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Wednesday, August 20, 2014


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The PoliTicker

The time I met the president


By Rebecca Ryan          Last updated: 02/10/14 9:21am         

Last Friday, I wasn’t supposed to meet President Barack Obama. But by chance, I did. In fact, I even took a picture with him. His staff just wouldn’t let me keep the photo to prove it.

Let me start from the beginning. I originally got into Obama’s speech at MSU last Friday by volunteering to be an usher. Luckily, I was assigned the section of seating reserved for people vetted to meet the President.

Before people started flooding into the Mary Ann McPhail Equine Performance Center Friday, another student and I were being friendly to some of the guests who were let in early. One woman, in particular, was especially friendly, and the friend I was volunteering with continued to talk to her throughout our morning of ushering people to their seats.

Just a few minutes before the group was filled out of the center’s main room and into a small holding area to meet Obama, I walked over to my friend and she excitedly explained the woman had told her she’d bring us with her to meet the President.

At first, I was hesitant. I thought there was no way we actually would make it through security, as we only were volunteers and a majority of the people in our section were politicians or influential members of our community. It seemed the only Spartans in our small group were Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo (who ended up being the first and second person to shake hands with the President in our group).

But the woman encouraging us brought up a valid point that gave us the guts to pretend we belonged with the chosen ones. She talked about how she had held back from pursuing what she wanted far too long, and it took her a long time to realize if you really want to do something, you have to try.

As the group of people filed out, we stepped into line and tried to smile and act like we belonged. We were almost stopped by staff as we made our way into a tiny room sectioned off with a curtain, but the woman leading us confidently told the man we were with her.

It didn’t take long for the staff to realize we didn’t belong there. But they remained professional and didn’t tackle us or take us out. We stood in the small holding room and talked about how excited we were to meet Barack. I even got a picture with Dantonio and Izzo while we waited.

Finally, Obama came into the room, although we couldn’t see him because he was around the corner behind a curtain. Secret service men stood around him and came into our tiny holding area. Then we could hear his friendly voice making jokes to the people in line. He laughed with a U-M student, asking her if she needed a security escort when she left the center since she was in Spartan territory.

Then we were up. The woman who had helped us sweep through security went up first, and we stepped forward as she finished shaking his hand and smiling for a photo. But their staff gave us a scolding look and told us we wouldn’t be able to meet him.

Obama was standing right in front of us, and the staff told us we had to leave.

My friend and I looked at each other, smiled and took a step toward the president. She explained we were students and I told him we were so excited to meet him. Obama enthusiastically said he loved meeting volunteers and was excited to have some students there. His photographer even took our picture, much to the dismay of the man orchestrating the meet and greet.

In that moment, I wish I’d said something more special. But I honestly can’t remember what more I said.

We went back and asked for the picture after the speech, but his staff explained we wouldn’t be receiving them since we hadn’t been vetted. I have no proof I met him.
But whether or not I have a photo to prove it, I will never forget that feeling of disbelief as I walked out of the holding room.

I was so shocked that it had actually worked. For a few seconds, we had demanded Obama’s attention. I was smiling, shaking, staring at my friend in disbelief. I just walked into a room and met the president. No one stopped us.


Rolling Stone article highlights abortion debate in Michigan


By Geoff Preston          Last updated: 01/21/14 1:10pm         

A recent Rolling Stone article highlights the ongoing debate about abortion through the lens of the Michigan State Senate just down the road in Lansing.

The article begins its look at abortion in America with a look at Michigan state minority leader Gretchen Whitmer, who told the story of her rape on Dec. 11 before the senate voted on a bill that would be one of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in the country. The vote came right before the winter recess.

“Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” she said. “And thank God it didn’t result in a pregnancy, because I can’t imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker.”

Despite this plea the legislation voted to pass the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act. The act prohibits coverage of any abortion, even caused by rape or incest, in almost every coverage plan in the state. Women and their employers who want abortion covered on their insurance plan will have to purchase a separate rider which is often called “rape insurance.”

Michigan joins a slew of states that have passed laws prohibiting insurance coverage of abortions. 24 more states have banned some kind of anti-abortion coverage on insurance plans.


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in hot water


By Simon Schuster          Last updated: 01/21/14 12:28pm         

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 2016 presidential hopes might be on the rocks after two controversies have embroiled his administration in recent weeks.

The first was the revelation that an aide close to the governor had arranged with the Port Authority to close a lane of the George Washington Bridge, ensnaring traffic for days on an already often congested route.

Chronicled in early January by The New York Times with headlines like ”Christie’s Carefully Devised, No-Nonsense Image in Peril,” the details emerged from administration emails subpoenaed by an investigation into the lane closure.

The closure evidently was directed at the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, as punishment for not endorsing Christie during his reelection. Christie denied having any knowledge of the aide’s actions and subsequently fired her in the ensuing media frenzy.

Still reeling from the hit to his otherwise relatively pristine public image, Christie was hit with another scandal last week as Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer accused Christie making herself and Hoboken the subject of what many media outlets have deemed the governor’s “bully politics.”

Zimmer alleged on MSNBC the New Jersey Lieutenant Governor threatened to withhold recovery funds in the wake of Hurricane Sandy unless the mayor supported a Rockefeller real estate development.

In an age of ideological polarization, Christie had emerged as a moderate conservative fawned over by political analysts as a leader making genuine efforts towards bipartisanship.

In light of recent events, whether Christie’s image can rebound from the battering it has received is still unclear.


Obama: Affordable Care Act website working well for majority of users


By Michael Gerstein          Last updated: 12/05/13 8:06pm         

After the Obama administration said Sunday that the tech problems ailing the new federal healthcare exchange website were fixed, Obama addressed reporters on Tuesday about the Affordable Care Act rollout.

“Today, the website is working well for the vast majority of users,” Obama said in a statement. “More problems may pop up, as they always do when you’re launching something new. And when they do, we’ll fix those, too.”

Glitches plagued the federal healthcare exchange site once it went online on Oct. 1, when eager healthcare-seekers tried in vain to explore their policy options on the site.

The Affordable Care Act mandates that all Americans have health insurance of some kind. Many employers cancelled healthcare benefits for employees after the federal exchange went up, leaving many without insurance.

“After just the first month, despite all the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across the country are poised to gain health care coverage through marketplaces and Medicaid beginning on January 1st — some for the very first time,” Obama said in the statement.

“The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future,” he said.


Mark Schauer campaigns on raising minimum wage to $9.25 an hour


By Michael Gerstein          Last updated: 12/05/13 4:54pm         

Democractic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer said he would pressure the Legislature to raise the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour if elected, which would grant Michigan the highest minimum wage in the country.

Schauer contends this would return it to the buying power it had in 1968, though a report from CNN lists that figure at $10.56 an hour.

At any rate, Schauer said, “It’s morally the right thing to do, and it’s good economics for Michigan,” according to media reports, while Gov. Rick Snyder remained ambivalent.

“Snyder, who is likely to face Schauer in the 2014 election, told reporters in Lansing … such a change ‘would be a challenge,’” the Detroit Free Press wrote. “‘We are better than having people work full time and live in poverty, especially when they’re raising kids,” he told the Associated Press, which was briefed on Schauer’s plan before he planned to unveil it outside a Detroit bakery this morning.’”

The article continued with a quote from Schauer: “This is about simple economics,” Schauer said. “When working families have more to spend on everyday necessities like gas, groceries and clothes for the kids, it creates demand for the economy. When demand increases, small businesses grow and hire work more workers.”

Schauer’s proposal is lower than that of the fast food protesters calling for $15 an hour, a demand that’s unlikely to gain any traction in Congress or corporate boardrooms.


Snyder talks Detroit bankruptcy on MSNBC's Morning Joe


By Michael Gerstein          Last updated: 11/08/13 12:21pm         

Amid an ongoing trial over the legality of Detroit’s bankruptcy filling and the city’s billions of dollars of debt, Gov. Rick Snyder made an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to talk about the court case and the city’s future.

“We’re making good progress in Detroit,” Snyder told the show’s host, Joe Scarborough. “We’re not waiting to go through bankruptcy and then have Detroit come back. Much of Detroit is already coming back, and the last obstacle is really the municipal question, about getting better services to citizens dealing with debt and with the bankruptcy.”

The city is struggling under the oppressive weight of $18 billion in debt and more than $19.1 million more spent on firms hired to sort through those financial burdens and navigate legal issues surrounding the bankruptcy, the New York Times reported.

As a result, the cash-strapped city gouged public services, cutting much of its police and fire staff, threatened to sell assets from the Detroit Institute of Arts to pay back creditors and is now seeks to cut public pensions.

But Snyder remained optimistic.

“A lot of exciting things are going on,” he said.

The bankruptcy is a chance to move past Detroit’s troubles, he said, with new urban planning strategies and the creation of green spaces — part of the Detroit City Future plan, a revitalization effort.

Watch the full interview here, where Snyder also talks about the legality of the bankruptcy case, cutting pensions, the Affordable Care Act and voter ID laws.


Senators look to stop potential nuclear waste storage near Lake Huron


By Michael Gerstein          Last updated: 11/06/13 8:17pm         

A Canadian proposal to store nuclear waste in an underground facility near Lake Huron sparked public outcry from environmentalists, state lawmakers and other concerned citizens. Now, Michigan’s U.S. senators are urging Secretary of State John Kerry to stop the plan from moving forward.

In a letter sent last Monday, Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin said they have “serious concerns” with nuclear waste being stored near the lake, which borders Michigan.

“The placement of this nuclear waste storage facility is of great concern given its location near Lake Huron and the importance of the Great Lakes to tens of millions of U.S. and Canadian citizens for drinking water, fisheries, tourism, recreation, and other industrial and economic uses,” the letter stated.

“We believe that the decision to store such large quantities of nuclear waste along the shores of an internationally shared resource must be thoroughly reviewed and considered by both countries,” it went on to say.

Read the full text of the letter here.

Other politicians — State Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, and Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores — expressed similar concerns. The proposal alarmed citizens in Canada, as well.

“A review panel appointed by the Canadian government will issue a recommendation in coming weeks to Canada’s Cabinet, which will in turn decide whether or not to approve the utility’s plan,” a report from RT stated, an international Russian Television network.


Bill could legalize ticket scalping


By Michael Gerstein          Last updated: 10/30/13 9:56pm         

Ticket scalpers are nothing new, but a new state bill officially would make reselling tickets at sporting events or concerts legal.

Introduced Tuesday by Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw, the bill would repeal a 1931 law prohibiting the common practice, and it has the support of 11 other sponsors, including four Democrats and seven Republicans. Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, is among the sponsors.

“An individual who buys a ticket to a sporting event or concert owns that ticket, and they should have every right to sell it if they choose so,” Kelly said in a statement. “This legislation, quite literally, is about allowing the man on the street to sell tickets at fair market value to willing buyers.”

Because of the 1931 law that banned scalping, hawking tickets on game day this Saturday is technically punishable by law, although this likely won’t stop people from doing it.

A statement released by the legislations’ supporters contend that no federal law prohibiting individuals from reselling tickets exists, and more than 30 states currently allow it.

The bill is headed for the House Criminal Justice Committee for review.


Root of shutdown could tie back to redistricting


By Michael Gerstein          Last updated: 10/23/13 9:16pm         

The federal government shutdown seized a headline in just about every major news organization for the better part of October, after shuttering offices, furloughing workers and skidding the national political process to a halt for 17 days.

Now, many are analyzing what happened. They want to understand why, and how something like this could ever take place, though the country endured two shutdowns in the past.

A new guest article from Bridge, News and Analysis from The Center for Michigan, claims redistricting could have a lot to do with it.

“Gerrymandering – the practice of redrawing political boundaries to enhance the power of one political party at the expense of another – is nearly as old as our American democracy,” wrote Jocelyn Benson and John Schwarz.

“But what makes it so pernicious today is that it has allowed a well-financed ideological minority to gain undue influence in the Republican Party and then use that power to prevent Congress from reaching agreement on issues as wide-ranging as immigration policy, entitlement reform and climate change.

“How? Because in districts that are noncompetitive – those clearly dominated by one political party – the primary election becomes the only meaningful election. Most moderate voters in both parties skip primaries. The ideologically inclined voters who do show up, perhaps 15 percent of those registered, call the tune. That does not reflect the interests of the vast majority of the electorate,” they wrote.

Political ideologies have become more polarized than perhaps ever before, many argue, and the two major parties so unrelenting in their ambitions, with a small conservative faction within the Republican Party unabashedly plowing forward with their plan to derail the Affordable Care Act even if that meant shutting the entire government down for nearly a month.

John Cavanagh, co-founder of the Lansing-based polling firm, EPIC-MRA, said much the same about the impact of district lines, just before the shutdown.

The “theatrics,” he said, and the sometimes “patently illogical stances on the part of some members of Congress is in large part due to redistricting.

“The more extreme elements tend to have a greater influence in August elections then in November,” Cavanagh continued.


Lansing Chamber of Commerce, UAW endorse three East Lansing council candidates


By Geoff Preston          Last updated: 10/16/13 11:09pm         

Two Lansing organizations have taken sides in the upcoming East Lansing City Council elections, joining together in support of three council candidates.

The Lansing Chamber of Commerce and the United Auto Workers Region 1-C announced Tuesday that their organizations officially would endorse Ruth Beier, Ben Esseylinck, and incumbent Kathleen Boyle for the Nov. 5 election.

“The candidates we have endorsed possess a combination of leadership, business experience and community commitment that will help foster a positive direction for the city of East Lansing,” Kristin Beltzer, senior vice president for governmental relations and public affairs for the Lansing Chamber of Commerce Kristin Beltzer said in a statement released Tuesday.

CAP coordinator for UAW Art Luna said in the same statement that both parties are happy to be collaborating again.

“We are happy to partner again with the LRCC in endorsing candidates that will serve the area’s needs,” she said. “We look forward to working together to create jobs and economic investment in the future.”