Monday, June 29, 2015

A note from me

After three and a half years, I left The Morning Sun last week. 

I enjoyed the opportunity to write for central Michigan's daily newspaper of record and am excited to be announcing a new venture very soon.

— Dennis Lennox

Thursday, June 25, 2015

In Wayne County, government costs more than it’s worth

The following is from today's edition of The Detroit News.

By petitioning the state for a declaration of a financial emergency — essentially saying it’s bankrupt and needs to be rescued — Wayne County did what so many have predicted for years.

Honest observers will tell you it has never really been a question of whether Wayne County would follow this path, which could ultimately result in an emergency financial manager or even bankruptcy, but when.

While Wayne County Executive Warren Evans should be commended for finally acknowledging the financial mess requires outside intervention, the reply from those in the halls of state government thus far has been disappointing.

There is no question that Governor Rick Snyder and state treasurer Nick Khouri must step in to right the affairs of what has been Michigan’s premier county.

However, the time is now for a serious discussion on what sort of local government structure not only best serves the overtaxed taxpayers of Wayne County, but also those in the state’s other counties.

For too long, Wayne County and Detroit have survived on a whole litany of special privileges by virtue of their historical importance and political clout.

Yet it is increasingly impossible to justify the continuation of this special treatment at a time when both continue to lose population and economic might. By comparison, counties like Washtenaw, Kent and Grand Traverse receive little special treatment, but are considerably better off economically.

Against this reality, it is difficult to make the case that Wayne County should even continue to exist as a legal and political entity.

Just what value Wayne County provides taxpayers is questionable when its 34 cities and nine townships provide the vast majority of frontline public services.

Of the services county government does provide, the jail, courts (technically, an arm of the judicial branch of state government), roads and public works could easily be devolved unto the local governments, reassigned to agencies of state government or handled by new special purpose authorities.

The county has demonstrated little value for money to justify its continued burden upon the wallets of taxpayers. But this discussion shouldn’t just be limited to Wayne County.

The very role of counties in the structure of local government across the state needs to be reimagined, especially as the lines separating the 83 counties have not changed since 1893.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to have this discussion.

That is because local governments spend significant sums of taxpayer money on paying Lansing lobbyists to preserve the status quo and stop any discussion on reforming the dysfunctional structure that is Michigan’s patchwork system of local governance.

As a result, the voices of government have tremendous sway with lawmakers, who occasionally forget their constituents are people, not local governments.

It also does not help that this is hardly a sexy issue likely to win majorities at the ballot box.

Still, it is a discussion that must be had.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Magna Carta 800

Yesterday, I had a column in The Detroit News on the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

I also did a radio interview live from merrie olde England with Michael Patrick Shiels. You can listen to it or watch it below.

Today, my column in The Morning Sun builds on my piece for The Detroit News and also discusses the irony of the only real monument to Magna Carta in Runnymede being an American monument. 

Here's what I have in The Morning Sun:

RUNNYMEDE, England — The rule of law. Trial by jury. Double jeopardy. Indictments and warrants. Taxation with representation.
All of these values are fundamental to the very constitutional republic that is America.
However, you would be dead wrong if you thought any of these values were somehow unique or even created by the Founding Fathers.
America’s core principles were inherited by the United States at the time of her independence from Britain. Moreover, the values that shaped these very principles and defined the American republic even predate the country today known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Rather, the principles are based upon the ancient legal doctrines and principles of Magna Carta.
Magna what?
Literally translated from Latin into English as Great Charter, it was signed into law by King John 800 years ago Monday.
For the non-math majors out there, that is a full 561 years before a Virginian named Thomas Jefferson sat down to write the much more familiar Declaration of Independence in 1776.
If any of this history contradicts what your eighth-grade teacher taught during your one-semester U.S. history class then you are hardly alone.
Considering an 800th anniversary is one hell of an excuse to party it’s really no surprise then that the British threw a grand celebration on the big day only yards from the official Magna Carta memorial, which, oddly enough, was erected in 1957 by the American Bar Association.
The fact that no permanent U.K. memorial at Runnymede exists to this very day isn’t just ironic. It confirms the lasting influence of Magna Carta far beyond the shores of Britannia.
Still, Americans long ago stopped learning pre-American Revolution history, all of which shaped the thinking and philosophies of those who rebelled against the crown and created a new country rooted in the English notions of freedom and liberty that came about as a direct result of the English experience.
Today, America is in many respects more English than Britain is English today, as the late Russell Kirk, the political thinker from the tiny hamlet of Mecosta (about 30 minutes west of Mt. Pleasant) who was instrumental in the founding of the post-war U.S. conservative movement, argued in his book “America’s British Culture.”
Kirk called Magna Carta “the rock upon which the English constitution” and, by extension, America’s constitution was built.
While life today is totally unrecognizable from medieval life in the year 1215, the values of Magna Carta are just as important today as they were when King John made the concessions to his barons in the meadows of Runnymede, about an hour from London near Windsor on the River Thames.
Perhaps most importantly, Magna Carta does not just live on today in Britain or the United States. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the other countries of the Anglosphere have also jointly inherited it from merrie olde England.
Each of these countries has admittedly had different experiences with Magna Carta, but all still share the underlying values. And it is these values that have long been the seeds of freedom and liberty across the face of the earth from French revolutionaries in 1789 to Nelson Mandela in apartheid South Africa.
The timelessness of Magna Carta’s values mean it will be just as fundamental in another 800 years time, provided we do not take the freedoms and liberties enshrined in arguably the greatest temporal document in the history of mankind for granted and allow for the erosion of those values from the basic law.
— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bold U.S. leadership needed on Ukraine

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

BRUSSELS — The grandeur of Hotel Le Plaza’s Louis XVI-style lobby bar could not have been a more different place to meet the 35-year-old Ukrainian political activist-turned-parliamentary special adviser I first met during the Maidan Revolution some 16 months ago.
A lot has changed since those five days in February 2014, when the regime of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by Self-Defense and a legion of citizen militias and political movements.
One of the biggest differences over time has been the level of support shown by the United States for Ukraine.
At the time of the Maidan Revolution, there was no question of American support. While President Barack Obama’s rhetoric against Yanukovych and Russian aggression was not as tough as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Carl Bildt, the then-Swedish foreign minister, the United States was clearly standing with the good guys. Even senior staff from the embassy in Kiev could be seen at the heart of the action in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, known in English as Independence Square.
Since then, however, Washington’s position on all things Ukraine has become less clear.
“America is too busy with other things — internal domestic affairs as well as Cuba and Iran — to care about Ukraine,” my Ukrainian friend, whose name is being withheld because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, tells me over a Coca-Cola as I drink a non-alcoholic mojito.
Those on Capitol Hill often shrug their shoulders when asked privately about Ukraine. They say it is a “complicated” and “messy” situation. Many think Ukraine should just accept that Crimea and eastern Ukraine (New Russia, as Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it) are lost causes.
My friend knows many, if not most, Americans are apathetic toward Ukraine, but insists the very “creditability and reputation of the United States is at stake.”
He and other Ukrainians, as they have consistently done since Maidan, point to the Budapest Memorandum, a 1994 agreement the United States and United Kingdom signed with Russia guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine. There are also the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which at the core are supposed to guarantee the inviolability of national borders.
Of course, there are real questions about what exactly the United States can do when the ceasefire between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists has given way in recent days to renewed fighting. After all, the Obama administration is hardly going to deploy American troops to Ukraine.
So, I asked my friend what could actually be done. “Weapons,” he quickly replied only to just as quickly clarify that he meant weapons for “defensive purposes.”
Ukraine’s demand for arms is nothing new, although recent remarks by Vice President Joe Biden seem to indicate the Obama administration may be opening to the idea.
Until now, unarmed aerial drones and about 230 Humvee vehicles were the best Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko could get from Washington.
Still, one of the biggest hurdles for Ukraine’s cause has actually come from within Europe, despite the European Union’s sanctions against leading Russians and Russian entities.
So while Lithuania and Sweden have taken bold stances against Russian aggression others like Greece, a NATO member, are turning toward Putin.
Yet my friend steadfastly rejects the notion that Ukraine will never get Crimea back. “Everyone said that about East Germany,” he said pointedly.
If Ukrainian unity is to become what the cause of German reunification was for the West then Russia needs to face more than sanctions against the country’s business and political elite.
What Ukraine needs most is a master of realpolitik as the American president — someone who can exert U.S. influence abroad by not only arming Ukraine, but forcing members of NATO to actually choose between Russia and America.
— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pass the popcorn: Would-be governors eye ‘18

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

The 2016 presidential campaign may just be getting into full swing, but attendees at last week’s Mackinac Policy Conference were talking about the race to replace term-limited Governor Rick Snyder.
The annual confab of business and political leaders, hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber, put the spotlight on Mark Hackel, the Democratic executive (essentially county mayor) of Macomb County, after Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan took himself out of the running for the 2018 gubernatorial contest.
Hackel may not excite ideological Democrats as he is considerably more moderate — a rare example of a so-called Blue Dog Democrat — than the party’s last two nominees, both of whom came from the hard-left (dare I say socialist) wing. Then there is Hackel’s cozy relationship with Snyder. Most political insiders believe he voted for Snyder both times.
While this could make for a competitive primary campaign against the likes of Democratic princeling Dan Kildee, the congressman from Flint, it also makes Hackel the strongest Democrat heading into the general election.
Then there is the fact that it is incredibly difficult, if not electorally impossible, for Republicans to win statewide without carrying Macomb County, where Hackel has never faced more than token Republican opposition. Case in point was Hackel’s re-election last year, when he netted an impressive 69 percent. By comparison, Snyder won Macomb County with 53.9 percent of the vote.
All of this should worry the Michigan GOP.
Some Republicans will privately admit that keeping the governor’s mansion after Snyder’s two terms and eight years will be difficult at best.
It becomes even more complicated because Snyder has no heir apparent.
At first glance, one might look to the governor’s political helpmate, but lieutenant governors have hardly done well in succeeding to the governorship.
John Cherry seemed inevitable at this point in the 2010 Democratic nomination campaign to replace then-Governor Jennifer Granholm. He eventually dropped out. In 2002, Governor John Engler’s heir apparent, Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus, lost to Granholm. Then there was tax-slayer Richard Headlee (more on him below), who bested Lieutenant Governor James Brickley — the hand-picked successor of Governor William Milliken — and then-Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney L. Brooks Patterson in 1982.
Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has been at Snyder‘s side throughout the two terms. Still, he has not scared off claimants.
Chief among them is Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose gubernatorial ambitions are without a doubt the worst kept secret in Michigan politics.
Then there is GOP grandee Paul Mitchell, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican congressional nomination to replace Dave Camp last year.
Mitchell finds himself back in the spotlight after slaying Proposal 1, last month’s statewide ballot question that had it passed would have raised taxes to fund infrastructure improvements among other things.
He was coy about his future ambitions when speaking to this columnist during the Mackinac Policy Conference, but one could see Mitchell running for governor against both Calley and Schuette just as Headlee successfully did.
Perhaps the one Republican that everyone is ignoring is Macomb County’s Candice Miller, who stunned the chattering class earlier this year by announcing she would not seek re-election to Congress in 2016.
Most interesting is the fact that Miller, a fixture in the state Republican Party who served two terms as secretary of state before her election to the House of Representatives in 2002, has left the door open to running for governor.
Her candidacy would be very interesting, not least because Miller would neutralize Hackel’s geographical advantage in Macomb County. Then there is her gender, which would almost certainly give her a boost at the polls, as women are about 52 percent of the electorate.
— Dennis Lennox