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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Opinion
12:41 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Cowardly politicians hope you think they are fixing our roads

There was a lot of rejoicing yesterday over a new plan to fix Michigan’s roads.

House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, is proposing coming up with $400 million a year in new money.

House Republicans say they can do that without raising taxes. Gov. Snyder, off in Europe on a trade mission, sent word that he thinks this is “a great first step” toward better roads.

Even a spokesperson for the Democrats indicated they thought “some of the elements of the plan make sense and are a good start.”

Well, excuse me, but they are wrong. Almost all wrong.

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Opinion
10:16 am
Thu April 3, 2014

Here's one reason gay voters, Jewish voters, and pro-choice women won't be voting for Snyder

This year’s race for governor has been unusual in one way. Four years ago, both parties had intense primary campaigns going on, and we had no idea in April who the nominees would be.

But this time, it has been settled for months.

Democrats avoided an expensive and divisive fight by uniting early around former legislator and Battle Creek congressman Mark Schauer.

There was never any possibility of a GOP contest once it was clear Rick Snyder would run for reelection, but the last few months must have been frustrating for Schauer.

Most polls show the race close, or dead even, but Schauer has failed to attract much attention. In part, that’s because there’s been so much other news, from Detroit’s bankruptcy to retiring congressmen to General Motors’ huge ignition-switch crisis. But it is also due to the fact that Schauer, a likeable and intelligent man, does not “fill up a room,” with charisma and the force of his personality.

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Opinion
11:27 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Mary Barra might be the right CEO to steer GM through this crisis

General Motors is clearly now in a crisis which could be far worse than bankruptcy was five years ago – one that may threaten the very survival of what once was the world’s biggest corporation.

Gregg Harper, an obscure Republican congressman from Mississippi, spoke for America yesterday, when he and other congressmen were grilling GM’s new CEO.

“We don’t trust your company right now,” he told Mary Barra, who endured more than two hours of hostile questioning from the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.

What Harper thinks is what millions of Americans think.

Many of them stopped buying GM products long ago, tired of inferior quality and of being lied to by sales and service personnel.

They are like a man I know who bought a top-of-the line Buick in 1986, only to find the car afflicted with electrical problems the company couldn’t or wouldn’t fix. He traded it for a Honda Accord, and says he would never touch a General Motors car again.

He’s far from alone.

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Politics & Government
8:24 am
Wed April 2, 2014

The week in Michigan politics

Credit NOAA

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss the impact of a fourth member of the state's congressional delegation who won't seek re-election, Medicaid expansion, President Obama's trip to Michigan to talk about the minimum wage, and Detroit's latest plan for bankruptcy.

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Opinion
3:19 pm
Tue April 1, 2014

Michigan will be weaker in Washington than we’ve been in ages

This isn’t an especially good April Fool’s Day, for a reason you might not suspect.

In the last few days, we’ve learned that our state is going to be considerably weaker in terms of political clout in Washington than we have been in many years.

Yesterday, Congressman Dave Camp of Midland, R-Michigan, the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, suddenly announced he wouldn’t run for reelection.

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Opinion
10:25 am
Mon March 31, 2014

The Ilitch family seeks a monopoly on the backs of taxpayers

I’ve talked before about the sweetheart deal that the city of Detroit gave Mike Ilitch in connection with the new hockey stadium and entertainment complex being built in downtown Detroit.

The city is giving Ilitch’s Olympia Entertainment all the land they need, absolutely free. The taxpayers are also kicking in most of the cost of the project.

In return, the city gets nothing – not one dime of the parking or pizza or ticket sales revenue.

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Opinion
10:47 am
Thu March 27, 2014

All the cuts to news gathering should scare us

Newspapers, even big-city newspapers, are in a sorry state these days.

Thanks largely to the Internet, their circulation and advertising revenue has been in free fall, with the result that they have far less staff than they once did.

There are also fewer papers than there used to be.

Washtenaw County, outside of Ann Arbor, is home to a collection of fascinating and picturesque little towns like Manchester, Saline, Dexter, and Chelsea. Each had its own thriving weekly newspaper: The Saline Reporter, Dexter Leader, and Chelsea Standard.

Years ago I did some consulting for the local company that owned those papers and learned that no matter how physically close these places might be, the good people of Chelsea did not want Dexter news in their paper, and vice-versa.

Times are different now.

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Opinion
11:55 am
Wed March 26, 2014

Americans will have to wait for final decision on gay marriage

There are a lot of bewildered and dejected people in Michigan today.

Most of all, perhaps, the 300 or so same-sex couples who got married last Saturday, after a federal judge overturned Michigan’s amendment outlawing such marriages. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled, as expected, that our state’s constitutional prohibition of such marriages was wrong.

But unlike federal judges in other states where this happened, he did not put his ruling on hold till the appellate courts could rule, so there was a mad scramble for licenses and ceremonies in those counties where the clerks were sympathetic.

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Opinion
10:46 am
Tue March 25, 2014

Michigan lawmakers' latest efforts are a politically motivated attack on the poor

Well, here’s some news you’ve been waiting for.

Two bills may soon be on the governor’s desk requiring suspicion-based drug testing for welfare recipients.

The Michigan Senate has approved both, the House has passed one, and the odds are that they will smooth out any differences and send them on to the governor.

Signing them would be the sort of thing politicians do in an election year.

Indeed, it would make lots of people happy. Just think of all those lazy welfare chiselers, using our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to get high.

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Opinion
10:25 am
Mon March 24, 2014

The partisan divide over same-sex marriage

Unless you were trapped underground last weekend, you probably have been following Michigan’s same-sex marriage drama.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman issued an opinion striking down Michigan’s state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages.

Less than 24 hours later, a federal appeals court put his ruling on hold.

In the meantime, several hundred couples rushed to get licenses and marry. Every legal scholar I know believes the legality of same-sex unions will eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Politics & Government
11:02 am
Fri March 21, 2014

The future of the EAA

There aren’t many who are neutral about the EAA, or Education Achievement Authority. That’s the entity formed to improve Detroit’s worst public schools.

For some, this experiment is an abject failure. Last year, through dogged persistence, State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, turned up lots of disturbing information about the EAA.

That includes news that the authority borrowed millions of dollars from the cash-strapped Detroit school district, loans the authority then seemed determined to hide. Today, Lipton, a former teacher, calls the EAA “education deform.”

There have been revelations that at least one-quarter of the kids in EAA schools have left. There have been wildly conflicting reports as to the learning atmosphere in the 15 EAA schools, as well as whether kids in them are making better progress.

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Opinion
9:36 am
Thu March 20, 2014

Bill Schuette enforcing popular regulations in an election year

There’s an old joke that says Republicans are the party in favor of local control, except when they aren’t, which is to say when local governments do something Republicans in the Legislature don’t like – for example, providing what they see as excessive health benefits to their employees.

Now it seems that the GOP is also the party which is aggressively in favor of the free market – except when it isn’t. And it is often convenient to be in favor of regulation in favor of the public interest in an election year.

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Politics & Government
8:08 am
Thu March 20, 2014

The week in Michigan politics

NOAA

In This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss the financial emergency in Royal Oak Township, the approval of PTSD for medical marijuana use, and how Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is going after energy companies accused of drastically bringing down the prices of oil and gas land leases, and why some people paid as much as $8 a gallon for propane this year.

Opinion
11:09 am
Wed March 19, 2014

Who is Mark Totten and why is he hoping to unseat Bill Schuette?

Few remember this today, but 24 years ago, Bill Schuette, now Michigan’s Attorney General, gave up a safe seat in Congress in an attempt to defeat U.S. Senator Carl Levin.

Mark Totten was a 16-year-old kid growing up in Kalamazoo back then. Had he been able to, he would have voted for Schuette. His family was solidly Republican.

However, politics weren’t on Totten’s agenda then. As a teenager, his plan was to go to the seminary and become a Baptist minister. Totten went to a small Christian college in Ohio, but his views gradually started to change.

Making the world a better place continued to be important to him, but he realized the Republican Party didn’t represent his values. Totten became a Democrat, and then did something astonishing.

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Opinion
10:46 am
Tue March 18, 2014

In praise of Michiganders

You may have wondered, especially if you didn’t grow up in this state, why some of us call ourselves Michiganians and some  Michiganders. Yesterday I heard from one gentleman who has strong feelings on the topic. He hates the term Michigander.

He wrote to me, “Michigan Radio disserves the listeners every single time it utilizes the term Michigander. Regardless of the result of a recent popular opinion poll, the usage is just plain wrong.”

He added that “Michigander is a derogatory term imposed on us,” by a freshman congressman from Illinois way-back-when.

Well, it is always good to think about words and what they mean. But in this case, I have to profoundly disagree.

I am a Michigander, I have always been a Michigander, and intend to always be one. And that’s because this is a word that is not only unique, but which has a rich history.

Yes, it was indeed coined by a new congressman – but one named Abraham Lincoln. Nor was he disrespecting us as a state. He was poking gentle fun back in 1848 at a political opponent, Lewis Cass, who was pretty much the political godfather of Michigan.

Cass was the Democratic nominee for president that year; Lincoln was a Whig. They disagreed on the Mexican War; Cass supported it, Lincoln did not. Though we today think of Lincoln as a marble statue, in his own time, he was famous for a sharp and sometimes biting sense of humor, and in a debate over the war, Lincoln said of Cass, “and there he sits, the great Michigander.”

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Opinion
12:10 pm
Mon March 17, 2014

Mary Barra finds herself navigating a crisis at General Motors

During the long and agonizing Watergate scandal, the endless question was: What did he know, and when did he know it? That referred to President Richard Nixon, and the break-in and cover-up at the Democratic National Headquarters.

In the end, it turned out Nixon had known a lot, right from the start, which is how he became our only President ever forced from office.

Well, now people are beginning to ask: What did she know and when did she know it? Except the arena is not politics, but the auto industry, specifically, the reborn General Motors.

This time, the chief executive is a woman, Mary Barra, the first woman ever to lead a major car company.

Three months ago, many of us were stunned and delighted when she was appointed.

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Politics & Government
10:26 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Searching for the right solution to fix Michigan's roads

Recently I criticized the Legislature and State Senator Jack Brandenberg for wanting to roll back state income taxes. He has a bill to cut the rate from 4.25% to 3.9% over three years.

For an average taxpayer, that would mean a tax cut of less than a hundred bucks a year. But it would leave the state with nearly a billion dollars a year less, when it already doesn’t have enough money to maintain the roads or provide other services.

After this bill sailed through the Senate Finance Committee earlier this month, I said I thought it was irresponsible election year pandering.

Later, Sen. Brandenberg called me.

He was warm, earnest, had a sense of humor, and said I had gotten it wrong. He wasn’t pandering in the least, he told me; this is what he genuinely believed. He said this stemmed from an agreement to roll back taxes going back to when Jennifer Granholm was governor.

I thought his calling me took class, and it was clear he really does believe in this. Brandenberg has no need to pander; he is certain to be reelected this fall to a safe Republican seat.

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Opinion
10:21 am
Thu March 13, 2014

This supplemental bill gravely endangers infant health and Michigan's future

Well, yesterday the legislature approved a budget supplemental bill that includes more than two hundred million dollars in new money to fix the roads, and the politicians are congratulating themselves.

Governor Snyder issued a press release praising this, and congratulating the legislature on “working together” and creating the “positive relationship” needed to pass this bill.

Now if you think about it, what he said sounds pretty bizarre. Working together? Positive relationship? That’s the kind of language you use when two nations sign a trade agreement.

These are the two houses in our state’s legislature. Their job is to work together for our good. And you’d think a “positive relationship” should be a piece of cake, since they are both controlled by Republicans. But in fact, there isn’t all that much positive in this bill. The road funding, while necessary, doesn’t address the major problem, and it isn’t clear whether this money will be allocated fairly.

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Opinion
11:44 am
Wed March 12, 2014

Michigan lawmakers preparing a small patch for our roads

Despite appearances, those who make our laws sometimes do listen to those who elect them. Here’s one example happening right now. Anyone who drives knows that our roads are in terrible shape.

Nobody remembers them ever being this bad, especially in major urban areas. But the Legislature has stubbornly ignored appeals from Gov. Rick Snyder to fix them.

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Opinion
12:31 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

Shrinking Detroit might be a solution to the city's intractable problems

Detroit’s bankruptcy process, like this long and dreadful winter, is unlikely to end anytime soon. While it is still officially a “fast-track” bankruptcy, it is definitely a muddy track.

As of now, federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has a hearing June 16 to consider the city’s “plan of adjustment” bankruptcy proposal, but that now seems certain to be pushed back.

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