Jack Lessenberry

I just learned something important I thought I should share with you. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” is unconstitutional after all.

Yes, I know that the United States Supreme Court, in a majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, said it was constitutional, and that they have the ultimate legal authority to decide that.   But Joan Fabiano says they are wrong, and some media outlets think her views are worth repeating.

Fabiano, who is often described as a “prominent Tea Party activist,” isn‘t exactly a lawyer.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

This week in Michigan politics, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss Mike Duggan's write-in campaign, the Detroit City Council, and the Pontiac school district.

U.S. Congress / congress.gov

What are your summer vacation plans? For many in Michigan, it's time at the cottage or beach up North.

If you're a lawmaker, either state or federal, "summer vacation" has a different meaning. It gives you time to be in your district, take the pulse of voters, hear their concerns.

Covering the Washington angle is Todd Spangler, the D.C.-based reporter for the Detroit Free Press. And looking at Lansing is Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Public Radio's political analyst.

They joined us today to talk about summer vacation for members of Congress and state Legislature.

Listen to the full interview above.

The Michigan House of Representatives.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week in review, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss the highlights of the Michigan’s budget, whether Michigan’s Medicaid program will be getting an expansion, and whether the Detroit Institute of Arts will be forced to sell some of its collection in order to pay off the city’s debts.

Michigan’s budget

The state budget is on time for the third year in a row, but it is not finished.

Well, it’s Friday, and I have all weekend to hide from angry listeners, so I thought today I would take on a major sacred cow.

We have more sacred cows than we are willing to admit in today’s world. By that I mean problems for which the solutions are fairly obvious, but which we are unwilling to do anything about.

That’s because dealing with them honestly would mean breaking taboos. Some think we have gotten beyond taboos in this society, because we can talk about sex all the time.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. One of our most damaging taboos involves our school districts.  Unless you’ve been at the South Pole for the last few months, you may have noticed that Michigan has a record number of districts in severe financial crisis.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

On Saturdays, Michigan Radio's Rina Miller checks in with our political analyst, Jack Lessenberry.  

This week, Lessenberry attended the Mackinac Policy Conference.

He says one of the takeaways this year is that the business community is happy with the state's direction.

"[They are] encouraged by the direction in which Michigan is going. They're very happy in general with Governor Synder, but there's a lot of concern about education," Lessenberry said.

Education was discussed more this year than in past years.  

Mark Schauer's run

Here’s something I’ve noticed about education reform. Whenever anybody proposes anything, people tend to react in a knee-jerk fashion based as much on whom the speaker is as what they say. I noticed this yesterday, when I told a variety of people that former Washington, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee would be a keynote speaker at this week’s Mackinac Island conference. Teachers especially take a jaded view of Rhee.

They see her as anti-union, and are especially skeptical of her push for merit pay. I myself have had a somewhat jaded view of Rhee for different reasons. There is a fair amount of evidence that many of her claims have been exaggerated.

I was not impressed when her lobbying group, Students First, poured money into an unsuccessful knee-jerk attempt to fight a complex local recall election in Michigan two years ago. But Michelle Rhee said a lot of things to the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s conference yesterday that liberals and conservatives all need to hear. She began by noting that this may well be the first generation of Americans who will be less educated than their parents – which, if true, ought to frighten all of us.

If you want to see a perfect example of irrationality, go to Saginaw County’s Buena Vista School District’s website.

There, it says this:

“Buena Vista School District and its community of parents and stakeholders has (sic) a long tradition of pride and excellence. We pride ourselves on the caring and committed staff with which we are blessed and consider it our highest calling to be entrusted with the care and education of the community’s children.”

This was the week in  which Detroit got an emergency manager and the state got a right-to-work law.  That is to say, the law took effect this week. I’d say that makes for a pretty  newsworthy few days. Some things this week were entirely  predictable.  Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton showed up to protest the  Emergency Manager. Crowds of demonstrators appeared at Detroit’s city hall  crowds which swelled when TV cameras showed up.

The first major lawsuit  was filed against the emergency manager law, and the Detroit Tigers sent an  exciting new spring phenom, closer Bruce Rondon, down to the minor  leagues. That story is worth mentioning, by the way, because a  newspaper computer analysis shows that more people read it today than read any  of the stories about the state or city‘s drama.

Pretty much everyone knows that our roads are in terrible shape, and need to be repaired.

However, at the same time, pretty much everyone also doesn’t want to pay to fix them.

We think somebody else should pay.

So far, Governor Rick Snyder has been the closest thing to a grownup on this issue. He reasons that those who use the roads, people otherwise known as drivers, should pay most of the cost.

That cost is pretty steep: Just to bring our existing roads back to acceptable condition will require $1.2 billion a year for at least the next ten years.

The governor proposes increasing the gas tax by nineteen cents a gallon on diesel fuel, fourteen cents on gasoline. This would be done at the wholesale level, which means the fuel companies wouldn’t necessarily have to pass them on to the consumer.

Okay, well, you’re allowed to laugh.

Snyder would also raise car registration fees by about 60 percent, and heavy truck plate charges by 25 percent.

Well, that plan seemed to bring people together: Everybody hated it.

While Detroit can technically appeal the governor’s decision to appoint an emergency manager, it is clear that the city is going to get one within the next couple of weeks.

Detroiters are now waiting to find out the identity of the person who will have more power in their city than any mayor has ever had. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and leaders of the Republican led state House and Senate announced plans to introduce so called “Right to Work” legislation today. While police and firefighters are excluded from the legislation, it would prohibit contracts that require union membership and ban the requirement that union dues be paid for all other public and private workers. Clearly, this marks a major shift in direction for the state of Michigan.  Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry gives us a historical perspective.

Years ago, I put together a  series of panel discussions on the American dream. The people involved differed  a good deal as to what the dream really meant, but they agreed on some  things.

Everybody thought part of it meant that America was a place  where if you worked hard, you could get ahead. And that America was a place  where a decent life was available for all.

Tragically, that’s not as  true as it used to be. Today, the Michigan League for Public Policy, formerly  known as the League for Human Services, unveiled a new national study on  incomes.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Every Saturday Rina Miller talks with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry about some of the biggest stories in the week's news. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson was ordered to be in federal court this week, even though she asked someone else to speak on her behalf. Also, controversy surrounding Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R) brings up the question of whether Democrats can be competitive for the Speaker of the House’s seat in November. Plus, a Detroit scandal involving Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee creates head ache for Mayor Dave Bing.

The Capitol was vandalized early Thursday morning
user mattileo / flickr

In the Week in Review, Thaddeus McCotter's abrupt resignation last month means there needs to be a special election to fill his spot.

Also, Michigan's a popular place with presidential and vice-presidential candidates this week.

And, ballot petition mania continues, but can the average voter keep up. Michigan Radio's Rina Miller speaks with political analyst Jack Lessenberry.


 

Normally at this time of day I talk to you about some current political or economic shenanigans. And I could talk today about the continuing election-rigging scandal in Grand Rapids, or about the rising unemployment rate across the state.

Well, there will be lots to say about those and many other problems before long. But it’s the last weekend before the final Labor Day holiday. The weather may even be nice enough to go sit on the beach and avoid political ads.

If you ever took a course in Michigan history, you may remember that Toledo was originally supposed to be part of Michigan. We lost it after the infamous Toledo War.

Sometimes I think Detroit should adopt a new motto, something like: “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it."

This time, the focus is on the Detroit Public Schools, which for years have been famous for incompetence, corruption, and the squandering of money. There were almost two hundred thousand kids in the schools at the turn of the century, a dozen years ago.

This fall, there may be fewer than fifty thousand left. In recent years, the schools have been under state control much of the time. Most recently, they’ve been run by an Emergency Financial Manager with sweeping powers over the system’s finances and academics. But this week, the Emergency Manager law was suspended until after a referendum in November that may repeal it.

In the meantime, the state believes that means that the old Emergency Financial Manager law is back in place.  According to a judge’s ruling, when Emergency Financial Managers were named to run school districts, they had power over finances - but not  academics. The stronger Emergency Manager law gave them both.

But with that gone, at least temporarily, the Detroit School Board moved to reassert itself. You might think they would move slowly and sensibly, reviewing Emergency Manager Roy Roberts’ academic plan and keeping it, as far as possible.

But instead, the board is acting as if they were terribly afraid someone might accuse them of common sense.

User: cncphotos / Flickr

Christian Shockley checks in with Michigan political analyst Jack Lessenberry every Wednesday about what is going on in state politics. Today they discussed the results of Michigan's primary election.

Brian Charles Watson / Wikimedia Commons

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?

CedarBendDrive/flickr

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.

Pages