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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Politics & Government
8:28 am
Fri February 22, 2013

Commentary: The close race for Democratic Chair

Lessenberry commentary for 2/22/13

What looks like one of the tightest and toughest elections in recent years is happening tomorrow, and most of us can’t even vote. The battle is for leadership of the Michigan Democratic Party, and it will be settled at their state convention in Detroit. Major battles over who should be the next state chair are fairly rare these days, and when they happen, it’s mostly for ideological reasons.

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Politics & Government
8:30 am
Thu February 21, 2013

Commentary: The politics of 'me'

Lessenberry commentary for 2/21/13

I had dinner last night with two social workers whom I’ve known for a long time, who take a keen interest in what’s happening to people in our state. They follow politics, but not in the kind of minute detail political junkies do. They are not huge fans of Governor Snyder, especially since his administration has done things like cut off cash welfare payments permanently to families that include more than 30,000 children.

But they were baffled about one thing. They were surprised and pleased that Michigan Republicans supported extending insurance coverage to include autistic children.

“Why did that happen?” one asked me.  Well, I said, not to be cynical, but there are those who think it might be related to the fact that Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has a daugher with autism. Yes, your perspective tends to change when things get close to home. 

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Politics & Government
8:49 am
Wed February 20, 2013

Commentary: The agony of Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 2/20/13

So now it is all but official: Detroit will be getting a financial manager, likely sooner rather than later. Yesterday, as everyone expected, the state’s review team announced that the city was in a financial emergency. Appointing a manager is the only logical next step.

It’s long been clear this day was inevitable. Indeed, it was probably a foregone conclusion when the city agreed to an unwieldy consent agreement with the state nearly a year ago.

The problems were too big and the huge financial liabilities too vast to ever be solved by any elected political leaders. It is true that those now running Detroit were mostly either ineffectual (the mayor) or pigheaded and irrational (the city council). But when you look at the scope of the problems, it is unlikely that a team of the greatest politicians in our history could have solved this mess.

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Politics & Government
7:54 am
Wed February 20, 2013

The week in Michigan politics

Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Week in Michigan politics interview

This week in Michigan politics, Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss the results of a financial review of Detroit, a bill to add more people to the sex offender registry in the state, and how the Secretary of State will allow certain undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses and state IDs this week.

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Politics & Government
8:35 am
Tue February 19, 2013

Commentary: Fairness and the sex offender list

Lessenberry commentary for 2/19/13

This weekend I was at a baby naming, normally a joyous Jewish ceremony where even the in-laws get along. But one woman there was close to despair, thanks to a little-known bill about to be passed in Lansing.

Several years ago, her young adult son did a very stupid thing. I don’t know all the details, but he apparently got into looking at illegal child porn on the Internet. He never saw or touched an actual child, but he got caught in a federal sting. He ended up being sentenced to several years in federal prison. He should get out soon, but our lawmakers are about to make his and his innocent parents’ lives more of a nightmare.

As you probably know, for the past few years we’ve had something called the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry, which lists all the details about someone who has been convicted of a major sex crime, including their current address.

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Politics & Government
10:00 am
Mon February 18, 2013

Commentary: Higher education and the future

Lessenberry commentary for 2/18/13

Governor Snyder’s budget includes a two percent increase for higher ed. That’s close to the current inflation rate, which means, essentially, no extra money for state colleges and universities.

Now, you can argue that times are still tough and everyone has to watch spending. But in fact, higher education has been hit harder than any other major budget category since Rick Snyder became governor two years ago. Over that time, the state has cut support for higher ed by more than 11 percent.

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Politics & Government
9:00 am
Sat February 16, 2013

The week in review

David Defoe flickr

Week in review interview for 2/16/13

This week in review Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss Detroit’s State of the City address, lawmakers conversation about abortions and Viagra coverage in Senate health plans, and the removal of Pure Michigan right to work ads.

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Politics & Government
8:42 am
Fri February 15, 2013

Commentary: Roads vs. bears

Lessenberry commentary for 2/15/13

Some people are saying Michigan should have a part-time instead of a full-time legislature. I’ve always been against this. But from time to time, I can sympathize with the notion that maybe our lawmakers should only work part time so they can buckle down to business and get the important things done.

Yesterday provided a perfect example. Our roads are falling apart. Every day we put off fixing them means it will cost that much more in the long run. Every day we put off fixing them is another day that Michigan becomes less competitive.

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Politics & Government
8:49 am
Thu February 14, 2013

Commentary: A Detroit valentine

Lessenberry commentary for 12/14/13

Last night I listened to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s State of the City address.  There was a certain poignancy about it. He has to know it’s extremely likely that an emergency manager will be appointed soon, which will make him a virtual figurehead.

The speech was positive and upbeat, and listed the good things he has done and he is trying to do. There will be, he promised, yet another crime strategy. More vacant structures will be knocked down. The new authority will try to get the street lights back on.

When it was over, the speech was criticized by some for emphasizing the positive too much. I could see their point. But that’s not what this speech was for, really. Bing was speaking to history. He was, in a sense, justifying his time as mayor.

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Politics & Government
9:19 am
Wed February 13, 2013

Commentary: Paying rational prices

Lessenberry commentary for 12/13/12

One day in the mid-1990s, a woman I knew went off to get her hair done. When the time came to pay, however, she offered the bewildered hairdresser less than a dollar. Suddenly, she wanted to pay everyone 1940’s prices. This didn’t go over very well. But it was soon clear that she was suffering from a fast-moving form of dementia. She wasn’t to blame for her idea that she ought to pay far less than things were worth.

However, those in charge of our state are to blame if they aren’t willing to charge what things are worth, or pay for things which are good long-term investments. We have two examples of that right now.

One is the governor’s call to raise hunting and fishing licenses. This set off howls of protests from sporting groups. But Michigan has been undercharging for these licenses for years, and the state -- and specifically the Department of Natural Resources -- have been losing out on millions badly needed for conservation. Much of that money from the pockets of out-of-state hunters.

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Politics & Government
8:42 am
Wed February 13, 2013

The week in Michigan politics

Matthileo Flickr

Week in Michigan politics interview

In this week in Michigan politics, Michigan Radio’s Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss the possibility for an emergency manager for Detroit, lawsuits against the state’s right to work law and funding for dredging the Great Lakes.

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Politics & Government
8:25 am
Tue February 12, 2013

Commentary: Michigan's low integrity standards

Lessenberry commentary for 2/12/13

If you want proof we need sterner ethics laws for Michigan’s elected officials, you need only consider former State Rep. Paul Opsommer, who until this year was chair of the House Transportation Committee. 

Term limits then forced him to give up his seat in the legislature. While he was there, he supported his fellow Republican, Governor Rick Snyder, on most issues. Except for one: Whether to build a new bridge across the Detroit River.

Opsommer, who lives in the small town of DeWitt, outside Lansing, was rabidly opposed to the New International Trade Crossing. He did all he could to stop it.

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Politics & Government
8:47 am
Mon February 11, 2013

Commentary: The latest on the bridge

Lessenberry commentary for 2/11/13

We haven’t heard much about the great Detroit River bridge debate since the November election. That’s when Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun’s attempt to amend the state constitution to preserve his monopoly.

Earlier last year, Governor Rick Snyder bypassed the Michigan legislature and used a little-known  provision of the constitution to sign an agreement with Canada allowing for a New International Trade Crossing to be built south of the existing bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge is currently the only way heavy freight can be moved across the river, at least between Port Huron and Buffalo. The governor and virtually all business interests agree that a backup is essential.

So why aren’t shovels in the ground? Well, the short answer is bureaucracy.

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Politics & Government
10:44 am
Fri February 8, 2013

Commentary: The Budget and the roads

Lessenberry commentary for 2/8/13

The house I live in is 84 years old. Two winters ago, an ancient sewer pipe broke under our basement. This meant a mess and fairly expensive work. Was that convenient? No. Could we have spent that money in ways that would have been a lot more fun? Absolutely. But building and using an outhouse in the middle of a Michigan winter didn’t seem an appealing alternative.

Which brings us to the governor’s transportation budget. He wants to increase the gas tax by 14 cents a gallon and increase car and light truck annual registration fees by 60 percent, which sounds pretty steep. They say that will cost, on an average, $120 a year per car. It will cost me more, since I drive 30,000 miles a year. Money is tight for a lot of us.

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Politics & Government
10:45 am
Thu February 7, 2013

Commentary: Medicaid expansion

Lessenberry commentary for 2/7/13

Governor Rick Snyder  yesterday cast a vote for common sense and pragmatism, by coming out in favor of  expanding Medicaid to what will, within a decade, include almost half a million  people.

Putting purely human considerations aside, the deal makes  enormous economic sense for Michigan. The federal government will pick up all  the costs of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years.  After that,  Michigan has to kick in a tiny amount which will never exceed ten percent. But  from day one, the feds will cover a lot of expenses Michigan pays for today.

The  governor’s staff says this will amount to $206 million dollars next year alone. His budget would prudently stick half those savings in a special  fund to save for the day when Michigan does have to pick up a tiny share of the  expanded Medicaid costs.

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Politics & Government
8:07 am
Wed February 6, 2013

Commentary: Musical chairs

Lessenberry commentary for 2/6/13

It is now difficult to imagine that Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer can win election to another term when his party holds its state convention 17 days from now.

Yesterday, every single Democratic member of the state congressional delegation -- both U.S. Senators and five congressmen -- endorsed his little-known rival, Lon Johnson.

Earlier, both the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters said it was time for Brewer to go. Yet in what has to be embarrassing for all concerned, Brewer is still fighting to keep his job.

This appears to show that he is in hopeless denial of reality, and cares far more about clinging to a job than the good of his party.

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Politics & Government
7:54 am
Wed February 6, 2013

The week in Michigan politics

cncphotos flickr

Week in Michigan politics interview

In this week in Michigan politics, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss Governor Rick Snyder’s upcoming budget address, the final days of the Kwame Kilpatrick trial, and how 200 administrators in Grand Rapids Public Schools got pink slipped.

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Politics & Government
11:35 am
Tue February 5, 2013

Commentary: Will Levin run?

Lessenberry commentary for 2/5/13

When Carl Levin was first elected to the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama was a 17-year-old high school senior.

That was more than 34 years ago. Today, of course, not only has that high school boy become President, he has run in his last election. But not only is Carl Levin still in the Senate, he may very well run for a seventh term next year.

And politicians of both parties are anxiously waiting to find out. Democrats, perhaps a little more anxiously than Republicans. Here’s why. If Carl Levin runs, they automatically hold the seat.

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Politics & Government
11:54 am
Mon February 4, 2013

Commentary: What’s next for Detroit

Lessenberry commentary for 2/4/13

Last week, Detroit City Council faced a choice. The state was offering to take over Belle Isle, the largest island city park in the nation, fix it up and run it as part of the state park system.

Had this happened, Belle Isle would have had a new lease on life. The city is unable to maintain it adequately, and many of its once-lovely features have been falling into a shabby state of disrepair.

The city would have still owned Belle Isle, and could cancel the lease and take back park operations in ten years if it decided to. In the meantime, turning Belle Isle over to the state would save the cash-poor city more than six million badly needed dollars a year.

This was a no-brainer of a deal. But alas, brains were not involved in the decision. What prevailed instead were toxic, self-destructive racial identity politics.

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Politics & Government
9:00 am
Sat February 2, 2013

Commentary: Groundhog Day

Today, as you probably know, is Groundhog Day. Frankly, I want to say on the record that I couldn’t care less if Punxsutawney Phil or any other rodent sees his shadow today.

What I know is that it is cold and depressing, this winter already has lasted too long, and I really don’t want to go outside until I see the forsythia blooming along the back fence.

Beyond my crankiness, however, I have to wonder if we in Michigan are caught up in a version of Groundhog Day ourselves.

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