Jack Lessenberry

Honoring a hero

Apr 3, 2015

Exactly half a century ago, the nation was waking up to how terrible segregation was in the deep South, thanks in large part to television. In early March, TV brought horrifying images into homes across the country of black people being beaten, tear-gassed and clubbed as they attempted to peacefully march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama.

A number of people have been outraged that I haven’t denounced the Constitutional amendment that would raise the sales tax, largely to fix the roads.

Well, in a less imperfect world, this is indeed not how legislation should be made.

Two days ago a group calling itself the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren presented its recommendations for how to fix the Detroit Public Schools.

They had some good ideas, such as creating a citywide data system so parents can better compare schools to find the best options for their children. 

When Indiana passed its controversial “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” last week, one of my more irreverent friends asked me, “Do you think the Taliban will do the same?”

As everyone knows, we are in the middle of a great statewide debate about whether to raise the sales tax to pay for our roads. Last week, someone asked me a different question about the whole road repair process.

One of the most significant stories in America is also one of the most neglected by both the politicians and the media. Over the last thirty-five years, there has been a massive redistribution of income in Michigan  and the country from the poor to the rich.

If you don’t live in the Flint area, you may be wondering what on earth is going on with the politicians and the water.  For many years, Flint, like many other communities, bought its water from Detroit.  Then, less than a year ago, they switched to save money.

Years ago, when we had a governor from one political party and a legislature controlled by the other, we often saw epic battles over spending priorities, otherwise known as the state budget.

Back in pre-term limit days, compromises would eventually be reached, often at meetings of what was called the “quadrant,” the leaders of the house, senate and the governor.

I spent some time yesterday with Douglas George, the Canadian consul general in Detroit.  We often take Canada pretty much for granted, which is precisely what we shouldn’t do.

We sometimes half-forget that it is, after all, a major foreign country stretching across our entire northern border, and which actually has more land area than we do.

Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives are introducing bills to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. This has about as much chance of becoming law as I have of becoming starting forward for the Detroit Pistons.

Republicans have large majorities in both the house and the senate, and they’d never support this. 

Virtually everyone who doesn’t have a political reason to pretend otherwise would agree that the Detroit public schools are a dreadful failure.

More than three-quarters of its students have fled the district in the last 14 years. Test scores remain appallingly low, and a succession of emergency managers has failed to stabilize the finances. Most children in the district now go to charters, private schools or schools in the suburbs, a clear vote of no confidence by Detroit parents.

I’ve said more than once that it isn’t fair to expect teachers to solve all the problems of educating our kids. When a child is hungry, or has a chaotic living situation and no support at home, the best curriculum and the most effective teachers may not be able to make enough difference.

The education community was all a-flutter yesterday over the news that Governor Snyder had moved the school reform office from the Department of Education, which he doesn’t control, to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which he does.

That may not sound like the most exciting development in the history of American government, but it is significant in this sense. This is the office that oversees the state’s worst-performing schools. 

Congresswoman Candice Miller surprised a lot of people a few days ago by saying that this would be her last term in Congress.

Her seat is pretty safely Republican, and I knew that within days there would be a slew of contenders trying to line up money and endorsements for a race.

But I was taken back to a key moment in history by the name of one of those potential candidates: Former State Senator Alan Sanborn. 

I don’t know if you know this, but journalists don’t have any more right to seek out information and publish it than the guy selling Slurpees in the Seven-Eleven.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The right to know and to express ourselves is guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Politicians never like to admit that life will go on if one of their programs is rejected. Many years ago I remember seeing Richard Nixon asked what he would do if by some chance he wasn’t elected president.

Terrence Berg was taking his trash out in Detroit Thursday night, when two young men approached him. One said they didn’t want to hurt him; they just wanted to go inside his house. When Berg said no, they shot him in the leg.

Two months ago, I said it was possible that the best day of Governor Rick Snyder’s second term might very well be his first day, and that it would go downhill from there.

Well, Governor Rick Snyder and the legislature are close to accomplishing another economic objective – a negative one. They are about to kill the film industry in this state, a move I am convinced will hurt our economy in the long run and has already hurt our souls, at least when it comes to quality of life in Michigan.

If you think we’ve got troubles now, flash back eighty-two years ago today. Unemployment in Detroit was more than forty percent – and there was no social safety net.

Years ago, the Green Party in Germany was torn by a split between two groups nicknamed the “realos” and the “fundis.”

The realos believed you had to compromise to achieve anything in modern, consumer-oriented capitalist society.

Last week I got a check for a thousand dollars from a nonprofit organization for which I do some occasional consulting. However, they had already paid me out of a separate fund.

The Obama Administration is about to do something that is fiscally prudent and makes good political sense, but which leaves me a little bit ashamed.

I’m talking about the New International Trade Crossing Bridge over the Detroit River, something that will be of enormous benefit to Canada and the United States – and especially to Michigan and Ontario.

State Senator Virgil Smith, a Detroit Democrat, wants Michigan to enact the death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer in the line of duty.

To quote the senator:

“If you kill a cop … if you’re willing to go that far, ain’t no telling what you’re willing to do.”

Since the year began, there’s been a deluge of horror stories about the drinking water in Flint. Residents have complained it’s discolored and smells and tastes funny. Authorities say it is safe, but admit it contains a byproduct from the disinfectants used to treat water from the Flint River.     

Liberals aren’t always as good at winning elections as conservatives, but they usually are more inclined to write about politics – and better at getting others to write about them. But there’s an interesting new memoir from the conservative side of the spectrum. The name Bob LaBrant is well known in politics and government here. For more than thirty years he headed political affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Lack of Clout

Feb 3, 2015

Fifteen years ago, I was lucky enough to spend a few February days in South Carolina.

When I was there, one of the first things that struck me was how many government installations there were, many named either for Senator Strom Thurmond or Congressman Mendel Rivers, the long-dead chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

Both men were notable racists. 

Well, it’s Groundhog Day, and whether or not your local woodchuck sees his shadow, this much is clear:

The May 5th ballot proposal to raise the sales tax to fix the roads is in trouble. Last week was a horrible one for Governor Rick Snyder, the public face behind the push for this proposal. 

Twenty years ago, journalists who covered national politics knew that they could usually go into an area and find one reporter who really understood his region.

For many years, Chad Selweski, the politics writer and columnist at the Macomb Daily, was that guy in his county, and that’s more important than it might sound.

There’s only been one president from Michigan, and I’d guess you know his name: Gerald Ford. But can you name the only justice he appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court?

That would be John Paul Stevens, who ended up being one of the longest-serving justices in American history.