Jack Lessenberry

Every time I turned on any radio station yesterday -- other than this one -- almost all I heard was discussion and speculation as to whether University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez had been fired, should be fired or deserved to be fired.

Michigan television stations were just as bad. They seem to have descended on Ann Arbor en masse, leaving me to wonder what real stories they were missing across the rest of our state.

However, I tend to wonder about that every day as it is. Lacking any real information, reporters opted for the famous man-or-woman-on the street interview approach. To their credit, those I saw being interviewed said mostly well-informed and nuanced things.

A former student sent me an e-mail a couple days ago that made me both happy for her and concerned about our state. She had been a “ninety-niner,” Beth confided, and her prospects looked bleak.

She worried about having to move back in with mom and dad. But then, on Christmas Eve, she got a job. “Not a glamorous job, but a necessary one,” she said.

That made me happy for Beth, but also reminded me that there are at least 162,000 other ninety-niners in this state who aren’t as lucky. Ninety-niners, by the way, are people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits.

Michigan begins the first work week of 2011 with a new governor in charge. He’s a man whose name most of us didn’t know a year ago, but whom we elected by a landslide in November.

We still don’t know exactly how Richard D. Snyder plans to make this state competitive again. But we do know this:

Everyone in Michigan - liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats and independents -- needs to hope his administration is an amazing success.

I don’t know Jim Stamas personally. He is a state representative from Midland who will be the majority floor leader when the new legislature takes office next month.

He’s a fairly conservative Republican, and I’d guess that on some policy issues we might disagree. But he did something this week I thought totally appropriate. He is bringing back a dress code for the legislature. He thinks members ought to wear business attire when they are doing the people’s business.

Well, we finally have the official census figures, and for the first time in history, Michigan lost people in the course of a decade. Worse, we’ll have fewer members of Congress.

Over the last thirty years, we’ve lost five seats in the House of Representatives. That’s equivalent to losing the voting power of the entire state of Connecticut. Put another way, we’re now back to having only one more representative than a century ago.

It's Wednesday, the day we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. On tap for today: Michigan gets hit hard by bad news from the census and Governor-elect Rick Snyder says he wants a 2-year budget plan for the state.

One thing is for sure. If Michigan is going to get out of the hole it is in and lay the foundation for future prosperity, lots of us are going to have to move out of our economic and political comfort zones.

Unions are going to have to realize that employers and governments can’t afford the same kind of health care and defined-benefit pension plans as when we had full employment at high wages and the Big Three dominated the global automotive economy.

Chambers of Commerce are going to have to realize that there is more to attracting new jobs and business than low taxes.

And everybody is going to have to realize that without a modern, well-functioning infrastructure, we haven’t got a chance.

We are living in interesting times. Yesterday, the Detroit Lions won their second game in a row, and their first game on the road since what seems like soon after the Civil War.

Marilyn Kelly, who is now Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, has given her life to Michigan’s legal system.

Now in her last term on the bench, she doesn’t like a lot of what she has been seeing lately. Besides deciding cases, Michigan’s Supreme Court is charged with overseeing all the other courts.

And she fears that the public is losing respect for the judiciary, in part because of the way judges are chosen. Especially higher-level judges, those who sit on appellate and supreme courts.

We‘re in the middle of the holiday season, and in many ways, these aren’t terribly festive or inspiring times. We haven’t shaken off the effects of the Great Recession. Most of us know people who are out of work, in a time when there are too few jobs to be had.

We haven’t seen a lot of cooperation or willingness to work together from either our state or national governments. However, I was inspired by something this week. The American Civil Liberties Union of  Michigan ran a high school essay contest.

Who are Michigan’s most powerful people in Washington? For decades, the same names have come to mind. First, Dearborn’s John Dingell, the longest-serving congressman in history.

For many years, Dingell was either the chair, or ranking Democrat, of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Then come the Levins. Younger brother Carl is chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Older brother Sandy this year became the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Then there is John Conyers, who has chaired the House Judiciary Committee for the last four years. These men are icons. 

But they are aging icons, and when the Republicans take over  the House next month, Conyers, Dingell and Sandy Levin will lose power and status, because they will be in the minority.

But Michigan will have two newly powerful representatives in key positions, men who are far less well known statewide -- but whom we ought to get to know better.

Every Wednesday, Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with Michigan Radio Senior Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry to get his take on recent political news from across the state. Today, the conversation begins by focusing on Governor Granholm's expression of support for President Obama's recent compromise with Republicans. On Tuesday, Obama agreed to extend Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits.

- Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst

This is the season when Charles Dickens is again in style, or at least his Christmas Carol. We’ve all been grappling with our own versions of Mr. Scrooge all year, and we all need a happy ending.

But I’ve been thinking of a different Dickens character this week: Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, who said in response to some idiotic legal ruling: “If the law supposes that, then the law is an ass.”

What made me think of that was the Wayne County Circuit Court ruling Monday. Judge Wendy Baxter ruled that Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Schools, had no right or power to make academic decisions.

- By Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst

George Seldes, the great journalist who lived to be almost a hundred and five, said that if you live to be 90, the public forgives all your sins. In some cases, that certainly has been true.

Ronald Reagan’s policies fiercely divided Americans while he was in office, but by the time he died six years ago, he had become  a national icon. But that certainly isn’t always the case.

And sometimes, people’s legacies might have been better if they had lived shorter lives. Take Jack Kevorkian, the apostle of assisted suicide. Had he died fourteen years ago, history would see him differently.  He was regarded as a hero by many people in 1996. Juries had refused to convict him in five separate trials in which there was no doubt whatsoever that he had helped suffering patients commit suicide. Prosecutors in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties said they would no longer press charges against him, making what he did de facto legal.

 

- By Jack Lessenberry

Tim Walberg, who lost his seat in Congress two years ago, is going back to Washington next month. Once he gets there, he will be paid an annual salary of $174,000 dollars a year.

That sounds pretty good, though it is a little less sweet once you realize that he has to live in two places, including one of the highest-priced real estate markets in the country.

By Jack Lessenberry

Jim McTevia never had a credit card growing up. That’s largely because there weren’t any in the small town of Marine City, Michigan where he was born. Today, he thinks that just might have saved him. He's done all right for himself; he became a well-regarded business turnaround expert without a college education.

Governor-elect Rick Snyder named John Nixon as his new administration's budget director on Monday.  Nixon currently holds that position in Utah.

In an interview this morning on Michigan Radio, political analyst Jack Lessenberry said he thinks the pick shows that Snyder is willing to look outside of the box. Lessenberry said:

It shows that [Snyder] is certainly willing to... go outside the box and outside the state to find someone with a fresh approach to look at the all-important state budget problem. This is something that people had urged Governor Granholm to do when she first came in and which didn't happen.

Lessenberry went on to say that highly-regarded economist Charles Ballard often references Utah when discussing how Michigan could turn around its budget problems. Now, with the former head of Utah's Office of Planning and Budget becoming Snyder's budget director, Lessenberry said he is curious to see what lessons Michigan can learn. "Utah managed to balance its budget with a higher income tax," said Lessenberry, "It'll be interesting to see if that's part of the mix."

Glass floor inside the Michigan Capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Censure from Michigan's Supreme Court

This week, for the first time in state history, the Michigan Supreme Court publicly rebuked a former justice for violating court confidentiality. Former Justice Elizabeth Weaver was rebuked by the court for secretly taping deliberations and later making them public. Lessenberry says Weaver had been feuding for years with her fellow justices until she resigned this past summer after making a deal with Governor Granholm.

Jack Lessenberry
Michigan Radio

Governor-elect Rick Snyder has begun to appoint his new administration in Lansing and there are some familiar faces among the new appointees. Snyder chose current Democratic Speaker of the House, Andy Dillon, to be the state's new Treasurer. Snyder also appointed Dick Posthumus, former lieutenant governor under John Engler, to be his senior advisor.


Terry Johnson / Flickr

Last night I presided over a fascinating meeting in Grand Rapids, the second in Michigan Radio’s “Issues and Ale” series designed to stimulate public discussion.

The main event was a look at this year’s campaign advertising by two members of the “Michigan Truth Squad,” John Bebow, director of the non-partisan Center for Michigan, and Susan Demas, perhaps the best columnist in Lansing.

Newspapers aren’t doing well these days, though the companies that own them are still making money. Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry says the result is being played out in Detroit.

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Thirty years ago, I worked for the publisher and owner of a family-owned newspaper in Ohio, a somewhat crotchety gentleman  in his early seventies who I came to know pretty well.

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