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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Commentary
10:53 am
Wed April 4, 2012

Commentary: More Casinos in Michigan?

Last summer I went to Traverse City to speak to the state association of property law lawyers. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, they will probably little note nor long remember what I said there.

But I’ll never forget something I saw there. The night before my speech, they took us to the Turtle Creek Casino for dinner. The food was excellent. But we walked through the gamblers sitting at the slot machines, and that was haunting. They looked like zombies, most of them, mechanically feeding money into the one-armed bandits. Few of them looked like they could afford to gamble.

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Commentary
11:05 am
Tue April 3, 2012

Commentary: Detroit and the State - Two Worlds

Yesterday, I was driving across Michigan and listening to the coverage of Detroit’s financial crisis, when I realized something.

Detroit must seem like an alien world to many who don‘t live in the city. And the reactions of many Detroiters, including some members of city council, must seem both baffling and irrational.

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Commentary
11:16 am
Mon April 2, 2012

Commentary: Joe Schwarz, former Republican now Democrat?

Back in the 1990s, if you were in the legislature and wanted to know about higher education in Michigan, you went to see State Senator Joe Schwarz, who understood it best of all.

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Commentary
11:59 am
Fri March 30, 2012

Commentary: Detroit - What Happens Next?

You may think I am pessimistic, but I have deep doubts about whether the governor’s proposal to save Detroit from an emergency manager will work. There are two main problems.

First, it isn’t clear that those supporting it can muster five votes on the nine-member council to approve it. Second, I am not sure it will work even if it is ratified. The structure is too complex.

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Commentary
10:45 am
Thu March 29, 2012

Commentary: Michigan helmet law repeal, bad idea?

Like everybody else, I am a great believer in freedom. I want the freedom to read, write, and say whatever I want.

I want to freedom to marry or live with or hang out with whomever I choose, and I want everyone else to have these freedoms too. However, there are some things we shouldn’t be free to do. I don’t have the right to cut down a tree in a state park.

Nor do I have the right to build a factory on my street . Years ago, the famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted that “the right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.“

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Commentary
10:35 am
Wed March 28, 2012

Commentary: Republican Arrogance of Power

For the last fifteen months, Republicans have controlled everything in sight in Lansing -- the House, the Senate, the governor’s office and the Supreme Court.

They have the majorities to pass essentially anything they want, and even if something is constitutionally controversial, they are secure in the knowledge that it’s almost certain that the disgracefully partisan Michigan Supreme Court will rule in their favor.

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Commentary
11:22 am
Tue March 27, 2012

Commentary: Public reaction to Detroit's fiscal crisis

Unless you’ve been at the bottom of a salt mine for the last month or so, you know that Detroit is facing the mother of all financial crises. The city is about to run out of cash and options.

Within nine days, the governor either has to reach something called a consent agreement with the city’s elected leaders, or name an all-powerful emergency manager to run Detroit.

Nobody really understands how the consent agreement model would work, or frankly, even if it would work, but essentially, it would mean an emergency manager by committee.

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Commentary
11:24 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Commentary: Detroit on the Brink

Former Governor Bill Milliken turns ninety today, and just about everyone is publishing some kind of tribute to the longest-serving governor in Michigan history. Milliken himself is not likely to say much today, but that’s not because he isn’t still mentally keen. He called me a couple weeks ago to complain.

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Commentary
11:01 am
Fri March 23, 2012

Commentary: Too much sex, not enough policy

Consider this. We’ve still got more than a week left of March, and it looks like April and feels like August. Yesterday it was eighty-six in Ann Arbor, and two people think they saw a cougar -- a mountain lion, not the other kind -- on north campus.

We’ve got presidential candidates waving Etch-a-sketch toys instead of talking about Iran and inflation.

In other words, it’s not a normal year, and I want to make a suggestion to further radically change our world.

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Commentary
10:46 am
Thu March 22, 2012

Arthur Vandenberg: Remembering a Hero

Yesterday, I was listening to Rick Santorum attack Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney for supposedly being willing to take more moderate positions in the general election campaign.

Well, there’s something to be said against being a flip-flopper, changing with every new opinion poll. But there is also something more to be said for recognizing reality.

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Commentary
10:48 am
Wed March 21, 2012

Age of Consent: Avoiding an emergency manager in Detroit

In Michigan, everybody’s well-being depends to some extent on Detroit not collapsing into economic chaos. It doesn’t matter what you think of the city. The healthier Detroit is, the more easy it becomes to attract business, jobs and people to the state.

So if you realize that, yesterday seemed like a pretty dismal day as city and state officials struggled to try and avoid an emergency manager.  Last week, Governor Rick Snyder presented a proposed consent agreement to the city which was met by furious hostility.

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Commentary
11:29 am
Tue March 20, 2012

Lacking Integrity in State Government

First, the bad news: A State Integrity Commission yesterday released a new study of ethics and integrity in state governments across the United States. To quote the New York Times, it found:

“Most states shy away from public scrutiny, fail to enact or enforce ethics laws, and allow corporations and the wealthy a dominant voice in elections and policy decisions.”

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Commentary
11:10 am
Mon March 19, 2012

Failed Reform

I heard something last week that gave me a little bit of hope our state might be moving towards slightly more open and honest politics.  Jocelyn Benson, a law professor at Wayne State, is leading a drive to amend the Michigan Constitution to require complete and immediate disclosure of corporate campaign contributions.

Doing that would make a lot of sense. Two years ago, a lot of people, including me, were dismayed when the United States Supreme Court ruled that no limits could be placed on campaign contributions made by either corporations or unions.

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Commentary
12:27 pm
Fri March 16, 2012

Right to Vote

Generalizations are always dangerous, but here’s two that are pretty safe. Most Republicans are not happy that Barack Obama was elected president four years ago. And in Michigan, Democrats are unhappy with Governor Snyder and the Republican legislature.

I don’t think I’ll get much argument there. But now consider this: Two years ago in Michigan, fifty-five percent of registered voters didn’t vote at all. When you consider that some people don’t ever register, the picture is even worse.

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Commentary
10:54 am
Thu March 15, 2012

Can Detroit Work It Out?

If you were listening to the rhetoric yesterday, you might easily have concluded that there is little chance of Detroit accepting the governor’s proposal to save it from an emergency manager.

Two days ago, Gov. Rick Snyder put forth a proposal for what is being called a “consent agreement,” under which most of the mayor and council’s powers would pass to a nine-member financial advisory board, which would then run the city, possibly for years.

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Commentary
11:50 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Where Detroit Stands

Sadly, it appears that the state of Michigan will be taking over the city of Detroit, one way or another. There are a lot of reasons that this is a tragedy, and also a few reasons to be happy about this.

However the next few weeks play out, the city, one way or another, seems likely to get the help it needs to straighten out decades of terribly mismanaged finances. Yesterday, Governor Snyder announced details of a proposed “consent agreement” which would bring radical change and fiscal responsibility to Detroit.

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Commentary
10:42 am
Thu March 8, 2012

Republicans complete action on two anti-union bills

Yesterday, I talked about a major effort the state’s labor unions were launching to counteract what they feel is a major assault on collective bargaining. They are attempting to amend the constitution to make it impossible to take collective bargaining rights away from any group, no matter the circumstances.

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Commentary
11:44 am
Wed March 7, 2012

Going for Broke

For weeks, I heard rumors that a coalition of unions were going to try to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to prevent the legislature from making Michigan a so-called "right-to-work" state. That is, one where workers could no longer be required to join or pay dues to a union. Well, the unions revealed their proposal yesterday.

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Commentary
11:08 am
Tue March 6, 2012

Casino Lottery

Yesterday I talked to a student who has a right to be proud of herself. Now in her early 30s, she was born in poverty to Mexican migrant workers in Arizona, and had two babies before she was out of her teens. Yet she got it together through sheer determination and hard work, and is now finishing her second college degree and working in public relations. She clearly has a bright future.

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Commentary
11:32 am
Mon March 5, 2012

Last Word On Our Primary

We now know just about everything there is to know about the presidential primary we held last week. The votes are in, the robocalls have stopped, and the candidates are gone, most, probably, for good. The nominees will be back after the national conventions.

And as I look over what this campaign cost and what we got out of it, I am forced to the reluctant conclusion that the Michigan presidential primary was an overwhelmingly expensive failure.

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