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
10:48 am
Wed March 21, 2012

Age of Consent: Avoiding an emergency manager in Detroit

In Michigan, everybody’s well-being depends to some extent on Detroit not collapsing into economic chaos. It doesn’t matter what you think of the city. The healthier Detroit is, the more easy it becomes to attract business, jobs and people to the state.

So if you realize that, yesterday seemed like a pretty dismal day as city and state officials struggled to try and avoid an emergency manager.  Last week, Governor Rick Snyder presented a proposed consent agreement to the city which was met by furious hostility.

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Commentary
11:29 am
Tue March 20, 2012

Lacking Integrity in State Government

First, the bad news: A State Integrity Commission yesterday released a new study of ethics and integrity in state governments across the United States. To quote the New York Times, it found:

“Most states shy away from public scrutiny, fail to enact or enforce ethics laws, and allow corporations and the wealthy a dominant voice in elections and policy decisions.”

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Commentary
11:10 am
Mon March 19, 2012

Failed Reform

I heard something last week that gave me a little bit of hope our state might be moving towards slightly more open and honest politics.  Jocelyn Benson, a law professor at Wayne State, is leading a drive to amend the Michigan Constitution to require complete and immediate disclosure of corporate campaign contributions.

Doing that would make a lot of sense. Two years ago, a lot of people, including me, were dismayed when the United States Supreme Court ruled that no limits could be placed on campaign contributions made by either corporations or unions.

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Commentary
12:27 pm
Fri March 16, 2012

Right to Vote

Generalizations are always dangerous, but here’s two that are pretty safe. Most Republicans are not happy that Barack Obama was elected president four years ago. And in Michigan, Democrats are unhappy with Governor Snyder and the Republican legislature.

I don’t think I’ll get much argument there. But now consider this: Two years ago in Michigan, fifty-five percent of registered voters didn’t vote at all. When you consider that some people don’t ever register, the picture is even worse.

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Commentary
10:54 am
Thu March 15, 2012

Can Detroit Work It Out?

If you were listening to the rhetoric yesterday, you might easily have concluded that there is little chance of Detroit accepting the governor’s proposal to save it from an emergency manager.

Two days ago, Gov. Rick Snyder put forth a proposal for what is being called a “consent agreement,” under which most of the mayor and council’s powers would pass to a nine-member financial advisory board, which would then run the city, possibly for years.

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Commentary
11:50 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Where Detroit Stands

Sadly, it appears that the state of Michigan will be taking over the city of Detroit, one way or another. There are a lot of reasons that this is a tragedy, and also a few reasons to be happy about this.

However the next few weeks play out, the city, one way or another, seems likely to get the help it needs to straighten out decades of terribly mismanaged finances. Yesterday, Governor Snyder announced details of a proposed “consent agreement” which would bring radical change and fiscal responsibility to Detroit.

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Commentary
10:42 am
Thu March 8, 2012

Republicans complete action on two anti-union bills

Yesterday, I talked about a major effort the state’s labor unions were launching to counteract what they feel is a major assault on collective bargaining. They are attempting to amend the constitution to make it impossible to take collective bargaining rights away from any group, no matter the circumstances.

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Commentary
11:44 am
Wed March 7, 2012

Going for Broke

For weeks, I heard rumors that a coalition of unions were going to try to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to prevent the legislature from making Michigan a so-called "right-to-work" state. That is, one where workers could no longer be required to join or pay dues to a union. Well, the unions revealed their proposal yesterday.

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Commentary
11:08 am
Tue March 6, 2012

Casino Lottery

Yesterday I talked to a student who has a right to be proud of herself. Now in her early 30s, she was born in poverty to Mexican migrant workers in Arizona, and had two babies before she was out of her teens. Yet she got it together through sheer determination and hard work, and is now finishing her second college degree and working in public relations. She clearly has a bright future.

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Commentary
11:32 am
Mon March 5, 2012

Last Word On Our Primary

We now know just about everything there is to know about the presidential primary we held last week. The votes are in, the robocalls have stopped, and the candidates are gone, most, probably, for good. The nominees will be back after the national conventions.

And as I look over what this campaign cost and what we got out of it, I am forced to the reluctant conclusion that the Michigan presidential primary was an overwhelmingly expensive failure.

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Commentary
10:47 am
Fri March 2, 2012

The Romneys and Religion

I was a teenager back when Mitt Romney’s father, George, was governor of Michigan, and made his own run for the Republican Presidential nomination. I was already fascinated by politics, and followed that race closely. And here’s something you may find interesting. Back in nineteen-sixty-eight, nobody seemed to care that George Romney was a Mormon. Now, his formal campaign didn’t last very long. He dropped out of the race at the end of February.

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Commentary
10:58 am
Thu March 1, 2012

Detroit Crime: Blame the Guns

Earlier this week, while we were paying a lot of attention to the presidential primary race, many of the big shots in Detroit turned out for a baby’s funeral. Delric Waymon Miller died when a gunman riddled his home with bullets from an AK-47.

That was, by the way, the standard assault rifle used by our ancient enemy, the old Soviet Union. The USSR is as dead as a dinosaur, but its weapons are still killing Americans.

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Commentary
11:02 am
Wed February 29, 2012

Romney’s Win

Significantly perhaps, it was Mitt Romney’s old home turf of Oakland County that was most responsible for saving him in the end.

Romney beat Rick Santorum statewide by about 32,000 votes. He won Oakland County, the place where he grew up, by more than 31,000. The other two major metropolitan Detroit counties, Wayne and Macomb, gave him a combined margin of 18,000 more votes.

He lost the rest of the state, but the tri-county area was just more than enough to save him from a defeat that could have destroyed his campaign. Now, Romney is the clear front-runner.

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Commentary
10:36 am
Tue February 28, 2012

Politics By Other Means

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton probably won’t vote in the primary today, though he spends his life doing work that’s greatly affected by the political world. Nor does he seem impressed that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are fellow Roman Catholics.

Actually, he seems pretty appalled by them.

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Commentary
11:22 am
Mon February 27, 2012

Should You Vote Tomorrow?

Michigan’s presidential primary is tomorrow, and the safest prediction one can make is this: Most of us won’t vote in it.

The primary four years ago drew barely 20 percent of eligible voters, and that’s when both parties had a contested nomination. This year, only Republicans do.

There is technically a Democratic primary, but President Obama’s name is the only one on the ballot -- though you can also cast a non-binding vote for uncommitted Democratic delegates.

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Commentary
9:24 am
Fri February 24, 2012

Romney and the Bridge

If you’ve following the Michigan Republican presidential primary race, you probably know that Governor Rick Snyder has endorsed Mitt Romney. If you’ve been following politics in Michigan, you probably know that one of the governor’s top priorities is a new bridge over the Detroit River, the New International Trade Crossing.

Nearly the entire corporate and business community want this bridge. But the governor hasn’t even been able to get a vote on it in the legislature, where many of the members have taken campaign  donations from Matty Moroun, owner of the rival Ambassador Bridge. Moroun doesn’t want any competition, and so far, has managed to frustrate the governor and get his way.

This is not purely a local issue; this is America’s most economically important border crossing. Billions in heavy freight cross the Ambassador Bridge every month. Getting a new bridge is a top economic priority for Canada, our nation’s biggest trading partner.

So, how does Mitt Romney stand on the question of whether we should build a new international bridge? The answer seems to be that he doesn’t. He is apparently refusing to take a position on it.

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Commentary
9:09 am
Thu February 23, 2012

Kids in Poverty

Three hundred and forty-one thousand. That’s the number of children in our state living in what is officially known these days as “areas of concentrated poverty.” Our ancestors would have called where they lived “the worst slums.”

We are talking about homes that sometimes lack heat and light, that are surrounded by crack houses and other houses that have burned down, places where life is too often nasty, brutish and short.

Two-thirds of all children in Detroit live in such neighborhoods, streets like the one where a nine-month-old baby was killed by a bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle Monday.

But most poor children don’t live in Detroit. Some live in rural poverty, in Roscommon or Chippewa Counties up north, where alcoholism is high. Yes, a few of these children will escape, thanks to the efforts of a parent, teacher or mentor.

Somehow they will get a halfway decent education, a job and a better life, though that is becoming increasingly hard to do. But most won’t, just as most kids whose dreams are based on a basketball won’t make it to the NBA. Instead, the numbers of the desperately poor are swelling. According to a new report funded by the Annie E, Casey Foundation, there were a hundred and twenty-five thousand more poor kids in our state in twenty-ten than ten years earlier.

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Commentary
8:30 am
Wed February 22, 2012

A Michigan university grappling with the world

Once upon a time, universities were cloistered places, which deliberately shunned the down-and-dirty worlds of politics and the marketplace in favor of research, contemplation, and teaching.

That's never been totally the case in Michigan, however. What is now Michigan State was established for the explicit purpose of bringing "applied science" to the state's farmers and agricultural industry, back when that was the industry of Michigan.

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Commentary
10:30 am
Tue February 21, 2012

What if Romney Loses?

Four years ago, Michigan politicians believed their presidential primary would be meaningful and influential. It was anything but. The state broke both parties’ rules by holding it too early.

Barack Obama’s name was not on the ballot, and it was won by two candidates who ended up not winning their nominations.

This year’s primary was supposed to be a big yawn. Democrats have only one candidate, and on the Republican side, this was supposed to be just a brief stop in native son Mitt Romney’s coronation parade. Except that’s not how it is working out.

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Commentary
11:08 am
Mon February 20, 2012

Parents Making a Difference

Just over a month ago, I talked about an interesting controversy in the Plymouth-Canton Community School district, a middle-to-upper-middle area of western Wayne County.

The superintendent suddenly banned a popular novel, Graham Swift’s "Waterland", from the Advanced Placement, or AP English curriculum. "Waterland", first published almost 30 years ago, is a highly acclaimed book which has to do with storytelling and history, and which shows how everything is influenced by what came before.

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