Jack Lessenberry

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In this Saturday's Week in Review, Michigan Radio's Rina Miller speaks with Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about auto earnings, the new state model for measuring K-12 academic achievement, and the primary election coming up on Tuesday.

RM: U.S. car companies announce their profit statements this week. How are things looking, Jack?

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In this Saturday's Week in Review, discussions over font size take up time in the Michigan Supreme Court, the Senate tackles legislation that would more closely regulate abortion providers, and Gov. Snyder plans to go back to China. Michigan Radio's Rina Miller speaks with Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry.

If what I am about to tell you doesn’t make you angry and indignant, then you must be  completely cynical.

Huge corporations and other special interests have already spent $20 million on ballot drives designed to bend the  Michigan Constitution to suit their selfish needs.

They have spent $20 million; they’ve raised almost $30 million, and every sign indicates they’re just getting started.

These numbers, by the way, come from the  non-profit, non-partisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The conventional wisdom is that newspapers -- dead tree news -- are on their way out. In some places, like Ann Arbor, there is no longer a daily newspaper at all. The publishers of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press deliver papers only a few days a week.

However, here’s a surprising development. Newspapers across the country gained readers over the most recently audited six month period. Not by leaps and bounds, but still, on average, gained.

This week marks an important anniversary that is being virtually ignored. We paid attention five years ago, and will again five years from now. We prefer round numbers.

But given what’s happening today, it makes sense to note that it’s been exactly 45 years since the legendary riot that devastated Detroit for four days during another hot summer.

The causes of the riot have been endlessly debated. Who was most responsible is still in dispute. But the effects are plain. It wouldn’t be too much to say that what happened in 1967 killed Detroit, slowly but certainly.

The burned-down buildings were cleared away. The 43 dead were buried, and money came from Washington and the private sector to try to make things better.

But it all failed. The riot put the pedal to the metal on a flood of white flight that had already begun. Detroit was still more than 60 percent white when the riot began.

Paternity tests

Jul 23, 2012

Many years ago, I sat next to the daughter of a famous geneticist on a train from Washington to Philadelphia. For some reason, we started talking about genealogy, and she laughed.

Her father had told her that his preliminary DNA research indicated that as much as 28 percent of the population had fathers other then the men they thought were their dads.

Carry that out a generation or two, and most genealogy becomes pretty meaningless. In the years since then, sophisticated DNA analysis has saved the lives and commuted the sentences of a number of wrongly convicted prison inmates.

And it has also enabled us to resolve the age-old question of fatherhood.

Fasten your seat belts. We are in for another three and a half months in which President Obama and his surrogates will try to make us believe that Mitt Romney’s main goal is destroy the middle class and outsource every last American job to China.

Meanwhile, the Romney forces will try to make us think that President Obama is totally incompetent and single-handedly responsible for the long recession.

Hyperbole and exaggeration have been how campaigns have been conducted since George Washington’s time. But what has been taboo is reckless, vicious and false character assassination. We did have one very infamous practitioner of that kind of politics - Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, whose name we now use to define them. Back in the early 1950s, McCarthy destroyed lives, careers and reputations by recklessly accusing people of being Communists without the faintest shred of evidence.

Much of the nation was in a grip of terror. Eventually, McCarthy was stripped of his powers and soon drank himself to death. Ever since, there’s been agreement that there was such a thing as too far.

Until now, that is. A form of new McCarthyism has been growing across this nation and this state ever since President Obama was elected. My theory is that this was inspired by racism. There are millions who just can’t stomach that we have a black president.

Yesterday, the story of the day was the shocking revelation that the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, Jase Bolger, had conspired with a party-switching colleague to try and perpetrate election fraud. Roy Schmidt, the Democrat-turned-Republican from Grand Rapids, tried to use campaign funds to pay a part-time student to put his name on the ballot.

Jase Bolger, the Speaker of Michigan’s House of Representatives, secretly conspired with State Representative Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids to perpetrate a fraud on the people.

They did that by trying to rig an election.

That’s the conclusion of Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, who released a stunning report yesterday. The prosecutor, like those two men, is a member of the Republican Party. Except that Forsyth indicated that as a Republican, he is embarrassed.

The Doctor Is In

Jul 17, 2012

Four years ago, Dr. Syed Taj, then chief of medicine at Dearborn’s Oakwood Hospital, decided to run for Canton Township trustee. His friends tried to talk him out of it. He had only lived there a year, and he was a Democrat. The affluent Wayne County area is pretty Republican. Taj is also a Muslim-American whose musical voice is rich with the accents of his native India.

Most figured he didn’t have a chance. But he won overwhelmingly. Though he was the only Democrat to win a seat on the board, he got more votes than anyone else.

“Most people trust their doctor,” Taj said, chuckling. Now, Taj is running for Congress from the Eleventh District, which tends to lean Republican. He is, once again, an underdog. But he is used to that -- and his chances improved when the incumbent, Thaddeus McCotter, mysteriously failed to qualify for the ballot and suddenly resigned.

Throughout the last decade, there was always speculation that a Democrat could win the 11th district, but the party tended to run lackluster and underfunded candidates. This time, it may be even harder. Redistricting has made the district slightly more Republican.

Funding the Arts

Jul 16, 2012

I have been a member of the Detroit Institute of Arts for many years, and I have to confess that I don’t go nearly often enough. A couple times a year, maybe, and more often to its courtyard, a wonderful place for lunch if you are in the city.

Yet even when I can’t get to the museum, I am always happy to know it is there. Detroit and Michigan have seen more prosperous days. But it is nice to know that this city and state are still home to one of the nation’s top six comprehensive fine arts museums.

Having that quality continue, however, depends on the outcome of a small millage request on the primary ballot in just the three core Detroit-area metropolitan counties - Wayne, Oakland and Macomb.  Voters will be asked to approve two-tenths of a mill for the DIA for the next decade.

Translated into dollars, that means that if you own a house worth one hundred and twenty thousand, the DIA will cost you a dollar a month. If you rent, voting for the millage costs you nothing.

If the millage passes in all three counties, it should mean about twenty-three million a year for the DIA, depending on what happens with housing values. It will mean the museum will be able to continue to do the same quality exhibitions it has been doing.

Plus, citizens of any counties that approve the millage will get in free, and the art institute will stay open more hours and days.

I was assured of all that by Annmarie Erickson, the museum’s chief operating officer. She is cautiously optimistic that this time the millage will pass. What if only one of two of the three counties approve? Well, Macomb has a provision that its citizens will only have to pay if the other two counties also approve the millage.

If voters in either Wayne or Oakland County approve, however, the millage would be collected there. Those who support the DIA are cautiously optimistic, even though voters turned arts funding down twice about a decade ago. Those elections proposed appropriating money for an assortment of agencies; this one is for the DIA alone.

There are a number of misconceptions around. One is that the museum already gets city and state money. It used to; it doesn’t anymore. Another is that it is an exclusively a Detroit-area institution. But the DIA currently has art out on long-term loan to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and often makes its treasures available elsewhere. DIA experts have assisted and advised museums across Michigan.

Some have complained that the public shouldn’t have to pay for art. But is like saying public education should only be for the rich. One legislator suggested the museum should spend its endowment, and some have even suggested the DIA sell its art work to keep going. Those would be short paths to institutional suicide.

The value of public treasures is hard to quantify, mainly because it is beyond value. Metropolitan Detroit may not be as rich as it once was, but that’s no reason our public spaces should look like North Korea’s. We still have a world-class art museum.
 If that isn’t worth a dollar a month, I don’t know what is.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst.  Views expressed by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit yesterday that may change the entire conversation we’ve been having about education, in this state and perhaps beyond. Their focus is on the battered and impoverished little enclave city of Highland Park, which is embedded within Detroit.

Congressional primary races are normally pretty boring, whenever an incumbent is on the ballot. Mostly they win almost automatically. The only exceptions tend to be cases when redistricting pits two incumbents against each other.

That’s what is going on this year in the half-Detroit, half-suburban 14th District, where Democratic Congressmen Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters are going at it.

But there’s another primary race this year that is just as dramatic – but which is happening mostly under the radar.

I don’t know how Governor Snyder celebrated the Fourth of July yesterday, but I have a strong hunch he didn’t stop by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s place for some barbecue.

The Governor stunned the secretary and other fellow Republicans Tuesday by vetoing three election bills. He said he feared they might be confusing.

“Voting rights are precious and we need to work especially hard to make it possible for people to vote,” he said.

I wonder how Attorney General Bill Schuette would react if I told him, “Well, I know smoking marijuana is illegal, and I know you are against it. However, an amendment to make it legal might be  on the ballot this November. So, until we know how all that turns out, I think I will act as if the current law wasn’t there.“

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It's Wednesday, which means it's time for Michigan Radio’s Christina Shockley to check in with political analyst Jack Lessenberry about what’s happening this week in Michigan politics. Today, Jack and Christina cover how there's a little something for everybody in the budget Gov.

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Every Wednesday, we speak with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. On tap for this week: Mitt Romney campaigns in Michigan, the debate over the word "vagina" continues at the state Capitol and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he'd like to rid the city of its top lawyer.

Contemplative / Flickr

Every Wednesday we sit down with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry to take a look at the political stories making news this week in Michigan. Today: the state budget is one step closer to being finalized, reports say an announcement on a new Detroit to Windsor international bridge could be coming soon, and we take a look at what Scott Walker's win in Wisconsin yesterday means for Michigan.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing couldn't have enjoyed reading his city's newspapers when he woke up on Mackinac Island yesterday morning. The Detroit Free Press splashed a story across its front page saying the business community wanted longtime Wayne County political fixer Mike Duggan as the city's next mayor.

The Detroit News's editorial page editor said the business community had decided that it is time for the mayor to go, and then called on the mayor to, quote "use the excuse of advancing age and poor health" to not run again next year.

Yesterday morning the mayor came out to face the press, and naturally, was asked about his own future. Standing on the Grand Hotel's magnificent porch, all the mayor would tell us reporters was that he had eighteen months left in his current term (it's actually nineteen), and he felt the need to "get as many things done as I possibly can." Now, I don't have an opinion on whether the mayor ought to run. He previously has said he was going to.

Frankly, if you know anything about how government works, the worst thing Bing could do would be to announce early that he isn't running. The moment he does that, he becomes a lame duck, and immediately loses much of his power and influence.

But beyond that, I am astonished at the business community's chutzpah in attempting to say who ought to be Detroit's mayor. Do they think our memories are that short?

Seven years ago, the business community was highly decisive in a Detroit mayoral race. Freman Hendrix was one of the final two candidates. He was a decent man with a finance background who had served as deputy mayor in the Archer administration.

Hendrix had grown up in a working class neighborhood. He had joined the Navy, and had put himself through college. I thought he had the potential to be a good mayor who had the ability to relate to average citizens. But the business community wanted the incumbent: Kwame Kilpatrick.

Two days ago, a beaming Gov. Rick Snyder opened the annual conference of our state?s economic and political elites on an upbeat note. He cited the official themes the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce set for their annual Mackinac Conference. "Innovation, Collaboration and the Twenty-First Century Global Marketplace." Those are things he himself is all about.

Whether you agree with his positions or not, this governor wants what he thinks are rational policies aimed at giving this state a future. But the morning after his triumphant welcome, the governor had to again admit defeat over an issue that shouldn't even be an issue: Road funding. Too many Michigan roads are in poor shape, and a whole lot more are rapidly getting worse. Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Transportation estimated ninety per cent of our roads are in good or fair condition, which seemed too high to me.

But the state also calculated that unless we start investing far more heavily in our roads, only 44 percent will be in acceptable shape a mere eight years from now. That would be a disaster.

Almost the first words at this year's Mackinac Policy Conference were about changing Michigan?s culture. Yesterday, during an opening session featuring young entrepreneurs, Rick DeVos, founder of Grand Rapids' now- famous ArtPrize, said that culture change was the key to making this state prosperous again.

Each of the other pioneers on the panel agreed with him. Dave Zilko, who turned a five thousand dollar loan from his girlfriend into a hundred-million-dollar salsa company, said he was seeing a culture change that has to continue and our state's successful future depended on our adopting a new mind-set.

One where our prevailing attitude is that "we can do this."  Moments before their panel, an upbeat Governor Snyder opened the conference. Though he?s still not wearing ties, he has become much more confident and a much better public speaker than he was when he took office, possibly in part because his policies have met with some success. ?We are the comeback state in the United States right now,? he told an enthusiastic crowd. He said we all ought to speak up more about Michigan?s strengths, successes, and resurgence.

The day's main celebrity event was an inspiring speech by the internationally renowned CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, who assured the audience that the American and world economies are actually in much better shape, especially long-term, than today's headlines indicated. But he too said culture change was necessary.

Especially, that is, in America. We have to be willing to cut spending on entitlement programs, he seemed to be saying, especially for the elderly. But we also need to vastly increase spending on investments in our future.

That means raising taxes to fix our roads and bridges and other parts of our aging and neglected infrastructure. But it also means investing in education. Right now, he said America's priorities seem to be too much about the present and the past.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Each Wednesday I check in with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst, Jack Lessenberry, for a round up of state politics.

This week Jack is on Mackinac Island (he's promising not to eat any fudge) for the annual Mackinac Policy Conference.

The 3-day conference is billed as a time for state business and political leaders to talk about and shape the state's future.

Lessenberry said they are talking this year about the comeback Michigan has been on. He says Governor Synder talked about how Michigan has the right to be proud of that fact.

"In some years people at the conference have been almost in the fetal position talking about some of the problems we've had," said Lessenberry. "This is an acknowledgment that people want to be more upbeat about the future."

My guess is that a lot of  people these days are a little shaky about what Memorial Day is all about,  except perhaps in families that have military service in their background.   I think most of us know that it has something to do with honoring the nation’s  war dead. Though I imagine that the numbers of people visiting  cemeteries is probably a pretty small minority. More people decorated veterans’  graves when I was a child.

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Every Wednesday morning we check in with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry to talk about the week's political news in the state. On tap for this morning: The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that review teams that are deciding whether or not a city or school district is in financial crisis can meet behind closed doors, some Detroit officials say the consent agreement the city has with the state is illegal, and we take a look at a big shake-up in the state Republican party leadership.

The Michigan Catholic Conference filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, charging that their freedom of religion has been violated because of a new rule regarding health insurance policies.

And on the basis of logic alone, I have to say, what they are claiming makes absolutely no sense to me. This is not an issue that only involves Michigan. Forty-three Roman Catholic dioceses, social service agencies, schools and even the University of Notre Dame filed similar lawsuits across the nation. Their issue is simply this.

The Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services has a rule requiring all employers that provide health insurance to have that coverage cover contraceptives.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes any use of contraception, and says being required to cover this violates their religious freedom.

This is not, by the way, part of the Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of which is due to be decided by the United States Supreme Court next month, This is entirely a different case.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and other Catholic groups across the nation say that requiring them to insure contraceptive coverage violates their rights under both the First Amendment and under a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They want the federal courts to make the Obama Administration drop this requirement.

But here's why their argument seems illogical. The government is not requiring that anybody approve of or use contraception. That would be a tremendous violation of religious freedom. What the government is saying is that if someone does choose to do so, insurance plans have to cover it.

That makes logical and legal sense, given that nearly half a century ago, in a case called Griswold vs. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state could not outlaw the use of contraceptives. Incidentally, every survey I have ever seen shows that the majority of American Catholics do in fact use contraception, even though it is against their church's teaching.

There are people who lose their jobs during the best of times, and those who are wildly successful even during a depression.

But what really matters is the overall trend. When you look at that, and at a flurry of new numbers that came out yesterday, it seems clear that Michigan is in fact doing better than a year ago.

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Every week we check in with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry to get an update on what's happening in state politics. On tap for this week:

The state holds a revenue estimating conference today... we'll get a better idea of how much money the state will take in and the political consequences of a possible budget surplus. Yesterday was the filing deadline for candidates who want to run for many local and statewide elections. We ask: who's in, who's out, and what were the big surprises. And, a petition drive is underway to ban"fracking" in the state constitution.

The Toad / Flickr

Every Wednesday, we take a look at the week in state politics with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry. Today, we talk about what yesterday's election results mean for communities across the state and what Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had to say during a campaign visit to Lansing yesterday.

The tail fins on cars were just starting to take off the first time he ran. The nation had about half as many people as it does now.

Neither of his opponents this year had yet been born. For that matter, neither had Governor Snyder or President Obama.

John F. Kennedy was a freshman senator, General Motors was the world’s most powerful corporation, and nobody had ever seen a Japanese car. We are talking 1955, when, a few days after Christmas, a few thousand voters showed up for a special election, and sent a geeky-looking 29-year-old lawyer to Congress.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

It's Wednesday, which means it's the morning that we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. This week: the Pontiac School District could be the next district under emergency management, Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin travels to Afghanistan along with President Obama, and why changes to the state's Personal Property Tax are moving so quickly through the state Senate.

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