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
9:13 am
Sat March 1, 2014

The week in review

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

This Week in Review Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss John Dingell leaving congress and his wife being a front runner for the seat, the debate over same-sex marriage in Michigan, and a proposal to make sure Michiganders are taxes for internet sales.

Week in Review interview for 3/1/14

Opinion
10:33 am
Fri February 28, 2014

If Michigan legislators cared, they would end their tax hike on the poor

In an apparent attempt to pander to voters, the Michigan Legislature is rushing to pass an election year income tax cut. This is a little baffling, because the voters don’t want one.

The state has a budget surplus – on paper, anyway – of a little less than a billion dollars. Two weeks ago, an EPIC-MRA poll found only 11% of the voters thought a tax cut was a good idea. The rest were divided about evenly between those who wanted it to go to schools and those who want it to go to our roads.

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Opinion
10:34 am
Thu February 27, 2014

We need to learn how to talk about the mental health of our aging representatives

Earlier this week, the newspapers and airwaves were full of tributes to John Dingell, who announced this term would be his last.

Dingell, who turns 88 this summer, is the longest-serving Congressmen in history, and when I first met him, was one of the physically most powerful men in Congress.

Today, he is hard of hearing and frail, but nobody has ever said he wasn’t mentally able to do the job.

This hasn’t always been the case with long-serving congressmen. During his last campaign for the U.S. Senate at age 94, South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond spoke of the brave defenders of the Alamo, and added that they had held off “three thousand Russians.”

Thurmond’s handlers didn’t let him speak much in public after that. He won reelection, but spent most of his final term in Walter Reed Hospital, except when they brought him to the Senate to vote.

Nobody likes to talk about this, but there seems to have been a universal consensus that Dale Kildee, who decided not to run for reelection two years ago, needed to leave.

There’s a reason you haven’t seen him interviewed or commenting on issues since he left. He is, in fact, younger that John Dingell, but not all of us age at the same rate.

I know a woman in her 60s who no longer knows who her husband is.

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Opinion
9:31 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Extending school days is a terrible solution for Michigan schools

I have very few inflexible notions, but one of them is this: It is better to learn than be ignorant. Unlike many dogmas, this one passes the practical test. Those who are better educated generally make more money and have happier and more fulfilled lives.

There’ve been a lot of crises in education in recent years. Most have been about money. But this year, it’s weather. This brutal winter has meant many schools have been closed for more “snow days” than usual. Legally, schools are allowed to miss up to six days. After that, they have to make up the time, or lose some of their school aid money. None of them want that, of course.

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Politics & Government
8:41 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Same-sex marriage, the Dingells, and manufacturing hub make political headlines

Michigan Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Thetoad Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley talk about the same-sex marriage trial in Michigan, the new Dingell race for Congress and President Obama’s announcement of a new manufacturing hub in metro Detroit.

Week in Michigan Politics interview for 2/26/14

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Opinion
10:45 am
Tue February 25, 2014

John Dingell is leaving under his own terms

The broadcast version of Jack's commentary.

As most of the world knows by now, yesterday, the longest-serving congressman in our nation’s history announced his retirement.

I wasn’t the least surprised. After a long lunch with John Dingell last fall, I had become convinced this was going to happen.

Ten years ago, I would have bet that he would die in office. In fact, that’s what he told me he intended to do. Told me more than once, in fact.

“Do you know your history, young man? He asked me long ago. “Do you know about John Quincy Adams?”

Yes sir, said I, and I think that pleased him.

Adams was the only president who returned to the House of Representatives after the White House. He served there till he collapsed and died on the floor.

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Opinion
10:39 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Pension cuts in Detroit's bankruptcy plan would be devastating and unfair

Well, the shoe finally dropped last Friday, or maybe it was a hammer. At any rate, we now know the details of Detroit’s proposed bankruptcy “plan of adjustment,” and they include pension cuts. Pretty massive pension cuts. Most pensioners would see their monthly checks cut by 34%. Police and fire retirees, whose pension fund is in better shape, lose 10%.

For many, this would be devastating. Devastating, and unfair.

There’s no doubt that Detroit’s pension funds were poorly managed. There’s also no doubt that the city was too liberal in its pension policy.

There are some folks who spent 30 years in a low-stress clerical job, and then were able to retire, move to Florida and collect a pension for life starting at age 52. That policy doesn’t make any sense even if the city of Detroit could afford it, and it never could.

My guess is that in the future, there won’t be any pensions for new city workers, just a defined contribution savings plan.

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Opinion
10:44 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Can our political system in Michigan be saved?

They used to say that the definition of chutzpah was the boy who killed his parents and then asked the court for mercy since he was an orphan. But that was improved on twice this week.

First, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan began talking about making a bid for the Democratic National Convention two years from now.

That’s a nice “comeback kid” idea, but there are two major problems.

The entire metro area probably doesn’t have enough hotel space. Detroit could barely host the Republican Convention in 1980, and Democratic conventions have more delegates.

Plus, conventions are expensive.

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Opinion
10:06 am
Thu February 20, 2014

How will Detroit function after the bankruptcy is over?

The city of Detroit actually has a person whose title is Director of Community Engagement. Yesterday, her job was to tell people to go out and clear ice and snow away from the drains on their streets to prevent flooding.

The city no longer has enough manpower to do this, she explained. They’ll be lucky if they can keep the drains open on the main streets. So the residents need to do it, and while they’re at it, clear the hydrants in case there is a fire.

Nothing wrong with that. I’ve done the same with both snow and leaves from the drain on my suburban street.

But it indicates in a small way one of the big problems Detroit is going to have after the bankruptcy is over.There is not enough money to provide basic services or to maintain basic infrastructure.

Bankruptcy isn’t really designed to fix that. It is designed to get rid of debt. We are still waiting for emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s plan to get there. He does talk about directing more money into basic services, such as police and fire and removing blight.

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Opinion
9:29 am
Wed February 19, 2014

Congresswoman Miller has a radical solution to the Asian carp problem

Congresswoman Candice Miller understands the importance of the Great Lakes. She grew up on the water in Harrison Township. She is a proudly conservative Republican, not crazy about government spending.

But she knows that if the Asian carp get into the Great Lakes, the waterways may be largely destroyed. Destroyed, that is, as a center of recreational and commercial fishing and boating, activities worth billions every year.

Two species of Asian carp, silver and bighead, have been working their way up the Mississippi River ever since escaping from catfish farms in Arkansas in the 1980s. They suck up vast quantities of food, starving out native species of fish. Silver carp, which can weigh 60 pounds, also have a nasty habit of jumping, injuring people and damaging boats.

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Politics & Government
8:28 am
Wed February 19, 2014

Lessenberry talks potholes, minimum wage, Detroit bankuptcy and same-sex marriage

Matthileo Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss money to help fix potholes, an effort to raise the minimum wage, the possible release of Detroit’s bankruptcy plan, and the upcoming trial challenging gay marriage in Michigan.

Week in Michigan Politics interview for 2/19/14

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Opinion
11:02 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Will Matty Moroun be allowed to build 2nd bridge?

I heard something startling last weekend from a woman with whom I used to work. “So Matty Moroun is going to build a second bridge after all!” she said.

To which I said a very profound “huh?” 

Oh yes, she said. She had read it in the newspaper. She said the Canadians had given him the go-ahead to build a second span, next to his Ambassador Bridge.

That didn’t make any sense to me, since I have talked to Canadian officials and diplomats about this for years. Suddenly, I realized what she was talking about.

There was a story in the papers on Valentine’s Day saying that Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Company had gotten environmental clearance from Canada for a new span.

Actually, it quoted officials of the bridge company as saying this. However, there were two problems with most versions of that story.

The minor problem is that what Moroun claimed – a claim reflected in the headlines – wasn’t quite true.

The Windsor Port Authority and Transport Canada did indeed issue a decision saying that a replacement for the Ambassador Bridge was unlikely to do serious damage to the environment.

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Opinion
10:36 am
Mon February 17, 2014

Another crushing blow for the UAW

If the United Auto Workers Union was ever going to succeed at organizing a non-traditional plant in the South, the Volkswagen facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee should have been it.

The company stayed strictly neutral and did not try to block the union. UAW officials said they were open to creating a German-style council that would give workers a say in important plant decisions.

Yet the results were a crushing blow. When the vote was announced on Valentine’s Day, more than 53 percent of Chattanooga workers rejected the UAW. This is bound to raise questions about the union’s long-term survival.

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Politics & Government
8:42 am
Sat February 15, 2014

Lessenberry talks money, politics and potholes

Michigan State Capitol Building
User: mattileo/flickr

This Week in Review, Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry and Weekend Edition host Rina Miller talk about potholes in Michigan, the departure of the state budget director, and cuts to employees in Wayne County.

Click on the link below to listen to the interview

Opinion
10:49 am
Fri February 14, 2014

The fight for same-sex marriage continues

Today is Valentine’s Day, and Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer hope that it will be the last they spend unmarried, and without both being the legal parents of their children.

They may not have long to wait. Eleven days from now, a trial in federal court in Detroit could determine the constitutionality of the two key laws that stand in their way: Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and Michigan’s adoption code, which prevents any two unmarried people from jointly adopting a child.

Ten years ago this would have been a national sensation. Today, the question may be: Is this trial really necessary? Our legal system functions largely on precedent. Most of the time, judges look to other legal decisions as guides for how they should rule. In this case, the train is leaving the station at incredible speed.

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Opinion
9:56 am
Thu February 13, 2014

People defending wolves need to fight fairly

I thought the wolf hunt last year was unnecessary and barbaric, and was forced on the public by underhanded means.

I think hunting wolves for sport should again be outlawed. But I have to say I disagree with the way those against hunting wolves want to get a proposal put on the ballot, and I hope they lose in federal court.  I’ll explain in a few moments.

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Opinion
4:02 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Roads and sewers aren't sexy, but they need our attention

Back during the Great Depression, some radicals were strongly against helping starving people at all. They believed that when only their condition was so bad and so hopeless and they couldn’t stand it anymore, they would finally revolt and bring about a new society.

That never happened, of course, in part because the New Deal kept people alive and gave them hope in the future. For a long time, I thought the idea that you could get people to do the right thing only by making them suffer terribly was heartless.

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Politics & Government
8:31 am
Wed February 12, 2014

Lessenberry talks education funding, ballot proposals, Detroit bankrupty and Detroit Public Schools

Matthileo Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss the top political headlines of the week. This week's topic include:

  • Proposals to boost school funding.
  • Drama over Michigan's restrictions on how ballot campaigns can collect signatures.
  • How a bankruptcy plan for Detroit might come as early as next week.
  • How Detroit Public Schools have lost a collective 160 days from power outages.

Listen to the full interview below

Opinion
11:03 am
Tue February 11, 2014

Does anyone really deserve more than a million dollars a month?

If I could have dinner with any corporate executive, I’d choose Mary Barra, who I think is fascinating.

She rose through the ranks of the highly macho culture at General Motors to become its first female CEO. And she didn’t do it as a transplanted financial expert, but as the first honest-to-goodness automotive engineer to lead the company in more than 20 years.

Were she male, she’d be called a “car guy” by the press.

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Opinion
10:34 am
Mon February 10, 2014

Seriously? No Republican dares to be seen with President Obama in Michigan?

Once, when Ronald Reagan was president, I was one of a group of writers and editors who were invited to lunch at the White House. The president wasn’t craving our company.

He was trying to gain public support for a new and controversial defense program. I was not in favor of that particular program, and hadn’t voted for President Reagan. Still, it would never have occurred to me to turn down an invitation to meet the president, or any president, no matter what their policies.

Whatever else you may think of any individual, the president of the United States is the freely elected leader of this nation, and a symbolic representative of the country, and this democracy.

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