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.

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.

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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
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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.

Years ago, when we had a governor from one political party and a legislature controlled by the other, we often saw epic battles over spending priorities, otherwise known as the state budget.

Back in pre-term limit days, compromises would eventually be reached, often at meetings of what was called the “quadrant,” the leaders of the house, senate and the governor.

NOAA

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry talk about the politics of water.

I spent some time yesterday with Douglas George, the Canadian consul general in Detroit.  We often take Canada pretty much for granted, which is precisely what we shouldn’t do.

We sometimes half-forget that it is, after all, a major foreign country stretching across our entire northern border, and which actually has more land area than we do.

Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives are introducing bills to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. This has about as much chance of becoming law as I have of becoming starting forward for the Detroit Pistons.

Republicans have large majorities in both the house and the senate, and they’d never support this. 

Virtually everyone who doesn’t have a political reason to pretend otherwise would agree that the Detroit public schools are a dreadful failure.

More than three-quarters of its students have fled the district in the last 14 years. Test scores remain appallingly low, and a succession of emergency managers has failed to stabilize the finances. Most children in the district now go to charters, private schools or schools in the suburbs, a clear vote of no confidence by Detroit parents.

I’ve said more than once that it isn’t fair to expect teachers to solve all the problems of educating our kids. When a child is hungry, or has a chaotic living situation and no support at home, the best curriculum and the most effective teachers may not be able to make enough difference.

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When it comes to schools, pot and guns in Michigan, who's the boss? This week, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss an executive order that puts control of the state's worst performing schools in the governor's hands, whether legalizing recreational marijuana would be good for Michigan, and a skirmish in Ann Arbor over openly carrying weapons in schools.

 

The education community was all a-flutter yesterday over the news that Governor Snyder had moved the school reform office from the Department of Education, which he doesn’t control, to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which he does.

That may not sound like the most exciting development in the history of American government, but it is significant in this sense. This is the office that oversees the state’s worst-performing schools. 

Congresswoman Candice Miller surprised a lot of people a few days ago by saying that this would be her last term in Congress.

Her seat is pretty safely Republican, and I knew that within days there would be a slew of contenders trying to line up money and endorsements for a race.

But I was taken back to a key moment in history by the name of one of those potential candidates: Former State Senator Alan Sanborn. 

I don’t know if you know this, but journalists don’t have any more right to seek out information and publish it than the guy selling Slurpees in the Seven-Eleven.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The right to know and to express ourselves is guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Politicians never like to admit that life will go on if one of their programs is rejected. Many years ago I remember seeing Richard Nixon asked what he would do if by some chance he wasn’t elected president.

Terrence Berg was taking his trash out in Detroit Thursday night, when two young men approached him. One said they didn’t want to hurt him; they just wanted to go inside his house. When Berg said no, they shot him in the leg.

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This week, Jack Lessenberry and Zoe Clark discuss legislation that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse service to LGBT couples, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan’s call for a moratorium on charter school expansion, and Candice Miller’s announcement that she won’t seek reelection.


Two months ago, I said it was possible that the best day of Governor Rick Snyder’s second term might very well be his first day, and that it would go downhill from there.

Well, Governor Rick Snyder and the legislature are close to accomplishing another economic objective – a negative one. They are about to kill the film industry in this state, a move I am convinced will hurt our economy in the long run and has already hurt our souls, at least when it comes to quality of life in Michigan.

If you think we’ve got troubles now, flash back eighty-two years ago today. Unemployment in Detroit was more than forty percent – and there was no social safety net.

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