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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The state House of Representatives remained in session into the wee hours today, with Democrats defiantly refusing for a long time to provide the votes to expel Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, because they thought Republicans cut off the investigation into their activities too soon.

Finally, when it was clear that some kind of deal had been cut, Courser suddenly resigned, after vowing he never would. But Gamrat, who had repeatedly said she might resign, refused in the end. 

The battles over the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare, if you are a Republican – have been bitterly fought, and at least for the time being, won. The President’s main goal was to make health insurance and health care available to more people, and he’s done that.

There’s still a problem, however. Even if you have coverage, it’s hard to get health care without a doctor – especially what’s known as a primary care physician. Specialists are thick on the ground, especially in affluent areas, like Birmingham or Ann Arbor.

But you are going to need a lot of luck if you have to try finding a general practitioner, pediatrician or psychiatrist in rural northern Michigan, or the city of Detroit itself. If you have small children, you’re probably better off medically if you live in Oakland or Washtenaw counties.

They have ten times as many pediatricians as the medical profession considers ideal for the size of the population. But if you have kids and are thinking about taking a job in the far-off Keweenaw Peninsula … good luck.

I had hoped I was done talking about Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, the two state legislators whose bizarre and outrageous behavior has consumed their house of the Legislature for the past month. 

I thought, at first, both would resign once their hypocrisy, bad behavior, misuse of state resources, and clumsy attempt at a cover-up was exposed.

According to Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, the legislature is actually close to a bipartisan deal to finally fix the roads.

Finley is close to the Republican leadership, and the News is essentially a Republican newspaper, so it makes sense that they would use his column as a sounding board.

As you might expect, I spend a good deal of time talking to people about politics, at least if I can manage to get them not to run away.

And I’ve noticed something remarkable this year. If I can badly abuse William Butler Yeats, the worst may be filled with passionate intensity, but the best are largely frustrated and bored out of their skulls. Here’s something to think about.

(Editor's note: Due to technical difficulties we were unable to record audio for Jack's segment today. No worries, you'll be able to hear him again tomorrow.)

A few weeks ago I was asked about a pledge three Michigan counties and the city of Detroit had made to completely end all veteran and chronic homelessness by the end of next year.

I was, frankly, skeptical. There are far too many homeless in this country. From talking to members of Detroit’s Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, I know that veteran homelessness is a major problem. But I think sometimes setting impossible goals can backfire.

Some days I find myself wishing President Obama would make a speech honoring motherhood and propose a program to honor mothers.

If he did that, it’s very clear most Republicans would refuse to support honoring mothers.

Well, as anyone who cares now knows, the official report on the “alleged misconduct” by Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat was released yesterday.

And it makes it clear that there is no longer anything “alleged” about their misconduct. What’s most shocking to me is that they both didn’t resign long ago in order to prevent a report like this from being made public.

Dave Mesrey needs a root canal and possibly shoulder surgery and can’t afford either one, on his very part-time job doing editing work for an alternative newspaper.

He doesn’t much care about that. His car broke down years ago and he can’t afford to fix it, but he doesn’t dwell much on that, either. What he cares about is a nine and a half acre field of dreams to which he’s devoted himself for the last five years.


Earlier this year I talked about Southfield, which I think is one of the more intriguing communities in Michigan.

Southfield, which has between 70,000 and 75,000 people, basically was born, like so many other places, with the great suburban sprawl that began in the early 1950s, with the coming of the freeways and the malls.

There’s a big issue simmering beneath the surface that you will hear a lot more about after mid-October.

The government of Canada wants to bury low and intermediate level nuclear waste in a repository in Ontario, less than a mile from Lake Huron. The proposed repository is approximately across Lake Huron from the tip of Michigan’s Thumb.

Not surprisingly, this has environmental groups in both the United States and Canada up in arms.

 Years and years ago, I worked for a crusty old publisher who would not report the results of opinion polling in his newspaper. I thought he was a horribly backward troglodyte.

Today, I’m not so sure. In fact, I have come to think that most so-called election polling is somewhere between silly and stupid and harmful to the democratic process.

I try not to write about sex for one reason. Not because I am squeamish. It’s just that sex is so powerful that whenever it’s injected into public life, it too often overshadows everything else.

The nation was obsessed with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky for a good two years in the nineties, years in which many other national priorities didn’t get enough attention.

As you probably know, the latest effort to reach a compromise to fix Michigan’s roads collapsed this week, as have all the others. 

Yesterday I suggested one possible solution: Forget talking about taxes. Instead, raise the price of gasoline 30 cents a gallon and call that “user fee,” and use the money to fix the roads.

Contrary to what you might think, it is not true that our government in Lansing can’t do anything. Why, just yesterday, the governor reappointed four members to the Michigan Carrot Commission. 

And the state House of Representatives unanimously voted to retroactively recognize last Sunday as Airborne Day, whatever that means.

I’ve been studying presidential elections for a long time, and can tell you that this has been the most anti-immigrant campaign since the Know-Nothing Party of the early 1850s.

Ironically, many of those bashing immigrants today are descended from people who the early immigrant-bashers hated: Germans, Irish and Catholics.

But I’m not sure that even the Know-Nothings ever descended to the levels we’ve seen this year, with the leading Republican presidential candidate saying he’d build a wall across our southern border and force Mexico to pay for it. Nor did they ever call for repealing the part of the Constitution that says children born here are automatically citizens.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly unexpectedly announced yesterday that she was leaving the court in six weeks to return to private practice, where she will presumably make more money. 

She was first elected to the court less than five years ago, but is bailing out only about halfway through her term, saying she had accomplished what she set out to do.

I may be the only person who felt this way, but when I was watching Cindy Gamrat’s sad little press conference Friday, the first person I thought of was Oliver Cromwell.

I’m not sure that even Ms. Gamrat or Todd Courser or State Senator Virgil Smith ever heard of the 17th century British statesman. 

Seventy years ago today, the people of Japan heard their emperor’s voice on the radio for the first time. In perhaps history’s best example of euphemism, he told them, “Circumstances in the world conflict have proceeded in a manner not necessarily to our advantage.”

World War II, the greatest war in history, was over. Sixteen million Americans had served, hundreds of thousands from Michigan. Nearly thirteen thousand Michiganders died. I was born less than seven years after it ended, and growing up, most kids’ daddies had been in the war. They had souvenir Lugers and helmets and battle flags.

Breaking the ice

Aug 12, 2015

Nobody is thinking about frozen lakes this time of year, but we will be soon enough. We’ve just had two of the harshest and coldest winters in decades.

Two years ago, at one point 93 percent of the Great Lakes’ surface was covered with ice.

Last year was almost as bad. The lakes are, as U.S. Sen. Gary Peters reminded me this week, a major American commercial highway, with freighters carrying billions of dollars worth of iron ore and other materials moving across their many hundreds of miles.

Last month the state approved petition language for three more ballot proposals – but the organizers of one isn’t satisfied. She's not dissatisfied with what the state did, but with the language her group submitted. They want to make sure they get it as close to right as possible.

They’ve talked to lawyers, revised the wording, and plan to ask the state to allow them to substitute the new text. After that, they have to try and get 315,654 valid signatures.

Hillsdale County is, in many ways, a flashback to the America that used to be, a place of rolling hills and pleasant little towns and farms and orchards along the Ohio border.

It was settled by New Englanders, and to this day, most of its forty-six thousand people are of either English or German descent. People born there tend to spend their lives there.

Republicans around this state woke up this morning to a double-barreled nightmare. The biggest is national. Last night, Donald Trump stood on a stage in Cleveland and essentially threatened to run a third-party campaign if he doesn’t get the presidential nomination.

If he does that, whomever the Democrats nominate is almost certain to win. The first George Bush would have been reelected in 1992 if it wasn’t for Ross Perot splitting the Republican Party, just as Al Gore would have won eight years later without Ralph Nader.

A Trump candidacy could be far worse, so much so that you might well have the official Republican candidate finishing third.

I was intrigued to learn that a Traverse City bookstore was offering refunds to people who had ordered “Go Set a Watchman,” the long-awaited publishing sensation of the summer. The critics are in near-universal agreement that the book, by the author of the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, isn’t very good.

When the news broke yesterday that Detroit Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski had been fired, I was sitting in a TV studio with Amy Peterson, one of the baseball team’s lawyers.

I didn’t know about Dombrowski, and I wasn’t talking to her about baseball, but about a unique business she’s started that is using art to give disadvantaged women new lives.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Michigan Radio’s senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry and Morning Edition host Christina Shockley discuss the first female mayor of Grand Rapids, this week's elections,  accusations of racism against Gov. Snyder and Detroit emergency managers, the number of college degrees among Michigan lawmakers.


Years ago, a professor who had contempt for politics asked me if I knew what the difference was between Pavlov’s dogs and most politicians. His answer was: Sometimes when the great Russian behaviorist rang his bell, the dogs failed to salivate.

Being a journalist was in many ways harder when I was working for newspapers in the 1970s and 80s. There was no Google, no World Wide Web, no search engines of any kind.

  We relied on land-line telephones, books, and old newspaper clippings kept in what we called the “morgue.”

The group that oversees what goes on our ballots approved language for three more potential ballot proposals for next year. There’s no guarantee that any or all of these will get enough signatures to be certified for the ballot, of course.


I spent some time yesterday in Mount Clemens talking with Mark Hackel, who four and a half years ago became the first executive Macomb County has ever had. You’d have a hard time finding anyone as enthusiastic about any county anywhere as Hackel is about Macomb.

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