Capitol News

August 2012

The legislature met for only one day in July, but there has been plenty of political activity as we approach the general election in November. Candidates for the Michigan House of Representatives have raised $9.7 million so far this election cycle. That reported total is up by 17.4% compared to the same point in the 2010 cycle. See where the money is being raised and where the competition is strongest at www.mcfn.org.

Election Fraud?

The most controversial news out of Lansing in the last month concerns the investigation into potential election fraud by the Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and Rep. Roy Schmidt (R-Grand Rapids). According to Republican Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth’s investigation, Speaker Bolger and Rep. Schmidt clearly attempted to perpetrate a fraud on the electorate by attempting to pay a friend of Mr. Schmidt’s nephew to run against him after he switched parties from Democrat to Republican at the last minute before the filing deadline on May 15. However, the two broke no current laws, Forsyth concluded. The report details the numerous text messages, emails and phone calls among Bolger, Bolger’s staff, and Schmidt plotting the party switch and putting the fake Democrat on the ballot. Both Bolger and Schmidt denied knowledge of the scheme when first asked about it in May.

The Prosecutor referred the matter to Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson for investigation of potential Campaign Finance Act violations. Schmidt has subsequently admitted that it was a dumb political decision and Bolger has apologized. Democrats and several newspapers have called for Bolger to resign from his Speaker position and for Schmidt to resign from his office. The Michigan Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State against Schmidt, Bolger and his aides alleging use of public resources to help pull off the party switch, which is a misdemeanor. Dems have also called for Bolger to have the House business office investigate the matter, like he did when two Democrats were accused of using state time and resources for campaign matters.

Pending Legislative Issues

The bill making major changes to the School Employee Retirement System, SB 1040, has been sent to a House-Senate conference committee after the Senate factions wanting a defined contribution system and those who want more moderate changes could not resolve their differences during the one-day session on July 18. The House waited into the evening for a Senate compromise bill but Senate Republicans could not find 20 votes to move it. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he will keep Senators until they approve something on August 15, when the legislature returns for one day.

Governor Rick Snyder surprised everyone when he unexpectedly vetoed three of a 14-bill election reform package that would have required voters to affirm they are U.S. citizens before voting and to show photo identification when obtaining an absentee ballot in-person from their local clerk. Another of the vetoed bills required organizations conducting voter registration drives to register with the state and receive training on how to sign up new voters.

The governor said he was concerned that the legislation could create voter confusion for absentee voters and the training requirement for third-party voter registration organizations could also cause confusion with current voter registration efforts. In later statements, the Governor indicated that he is not adverse to re-introduction of the bills with technical changes that would gain his approval.

Governor Snyder would like to implement the health care insurance exchange required in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). If the state does not create its own exchange, the federal government will run one for the state. The Senate passed SB 593 last spring to set up the exchange, but the House has balked, saying it wanted to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the law.

Now that the law has been upheld in substantial part, several lengthy hearings with experts were held in July but no vote to report the bill was taken. Some expressed the view that a vote should await the presidential election outcome because the Republican presidential candidate has said that he supports repeal of the law. Meanwhile, the deadline for getting a federal grant to finance the exchange is fast approaching.

Ballot Proposal Drama Increases

Signatures for six constitutional amendments and one referendum were submitted prior to the July 9 deadline. If all of them make the ballot, it will be the highest number of proposals before voters since 1982 when seven also appeared on the ballot. Campaign finance reports indicate that nearly $30 million has been raised with $20 million of it spent before the measures have even been certified for the ballot.

Emergency Manager Law Repeal — The ballot proposal to repeal the Emergency Manager Law (Public Act 4 of 2011) faced a legal challenge based on the font size in the heading on the petitions. When Stand Up for Democracy designed their petitions, they used the 14-point Microsoft Calibri font size, but this apparently fell slightly short of a 14-point typeface using a pica ruler. The trial court and the Court of Appeals ruled that the font met the "substantial compliance" standard in the statute and subsequent court decisions, and ordered the referendum be certified to the ballot. In a brief to the Michigan Supreme Court, election officials warned that if the court ruled the font size on the Emergency Manager petition was improper, the other six ballot questions could be tossed, as well.

The Michigan Supreme Court held oral argument on the matter on July 25 and in an unusually quick turnaround, issued an opinion on August 3. Republican-nominated Justice Mary Beth Kelly joined the three Democrats on the high court to require the Board of State Canvassers to certify the Emergency Manager Law repeal petitions to the ballot. The order also required that all future ballot issues meet the actual requirements of the law in terms of petition form, scrapping the substantial compliance standard.

Once the Board of State Canvassers certifies the measure for the ballot, the Emergency Manager Law will be suspended pending the outcome of the November 6 vote. However, it is quite possible that a temporary replacement law could be passed while the PA 4 is suspended. The Senate passed a replacement bill along party lines last December that is now sitting in the House Government Operations Committee chaired by Speaker Jase Bolger. The Governor is urging that when the Legislature next meets on August 15, action should be taken to pass a replacement bill.

Protect Working Families — The proposed constitutional amendment to assure collective bargaining rights endorsed by Michigan SERA is now called Protect Working Families. It is backed by numerous labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, the Michigan Education Association, AFSCME, and the Teamsters. It is opposed by Michigan Freedom to Work PAC and the Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution. CPMC is composed of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and 7 other business trade associations.

CPMC’s main arguments are that: (1) the amendment cannot be described in 100 words, which is required by state law. (2) the petition circulators did not list each area of state law that would be altered and (3) the amendment is too broad.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a memorandum in response to the Governor’s request identifying 170 laws that would be changed if the measure passes. Supporters of the proposal have declined to name all the laws affected by the proposal other than to acknowledge the proposal would preempt a right-to-work law barring closed shop (mandatory union membership).

Other ballot proposals in the last stages of certification to the ballot include:

  • Two-Thirds Tax Approval — A constitutional amendment to require a supermajority of 2/3 vote of both houses of the Legislature to approve any tax increases or expand the tax base is sponsored by the Michigan Alliance for Prosperity.
  • Casino expansion — A proposal to allow the establishment of eight new casinos in Michigan sponsored by: Citizens for More Michigan Jobs, a group of business people seeking to build the eight casinos.
  • Renewable energy standard — A proposal to require Michigan utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources is sponsored by Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs, which is funded by environmentalist organizations and green businesses.
  • International bridges — A proposal to require a statewide popular vote to allow the state of Michigan to build or own an international bridge or tunnel for use by motor vehicles is sponsored by the People Should Decide, a Moroun family group that owns the Ambassador Bridge.
  • Home health care — A proposal to re-establish a state registry, called the Michigan Quality Home Care Council, is sponsored by Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care, which is backed by labor and disability rights groups.

In addition to the constitutional amendments and referendum by petition, legislative proposals to amend the Constitution might still be considered at the legislature’s August 15 session. The last day for a decision about ballot access is September 7.

Other News

Special Election in Congressional District 11 will be held September 5 to replace Congressman Thad McCotter, who resigned from Congress after failing to file enough nominating petition signatures amid fraud allegations. The single issue primary will cost local jurisdictions $650,000. The person elected on November 6 might hold office for less than two months if they do not win the race for the full-term.

Unemployment in Michigan rose for the second consecutive month in June, rising 0.1 percentage point to 8.6 percent, and to 9.7 percent in the Detroit-Warren-Livonia statistical area according to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Total employment fell by 8,000 while the number of unemployed increased by 7,000. June was also the first month in 2012 that the state’s labor force did not increase. Still, DTMB noted that from January to June 2012, total employment rose by 45,000, making the recent declines relatively small by comparison.

Former Governor James Blanchard’s political career is chronicled in the first of a series of Living History interviews with Michigan’s political celebrities. Find it at www.governorblanchard.com.

News of the Day

If you are a SERA member, you are eligible to receive News of the Day, a periodic e-mail about breaking news and media stories of interest to state employees and retirees. Write to michigansera@comcast.net giving your name and chapter.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the newly appointed Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net.

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