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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Michigan's "Clean Power Plan" could go forward despite knee-jerk, anti-Obama actions

Some days I find myself wishing President Obama would make a speech honoring motherhood and propose a program to honor mothers. If he did that, it's very clear most Republicans would refuse to support honoring mothers. I'm not sure if they'd oppose motherhood itself, or just say that Barack Obama was a Kenyan socialist who couldn't possibly have had a mother. But I am sure that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette would immediately join a lawsuit arguing that motherhood was unconstitutional. That's a parody, but not much of one. Last month, the President and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, announced a Clean Power Plan designed to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. This was a long-overdue and flexible plan that allows for variation in what individual states do, depending on their energy mix. States are being encouraged to come up with their own plans to meet the federal mandates. Yesterday, the Snyder Administration announced it is doing that, and was encouraging utilities and other stakeholders to work with the state in developing one. Valerie Brader, director of the Michigan Agency for Energy, said, "Michigan remains committed to creating an energy future that's affordable, adaptable, reliable and protective of the environment." Rather than waiting for the federal government to impose its own plan on Michigan, she and state Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant said it made far more sense for the state to develop a plan tailored to Michigan's needs. Michigan, by the way, probably needs a clean power and carbon emissions plan more than most states. We still get half our power by burning coal, a fuel that made sense in the time of Charles Dickens. Four years ago, a Michigan Environmental Council study found our nine oldest coal plants cost state residents about a billion and a half a year in increased health care costs. They aren't good for people in neighboring states and Canada, either. Naturally, Bill Schuette is joining some other Republican attorneys general in suing the Obama Administration, claiming the President's Clean Power Plan is illegal and unconstitutional. Significantly, spokespersons for the Snyder Administration yesterday said they had no interest in that. They are more interested in getting something meaningful done. Now, if all this elicits a sense of what Yogi Berra called "déjà vu all over again," it should. Two years ago, Michigan had the option of creating a state health care exchange, or directory, to comply with the Affordable Care Act. Governor Snyder tried to do that. But it was killed by Republicans in the state House, who hated "Obamacare" so much they refused to do anything to go along with it. So they killed the exchange, and a less good federal one was imposed on us instead, an act of spite which cost Michigan $40 million. Yesterday, there were signs Republican legislators may have learned from the experience. After the ritual denunciation of the Clean Power Plan as an "abuse of federal power," State Senator Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, told the Gongwer News Service, "I believe we need to come up with our own plan," to make the best of what he believes is state power "run amok." Well, what do you know? Once in a while, people do learn from their mistakes. 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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Why don't Courser and Gamrat just quit?

Well, as anyone who cares now knows, the official report on the "alleged misconduct" by Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat was released yesterday. Listen Listening... 3:06 Jack Lessenberry talks about the Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat report that was released Monday. And it makes it clear that there is no longer anything "alleged" about their misconduct. What's most shocking to me is that they both didn't resign long ago in order to prevent a report like this from being made public. After reading it, you'd think they would have done anything to prevent the possibility of their kids someday reading this. The report begins by saying that both: "misused their office, their office staff, and other state resources to cover up an affair and for their own political advantage." Clearly and unequivocally, it says they lied and are still lying, that they engaged in "deceptive, deceitful, and outright dishonest conduct," and that Courser in particular "showed a callous lack of respect and candor to his fellow representatives, constituents, and the public at-large. " It concludes both "committed misconduct in office that warrants further investigation and review." It's now pretty clear they are on the fast track to being expelled. But those behind the report also want us to believe that the buck stops with them. State Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon has been complaining that the public needs to know what Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter knew and when he knew it. This report gives him and the leadership something less than a mild slap on the wrist. It does acknowledge that two employees of the representatives' bizarrely combined office went to the speaker's chief of staff to complain, and says: "there was reason in hindsight for the House to further inquire into the validity of their claims." No kidding. Everybody in Lansing knew these two were having an affair, and that they had no regard for rules and procedures, laws and tradition. Being insufficiently vigilant is a failing of leadership, and the leaders of the house clearly failed this test. What may seem most jarring is that the report finds there is "insufficient evidence of wrongful termination" of the two whistle-blowing staff members apparently fired for refusing to sanction the outrageous behavior of Gamrat and Courser. The report pretty much says they were at-will employees, and had no protection whatsoever. The report is ironically guilty of a Courser-like contradiction itself, when it says: "claims of a hostile work environment ... were not demonstrated by evidence provided during this investigation." That might be true in the narrowest legal terms, but it's clear that if you didn't want to lie and help cover up immoral behavior, this was a hostile environment indeed. Well, Republicans have never been enthusiastic about worker rights. But back to the central mystery, which is why Courser and Gamrat don't just quit, instead of being further humiliated and then thrown out. I believe I know the answer: It is $1378.56. That, plus benefits, is how much each is paid every week by the taxpayers, as long as they're in office. That should be an added incentive for their colleagues to move quickly to get this matter behind them, and us, and get back to work on the urgent problems facing the state. 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 hypocrisy of Michigan Democrats

Well, this is the day everyone in Lansing has been waiting for. Unfortunately, if you think I'm talking about fixing the roads, you're wrong. No, this is the day the Michigan House of Representatives is due to release its report on the Todd Courser-Cindy Gamrat scandal. We already know they found evidence of misconduct and misuse of taxpayer resources. I haven't yet had a chance to read the report itself. But over the weekend, I was struck by the flamboyant and almost unnoticed hypocrisy on display here, not on the part of the two wretched adulterous representatives, but from ... Michigan Democrats. Their new leader, State Party Chairman Brandon Dillon was harshly critical last week of the decision not to release the report immediately. He worried that Republicans might be delaying the report in order to "sanitize it." He hinted they might be trying to cover up what the Speaker of the House knew and when he knew it. Well, that's politics. But consider this. Boatloads of Republicans have harshly denounced Gamrat and Courser, who are also Republicans. Many, including Congresswoman Candice Miller, have loudly called for them to resign immediately. Cotter had stopped short of that, but he did say, "My hope is that both would look internally and make that decision themselves." They are pariahs and embarrassments and everyone wants them gone. But what about ... State Senator Virgil Smith, a Democrat from Detroit? Smith made headlines in May when he fired a reported ten shots into his ex-wife's Mercedes in the wee hours one morning, when she apparently showed up to find him in bed with another woman. Smith now faces charges of felonious assault, malicious destruction of property, possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony and, oh, yes, domestic violence. This comes after a past that has including shoplifting and drinking and driving. He apparently never has had what some would call a real job, but was elected to the legislature right out of college, possibly because his father was a state senator with the same name. To me, Smith is even more of a disgrace than Courser and Gamrat. After all, they didn't use firearms. We don't know if Smith was trying to shoot his ex-wife, but he was blazing away on a residential street. Yet as far as I know, not a single Democrat in office has called on him to resign. Not Brandon Dillon; not the Senate Minority Leader, Jim Ananich. They did take Smith's committee assignments away, but he's still there – drawing his paycheck, awaiting trial and all but forgotten by the news media, except, apparently, me. Democratic politicians I've spoken to say the difference is that Smith didn't commit his alleged indiscretions in the line of his legislative duty. But guess what? Fourteen years ago, the state senate did expel a member for the only time in history: David Jaye, a Macomb County Republican. Know what they threw him out for? Drunken driving and domestic violence. Maybe it's not surprising Courser and Gamrat thought they could hang on. I don't know. But I do know this, until Democrats call for the expulsion of Senator Virgil Smith, I'm not interested in anything they say about the two Republicans in trouble in the House.. 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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Fighting to keep the grass

Dave Mesrey needs a root canal and possibly shoulder surgery and can't afford either one, on his very part-time job doing editing work for an alternative newspaper. He doesn't much care about that. His car broke down years ago and he can't afford to fix it, but he doesn't dwell much on that, either. What he cares about is a nine and a half acre field of dreams to which he's devoted himself for the last five years. Mesrey, who is 46, quit a full-time job as an editor in 2010 and led a group of buddies to chop down seven-foot-high weeds, clean up dog and goose poop, mow the grass and restore what is sacred ground to them. Babe Ruth hit home runs here. Dizzy Dean and Cy Young and Whitey Ford pitched here. Ty Cobb played here, as did Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. This is, of course, Detroit's corner of Michigan and Trumbull, where old Tiger Stadium stood, from 1912 till they knocked it down six years ago. Back when the ballpark was new it was called Navin Field, and Mesrey and his buddies call themselves the Navin Field Grounds Crew. Slowly, painfully, lovingly, using their own money and sweat, they restored the field to what it looked like when there was a stadium here. Without them, this site would be an eyesore. Because of what they did, at first in defiance of developers and the police, kids play baseball here again. Couples have been married here. People's ashes are scattered here. A filmmaker made a wonderful movie about them called Stealing Home, a film that won top honors from the audience at the first-ever Free Press film festival last year. Late last year, the city announced that they were going to give the site to the Police Athletic League, which intends to use the field for a variety of youth sports, including baseball. They plan to install lights and dugouts and a scoreboard and seating. And all that is fine with Dave Mesrey. Except for one thing. They plan to install artificial turf. To Mesrey and his comrades, that is a sacrilege. Except for the old flagpole, he told me yesterday. "All we have left is the natural grass upon which all the greats played. (We) feel that to keep Navin Field a natural grass surface, even if it means being re-sodded, represents meaningful historic preservation." Athletic League officials have said artificial turf is more durable and cost-effective. Mesrey disagrees, and worries about the environment. He does social media, circulates petitions. "But I seem to be failing," he told me. "We're in the bottom of the ninth, and I'm not sure what the score is, but it sure feels like losing." The Navin Field Grounds Crew will probably disband after this year, and unless there is a sudden change of heart, they will have lost the Astroturf battle. Personally, I think that is a shame. But what Mesrey doesn't see is that they've really won a greater war. Because of them, kids will still play baseball here. They gave this place where baseball has been played since the 1890s back to Detroit. And that's something Dave and his grounds crew will always be able to say. 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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Is a flier distributed in Southfield racism, or dirty politics?

Earlier this year I talked about Southfield, which I think is one of the more intriguing communities in Michigan. Southfield, which has between 70,000 and 75,000 people, basically was born, like so many other places, with the great suburban sprawl that began in the early 1950s, with the coming of the freeways and the malls. Today Southfield, which borders Detroit, is mostly black, but a good 20% to 25% of its citizens are still white, many of them Jewish. And Southfield has remained that rare thing – a large, mostly black suburb that is still solidly middle class. The Census Bureau estimates the population, which fell by about 10% in the first decade of this century, is growing again. Southfield's longtime mayor, Brenda Lawrence, was given high marks for keeping the city diverse and safe. Last year, she was elected to Congress, and there's a race to succeed her between Sylvia Jordan, an African-American woman who is the city council president, and Ken Siver, a former teacher, councilman, and longtime resident. This race hasn't been about race – until now. Last week, a racist flyer was left on lawns and stuffed into mailboxes. It was headlined, "Let's Get the Blacks Out of Southfield in November," and listed and pictured the white candidates for various city offices. It included a painting of a Klansman pointing a gun at a black child, and Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie, with a caption that said, "Zimmerman was right. We will stop thugs like this." This shocking development has been covered in the black press nationwide. I saw an article in Georgia about it. There was even a story in the Manchester Guardian. Yet there's something very strange about this. If you really were a white racist, you wouldn't do anything like this, not if you had an IQ greater than that of a salamander. There are far more black voters than white. And these fliers were apparently distributed in mainly black neighborhoods. That's what one of Southfield's most respected women told me. Pat Haynie is a retired education official who has lived in Southfield for nearly 30 years. She is an African-American woman who heads the city's Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force. Monday night she stood up at a city council meeting and said, "I would caution our community and the media not to jump to the conclusion that this was generated by a racist white individual or organization." "It may very well be that this was a despicable dirty political trick designed to incite people of color to go the polls and vote the exact opposite ... this kind of race baiting must not be tolerated," she said. Both mayoral candidates have denounced the flier. Nobody admits to knowing anything about it, but there have been reports of cultural clashes in Southfield: Tensions between established, middle-class black residents and newcomers fleeing Detroit. Joseph Thomas, Southfield's first black police chief, now-retired, told an Atlanta newspaper that, "My six-figure blacks are very concerned about multiple-family, economically depressed people moving into rental homes and apartments, bringing in their bad behaviors." The biggest concern is keeping Southfield a place where everyone feels comfortable living and shopping. It will be very interesting to see what happens over the next year. 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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We need a solution for storing nuclear waste, but our heads are stuck in the sand

There's a big issue simmering beneath the surface that you will hear a lot more about after mid-October. The government of Canada wants to bury low and intermediate level nuclear waste in a repository in Ontario, less than a mile from Lake Huron. The proposed repository is approximately across Lake Huron from the tip of Michigan's Thumb. Not surprisingly, this has environmental groups in both the United States and Canada up in arms. Beverly Fernandez, a spokesperson for a Canadian group called Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump has been quoted as saying "the last place to abandon radioactive nuclear waste is right beside the largest supply of fresh water on the planet." Fernandez is not alone; the project has sparked outrage on both sides of the border. This comes right when Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party is in the middle of a fierce election campaign in which this has become an issue. Not surprisingly, he has prudently postponed a final decision on the waste dump until after the October 19 national election. Canadian elections are different from ours, and it is entirely possible that any one of three parties — the Conservatives, the Liberals or the New Democratic Party may emerge as the next government of Canada. We don't know how the election will affect what Ontario Power Generation is calling the "Deep Geologic Depository." We don't know how the election will affect what Ontario Power Generation is calling the "Deep Geologic Depository." Under Canadian custom, most government officials, diplomats and bureaucrats, are not allowed to comment until after the election. We do know this: Ontario Power, the utility that wants to store the waste, maintains that this site is totally safe. They aren't talking about storing highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods in the ground, but low and intermediate level nuclear waste. That means on the low end, mops, brooms, gloves and clothing. Intermediate waste includes filters and machinery that had been in contact with nuclear fuel. The utility is already storing this stuff not far from the surface on that site, which it owns. They contend where they want to bury it, more than two football fields below the surface, is in a rock formation that's been stable for almost half a billion years. Ontario Power Generation also says this would be much safer than keeping it near the surface. Well, whatever you think about this, we're all ignoring the deeper issue, which is, in the long run, where do we put this stuff? The only thing we seem to be able to agree on is, "not in my backyard." The only thing we seem to be able to agree on is, "not in my backyard." The United States had agreed to store its nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada, until that was killed by Nevada politicians. Meanwhile, spent nuclear fuel is piling up in many places. It's not going away. We need a solution, and we have our heads in the sand. And those concerned about burying old mops near Lake Huron might want to consider this: There is a vast amount of highly radioactive fuel rods and other stuff stored in containers on a concrete pad close to Lake Michigan, right near Charlevoix, left from the now-demolished Big Rock Nuclear Plant. It was supposed to go to Yucca Mountain. Now it just sits there. Both the U.S. and Canada desperately need a long term plan, but our governments don't seem willing to face this. 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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Presidential polls are meaningless this early in the race

Years and years ago, I worked for a crusty old publisher who would not report the results of opinion polling in his newspaper. I thought he was a horribly backward troglodyte. Today, I'm not so sure. In fact, I have come to think that most so-called election polling is somewhere between silly and stupid and harmful to the democratic process. Now, some opinion surveys are extremely valuable to everyone — candidates, policymakers and the general public. I'm all in favor of polls that show what issues are the most important to us, what we are worried about and what we most want from our leaders. But most of what we see instead is "horse-race" polling. Today's Detroit Free Press presents an especially bad example. If you had asked me yesterday what their main story would be today, I would have guessed the stock markets. Instead, nearly all the newspaper's front page is taken up with a huge story about how Hillary Clinton would do in Michigan if the presidential election were held today and the Republican nominee was either Jeb Bush or Donald Trump. According to the poll, which the newspaper did in collaboration with a local TV station, Clinton would narrowly defeat Trump and narrowly lose to Bush. This is almost as meaningless today as a poll asking who Democratic primary voters would choose in the year 2040, if it comes down to Chelsea Clinton and Sasha Obama. What political junkies may not realize is that very few normal humans are paying much attention to next year's presidential campaign at all. The general election is more than 14 months away. Michigan's primary, more than six months away. There are young people out there who don't know each other yet who will meet, fall in love and have a baby before we next vote for president. Here's how nutty trumpeting a poll like this is: A similar poll done eight years ago would have asked how voters felt about Hillary Clinton, but wouldn't have mentioned the eventual Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. He wasn't on anyone's radar screen yet. But today's poll does seem to reinforce the idea that Clinton is the certain Democratic nominee, and that the GOP contest is down to a two-man race. Well, if that's the case, why is Bernie Sanders doing so well in some states, and why is Vice-President Biden thinking about getting in? And why are more than a dozen other Republicans spending millions running for president? Whether or not pollsters like it, nominees are supposed to be determined by the voters only after the candidates campaign, as imperfect as campaigns today may be. Actually, to me, what this poll does indicate is exactly the opposite of the headline. For the last two months, news of the campaign has pretty much been all Trump, all the time. The only stories about Clinton have been those attacking her over how she sent her email. The fact that she is even close to her two Republican rivals might be seen as a plus for her. What's not a plus for anybody is that most people apparently have a negative view of all three candidates. It will be interesting to see what happens if that doesn't change. 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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If Courser and Gamrat won't resign, the House should expel them

I try not to write about sex for one reason. Not because I am squeamish. It's just that sex is so powerful that whenever it's injected into public life, it too often overshadows everything else. The nation was obsessed with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky for a good two years in the nineties, years in which many other national priorities didn't get enough attention. Now we have our own Todd and Cindy scandal in Lansing, and ever since the news of their bizarre affair and even more bizarre cover-up, they have dominated the news to an unhealthy degree. Both have said they won't quit, even though they are pariahs in their own parties and without any influence whatsoever. The House is conducting an investigation to see if they may have violated any rules or laws, and all this could drag on for weeks, costing further time, energy and money. Meanwhile, every moment and news story spent reporting on them, is one more distraction from real issues, like, how are our lawmakers going to fix Medicaid funding and the roads? But I think the solution to this mess was handed to lawmakers last Thursday night by two local Republican parties, those in Lapeer County, represented by Todd Courser and Allegan County, represented by Cindy Gamrat. Both voted overwhelmingly to demand their representatives' immediate resignations. In the case of Courser, the vote was just one short of unanimous. Lapeer Republicans also revoked his membership in their party and forbade him from distributing any literature at campaign events. According to the Detroit Free Press, the party chair in Lapeer said their main concern was about the citizens being adequately represented. This was echoed by the Allegan party chair, who said of Gamrat: "The real issue is, can she give effective representation both in Allegan and Lansing? "The overwhelming response I've heard is absolutely no." By all accounts, neither of these representatives ever did much constituent service. They bizarrely merged their offices, and many in both districts claimed the staff was uninterested in helping them. Various staff members said their whole operation was devoted to getting their bosses mentioned in the media, ideological posturing, and facilitating the relationship between the two. Neither Gamrat or Courser introduced a single bill that came anywhere close to becoming law. In Great Britain, when a ruling party loses a vote of confidence in Parliament, it is obligated to resign and call a national election. Courser and Gamrat have clearly lost the confidence of the people who sent them to Lansing. Additionally, in the words of the Lapeer County GOP resolution condemning Courser, they have "brought dishonor and embarrassment to the people," as well as to their political party. They've lost the confidence of the citizens, and brought shame to the legislature. They've demonstrated an inability to do their jobs, and their continued presence is a draining distraction. These are all more than enough grounds for the state house to do the right thing as soon as the session resumes next month: Immediately vote to expel these two, so the governor can set a date for elections to give the people of their districts adequate representation, and the lawmakers can get on with their work. All of us deserve no less. 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 truth behind Michigan's road problems

As you probably know, the latest effort to reach a compromise to fix Michigan's roads collapsed this week, as have all the others. Yesterday I suggested one possible solution: Forget talking about taxes. Instead, raise the price of gasoline 30 cents a gallon and call that "user fee," and use the money to fix the roads. Yesterday, I had a very interesting phone call from one of the most knowledgeable people in state government, who told me he was extremely glad I brought up the idea of user fees, and reminded me, "that is how we decided as a country, some 70 years ago, that transportation infrastructure should be funded." And he noted that Harry Truman, one of our most venerated presidents, got his start as a local official building roads in Missouri. "He instinctively understood the basics of civilization – build your foundation first," the state official said. The man who called me has a different perspective on the current mess in Lansing. He has little use for the politicians and legislators, and not much for the news media. He told me he is frustrated by "the weak reporting in what used to be our state's best newspapers. The writers report the wacko theories of ill-informed lawmakers, who are only in office because of term limits, and their stories lend credence to the nonsense." What's worse is that these ill-informed politicians attack the state workers who actually build the roads – and almost equally ill-informed reporters from an echo chamber by repeating their charges. My source, who has worked for the Michigan Department of Transportation, told me: "I've come to know some incredibly passionate planners and engineers, almost all of whom grew up in Michigan, who sincerely care about public service. They went to school to learn skills to give back by rebuilding the state's infrastructure. "Instead, they are starved for the resources to do it right, then maligned as incompetents because the roads are falling apart." Again, incomplete reporting by a dwindling corps of news reporters helps add to misperceptions. One is the frequent claim that any money from fuel taxes goes straight to Lansing where bureaucrats spend it any way they want. "That's not true," he said; the law specifies that most new fuel tax money wouldn't even go to the state. "The state would get 39 percent; the counties get 39 percent and the local communities, 22 percent." My source said he is more and more frustrated. He had a long and successful career in another field before entering government service. But he discovered, to his dismay, that not only were the politicians too-often wrongheaded, the voters themselves are less informed and involved than they once were. This may be in part because the number who read newspapers or consume serious news is a small fraction of what it was, say, 30 years ago. And that leaves them prey to demagogues and nutty theories. This, he fears, has disturbing consequences beyond our crumbling roads. He fears that unless we recapture our trust in government workers, whole generations may avoid public service because it is underpaid and has been so maligned. Which for our civilization might be the biggest disaster of all. 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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Driving us to ruin - Michigan lawmakers missed again on road funding

Contrary to what you might think, it is not true that our government in Lansing can't do anything. Why, just yesterday, the governor reappointed four members to the Michigan Carrot Commission. And the state House of Representatives unanimously voted to retroactively recognize last Sunday as Airborne Day, whatever that means. It's just that state government can't do anything meaningful. Yesterday, one more attempt at trying to fix our dreadful roads fell apart, both because of ideological blindness — and common sense. The latest idea was to come up with $1.2 billion a year for the roads by raising $600 million in new revenue and cutting the state's general fund by the same amount for the foreseeable future. However, there are more than a dozen Republicans who have taken a pledge never to raise taxes for any reason, no matter how great the need. And to his credit, Governor Rick Snyder got into the act, recognizing this was far too great a cut to the general fund. That would have almost certainly done terrible damage to education and foster care and whatever social programs have survived after years of tax and budget cuts. The governor thought more new revenue had to be found. But the ideologues were never going to go for that. This meant that any plan would need a lot of votes from Democrats. Democrats understandably had conditions. The Health Insurance Claims Assessment needs more money to sustain Medicaid spending. Republicans weren't willing. They also wanted Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof to give up attempts to repeal paying prevailing union-scale wages for state construction jobs. Meekhof would no more do that than a Muslim would give up the Koran. So, eventually, the conference committee gave up on its efforts to get a road bill passed that night. Ironically, if they had reported out any bill, it would have looked remarkably like Proposal One – loaded down with other stuff. So once again, the gang who can't shoot at all failed to make any progress on the issue that voters care about most. It is tempting to wish that some billionaire would appear and lead a free-spending effort to recall every member of the Legislature. But there's another solution. We should outlaw the words "tax" and "revenue increase" on pain of death, and talk about "user fees." I say, pass a bill saying Michigan is going to assess a new 30 cent a gallon user fee on every gallon of gasoline, all of which has to go to fix the roads. This would totally solve the problem, and be barely noticed. After all, the price at the pump has varied by a much as a dollar and a half a gallon since January – and it is still a dollar less than it was eight years ago. Even doctrinaire conservatives usually accept user fees, for things like hunting licenses. Well, that's what this would be – a solution that is simple, easy and, for once, right. By the way, I'd pay far more than most; I drive more than 30,000 miles a year. But I'd still end up saving money with better roads. And Michigan would again find it easier to attract new business. We desperately need our lawmakers to do the right thing. 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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