Political insider: Republican's tax issue an election season punching bag

Detroit News staff

The Michigan Democratic Party has found its political punching bag this year, and his name is Rich Baird.

The once low-profile adviser to Gov. Rick Snyder has found himself in the political cross-hairs in recent weeks since a journalist discovered he was improperly receiving a double tax exemption on houses in Michigan and suburban Chicago.

Baird paid the back taxes, and a township assessor took the blame for the error that went back to the home's prior owner. But the Democratic Party has kept the pressure on Baird, in part because Baird has been firing off missives threatening to sue a top labor leader and Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing for defamation.

On Monday, state Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson held a conference call with reporters to ask aloud whether Baird gets a private pension from Pricewaterhousecoopers, where he was an executive until helping his longtime friend Snyder get elected governor in 2010.

Snyder press secretary Sara Wurfel quickly swatted down the story by saying Baird does receive a private pension and pays income tax on it in Michigan (the same pension tax Snyder imposed in 2011).

"Rich has paid all required Michigan taxes on his income, including his pension," Wurfel said. "End of story."

Of course, Johnson then called on Baird to release his tax returns and prove he's paying "the Snyder retirement tax."

Baird will not be showing the world his taxes, Wurfel said, because he "isn't an elected public official."

"When is the witch hunt going to end?" Wurfel asked in an email to The Detroit News.

Probably on Nov. 5 following the election — depending on the outcome.

Push for a plaque

Old issues never die in the Michigan Legislature. Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, has revived a 20-year-old effort to put a pro-Second Amendment plaque, built from 400 pounds of empty brass cartridges, near the Capitol.

The plaque, which has been taken around the state to promote gun rights, grew out of a 1994 rally featuring rock musician, former Michigan resident and gun enthusiast Ted Nugent. It was held by a group called Brass Roots, which then was involved in state firearms issues.

It features a Lady Liberty representation and the message: "Every Person Has a Right To Keep and Bear Arms for the Defense of Himself and the State." There's also text describing the Brass Roots Seconds Amendment rally 20 years ago.

Gun rights activists have launched several unsuccessful attempts to get the plaque installed in a prominent place near the Capitol. In 2005, the House passed a bill to do so by a 108-0 margin, but it died in the Senate.

Green, sponsor of several bills expanding weapons rights, introduced his plaque bill when the Legislature returned from summer break. It calls for the monument, which would be privately funded, to be placed near the Capitol "when sufficient money is received to meet the costs."

Stopping impeachment talk

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters' possible election to the U.S. Senate may be the only thing stopping Republicans from impeaching President Barack Obama, according to an African-American leader in the Democratic Party.

Ronnie Peterson, political director for AFSCME Council 25, did not mince words Saturday at an African American Alliance breakfast in Southfield about what will happen if Peters loses to Republican Terri Lynn Land and the GOP captures the Senate.

"They're going to go after that brother," Peterson said of Republicans perhaps seeking to impeach Obama in his final two years in office. "Gary Peters has got (Obama's) back. President Obama needs Gary Peters in the U.S. Senate."

Republican U.S. House and Senate leaders have been swatting down the claim for the past month.

A blast from the past

Congressman Peters this week reached back into the vault of golden oldies for help with his U.S. Senate campaign.

Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, deep-voiced harmony singer for Sha Na Na during its 1970s heyday, showed up at two events touting the Bloomfield Township Democrat's defense of Medicare and Social Security — both of which have projected long-range funding shortfalls.

The singing group revived a doo-wop musical style reminiscent of rock's 1950s era. Bauman, born Sept. 14, 1947 in Brooklyn, qualifies to collect from both federal entitlements, although it's not clear he actually does so.

Contributors: Gary Heinlein and Chad Livengood