Yes, it’s the arfs of August, hot and sticky and the world is asleep. The Michigan primary election is history and November seems a long way away. Capitol workmen are frenetically shoring up the building’s basement while the legislature is away for the summer. No important politics, right? Well, maybe a little:
- BOTH major party presidential campaigns came to Michigan this week, and both claimed to be laying out their “vision” of what they think the economy and tax policy ought to look like in their administrations, if elected. Donald Trump addressed the Detroit Economic Club at the Cobo Center on Monday, and Hillary Clinton spoke in a Warren manufacturing facility on Thursday. This is probably the first time the main combatants in a presidential race have both appeared in the same week to deliver major policy messages since then-President George H.W. Bush, Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, and Independent Ross Perot debated on national television at Michigan State University in 1992. Trump’s performance was most noteworthy for NOT being manic, off-message and crazy populist. Instead, it was a surprisingly buttoned-down recitation of relatively orthodox conservative Republican economic nostrums, with the exception of calling for abolition of the “carried interest” loophole for hedge fund managers and creation of a child care tax credit. Clinton had the advantage of following Trump, so she was able to excoriate what he had said three days earlier 10 miles away, and contrast her own upbeat message about Michigan’s future with what she described as Trump’s “dark” nihilistic vision. It remains to be seen whether anything either Trump or Clinton said will decide anything that voters won’t make up their minds about for other reasons.
- Litigants grappled in the Sixth Circuit federal Court of Appeals in Cincinnati over whether an injunction barring straight ticket voting should be lifted or overturned. U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain, an Obama appointee, stunned the political world last month by ruling that the ban enacted by the Legislature last winter was an unconstitutional infringement on minority voting rights, despite the fact that most states have NEVER allowed straight ticket voting (Michigan has been one of less than a dozen that does). Attorney General Bill Schuette has appealed Drain’s refusal to lift his temporary stay against the new law, with the deadline for printing ballots looming in a matter of weeks. The issue is important because barring straight ticket voting would test the GOP’s hypothesis that checking only a single box (or pricking a bubble) helps Democrats. Democrats don’t disagree; in fact, the suit that Drain ruled on was filed originally by former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer. If Donald Trump flames out at the polls, so the thinking goes, he may drag a whole bunch of down-ballot Republicans down with him, especially if all the electorate thinks about is voting against Trump without seeing what each office has to offer. Stay tuned.
- The state Court of Claims has thrown out a lawsuit filed by parents and community activists that had challenged the Detroit Public Schools “bailout” by the Legislature back in June on the grounds that approval required a 2/3 majority, not a simple majority of lawmakers in both the state House and Senate. But the judge, Michael Talbot, did not rule on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claim; rather, he opined that the suit had been filed in the wrong court. It had to be litigated in the state Court of Appeals, he said. The plaintiffs, who are relying on pro bono counsel, could re-file their suit there, but the clock is running out — the plaintiffs’ attorneys must file by Aug. 20th and bring the state Treasury Dept. in as a defendant party. If they do that, some legal experts think they have a good chance to win, which would throw the entire DPS bailout into a cocked hat. Schools might not be able to open in Motown this fall.
- Amir Hekmati, the Flint marine who was imprisoned for more than four years by the Iranian government, was finally released with several other Americans early this year. One of his greatest champions was U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI 5), who flew to Europe to meet Hekmati on his way home (Hekmati arrived at Flint’s Bishop Airport on Jan. 21). Now, however, The Wall Street Journal claims that the U.S. essentially paid ransom for Hekmati, because a plane carrying $400 million in cash arrived in Iran just before the regime released the hostages. Republicans have charged that this proves President Barack Obama engaged in a cash-for-hostages deal, which is contrary to U.S. policy. In fact, it’s illegal. Obama himself has denied there is any connection between the cash shipment and the release of prisoners. Rather, he says, the money was the first payment of a $1.7 billion settlement that resolved claims before an international tribunal over a failed arms deal back in 1979. Strangely, though, Congressman Kildee has made no statement about why he believes the Iranians finally agreed to release Hekmati, his constituent, and whether there could in fact have been a “ransom” involved and, if so, was it worth it? The media haven’t asked Kildee, either, or, if they have, nobody has reported what he said. Kildee, who wants to run for Governor of Michigan in 2018, might use this opportunity to stand up for a Democratic president who has taken flak — much as Obama did for the prisoner swap that rescued Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban — for the way the U.S. government handled this incident, but Kildee has been silent.
- The chairman of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Relentless Positive Action SuperPac has been charged with sexual harassment, sex discrimination and wrongful termination by a woman 27 years his junior. Multi-millionaire Bill Parfet, great-grandson of the founder of the W.E. Upjohn Co. (now a part of Pfizer), is the target of a lawsuit filed by one Shuang Zhang, who says she has given birth to two of Parfet’s children, the most recent in 2012. Parfet, 69, was the chairman and CEO of Mattawan-based MPI Research, but he’s now the executive chairman of Boston-based inviCRO. Asked about the suit this past week, Snyder stood by Parfet, who has denied the allegations. The governor said he would wait to see how the litigation transpires. Michigan Democrats may not wait that long.
- “You’re fired!” has a ring to it, but maybe it doesn’t mean quite what it used to. These days, someone can be “fired” by an entity that has no such authority, and maybe the “firee” doesn’t even have to leave if he doesn’t want to. Nevertheless, the Grand Traverse Co. Republican Party this week decided to “fire” from its ranks none other than William G. Milliken, the state’s longest-serving governor, who has endorsed a string of Democrats for various offices over the past dozen years, including Hillary Clinton. Michigan citizens don’t register to vote by political party, and any dues collected by GOP poohbahs at any level are entirely voluntary. Milliken himself had served almost the entirety of his governorship before the sponsor of the resolution purporting to expel him from the GOP had even been born. It was sort of like purging Teddy Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln because the definition of Republicanism at the time they served was no longer in fashion today. In fact, the resolution finds that “William G. Milliken’s support of abortion by veto of efforts to end public funding in 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1982, to be contrary to the principles of Republicans” despite the fact that many Republican lawmakers at the time voted against the bills, and that both chambers of the legislature were controlled by the Democrats, meaning that any measure that reached Milliken’s desk had to have a substantial number of pro-life Democrats in favor of it. The irony is complete; we live in a different time, when it’s nearly impossible to find a Democratic legislator who’s not pro-choice, or a Republican lawmaker who’s not pro-life. There was almost a Shakespearean quality about the Traverse City GOP’s escapade — the father of the resolution’s sponsor, ex-TC city commissioner Mike Gilman, argued vehemently against the GT party’s action, to no avail, and then his son the sponsor (who had just unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent GOP state representative in the 8/2 primary) wrote it all up in a press release describing his father’s humiliation. To be fair, the exact words used in the resolution say, rather mildly, that “a vote of duly elected delegates” at the Aug. 11 conclave decreed that “the former Gov. William G. Milliken’s status as a Republican be no longer recognized by the Grand Traverse County Republican Party.” Of course, the delegates’ action had the effect of demeaning themselves and dealing another blow to the already-dented GOP brand. But does anyone know Milliken’s reaction? If the 94-year-old ex-governor, who was once chairman of his county’s party, even knows about it, or cares, it probably made his day.
So, was this supposed to be a sleepy “off-week” in Michigan politics?