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
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.)

Investigative
10:50 am
Fri January 27, 2012

Michigan to become a 'right-to-work' state?

By law in Michigan, workers in unionized work places are required to pay union dues. There's an option to not be part of the union, but an "agency fee" still has to be paid. That covers the cost of the union's collective bargaining and grievance handling.
user "Dmitri" Beljan Flickr

Some Republicans in the Michigan House want to give workers in union shops the option not to pay union dues. Unions in the state say that’s something that they’d “take to the streets” to fight. 

But not all union members agree.

Terry Bowman works at a Ford plant in Ypsilanti. He’s a member of the United Auto Workers.

He calls himself a 'union conservative.'

Read more
Investigative
1:05 pm
Mon January 16, 2012

Seven things to know about changes to Michigan's mandatory auto insurance

Potential changes to Michigan's auto no-fault insurance law would be "referendum proof." Voters would not be allowed to overturn it.
user bettyx1138 Flickr

The Michigan House of Representatives is expected to bring HB 4936 to the floor for a vote soon.

That legislation would significantly change Michigan’s auto no-fault Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage.

Here is a quick overview of what we have now, the proposed changes, and the potential consequences of those changes.

1. What we have now

There’s some confusion about changing no-fault. It’s not the “no-fault” part that would change. It’s the Personal Injury Protection portion of auto insurance that would change.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Fri December 16, 2011

Political calls: no disclosures, almost no limits

Photozou

Next year is an election year. That means lots of campaign literature in the mail, lots of ads on the television,   and, maybe worst of all, robo-calls. Those are the recorded calls that automatically dial your phone…usually right at dinner time. There are a lot of them now, but there could be a lot more in the future.

Even one of the guys who makes robo-calls happen knows most people don’t really like them.

“Everybody hates them. I think that they’re universally hated.”

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue December 13, 2011

Kicked off cash assistance by bureaucrats

Last month, more than 11,000 families were kicked off Michigan’s Family Independence Program, a cash assistance welfare program.

Lester Graham with Michigan Watch is working with the online magazine Bridge in a year-long collaboration, following families who’ve lost the state assistance. 

The legislature has been blamed for the loss of benefits to those 11,000 families, but its vote to restrict families to 48 months of benefits in a lifetime only immediately affected about 100 families.

It was an administrative decision by the Department of Human Services which resulted in kicking all those other families off of cash assistance. 

The new law allows no more than 48 months of benefits in a lifetime and it started counting months in 2007.  On its own, the agency, started counting months in 1996 and decided anyone who’d received help for more than 60 months since then would be cut off. 

That’s how those 11,000 families suddenly lost cash assistance.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue November 29, 2011

Protecting yourself after changes to no-fault insurance

Michigan legislators are considering changing insurance benefits for people badly injured in auto accidents.  The sponsors of the legislation say it will lower the price of auto insurance.  Some analysts say it will mean people who are severely hurt won’t get the care they need and argue in the end won’t save much money at all.

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Politics
2:06 pm
Mon November 28, 2011

Long waits for hearings on welfare challenges

A Michigan Department of Human Services office in Detroit was the scene of protests, confusion, and anger this morning.  This was the day people losing welfare cash assistance had a chance to challenge that decision, but the hearings were delayed.

People losing cash-assistance were told to be at the Department of Humans Services office at 8 o’clock this morning and to be prepared to spend the day waiting for their teleconferenced hearing to be conducted.  Three hours later, the hearings had not started.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon November 28, 2011

Legislators want data before changing auto no-fault

user H.L.I.T. Flickr

Michigan legislators are looking at changing the state’s mandatory auto no-fault insurance.  But some of the legislators say the information they need from insurance companies to make an informed decision has not been available to them.  Regulators say legislators and the public wouldn’t be able to understand the information even if it were made available.

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Culture of Class
7:00 am
Mon November 21, 2011

Class and the courts

There, perhaps, is no moment in life when the difference in class is more apparent than when you are accused of a crime.  The wealthy hire the best lawyer they can.  If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided.  But, the kind of attorney you get in Michigan all depends on where you live.

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Culture of Class
7:00 am
Mon November 14, 2011

Class segregation

Michigan Radio
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is not just a matter of bank accounts. More and more it determines where you live. 

We’ve all heard about racial segregation. Whites live one place. Blacks live in another. There are all kinds of ethnic neighborhoods. But in the last 40 years, racial-ethnic segregation has moderated somewhat--although it is still high. But socioeconomic segregation, segregation by class, is on the rise.

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Politics
2:03 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Michigan Radio and Bridge Magazine to follow families banned from welfare

Over the course of the next year Michigan Watch, the investigative/accountability unit of Michigan Radio, and Bridge Magazine, the online magazine put together by the Center for Michigan, will be collaborating on coverage of Michigan families who were dropped from cash assistance welfare.

Environment
11:20 am
Thu October 20, 2011

Green building architect: Insulation is sexy

If you want to build a new home, you want an architect who can take your lifestyle and design a home around it. When it comes to building an environmentally-friendly house, you might even want someone who challenges you a little.

I was at the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference earlier this month to moderate a panel on America’s oldest net-zero energy home. That house happens to be here in Michigan and owned by Matt Grocoff. Matt wanted me to meet one of the architects leading the green building movement. His name is Eric Corey Freed.

As we talked to Freed at the conference… I wondered if people knew what they were getting into when they decided to build green…

“I think most people just assume I’m going to slap solar on it and be done.”

Solar. Yeah, it’s the sexy add-on that everyone seems to want. But Freed says solar is way too expensive unless first the house is built to be as energy efficient as possible. That means basic things… like proper insulation… which is not so sexy.

“Well, I think insulation is sexy, frankly. I mean, I think everybody should get naked and roll around in it. Not in the fiberglass! Because that could hurt. Maybe the recycled cotton one, that’d be pretty cozy. But remember, to me insulation is like chocolate: the more you have the better it is. So just bring it on.”

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Politics
3:35 pm
Thu October 13, 2011

No-fault insurance changes passed by House committee

Update 3:35 p.m.

A state House committee has approved major changes to Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance.

The legislation would cap medical fees and restrict the kind of care people who are badly hurt in car accidents could get.

As it is now, if someone is catastrophically injured in a car accident, no-fault Personal Injury Protection pays for all necessary medical and rehabilitation expenses.

It’s unlimited, lifetime benefits if necessary.

This new bill would limit medical fees, and it would give motorists the choice to purchase $500,000, $1 million, or $5 million worth of coverage.

After that, you’re on your own.

Read more
Environment
3:35 pm
Fri October 7, 2011

Green building conference: standing out from the crowd

The U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference was held in Toronto this week.  “Greenbuild 2011” was four days of seminars, classes, and discussions about how to construct buildings and homes, using more environmentally friendly methods. 

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Politics
2:19 pm
Tue October 4, 2011

Michigan no-fault insurance testimony before large crowd

An overflow crowd at the House hearing.
Chelsea Hagger Michigan Public Radio Network

Advocates hoping to keep the Michigan No Fault Personal Injury Protection auto insurance told members of the Michigan House of Representatives Insurance Committee that it would be a mistake to change the law. 

The hearing was packed with an overflow crowd spilling into other rooms to watch the proceedings on TVs. 

Read more
Politics
10:29 am
Tue October 4, 2011

Overflow crowd for hearings on no-fault auto insurance changes

Reports from Lansing:  Three overflow rooms have been opened in the House office building to fit the huge crowd there to hear testimony about proposed changes to the no-fault Personal Injury Protection auto insurance.

Investigative
6:00 am
Mon October 3, 2011

No-fault insurance changes could shift cost to taxpayers

Tomorrow, the Michigan legislature will hold hearings on bills that seek to change the state's no-fault insurance policies.
user H.L.I.T. Flickr

Tomorrow (TUES.) the Michigan legislature holds the first hearings on bills that would change the state’s no-fault auto insurance.  Legislators say auto insurance is too high and they want to allow people to buy less coverage. 

Right now, people who buy car insurance in Michigan also have to purchase something called Personal Injury Protection.  But, Representative Pete Lund says drivers who don't want the coverage should by law be able to pay for something less.

“I think it’s good to give people the options in life.”

Read more
Environment
3:13 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Wangari Maathai, winner of Nobel Peace Prize, dies

Wangari Maathai in Kenya in 2004 - the year she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mia MacDonald Green Belt Movement

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize died on Sunday in her native Kenya.  She was 71.

The New York Times reports:

The cause was cancer, her organization, the Green Belt Movement, said. Kenyan news organizations said she had been treated for ovarian cancer in the past year and had been in a hospital for at least a week when she died.

Maathai was a leading environmentalist and feminist as well as a human-rights advocate.  She has also worked to encourage nations around the world to work together to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

During an interview on Michigan Radio's The Environment Report in 2009 (click on audio above), Maathai also called on everyone to help work to solve the global warming problem.

"I think it’s very important to encourage farmers, individual citizens to plant trees. And, I’m very happy to know that in some of your states, tree planting has been embraced as one of the solutions. It’s one of the activities that every one of us citizens can do and feel good about it, and teach kids to do it, because every tree will count. And when there are 7 billion of us, almost, in the whole world, so you can imagine, if every one of us planted a tree and made sure that tree survived – can you imagine the impact?"

Investigative
1:41 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Fewest traffic fatalities in Michigan since the 1940s.

Each recession has one upside: fewer traffic accidents. But since 2008 it's also meant a lot fewer traffic crash deaths.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

While doing some research for a story, I went back over some data issued by the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information last May. 

It might not be surprising that the number of traffic crashes is lowest during years of a down economy.  After all, there’s less commercial traffic and there are fewer people driving to work because so many are unemployed. 

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Auto/Economy
10:54 am
Sun September 25, 2011

Four Midwestern governors in Asia for trade

(Springfield, IL)  Governor Rick Snyder is in Asia on a trade mission to China, Korea and Japan.  He’s not the only Midwestern governor there.  The governors of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana's Lt. Governor are also taking trade delegations to Asia. 

The four Midwestern governors will be meeting  in Japan with Japanese and other Asian political and business leaders.   They’re working to kick start trade with Asian countries.  China is particularly important because it’s one of the few nations where the economy is growing.

Charlie Wheeler was a long time statehouse reporter in Illinois.   He says  the chief executive officer of a state can carry symbolic weight in trade negotiations.

“And I think it makes a lot of sense for the Governor of Illinois, of Michigan and any other Midwestern state, any state in the union for that matter, to try and open up more markets in China, to establish the kind of personal relationships that in the business world often help to carry out these negotiations.”

The governor of North Carolina will be  next in the parade of U.S. governors touring Asia. She leaves for a trade mission there next month.

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