Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take

Michigan Radio: Jack Lessenberry: Jack's Take

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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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Robert Griffin's moment

Former U.S. Senator Robert Griffin, a conservative Republican from Traverse City, died last week, and if you aren't at least in your fifties, you may never have heard of him. Carl Levin beat Griffin when he tried to win a third term thirty-seven years ago. Griffin pretty much vanished from the radar screen afterwards. He did serve one term on the Michigan Supreme Court, but that ended twenty years ago. He wasn't flamboyant; for a politician, he was shy. Nor did he have a compelling personality. But he had a moment at center stage of one of the greatest dramas in American history, and that deserves to be remembered. Even apart from that, Bob Griffin was a heavyweight politician in his day. In winning two terms in the Senate, he defeated two giants of Michigan politics, men who otherwise never lost an election – Soapy Williams and Frank Kelley. His major congressional accomplishment was seen as controversial and partisan. He was co-sponsor of the Landrum-Griffin Act, which gave the federal government new powers to intervene in union affairs and elections, something deeply resented by organized labor. Griffin also led a successful filibuster that prevented President Lyndon Johnson from making Abe Fortas, then on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of the United States. Not long afterwards, Fortas had to resign altogether because of a financial and ethics scandal. But the moment for which Bob Griffin deserves to be remembered happened on a weekend in August forty years ago, when he wrote a letter to one of his oldest friends and mentors in politics, a man who had campaigned for him in his very first election to Congress. He told that friend, who he learned had lied to him and everyone else, that he was going to be impeached. He pretty much told him that he needed to resign, and that if he continued to defy a subpoena from Congress, he too would vote to convict him. That friend, of course, was Richard Nixon. Griffin's letter was a huge national sensation. A year before, nobody, including Bob Griffin himself, could have pictured him demanding that a President of his own party resign. But Watergate was a scandal like no other. Griffin's letter was said to have shocked Nixon. Afterwards, according to Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein, one of the President's sons-in-law called the Michigan senator, and said Nixon was drinking, irrational, incoherent, and might kill himself. A shaken Griffin asked Billy Graham to help the family. Within days, Nixon did in fact quit. We may never know how much Griffin's letter speeded the end of what Gerald Ford called our "long national nightmare," but we do know this: When things seemed to be falling apart, Robert Griffin went outside his comfort zone, did the right thing, and took a stand. His career didn't blossom after that. He lost a race for Senate minority leader and seemed to lose interest in his job. He first said he wasn't going to run for reelection, but then changed his mind. But the damage had been done. He was defeated. Today, he is pretty much forgotten. But for one brief shining moment, he was indeed a profile in courage, and that deserves to be remembered. 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.

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Auto Insurance ... reform?

During his first term, Governor Rick Snyder attempted to get the legislature to pass bills that would have severely limited the amount victims of catastrophic auto accidents could collect. But that was one of his biggest failures. The bills went nowhere, especially after they were fervently opposed by his fellow Republican, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who was severely injured in an auto accident three years ago. Well, it was clear then that the insurance industry would eventually try again, and yesterday, they succeeded in the Senate. Led by Republican State Senator Joe Hune, the upper house rushed through a confusing bill, slapping things on and peeling things off at the last minute. Their bill would appear to limit payments to attendants caring for the injured and to health care providers, but does not cap medical benefits, something the previous bill did. For once, this was not a party-line vote. Seven Republicans voted against this bill, while State Senator Virgil Green, a Detroit Democrat who marches to his own drummer, voted for it. Other Democrats were bitterly opposed, but they have less than a third of the members. The bill finally passed, 21 to 17. Part of the reason for the intense opposition is that while this bill clearly means a financial break for insurance companies, it doesn't require them to lower their auto insurance rates for consumers at all – something the previous bill did do. Senator Hune, a believer in the justice of the free market, said he thought this would just happen automatically, and said he'd be happy to revisit the issue in a few years if the rates don't decline. For the opponents, that wasn't nearly good enough. This bill was rushed through in a day, with one major overhaul and then a flurry of five last-minute amendments added without any discussion whatsoever. It was clear these had to be added to win enough GOP support to get the bill through. But it is not at all clear what effect all this it would have on the cost and availability of catastrophic health care, or will happen in the state House of Representatives. Democrats are in a somewhat stronger minority there, and if an equivalent ratio of House Republicans opposes this bill, it won't pass. More changes to this bill are almost certain. What is certain is that the senate lawmakers chose to rush a bill through that even some of them may not have understood, but which could have a major effect on health care in Michigan. It's also certain that they were disgracefully afraid of public reaction; in what has become a new favorite trick, the lawmakers tacked on a token appropriation to prevent the possibility of voters overturning this in a referendum. The major worry many people have was expressed by State Senator Rebekah Warren, whose own sister depended on the state's insurance system after a horrific accident. "The cracks that start today undermine the system forever," she said. You had to wonder what Brooks Patterson, whose health has never been the same since his catastrophic accident, would have thought of this. But it was said he was "not available" to come in and testify. And you had to wonder about that, too. 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.

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The scariest drugs you can take

ike most people who grew up in the sixties and seventies, I knew a lot of people who tried a lot of drugs. Marijuana of course, but also LSD, psilocybin, peyote, later cocaine. But the one drug that was not in, back in the day, was heroin. We saw heroin as something horrible and frightening, which was used by filthy street prostitutes, skid row junkies and failed jazz musicians, most of whom would be dead soon. Maybe a few wounded veterans had turned to it when they could no longer get morphine, but it was not a drug that was cool. Well, guess what? There's a new heroin epidemic, and the face of it is not a junkie in the alley behind an inner-city mission. It could just as easily be your son or daughter. Heroin deaths are rapidly increasing, as are those from an even more dangerous painkiller, fentanyl. Last month I had Jeff Gerritt, a journalist who is an expert on these issues, on a television show I do in Ohio, together with a woman named Colleen Jan. Jan is a thoroughly middle-class, retired teacher whose 33-year-old son, Brett, died last summer of an overdose of heroin combined with fentanyl. He had battled addiction for years, but treatment facilities were inadequate. What's even scarier is that the number of heroin and fentanyl deaths has been nearly doubling every year in Toledo. I suspected the same might be true here, and I was right. In Wayne County alone, deaths from things like cocaine and Oxycontin have been declining. But heroin deaths are increasing, and deaths from fentanyl have tripled. And there have already been nearly as many deaths from fentanyl in combination with heroin and other drugs this year as there were in all of last year. I don't think anybody ever sets out to become a heroin addict. What's been happening is that doctors have been all too willing to prescribe prescription painkillers. For many people, these tend to be addictive, at least psychologically, and also terribly expensive. So, they turn to what they can buy on the street, and that is heroin, fentanyl, or heroin cut and combined with fentanyl and other drugs. Tom Watkins, the head of the Detroit-Wayne Mental Health Authority, is acutely aware of how big a problem this has become. Last fall, his agency took over substance abuse disorders, and they are launching a massive community education project on where to call for help. The number is 1-800-241-4949. Operators are there around the clock, and able to refer people to prevention, recovery and treatment facilities. If the problem is outside Michigan's largest county, they can refer you to the proper facilities in your area. Watkins, a former state schools superintendent, told me his agency is putting up billboards, and hopes to make that number at least as well known as the one for a famous ambulance-chasing law firm. The goal is to increase awareness of what drugs do and the treatment options there are, and erase the stigma around admitting that there is a problem. If what they are doing saves even a few of the thousands of lost lives, they think it will have been more than worthwhile. 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.

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Spring: a time of promise tinged with shadows of the past

History buffs know that Abraham Lincoln died exactly 150 years ago today, his great heart stopping forever at 7:22 in the morning. When I was a child the story of his assassination was as well-known as any story in the Bible. The president lying across a bed too small for his huge frame, his wife hysterical; the Secretary of War saying, finally, at the end "Now he belongs to the ages." Actually, he said angels, but being a politician, edited his remarks for public consumption. Though he spent most of his life in the Midwest, Michigan never figured prominently in Lincoln's life. He gave a speech once in Kalamazoo, and years before, was on a boat that got stuck on a sandbar in the Detroit River. That led to Lincoln's inventing an inflatable device that ships could use in such cases, though it was never built. But this week marked another major parallel anniversary that went virtually unnoticed. Seventy years ago Sunday, while sitting for a portrait, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said ,"I have a terrific headache," lost consciousness, and died, the victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. The similarities are uncanny. Both men saved the nation. They had successfully led us through the two most horrible and important wars in our history, and died just weeks before they ended. Both men had known their wars were essentially won, and their minds were on the future. They also died in early spring, a time when the year ahead seems still full of promise. We mostly blew the opportunity we had after Lincoln's death. Reconstruction was a bitter failure. We failed to elevate black Americans beyond anything more than second- or third-class citizen status, and things would remain that way for nearly a century. Race hatred and sectional bitterness would endure as well. But precisely the opposite happened after World War II. America presided over the rebuilding of Europe and Japan. We turned our former enemies into democracies, and allies, and set the stage for our ultimate victory in the Cold War. It may have been our finest hour. Now we are in another spring after years of economic battle. In some ways, Michigan today reminds me of the way it was when FDR first took office in 1933, after years of crippling depression. Detroit may be out of bankruptcy, but is desperately poor. Parts of the city look the way Germany did at the end of World War II. Statewide, our roads are a disgrace. There's an education crisis, and the industry that defined our economy for a century is no longer the kind of mass employer it used to be, and never will be again. The Legislature is essentially dysfunctional, and largely avoids dealing with our major issues, preferring to discuss whether people should be allowed to hunt from motorized wheelchairs. Despite oceans of manufacturing know-how, and some of the best scenery in the nation, we are now a state that is poorer and older than average. We need to find the leadership and the will to turn things around, as we did for the world 70 years ago. That won't be easy. But it is again spring, and anything just might be possible. 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.

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Lessenberry not running for president

I have decided I owe it to my listeners to announce today that I am not running for President. I am indeed old enough and have no felony convictions, but I have decided not to run, for a number of reasons. One of which is that I don't have access to the billion dollars anyone nowadays needs. There is also the minor drawback that I can't imagine anybody in either party voting for me, and one major one, which is that the woman I live with would leave me and take the dog. But the real problem is that the voters just aren't willing to elect anyone from Michigan President. We've had a black President, almost had a Jewish vice-president and our next President may be a woman, but not a Michigander. You saw what happened when Mitt Romney ran last time. He couldn't even carry Oakland County, where he grew up. His father ran in 1968, and didn't make it to the first primary. Gerald Ford, our only appointed President, lost his bid for election, and only made it that far because he was really born in Nebraska. Lewis Cass, our founding political godfather, won the Democratic nomination but lost the general election back in 1848. His autographed portrait hangs over my desk as I write these lines, scowling. Exactly a century later, the Republicans nominated Owosso native Thomas E. Dewey. He too lost, as he had the time before. Nobody wants a Michigander in the White House. This is worth mentioning because just about everyone else seems to have suddenly decided this is the time to announce they are running for President. First there was Ted Cruz, then Ron Paul, then Hillary Clinton, then Marco Rubio. Yesterday, Ohio Governor John Kasich came to Detroit to pretty much announce he was running, and you know still more will get in. Personally, I'm staying on the fence until I see whether either Dan Quayle or Al Gore decide to run. Both have been vice-president, both are still in their sixties, and both are more qualified than some of those now running. But neither has been seen in public for years, unless maybe on a missing persons' milk carton. If I can turn halfway serious for a moment, there are two interesting things to consider about this year's crop of candidates. First of all, for the last six years, some Republicans have been claiming – falsely --that President Obama is ineligible to hold the job because he was born in Kenya. But today, some of those same people are supporting Ted Cruz, who was born in Alberta to a father who was a Cuban. Second, those of us who have been around for a while remember that when Ronald Reagan first ran, there was great concern over whether, at age 69, he was too old to be President. That's precisely the age Hillary Clinton will be next year, and I've never once heard her age mentioned as an issue. We're all older these days. Nobody knows yet whether she will be nominated or elected. But she has already accomplished this: When it comes to Presidential politics, we will never again be able to say, let the best man win. 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

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The graying of Michigan

Remember when people used to make fun of Florida as "God's waiting room" because of all the elderly who went there to live out the last years of their lives? Well, here's something startling: Michigan is rapidly becoming an old people's state. Instead of arguing about whether maize and blue or green and white should be our state's official colors, we might be more honest if we made them gray and white. I learned some new sobering facts about the aging of the automobile state from an article by Kurt Metzger in the current issue of the online Bridge Magazine. Metzger, who I like to call the Great Demographer, had a long career with the U.S. Census Bureau and Wayne State University before founding Data Driven Detroit. Today, he serves as the mayor of his little Oakland County city of Pleasant Ridge, but still keeps his eye on population trends. Nobody knows the numbers better than Kurt. And in this case, they illustrate very starkly what happens when a state stops providing good jobs for young people. In more than a dozen Michigan counties, the median age is now over 50. Statewide, as of two years ago, almost half the population was over 40 – the oldest ever recorded. That was less than two years younger than Florida's median age. We are almost certainly older now. Michigan's population is now older than that of all but eight other states. That's a dramatic change from even fifteen years ago, when we were still younger than more than half the country. What's happening here? Well, Metzger's data makes it clear enough. In two-thirds of all Michigan counties, more people are dying than are being born. While some migrants are coming in, roughly speaking, the northern two-thirds of the state has been losing population; so have the counties along the shoreline of Lake Huron. Wayne County, which includes Detroit, is losing the most of all. Overall, Michigan is estimated to have slightly more people than it did five years ago. But this is based almost entirely on population increases in Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties in the southeast part of the state and in Kent and Ottawa Counties, home to Grand Rapids and Holland. Elsewhere, the situation is bleak. In the Upper Peninsula, Marquette and the tiny Keewenaw Peninsula are the only areas to show gains. And even this growth may be temporary. Metzger notes, "As the population continues to age, the number of deaths will continue to increase while the number of births continue to decrease. Worse, every year more people move out of Michigan than move in, meaning, that "the forecast is one of continuing population loss for most of the region." Metzger doesn't sugarcoat it. He says, "While I love baby boomers as much as the next guy, we are really only serving as the 'new face' of retirement and health care." If we have any hope of regaining prosperity, he says "Michigan must start appealing to youth at rates far higher than downtown Detroit and Grand Rapids can handle.' "We know what we need to do to attract the young," he concludes, adding. "The question is, do we have the political will to make it happen?" 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.

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The U.S. student loan problem

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell came to the University of Michigan yesterday to host an hour-long roundtable discussion on student loan debt. She began by saying, "I think we're all concerned about the staggering amount of student debt we now see in this country." We should be a lot more concerned than we are. The nation's total student loan debt amounts to $1.2 trillion dollars, a figure that's increasing exponentially. There's no big mystery why, either. The cost of getting a college degree has risen more thanone thousand percent over the past thirty years. The cost of housing, meanwhile, has only risen by 175 percent. Go a little further back, and the comparison is even more staggering. When I was a freshman at Michigan State in 1969, tuition was fifteen dollars a credit hour. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $95 dollars today. Know what tuition is now? If you enrolled for fifteen credits at MSU last fall, you could expect a bill for $13,246 dollars for tuition and fees alone — and that's before living expenses. The average cost of a four year degree from either MSU or the U of M is well over a hundred thousand dollars. Very few parents not named Bill Gates can afford that, and so students borrow. According to Dingell, the average student emerges from college with a student loan debt of $30,000. Some owe much more. Most liberal arts graduates are lucky to make that much a year in their first job. How can they pay this money back in a timely fashion? They can't. And they can't even renegotiate it. As Dingell told the students, "You can refinance your home loan, you can refinance your auto loan, but you can't refinance a student loan." This is not only unfair, it is profoundly stupid. Michigan and America's economic future depend on a better educated workforce than we now have. But we make it harder than almost any other developed nation to get an education, and we are punishing them for having borrowed money to do so. Dingell is cosponsoring a sensible bill called the Bank on Students Emergency Refinancing Loan Act. It would allow students who have borrowed money either from the federal government or the private sector to refinance their loans. She estimates this would save people more than $50 billion nationwide. This is a cause that should have bipartisan support, but I wouldn't get my hopes up. Elizabeth Warren introduced a similar bill in the Senate last year, but it didn't go anywhere. And that was when Democrats still controlled the Senate. Republicans hold both houses of Congress now, and I'd guess they won't have any desire to make a freshman Democrat with a famous name look good. What both parties should be thinking about is saving the American economy from a looming crisis. Some statistics show that a third of federal student loan debt is in default or close to it, with more and more former students being unable to pay. As the congresswoman herself noted, her bill is by no means a complete solution to the college affordability problem, but it would provide desperately needed relief. Anybody who is potentially affected should lobby their members of Congress, now. 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.

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Michigan's Civil War

Can you imagine a war in which two hundred thousand young Michigan men were killed? Well, we had one, proportionately as bad, and it was settled exactly 150 years ago today. I'm talking, of course, about the Civil War. Michigan had only three-quarters of a million people when it started, and nearly fifteen thousand of its men would die in the next four years. That amounted to two percent of Michigan's entire population. Twice as many died from disease as in battle, but to their loved ones, they were just as dead. We don't often think of Michigan as playing a major part in the Civil War. No battles were fought here. We were mostly a small farm state. But Michigan played an outsized role. Nearly one out of every four males served in uniform. The number killed was greater than in any other war, including World War II. Michigan lost more men than all but five other northern states. At the war's beginning, Abraham Lincoln was worried that the states might fail to answer his call for troops, until the First Michigan Infantry showed up in Washington. "Thank God for Michigan," the president said. Our state went on to produce heroes, some forgotten, some famous, and one whose civil war heroism has largely been eclipsed by his later infamy. This was a man who was one of the Civil War's youngest generals, who rallied his troops over and over with his famous battle cry. "C'mon, you Wolverines," and who may have saved the day at Gettysburg by forcing the retreat of Jeb Stuart's cavalry. We don't celebrate his glory much because of what happened to him thirteen years later at the Little Big Horn. 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. But on this very day in 1865, it was the twenty-five year old George Armstrong Custer who had blocked the starving Army of Northern Virginia from retreat, forcing the Confederacy's main general, Robert E. Lee, to go see U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, for perhaps history's most glorious surrender. One thing is certain: There's never been a war that has so captivated our popular imagination. Michigan is full of reenactors and amateur historians of that war, and a new book published this month should be indispensable for anyone fascinated by it. Michigan's Civil War Landmarks, by David Ingall and Karin Risko is a well-written and entertaining account of pretty much everything related to the War Between the States in Michigan, from the chair Lincoln was murdered in to a listing of the gravesites of every civil war general buried here. It is being published by the History Press, and if you need a present for the Civil War buff in your life you couldn't do better than pair this book with its companion volume, Jack Dempsey's Michigan and the Civil War – each readable, paperback, and not too long. What I think most about that war was what happened on that April 9th so long ago. Lee thought it quite possible he might be hanged as a traitor. But when he asked what the terms would be if he surrendered,, Grant pretty much said: Go home. Go home, and promise not to take arms against us anymore. Don't you wish we could settle wars like that today?

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Agendas: Gay and otherwise

I have to say that for once I admire something Republican State Rep. Gary Glenn of Midland has done. Glenn is a freshman in the legislature, but has been a militant Michigan conservative activist on social issues for a long time, especially opposed to same sex-marriage. Two weeks ago, Glenn sent out nasty "agenda alerts" on social media alerting people to the fact that Tony Lascari, the newly promoted news editor at the Midland Daily News, is gay. Lascari is open about his sexuality; the story about his promotion quoted him as saying, "I live in Midland with my husband, Mark." After Glenn attempted to make this an issue, the young editor wrote a very statesman-like column in which he said: "As a professional news reporter, I have always worked to keep my articles balanced and accurate as I report on people in our community," and he pledged to be fair to Glenn as well. After that, there was an avalanche of scathing criticism of Glenn. One poll found that nearly 93 percent of those responding felt that his sending a tweet about someone's sexual orientation was just plain wrong. Glenn at first tried to justify what he did by saying it was a "reasonably observed possibility," that in his new role, the news editor might use his position "to promote a political agenda or bias that's at odds with our community values." I don't know how Lascari could promote such an agenda, even if he wanted to. Write editorials urging the good people of Midland to become gay? I don't see that happening. Finally, even Glenn seems to have realized how absurd this all was. On Easter Sunday, the newspaper ran a public apology from the politician, who said he had "publicly and unfairly prejudged Tony Lascari's ability to fairly, impartially, and professionally serve as news editor." Furthermore, he apologized for his thoughtless behavior. You may think he did so out of political expediency, but it sounded sincere to me. Beyond this, however, I especially hope that Gary Glenn stopped to consider how absurd the idea is that a gay person necessarily has "a gay agenda," they are constantly promoting, as if they were on some sort of secret political spy mission. Tony Lascari seems to be a person who happens to be gay, as I am a person attracted to the dark-haired woman I share my life with. My guess is that both of us have as our only agenda the desire to be left to live our private lives in peace. Several Christmases ago an aging man contacted me to lament at the demise of gay culture in Michigan; he missed the bar scene, complete with glittering disco balls. Baffled, I asked a member of my family who is gay what he thought. He said, "Tell him the prehistoric days are gone. Young gays have many more options today. Older gays are busy with their careers, keeping up their homes, and taking care of their families." He suggested that I should find some polite way to tell my refugee from the 1970s to grow up and get a life. I don't know what Gary Glenn would think, but that sounded downright healthy to me. 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.

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Michigan's unfair sex offender list

We like to say we are against unfair discrimination against anyone, but that isn't true. There's one group who we legally and happily treat as less-than-human pariahs: convicted sex offenders who have done their punishment and served their time. We go on punishing them by putting them on an odious sex offender registry that not only has the effect of branding a scarlet letter on their foreheads, but punishes their family members, neighbors and even people they don't know, by possibly affecting property values, since their homes go on the sex offender list and stay there, as they do, often for life. We don't force convicted murderers to spend the rest of their lives paying for their crime, nor do we publicly brand them as criminals. But we do this to people who were convicted of even minor sex offenses. I have always felt that the entire concept of a public sex offender list was not only deeply wrong and unfair, but probably unconstitutional. Well, the courts are finally taking notice. Last month, as Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a North Carolina sex offender should have a chance to challenge a requirement that he wear a GPS monitoring bracelet for the rest of his life. Michigan currently has five thousand people required to wear such monitors. What's more, we make them pay to cover the cost of the monitoring. If that sounds like something out of Stalin's Russia, it's because it is. Yesterday, however, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland struck down major portions of Michigan's sex offender law itself as unconstitutional. Portions struck down include a requirement that the former offenders stay a thousand feet away from any school, without any guidance as to where the boundaries actually are. The judge also struck down requirements that offenders who have done their time report their email and instant messaging addresses, and notify authorities of, quote, "all telephone numbers routinely used by the individual." That sounds like something out of George Orwell's 1984. Michigan has more than forty-one thousand people on the sex offender registry. They do include people who have sexually abused children or who have engaged in violent sexual crimes. I have no problem with the police knowing who those people are, or their being required to be in some kind of a lifetime treatment and monitoring program, if that was part of their sentence or the terms of their parole. But a public list is an invitation to vigilante justice. And our sex offender list also includes people who had sex with a willing underage person, who they have since married and had children with. It includes the home of a friend of mine whose son never touched anyone, but who was convicted of possessing child pornography years ago, served his time, and lives with his parents because, surprise surprise, he's having a hard time getting a job. After all, he and his family home are on that list for all to see. The Michigan ACLU, defenders of the Constitution always, deserve our thanks for filing the lawsuit that led to this decision. Justice needs to be fair and punishment measured and in proportion. Hopefully this ruling will help remind us of that. 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.

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