Political insider: Dingell pleads for more civility

In a deeply divided political town, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, on Wednesday pleaded for civil discourse on campus and in Washington during her keynote address Wednesday at the University of Michigan’s 66th annual Congressional Breakfast, held at the Hyatt Regency in D.C.

Dingell lamented that conservative students felt threatened and attacked during a UM panel she attended the day after the presidential election last fall. She said it reminded her of her days as a student at Georgetown University in the early 1970s at the end of the Vietnam War when there were frequent protest marches and constant “stress and tribulation.”

“This isn’t a secret but many don’t know this about me. ... I was president of the College Republicans,” Dingell said.

“Wisdom, discussion and intellectual debate helped me find the truth, but some of the best friends I made and the learning moments I had were on that campus.”

Dingell urged students and alumni not to remain quiet when they witness injustice, such as the recent threats to Jewish Community Centers around the country or the harassment of American Muslims.

“We have a problem talking across divides, because we don’t slow down, listen, have conversations,” Dingell said.

“This is where Michigan plays a critical role. For 200 years, the University of Michigan has brought diverse members of our community together to have difficult discussions, to debate and to find solutions to the problems we face as a society.”

Snyder, Weaver make nice

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and FlintMayor Karen Weaver shared a stage Tuesday at a national water conference in Flint, their first public appearance together since sparring over the state’s discontinuation of a water bill relief program for city residents and businesses.

Speaking with reporters before her opening remarks, Weaver acknowledged her relationship with the governor is “always up and down” and “always very interesting” but stressed the ongoing need for cooperation.

“We fight, but then we realize we have to come back to the table to make some things happen,” she said. “That’s what I’m actively going to do.”

In her conference speech, Weaver thanked Snyder for state assistance to address Flint’s water contamination crisis but said more help is needed. She made no mention of the water bill credit program the state ended last month but called for additional financial assistance.

Snyder, who generally avoids public confrontation, referenced their recent spat in his own remarks but offered a similar call for collaboration.

“We’ve had some interesting challenges in our relationship, but that’s to be expected,” he said. “During times of crisis, life is not a straight line, and not everything is easy. The real question is how to do people look beyond that and say we have a common goal.”

That common goal remains resolving the water crisis in Flint, where residents continued to rely on bottled and filtered water despite positive testing results showing reduced lead levels. State regulators failed to require proper corrosion control chemicals when the city began using Flint River water in April 2014.

Reps received over $1K in free meals

Two dozen state lawmakers received more than $1,000 in free meals from lobbyists last year, according to a new report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The watchdog group’s director, Craig Mauger, completed a new review of 2016 disclosure reports and learned that lobbyists spent a total of $690,681 wining and dining state lawmakers last year. That includes 25 who received more than $1,000 in free meals and drinks, according to the group’s review.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, former House Health Policy Committee Chairman Mike Callton, a Republican, and a representative involved in a state energy law overhaul were among the top recipients, according to the group.

Callton finished his last year as a state lawmaker in 2016 because of term limits, but not before receiving at least $4,047 in free food and drink from lobbyists.

Mauger said lobbying is an important part of the U.S. political process but the amount spent in Michigan has “skyrocketed” and nothing has been done to “reign in spending or bring accountability” to a side of politics many citizens have little knowledge of.

“I mean a thousand dollars in free meals is a lot of money for a lawmaker in a legislature that meets about 90 days out of the year,” Mauger said.

In 2015, lobbyists spent more in Michigan in attempts to influence lawmakers than ever recorded in state history, according to the group’s research. Meanwhile, Mauger said the real amount being spent is likely much higher, but weak disclosure laws and legal loopholes make the full extent unknowable.

Contributors: Jonathan Oosting, Michael Gerstein and Melissa Nann Burke