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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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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The popularity of anti-immigrant rhetoric a sign of a frightened country that has lost its way

I've been studying presidential elections for a long time, and can tell you that this has been the most anti-immigrant campaign since the Know-Nothing Party of the early 1850s. Ironically, many of those bashing immigrants today are descended from people who the early immigrant-bashers hated: Germans, Irish and Catholics. But I'm not sure that even the Know-Nothings ever descended to the levels we've seen this year, with the leading Republican presidential candidate saying he'd build a wall across our southern border and force Mexico to pay for it. Nor did they ever call for repealing the part of the Constitution that says children born here are automatically citizens. What's worse is that all this seems to resonate with a frightening number of voters, and has helped make the man saying them, Donald Trump, wildly popular. ... Trump himself hasn't been intellectually consistent. He's also said we need more skilled immigrants. Not every Republican agrees, and Trump himself hasn't been intellectually consistent. He's also said we need more skilled immigrants. Yet most of his rivals have joined his denunciations to some extent, and bash so-called "sanctuary cities" like Detroit, which have shown some degree of tolerance for undocumented aliens. To me, these are all signs of a frightened country that has lost its way. And this rhetoric has saddened one non-immigrant I deeply admire, Deborah Drennan, who for the past seven years has run something called Freedom House, one of the most American institutions there is. Freedom House gives refuge to asylum seekers who manage to get there after enduring persecution, violence, rape, and other unspeakable things in their native countries. It's been around for more than 30 years, lasting longer than Trump's three marriages. The candidate may not know this, but the U.S. Constitution also says even undocumented people have the right to remain here if they have been persecuted or face a legitimate fear of persecution where they came from. However, they have to prove this, and Freedom House, a 19th century old red-brick former convent in Detroit, gives them a safe place to do so — a process that can take a year or more. Some seek permanent asylum in this country; some in Canada. Drennan and an army of volunteers arrange for them to get food and shelter; legal help and psychiatric counseling. When I first began writing about Freedom House, most of its refugees were from the wars in Central America. Later, it was Bosnia. Today, most are from Africa. I once interviewed one beautiful young Rwandan woman there covered with machete scars from the attack which killed the rest of her family; somehow, she remained optimistic and cheerful. When they get asylum, they become productive, hard-working Americans. "People who come here need to know this is not a place you'll be taken advantage of." Drennan thinks sanctuary cities like Detroit cut down on crime, not add to it. "People who come here need to know this is not a place you'll be taken advantage of," she said. She believes immigrants in sanctuary cities are less likely to be victims of human trafficking. Most of all, she believes the words on the Statue of Liberty. I don't know if Donald Trump would erase those words, but I do know that Detroit was started by an undocumented alien who scrambled up the river bank one summer long ago, a guy named Cadillac. Today, some of us seem to have forgotten what America is all about. 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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Order in the court

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly unexpectedly announced yesterday that she was leaving the court in six weeks to return to private practice, where she will presumably make more money. She was first elected to the court less than five years ago, but is bailing out only about halfway through her term, saying she had accomplished what she chose to do. To me, there's something odd about that. Barring health or family reasons, I would think elected officials ought to feel an obligation to finish the term they asked the voters to give them. But resignations from the state's highest court are fairly common, and what this means is that the governor will get to name a replacement for the third time in five years. Most likely, Mr. Snyder will, in a few days or weeks, name a prominent Republican judge, lawyer, or politician to the court. That appointee will then have to face a statewide election next year to finish the last two years of Justice Kelly's term. If the governor were a Democrat, he or she would appoint a Democratic lawyer or judge. That's the way it's always been. To be fair, Snyder's previous appointees have received mostly favorable reviews, and there's been considerable improvement in the Michigan Supreme Court's reputation from a few years ago, when it, according to a bipartisan report calling for reform, had "attracted national attention for its excessive cost, its lack of transparency, and its damaging negativity." But though the court's public image may have improved, justice shouldn't be a purely partisan thing. And there is a better model for how we should replace resigning judges. Four years ago, concerned about the court's reputation, then-Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly decided to do something about it. Kelly is a Democrat, but she recruited a Republican federal court of appeals judge, James Ryan, and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, also a Republican appointee. The three agreed to head a Michigan Judicial Selection Task Force, which reached out to some of the state's most distinguished citizens, both lawyers and non-lawyers. The goal was to come up with a better blueprint for selecting judges, and they did that. Every one of their recommendations was unanimous. Their report, which can still be easily found online, noted that throughout history, almost half of all Michigan Supreme Court justices have been appointed by governors. The task force suggested that when a justice resigns, the governor name an advisory screening commission to accept applications and conduct public hearings. After that, the committee would present the governor with a list of three to five highly qualified candidates. The governor would then pick one of them. This, the task force felt, would give Michigan citizens confidence that the new justice was highly qualified. They concluded, "the task force respectfully askes Governor Snyder to adopt this practice in his current administration." Unfortunately, the governor has totally ignored their recommendations, and sadly, will probably do so again. But this would be a far better way Few things are more important than confidence in our courts. We'd also be better off if the task force's other recommendations for reforming our judiciary, including going to a non-partisan system of elections, were taken seriously as well.. 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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Recent scandals may move roads plan forward

I may be the only person who felt this way, but when I was watching Cindy Gamrat's sad little press conference Friday, the first person I thought of was Oliver Cromwell. I'm not sure that even Ms. Gamrat or Todd Courser or State Senator Virgil Smith ever heard of the 17th century British statesman. But more than 360 years ago, Cromwell famously said to a bunch of legislators he didn't like, "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you." Those guys did depart — Cromwell had his New Model Army at his disposal — but Michigan's infamous three show no signs of going voluntarily, though the odds are pretty good that conviction or expulsion or plea bargaining will free us from most or all of them. But it might just be that the latest tawdry scandal could be of some minor help in finally getting a roads bill. The House comes back this week, and there are signs there might be a chance for a compromise to fix the roads, one that would include $600 million a year in new revenue – tax increases — and $600 million a year in cuts from the already stretched general fund. Getting this passed will require threading a very delicate needle. Republicans have sixty-three members, and need fifty-six votes to pass any bill. They are unlikely to get any Democratic votes, except perhaps Harvey Santana, who often votes with them. Democrats rightly fear that any general fund cuts are likely to come from areas their voters most care about, like education and social programs. But though Republicans have a solid majority, some of their members are on record as opposing any tax increases, no matter what. Two of the most bitter tax opponents have been Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, who might have been counted on two weeks ago to furiously denounce any such deal. But these days, they have no credibility, and it's far from certain they will even show up to vote. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether this will actually pass, but I think the Republican leadership is making one big mistake. They've indicated they aren't very interested in cooperating with Democrats, that they want this to be a purely GOP plan. Well, that makes no sense given the importance of the issue and that the roads affect every citizen regardless of their partisan leanings. So here's a suggestion for our elected leaders: Republicans should appeal to Democrats by pledging to work with them to see that as much as possible of the money to be cut comes out of corrections. Everyone not too stupid to see it or cowardly to admit it knows we have far more people locked up than safety requires, and the corrections budget has exploded in recent decades. Huge savings could almost certainly be realized by taking a bipartisan look at every aspect of corrections, including how many prisons we have and where they need to be. My sense is that most people in Michigan don't give much of a damn about party labels these days. They just want to get things done. 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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