Jack Lessenberry

Opinion
10:15 am
Wed August 20, 2014

It's OK to support a candidate even if you don't agree with their every position

Both major political parties have their state conventions this week. Republicans are meeting in Novi; Democrats in Lansing.

There’s always an element of the high school reunion about these conventions; people, including the press, look forward to them in part because they get to see old friends.

However, there are also squabbles.

Most of this year’s focus has been on the Republican gathering, where Tea Party insurgents are attempting to throw Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley off the ticket.

Democrats, however, have their own struggle behind the scenes.

In case you are new to this, these conventions actually nominate most of each party’s candidates for statewide office.

Read more
Opinion
11:08 am
Tue August 19, 2014

This Detroit woman who fought for equal rights decades ago deserves to be remembered today

By now everyone knows, or at least thinks they know, something about Michael Brown. He was, of course, the unarmed black teenager shot to death by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson 10 days ago.

His death has reopened our eternal and eternally painful dialogue about equal rights and race. But what makes me sad is that a true civil rights movement giant died in Detroit two days ago, and almost nobody even noticed.

Fifty years ago this summer, a young black woman lawyer from Detroit named Claudia House Morcom arrived in Mississippi on a mission that really meant risking her life.

She was there to fight the system of institutionalized vicious racism that prevented black Americans from voting, and reduced them to subhuman status in virtually every way.

Read more
Opinion
10:34 am
Mon August 18, 2014

The holes in our roads are like dental cavities: Ignore them and they get bigger

By now coverage of last week’s Detroit area flooding has receded. For now, many of us have temporarily forgotten about how bad the potholes were last winter. We are trying, after all, to enjoy the last few days of summer.

However, roads, unlike little boys with scraped knees, don’t heal themselves.

When I was a kid I remember being told that the best thing you could do for a scraped knee was to spit on it.

This is actually not true. Most people know this by now, especially if you’ve ever taken a personal hygiene class. There are a lot more dangerous myths out there, however.

One of which is that we can’t afford to fix our infrastructure.

The fact is that in sheer dollars-and-cents terms we can’t afford not to. This weekend I talked to Jeff Cranson, the head of communications for MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation.

I asked him to help me get some hard, cold numbers about the cost of both repairing the roads and also the costs of not doing so.

Read more
Opinion
11:44 am
Thu August 14, 2014

Instead of preparing, our leaders seem to shrug their shoulders at extreme weather events

Last winter was the snowiest and one of the coldest ever in Metropolitan Detroit. Three days ago, the area was hit by an absolutely devastating rainstorm and the following floods.

We don’t know if these events were influenced by climate change. We do know that the infrastructure, from freeway ramps to storm drains, wasn’t adequate to deal with the problems.

Our roads were in urgent need of investment before this happened, and many are in worse shape now. For years, we’ve known that the water infrastructure in southeast Michigan was in need of major upgrading.

But we haven’t done any of it.  

Read more
Opinion
10:40 am
Wed August 13, 2014

Michigan's infrastructure crumbling as lawmakers work to take away your vote on wolves

  This story was updated at 11:04 am (8/13/14)

As you probably know, the Michigan Legislature has been unwilling to come up with the money to fix our roads.

Michigan’s roads are in bad shape, and some in metro Detroit are going to be in worse shape after Monday night’s horrendous flooding.

That devastation is bound to raise new questions about our aging and inadequate storm drain systems, but don’t look for your lawmakers to do anything about that, either.

That’s because fixing things costs money, and too many of our lawmakers are stubbornly opposed to raising revenue for ideological reasons, or just plain lack the courage to raise taxes.

Read more
Opinion
1:30 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

Giving kids a better education matters; our future is doomed if we don't

You probably know that Metro Detroit was hit by an amazing rainstorm last night that completely paralyzed traffic.

I may know this better than most people, since I spent several hours in a rather unexciting Coney Island in Warren.

Sometimes, it is probably good to be reminded that there are things we really can’t control, such as the weather. But there are other things we can do something about, such as education.

This occurred to me in the Coney at one o'clock this morning, as I was reading an order Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction, issued about charter schools.

Last month, the Detroit Free Press issued a massive investigative report on the state’s charters, a study so intensive it took the newspaper eight days to publish all of it.

The newspaper series revealed that some charter schools were indeed doing well. But it also found a pattern of widespread abuses, financial irregularities, and a lack of accountability. The reporters also found schools that had been failing for years, but which nobody moved to close down.

Read more
Politics & Government
10:25 am
Mon August 11, 2014

The Snyder scandals

 

Nobody can say Governor Rick Snyder vacillated, when it was learned last week that Scott Woosley, his appointed head of the Michigan State Housing Authority, had been racking up expense account charges fit for a European monarch.

Well, figuratively speaking, that is. I can’t imagine even the last king of Albania paying twelve hundred dollars to have a stretch limo take him across Nebraska. And state officials did deny payment for a “dinner” that consisted only of three glasses of expensive rum.

Enterprising Democratic Party activists used the Freedom of Information Act to ferret out this information. But within 24 hours after it hit the papers, Scott Woosley was unemployed.

The governor didn’t move nearly so quickly when it came to the Aramark Correctional Services abuses. For weeks, there have been stories about maggots on the chow line and scores of Aramark employees fired or suspended for inappropriate behavior. 

Read more
Opinion
10:09 am
Wed August 6, 2014

Why Voting Matters

Whatever your politics, there is both good news in yesterday’s election results, as well as some lessons to be learned. First of all, the good news: It had been widely predicted that turnout yesterday would be an all-time low. Some analysts felt that fewer than a million people might vote, which would have been the lowest in modern history.

Fewer absentee ballots than expected had been taken out, there were no contests for governor or senator, and on top of that, it rained in much of Metro Detroit.

Yet, in the end, more than 1.3 million people voted. That’s less than one-fifth of those eligible. But it could have been worse. Something else perhaps encouraging is that those who spent the most money didn’t always win.

Paul Mitchell, a rich businessman from Saginaw County, spent millions in an effort to win the Republican nomination to Congress. He lost to veteran legislator John Moolenaar in a landslide. In a similar election in Grand Rapids, another millionaire, Brian Ellis, tried to defeat maverick GOP congressman, Justin Amash. Ellis lost badly too.

Read more
Politics & Government
10:59 am
Fri August 1, 2014

Why you should bother to vote in the Michigan primary next Tuesday

If you have been listening to the news much lately, you are probably aware there’s a statewide primary election next week, and a fairly interesting one at that.

Four of Michigan’s 16 congressmen are leaving this year, one to run for the Senate. Some of the others, including Justin Amash, Dan Benishek, Kerry Bentivolio and John Conyers have serious primary challenges in their own parties.

Every seat in the Legislature is up for grabs. Democrats desperately want to win at least one house back. Term limits mean that nearly one third of all the legislators have to leave.

That has meant energetic and expensive primaries in most of those districts, and a number of incumbent legislators face primary opponents as well. They include establishment Republicans fighting Tea Party challengers, and Democratic state Sens.Vincent Gregory and Virgil Smith, both are trying to fend off challenges from term-limited legislators playing musical chairs.

Read more
Politics & Government
11:58 am
Thu July 31, 2014

Best Michigan representatives money can buy?

Imagine that you are a CEO and you are looking to hire somebody for a temporary, two-year position that pays $174,000 a year, and may include access to highly sensitive information.

Somebody steps up and announces he will pay more than $3 million, most of it out of his own pocket, to be considered for this job.  Would you be suspicious?

Let’s say you also needed to hire someone for a lower-ranking position, one which will have little power, and which will pay less than $72,000. A woman who could easily make more than that elsewhere borrows money, hits up friends, and spends more than $200,000 in an attempt to be a finalist for the position.

Would you say something is wrong here?

Read more
Stateside
3:44 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

Why our best and brightest candidates are not running

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Aug. 5 is primary election day in Michigan, and across all media channels, you can find criticism of who is on the ballot and who isn’t on the ballot. On Stateside today, Jack Lessenberry and Nolan Finley talked about why our best and brightest do not run.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Nolan Finley is editorial page editor at The Detroit News.

“We really aren’t sending the best and brightest to our capitols, whether it’s Lansing or Washington,” Finley said.

He added that when he talks to some of the people running for office, and even those who may ultimately win, there is a great deal of mediocrity among the candidates. Finley says the leadership pool is really shallow, and the promising leaders don’t have enough time to develop with short term limits.

Read more
Opinion
10:47 am
Tue July 29, 2014

In race for governor, Schauer is the underdog, but Snyder won't have easy campaign

Mark Schauer will become the Democratic nominee for governor next week, after Michigan’s statewide primary.

That’s because he has no opposition. He will have all the opposition he can handle in November, however. He cheerfully concedes Governor Rick Snyder will outspend him by millions. Schauer is also attempting to buck history. The last time a Republican governor was defeated in this state was in 1948.

However, when I spent some time with Schauer last week, the former Battle Creek congressman seemed sincerely upbeat and optimistic. One poll shows the two candidates exactly tied.

Others have shown Snyder leading, but usually by no more than the three to four point margin of error. And there is something ominous for the governor in all these polls: None have shown Snyder with the support of fifty or more percent of the voters.

Read more
Politics & Government
11:04 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Those who want to outlaw publications over sexually explicit ads should study Constitution first

Ten years or so ago, a woman named Andrea Lavigne sat in on some media survey classes I was teaching at Wayne State University.

She was in her late 30s or early 40s, and seemed to be searching for answers. She wanted to know how the media work, and told me she was a Maoist. This fascinated me, because I thought authentic Maoists were almost as rare as passenger pigeons. 

Chairman Mao, we now know, starved to death and slaughtered tens of millions of his own citizens, and kept China economically and intellectually backward. Intrigued, I got together one night before class with her and another Maoist, to find out what they were all about. Alas, they spouted a form of primitive, grade-school Marxism.

They seemed to have very little historical knowledge of Communism or what it had actually been like.

Three years ago, I got a friendly email from Ms. Lavigne telling me she had now founded a marijuana film club.

Well, Andrea Lavigne has a new cause now: She wants to get the city of Grosse Pointe Park to outlaw the weekly newspaper, The Metro Times, because it has sexually oriented ads. 

Read more
Opinion
11:32 am
Fri July 25, 2014

These veterans deserve some recognition, but the City of Detroit ignores them

Mike Sand didn’t technically serve in Vietnam. But he might as well have. He was stationed with a tactical fighter group in Thailand where he serviced the planes and cleaned the messes out of the cockpits of the men who fought and died in the skies.

Paul Palazzollo did serve on the ground, for perhaps the two most intense years of the war. He earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and two purple hearts. But he doesn’t talk much about what he did. Few of his buddies do either. 

They’d rather talk about their dream, which is a Memorial Park commemorating all veterans of all wars, a peaceful place to relax, have programs, and learn about our history. 

Read more
Opinion
11:05 am
Thu July 24, 2014

These three female candidates could be some of the most interesting leaders in Michigan

Unless you’ve been trapped in a coal mine, you may have noticed that this is an election year.

We’re less than two weeks from Michigan’s statewide primary. Once we get through that, we may have a few weeks before the airwaves are again dominated by commercials for various candidates for various offices.

I’ve been telling you about some of these, and I expect to be talking more about them before November. But I was thinking that three of the most potentially interesting leaders in the state are not on the ballot this year.

They are all women, all young, charismatic, intelligent, competent and highly educated. They also all happen to be Democrats, but that is almost a coincidence. 

Republicans have some rising women leaders as well, two of whom, Lisa Posthumus Lyons and Tonya Schuitmaker, are running for reelection to the Legislature.

Read more
Politics & Government
11:06 am
Wed July 23, 2014

This U.S. District Judge turns 90 today, and he has no plans to stop hearing cases

​ 

Thirty-five years ago this spring, President Jimmy Carter nominated Detroit attorney Avern Cohn to be a federal judge.

High-tech meant IBM selectric typewriters back then.

Detroit had nearly twice its current population. The World Wide Web wouldn’t exist for more than a decade, and President Obama was a teenager still in high school.

Today, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn turns 90. And he’ll spend the day, as usual, in federal court, where he still hears cases, full time.

“I get great satisfaction out of this,” he told me when I talked to him last week. “I’m happy. Every day is different. You are always learning something new. It is a job that keeps you young.”

Read more
Opinion
12:29 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

Our future is tied to our kids' future, and a new report shows that doesn't look good

 

You have to give Detroiters a lot of credit.

They voted, by overwhelming margins, to accept major cuts to their pensions. In what was most surprising, nearly 90% of city retirees also voted to give up 90% of their health care benefits. They voted to make sacrifices in their old age to give their city a chance at a future, something that we should find pretty admirable.

Now, granted, they had a gun to their heads. They were told to take this deal, or something worse would be imposed on them, but they could have raged against the machine, and didn’t.

In fact, they weren’t even obligated to approve the health care cuts, though they probably couldn’t have stopped them.

People love to bash Detroiters, but throughout the years, they have stepped up time and again, voting to tax themselves when told they had to do so to save the city; voting now to accept new painful sacrifices.

Meanwhile, four classes of the city’s hugest creditors voted no on settlement offers made to them, and so further court battles lie ahead.

All of this is bound to overshadow another story today that in the long run may be as meaningful for our future.

Read more
Politics & Government
12:15 pm
Mon July 21, 2014

Forget left and right on water shut-offs. Let's figure out how to fix the non-payment problem

Update: The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has announced a 15-day suspension of its controversial shutoff campaign.  

​Unless you’ve been completely out of touch, you know that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been shutting off service to thousands of customers who haven’t paid their bills.

This has sparked huge controversy, protests and even condemnation from the United Nations. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes even got involved.

Last week, he told the deputy director of Detroit’s water department that shutting off water to city residents has, quote "caused not only a lot of anger in the city (but) also a lot of hardship."

And the judge added, "it’s caused a lot of bad publicity for the city it doesn’t need right now." That much is not in dispute. But not everyone is in agreement that this is an atrocity.

Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, supports the shutoffs, saying that the rule everywhere is that “if you use water, you have to pay for it.” He notes that there’s an assistance program, and says that if people are in trouble, “all they need to do is call.”

Read more
Opinion
3:50 pm
Fri July 18, 2014

The pros and cons of Bill Wild, one of the candidates for Wayne Co. executive

Westland sometimes is in national trivia contests because it was the first city ever named after a shopping mall.

Bill Wild, Westland’s mayor for the last seven years, has been much less well-known. Perhaps until recently, that is; he is now waging a serious campaign to be elected Wayne County executive. That is, to win the Democratic primary August 5, which essentially guarantees victory in the November election.

Wild may still have more money and less name recognition than his four major rivals. But he is running second in some polls, and has one powerful argument.

“I’m the only candidate who actually has executive experience, who has run both a business and a government,” he told me a couple days ago, when I went to see him at his campaign headquarters on the east side of Detroit. 

That is somewhat true.

Read more
Opinion
11:01 am
Thu July 17, 2014

Michigan Republican Party's tactics remind me of Watergate, because both were unnecessary

Back in the 1960s, there was a hilarious TV sitcom called Get Smart, which portrayed the adventures of the world’s most inept spy.

Maxwell Smart was a bumbler who talked into his not-so-secret shoe telephone, carried around a device called the cone of silence, and never really had a clue as to what was going on.

Well, the Cold War is long over, but if he were around today, Smart would clearly have a future in politics.

This week, we learned that the Snyder re-election campaign has evidently revived some version of the classic department of dirty tricks, tactics made most famous by another Richard, the late President Nixon.

The Michigan Republican Party now admits it sent two staffers into a Mark Schauer fundraising event wearing high-tech hidden camera glasses.

Democrats later got possession of the disc, apparently because the Republicans clumsily lost it. My understanding is that it shows the two paid staffers chowing down on appetizers and worrying that the people at the event were on to them. They apparently made small talk with Lisa Brown, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, but not Schauer.

You might think Republicans would now be embarrassed.

But you’d be wrong.

Read more

Pages