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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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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Investigative
4:54 pm
Wed February 6, 2013

School sued after firing lesbian teacher

Correction:     An earlier version of this story spelled "Corunna" incorrectly. It has been fixed.

The Corunna Public School District is facing a federal lawsuit after a lesbian teacher was fired. The controversy started with a Diversity Club at the high school in the small town west of Flint.

Brook Johnson was a teacher/advisor to the Diversity Club. In 2009 the club decided to put up a display in honor of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History month. It featured photos of celebrities who had come out as gay or lesbian. It caused controversy and the school board ordered it removed.

The ACLU challenged the decision. The Corunna Board of Education changed its position and allowed the display.

The lawsuit alleges the administration then turned on Johnson, ostracizing her and then forcing her out.

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Investigative
10:23 pm
Mon January 28, 2013

Discrimination against LGBT bad for Michigan economy

A new draft report finds allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians hurts Michigan’s economy. The state’s Civil Rights Commission is reviewing the report and might take action.

In Michigan it’s legal to discriminate against people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender. Housing and job discrimination are a couple of the examples that are allowed by law.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Thu January 17, 2013

Slowdown in Michigan disposable income growth in 2013 in part due to higher state tax burden

Michiganders' paychecks will be smaller than most.
Andy Nguyen Flickr

The State of the State speech outlines what the Governor sees as spending priorities for the state. But state taxes and spending are only part of the story.   Michigan Watch has learned recovering from the Great Recession will not go as well in Michigan as the rest of the nation this year.

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Politics & Government
4:02 pm
Wed January 2, 2013

Judge rules mandatory insurance calculations to be public

A judge has ruled the organization which sets the mandatory fee for no-fault auto insurance must disclose how it calculates the fee. 

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Politics & Government
1:56 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

Personal Property Tax phase out being rushed through state Legislature

Samantha Harkins with Michigan Municipal League says the legislature is rushing a complicated tax change through the lame duck session.
Michigan Municipal League

A plan to phase out Michigan’s Personal Property Tax—the tax on business equipment—is being rushed through the Michigan Legislature.

There are unanswered questions and not much time to get answers.

Businesses want to end the tax on equipment. The problem is many local governments rely heavily on that tax.

When a proposal was announced last week, it appeared phasing out the tax over ten years and a statewide vote to replace it with the state’s current use-tax revenue might work to replace the local governments’ lost revenues.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed November 28, 2012

Legislation to discriminate in adoptions

user robscomputer Flickr

Legislation would give private adoption agencies the legal right to turn down prospective parents for any moral or religious reason.  That’s what’s in a pair of bills being considered by lawmakers in Lansing.

The bills would guarantee private adoption agencies working on state contracts would be protected from rules that could compromise their religious or moral convictions.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue November 27, 2012

Cuts to welfare: What's the cost to children?

user Followtheinstructions Flickr

This past year, the administration of Governor Rick Snyder put new restrictions on the time families can receive cash assistance. 15,000 families have been cut off from that part of welfare which generally is used to pay rent and utilities. Michigan Watch and the online magazine Bridge have spent the last year looking into the effects of those policies. Those who’ve lost cash assistance say the state is forgetting about the children who are affected.

Like a lot of parents who depended on cash assistance, Erica Underwood is wondering what’s going to happen to her family since the state kicked her off that part of welfare.

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Politics & Government
4:32 pm
Wed November 7, 2012

Campaign spending breaks all records

A lot more money was spent in this election year than in past elections and much of that money at the national level and in Michigan was so-called ‘dark money.’

“Literally hundreds of millions not traceable to any donor in federal campaigns and certainly tens-of-millions in Michigan election campaigns," said Rich Robinson with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

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Politics & Government
4:18 pm
Wed November 7, 2012

Michigan voters wouldn't be bought

Policy-makers, politicos, and pundits are trying to figure out what the rejection of all the statewide ballot proposals means. 

Tens-of-millions of dollars were spent in getting the proposals on the ballot and then promoting them.

John Bebow is with the Center for Michigan which operates Bridge magazine and the Truth Squad. He said there’s one clear message, “The ballot wasn’t for sale this year. That’s what voter’s said.”

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Investigative
7:00 am
Fri November 2, 2012

Truth Squad: 'Flagrant Foul' and 'No Foul' on Prop 5 ads

Political ads are filling the airwaves, but it’s not always easy to know what is true and what is not.

Michigan Watch has teamed up with the Center for Michigan’s Truth Squad to sort it out.

Today we look at Proposal 5 ads. That’s the proposal requiring a two-thirds majority of the legislature or a vote of the people for any state tax increase.

We’re going to start out with the proponents of Proposal 5, the Michigan Alliance for Prosperity. They want you to vote ‘yes.’

John Bebow and the Truth Squad reviewed several radio ads the group is running.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed October 31, 2012

Moroun money pushing Proposal 5, tax hike supermajority

Manuel "Matty" Moroun is also behind the effort to amend the state Constituion to require a tax hike supermajority.

It’s obvious why the Ambassador Bridge-owning Moroun family is backing Proposal 6. That’s the ballot measure that would require of vote of the people to build international crossings. It would be another step toward blocking a competing bridge Canada has offered to fund.

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