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
10:34 am
Mon December 12, 2011

Prejudice, Modern Style

Last week two dismaying things happened - one predictable, the other shocking. The predictable one first: the Michigan legislature passed a bill banning the unmarried partner of any public employee from receiving health care benefits, as a spouse normally does.

The bill was sponsored by State Representative Dave Agema, who has never made any secret of his hostility to gay people. Make no mistake about it; this is a gay-bashing bill, though some of those supporting it hypocritically pretend otherwise.

They argued that this is required under a state constitutional amendment that says marriage is limited to men and women. There were even some who said this was necessary to save the cash-strapped state money. But in fact, while nobody has any statistics that I have seen, the amount saved has to be small.

My guess is that this law, if Governor Snyder makes the mistake of signing it, would end up costing the state more money than it would save, because of the lawsuits that are sure to result.

One problem is the state’s public universities. They contend that they have the power to determine their own policies under the Michigan Constitution, and the governor thinks they are right.

But others disagree, especially anti-gay activists, and they are certain to take to the courts. The resulting publicity is sure to be bad for competitiveness in Michigan. Aren‘t we supposed to be trying to attract the best and the brightest to our state? It is worth noting that one of Michigan‘s most respected university presidents is openly gay.

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Commentary
11:56 am
Fri December 9, 2011

The Education Disconnect

Michigan Radio has been sponsoring a set of public forums designed to bring experts on various issues together with the public in an informal, non-threatening way, a series called “Issues and Ale.“ I moderated one earlier this week that focused on education, held at the Wolverine Brewing Company in Ann Arbor. I was doubtful how many people would actually show up. This was on Tuesday night in what is really early winter, with the holidays approaching. To my surprise, however, before the evening was over it was standing room only, with people packing the hall.

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Commentary
12:32 pm
Thu December 8, 2011

Snyder urges Detroit’s leaders to enter into a consent agreement

Native Detroiter Harry Morgan died yesterday. What makes me feel old is that while the rest of the world remembers him fondly for his role in MASH, I think of him as Officer Bill Gannon from Dragnet.

That was the show made famous by the iconic line “Just the facts, ma’am.‘ Which, by the way, nobody ever actually said on the show, any more than Humphrey Bogart said “Play it Again, Sam,” in Casablanca. Those are enduring cultural myths.

There’s another, more dangerous myth out there in Detroit today, a myth apparently shared by the mayor and city council.

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Commentary
10:30 am
Wed December 7, 2011

Can Detroit avoid an emergency manager?

So, does Detroit really need an Emergency Manager? Can the city’s elected leaders somehow get the job done? This much we know: The governor has ordered a preliminary review of  the city’s finances. There have been major signs of trouble for years.

Now, the city is running a large budget deficit, and the mayor says that as it now stands, the city will run out of cash by April.

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Commentary
11:26 am
Tue December 6, 2011

Help with heating bills

Every winter, people in Michigan die because they can’t afford to pay their heating bills, and the utilities shut their power off.

Sometimes, they just freeze to death. Most of the time, however, they die in house fires caused by desperate attempts to get some sort of heat, such as using a portable stove.

An entire family died a few years ago when the father attempted to use fire to thaw out frozen pipes so they could get some water. Instead, he burned the house down.

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Commentary
2:29 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Troy Mayor Facebook FAIL

One of the things I do is help get undergraduate students ready for the job market. Since we became an e-mail society, I’ve had to repeatedly advise students to make sure they use appropriate e-mail names, especially for professional use.

Johndoe@hotmail.com is appropriate. Boopsie, Dominator and Babycakes are not. Those are, in fact, all ones that I have actually seen on class resumes. In the last five years, we’ve had to talk to students about Facebook. Pictures of yourself pole dancing, drinking or smoking marijuana are not a good idea if you want to get a job.

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Commentary
8:30 am
Sat December 3, 2011

A Dramatic week in Michigan politics and government

This was the week in which Flint finally got an emergency manager, and the week when it began to seem inevitable that Detroit would get one. It was a week when it seemed apparent that the legislature is about to open the state up to unlimited charter schools.

The auto industry seems to be doing better, even as the weather turns worse, and the governor unveiled a major message on talent that was aimed at preparing us for the jobs of the future.

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Commentary
9:18 am
Fri December 2, 2011

Talent in the workforce

Some years ago, a former computer executive wrote a business plan for Ann Arbor Spark, which calls itself a business accelerator. Most of those involved felt what he came up with was decent, with one big exception.

"We actually created a vice president of talent, and boy, did I get a lot of criticism,” the executive told me last summer. “People said how dumb I was for putting it in there.”

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Commentary
9:10 am
Thu December 1, 2011

Playing politics with charter schools

It seems pretty clear that Republicans are intent on ramming through legislation that will result in a vast expansion of Michigan charter schools. Up to now, there has been a limit on how many could be authorized. Charter schools had to be sanctioned by universities, and no university could charter more than 150 of them.

Yesterday, the House Education Committee approved a bill  removing that cap. New committee chair Tom McMillan pretty much gaveled down any attempt by minority Democrats to amend the bill, with one minor exception.

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Commentary
11:34 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Is a four year cap of welfare benefits costing more than it saves?

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a new law that cuts people off cash welfare benefits forever after four years.

That’s not necessarily four years in a row. That means you are limited to 48 months of benefits, lifetime, even if you have three little kids, say, and have no other means of support.

There are a few temporary and special hardship special exemptions, but the bottom line is that about 40,000 people, three-quarters of whom are children, have been cut off.

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Politics
10:40 am
Tue November 29, 2011

State Senator Glenn Anderson takes on Congressman John Conyers for Congress next year

State Senator Glenn Anderson of Westland likes to think of himself as a workhorse, not a show horse. In other words, as a guy more interested in getting it done than getting press attention.

That’s a little difficult to do these days in the Michigan Senate, where Democrats have less than a third of the seats and can’t accomplish anything, at least not on their own.

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Commentary
10:05 am
Mon November 28, 2011

Doing the Right Thing

Earlier this month, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ruled that the privately held Ambassador Bridge company was guilty of contempt of court. This was not surprising.

Nearly two years ago, the judge found that the company and its owner, Matty Moroun, had violated its agreement with the state of Michigan concerning what is known as the Gateway project. This was a joint, two-hundred and thirty million dollar venture between the bridge company and the state to connect the bridge directly to I-75 and I-96 through a series of new roads and ramps.

Both parties agreed on where the roads were to be built. But Moroun violated the agreement. He built a money-generating duty-free shop and put fuel pumps where one of the new roads was to have gone. The Michigan Department of Transportation sued, and in February 2010, the judge issued a ruling.

He ordered the bridge company to tear down the pumps and the duty-free shop, and build the road as agreed. But nothing happened. Eleven months ago, the judge briefly jailed Dan Stamper, president of the bridge company for non-compliance.

He let him out when Stamper promised to get it done. But again, nothing happened. Finally, on November 2, the judge ruled the company guilty of civil contempt.

He set a hearing for Thursday to decide whether to have a court-appointed receiver take control of the project.

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Commentary
11:04 am
Wed November 23, 2011

Changing expectations for students in Detroit

Thirteen years ago, Doug Ross lost Michigan’s Democratic primary for governor -- and that might turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to education in Detroit.

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Politics
7:48 am
Wed November 23, 2011

The Week in State Politics

aflyingpsychofly flickr

Every Wednesday, we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about the state's political happenings during the week. On tap for this morning: Detroit's financial crisis, a $60 million budget hole facing state lawmakers when they return back to the Capitol next week, and the 'failure' of the so-called Congressional super-committee.

Commentary
11:01 am
Tue November 22, 2011

A Media Lynching; Dale Kildee story deserved more scrutiny

Patrick Clawson is one of the more aggressive investigative reporters I know.

The former CNN journalist is now semi-retired, and dabbles in a number of occupations. He is no great worshipper of government, titles or institutions. Last year he broke the news that Governor Granholm had awarded a huge tax break to a convicted embezzler whose business was entirely fiction.

Yet he is now outraged about a story he sees as totally irresponsible, and so am I. Yesterday, media throughout the state began reporting allegations that longtime Flint area congressman Dale Kildee improperly touched a young male second cousin of his more than half a century ago. The 82-year-old congressman, indignantly denied the allegations, and noted that the man making them had a long history of mental illness.

There has never previously been any hint of scandal involving Congressman Kildee, who has a wife, three children and announced months ago that he intended to retire after this term.

These stories bothered me when I saw them, because they contained absolutely no evidence or shred of proof. And because I know that any time anyone is accused of something like this, the accusation sticks to them through life, even if later exposed as totally false. What I didn’t know was that it had been checked out.

Pat Clawson contacted me last night and said that he and another well-known investigative journalist, a man instrumental in exposing Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick became aware of these allegations more than a year ago.

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Commentary
11:41 am
Mon November 21, 2011

Emergency Manager On Hold?

There’s been a lot of speculation lately about the possibility of Detroit getting an emergency manager, something almost everybody concerned says they are against, but fear is likely to happen anyway.

If it does, the manager will have near-autocratic powers, including the right to suspend, rewrite, or tear up contracts. Some think this is a painful necessity, while others think it will be the death of democracy. There’s a possibility, however, which most people aren’t considering, which is that everything may be put on hold.

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Commentary
12:05 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Detroit: The reality

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing made his long-anticipated speech this week addressing the city’s financial crisis. Even before that people were speculating as to whether the city would end up needing an emergency manager.

That speculation has increased ever since the mayor spoke, but the fact is this. There really isn’t any doubt. The city is not going to be able to succeed in righting its own finances, not under the Bing plan, anyway.

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Commentary
12:18 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

Education for Michigan kids: Their future, and ours

The other day I was on a panel with Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, talking about Michigan’s future.

We’ve done this a couple of times recently. I think some of the people who show up are looking for some sort of liberal-conservative food fight, and go away surprised that we are in as much agreement as we are over a lot of issues. Oh, there is a lot we disagree on.

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Commentary
10:28 am
Wed November 16, 2011

Needed: Protection for The Great Lakes

In Lansing last week, the legislature put the finishing touches on a bill to prevent the various departments of our state government from issuing regulations stronger than federal ones.

That may sound a little odd, so let me explain. Let’s say we wanted to have clean water standards higher than those Washington requires. That ought to make sense. We are surrounded by the Great Lakes, which account for most of the fresh water in the entire Western Hemisphere. Preserving them is essential to our survival.

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Politics
8:00 am
Wed November 16, 2011

The Week in State Politics

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
aflyingpsychofly Flickr

Every Wednesday we take a look at what's happening this week in state politics with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry. On tap for today: Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is scheduled to address the financial crisis in his city this evening, the state House punts on creating a state-run health care exchange, and Democrats in Lansing release a jobs plan.

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