Citizenship checkbox off of ballot applications

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has decided to remove the controversial citizenship verification checkbox from ballot applications for next month’s election. [The Detroit News].

The state’s chief elections officer appeared in U.S. District Court in Detroit in a hearing over whether check-off boxes that ask state voters to confirm their U.S. citizenship status on ballot applications should be allowed in November.

The ACLU of Michigan, SEIU, the Ingham County clerk and others claim Johnson’s citizenship question caused widespread voter confusion in the August primary after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation in July that would have made inclusion of the question state law.

After the voting rights coalition sued Johnson on Sept. 17 over unequal enforcement of the citizenship question in the August primary, Johnson’s office issued a “News You Can Use” memo to election clerks across the state on Sept. 25 ordering the removal of the question from forms for the presidential contest.

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Keeping Up With The Candidates, July 16

As the primary is only three weeks away, the candidates are fighting for an advantage against the other men seeking their respective party’s nomination. Peter Luke of MLive suggests that the thing they are fighting more than their opponents is voter frustration and apathy.

We start off this week with the Democrats. Andy Dillon picked up the endorsement of former Detroit mayor and Dickinson Wright chairman emeritus Dennis Archer. [The Detroit News].

In the meanwhile, Virg Bernero, appearing at a visit to Siena Heights University in Adrian, said that he’s a bulletproof candidate: [The Daily Telegram/Adrian].

“The two main candidates are largely unknown, Speaker of the House Andy Dillon and myself,” Bernero said, but he added that a new poll conducted for his campaign sampling 600 likely primary voters showed Dillon to be the more vulnerable candidate.
“The two Achilles’ heels that my opponent had — and I have no Achilles’ heels, really, we tried to test some — but he has two that are deadly,” Bernero said. “One is that he’s anti-choice (on abortion) and anti-stem cell research, and that is deadly in a Democratic primary, come to find out. And, two, his corporate raider, corporate boardroom experience of running people off and shipping jobs overseas. They’re almost equally negative and very toxic.”

I want to think that was a joke. Yeah, it had to be a joke, right?

About those Achilles’ heels, Laura Berman of The Detroit News agrees with Bernero that Dillon’s pro-life/anti-embryonic stem cell research stances will matter.

But when they will matter may be another issue. A poll released Tuesday has Dillon ahead of Bernero 35 percent to 15 percent, with 50 percent undecided. Of course, wait a day or two and those numbers will likely be closer. [Detroit Free Press].

The news was heavier on the GOP side this week. (That’s been the case more often lately. More candidates, closer race). The party is certainly confident that whomever wins its primary will be the next governor. Said State Republican Party chairman Ron Weiser:

“People are going to want a change. We saw that in 2008, and Obama took advantage of it,” Weiser told reporters in a conference call. “And certainly as Republicans we’re going to take advantage of the same thing.”

He added “I know there’s always the possibility that something strange can happen, but we certainly are overwhelming favorites now to take the governorship.”

The same poll mentioned earlier shows Pete Hoekstra, Rick Snyder and Mike Cox in a dead heat, all with 18 percent, while Mike Bouchard is a distant 9 percent and Dr. Tom George at one percent.

It should be said that polling numbers have been all over the place in this election, so, for both races, take them for what they are worth. It’s the score at the end of the third quarter. Might be the result, might not.

Bouchard’s people say the numbers are way off. His Minister of Information campaign manager Ted Prill said the campaigns internal polling shows Bouchard tied for the lead with 19 percent, with Cox and Snyder polling at 16 and 12 percent, respectively.

Bouchard has been more active in advocating the GOP dogma, coming out in support of both a Michigan equivalent to the controversial Arizona immigration law (again) and making Michigan a right-to-work state.

He will speak to a Tea Party forum next week about the Arizona immigration law. He wrote a newspaper op-ed and released a commercial about the right-to-work issue. Jeff Cranson of The Grand Rapids Press asks whether this is Bouchard’s Hail Mary pass.

Speaking of the Tea Party, the Livingston Daily says they have the GOP’s attention.

Michigan’s “tea party” groups could affect dozens of local races, as well as those for the state Legislature. Making an impact in Michigan’s gubernatorial race will be harder, but the enthusiasm of newly minted political activists could help pick a Republican nominee, and the field knows it.

Attorney General Mike Cox, U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard all have courted the “tea party” vote. Although Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder is seen by some as the most moderate of the group, his business success and his status as the only nonpolitician helps him, Ballenger said.

Pete Hoekstra was in Holland with President Barack Obama and Gov. Jennifer Granholm for the groundbreaking of a new battery plant.  He used the opportunity to criticize Obama and the stimulus bill, which at least in part will fund the the new LG Chem plant.

“If you take a look around, you will see companies that were built by individuals and families,” Hoekstra said in a YouTube video he posted on his campaign website. “They have never received a government stimulus package.”

Of course, the companies he’s speaking of weren’t offered one and who knows what they would have done if the money was on the table. (I’d like to see the company that says “We’d like to build a new plant in your state/district/city, but please, do not offer us any tax breaks or other economic incentives! Give that money back to the people!”)

Of course, Hoekstra has been attacked in ads from unnamed entities for supporting the stimulus bill, which he did not vote for. When he was criticized in the Democratic debate for not supporting the bill, he responded via Twitter:

Democrats blasting me for voting against stimulus package last year. At least THEY got the facts right that I voted no!

Except for his appearance in the GOP debate earlier this week, Mike Cox stayed out of the news, but for his official duties, in which he again slammed the Obama Administration for filing suit to block the aforementioned Arizona immigration bill. His office will file an amicus brief in support of the bill.

At a campaign appearance in Owosso, Rick Snyder said simply fixing Michigan isn’t enough. To compete, Michigan needs to reinvent itself. He also talked about the troubling trend of college graduates leaving the state to find work.

Finally, yes, four of the five GOP candidates debated yet again this week, with Snyder opting to hold a town meeting in Grand Rapids instead. [WOOD-TV Video].

The candidates that were there didn’t inspire confidence, said the Detroit Free Press:

Tuesday night, in the last debate before the August primary, voters got a better look at the distinctions among the candidates than they had before. But it’s also clear that some of the candidates still cling to unrealistic schemes for navigating Michigan’s way to long-term solvency.

Only state Sen. Tom George, for example, seems to understand that the tax cuts proposed by Attorney General Mike Cox and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard will bankrupt the state. That won’t attract jobs any better than the current onerous business tax environment.

Cox also continues to indulge overly pollyannaish solutions to the gridlock in Lansing.

Cox — and nearly everyone else — fails to explain how [bipartisanship] could now be accomplished with term-limited, politically entrenched legislators who so far haven’t budged toward compromise.

In Supreme Court election news … there isn’t any. Today is the deadline for non-party affiliated (i.e. independent) candidates to submit their paperwork to be put on the ballot. As of 2pm, no one has, according to the Board of Elections. The remaining candidates will be nominated by parties at their political conventions in late August.

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Casual Friday Talks Campaigning & Citizens United

Many observers, including President Obama, are concerned about the effect the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission will have on the 2010 federal midterm and state elections. But University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill says the real concern should be for judicial elections.

Judicial elections  — especially for state Supreme Courts  — have become been ugly, bitter, partisan battles in which millions of dollars are spent, largely to unseat incumbents in many states.  The result is a judiciary that lacks the appearance and in some instances the reality of impartiality required by the Constitution.

Ifill said the Court created the problem in another decision, 2004’s Republican Party of Minnesota v White, which held a state law forbidding judicial candidates from taking public stances on contested legal issues that may come before them on the court.

Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia conveniently saw only the First Amendment dimensions of the case and none of the 14th.  Yes, judicial candidates have free speech rights.  But those rights should have been balanced by the countervailing due process rights of litigants to appear before an impartial tribunal.

Since that case, she points out, former justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the majority’s swing vote in a 5-4 decision, has publicly regretted her vote and called for an end to judicial elections. Current justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has done the same.

What’s the big deal, you ask? It seems that 85 percent of money poured into the 2006 judicial elections came from business (Chambers of Commerce, etc.) After Citizens United, it will likely get much worse. Much of this money is used for attack commercials by interest groups.

Business advocates argue that this is to counter the influence trial judges had in the 1980s, when they were the largest contributors to judicial campaigns.  Whatever the history, the reality is that there are strong, well-financed forces favorable to business and to conservative political principles that exert powerful influence over state judicial elections.

But what can you really do, short of ending judicial elections? Citizens United says businesses have the same right to contribute to politics as everyone else.  West Virginia recently passed a law to publicly fund judicial elections, but does that really do anything? What does a candidate limited to public funding do against a deluge of attack ads funded by (relatively) unlimited funds of special interest organizations?

Ifill’s answer is to create judicial campaign conduct committees that monitor campaign ads for veracity, tone and “civility.” You mean like the toothless FEC? By the time such a committee could act, the ad would be out there and the damage would be done.

Now, the appointed U.S. Supreme Court is not exactly a bastion of impartiality. But, to me, a political divide caused by governors appointing the most partisan judges possible is less dangerous than an elected judiciary with even a sniff of a debt owed to its campaign benefactors both known and unknown.

When Robocallers Attack It’s early in this election year, yet some are already receiving robocalls from campaigns or special interest groups attacking other candidates. This is with the primary elections still five months away.

Many of the calls are anonymous and negative, particularly against Democrat Virg Bernero and GOP candidates Pete Hoekstra, Michael Bouchard and Rick “One Tough Nerd” Snyder. (Gee, who’s missing?)

Among false or out-of-context accusations leveled in recent robocalls targeting gubernatorial candidates:

• Bernero, who enjoys strong union support, is no friend of labor.

• Hoekstra, a fiscal conservative, supports big government because of votes for the bank bailout.

• Snyder shipped jobs overseas and put Americans out of work, as a former board member and CEO of Gateway.

Attorney General Mike Cox, a GOP candidate for governor, has been roundly accused of connections to the calls and negative ads because the attacks have focused on the other three leading Republican candidates.

Cox’s campaign denied any connection.

The Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill last June to curb robocalling, but it died in the Senate without a vote. It working on a new bill, but the bill in its current form would only require the source of the call to identify itself and forbid calls made between 8pm and 9am. I’m not sure how effective this would be.

The problem is not so much with the calls as the message and source of the message. Heck, it could be those evil Canadian trash shippers paying for the calls. Who’s to know?

Ever heard of Eagle Strategies? Neither have I. Nor has the State of Michigan.

It’s less clear who’s paying the bills for robocalls and radio ads attacking Hoekstra for votes in Congress on the federal stimulus package, gun ownership and other issues. Eagle Strategies is the sponsor named in the spot. Some media accounts have linked the group to Eagle Forum, a conservative Washington-based group launched by Phyllis Schlafly. Not so, the organization’s officials say.

“People assume we’re involved. But, I assure you, we’re not running any ads against Pete Hoekstra,” said Suzanne Bibby, legislative director of the group. She said Eagle Strategies claimed to radio stations to be a nonprofit outfit in Lansing but no such group is registered.

Go ahead and Google it. You’ll get at least seven “Eagle Strategies” companies, none of which are in Michigan. But a so-named company bought these anti-Hoekstra radio ads in the Detroit area. And no one seems to it is.  Still think unfettered, anonymous corporate spending is a good idea?

Convention floor fight brewing for MDP supreme court nomination?

Wayne Circuit Court Judge Diane Marie Hathaway told the Associated Press yesterday that she’s “strongly” considering a run for the Michigan Supreme Court and will announce her decision before the Michigan Democratic Party convention, which opens Sept. 5.

If she decides to seek the Democratic nomination, she could have a convention floor fight on her hands. Fellow Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas, who’s been campaigning for the nomination for quite some time, says she won’t back down.

According to a report in Michigan Information and Research’s Capitol Capsule, Thomas said that state Democratic leadership would be making a mistake by nominating Hathaway, who has received organized labor’s endorsement.

Thomas actually defeated incumbent Justice Stephen Markman in Wayne and Washtenaw counties in 2004 and wiped out the other Republican-nominated candidate, Appellate Judge Brian Zahra, by a 3-to-1 ratio in Wayne County. In 2006, when Hathaway tried to unseat Zahra, who was running as an incumbent, she lost to Zahra in Wayne County.

“If Judge Hathaway cannot defeat a Republican incumbent in Wayne County, she cannot win the Michigan Supreme Court race,” Thomas said in a statement. “If Judge Hathaway cannot defeat a Republican in the five counties encompassed by the Court of Appeals race, there is no reason to believe she can defeat Justice Cliff Taylor in any of those counties.”

MIRS reported that Thomas’ campaign manager, Gigi Thomas, is mobilizing supporters and getting them ready for a floor vote.

Meanwhile, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor breezed to the state Republican Party nomination at the party convention in Novi over the weekend.

In one supporter’s view, Taylor has deity-like status. A hand-lettered sign proclaimed, “In Cliff We Trust.”