When I was in elementary school more than half a century ago, there was still widespread ignorance about mental illness.

There were also no home computers, no thought of smart phones, no internet and virtually no seatbelts in cars. Black people were called Negroes, not allowed to vote in many states, and nobody imagined they’d ever see an African-American president.

There’s been a myth for a long time that Governor Rick Snyder is really a moderate on social issues, who sometimes is forced to go along with the right wing of his party in order to try to get votes for the rest of his agenda.

UPDATE:  Since this commentary was published,  the AP reports that Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law letting adoption agencies refuse referrals that violate beliefs.

Well, let’s start out today by getting in the old Time Machine and going back to early May 1954. That was just before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools.

There’s an old joke that some politicians look at a program and say, “Well, I don’t care that it actually works in reality. I need to know if it fits my ideology.”

Nearly two weeks ago, the legislature narrowly passed a bill to allow GEO, a for-profit multinational private company, to bring highly dangerous prisoners from other states to a facility it runs in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Courtesy of One Well Brewing

The Next Idea 

I own a brewery in Michigan. Sometimes I still can’t believe I actually get to say that and have it be true. Thousands of home brewers and craft beer lovers from around the country aspire to do what I do -- and I know, because just eight months ago I was one of them.

Michigan has thousands of old, energy-inefficient factories, apartment complexes and office buildings. Nationally, the U.S. government estimates that the average building wastes a third of the energy it uses. My guess is that figure may be even higher here. How important is that?

To parody Winston Churchill, this year’s Battle of the Budget is Over; the Battle of the Roads is about to begin. The legislature passed the general fund budget this week with rather less fuss than I would have expected, given some of the controversial decisions.

Michigan can't afford to reject rainbow dollars

Jun 4, 2015

The Next Idea

As a queer man who grew up in Michigan, I sometimes wonder why I decided to come back home. I fled Detroit for New York City after graduating from the University of Michigan in 2006, and truly thought I’d never look back.

Maybe I returned because New York City was already in good hands.

Maybe I returned because I realized that Michigan still needs more love, and that I still have a lot of love to give.

This is what a $2,000 FOIA request looks like.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

In order for parents to make the best decisions for their children, they need to know what’s going on. So do taxpayers and voters.

In my years of writing about school districts all over the state, I’ve learned everyone wants to brag about the successes. No one is in a hurry to admit when things aren’t working for students.

If you’ve been following the news for a long time, sometimes the biggest indicator of how things have changed is not the stories themselves, but how they are treated.

State Representative Jeff Farrington of Utica wants to pass a bill he says would raise $115 million to fix the roads. That would be a mere drop in the bucket towards the at least $1.3 billion a year needed, but hey, every little bit helps, right?

I’ve just come back from a couple of weeks in East-Central Europe, countries that were communist satellites of the old Soviet Union until a quarter of a century ago.

Courtesy of mitalent.org

The Next Idea

When the housing crisis hit in the mid-2000s, millions lost their jobs. Licensed home builder and Saginaw resident Jeff Little was one of them. 

Courtesy of NASA

The Next Idea

You can see Michigan from space. It’s the mitten surrounded by all that blue with the bunny jumping over it.

In fact, almost half of the Great Lakes State is comprised of water. Michigan has more shoreline than any other state in the union, with the exception of Alaska, which is seven times larger.

The nation was transfixed last winter by the story of James Robertson, who walked 21 miles to and from work every day, from his home in Detroit to his factory job in an upscale suburb, where he made only about $22,000 a year.

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, the popular law and order slogans were “get tough on crime,” and “lock ‘em up and throw the key away.”

Well, we tried that.

What it got us was an increase in the state prison population from 18,000 to more than 50,000.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Secretary of State Dean Rusk once said, “we’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

I have to say, I never thought they would name the new Detroit River bridge after hockey legend Gordie Howe.

We’ve been calling it the New International Trade Crossing so long it was at first hard to think of it as anything else.

Originally, planners called it the DRIC, for Detroit River International Crossing, a dreadful name that sounded like post-nasal drip.

If there’s one thing that defines us as a people, it may be how much we love fantasy. That’s why men in their fifties comb over that bald spot and go to singles bars, and why others still imagine they will someday see the Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl.

The good news is that we’ve clearly made progress towards eliminating a lot of stigma in this society. There’s certainly much less against gay people, and we have, after all, a black president. Most people are no longer unnerved by the thought of meeting someone with AIDS, and as far as I can tell, nobody cares if their coworkers happen to be Jewish.

When I was in junior high school my class was taken to Lansing, to see the state capital. I was blown away with awe -- the Capitol Dome, the stately Senate and House chambers, the display of Civil War battle flags.

Jimmy Ray / Flickr

When we started The Next Idea our intention was to gather Michigan's best and brightest minds to have conversations about innovations that can move Michigan forward.

We're defining "innovation" broadly because it can come from different industries and be applied to different aspects of our lives. Business, education, and social issues are all topics that our essayists have explored in the first six months of this ground-breaking opinion project. 

Whatever your politics, here’s something hard to deny: Detroit Public Schools are a terrible failure, and have been for years.

Four emergency managers have failed to stop a staggering hemorrhage of students, or make the schools any kind of academic success. Nor have they managed to get the district’s ballooning deficit under control. The numbers tell the tale.

The big news today is that Governor Snyder has decided not to run for President, which is only slightly less surprising than that snow isn’t expected in August. I don’t think he was ever really running, and when Proposal One went down, it took his national chances with it.

Khalil Ligon

The Next Idea

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world." —Mahatma Gandhi

This quote resonates deeply with me these days, because in my Detroit neighborhood, the change I wish to see seems so far away.

Imagining places that are clean, safe and vibrant threads my work as an urban planner and sustainability advocate. Yet, despite years of planning and designing these grand visions, my daily landscape doesn’t match the efforts. I know there’s still a long way to go, but I’m getting anxious.

Something odd happened the night before last, once it became clear that the sales tax amendment to fix the roads was headed for an overwhelming defeat. Everyone not in the Legislature began assuming the legislature would now fix this.

When the magnitude of Proposal One’s defeat became clear, I called Denise Donahue, director of the County Road Association of Michigan.  Her members know better than anyone how bad our state and local roads are.

If you think you’ve heard quite enough about today’s road repair referendum, I can’t blame you. But I want to talk today about some elections you may not have heard about. First, Flint. It sometimes seems that Flint is sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of Michigan cities. It doesn’t get enough respect, and it can’t catch a break.

Flickr/Tobias Abel

The Next Idea

A “yes” vote on Proposal 1 will improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in Michigan. It is just that simple, and rarely is anything in life that simple – including the language in the actual proposal before us.

At Disability Advocates of Kent County, we have a saying: “If you want better transportation for people with disabilities, stop working for better transportation for people with disabilities.”