It’s one of the most important decisions on the ballot come Election Day, yet the race for Michigan Supreme Court justices has thus far been mostly ignored.
In Michigan, between the buzz surrounding the six controversial statewide ballot proposals and the presidential race, somewhere lost in the shuffle is the race for a three judicial seats in the State’s highest court.
State Supreme Court justices are powerful elected officials. They decide on the issues that shape the state’s constitution as well as settling major controversies moved up from lower courts.
The Michigan Supreme Court has sweeping managerial power over all state courts in Michigan. Some key political issues Michigan Supreme Court justices have decided in recent years are gay marriage, stem cell research and affirmative action.
This year, the Supreme Court played a major role in the allowance of statewide ballot initiatives. This summer the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that voters should decide whether Public Act 4, the law that enabled the governor to appoint financial managers to replace locally elected officials in cash strapped cities like Detroit, should be struck down or upheld. Due to the Supreme Court’s decision, this issue will appear as Proposal 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Major historic decisions rest in the hands of three people who are up for election to rule on the State’s Supreme Court this year. Two positions are for eight-year terms, and one is a two-year partial term.
Despite the importance of justices seated in the Supreme Court, historically there has been a pattern of people skipping the nonpartisan section of the ballot where the options for Michigan Supreme Court justices (along with local court justices) appear.
“Roughly 28 percent of 3.26 million voters in the 2010 general election skipped the nonpartisan portion of the ballot — which lists Supreme Court justices even though they're nominated by the Republican and Democratic parties — as did about 26 percent of 5.04 million who voted in the 2008 presidential election, according to figures from the Secretary of State's office. Yet millions are being spent to influence voters this year.”
With a flood of radio and TV adds made to persuade voters, most voters still don’t know who the candidates are let alone their political alignment.
Although the Supreme Court candidate’s names appear on the nonpartisan section (the back side of the first page of the ballot), the positions are highly politicized. Political parties nominate candidates who bring liberal or conservative views to the bench. These views are often reflected in crucial decision-making affecting every person living in or visiting Michigan.
As with any race, “nonpartisan” or no, the Michigan Supreme Court seating is a political power play between major political parties.
"The Democrats are pretty much cut out of state government right now, and this would give them a piece of the action," Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter told the Detroit News.
"If there's litigation on these ballot proposals, Democrats would dearly love to have a democratically controlled Supreme Court," he said.
But don't let the partisan tension distract from the fact that a straight ticket vote IS NOT a vote for Supreme Court Justice. If you vote a straight ticket you still have to flip the first page of the ballot to the nonpartisan section to make your Supreme Court picks.
In terms of diversity, all of the Democratic Party nominees and one Republican pick for Supreme Court are women and only one canddiate for Supreme Court, Shelia Johnson, is a racial minority.
To read up on the candidates for supreme court, click HERE. Or visit SmartVote.org to learn about some of their past decisions. Below is a FULL LIST list of candidates for Michigan Supreme Court linked to their SmartVote.org profiles:
Full term candidates (eight-year term)--You can vote for two of the following people:
Doug Dern (Natural Law Party nominee)
Connie Marie Kelly (Democratic Party nominee)
Stephen Markman (Republican Party nominee)
Bridget Mary McCormack (Democratic Party nominee)
Kerry L. Morgan (Libertarian party nominee)
Colleen O’Brien (Republican party nominee)
Bob Roddis (Libertarian Pary nominee)
Partial Term candidates (two year term)-- You can vote for only one of the following people:
Mindy Berry (U.S. Taxpayer Party nominee)
Shelia Johnson (Democratic Party nominee)
Brian Zahra (Republican Party nominee)
If voters were looking to hear more from presidential candidates last night on U. S. leadership in the world, they were sorely disappointed.
Presidential candidates President Barack Obama and GOP challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, rolled out the same discussion points from the previous two debates with topics often sticking on the domestic economy, taxes, and military spending.
The debate, which was slated to focus on foreign policy issues, offered nothing new to the presidential race in terms of content. Discussion had on affairs abroad stayed wrapped around the turmoil in the Middle East—namely Iran and Syria—and trade with China.
During the 90-minute debate, both Obama and Romney addressed some hot-button issues with Romney agreeing with Obama at many points in the discussion. It was as if the rest of the globe did not exist, or at best was irrelevant.
Nowhere in the debate was any talk of Europe’s economic scare, the Central American drug trade, climate change, a rising India, Sub-Saharan Africa or international economics.
Instead, both candidates took whatever chance they could get to drag the discussion back home to domestic issues while moderator Bob Schieffer sat back watched it happen.
When Scheiffer asked about America’s role in the world Romney skirted the question almost entirely in his two-minute response. With a vague statement that the United States has a responsibility to make peace in the world, he quickly jumped home to safety.
"In order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong -- America must lead," Romney said. "And for that to happen, we have to strengthen our economy here at home."
Romney then slipped into the same rhetoric from the first two debates, blaming Obama for the sluggish economy and claimed to know what it takes to get the economy booming again.
Obama broke from the topic of foreign affairs in a similar fashion during other parts of the debate. When talking about military spending, he said the focus should be more on spending on education and domestic issues.
“There are some things we have to do here at home as well. It’s very hard to project leadership around the world when we’re not doing what we need to do [at home],” Obama said, using that as segue to talk about more education and other issues facing the U.S.
Schieffer at one point asked the candidates to stay on the topic saying “"let me get back to foreign policy." Schieffer otherwise let the two spin off however they pleased.
The tone of the debate was one that showed an aggressive Obama, perhaps making up ground lost from the first debate, and Romney trying to stick on his strongest point, the national economy.
Obama served up the toughest jabs and smart talk of the night while Romney’s strategy was what some pundits are calling a “prevent defense” tactic: letting sharp charges from the President slide in order to seem less vulnerable.
One of the most tweetable moments of the debate came when Obama chided Romney for numbers he used to portray shrinking on military spending.
“You mentioned the Navy and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets," Obama said, pointing out that times and technology has changed.
During the debate Obama repeatedly aimed to pin Romney as out of touch.
The President said Romney was stuck in the past with outdated foreign and social policy. “The 80’s called, they want their foreign policy back,” he said of Romney’s charge that Russia was one of America’s biggest threats.
Romney took a few swings at Obama during the debate, saying that the United States is loosing its influence abroad under the President and slamming the president for his attempts at diplomacy.
"The president began what I would call an apology tour, going to the Middle East and blaming America," Romney said.
Obama argued U.S. foreign relations have improved under his administration.
When it came to the closing statements, both candidates drove home national issues instead of foreign relations.
Romney in his closing remarks focused on America’s the struggling economy asserting that he has what it takes to build "strong leadership" and rebuild the U.S. economy.
Obama focused on what he has done to clean up after the Bush administration including ending two wars and getting the economy running against after near collapse in 2009 when he entered office. Obama then compared Romney to Bush, saying the GOP candidate would enact similar policy as the former president.
While Obama seemed to be the stronger performer (it seemed hardly fair, a sitting president pitted against a first-term governor), it mattered little. Other than entertainment, the debate provided no new information to the U.S. electorate.
If nothing else, Detroiters got a chuckle out of hearing Romney claim to be "the son of Detroit."
With three weeks left before Election Day, Michigan voters have plenty of time to cast their absentee ballots every day until Nov. 6 according to Detroit Election Director Daniel Baxter.
“In Detroit, every last 21 of these days is election day,” Baxter told more than 150 attendees at a voter education event on Detroit’s East side Monday night.
Earlier this month, City Clerk Janice Winfrey announced the opening of two satellite polling sites at Wayne County Community College (WCCC) East and West Campuses for voters who want to turn their absentee ballot in person.
Anyone can cast an absentee ballot, Baxter said. All you need to do is check a box that you will be out of town on election day, even if you will be in the area but expect difficulty getting to the polls on that day.
A Long Wait:
Baxter said this year’s two-page, double-sided ballot is expected to take each voter 15 minutes or more to complete, which will make for long lines at the polls on Election Day.
For seniors and those who don’t expect to have enough time in their schedule to wait to vote on Nov. 6, absentee ballots are encouraged.
Really, there are two ballots: one has the partisan and non partisan sections and the second is the proposal section which is double-sided this year with 18 City, County, State, DPS and WCCC referendums.
Do Your Homework:
With so many ballot proposals, if voters are not prepared this ballot can be intimidating. And it’s a waste of a vote to skip items on the ballot. So look at a copy of the ballot before you vote and study these 18 initiatives so you can be respectful of everyone’s time at your polling location.
Voter turnout in Detroit has been dismal in the past with less than a quarter of the city’s electorate voting in some elections. Don’t make long lines at the polls be a bad thing. Wait it out, or vote absentee if your schedule is one that does not permit sufficient time to wait in lines cast a ballot.
If you have time today or any day before Nov. 6, stop by one of these locations to vote:
Wayne County Community College Northwest Campus:
801 West Fort Street Detroit, MI 48226
Wayne County Community College Eastern Campus:
5901 Conner Street Detroit, MI 48213
Whatever happens with suspended Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, will play out in time.
But in the meantime, the Detroit Police Department (DPD) is in good hands. That’s the message from Detroit Councilman James Tate.
The former deputy police chief only had positive things to say about now interim Police Chief Chester Logan, who he has worked with in the past. "He's someone who is highly regarded by the men and women of the Police Department," Tate told the Detroit Free Press.
Logan is a lifelong Detroiter with more than 38 years of experience with the Detroit Police force who also served the U. S. Army in the Vietnam War.
Godbee Broke Trust, Not Rules
After sitting through hours of the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trail, the difference between unethical and illegal is still ringing in my ears. While no one thinks what Godbee did was illegal, it is certainly believed to be unethical to have an interdepartmental affair.
Fair grounds for suspension, many have said. Obviously Mayor Dave Bing thinks so.
According to the DPD’s employee policy, there’s nothing that prohibits interdepartmental relationships, according to a Detroit police spokesperson.
But Bruce Miller, an employment lawyer and president of Miller Cohen told The Free Press that there’s a reason for a lack of specific rules: "An organization can't have a rule that defines everything it does," Miller said. "The rule book would be awfully thick."
Detroit Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said Godbee should resign and to clear the city of any scandal or perceived ethical breach: Just because a decision is not illegal or against the rules doesn’t mean it’s not wrong.
The bottom line is that the DPD is in good hands with Logan and one Police Chief’s digressions are small compared to the big picture of keeping the city safe. Knowing this we can all calm down on the Godbee topic.
Since he was elected mayor in 2009, Dave Bing has fired two police chiefs and suspended one. Bing removed former police chief James Barron and appointed then Wayne County Sherriff Warren Evans. He did so as a standard round of appointments for his administration.
But since then both of Bing’s picks for police chief have been involved romantically with subordinates. Bing suspended current Police Chief Ralph Godbee Tuesday evening after an affair that Godbee was having with a subordinate was exposed.
It seems as though Detroit Mayor Bing’s tolerance for internal romance between police chiefs and subordinates is very low. My question is this: Does this have to do with the shadow of the Kwame Kipatrick sex scandal that still looms over city leaders? Has the fear that the city can’t afford another ongoing sex scandal made the mayor hyper sensitive to relationships between leaders and subordinates?
Chief Godbee, who is separated from his wife and going through a divorce, was having a relationship with a married police officer. Not a huge scandal at face value, but maybe Bing knows something bigger is going on here. If not, the suspension seems a bit drastic, especially as the Detroit Police Department faces such trying times. With 10 percent wage cuts, 12-hour shifts, low police morale, and a homicide rate that grows daily makes an interoffice affair seem miniscule.
That’s not to say Godbee’s actions were right. Godbee should have learned a lesson from the events that surrounded his appointment to chief in the first place. And it’s never a good idea to sleep with an employee.
Godbee was appointed to be the city’s top law enforcer after Bing fired his predecessor, Warren Evans, in part for being romantically involved with a subordinate. At the time Bing said Evans’ romantic relationship with Lt. Monique Patterson would get in the way of Evans’ ability to conduct business.
Directly after Bing hired Godbee to replace Evans, Patterson released text messages showing she also had a romantic relationship with Godbee. Bing didn’t act on the texts Patterson released, and Godbee remained at his post.
Godbee's suspension sparked Evan's interest. Evans, who was fired in 2009, still seems bitter about the oust: He posted on Facebook:
Maybe someone can help me with the Mayor's mathematical equation and thought process:
Single man openly dates single woman = forced resignation
Married man has affair with single woman=promotion to Chief
Married man has another affair with married woman=30 day suspension.
Married man has no clue about fighting crime or fiscal management
The suspension of a police chief does not move the city any closer to curbing the rising homicide rate: The 287 murders committed through Sept. 23 in Detroit are 26 more than at the same point last year.
But the immediate and severe action does move the city closer to an image of no-nonsense leadership that snips interoffice sex scandals in the bud. And maybe that’s what Detroit needs most.
The fast-talking, no-nonsense U.S. attorney leading the prosecution team in the Kwame Kilpatrick corruption trial may seem severe in the courtroom, but R. Michael Bullotta has a softer side.
The 45-year-old federal agent is no stranger to corruption cases, with 15 years as a federal prosecutor under his belt and many additional years of law enforcement experience before that. In the courtroom he is aggressive, quick to object when the defense brings up something he feels is inappropriate.
But behind his rectangular wire-framed glasses, his dark suits and a direct tone, Bullotta is actually a creative writer with a knack for charities and a streak of empathy for young criminals.
In fact, he wrote the book Hard Core, fast-paced crime thriller gangs in L.A that was published last fall.
The novel is heavily based on Bullotta’s experiences as a gang prosecutor in the Hard Core Gang Division of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.
Online reader reviews have been mostly positive so far on sites like Amazon.com where his works been compared to that of John Grisham, Joseph Wambaugh and Mary Higgins Clark.
On Bullotta’s Facebook fan page (yes, he has one) Bullotta he says he pledged a generous donation of the proceeds from book sales to The Forgotten Harvest, a non-profit with a mission torelieve hunger in metro Detroit by rescuing surplus, prepared and perishable food and donating it to emergency food providers.
In the Amazon.com book preview, the tone of the novel seems like a campy, crime trhriller novel version of the HBO series The Wire. An excerpt from the book’s opening chapter shows Bulotta seeking to empathize with a young Latino gangbanger in L.A.
“He wished that his mother had hit him, or at least battered his soul. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel like this. He’d be just another young Latino fallen victim to L.A.’s violent culture. He too could claim that he had resorted to gang banging in order to survive in a jungle of lovelessness and death.”
Bullotta also writes in a postive way about witness cooperation, a hot topic recently as witnesses with immunity deals take the stand in the Kilpatrick trial this week.
“It was clear to him as he looked straight through the grassy canyon that is was time to make it up to her. He was going to “flip and cooperate” as his friend and detective put it. His homies would call him “buster,” or coward and it would be a matter of neighborhood pride to smoke him for disrespecting his set. But he truly believed that going legit was the only thing that would make her proud.”
In court, it’s nearly impossible to picture Bullotta using the word, “homie” or “busta” but this is one instance where we can’t judge a book by its cover.
Aside from community policing and preventative programs, law enforcement officials have offered up a tougher solution to get better a grip on crime in the city.
At a Forum at Wayne State University last week, former Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton and Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee suggested Michigan adopt sentence enhancements for gang members who commit crimes. The idea is that it will discourage gang-related violence, which is responsible for the high homicide rates in Detroit according to Godbee.
But before we go running to lawmakers to push for these “enhanced” punishments for organized crime, we should look at how Detroit’s criminal landscape differs from California in the late 90’s when Bratton was police chief.
Bratton talked about L.A.’s crime scene in a 2007 NPS interview:
“It's the birthplace of the black gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. It is the historical birthplace of the Latino gangs [and the] Mexican mafia …”
In the late 90’s when Bratton took on the Californian Crips and the Bloods, it was easier to ID gang members. For starters, they wore distinctive colors. The gangs were larger, some spanning an entire city with key signs and symbols that were easier to spot and define.
But Detroit gangs are different. The problem isn’t Crips or Bloods but rather small, wild groups of friends and neighbors who dub themselves according to whatever street they live on. Names like “Fenkell Boys” or “Lafayette Goons” are just neighborhood cliques getting into beef with the gangs or cliques just one street over. These micro gangs are harder to identify.
Detroit City Council Member James Tate, who formerly served as deputy police chief in Detroit, said it is hard to ID gangs in this city:
“Our gangs are really just people who get together and get themselves a name. We have to redefine what we call a gang. They’re not all the same colors or anything like that.”
While crime fighting is tricky, we have to be careful not to be so reactionary and take a closer look at preventative measures. It would take intensive community policing to keep up on all of the city's little crime cliques since they are often remote, smaller than big organized crime circles, and change constantly.
Public-Private Partnerships? There’s a Prop. For That
With all of the ballot proposals cluttering the 2012 ballot in Michigan this year—especially Detroit—we can pick just about any hot political topic and confidently say (much like iPhone applications), “there’s a proposal for that.”
One of the hot-button issues is the public-private partnership. These gray lines between private and public dollars and control have become more common in Detroit as the city struggles to fend off bankruptcy or State management amid a financial crisis.
So as the October 1 deadline to transfer Detroit’s Department of Health and Wellness Promotion to a private nonprofit approaches, let’s dig through the pile and see which proposals apply to these.
There is a couple. One of them is Proposal 2, an amendment to the state constitution that would engrave collective bargaining rights into state law. Those way, if a union-run city department gets transferred, guess who has the legal power to stop it?
The other is Proposal P, a Detroit measure that would amend the city charter to allow elected officials and employees to work for a private contractor with the city. In light of recent city hall scandals, the charter was revised to ban such movement, mandating a one-year interim period before a private company contracted by the City can hire for contract a former city employee.
Obviously, Proposal P has its issues. It blurs the line between public and private a little more than it’s already been blurred and without the proper controls could open the floodgates to more corruption, but as the city budget crunches and shifts services into private operations, it’s needed if city employee have any chance of keeping or finding a new job with the city.
Of course, this is creating kickback from unions, but it’s happening: public funds are drying up and services crumbling and private companies and organizations are there to catch them. In a lot of ways it makes sense.
Detroit is the only city in Michigan with health and wellness services on the payroll. Come October, that will change.
"The city has to increase its efficiencies in providing these services, and we've got to do a better job of making sure our citizens get the support services they need," Bing said in a statement.
As far as proposals go, Michigan's Proposal 2 would make such public-private transfers harder on a statewide level and Detroit’s Proposal P would make such city transfers a bit smoother, at least in terms of re-hiring those displaced by the public-private switch.
Every good story has a bad guy. It keeps people reading. That’s why it’s easier to dish out criticism than praise.
But there are two sides to every story.
Today, instead of criticizing the Governor Snyder or Mayor Dave Bing for not fully communicating with the Detroit City Council before holding a big shiny press conference about a floppy proposal for Belle Isle Park, I’m going to try the tricky side, the perhaps less mainstream, side of this one and support the Council members for opposing this excuse for a proposal.
Yes, the council opposes the Belle Isle deal, but it’s not for crazy, reactionary reasons like many people have assumed. It’s not because of a proposed entrance fee to the island, or because they feel that the state trying to pull some kind of enemy takeover. In fact, they want what we all want for Belle Isle: For it to be a safe, beautiful place for people to go and enjoy the outdoors and other attractions.
It’s being rejected by the Council because the proposal that they were given to vote on is not complete. It is missing large chunks of key information.
Gov. Snyder was right. This isn’t Detroit v. Michigan; it’s Detroit, Michigan.
We’re all in this together. So why hold out of information?
After reading the proposal for Belle Isle (exactly as it was presented to City Council) I understand why the Council members plan to vote it down.
In short, it’s not a proposal at all. A proposal when something is proposed. Specifics are given. Information is shared so that the people deciding on the proposal can vote whether or not it’s a good idea.
One blaring example of this comes at the very beginning where the lease document says it has five exhibits—important, key information about the agreement—attached. However of the exhibits listed on the proposal, only one is actually physically attached to the proposed lease.
“List of Exhibits. The following Exhibits are attached to and made a part of this Lease:
Exhibit A: Legal Description [of property]
Exhibit B: Identification of Roads and Bridges
Exhibit C: Memorandum of Understanding between the City and MDOT
Exhibit D: Memorandum of Understanding between the City and DNR Regarding the
Belle Isle: Greenhouses
Exhibit E: Phased Management Approach of Belle Isle dated July 2012”
On the lease, proposal A, a legal description of Belle Isle, is the only thing that is actually attached. It's the only exhibit the council would have to go by before making a major decision on whether or not to grant Belle Isle to the State of Mcihgian for 30 years (or more).
“This is no way to conduct business,” Councilman James Tate said in a meeting this week regarding the State's proposal. He said he called State officials three times this week seeking the information and had still not received those exhibits of the lease.
Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder told The Detroit News: "it's premature to discuss specifics" :
"Until we have an agreement with the city, we can't do the needed and detailed analysis and structural and cost assessments of the buildings and facilities," she said.
That poses a catch 22: The council can’t, in good faith, agree blindly to something as big as Belle Isle’s management and the state won't fork over details until they have control over the Island.
It's a hot mess, but it doesn't have to be. It's set up so the Council looks they they're the bottle neck to the dealm but the Council shouldn't take the fall for this one. They're not stalling progress like some have opined, rather they are doing their job. That is, to make informed decisions on behalf of the people of Detroit.
Will Detroit grant Belle Isle to the state in a 30-year lease? Possibly. But we need to know what the plan is.
After attending the Kilpatrick jury selection last week I can’t get affirmative action out of my head. I can’t get the racially geared questions out of my head, either. Last week I must have heard the same question asked 50 different ways: “Do you know what affirmative action is? Based on historical events do you understand why African American people would speak in an angry, frustrated way about white people?
If that’s in my head, I can only imagine how these questions have been branded into those who have been sitting in that courtroom for the past two weeks.
But I can’t help but ask myself those questions, over and over. Of course, I understand why black people are frustrated. Of course, I understand what affirmative action is.
But somehow it seems as though there have been so many tidy, sterile ways language has formed around race. Words like affirmative action, African American.
We go about our days and don’t talk about it’s. It’s a taboo topic, an emotional one. But race relations are still strained. Detroit in 2012 is certainly not Jackson Mississippi in the sixties, but it’s not exactly Sesame Street, either.
The worst part is that it seems impossible to pin down exactly what’s wrong. Race-based Discrimination is elusive, hidden and if you talk about it, you’re playing some sort of “race card.”
The fact is, there is no updated language to communicate about race. We’re stuck with terms from a civil rights movement long past.
Activist Jesse Jackson was on to something when he spoke in Detroit last week:
“This is the early morning of a new phase of our struggle. Freedom without equality is freedom to starve. In the business world, we are not playing on an even playing field,” he said.
Jackson is right, in the business world and outside of it, minorities are not playing on an even playing field. But today it’s not as obvious, there’s no easy way to describe what exactly tilts this proverbial playing field. It’s tangled in years of history, in culture, woven discretely into the fabric of society, in laws and knee-jerk thought patters.
The first step to changing is for people of all backgrounds be willing to talk about race first without emotions getting out of hand. There has to be some avenue to disscus race openly and often, and not in an accusitory way, but in one that seeks to truly understand what we mean when we say we aren't on a level playing field. Books have been written about this, great books, but it will have to be through everyday that change comes about.
“This is a very different dimension of our struggle,” Jackson said at a press conference last Thursday. He’s right.
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