Transgender name changes, tax cut dispute, tornados: Your guide to Michigan politics

2021 Rally for Equality

In this file photo, pins lie on the OutFront Kalamazoo table in Bronson Park. Lawmakers are expected to present bills in the fall to make it easier for transgender people to change their names. (Photo by Carlin Stiehl | Stiehl |

It began with the last of three trials in an alleged plot to nab the governor and incite a civil war – yes, that saga continues – and the latest effort to redirect, or handicap, a West Michigan health department by hacking its budget nearly in half.

A few days later, for the first time in history, a former U.S. president, notably and decidedly absent from his party’s first 2023-2024 presidential primary debate, walked into an Atlanta jail and posed for a mugshot.

And by Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was declaring a state of emergency in some Michigan counties after deadly storms tore through the state, tossing about tractor-trailers, leveling structures and inciting widespread fear. “I thought I was going to die,” a Novi trucker told Jordyn Hermani, pulled from her usual politics duties to cover a tornado near Lansing.

Auspiciously isolated in southern Michigan and apparently quite tired, I managed to sleep through the Thursday night chaos to awaken to a slew of news messages from the weather and local teams.

It was a week.

This is your guide to Michigan politics.

Trump might again triumph

Alleged crimes and all, former President Donald Trump would be nearly even in Michigan with President Joe Biden in what seems an inevitable 2024 rematch, according to a poll by EPIC-MRA, a Lansing-based nonpartisan firm that surveyed this month 600 active and likely voters.

“Biden is running, I think, weaker than he should be in some areas,” EPIC-MRA president Bernie Porn told MLive.

Trump, in contrast, gained support, increasing from 34% favorability to 37% from the firm’s last survey.

IF YOU MISSED IT: Fifteen months out, Trump vs. Biden is again ultra-competitive in Michigan

Clearly the Republican frontrunner, Trump, accused in his fourth indictment of scheming to reverse his 2020 loss, skipped the Wednesday debate in Milwaukee, and then flew into Georgia Thursday for a brief stint in jail. (He was released on a $200,000 bond and boarded a plane back to New Jersey.)

RELATED: GOP presidential hopefuls talk China, EVs as Michigan candidate fights from sideline

Michigan, by the way, is mentioned 27 times in that indictment. As Simon Schuster reported this week the state was “ground zero for the campaign after the campaign.”

During the infamous phone call when Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” Trump claimed in Michigan, “a tremendous number of dead people” voted in the election, first asserting it was 18,000 before revising to “some unbelievably high number.”

(A 2022 report from Michigan’s auditor general found 1,616 people – far fewer than the 154,000 votes separating Trump from Biden in Michigan – were dead on Election Day. They were mostly absentee voters who died after mailing in their ballots.)

READ IT ALL HERE: A timeline of Michigan events that have led to criminal charges associated with the 2020 election.

Off stage

Clearly a Republican backrunner, Michigan’s Perry Johnson, whose candidacy for governor was derailed by a signature fraud scandal, also skipped the debate, but he didn’t have a choice. The Republican National Committee announced Monday he did not earn the minimum support in sufficient polls to claim a spot.

The wealthy “quality guru” did secure the required donors – by offering $10 gas cards in exchange for $1 donations. Alleging the national committee and host FOX News cherry-picked participants “for their own ends,” Johnson has drafted a complaint he planned to file with the Federal Elections Commission.

IF YOU MISSED IT: Michigan presidential candidate Perry Johnson misses GOP debate, plans to sue

Built to last

Speaking of Republicans, two of them, along with others, are suing Michigan’s treasury department to make permanent Michigan’s income tax cut.

Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan and Rep. Dale Zorn of Onsted both supported a 2015 law that brought about the cut, and they argue it was never intended to be temporary.

“When we debated passing the tax cut trigger in committee hearings and on the floor, it was perfectly clear to everyone there that the reduction was meant to be permanent,” Zorn said in a statement.

Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion in March advising the state treasurer that the cut should only last one year.

The tax decreased this year from 4.25% to 4.05% because, as the 2015 law dictates, state revenue grew faster than inflation.

Representing the plaintiffs is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a self-described free-market think tank based in Midland.

READ MORE: Republicans sue to make temporary Michigan tax cut permanent

Church, school unharmed

In other legal action, a federal judge found the state’s recently expanded Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act is not violating the religious rights of St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Johns and Sacred Heart Academy in Grand Rapids.

The judge said neither institution presented a credible imminent threat in lawsuits filed in response to the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling that the act bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

St. Joseph church had claimed, in part, the court’s 2022 ruling threatened its religious mission. This includes teachings “marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, that sexual relations are limited to marriage, and that human beings are created as either male or female.”

Sacred Heart similarly claimed it would have to hire faculty and staff who oppose the faith, speak messages that violate doctrine and refrain from articulating beliefs in teaching and advertising to prospective students or job applicants.

READ MORE: Catholic church, school lawsuits against Michigan civil rights law thrown out

The Democratic-led state legislature and Whitmer this year codified the Supreme Court ruling, making it illegal under the civil rights act to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in sectors such as employment, housing and education.

The price of a name

Lawmakers now are considering altering state law to make it easier for transgender people to change their names. They are expected to present bills this fall.

As it is, the process can take months, require court involvement and costs up to $400. In contrast, married people can change their last names typically for less than $50 in less time.

“The trans population is statistically underemployed, discriminated against, under-housed – and a lot of these things can offer a lot of financial barriers just to existing, to survival,” Grand Rapids Trans Foundation Executive Director Ximón Kittok told Jordyn Hermani. “Adding an extra $400 on to a sort of survival existence can be untenable for some folks.”

Jordyn talked to Gray Cacheris, 23, of Kent County about changing their name. Most daunting, Cacheris said, is the requirement a hearing notice is published in a newspaper.

READ MORE: Want to change your name? Michigan eyes updating ‘antiquated’ process

To be determined

The effectiveness of an earlier Democratic priority, a red flag law, which allows people to petition courts to temporarily remove guns from at-risk people, could make a difference, maybe.

Hermani talked to the director of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention about a recent university study, and it depends. There remains a lot to learn.

Indiana and Connecticut, among the earliest to have enact these kinds of laws, were shown to have had fewer gun-based suicides since they had enacted risk protection orders, suggesting that the removal of firearms under orders saved lives.

“While these laws hold promise in reducing firearm deaths, and indeed there is evidence supporting their effectiveness, the prohibitions against possession and purchase need to be fully implemented to meet their potential. ... It is inarguable that more research is needed on both the implementation and outcomes of these gun safety laws; however, the research that we currently have is compelling,” the study read.

READ MORE: Can Michigan’s red flag laws reduce gun violence?

Governor surveillance

The trial began last week for Eric Molitor, 39, of Cadillac and Michael Null, 41, of Plainville and his twin brother William Null, 41, of Shelbyville. They are accused of surveilling Whitmer’s Elk Rapids vacation home in support of a terrorist plot that has already resulted in the convictions of nine other men. It is the latest and the last of the trials and is expected to take three weeks.

READ MORE: ‘They wanted a civil war.’ Last of accused Gov. Whitmer kidnap plotters go on trial

Vaccinate, or not

Ottawa County was again in the news. The board, overtaken by an ultra-conservative political group, voted to recommend all county health department public communications about schoolchildren vaccinations include information about the availability of waivers to opt out of required vaccinations.

READ MORE: Ottawa County board tells health department to advertise child vaccine waivers

This came on the heels of reports the county is asking the health department to cut its budget by nearly 50%. Board Chair Joe Moss said high levels of funding for the county health department has allowed health department staff, among other concerns, to interfere with schools and parental rights.

READ MORE: Ottawa County health officer warns proposed budget cuts could ‘impair, eliminate’ services

‘Gut the whole department’: Officials consider $3.9M cut to Ottawa County health budget

Look ahead

The governor on Wednesday will deliver a speech, watchable on YouTube and Facebook, to outline her coming priorities. This is the first time she has scheduled such a presentation beyond the traditional State of the State address.

FULL DETAILS HERE: Whitmer to call for election protections, paid leave, 100% clean energy in new speech


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