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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Commentary
11:25 am
Tue January 24, 2012

Taking health care to Nepal

Richard Keidan is one of this state’s most accomplished physicians.  A native Detroiter, he is a highly respected surgical oncologist at William Beaumont Hospital, and directs the hospital’s multidisciplinary melanoma clinic. He lives in Bloomfield Hills with his wife Betsy and his two kids, when they are home from college. He is widely published, is also a professor of surgery at Wayne State, and probably has no money worries of the kind most of us face.

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Commentary
10:53 am
Mon January 23, 2012

Fixing the roads

To say that Governor Rick Snyder isn’t popular these days with Democrats,  liberals and even some independent voters would probably be an understatement. Many were upset by his decisions to cut education spending in order to drastically lower business taxes. Others weren’t happy that the state is now taxing pensions.

And there was widespread unhappiness when Snyder signed a bill that prevents state and local governments from offering domestic partnership benefits to their employees. Polls indicate that some who voted for him fourteen months ago wouldn’t do so today.

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Commentary
11:24 am
Fri January 20, 2012

Losing your horse

Back before warfare became mechanized, one of the worst things that could happen, especially in the cavalry, was to have your horse shot out from under you on a battlefield.

This left you naked, vulnerable, and without any way to get back to your lines if the bugle suddenly sounded retreat. The temptation must have been overwhelming to try to get another horse, fast, by any means necessary. I thought about that yesterday, when what had been obvious for days finally became official:

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Commentary
11:58 am
Thu January 19, 2012

What next for Michigan?

Governor Snyder’s state of the state speech last night didn’t provoke the kind of excitement it did a year ago.

And that’s not necessarily bad. In fact, it demonstrated two things; a grasp of political reality, and responsible common sense. Last year was one of revolutionary change in the way state government does business. The governor proposed a series of breathtaking programs and far-reaching changes.

To the astonishment of the experts, he got pretty much everything he wanted through the legislature, with one exception -- the New International Trade Crossing bridge.

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Commentary
12:04 pm
Wed January 18, 2012

Wrong time for right-to-work?

Governor Rick Snyder has no interest in attempting to make Michigan a "right-to-work" state, which means one where it is illegal for employers to sign labor contracts requiring their workers to pay union dues. But some Republicans in the legislature disagree, and may try to get a right-to-work bill passed this year.

There’s also the possibility of trying to put something on the November ballot, a constitutional amendment, perhaps, that would outlaw the union shop in this state. It’s unclear whether there is really going to be any serious effort to make that happen.

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Commentary
11:35 am
Tue January 17, 2012

Plymouth-Canton school district banning books

There’s an interesting controversy going on in the  Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, a middle-class school district in Western Wayne County. It has to do with banning books.

And while it hasn’t made headlines, the implications are ominous, and scary. This is a sizable district, with three high schools with more than six thousand students.

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Commentary
11:28 am
Mon January 16, 2012

What's next for Moroun?

Gregg Ward took his 16-year-old daughter Emily to a crowded courtroom last Thursday morning, so they could both see what would happen to Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

To her father’s astonishment, Moroun became the only billionaire ever to spend a night in the crowded Wayne County jail, after a judge found him in contempt for refusing to follow court orders to demolish some illegal construction and live up to a contract with the state. Emily was fascinated. “I was definitely glad I went!” she said. “It was really interesting to see how justice would prevail.”

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Commentary
12:33 pm
Fri January 13, 2012

Matty Moroun sent to jail, democracy at work

The Nobel-prize-winning writer Anatole France once observed sarcastically that “the law, in its infinite wisdom, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, or steal bread.”

That popped into my mind yesterday, when a billionaire who owns a bridge learned to his shock that laws apply to him too, and that there are some people who cannot be bullied or bought.

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Commentary
11:28 am
Thu January 12, 2012

Physics and Politics

The scientific and political communities in this state and country often live in largely separate worlds. Former Congressman Vernon Ehlers, a physicist from Grand Rapids and a classy gentleman, was one of the few who managed to bridge that gap.

Smart scientists know that they usually don’t want to focus political attention on what they are doing. Smart politicians, a somewhat rarer breed, know enough to mostly leave scientists alone.

But there was a development yesterday that united both Michigan’s scientists and politicians in concern.

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Commentary
11:35 am
Wed January 11, 2012

The Secret Primary

Well, we now know who won the New Hampshire primary. Michigan’s Republican primary is going to be held February 28. Democrats will pick their delegates in caucuses four months from now, on May 5. There isn’t any urgency for them; they have only one candidate: President Barack Obama.

So Republicans are using a primary; Democrats a caucus. But there is another primary election you probably don’t know about—and which Michigan Democrats don’t want you to find out about. It is also being held February 28.

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Commentary
10:40 am
Tue January 10, 2012

Destroying Our Future

All politicians say they’re against oppressive tax burdens. For instance, Governor Rick Snyder. Almost his entire program is focused on making Michigan more competitive economically.

But the tragic irony of this is that one of the unintended consequences of his reforms is having exactly the opposite effect. We are imposing a stiff and burdensome tax on our young people, making it harder for them to compete than most states do.

In some cases, we are making it impossible, and we are going to be paying the price for this for many years to come.

That’s because we are imposing what Phil Power at the Center for Michigan calls a “college user tax,” on the students of this state that saddles many with crushing debt and prices others out of the market entirely. I learned the details this morning from a story in Bridge, the new online newsmagazine published by the Center, a non-partisan, non-profit group aimed at finding common-sense solutions for our state’s problems. Phil Power also wrote his weekly column about the study. It makes for shocking reading.

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Commentary
11:54 am
Mon January 9, 2012

Who is Clark Durant?

Clark Durant is a man of ideas who is far more knowledgeable about American history than most United States senators I’ve met.

His office is filled with portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, together with photos of a much younger Clark with Ronald Reagan and Sandra Day O’Connor. He’s fascinated by Washington, D.C. and absolutely hates its culture.

This year, he’s running hard for the United States Senate, because he thinks his country is in great danger of being destroyed by debt and spending with no thought for the consequences.

And he believes that maybe, just maybe, he can do something to change that. “If this were just about trying to be one more Republican senator, I wouldn’t be doing this. I know I would be a freshman senator, bottom of the pack in seniority, at 63 years old."

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Commentary
11:28 am
Fri January 6, 2012

Ban on domestic partner benefits for some, may cost more than it saves

A while ago, I heard a lecturer explain how the 1960s were a time in which there was a great cultural clash in our country. Well, you didn’t have to live through the period to know that.

Bob Dylan’s song “The Times They Are A’Changin,“ spells it out. However, I would argue that the present-day culture wars are far deeper than the days when dad yelled at junior to get a haircut, and parents worried over whether their kids were trying marijuana.

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Commentary
12:33 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

What Iowa Really Meant for Mitt Romney and GOP candidates

If you are a political trivia buff, you may know that nobody from Michigan has ever been elected president. Gerald Ford, remember, was appointed vice president, took over when Richard Nixon resigned, and then lost his bid for election on his own.

In fact, nobody born in Michigan has ever been president at all. Ford was born in Nebraska. The closest we’ve actually come to a native son in the White House was Thomas E. Dewey, who was the Republican nominee twice in the nineteen-forties.

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Commentary
11:28 am
Wed January 4, 2012

The Governor and the Bridge

Governor Rick Snyder had an amazing year last year, getting far more of his program through the legislature than anyone could have predicted. His one major defeat was, in a way, shocking.

That was, of course, his attempt to get a new bridge built over the Detroit River, a bridge that wouldn’t cost Michigan taxpayers anything, and which business leaders say is vitally necessary.

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Commentary
2:41 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

Presidential Campaign at Fever Pitch

Well, now it really is the new year. It’s Tuesday; it’s snowy and bone-chilling cold in much of Michigan, and in case you hadn’t noticed, the presidential campaign is in full steam.

Actually, the campaign never stopped, as far as I could tell, but it’s at fever pitch today, because the Iowa caucuses are tonight. If you like baseball more than politics, this is sort of Opening Day.

Opening Day, except that the exhibition season has already lasted about two years, and the World Series, election day itself, is more than ten months away.

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Commentary
9:12 am
Fri December 23, 2011

Michigan's Governor makes a misstep on benefits to the unmarried domestic partners

Politically speaking, this has been the year of Rick Snyder. Since he first burst on the scene two years ago, he has had an astonishing run of success. The experts said a self-proclaimed “nerd” without any political experience couldn’t possibly win the nomination for governor, much less the general election.

 When he did both, they said the new kid would fall on his face in the rough-and-tumble world of Lansing. Instead, he got more significant legislation enacted in a few short months than his predecessor had in eight years.

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Commentary
8:09 am
Thu December 22, 2011

How a former Detroit mayor sees the city

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At lunchtime yesterday, I got a news alert that the state’s preliminary review team found Detroit’s finances a mess.

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Commentary
12:33 pm
Wed December 21, 2011

The Real Homeless: Victims of persecution seeking political asylum

We’re going to see a lot of stories about homeless people in Michigan this winter. Unemployment has come down a little, but is still high, and assistance for the poor is way down.

Shelter and rescue mission managers are bracing for the flood they feel is coming, after the state began cutting tens of thousands of people off cash assistance forever, most of them children.

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Commentary
12:26 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

A new idea for schools, make them centers of the community

Toledo, Ohio is just across Michigan’s southern border, but as far as policy makers in our state are concerned, it might as well be another country. In fact, virtually nobody in Michigan pays much attention to anything going on in Toledo, which is unfortunate.

That’s because in many ways, Toledo, a city of about 300,000 people, is more like Michigan than like the rest of Ohio. It has a blue-collar economy that has long mirrored Detroit’s.The Motor City made cars;Toledo made Jeeps and auto parts.

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