Jack Lessenberry

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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Every Wednesday, we talk with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about the week in state politics. This morning we take a deeper look at the politics behind Detroit's financial crisis. Mayor Dave Bing's office presented the Detroit City Council with an austere budget this week that would cut some 2500 city jobs and slash $250 million from the city's budget. We ask: will such a drastic budget actually get passed by the July 1st deadline?

If you had any doubts whether Michigan is still an important player on the national stage, consider this. Yesterday, embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is trying to survive a recall, appeared at a fundraiser in the Detroit suburb of Troy.

Today, President Obama will visit fundraisers of his own in West Bloomfield. These men are about as different politically as possible. Walker is seen by the nation's unions as Public Enemy Number One. Those unions will be firmly behind the President's re-election. Obama and Walker differ on virtually every domestic issue.

But they do have something in common. Neither man was scheduled to visit the desolation that is Detroit.

That city's more conservative paper, The Detroit News, startled me today by suggesting that the President's limousine take a detour through the city, perhaps, "past the heaps of rubble that were once businesses on Harper near City Airport, and into the blocks surrounding Denby High School off East Outer Drive, where there are more abandoned homes than occupied ones."

The newspaper suggested that Detroit is every bit as bad off as New Orleans was in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. But there have been no massive federal programs to rebuild Detroit. This nation has spent billions of dollars on the war in Iraq over the last decade, a war that seems to have won us nothing. Can you imagine the positive effect a small fraction of that money would have had on Detroit? Or Flint, or Pontiac, or any number of the rest of Michigan's crumbling cities large and small?

Ifmuth / Flickr

Every Wednesday, we take a look at the week's state politics with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry. This morning: state lawmakers are back in Lansing after a two-week spring break, an overhaul of the state's Personal Property Tax could be coming, and President Obama is set to spend this evening fundraising in Southeast Michigan.

I think I'd like to be a doctor. Physicians generally make a lot more than I do, and I could certainly use the extra income.

I have read several biographies of famous figures in medicine, and know how important it is to wash your hands a lot.

Besides, I once spent most of a day with the famed heart surgeon Denton Cooley years ago. So, I think I'll ask the state to waive the rules while I start delivering babies and removing tumors.

Okay. You may think this idea is nuts. And that's because it is nuts. But don't worry - the closet I'll ever come to practicing medicine is using my teeth to pry the lid off the aspirin bottle.

But the scary thing is that I'm not all that sure the Snyder administration feels that way.

No, they aren't talking about allowing people like me to practice medicine in their garage. Not yet, anyway.

But yesterday, the state Office of Regulatory Reinvention recommended abolishing occupational boards and essentially, ceasing to regulate and license at least eighteen occupations.

A few of these may actually not need regulation; the world will probably not collapse if auctions aren't run by a state licensed and regulated auctioneer. But it seems clear to me that most of the occupations involved very much need oversight.

There’s an elderly lady in the Detroit suburbs who doesn’t follow the news much these days, and I’m grateful for that.

Her name is Margaret Radulovich Fishman, and you may never have heard of her. You may not even remember her brother, Milo Radulovich. But fifty-nine years ago, they were at the center of one the biggest human rights controversies in our history.

Back in nineteen-fifty, a formerly obscure freshman senator named Joe McCarthy charged that there were eighty-one Communists working in the U.S. State Department.

Contemplative Imaging / Flickr

Every Wednesday morning, we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. This week: A group opposed to the repeal of the state's Emergency Manager law says the group pushing for a November ballot referendum has faulty petitions, a recall effort against Governor Snyder gets the go-ahead, and Muskegon Heights schools will soon be under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.

I first met Mike Wallace 23 years ago, when I became a regional screener for the Livingston Awards, the biggest-deal prize there is for young journalists. Naturally, like every other baby boomer, I didn’t remember a time when Mike Wallace was not part of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Throughout Detroit’s financial crisis, the governor has had a consistent message: This is about money and financial mismanagement, not about race. This didn‘t have anything to do with  the bitter racial issues that have plagued Detroit and complicated the city’s relationship with the suburbs, and the state, and itself.

Sixty years ago today, Detroit was the fifth largest city in the  nation, vibrant, rich and powerful. The city wouldn’t begin losing people till the first freeways opened up in the next year.

The population had probably reached two million. The summer before, the President of the United States had come to help the city celebrate its two hundred and fiftieth anniversary.

Last summer I went to Traverse City to speak to the state association of property law lawyers. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, they will probably little note nor long remember what I said there.

But I’ll never forget something I saw there. The night before my speech, they took us to the Turtle Creek Casino for dinner. The food was excellent. But we walked through the gamblers sitting at the slot machines, and that was haunting. They looked like zombies, most of them, mechanically feeding money into the one-armed bandits. Few of them looked like they could afford to gamble.

Yesterday, I was driving across Michigan and listening to the coverage of Detroit’s financial crisis, when I realized something.

Detroit must seem like an alien world to many who don‘t live in the city. And the reactions of many Detroiters, including some members of city council, must seem both baffling and irrational.

Back in the 1990s, if you were in the legislature and wanted to know about higher education in Michigan, you went to see State Senator Joe Schwarz, who understood it best of all.

Like everybody else, I am a great believer in freedom. I want the freedom to read, write, and say whatever I want.

I want to freedom to marry or live with or hang out with whomever I choose, and I want everyone else to have these freedoms too. However, there are some things we shouldn’t be free to do. I don’t have the right to cut down a tree in a state park.

Nor do I have the right to build a factory on my street . Years ago, the famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted that “the right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.“

Ifmuth / Flickr

Every Wednesday, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry takes a look at the week in state politics. On tap for this morning: the latest in Detroit's financial situation and what the arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act could mean for Michigan.

Unless you’ve been at the bottom of a salt mine for the last month or so, you know that Detroit is facing the mother of all financial crises. The city is about to run out of cash and options.

Within nine days, the governor either has to reach something called a consent agreement with the city’s elected leaders, or name an all-powerful emergency manager to run Detroit.

Nobody really understands how the consent agreement model would work, or frankly, even if it would work, but essentially, it would mean an emergency manager by committee.

Former Governor Bill Milliken turns ninety today, and just about everyone is publishing some kind of tribute to the longest-serving governor in Michigan history. Milliken himself is not likely to say much today, but that’s not because he isn’t still mentally keen. He called me a couple weeks ago to complain.

Contemplative Imaging / Flickr

There sure was lots of news this week about Michigan's emergency manager law - from legal wrangling over how the Open Meetings Act affects how financial decisions are made to the reappointment of Flint's Mayor. Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry took a look this morning at the latest.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry describes the history of Michigan’s primary as both fascinating and bizarre.

According to Lessenberry, Michigan held its first presidential primary in the early part of the 20th century. At that time people voted for Henry Ford in two separate primaries. To be exact, those primaries took place in 1916 and then in 1924, according to the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections.

If you’ve following the Michigan Republican presidential primary race, you probably know that Governor Rick Snyder has endorsed Mitt Romney. If you’ve been following politics in Michigan, you probably know that one of the governor’s top priorities is a new bridge over the Detroit River, the New International Trade Crossing.

Nearly the entire corporate and business community want this bridge. But the governor hasn’t even been able to get a vote on it in the legislature, where many of the members have taken campaign  donations from Matty Moroun, owner of the rival Ambassador Bridge. Moroun doesn’t want any competition, and so far, has managed to frustrate the governor and get his way.

This is not purely a local issue; this is America’s most economically important border crossing. Billions in heavy freight cross the Ambassador Bridge every month. Getting a new bridge is a top economic priority for Canada, our nation’s biggest trading partner.

So, how does Mitt Romney stand on the question of whether we should build a new international bridge? The answer seems to be that he doesn’t. He is apparently refusing to take a position on it.

Kids in Poverty

Feb 23, 2012

Three hundred and forty-one thousand. That’s the number of children in our state living in what is officially known these days as “areas of concentrated poverty.” Our ancestors would have called where they lived “the worst slums.”

We are talking about homes that sometimes lack heat and light, that are surrounded by crack houses and other houses that have burned down, places where life is too often nasty, brutish and short.

Two-thirds of all children in Detroit live in such neighborhoods, streets like the one where a nine-month-old baby was killed by a bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle Monday.

But most poor children don’t live in Detroit. Some live in rural poverty, in Roscommon or Chippewa Counties up north, where alcoholism is high. Yes, a few of these children will escape, thanks to the efforts of a parent, teacher or mentor.

Somehow they will get a halfway decent education, a job and a better life, though that is becoming increasingly hard to do. But most won’t, just as most kids whose dreams are based on a basketball won’t make it to the NBA. Instead, the numbers of the desperately poor are swelling. According to a new report funded by the Annie E, Casey Foundation, there were a hundred and twenty-five thousand more poor kids in our state in twenty-ten than ten years earlier.

Once upon a time, universities were cloistered places, which deliberately shunned the down-and-dirty worlds of politics and the marketplace in favor of research, contemplation, and teaching.

That's never been totally the case in Michigan, however. What is now Michigan State was established for the explicit purpose of bringing "applied science" to the state's farmers and agricultural industry, back when that was the industry of Michigan.

Matthileo / Flickr

Every Wednesday we sit down with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry to take a look at state politics. On tap for today: Jack and I talk about the influence Michigan's Republican presidential primary will have on the national GOP race, new polling data that shows Rick Santorum ahead of Mitt Romney in the mitten state, and a look at Romney's recent Op-Ed in the Detroit News.

I have on my desk a beautiful, red-bound hardcover book published by our state exactly a century ago. It’s the Michigan Manual for nineteen eleven and nineteen twelve, sort of a one-volume encyclopedia of politics, government and life in our state.

This particular one has beautiful, fold-out maps of railroad line and judicial circuits and photos and biographies of all the state officeholders. I can find out exactly how people voted, or how to get  information about vacant swampland from the state land office.

This is a fascinating book, more than nine hundred pages long, and I bought it at a used book store for a dollar. Michigan has been publishing the Manual every two years since statehood, and I own all of them since eighteen sixty nine. Old timers in Lansing just call it “the red book.“ If you want to research our history, they are a  good place to start. Also on my desk is the most recent Michigan Manual,  published two years ago. Frankly, it isn’t nearly as nice as the century-old version, though I had to pay fifty bucks for this one. To save money, they dropped a lot of information.

Matthileo / Flickr

Every Wednesday, we take a look at what's happening in state politics with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry. Today: a look at the political implications of Governor Snyder's decision to appoint an Emergency Manager for the Highland Park School District, what a transportation funding bill could mean for the state's crumbling roads and bridges, and Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Grand Rapids.

Matthileo / Flickr

If it's Wednesday, it means it's The Week in State Politics with Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio's political analyst. Lessenberry discusses last night's State of the Union address and previews President Obama's visit to the state tomorrow and Friday.

Losing your horse

Jan 20, 2012

Back before warfare became mechanized, one of the worst things that could happen, especially in the cavalry, was to have your horse shot out from under you on a battlefield.

This left you naked, vulnerable, and without any way to get back to your lines if the bugle suddenly sounded retreat. The temptation must have been overwhelming to try to get another horse, fast, by any means necessary. I thought about that yesterday, when what had been obvious for days finally became official:

The Week in Review

Jan 14, 2012

Every Saturday morning, Rina Miller, Michigan Radio's Weekend Edition host, sits down with Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry to take a look at the state's big regional news. For this week: the state legislature is back in session at the state Capitol, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge is sent to jail on contempt of court charges, and new analysis shows Michigan's public universities cost heads and tails above what other Midwestern colleges charge for tuition.

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

The North American International Auto Show opens to the public tomorrow.

The show has been a time for automakers to roll out new models and concept cars, letting consumers know what to expect in the future. The Detroit Three are heading into the year’s auto show with positive sales figures.

Joining us to take a historical look at the auto show and the Detroit Three is Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry.

You can read Michigan Radio reports and see photos and video here.

 

 

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