Jack Lessenberry

Opinion
10:33 am
Thu August 28, 2014

For the bridge to go up, we must do right by the community it will run through

Last week, I went to see Douglas George, Canada’s top diplomat in Detroit, mostly to talk about where things stand with the New International Trade Crossing Bridge over the Detroit River.

The bridge is now almost certain to be built, but there are a few hang-ups, and one is the concerns of the residents in the Delray neighborhood where the American footprint of the bridge will land.

Those who live there want to make sure they aren’t trampled on. Now, they finally are having their voices heard, thanks in part to Detroit’s new system of electing council members by district.

Exactly a month ago, Detroit City Council was expected to approve the sale of 301 city-owned parcels of land in that neighborhood to the state of Michigan.

Michigan would then buy them with money provided by the government of Canada, and transfer the land to the new International Authority, which is to oversee bridge construction.

But the land sale was delayed.

Read more
Opinion
11:01 am
Wed August 27, 2014

What do we need in politics today? Adults who treat us like adults

Normally journalists never say how they vote, but I am about to violate that rule. Eight years ago, I voted to re-elect Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. I thought she was doing a good job; I still think she was less partisan and more practical than others who have held that post.

Yet I have a hard time recognizing that official in the Terri Lynn Land now running for the U.S. Senate. And yesterday, she unveiled an idea that may be one of the worst I’ve ever heard. If you ever leave your house, you know many Michigan roads are in bad shape. Gov. Rick Snyder does.

He’s been trying to get lawmakers to come up with $1.2 billion a year in new money to restore our crumbling roads and bridges. Actually, experts with the Michigan Department of Transportation, now say more like $2 billion a year is needed. The governor suggested getting this from a combination of increased registration fees and raising the state gas tax.

Read more
Opinion
11:50 am
Tue August 26, 2014

Michigan voters don't know much about the candidates for state board of education

Okay, now, here’s a test: How many members of the state board of education can you name?  Don’t feel bad.

I can’t name them all either.

What’s more, many people don’t even realize we elect these folks, and the trustees who run our three major universities. This might not be a bad idea if the campaigns involved honest debates over education policy.

But that almost never happens.

Instead, we rely on the political parties to select nominees who will devote themselves to mastering the issues and helping run our educational institutions with integrity.

Read more
Opinion
11:03 am
Mon August 25, 2014

Experts have their picks for this election, but voters have the final say

Both political parties held their state conventions last weekend. They filled out their slates of nominees, from state Supreme Court down to school board and university trustee slots.

With that the fall campaigns can fully begin in earnest.

Years ago, in a kinder and gentler era, they used to say that the public really didn’t tune in to campaigns until after the World Series.

Well, that was when the series ended the first week in October. These days it sometimes goes into November, and in Michigan the campaign for governor has been going on for more than a year.

My guess, however, is that most normal people start tuning into campaigns about Labor Day.

Here’s a tip: The media loves conflict and drama, and we tend to play up supposed splits within political parties. Sometimes these are very real, but most of the time those involved forget about their differences before the election because they hate the other party more.

Read more
Opinion
11:37 am
Fri August 22, 2014

What you can and cannot do in selecting your representatives

We know the most important job in state government is that of governor, but the next two top jobs are far more important than we tend to realize.

Michigan’s attorney general is the top lawyer for the entire state, both for state government and the interests of all the citizens.

Meanwhile, whoever is secretary of state is responsible for pretty much everything that has to do with voting and elections – not to mention driver's licenses, automobile and other registrations, and regulating notaries in the state.

We elect these officials by a statewide vote in November. They serve four-year terms, and can be re-elected only once.

But here’s the odd thing about these jobs. We the voters have the final say in November, but have virtually no say in who the major political parties choose as their candidates.

Read more
Opinion
10:15 am
Wed August 20, 2014

It's OK to support a candidate even if you don't agree with their every position

Both major political parties have their state conventions this week. Republicans are meeting in Novi; Democrats in Lansing.

There’s always an element of the high school reunion about these conventions; people, including the press, look forward to them in part because they get to see old friends.

However, there are also squabbles.

Most of this year’s focus has been on the Republican gathering, where Tea Party insurgents are attempting to throw Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley off the ticket.

Democrats, however, have their own struggle behind the scenes.

In case you are new to this, these conventions actually nominate most of each party’s candidates for statewide office.

Read more
Opinion
11:08 am
Tue August 19, 2014

This Detroit woman who fought for equal rights decades ago deserves to be remembered today

By now everyone knows, or at least thinks they know, something about Michael Brown. He was, of course, the unarmed black teenager shot to death by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson 10 days ago.

His death has reopened our eternal and eternally painful dialogue about equal rights and race. But what makes me sad is that a true civil rights movement giant died in Detroit two days ago, and almost nobody even noticed.

Fifty years ago this summer, a young black woman lawyer from Detroit named Claudia House Morcom arrived in Mississippi on a mission that really meant risking her life.

She was there to fight the system of institutionalized vicious racism that prevented black Americans from voting, and reduced them to subhuman status in virtually every way.

Read more
Opinion
10:34 am
Mon August 18, 2014

The holes in our roads are like dental cavities: Ignore them and they get bigger

By now coverage of last week’s Detroit area flooding has receded. For now, many of us have temporarily forgotten about how bad the potholes were last winter. We are trying, after all, to enjoy the last few days of summer.

However, roads, unlike little boys with scraped knees, don’t heal themselves.

When I was a kid I remember being told that the best thing you could do for a scraped knee was to spit on it.

This is actually not true. Most people know this by now, especially if you’ve ever taken a personal hygiene class. There are a lot more dangerous myths out there, however.

One of which is that we can’t afford to fix our infrastructure.

The fact is that in sheer dollars-and-cents terms we can’t afford not to. This weekend I talked to Jeff Cranson, the head of communications for MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation.

I asked him to help me get some hard, cold numbers about the cost of both repairing the roads and also the costs of not doing so.

Read more
Opinion
11:44 am
Thu August 14, 2014

Instead of preparing, our leaders seem to shrug their shoulders at extreme weather events

Last winter was the snowiest and one of the coldest ever in Metropolitan Detroit. Three days ago, the area was hit by an absolutely devastating rainstorm and the following floods.

We don’t know if these events were influenced by climate change. We do know that the infrastructure, from freeway ramps to storm drains, wasn’t adequate to deal with the problems.

Our roads were in urgent need of investment before this happened, and many are in worse shape now. For years, we’ve known that the water infrastructure in southeast Michigan was in need of major upgrading.

But we haven’t done any of it.  

Read more
Opinion
10:40 am
Wed August 13, 2014

Michigan's infrastructure crumbling as lawmakers work to take away your vote on wolves

  This story was updated at 11:04 am (8/13/14)

As you probably know, the Michigan Legislature has been unwilling to come up with the money to fix our roads.

Michigan’s roads are in bad shape, and some in metro Detroit are going to be in worse shape after Monday night’s horrendous flooding.

That devastation is bound to raise new questions about our aging and inadequate storm drain systems, but don’t look for your lawmakers to do anything about that, either.

That’s because fixing things costs money, and too many of our lawmakers are stubbornly opposed to raising revenue for ideological reasons, or just plain lack the courage to raise taxes.

Read more
Opinion
1:30 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

Giving kids a better education matters; our future is doomed if we don't

You probably know that Metro Detroit was hit by an amazing rainstorm last night that completely paralyzed traffic.

I may know this better than most people, since I spent several hours in a rather unexciting Coney Island in Warren.

Sometimes, it is probably good to be reminded that there are things we really can’t control, such as the weather. But there are other things we can do something about, such as education.

This occurred to me in the Coney at one o'clock this morning, as I was reading an order Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction, issued about charter schools.

Last month, the Detroit Free Press issued a massive investigative report on the state’s charters, a study so intensive it took the newspaper eight days to publish all of it.

The newspaper series revealed that some charter schools were indeed doing well. But it also found a pattern of widespread abuses, financial irregularities, and a lack of accountability. The reporters also found schools that had been failing for years, but which nobody moved to close down.

Read more
Politics & Government
10:25 am
Mon August 11, 2014

The Snyder scandals

 

Nobody can say Governor Rick Snyder vacillated, when it was learned last week that Scott Woosley, his appointed head of the Michigan State Housing Authority, had been racking up expense account charges fit for a European monarch.

Well, figuratively speaking, that is. I can’t imagine even the last king of Albania paying twelve hundred dollars to have a stretch limo take him across Nebraska. And state officials did deny payment for a “dinner” that consisted only of three glasses of expensive rum.

Enterprising Democratic Party activists used the Freedom of Information Act to ferret out this information. But within 24 hours after it hit the papers, Scott Woosley was unemployed.

The governor didn’t move nearly so quickly when it came to the Aramark Correctional Services abuses. For weeks, there have been stories about maggots on the chow line and scores of Aramark employees fired or suspended for inappropriate behavior. 

Read more
Opinion
10:09 am
Wed August 6, 2014

Why Voting Matters

Whatever your politics, there is both good news in yesterday’s election results, as well as some lessons to be learned. First of all, the good news: It had been widely predicted that turnout yesterday would be an all-time low. Some analysts felt that fewer than a million people might vote, which would have been the lowest in modern history.

Fewer absentee ballots than expected had been taken out, there were no contests for governor or senator, and on top of that, it rained in much of Metro Detroit.

Yet, in the end, more than 1.3 million people voted. That’s less than one-fifth of those eligible. But it could have been worse. Something else perhaps encouraging is that those who spent the most money didn’t always win.

Paul Mitchell, a rich businessman from Saginaw County, spent millions in an effort to win the Republican nomination to Congress. He lost to veteran legislator John Moolenaar in a landslide. In a similar election in Grand Rapids, another millionaire, Brian Ellis, tried to defeat maverick GOP congressman, Justin Amash. Ellis lost badly too.

Read more
Politics & Government
10:59 am
Fri August 1, 2014

Why you should bother to vote in the Michigan primary next Tuesday

If you have been listening to the news much lately, you are probably aware there’s a statewide primary election next week, and a fairly interesting one at that.

Four of Michigan’s 16 congressmen are leaving this year, one to run for the Senate. Some of the others, including Justin Amash, Dan Benishek, Kerry Bentivolio and John Conyers have serious primary challenges in their own parties.

Every seat in the Legislature is up for grabs. Democrats desperately want to win at least one house back. Term limits mean that nearly one third of all the legislators have to leave.

That has meant energetic and expensive primaries in most of those districts, and a number of incumbent legislators face primary opponents as well. They include establishment Republicans fighting Tea Party challengers, and Democratic state Sens.Vincent Gregory and Virgil Smith, both are trying to fend off challenges from term-limited legislators playing musical chairs.

Read more
Politics & Government
11:58 am
Thu July 31, 2014

Best Michigan representatives money can buy?

Imagine that you are a CEO and you are looking to hire somebody for a temporary, two-year position that pays $174,000 a year, and may include access to highly sensitive information.

Somebody steps up and announces he will pay more than $3 million, most of it out of his own pocket, to be considered for this job.  Would you be suspicious?

Let’s say you also needed to hire someone for a lower-ranking position, one which will have little power, and which will pay less than $72,000. A woman who could easily make more than that elsewhere borrows money, hits up friends, and spends more than $200,000 in an attempt to be a finalist for the position.

Would you say something is wrong here?

Read more
Stateside
3:44 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

Why our best and brightest candidates are not running

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Aug. 5 is primary election day in Michigan, and across all media channels, you can find criticism of who is on the ballot and who isn’t on the ballot. On Stateside today, Jack Lessenberry and Nolan Finley talked about why our best and brightest do not run.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Nolan Finley is editorial page editor at The Detroit News.

“We really aren’t sending the best and brightest to our capitols, whether it’s Lansing or Washington,” Finley said.

He added that when he talks to some of the people running for office, and even those who may ultimately win, there is a great deal of mediocrity among the candidates. Finley says the leadership pool is really shallow, and the promising leaders don’t have enough time to develop with short term limits.

Read more
Opinion
10:47 am
Tue July 29, 2014

In race for governor, Schauer is the underdog, but Snyder won't have easy campaign

Mark Schauer will become the Democratic nominee for governor next week, after Michigan’s statewide primary.

That’s because he has no opposition. He will have all the opposition he can handle in November, however. He cheerfully concedes Governor Rick Snyder will outspend him by millions. Schauer is also attempting to buck history. The last time a Republican governor was defeated in this state was in 1948.

However, when I spent some time with Schauer last week, the former Battle Creek congressman seemed sincerely upbeat and optimistic. One poll shows the two candidates exactly tied.

Others have shown Snyder leading, but usually by no more than the three to four point margin of error. And there is something ominous for the governor in all these polls: None have shown Snyder with the support of fifty or more percent of the voters.

Read more
Politics & Government
11:04 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Those who want to outlaw publications over sexually explicit ads should study Constitution first

Ten years or so ago, a woman named Andrea Lavigne sat in on some media survey classes I was teaching at Wayne State University.

She was in her late 30s or early 40s, and seemed to be searching for answers. She wanted to know how the media work, and told me she was a Maoist. This fascinated me, because I thought authentic Maoists were almost as rare as passenger pigeons. 

Chairman Mao, we now know, starved to death and slaughtered tens of millions of his own citizens, and kept China economically and intellectually backward. Intrigued, I got together one night before class with her and another Maoist, to find out what they were all about. Alas, they spouted a form of primitive, grade-school Marxism.

They seemed to have very little historical knowledge of Communism or what it had actually been like.

Three years ago, I got a friendly email from Ms. Lavigne telling me she had now founded a marijuana film club.

Well, Andrea Lavigne has a new cause now: She wants to get the city of Grosse Pointe Park to outlaw the weekly newspaper, The Metro Times, because it has sexually oriented ads. 

Read more
Opinion
11:32 am
Fri July 25, 2014

These veterans deserve some recognition, but the City of Detroit ignores them

Mike Sand didn’t technically serve in Vietnam. But he might as well have. He was stationed with a tactical fighter group in Thailand where he serviced the planes and cleaned the messes out of the cockpits of the men who fought and died in the skies.

Paul Palazzollo did serve on the ground, for perhaps the two most intense years of the war. He earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and two purple hearts. But he doesn’t talk much about what he did. Few of his buddies do either. 

They’d rather talk about their dream, which is a Memorial Park commemorating all veterans of all wars, a peaceful place to relax, have programs, and learn about our history. 

Read more
Opinion
11:05 am
Thu July 24, 2014

These three female candidates could be some of the most interesting leaders in Michigan

Unless you’ve been trapped in a coal mine, you may have noticed that this is an election year.

We’re less than two weeks from Michigan’s statewide primary. Once we get through that, we may have a few weeks before the airwaves are again dominated by commercials for various candidates for various offices.

I’ve been telling you about some of these, and I expect to be talking more about them before November. But I was thinking that three of the most potentially interesting leaders in the state are not on the ballot this year.

They are all women, all young, charismatic, intelligent, competent and highly educated. They also all happen to be Democrats, but that is almost a coincidence. 

Republicans have some rising women leaders as well, two of whom, Lisa Posthumus Lyons and Tonya Schuitmaker, are running for reelection to the Legislature.

Read more

Pages