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

Ways To Connect

Truth Squad on Prop 4

Oct 16, 2012

Michigan voters have plenty of homework to do before election day. One of the more complicated of the five proposed amendments to the Michigan Constitution is Proposal 4.  Michigan Watch teamed up with the Center for Michigan’s Truth Squad to review the ads.

One of the proposed constitutional amendments on the Michigan ballot this fall would require a statewide vote before state money could be spent on any “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” could be built in Michigan. The amendment would require the vote even before any tax money could be spent planning an international crossing. This would effectively stop the New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor. The effort is funded by the family that owns the Ambassador bridge.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Five proposed amendments to the state Constitution and one other referendum will appear on the ballot on election day. Political commercials are on your TV making arguments for and against many of the proposals.  Michigan Watch teamed up with the Center for Michigan’s Truth Squad to look at the ads for and against Proposal 3.

Five proposed amendments to the state Constitution and one other referendum will appear on the ballot on election day. We’ll see a lot of political commercials in the final weeks before we go to the polls. Michigan Watch is teaming up with the Center for Michigan’s Truth Squad to look at some of those ads.

As election day approaches, you’re likely to see a lot of ads critical of an agreement between Canada and Michigan regarding a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

[Ad Clip:] “It will cost Michigan taxpayers $100 million a year.”

Whether Michigan taxpayers are on the hook for the cost of that bridge is at the heart of a fierce debate about the agreement.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

You’ve got a lot to decide on election day. It’s not just who will be president, or elected to Congress or to the state legislature. There will be five state constitutional amendments. Some people are concerned about whether adding a lot of Constitutional amendments muddies a document that is designed to be a clear guide for the state.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the prominent social issues this election year is gay marriage. During the Republican National Convention, the party’s platform and political leaders said marriage is limited to one man and one woman. The Democratic platform calls for allowing same sex marriage.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm spoke at the Democratic National Convention last night. She got the crowd on its feet and social media abuzz. 

The former Governor argued that no one helped Michigan when the auto industry collapsed.

“Almost nobody had the guts to help us. Not the banks. Not the private investors. And not Bain Capital. But, in 2009 the cavalry arrived and our new president, Barack Obama, came in.”

The speech just grew more intense from there.

Buttons for sale at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan delegates are meeting and debating and planning at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

But the delegates are also buying stuff.

One of the things you find at these political conventions are souvenirs. 

I pulled Michelle Evans Pejokovich off the cash register for a moment to tell us what they're hawking.

"We have t-shirts, iPhone covers, car magnets, bracelets, bangles, cuff links, t-shirts, tote bags, runway for change," said Pejokovich.

Some of the other items for sale:

DTE Energy CEO Gerard Anderson asked Michigan delegates to the Democratic National Convention to oppose a state constitutional amendment increasing the use of renewable energy. The proposed so-called 25 by 25 amendment would mandate 25 percent of electricity come from renewable sources such as wind, solar, or bio-fuels by the year 2025. It will appear on the ballot in November.

Anderson says he’s not opposed to increasing the use of renewable energy, but it should be done through the legislature, not by amending the constitution.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Delegates here have heard from Dow Chemical Company, DTE, the AFL-CIO, various Democratic Party officials and Bob King. King is the President of the United Auto Workers and in Michigan, that carries weight.

He told them Michigan delegates that the platform approved by the Republicans at their convention calls for restricting labor’s right to bargain.

“The baby step in my mind is that they’d pass a national ‘Right to Work.’ They want to do much more than that. They want to take away the right from workers to bargain on conditions at work, their pensions, their healthcare.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Leading Michigan Democrats are in Charlotte, North Carolina for the Democratic National Convention.
They all say Michigan will go for Obama on election day.

This is a partisan crowd. So, of course, they're going to say the President will be re-elected. But these Democrats also know that recent polls show Mr. Obama and Republican nominee and native son Mitt Romney are in a dead heat in Michigan.

Former Governor James Blanchard says Democrats must work hard if they want their man back in the White House.

Michigan Democrats say they welcome the question of whether President Obama’s record leaves Americans better off than they were four years ago.

Democrats get down to the business of explaining their case to re-elect Barack Obama today. Michigan delegates say Republican Mitt Romney’s plan for economic recovery is no different than President George Bush’s.

U.S. Senator Carl Levin says the contrast is that simple.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Some Michigan delegates at the Democratic National Convention say the Republicans had their chance to bash President Obama. This week they believe they will hear why Barack Obama has earned a second term in the White House.

Smarting a bit after the criticism by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at the Republican National Convention, some Democratic delegates are anticipating President Obama’s response. Michigan delegates to the Democratic National Convention had some not so nice things to say about the Republican team that wants to take the White House.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This election year, the right to vote and access to the ballot have been hot topics this election year in states across the nation. But one group of sometimes disenfranchised voters is getting attention.

Last week, an op-ed piece hit many newspapers across the nation, including the Tampa Bay area. It was written by Hans von Spakovsky. He was in the George W. Bush administration and is now with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Democratic party leaders are rallying the troops on the first full day of the Democratic National Convention.

Not all the Michigan delegates have arrived at the convention because of Labor Day events back home. But a few delegates gathered today to hear from their party’s leader, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Recent polls show President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney running neck and neck in Michigan. Wasserman Schultz told the Michigan delegates they have work ahead of them.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Delegates to the Democratic National Convention are gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina to nominate Barack Obama for a second term as president. Others are in Charlotte trying to build political momentum for a cause.

Yesterday the streets of downtown Charlotte were filled with protestors.

(Sound of drums and chanting) "Education not deportation!"

(Updated)

A newly created group is challenging a ballot petition that would require a vote on future international bridge and tunnel crossings.

The group Taxpayers Against Monopolies supports a New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor, so it’s challenging a ballot petition filed by The People Should Decide which is supported by the Ambassador Bridge owners, the Moroun family.

The ballot petition would require a vote on all international crossings that use any taxpayer money.

Dilapidated homes in Delray near Detroit.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The fight between Governor Rick Snyder and Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun about a new bridge connecting Detroit and Canada will be in the news for the foreseeable future. What’s often lost in the arguments is the people of the Detroit neighborhood where the new bridge will land.

Elaine Ezekiel / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder is pushing for a new $2 billion bridge from Detroit to Canada. The owners of the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge are fighting to stop that new bridge. The latest move is to get a constitutional amendment calling for a vote of the people before building any new bridge to cross the border. That will give the company another avenue to delay or stop the new bridge from being built.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The arguments for and against building a new bridge to Canada at Detroit, for the most part, have been pretty one-sided. The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are fighting it and spending tons of money in TV ads. 

If you watch TV at all, you’ve probably seen one of the Ambassador Bridge-sponsored ads criticizing plans for a new bridge.

“Governor Snyder says, ‘Send Canada the bill.’ But, the Canadians have other ideas.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There’s been a lot of confusion about how much a new bridge across the Canadian border at Detroit might cost taxpayers. TV ads say it will cost Michigan taxpayers $100 million a year. The governor says it will cost Michigan nothing.

http://buildthedricnow.com

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says we need a new bridge to Canada. It will mean more trade and more and better jobs. Not everyone agrees, especially the owners of the single bridge in Detroit which connects Michigan to Canada.

Eight thousand trucks a day cross the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

nopsa.hiit.fi

UPDATE:

Reports of voters being turned away because they declined to check a box asking them to verify U.S. citizenship have been coming in from several areas of the state.

Michigan Radio first became aware of the situation when talking to Michigan Campaign Finance Network's Rich Robinson who said he was refused a ballot because he would not check the box. He refused because it is not legally required.  Other media sources picked up on the story. (see Free Press)

Other political groups received calls from voters complaining they had been refused the right to vote after declining to check the citizenship box.

Chad Livengood with the Detroit News reported:

Shop Rat Nation

Jul 16, 2012

Nov. 9, 2007
Lester Graham
The school system in this country in general has been going away from the vo-tech and shop classes. But one program provides an opportunity for college prep students to get some shop experience.

user Mikerussell from Wikimedia Commons

Updated

A reported bomb threat closed the Detroit Windsor Tunnel today for several hours. Almost all of the tunnel’s traffic is passenger cars. Traffic was diverted to the only other alternative to cross the border, the Ambassador Bridge. Congestion slowed traffic.

It was certainly an inconvenience for travelers, but the economic impact of the tunnel closure was minimal.

However, if the Ambassador Bridge were closed for hours or days for any reason, it would be a much different story.

Michigan Watch is working with the online magazine Bridge in a year-long collaboration, following families who were cut from welfare cash assistance by a Department of Human Services decision late last year. 

Some Michigan welfare recipients get reprieve

By Ron French/Bridge Magazine

This election year has seen a huge increase in the amount of money being spent on political campaigns compared to previous years. A lot of that money is being spent on negative political ads on TV.

As Michigan’s primary election gets closer, and the general election is only four months away, we’re going to see more and more political TV ads. And the bulk of those ads are going to be negative ads.

“I hear the negativity all the time. I’m tired of it. Tell me what it is you want to do not what you think the other guy is going to do," said Troy Hemphill.

“I don’t like to listen to that. I want some positive information," Kiirsten Olson insisted.

“Even when you think, ‘I’m not going to listen to negative ads, I’m not going to listen to negative ads,’ and then one creeps inside your brain. And then it sticks,” Shannon Rubago bemoaned.

Those are pretty typical responses of a couple of groups of people we talked to. We showed them a series of negative ads to see what their reactions would be.

Former Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter jammed with his blues band after announcing his run for the presidency over the July 4th weekend in 2011.
Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

The race for the seat in the Michigan 11th Congressional District was expected to be an incumbent representative running for re-election in a safe district. Political observers were stunned to learn Congressman Thaddeus McCotter’s campaign messed up. The Congressman’s name will not appear on the ballot in the primary election in August.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Broadcasters are fighting a new rule to disclose more about who’s buying political ads. The Federal Communications Commission wants TV stations to post information about the political ads they air on a government website.

That will make it a lot easier to find out what groups are spending money to influence voters.

Recently, I met Rich Robinson in the parking lot of his office in Lansing. He was taking me on a little trip.

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