Jack Lessenberry

Earlier this week, I received a couple indignant emails from friends who had learned that Rick DeVos, the founder of the magnificent international competition ArtPrize, was willing to pay three people $500 each to redesign Michigan’s flag.

Well, I was indignant too, but not for the same reason. They were upset because DeVos, one of the heirs to the Amway fortune, was offering so little.

“He can afford a lot more than that,” Becca said.

“Like his family hasn’t tried to buy the state already,” Tom chimed in.

Well, I don’t think that’s fair.

For years, one of the nation’s most sinister figures was Roy Cohn, best known as the young chief counsel to Senator Joe McCarthy’s crusade to expose Communists in government.

McCarthy and Cohn never uncovered a single Communist agent, though they ruined lives and careers and greatly worsened the climate of suspicion and fear called the Red Scare.

Most religions have some basic creed all members are supposed to profess. Many political parties do as well.

I’m not sure what that would be for Democrats these days.

But for today’s Republicans, one basic article of faith is bitter opposition to the Affordable Care Act, perhaps better known as Obamacare.

Virtually every Republican running for federal office has vowed to work to repeal Obamacare.

Actually, they usually say “repeal and replace,” though they are usually pretty vague about what, if anything, they’d replace it with.

On Friday, I was sharply critical of Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley for a statement he made last week in an interview.

The lieutenant governor, who is supporting Donald Trump, indicated he was doing so mostly because he was concerned about the next several appointments to the United States Supreme Court.

Like most people, I haven’t paid a lot of attention to Brian Calley, Michigan’s lieutenant governor. Generally speaking, there’s a quiet understanding that lieutenant governors are standby equipment whose job is to stay out of the limelight.

They break ties on important legislation before the Senate, represent the governor at all sorts of second-tier functions, and preside over the state when the governor is off on trade missions. Calley, who is 39 but looks younger, is even more invisible than most.

They said goodbye to Gordie Howe yesterday, after funeral ceremonies that seemed more appropriate for a former head of state than a hockey player. Howe was more than a mere athlete, of course; he was a touchstone; a link to our history.

He was a memory of consistency and class, of a time when players stayed with one team most or all of their careers, before steroid scandals and when Detroit was one of the largest and richest cities in the world. Part of all this was baby boomers and those older mourning a bygone era and their own pasts.

If you don’t like being on the road, don’t run for Congress in Michigan’s First Congressional District. It is geographically huge, because so few people live up there. The district spans the entire Upper Peninsula, and about the top quarter of the Northern Lower Peninsula.

That amounts to 44 percent of Michigan’s total land area. That’s two and a half times the entire state of Massachusetts – and it includes only about 700,000 people.

For many years I’ve predicted, so far incorrectly, that one of these years the Libertarian Party would achieve a breakthrough on the national political scene.

Not that they would elect a president, but that they would become a serious force to be reckoned with. After all, the Libertarians have a message that ought to resonate with both the millennials and many of us aging, self-obsessed baby boomers.

State Senator David Knezek, a 29-year-old Democrat from Dearborn, has the kind of background most young politicians would envy. His dad was a cop; his mother, a school lunch lady. He got out of high school, walked into a U.S. Marine recruiting station, and ended up doing two tours of duty in Iraq, with a sniper platoon.

 He was promoted to sergeant.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was as angry as I’ve ever seen him late last week.

For months, members of both parties in the state Senate had worked with the governor to forge a rare bipartisan compromise to save Detroit Public Schools.

They came up with a figure needed to wipe out the debt and manage transition costs, and agreed to establish a Detroit Education Commission that would decide where any new schools, conventional or charter, could open.

The idea was to maintain balance and not have destructive competition in some areas while leaving other areas underserved.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who you might call the woman who saved the children of Flint, was only given 15 minutes to talk at the Mackinac Policy Conference, a brief space sandwiched between other events Wednesday, called a “Mackinac Moment.”

But it was by far the most compelling session of the conference. She showed a picture of one of her young patients she recently examined, a child who had been drinking lead-contaminated water until quite recently.

“Her mom asked me, ‘Is she going to be okay?’

I ran into John Rakolta late Tuesday afternoon, as he was arriving on Mackinac Island for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual policy conference.


Something happened yesterday that left me flabbergasted.

Federal, local and state officials ganged up on Governor Rick Snyder and told him his efforts to investigate the mess in Flint were hampering their attempts to do so, and told him to knock it off.

For most people, May is one of the best months. The flowers are blooming; it’s pretty clear that it isn’t going to snow any more, and summer is coming. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan Democrats start regarding May with a shudder. For two years in a row, the party has been embarrassed in May by one of their own. Last year it was State Senator Virgil Smith Jr., one of the legislature’s dimmer bulbs.

Richard T. Cole, who most people know as Rick, is a remarkable man who’s had several careers, sometimes simultaneously. I was first aware of him when he was press secretary and chief of staff to Governor Jim Blanchard in the 1980s.

Later, he was a senior executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and worked with Mike Duggan back when the man who became Detroit’s mayor was overhauling the Detroit Medical Center.


The governor and the legislature are currently fighting over how to rescue the Detroit public schools from financial collapse. There’s a general recognition that this has to be done, if only because the consequences of not doing so would cost the state even more.

The state constitution requires Michigan to provide an education for all children.

 A long time ago, when VCRs were state of the art technology, Ronald Reagan became President, and his captains proclaimed a new economic philosophy:

We’ll give massive tax cuts to everyone, but especially corporations, and that will cause them to create millions more jobs. Formerly unemployed people will become productive taxpayers, and even though they pay lower tax rates, the revenue will come flowing in, and governments too will have more money than ever before.

Every so often it comes home to me that we really live in multiple worlds. The “official” one is what we see presented by the media on radio, television, newspapers and online.

Michigan has very minimal requirements for gun sales. But you need to get a permit before buying a pistol, and there are a few people who aren’t allowed a license, mainly those with a possibly dangerous mental illness or a criminal conviction.

State Representative Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park, introduced a bill last week that seems pure common sense. He wants to require gun licensing agencies to notify police and prosecutors when someone applies and fails the background check.

If you’ve been around for a while, it isn’t hard to be cynical about Michigan government in general and the legislature in particular. As I’ve said a few million times, a combination of term limits, gerrymandering, and a dogmatic anti-tax ideology has prevented our lawmakers from taking care of our needs or preparing for the future.

When the current presidential campaign began, there were two things on which the expert talking heads agreed. Bernie Sanders was a far-out fringe candidate, and Donald Trump was a carnival sideshow who would be gone long before the snow melted.

Imagine bringing Abraham Lincoln back to life today. What do you suppose he would find most shocking about life in today’s America?

Airplanes? Same-sex marriage? A black president?

Years ago, soon after term limits first took effect in Michigan, a friend of mine served her three terms, and was forced to retire. To my surprise, her husband ran to succeed her. She came to the Legislature with a background in local government; he had none.

I thought his running was somehow faintly wrong. In any event, he lost in the primary, possibly because he had a different last name than she did.

If anyone had asked me then, I would have said I thought his candidacy was an aberration. In fact, the only aberration was that he happened to lose.

This weekend I had a chance to see President Obama’s speech to the graduating class at Howard, the nation’s best known historic black university. He talked to them about voting and voting rights – but not quite the way you might think.

It was a highly impressive speech.

If you’ve been paying attention to Lansing over the past several years, you know that the Michigan legislature seldom ever misses an opportunity to do the wrong thing.

More than half a century ago, Michigan had a Republican governor who faced a difficult choice. His party was going to nominate a candidate for president whose views on civil rights were totally opposed to his. George Romney was, make no mistake about it, a politician.

Six days ago, when it was first announced that President Obama was finally coming to Flint, Governor Snyder sent word from Europe that he was busy and didn’t plan to be in town that day. It was instantly clear that this was a huge political mistake.

I had dinner last night with John Hertel, who runs SMART, the efficient and cost-effective bus system for suburban Detroit. This hasn’t been an easy spring for John; his younger brother Curtis Hertel Sr., a revered former speaker of the Michigan House, died unexpectedly five weeks ago.

The Hertels were members of a species now rare in politics.

Last Thursday, there were huge headlines that Dan Gilbert, the billionaire who has bought much of Detroit, wants to invest a billion dollars to build a major league soccer stadium and complex in the city’s downtown.


I’m well aware that the Flint crisis is still going on, that the roads aren’t fixed and that while things are better in Detroit, the city still has too few jobs and too much blight.

  And I’m sure I will talk about some or all of those problems next week. However, it’s the start of a weekend in Michigan, and it might just be warm enough to sit on the porch and read something that isn’t about failure, incompetence or corruption.

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