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
7:00 am
Mon August 13, 2012

Bridging the border: Do we need a new bridge? (part 1)

Artist's rendering of the New International Trade Crossing.
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.

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Investigative
9:14 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

Legal voters refused ballots

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:

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Grading Michigan Schools
11:12 am
Mon July 16, 2012

Shop Rat Nation

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.

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Investigative
5:15 pm
Thu July 12, 2012

Detroit Windsor Tunnel closing bad; bridge closing much worse

Ambassador Bridge closure would affect Michigan's economy.
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.

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Investigative
9:53 am
Thu July 12, 2012

Bridge: Some welfare recipients get reprieve; others struggle with welfare restructuring

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

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Investigative
7:00 am
Fri June 29, 2012

Money talks: Often, it's negative.

"Obamaville," and anti-Obama ad by the now defunct Santorum campaign made some viewers laugh. That probably was not the intended reaction.

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.

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Michigan Watch

Michigan Watch is Michigan Radio’s investigative/accountability reporting unit. Headed by veteran reporter Lester Graham, Michigan Watch provides in-depth reports on topics of importance that may require a longer and more involved examination. These include the workings of state government, education, the environment, and jobs and the economy. Among the specific topics covered by Michigan Watch have been the influence of money and politics in Michigan elections, changes to the state’s mandatory no-fault insurance system, following Michigan families that have been removed from welfare, and separating truth from fiction in election advertising.

Investigative
4:47 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

McCotter explains what's next; opponent thrilled to be on the ballot

Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter with his blues band on July 4th, 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.

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Investigative
7:30 am
Mon May 28, 2012

Money Talks: Political spending hiding in the file cabinet

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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Investigative
4:28 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Money Talks: Even when the donors are secret

It appears a superPAC and other political groups are coordinating their purchases of TV ads running in Michigan.  This means a more efficient use of secret money to influence voters.

Michigan TV stations across the state are running a series of ads critical of President Obama and his administration.

Here's an example of one of the ads.

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Investigative
7:47 am
Mon May 7, 2012

Cutting business equipment tax will mean cuts to local governments and higher real estate taxes

The Michigan legislature will soon vote on whether to shift more of the state’s tax burden from business to households.  Last year the legislature and the governor shifted about one-and-a-half billion dollars in tax payments from small and medium sized businesses to retirees and the working poor. This year there’s a proposal to cut another business tax. That proposed tax cut could mean higher real estate taxes for homeowners and revenue cuts to local governments.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed May 2, 2012

Money Talks: But sometimes it hides

Lobbyists can pick up the tab for legislators. Some legislators welcome the favor, others decline.
user Biodun themedicalhealthplus.com

Elected state officials in Michigan can be more secretive about money than federal officials. At the state level, the disclosure laws on money and politics make it easier to hide conflicts of interest and influence on politicians.

When Governor Rick Snyder delivered his State of the State address last January, he tucked into it a quick mention about making state government more open.

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Energy
11:16 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Fracking for natural gas, the benefits and the risks

A gas drilling rig in Wyoming.
Wyoming Upper Green River Valley Flickr

This is a speech I recently gave to a Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism meeting in Detroit on the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing.

BENEFITS

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, we are seeing an unprecedented drop in the price of natural gas in comparison to oil prices.

Oil is hovering around $100 a barrel. In 2002, oil was about $20 a barrel.

Natural gas is currently at 2002 prices. In fact, the price of natural gas is half of what it was one year ago.

Why? Because of abundant supplies of natural gas, what the U.S. Energy Information Administration calls “robust inshore production.”

There is a glut of gas.

This increased supply is mostly due to hydraulic fracturing. More importantly, a newer way to use the drilling method, horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Horizontal ‘fracking’ has made it easier and cheaper to extract natural gas from shale deposits in the U.S. and other sites around the globe.

Horizontal fracking has meant a boom in gas drilling and production. It’s meant more jobs in certain areas of the country. It’s meant greater dependence on domestic energy, and less dependence on foreign energy.

Because burning natural gas emits about half of the CO2 emissions of coal or oil, it means less of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

It’s meant families can heat their homes more cheaply.

That all sounds good, right?

Well, it’s not ALL good.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Fri April 6, 2012

Struggling to survive after state cuts assistance

 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. 

Eleven thousand Michigan families were cut from welfare cash assistance late last year. Cash assistance is the $500 a month or so that helps the poorest families pay their bills and rent.  The Department of Human Services says the state can’t afford the cost.  So, the agency cut off those who’d been on welfare the longest. Advocates for the poor say there’s no need for those cuts… there’s plenty of federal money to pay for the benefits.

While the agency and advocates argue and maneuver in court, thousands of families are in trouble. Here's one family's story.

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Investigative
11:05 am
Wed March 28, 2012

Money Talks: Campaign money and Supreme Court justice candidates

The Michgian Hall of Justice, home of the Michigan Supreme Court.
MI Supreme Court

Lots of campaign money is being spent to influence the election of Michigan Supreme Court justices. That makes people wonder how judges can be impartial. After  all, some of the justices owe their position on the bench to people who have given them millions of dollars.

Every election cycle more and more money is being spent to help candidates for justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. With three seats on the court in contention this year, the amount of money is likely to break all records.

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Investigative
10:27 am
Tue March 20, 2012

Bridge: Welfare reforms put care-givers in a wrenching bind

Michigan Radio and Bridge Magazine are collaborating on a year-long look at the families terminated from Michigan's welfare cash assistance. This is the latest installment from Bridge.

By Ron French/Bridge Magazine

Todd Stafford has an uncontrollable neurological disorder that causes him to beat himself in the head hundreds of times a day. The beatings have made him blind and caused his head to “look like Frankenstein,” he says. His wife, Tina Stafford, doesn’t have a job because someone needs to be at their St. Joseph County home in case Todd injures himself seriously.

(Click here for the entire story.)

Investigative
7:00 am
Mon March 5, 2012

Money Talks: Out-of-state influence on Michigan voters

Michigan’s Republican presidential primary elections are over.  But, primary elections for federal and state legislators are in August.

Already out-of-state groups are spending tons of money to influence Michigan voters.

Big money often buys votes. Usually, that includes a lot of big money from out-of-state groups.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue February 21, 2012

Money and politics: when the fix makes it worse

Jimmy Stewart's character in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" receives a lesson on the role of special interests in politics.

Many voters suspect politicians are corrupted by money. Campaign contributions and cozy relationships with lobbyists make voters wonder if their elected officials have their best interests at heart. That’s led to attempts to fix the problem in Michigan, but observers say sometimes the ‘fix’ makes the problem worse.

Politicians need money to run campaigns to win elections. And often that money comes from the rich and powerful. But what do those politicians get in return?

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon February 20, 2012

Money Talks: But is it free speech?

user tobym Flickr

This election year, money will drive the conversation in politics more than usual because of  recent Supreme Court decisions. They opened the floodgates of cash, allowing groups called Super PACs to spend unlimited amounts in support of federal candidates. We’re getting just a small sampling during the presidential primary.  This fall, Michigan will see a lot of money from outside the state coming in to buy tons of ads—most of them negative—to sway voters here.

Money can’t vote. But it certainly can affect the outcome of an election. And that bothers voters such as William Mayor.

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Investigative
8:00 am
Thu February 2, 2012

Life for Michigan families after welfare reform

The online magazine Bridge and Michigan Watch are collaborating on a year-long series of reports about the Michigan families who were removed from welfare. The Department of Human Services changed how it applied eligibility rules, resulting in thousands of Michigan families losing cash assistance from the state. Often that money was used for rent payments.

The latest stories come from Ron French of Bridge.

Welfare reform leaves families without a net, and off the radar

Three months after the launch of an aggressive welfare reform, Michigan has kicked more people off the dole than expected and saved the state millions of dollars. How the approximately 15,000 families cut off from cash assistance are surviving, though, isn’t as clear.  (Read entire article here.)

Daily life gets harder for three families

Her family is paying her rent; food stamps get her and her children most of the way through the month. But three months after being kicked off welfare, Matthews says she’s received cut-off notices for her electricity, gas and water. (Read the whole story here.)

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