auto racing continues to fuel our economy.”

Caucuses are informal organizations of members who share common interests and come together to push or influence a favorable agenda. Perhaps the most well known national caucus is the Congressional Black Caucus, but in Michigan the many caucuses include the Hunting and Fishing Caucus, the Veterans Caucus and the Greek Caucus.

MIS has not only had a tremendous effect on the local economy, but it has benefited many of the area’s non-profit agencies, service clubs, churches and school organizations. More than 200 service groups used MIS as a fundraiser for their organization in 2006, and by selling concessions, parking cars and other activities they collectively raised almost $500,000 in 2006 alone.

Oct 15, 2007

Noted civil rights leader to rally against predatory lending

Well-known national civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson will be in Michigan beginning Tuesday to address both the national and local problem of foreclosures, predatory lending and subprime lending and to urge legislation to combat the problem.

Although predatory lending and high foreclosure rates are national problems, it’s exceptionally acute in Michigan where the state’s leading employer is shedding jobs. Michigan lays claim to the unenviable record of being the fourth highest in the country in the number of home foreclosures, but it is also a problem nationally with 1.2 million foreclosures filed in 2006. That number is expected to rise.

Jackson will team with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) for the "Saving Our Homes, Building Healthy Communities” initiative. He will appear at rallies and forums in mid-and southeast Michigan for three days beginning with a community forum at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 1083 East Stewart Street at Selby in Flint.

Jackson is the founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a progressive organization of all races fighting for social change. Jackson has been a civil rights pioneer for more than 40 years when he became a full-time organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the 1960s and worked and marched alongside legendary civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King. He was also a Democratic candidate for President in 1984 and 1988.

ACORN - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the nation's largest community organization of low-and moderate-income families working for social justice.- just released a study last month called “Foreclosure Exposure.” Although the reports shows the problem has effected all homebuyers, it found that minorities - regardless of income – took out a much higher percentage of high-risk loans, particularly Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM). ACORN is sponsoring a rally of its own from 9-11 a.m. on Tuesday on the Capitol steps in Lansing.

According to the report, subprime loans were initially created for borrowers with low incomes or poor credit histories who were unable to obtain prime loans at a standard bank rate, but the system was abused when many borrowers who would have been able to qualify for credit on better terms were targeted for these higher-interest loans. ARMS have also contributed heavily to the problem because rates automatically increase after two years, and many lenders only consider the cost of the initial lower payments, not the higher, later payments. Additionally, some lenders and brokers write loans they know the borrowers cannot afford just to collect the fees and commissions.

“This is an issue we are very much involved with here in Michigan,” said Dave Lagstein, an ACORN organizer in Michigan.

The problem has drawn a lot of attention from the Legislature and the Governor lately, and last week both the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle rolled out legislation to address the problem. The Governor also set up the “Save the Dream” initiative in MSDA last week to offer resources and advice to avoid foreclosure.

Jackson’s schedule of events continues at 9 am. Wednesday when he addresses students at J.W. Sexton High School, 102 South McPherson Ave. in Lansing. At noon Jackson will travel to Saginaw to hold a community forum at the Greater Coleman Temple Cogic, 2716 Wadsworth St. Jackson will be back in Lasing for a 6 p.m. townhall meeting at Pattengill Middle School, 1017 Jerome St.

Thursday will feature Jackson leading a Legislative Engagement Rally at Noon on the Capitol steps, followed by a 3 p.m. rally and meeting at Welcome Missionary Baptist Church, 143 Oneida Rd. in Pontiac. Jackson’s Michigan visit will end at the historic Little Rock Baptist Church, 9000 Woodward Ave. in Detroit, with a forum at 6 p.m. At all the summits and forums representatives from MSHDA and other community and state agencies will be on hand to offer advice on saving a home from foreclosure.

Garcia defends his tax vote

HOWELL – State Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, faced voters for the first time at a townhall meeting last week after being only one of two Republicans to vote for implementing a sales tax on certain services.

“I believe in accountability,” Garcia said. “That’s why I’m here. If at the end of the night you still don’t agree with me that fine; that’s how representative government works.”

The legislature voted in the early morning hours on Oct. 1 to implement the sales tax and to raise the state income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.45 percent that helped close the $1.8 billon deficit in the state budget, and it put an end to a brief three hour government shutdown. However, many voters across Michigan are extremely upset about the tax increase, and some 50 people came out to voice their disapproval with Garcia at his townhall meeting.

“If I was going to run for office again I might as well forget it,” Garcia said. “I also faced the threat of a recall.
“It was the toughest vote I have faced in my eight and a half years in the Legislature,” he said.

That recall threat became a reality a few days later when Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, R-26 District - the head of the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance – announced he was launching a recall of Garcia and nine other legislators. That recall may be a tough row to hoe in predominately Republican Livingston County, as well as conservative Shiawassee County and parts of Ingham County. Garcia is term-limited, and he had little trouble in his last two Senate elections. Last November he won the seat with almost 60 percent of the vote and in 2002 he won with 68 percent of the vote.

Garcia said he is a conservative who supports small government, and his track record has been one of fiscal conservatism. However, he said it was common knowledge in the legislature that it was going to take cuts, reforms and raising taxes to balance the state budget. Garcia was the lone Senate Republican to vote against the cuts the Senate proposed, saying they were excessive. Few Republicans voted for the same cuts in the House, and even if the cuts were approved it left a $798 million gap that still had to be made up.

“I hear people say why don’t you do it with cuts,” Garcia said. “I’m going to be blunt with you; we can’t do it all with cuts.
“Even the Senate Republications knew they were going to raise taxes,” he said.

Garcia said many of the costs of government are beyond control of the Legislature, and Medicaid is the fastest growing cost in the budget. He said he proposed cutting legislator pay and benefits that did not get any approval. However, he said even if the entire legislature and their staffs were eliminated that would account for just 1 percent of the $42 billon budget.

“I believe government should live within its means,” he said. “The problem is government is not like a business. We are charged with providing some essential services, like public health, public safety and public education.”

Garcia said compromise is not a bad word, and the solution was a good compromise because Republicans got some reforms they have been trying to crack for years, including when the GOP controlled both the House and Senate and had a Republican governor. Those reforms included pooling of health insurance for teachers and other public employees, creating a commission on government efficiency, creating a common public school calendar, Medicaid reforms and eliminating so-called "double-dipping."

“You can disapprove on how I govern, but I have to find common ground with my fellow legislators and the governor,” Garcia said. “I will not compromise my position on pro-life or moral issues.
“I see no problem with finding common ground on the budget,” he said.

Garcia voted no on the income tax increase, but he said if his vote was needed he was willing to vote for it because it was the right thing to do.

“I was prepared to vote for the income tax to be consistent,” but they did not need my vote,” he said. “I’m not going to be dishonest and say I was not going to vote for it.”

Oct 12, 2007

Bipartisan effort aimed at stopping high foreclosure rate and predatory lending

LANSING- Hoping to stop a trend that has Michigan in the top 10 for home foreclosure rates, both the House and Senate rolled out separate packages of bills aimed at stopping that trend in its tracks.

The House Democrats rolled out their package Tuesday, and the highlights include allowing homeowners who hold unstable adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), and those who have missed mortgage payments in the past to refinance that debt and secure a fixed-rate loan through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

"Federal policies have utterly failed to prevent the meltdown of the subprime mortgage market," said Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville, one of the bills sponsors, in a press release "This refinancing legislation puts Michigan at the forefront of states efforts to protect hard-working men and women from losing something they have spent their lives working for."

In September, Michigan ranked fourth highest in the country in the number of foreclosures, with 14,242 filings. According to Pennsylvania-based Default Research, Wayne County had the fifth highest foreclosure rate among metro areas with 7,410 filings, or one foreclosure for every 113 households.

This House plan is in addition to the package of bills known as Michigan Home Loan Protection Act that House Democrats introduced in late August. The bills are primarily aimed at predatory lending, and it addresses such practices as prohibiting home refinancing to generate fees for the lender unless there is a tangible net benefit to the borrower, protect consumers from being steered toward high-cost loans when they would otherwise qualify for a traditional loan, prohibit the financing of any points and fees that hide the true costs of the loan, require vulnerable borrowers to receive independent counseling from a certified third-party counselor and simply give homeowners who have been victims of predatory lending some legal recourse so they can independently enforce these consumer protections.

On Thursday the Senate Republicans rolled out a 13-bill package also aimed at predatory lending. Perhaps the most important feature of the bipartisan legislation will be to require loan officers to be licensed. Many unscrupulous loan officers simply move from state-to-state to stay in business. The package would also create a seven-member Mortgage Industry Advisory Board, require criminal background checks of loan officers and it would urge the Office of Insurance and Financial Services to participate in the development of the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System database.

“The state has the dubious distinction of being in the top six of states that have a high foreclosure rate,” said Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, who introduced one of the bills in the bipartisan Senate Republican package. “What we are doing is on a bipartisan, bicameral basis is to try and put some solutions in place.”

On Friday Senate Democrats offered their plan aimed at slowing the foreclosure rate. The package is similar to the House Democrats' plan, and it establishes through MSHDA the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) Refinance Program and the Rescue Refinance Program that will assist delinquent homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes.

“For far too many Michigan citizens, it is a daunting and challenging task just to get their family into a home,” said Sen. Hansen Clarke in a press release. “Legislators from both sides of the aisle should be able to agree on the importance of protecting the homes of our citizens, and this package is a step in the right direction.”

Oct 9, 2007

New DHS director faces some uncomfortable questions but passes confirmation hearing

LANSING – Ismael Ahmed, Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s nominee to be the new head of the massive and troubled Department of Human Services (DHS), faced some tough questions at his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate’s Families and Human Services Committee, but some 30 supporters from state Senators and Representative to colleagues and friends spoke in support of him.

Following an almost four-hour hearing the Committee unanimously recommended the Senate Government Operations and Reform Committee appoint Ahmed as the head of the DHS.

Debbie Schlussel - a conservative political commentator, radio talk show host, columnist and attorney who has public accused Ahmed of wrongdoing in the past – made an appearance and accused him of Medicaid fraud, supporting terrorism and supporting anti-American and anti-Israel activities. She had to be gaveled off after going well beyond the 5 minutes for public testimony allowed by the chair of the Committee, Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids.

“We have heard a lot about bridge-building,” Schlussel said. “You know you have heard a lot of people who support him come up here who say they are Jewish, but they don’t represent any official Jewish organization.”

Ahmed is the executive director and founder of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), a private nonprofit agency that grew from a storefront operation that helped just about 125 people in 1971 to an agency with a $15-million budget that helps some 90,000 people a year. But following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Arab-Americans were under a cloud of suspicion. Jansen, the chair of the committee, asked Ahmed about a 2002 raid on ACCESS authorized by then Attorney General Jennifer Granholm in an investigation of Medicare fraud.

“We opened all the files they requested,” Ahmed said. “We cooperated fully. Many people have been prosecuted because of this, but no one connected with ACCESS was involved.”

Ahmed said the investigation took a close look at one supervisor among the 200 employees at ACCESS, but the supervisor was relieved of his duties until they were cleared by the investigation.

In 2002 when Ahmed ran as the Democratic nominee to the Board of Regents for the University of Michigan he was accused by Schlussel as being friendly to Arab terrorist groups and committing Medicaid fraud.

“I know there is a blogger out there who would like to tie all of that good work to terrorist groups and Medicaid fraud, but it’s simply not true,” Ahmed said. “As an American born in this country and a veteran I am offended but not surprised because false accusations will always find an audience.”

But person after person came forward to tell the committee that Ahmed was a man of character, a bridge-builder of all races and a man of integrity. Jansen also said he had more than 30 letters and emails in support of Ahmed.

“He is both compassionate and a visionary leader who moves organizations forward,” said Sue Hamilton, the director of Health and Human Services for Wayne Country.

When asked by the committee for examples of major changes at ACCESS he has overseen in the past, Ahmed said ACCESS went through some major changes following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said ACCESS no longer supports any overseas charities or activities except the Red Cross and through the U.S. State Department.

“After Sept. 11 the world changed for Arab-Americans, as it did for all Americans,” he said. “After that we were under much more federal scrutiny.”

The DHS has been under fire for its handling of the Ricky Holland case, the 7-year-old Williamston boy who was murdered by his adoptive parents in July 2005 after the parental rights of his biological parents were terminated by DHS. That was a question the committee asked him both in person and in writing. Ahmed has been acting director since he was appointed last month, pending the confirmation hearing.

“I have only been here for three weeks, but I have asked that every death or near death instantly be brought to my attention and an investigation begun,” he said.

Labor goes green with BlueGreen Alliance

Labor union leaders and environmentalists have traditionally been on opposite ends of issues with environmentalists fighting for stringent pollution controls and regulations and unions taking the opposite position that those measures kill jobs. However, that is changing with the formation of the BlueGreen Alliance last summer.

Last June the 850,000-strong United Steelworkers (USW) and the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization with 750,000 members, formed the strategic alliance to pursue a joint public policy agenda that includes four policy areas of global warming, clean energy, fair trade and reducing toxins in the environment. The effort began in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington with a planned expansion to 10 other states. Since May of this year Sue Browne has been the BlueGreen Alliance organizer here in Michigan, but she has been a member of the USW for 19 years.

“It’s a new alliance, but our concern over environmental issues have gone back 30 years,” she said.

The USW and the Sierra Club have worked together in the past on such issues as clean air, free trade and corporate responsibility. Anne Woiwode, the director of the Mackinac Chapter of the Sierra Club that covers all of Michigan, said the alliance is a concept that will pay dividends for both groups.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” she said. “We are often put in a position where we are defined by our differences not our common goals.”

Dwindling natural resources coupled with the challenge of the global economy and the sticky issue of how to provide good jobs and a clean environment helped drive the decision for the alliance. Organizers believe good jobs and a clean environment have to go together. There is a push in the state to make Michigan a leader in clean, renewable energy, and the belief is it will grow jobs. One way to do that is with a Renewable Portfolio Standard that mandates a certain percentage of a power company's supply to consumers be generated from renewable fuel sources, and that is a goal of the alliance.

“One thing the BlueGreen Alliance has done is point out what we have in common,” Woiwode said. “One of those things is renewable energy, like wind and solar.”

Despite the good intentions of the alliance, there are a few issues and projects on the horizon that have the potential to derail the new alliance.

One issue is the fight over granting a mining permit for Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company to mine copper and nickel in the Upper Peninsula’s Marquette County. At recent public hearings held across the state last month union members spoke in support of the mine for the estimated 420 jobs it will bring, but environmentalist spoke against it claiming it will the drain the aquifer, destroy wetlands, destroy wildlife habitat, destroy fisheries, pollute the air and pollute the water.

“I think no matter who you are you don’t want mining to pollute the water and land,” Woiwode said. “It’s more of a question of how we do it, and we should be smart about it.”

Another potential wedge is the planned $1 billon expansion of the Marathon Petroleum Co.'s refinery in southwest Detroit that is expected to add 1,000 jobs with 800 temporary construction jobs, but it may also add more pollution to the area.

“I think there are always obstacles to overcome,” Browne said. “We have to look at the outcome.
“We have to get both sides together at the table to work out these issues,” she said.

Oct 8, 2007

Senate holding confirmation hearing for new DHS director

LANSING – With the budget crisis out of the way – for 30 days at least – the Michigan Senate is getting back to its normal schedule of 10 a.m. sessions Tuesday through Thursday.

In a routine week filled with committee hearings, the Senate Families and Human Services Committee’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday of Ismael Ahmed as the director of the troubled Department of Human Services may be the most interesting. Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Ahmed on August 9 as the director of one of the largest executive departments in state government following the resignation of Marianne Udow-Phillips. Ahmed has been serving as the acting director of DHS since his appointment until the Senate advisee and consent hearing.

The far-flung DHS has more than 10,000 employees and directs the operations of public assistance and service programs that includes temporary cash assistance, food assistance, childcare, child support enforcement, medical assistance, adoption and foster care services, domestic violence services, juvenile justice services and adult and children’s protective services. The DHS and former director Udow-Phillips came under fire recently for its handling of the Ricky Holland case, the 7-year-old Williamston boy who was murders by his adoptive parents in July 2005 after the parental rights of his biological parents were terminated by DHS.

Ahmed has a unique resume, and he has earned the respect of many people in Michigan with his work as the executive director and founder of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). It’s a private nonprofit agency that grew from a storefront operation that helped just about 125 people in 1971 to an agency with a $15-million budget that helps some 90,000 people a year. However, because ACCESS was created primarily to assist the Arab immigrant population adapt to life in America it and Ahmed have come under attack by some conservative groups and bloggers, especially following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. by Muslim extremists.

In 2002 when he ran as the Democratic nominee to the Board of Regents for the University of Michigan he was attacked by Debbie Schlussel - a conservative political commentator, radio talk show host, columnist and attorney – as being friendly to Arab terrorist groups. Those attacks continue, but Ahmed has his defenders as well, such as veteran journalist and Wayne State University Journalism Professor Jack Lessenberry , who called Schlussel an "Ann Coulter wannabe."

The committee hearing - chaired by Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids – will begin at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Senate hearing room on the ground floor of Boji Tower, 124 W. Allegan St. in downtown Lansing. The hearing, like all committee hearings, is open to the public.

Oct 4, 2007

Senate Democrats introduce resolution to stop secret votes and harassment of media

LANSING – The flap over the vote for the sales tax increase in the wee hours Monday morning has led Senate Democrats to introduce Senate Resolution 114 Thursday to amend the Senate Standing Rules to ensure there are no secret votes.

The trouble began around 3 a.m. Monday when the Senate was voting to give immediate effect to House Bill 5198. The bill to tax certain services had passed earlier with a 19-19 tie broken by Lt. Gov. John Cherry. Since the state government had been shut down at midnight, Cherry called for a vote to give the bill immediate effect instead the normal procedure that says a bill only takes effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

Immediate effect takes a two-thirds vote or approval by 26 Senators. However, those votes are not recorded in the Senate journal, and a photographer from the Senate Democratic Caucus was taking photos of the board. A number of Senate Republicans objected to that, and Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, then ordered all Senate staff off the floor.

Subscription only Gongwer reported, “In the process a news photographer began shooting the voting board - Senate rules forbid photographing a non-roll call vote - and several senators shouted the photographer should be thrown off and one demanded his tape be confiscated. A sergeant stood with the photographer while that portion of the tape was erased.” However, it cannot be verified if that incident actually took place.

Senate Republican leadership says the Senate rules bar the media from taking photos of the vote board during unrecorded votes. In an email response Carol Viventi, the Secretary of the Senate, said “Consequently, no one, media included can take pictures of the board when it is an unrecorded vote.” But that’s news to some regular media that cover the Capitol on a regular basis. Phillip Hendricks, the news director at Lansing TV station WLNS, said he has never heard of that rule.

“I don’t know of any policy that prohibits us filming anything,” he said. “We have never had a problem, and we film what ever we want.”

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, said the caucus photographer was shooting the board at his request, and he and the caucus attorney checked for any written policy that prohibited staff from shooting photos of the board. He said any change in Senate rules must be approved by a vote of the full Senate. Schauer said he received a letter from Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, in response to what rules were used to stop the board from being photographed that cited a policy Schauer said he cannot find, and he also said he cited “long-standing custom and usage” as the precedent for banning visual recording of the vote board for non-record votes. Schauer said the so-called long-standing custom violates both the spirit of the Open Meetings Act and the Constitution.

“We have no right as Senators to cast votes in secret,” Schauer said. “I will always error on the side of openness.”

The resolution will amend the standing rules to allow no secret votes, and to allow the press, public and staff to photograph the board at any point in the Senate session.

“Our First Amendment is clear, our Constitution is clear, our rules are clear - the public has a right to know how we represent them in this chamber,” Schauer said in a press release. “The resolution we offer today should not even be necessary, but it will once and for all end any perception that there are secret votes in this Senate.”

Oct 2, 2007

Counter Coulter event raises money for free dental clinic

A few miles west and six hours later more than 150 people gathered in the historic Howell Opera House in downtown Howell Monday evening and heard a positive message and raised more than $1,500 for a planned free dental clinic in response to rightwing author and commentator Ann Coulter calling half the U.S. population traitors.

Coulter spoke at Cleary University’s Economic Club Speakers Luncheon Series earlier in the day at a cost of $30,000 plus expenses. Many Livingston County residents were concerned that welcoming someone who has made numerous racist and hatful remarks in her books, columns and on TV and radio would further reinforce the county’s undeserved reputation as a place that welcomes racists and bigots of all ilks.

The Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton and Voter's Voice - a group for independents, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans – co-sponsored what they called “Turning a Negative into a Positive” at a Counter Coulter event that brought in Ann Arbor author Jonathan Cohn, a senior editor at The New Republic magazine, to talk about his book “Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis --- and the People Who Pay for it,” and the health care crisis in the United States. Cohn spoke for free, and admission was the price of any size monetary donation.

Jim Swonk, the president of Voter’s Voice and the President of the Board at the church, said he issued a challenge to Cleary President Tom Sullivan and the sponsors of the economic series that brought Coulter in to see who can raise the most money for a charity. Swonk said he has not heard from anyone. Still, Swonk was very pleased with the large turnout on a very wet and rainy evening.

“I’m very, very pleased to see this turnout,” he said. “I think it really speaks to the kind of people that live in Livingston County.”

The money raised will go to the VINA Community Dental Center of Livingston County that is under construction in donated space at the First United Methodist Church of Brighton. It is being organized by Dr. Samuel Daniels, and he said the space, equipment, labor, materials, architectural work and even the legal work to establish a nonprofit are being donated. He said the clinic should be ready to accept patients who have no dental insurance or are low income in about a year.

“Almost every dentist in town and their staffs have volunteered their services,” he said. “It has been talked about for about 25 years. The problem has been dentists are reluctant to treat these kinds of cases in their own offices.”

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. 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. “Sick,” his first book, was published in April.

“When they called to ask me to be the counter to Ann Coulter I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to be the counterpart to Ann Coulter.”

Cohn said when he decided to write a book he chose to write about something no one else was writing about, but since then health care has become a major political issue. Cohn traveled all over the U.S. and some foreign countries and read every study and every source on health care he could get his hands on in doing the research for the book, and he has become a walking encyclopedia on the state of health care in America.

“I was thinking maybe we should not talk about Ann Coulter because if we do she wins,” Cohn said. “That's what she does; she denigrates.
“She doesn’t want us to talk about health care, so I hope you will indulge me if I don’t talk about Ann Coulter anymore.”

Cohn spent almost two hours talking about health care to an attentive audience, answered questions and signed copies of his book.

He traced the origins of heath care insurance in America, how the employer-based health care system is failing and he advocated for universal health care. He told some truly horrific stories from his book of middle class families playing by the rules losing their health care coverage when a parent's job is downsized, and that is happening more and more as companies trying to compete in the global marketplace try to shed costs and doing so by cutting and eliminate health care benefits.

The U.S. spends about 16 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care, more than any other industrialized nation in the world, but millions of Americans have no health care coverage at all. The U.S. spends more on health care than those nations that have quality universal health care.

The auto industry has really felt the effect of health care costs because they are competing with countries that have universal health care, and the cost of providing employee and retiree health care benefits is not added to the purchase price of the car. Cohn said universal health care has been a liberal issue in the past, but more and more conservatives are beginning to take up the cause as they realize U.S. companies cannot compete globally carrying the high cost of health care insurance without the same help other countries have, and they also need healthy workers to drive the economic engine.

“You can have a debate about this, but let’s do it with the facts,” he said. “There may be a good case against universal health care. We have a good system, but we can do better.”

To donate to the VINA Community Dental Center send donations to 305 W. Main St.
Brighton, MI 48116.

Oct 1, 2007

Threatened recall campaign begins with Oakland County area Representatives

Apparently, the threatened recall effort for some of the lawmakers voting to increase Michigan’s income tax Sunday night has begun.

An Oakland County group calling itself “Stop Hurting Michigan's Kids” announced Monday it’s starting recalls against six state Representatives who represent parts of Oakland County, including one Republican, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press. Those targeted are Reps. Paul Condino, D-Southfield, Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak, Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, Tim Melton, D-Ponitiac, Aldo Vagnozzi, D-Farmington Hills and Chris Ward, R-Brighton.

The group filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office as a Political Action Committee (PAC) on Sept. 13 by Rochester Hills resident Tom McMillin. He is a conservative Republican; a former field director for the Michigan Christian Coalition, a former Oakland County Commissioner; former Mayor of Auburn Hills; chairman of the Oakland Citizens to Protect Marriage, that helped pass of Proposal 2, which amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage and a Republican candidate for State Board of Education in 2006. A PAC allows them to solicit and spend money to influence an election.

The group may have a tough time recalling the Representatives who are term limited and cannot run again next November because the complex, time-consuming recall process.

Those Representatives term limited and in their last year in the House include Condino, the Chair of the important Judiciary Committee; Meisner, the Chair of the Commerce Committee; Ward, the Minority Floor Leader and Vagnozzi. Donigan is in her second term, and Melton, the Chair of the Education Committee, is in his first term.

Kelly Chesney, the Director of Communications for the Michigan Secretary of State, said section 168.951 of Michigan Election Law says that a recall petition cannot be filed against an elected official during the last six months of the officer's term of office. For those four term-limited Representatives, their term expires on Dec. 31 of next year, but the election is just 13 months away.

“You first have to determine how much time is left in the term,” she said. “They cannot be within six months of their term expiring.”

The recall group then has to come up with the reason for a recall, and it must meet certain criteria. The reason for a recall must be clear enough so that voters can understand the reason for the recall. Once the reason and recall language is submitted to the local county board of electors or election commission, they will determine if the language is clear and concise. In Ward’s case, where the majority of the 66th District he represents is in Livingston County and only a small piece is in Oakland County’s Milford Township, the Livingston County Elections Commission will hold the clarity hearing because that is the county Ward resides in. A public clarity hearing is held 10-20 days after the commission receives the petition where the person being recalled is allowed to address the clarity of the recall language.

Once the language is approved, the language is good for 180 days, but the actual petition drive for signatures must be within 90 days. In other words, there must be 90 days between the first and last signature.

The petition circulator must collect only those signatures of voters registered in the House District of the lawmaker being recalled, and the person collecting the signatures must also be a registered voter in that district. The petitions must contain the signatures equal to at least 25 percent for all the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in the district of the lawmaker being recalled.

Once enough signatures are collected, the petitions are sent to the Secretary of State, which has seven days to begin to verify that the petitions are in the proper form and the signatures are from registered voters in the district. The target of the recall then has the right to challenge the signatures. Within 35 days after petitions are filed with the SOS, the office must make a determination if the petition is sufficient or deficient, and if it’s sufficient it then notifies the county clerk that the a recall election is to be held on the next regular election date that is not less than 95 days after the date the petition is filed.

If the recall is successful, the seat is immediately vacant, and a special election to fill the vacancy shall be held on the next regular election date. The governor may appoint someone to fill the seat until the election is held and the successor sworn in.

It is not clear if this recall attempt is associated with Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, the head of The Michigan Taxpayers Alliance (MTA), who has been threatening recalls of anyone who votes for the revenue, increases. McMillin did not return phone calls.

Political history society preserves institutional memory in term limits era

With the budget standoff and the failure of the Senate and House that are controlled by opposite political parties to reach a balanced budget in a timely manner, the refrain often heard in Michigan is there is no institutional memory left in Lansing and no relationships across the aisle in the era of term limits. One group that is safeguarding Michigan’s rich political history and institutional memory is the nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan Political History Society.

“In this era of term limits you don’t get to know people,” said David Murley, the President of the Michigan Political History Society. “Everyone is working towards the same goal, working for a better Michigan. We just differ on how to get there.”

The current budget crisis, government shutdown and threat of recalls has only heightened the partisan divide between the two political parties, and the newspapers and blogs are filled with stories harkening back to the last time the state faced a government shutdown and the last time lawmakers were recalled. The society exists both to foster better understanding and bipartisan cooperation between political opponents and to preserve and present accurate information from those actually involved in historic political events in Michigan.

“We are all part of a rich political history,” Murley said. “This did not start with us, and it certainly will not end with us.
We have been in this situation before backs in 1959 and in 1967 when we got the income tax,” he said.

The society began some 13 years ago with goals of expanding greater knowledge of Michigan’s political history; educating the public about the role politics has played in the state; studying and documenting events, highlighting groups and notable people in Michigan’s political history, serve as a clearing house for political history information for academics, writers, historians and citizens; promote a greater interest in civic affairs and participation in civic duties; foster bipartisan relations and plan and coordinate functions.

The society is governed by a 25-member board that covers the entire political spectrum, and membership is open to anyone with an interest in history and politics for an annual membership of fee of just $30. The society serves an important function because there is really no other place to get the kind of information the society collects.

“Michigan political history is not taught in schools,” Murley said. “The Capitol coverage from our daily newspapers is also disappearing from what it once was.”

The society exits for the most part in cyberspace, and one of the most ambitious projects the society has been involved in the past 10 years is recording oral histories of major political figures to pass on to future generations. The interviews are recorded on DVDs for distribution to Michigan Government Television (MGTV), Michigan PBS TV stations, university libraries and the Michigan Historical Museum and Library.

The society also tries to put on about three events a year. In the past it has held book signings by political figures and their biographers, dinners and events marking special anniversary or milestones. Past events have included celebrating the 1963 Constitutional Convention, the Romney Gubernatorial Years, Teddy Roosevelt comes to Lansing and The Recalls of 1983.

“The vast majority of our events are not to raise money,” Murley said. “They are designed to bring Michigan political history to the people.”

Although it does not have a building or facility of its own, in the past the society has partnered with other groups to display some of the political material it has. Although it has not really been discussed with the board a permanent display or museum for Michigan politics is not completely out of the question in the distant future.

One project the society wants to undertake is collecting campaign material from the political campaigns. Although badges, bumper stickers and other campaign swag make great collector items, the society is looking more for campaign literature, mailers and campaign ads. Murley said it’s both interesting and informative to see what the issues were over the years and how they have evolved. Murley said the school vouchers issue is a perfect example of that evolution when you see how support for them switched political affiliation over the years.

“When you look at the TV commercial and campaign literature it’s interesting to see what the issues were 30 years ago to get you elected,” he said. “In the ‘70s it was the Republicans who opposed vouchers and the Democrats who supported it, for the most part.”

(Photo Courtesy of the Michigan Political History Society)

Legislature misses midnight deadline for avoiding a shutdown but still passes budget agreement

LANSING – They missed the midnight deadline for averting a partial state government shutdown, but it appears after a day of bills funneling back and forth between the Senate and House a shutdown was averted early Monday morning.

Shortly before 3 a.m. Monday morning the Senate voted 19-19 for the conference report for House Bill 5198 to set a sales tax on certain services with two Republicans crossing over and Lt. Gov. John Cherry broke the tie by voting yes. Earlier in the morning two hours earlier the Senate had voted the same way for the conference report for House Bill 5194 that that raised the income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.45 percent.

Averting the shutdown took a lot of starts and stops, such as the conference report for the package of bills known as the Public Employees Health Benefit Act bill requiring pooling of health insurance for teachers and other public employees. It barely passed in the House by a vote of 57-52 just minutes after midnight Sunday night/Monday morning. That appeared to be the last piece in the puzzle for an agreement to balance the budget and for the Governor signing a 30-day continuation or temporary budget bill if the Senate passed the revenue bills authorizing the sales tax and the income tax increase.

Things got rolling in the Senate at 9:30 p.m. when it took up bills sent over from the House. Senate Bills 772 and 773 – the all important continuation budget - was passed by a vote of 34-3 that will keep the state government going for 30 days beginning on Monday. The continuation budget bill was previously approved in the House. The other budget bills are tie-barred to the continuation bill, and it took all night and the early morning to get all the pieces in order.

“This is a multi-departmental budget bill, and it includes debt service payments,” said Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, the chair of the Appropriations Committee.

However, the continuation budget bill was tie-barred to the revenue increases; House Bills 5198 that set a sales tax on certain services and HB 5194. Earlier in the day the House passed HB 5198 that set the sales tax on 23 categories of services. It was approved with a narrow vote of 56-53, with the support of all but two Democrats. The bill provides some $613 million toward this year's $1.8 billion budget deficit.

The Conference Committee, consisting of three members from both Houses, voted 4-2 to approve HB 5194 that raised the income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.45 percent. Shortly before 11 p.m. the House passed the bill by a vote of 57-52 to kick it over to the Senate. Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, and Rep. Ed Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms, were the only Republicans to vote for the bill. Ironically, Ward was on the conference committee and cast one of the two no votes.

The Senate also passed unanimously a series of reform bills aimed at improving government efficiency in exchange for some Republicans supporting the revenue increases. Senate Bills 396, 396 and 397 were passed that creates a Commission on Government Efficiency. The commission would conduct a comprehensive reviews and analysis of state administrative functions and mandates imposed upon local units, and the commission would recommend potential cost-saving reforms to the Legislature.

SB 549 was passed unanimously to implement a uniform school calendar for all public school districts. The rationale is there will be a monetary savings if it is easier to share program and services if they are all on the same calendar. SB 632 would allow products made by prisoners through Michigan State Industries (MSI) only be sold to non-profit agencies and tax-exempt agencies.

A major reform that was passed unanimously was House Bill 4800 that ends the so-called “double dipping.” It amends the State Employees' Retirement Act to suspend pension payments of a retiree under the act if the individual is reemployed by the State of Michigan directly or indirectly. The House substitute for SB 622 was passed 22-16 that will allow the Michigan Department of Corrections to privatize the corrections mental health program by allowing them to contract with "third-party providers."

Most of the Michigan’s media was for the first time in a long time focused on the Capitol, and Detroit and Lansing area TV stations were conducting live interviews and reports on both the House and Senate floors. However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, had the Senate Sergeants-At-Arms order the assembled media not to photograph or film the vote board when votes are taken to give the bills immediate effect. Those votes are not recorded anywhere or appear in the Senate Journal, so a photo or video of the board would be the only record. The rules that govern the Senate say nothing about what the media can or cannot shoot once they are given permission to film or photograph on the Senate floor.

This is not the first time Bishop has been accused of censorship. Last August he received a firestorm of criticism for attempting to block access from Senate computers to the blog "Blogging for Michigan" that had been critical of his handling of the budget situation. Only after he received criticism from both sides of the political spectrum did he relent and change his position.