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


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: The Resistance Blooms in the Heart of Republican Country

Photo credit: Progressive Women's Alliance-Lakeshore

Photo credit: Progressive Women's Alliance-Lakeshore

Whenever you walk into an Elks Lodge, it’s like stepping back into the 1970s, if not before.

From the vintage photos on the walls to the omnipresent wood paneling, they typically have the cozy feel of your grandparents’ basement. I’ve done my fair share of interviews in lodges in small towns across the Midwest, usually dispatched by editors looking for veterans, union members and independent voters to include in various stories.

Last Friday night, I was asked to speak at an Elks Lodge in Grand Haven, a beautiful and conservative hamlet on Lake Michigan, which thankfully, given my commute from Lansing, wasn’t buried under two feet of snow. It was the monthly meeting of the Lakeshore chapter of the Progressive Women’s Alliance. The organization blossomed after the 2016 election, starting as a few women chatting at a local pub to a fired-up group searching for bigger and bigger venues.

As I looked out from the middle-school-style stage, I was frankly stunned to see that roughly 200 people were crammed in the hall — women, children and a sizeable number of men — for a talk on the 2018 election more than seven months out.

I do a fair number of speeches, especially in election years, so I have my trusty notes scrawled on a yellow legal pad on key races in Michigan and across the country, party breakdowns in legislative chambers and big factors shaping campaigns.

But after talking to several people gathered before my speech about the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, Michigan’s terrible roads and the latest round of indictments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, I decided to do something new. I ended up just speaking extemporaneously for 20 minutes about activism, organizing and the history of social movements, and didn’t glance at my notes once.

For an introvert who was paralyzed by extreme stage fright as a child, I’ve often thought how odd it is that a sizeable part of my career is now public speaking and TV interviews. The turning point for me was being asked to speak as a 17-year-old college freshman at a 1994 free-speech rally against an anti-LGBT policy at the University of Iowa. As the mother of an LGBT teen, I’m glad I found my voice back then on such an important issue.

So last Friday, I began my talk by noting that the GOP has controlled all three branches of Michigan government since 2011 and I’ve spent countless hours at the Capitol covering and interviewing Republicans in charge.   

“They don’t know about you,” I said. “They don’t know how many progressives are right here in the heart of Republican Ottawa County. They don’t know that you’re willing to give up your Friday night, when you could be doing much more fun and interesting things than listening to me talk about politics. They don’t know how many other groups — Indivisible and Our Revolution chapters — there are in Michigan, especially in conservative areas. And this is why I think you’re building something big for the 2018 election.”

Several people at the event told me how alone they felt as liberals in Grand Haven, especially before the ‘16 election. One man recalled how overjoyed he was to see even one John Kerry for President sign in 2004 in a neighbor’s yard after he moved in from the Detroit area.

But they’re not alone. When I went to the second annual Women’s March in Lansing in January, there were 5,000 people from across Michigan jammed on the Capitol lawn. Many were kids like my daughter and her friends from their high school Feminist Club.

Susan J. Demas/Women's March, January 21, 2018

Susan J. Demas/Women's March, January 21, 2018

We live in frightening times, especially immigrants threatened with being rounded up and sent back to war-torn countries, LGBT people whose rights are being dismantled by the Trump administration, and struggling people who are being kicked off safety-net programs like Medicaid.

But this has brought out the best in people who are willing to stand up for their friends and neighbors and fight for justice and equality — which is what really makes our country great.

At the Progressive Women’s Alliance event, one of the last questions came from a woman about the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative to end gerrymandering in Michigan. She said that an oft-quoted political pundit recently lectured her that it would never succeed and it was stupid to even try, because conservatives would file lawsuit after lawsuit.

She asked me what I thought, and I agreed that there would likely be legal and legislative challenges, as people in power tend to want to stay there. “Anything worth doing is going to be hard. And that should never stop you,” I added.

But I suppose I really didn’t need to tell a room full of progressives in Ottawa County 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: Young Goes Scorched Earth in Detroit Mayoral Race

Michigan state Senate sessions tend to be rather drab affairs.


With Republicans holding a vice grip on the chamber since 1984 and currently controlling 71 percent of seats, there typically hasn’t been too much drama in the hundreds of sessions I’ve sat through. When the GOP wants to pass something, there’s usually not much Democrats can do.

That’s never deterred Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit), who consistently delivers the most memorable speeches on the floor, often as an act of protest. With his hypnotic preacher-like cadence, Young usually begins with a quote from a dizzyingly long list of luminaries, which has included former President Richard Nixon, Albert Einstein and poet James Weldon Johnson. (This ritual even inspired a @SenColemanQuote Twitter account).


In case you drifted off or checked your email while Young was at the podium, he’d make you regret it by busting out a gem, like he did last term by announcing with a broad grin, “I’d like to start out with a quote … from myself.”

Many politicos and pundits have been inclined to write him off as a goofy millennial riding the coattails of his legendary father, the late Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young. But the senator happens to be one of the few legislators I’ve covered who actually reads most of the bills he votes on. And he’s surprised quite a few lobbyists and policy wonks who expected brief, joke-filled meetings with him and instead were treated to a barrage of thoughtful, detail-laden questions.

Young will be term-limited next year at the ripe old age of 36. So it makes sense that he decided to follow in his papa’s footsteps this year and embark on his second Detroit mayoral campaign. Name ID would never be a problem.

But taking on a popular incumbent has been. Mike Duggan, the former Detroit Medical Center CEO, became the city’s first white mayor in decades after the near unheard-of feat of winning the 2013 primary as a write-in candidate.

There’s no question that Detroit has made progress under Duggan, especially since emerging from bankruptcy three years ago. All you have to do is stroll through downtown and Midtown, flecked with the kind of hipster-haven bars and restaurants you’d expect to see in Chicago. Real-estate developers are gobbling up property and rents are soaring. And some of your out-of-state relatives have probably stopped asking if you got carjacked every time you go to Ford Field.

But many of the city’s longtime residents living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods far from the glitzy new Little Caesars Arena aren’t feeling the love. And progressives have never liked Duggan, a business-friendly pragmatist who’s not afraid to cut deals with Republicans, like with his auto insurance package crafted with House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt).

Young should be a solid Duggan alternative. He’s young, charismatic and consistently one of the Senate’s most liberal members in Inside Michigan Politics’ annual rankings.

But his campaign was greeted with a yawn from much of the metro Detroit media that’s always been convinced Duggan is a lock. In the eight-way Aug. 8 primary, Duggan won 67 percent of the vote, trouncing Young by 40 points.

So it’s not surprising that Young has opted to make race his closing argument before Nov. 7. That’s what everyone expected when he hired felonious former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick whisperer Adolph Mongo.

There’s the SuperPAC ad accusing Duggan of Kilpatrick-level corruption, but noting only Kwame is behind bars. The reason? “It’s as simple as black and white,” the ad intones. Young went back to this well repeatedly in last week’s mayoral debate, prompting Duggan to frequently call him a “liar.”

And Young has announced a “Take Back the Motherland” rally on election eve. If you were trying to brainstorm an event to make the Fox News, Infowars and Breitbart outrage machines go berserk, you probably couldn’t do much better than this. We should all pray that the neo-Nazis who periodically parade around Charlottesville, Va., don’t decide to take a road trip up to Motown that night.

But if you’re a talented politician with a great name and decades left to make your mark, as Young is, this scorched-earth strategy probably isn’t helpful. It’s a shame that more people around the senator haven’t told him that.

And it’s a shame for Detroit, a city that’s still grappling with serious problems of poverty, poor schools, blight and crime. Citizens deserved a mayoral race that addressed those issues, not a sideshow with theatrics destined to become an ominous segment on “Fox and Friends.”

Maybe next time.

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: 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 SusanJDemas.com. 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 SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Michigan’s Unemployment System Fiasco Has Damaged Too Many Lives

Being fired was one of the low points of my life.

Sure, it taught me a lot about the media business and basic human nature. And it (quite unintentionally) paved the way for me to run two companies and have far more time with my children.

But as someone who gave their all and devoted upwards of 90 hours a week to work, being fired made me question everything --- who I was, what was important, what I really wanted to do with my life.

I’ve written about this before in columns and humorously in the FAQ in my website, which one dour former colleague begged me to take down (“It has too much about you being fired,” he warned). Honesty is something I’ve always promised my readers, however, which is why I’ve shared my personal experiences, like my miscarriage and being raped, when I’ve written about related policy matters.

So I admittedly have a rather visceral reaction to the fact that there are at least 20,000 cases in which Michiganders were falsely accused of unemployment fraud from October 2013 and August 2015. If I had claimed benefits, I could have been one of them.

The problem seems to have primarily stemmed from a new computer system, Michigan Integrated Data Automated System (MiDAS), which falsely flagged people for committing fraud and thus receiving payments they weren’t entitled to.

The falsely accused were then forced to pay back their benefits –– and were hit with interest and penalties that were often two to four times their original payment. Their wages and income tax refunds were garnished.

As a result, many who were already reeling from the loss of a job —— which is pretty traumatic, in and of itself —— say they lost their homes or had to file bankruptcy. It’s amazing how many lives can be damaged and how many families can be uprooted by a computer program error.

A judge just approved an agreement that halts most collections for those claiming benefits during that two-year period. And the state is looking into another 30,000 cases during that time for possible errors.

But for too many people, it will be too little too late. And it’s fair to ask, as some like U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Royal Oak) have done, why it took so long for the state to admit error and take action to help people.

I began hearing of problems with MiDAS back in early 2014 and discussed this with Tony Trupiano on his Detroit-based radio show. But the state repeatedly dragged its feet and only seemed to respond after TV news shined a light on the problem.

It’s hard not to see parallels with the Flint water crisis. For months, residents pleaded with government officials to no avail about their foul-smelling water that was sickening children. Only after doctors, scientists and reporters started raising hell did the state begin to respond. But that was after too many kids tested positive for lead and too many people died of Legionnaire’s disease.

The poor and unemployed have traditionally been forgotten members of society. As dozens of readers have pointed out to me over the years (often in curiously spelled screeds), these folks deserve what they get. They’re just too dumb or too lazy to succeed, so why should we care about them?

I don’t think Gov. Rick Snyder or his administration are that callous. But it does seem that the problems of the dispossessed consistently don’t rate as high as those of business owners. And there’s been an unhealthy level of skepticism leveled at many who are needlessly suffering.

The governor has less than two more years to leave a legacy. Doing more to help everyday people would be a good start.

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 Is the New Illinois in Voter Fraud Myths

I was born and raised in Cook County, Ill. So if you think you have an original joke to impart about dead people voting there, trust me, you probably don’t. I’ve heard them all.

Now elections in our country haven’t always been clean. Chicago, of course, was notorious last century for machine politics and its larger-than-life leaders, like the late Richard J. Daley, subject of the colorful bio simply titled “Boss.” To this day, Republicans bitterly maintain that John F. Kennedy stole just enough Windy City votes to become president in 1960 (conveniently ignoring that vote-counting in conservative downstate areas wasn’t exactly a pristine process).

But presidential elections in Illinois haven’t really been competitive since the 1980s. Democrats have won seven straight elections there.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton thumped Donald Trump by 17 points and almost 1 million votes, even improving on former Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s 2012 performance. If the Dems stole the state last year, they should teach a master class on theft.

Still, despite a profound lack of recent evidence, the Land of Lincoln remains, for many conservatives, the epitome of voter fraud. This makes some sense, since their crusade against tainted elections is mostly a faith-based proposition.

Consider that in the last election, the Washington Post only uncovered four voter-fraud cases in the entire country out of 135 million ballots cast.

Those inconvenient facts didn’t stop Republicans in the Michigan Legislature from trying to ram stricter voter ID bills through in the lame duck session, although it ultimately petered out. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the legislation comes back this term.

Michigan is fast becoming the new Illinois. The myth of Michigan voter fraud is growing, with a number of conspiracy theories circulating well beyond our borders. That’s not surprising, as we were the closest state in the country in the 2016 presidential election, with Trump eking out just a 10,704-vote margin.

But because the correct candidate won, it’s kind of odd for some conservatives to keep grumbling about Clinton stealing the state. She didn’t. She lost.

That’s not to say there weren’t problems with Michigan’s election. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who’s a Republican, launched an investigation last year after voter irregularities were uncovered during the state’s partial recount. Disturbingly, 87 optical scanners broke in Detroit, the Detroit News reported. And ballot box and recorded vote totals didn’t match in roughly 60 percent of the city’s precincts.

But Bureau of Elections Chief Chris Thomas, who probably enjoys the most sterling reputation of any public servant in the state, says there’s no evidence of “anything we’d call fraudulent” so far.

What’s needed is better training for election officials and new equipment. The state is thankfully set to get new voting equipment in time for the 2018 gubernatorial election. But Thomas believes that improved training is the key for smoother elections in Michigan.

Unfortunately, in our choose-your-own-facts era, this will fall on deaf ears. Those who want to believe dastardly Democrats are stealing elections in Detroit (however poorly in 2016) will continue to do so.

And too many Republican officials are willing to entertain their tin-foil hat theories because there’s a practical benefit in laws that typically make it harder for African-Americans and young people to vote. Those are key Democratic voting blocs, after all.

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: Can Gov. Snyder Save Part of Obamacare?

Gov. Rick Snyder is jetting off to Washington, D.C., this week on a dual mission. The Republican governor, who was a vocal critic of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign and refused to endorsement, will make nice by attending the inauguration.

But he’ll also be pushing back against part of one of the new president’s biggest priorities: repealing Obamacare. Snyder is also set to attend a GOP roundtable on Medicaid, which was expanded under Obamacare.

During his first term, Snyder dueled with many conservative members of his party to shepherd the Medicaid expansion through the Legislature. He doesn’t want Congress to scrap it. He will, no doubt, sell the reform aspects of the “Healthy Michigan” plan as a conservative alternative to how Medicaid operates in other states.

Now 640,000 Michiganders have Medicaid coverage under Obamacare, which shattered all expectations. And Rick Snyder is their best hope for keeping their health care.

There are roughly 240,000 Michigan residents on top of that who gained health insurance under Obamacare, according to ACASignups.net, the nationally acclaimed site tracking data run by Bloomfield Hills web designer Charles Gaba. That’s thanks to measures like health care exchanges aimed at those without employer-based plans, the ban on insurance companies refusing coverage due to preexisting condition, and the provision allowing those up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health plans.

In total, about 885,000 Michiganders gained health insurance under Obamacare. So roughly 9 percent of Michigan’s population could lose their coverage if the law is repealed.

If Snyder can help sell Trump and Republicans in Congress on keeping the Medicaid expansion, that would make a huge difference for Michigan. But it still isn’t clear what will happen to the more than a quarter-million people who obtained insurance outside Medicaid, many of whom are small business owners who have long struggled to find affordable coverage. It will be interesting to see if Snyder and other Republicans advocate for them, as well.

Snyder spent much of his seventh State of the State address this week touting the state’s economic comeback, his favorite theme.

But the governor clearly recognizes that state’s recovery could be jeopardized if 9 percent of Michiganders suddenly lose coverage under the GOP Obamacare repeal. No doubt he and other governors on the front lines will forcefully make that case, both at the roundtable and behind closed doors.

We’ll have to see if President Trump and the Republican Congress ultimately decide to listen.

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: The Michigan Legislature’s War on Voting Continues

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

Fourteen years ago, I was a new mom. My life consisted of doing round-the-clock feedings and trying to catch a few minutes of sleep in between. Walking to the grocery store two blocks away seemed like an exotic adventure, especially as the fall weather had taken a quick icy turn.

So when a canvasser showed up at my door that October and asked me if I’d like an absentee ballot, I had to restrain myself from hugging her. The idea that I wouldn’t have to frantically search for clothes without spit-up, bundle up a colicky infant and then stand in line for an hour to vote sounded like heaven at that moment.

That was possible because I lived in Iowa, which still has no-reason absentee voting, like 27 other states. There was also zero controversy about the policy. Maybe that’s because Iowa still has a large rural population and trekking down to your polling place can sure take awhile when you own a small family farm in the country. Why wouldn’t you want to vote absentee?

There’s no logical reason why we couldn’t do this in Michigan. Lines in big cities like Detroit and Flint are notoriously long. But you can only vote absentee for select reasons –– if you’re over 60, out of town on Election Day, etc.

No-reason absentee voting is something that bipartisan good government types have supported over the years, like the League of Women Voters. Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson also champions the change, as did her two GOP predecessors, Terri Lynn Land and Candice Miller.

But savvy politicos scoff at the idea because it’s widely assumed that it would help Democrats. That’s why the Republican-controlled Legislature last December dumped the latest iteration, which was tie-barred to legislation dumping straight-party voting.

As we all know, the straight-ticket voting ban became law and was quickly challenged in court. Republicans lost their bid to enact the law for this election –– and boy, are they thrilled that they did.

The presidential election was determined by roughly 10,000 votes. In an election that close, anything could make a difference, so it stands to reason that Donald Trump benefitted from straight-party voting. Just take a look at how Republicans performed up and down the ballot in northern Michigan and Macomb County –– where deeply flawed Republicans won state House races and even unknown candidates were swept into local office.

So Republicans could definitely benefit from no-reason absentee voting. The surge of rural voters who carried Trump to victory would undoubtedly appreciate it.

That’s the thing about playing partisan inside baseball. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Not everything goes according to plan.

That’s a clear case for just going with the best policy. And making it easier for people to vote is just good policy.

But right now in Michigan, the only bills the Legislature is taking up would make voting harder. The new strict voter ID bills, which Republicans introduced after the Nov. 8 election, are part of a new national push to clamp down on voting rights. There’s also a $10 million appropriation tucked in there, which means voters can’t seek a referendum to overturn the law.

We’re told this legislation is necessary to prevent voter fraud. But I’m not aware of one case of voter fraud in Michigan this election. Indeed, the Washington Post has only found four cases in the entire country. And 135 million ballots were cast.

Now perhaps you’ve heard the president-elect claim, without evidence, that millions voted illegally. But here’s the fascinating twist. In their filing to stop the recount in Michigan, Trump’s lawyers argue –– wait for it — that “all available evidence suggests the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

So these voter restriction bills are the classic case of a solution in search of a problem. But we can expect they’ll become law, because Republicans hold big majorities in both legislative houses and Gov. Rick Snyder has proved eager to sign just about anything they slide across his desk.

Meanwhile, there are real problems with voting in Michigan that the Legislature could tackle. In addition to absurdly long lines, we know that 87 optical scan machines broke in Detroit on Election Day. The $10 million blithely crammed into the voter suppression bills could buy a lot of much-needed updated voting equipment.

But we’d only do that if the Legislature was truly dedicated to protecting voting rights in Michigan — and not just wringing out any partisan advantage out of the system.

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: Where is Bernie Sanders’ Revolution in Michigan?

This column ran in Dome Magazine.

Hillary Clinton is now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, something that’s devastating to at least a sizable minority of Bernie Sanders supporters.

For months, the Sanders campaign and some of his overzealous voters have used faulty numbers and logic to claim that the former independent was, indeed, winning. Some of them doxxed or harassed superdelegates, like U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield).

These are Tea Party tactics, befitting for folks who have peddled in conspiracy theories. (For years, Tea Partiers have insisted chemtrails are poisonous, Clinton planned the Benghazi attack and more).

As someone who believes the scientific research that vaccines, genetically modified food and fluoride in the water are not just safe, but have helped millions of people, I’m not terribly sympathetic.

But there’s been talk of Sanders sparking a Tea Party on the left. Of course, we all heard that Occupy Wall Street was going to fill that role, and that fizzled fast.

I felt sick to my stomach watching Tea Partiers shout down and threaten then-87-year-old U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a veteran and a patriot, back at a 2009 town hall on Obamacare. That’s not a style of politics I think the left should embrace.

One test will be the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next month. Several pro-Sanders protests are scheduled. Will they be peaceful? Will most Sanders voters come home and vote Democratic, especially with race-baiting authoritarian Donald Trump as the GOP nominee? We’ll see.

But what I’ve been looking for, and have seen absolutely no sign of, is Sanders’ revolution in Michigan.

This was a huge state for him. Now that the primary season is almost over, his shocking March 8 victory here still remains his most impressive. He did it with zero institutional support, albeit with a hefty advertising campaign.

Sanders inspired thousands at rallies at Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University and more.

Where are those diehard Sanderistas now? I don’t see too many running for the Legislature or Congress. Are they seeking local office below the radar? That’s a logical place to start if you want a revolution. Most people’s lives are far more impacted by local government than presidential platforms.

There’s so much to be done in Michigan, even if you don’t want to put your name on a ballot, however.

You could work on a campaign for much-needed redistricting reform so that Democrats don’t end up taking roughly 49 percent of the statewide vote, but only 11 of 38 state Senate seats, as they did in 2014. People dismiss this as inside baseball. They’re wrong. This is the real game in town.

You could work to ensure that LGBT people can’t get fired at work –– yes, it’s still legal in Michigan –– or that transgender children can use the bathroom of their choice without Republicans weirdly policing them.

You could work to make it easier for women to exercise their right to choose. In the last five years, laws have been enacted closing clinics and barring insurance companies from covering abortion unless it’s via a special rider (i.e. rape insurance).

And there are dozens, even hundreds, of other worthy causes to start working on if you want fundamental progressive change. It starts at home.

Sanders only raised about $1.7 million in Michigan, which is pocket change for ballot initiatives that typically require a $10 to $20 million investment. But he’s banked over $200 million overall, mostly from small donors. Imagine harnessing some of that small-donor financial potential for ballot initiatives in the Mitten State and across the nation.

It’s easy to get fired up for a single, inspiring politician. It’s also almost impossible for one person, however charismatic, to make real change in this country. (And it’s remarkably easy to be let down by that leader, who, in the end, is flawed like everyone else).

It’s fun to cheer at rallies and post memes on Facebook. But that’s being a fan, not making social change.

The real work of politics is hard. It’s knocking on doors and calling donors. It’s making compromise after compromise to try and win something that will make people’s lives better, like Obamacare, even if it’s not ideal.

It’s grinding and demoralizing, but completely necessary.

Is that the kind of work Sanders supporters are willing to do? I don’t know. Some will use the excuse that Clinton is so distasteful that they’re through with politics, (although they were never going to stick around anyway if their kindly grandpa hero didn’t win). Some will find the incrementalism of social change too hard to bear.

I sympathize.

But that’s our system. And I’ll take that kind of order over a radical like Trump, who’s threatened to mess with the First Amendment and the principle of an independent judiciary. Revolutions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Sanders’ millions of supporters hold tremendous power right now. Do they want to use it smartly by running for office and helming grassroots campaigns? Or do they want to squander it with ineffectual DNC protests and checking out of the political process?

I’m pretty sure I know which path a young, idealistic Bernie Sanders would have encouraged.

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.