Susan J. Demas: Republicans Win Rumbles in Michigan, but Stumble in D.C.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

With the Hindenburg-like implosion of the GOP health care legislation this week, it’s become fashionable in Washington to say that Republicans just don’t know how to govern anymore.

While President Obama was in office, Republicans proved to be a ruthlessly capable opposition party, holding hostage the once-routine debt ceiling negotiations, forcing a partial government shutdown in 2013, and undermining Obamacare, even though repeal was impossible. That was largely due to the dogged determination of then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Now the GOP now holds the White House, as well as majorities in Congress and even on the U.S. Supreme Court. And yet the party has been fecklessly unable to win its longstanding agenda, including killing Obamacare, enacting sweeping tax cuts for the rich, and chopping entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid. President Trump’s dark populist priorities of a “big, beautiful” wall with Mexico and a border tax are also rotting on the vine.

The lore of McConnell being the “dark lord” of the Senate has definitely taken a hit. So has Trump’s reputation as the consummate dealmaker, as his business experience hasn’t translated at all to the world of D.C. By all accounts, the president has been supremely bored by the health care process and left negotiations up to congressional leaders, with his only goal to sign something — anything — so as to declare victory and stick it to Obama.

Most conservative triumphs this year have come in the form of Trump’s executive orders rolling back environmental protections and fiscal regulations (i.e. the sort of imperial presidency actions for which Republicans eviscerated Obama).

We’re only six months into Trump’s term, so there’s still time to rack up wins. But we’re also less than six months away from 2018, and congressional leaders are typically loath to ram unpopular bills through during election years when voters pay more attention.

And there’s another bright red roadblock. The ever-widening Russia scandal that’s engulfing Trump, his family and top campaign aides is threatening to derail what conservatives believed was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shrink the size and scope of government and rewrite the tax code.

While Republican voters may be incensed by FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and insist it’s a “nothingburger,” smarter politicians and strategists are dissolving into night terrors with each new revelation.

This is all “very bad” and “Sad!” as our president might tweet. But I’m not sure that the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party only excels as an obstructionist force is correct.

It’s easy to imagine a more competent and less tainted GOP president — say, Marco Rubio, John Kasich or even prickly Ted Cruz — cajoling members of Congress with far more success. It would still be difficult to pass a complete repeal of Obamacare, but a less ambitious conservative health bill — marshalled by a Republican president not subject to social media war whims or Vladimir Putin’s charms — likely could glide through Capitol Hill.

While this is a hypothetical scenario, we do have some real-world examples of Republican success at the state level. Many states have enjoyed complete GOP control this decade, including Wisconsin, Ohio and, of course, Michigan. And Republicans have been able to achieve some stunning conservative victories.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was no true-blue conservative’s first choice. He’s occasionally bucked his party on major issues, like championing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and several minor ones, like vetoing the Right to Life license plate (which the savvy lobbying group will just turn into a fundraising opportunity and an ‘18 candidate litmus test).

But Snyder has presided over a right-wing agenda that probably makes former Gov. John Engler pickle with envy. From Right to Work to huge business tax cuts to cuts to welfare and teacher pensions, Michigan has taken a hard right-hand turn — which won’t be undone, even if Democrats recapture the governor’s mansion next year.

That’s not to say that Snyder and more conservative legislative leaders have always had the same priorities or styles. The governor has privately and publicly chafed with many of them.

One of the primary issues is that Snyder, a former CEO, would like legislators to function more as his employees than a co-equal branch of government. But in the era of term limit-fueled inexperience and hyperpartisanship, there have been few big flare-ups.

You would expect this dynamic with Trump and Congress, but the president has curiously ceded most of his agenda to McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

So far, however, there’s one clear parallel between Michigan and Washington. Each legislative branch has been willing to give the executive branch a pass — and even play interference — during a major scandal.

Snyder and his team escaped long, ruinous legislative hearings over the Flint water crisis, as Republicans had no appetite for flagellating one of their own. And thus far, Trump has benefited from lax congressional oversight of his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia, and Ryan and McConnell have refused to engage much with the media on the firestorm.

For now, Republicans at both the state and national level seem resigned to the fact that they’re all playing on the same team, whether they like it or not. Hope for enacting their right-wing agenda springs eternal.

We’ll see if it lasts.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.


Susan J. Demas: The Quiet Rise of Pro-Trump Media

President Trump is back to tweeting incendiary attacks on the media, from accusing MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski of “bleeding badly from a face-lift” to posting a fake video of him giving CNN a wrestling beatdown.

Savaging the media is a surefire way to rile up the Republican base. But in reality, they’re the ones who are out of touch, as 50 percent of Americans trust CNN more than Trump, with only 43 percent in his corner. And independents decisively split 55-40 percent in favor of CNN.

Of course, the convenient way to dismiss facts you don’t like nowadays is to scream out “#Fake News!” at the top of your lungs like a toddler. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Critical thinking is, indeed, a burden.

But this debate is actually far less interesting than new developments in the media marketplace that haven’t garnered much attention. And this is all taking place as Trump enjoys what Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan calls “state media” level coverage from Fox News. The echo chamber extends to other right-wing outlets like Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh and Newsmax (now on the DirectTV lineup), not to mention conspiracy theory wonderland Infowars, which is run by Trump confidante Alex Jones.

Partisan media is nothing new in America — just ask the Founding Fathers. There’s no shortage of liberal and conservative outlets. But now we’re seeing the emergence of media that explicitly are cheerleading a single politician, not an ideology or political party. This is a new weapon at President Trump’s disposal and it’s startling how few people seem aware of it.

Let’s start with local media. Sinclair Broadcast Group has bought the Tribune Media Co. for $3.7 billion, creating a “TV goliath,” per Bloomberg. (This was made possible by more lax Federal Communication Commission rules under a new GOP majority).

Sinclair already owns 173 stations in 81 markets — local NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates — which reaches 24 percent of U.S. TV homes, Bloomberg reports. Tribune Co. owns 42 stations, reaching 26 percent of homes.

In Michigan, Sinclair owns eight stations in the greater Kalamazoo, Flint and Traverse City areas. It would acquire another Kalamazoo-area station with the Tribune merger.

This isn’t just a typical media conglomeration story, however. The (not-so) surprise twist is that Sinclair now has “must-run” editorials by Boris Epshteyn, which often come off as North Korea-style “Dear Leader” paeans to Trump.

If the name sounds familiar, it should. Epshteyn is a former Trump campaign aide who briefly served in the White House press office. Now he’s being questioned as part of the congressional Russia probe, which is always a good sign.

And yet the conservative crowd that shrieks about “biased” media at every turn seems remarkably unfazed about Sinclair’s blatant bias, since it’s the correct kind.

It’s true that a lot of people don’t pay attention to local news. Many don’t particularly follow politics. That’s why it’s significant to watch what’s happening to entertainment news and tabloids.

You don’t think of TMZ when you think politics. It’s the guilty pleasure you tune into to discover who had a nip slip or who Kylie Jenner is dating now. But the celeb gossip site and TV show slips in some aggressively pro-Trump propaganda, thanks to creator Harvey Levin, a pal of the president who’s been entertained in the Oval Office.

TMZ, which boasts a much younger and more diverse audience than Fox News, routinely airs puff pieces on all the Trumps and White House staff like Kellyanne Conway. And TMZ also blasts Trump’s foes, like women who accused him of sexual harassment, and creates new ones, like a Jetblue passenger who was allegedly rude to Ivanka Trump.

Meanwhile, the grandaddy of all tabloids, the National Enquirer, is basically a Trump house organ (“Exclusive Report! President Trump: His Secret Plan for World Peace” is a recent fave headline). In his feud with Brzezinski, the president bragged that he had the power to get stories killed at the supermarket tabloid.

Another longtime Trump buddy, David Pecker, just happens to own the Enquirer and he has a brutal assessment of his audience: “These are people that live their life failing, so they want to read negative things about people who have gone up and then come down.”

Other Enquirer publications include OK, The Globe, Star, Radar Online and Us Weekly (which abruptly stopped running critical Trump stories). Pecker is also interested in buying Time Magazine, which has been an odd obsession of Trump, who was just caught hanging fake Time covers of himself at various properties. The Mercers, the hedge-fund billionaires who dumped millions into Trump’s campaign, are also interested in acquiring Time.

It would certainly be jarring for one of America’s most venerable news magazines — a symbol of the sometimes stodgy conventional wisdom journalism of old — to metamorphose into a loud, pro-Trump mouthpiece.

What the president and his right-wing allies are counting on is that you aren’t paying attention to stories about the burgeoning pro-Trump media industry (or that you’ve bought into the outrage over the “librul media” so you don’t care).

But when enough media are weaponized in the service of a single politician, that can create hazards for anyone who crosses him — and not just liberals. Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will find themselves on the receiving end of more Brzezinski-style attacks. Eventually, those who don’t agree with Trump on everything (even when he inexplicably changes his positions) will be excoriated for not being true patriots.

That’s how cults of personality work. Any conservative who believes this fight is about ideas, not ego, is about to get a rude awakening.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Snyder Doesn’t Really Seem Like the Most ‘Pro-Immigration’ Governor Anymore

In 2011, Rick Snyder proudly declared that he was “probably the most aggressive, pro-immigration governor in the country.” His main argument was that it can create jobs, pointing to immigrant-founded companies like Dow and Meijer that built Michigan.

Championing immigration was a position that put Snyder at odds with his own Republican Party, even back then, as it was a hot-button issue in the 2012 presidential primary. It seems almost quaint now, but eventual nominee Mitt Romney ran to the right, calling for “self-deportation.”

It’s a whole new ballgame now under President Donald Trump, who ran on an explicitly anti-immigrant platform and called Mexicans “rapists” on the campaign trail. There’s always been speculation that that’s one reason why Snyder never endorsed him, unlike most Republicans.

As president, Trump has repeatedly fired off incendiary texts about terrorist attacks well before all the facts are in. He tried and failed repeatedly to defend his Muslim ban in court.

So did Snyder stand up against it? Not really. He already called for a “pause” on Syrian refugees in 2015. In a mushy statement that first extolled Michigan’s tradition of immigrant entrepreneurship, the governor then said: “The President’s 120-day reassessment period is leading to a much-needed national dialogue on immigration policy, and I plan to be part of that discussion.”

That was strike one. Strike two came last month when ICE agents enjoyed a lovely breakfast at a restaurant in Snyder’s home town of Ann Arbor and then proceeded to detain three workers there. The brazenness of ICE agents — who have been stepping up raids since Trump was sworn in — made national news. But Snyder, who recently bought a $2 million loft downtown (the pics are gorg, as the Kardashians say), once again stayed silent.

Then this month, ICE arrested dozens of Iraqi Christian immigrants in metro Detroit. They risked everything to flee persecution. Now they face a “death sentence” if they’re sent back to Iraq. And still, Snyder hasn’t lifted a finger.

This is all disturbing from a moral standpoint. What is it that Rick Snyder really stands for if “the most pro-immigration governor in the nation” can’t weigh in on unjust acts against immigrants?

It seems that, once again, the governor is being cowed by the far-right of his party, like when he demonstrated no discernible backbone on LGBT rights or Right to Work.

But Snyder’s fumble on the safety of Iraqi Christians is particularly curious from a political standpoint.

The Chaldean community is a vibrant, entrepreneurial and generally conservative one in southeast Michigan. They’re very politically active, from generous political donations to filing suit against a new mosque in Sterling Heights. Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Twp.), who’s Chaldean, is mulling a 2018 bid for attorney general.

So you’d think that Snyder would condemn the attack on Iraqi Christians just because it’s politically savvy to do so in Michigan, even if he’s not overly concerned that it’s the right thing to do.

If Chaldeans continue to feel abandoned by Republicans, that could have an impact on 2018, especially in some key metro Detroit state House districts.

Perhaps the governor will reverse course and reassert his “pro-immigration” stance. But for now, his silence is deafening.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Congressional Shooting Shows Why Domestic Abusers Don’t Deserve Guns

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

The horrific shooting at a Republican congressional softball practice outside Washington, D.C., hit especially close to home in Michigan.

Three members of Congress were present and thankfully unhurt — U.S. Reps. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), John Moolenaar (R-Midland) and Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet). But one of the five people shot was Michigan native Matt Mika, a former state and congressional legislative staffer.

The tragedy has inspired rare bipartisan unity, with touching speeches from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif).

In the days and weeks that follow, the shooting will inevitably spark debates on heated partisan rhetoric, security for politicians and guns. (Indeed, they’re all in full swing on social media, but hopefully the national dialogue will improve from all-caps rants from randos with anime avatars on Twitter).

At this point, few people believe we’ll ever see any common ground on gun rights in this country. If the brutal 2012 murders of angelic first-graders in Newtown, Conn., didn’t move the needle with gun rights advocates in Congress, it’s not clear what will.

But there is something about this week’s shooting that is all too familiar. The alleged gunman, James Hodgkinson, had a history of beating his daughter and other young women. Researchers note that a history of domestic violence is a key predictor of violent recidivism.

Hodgkinson was no stranger to the justice system. But the Daily Beast reports that his history “did not rise to the level to prohibit him from legally owning a firearm.”

I am not sure who on God’s green earth can argue without vomiting that someone who beats their spouse or kids should have the inalienable right to carry a firearm.

But don’t take my word for it. Talk to another Michigan member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn). She’s not anti-Second Amendment; her husband, former Dean of the House John Dingell, is an avid hunter. But Congresswoman Dingell knows firsthand what it’s like to live with a violent gun owner.

In a 2012 op-ed for the Washington Post, she somberly detailed the night that her father almost shot her mother while she tried to wrest the gun away, while noting it wasn’t an isolated incident:

“I will not forget the nights of shouting. The fear. The dread that my brother, my sisters and my parents would die. I will not forget locking ourselves in closets or hiding places hoping we wouldn't be found. Calling for help, but finding no one willing to help, to acknowledge the problem, or intervene. We survived that occasion, physically. Emotionally, I am not so sure.”

Just as Dingell was preparing to be sworn into her first term in Congress in 2015, she shared her experience again with Gov. Rick Snyder. The Legislature had sent him a bill that would have allowed domestic abusers to obtain a concealed pistol license. She urged the governor to veto it and he did.

Now the state House has, once again, passed a string of legislation liberalizing gun laws, and the stage could be set for another showdown between Snyder and GOP lawmakers.

Sadly, there’s been scant interest in efforts barring domestic abusers from owning firearms. No one should bet their inheritance on the congressional softball shooting changing the debate in Washington or Lansing.

But it’s rather unbelievable that many politicians are willing to go to such lengths to protect the rights of those who bloody those dearest to them, which is often a prelude to their crimes against others. It might be worth thinking about why that’s a price they’re willing to have us all pay.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Yes, Snyder Will Cave and Kill Teacher Pensions

Let me help you skip to the end of this story. Yes, of course, Michigan will kill pensions for teachers.

And I’ll tell you why. Gov. Rick Snyder wants the state budget done. And when push comes to shove, he rarely fights for the right thing. All you have to do is remember how he’s folded on Right to Work, unnecessary abortion restrictions and the anti-LGBT adoption law. And for good measure, consider how much Snyder has tried to ingratiate himself to President Donald Trump, who’s only delighted in humiliating the guv because he made a big show of being too principled to endorse him.

Then there’s the budget. The first thing you have to know is that ending the pension system is not critical to passing next year’s budget. It’s not going to save us money. To the contrary, the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency says it could cost us $46.2 billion (billion with a “B”) over 40 years to shutter the system.

So using the budget as cover is just about legislative leaders exercising leverage. They considered springing the pension issue during the lame duck session last December, when Republicans were totally pumped up after their big electoral win.

But you’ve got to hand it to Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) and company. Holding the budget hostage over this issue that so delights their donors is a great idea from a purely political standpoint.

Our CPA governor can’t stand that. You see, Snyder is a businessman. He is a strong fiscal steward, unlike that liberal woman he preceded (Jennifer Granholm, in case you’re interested), and the budget has always been done by early June because of the great Michigan Comeback (and the fact that we no longer have divided government, so Republicans can basically do whatever they want).

Now Snyder is having a sad because it is already almost mid-June and the budget is still not on his desk. Republican legislators usually like playing ball on this because it’s summer and who wants to work during the few months when Michigan weather is actually tolerable?

But Snyder is a lame duck governor and a very unpopular one at that. So this is an excellent time for conservative Republicans to push him on an issue that is not, we should stress, critical to the budget’s passage. But it’s on the wish list of right-wing groups like Americans for Prosperity-Michigan and part of the education reform lobby’s all-out assault on teachers and public education.

So everyone’s a winner. I mean, except Michigan teachers, whose salaries are stagnating. And enrollment in teacher prep programs has dropped precipitously, a trend that’s only likely to accelerate.

Why? Since Snyder has took office, he’s made it a fairly miserable experience to be a teacher. Budget cuts, charter school expansion and attacks on teacher tenure make conservative interest groups happy. But talk to some parents. You’d be hard-pressed to find many who think their students are blossoming in these conditions, even in excellent public school districts like Okemos, where I reside.

And believe it or not, most teachers care deeply about their students. That’s the reason why they buy school supplies with their own money and stay up late grading papers. They deserve pay and benefits commensurate with their status as educated professionals. If I had my way, teachers would make at least what the average lobbyist in Lansing does.

But let’s get real. Anti-intellectualism is all the rage in a Republican Party led by Trump. His education secretary, big GOP donor Betsy DeVos, is moving heaven and earth to privatize more of our educational system. And teachers’ unions are a big bulwark for Democrats.

So teachers will probably lose this fight in Michigan and many others on a national scale.

If you read history, societies that don’t value education and vilify intellectuals tend to be subjected to some pretty terrible things. Luckily for us, school history requirements will probably soon be replaced by watching reruns of “The Apprentice,” so everything will turn out swell.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: A ‘19 Winter’s Tale: Gov. Whitmer and the Part-Time Legislature

Michigan had already been pummeled by four big snowstorms since Thanksgiving, and four more inches had fallen in Lansing overnight. It wasn’t exactly the most auspicious start to 2019.

But the state’s 49th governor seemed unfazed on inauguration day. It had been an unexpectedly bruising primary, but she had prevailed. And even after being badly outspent in the general (the last-minute Republican Governors Association hit comparing her to Queen Cersei was a nice touch), she had still posted a respectable five-point win.

As Gretchen Whitmer gazed out into the winter wonderland from the Capitol steps, she knew her term would be challenging. There was the ongoing crisis in Flint (the Trump administration’s EPA cuts had been devastating) and the huge hole in the state budget thanks to Trump’s Medicaid cuts and the state losing a string of lawsuits regarding Flint and the Unemployment Insurance Agency.

But then her eyes fell on the man who had inadvertently made her job a little easier: Brian Calley.

The youngest lieutenant governor in the nation had long dreamed of being up on that dais himself. Soon-to-be former Gov. Rick Snyder had tasked him with a number of big projects, from slashing business taxes to the new bridge to Canada to cleaning up the mess the administration had made in Flint.

Like most LGs, however, Calley was essentially unknown outside the six-square blocks surrounding the Capitol. He knew he would have to face the smoothest of rivals in the GOP primary, Attorney General Bill Schuette, who seemed to have started plotting his gubernatorial run during his exit from his mother’s womb.

To make matters worse, Calley’s boss was one of the most unpopular governors in the country. And Democrats were fired up after Trump’s election, just as Republicans were during the 2010 backlash to Barack Obama’s historic win.

Calley knew he’d have to do something big. So he turned to the wise counsel of his long-time consultant John Yob, back from his self-imposed exile in the Virgin Islands after surviving the world’s most comical slapfight with another GOP consultant at a ‘15 Mackinac conference.

And so it was decided. The LG would head up a renewed effort for the lost cause of the conservative anti-establishment crowd, a part-time legislature.

There was only one way to tease the announcement, with a gritty 30-second spot featuring Calley on a rowing machine, grunting about “Frank Underwolf” in a botched “House of Cards” reference.

It was as bad as the policy itself. Thanks to having one of the most restrictive term-limits laws in the nation, Michigan had languished for decades with inexperienced lawmakers who routinely outsourced legislating to lobbyists. This new constitutional amendment would cede a great deal of the Legislature’s power to the executive branch.

Calley suggested businesses would line up to grant their employees a leave of absence to serve in the Legislature, which could only meet a maximum of 90 days annually. That prompted GOP former Rep. Mark Ouimet to laud the proposal for giving businesses “inroads into government that they can’t get now,” which a cynic might interpret as an endorsement of lawmakers representing the interests of their employers over those of their constituents.

The part-time legislature proposal also slashed legislative salaries to roughly $30,000 a year, virtually guaranteeing that the best and the brightest would take a hard pass on running.

Naturally, it passed by a landslide in 2018. But Calley didn’t fare quite as well.

So as Whitmer contemplated the next four (or with any luck, eight) years, she knew she would have to contend with a Republican-controlled Legislature. They were going to despise her business tax hike (“It’s time for everyone to pay their fair share!”) or her budget calling for a 10-percent across-the-board increase to education (pre-K to post-grad).

But Republicans only had 90 days this year to fight her about it. And if they went into extra innings, lawmakers would have to work for free (and hope their super-altruistic employers granted them even more time off).

Talk about leverage.

As a lawyer, Whitmer had already delved into the question of how much the executive branch could do when the Legislature wasn’t in session and how far she could push her de facto powers (her team concluded she had a wide berth, even with a Republican-majority state Supreme Court, which would be hesitant to hamstring a future GOP governor).

And she was really looking forward to the 2021 redistricting battle royale during an abbreviated session, even if Republicans maintained a vice grip on the Legislature in the ‘20 election. Her longtime friend, former Michigan Democratic Party Chair and Stanford-trained attorney Mark Brewer, already had maps drafted carving out a bevy of new blue seats in Kent and Oakland counties that were going to make Republicans retch.

As Calley made his way up to congratulate her, Whitmer graciously thanked him — for everything. But as he turned to leave, she couldn’t help herself and whispered three more words: “Winter is coming.”

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here. 

Susan J. Demas: Why Are Business Lobbyists Fighting Local Control for Schools?

When you get just about everything you want in life, you tend to focus on the little things.

You could argue that’s what business groups are doing right now in their full-court press against efforts to change Michigan’s decade-old law mandating that K-12 schools start after Labor Day.

Business groups have had a boffo run since Republicans swept into power in 2010. Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP Legislature have worked their way down lobbyists’ wish lists, starting with the $2 billion corporate tax cut (mostly paid for by a $1.4 billion tax hike on individual ratepayers like you and me).

The most well-known victory came in 2012 when Republicans launched a lame-duck blitz to make Michigan — home of the UAW — a Right to Work state.

But it didn’t end there. They’ve won reforms (i.e. cuts) to myriad business regulations, the Personal Property Tax, unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation. And they beat back efforts to beef up roads and infrastructure spending by taxing businesses. Once again, the tax and fee hikes fell to individuals.

Don’t get me wrong. As an entrepreneur, I like efforts to improve the state’s business climate. But small business owners like me with LLCs haven’t benefited much from tax changes. And the state wiping away tax credits for my kids and charitable donations has definitely stung.

Anyway, it’s truly impressive how many victories business groups have scored in Michigan in such a short time. No doubt it will serve as a blueprint for what lobbyists across the country can achieve.

In fact, the only big-ticket business agenda item left is scrapping the state’s one-of-a-kind no-fault insurance system, which has been political poison for years. Doctors and car crash victims are tough opponents, so reform efforts have still repeatedly stalled.

So now it’s on to smaller fights like a rather innocuous legislation introduced by Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) giving school districts flexibility to decide when their school year begins.

The bill is all about the conservative principle of local control. Why should the state mandate something like this with no compelling educational reason? It’s micromanaging at its finest.

On the other hand, there’s solid evidence that this bill represents good educational policy. Knollenberg argues that his bill would put Michigan on track with the rest of the country.

Back in 2011, the nonprofit Center for Michigan released an impressive report showing how hundreds of school districts fell below the typical 180-day school calendar other states have. We’re also getting lapped by other countries — whose students have higher test scores. The report noted that Korean students are in school an average of 225 days a year, while Japanese students spend 220 days in the classroom.

That, no doubt, helped prompt the Legislature to reinstate the 180-day standard for this school year.

But it’s a challenge for school districts to meet that requirement while starting after Labor Day. They currently have to apply for waiver to start in August. This legislation would eliminate red tape, which is also something conservatives usually support.

So what’s the problem? Why have business groups, led by the powerful Michigan Chamber of Commerce, poured $1.4 million into opposing this effort over the last five years, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network?

It comes down to a lot of hyperventilating that this will kill tourism in Michigan.

Now former Rep. Ed Gaffney (R-Grosse Pointe Farms), who sponsored the 2005 post-Labor Day start date law, said tourism wasn’t a factor for him. He just wanted “kids to be kids” and enjoy a longer break. But he acknowledges the bill only took off after business groups glommed onto it, claiming it would be a boon to tourism.

So let’s get real. If kids going back to school a few days early is enough to singlehandedly destroy the tourism industry, it’s probably pretty fragile to begin with. And last time I checked, economic conservatives believed that if industries can’t sustain themselves in the free market without a boost from the government, they don’t deserve to survive.

Coincidentally, the quasi-governmental Michigan Economic Development Corp. has dumped $261 million into the gauzy “Pure Michigan” tourism advertising campaign over the last decade. The free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy has pointed out the wastefulness and ineffectiveness of this program for years, but folks from both sides of the aisle seem enamored by the feel-good spots with soothing Tim Allen voiceovers. So nobody ever takes on this sacred cow, even though it’s a perfect example of government inefficiency and meddling.

Now my love of traveling is well-established; I write about my adventures frequently. But I love my kids getting a better education more.

So will Knollenberg’s bill single-handedly turn around Michigan’s educational system? No, and no one is claiming it will. But it’s a common-sense step in the right direction.

And it’s a real shame that supposedly conservative business groups are going after him for championing what’s a truly conservative piece of legislation.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: How Trump Is Slaying Political Apathy

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If you’d like to see what the heart of the anti-Donald Trump “Resistance” looks like, wandering around the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial here is a good place to start.

I happened to be visiting on April 4, the day that James Earl Ray put a bullet in the civil rights hero’s head outside his Memphis hotel room. The memorial, which opened just five years ago, was easily the busiest site in the city that week.

The 30-foot granite likeness of King seems to watch over the Tidal Basin, which was still abloom with a few cherry blossoms. But perhaps the most impressive part of the monument is the quotes, some of which sadly don’t seem to have aged at all:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Normally when I’m traveling, even in our nation’s capitol, I have to prod people to talk about politics. But not this time; conversations about President Trump, Syria, Russia and racism buzzed around me. What struck me was that there was some anger at Trump’s policies, but there was an awful lot of hope for the future.

And it wasn’t just in the belly of the beast. From highway rest stops in Ohio to trails in the blue mountains of Shenandoah, no one could keep their traps shut about the news of the day. It was like staggering around one of my fever dreams close to an election.

I started writing my column exactly a decade ago. This was after fighting for years with an endless stream of editors who told me that no one cares about politics anymore — and certainly no one cared what a twentysomething woman thought about things. Eventually, I think I just wore one of my bosses down.

I had been one of those annoying kids who was always interested in politics. It wasn’t that I was obsessed with the pageantry or the process — I didn’t beg my parents to stay up late to watch political conventions or election results. But I was deeply interested in what was happening in the world and who was being left behind. It was one of the many, many reasons why I was never popular.

So I tried to write my column for people who generally hated politics, those who I imagined had just stumbled upon my work on their merry way to the sports section. I would break down the state budget, give colorful character sketches of politicians and try to make people laugh with at least one good line.

But as newspapers continue to hemorrhage money, fewer and fewer of them are willing to invest in paying journalists, especially columnists. So in recent years, I’ve found myself writing more and more for publications that cater to political junkies.

The disgust with politics seemed to reach a fever pitch in 2016, as the old chestnut resurfaced (particularly popular with younger people) that there’s really no difference between the parties. Why even vote? Trump or Hillary Clinton — it was all the same. Both were corporate tools and Clinton might actually be worse, as Green Party nominee Jill Stein oh-so-helpfully crowed.

Apathy is a killer. So is cynicism. The worst actors in politics bank on both. But when I’ve tried to make this case to my politically inactive friends, their eyes tend to glaze over.

Trump’s first 100 days have been a rude awakening for many, from his Muslim ban to rollbacks on LGBT rights. There have been marches all across the country — not just during his pitifully attended inauguration. Republicans keep facing raucous town halls. And the GOP came dangerously close this week to losing a congressional seat in blood-red Kansas after Trump won there by 27 points.

Readers and old classmates are coming out of the woodwork, suddenly keyed up about what essential benefits will be covered in the GOP health plan and which Trump advisers covertly met with the Russians.

I think a lot of people are coming to grips with the price of trying to be above it all or not caring. You don’t have to care about politics, but it’s all around you.

It’s a little odd to now find that politics is suddenly cool. But it’s something I’ve been waiting for my entire life. And it’s exactly the jolt our democracy needs.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Run, Dr. Mona, Run

Why We Need People Like the Flint Whistleblower To Get Political

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a bona fide hero.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without her unflagging advocacy for her patients and the people of Flint, we could still be in the throes of deadly denial about the water crisis.

Many others sounded the alarm, from residents to pastors to politicians like U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), a likely 2018 candidate for governor.

But elected officials’ motives are always viewed with suspicion by the media and public. The default assumption nowadays is that politicians are always looking out for their career first and the people they serve second. Quite a few self-serving politicians — say, a president who can draw money from his myriad businesses at any point without disclosing it to the public — have certainly fed this stereotype.

So it’s not really a surprise that we’re much more comfortable with non-political figures, particularly Hanna-Attisha and Virginia Tech Professor Mark Edwards, serving as the proverbial “white hats” in this wretched story.

But when you have a public health crisis of this magnitude, you can’t avoid politics for long. After all, the state, and to a lesser degree, the federal governments are the reason why people were poisoned, according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s own task force. And the government ultimately has the responsibility to help those harmed and make damned sure this never happens again.

Last year, both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, spent a lot of time in Flint before Michigan’s March primary. They even agreed to a last-minute presidential debate in the city.

None of the GOP hopefuls bothered to stop by and Donald Trump only visited the non-operational water plant there long after he secured the nomination. But that didn’t stop Republicans like Snyder and now-Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel from sniffing that Democrats were politicizing the tragedy.

I’m on record noting that everyone politicized the crisis and no one should care. At least it brought some much-needed attention and aid to the long-suffering city.

Hanna-Attisha first dipped her toe in political controversy when she couldn’t stop shaking her head “no” at a Snyder administration’s January 2016 press conference. The physician took issue with how then-Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyons minimized the damage caused by lead poisoning. A year later, Snyder smartly appointed Hanna-Attisha to serve on his Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission.

There was certainly some private grousing among Republicans that the pediatrician was making Snyder look bad over Flint, but people were smart enough not to say so publicly.

But the grumbling has gotten progressively louder after Hanna-Attisha spoke this winter at the Michigan Progressive Summit, which is kind of like Lollapalooza for liberals. The Iraqi-born immigrant praised the 1936 Flint sit-down strike and slammed the Emergency Manager law for being “undemocratic.” She revealed she’s not a fan of the Electoral College and criticized gerrymandering.

She also wrote a powerful New York Times op-ed on Trump’s Muslim ban, noting that her family arrived in the United States in 1980 “full of hope, trading a future of war, fascism and oppression for one of peace, freedom and opportunity.” The doctor argued they would have been denied entry to the country if the ban had been in place, which is causing the “American dream to fade away.”

And Hanna-Attisha accompanied Kildee to Trump’s address before the joint session of Congress. She issued a joint statement with him afterward slamming the president for failing to mention Flint and vowing to cut the Environmental Protection Agency.

She’s told the media she’s not going to run for office. But this will probably all make her a political target anyway. The right-wing Independent Women’s Forum just published a mocking post on the “March for Science” this month in Washington, which appeared to question the physician’s qualifications to speak there.

Hanna-Attisha will likely soon be subject to admonishments from conservative and centrist opinion-makers that she’s sullying her cause by “getting political” or becoming an unwitting tool of the left. That’s naturally pretty insulting to someone with a medical degree.

And it also underscores a destructive, self-sabotaging force in politics today. Most people — even those who work in and around government — agree that politics is a filthy, filthy business. And so therefore, anyone who sullies their hands by speaking out or running for office is viewed as being somewhat tainted.

That’s, of course, a terrific (and perhaps a deeply cynical) way to drive good people away from politics.

Think about it. Why wouldn’t we want people making positive change in Flint or anywhere else to talk publicly about political problems or make the leap to being a candidate for office? That’s how this is supposed to work.

I understand why Hanna-Attisha may not want to run for anything. She would lose plenty of friends and discover she has enemies she never imagined. Her personal life would be put under a microscope and judged. And some of the same folks who fell over themselves praising her unselfish work in Flint would now finger-wag that she’s just a typical politician.

But we desperately need people like Hanna-Attisha in public service, now more than ever. And if our political culture drives people like her away, it’s hard not to wonder if it’s irrevocably broken.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Can Brian Calley Balance Family with Running for Governor?

Let’s take a ride in the Wayback Machine, back to the summer of 2013.

Former Rep. Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga), who was once silenced after uttering the word “vasectomy” during an abortion debate on the House floor (the horror), was now keeping a busy schedule as Ingham County clerk. She also was being mentioned as a possible 2014 running mate for Democrats’ presumed gubernatorial nominee, Mark Schauer.

That brings us to an episode that the satirical D.C. website Wonkette dubbed: “Michigan Lady Might Run For Office Even Though She Has Children, What Is Even Up With That?”

Yes, in an interview with subscription-only MIRS (full disclosure: I once worked there), Byrum was repeatedly asked about how being a mom might be a problem if she ran for LG:

“Reminded that being on the ticket means less family time with her 3-and 5-year-old children, one of whom enters kindergarten this fall, she noted, ‘I’ve been doing that running around the state.’

“The clerk and former House member has already attended Democratic Party functions in Kalamazoo, Manistee and Muskegon promoting election and redistricting reforms. She’s scheduled to speak to a group in Jackson County, Marquette County and, possibly, Monroe.

“But don’t the children want Mom at home? MIRS wondered.

“‘I think a 3-and 5-year old want daddy home. They want mommy home,’ Byrum said. She added that would be a factor in her decision-making process if it gets that far. ‘If I am asked it would be a conversation to have with family and supporters,’ she concluded.”

After the interview netted national mockery, as well as criticism from the media watchdog group Name It, Change It, MIRS pulled the passage and did a follow-up story. It seems that a female reporter there also noticed that there were some problems.

I, too, happen to be a Lady Reporter who occasionally stumbles across sexism and double standards in politics (you may retreat to your fainting couch now). In a column I wrote after the debacle, I noted that Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is never asked about the pressures he faces balancing work and a young family.

Calley, who’s now weighing a 2018 bid for governor, won a seat in the state House at age 29. His middle child was born two weeks after the election (“So that’s all she’s ever known,” the father of three told me last month). He’s spoken at length about her autism, and he’s long been a vocal advocate for insurance coverage for those on the spectrum. Calley has also been public about his youngest daughter’s heart surgeries. And his wife, former Ionia County Commission Chair Julie Calley, was just elected to his old House seat in November.

But go ahead and search stories on the LG, far and wide. I’ve yet to come across any that ask him about his work-life balance, which is a fairly standard question for women in politics (or any female who achieves professional acclaim). Even Hillary Clinton was asked how she could juggle running for president with being a grandmother, for God’s sake. That’s a question that was never hurled at Donald Trump or Mitt Romney.

This is just one of the subconscious biases (yes, I said it) that reporters carry with them, like presuming that any crime committed by someone who’s Muslim is terrorism.

Newsroom diversity is a hot-button topic after Trump’s victory last year, with some arguing that we need more conservative, working-class and military voices in the media. I have no issue with that, especially as someone who lived in poverty for years. (When I got my first journalism job in 2001, it paid $10 an hour — which was a huge raise after subsisting on multiple minimum wage jobs). I also think that women, African-Americans, LGBTs, Latinos and Asians in the newsroom bring vital perspectives to coverage, and there shouldn’t be a knee-jerk inclination to suddenly discount their voices.

Anyway, talk is cheap. So when I sat down with Brian Calley last month for an in-depth interview for my publication, Inside Michigan Politics, I asked him the question men are never asked:

“IMP: Given the fact that you do have three young kids — and you’ve talked extensively about your daughter, Reagan, having autism and your youngest daughter, Karagan, who had a heart condition — do you feel like you’re able to balance raising a family and possibly taking on the challenge of running for governor?

“Calley: Well, I think regardless of what happens in the — regardless of what happens and my future looks like, I feel that I have finally figured out how to balance life and make sure I take care of my top priorities, which are — my top responsibility, which is my family, while also doing a good job at being lieutenant governor. I wish I could go back 10 years ago and talk to myself and give myself a few hints about how to maintain that balance and how to establish the kind of schedule that allows me to be very effective at my job responsibilities without my family having to pay such a steep price for it. So it’s been a learning experience. But I am confident that whether I stay in public service in some way or I go into the private sector that maintaining that balance is something that I’ll be able to accomplish.”

Now, see, that wasn’t so hard. And to his credit, Calley took the question in stride, just like he did when I pressed him about how he’d rate Trump’s presidency or what he’d do differently than his boss, Gov. Rick Snyder, on the Flint water crisis.

I’m sure some critics would say I have an agenda. But then again, wouldn’t asking Byrum if her kids “want Mom at home” also be pushing an agenda (from 1955)?

To me, journalism is about starting a dialogue and making people think. It’s not always a comfortable process — which is precisely the point.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.