Tomorrow most of us will get together with family or friends or both and celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, I know the holiday's origins are suspect, and there's lots of cynical stuff out there to the effect that if the Native Americans had known how all this would turn out, they might have buried axes in the colonists' heads. Be that as it may, most of us do have a lot to give thanks for. If you've ever been to Haiti, or the slums of Peru, as I have, you know what I mean. I spend a fair amount of time criticizing our officials for stupid, selfish, or wrongheaded behavior. Today, however, I want to single out three of them for praise. I often disagree with State Senator Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge. But yesterday, he announced plans to do a brave and very good thing. He's about to introduce a bill that would automatically scrub some convictions from public records. Misdemeanors would go away after five years. Lower-level, non-violent felonies would disappear from your record after eight years, as long as you don't commit another crime during that period. This state is full of people who made stupid mistakes, usually as a kid, and have had their entire lives stunted by it. Once, I had a student who, it turns out, supported herself and paid her tuition by working as a call girl. She did this, she told me, because she had two felonies on her record and nobody would hire her. The felonies had to do with stealing merchandise as a teenager. My next hero is Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Politically, he could have joined in the orgy of Syrian refugee bashing and shunning in which Governor Snyder, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and most of Congress have been disgracefully indulging. But Duggan refused to demagogue with the rest. He is determined to welcome fifty Syrian refugee families to Detroit every year for the next three years. Duggan, whose city needs people, said he is confident in the government's screening process to catch any security threats. Given that we've had no incidents involving Syrians, and that there's no evidence any of the French terrorists were really Syrian, that makes more sense than anything our disgracefully anti-refugee politicians have said. My final hero is not one person, but a union. Rather, the AFL-CIO's housing investment trust. They have decided, in cooperation with Mayor Duggan, to invest some labor pension money in rehabilitating blighted homes in Detroit. We've heard a lot about finding money to demolish the thousands of hopeless buildings in the city. But what the housing trust intends to do is fix up salvageable ones, starting with a small group of 25 in four neighborhoods, and sell them. Duggan also gets credit here for helping cut through red tape and take a risk; the mayor said he and the trust will share any profit, or loss. Those of us who remember all the years when it was impossible to get any kind of response out of Detroit's hidebound and hostile bureaucracy have to be impressed. There are indeed people out there trying hard to make this state a better place, and more than extra calories and football, they deserve our thanks today. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
This should be a holiday of thanksgiving indeed for the United Auto Workers union. They successfully negotiated contracts this fall that give their members big raises and bonuses. The Tier II workers who have been working at a lesser pay schedule now have a clear path to parity with the longtime workers. Workers are also getting large "signing bonuses" that may pump nearly three billion dollars into the Michigan economy just in time for Christmas. Best of all, though there are many fewer workers than there once were, the companies are profitable and healthy again. Seven years ago, I was on a television show listening to industry analyst Kristen Dziczek talk about the million or more jobs that would be lost if the Detroit Three were to go out of business, something that seemed all too possible then. Yet behind the settlements, the union is facing enormous problems ahead. These contracts are sweeter than I had supposed the union would be able to get. But selling the deal to the membership was unexpectedly hard. Chrysler workers angrily rejected the first contract union leaders negotiated. Skilled trade workers at General Motors did reject their contract, which essentially had to be imposed on them by the union. And though the Ford contract was the sweetest of all, it was nearly defeated, being saved at the last moment by late-voting Dearborn workers after impassioned pleas from the union. There won't be another round of contract negotiations for four years. American will have a new president and Michigan a new governor then, and nobody has any idea what shape the economy will be in. The UAW will also have a new leader. The auto union and the New York Times are the only two major institutions I know that require their leaders to step down after they turn 65. This was not only Dennis Williams' first contract negotiation, but his last. I am intrigued by the thought that the new UAW leader might be the charismatic Cindy Estrada, currently the union's vice-president in charge of General Motors. If that were to happen, she would become the union's first female and first Hispanic leader. Additionally, she is also only 46 years old. If she were to become the next UAW president, she would potentially have a good 15 years to put her stamp on the union and the industry. We could well have a situation where both the union and the nation's biggest automaker are led simultaneously by women, something I'm sure Walter Reuther and Henry Ford never imagined. But even before that, the union faces big challenges. Michigan is now a right-to-work state, and the National Right to Work Foundation is going to make a major effort to get Fiat Chrysler workers to stop paying dues. That would have been inconceivable when I was growing up, when there were still plenty of old men who could talk about what life was like before the union. But they're all gone now. Whoever leads this union also needs to find a way to connect with younger workers. Additionally, the companies are still being tempted to move production, especially of passenger cars, to Mexico. The United Auto Workers have won new contracts. Now for the hard part. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
Should Congressman John Conyers make a graceful exit?
Congressman John Conyers is kicking off his reelection campaign today with two major rallies in his district planned in Detroit and the blue-collar suburb of Redford. Jack Lessenberry talks about how Congressman John Conyers is kicking off his reelection campaign today. The election is almost a year away, and he is unlikely to have any significant primary opposition, but he may be announcing early, in case anyone gets any ideas. He has had challenges in the past, from ambitious younger people who thought he was too old, too erratic, and too out of touch. But he's always crushed them like bugs. Nor has he ever had a real general election challenge, thanks in part to the belief that the Voting Rights Act specifies that legislators must draw two black-majority districts. If he is alive and on the ballot next November, expect him to get more than 80% of the vote. That's because he always does. Conyers is, of course, a living legend. He's the lawmaker most responsible for making Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. He got Congress to recognize jazz as a national treasure. He was a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, and arrived in Washington when there were only six African-American members. There are 45 today, plus one on the White House. Conyers has spoken up for civil liberties and against discrimination against Muslims, even when doing so wasn't popular. Nobody now serving has been in Congress as long as he. When he arrived in Washington, Hillary Clinton was still in high school, President Obama not long out of diapers, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were years away from being born. Conyers was in Congress when Viola Liuzzo got murdered for trying to help people register to vote. He's served with nine presidents, and when this term ends, will have been there for 52 years. Nobody doubts his legacy. Yet, should he be running again? Nobody doubts his legacy. Yet, should he be running again? Next May, Conyers will be 87 years old. For years, there have been times when he seems to be focused and incisive, and times when he seems to be somewhere else. Stories of chaos and disorganization in his office are legion. But beyond all that – I've always been totally opposed to term limits, other than the ones we call elections. But should anyone be "Congressman-for-Life"? That's clearly not what the Founding Fathers intended. Is there really nobody else among the 700,000 people he represents who deserves a chance to show what they can do for one of the poorest districts in the nation? Last year, Senator Carl Levin, probably the youngest 80-year-old I've ever met, voluntarily retired from Congress. Had he run for reelection, he would have faced only token opposition. He was still vibrant, a powerful committee chair and excellent at his job. I wonder if the idea of making a graceful exit has ever occurred to Congress's soft-spoken and courtly gentleman John. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
Nearly half a century ago, a young lawyer started grabbing headlines in Oakland County, then across the state. His name was L. Brooks Patterson, and he was the attorney for NAG, an anti-busing group in Pontiac. They were, essentially, parents who did not want their kids sent to other districts to go to school with black children. Patterson, a flamboyant Republican, rode their cause to win election as Oakland County Prosecutor. He held that job for years, then became Oakland County Executive 22 years ago. He's 76 now, and is still suffering the effects of a horrendous auto accident three years ago, which left him in a coma for weeks. That happened during his latest election campaign, one in which he was vigorously opposed by a successful business executive, Kevin Howley. It was a Democratic year, but Brooks, as everyone calls him, won easily anyway. My guess is that he expects to die in that job. Early, ill-considered campaigns for governor and senator angered party leaders, ended in defeat and left him stuck in his suburban base. There have always been two Brooks Pattersons. The "good Brooks" has presided over competent, honest and efficient government in Michigan's richest and second largest county. Patterson has been surprisingly liberal on issues like gay rights, denounced Governor Snyder's attempt to limit benefits for victims of catastrophic car accidents, and has no use for the religious right, who he sometimes calls the Taliban. However, the bad Brooks can be counted on to embarrass his constituents every few years, something usually involving either his misuse of alcohol or race. The last time he made headlines was almost two years ago, when, in a New Yorker profile, he suggested, as he has for 40 years treating Detroit like an Indian reservation. "Build a fence around it and throw in the blankets and corn," he said. Then, this week he was back in the news, piggybacking on the national hysteria against Syrian refugees, something Governor Rick Snyder helped to start by saying they were, for now, not welcome in Michigan. This is all because Syrians may (or may not) have been among the terrorists in Paris. Two days ago, Patterson lashed out at the county seat of Pontiac for allegedly planning to build what he called a "Syrian refugee village." He said "the ranks of the refugees have been and will continue to be infiltrated by those who would harm or kill us." Well, it seems that, to put it politely, Patterson apparently didn't know what he was talking about. What is actually happening is that a group purchased an abandoned school and is attempting to turn it into a community center for people who are mostly already here. Andy Meisner, Oakland County's treasurer, rejected Patterson's demand that he not help the project. He said Brooks is risking sabotaging "a project that will bring much-needed economic development to Pontiac and provide housing for people desperately in need who have undergone exhaustive background checks." Nobody, by the way, is calling this a "Syrian refugee center" except Patterson. Oakland County has changed a lot since Brooks burst on the scene. You have to wonder how long voters there will feel he projects the image they want to show to people elsewhere in the world. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
Our current polarized political climate started in the Clinton years
I went to Michigan State University last night to see former President Bill Clinton, who was the keynote speaker at a new annual event, the Jim Blanchard Public Service Forum. Clinton's hair is silver these days. He's thinner than you may remember. He is vibrant, but no longer looks much younger than he is. But he still has it. His personality still fills a room, and he has that priceless gift of making whomever he is talking to feel as if, for those few moments, he or she is the only person on the planet. Former Governor and Ambassador Jim Blanchard gave MSU a million dollars to establish the forum and an annual statesmanship award. Getting Bill Clinton was both a coup, and a logical first speaker. Blanchard has been close to the Clintons since both were boyish-looking governors back in the 1980s. Had he not lost his own reelection bid in 1990, he might well have been Clinton's running mate, or been awarded a major cabinet post. Instead, Blanchard eventually became the man Canadians still regard as the best ambassador Washington ever sent. Michigan State has been an important place for Bill Clinton. Twenty-four years ago, it was the site of that year's final presidential debate, where Clinton not only took on the first President Bush but also H. Ross Perot, the most popular third-party candidate in our lifetimes. Clinton won that debate, and the election. Twenty years ago, I saw Clinton speak at Michigan State again. His presidency was at a low point; Democrats had just lost both houses of Congress for the first time in more than 40 years. But Clinton delivered a riveting, nationally praised commencement speech focused in part on how to cope with terrorism. Ironically, that was just days after the Oklahoma City bombing, just as last night's appearance came days after Paris. Clinton spoke last night for nearly an hour without notes, holding a hungry audience of more than seven hundred people largely spellbound. Some felt that if it wasn't for the 22nd amendment, Clinton might now be running for a seventh term. But as I listened, I also reflected that Clinton's was the first modern presidency in a negative sense. He was the first post-Cold War president. The first since Woodrow Wilson to take office in a world where there was no Soviet Union, and in a year in which the World Wide Web and a consumer-friendly internet first burst on the scene. That should have been the start of a wonderful new era, but in many ways, it was the opposite. Prior to that, there was a saying that politics stopped at the water's edge. During the Clinton years, bipartisan cooperation began to vanish, even in foreign affairs. We saw the beginning of the current polarization and nastiness that has largely ruined both politics and much of the media today. Today, that's worse than ever, and the Clintons, of course, are in another presidential campaign. Last night, the former president recommended a book on bipartisanship. But though he knows more about a wider range of policy options than almost anyone, I don't think Clinton has any more idea than the rest of us as to how to get there. Which is, fundamentally, sad. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
More should be done to improve "end-of-life" options
There was a reporton Michigan Radio'sStateside program two days ago that revealed that while nine out of 10 of us want to have an end-of-life conversation with their doctors, only about one-sixth of us have actually done so. That didn't surprise me. We all know intellectually we are going to die, but mostly in the same way we know the sun will eventually burn out. Or as the comedian W.C. Fields once said, "I know everybody has got to die, but I thought somehow an exception would be made for me." "I know everybody has got to die, but I thought somehow an exception would be made for me." Well, it wasn't for him and it won't be for us – and as the first baby boomers hit 70, more and more of us are realizing that. Starting on New Year's Day, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will start reimbursing physicians for having end-of-life conversations with patients and their family members. My hope is that these conversations will lead to more of us carrying organ donor cards. I do think many of us in Michigan are acutely familiar with these issues than most, thanks to an internationally famous figure. Twenty-five years ago this summer, a little-known unemployed pathologist connected a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease to a crude machine he'd made. "Have a nice trip," he told her as she pressed a lever. Moments later, she was dead. The doctor's name was, of course, Jack Kevorkian, and for the next nine years he waged a fiery crusade to convince the world that physician-assisted suicide was moral, humane, ethical and made sense. Kevorkian's own idiosyncrasies and bizarre personality has been the stuff of books and movies. He became an international sensation, and did get the nation talking about end of life issues. In the end, his own ego and bizarre emotional needs caused him to self-destruct. Desperate for more attention, Kevorkian moved on from assisting suicides to actually performing euthanasia, fired his longtime lawyer, the brilliant and often obnoxiously flamboyant Geoffrey Fieger, and Kevorkian managed to get himself convicted of second-degree murder. He served eight years, got out after he pledged to end his crusade, and died four years ago in relative obscurity. Yet despite his antics, Kevorkian did have a lasting and powerful impact. More than anyone else, he made us see that medical science is now capable of keeping people technically alive long after those lives lose any quality. In the quarter century since Kevorkian burst on the scene, four states have legalized physician-assisted death. We learned that too few doctors even did enough to relieve their pain, and that society was in a state of denial over all of this. It was no accident that Kevorkian was acquitted by jury after jury. Too many older jurors had seen someone suffering in agony, begging to be allowed to die. Prosecutors eventually stopped charging him. In the quarter century since Kevorkian burst on the scene, four states have legalized physician-assisted death. More are sure to follow. The hospice movement has grown exponentially, and now helps ease the end of life for a million and a half people a year. Yet, we still haven't completely solved the problem of what choice we give people who are not terminally ill, but whose lives are no longer worth living. As we all age, you can bet this is one issue that is not going away. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
Gov. Snyder's decision on Syrian refugees plays into what ISIS wants
Governor Rick Snyder bowed to pressure yesterday and made a decision that was politically easy. He reversed his earlier courageous stand and announced that Syrian refugees are no longer welcome in Michigan. Here's what he said: "Our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents. Given the terrible situation in Paris, I've directed that we put on hold our efforts to accept new refugees until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of its security clearances and procedures." Jack Lessenberry talks about Gov. Snyder's decision to prevent Syrian refugees from coming into the state. What the governor did was exactly what ISIS would want. Of course, it is doubtful if the leadership of that perverted organization is even aware of an obscure lame-duck governor somewhere in the American Midwest. But if they knew what he did, they'd be happy about it. Whether you call them ISIS, or ISIL, or "Daesh," these extremists want the world separated into two halves, Muslims and everyone else. They hate anything that works for peaceful coexistence and assimilation. What our governor did reinforced the view that all Muslims are the "other" ... What our governor did reinforced the view that all Muslims are the "other" — not to be trusted — possibly infiltrating murderers — cruel-eyed men with Kalashnikov rifles who we know nothing about. That's the line being spouted by demagogues like State Representative Gary Glenn, R-Midland, who called for slamming the door in the face of "the high-risk importation of individuals from a known hotbed of Islamic extremism." But the truth is very different, as Sean de Four, vice president of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press yesterday — two-thirds are women and children. In fact, as de Four said "the state department already uses an overabundance of caution in its screening of refugees," before we let them in. They spend an average of five to seven years in refugee camps, undergoing extensive background checks, before we ever let them in. De Four called the governor's decision "really unfortunate." Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Ben Rhodes emphasized that the United States already has a very careful screening process for refugees. The United States government is taking a much more sophisticated view. Yesterday, on Meet the Press, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Ben Rhodes emphasized that the United States already has a very careful screening process for refugees. He said President Obama is determined to continue to do what is right. And Rhodes reminded us "we're also dealing with people who have suffered the horrors of war, women and children and orphans." The security advisor agreed we need to work hard to keep terrorists out of this country, but he reminded us that we also need to remember what makes us Americans. "We can't just shut our doors to these people. I think we do need to do our part to take those refugees who are in need," he said. Sadly, shutting the door is just what Governor Snyder has done. Not because of anything that happened anywhere in this country, but because some of the terrorists who struck in Paris may possibly have been Syrian refugees. Politicians often begin cowardly decisions by claiming they are doing exactly the opposite. In announcing he was closing the door to Syrians, Snyder proclaimed that "Michigan is a welcoming state," so far as immigrants are concerned. Then he made it clear that he doesn't intend us to be quite so welcoming any more, and what I know is that we will all be the poorer for it. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
The last time Michigan voted for a Bush for President, the Berlin Wall was still up, nobody in these parts had ever heard of a twenty-something Barack Obama, few imagined the Soviet Union would ever disappear, and the World Wide Web had yet to be invented. Since then, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's father and brother have been the Republican nominees for president three times, and Michigan voters each time said no. Jeb Bush wants to turn that around this year. Yesterday, he arrived in Grand Rapids in an effort to kick-start his sputtering national campaign. But unfortunately for him, even this trip seemed jinxed. The scary weather delayed his flight so much he missed a fundraising event, though he did arrive in time to speak to a couple hundred people in a town hall meeting. Bush pledged to be in Michigan often before the March 8 Republican primary. He said he thought he could turn things around and win Michigan in the general election, too. But right now, the odds seem long against his ever getting there. From the start, his campaign has been haunted by a video of his mother Barbara, saying two years ago that she didn't think he would run. "There are other people that are very qualified, and we've had enough Bushes," she said. Barbara Bush, who plays about the same role in the family that the dowager does on Downton Abbey, has since retracted that. She fully supports her son, and says she wants him to be president. However, you can't erase anything in the age of the Internet. And the real problem is that there are a lot of people who do think we've had enough Bushes. Jeb's brother was terribly unpopular when he left the White House less than seven years ago. Some feel that his legacy would doom his brother's campaign. If elected officials and long-time party leaders still decided the nomination in smoke-filled rooms, Jeb Bush probably would be the nominee. Many still feel he is best equipped to both win and govern. But as of now, rank-and-file voters don't feel that way. Despite all his name recognition and money, Bush has been stuck at about eight percent in the polls. Nobody foresaw the rise of Ben Carson and Donald Trump. And there's no indication that if their popularity fades, their voters would turn to Bush. These days, establishment Michigan Republicans I know are pinning their hopes on his fellow Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio. In politics, timing is everything, and they think the calendar isn't with Jeb, though many feel he would have been a better President than his brother. Ironically, though few remember this now, Michigan is a big part of the reason we've had any Bushes in the White House. Thirty-five years ago, then-Governor Bill Milliken campaigned hard for George Bush the first when he was running for President. Bush didn't have a chance to beat Ronald Reagan that year. But he did score a huge win in Michigan's presidential primary, and that helped win him the vice-presidential nomination. The rest, as they say, is history. Within a few months, voters will tell his younger son whether there are not only second, but third acts in presidential lives. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
Today, auto workers at Ford will begin voting on a new three-year contract negotiated by the United Auto Workers union, a process that will take almost a week. The settlement is exceptionally rich by contrast with the last couple of agreements, negotiated when the automakers were on the ropes or just barely recovering from the near-death experience than ended in bankruptcy for Chrysler and General Motors. Ford workers are scheduled to get $10,000 in signing bonuses if they ratify this contract, which also includes raises and a path to complete parity for so-called Tier II workers, plus, for the first time, the same health care coverage for them. That's a richer settlement than was negotiated at either GM or Chrysler. It also includes a pledge to invest $700 million in Ford's assembly plant in Wayne, a place, some feared might be closed. Nevertheless, some workers are against this contract. They aren't happy that Tier II wages aren't being brought up fast enough. Both sides have been arguing over ratification on social media. And whatever happens, this has been an unexpectedly difficult round of negotiations for the union and new UAW leader Dennis Williams. Chrysler workers angrily rejected the first contract their leaders negotiated sending an embarrassed union back to the bargaining table. The new contract at General Motors is still on hold, after skilled trades workers rejected it. The union is trying to determine whether they have to return to the bargaining table there as well. Eventually, all these wrinkles are likely to be smoothed out, and UAW workers will have a better contract that will pump more money into their pockets and the economy. But what's happened this year should serve to remind us that the world has changed. Forty years ago, all vehicles manufactured in this country were made in plants owned by what we then still called the Big Three. The workers were all United Auto Workers union members, and there were a lot more of them. Today, 46% of all vehicles made in America are made by what we used to call foreign automakers, by non-UAW members. The Detroit three are making more and more cars in low-wage Mexico. The union has only a quarter of the membership it did at its peak, and fewer than half of those are traditional autoworkers. And Michigan has become a "right-to-work" state, meaning that for the first time, individual auto workers can quit the union and not pay dues. What intrigues me is what happens beyond this set of contracts. In many ways, the challenges the UAW now faces may be more difficult than any Walter Reuther and his comrades faced 80 years ago when their union was born. They were beaten and bloodied and shot. They had to overcome stool pigeons, Communists and company spies, but they did all that, and within six short years won recognition by all three major automakers. But now they face challenges Reuther never imagined. Unions aren't hugely popular these days. But they are still, as one bumper sticker says, the people who brought the working class the weekend. Not to mention vacations, health care benefits and job security. I think if we forget that, the world might end up being a much harsher place. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
Don't believe the reasons Republicans give you for ending straight-ticket voting in Michigan
Election night last year was not a good one for Michigan Democrats. They lost ground in both houses of the Legislature, which the Republicans already controlled. They lost the governor's race, despite a weak re-election campaign on the part of Rick Snyder. But in races for education boards – the state board and the elected trustees of Michigan's three major universities, it was a terrible night for Republicans. Despite winning everything else in sight, Republicans lost eight of the nine board seats. That seemed baffling, until I analyzed the returns, and realized the winning Democrats had one woman to thank: Terri Lynn Land. Land was the hapless Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. Hundreds of thousands of Republicans and independents voted for Democrat Gary Peters or skipped the Senate race entirely, and that saved the Democratic board seats. Here's why: When people split their tickets, they frequently don't vote at all in what are called "down-ballot" races – contests for judicial positions, education boards and the like. Many split-ticket voters voted Republican – except for the Senate race, but they usually stopped voting after about the legislative level. It would prevent any Michigan voter from casting a straight-ticket vote. But in Detroit, Wayne County and other large cities, voters, especially African-American voters, tend to just "fill in the oval" and vote a straight party ticket. Last night I was at a dinner with Casandra Ulbrich, now vice-chair of the state board of education. She went to bed election night thinking she had lost, but the next morning she woke up a winner, saved by the late returns and the straight-ticket voting of Detroiters. Well, the state Senate passed a bill last night to make that impossible. It would prevent any Michigan voter from casting a straight-ticket vote. Instead, if the House passes this and the governor signs it, voters would have to fill in the oval in front of every name for sometimes dozens of contests. This would have three major effects on voting. It would mean it would take longer. It would mean fewer votes cast for races like community college and state board of education seats. And it is almost certain to hurt Democrats — because their voters usually cast more straight-ticket votes. Republican leaders said things they don't really believe yesterday. Well, I don't like calling anybody a liar, but at the very least he is a hypocrite. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said this creates "an opportunity (for) people to look at and study candidates and issues." Well, I don't like calling anybody a liar, but at the very least he is a hypocrite. This is the same man who contemptuously blocked a move by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to allow everyone to have an absentee ballot so they could "study candidates and issues." I would have more respect for Republicans if they admitted they were just trying to prevent Democrats from winning elections, but they did something underhanded as well. They attached a phony million-dollar appropriation to this bill. That was done only to prevent voters from repealing it. Thirteen years ago, the Legislature also outlawed straight-ticket voting, but outraged citizens got this on the ballot, and 60% said they wanted to keep the right to vote a straight ticket. Obviously, the Senate majority isn't interested in the will of the people. For those who've been paying attention, that won't come as a surprise. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.