Jack Lessenberry

Essay/Analysis: Political Commentator

A Detroit native, Jack originally intended to become a historian, but recognized that he wanted to become a journalist during his graduate studies at the University of Michigan.  Since then, he has accumulated nearly forty years of journalism experience in every medium from newspapers to the internet. 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 and The Boston Globe.

Currently, in addition to his work at Michigan Radio, he is head of journalism at Wayne State University and a contributing editor and columnist for The Metro Times, Dome Magazine, The Traverse-City Record Eagle, and The Toledo Blade, where he also serves as ombudsman, and hosts the weekly public affairs program "Deadline Now"  on WGTE-TV in Toledo.

Among 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 mostly stopped watching TV -- except for documentaries -- when Mr. Ed was canceled, though he admits to a fondness for the crusty old butler on Downton Abbey.

Governor Rick Snyder announced his plan to fix Detroit’s schools yesterday, and to me, the most annoying thing was this: Demonstrators on both sides of the spectrum were rushing to Lansing to protest against his plan before they knew what was in it.

Matty Moroun, the 88-year-old owner of the Ambassador Bridge, has one purpose in life: Keeping his monopoly over trade across the Detroit River.

To that end he has spent tens of millions of dollars. He’s bought off lawmakers with campaign contributions.

user Marlith / flickr.com

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry breaks down what happened during the U.S. Supreme Court's hearing over gay marriage bans in Michigan and other states, why the state Senate also held a hearing on a religious freedom bill that same day, and why Michigan has the highest insurance rate in the country and possible changes to fix that. 


Before the U.S. Supreme Court ended school segregation in 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren worked hard on his colleagues to have it be a unanimous decision. He felt that it was important the court speak with one voice on an issue that would have such an impact on society.

Detroit to Nepal

Apr 28, 2015

For years, Dr. Richard Keidan has lived two lives. Professionally, he is an elite cancer surgeon and a professor of surgery from an upscale Detroit suburb, one of the state’s best.

But his heart is in Nepal, where he spends at least three months of every year, climbing mountains, trudging to far-flung local villages, and pouring time and money into public health projects.

People have been looking down on politicians since the beginning of time.

There’s an old vaudeville skit in which an old-style southern senator gives an, emotionally wrought speech and then announces, “well, them’s my views, and if you don’t like’ em … well, I can change ‘em.”

There’s little doubt that State Senator Joe Hune is the health insurance companies’ favorite Michigan legislator. While it wouldn’t be nice to say he’s been bought and paid for, they’ve invested heavily in him over the years; nearly a $100,000 in campaign contributions, according to conservative Detroit News columnist Frank Beckmann.

Over the past week, there’s been a lot of attention paid to the death of Detroit philanthropist Al Taubman, and a lesser amount paid to that of former U.S. Senator and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bob Griffin.

April always has been a month of hope and renewal, when the last snow disappears, the forsythia blooms, and leaves sprout on the trees. I’ve always been struck by the fact that America’s two worst wars came to an end in spring.

There’s suddenly a new flurry of rumors that Governor Rick Snyder is inching towards making a run for President. There is some evidence that there’s something to this. The governor, or his supporters, are creating a new non-profit fund, “Making Government Accountable” to pay for his jaunts around the country.

Former U.S. Senator Robert Griffin, a conservative Republican from Traverse City, died last week, and if you aren’t at least in your fifties, you may never have heard of him. Carl Levin beat Griffin when he tried to win a third term thirty-seven years ago.

During his first term, Governor Rick Snyder attempted to get the legislature to pass bills that would have severely limited the amount victims of catastrophic auto accidents could collect.

Like most people who grew up in the sixties and seventies, I knew a lot of people who tried a lot of drugs. Marijuana of course, but also LSD, psilocybin, peyote, later cocaine.

History buffs know that Abraham Lincoln died exactly 150 years ago today, his great heart stopping forever at 7:22 in the morning. When I was a child the story of his assassination was as well-known as any story in the Bible.

  

I have decided I owe it to my listeners to announce today that I am not running for President. I am indeed old enough and have no felony convictions, but I have decided not to run, for a number of reasons. One of which is that I don’t have access to the billion dollars anyone nowadays needs.

Remember when people used to make fun of Florida as “God’s waiting room” because of all the elderly who went there to live out the last years of their lives?

Well, here’s something startling: Michigan is rapidly becoming an old people’s state. Instead of arguing about whether maize and blue or green and white should be our state’s official colors, we might be more honest if we made them gray and white.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell came to the University of Michigan yesterday to host an hour-long roundtable discussion on student loan debt.  

She began by saying,

“I think we’re all concerned about the staggering amount of student debt we now see in this country.”

Can you imagine a war in which two hundred thousand young Michigan men were killed? Well, we had one, proportionately as bad, and it was settled exactly 150 years ago today.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

Michigan voters head to the polls in less than a month to vote on a ballot proposal to raise the state's sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to fund roads. For this Week in Michigan Politics, Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry explains why there's a lack of support for the proposal and what will happen if voters reject the tax increase. 


I have to say that for once I admire something Republican State Rep. Gary Glenn of Midland has done. Glenn is a freshman in the legislature, but has been a militant Michigan conservative activist on social issues for a long time, especially opposed to same sex-marriage.

We like to say we are against unfair discrimination against anyone, but that isn’t true. There’s one group who we legally and happily treat as less-than-human pariahs: convicted sex offenders who have done their punishment and served their time.

Today is Opening Day of the Major League Baseball Season, a day in which guys making fifty thousand a year take the day off to see men making millions play ball, on a day when it is usually too cold to sit outside for three hours. But they do anyway.

Honoring a hero

Apr 3, 2015

Exactly half a century ago, the nation was waking up to how terrible segregation was in the deep South, thanks in large part to television. In early March, TV brought horrifying images into homes across the country of black people being beaten, tear-gassed and clubbed as they attempted to peacefully march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama.

A number of people have been outraged that I haven’t denounced the Constitutional amendment that would raise the sales tax, largely to fix the roads.

Well, in a less imperfect world, this is indeed not how legislation should be made.

Two days ago a group calling itself the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren presented its recommendations for how to fix the Detroit Public Schools.

They had some good ideas, such as creating a citywide data system so parents can better compare schools to find the best options for their children. 

Classroom
User Motown31 / Creative Commons

This Week in Michigan PoliticsEmily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss the likelihood of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act being passed and signed into law in Michigan, and if the state will take over some of the hundreds-of-millions of dollars in debt from the Detroit Public Schools. 


When Indiana passed its controversial “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” last week, one of my more irreverent friends asked me, “Do you think the Taliban will do the same?”

As everyone knows, we are in the middle of a great statewide debate about whether to raise the sales tax to pay for our roads. Last week, someone asked me a different question about the whole road repair process.

One of the most significant stories in America is also one of the most neglected by both the politicians and the media. Over the last thirty-five years, there has been a massive redistribution of income in Michigan  and the country from the poor to the rich.

If you don’t live in the Flint area, you may be wondering what on earth is going on with the politicians and the water.  For many years, Flint, like many other communities, bought its water from Detroit.  Then, less than a year ago, they switched to save money.

Pages