There’s now no real doubt that the new Gordie Howe International Bridge over the Detroit River will become reality. There are still a few parcels of land to be assembled on the Detroit side, and site preparation work needs to be done.

The Canadians tell me they still think the bridge will be open to the public five years from now. However, this has not stopped Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun from trying to twin or eventually replace his own bridge.

UPDATED AT 1:41 pm ON 7/15/15 

Here’s something President Barack Obama and Gov. Rick Snyder have in common: Both were born years after a pipeline to deliver oil was installed under the Straits of Mackinac.

That pipeline, more than four miles of which is actually at the bottom of the lakes, is now 61 years old. Enbridge, the Canadian firm that owns it, pumps as much as 540,000 gallons of oil and liquid natural gas through it every day.

Ricardo Giaviti / Flickr

This week in Michigan Politics, political analyst Jack Lessenberry talks about the auto industry, a major land deal for Detroit, prison food service contracts, and the latest in roads.

Here’s something I’d like to hear a politician in office say, just once. “My fellow citizens, I screwed up. I made the wrong choice, partly because I was too stubborn to listen to advice.”

“This resulted in bad policy and cost taxpayers money. The fault is mine alone, and I am going to try hard to fix it, and hope I can regain your confidence and your trust.”

Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard about – but which could end up costing Michigan thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in lost trade with Canada.

That certainly wouldn’t be cool – but ironically, what I’m talking about is all about COOL – an acronym standing for County Of Origin Labeling.

Earlier this week, Governor Rick Snyder signed a package of so-called early warning bills he said will help both school districts and the state, in his words,

“to resolve potential financial issues before they become unmanageable.”

Among other things, they require districts which are getting close to the edge financially to begin reporting to the state what their economic situations and budget assumptions are.

Vet to media: We're not all broken

Jul 9, 2015
Courtesy of Jason Hale

The Next Idea

I am a veteran of two wars – one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.  Joining the military has been the best decision of my life.  But if you spend any time watching the news or scrolling through social media, you might wonder why I would say that. 

I like to kick back and get wild and crazy late at night. For example, one thing I usually do is drink some strong coffee and read a detailed summary of what the legislature did that day. Reading the news from Lansing doesn’t usually make me laugh out loud.

There’s an old saying that we ought to take care of the environment we have, since we can’t get another. This is perhaps especially true of our water.

We’re all lucky enough to live on the Great Lakes, which hold most of the fresh water in the world. You’d think taking care of them would be a top priority, but too often it’s not.

 We’ve had various kinds of pollution scares in the past, and the lakes are now over run with invasive species that clog pipes and frustrate fishermen. We’re still awaiting, and not doing enough to prevent, a dreaded invasion by Asian carp.

Well, as you probably know, the legislature has still done virtually nothing to fix the roads. Once again, the State Senate and House have passed wildly different plans.

The Senate bill is honest enough to include some new revenue, which it would get largely by raising the tax on fuel. But it also calls for cutting Michigan’s already bare-bones general fund by $700 million a year, without saying where the cuts would come from.

We must do more than say "thank you" for veterans in Michigan

Jul 6, 2015
Flickr/wiguardpics / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea             

I can’t recall a time when I was thanked for my military service and didn’t wonder just what exactly that person meant. Were they thankful that I took the defense of the nation in hand? Did they think that I stood watch on some specified border between insurgents and our coalition forces? Perhaps it was simply good American manners that they show appreciation for those who serve.

It’s clear that our grossly gerrymandered legislature is painfully out of touch with the needs and desires of Michigan citizens.

A few days ago, I went to see Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in his downtown office. I’ve visited a lot of mayors in that office, and generally they have a large picture of their families in the space behind their desk.  Duggan doesn’t.

Instead, he has a picture of the famous civil rights march down Woodward Avenue in 1963, the place where Martin Luther King first gave a version of the “I have a dream,” speech.         


Well, with great difficulty, the state senate passed a package of roads bills yesterday. They would raise some new revenue, shift billions over time from other priorities to the roads, and include a complex formula for a possible income tax cut.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and I have something unusual in common.  My brother is one of the state’s leading dog behavior experts; both the mayor’s dog and mine have had an issue or two, and so this week, he is giving both our dogs a tune-up.

By the way, my brother didn’t tell me that; client confidentiality is important to him. Mayor Duggan first told me his Leo was a patient of his at the Mackinac Conference last year. “Well, at best you must be only the second smartest Lessenberry,” he told me on the ferry.

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the U.S. Supreme Court has released a flurry of momentous decisions in the last few days covering everything from lethal injection methods to the environment.

The two which drew the most attention were, of course, the rulings which saved the Affordable Care Act, and found that same sex couples have the right to marry everywhere in America.

But the court made another tremendous ruling yesterday that, in effect, said we can take back representative democracy in this state if we want to.

flickr/jmarty / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Silicon Valley churns out apps to “change the world,” but whose world are they really changing? How do we know if these new technologies are going to work in a city like Detroit, for example?

All across America, digital innovations have proliferated in the last four decades, but poverty rates haven’t budged, and inequality has skyrocketed.     

On the day the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal everywhere in the nation, I was in the town of Ironwood, which is both in Michigan and in another world.

Ironwood is more than six hundred miles from Detroit. It is so far west that it is one of a handful of Michigan communities on Central, not Eastern Time.

There must be Republican strategists who are secretly relieved and happy that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the subsidies that help millions buy health insurance.

Had they ruled the other way, not only would millions of people have lost coverage, but it would have caused immense problems for a private health insurance market that has changed the way it does business to comply with the Affordable Care Act, usually known as Obamacare. Opponents were hoping the high court would invalidate the subsidies based largely on semantics.

Many years ago, a wicked old police reporter told me that he thought common street prostitutes were morally superior to politicians.

That was because “they admit that those who give them money expect something for it.”

Well, he had a point.

As you probably know, there is now an intense debate over whether to remove Confederate flags and other symbols of the so-called “lost cause” from public places in the South.

My guess is that some will go away, but that most people have short attention spans. The longer their defenders can stall, the better the odds are that most will still be around in a year.

It now looks as though the Gordie Howe International Bridge is certain to become reality. Investors have to be lined up and there is still more work to be done before shovels go into the ground, but all the major political and legal challenges have been overcome.


The Next Idea

In 2009, the headline of a Time magazine cover story read “The Tragedy of Detroit” with a shadowy photo of a blighted factory in the background. The national press was brutal.

Last week I discussed a new bill that would make it easier for citizens to get absentee ballots in Michigan, a bill sponsored by a Republican state representative, Lisa Posthumus Lyons, and enthusiastically supported by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

She’s also a conservative Republican and Michigan’s chief elections official. The bill is scarcely radical; it would merely allow any voter who wants an absentee ballot to get one. Two-thirds of the states already allow what is called “no-excuse” absentee voting.

When I learned about the shootings in South Carolina this week, I thought of a fascinating book I read earlier this spring* about the assassination of President Garfield, in 1881.

His shooting had nothing to do with race. But his death also had nothing to do with his shooting. Garfield was shot in the back by a deranged assassin, but the bullet lodged harmlessly deep within his body. Had he been left alone, he probably would have recovered quickly.

With each new idea, momentum builds in Detroit

Jun 18, 2015
Courtesy of Focus: HOPE

The Next Idea 

Innovation is at the center of Detroit’s inclusive recovery. Yet this word “innovation” is used so often that its meaning tends to get a little obscured.

Rather than the narrow definition of technological advancement, the meaning of innovation we should use in Detroit is about doing things differently, redefining our future, and challenging ourselves to move beyond business as usual. 

For years, Michigan has made it harder to cast a vote than most other states. Most states now have early voting, where you can show up at the polls and cast a vote on certain days before the election.

Most states also allow anyone to request an absentee ballot who wants one, no questions asked. There are only fourteen states that don’t allow either option. And Michigan, along with Mississippi and Alabama, is one.

Thirteen years ago, when Dick Posthumus was running for governor, we talked about higher education. 

We’re almost the same age, didn’t come from rich families, and had gone to the same state school at the same time, in the early 1970s.

Yesterday, Jeb Bush announced he was running for the Republican nomination for president. If you had been under the impression that he’s already been running for what seems like several years, that’s because he has.

People who are elderly, poor, or not white have new ideas too

Jun 15, 2015
Flickr/George A. Spiva Center for the Arts

The Next Idea

“We never know where the next big innovation is going to come from.”

That’s a common phrase we hear over and over, and it is true.