Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take

Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take

From Michigan Radio

Daily interviews and essays about politics and current events with newspaper columnist Jack Lessenberry.More from Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take »

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Morality in Goverment

Last week I got a check for a thousand dollars from a nonprofit organization for which I do some occasional consulting. However, they had already paid me out of a separate fund. The odds are that I could have kept this check and nobody would have known. Like everybody else not named Dan Gilbert, I could use the money. But I would have known. So I sent it back, the CEO told me thank you, and that was that. I think most people would have done the same. However, you have to wonder about some of our elected officials. We actually have a state legislator named Brian Banks who has eight felony convictions, mainly for bad checks. He then ran for reelection using the slogan, "You can bank on Banks," and won. This is why journalists generally don't write novels. Reality is far weirder. Banks is a Democrat, and so is Diane Hathaway, a former Michigan Supreme Court justice who ended up in federal prison for felony real estate fraud. Last week I talked about a sudden rash of strange criminal characters popping up in high positions in the Michigan Republican Party. There's "Trucker Randy" Bishop, who has two felony fraud convictions in Macomb County and is now chair of the Antrim County GOP. There's Doug Sedenquist, a former radio talk show personality in the Upper Peninsula, who only resigned from the party's state committee after being convicted of extortion. Now, criminal behavior by politicians is nothing new. It was almost expected during the era of famous crooks like Boss Tweed. The first Detroit mayor to go to prison was not Kwame Kilpatrick, but a white guy named Richard Reading, who conspired with cops to take bribes. But are things somehow worse now? It seems to me that there's a different atmosphere in the Republican Party these days. Once, it was the party of straight-laced moral rectitude. Today, it is too often the party of Darwin Jiles, who was elected the state GOP's minority vice chair two months after being sentenced for shooting someone. Susan Demas, the 38-year-old editor and publisher of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, thinks there is a difference. The establishment hasn't changed, but she believes the real enthusiasm comes from the Tea Party, and, she adds, "like all fringe movements, has attracted its share of unsavory characters." Bill Ballenger, who founded that newsletter, is almost twice her age, and served in the legislature before she was born. "I really don't think that things are any worse now," he told me. In some ways, things may be better. Certainly, it is harder for folks to hide. But he did agree that thanks to social media, it is much easier for bizarre characters with bizarre ideas to capture the limelight. What worries me most is that in a cynical age, what will a young person think of government when they see a man on a state party committee like William Rauwerdink, who served years in prison for financial and accounting fraud? Or what will they make of a democracy where the voters reelect Brian Banks? Whatever else is foggy, this much is clear: None of this is good for our faith in government. Not to mention democracy, or the future.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.

Listen2:48

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Big sales job needed with road funding vote 2 months away

Twenty-one years ago, Michigan voters drastically changed the way public education is funded by adopting what we still call Proposal A. That shifted much of the burden of paying for the schools from each local community to the state itself. And to do that, voters raised the sales tax from 4% to 6%. Now, on May 5th, they'll be asked to raise the sales tax another penny to fix our disintegrating roads.

Listen2:54

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The death of Northland Mall is a cautionary tale for Detroit

When the news came yesterday that Northland Mall, that early suburban icon, would close forever in 30 days, I was with former State Senator Jack Faxon. Faxon, who once represented the area in the legislature, said, "How ironic. It was the start of the end of Detroit, and now it is the end of Southfield." Well, I don't think this is necessarily the end of Southfield, the first big suburb on Detroit's northwest border. In fact, if somebody makes better use of this 110 acres of still fairly prime real estate, the mall's end may even be good for that struggling city. But there is some irony here.

Listen3:00

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Criminal characters turning up in GOP leadership roles

Paul Welday, a deeply conservative former candidate for Congress, called it the most disturbing election in the Michigan Republican Party’s history.No, he wasn’t talking about President Obama, but about his party’s choice of a man named Darwin Jiles as the party’s new ethnic vice chair. Jiles, who is 29, was arrested a year ago and charged with shooting a man in an Auburn Hills trailer park.

Listen3:02

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O Canada, we stand in debt to thee

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Listen2:57

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Wayne County's Chief Probate Judge is frustrated with Michigan's treatment of the mentally ill

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Listen2:57

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http://michiganradio.org/post/president-wayne-county-community-college-addresses-crisis-black-family

Twenty years ago this fall, Curtis Ivery was appointed chancellor of the oddly named Wayne County Community College District. The place was a mess. One of its campuses was closed, funding and facilities were wretched, and many thought it wouldn’t survive.But as Ivery, who had grown up poor and black in Amarillo, Texas, once told me, “whenever anybody told me I couldn’t do it, I did it.”Today he is still in charge, and the WC-three, as it is often called, still has problems, but is thriving. It takes students who often have inferior high school educations and gets them ready for a career, or college. Yet the black family is not thriving, and Ivery knows why. It’s because fathers aren’t present, because far too many black men aren’t living up to their responsibilities.

Listen2:52

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Bridging a US gap with Canadian dollars

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Listen2:49

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The government should put young people to work to fix up our state

What Michigan needs is jobs — not tax credits --not new laws about same-sex adoptions, or wolf hunting.Jobs.And here’s a way to get them. Start a "National Infrastructure Corps," and put everyone between the ages of 18 and 20 to work, unless they join the Armed Forces instead.I see a lot of college students. Very few freshmen or sophomores have any idea what they want to do. I also see a lot of our state’s roads and bridges. Very few are in great shape. So here’s my proposal: we put young people to work for two years fixing up this state. We train them, pay them a stipend and subsidize their education when they get out, just as the military does. Everyone would be a winner.

Listen2:54

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Should Michigan have a graduated income tax?

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;mso-style-noshow:yes;mso-style-priority:99;mso-style-parent:"";mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;mso-para-margin-top:0in;mso-para-margin-right:0in;mso-para-margin-bottom:8.0pt;mso-para-margin-left:0in;line-height:107%;mso-pagination:widow-orphan;font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif;mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}Jim Townsend knows something about business.  He has an MBA from the University of Michigan, has been a brand manager for Ford Motor Company, and ran his own strategic marketing firm.He also knows something about frustration.Townsend is now in his third and final term in the state House of Representatives. But as a Democrat, he has spent all his time in the minority, which means that most of what he believes hasn't had a chance. And what he is most interested in is fairness.  He doesn’t think it fair that under the Michigan Constitution, Dick DeVos, a high school teacher, and a single mother with a high school education all pay the same state income tax rate, currently 4.25 percent.

Listen2:54

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