Snyder’s Campaign Finance Statements Show Millionaires Love Him and Billionaires Adore Him

Rich SnyderThe pre-primary campaign finance statements are now online and they paint a stark contrast between Governor Rick Snyder and his opponent Mark Schauer.  Governor Snyder had 69 individuals donate the maximum contribution of $6,800 this period.  Those 69 people netted his campaign almost half a million dollars alone.  Snyder had about 6,500 total donors whose average donation was about $510.  Surprisingly, none of Michigan’s billionaires, whose income grew 22% in the last year under his economic plan, are among those donors.  However, two out-of-state billionaires did donate to Snyder.  Conservative crusader David Koch, the 6th richest person in the world, donated the maximum amount  Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the 14th richest person in the world, also donated the maximum amount.  Meanwhile, Mark Schauer had only three individuals donate the maximum amount.  Schauer also had a lot more donors this period, over 17,000, and his average donation was about $110.  These numbers clearly show who will work for the populace and who will work for the prosperous.

Posted in 2014 Election, Richard Snyder | Leave a comment

The Republican Stronghold in Wexford County: A Synopsis and a Hypothesis.

I set out to understand why Republicans have had such great political success in my home county of Wexford.  Currently, every one of my elected officials from County Commissioner all the way up to my U.S. Representative are Republicans, and if you have read this blog before you know that I am not.  In order to understand how Republicans have gained such a stronghold on Wexford County, I had to look at the history of the Republican Party, of Wexford County, and of the Republican Party in Wexford County.  What follows is what I came to understand over two years of searching for answers.

Kinsley S. Bingham

Kinsley Bingham- Michigan’s First Republican Governor (Political Graveyard)

The Republican Party was arguably born in Michigan.  Most Michiganders came from the free state of New York (also true of most early residents of Wexford County) or from free states in New England.  Many were also members of one of the predominant Christian denominations that existed in Michigan at the time and most of those denominations opposed slavery.  Therefore, most Michiganders were against slavery to some degree in the mid 1800′s.  During that time frame there were two major political parties.  The Democrats were the dominant political party in Michigan, and they controlled most of the elected offices.  Yet, the party was not united on the issue of slavery.  While they were certainly against slavery, some believed that each territory should decide for themselves, a position known as popular sovereignty.  Others strongly opposed slavery and were known as “Free Democrats.”  The other major party of the time was the Whig party.  The Whigs attempted to minimize slavery as an issue and were more concerned with the preservation of the Union.  Third parties, like the Liberty party and later the Free Soil party, sprung up around the anti-slavery cause and had smaller followings.  It was anti-slavery members from all of these parties that answered an invitation to meet in Jackson, Michigan on July6, 1854.  There was no place large enough to hold the 1,500 people who showed up, so they met outside in an oak grove and the event came to be known as the “meeting under the oaks.”  One of the leaders, a Whig by the name of Zachariah Chandler, was quoted as saying “I have laid aside party to rebuke treachery.”  The Republican party was meant to last “until the contest is ended.”  However, the party never disbanded, though some did eventually return to their party of origin after the Civil War.  The Republican Party had great success right away and won many of the open state wide elected seats in Michigan in the fall of 1854 including electing Kinsley Bingham as Governor (Bingham made the transition from Democrat to Free Soiler to Republican).  In the fall of 1860, President Lincoln, a former Whig, comfortably won Michigan and became our first Republican President.

Map of Michigan highlighting Wexford County.svg

Map of Michigan highlighting Wexford County (Wikipedia)

According to the book The View from Couthouse Hill by Judge William Peterson, Benjamin Hall became the first white settler in what was to be Wexford County in 1862 a few years after Lincoln’s election.  Other settlers trickled in over the next severalyears, themost notable of which was a former Union soldier named John Wheeler.  Wheeler, a Republican, built the first mill, started a newspaper, and was elected as the first county treasurer.  Wheeler lost his mill to fire in 1871, the same year as the Great Chicago Fire, and he suggested later that maybe it was set by a “deranged Democrat.”  Wheeler would later write a book called the History of Wexford County which Judge Peterson used while researching his own book.  In 1866 Manistee County, who administered the area that is now Wexford County, sectioned off the area as a separate township.  According to Peterson’s research, the political activity of that time was dominated by the Republican party and no significant Democratic vote existed. In 1869, Wexford County was incorporated as its own county via Act 386 of the state legislature.  In the first county elections in 1869 all the successful candidates were Republican save one by the name of Isaac Carpenter.  Carpenter won the probate judge office because his opponent split his own vote when citizens voted for Solomon C. Worth and S.C. Worth.  However, Carpenter did manage to get elected again the next year, once again the only Democrat to do so.

In 1872, the first presidential election took place since Wexford County became an official entity.  A group of 40 men created a political club called the Grant and Wilson Club to support the Republican President and Vice Presidential nominee.  According to Wheeler’s book, Ulysses S. Grant received 277 of the 351 votes cast in Wexford County.  Grant easily won re-election.  In 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes actually lost the popular vote but managed to win the electoral college by 1 vote.  Hayes easily won Wexford County (and Michigan) gathering 618 of 938 votes cast.

George Mitchell

George Mitchell (Wexford Historical Society)

No one was more influential in the development of Wexford County, and specifically the town to be known as Cadillac, than a man named George Mitchell.   Mitchell was invested in the G.R.&I Railroad that was making its way north towards what would be Wexford County.  He envisioned lumbering the pristine pine trees and using the two lakes as a way to transport logs to the mills.  Mitchell used his connections to make sure the G.R.&I railroad changed its path to travel through the most desirable location, the location that would be known as the village of Clam Lake and later as the City of Cadillac.  He then bought up some 2,000 acres of land in the area. George’s older brother William Mitchell was at the “meeting under the oaks.” William, who late became a U.S. Representative, was said to be a close friend of Abraham Lincoln.  One would have to imagine that George was influenced a great deal by his brother William.  George himself held office as a Republican serving as Mayor in 1877, the first year that Cadillac was incorporated as a city and a year before his death in a carriage accident.  Though Mitchell only served in office that one year, he was always thought to be working behind the scenes.  Some people believe he was behind the political maneuvering that eventually lead to Cadillac obtaining the county seat from Manton shortly after they helped Manton obtain it from Sherman.

Fred Green

Governor Fred Green (Wexford Historical Society)

Mitchell recruited many talented men to his new village.  One of those people was a mill operator from Manistee named Holden Green.  Green, who had seven children, still found time to be active in local politics including serving as a judge.  One of his sons, Fred Green, grew up to be the 31st Governor of Michigan and held office as a Republican from 1927-1931.

The most influential person in Cadillac after Mitchell’s death though was a Republican businessman named Jacob Cummer, and to a lesser extent a number of his family members.  Like Mitchell, Jacob serve one term as a mayor (1878).  Also like Mitchell, Cummer had his hand in a number of business interests and many of them revolved around the lumbering industry.  The Cummers had such influence that one paper said in 1889 “Cadillac means Cummer.”  The wages, hours, and conditions in the community were based off what the Cummers where paying.  It went beyond that though.  According to Peterson’s book, Cummer employees “had to vote” and they knew that “bad votes caused unemployment.”  One person who became unemployed was Professor H.M. Enos.  Enos was fired as superintendent of the school in large part because he also owned a newspaper that was critical of the Cummers.  The school board President, by the way, was Jacob Cummer.

There were a few men who spoke out against the Cummer empire.  One of them was a Democrat named Joseph (James) Haynes who Peterson said was “perhaps the most popular man ever to live in Cadillac.”  Haynes was a “constant irritant” to Jacob Cummer until his untimely death in 1878.  At the time of his death, Haynes held office as both the Mayor of Cadillac and the treasurer of Wexford County.  Haynes had an ally in successful businessman Jonathan Cobbs.  Cobbs “thought of his employees as his friends” and “came to dread the solemn single-minded, and relentless drive for profits that later developed in the Cadillac lumber community.”  Cobbs actually shared his profits with his employees and allowed them to buy shares in his mill.  Surprisingly, Cobbs was a business partner with William W. Mitchell, the Republican nephew of George Mitchell.  One of Cadillac’s most lasting names is Democrat Ephraim Shay. Shay made a name for himself as an inventor of the famous Shay Locomotive, the first of which he build in 1881.  Shay also served one term as the county treasurer (1879) though it took the “fused” efforts of both Democrats and Greenbacks to get him elected.

Shay

A Shay Locomotive built for the Cummers.  (Wexford Historical Society)

Local historian Cliff “Top” Sorgren pointed out that many of Cadillac’s early Republicans donated generously to charity and should not be “compared with today’s greedy profit-seekers.”  George Mitchell donated the land for the Maple Hill Cemetery, the City Park, and the site for Cadillac’s first school building.  Jacob and Wellington W. Cummer donated land for the site of the first library, now the Wexford Historical Society building.  Fred Diggins, who was twice a delegate to the Republican National Convention and served many years as mayor, along with his wife Delos Diggins financed the building and equipment for Mercy Hospital.  Cummer, Diggins, and another fellow named Wilcox teamed up to donate the land that is now known as Diggins Hill and the adjacent water tower area.  William W. Mitchell also contributed to parklands and many other charitable causes.

Perhaps the first in depth national political mapping project also gives some insight into the politics of Wexford County, and the entire region, at the time.  Scribner’s 1883 map shows that 60-70% of Wexford County voted for the Republican Presidental Candiate James Garfield in the 1880 election.  The strength of the Republican brand at the time can also be seen in the interesting political career of a local man named David Rice.  Rice was a three time Republican prosecutor. In 1880 he decided to run as an independent instead of a Republican and lost. In 1884 he ran again as a Republican and won. For some reason Rice ran as a Democrat in 1886 and 1888 and lost.  He ran as a Republican in 1892 and in 1894 and won!

Scribners1883Michiganmap

Note that for some reason blue represents counties won by Republicans and Red counties won by Democrats.

In each decade after the 1880 election, it seems that a Democrat managed to win the mayor’s office for a year.  Levi Law, who a local paper called the Republican News said “suffered from “Indiana Democracy,”  served one term in 1889.  Law was said to have “good humor and quick wit” even though “he suffered the stigma of being a Democrat in a Republican Community.”  Democrat George S. Stanley was elected as mayor in 1901.  He also only served one term and was defeated in five other attempts at the office!  Democrat Frank O. (F.O.) Gaffney won election as Mayor for one term in 1910.  It is unclear if another Democrat has served as mayor since.

The county elections from 1890 to 1902 tell an interesting story.  In 1890, Republicans won six of the seven seats.  In 1890 to 1902 they won all of the seats.  The Republicans’ margin of victory became noticeably wider over that period, and in the last two elections the Democrats didn’t even run a candidate for two of the seats.

Cliff “Top” Sorgren remembers the Republican domination continuing throughout the 1900′s.  Sorgren grew up in Cadillac during the 1930′s  and said he “sat in on many family after dinner discussions where the term ‘Roosevelt’ was considered an obscenity.” Roosevelt was elected in 1932, but Wexford County went for Hoover according to the Cadillac Evening News.  Henry W. Miltner, who graduated from UofM law school in 1908, was a Democratic Presidential Elector that year.  The Miltner family seems to have chalked up most of the Democrats’ victories in the 1900′s.  In 1937, Henry’s son Charles got elected as prosecutor.  Apparently, 1937 was a banner year for Democrats because they won five offices that year.  Later, Charles ran for circuit court judge with the backing of the state’s Bar Association and many local lawyers.  However, the Cadillac Evening News’ publisher T.O. Huckle was instrumental in making sure a Republican candidate got elected instead according to Charles’ son John Miltner.  Charles’ brother Frank was elected as prosecutor, the only Democrat elected to office in Wexford County in 1946, according to the Cadillac Evening News.  Frank later served as a district court judge until 1984.  John Miltner ran against Pete Hoekstra for the 2nd congressional district in 1992.  He was only able to muster 35% of the vote though.  That seems to be where the Miltner family’s political influence in the area ends.  The vast majority of the hundreds of other elections over the century were taken by the Republicans.  In fact, no Democrat has ever been elected to represent Wexford County in the State House of Representatives except in one township (see list at bottom of page) as far as I can tell.

Advertisement in the Cadillac Evening News 1971 Centennial Edition.

Advertisement in the Cadillac Evening News 1971 Centennial Edition.

At the time of this writing, there is no organized Democratic party in Wexford County.  Additionally, almost 25% more Wexford County residents cast straight ticket votes for Republicans than they did for Democrats in 2012.  Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for President, racked up 16% more votes in Wexford County despite losing the state and the election to the incumbent President Barack Obama.  Currently, there is only one Democrat on the nine member board of county commissioners.

So why has there been a complete and utter dominance by Republicans in Wexford County?  Long time Cadillac High School history teacher Bill Allen took on that question for a master’s thesis.  He hypothesized that it was the “rugged individualism” of those early settlers like John Wheeler that lead them to identify with the model of a more limited government.  We also cannot discount that the Republican party was a homegrown Michigan effort and was, and still is, pretty popular almost everywhere in Michigan.  A third possibility is that Wexford County has always thrived on the manufacturing industry that requires low skill labor.  Since the low skill labor force in Wexford County has seldom been organized into unions, the owners of those businesses have wielded far greater power than the workers.  Although there may not be a name to match Mitchell or Cummer at present time, the Chamber of Commerce wields similar influence.  Much like Cummer did, the Chamber of Commerce is able to convince low skill labor that voting for Democrats might jeopardize their job status.

A final question might be are the Republican’s poised to continue their domination of Wexford County politics?  It appears likely.  Republican businessmen still win most of the elections in the county.  In fact, Republicans often have no Democratic challenger in local elections.  Yet, history teaches us that the right Democrat could be successful.  If someone as charismatic as Haynes, or as talented as Shay came along, they could tug enough moderate Republicans and independents to the left to obtain a victory.  Surely that will happen again someday right?  The question is when, and can it be sustained for any length of time?  Or perhaps citizens might find themselves unhappy with today’s major political parties and create a new party like they did in 1854.  Time will tell.

State Representatives Who Represented Wexford County

Antrim, Charlevoix, Crawford, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee, & Wexford
John S. Dixon (1863-1864)

Antrim, Benzie, Crawford, Grand Traverse, Lake, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Otsego, & Wexford (Charlevoix added for 1871 & 2)
William H. Mitchell (1869-72) -Republican from E. Traverse Bay
(not related to George Mitchell or his nephew William as far as I know)

Crawford and Manitou, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Missaukee, & Wexford
Thomas Ferguson (1873-1876) – Republican from Sherman

Grand Traverse & Wexford
James L. Gibbs       (1877)            – from Mayfield
Henry May              (1880)            -Republican from Cadillac
Seth C. Moffit          (1881-82)     -Republican from Northport

Kalkaska, Lake, Missaukee Counties& Wexford Counties
Benjamin C. Bonnell (1883)        -Republican  from Sherman Township
George Oviatt   (1885)                  – Republican from Chase

Lake & Wexford Counties
George Oviatt (1887)                          – Republican from Chase
Sylvanus Alexander – (1889-1892)  - Republican from Wexford
H. Frank Campbell- (1893-1896)     -from Sherman
John Caldwell – (1897-1900)             -Republican from Manton
Sylvanus Alexander – (1901-1902)   -Republican from Wexford County
Orville Dennis- (1901-03)                 – from Lake City
Earl Fairbanks – (1903-1906)           – Republican from Luther
John A. Barry – (1907-1908)            - Republican from Harrietta
Victor F. Huntley -(1909-1910)       – Republican from Manton
Frank A. Smith – (1915-1924)         – Republican from Luther and later Cadillac
H. Earl McNitt – (1925-1936)         – Republican from Haring Township
Charles H. Nixon – (1937-1942)     – Republican from Cadillac

 Manistee-Wexford District
John D. Kruse- (1943-1954)           – Republican from Manistee
Charles A. Boyer – (1955-62)          – Republican from Manistee
John (Jack) F. Toepp – (1963-1964) -  Republican from Cadillac

104th District
Arnell Engstrom- (1965-1968)     – Republican from Traverse City
Michael Dively – (1969-1974)       - Republican from Traverse City
Connie Binsfeld (1975-1982)       – Republican from Maple City

Note: Slagle Township was not in the same district as the rest of Wexford County between 1973 and 1982. Slagle was part of the 98th district and was represented by the following individuals:

Dennis Cawthorne- (1973-78)    - Republican from Manistee
Jeff Dongvillo (1979-1980)         – Democrat from Scottville
Ed Giese (1981-82)                      - Republican from Manistee

18th District 1980-82
Sidney Ouwinga- (1983-1991)     -Republican from Marion
John Gernaat (1991- 1997)          -Republican from McBain

102nd House of Representatives
John Gernaat – (1997-1998)       -Republican from McBain
Rick Johnson – (1999-2004)      -Republican from LeRoy
Darwin Booher (2005-2010)      -Republican from Evart
Phil Potvin (2011-present)         -Republican from Cadillac

Special Thanks: This post could not have been written without the amazing work of Judge William Peterson.  A View from Courthouse Hill is a local treasure that too few people know about and less have read.  I also have to thank local resident Bob Garner who once worked in the Legislative Service Bureau and who gave me the name Dennis Cawthorne.  Cawthorne once represented a portion of Wexford County.  Cawthorne’s memory has no equal and he was instrumental in figuring out who represented the Wexford County area in the state legislature for a good part of the mid 1900′s on.  Surprisingly, that era was the hardest to find information on.  I’d also like to thank John Miltner for his assistance with his family history.  Finally, I’d like to thank Susan Schulten, Department Chair at the University of Denver, for helping me obtain and make sense of the 1883 Scribner’s map.   If you have a correction or an addition, please contact me (Chad Phillips) at michiganpopulist@gmail.com

References:
A History of Northern Michigan and its People. Perry F. Powers. 1912

Cadillac Evening News Centennial Edition. 1971

History of Wexford County Michgian.  John Wheeler.  1903

Michigan: From Primitive Wilderness to Industrial Commonwealth.

M.M. Quaife, PH.D. and Sidney Glazer, Ph. D.  Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1948 New York

The Political Graveyard Website: Politicians Who Lived in Wexford County

The View from Courthouse Hill. William R. Peterson. 1974

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Corporate Lobbyist/Former Governor Engler Makes Outragous Comment About Public School Teachers

Former Governor, and current corporate lobbyist, John Engler is once again in the Michigan news.  The Detroit Free Press asked Enlger, who signed Michigan’s first charter school law, his opinion about the unflattering revelations by a Detroit Free Press expose’ on charters.  Engler quickly changed the topic to public school teachers and said . .

“I had always assumed that teachers would come together and decide we can do a better job running schools than the administration. For a variety of reasons, that never happened.”

That is a fascinating statement.  Engler failed to point out any instance were legislation was passed by him or by succeeding governors that gives teachers more control in their schools.  In fact, the power has been shifted almost entirely into the hands of the administrators, the school board, and the state and federal government.  Teachers have little control regarding the curriculum they teach thanks to state and federal mandates. A number of anti-union laws signed by Governor Snyder took away teachers’ input in evaluation systems, recall and layoff policies, and a whole host of other issues that are important to the overall quality of schools in which they teach.  Teachers now live in fear of being selectively laid off or fired for anything, even something as benign as expressing a different opinion.

If Governor Engler wanted to give teachers more control, he should have considered a system that would allow, or even mandate, that schools be governed by a combination of teachers, administrators, and community members.  The current system makes little sense.  Community members are in charge of the school because they are elected to the school board, but they are rarely in the school buildings.  Therefore, they delegate almost all of the decision making to the administration.  School boards typically have no system of gathering input from teachers.  Teachers can speak out in the community comment portion of the school board meeting, but they do so at the risk of being evaluated poorly or being denied other opportunities by the administrators or by the school board itself.

Prior to Governor Snyder’s anti-union laws, at least teachers were in the dining room during dinner even if they did not have a seat at the table.  Now they are left eating in the servants quarters and Governor Engler has the nerve to suggest teachers made that choice. That type of nonsense might work when lobbying congressmen on behalf of corporate America, but back here in Michigan we know a lie when we hear it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Republican Mailing Uses Fake Michigan Family to Claim They Support Education

State Representative Phil Potvin’s mailer arrived in my mailbox today.  Potvin’s letter touts the Republicans’ commitment to education.  It was a bit like getting a mailer from PETA saying they support the meat packing industry!  I’ve seen firsthand the Republicans’ commitment to education when I saw elementary students have their school close and lose their physical education classes all at the same time.  I saw the Republicans’ commitment to education when class sizes were increased and summer school opportunities for struggling learners were eliminated.   I saw the Republicans’ commitment to education when cherished extra-curricular activities were cut.  I saw all of that in just one of the districts that Representative Potvin represents.  These types of cuts have been happening in districts all around the state.   Don’t believe me?  Go to the Kids Not CEOs website created by the Michigan Education Association to see the amount of money each school district has lost since Governor Snyder took office in 2011.  If you think that website is too biased, type “school cuts” into a Google search and then add any Michigan school district to the search box and you are sure to find plenty of stories of valuable programs being cut from whichever school district you type in.
mailerDespite the Republicans’ attack on education, Potvin’s mailer says he sees “a brighter future for Michgian families.” Right under those empty words is a picture of a very attractive family.  You can also find that same family on a website for a Montessori school in Idaho, a dentist office in Tennessee, and on a blog page from who the heck knows where.  It appears that the Republicans’ rhetoric is so outrageously false that they cannot even get a real Michigan family to pose for their propaganda!  A new day, a new low.

Posted in Phil Potvin, Schools | 9 Comments

Looking out for #1. Legislators Spending an Additional 4.7 Million at the Capitol in 2014

capitol2

Photo Credit: Chad Phillips

Michigan Republicans are once again taking care of #1.  In March they increased spending on Capitol Police by 1.7 million dollars despite the fact that the Capitol Building is one of the safest places in the state.  This month they passed a budget that includes an additional 3 million dollars for renovations to the Capitol Building.   Altogether the fiscal conservatives are spending 4.7 million additional dollars in 2014 to make sure they are comfortable at work.  Meanwhile, no money has been allocated to increase police presence in schools or to make school entrances safer despite calls to do so.  As you drive down a pothole ridden road to drop your kids off at their unsecure school, you should feel good knowing that your state legislature will be comfortable the entire 86 days they are in session this year.
Update: According to the TV show Off the Record, the chairs may be replaced at the Capitol Building for about $900 a piece!

Posted in Law Enforcement, Schools | 1 Comment

Part-time Legislature Ballot Initiative is Dead

The part-time legislature ballot initiative is dead.  The following message is now posted on the committee’s website:

The Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-time Legislature regrets to announce the suspension of its campaign to restore Michigan’s citizen-driven, part-time legislature.  It is now apparent that we will fall short of collecting enough valid signatures before the end of June to get our amendment on the ballot this coming November.

Our campaign faced many obstacles including an organized political opposition determined to maintain the status quo in Lansing.

While I supported their effort, I am not too disappointed because there were several flaws in the language of their initiative.  First, the ballot initiative allowed for about half of the necessary staff members needed to run the legislature.  Second, since the starting salary was pretty low, they should have provided for yearly increases in pay, above the cost of inflation, similar to a teacher’s pay scale.  Third, a law preventing the dismissal of employees for missing work to serve in the legislature should be included so that anyone could logistically hold office in the legislature.  The group stated they will be back with a  “revitalized approach” in 2016.   Maybe the next time around the ballot language will be improved and that will lead to more grass roots support.  It’s doubtful they will ever get support from the mainstream political establishment.

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The Most Abusurd Thing About the EAA Spending Spree

English: Disney World, Orlando, Florida

English: Disney World, Orlando, Florida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Education Achievement Authority (EAA) hasn’t had much good press lately.  The district, made of Detroit’s worst performing schools, got its test results back and the vast majority of students “failed to show even marginal progress.”  Then the district made national news when a teacher was fired, and later reinstated, when lack of communication equipment lead her to break up a violent fight with a broom.  Then a bombshell dropped this past week as the Detroit News uncovered that in a little less than two years the EAA had spend $174,000 on airfare and hotels for staff.  One trip sent 35 people to a conference about online learning at Disney’s Swann & Dolphin Resort!  An EAA spokesman justified the cost saying the travel “was necessary to train new teachers.”  The EAA students were to have the vast majority of their curriculum delivered online using a program called BUZZ according to a shocking interview of a former EAA teacher by Eclectablog.  However, the students were slowed by a lack of computers, network issues, and issues with the software itself, or pretty much everything.

Imagine a classroom of disadvantaged kids in Detroit sitting two or three to a computer trying to get a crappy software program to work with a faulty network while 35 highly educated staff members are at Disneyworld because they evidently need to be taught in person!  There is one thing that the EAA and Disneyworld have in common though.  They are both championed by someone with a high pitch voice living in a fantasy world.

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Forget Roads or Schools, Michigan’s Surplus is Going to Businesses According to State Rep.

Pot Holes

Pot Holes (Photo credit: JeepersMedia)

Representative Phil Potvin, of the 102nd district, appeared earlier this month on the WCMU program Capitol Report.  When host David Nichols asked where Michigan’s 975 million dollar surplus was going to be spent, Potvin might have shared something Republicans don’t want you to know.  Potvin said “we are anywhere between 600 and 850 million dollars of that surplus that is already pre-committed, depending on how these people are with keeping their employees, keeping their commitment to the state of Michigan, investing in Michigan for more jobs.”  Potvin said the money is being doled out to businesses because most of Michigan’s corporations decided to stick with the old tax system rather than migrate to the flat six percent tax.  These tax breaks are on top of the 1.8 billion dollars or so each year that other businesses get by choosing the no tax option.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville seemed to confirm that the projected surplus is now nearly non-existent.  Richardville told the Lansing State Journal “the legislature may no longer be able to provide immediate tax relief this year.”  Richardville and Governor Snyder are talking about using the 100 million that is actually left of the surplus to fix roads, though no votes have been taken on that.

While legislators debate how we should spend the 100 million dollar surplus, the tax giveaways continue.  Just yesterday three West Michigan businesses were promised 1.35 million dollars of our tax money, on top of the normal tax breaks they will get, because they plan to expand in Michigan.  Does anyone remember in 2011 when Governor Snyder said “one of the problems with the tax credit world is that you’re picking winners and losers, and government is not really competent to do that?”  What is clear in all of this is that picking winners and losers is now on Snyder’s agenda.  Wealthy business owners are the winners.  The working class tax payers are the losers.

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A Quick Look Back at Michigan Populist’s First Three Years

Easter Sunday was the third birthday for the Michigan Populist Blog.  Here is a quick look back.

The first post:  The first post, entitled Snyder Uses Poor and Politicized Data to Judge Public Schools, was actually an adaptation from a letter written to one of Governor Snyder’s constituent liaisons.  The post, and the letter, poked holes in the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) data that the Governor and his staff were using to suggest Michigan’s students were not getting a quality education.

The most successful post:  The most successful post by far was from this January and was entitled Governor Snyder Deceived You on School Funding. Here is How.  The post, which points out that per pupil funding is below 06-7 levels, and highlights inequity in school funding, was viewed 48,000 times and shared over 8,000 times.  Not too shabby.

The most respected post: My 2011 post called Great Lakes Education (Read DeVos) Project outlined the background and agenda of the DeVos funded anti-public education group.  The post has been referenced by several blogs including the best progressive blog going, Ecletablog.

Most disappointing:  I was hoping I would get more of a response out of my post Legislators Have the Means to Make Schools Safer.  Here is What They Should Do and How You Can Help.  I outlined my ideas and created a petition asking legislators to fund secure school entrances, mandate a reasonable counselor to student ratio, and put intermediate school districts in charge of school safety.  Not only were none of my suggestions implemented, and all my tweets, emails, and Facebook post ignored, legislators did virtually nothing to make schools safer in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

A post people should have read but didn’t: My post How the Winners and Losers Nearly Clashed at the Capitol on Tuesday was a first hand report of how police and protesters found themselves in a potentially deadly, and easily avoidable, situation during the right-to-work protest in December of 2012.  Even if you don’t read the article, take a look at the pictures.  Then remember that Governor Snyder likes to say they should do things in Washington like they do in Lansing.

Biggest surprise: Meeting Lynn Mason, candidate for the 102nd House, and finding out that she referenced my blog post Posthumus Lyons is Michigan’s Least Ethical Legislator in her campaign materials and stump speech.  I sure hope it helps contribute to a defeat of Posthumus Lyons this November.  I highly encourage public school activists to volunteer and/or contribute to Lynn’s campaign.

People I would like to thank: I would like to thank my wife Amy who typically proof reads my posts and gets stuck watching the kids when I decide to write a blog post on short notice.  I’d also like to thank the many kind people who have read and shared my posts and those who have given me words of encouragement.  Lets do this again in three years!

Chad

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Why You Should Support the Part-Time Legislature Ballot Initiative

Michigan State Capitol

Michigan State Capitol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michigan’s legislators had enough time last year to pass a law to make sure that one guy in the U.P. could make money by letting people pet bear cubs.  That was just one of 367 laws passed since January 1st, 2013.  Laws are being passed so fast that citizens cannot keep up, and it’s doubtful that even the legislators have had time to understand the implications of each bill.  The overreaching nature of the current legislature is just one of the reasons a new ballot initative is being undertaken in order to restore Michigan’s part-time legislature.

Michigan is one of just four states with a full-time legislature, though another six states are near full-time according to the National Conference of State Legislators.  Michigan legislators are the 4th highest paid in the nation taking home $71,685 a year.  Because the legislators are full time, they require a larger staff.  The average staff member per legislator of a full-time legislature is almost nine people per elected official as opposed to just three per elected officials for a part-time legislature.  According to Mike Kuras, the Secretary of the Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-Time Legislature (CRMPTL), Michigan now employs almost 1,000 staff members to help our148 legislators accomplish their work.  The CRMPTL is in the midst of gathering signatures that would not only return Michigan to a part-time legislature like it was before 1967, the ballot initiative would also limit the number of staff members to 250.  That number might be a little bit low since using the three staffers for each part-time legislator rule means about 444 staffers would be typical.  Legislators would likely lose some of their personal staff, but it would go beyond that.  The amendment calls for the elimination of the Michigan Legislative Council (MLC).  The MLC has a number of sub-entities including the Legislative Service Bureau whose job it is to compile and publish Michigan’s laws.  Kuras says that the legislature would be put to the task of recreating a body to perform that task.  They would likely have to do it with a lot smaller staff though.

One of the criticisms being bantered around about the initiative is that this move would actually increase the power of lobbyist in Lansing.  Even lobbyists are saying that, so it makes you wonder about the validity of the argument.  Kuras suggests that legislators will be spending a lot more time in their home district, unless they can afford and justify working full time in Lansing for half pay, so they might be far more likely to rely on local experts and the opinions of their constituents rather than those of paid lobbyists.  Also, when legislators are at home they wouldn’t be a stones throw from the lobbyist’s offices, and they wouldn’t be available to attend the fundraisers that lobbyists hold two or three days a week in Lansing.

Another valid question is who can afford to be a legislator at a pay that is capped at $35,000 a year with a mild cost of living increase each year.  First, the average Michigander makes less than $28,000 a year.  So if you are looking for average folks, the pay is not a barrier.  Additionally, legislators would be allowed, if not encouraged, to supplement their income with non-political work.  Since they would only be in session 60 days each year, unless called up for a special session by the Governor, they would have time to hold down another job and supplement that income.

Michigan still lacks the kind of transparency that would help prevent legislators from receiving kickbacks to make up for their lost income.  Unfortunately, this amendment wouldn’t change that.  According to Kuras, the transparency piece of this legislation would make public knowledge all the fringe benefits that legislators receive from the state, for instance when legislators take a trip to another country to attend an economic summit.  Apparently, the authors of this amendment hope that would shame the legislators into blowing less of the tax payers’ money.  It’s pretty hard to shame a legislator though.

One of the hurdles the CRMPTL will face, should they get enough votes to put it on the ballot, is getting over the “just say no” mentality.  In the last election every ballot proposal was defeated by a no vote.  Based on the content of the amendments, it appears that the overriding philosophy was to say no rather than to actually consider the content of the five proposals independently.  The more ballot initiatives that get the needed signatures to make it on the ballot, the harder that no barrier will be to overcome.

So is a part-time legislature a good idea or not?  I guess we could look at this way. If we had a part-time legislature now, would we move to make it full time?  Also, do most voters believe that our best interests are being served when legislators cast their vote in Lansing?  If you said no to both of those questions, then why not say yes to a part-time legislature?

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Posted in 2014 Election, Government Reform | 8 Comments