- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

The Detroit News. October 27, 2016

Term limits would worsen Congress.

In outlining his plans for America last weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Donald Trump drew some of the biggest cheers when he promised to push for a constitutional amendment limiting the terms of members of Congress. It fit well into his populist embrace of positions that stir the people, but lack a practical path to enactment.

Term limits for Congress aren’t going to happen, even if the Republican nominee gets elected. There are simply too many hurdles. And experience in the Michigan statehouse demonstrates it’s a really awful idea.

The biggest barrier is a 1995 Supreme Court ruling that declared state-imposed term limits on federal offices to be unconstitutional.

So that leaves a constitutional amendment as the only means of adopting congressional term limits. Good luck with that.

Amending the Constitution as Trump proposes requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress, and then approval by three-fourths of the states. That’s happened only 27 times since the document was approved in 1788. It seems highly unlikely that members of Congress would make the 28th time the infringement of their own livelihood.

The other way to amend the Constitution is through a convention called by two thirds of the state legislatures. That’s never been done.

Trump is pushing a never-gonna-happen idea, and a bad one at that.

Michigan is a perfect example of the folly of term limits. State voters amended the Constitution in 1992 to restrict House members to three, two-year terms and senators to two, four-year terms. The desire was for a Legislature made up of non-career politicians who would briefly lend their expertise to the people and then return to private life.

The reality has been an increasingly young and inept body of lawmakers who are elected to one office only to start angling for the next one.

Pogo-sticking politicians leap from the House to the Senate, and vice versa, or into other offices at the local level. Or they leave office to take up a career lobbying their former colleagues.

What’s been lost in Michigan are experienced legislators who stay around long enough to become expert in both governing and the issues facing the state. And who are able to build relationships with each other that make cooperative governing possible.

Lobbyists and staffers are now the keeper of the knowledge in Lansing - and of the power. Many lawmakers have only a passing knowledge of the state constitution. Cowardly lawmakers are afraid of controversy, having not built the trust and credibility with voters to withstand a tough vote.

There’s enough gridlock in Congress without adding this further impediment to compromise. Besides, voters are perfectly adept at term-limiting Congress members, as they’ve proven repeatedly.

There’s been no shortage of fresh blood in Washington. Roughly half the U.S. senators who were sitting in 2008 are gone today.

It’s true that too many in Congress stay too long, Detroit’s John Conyers being the poster child for that group. And incumbents do have an outsized advantage because of their fundraising ability.

States could go a long way toward breaking the power of incumbency by adopting fairer redistricting rules. But term limits have been a bad idea at the state level. They’d be an even worse one for Congress.


Detroit Free Press. October 27, 2016

Will we see action on state Flint water crisis reports?

Where do we go from here?

A bipartisan joint select committee on Flint has issued its report, and it’s up to Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature that impaneled the committee to act. Not a blame-casting document, this report offers a slew of suggestions aimed at ensuring that another man-made crisis like the poisoning of Flint’s water supply can’t happen again.

The contamination of Flint’s water supply was caused by a mismanaged switch in April 2014. The state Department of Environmental Quality signed off on a water-treatment plan that failed to properly dose water drawn from the Flint River with chemicals that would have kept lead out of the drinking water. As a result, nearly 9,000 children younger than 6 - the most developmentally vulnerable - were exposed to the neurotoxin. The state acknowledged that Flint’s water wasn’t safe to drink more than a year ago. Unfiltered Flint water still isn’t safe to drink.

The committee’s recommended legislative changes shouldn’t be controversial. Among them are the prohibition of “the primary factor in any decision … that would directly affect public health and safety.”

Frankly, we’re dismayed, but not surprised, that this needs the force of law to become a criterion for state budgeting. The report also recommends the creation of a Flint registry to track the children and adults affected by lead and the creation of a statewide warning system, similar to Amber Alerts, to notify Michiganders of environmental or public health hazards.

Others recommendations, like barring a state-appointed emergency manager called in to handle a budget crisis from changing a water supply without the approval of experts and voters, are wise, but don’t go far enough. After Flint, the quality of drinking water is top of mind across the state. But other environmental risks could be created by haphazard, unilateral emergency management - think air and soil quality, for starters. The committee also proposes that the state invest in Flint to spur economic development, such as creating a Flint Promise, similar to the Kalamazoo Promise that offers a path to college for students.

And a recommended change to the structure of emergency management, from a single appointee to a three-person team, will likely garner pushback in some quarters. Bulking up the emergency manager law was one of Snyder’s signature policy changes after he took office in 2011. It was a preemptive move designed to give state government the tools to deal with a wave of existing or impending municipal budget crises, driven by a precipitous drop in property values - and thus, local property tax revenue - during the housing crisis and a decade of state revenue-sharing cuts.

On Snyder’s watch, emergency managers were given broad latitude to cut costs in city governments. Flint is the most glaring example of the law’s failure, and Detroit, the best example of its success. Given the Flint crisis, if’s fair to say that the law needs changed.

A Flint Water Advisory Task Force report issued earlier this year recommended worthwhile changes to the emergency manager law; one of the most salient was the creation of an avenue for residents to appeal an emergency manager’s decisions. In Flint, the right to appeal could have made all the difference - residents began to complain of a marked change in water quality shortly after the 2014 switch.

The Legislature’s joint select committee also urges the creation of an environmental quality advisory committee to work in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Quality. The committee says other states have used such a committee to good effect, but we’re left wondering why a department purportedly devoted to ensuring environmental quality should need an advisory, oversight committee devoted to the same objective.

The committee also suggests making Michigan’s lead and copper guidelines more stringent than the national standard, a goal Snyder has already declared.

All told, the recommendations offer a viable path forward for the State of Michigan, and substantial help for the city of Flint.

The bipartisan committee urged the Legislature to act on these recommendations. But will they?

It was unclear last week whether the Legislature is expected to act this year. Snyder’s spokeswoman told the Free Press that the governor is “open to discussions” with the Legislature.

We’re underwhelmed. And we’re experiencing deja vu.

When the rising blood-lead levels in Flint children were first identified last year, the initial response from Lansing was tepid, at best.

We know the problem, and have identified solutions. What on Earth is anyone waiting for?


Times Herald (Port Huron). October 27, 2016

Reaves’ NAACP award is well deserved.

Congratulations are due both to the Port Huron branch of the NAACP and to Port Huron Public Safety Director Michael Reaves. Kudos to Chief Reaves for earning the local NAACP Freedom Fund Award and applause to the civil rights group for giving it to him.

More, we owe praise and admiration to both for cultivating a relationship that makes the award seem less than remarkable. In a time when police and minority groups seem to have an adversarial relationship everywhere else in our country, in Port Huron, they’re giving handing out awards instead of holding up protest signs.

The reason for the difference is obvious. Reaves and his officers - who, we should say, must share in the NAACP’s recognition - take the idea of community policing seriously. Reaves and his offices make themselves part of the community; they are more than a community’s law enforcement officers.

That is not to say that they do not take their law enforcement responsibilities seriously. Crime statistics continue to follow a downward trend in the city and that’s because the police department demonstrates it can be tough on criminals and the other factors such as blight and nuisance buildings that harm a neighborhood while also being compassionate toward its residents.

That leads to safer and healthier neighborhoods and stronger links among neighbors and the officers who serve them.

“Director Reaves has extraordinary vision of the police department and community policing, and we are proud to work hand in hand with him,” Kevin Watkins, president of the Port Huron NAACP, said. “His outstanding leadership shows as he is uniting the Blue Water Area. We are proud to recognized Director Reaves with this award.”

Uniting is what distinguishes Reaves’ department from the headlines elsewhere. It is the police and residents working together for the common goal of a better city, not adversaries shouting at each other across picket lines.

“We cannot fight crime alone, we must partner with the community to effectively make positive change here in Port Huron. I am humbled and honored to receive this award,” Reaves said as he accepted the award.

He, his department and his city have earned that honor and our gratitude.


The Mining Journal (Marquette)October 27, 2016

Political sign theft an indicator of ugly campaign.

In what has become arguably the ugliest political season ever, campaign signs are disappearing all over Marquette County in droves.

Predictable? Probably. Acceptable? Not in the least.

Top politicos from both major parties report signage - the kind that people pass by and notice every day - is being stolen at an alarming rate.

Marquette County Republican Party Chairman Brendan Biolo said his office has received dozens of calls from people voicing complaints.

The culprits’ main target: Signs advertising the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

“We’ve found a couple with four-letter words spray painted on them. Others have just disappeared,” Biolo said for a Mining Journal story. “The last call was the one that put me over the edge. An individual from Gwinn had seven signs taken within two days.”

Over at Democratic Party headquarters in Marquette, similar sentiments are being expressed.

Hillary Clinton signs are missing, they said.

“We haven’t seen too many problems with the other campaigns, but Clinton signs seem to be a target,” Simon Foster, Marquette County Democratic Party office manager, observed.

The police are on it and are considering suspects but no arrests so far.

Here’s are a pair of suggestions we’d like the thieves to mull: With the end of the campaign at hand, leave the signs alone and vote on Nov. 8.


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