Rhetoric and Scatology

Allegedly setting the record straight, Melanie Foster continues to blow smoke

Those who know the basics about me are aware that I’m a native of Iosco County, specifically western Oscoda Township. Due to the nature of life in rural Northeast Michigan, I’ve also spent some time in and around various other parts of northern Iosco and southern Alcona Counties. Farms are a fact of life up there, and seeing, not to mention smelling, cows and/or horses is fairly common. I know what manure is primarily because I spent so much time stepping in it while attempting to impress the first girl I had a romantic interest in (long story, and it didn’t work out anyway).

It would appear to me that a certain education board candidate, who happens to have an agriculture background, is also quite familiar with manure. I say this because she’s been slinging it around quite a bit of late, most recently in a damage control effort that can only be described as a spin job.

A couple of weekends ago, I published “Fostering Distrust,” an opinion piece highlighting Melanie Foster’s fiduciary malfeasance while serving as a member of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. Specifically, I focused on providing a few additional details in regard to Foster’s junket to South Africa (which had been initially covered by WXYZ-TV7 Action News), as well as her support-by-vote of the largest publicly-funded Project Labor Agreement / Prevailing Wage Act construction project in university history (the Brody Hall Renovation project, initially budgeted at $49,800,000). I also asked if these two glaring inconsistencies between Foster’s campaign claim as a “proven conservative leader” and her actual conduct as a University Trustee are all that there is, or whether these two incidents were merely the tip of a larger iceberg. About four days later, Foster responded in the form of a campaign e-mail, a second attempt in her effort to address the concerns that are continuing to surface regarding those inconsistencies. Quite frankly, “Setting the Record Straight” is hardly the title I’d use for her . . . ahem . . . rebuttal.

With which candidate, or opponent, or party faction am I affiliated?

It is an unfortunate thing how attack ads and smear campaigns have become the standard in our political system. Sadly, more often than not candidates and their supporters decide to attack their opponent rather than talk about their own beliefs, thoughts, and plans relating to the office they are seeking. It is the beginning of March, and already a very small faction from within our own party has decided the only way to try and get ahead is through these negative attacks.

That, dear readers, is Melanie Foster’s opening paragraph. She doesn’t mention me by name, nor include any direct reference to my opinion piece published just four days previously. In fact, nowhere in her seven-paragraph response does she provide her readers with any information that would enable them to independently look up my article (or the references that I used) and read for themselves what’s been said. Nope, apparently I’m a “supporter” of a “candidate” representing a “very small faction” of the Republican Party, though specifically which candidate or faction isn’t ever mentioned.

For those of you not familiar with logical and rhetorical fallacies, this is a classic example of a red herring version known as a strawman argument, which is based upon the misrepresentation of an opponent’s original position. To be successful, a strawman argument requires that the intended audience be either ignorant or uninformed of the original argument. Thus, Foster disregards the key points of my initial opinion piece and uses the typical voter’s disgust with “smear campaigns” and “negative attacks” to set up a distorted, but superficially similar, substitute for my positions, and then supposes to destroy my veracity by dismantling her version of my position, relying on her intended audience to not notice the switcheroo. (By extending the premise, we can infer what she thinks of her intended audience.)

This is why experienced political bloggers include in-article links to reference material used to support factual assertions, or otherwise properly and accurately cite their sources, and make sure that their opinions are supported by the facts-in-evidence. (That means that all of these links you see in this article aren’t there for show; each one of them will take you to useful supplemental factual information that I’ve used to support and develop my opinions.) The really good political bloggers also aren’t afraid to openly ask questions when the facts aren’t making sense compared to what they believe they know. And it’s also why dismantling Foster’s canned rebuttal is not only going to be easy, it’s going to be downright fun.

Irresponsible conduct regarding the South Africa boondoggle

As part of my outreach on behalf of the University I was part of a trip that took place in South Africa at the end of 2012. Now, some individuals connected to my opposition are questioning the timing and costs of this trip because they viewed me as a “lame duck.” First let me make it clear that the trip was originally slated to take place in the beginning of 2012. The purpose of the trip was official outreach on behalf of the University and was to include a University Administrator, another Board member, and myself. For reasons out of my control and not at my direction the trip was often delayed and rescheduled at the whim of the other Board member.

Based on what I read from the 7 Action News follow-up report back in January, this “outreach [trip] on behalf of the University” to South Africa had been originally scheduled for February 2013, before Foster unilaterally moved it up two months so that she could take the trip on the university’s dime. But now we find out that this ten-day junket was “often delayed and rescheduled” for a year, and the only rationale that Foster provides us for the repeated postponement is that it was “at the whim of the other Board member” with whom she was to be traveling, and outside of her control. I don’t think that’s a big deal, particularly, but I do find it interesting that we didn’t find out about that detail until now. Of course, it’d be nice if Melanie would be so kind as to provide us with the identity of that “other board member,” so that we could perhaps contact said Trustee and get his or her side of the story.

No matter, as I’ve learned that the other board member in question was none other than Joel Ferguson himself, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. This is the same Chairman Joel Ferguson who told 7 Action News that “Foster’s trip never should have happened in the first place,” and that “he told her not to take the lame-duck trip, since what she learned in Africa would no longer benefit MSU.” Given that Ferguson is a Democrat, and that he was Foster’s principal opponent in the 2012 general election campaign, Melanie could have covered her tush by simply flagging it as election-year politics, and I suspect that her not doing so is indicative that something else was a factor here. Quite frankly, I haven’t yet had time to look into it further, though I do find this detail interesting.

So, to be crystal clear, the entire “outreach on behalf of the University” premise cited by Foster as the reason for taking this Africa junket is just that, junk. You see, when the University’s top elected official instructs you to not take a trip, and you do it anyway, you are no longer doing it on behalf of the University, you are just doing it for yourself – it’s a personal junket at that point.

By the way, Melanie, I’m not the one who started asking questions about the timing and costs of the trip, nor am I the one who initially characterized you as a lame duck. In both cases that was Ross Jones of WXYZ-TV7. I happen to agree with his characterization, primarily because it’s factual. If anything, I’m doing additional investigative research because of concerns that were brought to me by a couple of alumni donors, who are concerned that the South Africa boondoggle is merely the tip of a much larger iceberg. And again, would you please be so kind as to clarify for us which one of your opponents I’m allegedly connected to?

It is also important that the cost of the trip be clarified. Total cost for the trip was approximately $20,000, none of which comes from taxpayer or student tuition dollars. The trip was official university business and my costs were to be covered by the University. However, because my husband attended with me (which was in keeping with university policy), I felt compelled to not only cover his costs, but a majority of mine as well. I personally repaid two-thirds the total costs to the University, and made my reimbursement when I had the personal funds to do so.

First off, as 7 Action News pointed out in their original report, and as I reiterated in my original opinion piece, the money to cover these expenses does indeed come from a separate account than the specific accounts used to handle tuition and scholarship dollars. However, according to 7 Action News, the money to cover these expenses comes from “from other public money in university investment accounts,” and the last I checked, public money is taxpayer dollars. However, as I also mentioned then, money is fungible, and I’m pretty sure that all those Clevelands the university used to cover the expenses of four big-spending trustees could have been put to better use, such as keeping tuition and other student costs down.

Then there is the issue of fiduciary malfeasance. As covered in “Fostering Distrust,” Melanie had a fiduciary duty to MSU to conduct herself in its best interest and to resolve personal conflicts in favor of the University:

  • If the top elected official at the University instructed her to not take this trip because MSU would not benefit, then didn’t she breach her fiduciary duties by taking a trip where only she benefitted?
  • MSU policy allows spouse travel on University business trips – but we already know Foster was instructed by the Board Chair to not take this trip. So, didn’t she then breach her fiduciary duties by bringing Mr. Foster along for the ride on a trip that wasn’t in the University’s best interest?
  • She used University funds to take a trip with her husband, that wasn’t in the University’s best interest, flying round trip in whatever $15,000 seats on an airplane look like. I mean, seriously, even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett fly coach.

. . . we’re not even discussing the reimbursement lag yet, and this is already completely unacceptable as far as I’m concerned.

Also, I’ve noticed an interesting disconnect in Foster’s story as to why she didn’t reimburse the university for her husband’s expenses until nine months after the fact. In the October 2013 quote to 7 Action News, her story was, “I had a very serious death in the family at the end of the year. I honestly thought I did it.” Yet in her March 2014 letter, her story was “I personally … made my reimbursement when I had the personal funds to do so.” However, in either case, the detail that she leaves out is that it wasn’t until after WXYZ-TV had obtained a copy of her bills that she cut the check, from her Morgan Stanley brokerage account, to reimburse MSU. For nine freaking months Melanie Foster is sitting on fourteen Clevelands that aren’t hers to sit on, and it isn’t until after she gets a courtesy call that the jig is up that she returns the university’s money.

And by the way, which of the two stories is the truth? Did she have a serious death in her family and forget to do it; or did she not have the personal funds at the time she took this trip, so she waited and reimbursed MSU the public funds she spent when she finally had them? I ask because I don’t see any way that these two lines are reconcilable with each other, and this raises the question of was she lying then, is she lying now, or have we yet to hear the truth? I mean, honestly, if the truth is that paying the university back got lost in the confusion of a family tragedy, I can understand it to an extent. But now that the possibility has arisen, from her own mouth, that Foster was using university accounts as a personal credit line . . . well, regardless of what the real story is at this point, that’s just flat out unacceptable as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll bet that a sizeable majority of the 2,142 voting delegates at this summer’s MIGOP State Convention are probably going to feel the same way.

Tap dancing around the Brody Hall project vote

I’ve also been attacked for my record regarding building projects on campus. Sadly this attack fails to fully consider the facts. My experience as former President and CEO of a commercial landscape contracting firm with multistate offices and a partial union work force put me in a position to intelligently question the implementation of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on the MSU campus. … Pro-union Democrats controlled the Board, so an affirmation of the project was going to happen no matter how the three minority Republicans voted. Rather than antagonize the situation, I chose to work to eliminate future votes in support of PLAs.

For the record, Mrs. Foster, which fact did I fail to fully consider in my original opinion article? I pointed out, directly from the December 5th, 2008, meeting minutes from the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, that, in spite of three separate individuals (Brad Dennis, Christopher Fisher, and Renee Sandborn) providing testimony that Project Labor Agreements are a bad idea, and asking the Board to vote “no” on a project with a PLA attached, you voted in lockstep with the Democrat majority on the board to approve the single largest publicly-funded Project Labor Agreement construction project in university history (as evidenced by the fact-on-record that the vote to approve the project was unanimous). Yes, the discussion-on-record is clear in that you challenged the wisdom of implementing a PLA on the project. Swell. Yet when the question was called, you voted to implement the $49,800,000 PLA anyway, and are now using the pro-union board majority as cover for a vote that you know was against the interests of your constituents.

What am I missing here, Melanie? Can you explain to me, Barney-style, which little nuance I have somehow misunderstood or overlooked? You claim that, rather than antagonizing the situation (like a single “nay” vote will do that), you worked to eliminate future PLA votes. Can you show us, perhaps from the board minutes from 2009 – 2012, how you leveraged your December 2008 vote into the elimination of further consideration of PLAs by the board? The Lansing State Journal covers Michigan State like flies on a fresh manure pile; can you show us even one article in the Journal, presumably from the 2009 – 2012 timeframe, where you publicly spoke out against PLAs?

I ask because, surely, someone who claims to have “saved construction costs by pushing back against union-favored Project Labor Agreements” can provide some factual support for that campaign rhetoric, should skeptical grassroots activists start asking inconvenient questions.

One of the interesting little tidbits in the discussion of the Brody Hall project is the statement by University Vice President Poston that MSU has a Responsible Contractor Policy, effectively authorizing the administration to mandate the use of both Project Labor Agreements and Prevailing Wage Act compliance on major construction projects (as defined under Board Policy 02-06-01). At the bottom of that policy, we see the note: “Enacted 2-22-08.” This means that the policy effectively mandating Project Labor Agreements and Prevailing Wage Act compliance was enacted by the board not quite ten months prior to the Brody Hall vote. Fascinating.

So, in reviewing the February 22nd, 2008, meeting minutes from the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, we see on page 9, as part of the Policy Committee Report, a discussion of a proposed amendment to the “Construction and other Real Property Improvements: Project Planning and Approval” policy, as well as a proposed Responsible Contractor Policy. As with the December 2008 minutes, we have here a couple of inconvenient facts that do not work in Foster’s favor. First, toward the top of page 1 of the minutes, immediately following the roll of those present (and Trustee Melanie Foster is present), we see the note:

All actions taken were by unanimous vote of the Trustees present, unless otherwise noted.

Second, at the bottom of page 9 of the minutes, at the conclusion of the Responsible Contractor Policy / Project Labor Agreements discussion, we see the note (emphasis in original):

THE BOARD VOTED to approve the recommendation.

{facepalm} You have got to be kidding me. Without so much as a peep of dissent, Melanie Foster also voted to approve the very policy that mandates the pro-union arrangement that she now claims to have pushed back against! Twice in the space of one year she is on the record as having voted in lockstep with the pro-union democrat majority to hand the trade unions exactly what they wanted. But now, now that she has to actually answer to an informed and engaged voter base, she’s swearing six ways to Sunday that this is something that she opposed (and is apparently praying that no one’s going to do their homework).

Can someone please tell me what the hell I am missing here? What detail have I overlooked, or what dot have I incorrectly connected? You claim, Melanie, that I’ve failed to fully consider the facts. Please show me which facts those are, so that I can consider them properly. We aren’t all gun-toting, bible-clinging, blue-jean-and-hooded-sweatshirt-wearing rednecks out here in the grassroots. We are an informed and engaged electorate, and we want to know what the hell is going on here.

Castling Across Check

Because I have overwhelming support in this race, a few individuals are stooping to venomous smear tactics that distort the facts. … I am the most electable candidate in the general election, and I have a solid conservative record to hang my hat on.

Since I’m not aware of any published endorsement list from Foster for MSU, and since damn near everything else in her response has been so much bunk, I trust the reader will understand if I take a shaker of salt with this claim. I do know that Foster won a recent 12th District straw poll, and is perhaps seeking to pick up another straw poll win at this weekend’s PowWow IV. I’ve seen the photo montages on both her campaign website and her campaign facebook page, and perhaps we’re supposed to infer her endorsement list from that. But beyond that, we’re a tad short on specifics regarding this alleged “overwhelming support.”

On her campaign facebook page Foster said, “I hope that in the future Republican candidates for all University Board positions will run positive campaigns based on their ideas to bring conservative leadership to our Universities rather than manufacture false accusations about one another.” In her response to me, she simply refers generically to smear tactics and factual distortions. Campaign veterans will recognize this as an attempt to hide behind Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment, claiming that attacks based on her record violate the philosophy of speaking no ill of a fellow Republican. The problem with that defense is that it’s based upon a deliberate perversion of Reagan’s Eleventh that moderates and liberals love to hide behind.

As I’ve said before, the purpose of Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment is to prohibit the occurrence of Chicago-style “politics of personal destruction” attacks during the primary campaign. What the commandment specifically facilitates, and in fact the entire reason that the commandment was developed in the first place, is permitting an honest examination and criticism of a primary candidate’s political and professional record.

So there we are, Melanie. In your own response, you claim to “have a solid conservative record” to run on, which means that that record is open to scrutiny . . . from anyone who wants to have a look. Quite frankly, this particular investigative journalist isn’t buying it. Your alleged electability didn’t hold up in 2012, and I suspect that it isn’t likely to resonate with convention voters later this summer. This current serve-and-volley we’re having over South Africa and Brody Hall is just the warm up. I have much more to add to this discussion, and by “add” I mean “finding out how deep this rabbit hole really goes.”

More to come . . . count on it.

You Betcha! (12)Nuh Uh.(4)

  1 comment for “Rhetoric and Scatology

  1. Corinthian Scales
    January 27, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    *Bump*

    You Betcha! (0)Nuh Uh.(0)

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