2014 Top 5 Threats to our Democracy- You Will Never Guess Who is #1

2014 Ranking (2013 Ranking)

#1 (Not Ranked) Out of Touch Progressives-  Progressives generally are less interested in being part of a large bureaucracy like a political party, a corporation, or a megachurch. Maybe because bureaucracies promote a top down flow of ideas, trickle down think-a-nomics if you will.  My attempts to interact with prominent state Democrats lead me to this realization.  I have sent emails and Facebook messages to Lon Johnson, Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.  Despite helping him with his state representative campaign in 2012, I never got a reply.  When Mark Schauer officially announced his campaign for governor, I made a very small campaign donation.  I followed that up with an email inviting him to my neck of the woods.  No response.  A recent email I sent to likely Democratic Senator nominee Congressman Gary Peters has not been responded to.  I tried contacting Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer with my school safety ideas.  Again, no response.  I recently took to twitter asking for a retweet of my post about Michigan’s stagnant business climate.  I asked Whitmer, Johnson, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, and progressive talk show host Tony Truipiano for a retweet.  Only Tony Truipiano obliged.   However, I receive requests for donations in my email inbox daily from some of these individuals.  This one way relationship could prevent Democrats from taking back our government in November because too few progressives will feel compelled to pitch in to get out the message and the vote.  If this occurs, the anti-worker, anti-women, and anti-poor and middle class legislation being churned out by Republicans will continue until at least 2016.

#2 (Not Rated) Out of Touch Republicans- Michigan Republicans are out of touch.  They have no idea what the typical Michigander faces in their day to day life.  Let’s take a look at two state representatives to illustrate this point.  My State Representative, Phil Potvin, took over his family’s successful business, the business dumped toxic waste a mile from the city’s well field, the city newspaper never ran a story on it, and he never went to jail.  Eventually they went out of business.  Then he was elected twice as a state representative.  Meanwhile, the local newspaper ran a story about a man who may face life in prison for shoplifting!  Another more notable legislator, Lisa Posthumus Lyons, was brought back down to Earth a bit this year when one of her former teachers wrote her a letter telling her he was “appalled and offended” after Michigan’s least ethical legislator likened teachers to pigs that get fat and need to get slaughtered.  It is these kind of actions, these kind of inflammatory statements, and a lot of bad legislation like the “rape insurance” bill that clearly indicate Michigan Republicans are out of touch with regular Michiganders.

#3 (#5) Dark Money/Lack of Transparency- Governor Snyder promised, but has not delivered, more transparency in government.  This year the Governor shut down his controversial NERD Fund rather than disclose its donors.  It is a good bet that had he disclosed the donors, all kinds of conflict of interest situations would have been uncovered particularly as it pertains to the Emergency Manager in Detroit.  When Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson introduced a measure to make so called “issue ads” disclose their funders, Republicans in the legislature caught wind and introduced legislation to block disclosure on the very same day.  That bill, which Governor Snyder signed, also increased campaign contributions limits even though only.008 of Michiganders had hit the current campaign limits.  Don’t take my word for it though.  The Center for Public Integrity still gives Michigan a solid  F on their Corruption Risk Report Card because of this lack of transparency.

#4 (#1) Governor Rick Snyder- What makes Snyder great at accounting (one of his degrees) makes him bad at being a Governor.  People are not numbers.  Government isn’t a business.  Sure, people want to be represented by smart people, but they also want to be represented by compassionate people.  Governor Snyder seems to lack empathy and an understanding of everyday folk.  One way to judge a politician is to look at how their policy impacts the least among us.  Under Snyder’s watch the percentage of children living in poverty has risen to almost a quarter of all Michigan children.  That is shameful and just another way that the Governor is transforming our great state into what some are now calling Michissippi.

#5 (Not Rated) Michigan’s Conservative “Think Tanks”- The Mackinac Center for Public Policy and The The Great Lakes Education Project are two of Michigan’s most prominent “think tanks.”  They regularly put out anti-government and anti-public education propaganda.  Too often Michigan newspapers run their stories as legitimate news stories rather than editorial pieces.  One newspaper in 2013 finally wised up and booted the Mackinac Center’s propaganda from its pages.  It appears that many other newspapers are happy to receive free content regardless of its legitimacy.  These Michigan based think tanks, along with the most influential national think tank, The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have untold influence on our government, especially when the state government is controlled by one political party.  These think tanks are funded by secret money, often from millionaires and billionaires, and they typically take advantage of taxpayers by being given tax-exempt status.  In essence, they give big money donors an even greater voice in our government.

Just missed the cut: The Michigan Chamber of Commerce

Click here for the 2013 or 2012 edition

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More Money in Politics as opposed to in Your Paycheck (Graphic)


Enrolled Senate Bill 661
House Fiscal Agency Analysis of Senate Bill 661
The State News minimum wage article
Bureau of Labor Statistics minimum wage report
Detroit News editorial in the Denver Post on the minimum wage
Economic Policy Institute article on the age of minimum wage workers
M-live article 12 things to know about the bill
M-live article Governor Snyder signs the bill into law



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Northern Michigan is No Woman’s Land

It’s tough being a progressive in Northern Michigan.  Republicans hold every Senate seat and all but two House seats.  As bad as it is to be a progressive, it is even worse to be a woman.  If you draw a line across the state from the top of Muskegon County to the top of Saginaw County, you will not find a single female state Representative or Senator north of that line, not even a Republican one.  To adapt a line from the song “signs,” I guess long haired female people need not apply.

Northern Michigan is one of the best places to live in the world.  However, you have to endure the long winters and bush league politics.  On the bright side, winters only last seven months.  Female Map


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From the Last Year of Granholm to the Third Year of Snyder, We’re Still Ranked the 47th Best State for Buisiness.

English: Diagram of new number sign of Greek N...For the fourth year in a row, Forbes has ranked Michigan as the 47th “Best State for Business.” Last year’s list was posted less than 24 hours after the right-to-work law was passed in Michigan.  Snyder, who was clearly disappointed in those rankings, wrote  a featured op-ed for Forbes highlighting his perceived accomplishments.  He finished that piece by saying that “we expect to be at or near the top of these rankings in the years to come.”  We now know that was just another failed prediction.

This isn’t the first piece of bad news that Governor Snyder has received in the past few weeks.  This month’s unemployment numbers showed that the unemployment rate has risen for three straight months.  Additionally, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. issued a report that stated that their grant recipients are only creating 19% of the jobs they promised!

If Snyder would like to learn something about economic development, he should consider looking at Minnesota.  Minnesota is now ranked 8th on the Best State for Business list.  According to Forbes, Minnesota ranked high in part because they have “the second highest percentage of adults with a high school degree” as well as a “low poverty rate and healthy population.”

What seems clear is that Snyder’s economic policies are not working.  Instead of investing in students, health initiatives, and training workers, he gave away huge tax breaks to businesses (and continues to do so) and engaged in divisive politics such as right-to-work.  Snyder has spent his political capital and came up empty.  Now he is gong to spend a half million dollars for an advertisement in order to spin his record so he can offer us four more years of failed policies.

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State Rep. Bizzare Response Says Teachers Not Subject to Right to Work

Vice President Joe Biden is often called a “gaffe-machine.”  Here in Michigan we have our own gaffe master in Representative Phil Potvin.  Potvin represents the 102nd district which runs up the 131 corridor from Big Rapids through Reed City, Cadillac, and ends near Manton.

Potvin is the kind of guy, I hear, that would buy a car from a dealership outside his district and then ask a dealership in his district to put their sticker on it.  He made headlines when he called teachers “whiners” and compared them to kids who haven’t taken the trash out.  Yet somehow he didn’t make headlines, or the local paper at all, when his company dumped toxic waste near the city of Cadillac’s well field.

And then there is this.  This bizarre response came from a recent event with constituents where Potvin responded in writing to a question about Michigan’s new right-to-work law.  Potvin writes that teachers “do not fall  into the new right to choose (work) law.”  He says this despite voting for the law that made all Michigan employees, except Michigan State Police, subject to the right-to-work law.  Then he goes on to contradict that statement writing ”teachers to don’t have to join the union to work in public schools.” Read Mr. Potvin’s response below and see if you can make any sense of the content or the grammar.

Potvin Response

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Warrant Issued for CEO of Company that Fled Michigan for Florida’s Tax Breaks

bluewhereMichigan Populist reported in June that BlueWare, a company that left Michigan to capture Florida’s tax giveaways, is being sued by the Florida County of Brevard.  Now, BlueWare CEO Rose Harr, a lobbyist named William Matthew Dupree, and a former State Representative and clerk of court named Mitch Needelman are all being charged in a criminal investigation.  According to an article by Floridatoday.com, Florida’s Law Enforcement Commissioner said “The investigation shows Needelman, Dupree and Harr swindled Brevard County taxpayers out of millions of dollars.”  Needleman and Dupree have already been arrested, and Harr has a warrant out for her arrest.  All three are being charged with bid tampering and bribery.  All of this stems from a controversial contract BlueWare had with the County of Brevard to perform a job digitizing county records.

But wait, there is more.  The State of Florida is also investigating BlueWare’s relocation agreement with Florida.  The move came with at least 1.8 million dollars in incentives.  Florida Governor Rick Scott even contacted Harr personally during the courting process.  Details of that investigation have yet to be released.

The BlueWare fiasco could provide some sanity in the race to steal businesses from other states by giving big tax giveaways.  Florida Governor Rick Scott isn’t the only business thief out there.  Texas Governor Rick Perry has taken to running radio spots in California criticizing their business climate and inviting businesses to relocate there.  What Scott, Perry, and other politicians should do is try to steal some of our jobs back from Mexico and China.  They should also do it without gambling with hard working tax payer’s money.

Note: Read the backstory on BlueWare’s move here.

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Posthumus Lyons is Michigan’s Least Ethical Legislator

Republican Representative Lisa Posthumus Lyons, who calls herself a “proud product of public education,” chairs the education committee for the State House.  She made headlines most recently with her quip “pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered” in reference to teachers who are to lose their jobs when their school districts get dissolved by the state.

Previous to that, she outraged the education community when she supported an expansion of the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), but tried to get schools in her district exempt from it.  Senator Burt Johnson noted that “this bill somehow helps kids trapped in failing schools while at the same time she carves out an exemption for the students in her own neighboring community so that they won’t be subjected to what she obviously knows is an unpopular and  ultimately unsuccessful idea.”  Despite saying she supports public schools, she has been receiving campaign contributions from the DeVos founded pro-school privatization group the Great Lakes Education Project.

The EAA isn’t the first instance of Posthumus Lyons making personal exceptions to laws she supports.  During the battle over right-to-work legislation that she said “freed” workers, she offered an amendment to exempt prison guards, a job her husband held at the time.  Her fellow Republicans even thought that was a bit hypocritical.  They refused to vote on the amendment.

Posthumus Lyons, whose father Dick was the Lieutenant Governor under John Engler, worked as an aid for the State House and Senate before she became the “Director of Public Policy & Community Outreach for the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors.”  Basically that means she worked for the government, lobbied the government, then became an elected official of the government.  Posthumus Lyons received nearly $11,000 for her first campaign from the realty and banking industry.  Shortly after getting elected, she co-sponsored, and helped get passed, a pro banking/realty bill to lessen the time that home owners had before their houses were foreclosed on.

Posthumus Lyons was also intimately involved in the notorious BolgerGate scandal.  During the 2012 elections, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger conspired with incumbent House Democrat Roy Schmidt to switch parties at the last minute and to recruit a fake candidate to run on the Democratic ticket.  That scheme would assure Schmidt a win.  Lyons was the messenger between Bolger and Schmidt and appears to have had full knowledge of the affair.  The whole scheme blew up and is still being investigated.  Because of the ordeal Schmidt lost the election, and Bolger nearly lost his seat too.  Posthumus Lyons, on the other hand, was named chair of the ethics and elections committee!

Posthumus Lyons has also carved out controversial opinions on other high profile matters in the state.  Lyons said “I fully support majority floor leader Jim Stamas’ decision” to censor State Representative Lisa Brown for mentioning her vagina in a speech.  The whole dust up became known nationally as “vagina-gate.”  Brown was speaking out against the “over regulation” of women’s health clinics as a way to stop them from performing abortions.  Posthumus Lyons is also a sponsor of a bill (HB 5684) that would allow for 12 week old fetuses to be claimed as dependents for tax purposes, an obvious move to legislate when life begins for anti-choice reasons.  In an unrelated matter, Lyons even spoke out against the removal of Native American mascots by Michigan high schools.

To summarize, Posthumus Lyons seems to be involved in just about every controversy at the capitol in the past few years.  She has used her position of influence for her own personal and political gain.  Her constituents appear to be her campaign donors, rather than the people of Kent and Ionia Counties.  The Center of Public Integrity gave Michigan an F for transparency in government.  When it comes to public integrity, Lisa Posthumus Lyons is at the bottom of a failing class.  That is why Lisa Pothumus Lyons is Michigan Populist’s least ethical legislator.

Note: Meet Michigan’s most out of touch legislator: Darwin Booher

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Company that Shunned Michigan for Florida’s Tax Giveaways Now Being Sued By Florida County

bluewhereIn May of 2012, a company called BlueWare, or anyone of a number of ”affiliate” names, announced it was relocating its company from Cadillac to Melbourne, Florida.  Melbourne, located in Brevard County, is in an area of Florida known as the ”space coast” because it is home to the Kennedy Space Center.  The space coast has been hit hard by the cut backs at NASA, and even some highly skilled workers have found themselves on the unemployment rolls for more than a year.  According to an article in Crain’s Detroit Business, BlueWare’s CEO Rose Harr moved her company, which digitizes records, in part to take advantage of the space coast’s available talent.  She said ”there’s just no more talent” in Northern Michigan.  Workers in Cadillac criticized the statement suggesting that BlueWare’s poor management under Harr was why she was having difficulty recruiting and retaining talent.  Regardless, BlueWare committed itself to hiring 190 high skilled workers, to be paid $69,000 a year, over four years in Florida.

It wasn’t just the available talent that lured Harr to Florida.  It was also because Florida seemed to offer every kind of tax giveaway available.  It is hard to identify all the ways Florida incentivized Harr’s company for relocating because Harr has a “nondisclosure agreement with Florida.”  Reports are that BlueWare received at least 1.31 million dollars, and probably a lot more.  It wasn’t just the biggest deal Harr was after, but also how the money was paid out.  While Michigan was willing to give BlueWare 2-3 million in incentives, Florida was giving incentives and tax credits.  Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder called such credits “ridiculous” because it forces a state to “ buy people . . . so they’ll do business here.”  Buying jobs didn’t seem to bother Florida Governor Rick Scott who helped recruit BlueWare by personally calling Harr.  Harr seemed awfully smitten with Governor Scott calling him ”amazing” in an article by the Cadillac News.

Fast forward a year.  It seems that BlueWare’s first big contract in its new Florida diggs was an 8.6 million dollar deal with the county of Brevard, where BlueWare is now located.  Shortly after BlueWare announced their move, the county all of a sudden had a need for digitization of its records and put out an “invitation to negotiate” for the service.  Another BlueWare affiliate, RoseWare LLC, appears to actually have helped draft the invitation to negotiate.  Despite the obvious conflict of interest, BlueWare “affiliate” BlueGem submitted a bid as did two other companies.  Not surprisingly, BlueGem won the job even though their bid was the highest by a whopping 3 million dollars!

So far BlueGem has received around 5.6 million dollars from the county for the job of digitizing its old records, a job they appear to be very behind on.  The fact that BlueGem received that much money up front is unusual.  In fact, the county actually had to borrow money from Hewlett-Packard Financial Services to make the payment.  The borrowing of money is the basis of a new lawsuit against BlueWare/BlueGem.  Clerk of Court Scott Ellis filed the lawsuit on behalf of Brevard County.  The deal with BlueGem, and the loan, was facilitated under Ellis’ predecessor and political opponent Mitch Needleman.  Oh by the way, Needleman’s former business partner is a manager at BlueWare.  Ellis claims “The entire bidding, selection and negotiation process . . . was fundamentally flawed.”  He called it a “sham bid.”  Additionally, Harr is being sued by BlueWare’s former managing director who claims that he was “improperly terminated” when he threatened to take steps towards reporting Harr for “improper conduct . . . in attempt to procure a business contract/relationship with the county” of Brevard.  The whole thing is such a mess that The Eye on Brevard, a local blog, has dedicated a page to keeping up with the ongoing events and the “cast of characters.”

So one wonders if the choice of Brevard County as Blueware’s new headquarters was also incentivized by a contract from the county to perform a service they had not yet put up for bid, that they didn’t have a pressing need for, and that they certainly couldn’t afford.  No one knows how many people BlueWare has actually hired and retained.  So far, the company has only tapped local training funds to train one employee, though they said they had hired 25 as of last November.  This raises serious questions about the ethicalness and efficacy of the way units of government are incentivizing business to move to their locale.

Despite the apparent mishap in bringing in BlueWare, Florida Governor Rick Scott has continued to use his influence to lure companies to Florida.  He recently sent letters to hundreds of companies in five states that have Democratic Governors inviting them to relocate to Florida.  Scott is getting a bit desperate as he is only creating half of the amount of jobs he promised in his election campaign.

Back in Michigan, we were left feeling slighted that BlueWare wasn’t adding 190 new jobs here.  If BlueWare actually had the workload to offer 190 jobs, the talent could be recruited from one of our many prestigious universities.  However, it doesn’t make sense to incentivize the creation of new jobs if you also have to create the work for those new jobs by spending loads of tax money on non-essential projects.  In this case, Michigan won by losing.  It’s just a matter of time before BlueWare collapses under the weight of its own ineptitude and Florida is only left with some digital records and a lot less cash.

Note: Coverage by the Brevard Times, especially by their conservative columnist Charles Parker, was crucial in research for this blog post.

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House Republicans Move Forward Anti-Teacher Legislation Despite Objections From Almost Every Educational Group in the State

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...The House Education Committee passed a bill today (HB4625) that would institute merit pay for new teachers or for those wanting to opt into the merit pay system.  The bill would become law when the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness, whose members are all appointed by Republicans, put out their final teacher evaluation tool.  That group has been meeting for 18 months and their tool is past due.  The House Education Committee seems fine with using the evaluation tool to determine pay even before it has been finished, let alone tested for validity or reliability.

The bill’s only educational based supporters are the extreme right wing groups Student First (Michelle Rhee’s group) and Great Lakes Education Project (Dick DeVos’ group).  The groups against it include the State Board of Education, the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principal’s Association, the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, the Michigan Association of School Administrators, the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, the Michigan Education Association, and the group Michigan Parents for Schools.  In other words, all the groups who actually work with students oppose it.

Michigan Republicans made it a goal to “support Michigan teachers” this year.  I think  kids would use the term “epic fail” to describe how they are coming on that one.  What they are succeeding in is being the most vain (excessive belief in one’s own abilities)legislative body in Michigan’s history.

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Fixing the Roads: The Issues, the Numbers, and Why Schools are Being Dragged Into the Mess

English: Southfield Michigan, skyline from the...A recent town hall meeting on road funding in Wexford County revealed a lot about the condition of our roads.  It also revealed the most likely scenario for funding ongoing road repairs.

County Road Association of Michigan Deputy Director Ed Noyola set the tone for the meeting by saying “your roads stink.”  Kelly Bartlett from the Department of Transportation (MDOT) later shared a statistic that seemed to contradict Barlett’s statement.  He said 87% of our roads are rated as “good or fair.” This seems to show that our roads are not as bad as advertised, even if they don’t meet the 90% mark the legislature prefers.  The tactic of overselling a problem has worked for Republicans in the past, so they are applying that strategy to this problem as well.

Certainly, we need more road funding.  It is true that taking care of a problem early helps stave off a bigger problem later.   We see that in education where investing in early childhood programs and public schools can help lower the likelihood that we have to pay for those children to go to prison later in life.

Representative Wayne Schmidt, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, seems to be the legislature’s point man for fixing the roads.  He said there are as many as 13 different proposals out there for funding road repairs and he came to the meeting hoping to get more solutions.  It is pretty clear which proposal is likely to go forward though based on the events from the meeting.  Schmidt said “we’re going to go to a wholesale gas tax.” Then he corrected himself and said “a wholesale gas tax is what we are proposing.”  He wants to implement the wholesale tax for both automobiles and airplanes.

The wholesale gas tax would replace the sales tax.  Currently, about 73% of the taxes on gas go to schools.  According to Schmidt, over $800 million dollars would be lost from the school aid fund if a wholesale tax were used instead.  The plan to replace that money is to add 1 cent to the sales tax, a plan that the voters would be asked to approve.

Representative Schmidt wouldn’t use the word guarantee when asked about the likelihood that schools would not lose money in this plan.  He instead said it his “pledge” that the “schools are kept whole.”  Schmidt was unwilling to define “schools” as K-12 public schools alone.  The exact definition of schools is important because last year Republicans took money out of the K-12 school fund to help pay for colleges.  They did this because proposal A, which changed how schools were funded in 1994, allowed for it though many believe that was never the intent of the law.   Senator Darwin Booher said that Schmidt’s plan would actual increase aid to schools by over 300 million dollars.

Using schools as bait to get more road funding just might work.  People seem pretty fed up about the disinvestment in public schools lead by Republicans who have a stranglehold on all branches of Michigan’s government.  The Republican plan, should it pass, would fix our roads, help our schools, and create jobs (yes the government can create jobs).  It sounds like a win-win right?  Not so fast.  The gas tax and sales taxes are regressive taxes.  The poor and middle class will feel the estimated 8 cents hike at the pump and a 1 cent hike at the cash register more than the wealthy will.  Michigan’s poor and middle class have already been disproportionately harmed by Governor Snyder’s tax policy.

Representative Schmidt was offered a 14th proposal.  I suggested the state institute a graduated state income like most states have.  Then the wealthiest Michiganders, like the Governor himself, would be asked to pay a little bit more.  Representative Schmidt, who is willing to push a bill that would allow the voters to decide on the gas tax, said that the citizens would have to take that issue up themselves.  His response was typical of the current Republican regime.  They want your ideas as long as they are the same as theirs.

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