Jack Lessenberry

Essay/Analysis: Political Commentator

A Detroit native, Jack recognized that he wanted to become a journalist during his graduate studies at the University of Michigan. (He had previously set out to be a historian.) Now, he boasts thirty years of eclectic journalism experience. Jack has worked as a foreign correspondent and executive national editor of The Detroit News, and he has written for many national and regional publications, including Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Oakland Press.

Currently, he is a professor of journalism at Wayne State University and a contributing editor and columnist for The Metro Times, The Traverse-City Record Eagle, and The Toledo Blade...in addition to his work at Michigan Radio.

Throughout his years of journalism experience, his favorite memories are of interviewing Gerald Ford about Watergate in 1995 and winning a national Emmy for a documentary about Jack Kevorkian in 1994.

On a personal note, Jack stopped watching TV -- except for documentaries -- when Mr. Ed was canceled.

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Politics & Government
8:52 am
Wed September 5, 2012

The week in Michigan politics

User: cncphotos flickr

This week Christina Shockley talked with Jack Lessenberry about the focus of the auto bailout at the Democratic National Convention, the teacher retirement benefit bill that has been heating up in Lansing, and the special primary taking place Wednesday in southeast Michigan.

Politics & Government
9:07 am
Tue September 4, 2012

Commentary: Science and politics

Everybody knows the old saying that prophets are never  appreciated in their own countries. We take the familiar for granted.

That’s certainly the case in Michigan. This is one of the more beautiful states in the union, something we sometimes forget. We also have some of the nation’s most fascinating people, some of whom aren’t always on the media radar screen.

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Politics & Government
10:12 am
Fri August 31, 2012

Commentary: Post-conventional wisdom

The Republican National Convention is over. The Democratic National Convention is about to begin. And unless something unexpected happens next week, my guess is that the world will little note nor long remember what anybody did at either gathering.

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Politics & Government
11:17 am
Thu August 30, 2012

Commentary: Blocking Ron Paul out

There’s an elderly lady in Royal Oak who has sharpened and repaired my razors and table knives for years.

She has spent her life in business for herself, and does excellent work. She also isn’t shy about expressing her political opinions. She now works out of her home, and since the campaign started, her home has been decorated with Ron Paul signs.

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commentary
9:24 am
Wed August 29, 2012

Commentary: Grand Jury Investigation

Yesterday should have been a day of ultimate triumph for Michigan Republicans. Mitt Romney became the first native Detroiter in history to be nominated for President of the United States.

His wife Ann, another native Michigander, gave a very moving  nationally televised speech to the Republican National Convention, and celebration should have been the word of the day.

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week in state politics
9:10 am
Wed August 29, 2012

The week in Michigan politics

cncphotos flickr

Every Wednesday Christina Shockley talks to Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what is going on in state politics. This week they talk about the one-person jury that is investigating election rigging allegations involving  State Representative Roy Schmidt and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger. They also discuss the ballot campaigns that are now going to court to try to get on the November ballot, and what Michigan delegates are doing at the Republican Nation Convention.

Commentary
12:21 pm
Tue August 28, 2012

Commentary: The Romneys

I don’t claim to really know Mitt Romney, who is going to be nominated for president tonight at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. I did, however, interview him at length five years ago, the first time he ran for president.

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Commentary
10:37 am
Mon August 27, 2012

Commentary: Michigan and the GOP convention

If you watch much of the Republican National Convention this week, you’ll be in a tiny minority, even though the delegates are nominating a Michigan native with a famous name for President.

In fact, you may have to work hard at finding a network that carries very much of the convention. If you are under forty you may find this hard to believe, but there was a time when all the networks offered gavel-to-gavel coverage of every minute of both major parties’ conventions. They thought it was their civic duty.

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Commentary
9:38 am
Fri August 24, 2012

Commentary: Walking 'Ink Trails'

Normally at this time of day I talk to you about some current political or economic shenanigans. And I could talk today about the continuing election-rigging scandal in Grand Rapids, or about the rising unemployment rate across the state.

Well, there will be lots to say about those and many other problems before long. But it’s the last weekend before the final Labor Day holiday. The weather may even be nice enough to go sit on the beach and avoid political ads.

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Commentary
10:30 am
Thu August 23, 2012

Commentary: Ballot proposal mania

Depending on what the courts decide, Michigan voters in November could be deciding anywhere from one to six ballot proposals, some of which would radically alter the way things work.

Why is there so much uncertainty about what we are going to be voting on, barely two months before the election? The process used to be straightforward. Groups who wanted to put something on the ballot collected signatures. The state then checked to see if they had enough legitimate ones to qualify.

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Commentary
10:34 am
Wed August 22, 2012

Commentary: Virtue of Selfishness

Once upon a time, the rules of politics were fairly clear. When you got caught in a scandal, you resigned, as gracefully as possible.

That is, unless it happened to be in Japan, where you were expected to kill yourself.

There was also an extremely quaint idea that the cause and your party was more important than you were.

Thirty years ago, I interviewed a candidate for the U.S. Senate who had no realistic chance to win. He wasn’t just a name on the ballot; he was reasonably qualified. I asked him why he was running.

Speaking off the record, he told me he knew he had no chance, unless his opponent were to die. But he was running because he believed the voters deserved a decent choice between ideas. His party had asked him to run. Now, there was the mostly unspoken understanding that if he did this, and did a credible job, they later would see that he was put up for a race he could win.

That, or perhaps appoint him to something. These days, however, we live in a different world. Ayn Rand, once one of Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s political heroes, once wrote a book called “The Virtue of Selfishness.”

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Commentary
9:57 am
Tue August 21, 2012

Commentary: Who Built What?

We are now fully into the silly season in both news and politics, something that commonly happens in late summer and in this point in campaigns, especially perhaps presidential election campaigns.

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Commentary
11:09 am
Mon August 20, 2012

Commentary: The Pipeline Controversy

There’s going to be a meeting tonight in the normally sleepy community of Brandon Township, in rural northern Oakland County not that far from Flint. Except that this session is likely to be different.

You can expect it to be crowded, and explosive.

Two years ago, a pipeline belonging to an Alberta-based company called Enbridge ruptured near the picturesque town of Marshall, sending more than eight hundred thousand gallons of crude, thick, tar sands oil into a creek leading to the Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil spill in the history of the Midwest.

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Commentary
8:00 am
Sat August 11, 2012

Commentary: View from Toledo

If you ever took a course in Michigan history, you may remember that Toledo was originally supposed to be part of Michigan. We lost it after the infamous Toledo War.

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Commentary
9:26 am
Fri August 10, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sometimes I think Detroit should adopt a new motto, something like: “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it."

This time, the focus is on the Detroit Public Schools, which for years have been famous for incompetence, corruption, and the squandering of money. There were almost two hundred thousand kids in the schools at the turn of the century, a dozen years ago.

This fall, there may be fewer than fifty thousand left. In recent years, the schools have been under state control much of the time. Most recently, they’ve been run by an Emergency Financial Manager with sweeping powers over the system’s finances and academics. But this week, the Emergency Manager law was suspended until after a referendum in November that may repeal it.

In the meantime, the state believes that means that the old Emergency Financial Manager law is back in place.  According to a judge’s ruling, when Emergency Financial Managers were named to run school districts, they had power over finances - but not  academics. The stronger Emergency Manager law gave them both.

But with that gone, at least temporarily, the Detroit School Board moved to reassert itself. You might think they would move slowly and sensibly, reviewing Emergency Manager Roy Roberts’ academic plan and keeping it, as far as possible.

But instead, the board is acting as if they were terribly afraid someone might accuse them of common sense.

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commentary
8:53 am
Thu August 9, 2012

Commentary: Strange but true

 Michigan’s Eleventh Congressional District is, on paper, what used to be thought of as a pretty conventional place. It includes a bunch of white-collar suburbs in Wayne and Oakland Counties, places like Birmingham and Troy; Livonia and Plymouth.

Back in the day, much of this turf was represented for nearly forty years by Bill Broomfield, a moderate Republican who never made waves, rocked a boat or faced a difficult November election.

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commentary
9:04 am
Wed August 8, 2012

Commentary: Voter suppression

There weren’t a lot of surprises in yesterday’s election. Turnout, which was expected to be poor, was poor indeed.

Most of the incumbents won, and in races where new districts threw two officeholders together, the ones who had the most money usually won, except in a few cases where they were outworked.

What surprises did happen were mostly under the radar. Few noticed, but the voters absolutely humiliated the Republican establishment in suburban Wayne and Oakland Counties.

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Commentary
8:59 am
Tue August 7, 2012

Commentary: Beyond Voting

Today is primary election day, and if you haven’t voted yet, I wish you would, even if there is only one race you care about.

Most of us won’t vote. Bill Ballenger, who has been closely watching politics in this state for half a century, predicts that less than one-fifth of Michigan’s registered voters are going to vote today.

Sadly, I don’t think he is wrong. That bothers me for a lot of reasons, one of which is that when I was twelve years old, three college students were tortured and murdered in Mississippi for trying to register people to vote.

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Commentary
11:27 am
Mon August 6, 2012

Commentary: Voting tomorrow

Tomorrow is primary election day, and if you are like most Michigan voters, I can tell you exactly how you are going to vote: You won’t.

Turnout in Michigan’s August primary has averaged around 20 percent. That means four out of every five registered voters don‘t vote. One man told me he didn’t bother with primaries. He said, “I wait and vote in the real election,” in November.

Well, that isn’t only neglecting his civic responsibilities, it is also ignorant. Here’s something that may be news to you: For most contested races in this state, tomorrow is the real election.

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Politics & Government
9:00 am
Sat August 4, 2012

Michigan politics: The week in review

Brian Charles Watson Wikimedia Commons

In this Saturday's Week in Review, Michigan Radio's Rina Miller speaks with Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about auto earnings, the new state model for measuring K-12 academic achievement, and the primary election coming up on Tuesday.

RM: U.S. car companies announce their profit statements this week. How are things looking, Jack?

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