Lester Graham

Investigative Reporter

Lester Graham is with Michigan Watch, the investigative unit of Michigan Radio. 

He was formerly the Senior Editor of The Environment Report/Great Lakes Radio Consortium, the environmental news service based at Michigan Radio, starting with the service in 1998. 

He has been a journalist since 1985.  Graham has served as a board member of Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association(RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups. 

Graham received more than 100 awards at the state, regional, national and international levels for journalistic excellence, including four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards, two of them at the network level.

Twitter: @MichiganWatch

Facebook link

email:  llgraham@umich.edu

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Investigative
1:30 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

Snyder administration to cut program that has saved hundreds of millions in prison costs

The Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI) helps parolees get a new start. Harry Hampton (pictured) now runs his own business. The state is planning significant cuts to the program despite the fact it's saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The State of Michigan spends a huge part of its budget on prisons. In recent years a new program has helped reduce the prison population and helped prisoners stay out of prison. Despite its success, the state plans to cut much of the program’s funding.

Some people who’ve been in and out of prison are getting out and staying out thanks to a program called Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative or MPRI.

“After 33 years of doing time, they finally got it right. And today I’ve got a life. I own my own business. I’m living the American dream and it started at MPRI,” Harry Hampton said.

Hampton has been in prison four times. When he’s been released before, he got no help.

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Politics & Government
12:00 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

No-smoking rules loosened for restaurant and bar outdoor areas

Credit courtesy: restaurant.com

The state of Michigan is loosening the no-smoking rules at some restaurants and bars. Smoking outdoors will be allowed under certain circumstances.

Ever since Embers Bar and Grill in Tecumseh added an outdoor patio earlier this year, patrons who smoke have asked if they can light up. General Manager Sam VanSickle has always had to explain they cannot allow it.

“’Cause it’s the law. Wherever we’re licensed to sell food or alcohol, we’re not allowed to allow smoking.”

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Investigative
7:00 am
Fri August 16, 2013

Hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees still pocket change in Detroit bankruptcy

The alternative to paying expensive lawyers to negotiate the bankruptcy is to watch creditors strip the City of Detroit of every scrap of an asset.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings involve massive amounts of money. A lot of creditors and possibly city retirees are likely to lose a lot of money. But, there are some people who are going to make a lot of money because of this bankruptcy.

Filing bankruptcy, restructuring debt, reorganizing Detroit’s operations are all incredibly complicated and incredibly expensive.

The Detroit Free Press suggested legal fees could top $100 million.

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Investigative
3:56 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Detroit bankruptcy just the tip of the iceberg

"Detroit's unfunded pension shortfall is just a drop in the bucket," argues the Heritage Foundation. Rachel Greszler is co-author of a brief which compares Detroit to the federal government.
Credit The Heritage Foundation

A Washington think tank is warning Congress that Detroit is just the first major example of financial troubles facing the nation.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue July 30, 2013

Detroit just among the first facing troubles funding retiree costs

Detroit city limits
Credit Sam Beebe / Ecotrust

Detroit’s bankruptcy is getting the headlines right now, but many governments in Michigan could be facing similar financial troubles in the future. Detroit might be just the first of many financial catastrophes in the state.

Detroit’s debt is supposed to be as much as $20 billion. About half of that is blamed on underfunded pensions and benefits for Detroit city retirees.

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Politics & Government
8:16 pm
Sat July 13, 2013

Schauer says Tough Nerd not tough with Legislature

Democrat Mark Schauer speaking at a fundraiser for his campaign for Michigan governor while Congressman John Dingell (MI-12) looks on.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A Democratic candidate for governor says Rick Snyder is not being tough enough with the Legislature.

At a fundraiser in Ypsilanti yesterday [Saturday], Mark Schauer said Governor Snyder needs to push the Legislature to pass Medicaid expansion.

The election for Michigan governor is nearly a year-and-a-half away, but Democrat Mark Schauer is campaigning and criticizing Governor Snyder.

He says he’d do more to get the state Senate to vote on Medicaid expansion.

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Stateside
2:44 pm
Tue June 25, 2013

Michigan campaigns have been spending record amounts of money off the books

The cover of the report released today.
Michigan Campaign Finance Network

An interview with Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network today released its 2012 Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance entitled "Descending into Dark Money."

Record amounts of money were spent in Michigan with even less accountability for who was spending that money.

In his press release today, the man behind the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Rich Robinson, stated:

"We are victims of an anachronistic interpretation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that allows unaccountable dark money to dominate our politics. Citizens should have the right to know whose money is driving critically important election outcomes, so they can evaluate how campaign spending correlates to policy outcomes."

Robinson joined us in the studio today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

Investigative
2:38 pm
Thu June 13, 2013

Canadian diplomat says New International Trade Crossing 'is going ahead'

Credit http://buildthedricnow.com/

A Canadian official says construction of a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit can start soon, maybe 2015.  It’s just a matter of waiting for some money from the U.S. government.

While Canada is putting up the money for the bridge, the U.S. has to build a new customs plaza which is expected to cost about 250-million dollars.

Until then, the Canadian government will continue to negotiate land purchases in and around the Delray neighborhood of Detroit where the New International Trade Crossing will land in the U.S.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed June 12, 2013

How adoption agencies discriminate against hopeful LGBT parents

stevendamrun Flickr

Listen to the story.

If you’re gay or lesbian and you want to adopt a child, not every adoption agency in Michigan will be willing to help. If you do find an agency that will help, you might run into more discrimination.

Even if you have a home, pass the background checks, and otherwise meet the state requirements for adoption, you can be turned down by an adoption agency if you don’t meet its standards.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue June 11, 2013

How judges were stopped from granting two-parent adoptions to gay and lesbian parents

Former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Maura Corrigan put a stop to second-parent adoptions in the Washtenaw Count Court, according to reports.
user Samahiaka18 wikimedia commons

Listen to the story.

About a decade ago, judges stopped approving adoptions for lesbian and gay couples. It stopped after a controversial move by a Supreme Court Judge.

Nancy Wheeler is a judge in Washtenaw County who used to preside over the juvenile court where adoptions are recognized. She granted dozens of what are called ‘second-parent adoptions’ to same-sex couples.

“I thought that it was an outrage that we encouraged and, in fact, had a lot of gay and lesbian foster parents, but didn’t allow both parties to adopt the children. So, these children had been in foster care with these same parents sometimes for a number of years and then they were adopted by one,” Judge Wheeler explained.

She reasoned if one person could be an adoptive parent, then two could.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon June 10, 2013

For gay and lesbian families in Michigan, one parent is left out

Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez and their son, Lucas.
Credit Love-Ramirez family

Hear the story.

In Michigan, if you’re gay or lesbian, you can’t get married.

And for LGBT partners who adopt children it’s nearly impossible for both to have parental rights. That causes legal difficulties in providing a secure future for the kids they’re raising.

Two-year-old Lucas has two dads, Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez.

Diego is an airline pilot, and Kent works at Michigan State University.

“We’ve been together just over ten years. And we married in a religious ceremony five years ago and just legally married in Washington, D.C.," said Kent.

Kent and Diego are the only parents Lucas has ever known. But, the State of Michigan does not recognize one of them as a parent.

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Economy
7:00 am
Mon May 20, 2013

Craft cocktail movement helping Michigan distilleries

Giancarlo Aversa at The Last Word craft cocktail bar in Ann Arbor.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio


My Michigan Martini (recipe by Lester Graham)

5 parts Knickerbocker gin

1 part Vya Extra Dry vermouth

1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters

Add several ice cubes to bartender's mixing glass. Add dash of bitters followed by vermouth and gin. Stir 20 - 30 times (do NOT shake). Strain into martini glass. Add twist of orange (or try a twist of lemon).

If you think about states known for distilled spirits such as bourbon and whiskey, you might think about Kentucky or Tennessee. But Michigan is becoming home to its own distilleries. That's being driven in part by a growing interest in craft cocktails.

The first thing you’re likely to notice in these craft cocktail bars is all the fruit and jars of fresh herbs such as mint and rosemary. You’re not going to find premixed bottles of corn-syrup-laden sweet and sour here. It’s all about real aromas and flavors.

Right now, there are several craft cocktail bars mostly in southeast Michigan (see some favorites at the end of this story).  One of them is The Last Word where we talked with manager Robben Schulz. He says they’re always looking for new spirits to give their drinks some depth, some interest. Some of them are being made here in Michigan.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon May 13, 2013

Could changes to auto Personal Injury Protection cost more than they save?

Governor Rick Snyder, legislators, and auto insurance industry representatives outline changes they'd like to make in auto insurance, including capping Personal Injury Protection at $1 million.
Credit michigan.gov

Some members of the legislature are once again proposing changes to no-fault auto insurance in Michigan. They say it will save auto owners money. Opponents say the plan is good for insurance companies, but not for accident victims.

Everybody seems to agree auto insurance in Michigan costs too much.

Governor Rick Snyder and the chairs of the Senate and House insurance committees explained the latest plan to reduce the cost.

“In this legislation it would specify that premium costs would come down by $125 per vehicle in the first year and then hopefully because of competition and other things could even see that increase in later years,” Governor Snyder said.

That one-year guarantee of savings would come because of a reduction in the Personal Injury Protection part of auto insurance.

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Investigative
12:49 pm
Wed May 8, 2013

Local officials work to create non-discrimination region for LGBT people

Meridian, Delhi, and Delta township officials were joined by other elected officials to support a coordinated effort to pass non-discrimination laws to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Three townships in the Lansing region will be considering proposals to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression.

In a coordinated effort, Delhi, Meridian, and Delta township officials could vote on protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination with the next several weeks.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed May 1, 2013

Legislator: Gay civil rights would 'bully Christians'

Photo from the 2011 Capital Pride Parade in Washington, D.C.
user ep_jhu Flickr

Public polling and recent court cases have prompted greater discussion about adding protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Michigan’s civil rights law. Advocates for the change say it’s time to stop legally discriminating against LGBT people. Others say changing the law say it would mean people opposed to homosexual behavior would be discriminated against. The issue is beginning to play out in the Michigan legislature.

Michigan’s civil rights law is known as the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. It prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, family status, and marital status.

Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and opponents of gay rights have one thing in common: both sides say discrimination should not be allowed. Where they go from there is very different.

LGBT advocates say sexual orientation and gender expression should be included in the Elliot-Larsen protections.

Anti-gay rights advocates say there’s no need for creating special classes of people to be protected.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue April 30, 2013

Few protections for LGBT in housing discrimination

Credit courtesy U.S. Housing and Urban Develompment / HUD

Some Michigan residents are turned away for housing even if they can afford the rent for an apartment or the mortgage for a home. In many cases, landlords and bankers can legally discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. This discrimination happens even in communities with laws protecting LGBT people.

Michigan has no state law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from being discriminated against when it comes to housing. Anti-gay rights advocates say no law is necessary because there are no documented cases of discrimination against LGBT people.

But, in a widely cited report, Michigan’s Fair Housing Centers found there is discrimination by landlords, real estate agents, banks and others involved in housing even in cities where laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed March 27, 2013

Religious liberties for some, but not for LGBT marriage in Michigan (Part 3)

LGBT rainbow flag flapping in the sun
user Marlith Flickr

Some Michigan legislators have pushed bills calling for religious liberties to be honored through law. But one person’s religious liberty might be another person’s religious suppression.

Much of the debate about same-sex marriage is centered in people’s religious beliefs. The religion with the most followers in Michigan is the Catholic Church. It opposes same-sex marriage.

“Marriage from the Catholic perspective is between one man and one woman because that promotes the creation, the procreation of life,” explained Thomas Hickson, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy for the Michigan Catholic Conference

It should be noted that a survey of Michigan voters last year found the majority of people who identified themselves as Catholic approved of same-sex civil unions or marriage. But that’s not the Church’s official position.

Recently the Catholic Conference announced its advocacy priorities for the current legislative session.  Among the religious liberties it intends to defend is a 2004 amendment to the Michigan Constitution. That amendment defines marriage as between one woman and one man. It also bans recognition of similar unions- in other words Michigan cannot grant any of the rights or privileges of marriage to same-sex couples. No adoption rights. No survivor’s benefits. No health insurance for public employees.

But, some other religious organizations view same-sex marriage differently and feel gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people should be treated equally under the law.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue March 26, 2013

Legally discriminating against LGBT in Michigan: Employment (Part 2)

LGBT rainbow flag flapping in the sun
user Marlith Flickr

Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects many people from discrimination.  You cannot be fired from your job because of your religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, family status, or marital status. But you can be fired for being gay. 

Advocates for LGBT people ask why should gay people be singled out for who they are?

But gay rights opponents say this is not about who they are; this is about their behavior.

Gary Glenn is with American Family Association – Michigan.

“We don’t believe that, for example, a Christian bookstore should be forced to hire some guy who claims to be a woman and wants to wear a dress to work and use the women’s restroom. We don’t believe that a Catholic school ought to be forced to hire an openly homosexual man as a football coach, for example.”

Glenn says it would be an infringement of employers’ rights if Michigan were to amend the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT people.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon March 25, 2013

Why is it legal to discriminate against LGBT people in Michigan? (Part 1)

LGBT rainbow flag flapping in the sun
user Marlith Flickr

We’d like to think all people are treated equally in America.

In fact, we think our system is set up to make sure that happens. There are, though, people who are not protected.

If the pollsters are right, here’s something you probably don’t know:

It’s perfectly legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

A Gallup poll reported nearly nine out of ten people think LGBT people are already protected.

They are not.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon February 18, 2013

The influence of money and politics in Michigan Supreme Court elections

A task force says electing Michigan Supreme Court justices should not be as partisan, or as much about money, as other political offices. But according to one watchdog group, last year the Michigan Supreme Court campaign was the most expensive, most secretive judicial election in America. Several recommendations to get some of the politics and secret money out of the Supreme Court elections were ignored by the legislature last year.

It’s coming up on a year since the Judicial Selection Task Force issued a report recommending changes to how we elect Michigan Supreme Court justices. Since then we elected three to the bench. Although the candidates ran on the non-partisan section of the ballot, politics was involved from the beginning.

“Michigan is unusual in that our Supreme Court race is so partisan. The candidates are nominated at a party convention,” said Susan Smith, President of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. Continuing, she said, “And, even though it doesn’t say on the ballot how they got nominated or which party nominated them, it’s really a farce, then, to put it up as a non-partisan election.”

And if politics is not far removed from electing Supreme Court justices, neither is money.

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