WUOMFM

Jack Lessenberry

Essay/Analysis: Political Commentator

*Subscribe to a podcast of Jack's essays here.

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.

Ways to Connect

After last week’s Democratic Party “endorsement convention,” there is a distinct probability that three of their candidates for the top four statewide offices will be white women.  Strong, accomplished, politically sophisticated women.

But much of the reaction to that has shown that misogyny is not dead, and that some people are fixated on quotas that have too often given us candidates who were symbolic tokens.

Michigan State Capitol
David Marvin / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Pretty soon, Medicaid recipients in Michigan who are able-bodied may have to choose between finding a job or losing health insurance. That's under a bill the state Senate passed Thursday. Democrats opposed to the bill say it punishes the poor, while supporters say most people on Medicaid already work -- this would give incentive for others to do so.

This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss the bill, which heads to the House next, and whether Gov. Rick Snyder will sign if it ends up on his desk.


John Engler at the final MSU Board of Trustees meeting of the 2017/18 school year.
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio NPR

Whether you liked his policies or not, there’s no doubt John Engler was an enormously effective governor a quarter-century ago. He knew the Legislature and how it worked.

He also knew virtually all of its members personally – their strengths, their weaknesses, what they wanted and needed. That was partly because he’d spent 20 years in the state house and senate before being elected governor in a tremendous upset in 1990.

That reputation for getting things done is why Michigan State trustees chose Engler as their interim president at the end of January. 

The Michigan legislature is unwilling to properly fix the roads or repair the rest of our crumbling infrastructure. But there is something they are eager to do: Make life more difficult for poor people who qualify for Medicaid under the Healthy Michigan plan. 

Asian Carp
Kate Gardiner / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

I woke up this morning thinking about Asian carp.

I’d noticed that our state Senate spent much of yesterday doing things like voting to cut funding for those trying to get off Medicaid.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that many urban areas like Ann Arbor are overrun with white-tailed deer, the state House was voting to outlaw sterilizing them. I can’t imagine why anyone would say that our lawmakers don’t have their priorities straight.

aerial view of bridge and icy water
PA3 George Degener / Wikimedia Commons

Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced plans to sue an Escanaba-based tugboat company for allegedly damaging underwater cables and a pipeline with an anchor in the Straits of Mackinac. The anchor also likely caused dents in Line 5 – the oil and gas pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy.

Michigan Radio senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talks to Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about the controversy over whether to shut down Line 5.

Whenever you think things couldn’t possibly get worse for Michigan State, they do. Just after the team doctor turned sexual predator went off to prison, disaster struck again.

William Strampel, his former boss and the former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, was arrested and charged with various things, including criminal sexual misconduct of his own. That case has yet to work its way through the courts, but is going to be anything but helpful to MSU’s attempts to heal itself and stay solvent.

Dana Nessel, wearing blue, speaks into a microphone.
Cheyna Roth / MPRN

In ancient times, say, four years ago, Patrick Miles would have had no trouble winning the Democratic Party nomination for attorney general.

After all, the former federal prosecutor had the endorsement of the UAW, and that’s all it used to take. “The UAW doesn’t lose,” longtime expert observer Bill Ballenger said.

Not until now, anyway. The party’s old bulls were behind Miles.

The Cobo Center in Detroit
Richard Landskroener / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan Democrats will gather at the Cobo Center in Detroit on Sunday for their party's state endorsement convention. These conventions are generally pretty drama-free, but this one could be different.

This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about the bitter race between Dana Nessel and Patrick Miles, who are both seeking the nomination for Michigan's next attorney general.


Michigan State Spartans
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

You might think the worst was now over for Michigan State. Larry Nassar is in prison, presumably for life. The university president who failed to get control of the scandal has been driven out of office, and one of the most powerful political figures in Michigan history is in charge of cleaning up the mess and moving on.

Screen showing Line 5 on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

I am not exactly a violent person. Nobody has ever confused me with Norman Mailer. But someday, I may be sitting at a press conference after the twin pipelines under the straits of Mackinac rupture, and 700 miles of shoreline are contaminated and ruined.

And if a politician, or some spokesman for a politician, then says they didn’t have sufficient warning, I cannot guarantee I’d be responsible for my actions.

Apart from school board seats and state Supreme Court judges, there are only four Michigan officeholders elected statewide: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. We choose major party candidates for governor in the August 7 primary.

That is, if we bother to vote, which most of us don’t. Whoever wins the gubernatorial nomination gets to choose a lieutenant governor, so we have no say there.

That leaves secretary of state and attorney general. When you think of it, for most of us, the secretary of state may be the most important position. 

A long table surrounded by red chairs in a school classroom.
BES Photos / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan schools scored poorly in the latest National Assessment of Educational progress, which tracks math and reading skills in 4th and 8th graders. Detroit schools ranked the worst for student performance.

Michigan Radio's senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry shares the results that stand out to him with Morning Edition host Doug Tribou.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in what seems certain to be the highest-profile case it will hear this year.

The question is whether the state’s public schools can, regardless of what the legislature says, outlaw or otherwise restrict guns in schools. Currently, state law allows someone with a concealed pistol permit to enter a school with an openly holstered gun.

I don’t read a lot of blogs and bloggers, partly because I don’t have the time and partly because in many cases, I know what they are going to say before they say it.

But one I do read regularly is Chad Selweski’s commentary Politically Speaking, at PoliticsCentral.org. His motto is “a country that loses its values, its principles, has lost its heart. A country that loses its sensible center, its common ground, has lost its mind.”

A box of Ice Mountain brand water bottles
Steven Depolo / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has approved a permit for Nestle to increase the volume of water it pumps from its well in Osceola County from 250 gallons per minute to up to 400 gallons per minute.

More than 80,000 people spoke out against Nestle's permit request, but the MDEQ said it cannot base its decision on public opinion.

This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss potential political blow-back that could stem from the state's approval of Nestle's permit.


Elissa Slotkin
Cheyna Roth / MPRN

Elissa Slotkin was twenty-five and in her second day of graduate school in New York City the day the planes slammed into the towers, and, her life, like so many others, was changed.

“I felt I had to do something in service to my country,” she said. That led to the Central Intelligence Agency and three tours of duty in Iraq, where she served with the soldiers and eventually married Colonel Dave Moore, an Apache helicopter pilot.

The MDEQ's Bay City Business Center
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

There’s little doubt that the most appalling part of the Snyder administration has been the laughably misnamed Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

You have to give the MDEQ this: It never misses an opportunity to show that it doesn’t care about the environment, or what the citizens of Michigan think, unless they happen to be executives of large corporations.

profile shot of Gretchen Whitmer
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Four years ago, I went to see Mark Schauer, then the Democratic nominee for governor. He had rightly criticized the Republicans for letting the roads fall apart, and vowed to fix them.

But when I asked how he was going to get the money for that, he really didn’t have an answer. My guess was that he didn’t want to risk losing votes by saying he was going to raise taxes. I left wondering if he deserved to win.

exterior of elementary school
Stockbridge Community Schools

Threats against schools have spiked in Michigan since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. At a press conference in Detroit yesterday, U.S. attorney Matthew Schneider vowed to track down and prosecute the people making threats.

Michigan Radio’s senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to discuss the impact of the threat of prosecution.

RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel holding a microphone
www.migop.org

George Romney was only governor of Michigan for six years, but he was one of the most important figures in our modern political history. He was the moving force behind our current State constitution. He had the brains to recognize that a modern industrial state needed a state income tax, and the guts to fight to get one enacted.

I was struck by something buried in an article in the Sunday New York Times that began by noting that students who go to Princeton often marry each other.

Elites, in other words, tend to marry elites.

This was not exactly a world-shaking revelation. People have always tended to marry people they grow up with, work with and live among, and despite the movies, of pretty much the same socio-economic and,
increasingly, educational status.

Comerica Park
Kevin Ward / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1f2P1w6

Yesterday was supposed to be the Detroit Tigers’ opening game, except that it was rained out. Well, of course it was. This is March in Michigan and trying to play baseball here and now is an abomination unto the Lord.

I had an intensely painful lunch earlier this week with a woman who is a mid-level executive of one of the auto companies. She used to be concerned about the future of the auto industry. She is also deeply religious, and is appalled by what was going on in Washington.

Appalled in theory, that is. In reality, she no longer cares. For her, life as she knew it has been destroyed by a growing epidemic you may never have heard about.

Michigan State University
John M. Quick / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Larry Nassar's former boss Dr. William Strampel has been charged with a felony and three misdemeanors. Strampel denies the charges. Michigan Radio's Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss new developments in the Michigan State University sex abuse case.

Dr. William Strampel
Michigan State University

In a way, the news that the longtime dean of Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine has been charged with criminal sexual conduct may be even worse than the revelations about Larry Nassar. MSU’s line all along has been that Nassar, the former sports medicine doctor who molested hundreds of women, was an anomaly.

One of my morning rituals is that after I have written for a while, I wake up my Australian Shepherd and we engage in a vigorous game of tug of war while I watch the headlines on CNN.

When I did this yesterday, the screen was filled with Anderson Cooper, one of the best interviewers in journalism today, with an excerpt from his interview the night before of a porn star. He was asking her whether her most famous contact had used a condom during their sexual encounter, and as she said no, I turned the TV off.

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Congress passed a budget that gets us through the summer, Donald Trump has signed it, and it contains good news for all of us. For one thing, it means we have again dodged a government shutdown, at least till September.

For another, for the second year in a row, Congress has mostly reversed all the bad things the Trump administration wanted to do to Michigan. That would have included eliminating funds to protect the nation’s most important source of fresh water, a $300 million dollar program called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Road in need of repair.
Peter Ito / Flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder says it's time to raise the federal gas tax to fix Michigan's disintegrating roads. Snyder says the state has done its part by increasing fees and fuel taxes, and local governments have come up with their own ways to increase revenue. Now, he says its the federal government's turn to step up.

This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about whether that's a realistic expectation.


Lt. Gov. Brian Calley
Michigan House Republicans

Once upon a time, there was a Republican governor of Michigan who enthusiastically endorsed his lieutenant governor as his successor. The governor was very popular.

His lieutenant governor was also respected and well-liked. He was good-looking and had an impressive background as a lawyer, FBI agent, and president of Eastern Michigan University.

Pages