Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 24, 2013

George Weeks: Low green score for state in House

Syndicated columnist

---- — The Michigan League of Conservation Voters last week praised Sen. Carl Levin’s 100 percent pro-environmental 2012 voting record but branded as “dismal” the average of the state’s 15-member House delegation. Still, the average was better than those in five other Great Lakes states.

Michigan LCV Executive Director Lisa Wozniak said: “No other state in the country values its land, air and water as much as Michigan, the Great Lakes state, and we are proud to have such allies” as Levin and Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, who had a 94 percent rating on the national LCV scorecard.

Although others among the five Democrats had equal or better scores than Peters, state LCV Political Director Jack Schmitt said he was cited because he had the most improved score.

The national LCV gave a solid 86 percent score to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has worked across party lines on evasive species and other Great Lakes issues with such congressmen as Dave Camp, R-Midland. Camp and Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, received scores of 9. The other congressman with northern counties in his district, Bill, Huizenga, R-Zeeland, received an 11.

The scorecard included 14 votes in the Democratic-ruled Senate, and 35 in the GOP-controlled House, on issues ranging from public health protections to clean energy to land and wildlife conservation.

National LCV President Gene Karpinski said the House “sided with corporate polluters time and time again in 2012, cementing its status as the most anti-environmental House in our nation’s history. The best that can be said about this session of the 112th Congress is that it is over.”

The Snyder Watch

Governor Rick Snyder is dealing with a number of Great Lakes issues, including coming up with funds to dredge harbors to cope with record low water levels in lakes Michigan and Huron, and preparations for a summit of Great Lakes governors on Mackinac Island in June.

But his top jobs right now are how to finance massive road improvements and how to deal with the basket case that is Detroit, including whether to name an emergency manager to deal with its financial woes. While he said last week “this is a crisis,” he also said “I don’t see the state doing a massive bailout.”

Detroit is short on self-help. The Detroit News lead headline Thursday was “Half of Detroit property owners don’t pay taxes.” It was based on a News analysis of Detroit’s 305,000 properties that revealed $246.5 million in taxes went unpaid last year.

The same day, the lead story in the Detroit Free Press said the city’s district court is having trouble collecting more than $250 million that is owed in payments.

High court race costliest ever

The state Supreme Court 2012 election campaign was Michigan’s costliest and least transparent in history, according to the long reliable watchdog that helps keep political spending accountable across the ballot.

The nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network said last week: “Just $4.7 million out of the $18.6 million in spending documented by MCFN—25.4 percent—was reported through the State campaign finance disclosure system.

“The candidate committees of the six major-party nominees reported raising $3,442,367. The state political parties and a small number of political action committees (PACs) and SuperPACs reported making independent expenditures in the amount of $1,276,176. Overall spending reported to the Michigan Department of State totaled $4,718,543. “

Here’s the rub: Records compiled by MCFN from public files of the state’s TV broadcasters and cable systems showed gross sales of $13.85 million for ads about the court candidates that were not reported to the department. They were purchased by the Michigan Republican Party ($6.67 million), the Michigan Democratic Party, ($6.17 million), and a Washington, DC-based nonprofit corporation called Judicial Crisis Network ($1.02 million).

The department ruled that such ads are not campaign expenditures unless they contain words of “express advocacy,” such as “vote for” or “vote against,” “support” or “defeat.” Since the ads were not treated as campaign expenditures, the contributions to the political parties and interest groups that pay for the ads are not disclosed either. There also were complications about tracking spending for some direct mailings.

The MCFN’s Rich Robinson, who slogs across the state to look at records of TV stations on political ads, said the department’s “anachronistic interpretation of the Campaign Finance act means that three-fourths of the money spent in this campaign was off the books. The citizens of this state have no way to find out who was behind $14 million in dark money that was spent in the 2012 Supreme Court campaign.”

Machine Politics, Promotions(bf)

Politicians use a variety of means to get and about to reach out for voters and publicity, including bikes and snowmobiles.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, mounted his machine last week for a tour in his 2nd congressional district, as he did two years ago. Gov. Rick Snyder has been out on Sno-mo trails. But the most ambitious gig is the annual group trek by members of the Legislature geared to touting Michigan tourism and winter sports.

This week’s Sunday-Monday “tour of Northern Michigan’s pristine trail system,” coordinated by Rep. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, was scheduled by 10 representatives, two senators and directors Keith Creagh of the Department of Natural Resources and Dan Wyant of the Department of Environmental Quality. On the schedule: the counties of Emmet, Cheboygan, Mackinac and Chippewa.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.