Rick Pluta | Michigan Radio

Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosted the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

Gretchen Whitmer

Governor Gretchen Whitmer made an online pitch Friday to Upper Peninsula civic leaders to support her 2021 agenda, including clean energy and workforce training plans. And she asked them to hold to account politicians who fail to condemn hate and violence in public life.

The governor met with business and education leaders online instead of her usual in-person U.P. swing following the State of the State address and budget rollout.

A photograph of the exterior of Michigan Capitol building
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Republican-controlled state Senate adopted a COVID-19 budget bill on Thursday over the objections of Democrats.

The bill includes money for schools, help for struggling businesses, and rent assistance.

But it also holds back some federal funds that could be used to bargain with Governor Gretchen Whitmer over COVID restrictions.

3D rendering of coronavirus
donfiore / Adobe Stock

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that many of the state’s COVID-19 data trends are moving in the right direction, and that more restrictions on nursing home visits could be lifted soon.

gretchen whitmer wearing mask at podium

Governor Gretchen Whitmer told a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday that the country needs a national strategy to tackle failing infrastructure and climate change.

Whitmer was part of a panel that testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. During her time, the governor referred to her promise to fix roads and to address climate-related flooding events that have bedeviled parts of the state.

gretchen whitmer wearing mask at podium

Governor Gretchen Whitmer will be part of a panel testifying Wednesday before a U.S. Senate committee on infrastructure and climate change.

Jeff Cranson is with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

He says the governor will mention the failures last year of two dams in Midland and Gladwin counties.

a portrait of speaker of the Michigan house lee chatfield
Michigan House Republicans

Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield is out as the CEO of a Kalamazoo-area economic development organization.

He quit amid controversy over his opposition to adding LGBTQ protections to the state civil rights law as the House Republican leader.

hemlock wooly adelgid
Courtesy of Mark C. Whitmore

A tree-killing pest has made its way into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and its spread has state natural resources officials concerned.

The threat comes from the hemlock wooly adelgid, described as aphid-like creatures that are native to eastern Asia. They form small white masses on the underside of branches and make their way beneath the bark to feed off the sap.

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA)
Bytemarks / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Processing unemployment claims in Michigan was slowed by an unprecedented wave of fraud attempts during the COVID-19 crisis.

That’s according to testimony Thursday by the director of the unemployment agency before a state Senate committee.

Unemployment system director Liza Estlund Olson spoke to the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said again Wednesday the Legislature’s Republican leaders are failing to bargain on a COVID-19 plan for Michigan.

The governor said so during an online news conference.

At issue on the deadlock is how to spend $5 billion in federal COVID response funds, and back-to-school plans, restrictions on businesses, and GOP calls for new limits on executive authority to issue emergency health orders.

Hands gripping jail cell bars

Michigan continued a trend last year of fewer felons returning to prison for committing new crimes for violating the terms of their parole. That’s according to the Michigan Department of Corrections’ tracking of parolees for three years after they’ve been released.

Last year’s return rate was 26.7%, said MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz. The 2019 rate was 29.1%.

Marijuana plant
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Grand Traverse County prosecutor says she won’t challenge a state Court of Appeals decision.

The ruling says judges cannot ban the use of cannabis by medical marijuana cardholders as a condition of probation.

Michael Thue is a medical marijuana consultant and cardholder. He was placed on one year’s probation after pleading guilty to assault and battery.

Gretchen Whitmer

Governor Gretchen Whitmer addressed an influential group of metro Detroit business leaders Friday and asked for their help to end a standoff over her COVID-19 relief plans and to demand civility in politics.

Whitmer asked the Detroit Regional Chamber to use its clout to help erase a toxic political culture that’s normalized threats of violence.

$100 bills
Tomasz Zajda / Adobe Stock

Governor Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her $67.1 billion proposed budget Thursday and began the job of selling her plan to the Legislature’s Republican leaders.

The relationship between the Democratic governor and GOP leaders has hovered between frosty and hostile, with fights over the state’s COVID-19 response often at the center.

The governor said settling disagreements on return-to-school plans, helping businesses, and vaccine distribution is critical as the response moves from crisis management to recovery.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey

Post Updated at 5:03 p.m, February 10, 2021:

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) again stoked controversy on Wednesday when he refused to back off from suggesting the January 6 U.S. Capitol riot was a "hoax."

A photograph of the exterior of Michigan Capitol building
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Tensions at the state Capitol ramped up Wednesday as Republicans in the Legislature pushed back against the Whitmer administration’s use of executive powers to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

The GOP-led House Appropriations Committee rejected Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s back-to-school plans and substituted a Republican plan. Among other things, it offers financial incentives to resume in-person learning.

A state Senate Democrat has sponsored a bill to ban display of the Confederate battle flag in the state Capitol building or on the Capitol grounds.

Senator Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) called for the ban after demonstrators carried the flag during Michigan Capitol protests, and a Republican lawmaker wore the pattern on a facemask.

Santana says the flag has a long history and its symbolism is obvious.

state capitol building in lansing, michigan at night
Chris / Adobe Stock

Democrats are pressing the Legislature’s GOP leaders to vote on Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to spend federal COVID-19 assistance.

State House Democrats have asked for an up-or-down vote on a nearly $5.7 billion package that’s almost identical to Whitmer’s proposal.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Legislature’s Republican leaders said Wednesday they appreciate Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s calls for unity and bipartisanship in her State of the State address, but they’re not seeing much evidence she means it.

That was the word from Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), who held their GOP response the day after Whitmer’s speech.

Gretchen Whitmer

Governor Gretchen Whitmer made a peace offering to Republicans in her third State of the State address on Wednesday night. That’s as Republicans have ramped up their resistance to her COVID-19 restrictions.

Images Money / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

A report to the Legislature from the Michigan Auditor General says there should have been more controls over how millions of dollars in COVID-19 response funds were spent. But the same report also says the spending overall has been “appropriate.”

The report focused largely on government credit cards that were shared between state employees to buy emergency supplies. That made it harder to track who was buying what, and there was one case of purchased personal protective equipment that was never delivered.

testing swab
Shutterstock image

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and state health officials say they are very concerned about a new variant of COVID-19 that’s been found in Michigan. And that could affect the course of the state’s response and the pace of re-opening more schools, sports, and businesses.

diner wearing masked being served a sandwich from a waitress wearing a mask
hedgehog94 / Adobe Stock

Beginning February 1, indoor dining can resume in Michigan, but can only reopen at 25% capacity with up to 100 people, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced in a press conference Friday. Concessions at casinos, movie theaters and stadiums, as well as personal services requiring mask removal will be able to resume as well.

In addition to capacity restrictions, restaurants and bars must close by 10 p.m. Restaurants must also collect contact information from diners for contact tracing purposes.

court gavel
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

President Joe Biden will name replacements for a judge and a federal prosecutor after their resignations following the presidential inauguration.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider was appointed three years ago by then-President Donald Trump.

Schneider will join a private law firm after leading multiple corruption prosecutions as metro-Detroit’s federal prosecutor, including convictions of UAW officials and Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith.

man in white shirt and blue tie puts hand over stomach and has a holster with a gun on it on his left side
Adobe Stock

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s newest budget request includes $5 million to pay for enforcing a gun ban at the state Capitol.

That’s after the Michigan State Capitol Commission voted last week to ban the open carry of guns in the building by people who don’t have a license to carry a concealed firearm.

But the commission said it does not have the money or the authority to go further.

Michigan's State Capitol building in Lansing
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There will be a new Republican serving on the bipartisan state board that certifies election results – most recently President-elect Joe Biden’s Michigan victory last November. Governor Gretchen Whitmer – a Democrat – selected Tony Daunt from a list submitted by the Michigan Republican Party.

Daunt is the executive director of the Freedom Fund, a conservative foundation with ties to the DeVos family.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Plans for a mass demonstration Sunday at the state Capitol drew a large law enforcement presence, but only a small crowd of protesters.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has activated Michigan National Guard units ahead of protests expected Sunday at the state Capitol.

The coordinated law enforcement effort also includes the FBI and local police departments.

Police agencies have ramped up intelligence gathering and a visible presence following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that turned violent and out of control.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Indoor gyms will be allowed to re-open and non-contact sports can resume under a new Department of Health and Human Services order – as long as mask and distancing protocols are followed. That will take effect Saturday.

But indoor dining at restaurants is still not allowed.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Legislature will open its new session on Wednesday with a larger security presence due to the threat of violence.

The session will begin in the shadow of the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Michigan has also been at the center of plots against Governor Gretchen Whitmer and an assault on the state Capitol last April.