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Dirty politics: The new normal in Michigan?

Intrigue. Deception. Conspiracy... Yes, it certainly feels like politics in Michigan is becoming a little more wrought with fraud-filled stories. In this week's It's Just Politics, we ask: are dirty politics the new normal in Michigan?

Zoe Clark: Allegations of fraud. That’s the big political story this week.

Rick Pluta: Petition fraud – it’s the new hanging chad.

ZC: Can we call this the “Hanging Thad” scandal?

RP: You are referring, of course, to Thad McCotter.

ZC: The Republican congressman from Livonia, failed presidential candidate and guitar hero is not disputing that he does not have enough petition signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

RP: He did own up. He released a statement, accepting “full responsibility” – his words -- for the screw-up...  And then he blamed someone else, that he had trusted the wrong people. 

ZC: That’s the way the pros do it! But it’s why he doesn’t have the signatures that’s so….. weird.

RP: Yes. It’s been widely reported that it looks like the vast majority of signatures he turned in were faked. Photo-copied, cut, and pasted onto petition forms to make it seem like he had two thousand names.

ZC: I think this was my eighth grade art project.

RP: Sophisticated…. And stupid all at the same time.

ZC: I mean, they honestly thought no one would notice the signatures were… photo-copies?

RP: Well, they were color photo-copies.

ZC: But still, there were only 244 signatures that were actual signatures. Those are also being checked to make sure they’re valid. But it’s far short of the one thousand required to qualify. But these questions have prompted an investigation into possible petition fraud.

RP: Potentially a felony. A lot of questions into who’s responsible; how it happened. State Attorney General Bill Schuette says his office will get to the bottom of it.

ZC: But first, next week, the Board of State Canvassers will officially reject the petitions. Then the petitions can be turned over to state investigators.

RP: Yes. Right now, they’re working with…

ZC: Wait for it…

RP: Photo-copies.

ZC: Of photo-copies?

RP: Yes.

ZC: So, Democrats are making hay with this – press releases with statements, asking questions – anything to keep this in the news and on people’s lips.

RP: And it doesn’t hurt, not Democrats, at least, that there are also allegations of skullduggery being leveled against Republicans in the case of Roy Schmidt – the turncoat Democrat who pulled a last-minute party switch to the Republicans just before the filing deadline. A mysterious Democrat filed at the exact same time for that party’s primary. But then there was the harsh glare of publicity, questions about his residency, and Matt Mojzak pulled out, leaving no Democrat on the ballot.

ZC: Now, Democrats will use a write-in candidate to nominate their candidate for the November ballot. Meanwhile, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer has filed an elections complaint with the Secretary of State.

RP: That’s Ruth Johnson, a Republican.

ZC: The complaint names Schmidt, House Speaker Jase Bolger, his chief of staff…

RP: A Democrat from Grand Rapids, Brandon Dillon, also has introduced legislation to increase the penalty for lying about where you live to run for office or to aid and abet someone in that. Dillon sat with Schmidt in the House, campaigned with him, and appears to be taking this kind of personally.

ZC: And it was just two years ago that Democrats were on the defensive over some election fraud.

RP: Yes. The fake Tea Party scandal. Apparently, an effort to splinter the conservative vote. Two high-ranking members of the Oakland County Democratic Party were convicted of election tampering and put on probation.

ZC: So, is this kind of brazen behavior just the new normal in Michigan politics? Or is it just that we’ve never noticed these kinds of shenanigans here?

RP: Why should Chicago have all the fun?

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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