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.

Last week, I talked about the Michigan House of Representatives voting to slash the state income tax over the next six years. I thought this didn’t make a lot of sense, given that the state is having a hard time paying for essential programs now.

Later that day, I talked more about this with the man I think has the best overall knowledge of our state’s economy: Michigan State University professor Charles Ballard, author of the best little book there is on the subject: "Michigan’s Economic Future."

I wonder how Attorney General Bill Schuette would react if I told him, “Well, I know smoking marijuana is illegal, and I know you are against it. However, an amendment to make it legal might be  on the ballot this November. So, until we know how all that turns out, I think I will act as if the current law wasn’t there.“

Last night I was thinking of a moment in American history not that long ago, when a newly elected conservative Republican President had to choose a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The president was neither a scholar, a lawyer, nor an intellectual, and his choice filled the legal community with dismay. He picked a former governor and failed vice presidential candidate who had never served a day as a judge.

Three years ago, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm killed the Michigan State Fair, then the longest-running event of its kind in the nation. The fair, which was how the agriculture industry showed itself off to the rest of the state, had been running continuously since Zachary Taylor was president. For awhile, it moved around.

Every so often, I run into someone with a simple solution that they believe would fix all our problems. Sometimes it is a flat tax. Sometimes it is single-payer health insurance.

But whenever someone stops me at the grocery store to explain their simple plan for saving mankind, or at least Michigan, all I can think about is H.L. Mencken’s famous maxim that, “for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

There are two very different proposals this year that would dramatically change life in Michigan.  Both have evidentially gotten way more than enough signatures to qualify to be on the November ballot. But opponents of both are fighting hard to prevent people from having a chance to vote on them.  And what this ought to say to all of us is that our state constitution is fundamentally flawed. 

You may not have realized this, but the best thing President Obama may have going for him in November is that the Detroit Tigers are having a pretty disappointing season.

That may sound nuts to you, but there is documented evidence of this:  Throughout history, whenever the Tigers have done spectacularly well in an election year, the Republicans almost always win. When they’ve disappointed fans, the Democrats usually triumph.

The other day, I told my significant other she should plan to be out of town on election day. “Was it something I said?" she asked. Well, no. It’s the way election law works in Michigan. We may all face a ballot that is as long as the proverbial bed sheet.

Not only are there a vast number of candidates and races, we could be asked to decide on four, eight, possibly 11 different complicated ballot proposals. Do you know what would happen if every voter stayed in the booth till she or he managed to figure all this out? We’d all still be in line in four years.

Naturally, nobody does that. So people either skip the proposals or take uninformed guesses. In the case of judicial candidates, too many of us go for familiar or judicial-sounding names, which is why there are a lot of judges named Kelly.

We also, oddly enough, elect trustees of our three biggest universities, and what’s even more bizarre, elect them on a partisan basis. Since almost nobody has ever heard of any of these folks, the winners tend to be of the party that wins the top of the ticket.

There was a lot of news last week, from Detroit escaping near-bankruptcy to the now infamous “vagina dialogues” in the Michigan Legislature. Not to mention the passage of a controversial abortion bill, and the announcement of the new Detroit River Bridge. During weeks like that, some things get overlooked.

One of them was that while all this was going on, the legislature quietly and unanimously passed a bill to prevent any other crooked politician from doing one thing Kwame Kilpatrick did.

There something I’d like to ask the Emergency Managers of the school districts in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park. Simply, are you sure you know what you are doing?  Have you thought this through, not only from the point of view of your district, but in regards to the future of education and the state of Michigan?

What I am referring to is the decisions by both superintendents to turn their entire districts over to charter school systems. In other words, to essentially privatize education.

Now, there is no doubt that Muskegon Heights is in bad shape financially.

A week ago, it seemed possible that Detroit could be only days away from an Emergency Manager and bankruptcy. The city’s top lawyer had defied the mayor’s wishes and filed a lawsuit to stop the carefully crafted consent agreement designed to allow city and state officials to share power.

If her suit had dragged on, the city would quickly have run out of cash. But it was speedily thrown out of court, and with that, the consent agreement saved, just in the nick of time.

You couldn’t say yesterday was a slow news day. We learned that Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, would join Governor Rick Snyder today to announce the new bridge over the Detroit River.

The Michigan House of Representatives voted to slash the state income tax over the next six years, without, however, explaining how the state is expected to pay for the services it needs.

Here’s something that occurred to me yesterday, when the Michigan House of Representatives passed what is really an anti-abortion bill. Consider probably the two most controversial U.S. Supreme Court decisions in modern history.

Roe vs. Wade, which said that women have a constitutional right of privacy to abortion, and two more recent cases, District of Columbia vs. Heller and McDonald vs. Chicago, which established that individuals have a constitutional right to own and carry a gun.

Unless every news source in the western world is totally wrong, on Friday, Governor Rick Snyder will announce an agreement with Canada to build a new bridge across the Detroit River.

This is good news for Michigan, good news for Canada, good news  for business and, at least temporarily, perhaps even better news for the people  who will fill the thousands of construction and other new jobs that will be created, some permanently.

Kerry Bentivolio is resentful of the Republican establishment, and it's not hard to see why.  Bentivolio is running for Congress in the newly redrawn 11th District, which includes a lot of prosperous suburban areas in Wayne and Oakland Counties.

Now that I’m in my sixties, I find myself forced to confront the sad truth that I am never going to be a concert violinist or play professional sports. So instead, I have decided to devote my life to urging our leaders to exercise common sense.

True, there are days when it does seem that trying to make the Detroit Lions might hold out slightly more chance of success.  But as an idealistic baby boomer, I refuse to give up.

How many people do you know who really love politics? I don’t necessarily mean those politically active or intense about the issues. I know lots of people like that, conservative and liberal. But I don’t sense that many of them are having a good time.

Back in the days when the Big Three really were the BIG Three, Detroit may have been the most hostile place in the nation to mass transit. The city existed to create private transportation for all. You were expected to have your own wheels. Well, the world has changed, and estimates indicate that more than a third of Detroiters have no cars these days, and many more would like to take mass transit when they can -- especially downtown.

Two months ago, Detroit City Council agreed, at the last possible moment, to enter into a consent agreement with the state.

The city was fast running out of cash, and was facing a situation where the governor would virtually have been forced to appoint an emergency manager to run the city.

If you want a measure of how politically screwed up things can get, consider the choice for Congress voters in Michigan’s eleventh congressional district could face this fall.

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