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For The Week Of January 12, 2020 Through January 18, 2020

U.S. Sen. Race Continues To Be 'The More Things Change…'

By Nick Smith
Staff Writer
Posted: January 17, 2020 3:12 PM

As the calendar turned to 2020, the Michigan U.S. Senate race so far has been a case of the more things change, the more they stay (pretty much) the same.

The last set of polls late in 2019 and into the new year have put U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) and Republican challenger John James of Farmington Hills close and within the margin of error. National election forecasters still have Mr. Peters as being a narrow to moderate favorite.

Mr. Peters has largely gone about his business, focusing on his U.S. Senate work, holding some constituent events and raising money for his reelection campaign. Mr. James has continued to raise money, outraising the senator in each of the last two quarters, while holding occasional private events and exclusively sticking with appearances on Fox News and with conservative radio show hosts while declining comments with state media.

A James campaign spokesperson said an official public campaign launch will be scheduled for some time during the first quarter of this year. More media availability is expected after that time. A campaign launch for Mr. Peters will likely take place at some point as well, although he will be busy beginning next week with the impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate of President Donald Trump.

Another thing that has stayed about the same is Mr. Peters' approval, disapproval and "don't know" categories in a quarterly Morning Consult poll of the popularity of each member of the U.S. Senate.

Released late Thursday, the fourth quarter 2019 polling from the group had Mr. Peters at 37 percent approval, 29 percent disapproval and 34 percent did not know. The 34 percent was tied for the highest of any member of the chamber.

Mr. Peters' net approval was plus seven percent for the period of the poll, with a plus-43 percent approval among Democrats, negative 30 percent among Republicans and a plus-1 percent rating among independents. The poll for Mr. Peters had a margin of error of plus or minus one percentage point.

National and state Republicans, as previously reported here, have been trying for months to paint Mr. Peters as a virtual unknown among the electorate and therefore ineffective.

But over the course of the election cycle that number is gradually declining. When Mr. James announced his candidacy in June 2019, the most recent quarterly Morning Consult numbers at the time for Mr. Peters had the number of those saying they "don't know" was at 43 percent.

With liberal and conservative groups already spending a combined total on advertisements in the millions by the turn of the calendar to 2020, it's clear that number will continue to drop. Especially when your opponents keep hammering that point to the public.

By comparison, the numbers in the same poll for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) were 44 percent approval, 35 percent disapproval and 21 percent did not know. A number over 20 percent despite being just over one year removed from a successful 2018 campaign over Mr. James.

With all this in mind when do things overall with both campaigns begin to change? The Michigan presidential primary is March 10; one would think the current holding pattern would begin to break around that date.

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Cell Phone Allowance In Courts A Blessing For Reporters, The Public

By Ben Solis
Staff Writer
Posted: January 16, 2020 4:56 PM

As I sat in U.S. District Court today for a hearing on the U.S. government's case against Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg), I realized how much I've relied on my cell phone while committing what an esteemed colleague of mine refers to as "acts of journalism."

Simple tasks like recording proceedings to snapping pictures or accessing the Internet are essential in many ways to accurately reporting events and meetings. In U.S. District Court, I was barred from using my cell phone entirely, and in some courts around the state, similar restrictions apply in varying degrees of strictness.

That's why the Supreme Court's mandate to allow the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in all Michigan courthouses is a blessing – not just for court reporters like me, but for the public as well.

New rules adopted by the high court last week state that cell phones and electronic devices will be allowed in all Michigan courthouses and courtrooms starting May 1, amending MCR 8.115 to set a new statewide policy standard. Policies on cell phones and devices previously varied widely from court to court.

Aside from allowing cell phones and devices, the new rules state members of the public can now use their devices to take photographs of court documents. Courts have had a reputation for charging exorbitant copying fees for records of $1, $1.50 and even $2 per page.

Cell phones and devices may be used to retrieve and store information, access the Internet and send and receive text messages only if the phone – and its user – remains silent. The rules also allow the public to reproduce court documents only if the device leaves no marks and does not interfere with the operation of the clerk's office.

Proceedings cannot be recorded without the permission of a judge, and the same goes for people in the courtroom, who cannot be photographed or recorded without their prior consent. I as a reporter would still need get special clearance from a judge to record court proceedings.

But the bit about taking photos is significant.

I once paid $92 for a court file because the complex nature of the case made notetaking with pen and paper a ridiculous waste of my time. It was a charge that I could have easily avoided if the court had just let me take photos of the documents I needed.

The newspaper I worked for was gracious enough to reimburse the cost, but it was a luxury that many working people who find themselves as plaintiffs or defendants before the court don't have.

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said as much in a statement last week when the rule change was announced. Ms. McCormack recognized the significant financial barrier restrictions on cell phone photography, especially for those who choose to represent themselves in court.

Access to the courts is a fundamental right in a free and democratic society.

Even if some courts lose money or find themselves faced with a new nuisance of people using their phones during proceedings.

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Speaking Up About Lucido Comments Was The Proper Response

By Jordyn Hermani
Staff Writer
Posted: January 15, 2020 3:39 PM

It's the worst kept secret in the world: If you are a woman, regardless of your age or profession, comments will be made about you – sometimes even to your face.

Comments made by Sen. Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Township) are in the national media spotlight after he told a Capitol reporter that a group of teenage boys he was showing around the building could "have a lot of fun" with her.

"You've heard of De La Salle, right?" Mr. Lucido is quoted by the Michigan Advance as saying. When reporter Allison Donahue said she hadn't, he continued with: "It's an all-boys school … You should hang around. You could have a lot of fun with these boys or they could have a lot of fun with you."

When she told him later the comments were out of line – and kudos to her for doing so – he said he didn't mean anything by it and that he was only joking. When asked later if he thought he owed Ms. Donahue an apology, Mr. Lucido told the Detroit Free Press he thought his comments – while he owned up to saying them – were taken out of context and did not rise to the level of needing an apology.

That was around 8 a.m. By 10:30 a.m. Mr. Lucido had sent out a statement, clarifying that it was a "misunderstanding" and that he apologized "for offending Allison Donahue."

But that's the thing: there is no misunderstanding about what a group of boys "having fun" with a woman could mean. There's no excuse for making that type of comment to a woman, not only in a professional setting, but for any reason at all.

Too often comments like these are made every day to women. They usually they go unaddressed, especially when they're made toward younger women who might occupy lower positions of power than that of the commenter. Further, there's many reasons why a woman might not speak up: fear of retaliation, disbelief from colleagues, getting reprimanded as a response.

By speaking up about her treatment, Ms. Donahue isn't just speaking for herself in her instance, she's giving the ability for other women to speak up too about their experiences in being diminished or demeaned in their line of work.

Today doesn't have to be all bad, however. If anything, it shows the amount of people ready and willing to work toward unlearning unprofessional comments such Mr. Lucido's and educating, both ourselves and others, about the harm our words and actions can have.

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Seven Big Questions On Roads Confronting The Governor

By Zachary Gorchow
Executive Editor and Publisher
Posted: January 14, 2020 7:57 PM

It's January, which means it is State of the State season, the time for thinking about big picture policy, and for the 183rd consecutive year, that means asking what state government might do about Michigan's battered roads.

I assume Stevens T. Mason in 1837 was vexed with the problem of how to improve the movement of people and commerce across the swampland that dominated the state and address the state's decrepit trail system.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer ran on fixing the state's roads. Her first attempt in 2019 to raise the fuel tax by 45 cents per gallon went nowhere in the Legislature. Republicans pilloried it and publicly offered no alternative. Democrats, when asked about the proposal, generally would change the subject to something less toxic like Detroit's outstanding professional sports teams that just combined for the most losses in the history of North American professional sports, according to one recent study.

It's now take two for Ms. Whitmer, and while the governor isn't revealing much, she has dropped a couple hints. Here are the six big questions looming over Road Funding Discussion 183.0.

HOW MUCH NEW REVENUE?: In 2019, Ms. Whitmer proposed raising $2.5 billion. Starting in the 2020-21 fiscal year, that would actually mean a net increase for roads of $1.9 billion because it would mean $600 million that by law must go from revenues that would otherwise accrue to the General Fund to roads would instead go back to the General Fund. Ms. Whitmer also said then she would not support a solution that did not fix the entire problem, mindful of the public backlash to the 7.3-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase and vehicle registration fee hike of 2015 that didn't fix the state's roads overnight.

A billion in new revenue a year would be a significant advancement, but it's still well short of what everyone agrees is needed to reverse the long-term decline in road conditions, especially at the local level.

Yet getting the $2 billion to $2.5 billion in annual new revenue seems almost unattainable.

HOW MANY MECHANISMS TO RAISE THAT REVENUE?: Ms. Whitmer tried a version of Governor Rick Snyder's "simple, fair and efficient" mantra when he was pitching his corporate income tax to replace the Michigan Business Tax with her 45-cent per gallon fuel tax. It was simple because it only required the Legislature to take one vote instead of passing an amalgam of bills like in 2015. It was fair because the more you drive, the more tax you pay. And it was efficient because under the Michigan Constitution nearly all fuel tax revenue goes to the roads.

It didn't work.

Monday, Ms. Whitmer dropped a hint as to a possible new strategy, saying it would take several mechanisms to raise the revenue needed.

What mechanisms is Ms. Whitmer planning? On to some more questions.

WHAT ABOUT BONDING?: The hot topic du jour, mainly because Ms. Whitmer vowed as a candidate in 2018 to ask voters to approve bonds if the Legislature refused to support more funding for roads to truly address the problem. Ms. Whitmer could either seek general obligation bonds, which require voter approval, or transportation bonds, which only require the approval of the State Transportation Commission.

Either case presents problems because bonding simply frontloads the construction schedule by using future revenues to pay for present-day construction. It would mean a quick rush of construction now and less in the future.

That said, if the Legislature offers Ms. Whitmer little to no support on meaningful new revenue, the governor may have no other choice.

ARE TOLLS AN OPTION?: In the long-term, yes. Ms. Whitmer last year obliquely hinted she might be interested in tolling bridges for heavy trucks only, something akin to a recently implemented tolling system in Rhode Island. There's also the possibility of applying to the federal government to convert some or all of an interstate – I-94 being the most obvious choice – into a toll road.

Either scenario, especially the latter, would mean new revenues probably several years into the future, definitely not in the present and likely not before Ms. Whitmer will stand for reelection in 2022.

IS A BALLOT PROPOSAL THE ANSWER?: An up-or-down proposal like the disastrous Proposal 1 of 2015? No. Advocates for new funding will not pursue that scenario again. What has generated some chatter is a Proposal A of 1994-style plan where the Legislature passes a statutory plan to raise revenues for roads and then also puts a separate plan on the ballot. If the voters pass the ballot proposal, then the statutory plan becomes null and void. But if voters reject the ballot proposal, then the statutory plan takes effect.

In 1994, voters in effect chose between a sales tax increase (the ballot proposal) or an income tax increase (the statutory plan) to fund schools and pay for a property tax cut.

It sounds great in concept – force the voters to pick one or the other. But it would mean convincing the Legislature to pass a viable statutory plan, and after the Republican-led Legislature's outright hostility to a tax increase last year, that seems pretty questionable.

WHAT ABOUT REMOVING THE SALES TAX FROM FUEL?: This is House Speaker Lee Chatfield's (R-Levering) top priority. Remove the sales tax from fuel and pass a revenue-neutral fuel tax increase of about 15 to 17 cents per gallon. Voila, that's about $850 million more for roads without raising taxes! Except it would drain $850 million away from K-12 schools and local governments that get the sales tax revenue.

The Republican idea to replace that revenue is to alter the repayment schedule on the state's teacher pension debt, which would then fill the lost sales tax revenues by meaning smaller state payments each year. But Ms. Whitmer's staunch allies in the public education community loathe this idea.

The makings of a deal would seem to be Ms. Whitmer agreeing to this plan in exchange for Republicans agreeing to support a substantial tax increase for roads. But it's asking both sides to stick a finger in the eyes of their political base.

SO WHAT WILL HAPPEN?: After all these questions, I can best sum that up with this clip from "The Naked Gun":

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New App Allows Anyone To Be An Explorer

By Alethia Kasben
Managing Editor
Posted: January 13, 2020 3:55 PM

Experienced drivers and new explorers alike can find shipwrecks to delve into using the state's new interactive app showing locations and boating access sites for the 1,500 vessels submerged in Michigan's waters.

The Michigan Shipwrecks Public Web App offers a closer look at shipwrecks and is searchable based on the ship's name. Users can also customize and print their own maps, which could include lighthouse locations.

"This new tool gives divers, kayakers, snorkelers and armchair explorers a chance to learn more about these underwater archaeological sites and the circumstances that led to the shipwrecks," Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center, said in a statement. "It's a wonderfully interactive way to help people connect with this part of Michigan's maritime history."

The 1,500 shipwrecks in Michigan waters make up a quarter of the 6,000 wrecks found throughout the Great Lakes, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

One wreck, the Syracuse, was a two-masted schooner carrying a cargo of coal and sank in Lake Huron on November 10, 1863. A bulk freighter named the Daisy Day lies in as little as 10 feet of water, which is suitable for beginning divers and snorkelers.

Those with advanced diving skills could explore the Indiana, a propeller vessel that sank in Lake Superior in 1858 and is under more than 100 feet of water.

The app map offers information on each ship, including the difficulty in diving to the wreck, whether it is accessible by kayak or canoe, the circumstances of the sinking and a description of the ship with photos and drawings.

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