August 7, 2016
The Michigan Legislature has been adjourned since June 9 and is scheduled to return September 7 for 9 session days before the November 8 election. But there was plenty of news anyway.
PRIMARY ELECTION NEWS
Turnout — Turnout for Michigan’s statewide primary August 2 was one of the strongest presidential election cycle primary turnouts in the past 40 years with over 19 percent of voters casting ballots despite the lack of any statewide primary and no Michigan Senate races. There was a 39 percent increase in absentee ballots over the 2012 primary.
Michigan House — This year Republicans have more open Michigan House seats than the Democrats — 25 to 13 — as a result of term limits, and Democrats hope to convert some of those open seats in a Presidential election year with higher Dem turnouts generally. Republicans currently control the Michigan House 63 – 45. (There are two open seats due to a death and a resignation but formerly held by Democrats that will be filled in a special election to fill the remainder of their terms on November 8.) Democrats need to retain current seats and flip 9 seats to take the majority in the Michigan House.) The Democrats picked up 9 seats in the 2008 presidential election cycle but lost the majority in the 2010 GOP wave, which led to the last five and a half years of total GOP control of state government in all three branches.
Of 110 Michigan House seats, 69 incumbents were running for re-election, 23 of whom had primary opposition. All state House incumbents won their primary races with no upsets anywhere in the state.
Rep. Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt Twp.), current speaker pro tem who is seeking the Speaker position next year, saw several conservative-minded candidates who are more likely to support him win their respective primaries. Nineteen current House Republicans are already backing Leonard. Rep. Rob Verheulen (R-Walker), current majority whip, is also seeking the post now held by term-limited Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant), assuming the Republicans maintain their nine-seat majority.
Michigan Senate — The Michigan Senate elections are held in gubernatorial election years. However, there was one open Senate seat vacated by Virgil Smith, now serving a 10-month jail sentence in the Wayne County jail after pleading guilty to shooting up his ex-wife’s car. Ian Conyers, great-nephew of U.S. Congressman John Conyers, won the special election for a partial term ending on January 1, 2019 in a field of 9 candidates led by former Rep. Fred Durhal, Jr. He is a 27-year-old Detroit resident with little political experience and a significant amount of time away from Michigan for both his education and employment.
Local Proposals Succeed — Of 880 local proposals on primary ballots, only 59 failed, most proposing an increase in millage or a new tax. Not a single police-related proposal nor those concerning seniors failed. The largest ask of the election, a $105.9 million bond for the Port Huron School District, just passed with 51 percent of the vote. Clarkston community schools’ $76 million bond also succeeded, while the third-largest $22.7 million bond for Shelby Public Schools in Oceana County failed.
Congressional Races — Retired Lt. Gen. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, a political newcomer, won the Republican primary in the 1st Congressional District, defeating two household political names Up North — Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and former Sen. Jason Allen (R-Traverse City). Bergman served 40 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, at one time having overseen a $1 billion budget and 100,000 people. Reportedly, he has rarely lived in the district during his adult life. He will face Democrat Lon Johnson in the general election. Johnson is the former Michigan Democratic Party chair. It is a priority swing district for both parties and money from outside will likely pour in.
Businessman Paul Mitchell of Dryden in Lapeer County won the Republican primary in the 10th Congressional District in the Michigan Thumb where current Rep. Candace Miller is retiring to run for the Macomb County Drain Commissioner post. He defeated a field of five candidates, including State Sen. Phil Pavlov. Mitchell will face Democrat Frank Accavitti in November.
Mitchell stepped down as chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition of Michigan to run. He is the former CEO and owner of Ross Education, and moved into the district to qualify. He lent his campaign more than $2.5 million, and gave it another half million. His closest competitor raised only $360,000.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, 87, will return to Congress to represent the 13th District for the 27th time after easily defeating Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey. The Detroit Democrat is the longest-serving member of Congress. A civil rights icon known for championing traditional progressive causes, he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964.
Both U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) and U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) won their primaries. Walberg will face current State Rep. Gretchen Driskell on November 8. In the 8th Congressional District, Democrat Melissa Gilbert was still on the ballot but expected to be removed for medical reasons and replaced on the November 8 ballot by Joanne Shkreli to run against incumbent Rep. Mike Bishop.
OTHER ELECTION NEWS
Courser Loses — Todd Courser, a former Michigan House member who quit office in a sex scandal last year, finished last in the Republican primary for the Lapeer County prosecutor’s post with 4 percent of the total. In a related matter, expelled Republican legislator Cindy Gamrat filed for divorce recently.
Straight-ticket Voting — On July 22 Federal Judge Gershwin Drain issued a preliminary injunction against P.A. 268 of 2015, the law ending straight-ticket voting. He held that the new law eliminating the straight-ticket option disproportionally harms African-American voters. Demographer Kurt Metzger testified that 15 Michigan cities had a straight-party voting rate of 65 percent or higher. Of those, two were majority white. The five cities with rates greater than 75 percent were all majority African-American.
Oakland County elections clerk Joseph Rozell testified that not having straight-party voting would cause longer wait time and create congestion in African-American voting areas. He estimated that P.A. 268 was going to increase wait time 40 minutes in his county. Plaintiffs in the case were the Michigan A. Philip Randolph Institute and three voters.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an emergency motion on July 29 asking Judge Drain to stay the injunction while he appeals the case. Plaintiffs oppose the motion.
FLINT WATER UPDATE
Six More Charged — On July 29, Attorney General Bill Schuette announced criminal charges have been filed in Genesee County 67th District Court in Flint against six current and former state employees for their involvement in allegedly hiding and manipulating data related to Flint drinking water and other public misconduct. Included among those charged was the former head of the state’s MDEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, Liane Shekter-Smith, along with Adam Rosenthal and Patrick Cook from the MDEQ and Nancy Peeler, Corinne Miller and Robert Scott from the MDHHS. A total of 18 criminal charges have been leveled against the six employees.
In total, Schuette has filed criminal charges against nine current and former state and local officials since the start of the investigation, which has included interviews with nearly 180 witnesses.
The MDEQ is responsible for water quality and investigators said the charged parties didn’t begin testing Flint water for lead until three months after the city switched to the Flint River. When they did begin testing, they did it incorrectly by not confirming that test sites were the most likely to experience lead problems. The Attorney General is promising more indictments.
Federal Emergency Ending — President Obama’s January emergency declaration for Flint will expire August 14. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than 20 million liters of water, more than 243,000 water filter replacement cartridges and 50,000 water and pitcher filters. On August 15 the state will assume responsibility for the total cost of water supplies, filters, replacement cartridges, bottle water and at-home water testing kits.
All federal nutrition, health care, and behavioral health programs will continue past August 14, officials said in a statement. The Medicaid expansion, for example, was approved for five years, and the state can renew the waiver. Additional health care and behavioral health services are still available at the Genesee Health System and Hamilton Community Health Network as well.
According to Gongwer News Service, Flint residents will have access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program, through which more than 39,000 children in Flint and Genesee County are eligible to receive a $30 benefit package each month this summer to purchase nutritious food. Also continuing is the Double Up Food Bucks program, which provides residents in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program with an extra $20 per day to buy fruits and vegetables year round. Beginning in September for four months, the USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program will provide 14-pound, nutrient-targeted food packages to more than 17,000 Flint-area EFAP recipients.
The state is also using a U.S. Department of Labor National Dislocated Worker Grant to provide temporary employment for Flint residents to assist in recovery work with the goal of employing up to 400 workers in temporary positions and to provide career and training services to help them find permanent work.
Funeral Representative — On June 27, 2016 a new law went into effect allowing a Michigan resident to designate a funeral representative to make disposition arrangements for a decedent. This will allow a person to designate someone to carry out your funeral arrangements the way you want.
Pension Tax Modification — On August 3, a proposed a bill (HB 5801) to significantly lower the income tax burden for both single and joint filer retirees was introduced. For those taxpayers born after 1946 through 1952, the pension subtraction would increase from $20,000 to $30,000 for single filers and $40,000 to $60,000 for joint filers. At age 67 subtraction amounts would increase as well. Importantly, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), a member of the House Tax Policy Committee. The bill was endorsed in a straw poll at the Michigan SERA Coordinating Council meeting on August 5.
Death With Dignity — HB 5802, a proposed Death With Dignity Act sponsored by Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), was introduced on August 3 and referred to the House Health Policy Committee. It is modeled on the Oregon, Washington, and Vermont’s laws that allow mentally competent, terminally-ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication so they can die in a peaceful, humane manner in a place and time of their choosing.
Auto Insurance Premiums Increase — The Governor has signed the repeal of an $80 million tax credit that was mistakenly included in the business tax overhaul of 2012. As a result, an estimated 2 million Michigan drivers who buy their auto insurance from Michigan-based auto insurers will see a $40 increase per vehicle in their auto insurance this year it is projected.
Civil Service Bills — HJR MM and HB 5677 sponsored by Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter (R-Mt.Pleasant) that asks Nov. 8 voters to make it easier to fire poorly performing civil service employees could still a see vote during one of the two session days scheduled before the September 9 deadline. All House Republicans and 10 Democrats would need to vote Yes to get the two-thirds majority needed to pass it.
Michigan SERA opposed the legislation and I testified against it on our behalf. The effect of HJR MM and HB 5677 is to shift the power and authority to regulate the disciplinary process from the Civil Service Commission to the Legislature, using the allegations against some civil servants associated with the Flint Water Crisis as an excuse. Capturing the grievance system would be an important first step in dismantling the merit system and moving back to a patronage system for employee selection and retention.
Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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