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Jack Lessenberry

Daily essays about politics and current events with newspaper columnist Jack Lessenberry. Subscribe to a podcast of his essays here. Learn more about Jack here.

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U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Long ago, way back in, say, the 1980s, there was something quaint about most elections in this country: Candidates did not actually begin running until the year of the election itself. We hold primaries in August and general elections in November, and it was thought that if you declared your candidacy in January, say, that would give you enough time to persuade voters.

I have to admit I was surprised four years ago when Tom Watkins was appointed head of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. When I first knew him, Watkins was state superintendent of schools. That is, until Governor Jennifer Granholm pressed to have him fired for questioning some of her policies.

Two summers ago, something happened that gave parents nightmares throughout the Detroit area. A 20-year-old camp counselor at a Jewish community center was discovered to have been secretly photographing little boys naked and posting them on a Russian child porn website.

He also had written vivid fantasy descriptions of doing things to them, though a massive investigation turned up no evidence that he had ever touched a child.

I’ve never met Chris Campbell, an attorney in Traverse City, but I’ve gotten thoughtful emails from him many times over the years. Mr. Campbell, who grew up in Bay City, loves this state. 

LAW
user southerfried / morguefile

You have to feel bad for Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a good and decent man who has the thankless task of heading a party so small it is more like a faction.

Empty classroom
Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Hundreds of Detroit parents angered by school closure threats are having their kids opt out of the state's M-STEP test. They say the standardized tests are used to justify closures. 

I once saw former State Representative Todd Courser expound on how the welfare state was bad and people needed to take personal responsibility for their lives. Cindy Gamrat, his fellow representative, political soulmate and secret mistress, was nodding vigorously.

Complaining about mythical welfare queens and other so-called predatory poor people is pretty much standard fare for the right wing, and has been, to a greater or lesser degree, since the New Deal.

Less than two weeks ago, President Donald Trump launched his latest Twitter attack on the nation’s most important newspaper, the New York Times. 

I was listening to one of the dumber stories of the week Thursday, about a Twitter squabble between two Republicans, a White House staffer and Congressman Justin Amash.

State Representative Tom Cochran, a Democrat from the Lansing suburb of Mason, has introduced a “Death with Dignity” act to allow terminally ill people to ask for medication to end their lives. His bill is well-crafted to safeguard against abuses.

Roads
Wikimedia Commons

For a few years, we were constantly hearing about how terrible Michigan’s roads were–and how the legislature kept ignoring citizens’ pleas to fix them.

Then, a couple of years ago, lawmakers did enact what was billed as a road repair package. It doesn’t start providing any new money until this year, but four years from now, it's supposed to generate something like $1.2 billion a year to fix the roads.

Lansing City Hall building
Michigan State Historic Preservation Office / Flickr

Lansing City Council officially designated itself a "sanctuary city." That move follows the Ann Arbor City Council's decision to not have police or city employees ask people about their immigration status. The Trump administration says "sanctuary cities" could lose their federal funding. Morning Edition host Doug Tribou and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about whether that would impact the two communities.

Forty-four years ago, in another early spring, a young lawyer went to the President of the United States and told him, “There's no doubt about the seriousness of the problem we've got. We have a cancer within -- close to the presidency, that's growing. It's growing daily. It's compounding. It grows geometrically now, because it compounds itself.”

User: Nheyob / Wikimedia Commons

State Senator Patrick Colbeck of Canton is sometimes referred to as the “most conservative” or “furthest right” member of the legislature.

More than twenty years ago, the late Texas Governor Ann Richards addressed the annual Gridron Dinner in Washington, a high-society affair where the nation’s top journalists mingle with politicians and Hollywood celebrities.

The Daily Record / Creative Commons

There’s always a debate as to whether judges should be appointed or elected. The one thing everyone agrees on, at least in theory, is that judges should be nonpartisan.

Michigan has an odd hybrid system that manages to ensure that all these things are both true and false -- especially as far as the State Supreme Court is concerned.

Phil Clark is a hard-working 30-year-old who put himself through Eastern Michigan University, and now manages Ray’s Red Hots, a hot dog restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor that also operates mobile food carts throughout the state.

Half a century ago, when he was still a very young man, Ann Arbor native Phil Power began buying small newspapers. He bought some, started others, and built a thriving enterprise of 64 community newspapers in three states.

Bentley Historical Library / University of Michigan

William G. Milliken, the longest-serving governor in Michigan history, turned 95 yesterday. The weekend before last, a couple other friends and I got together with Milliken and his son for a private little pre-birthday dinner at his home.

The governor – I find it hard to call him anything but that – is recovering from breaking a small bone in his foot, but hasn’t lost his interest in state affairs or his sense of humor.

Rian Saunders / Flickr, http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

As you probably know, the Republican Party is in control of all three branches of Michigan government – executive, legislative and judicial. Republicans also control both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

Democrats are, naturally, not happy about this.

Jocelyn Benson stood in line for two hours waiting to vote last November, holding her five-month-old son Aiden all the while. “I had to put him down and change his diaper twice,” she told me, smiling. Benson lives and votes in Detroit, where there are often too few voting places and machines for large turnout elections.

A cyanobacteria; bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Last night I drove almost a hundred miles into Ohio to preside over a discussion with huge implications for Michigan. The topic was the future of Lake Erie, the warmest and shallowest of the Great Lakes and a major source of drinking water for 11 million people.

I was ten when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth fifty-five years ago. We were all mad for science then, and if you’d asked any of the kids I grew up with what we thought life would be like in 2017, we would have been sure we’d have colonies on Mars.

When it comes to ethics and integrity in government, Michigan is a disgrace. That’s not just my opinion. A little over a year ago, the Center for Public Integrity ranked our legislature worst among the fifty states in an analysis of state government transparency and accountability. We have few restraints on legislative behavior.

Michigan voted for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election. But you would never know that from the budget he sent to Congress. You might think instead that we were a hostile nation at war with the United States, which therefore deserves to have its economy and its environment destroyed.

This is a more anti-Michigan budget than I could have imagined. It would not cut, but instead completely eliminate, funding to clean up and restore the Great Lakes and their environment. It would also slash funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Barbara McQuade, a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School.
Courtesy of the University of Michigan Law School

With considerable fanfare, the Trump administration last week ordered every remaining Obama-appointed federal prosecutor, formally known as U.S. District Attorneys, to resign.

They will now gradually be replaced by new Republican appointees. Michigan has two federal prosecutors. Patrick Miles, who was in charge of the western district, announced his resignation in January and left the same day President Obama did.

But Barbara McQuade, the U.S. District Attorney in Detroit, stayed on the job. And by common consent, she did a superb job during the more than six years she was federal prosecutor.

As you almost certainly know, there’s a Republican-backed bill before Congress that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known to most people as Obamacare.

Republicans control both houses of Congress, and if they stay united on this, the bill should become law, perhaps within weeks.

If that happens, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that within nine years, the number of people without health insurance in this nation would grow by 24 million.

Many years ago, I taught a course in specialty publications at a small university in the Detroit suburbs. One of the students was a woman who was an executive secretary at General Motors.

She was nearing retirement, and she and her husband’s shared passion was a game called tabletop shuffleboard. Their dream was to publish a tabletop shuffleboard magazine.

Many people I know would find it easier to understand someone who is transgender than someone who voted for Donald Trump for president.

That’s just a statement of fact. And emotionally, I have to confess that I feel the same way. I can understand that one might feel trapped in a body and within a gender that feels wrong. I’ve known people in that predicament, and my heart went out to them.

Christoper Sessums / Flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

For the last couple days, I, together with a million or so of my fellow Michiganders, have been living a sort of 19th century life.

By that I mean that we’ve been living without power, electricity or heat, thanks to the freak windstorms that whipped through much of our state.

Now, we’re not quite in the same boat as Abraham Lincoln. He didn’t have Double-A batteries, nor could he go to a motel with internet access, which is how I am broadcasting today.

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