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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.

Monday, August 29, 2011

End-Run Risky Play

  The "end-run" in football is one of the more exciting plays to watch.  The "end-run" by the governor around the legislature is quite another thing.
  To be blunt lawmakers don't like to be ignored but the Snyder administration, in its un-ending quest to build a bridge between Detroit and Windsor, is considering doing just that.
   The Lt. Gov. Brain Calley volunteered the other day that there were "at least a half dozen" other ways to build the span that do not include asking legislators to approve it.
   Mr. Calley, who drinks from the same cup of Relentless Positive Action as his boss the governor, remains confident that lawmakers will cough up the votes this fall to get this project off dead center where it has languished for years.
   But if the votes do not materialize, those other options can be exercised, right?
   Wrong contends one of the key players in this debate. Rep. Paul Opsommer who chairs the House Transportation committee is armed with an Attorney General's opinion that asserts, "If they want to bond for the bridge or build a bridge, the legislature would have to approve that process."
   Republican Opsommer, wanting to sound loyal to the GOP governor  confides, "that's the governor's option if that's something he wants to do," but when pressed he doesn't sound so loyal:  "I'm uncomfortable with it and I think it's something that we should definitely sit down and discuss" which is code for "Houston we have a problem."
   You see lawmakers get paid to work on these sticky issues and he says the governor would have to explain to the voters why the legislature should be left out of the process, if he goes that route.
    For his part, the GOP lawmaker confesses, "I would have a difficult time explaing that" and there's a good chance he's got lots of colleagues who would agree.
    So when it comes to end runs, lawmakers may ask  the governor to leave that to Matt Stafford.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Social Saftey-Netters Upset

   After being gone for most of the summer, the boys and girls were back in town last Wednesday and my-oh-my what a display of efficiency.  State lawmakers successfully whacked away at welfare families and forced all public employees to cough up more dough for their health care.
   And then, apparently exhausted from all the activity, they went home to begin their Labor Day holiday.
   Their what?
   Labor Day is not until Sept 5th.
   Your point?
   Maybe without knowing it, lawmakers have fed the common notion that when it comes to legislating, less is better and meeting one day every two or three months might be the solution to Michgian's woes.
   But don't get your hopes up, a part-time house and senate is not in the least not in your life time.
   However being booted off the welfare roles October 1st is.
   On that date, the first round of 11,000 families will stop getting that monthly welfare check.  Republicans made sure of that when they were in town and while the silly Democrats complained that many children would be impacted by all this, the end of welfare after four years was merrily sent to the governor.
   Republicans figure four years is enough and the fear of losing benefits will motivate these folks to finally get a job.
   What jobs, the social safety net crowd cries out?
   Well from the governor on down, the R's figure Michigan's economy will turn around within four years and these welfare-types will eventually find a job.
   And to be fair, there are some exemptions to the new law so it is not like they are tossing abused mothers onto the streets to fend for themselves.
   All this will save the save the state $60 million but at what cost to these families, the safety netters wonder?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Two Can Play This Game

   Recall mania continues to infest the political landscape in Michigan as both political parties continue their, "two can play this game" strategy.
   The state Republican Party is convinced that the state Democratic Party is secretly behind the more than two-dozen efforts to yank GOP lawmakers out of their house and senate seats.
   "The Democratic Party is not involved in recalls," protests chair Mark Brewer.  However, he does concede that local democrats are but who's keeping score?
     Stu Sandler is.  He's been hired by the GOP to go after some Democrats with hopes of recalling them a nasty game of tit for tat.
     Mr. Sandler aims toward next February when the state party holds a presidential primary to pick a GOP presidential standard-bearer for next year.  He anticipates a huge turnout of  voters who will stick around to recall some Democrats while they are at it.
    "It's a risky move," Mr. Brewer offers some unsolicited advice to his political rivals.
     Since democrats can vote in the GOP primary by merely signing a piece of paper, Brewer figures many D's will show up to vote against the recalls of their legislator and then stick around to vote for the worst GOP candidate for president, too.
     With a straight face, Mr. Brewer says he will not encourage this kind of mischief, but he laments, "I can't stop it."  Nor would he want to some critics might add.
      Meanwhile the pundits in this town are trying to figure out what impact recall mania will have on the governor's legislative agenda?  Democrats are hoping some nervous Republicans will think twice about supporting it
  since they might lose their jobs.
      And Republicans will tell the Democrats the same thing could happen if they don't play ball with the governor.
      This is war…with no peace talks in view.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Strange Bedfellows

   What do liberal Democrat Carl Levin and a conservative leader of the Michigan Tea Party Gene Clem have in common?
   Yes, they are both men and deeply interested in politics but that's about it.
   Well…not quite.
   Are you sitting down? They both want to close tax loopholes to help erase the mushrooming federal deficit.
   You would expect Michigan's senior U.S. Senator to favor that as he complains "some Republicans have drawn a line in the sand saying no to new revenue and making it impossible for us to do signficant deficit reduction."
    Having bumped into Mr. Clem and sensing a good contrasting story, he was asked about loopholes and he offered this.  "We agree.  We agree."
    Come on.
    "We need to fix the tax code and take out all those things (tax breaks) and then lower the tax rates…we are simpatico on that."
     But our dear Mr. Clem, the Tea Party crowd is opposed to anything that even looks like a tax increase and some will argue wiping out tax expenditures is exactly that.
     "I don't agree it's a tax increase," he notes in one breath but concedes, "the result is your revenue will probably increase.  I support that, yes."
      Now recall that during the Congressional meltdown debate the president and the house speaker were "this" close to doing just that when reportedly the Tea Party house members went bonkers and  killed the "Grand Bargain" which turned out to neither grand nor a bargain.
     So here are a liberal D and a conservative T.P.-er walking arm and arm on the need for loophole closings.
     Who'da thunk it?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Colbeck on recalls

Targeted for recall, state Senator Patrick Colbeck is sanguine about the whole notion suggesting, "It's funny. You get recalled for doing exactly what you said you would do during the campaign."
If he is worried about the recall papers recently filed in his district he did not let on during his conversation with MIRS noting, "It's not slowing me down...I'm very comfortable with what we've been doing" and he describes the effort as "just an attempt at a mulligan frankly."
Colbeck says he looks forward to working on the abortion issue in the fall and concedes some members of the senate GOP caucus may not be on the same page as the governor when it comes to so-called base issues. But the freshman senator says the good news is the governor is willing to talk about the issues and he says it is up to the lawmakers to pass these issues and see what the governor will do.
GOP consultant Tom Shields checks in on this saying the governor is correct to stick to his top priority of turning the economy around. The MRG leader says the majority of voters agree with that and "everything else is secondary." He does not believe the ultra conservatives and the governor are on a collision course as he believes over time the two sides will work out any differences they might have.
On Right to Work, for example, Shields agrees with the governor that it is an divisive issue but support for it is growing as he says "it's a simmering issue" that could come to head this fall with more and more Tea Party groups passing resolutions asking the governor to go there.
However Shields concludes, "You can't make the governor happy all the time."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Levin: Anti-T.P.

   There is only one John McCain so it was silly to think that Michigan's senior senator would use McCain's lingo to describe the Tea Party movement, but Carl Levin came closer than you might expect.
   The frumpy senator known for his "look-over-the-glasses" stare was asked to weight in on the T.P. movement.  Senator McCain has blasted them for being "bizarro" in their opposition to compromise on the debt ceiling and accused them of being like "Hobbits returning to middle earth" which is to say they are isolated and speak only to themselves.
   So Mr. Levin are they Hobbits?
   Since he has not read that Lord of Rings he has no idea what the heck that means?
   Well certainly he understands the term bizarro but he won't bite on that either.
   "I agree with John McCain on a lot of things but I don't want to use any label on anybody…" he demurs.
    But he did find a label he could use:  "extreme and radical voices" and he laments "they've kinda taken over the Republican Party." 
    That is especially problematic for the senator who firmly believes new revenue must be part of the next debt reducation package while the T.P. crowd will oppose it to the death.
    "We just need moderate politics and bi-partisan solutions," the moderate and bi-partisan senator asserts.
     So does that mean he is worried about the two Michigan GOP congressmen who will be at the center of the debt debate? Will Fred Upton and Dave Camp bow to the Tea Party?
     Levin thinks not. "I know both of them and I don't think they will be subservient to the Tea Party or anybody else."
     But the Tea Party will attempt to block any new revenue, he was reminded.
     Then "we're not going to have deficit reduction" he predicts.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Someone is Fibbing

      They teach you in journalism school to pursue the truth, but what they didn't learn (sic) ya is that it's illusive in politics.
       Take President Obama's recent sojourn to Dutch-land a.k.a. Holland. Somebody is not telling the truth.
       It was his second trip to the west side of the state in less than a year as he celebrated the creation of battery jobs for the car industry.
       And, for the second year in a row, he created some hard feelings with local Republicans.  Last year in was then Congressman Pete Hoekstra and this year it was his replacement Rep. Bill Huizenga.
       It's pretty standard stuff than when a sitting president shows up in a congressman's back yard, you get invited to whatever the event is.  
       Mr. Huizenga complains he got no courtesy but got the run-around instead.
       Once he got word that Mr. Obama would be on his turf, he phoned the White House for details.  He heard nothing for five days.  Finally a couple of days before Air Force One was set to arrive, the White House called.  The congressman says the caller was "surprised" that he wanted a seat in the audience.
      He claims the W.H. said the decision not to invite him might be reconsidered but there would be "conditions" added if that happened.
      "This is over the top," he observes.  His office was three miles from the event and he could not get in.
       "Today I saw the Campaigner-in-Chief not the Commander-in-Chief," the GOP lawmaker laments.  He figures he was stiffed because he strenuously opposed the president's debt ceiling plan.
        And how ironic he continues that the President talked about the need for bi-partisan cooperation in the Congress, yet given a chance to walk the walk, it was Mr. H. who took a hike.
        Ah, but wait.
        State Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer reports "everyone" was invited to the gig including the local congressman.
        Anybody got a lie detector?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Snub or No Snub

      So maybe the invite got lost in the mail?
      West Michigan GOP Congressman Bill Huizenga doesn't think so. In fact he thinks the Obama White House snubbed him.
       Last week President Barack Obama made his second visit to Holland in less than a year.  He was celebrating a new car battery plant and for the second time in a row, he managed to hack off some key Republicans in the district.
       This time it was Mr. Huizenga.  Last year it was Congressman Pete Hoekstra.
       "I think you saw the campaigner-in-chief, not the Commander-in-Chief," observes Mr. Huizenga. He wanted to attend the Obama event but he never got the invite because Huizenga was critical in the Congress of the president's debt ceiling package.  That's his story and he's sticking to it.
        You mean the White House would try to get even?
         State Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer thinks not because, "they were all invited" from Gov. Rick Snyder on down.
        The Holland representative disagrees.  He says he contacted the White House a week before the gig and then waited for a response…and he waited.
        Five days later, the White House called acting "surprised" that he wanted to attend, according to his story.  He says someone said the no invite decision might be reconsidered but "there would be conditions" attached.
        "This is just over the top," the first term GOP Congressman moans.
        The real irony, he contends, is that the President's speech centered on the need for bi-partisan cooperation in Washington and an end to partisan bickering.
        Huizenga, who boasts a record of doing just that, concludes the President says one thing and does another.  Again Mr. Brewer contends nothing got lost in the mail so what's the beef?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Roberts: Foot in Mouth Disease

    This is why business guys should not go into politics because when they do, they sometimes act like arrogant business guys while being clue-less when it comes to public perceptions of their decisions.
     Exhibit A:  Roy Roberts.  He's a delightful chap with a ton of hands on leadership experience at General Motors but now he's in the public sector trying to save the Detroit Public Schools from itself. 
     Hence everything  he use to do behind closed doors at GM, is now out in the open for the whole world to see and what it saw recently regarding his new SUV was…well, let's just say it wasn't pretty.
     Roberts inherited a 2005 Chrysler Durango with 110,000 miles.  The thing broke down on a recent trip to Mackinac Island and set the district back about $1000 in repairs according to the Detroit Free Press.
     O.K. let's give Mr. Roberts the benefit of the doubt.  He probably needed new wheels but did it have to be a $40,000 Chevy Tahoe?
     Is that the cheapest buggy he could find?
     Did he shop around or just pick off the lot the one he wanted?
     Was the question ever asked, "How will this look to the public if I pop 40 thou for this SUV?"
      If the perception question was asked, somebody came up with the wrong answer. 
      With the teacher unions breathing down his neck about concessions they've been asked to make and with him in the courts trying to defend his decision to unilaterally cut their salaries and bennies, the $40,000 sticker shock is the last thing he needed right now.
      A more respectable hybrid at a cheaper price would not have produced any stories and no griping by his enemies, but now he's stuck with this not so flattering image that he is better than everyone else, even though he has taken a 10% pay cut.
      And to make matters worse when the paper asked why he didn't just buy his own car he noted, "I would if they paid me like they pay other" school leaders.
      Open mouth, insert foot.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Greece Fire

     It is the state treasurer's job to keep his eye keenly on the economic ball and at the first sign of trouble, he blows the whistle.
    If you look closely you can see Andy Dillon puckering up.
    While the domestic political blame game continues on whether the Tea Party cabal caused the Monday meltdown on Wall Street, the experts assert it was an international deficit/red ink problem that precipitated the tumble.
     Mr. Dillon is also looking over seas for the "real" threat to Michigan's comeback.
     The bogey man is not on Wall Street or in the Congress.  "The biggest risk I see is you have trouble with Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland.  If trouble happens there, I could see a contagious effect that could affect our economy in North America."
     Translated:  You thought Monday was bad, try world-wide bankruptcies on for size.
     Years ago before all this economic globalization mumbo gumbo, folks on this side of the pond give two hoots about what happened on the other side.  Now the harsh reality is if anyone of those countries goes in the dumper, the resulting shock waves could reach these shores.  And your 401-K goes down another notch.
      Some Democrats are crying about impending federal budget cuts that may also impact Michigan's fragile recovery but even though he is a Democrat, Mr. Dillon has not joined the chorus.
      In fact he's singing a different tune. In the near term the state is harvesting more money than anticipated and even if Congress slices some services here, Mr. Dillon figures the state can survive.  But he warns three to five years out, if the feds continue to whack away at its deficit, "we need to be prepared for it."
      So despite the harsh reality this week, apparently all is not lost…if you believe Mr. D.
      You do, don't you?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Rocky Road for Rick

   Here's that bump in the road for the new governor who, up until right now, has been movin' along and singin' a song. Soon he will be carrying a different tune now that Michigan's fragile recovery has suddenly become more fragile.
   How so?
   Three words:  Congress and Wall Street.
    These are the same folks that brought us to the brink of a new depression and now this encore.
     The weak-kneed budget deal in Congress and the Wall Street credit down grading have combined to give the new governor a massive economic headache, only it appears he doesn't know he has it yet.
    The Democrats in this town are all up in arms that it is only a matter of time before the folks in the nation's capitol will order another round of trickle down budget cuts impacting the state budget.
    "It will be devastating," moans the ranking Democrat on the House Budget committee in Lansing. Rep. Fred Durhals, Jr. (D-Detroit) is playing Paul Revere and warning everyone that another ugly budget battle is looming.
     The almost upbeat governor is not ready to go there.  Yes, he concedes there will be some cuts, but how deep and how broad, he does not know and apparently until he does, he is not bracing for the worst.
     For a business guy with all sorts of business acumen, it seems a bit out of character.  Maybe he flunked Boy Scouts where they teach you to be prepared.
     Even though lawmakers finished the budget four months ahead of schedule, it's a good bet, with impending service cuts from D.C., they will have to revisit it later this fall.  Durhal predicts a battle as the R's will want to cut and the D's will want new revenue.
     And finally the Standard and Poors downgrade, which produced a nifty 600 point sell off on the market.  Do you suppose that will help or hurt the governor's economic recovery blue print?
    In order words, the governor is in for his first rude awakening and will be reaching for the pain relievers real soon.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

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Two Faces Have I

   Will the real Bob King please stand up.
   There's the flame-throwing Bob King who stood on the state capitol steps and lambasted the GOP Gov. Rick Snyder during some pro-labor and anti-Snyder rallies earlier this year.
    And then there's the guy who showed up in town recently to begin contract talks with the Snyder administration. He not only ditched the flame-thrower, he was on his best behavior as he brushed aside a correspondent's question for being too divisive.
    Mr. King.  Do you believe public employees are overpaid compared to those in the private sector?
    "There is plenty of data to show that is not true, but I feel like that's a question of division" and today we are here to talk about working together on a new contract.
     So which face is the real one?
     Turns out it's both.
     He concedes he has "strong political and philosophical differences" with the business CEO turned governor, but he quickly adds he had the same misgivings with auto company executives and that did not stop Mr. King from working with them either.
     Mr. King believes the governor is "sincere" when he asserts he does want to work with labor.  In fact Mr. King reveals the governor has told him he wants to use the so-called Ford model of collaboration..the kind that King used with Ford executives to help the car maker survive.
     So instead of brick bats, Mr. King is using, dare we say, relentless positive action in his dealing with the new governor.
     A career civil servant, however, was asked is she believed the governor on this labor cooperation stuff?  She paused and offered this insightful quip, "I would say I'd have to wait and see on that."
     Which is the same thing Mr. King is doing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Virgil Milquetoast

   Earlier this week we asked the real Bob King, UAW President, to stand up.  Now extend the same invitation to Virg Bernero.
   Surely you remember the surly Angriest Mayor in America who went down in flames at the hands of the Nerdiest Governor in America Rick Snyder?
   Candidate Bernero was all over Mr. Snyder with heated rhetoric and breathless charges about him being the CEO in charge…chief economic outsourcer.
   But now comes a kinder-gentler Mayor Bernero pledging to "extend my hand across the street to the governor.  We want to work with him."
   So will the real Mr. Benero please stand up.
   With the campaign history, the wise Mr. Bernero has concluded that if he wants to get anything for his city from the GOP administration, he should bury the stick and starting use some carrot language instead.
   "I'm still hopeful.  We're working with the administration on a number of things," he reflects at the six month mark of the Snyder reign.
    Bernero wants the governor to extend state tax credits for brownfield developments calling it a win for everyone when land is clean-up and prepped for new job creations.
    During the campaign it did not take much to secure a pithy Bernero sound bite that lashed out at his opponent, but when asked the other day if the governor was anti-labor, Mr. Nice Guy Mayor punted.
    "I'm not prepared to say that…I will leave that to others to make that assessment."
     So is he drinking the GOP kool-aide?
     No.  He does say the governor went too far with his Emergency Manager law that Bernero says takes a "brick-bat" to the cities and he's not too fond of the governor's machete approach to state aid to the cities, either.
     So does that mean, he gives the governor failing marks?
     "I leave the letter grading to my wife," he deadpans deferring the question to his elementary school principal spouse.
      Alright then, what is her grade?
      Virgil Milquetoast suggests with a chuckle, "You will have to ask her."
      Geez..he's no fun anymore.