Blogs > Skoop's Blog

In and outs of the political campaigns, focusing on Michigan and Lansing, Tim Skubick will report regularly throughout the primary and then general election campaigns.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Make Gov. the Bad Guy

The governor remains on his crusade to reinvent the state by asking
county and city governments to combine their resources at a supposed
savings to weary tax payers. As with most of his idealistic ideas,
this stuff is easier said than done.
The newly installed Macomb County Executive observes, "Some of the
local leaders are very hesitant about these decisions because there's a
lot of public criticism." Yeah, there's an understatement.
Mark Hackel knows when you talk about combining your firefighters
and cops from one jurisdiction with another, "there is an emotional
impact…people get very very agitated. They get very upset."
And faced with that political fact of life, some local leaders will
opt for the status quo. The governor seeks to change that by
threatening to withhold state aid to those entities if they don't fall
in line.
In the world of carrots and sticks, that would be a club.
Hackel is on board with the governor on the combining concept
saying it should have been done years ago and he thinks he's found a
way for recalcitrant locals to get the back bone to do it.
His strategy is, blame the governor.
Hackel figures by making the governor the bad guy, local
politicians can say, I don't want to do this, but the governor will
take millions of dollars away from our government and I can't let that
happen, so we have to swallow this medicine.
The former sheriff says it worked in Mt. Clemens and no one was
laid off.
Mr. Snyder is probably more than willing to be the Snidely Whiplash
in this saga as he didn't take this job to win a popularity contest and
most certainly these days he is not.

Cherry Finds Work

Turns out former lt. governor John Cherry is not leaving politics
after deciding not to run for governor. Instead he will become a
multi-client lobbyist on a limited basis.
The Genesee County Democrat has hooked up with the lobbying firm
in town operated by two former Speakers of the Michigan House, Democrat
Lew Dodak and Republican Rick Johnson.
This marks the first time in the post World War II period that an
ex l.g. has joined the lobbying ranks.
Mr. Cherry did not make a quick decision on this. In fact the
first thing he did after watching Virg Bernero lose to Rick Snyder last
fall, was to head off to the Hawaiian Islands for an extended vacation.
The talks with Johnson and Dodak continued over a period of time
and came to fruition a couple of weeks ago.
Mr. Cherry, with 34 years of experience in this town, is seen as
a rainmaker who can bring more clients to the rooster of clients the
two former speakers now have.
He is respected on both sides of the aisle and many folks in town
still believe he would have been a pretty good governor, but that gig
did not work out and now he and his former legislative colleagues hope
this one will.
He joins the lobby corps on April 11th, one day before lawmakers
return from their two week Spring break.
Look for a formal announcement of all this soon.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

D's Exploit Gov's Slogan

Gov. Snyder started it and Democrats are fixin to finish it.
The new governor may live to regret the day he coined the phrase
"shared sacrifice" because now every budget move he makes is being
filtered through that prism and the D's are exploiting it for
everything it is worth.
Item: Governor proposes pension tax on seniors with the money going
to fund business tax relief.
Democrats argue that's not shared sacrifice. That is one-side
The gov's guys feebly try to counteract that by saying, in the long
run businesses will create more jobs and that will help everyone.
Nice try but it doesn't trump the glaring fact that seniors share in
the pain now while business gets a pass.
Item: The governor's budget director is trying to squeeze $180
million in new concessions from state workers while simultaneously
refusing to take a pay cut from his hefty $250,000 a year.
Where's the shared sacrifice in that little arrangement the D's want
to know?
Item: The governor calls on local governments to extract a 20%
health care co-pay from all their workers but in the state legislature,
lawmakers don't cough up that much.
Enter Democratic Rep. Jon Switalski with a plan to do that and
couple with it a 20% cut in legislative pay checks.
This could get embarrassing because the Republicans have the votes
to pass the Switalski proposal but will they?
If they sit on it, the R's look two-faced in that they want everyone
to share in the sacrifice but not themselves. But getting the votes to
do it will be tough as legislators are like everyone else i.e. they
want everyone else to sacrifice.
This is a win-win for the D's. If the R's balk, the D's hit them for
that but if they pass the cuts, the D's can take the credit for that.
Maybe Switalski and company should send a thank you note to the
governor for creating this shared sacrifice connemdrum.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Shutter Cop Shops

The new governor came into town promising to change the culture.
He's taken one step toward doing that by moth-balling a host of state
police posts.
In the old legislative culture there was a direct correlation
between where a state police post was located and the guys who sat on
the house and senate appropriations committees. You could pretty much
figure, if one of those lawmakers wanted a post, magically one would
show up in their neck of the woods.
Over two dozen posts are being shuttered and none of the old time
lawmakers are around to belly-ache about it. So much for that
When the story broke, there were all sorts of fears that with each
closing, troopers would be laid off, too. Not so. In fact the
trooper's union figures the move will see more officers on patrol
instead of being a desk-jockey at some far and away building stuck in
the northern woods somewhere.
The troopers new "offices" will be on wheels… their scout cars
complete with computer, communications and a cup holder for their
coffee and donuts. The only thing missing will be the head.
Technology is a wonderful thing. The only problem is what happens
to the poor schlub who wants to walk into the nearest state police post
for help?
Now they will have to go hunting for a blue car instead.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Independents Call the Shots

With all due respect to all you Republicans and Democrats out
there, you all are not nearly as much fun to bird dog compared to
Independent voters.
Here's why: Independents usually determine the outcome of an
election; they tend to be a tad more sophisticated about why they
support this candidate or that or put another way, they won't support
someone just because he or she has an R or D after their name. In
fact, that might even be a deterrent. Independents are mercurial and
issue-orientated and therefore hard to predict.
In the last race for governor it was the I's and a host of
stay-at-home Democrats who handed the election to Rick Snyder. Now
some of them are experiencing a mild case of buyer's remorse.
The latest polling data from Public Policy Polling out of North
Carolina suggests that 44% disapprove of the governor while 32% are
still in his corner. 25% of the Independents are not so sure any more.
But here is the mercurial side of these folks: 49% would still
vote for Snyder with 42% going for what's his name on the Democratic
Asked about recalling the new governor, 68% of the Democrats are
ready, while only 5% of the R's agree. No shocker there. Again the
independents show why they are independnet: 55% oppose recall while 30%
favor it.
Recalling new governors is nothing new. Usually there is a lot
of bluster but at the end of the day, it's mostly that and nothing more.
The media often gets fixated on this stuff and sometimes adds
credibility to a movement that is about a quarter inch deep and half a
mile long.
Such was the case when "they" tried to recall Gov. John Engler.
They boasted hundreds of thousands of names. Turns out it was just
that, a boast as most of the names were phony…just like the movement.
"Watch us on July first," advised one of the anti-Snyder
protestors at a recent capitol steps rally. That's the first day they
can officially begin to collect signatures.
With 55% of the independents opposed to the recall, let's just
say the chances are not that hot.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pete Vs. Debbie: Nope

Political correspondents could get their arms around a Pete
Hoekstra vs. Debbie Stabenow contest for the U.S. Senate. There would
be substance to the debate as both have extensive experience in
Washington and it would be a close race.
But alas, it is not to be.
Nobody will confirm this, but you can pretty much bet the farm on
this one: The West Michigan Republican is not going to take on the
Democratic incumbent next year.
Hoekstra is just coming off what one insider describes as a
"grueling" campaign for governor..a campaign that the affable Mr.
Hoekstra should have won but did not.
Plus, Mr. H. has made the earth shattering discovery that there is fact, a good life after Congress. And besides he's run up a
good list of folks who are willing to pay him a tidy sum for bringing
his expertise to their private sector table.
In a nutshell, he doesn't need the grief of another grueling
statewide effort to unseat the hard to beat Stabenow. And he'd have to
go through another primary with other Republicans who want at her as
Mr. Hoekstra, who marches to his own drummer, wants no part of all
this speculation. The only thing he will say is he and his spouse will
make their decision within the next two weeks.
However if you poke your nose around long enough, you can uncover
one source who confides, Mr. Hoekstra is leaning against the race;
there's a good chance he won't run unless new data suddenly emerges in
the next two weeks.
And about the only data that could change his mind is Stabenow
drops out, and no other Republican wants the job.
In other words, he ain't running.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Higher Ed Apathy

Apathy is alive and well in the ranks of college students. Only
about 300 bothered to show up for a demonstration on the capitol steps
to protest the governor's proposed 22% slice in state support for
higher ed.
It was admirable that they did demonstrate but a tour de force it
was not and it pretty much reflects the lack of political interest by
our future leaders.
The ones who where there were engaged and passionate about the
impact the cuts would have as tuition will go up.
"To cut education is sickening to me. It's gross. It's really
sad that you (referring to the governor) would do that to the people,"
lamented Saginaw Valley student Adrian Muntz.
"I sure hope we can change some minds in there," an optimistic
student Tim Bertrand added.
Here's the harsh reality. Even if 20,000 were there, no minds
were changed.
The GOP senator who chairs the higher ed budget committee is on
board with the governor's 22% even though she has the power to lower
the amount.
Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker was asked if that meant the kids were
stuck with the cut? "Those are your words," she deflected the question.
Cardi DeMonico who heads the student association that sponsored
the event did not mince his words. On one hand the governor professes
to be for higher ed, but on that other he's cutting it, so does that
make him slightly hypocritical?
"I would say so," answers Mr. DeMonico.
Perhaps the students were naïve to think they could make a
difference. This will now become part of their education reflects the
President of MSU.
Dr. Lou Anna Simon thanks for them for being active but in this
instance, the lesson deals with counting votes and the students don't
have enough to make a difference.
Welcome to the real world of politics where just because you show
up, does not mean you will win.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Logic Trumps Politics: Ha

Lt. Governor Brian Calley gave a very measured, reasonable and
logical presentation the other day on why the House Appropriations
Committee should support the governor's new budget including that
sticky senior pension tax.
Calley is so low-keyed and non-confrontational, just like his
boss, that they could have served some no-doze to the panel.
Give the administration credit, it has pieced together a budget
that makes some sense when you compare seniors on a pension paying no
taxes while seniors who are still working, do.
But even the Republicans on the committee had a little trouble
swallowing that. None of them criticized the budget per se, but when
six of them were asked if they would support the pension tax if they
had to vote today, each one punted.
"I don't have to vote today," was the common dodge.
"I'm asking a lot of questions," deflected another R.
"Everything is still on the table," was yet another way to
wiggle out of a direct answer.
Democrats are more direct: They'll have none of it. Period.
Calley and the governor know this is a tough sell.
"There are always political consequences to charges and there's
naturally an amount of trepidation to that," Mr. Calley concedes.
But he and the governor keep saying it is time to do the right
thing…as they see it.
Easy for the two of them who have risen about the politics that
dominates this town. Let's just say a majority of legislators have not
made the climb to join them.
In fact the senate GOP leader confesses, "I don't think our
caucus is supportive of it as presented." There might be a middle
ground Sen. Randy Richardville hints, but adds, "I don't necessarily
know if that's going to happen."
Undaunted, Calley plods along hoping against hope for a
cultural change where logic prevails.
"Getting logic to take a higher priority over the political
ramifications of doing the right thing is difficult under all
circumstances, but especially now."
At least they've got that right.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bernero Would Win Now

Now we know why candidate Rick Snyder refused to talk a lot about
what he would do if he was elected. That's because if the voters knew
then, what they know now, all of us would be covering the Virg Benero
That's the assertion in a new poll conducted by a North Carolina
firm which found that if there was a re-do on the November election,
50% of the female voters would have picked Bernero with 42% for Rick
Snyder. Half of the men are still for Snyder with 43% for Benero.
Bernero who never caught fire with many voters does much better now
with 60% of the 18-29 vote going for the Lansing Mayor with only 24%
for the Nerd. Bernero even captured the critical senior citizen vote
On the union front where Bernero under-performed, this time he gets
a more respectable 56% of union households to Snyder's 36%.
So que pasa?
What happened is Gov. Snyder, safely in office, has made some
tough decisions that have turned many voters off. This is usually the
case with all governors.
For example, he never hinted during the campaign that he would
consider a tax on senior pensions. Imagine if he had. The 50% that
Bernero got in this poll would have been off the charts and Snyder will
still be in Ann Arbor wondering why he wasted $6 million of his own
money on the campaign.
You are asking why didn't you know about all this stuff. Surely
the media is to blame.
That's partially correct. Some correspondents did try to pin down
Mr. Snyder but he turned out to be just like all the other career
politicians: If he didn't want to answer, you could ask the same
questions six ways from Sunday and he would still not budge.
He controlled what he said and that was that.
So even though Bernero would win now by a paper thin margin, it
means nothing. He's a dollar short and 4 months late.
The good news for Mr. Snyder is 49% of the voters refuse to recall
him while 38% would bounce him and 13% are unsure.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Difference of Opinion

The governor sent a special message to lawmakers on local
government reforms this week. There was also a hidden message to House
Republicans which boiled down to: Your agenda is not mine.
You reach this conclusion by what he did and did not say.
Item: Binding arbitration. House R's want to kill it; the
GOP governor wants to tweak it.
Item: Repeal the prevailing wage law. House R's want that;
the governor did not mention it.
Item: Create Right-to-Work zones. House R's are ready to
roll; the governor is not.
He respectively acknowledges that his friends in the House
can debate whatever they want, but that doesn't mean he has to do what
they want.
Governors and members of their own party will often disagree
on priorities. It's not the end of the world. After all this governor
is not worried about getting re-elected but the 63 House Republicans
are, which is why they have about 30 bills that labor considers to be
Since he wants to cooperate with unions, the governor is not
anxious to tackle that agenda.
To be fair, the governor and House R's see eye-to-eye on some
of the major Snyder items including scrapping the item-pricing law and
the Emergency Financial Manager bill.
And to be fair, since he is a tad more moderate than most in
conservative GOP ranks, we'll see more disagreements, but both sides
will play that down and pretend it doesn't exist. But it is real.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sign of the Times

They must be teaching a creative protest sign class somewhere
because the stuff that's been showing up at state capitol these days is
pretty good.
"Curb the Nerd", "Send Gov. Rick Engler to China," etc. etc.
However the only place you can view the art work is outside the
building. If you attempt to bring them into the capitol, you are
supposedly breaking the law.
"No Signs In the Capitol" the sign on the door reads. And
during the rash of rallies recently, all the demonstrators dutifully
dropped their prose at the door.
"The Capitol Rotunda is a public place," advises the Michigan
ACLU legal eagles in a Free Speech opinion that seems to make some
Actually there is no "Law" per se that bans the signs; it's been
a rule for years imposed by the Capitol Committee composed of lawmakers.
Lost in the reporting of this sign ban is the reason behind it.
It's not that anyone wants to abridge your rights to protest inside,
the overriding concern is to avoid damage to the joint.
The folks who oversee the building know that if you bring in a
poster on a stick, somehow that stick will scratch the walls, might
damage the floor, might crack the paint, or what not.
The capitol committee supposedly will revisit the issue. They
do so with vivid images of what happened in Wisconsin. Maybe you heard
about that.
"The capitol is a working museum," they like to say around here
and to avoid costly repairs, you are told to stick you stick at the
The ACLU is standing by to see what the committee does...if
Oh yeah. No meeting has been scheduled, yet which could spawn
thisprotest: Ban the Nerd. Not My Sign.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What's The Hurry

We worship at the altar of speed. It's instant this and instant
that, but sometimes in the legislative process "speed" should take a
back seat.
The Snyder administration is in a full court press to get its
first budget adopted by the end of May. Lawmakers actually have until
October first to get the job done, but nobody thinks that will happen
this time out.
"We're going to work overtime in April and May to get this done,"
advises Speedy Gonzales a.k.a. Randy Richardville the senate GOP leader.
Not so fast.
The last time lawmakers rushed to get something done, passing a
sales tax on services, they ended-up un-doing what they did because
they got it wrong.
There were omelets all over the join from Gov. Granholm on down.
Now comes business guy Rick Snyder who grew up in a climate
where you wanted everything yesterday and waiting for tomorrow cost you
money on the bottom line.
Legislating is not a business.
If the framers of the constitution had wanted speed, they would
have installed a benevolent dictator instead of a representative
Democracy which demands deliberation affording everyone a chance to
A conservative GOP lawmaker confided the other day that he wanted
to take more time on writing a new business tax. He remembers the
sales tax debacle.
Other Republicans are pushing back on jamming through the new
budget, too. Hey, these guys get paid to review what the governor has
proposed and doing it in a flash is a disservice not only to the
legislative process, but more importantly to the citizens as well.
We pay legislators not to rubber stamp what they governor wants
no matter how much he cajoles them to do it.
Yeah, the schools need to know by June 1st what their budgets
will be, but even they would rather see lawmakers get it right than
just get it done.
Instant messaging may be fine on your Crackberry but in the
legislative game there are no points off for taking your good ole time.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Building Trust

Points off for the new governor because he waited over two months
to meet privately with the four legislative leaders.
Points on for the new governor for continuing to cultivate trust by
inviting lawmakers to lunch.
Building trust in the political game is almost as important as
counting votes, because you can't do the later without the former and
this governor is wise enough to have figured that out.
But why he waited almost six weeks to hold his first face to face
with the four leaders is a mystery and totally out of character.
He finally had the senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer and
her House counterpart Rich Hammel in the same room with GOP Speaker
Bolger and Senate GOP Leader Richardville. (He has been meeting with
the two GOP guys on numerous occasions.)
The governor wanted the Democrats to give him a head count on
support for the second span between Detroit and Windsor. He will
apparently need D support on this one because the bridge is a tough
sell among some R's who think the private sector should do everything.
Maybe the gov should asked the private sector to find him some votes?
Selling the R's on his agenda was also on the menu the other day
when he crunched on potato chips and sandwiches with 11 GOP senators,
many of whom are not on board with the governor's pension tax.
The almost 90 minute session was described as a "getting to know
you" type affair where no head counts or arm-twisting occurred.
"A frank exchange," is the way of of the invitees put it which is
code for, we did not agree on everything from the bridge to the budget.
But the only way to forge an agreement is to build that trust and
that can only be done in real time…one meeting at a time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

They teach you in journalism school to never report on an event you
have not covered. But please just this once.
The governor in Wisconsin has a $137 million deficit and he chooses
to eliminate that by wiping out collective bargaining. He's got a 140
page bill to do it.
Now that sounds like a ton of money, but fact is Michigan has been
pecking away at the deficit here in $137 million chucks for years..
The point being if you want to cut other state services it is
relatively easy to unearth the money without using a mammoth bill and
by leaving collective bargaining alone.
In fact one Wisconsin resident appears on the Internet with his own
solution. He is a self-described non union and non teacher but
confesses to being sympathetic to the movement.
"Write a check for $32," he offers a one sentence solution vs. a
140 page bill.
He says if every resident in the cheese state did it, the deficit
would be resolved pronto without all the acrimony. He even volunteers
to write another $32 check if someone can't.
Now the same thing could be done in Michigan. The governor is
asking state employees to cough up $180 million in new concessions on
top of the $700 million they already choked on under the previous
Write a check for 60 bucks and that goal is reached, too.
But that is way too simple isn't it?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Give Mike Flanagan credit. He could have turned on the fog
machine the other day when the questioning got prickly, but he hung
tough, told the truth, but he must have been worried about the fallout
from what he admitted.
You may have noticed that labor unions and legislative Republicans
are engaged in a tit for tat battle over collective bargaining. The
R's maintain they are not trying to bust up the union contracts in
cities and schools with the Emergency Financial Manager law and labor
says they are.
So the question to the state school superintendent was a lose-lose
proposition which is why he paused for a just a second before he dove
into the thick of the debate.
Did Mr. Flanagan have concerns over the EFM legislation?
He started cautiously, "I do think we need to be careful about
protecting the rights of people with bargaining units and all that."
Notice he did not criticize the Republicans per se.
So far so good.
But then the uncomfortable follow up questions.
If this was legislation designed to "just bust up unions" how
would you vote?
The answer here would draw him closer to either the labor or GOP
side of the equation.
"I'm a no vote," he proceeds to cover himself but he quickly adds,
"I don't believe it is" a move to bust up the unions.
So now he is safely on both sides of the issue.
As the state's top educator he reveals he would never appoint and
EM if that person wanted to abolish contracts.
He delicately walked that fine line between both sides trying not
to offend either.
Maybe Mr. Flanagan is very smart or maybe it was just the Luck of
the Irish at work?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Studied to Death

It was one of the funniest pictures ever and it came from, who else,
but the Clown Prince of Michigan politics, one L. Brooks Patterson. In
the midst of one of the state's worst pot holes seasons, (are there
every any good seasons?) Patterson and others were pressuring then Gov.
John Engler to pass a gas tax increase.
Everyone, except the humorless governor, laughed out loud when
Patterson appeared, standing shoulder deep in a man hole which looked
like a pot hole. The above the fold pic got everyone's attention
including Big John.
Eventually Engler caved and that was the last time the gas tax was
So here we go again…another spring, another batch of axle breaking
pot holes and what are lawmakers doing?
The usual: forming a study committee to look at the alternatives.
Rep. Paul Opsommer (R-DeWitt) chairs the House Transportation
committee and was beside himself the other day when he created a
bi-partisan committee to check all this stuff out.
Wow. This was just great he puffed.
Hey gang. It's a one day study. Pick a road; drive on it and
reach your conclusion. End of report.
Now you could argue that perhaps we should look before we leap into
a road revenue plan that may not work.
But just last year, another commission did just that and that
document gathers dust while a new group begins the same assignment with
the same conclusion: We need more moola.
When in doubt, form a study panel. It helps to give the illusion
that legislators are doing something when in fact they are just
delaying the obvious.
In its defense the Snyder administration has hatch a unique
semi-solution using Canadian money to fill in Michigan pot holes but to
get that, the governor needs lawmakers to sign off on a new bridge
between Detroit and Windsor.
Lawmakers are balking at that, too.
If you want good roads, someone has to pay for them with money from
Maybe they could charge each car an admission price to enter each
Mr. Patterson could administer it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Can or Card Kicking

Every governor has his or her favorite phrases.
"My sense is," was often used by former Gov. Jim Blanchard.
Ex-Gov. Jennifer Granholm would complete a sentence and as
she segued to her next though she often said, "Sooo."
The current governor has developed a bunch of his own
including "my view is; kicking the can down the road; a house of
cards," and when he's about to repeat something he said earlier, he
uses, "There again…"
Well once these catch phrases get woven into their patter,
they are often used without even thinking about them.
Gov. Snyder had one of those days on Monday.
His "can kicking" thing tells audiences that he is fed up
with just delaying a problem by kicking the can down the road and its
time to start solving the problems.
The "house of cards' is used to describe the shaky nature of
Michigan's budget.
So it was only a matter of time before the two got intertwined.
While commenting on the senior pension tax, which he claimed
was not a pension tax per but "the elimination of an exclusion for
pension income," he opined it was time to stop "kicking the house of
cards down the road."
It whizzed by so fast he didn't notice it, but there it was.
No one thought to ask him at the time, if the house of cards
was in a can when he was kicking it down the road?
Maybe next time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Labor Ponders New Governor

When Republican John Engler was elected governor, he took his right
hand off the Bible after the swearing-in and Michigan Democrats
immediately went after him as a mean-spirited ogre who would destroy
the state.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder lowered his right hand, and Democrats
went, "We'll give him the benefit of the doubt."
The reason the D's did not go after the new GOP governor is that he
made noises that he wanted to foster bi-partisanship and get away from
the R's vs D's mentality that normally engulfs this town.
Even though the Democrats lost, the governor sat down with them and
instructed his top aides to do the same thing.
Hey, how can you beat up a guy who is willing to talk?
You can't and so far labor has not.
So far.
Mr. Snyder earned more respect from labor when he declared that
Michigan was not Wisconsin, nor did he want it to be. He said he was
for collective bargaining and he proved it with his budget.
Instead of telling state government union workers where he wanted to
cut their benefits by $180 million, he invited them to help him find a
way at the bargaining table.
Unions had been demanding that and they got it.
But then came the Emergency Financial Manager legislation which the
governor embraces. Under the worse case scenario the EFM could cancel
union contracts, benefits, and who knows what all.
The governor contends he does not want to do that, but unions are
not so sure.
He says the legislation is designed to keep cities and schools, that
employ union workers, out of bankruptcy court.
Unions are not so sure.
So the feeling-out process continues between the two sides. There
is not mutual trust just yet.
One labor leader put it this way. The governor gets an "incomplete"
grade from us but there is "great potential for him to be an A-Plus
But this leader quickly adds, "He won't get an A if he signs the EFM

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reverse Robin Hood

Organized labor around these parts owes Michigan Republicans a nice
thank you note. The R's, unwillingly, have done what unions have been
unable to do for years i.e. galvanized their movement. Or put another
way, Republicans have awakened a sleeping giant.
"The unions are more united then I've seen in a long long time,"
boasts Dave Hecker a Metro-Detroit AFL-CIO hancho.
The "credit" goes mostly to House Republicans who have gone
against the wishes of their GOP governor and raised issues that have
union folks hopping mad. You name it from Right to Work, to scrapping
binding arbitration and prevailing wages, unions are getting their
troops engaged.
Over one thousand were in town last week hootin' and shoutin' in
the capitol rotunda and more are expected back this week.
Hecker reflects on previous union meetings where everyone around
the table had a different agenda. It's no secret that Hecker's
Michigan Federation of Teachers had "issues" with the Michigan
Education Association; Michigan Teamsters and the carpenters had issues
with everyone and many times Solidarity Forever was only a sign on the
union hall wall.
But now, the slogan is on picket signs being held by angry union
The problem is they are fighting a losing legislative battle. The
Republicans need 56 votes in the House to pass their stuff and they
have 63 members. Republicans need 20 votes in the senate and there are
26 members.
The only hope the unions have is to pick off 7 GOP senators or 9
GOP house members and on most, if not all of these labor issues, that
may be next to impossible.
Union leaders have tagged the R's with union busting and their
next strategy is to focus on the governor's budget which they contend
taxes the poor to give tax breaks to the rich.
They hope this reverse Robin Hood theme will keep the membership

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Once the Chairman, Always the Chairman

He's still kickin' at age 91 and talking to him the other day was
just like old times. He was crusty, opinionated, direct and when he
called a former governor "the broad", you knew Harry Gast was still on
his game.
For 32 years Sen. Harry Gast was a fixture in this town as he rode
herd on the Senate Appropriations Committee with his own brand of
legislating i.e. open, brash, and no monkey business.
The St. Joseph Republican was a true one-of--a-kind and his style
is sorely missed in this town these days.
If you didn't know him, you might be afraid to approach him with a
question. He just didn't look very warm and fuzzy, but underneath the
exterior was somebody who got it.
He was not a knee-jerk conservative Republican who opposed every
revenue increase that came down the pike. He was open to them and
along with a handful of more moderate leaning R's in the senate, he did
not consider the word compromise to be a four-letter word as some Tea
Party folks do these days.
"I kinda of miss it," he reflected on the phone the other as he
quickly warmed to doing a media interview which he has not done for
"I wish I was there," he went on adding, "I've got some options
that could be employed." Once the budget chair, always the budget
So how is the governor doing?
"I voted for Hoekstra," the ex-senator reports but opted for Rick
Snyder in the general election.
"I'd give him a seven or eight and I applaud him for the change
he has suggested not like that broad who was in there before," he takes
a shot at the previous female governor.
What about the pension tax?
"I'm not too upset about it," he levels with the interviewer as
long as "everybody else gets hit with the same velocity." Great sound
What about using that money to fund business tax cuts?
"I'm not so sure about that," he concedes.
"I'm getting old," he observes having spent the night at the
hospital with his wife who had an unexpected ruptured vertebrae.
Mr. Gast concedes at times he feels a little "weak with dizzy
Did you take your medicine this morning?
Please take it now.
Hey, don't be bothering him with all that stuff. He'd rather jaw
about state government. After all with 57 years under his belt, he's
seen it all and is eager to talk again.
"You can call me anytime," he warmly suggests as the interview
Be well Mr. Chairman…and take those "G.D." pills as he referred
to them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

CPA Wordsmith

It's a pretty good bet they don't teach creative writing in CPA
school. But there's Mr. CPA/Governor proving he learned the skill
The trick in politics is to find a new way to say old stuff just so
the voters don't get bored.
For example former Gov. Granholm and her bud in the White House
have said for years, "We are all in the same boat together." Heard it
once, heard it a thousand times.
Or, every politician running against an incumbent lawmaker uses
the shop-worn phrase: Time for a change or a variation on that theme:
Change you can believe in.
Well, Gov.Rick Snyder is saying exactly the same thing these days
but he has creatively repackaged it.
Maybe you've heard him say, "We need to reinvent Michigan." Like
maybe a million times? That's just a different way of saying "change."
Or how about this twist on being in the boat together: It's We
vs. Me, as he is fond of saying, but it's the same thing.
He wants every citizen to chuck his or her self-interest, the "Me"
thing, and substitute it with the more altruistic notion of "We."
You know when you are a millionaire, it's relatively easy to share
with all the non-millionaires.
But if you are trying to rub two dimes together to make ends meet,
it's a little more challenging to worry about the other guy. Somehow
self-preseveration trumps getting in the boat with everyone else.
Nonetheless, the governor gets some style points for dressing up
some old themes in new duds. As he is finding out, saying it is one
thing; getting the masses to buy it is quite another.
They don't teach that in CPA school either.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bullets vs. Books

You remember the debate over guns vs. butter. Well here's a new
twist: Guns vs books.
Seems some pistol packing folks entered the Lansing library the
other day and the attendants stood by in shock.
Can they be in here with guns? they promptly asked Rep. Joan
Bauer (D-Lansing.)
To everyone's amazement the answer was yes.
Seems when lawmakers passed the concealed weapons permit law
they banned guns in sports arenas, churches, day care centers and
schools but somehow your neighborhood book shelves were excluded.
Bauer is working on two bills to change that.
Don't bother retorts the chair of the Senate Judiciary
Committee who would likely review the proposal if the House says yes
which is highly unlikely. Sen. Rick Jones is prepared to say no, too.
What would you expect from a former gun-totting sheriff?
"There should be no problem carrying it in a library. You want
to be safe in a library just like you want to be safe walking the
streets," he reasons.
Nodding his head is Sen. Mike Green another pro-NRA Republican.
He not only wants guns in libraries; he wants them everywhere as he
seeks to abolish all gun-free zones.
He reasons with so many police officer layoffs and more to
come, "when there is duress, it is really a long time" to get help "so
why not let good law-abiding citizens protect themselves."
Bauer and the anti-gun crowd fail to see the logic and workers
in those libraries can't figure out why you need a gun to check out a
They would gladly check you out without the heat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kill the Bill

For mini second there, it felt like Wisconsin. Hundreds of
Michigan union demonstrators took over the capitol rotunda. From the
fourth floor to the first floor they leaned over the edge to send a
message to the "union busting" Republicans on the senate floor.
"This is our House," they shouted.
Then they clapped their hands in rhythm giving the rotunda railing
a good work out.
And then they shouted, "Kill the bill" in reference to why they
were there.
They don't like or want the Emergency Financial Manager
legislation that the governor and his pals are shepherding through both
houses in almost record time.
"It's a way to again say to labor, you don't count. And to
government workers, get back. I believe it's just like being in the
slave days," objected Iris Salter who runs the state's largest
teacher's union.
The bill's sponsor denies it is union busting but all about
keeping schools and cities out of the red by sending in the EFM.
But during the capitol lawn phase of the three hour peaceful yet
noisy demonstration one local pastor whipped up the crowd saying
"Michigan does not need a king. Wisconsin does not need a king. And
if you believe than say no." And they did.
Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Macomb County) laments that if union
contracts have to be scrapped to save urban schools and cities, "So be
it," but he says to call it union busting is "an overstatement."
While the vocal demonstrators keep up the chants, senate
Democrats tried to modify the legislation, but failed.
Republicans could hear the shouting as it seeped through the big
red doors that separated them from the throng outside the doors but
they were not swayed.
And at the end of the day, the protesters quietly filed out of
the building perhaps feeling good about making their voices heard, but
knowing deep inside that they would lose this battle.
After all they can count and the GOP has 26 votes and Democrats
have only 12.
Hence, "Kill the bill" fell on deaf ears.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Play Ball

The media in this town is often fixated on issues that it perceives
to be important and sure, the new Snyder administration is fun to
figure out and the new budget certainly has implications for everyone
who lives and breaths in this state, but sometimes stuff happens here
that directly impacts your everyday life.
For example, do you have a kid or know of a kid who plays sports?
And have you ever signed one of those parental waiver agreements not to
sue if the kid gets hurt?
If so, listen up.
The House Judiciary Committee recently passed a bill that fills-in
a legal loophole. It allows one to sue a non-profit organization that
may have contributed to a child's sports injury regardless of the
Hard to believe, legislators are actually doing something that
makes sense.
If you kid gets hurt sliding into second base, and eventually he or
she will be doing that hopefully sooner than later, and breaks a leg,
parents have no recourse.
If you'll pardon the pun, that's the breaks of playing sports.
But what if the sponsoring organization allows a coach to keep your
kids on the ball field in 100 degree temperatures and some budding Al
Kaline ends up in the hospital?
This measure allows you to call in the lawyers and sue even though
you signed the paper.
Parents did not have the right under previous laws.
"If there is any level of negligence," parents can fight back Rep.
John Walsh (R-Livonia) proudly announces. "The waiver only protects
the organization against those injuries that are inherent to the
It's not a done deal, but looks like it will be soon just in time
for the first "Play ball."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bag Lady Conflict Question

There was that nasty "appearance" problem that often surfaces in the
political game. Circulating the House floor last week was an aide to
Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto.) The staffer was placing on the 110
legislator's desks a reusable bag from the Meijer's food store and
inside were all sorts of goodies from breath spray to chocolate milk.
Rep. Lyons had passed her first bill and as tradition dictates, she
had to provide a gift to everyone. Normally this warrants only a
passing media glance, but this time it was different.
Her first bill was the repeal of the item-pricing law. Meijers has
been trying for years to get rid of the bothersome consumer protection
thing and with Ms. Lyon's help, the deed was least in the
house. Senate action is pending.
So what about the giving of the Meijer's bag as a gift? A
conflict-appearance problem for her?
To her credit the freshwoman lawmaker had debated that before
becoming the bag lady.
"We considered that when putting together my gift bag," she reveals.
She wanted to show case items made in her district and given the food
chains "contribution to my district" she signed off.
Give her credit for thinking this through. Others would have done
it and not given it a second thought.
She did one other thing. She jokingly placed a price tag on each
bag even though she favored taking all price tags off all products.
She did that on purpose t adding, "That's the last you'll see of

Sunday, March 6, 2011

When Is A Tax Hike, Not One?

Gov. Rick Sndyer must be rejoicing over this one. In recent days he
has proposed two budget items that many conservatives would consider a
tax increase even though he doesn't like that moniker. Even non-career
politicians know that tax increases are a big no-no.
He wants to freeze the income tax rate at 4.25% when it was slated
to eventually fall to 3.9%.
Years ago when then Gov. Jennifer Granhom wanted to freeze an income
tax rate reduction, then state GOP chairwoman Betsy DeVos denounced it
the stunt as a tax increase and urged all upstanding Republican
lawmakers to stand her down.
When Gov. Snyder took the same course, there was dead silence from
the current state GOP chair and even those conservatives who are
loathed to raise taxes, said nothing about this freeze.
The governor has also embraced slapping the income tax on public and
private pensions owed by senior citizens.
Again he won't use the tax increase label but concedes that for
some it means they will pay more to the state which is just a thinly
disguised way of saying tax hike.
But he needs votes to do that and how can he convince lawmakers,
who have signed the no tax pledge, to pony up a yes vote?
Here's were the rejoicing comes in.
The Americans for Tax Reform, which swears by the no-tax pledge and
swears at those who won't take it, has granted Michigan signers a bye.
The 22 current legislators who have promised never to raises taxes
can vote for this one because the ATF declares that "would not violate
their promise" since it would result in an overall tax reduction in the
business tax.
So when is a tax increase, not a tax increase, when the anti-tax
crowd says so.
But alas even the free get-out-of-jail card won't work as some
nervous Republicans won't vote for this stuff anyway.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

It is one of the lynch-pins of his new budget and it's not smooth
sailing with Republicans in the state senate.
Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed income tax on public and private
pensions has produced at least ten "no" or "leaning no" votes in the
GOP senate which means he needs four democrats to pass his plan if all
the rest of the GOP senators go along.
Good luck with that.
But this should hardly shock the new governor since even he knew,
the non-career politician, that taxing granny would be a tough sell.
"Hell, no," blurted out Sen. Joe Hune from Livingston County when
asked how he would vote right now.
"I'm leaning no," followed Phil Pavlou of St. Clair Shores.
Another firm "no" is new Sen. Patrick Colbeck who has a little
Tea Party juice in his DNA and Macomb County's Jack Brandenburg has
been a "no" even before the governor release his proposal.
Others have adopted the more politically correct stance of, " I
have no clue" as Sen. Judy Emmons from up North put it.
Sen. Geoff Hansen from Hart showed no heart by side-stepping the
how would you vote today inquiry? "We're not voting today," he smiled.
And on and on it goes as Republicans bob and weave on this one.
Lt. Gov. Brain Calley is the administration's point guy on all
this and he has not bothered to count noses because "it's too early."
He's correct of course as he also notes, "All reforms are tough."
But it's clear senate Republicans are not moving in lock-step
behind their new governor. In fact the search for an alternative to
the unpopular pension tax has already begun.
The tax would raise $900 million and the governor has told anybody
who will listen that if they don't like his plan, find one of your own
and we'll talk.
Given the ten no votes in the senate and counting, the talking
better start now.

Friday, March 4, 2011

There's The Door

The harsh reality of being the governor of a state vs. being CEO of
a company must be starring Rick Snyder in the face these days.
He never had to worry about his popularity when he ran Gateway
cause nobody took an opinion poll on that. It didn't matter what the
worker-bees felt about the boss.
But now as the governor he's seen his honeymoon popularity of 59%
take a nose dive down to just over 40% as some citizens demonstrate
buyer's remorse. No shocker there; it happens to every governor once
they start making unpopular decisions and he knew it.
The good news for this governor, he's not worried about that, but
senate Republicans are providing him something to worry about. They
don't like major portions of his budget and without their votes, the
Snyder agenda is dead in the water.
Republicans are sifting through the Snyder spending blue print and
are now actively looking at other ways to do it.
Driving this effort is the Snyder tax on pensions. Call it a
non-starter. Not only a majority of voters but over a third of the GOP
senators oppose it.
Randy Richardville is the senate GOP leader and he's exploring
other ways to find the $900 million the pension tax would raise and he
says, "We can do that", but he will not, out of courtesy, declare the
gov's plan DOA.
While the reality check bounces around the executive suite, the
governor remains publicly steadfast that he is doing the right thing by
taxing pensions that aren't taxed now.
But he secretly must long for those CEO days when nobody in the
room dare challenge the boss. It was simply, "Do what I say, or there
is the door."
There will be no door showing in dealing with his GOP "friends" on
this puppy.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Go Blue-No Green

A curious thing happened on the way to criticizing the governor's
proposed cut to higher education; one of the possible criticizers
refused to play the game.
Ever since Gov. Rick Snyder suggested a hefty 15% slice in state
support for the state's 15 universities, some have been unhappy. Some
say the figure is closer to 22% and that will mean the hefty cut will
produce hefty tuition hikes.
"I think this is a drastic cut. I think it's too extreme,"
complains Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing). She has a little school near
her called MSU.
Gov. Snyder has a little school near his house, too, but the
University of Michigan president refused to join in the chorus of boos.
"I think we're well prepared," to deal with the reduction a rather
sanguine Dr. Mary Sue Coleman opined.
She spoke just before appearing before the house budget
subcommittee on higher education and was asked,"So you are not going in
there to beg for money?"
Hardly. She exuded, "I'm going in there to talk about how great
the University of Michigan is."
Other university heads were not on the same page…to say the least.
President Tom Haas, who runs Grand Valley U says, "I'm not happy
with what the state has had as a policy of moving the obligation from
the taxpayer to the students."
Here's why he's unhappy: Years ago, when the state had the cash,
it stashed about 70% into tuition costs. The figure is closer to 30%
The state budget director concedes the cuts are "tough and it
hurts" but he's telling the complainers to hang tough for one year and
then next year when the economy turns around, "This will be the last
time we have to go to that well" to cut the schools.
And U of M's prez is buying that, too. "We take the governor at
his word." What would you expect her to say since the governor is one
of her alums?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Newbie Does Well

This guy is an aerospace engineer by trade and has never run for
any political office but there was this brand new state senator acting
like he had done this forever and he was very good.
Say hello to Sen. Patrick Colbeck out of Canton who got into the
political game thanks to his cable-TV set.
One night he and the Mrs. were watching the TV-Guide channel and
up popped some offensive material. They figured if they could stumble
onto this kinda of trash, others could too.
Out went the cable subscription and in with Sky-Angel, a new
cable service with a Christian bent in that they censor all the
objectionable material.
Well that got him thinking: He needed to make a difference and
soon thereafter he and the Mrs. found themselves at their first rally
ever. He liked what the Tea Party stood for and the rest, as they say,
is history.
He ran in a five person GOP primary and beat the establishment
candidate and now finds himself deciding how to spend billions of your
tax dollars.
He also found himself on the Off the Record Public TV broadcast
and confessed that there was nothing in engineering school to prepare
him for this onslaught of questions from four capitol correspondents.
(See the broadcast at
They came at him every which way from Sunday and he gave a
stand-up performance answering each inquiry the best he could without
dancing around them. (He did tap dance a little on building a second
bridge between Detroit and Windsor, but that was it.)
He compared his career to being on the Dirty Jobs cable show as he
runs from one meeting to another trying to figure out how he can do
Lansing and remain true to his convictions. For example he's turned
down basketball tickets from lobbyists.
But his best answer was this one: Asked if the governor was a bit
naïve, Mr. New-Guy-On-The-Block blurted out, "If he's naïve, I'm
naïve." And he thought it was good to come at all this with a naïve
perspective with a fresh eye.
It was a great ad-lib and came from the heart and not some spin
misters playbook.
He's going to do just fine here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

$700 and Counting

A $700 cut per kid in every Michigan classroom. Pretty soon,
we'll be talking about some real money here.
Gov. Rick Snyder has challenged the state's 500 or so school
districts to find the money to replace the $470 per pupil slice he
proposed in his new budget. He believes there are employee concessions
just sitting out there ready to be squeezed.
"All the low hanging fruit has been picked and eaten," counters
David Martell who runs the association of bean counters who work in the
local schools.
"My membership is stunned," he reports because the actual cut is
closer to $700 not $470.
Due to a $230 increase in the retirement costs districts must
cough up each year, you combine the two figures and you get to the $700
number which would be unprecedented.
Martell reports there are currently about 40 districts that are
flirting with no money in their rainy day funds known as fund equity.
If the $700 stands, and he hopes somehow it will not, that number could
skyrocket to about 160.
"We have a number of districts lined up at the cliff and some
are going over now, but a lot more will be going over, or closer to the
cliff if this goes through," he warns anybody who will listen.
Despite that figure the state school superintendent has
reassured nervous parents that no school will go into bankruptcy. They
must find a way to stay out of the red, he advises.
Easier said than done, the education lobby shouts back.
Lawmakers have the option to find ways to lower that $700
figure. But no one has proposed any at this read.