Jack Lessenberry

commentary
10:30 am
Fri May 27, 2011

Now for the Hard Part

When Governor Rick Snyder took office in January, he said he wanted to have the state budget signed, sealed and delivered by the end of May.

Nobody in Lansing took that seriously. In fact, if the budget had in fact not been completed until July, that would still have been seen as a remarkable victory. 

After all, we’ve become accustomed to lawmakers frantically struggling on September 30th, the last day possible, to pass a budget before the state would have to shut down.

True, this year is different in that the governor’s party controls both houses of the legislature. But the reforms that Snyder was calling on them to make were so revolutionary it was hard to see how he could possibly win early passage.

Well, we were wrong. Rick Snyder may officially be a “non-politician.” But he is in fact one of the shrewdest political operatives I have ever seen. People have consistently underestimated him, beginning with the famous “nerd” commercial which launched his candidacy. Everybody scoffs at Snyder, and he smiles and keeps on winning. Primaries, general elections, legislative fights. The governor got virtually everything important he wanted here.

Where he did have to compromise - on the pension tax, for example - one got the feeling that he had planned on compromise all along. With a series of wrenching moves, he changed the way the system works. He seems to have eliminated the structural flaw that for years has caused automatic billion dollar deficits. He did so at a terrific cost, balancing the budget, and providing huge tax breaks for business by cutting aid to the poor, to children, and to education.

But he got what he wanted, and now we’ll see what happens. Make no mistake: This is entirely a Rick Snyder, Republican Party budget. It did not get a single Democratic vote. If this pays off, if the lowered business taxes do create new jobs, Snyder should be able to waltz to re-election, and the political culture of this state may be forever changed. But if it fails - if the promised new jobs don’t materialize, and people keep falling through the tattered safety net - well, it will be clear who to blame. It will take awhile to know exactly what’s happening. But what does the governor do next?

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Commentary
12:54 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Canada and the Bridge

We live in highly polarized times. But even by those standards, it is remarkable how much those who support a new bridge over the Detroit River, and those who oppose it, differ.

Differ not just on the merits of a new bridge, but on the most basic facts. Those who oppose the new bridge claim that Michigan taxpayers could be stuck for a hundred million dollars a year. Those who oppose the new bridge - mainly, those who work for the owner of the Ambassador Bridge - Matty Moroun - say that traffic has been declining and another structure isn’t needed.

But they say Moroun is willing to build one anyway, at no cost to the taxpayers, and that this is best left to private enterprise. Those who want a new bridge say it is very much needed, that this is not “socialism” but a public-private partnership. They say the old bridge is wearing out, there is no backup, and that a new one will be desperately needed if Michigan is to be economically competitive.

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Commentary
11:47 am
Wed May 25, 2011

McCotter for President?

There was a fair amount of attention paid yesterday to the news that Thaddeus McCotter, a 45-year-old Congressman from Livonia, is seriously considering running for president. There are certain problems with this. First, outside his district, almost nobody has ever heard of him, even in Michigan.

He hasn’t been a very effective fundraiser, for himself or others, and he has a quirky sense of humor.

He does play a mean guitar - President George W. Bush, who had trouble remembering his name, used to call him, “the rock n’roll dude.” McCotter’s played before the troops in Iraq with a pickup Congressional band called the Second Amendments.

All of which is very nice. But… President? The last House member to be elected President was James Garfield, back in 1880, an era when party bosses picked the nominee.

Several congressmen and women have tried in recent years, and pretty much either sunk without a trace, or hastily pulled out in time to get renominated for Congress.

Just a few days ago, McCotter declined to take on U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow next year, something that would be a much more logical step for a congressman. So - where did this presidential boomlet come from? When I first asked this, people told me there was this great column by S.E. Cupp, touting McCotter for president.

That was even more puzzling, because I had never heard of Cupp. Turns out she is a conservative columnist for the New York Daily News, who saw McCotter in Iowa last month autographing copies of his book, “Seize Freedom! American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age.” Cupp was impressed by a sign McCotter had put up, saying: “Unsigned, twenty dollars. Signed ,fifteen dollars.  No haggling.“  Now you’ve got to admit, that’s cute.

But Presidential?

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Commentary
11:47 am
Fri May 20, 2011

A Life Remembered

Al Fishman called me last week, full of energy as ever, wanting some advice. He wanted to put together a big debate over the national budget  in Michigan. Wanted to show people things could be more fair. I told him I thought people here were more concerned with the state budget crisis right now. “I know that,” he said.

“But state and local budgets also reflect the spending priorities of the federal government,” he explained. What he wanted me to do was to suggest a television personality who could moderate the forum, someone who might help boost attendance.

I suggested a few names. Yesterday morning, Al, who was eighty-two and big on physical fitness, went to the doctor to have a tricky knee looked at. He was in the waiting room when the heart attack came. He may never have known what hit him.

Fishman wasn’t a big name, outside of what his opponents would have called the “left-wing labor community.” There, he was revered, though he didn’t seem to know that.

He acted like just another guy who had just discovered something was wrong in society, and had decided to try to fix it. What was most unusual about him was his energy level and his attitude.

No matter how many times the system disappointed him, no matter how many new wars or atrocities or unfairnesses he lived through, Al never stopped fighting. There was injustice in the world, and he thought it was up to all of us to do something about it.

What he wanted most of all was to abolish war, the nuclear threat, and any kind of discrimination. He grew up in New York City and saw all those things in the army right after World War II.

He came to these parts to attend the University of Michigan, but got involved in politics, and never finished. Perhaps his biggest success came by accident. He married a Serbian-American girl from Detroit, and their political activity caused the Air Force, back in the Red Scare days, to try to kick out her brother, who wasn’t political at all. Edward R. Murrow took up his cause and did one of the most famous programs in television history about it: The Case of Lieutenant Milo Radulovich. That show enabled Murrow to go on to help destroy the demagogue Joe McCarthy.

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Commentary
10:22 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Bring Back the Posthumus Rules

I am aware that there’s a battle over whether to put the state’s unexpected surplus in the rainy day fund or to use it to help the schools. I know that libraries are in a fight for their very existence all over Michigan, and Detroit City Council is proposing crippling cuts of something like 75 percent to the city’s cultural jewels, including the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Historical Museum.

However, none of that was featured very prominently in any of the newspaper or commercial station news reports I heard while driving across the state yesterday. What was treated as big news was that former Governor Jennifer Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, were denouncing Arnold Schwarzenegger via Twitter.

Granholm told the world, or at least that portion of it who follow her tweets, that this indicates that maybe we need more women governors, and advised men to keep their pants zipped.

Her husband, a leadership consultant, tweeted “Men: Can we talk maturely, openly and seriously about sex and fidelity?”

The ex-governor’s spouse then appeared to denounce the Arnold as a masculine ideal, and added that it was time to replace machismo - I am paraphrasing here - with brains and heart.

That’s all sensible advice. It also would be nice to think those tweets will be enough to dissuade the next millionaire movie star from impregnating his housekeeper, but I am skeptical.

Nor do I know why we are treating whatever the Granholm-Mulherns are tweeting about this as newsworthy. Yes, I know. He was a governor; she was a governor, it’s about sex, sex sells, et cetera.

However, this also reminds me of one of the few genteel customs in our politics that we seem to have lost in just the past few years. Until now, it has been the convention for defeated candidates and outgoing officeholders to quietly disappear, at least for a year.

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Commentary
10:27 am
Tue May 17, 2011

Miracle League

The Detroit Tigers have been playing baseball for nearly two months now, but for Steve Peck, the start of the season that really counts is still more than two weeks away.

He’s the non-salaried, happily genial commissioner of the Miracle League of Michigan, where everyone is a true all-star.

The Miracle League is designed to give children with every kind of physical and mental disability the chance to play baseball.

One little boy named Dylan can’t walk, but thanks to his able-bodied buddy, has no trouble rounding second base. The parents of Jennifer, a little girl with Down’s syndrome, say they’ve been blown away by how much self-confidence playing has given her.

Peck, a radio host and marketing and communications consultant, says he thinks this may be the most rewarding thing he’s ever done. It started almost eight years ago, when by chance he saw an HBO special about the first-ever Miracle League, which had been founded in Rockville, Georgia in the late 1990s.

The kids played on a special rubberized diamond, so that wheelchairs and walkers could move around. Every child was able to get hits, make runs, and round the bases, thanks to the assistance of a volunteer buddy. There was nothing else like it in the country.

Peck was inspired. Why should Georgia have all the fun?  He went to work and got the City of Southfield to donate some prime land in their civic center complex.  He raised the $325,000 necessary to have the special rubberized field built, and got the league going.

That was eight years ago. Things have been expanding ever since. There are various levels of play now. Some are non-competitive, where everyone just scores runs and has a good time. In others, they play for keeps.  There are now some Miracle Leagues groups where challenged adults can participate.

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Commentary
10:18 am
Mon May 16, 2011

Redistricting Dilemma

When I was twelve years old, Sander Levin, who everybody calls Sandy, was my state senator. When I was eighteen, he ran for governor. He was elected congressman for the district where I now live when I was thirty years old. Next year, I will be sixty.

And Sandy Levin, who turns eighty this summer, will still be representing me in Congress. That’s not to imply that he isn’t still sharp. On the contrary, Levin was chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee until Democrats lost control of the House last fall. But he, and the Democrats, have a dilemma.

Republicans are  entirely in charge of the congressional redistricting process this year.  Michigan is losing a seat in Congress, and you know Republicans are going to try to eliminate one of the six seats Democrats hold, not one of the nine held by their party.

Everything I know tells me that they are most likely to throw Sandy Levin in a district with Gary Peters, now serving his second term in the House. Levin has far more name recognition and seniority than Peters.  If the two men are forced to battle against each other in a primary, he’ll almost certainly be the favorite.

Both men also say they are running for re-election, no matter what. But - should Sandy Levin really do this? Might it be better for him - and especially, for his party - if he makes a graceful exit?

Here’s why I say that: Most of Michigan’s Democratic delegation in the House of Representatives are old. Really old.

Next year, John Dingell will be eighty-six. Dale Kildee and John Conyers, eighty-three, Levin, eighty-one. The only exceptions are the just-elected Hansen Clarke of Detroit, who will be fifty-five, and Peters, fifty-three. Does it make sense for the state and the party to sacrifice the career of the fifty-three year old so the guy more than old enough to be his father can have another term?

Within a very few years, all of those lions are going to be gone, one way or another.

Does it make sense to lose all our experience pretty much at once?

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Commentary
11:01 am
Fri May 13, 2011

Now for the Hard Part

Well, Governor Rick Snyder pulled it off. Yesterday, the legislature passed his radical restructuring of the state tax system, agreeing to slash business taxes, eliminate tax credits and for the first time ever, to tax pensions.

The man who was supposed to be a political babe in the woods skillfully guided his agenda home. They will tell you he almost didn’t pull it off. Indeed, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley had to break a tie vote in the senate to get the bill passed.

But to some extent, this was theater. While some Republicans were genuinely opposed, others were really opposed to being defeated when they run for re-election.

So the outcome was skillfully managed to allow some Senate  Republicans in swing districts to tell their constituents that they voted against Snyder’s plan. But were they really against it? Here’s a clue. When they took a second vote on whether to bypass the waiting period and have the bill take effect immediately, the Republicans unanimously voted to support the governor.

And now for the real test: Will it work? After the vote, the governor praised the legislature for, as he put it, “taking the bold actions necessary to put our state on the path to prosperity, and “paving the way for economic expansion.”

The contrast between Democrats and Republicans on this couldn’t be more stark.

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Commentary
10:29 am
Thu May 12, 2011

What Should Be Private?

Robert Bobb, the tough, controversial Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, made an astonishing admission yesterday. He has been fighting a deadly form of cancer.

Thirteen months ago, he learned he had Stage Four tongue cancer, which had spread to the lymph nodes in his neck.

His chances of surviving five years were put at less than fifty percent. Hearing such a diagnosis would be enough to emotionally destroy many people. Bobb toughed it out.

He clearly is an intensely private person. In fact, I had never  seen his age in print - he is sixty-six - or knew he was married until yesterday. People knew something was wrong with Bobb; he seemed to have lost weight, and at one point acknowledged he had been ill, but said he was feeling better. In fact, he was involved in an intensive course of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Bobb would show up at Henry Ford Hospital in the morning, checking in under a fake name, and get half an hour of intense treatment. Then he would go about the battles of the day, and sometimes endure abuse at school board meetings at night.

Remarkably, his secret held, until he decided to reveal it to the Detroit Free Press yesterday, adding, almost as an afterthought, “It was an hell of an ordeal, man.”

Why did he keep his condition from the public? His reasons make sense.

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Commentary
10:37 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Hope and Despair in Detroit

Two years ago, a band of young idealists crisscrossed Detroit, collecting signatures. They had a goal: To make the city a better place to live, with a decent, responsive, functioning government.

They thought the place to start was revising the city charter to  elect a council that would be responsible and responsive. For years, all nine council members have been elected at large, which meant they are in charge of everything and nothing.

They easily could and did ignore constituents they found annoying. Not that this mattered much; as it now stands, Detroit council members have the power to approve the budget and major city projects, but they are powerless to do small everyday things.

They cannot, for example, even ask the lighting department to replace a burned out bulb in a street light.

Worse, the system is set up to produce the worst possible results. Voters are supposed to select nine names from a primary ballot that may include two hundred names. Nobody can possibly know enough to do that, so they pick familiar-sounding ones.

In recent years, this had led to the election of a former school board member famous for being corrupt and the bizarre wife of a congressman who set new standards for bad behavior. Both are in jail now. In recent years, the council has also included an ex-congresswoman who lost her job after holding a fundraiser in a strip club and a once-famous singer who often did not appear to realize where she was or why she was there.

Well, the idealists made things happen. They got voters to approve writing a new charter, and this November, it will be on the ballot. If voters approve, Detroit in the future will have only two at large councilpersons. The other seven will represent manageable-sized districts of just over one hundred thousand residents each.

Other things the new charter would do include creating an inspector general who would investigate waste, abuse, fraud and corruption in city government, and enact mandatory disclosure rules on contractors and lobbyists making political contributions.

That’s the good news. Now for the bad.

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Commentary
10:54 am
Fri May 6, 2011

Social Agenda

Former Michigan Governor John Engler is widely regarded as having been more conservative than Rick Snyder. And certainly, Snyder won the support last year of many prominent independents and even moderate Democrats who never would have voted for Engler.

Yet perceptions and reality aren't always the same thing. You might have expected what some people call the “radical right” to have had a field day imposing their social agenda on the state during the dozen years that John Engler was governor.

However, that mostly didn’t happen. Engler kept those folks pretty effectively bottled up. When they grumbled, he or his people would ask, “would you like a liberal Democrat in this office instead?”

In other words, push too hard, and you risk backlash. Now, nobody ever accused Engler of being stupid. He knew that while Michiganders can be induced to vote Republican, this is anything but a deep red state. There were three presidential elections during the Engler years; Democrats easily carried Michigan each time.

In between, John Engler was re-elected by astonishing landslides. Rick Snyder doesn’t seem to have a social agenda either, except perhaps not to wear ties when he doesn't have to.

Though he has said he is anti-abortion, he is an enthusiastic supporter of embryonic stem cell research. Otherwise, he seems totally focused on the economy. But his fellow Republicans in the legislature have other ideas. They have taken a number of actions that could possibly hurt their party and their governor in the long run.

Yesterday, for example, the House approved both the higher education and the elementary and high school education budgets.

The vote was close, in part because the cuts were too much for even six Republican members to support. But at the last minute, they slapped on another amendment punishing universities that allow benefits for unmarried partners. They can lose up to five percent of their funding.

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Commentary
11:10 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Managing the Mess

When the news broke yesterday that retired General Motors vice president Roy Roberts would be the new Detroit Public Schools czar, the first thing I thought of was Henry Ford.

This is not because I have attention deficit disorder. No, I thought of something brilliant Hank the First once observed about his own career.  Ford said if he had asked about transportation needs in the 1890's, nobody would have said they needed an automobile.

They would have said they wanted a faster horse. For years, various people have been trying in various ways to beat life into a dying horse called the Detroit Public Schools.

They’ve tried appointed boards and elected boards; emergency managers, all sorts of superintendents and infusions of cash.

Nothing has worked very well. Sometimes they identify a particular problem, but the overall health of the system has remained poor. Now if you are not from Detroit, you may not think this matters much to you. Except that it does.

We as a state will all suffer, economically and otherwise, if kids can’t get a functional education in our largest city. Plus, the seeds of many of the problems that have ruined Detroit’s schools are present and growing in other school systems, urban, suburban and rural school systems across the state.

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Commentary
11:34 am
Wed May 4, 2011

May 3rd Election

The voters sent an important message yesterday, to themselves and their communities, and indirectly to the politicians in Lansing. It’s a message the governor and legislature need to hear.

Specifically, the people said that they are willing to pay more for services  important to them. They aren’t necessarily happy with the way things are going or with the people running things. In West Michigan area, they tossed out a boatload of school board members.

Yet the same voters renewed a number of millage proposals, often by wide margins. Sometimes they even voted to increase their taxes, when they were convinced services were necessary.

Grand Rapids narrowly voted to increase a rapid transit millage. Hudsonville voted millions to upgrade the school system.

This trend was especially strong in Southeast Michigan. Struggling, older blue-collar suburbs like Ferndale and Hazel Park have been hard hit by declining property values and a steep drop in state revenue sharing.

Yesterday, they asked their hard-pressed citizens for new money to keep up services.

These aren’t people who have a lot of money, and many no longer have jobs. But they said yes. In tiny Clawson, the people voted more money for their library, a year after the voters in the neighboring and more affluent city of Troy voted to close theirs.

By far, the biggest story was in Southfield, a city of office towers and mostly well-maintained split-level and ranch homes north of Detroit. Seventy percent of its seventy thousand residents are African-American -- mostly middle-class families.

City leaders laid it on the line. They needed a five mill property tax increase, mostly for police and fire services, and they needed it now. Otherwise, they would have to lay off half the city’s police and firemen. Residents knew what that could mean.

They voted the additional taxes by a margin of five to one. Now, these results do not mean that the voters are in a wildly spending mood. They seemed discerning. In Flint, they voted money to keep policemen on the job, but turned down a request for new funds to reopen it the city jail. In blue-collar Garden City, home of iconic rocker Mitch Ryder, officials asked for a twelve-mill increase. Voters said that was too much. They also were reluctant to combine services, such as police and fire. They said no to that in cities as different as Jackson and Harper Woods.

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Commentary
11:14 am
Tue May 3, 2011

O Canada

Yesterday, America’s most important ally and trading partner had an historic election which rocked the foundations of that nation’s politics and has huge implications for the western hemisphere, the United States in general and Michigan in particular.

You would not, however, know anything about that from most of the mainstream media. National Public Radio has covered the Canadian National Election, far better than most, but I don’t even think they have paid enough attention to the story.

Most of the rest of the media, especially in Michigan, largely continues to be consumed with the aftermath of our government’s assassination yesterday of the supreme Al-Qaeda leader.

Yes, Osama bin Laden is still dead, and I don’t mean to minimize the implications of that story, or its continuing repercussions. But we knew about that yesterday.

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May 3rd Election - Commentary
11:41 am
Mon May 2, 2011

Testing Time

Everyone understands that our cities are going to have to make do with less help from Lansing. In fact, nearly every city, village and township  in Michigan has had a harder time the last few years.

Not only has revenue sharing been cut; declining property values and more foreclosures has meant less tax revenue.

Now, we are about to find out the answer to a crucial question:  Are the residents of hard-hit cities going to be willing to pay a little extra to keep up services and their quality of life?

Tomorrow, a number of cities around the state will ask their residents to do just that. Perhaps the most important of these elections is in Southfield, just north of Detroit in Oakland County, one of the many suburbs that exploded after the coming of the freeways.

Southfield’s gleaming office towers hold a daytime population of perhaps two hundred thousand. But at night, seventy-one thousand people call Southfield home. The city is one of well-kept split levels and ranch houses, with a lovely city center complex and one of Michigan’s newest and largest libraries.

Thirty years ago, Southfield was populated largely by young Jewish families. Today, it hasn’t lost its leafy character, but is now seventy percent African-American. Thanks largely to the recession, housing values have crashed, and so have sales tax receipts.

Mayor Brenda Lawrence and the other city leaders know they are on the point of a knife. They have to keep services up and crime down, or their city could topple into urban decay. They don’t say it aloud, but their biggest fear is that Southfield could become Detroit.

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Commentary
10:27 am
Fri April 29, 2011

Great and Bloody Sacrifice

Many of us have been so consumed with our modern economic struggles that we’ve barely paused to note that we faced a much greater crisis one hundred and fifty years ago his month.

South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union, fired on federal troops at Fort Sumter that April, and the Civil War was on.

When it ended four years later, more Americans had been killed than in any war before or since, and the country was a different place. We don’t often think of Michigan in connection with the Civil War. We were then a small, pretty new, and not very major state.

Our entire population was only three-quarters of a million people - far less than the population of Macomb County today. Yet Michigan answered the call enthusiastically.

We overfilled our quota of volunteers. Abraham Lincoln had some anxious moments those first weeks of the war.

Would the states really respond by sending the troops necessary to put down the rebellion? Michigan did. From Detroit, Adrian, Marshall, Ypsilanti and Grand Rapids they came.

Washington asked Michigan for a single regiment. Governor Austin Blair protested. No. We could furnish more. Much more.

The first Michigan troops arrived in the capitol in May, lifting the President’s spirits. “Thank God for Michigan!”Abraham Lincoln said when they arrived.

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Commentary
11:06 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Snyder and the Schools

There was lots of reaction to Governor Rick Snyder’s special message on education yesterday, some of it within minutes after he stopped speaking. What isn’t clear is how many of those doing the reacting had actually listened, or read what he had to say.

Actually, he proposed a number of things that liberals and  progressive education experts should have been happy with. Chief among them was paying more attention to childhood development.

“Early childhood is a time of remarkable brain growth that affects a child’s development and readiness for school,” he said.

He added that our goal should be to create a “coherent system of health and early learning,” to nurture and watch over these children from before they are born, through the third grade.”

Snyder went on to address the threat of alcoholism and premature birth. Hard to see how progressives could fail to agree.

But if he is serious, how is he going to pay for any of this? The governor didn’t explain that, or offer any new money to accomplish what he wanted done. I expected Democrats to say something like “Great ideas. But we don’t need more unfunded mandates.”

However, while the Dems bashed the governor, they seemed to virtually ignore his actual education proposals.

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Commentary
9:12 am
Wed April 27, 2011

A Royal Family for Michigan?

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Earlier this week, I was talking with a battle-hardened senior TV producer in her fifties who I don‘t think of as a romantic.

“I have to cancel a meeting Thursday night,” she told me. “I have to be up by 4:30 on Friday.”

“Are you catching an early flight?” I asked. “No.” she said. “I have to watch the royal wedding.”

Thanks to the time difference, monarchical devotees who want to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows live will have to rise before dawn.

I was impressed by that, and remember thirty years ago, when a similar wave of pan-royal excitement swept our nation when Charles and Diana were married. And then suddenly I realized that we’ve been sitting on a solution to a lot of our problems, both in this state and the nation. We need a royal family, and we’ve got the perfect candidate right here in Michigan.

I’m being perfectly serious.

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Commentary
9:57 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Education Reform

The governor is supposed to deliver a major speech on education this week.

We also don’t know what he’s going to say, though his spokesperson indicates that he is going to talk about systems of education, and producing results.

And that much is hopeful. So far, most of the education debate across the state has been over the wrong question.  We’ve been arguing over whether teachers are paid too much and receive benefits that are too generous, and that’s not the point.

Mike Flanagan, state superintendent of public instruction, hasn’t said much about policy issues. But his predecessor, Tom Watkins, has been anything but silent. Now a business and education consultant, Watkins says we have seen the enemy, and it is the status quo. “We have one chance now to help prepare our kids and our state for the future,” he told me. “Let’s not blow it.”

Watkins, who was pushed out of his job by Jennifer Granholm midway through her administration, is a Democrat who has been cautiously supportive of some of Republican Governor Rick Snyder‘s initiatives. 

However, when it comes to education, Watkins asked a trillion dollar question in a recent Muskegon Chronicle column:

“If we had just discovered these two Michigan peninsulas, with 1.7 million school-age children, would we re-create the education system that now exists? The answer is a resounding NO!”

He thinks we need to go back to the drawing board. He urges our leaders, “Let‘s live up to our image as an ‘innovation state,’ one that sets the trend for new ways of doing things, and create new possibilities for learning, with more sense of urgency.”

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Commentary
11:53 am
Wed April 20, 2011

Recall the Governor?

There’s one word you can’t use to describe Governor Rick Snyder: Uncontroversial. In less than four months Michigan’s newest governor has created loads of controversy.

The seemingly mild-mannered former business executive has rammed a tough new emergency financial manager law through the legislature. He is pushing a budget that gives businesses a big tax break and makes devastating cuts to education and social programs. Lots of people are hopping mad, and some of them are trying to do something drastic about it. A group called Michigan Citizens United is launching a campaign to remove the governor from office.

They’ve filed paperwork in Washtenaw County seeking official permission to begin a recall drive. In nine days, the county board of commissioners will have a hearing to determine if the language on the petition is clear. If it is, the group can start collecting names. If they get enough signatures, the state’s voters may go the polls November 8th and decide whether to remove the governor. If a majority voted yes, Rick Snyder would be out of a job.

His opponents have a web site. They have a facebook page, and they are gung-ho. But there are two questions we should ask:  Does this recall effort have a chance of succeeding, and -- is it a good idea?  The first question is fairly easy; the answer is a resounding no. It will be all but impossible for this or any grassroots group to get enough signatures to make this happen.

Here’s why. They would need to collect 807,000 valid signatures within ninety days. Practically, as Citizens’ United admit, they really need well over a million, since some are bound to be disqualified.

That would mean they’d have to collect more than ten thousand signatures a day. The only way they could possibly achieve that is by spending a vast amount of money to hire people to collect the signatures, and this group doesn’t have it.

Most petition efforts to get constitutional amendments on the ballot fail, unless they have heavy financial backing, and an amendment only needs about a third as many signatures.

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