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Commentary

Thanksgiving Spirit

Jack Lessenberry

Tomorrow most of us will get together with family or friends, or both, and celebrate Thanksgiving.

Yes, I know the holiday’s origins are suspect, and there’s lots of cynical stuff out there to the effect that if the Native Americans had known how all this would turn out, they might have buried axes in the colonists’ heads.

Be that as it may, most of us do have a lot to give thanks for. If you’ve ever been to Haiti, or the slums of Peru, as I have, you know what I mean. I spend a fair amount of time criticizing our officials for stupid, selfish, or wrongheaded behavior.

Today, however, I want to single out three of them for praise.

I often disagree with State Senator Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge, but yesterday, he announced plans to do a brave and very good thing. He’s about to introduce a bill that would automatically scrub some convictions from public records. Misdemeanors would go away after five years.

Lower-level, non-violent felonies would disappear from your record after eight years, as long as you don’t commit another crime during that period. This state is full of people who made stupid mistakes, usually as a kid, and have had their entire lives stunted by it.

Once, I had a student who, it turns out, supported herself and paid her tuition by working as a call girl. She did this, she told me, because she had two felonies on her record and nobody would hire her. The felonies had to do with stealing merchandise as a teenager.

My next hero is Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Politically, he could have joined in the orgy of Syrian refugee bashing and shunning in which Governor Snyder, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and most of Congress have been disgracefully indulging.

But Duggan refused to demagogue with the rest. He is determined to welcome 50 Syrian refugee families to Detroit every year for the next three years.

Duggan, whose city needs people, said he is confident in the government’s screening process to catch any security threats. Given that we’ve had no incidents involving Syrians, and that there’s no evidence any of the French terrorists were really Syrian, that makes more sense than anything our disgracefully anti-refugee politicians have said.

My final hero is not one person, but a union. Rather, the AFL-CIO’s housing investment trust. They have decided, in cooperation with Mayor Duggan, to invest some labor pension money in rehabilitating blighted homes in Detroit. We’ve heard a lot about finding money to demolish the thousands of hopeless buildings in the city.

But what the housing trust intends to do is fix up salvageable ones, starting with a small group of 25 in four neighborhoods, and sell them. Duggan also gets credit here for helping cut through red tape and take a risk; the mayor said he and the trust will share any profit, or loss. Those of us who remember all the years when it was impossible to get any kind of response out of Detroit’s hidebound and hostile bureaucracy have to be impressed.

There are indeed people out there trying hard to make this state a better place, and more than extra calories and football, they deserve our thanks today.

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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