Sep 20, 2007

Veteran journalist says no vote for income tax increase jeopardizes Michigan

NOVI - Veteran journalist Jack Lessenberry told a group of West Oakland County Democrats that the budget and economic situation in Michigan is the worst he has ever seen it.

“However bad you thing the situation is in Michigan, it’s worse,” he said. “There is no way to exaggerate the situation.”

Lessenberry has worked as a foreign correspondent and executive national editor of The Detroit News, reporting from more than 40 countries. His writing has appeared in such national publications as Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe. He is also a professor of journalism at Wayne State University, and his freelance columns appear in The Metro Times, The Traverse-City Record Eagle and The Toledo (Ohio) Blade. He is also a senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.

Lessenberry was extremely critical of the state Legislature’s inability to pass a budget, or approve a much needed income tax increase. He said no company would want to move to Michigan with the government in disarray, the roads and infrastructure crumbling and the state’s biggest assets, the schools, being starved. He says as a professor at Wayne he sees far too many promising students drop out of college simply because they cannot afford the tuition, especially in light of an 18 percent increase in tuition this summer.

“It’s not even a raise in taxes, it’s a restoration,” Lessenberry said. “I’m not a farmer, but farmers settled this state.
“They know that to prosper they cannot eat next year’s seed corn,” he said.

He lashed out at the Republicans refusal to vote for the income tax increase because of the fear of a recall from a man who has never had a job where he was not paid with tax dollars.

“Republicans believe in taxes they just believe in taxing the poor,” he said. “They are turning Michigan into Mississippi with ice storms. It’s very scary for those of us left in Michigan.”

Despite speaking in front of a room full of Democrats, he pulled no punches and also had hard words for Democrats too. He took Gov. Jennifer Granholm to task for a lack of leadership on the budget. He said she should have bought a half hour of TV time to tell people the budget situation in a quasi fireside chat and use the political capital she gained in the election with an overwhelming victory and being term-limited.

“We will be the laughing stock of the nation if we have a shutdown,” Lessenberry said. “The governor took far too long to take a principled stand. She let Mike Bishop take a major role.”
“I just do not understand why the governor did not take the lead on this,” he said. “She has no political capital to lose.”

Lessenberry was also critical of the 10 freshman Democratic House members in vulnerable seats who did not cast an up or down vote for the income tax increase during last weekend’s marathon House session.

“They are gutless wonders,” he said. “They refused to vote because they want to hang on to a job they are going to lose in six years; the state of Michigan is at stake here.”

Lessenberry had some bold predictions for the presidential primary, saying Hilary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. He also said he did not expect Barack Obama to be her running mate no matter how well he did in the primaries because Lessenberry thinks asking voters to vote for two firsts in the same election – a woman and African-American for president and vice-president - was asking too much. He expects her running mate to be a male Senator from a Middle Western state. However, he had no idea who the front-runner was in what he called a particularity weak Republican field

“Hilary Clinton is already the Democratic nominee; she has already been anointed,” he said. “Usually, it’s the Republicans who settle this first.”

He said the U.S. Congressional districts have been so effectively gerrymandered he expects little change there, but there could be a race in the 7th District where GOP U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg faces a challenge from the Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer and in the 9th District where long-time Republican Joe Knollenberg faces a challenge from Democrat Gary Peters.

“He (Walberg) is somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan. The last time I said that I got an angry note; Genghis Khan was angry at being compared to Tim Walberg.”

Lessenberry said he was less than excited about Peters' chances of winning because he called him a “lousy campaigner.” He said Peters was qualified, smart and capable, but he is not a good campaigner. He said he singe-handily allowed the first Republican to be elected to the position of attorney general in Michigan in almost 40 years.

“You need to get Nancy Skinner out of there first," he said. “The last thing the Democrats need is a bruising primary.”

The state House will be an interesting place next year with 44 members term-limited, but Lessenberry said it will be a good year for Democrats.

“Democrats will pick up a few more seats,” he said. “I do not see Republicans taking control of the House.”

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