Republicans could face backlash in 2018 over Michigan’s roads


"So much for running a government like a business. You can keep the $100 your tax cut will give me, if you take responsibility for your conduct and reimburse me what your potholes have cost me."

That's the message Ann Arbor attorney John Minnock had for Gov. Rick Snyder this week, as reported by the Detroit Free Press. He wasn't alone. Plenty of citizens from across the political spectrum told the Freep how fed up they are with Michigan's roads, which have long been terrible after years of neglect. A harsh winter and epic flooding have made some of the state's major thoroughfares look like the lunar landscape. Washtenaw County even closed one of its main roads indefinitely because it's been swallowed up by potholes, which is probably a sign of things to come.

Minnock was also referring to the bill that Snyder recently signed that restored the personal exemption in Michigan, which was wiped out by President Trump's tax plan last year. Republicans lopped on an increase over time so they could sell it as a tax cut in an election year.

But they rejected Democrats' attempt to fix roads with $275 million this year from the state's Rainy Day Fund.

“It’s raining in Michigan — literally, at times, raining concrete,” declared Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing), which is a pretty pithy quote.

Republicans agreed to spend an extra $175 million for emergency road repairs — $100 million less than the Dems' proposal. But let's be honest. That's just a drop in the bucket. And drivers in Michigan know that.

Abdul El-Sayed Said He Expected Mike Duggan's Endorsement for Governor

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Michigan politicos are once again atwitter about Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and other Democrats allegedly trying to recruit an alternative to Gretchen Whitmer for governor. That's from a Bridge story this week following up on a Detroit News column in November. And I wrote a column for Dome Magazine back in October, going through the months-long history of the effort and analyzing what's behind it:

As things currently stand, the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner is former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), who served for more than 14 years in Lansing. Her top competition is Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the former Detroit Health Department head who’s in the Sanders mold and would be the nation’s first Muslim governor. There’s also businessman Shri Thanedar, who immigrated from India, and former executive Bill Cobbs, who’s African-American.

Most Democratic leaders and voters are fine with the field, which, after all, is pretty representative of the party.

But for the forces utterly convinced that a woman, Muslim, immigrant or African-American absolutely cannot win the top job in Michigan next year, the mission is clear: Find the Great White Male Hope.

But i's worth revisiting some history that's been forgotten.

Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Abdul El-Sayed, said during the April 28, 2017 edition of "Off the Record" that he expected to receive Duggan's announcement. That made some sense, as Duggan hired El-Sayed to run Detroit's health department, even though Duggan is the prototype of a moderate Dem and El-Sayed proudly hails from the Bernie Sanders wing. But apparently El-Sayed has been passed over if Duggan is looking to recruit another gubernatorial hopeful.

The exchange starts at 25:58.

The #MeToo Backlash Is in Full Swing

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Hi, ladies*, I'm here to tell you that it's OK to step away from the keyboard for a few days. It's cool not to check Twitter and especially Facebook, where you're supposed to be linked with your actual friends.

Because it is a cesspool right now over the sexual harassment and abuse scandals in Washington, especially with two Democrats (U.S. Rep. John Conyers and especially U.S. Sen. Al Franken) resigning. You don't have to scroll far to find people you like and respect make slut-shaming comments, urge women just to toughen up and argue that keeping Dem votes supersedes the needs of women who were abused.

It's only been a few weeks since the #MeToo movement went viral, and the backlash is already in full swing.

There are some interesting pieces written by excellent writers on the political dynamics of these scandals, including Dahlia Lithwick and Charles Pierce. Everything is political and it's fair to examine the impact of resignations on Democrats, Republicans and the Trump agenda. Have at it. But sooner or later on social media, these debates devolve into sexist vitriol for victims and/or admission that the right of women not be molested just isn't that important ... if the perpetrator is from the same party as you.

I can't believe I have to say this, but sexual harassment and assault aren't just important problems if someone from the other side is doing it. If you were incensed last year when women came forward about Donald Trump grabbing them, but you're skeptical or disbelieving of women who say the same of Franken, you don't care about a serious women's issue. And maybe you should engage in some personal self-reflection about your attitudes about women and your own behavior.

I'm not one to back away from political fights or debates. I believe I'm already on my fifth one today and it's 10 a.m. on a Saturday. Dealing with mansplainers and misogynists is literally part of my job. But it gets tiresome. And when it comes to sexual abuse, something that I believe the majority of women (including me) have experienced (often multiple times), it can be painful.

So if you want to be Diana and rhetorically cut down every sexist argument with your sword, go for it. I respect the hell out of that. But if you want to turn your phone off and enjoy a few days of peace, do it. You have every right.

*This post can, of course, be read and enjoyed/hated by everyone, but I'm going to speak directly to women here, thanks.

With a Key U.P. Victory, 2018 Looks Brighter for Michigan Democrats

If you're looking for a window into 2018 in Michigan, the most important race took place last night in the western Upper Peninsula.

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On first blush, it looks like a pretty routine result in the special election for the 109th state House District: Democrat Sara Cambensy held a seat that's been blue for more than a half-century. The district has a solid 56.9 percent Democratic base, per Inside Michigan Politics, and became vacant after Rep. John Kivela (D-Marquette) tragically killed himself this spring.

But Republicans made a real run at this 109th. Why? They knew that this election was bigger than a single state legislative seat.

Democrats were palpably nervous about the race after Cambensy narrowly won her August primary. Divisions in the party reared their head, as leaders fretted her pro-choice and liberal politics wouldn't play in a district Donald Trump won by 5 points in 2016. Cambensy's history of primarying Kivela last year hadn't been forgotten. And the memory of Trump defying all expectations and winning Michigan in 2016 certainly put a fire under the Dems.

So if Republicans had managed to flip the 109th, I noted that they would have changed the narrative that 2018 would be a good Democratic year in Michigan. Democrats' efforts to take back the House next year (now split 63-47 in the GOP's favor) would have instantly been seen as lost cause and fundraising would have mostly dried up.

The GOP has controlled all three branches of government here since 2010. Trump became the first Republican to win Michigan since 1988. A Republican victory this year in the U.P. — an area that's been shifting conservative since 2010 and went big for Trump in '16 — would have confirmed that Michigan really is an emerging red state. And so even if 2018 continued to look bright for Democrats nationally, we'd have had good reason to believe that Michigan would be immune from the trend.

But those fears were laid to rest, as Cambensy didn't just win. She won in a 14-point rout. Any divisions in the Democratic Party didn't hurt the outcome — just as we saw in the marquee gubernatorial races last night in New Jersey and Virginia.

Republicans really did give this Michigan state House race their all and their nominee, Marquette school board President Rich Rossway, was up on TV. He didn't run a bombastic, base-inspired Trump campaign, either. In fact, he played down his party affiliation (much as Democrats in red areas have done for years) and even walked a picket line, something relatively unheard of for Michigan Republicans since they rammed through Right to Work in 2012.

So now House Democrats are back in the same place they were on Nov. 9, 2016, with two victories Tuesday (the other was the 1st in the Detroit area). Republicans once again have a 63-47 majority, meaning Democrats have to flip nine seats next year to take control.

That's the exact situation the Dems faced in 2016 when they failed to make any net gains. But Democrats' smashing successes in Virginia legislative races last night — a state that, like Michigan, boasts heavily GOP-gerrymandered districts — has definitely made leaders more optimistic. And with clear evidence of an energized base, Democrats are also feeling better about their chances at the top of the ticket with next year's gubernatorial race.

Winning the governor's mansion or the state House in 2018 would give Democrats a seat at the table during Michigan's critical 2021 redistricting — something that hasn't happened for three decades.

And of course, a big Michigan Dem victory would be a stunning reversal for a newly minted Trump state, portending serious problems for the president in 2020.

Betsy DeVos Sure Gets Confused Easily

Remember when U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos scrapped the Obama administration's guidelines on campus sexual assault because they were "confusing"?

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Remember how some Very Serious People, even liberals, praised this as a good-faith effort? (Some folks seem to believe that there's an epidemic of really good guys being falsely accused of rape and this is the worst thing in the world — worse apparently than even being raped). DeVos consulted with Men's Rights Activists on the issue, but she was still strangely given the benefit of the doubt. Here's a little explainer on one of these lovely MRA groups, the National Coalition for Men:

"Chapters have published photos, names, and biographical details of women who have accused men—falsely, the National Coalition for Men insists—of rape. Its members routinely bring lawsuits against women-only networking groups and social events, crying discrimination."

I'm sure women in college feel safer already.

Well, DeVos seems to be confused again — this time over a federal law protecting students with disabilities. This month, the Department of Education rescinded 72 — yes, 72 — guidance documents outlining disabled students' rights.

Why was this necessary? Here's the Washington Post:

"President Trump in February signed an executive order 'to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens,' spurring Education Department officials to begin a top-to-bottom review of its regulations."

I'm sure parents with students in special education programs are deeply relieved to be freed from the yoke of meddlesome regulations protecting their children.

Just like I know parents of LGBT students were thrilled when DeVos shrugged at kids being discriminated against.

I'm just throwing this out there, but perhaps DeVos wasn't being an honest broker in dumping sexual assault regulations. Maybe she's just not into protecting the rights of women, LGBTs, disabled kids and other groups that have faced targeted discrimination.

Just a thought.

Trump Supporters Are the Ones Living in a Bubble in Michigan


After Donald Trump’s surprise victory last year, it became almost gospel with beltway pundits that liberals were living in a bubble. That’s been followed by a never-ending stream of profiles of Trump supporters (aka Real Americans) who — wouldn’t ya know it? — vowed to stick with him no matter what.

Now given the fact that Trump’s win shocked most observers, myself included, it makes sense for analysts to look at what they got wrong and who they ignored. But often times, the course correction is riddled with false or overstated assumptions.

By any standard, Trump’s victory was not a landslide. He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million — which means the majority of the country wasn’t overcome with #MAGA fever. Trump won the Electoral College by flipping three states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — by 80,000 votes, which is roughly the population of Farmington Hills. It’s an impressive strategic win, but a mandate it is not.

For some perspective, consider the fact that Barack Obama’s 2008 win isn’t considered a landslide, even though he won by 7 percentage points, almost 10 million votes and 192 votes in the Electoral College. The Democrats won big majorities in both houses of Congress, achieving a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.

In 2016, Republicans lost seats in both chambers of Congress in 2016. Democrats picked up six seats in the U.S. House and two seats in the U.S. Senate. That wasn’t enough to gain a majority in either house and fell far short of expectations. But it certainly doesn’t indicate a Trumpian wave crashing over the entire country.

Of course, just pointing out basic facts like this nowadays is enough to get some Trump supporters to shout, “Fake news!” Talk about living in a bubble.

They’ll probably want to close their eyes to new polling from NBC/Marist in the three key Trump states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The Michigan poll of 795 votes was conducted Aug. 13 to 17 and had a 3.5 percent margin of error.

Here in the Mitten State, 36 percent of voters approved of the president’s job performance, with just 19 percent strongly approving. Meanwhile, 55 percent disapproved, with 40 percent saying they strongly do.

And 64 percent said that Trump’s conduct embarrassed them. Six in 10 voters said the United States’ role on the world stage has been weakened under Trump.

The best numbers for the president were on the question of whether the U.S. economy has been strengthened by his decisions. Voters by a 42 percent-to-39 percent margin gave him props, within the poll’s margin of error.

The Wisconsin and Pennsylvania numbers are very similar — Trump had a 35/54 job approval in Pennsylvania and was at 34/56 in Wisconsin.

Given the fact that Trump’s numbers are so dismal in the three states that propelled him to victory just nine months ago, it would seem that his vastly outnumbered supporters are the ones living in a bubble. Might be something to mention in any future pseudo-sociological studies of Trump voters.

There's No Way Ruth Johnson Should Turn over Private Voter Information to Trump Commission

Voting is a sacred act and for many people, it remains a private one. That will change under President Trump's Election Integrity Commission.

The commission chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence is charged with investigating voter fraud. The problem is that this is not a widespread problem, no matter what Trump tweets. The Washington Post found four cases in the entire country for 2016. That's out of 135 million ballots cast. And in Michigan, a state audit found no evidence of voter fraud in Detroit.

The commission has been flying under the radar. But this week, the group sent a letter to all 50 secretaries of state.

Everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — should be alarmed by the information this commission is demanding. The Chicago Tribune's headline sums it up well: "Trump's voter fraud commission wants voting history, party ID and address of every voter."

But it gets even worse when you read the fine print:

The chair of Donald Trump's Election Integrity Commission has penned a letter to all 50 states requesting their full voter role data, including the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, last four Social Security number digits and voting history back to 2006 of potentially every voter in the state.

And here's the kicker: Kobach said that "any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public."

So when you went to the polls, did you expect that your name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, voting history and part of your Social Security number would be released for public consumption?

California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut have already rejected the commission's intrusive request.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson should quickly follow suit to protect voters' privacy and not contribute to this waste of taxpayer dollars.

Michigan's SOS races tend to be quiet affairs, especially as nominees are picked at party conventions. But an issue like voter privacy could become explosive in next year's open race.

Why Are the Media Ignoring Stories about the Millions Impacted by Trumpcare?

If you haven’t heard Jordan Acker’s story, it won’t take long.

In just 16 tweets last weekend, the Huntington Woods dad and attorney revealed how a bad drug reaction shut down his liver. Thankfully, he recovered, but it left him a pre-existing condition. And under Trumpcare, he and millions of others with pre-existing conditions will be paying more for health insurance — and many won’t be able to afford it at all.

Here are the first tweets, but read the whole thing:

Acker told me that something amazing happened after he shared his story on Twitter. He heard from roughly 10,000 people, from across the country and across the globe, about their health care issues. Acker thought that was pretty unusual (it is) and tried to see if any media would be interested in the story.

They weren’t.

I can’t tell you why. As a journalist, I know that this is a pretty compelling premise for a human interest story (and it has a social media angle that you can sell to gray-haired management as a way to rope in the hip youngs).

I suppose if I were still a daily journalist covering politics and health care (as I was for many years), I would be a little overwhelmed by all the stories to tell about people impacted by Trumpcare, even right here in Michigan.

There are so many people who will be harmed by Trumpcare that it’s hard to get your head around it. There are the 23 million who will lose insurance under the last version scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (the Senate version is still under review).

But the Senate plan goes even further and decimates Medicaid, which serves 75 million people. It’s not just the expansion under Obamacare, mind you — Trumpcare goes after the program itself. Many people know that slashing Medicaid hurts low-income people. But Medicaid provides a range of services, including those for disabled people and nursing home care for seniors. That’s why you saw people in wheelchairs protesting the bill outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — where they were unceremoniously thrown out.

And there are millions upon millions more who will see their health costs soar — as Trumpcare will raise deductibles, eliminate mandated services (maternity, mental health, substance abuse care, etc.) and put caps on your coverage so insurance companies don’t have to pay anymore if your care costs too much.

If you’re starting to see a pattern that nothing Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail is in there, you are correct. If this is sounding like the bad old days before Obamacare when people went bankrupt for getting cancer, that’s also correct. But on top of that, Republicans want to kill Medicaid, which means that we’re not just going back to 2010. We’re going back to 1965 — only with skyrocketing health care costs to boot.

But to be honest, I’m not seeing a lot of these stories being told. To be sure, some are. Amy Lynn Smith has done a beautiful job chronicling people’s health care stories for years right here. Sarah Kliff has done the same for Vox and Jonathan Cohn has for Huffington Post. But cable news, local TV affiliates and newspapers — which can’t seem to get enough of stories about Trump supporters who still love the president no matter what — are largely ignoring the personal stories of tens of millions of people who will be hurt by Trumpcare.

I expect that this will change if Trumpcare becomes law and more journalists see their grandmothers tossed out of nursing homes, their best friend who can’t get opioid addiction treatment or their newly retired uncle unable to afford insurance.

But that’s no excuse for failing to cover the impact of massive legislation before it’s passed. And when you’re talking about a bill that affects tens of millions of people, I can almost guarantee that your audience would watch, read and react to these stories — which is exactly what outlets should want.

Barb Byrum Talks Michigan Elections and Hacking Concerns

In the midst of the bombardment of news about the U.S. Senate’s secret health care bill, the Michigan Legislature whacking teachers (again) and President Trump lashing out about the FBI’s Russia investigation, it’s easy to overlook some revelations about Russia’s attempt to hack our electoral systems last year.

First, there was the Intercept’s blockbuster story about a top-secret NSA report detailing Russian hacking efforts. Bloomberg News followed up with a report that the hacking attempts were more widespread than previously thought, with 39 states targeted.

Long before these reports, Michigan was a focus of electoral integrity concerns, as our presidential contest was only decided by roughly 10,000 votes. The short-lived presidential recount shed light on problems with the process, especially in Detroit, home to more than 80 broken voting machines. After vote totals in a majority of precincts couldn’t be balanced, the state Bureau of Elections also conducted an audit. Despite stubborn conspiracy theories on the right about rampant voter fraud — which is rather curious, since Trump won the state — the audit found that “an abundance of human errors” by precinct workers was primarily to blame.

This month, the Washington Post had two experts run the numbers and assured us that the vote counts in Michigan and Wisconsin (another key state Trump won) weren’t hacked.

But there are still myriad concerns about possible breaches to voting systems going forward. Is Michigan prepared? I talked to someone with plenty of experience running elections here, two-term Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who was also a former state representative from 2007 to 2012 and the ranking Democrat on the House Redistricting and Elections Committee. She has been awarded the national title of Certified Elections/Registration Administrator (CERA) serves on the Security Task Force with other national members for Election Center.

Byrum says she believes Michigan elections are “safe and secure as a result of the many safeguards that municipal and county clerks utilize, including the isolation of election networks, the paper ballot trail, and the ability to conduct post-election audits and recounts.” She stressed that the audits are vital.

The clerk also shared her experience in the 2016 general election. She said the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office prompted radio-to-radio communication, implemented through the Michigan State Police, the week before the election.

“I worked closely with the Bureau of Elections and Ingham County’s emergency manager to take all necessary precautions to be able to communicate in case there was any interruption in communication,” Byrum said. “Thankfully, internet and phone services remained intact during the process of the election.”

Byrum noted one change going forward. She said the Secretary of State’s office plans to facilitate the forwarding of emails from voters based outside of the United States to county and municipal clerks through a free email service. She said she has concerns and is raising them with the Bureau of Elections.

“Given the nature of recent hacking attempts, both successful and not, I am alarmed by the recent announcement from the Bureau of Elections. … I worry that encryption will not be sufficient,” Byrum said.

Republicans Launch the ‘Fredo Defense’ of Trump

"The president’s new at this. He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.” — U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (D-Wisc.), at a Thursday press conference held during former FBI Director James Comey's Capitol Hill testimony

For years, we've been accustomed to Republicans chest-beating about their strength. The perception of this has been one of the party's greatest assets, as many of their policy proposals, like cutting taxes for the rich and ripping health care away from 23 million Americans, poll terribly.

There was Ronald Reagan telling Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down that wall" and end communism in the late 1980s. There was George W. Bush strutting across an aircraft carrier to (prematurely) celebrate victory in the Iraq war in 2003. There was John McCain declaring he'd put the "Country First" during the '08 election, which everyone believed because he'd survived the Hanoi Hilton.

In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned as the ultimate alpha male. "I alone can fix it," he promised with his trademark braggadocio, while disparaging his rivals for failing to compete with his virility (remember his digs at "Little Marco" Rubio and calling Jeb Bush "low energy"?) During a March 2016 campaign rally, Trump made a big point of stressing he was 6'3'', not 6'2." And at the GOP debate in Detroit, Trump bragged about the size of his hands in such an awkward soliloquy that CNN cast subtlety aside and ran this headline: "Donald Trump defends size of his penis."

Now the president finds himself engulfed in a growing scandal over his campaign's ties to Russia, which is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, and a possible coverup. He admitted in a TV interview that the "Russia thing" was on his mind as he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey.

Comey was on Capitol Hill Thursday to testify and it was riveting. The former director said that Trump told “lies, plain and simple,” about he and the FBI as part of a coverup for his firing. He revealed the president had said he "hoped" he would drop his investigation, which Comey "took as direction." Comey also said there was "no doubt" that the Russians were behind the Democratic National Committee hacking last year, which sowed party divisions between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters that Republicans exploited.

So it's somewhat breathtaking that as the walls close in on Trump and his allies, Republicans are launching a "Fredo defense." Like the slow brother in "The Godfather," the president just doesn't really know what he's doing (although, fittingly, Fredo insisted until the day he was whacked that he was really the smart one).

This is not an exaggeration, as you can see by the quote from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) above. He's really arguing that Trump is "new at this" and therefore what he did was OK. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former proud Never Trumper, tried out a version of the Fredo defense before the hearing: “I don't think [Trump] colluded with the Russians because he doesn't collude with his own staff." Look for this to become a popular talking point from the same folks that excoriated former President Barack Obama as "Obambi."

In case you're looking for a laugh through your tears, Democratic activist Kaivan Shroff sums the whole thing up nicely.