bill schuette

Susan J. Demas: The GOP Attorney General Race Turns Nasty

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The Trump administration might be a nonstop soap opera of insanity in Washington these days, but Michigan’s Republican attorney general race has become quite the spectacle itself.

The GOP battle to replace term-limited AG Bill Schuette is between two term-limited lawmakers, House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-DeWitt). This week, their scrapping resulted in Schuitmaker declaring that Leonard “needs to grow a pair.”

You can’t ask for a more Trumpian response than that.

It’s befitting of a Republican contest that will be determined by Trump-loving activists at the party convention in August. Races for governor and U.S. Senate are decided in primaries, which are typically low-turnout affairs. But party nominees for AG, Secretary of State, Michigan Supreme Court and state education boards are typically chosen by only a few thousand people who love ideological litmus tests, particularly on the GOP side.

Schuitmaker’s crass barb is a bit disconcerting for those who have known her for years as a rather quiet member of a Republican caucus that features quotable firebrands like Sens. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) and Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge).  

If you’ve been paying any attention to the Republican race, you’d think that Michigan’s AG does nothing but round up illegal immigrants, fire guns and stop abortions. In reality, the job is just a tad tamer and less partisan, and most of the real work is in the important, but less sexy area of consumer protection.

Leonard has the reputation as the more conservative candidate, pushing a (failed) income tax cut right out of the gate last year and recently popping a bill making English Michigan’s official language. That’s the red meat Republican convention-goers crave, even if those votes aren’t terribly helpful to his House colleagues in competitive seats this year.

Leonard also won a star speaking slot at the Macomb County GOP dinner last fall featuring former White House senior adviser and Breitbart head Steve Bannon right before his fall from grace in Trumpland. Bannon, of course, wasn’t exiled because of his publication’s ties to Nazis or doing strategy for Roy Moore, the failed Alabama U.S. Senate candidate accused of sexually abusing several teenage girls, including one who was 14. It was Bannon’s trash-talking of President Trump and his family in the salacious tell-all Fire and Fury that sealed his fate.

Meanwhile, Schuitmaker has been trying to go toe-to-toe with Leonard on right-wing dogma with social media posts slamming sanctuary cities and echoing Trump’s call for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton. No doubt, Schuitmaker is trying to make up for the sin of criticizing the “mudslinging” (lol) in the 2016 presidential race after Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape revealed him bragging about sexually assaulting women.

Once upon a time, conservatives would blanch at a president trying to compel the independent U.S. attorney general and his staff to go after his former election opponent, as that’s the stuff of banana republics. But now a number of Republicans running on law-and-order platforms are campaigning on utter lawlessness.

We’re truly at a unique and disturbing point in history.

Schuitmaker has some practice running right. After representing moderate GOP districts in the Kalamazoo area for most of her career, she had to run in 2014 in a new, highly conservative Senate district reaching into blood-red Allegan County.

In the AG race, she’s gone after Leonard for contributing to his old boss, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, who lost the ‘10 AG election to Schuette. On Facebook, Schuitmaker rips Leyton as a “liberal Democrat endorsed by Planned Parenthood.” It would also be accurate to note Leyton recently partnered with Schuette on the opioid crisis, but of course, that’s not how you win a GOP convention fight.

Meanwhile, Leonard has attacked Schuitmaker for her campaign allegedly filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on his wife, Jenell Leonard, who recently stepped down from a high-profile post as head of Michigan’s film office.

In case this isn’t clear, it was a government job paid by tax dollars. Last time I checked, the public was entitled, even under Michigan’s terrible FOIA laws, to find out what their government and the people who work there are up to (unless they’re in the Legislature or the governor’s office).

However, Speaker Leonard decried the FOIA request as “an attack on my family” and accused Schuitmaker of “going to the gutter.” That’s when Schuitmaker responded to MIRS that he “should grow a pair.”

If these two keep it up, they just might make the “mudslinging” of the 2016 election look tame.

Susan J. Demas’ work can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Michigan Punts on Flint and Nassar Crises

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

Just after Barack Obama’s election during the dawn of the Great Recession, his future chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, caught some heat for this observation:

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

Republicans like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have claimed Emanuel was arguing for Democrats to exploit tough times to ram through their agenda. In reality, Politifact notes Emanuel “specifically urged addressing longstanding problems with ‘ideas from both parties’ when a crisis presents the opportunity.”

This controversy, like so many of the Obama era (remember the right-wing roil over his “Between Two Ferns” appearance?), seems downright quaint today. We routinely careen from one Trump administration firestorm to the next, from Trump’s lawyer claiming he paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence on her alleged affair with the president to Trump taking a week to condemn domestic violence after allegations surfaced against two senior aides.

But here in Michigan, there just may be a lesson in Emanuel’s words. It’s tempting to feel some moral superiority about our politics compared to the gauche circus in Washington. However, we’re still grappling with a host of problems, as national headlines on the Flint water crisis and the Michigan State University Larry Nassar scandal can attest.

Both crises deserve a number of policy prescriptions to ensure they never happen again. Unfortunately, there are huge ideological barriers in dealing with the mass poisoning of a largely African-American city during the tenure of a GOP governor and a sexual abuse scandal that ESPN reports could ensnare a Big 10 university’s sacred football and basketball programs (an idea apparently so unfathomable that interim MSU President John Engler and several Michigan reporters have gone on the attack).

Hoping that our GOP-controlled state opts for stricter environmental regulations or mandates on sexual abuse reporting appears to be a pipe dream. That fact alone is a powerful testimony that Michigan needs some real change in this next election.

But there are a couple of common-sense legislative actions that should be able to net bipartisan support: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform and a process for appointing independent special prosecutors.

One of the reasons why the Flint water crisis has dragged on much longer than it had to is people living there couldn’t get basic information about their water and serious health effects. Neither the governor’s office nor the Legislature is subject to FOIA in Michigan, making us one of only two states with such restrictions.

There have been a couple attempts to expand FOIA, but they’ve stalled. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) last year sneered to journalists: “You guys are the only people who care about this.”

I’m pretty sure that parents of kids with lead poisoning and the families of 12 people who died of Legionnaires’ disease would have appreciated access to more government information.

Now some of the legislation proposed isn’t perfect and would set up a Byzantine process for getting information from legislative offices. But FOIA reforms should be the lowest of low-hanging fruit and a top priority.

MSU’s handling of the Nassar scandal is now being investigated by former Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth. Attorney General Bill Schuette, who’s running for governor, is directing the investigation, the Detroit Free Press uncovered (thanks to FOIA!), although he had claimed that Forsyth was an “independent special prosecutor.”

As the AG’s office charged Nassar with sexual assault crimes, this is an obvious conflict. Not to mention the fact that Schuette has strong ties to Engler, who appointed the AG to his cabinet while he was Michigan’s governor.

That’s led Lt. Gov. Brian Calley to propose legislation establishing a new class of independent special prosecutor in state law to avoid conflicts of interest.

Now Calley has a clear political interest here. He’s facing Schuette in the GOP gubernatorial primary this year. After watching Schuette snag endless headlines for prosecuting high-profile members of the Gov. Rick Snyder administration over Flint, Calley isn’t eager to see a replay so close to the August election.

Of course, in the Nassar investigation, it’s doubtful that the AG probe will target Calley’s colleagues again, as the focus should be on MSU administration. However, it’s easy to see how Schuette’s likely general election opponent, Gretchen Whitmer, could become a focus for her role as interim Ingham County prosecutor.

Calley argues that there are cases that deserve a truly independent prosecutor and he wants to give the courts that power. Alas, with Republicans running the Legislature divided in their loyalties between Calley and Schuette, this reform will probably get even less traction than FOIA legislation.

It seems that the Legislature is following the same dysfunctional pattern we’ve come to expect from the GOP-led Congress where gridlock isn’t just the byproduct divided government anymore.  

Don’t be surprised if voters demand better this fall.

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

Susan J. Demas: Snyder, Trump Loom Large in 2018 Election

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Rick Snyder is the eighth-most unpopular governor in the country. President Donald Trump’s approval ratings hang below 40 percent in Michigan.

And yet plenty of Republicans seem to be in denial about what an albatross these leaders could be in the 2018 election — which is now just nine months away.

It’s not completely unexpected. Michigan voters tend to tire of the party that’s been in power for awhile. The GOP has run the state since 2011 and has had total control of Washington since 2017.

And 2018 doesn’t seem to dissimilar to the 2010 election, which was a referendum on a term-limited governor and new president, who were both Democrats. In that case, Jennifer Granholm was less popular than Snyder is, but Barack Obama fared better than Trump in Michigan.

Republicans ended up winning it all in ‘10: the governorship, attorney general and secretary of state, as well as majorities in the congressional delegation, state House, state Senate and state Supreme Court.

Now things don’t look quite that rosy for Democrats in ‘18 (for one thing, the GOP’s mad redistricting skillz mean big advantages in legislative and congressional districts). But the Dems are certainly better positioned for gains than they have been since 2012, when Obama won re-election and carried the state by 9.5 points.

Trump-supporting conservatives can’t get over that the first Republican to win Michigan in 28 years could now be a drag on the party. He’s fired up the base and helped the GOP make gains in key areas like Macomb County and the Upper Peninsula. And to be honest, many hardcore Trumpers live in a Fox News-Breitbart-InfoWars bubble where the president is always winning, no matter what the polls say or how many people from his campaign are indicted.

But in politics, a couple years can be a lifetime. Obama won Michigan by 16 points in 2008, but his party went down in flames in the 2010 midterms. Trump only triumphed in Michigan by roughly 10,000 votes in 2016, so it’s not really unimaginable that the GOP gets wrecked this year.

Meanwhile, many establishment Republicans aren’t shedding too many tears over Trump’s stumbling. But it’s another story when it comes to Snyder, our CPA governor who made most of their business tax-cutting dreams come true.

Plenty of Michigan Republicans are deeply in denial that Snyder could be in the same role as his predecessor was during the 2010 election. After all, Michigan’s unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, down from 13.9 percent at the same time in the 2010 cycle. It’s obvious that Granholm was terrible for the economy and Snyder ushered in “Michigan’s comeback.”

But it would seem that voters aren’t quite buying the hype. Snyder is less popular than other Great Lakes GOP governors also elected in 2010, like Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. And the Detroit News’ latest polling shows 35 percent think Michigan is doing better than in 2010, 33 percent say it’s the same and 26 percent say it’s worse.

News editorial page Editor Nolan Finley seemed positively flabbergasted at Michiganders’ ungrateful response: “Just one-third recognize the remarkable progress Michigan has made during that period. In Detroit, the city Snyder saved, three-quarters think he’s done a terrible job. How could that be?”

Well, let’s start with the economy. Michigan has certainly rebounded from the Great Recession. But who gets credit? It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that question asked. It’s probably worth considering that Obama has polled better in Michigan than Trump or Snyder. In the city of Detroit, Obama and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan fare far better than any Republican.

It’s also true that the the recovery hasn’t been even and people tend to gauge progress based on what’s going on in their own lives. The recession hung on in some corners of Michigan until 2013. From 2010 to 2014, the U.S. Census shows poverty shot up 17 percent and median household income dropped 8.7 percent. In 2017, Michigan only added 44,000 jobs (half of our 2016 total) and real disposable income only grew .8 percent.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, the GOP frontrunner to succeed Snyder, has identified another reason some Michiganders might be anxious. Many of us are actually paying more in taxes now than we did under Granholm (though Schuette is still using her as the boogeyman). Snyder’s ballyhooed corporate tax cut in 2011 was partially paid for by $1.4 billion in individual tax increases. So Schuette has made tax cuts the centerpiece of his campaign.

There’s also far more to running a state than just the economy. Snyder burned through a lot of goodwill when he cut education funding early on, gave in on Right to Work, signed anti-LGBT adoption legislation and dragged his feet in helping thousands of people falsely accused of unemployment fraud.

And then, of course, there’s Flint.

Finley scoffed that Granholm “had no clue how to manage a crisis. Everything she attempted made things worse.” But you could say the same thing about Snyder’s shameful handling of the Flint water crisis. Twelve people died of Legionnaires’ disease, lead-poisoned water had a “horrifyingly large” effect on fetal deaths and many of the 99,000 people who drank the water are still dealing with the impact of elevated lead levels, especially children.

Snyder waited halfway through his last State of the State address last week to even mention Flint and quickly returned to happy talk about the “comeback.”

You can pretend people don’t notice things like that. You can insist that they’re misguided or too stupid to realize how awesome things are now. But good luck winning elections that way.  

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

Susan J. Demas: Will We Learn Anything from the Nassar Scandal?

“You play word games saying you didn't know because no one believed. I know that. And the reason everyone who heard about Larry’s abuse did not believe it is because they did not listen. They did not listen in 1997 or 1998 or 1999 or 2000 or 2004 or 2014. No one knew, according to your definition of ‘know,’ because no one handle(d) the reports of abuse properly.” Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, taking on Michigan State University in her victim impact statement.

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Most people had never heard of the largest sex abuse scandal in U.S. sports history until Olympic champion gymnasts Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman made it an impossible story for national news outlets to ignore.

It’s a reminder that even as prominent men — and some women — engage in predictable public handwringing whether the #MeToo movement highlighting sexual harassment and sexual assault has already gone “too far,” too many women’s stories still aren’t being heard.

Armed with their 2012 Olympics gold medals, Wieber and Raisman brought star power to a scandal involving a women’s sport most people only care about once every four years (if America has a decent Olympic team).

They were among the 163 women who gave victim impact statements in an Ingham County courtroom during the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar. The former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor has since been sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting his patients.

Nassar is clearly a monster, having written a letter to Judge Rosemarie Aquilina that he was a “good doctor” and his accusers were just “seeking the media attention and financial reward,” adding, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

After suffering for years in silence, Raisman found her voice as she addressed her abuser: “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing.”

But the problem is bigger than Nassar. Raisman and other women unflinchingly described the complicity of the leadership at MSU, USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee and the Lansing-area Twistars Gymnastics training center.

Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar, emotionally eviscerated MSU for playing “word games” with its public denials and said its officials “did not listen.” The Detroit News confirmed this in a blockbuster report, “What MSU knew: 14 were warned of Nassar abuse.”

The 14 officials included President Lou Anna Simon, who finally resigned Wednesday after her remarkably tone deaf response to the abuse scandal. She was outdone, however, by MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson, who this week said that Simon was “by far ... the best president we’ve ever had,” adding “there’s so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing.” (Needless to say, no one bought his subsequent apology).

Three USA Gymnastics officials have also stepped down. But there remains much more to investigate about the coverup, especially at MSU, a public institution receiving taxpayer dollars.

And it’s fast becoming a political flashpoint this election year. On Wednesday, the state House overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for Simon’s resignation, which came within hours.

But let’s be honest. Most politicians ignored the scandal until recently, as MSU is a sacred cow in Lansing (aside from cutting state aid, which is considered a noble conservative goal). The Capitol is filled with proud alumni. Basketball coach Tom Izzo is revered like a Greek god — which is why he’s gotten so little flak for saying of the Nassar case, “I hope the right person was convicted” — and football coach Mark Dantonio is quickly rising to that level.

The Nassar scandal now seems destined to play a role in the 2018 governor’s race. Attorney General Bill Schuette, the GOP gubernatorial frontrunner, has said he’ll be reviewing MSU’s role. But the conservative Detroit News editorial page ripped his record, arguing his “indifference borders on dereliction of duty,” prompting Schuette to ask for a retraction.

On the Democratic side, businessman Shri Thanedar grabbed headlines for crassly calling for Gretchen Whitmer to drop out. He accused Whitmer, a rape survivor herself, of mishandling the Nassar allegations when she served as interim Ingham County prosecutor. But Bridge Magazine has reviewed the record and concluded that “Whitmer’s mantle as an advocate for sexual assault victims remains intact.”

Nassar’s victims deserve to know the truth. They don’t deserve for investigations to be twisted for political gain. And it’s up to us in the media to be a watchdog.

It’s also up to us to listen to victims. As Aquilina noted this week, it was investigative reporting by the Indy Star that finally shattered the decades-long institutional silence about Nassar’s crimes. Good journalism has the power to bring justice.

Right now, many reporters probably know of other sexual abuse allegations. But some outlets fear getting sued, even for reporting the truth. Some reporters may find it hard to report allegations about someone who’s a respected member of the community or a good source. Women know all this. That’s why so few of us ever come forward.

But the 163 brave women in that Ingham County courthouse have told us, over and over again, how devastating it is not to be believed. We all need to do better for them and countless others.

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

Susan J. Demas: Michigan Republicans Face Landmines with Trump Tax Hike

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Right before Christmas, President Trump signed a Republican tax bill that will raise taxes in Michigan by about $1.5 billion every year.

That’s because the law eliminates the personal exemption, which is $4,000 in Michigan. It’s true that blue states like California and New York have been gouged the most by the plan. That’s by design, as even The Hill declares that red states are using blue states “as their new piggy bank in the GOP Congress.”

But sadly, even newly minted Trump states like Michigan weren’t spared in the tax bill. So that’s left GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature to scramble to fix what the feds have done.

It’s somewhat unusual for Michigan Republicans to try and reverse their Republican brethren in Washington, but it’s a political necessity. The bill has consistently been unpopular, with a majority firmly opposed in several polls. The fact that the Senate rammed it through in the dead of night with handwritten changes scratched in the margins probably didn’t help. (Remember Republicans’ adorable cries of “Read the bill!” during the Obamacare debate?)

Arguing that people aren’t particularly swift and don’t get it probably isn’t a winning argument for the GOP in an election year.

But Republicans — particularly gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette — have to do a lambada-like dance around the fact that their proposals are fixing what Trump has done.

Because if there’s one thing we know about the Trump voters needed to win the August GOP primary, it’s that they don’t take kindly to questioning anything that Dear Leader does. No matter how many times the president erratically speaks, threatens nuclear war over Twitter, or tries to meddle in the federal investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, the Trump diehards still support him, as we know from the countless media sojourns into flyover country. (The pro-Trump Michigan Conservative Coalition even deploys a Trump lookalike to cultishly trot around events around the state, which is definitely not weird).

On the surface, the tax fix shouldn’t be hard for Snyder, who refused to endorse Trump. But his No. 1 mission to salvage his badly damaged legacy after the Flint water crisis is to get Calley elected. And nobody is going to win a GOP primary by taking on Trump.

So while proposing his plan to restore the personal exemption in Michigan, Snyder made some references to Congress but has carefully tried to avoid the “T-word.” His treasurer, Nick Khouri, gave an assist by arguing that the exemption elimination was an “unintended consequence” of the GOP tax bill.

Snyder’s proposal is simple and makes some economic sense. But the politics are always trickier, so he’s sweetening the deal by increasing the exemption to $4,500 in 2021. That way, the GOP can bill it as a tax cut. And conveniently, any hit to the state budget will be a problem for the next governor and Legislature to solve.

Meanwhile, Schuette, who has won Trump’s endorsement and has sought to tie himself to the president’s hip, is taking the D.C. tax plan lemon and trying to make lemonade.

The centerpiece of Schuette’s campaign is that he’ll kill the Jennifer Granholm income tax hike. A few quick facts: The Democrat hasn’t been governor since 2010 and the tax increase passed the GOP-led Senate during her tenure. Furthermore, Michigan has had a Republican governor and Legislature for the last seven years. Instead of killing the income tax, they enacted in 2011 a $1.4 billion tax hike on individuals to help pay for an almost $2 billion corporate tax cut.

The Trump tax plan would seem to put Schuette in a bind and undermine his core message. But never underestimate the AG’s political skill.

First, he blithely celebrated Republicans for cutting taxes at the federal level. Then he pivoted by calling for Michigan Republicans to “finally eliminate the Granholm income tax increase.”

It’s a pretty ingenious play. Schuette doesn’t just manage to avoid criticizing Trump and congressional Republicans for their tax hike on Michigan. He actually turns this political liability into an opportunity to return to his campaign message of bashing the Granholm boogeyman. This strategy, of course, ignores objective reality, but Schuette benefits from an environment where many reporters fret that they’ll be accused of bias just for performing the simple act of fact-checking.

Schuette proposes rolling back the state income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent, which Khouri pointed out would disproportionately favor the wealthy (on top of what the congressional tax bill already did). Naturally, Schuette’s GOP allies in the Legislature think that’s a fine idea.

It seems clear that the tax cleanup debate will devolve into a proxy war between Calley and Schuette. So we can probably expect that politics will trump good policy.

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

Susan J. Demas: Michigan Republicans Have a Bannon Problem

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Alabama Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore was supposed to win the special election this week — the Deep South state, after all, is scarlet red. And far-right strategist Steve Bannon was supposed to get all the credit.

Instead, the Heart of Dixie will have its first Democratic senator in 25 years, Doug Jones, a former prosecutor who put KKK members away for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black little girls. He fittingly won thanks to a swell of African-American support at the polls.

Moore, who Atlantic columnist Michelle Cottle charitably describes as “a bit of a loon,” was twice booted from the state Supreme Court for ethics violations and has said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress. Moore referred to Native Americans and Asian-Americans as “reds and yellows” at a September campaign rally, where he also waxed nostalgic for America under slavery because it was “great at the time when families were united.” He’s also partial to conspiracy theories that Sharia law is spreading in America and former President Obama wasn’t actually born here.

President Trump didn’t endorse his fellow birther in the primary, instead stumping for the establishment GOP pick, U.S. Sen. Luther Strange. That irked Bannon, a former Trump campaign strategist who had recently been fired from his White House senior adviser gig. When Moore handily won the primary, Bannon claimed victory and Trump quickly endorsed the winner.

Bannon has returned to running Breitbart News, whose ties to Nazism have been exposed, and has been busy stoking his reputation as an “evil genius.” He headlined a Nov. 8 Macomb County GOP “Unity” dinner, crammed with 2018 Republican hopefuls eager to see and be seen.

The day after the event, a Washington Post story broke that Moore had allegedly sexually abused teenagers, including one who was 14. A former prosecutor who worked with him at the time said it was “common knowledge” that Moore dated teenagers and the New Yorker reported he had even been banned from a mall for skeeving on girls.

If you were trying to create a horrendous Republican candidate in a lab for an elaborate social experiment on what it would take for Alabamians to finally vote for a Democrat for major office, you really couldn’t do better than Roy Moore.

But the conventional wisdom was that it’s Alabama, man. And in these polarized times, Republicans would come home.

Bannon was already being set up in coverage as the nihilistic mastermind, having convinced Trump to re-engage in the Senate race. The president held a rally in nearby Pensacola, Fla., but it was Bannon taking premature victory laps on stage at Moore’s official events. No one can ever accuse Bannon of lacking an ego. He’s griped that Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie lost his race (by 9 points, mind you) because he refused Bannon’s offer to hold a rally.

Bannon also gleefully cranked up the right-wing outrage machine against Moore’s accusers. Bloomberg News’ Josh Green, who Bannon frequently confided in about strategy during the ‘16 campaign, noted that his Moore rehabilitation playbook took page from Nazi and Soviet propagandists:

“Bannon worked to create a counter-narrative that ultimately would change many Republicans’ perception of the scandal. A former filmmaker, he’s long been captivated by the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker, and the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein for their power to shape public sentiment. Earlier this year, Bannon told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer his 2012 anti-Obama film ‘The Hope and the Change,’ had consciously mimicked Riefenstahl’s infamous, ‘Triumph of the Will.’ Her film, he added, ‘seared into me’ that unhappy voters could be influenced if they felt they were being conned.”

Let’s not gloss over this. In 2017 America, the president’s chief strategist freely admits that he appropriates tactics he admires from the most barbaric regimes of the 20th century, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

This is real. And three Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidates — Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and state Sen. Pat Colbeck (R-Canton) — made sure they were at Bannon’s Macomb soiree. Colbeck even made a public stink that he was bumped from a speaking slot in favor of Schuette. Others attending included U.S. Senate hopefuls John James and Bob Young; Secretary of State candidate Stan Grot; and House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt), who’s running for attorney general.

Not surprisingly, Democrats have widely shared photos of top Republicans at the event on social media, which is probably just a preview of 2018 ads to come.

Playing up Bannon ties may still be smart politics next year for those in tough GOP primaries and especially for SOS and AG candidates, who are nominated at party conventions.

But the moral cost of embracing someone who tried to use Nazi agitprop techniques to try to get an accused child molester elected to the U.S. Senate simply cannot be understated or overlooked.

Some days, it’s hard to believe these are the times we live in.

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

Susan J. Demas: Michigan Becomes the Model for Washington Whiffing on Tax Cuts

“Well, at least I’ll get a tax cut.”

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This was the common refrain I heard on the campaign trail last year from reluctant Donald Trump supporters, those who tended to live in the suburbs and wouldn’t be caught dead in a cheesy red #MAGA hat.

They were uncomfortable with the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women and didn’t care for his racialized language, particularly about immigration (which only hardline conservatives care about in Michigan, a state that’s had little population growth in decades).

But a tax cut sure sounded appealing, especially since millions of Michigan families are actually paying more taxes now after seven years of Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican rule in the Legislature.

Yes, you’d never know it by listening to GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette’s ads, but it’s true. The attorney general casts former Gov. Jennifer Granholm as the liberal supervillain who singlehandedly raised your taxes a decade ago (somehow forgetting she struck a deal with the GOP Senate to end a government shutdown).

Schuette also manages to overlook that Republicans in 2011 raised taxes 23 percent for individuals ($1.4 billion a year) to cut taxes for corporations 83 percent ($1.6 billion). Why is that necessary? Because unlike the feds, states can’t run deficits. So with less money coming into the state from businesses, the shortfall had to be made up somewhere else. So in addition to cutting funds for schools, universities and local governments, Republicans also socked individual ratepayers with higher bills.

Most people assumed they’d be getting a healthy tax cut based on GOP promises (and the decades-long branding campaign of Republicans as the tax-cutting party). So plenty of Michiganders were shocked when they had to pay their first tax bill under the GOP “reform.” Deductions people had counted on for their homes, charitable donations, college tuition, retirement and even their children were gone.

In 2015, Snyder and Republicans hatched a half-baked scheme to fix the roads by raising gas taxes and Secretary of State fees. Tl;dr, Michigan’s roads are still terrible and your taxes shot up even more.

State tax increases have disproportionately hit the poor and middle class, while Michigan’s wage growth and per-capita income have lagged behind most states.

So it makes sense that Michigan voters would be eager for some tax relief from Washington, which is one reason why Trump won the state.

Because Congress doesn’t have to worry about balancing the budget, it’s pretty easy to hand out tax cuts like candy, even if the GOP’s top priority is giving them to the rich. I fully expected Trump and the Republican Congress to follow this playbook and devise a modestly popular tax plan.

But instead, they’ve used the Michigan model of catering to corporations and the wealthy at the explicit expense of the poor and middle class. The $1.5 trillion package speeding through Congress eliminates the alternative minimum tax benefiting those making over $200,000.

And it permanently chops the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent (even though big companies already enjoy huge loopholes), while any middle-class tax cuts are temporary.

No wonder a Fortune columnist called the bill the “largest wealth grab in modern history.” Almost 40 percent will pay the same or more taxes out of the gate. Within 10 years, just 16 percent will see a tax cut of $100 a year or more.

Only 36 percent back the tax plan being rushed through Congress at breakneck speed in the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll.

It gets worse with the fine print, as even Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow admits the plan will “hurt a lot of different people.” That includes 5.2 million seniors, the most reliable GOP voting bloc.

Millions in Michigan and nationwide take the state and local tax deduction (SALT) to offset some of their federal taxes. The Republican tax plan scraps it, which essentially means successful higher-tax blue states will be subsidizing low-tax red states.

You can forget about the student loan deduction, which is the only way millions of middle-class families can afford the exorbitant cost of college these days. The House-passed plan would devastate 145,000 graduate students who would see their tuition waivers taxed as income. In other words, they would have to pay taxes on $35,000 or $50,000, without ever seeing the money, which would likely cause thousands of students to drop out.

And it gets worse, with 13 million losing health insurance by axing Obamacare’s individual mandate. Because the bill is a budget buster estimated to balloon the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, Republicans are looking to chop Medicare, Social Security and other programs, which will devastate seniors even more.

The argument that making tax cuts so lopsided for corporations and the super-wealthy while leaving almost everyone else behind is that businesses will hire more people.

“Frankly, I think they are bonkers,” David Mendels, former chief executive officer of software firm Brightcove, told Politico. “It really doesn’t work that way. No CEO sits there and says, ‘When my tax rate goes down, I’m going to hire more people and pay them more.’”

But those of us in Michigan already knew that.  

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

Susan J. Demas: Republicans Would Like You To Kindly Forget They’ve Raised Your Taxes

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History, as we all know, is written by the winners. And in Michigan, Republicans have been on a nearly seven-year winning streak, controlling all three branches of state government.

So Republicans, led by Attorney General Bill Schuette, the likely 2018 gubernatorial nominee, have been spinning a pretty convincing horror story about the diabolical Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm tax hikes a decade ago. The only way to destroy them is to elect Schuette and Republicans next year, of course.

This is a very smooth talking point. Plenty of people will believe it just because everyone knows Democrats are tax ‘n’ spend fiends while Republicans despise taxes more than venereal disease.

There are just three big facts that annihilate this premise: The 2007 tax hikes were a bipartisan affair; Republicans under Gov. Rick Snyder raised taxes even more in 2011 and again in 2015; and the GOP has been in power for seven years and could have chopped your tax bill at any time.

If any of this is news to you, that may be because most of Michigan’s political reporters didn’t cover the ‘07 theatrics and plenty weren’t even there for Snyder’s ‘11 tax hikes. Most lawmakers from those sessions have been term-limited and even many knowledgeable staffers have departed the Capitol.

But facts are stubborn things and shouldn’t be forgotten. And as someone who has been around for all of this tax drama, I’ll volunteer to be the annoying voice of intellectual honesty.

Let’s start in 2007, a frenzied time of a short-lived government shutdown and all-night sessions when lawmakers (and even a few reporters) were reduced to sleeping on the Capitol floor. Michigan was dead broke, thanks to a recession that actually started on the watch of GOP then-Gov. John Engler.

Granholm struck a deal with then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) to temporarily raise the state income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent. As the Senate was GOP-controlled, the plan had to have R votes to pass, and it did. So Bishop, now a congressman, can truthfully state he wasn’t one of them, but he certainly did sign off on the tax hike deal.

They also made a mess of the sales tax and eventually fixed it with a Michigan Business Tax (MBT) surcharge. Fun times.

So when Snyder was elected three years later, the Republican’s first order of business was to slay the MBT. Most economists agreed it was a terribly structured tax, so that was all well and good, but Snyder’s plan for a $2 billion corporate tax cut did have a rather big problem.

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You see, unlike the federal government, Michigan can’t run a deficit. So in order to make up for the $2 billion hit to the state budget, Snyder proposed budget cuts and — get this — a $1.4 billion tax increase on individuals. The income tax stayed locked at 4.35 percent the first year and then would stick at 4.25 percent.

But the real hit to taxpayers’ wallets was getting rid of tax deductions for basic things like owning a home, having kids, donating to charity, saving for retirement, and paying for kids’ college. Suddenly, plenty of people used to receiving tax refunds in April were socked with bills for thousands of dollars.

That was fun, too.

But because Snyder and Republicans weren’t ready to quit their tax-hike addiction, they followed all that up in 2015 with the first gas tax hike in 20 years. By upping the tax from 19 cents to 26.3 cents, Michigan vaulted into the top five states, per the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

In return, we were supposed to get better roads and bridges. Now maybe you’ve met someone who thinks they’re driving on fewer potholes now; I’ve yet to interview anyone who does.

Since Jan. 1, 2011, we’ve had a GOP governor, House, Senate and Supreme Court. The GOP could have cut taxes for folks at any time. But even this winter, the Republican-led House failed to pass an income tax cut.

Now Schuette wants us to believe that Democrats somehow are to blame for all these tax hikes and only electing Republicans in ‘18 can save us.

Republicans have failed to protect taxpayers time and time again in the last decade. That’s their record. They can’t rewrite history.

If they want us to believe that things will be different this time around, they should have to answer for their record.

But they’re probably banking on a weakened and neophyte media and a demoralized Democratic Party to save them from tough questions. And to be honest, that’s not a bad bet to make.

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

Susan J. Demas: Will Michigan's hated pension tax survive Rick Snyder?

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

This column ran in Dome Magazine.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s ultimate legacy will be the Flint water crisis. But as our CPA governor, he likely views his greatest accomplishment as his 2011 tax overhaul.

But you have to wonder how much of it will survive Snyder, who’s termed out of office in less than 20 months. After all, many parts of his plan, especially the “pension tax,” are unpopular.

The governor announced his tax reform shortly after taking office, to great fanfare. It was vastly complicated, as Michigan has to balance its budget every year (unlike the feds). To get there, Republicans jammed through big cuts to universities, K-12 schools and social safety net programs.

As far as Snyder’s hodgepodge tax plan went, Republicans swooned over the $1.7 billion tax cut for businesses. Actually, many people (especially accountants) favored the simpler, flat 6-percent corporate income tax over the inscrutable Michigan Business Tax –– which was living proof that bipartisan compromise isn’t an inherent good, but sometimes produces incoherent messes.

Luckily for Snyder, he didn’t have to worry about playing nice with Democrats. He was blessed with strong GOP majorities in both chambers who stood ready to help the governor –– even though he asked them for (gasp!) huge tax increases on individual ratepayers.

Yes, it was a sight to behold. Many Republican lawmakers, who had rode the ‘10 tea party wave to victory, were suddenly sounding like Democrats as they defended $1.4 billion* in annual tax hikes. That came through increasing the income tax rate; cutting the homestead property exemption and Earned Income Tax Credit; and axing big tax deductions for children, charity and college tuition.

And Democrats got their turn to finger-wag about sky-high taxes.

But the bitterest pill to swallow was getting rid of the exemption on pension income, i.e. the pension tax. Snyder initially proposed taxing everyone’s pension, making the case that it was about fairness, especially for younger workers.

While Snyder’s argument was fiscally defensible, he badly misread the politics. That was just a bridge too far for GOP lawmakers, who depend heavily on senior citizen votes.

“The governor’s probably right on the fairness issue, but I just don’t want to tax seniors, period,” Sen. Joe Hune (R-Hamburg) summed it up in February 2011.

So the compromise undercut Snyder’s fairness doctrine completely by instituting three tiers of taxation: None for those born before 1946; a partial exemption for those born between 1946 and 1952; and a much smaller exemption for those born after 1952.

In other words, those about 64 and younger got a raw deal, as usual.

The pension tax brings in $300 million each year, but it still carries an outsized, potent political kick. Democrats have been running on the issue for years. While it’s never proved decisive, the reviled “senior tax hike” does box Republicans in.

That’s why Republicans like freshman Rep. Tom Barrett of Potterville, who never had to vote on the tax, ran campaigns opposing it.

And that’s why one of the House’s newest members, Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) –– just elected in February to replace disgraced ex-Rep. Todd Courser –– just introduced legislation taking aim at the hated tax. Howell’s bill would hand Baby Boomers --- who coincidentally are a big GOP constituency –– a bigger tax break.

It seems unlikely the governor would sign such legislation, but we’ve already seen some chinks in his 2011 tax reform armor. The 2015 roads plan included an income tax rollback, although it’s not clear that the state will hit the trigger in the future.

So it’s an open question if the pension tax will outlive Snyder’s tenure. Most of the leading candidates for governor (Lt. Gov. Brian Calley excluded) would probably be open to scrapping it. Democrats like former Sen. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) would surely see it as a political plus. And GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette, who fought for pensioners’ rights in Detroit bankruptcy, knows a political liability when he sees one.

Of course, it all comes down to money. And while $300 million isn’t a huge chunk of the state’s $10 billion general fund, it isn’t chump change, either. And with big liabilities looming over the Flint water crisis and Detroit Public Schools’ near-insolvency, it just might not be fiscally possible for the next governor to kill the pension tax.

The bigger question, really, is if Flint, DPS and other crises mean Michigan returns to the bad old days of huge budget cuts throughout the year and government shutdowns.

If that happens, it will be the complete obliteration of our current CPA governor’s fiscal legacy. And that would truly be something.

* Corrected, 10:11 a.m.

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