Wednesday, May 29, 2024

“The Old And The Wealthy Will Help Us Grow The State!” – Gretchen Whitmer

The governor’s list for the new commission that will come up with clever new ideas to keep the state from hemorrhaging talent to more progressive states is finally out. It’s not surprising. It’s very old. I am not surprised that I didn’t make the cut after tossing my hat into the ring, of course, but I did at least have a cordial exchange with a state bureaucrat that I at long last tracked down– in which I lamented that this list is mostly just rich old people- who conveyed that, “I definitely get it, dude, even though I’m not allowed to tell you that I definitely get it, dude.”

Demographics, Estimated

The list features a former Republican Lieutenant Governor, a rich guy who used to work for Jeb Bush, and a number of corporate executives, plus the president of the University of Michigan (shocking!). I wasn’t able to find that much about some of these people, but my best estimate is that 53% of the list is white, 33% is Black, and the balance is a mixture of Arab, Latina, and Asian (one each from these three categories). I guess that could be worse.

What is worse, though, is that I’ve figured the average age at 54.7 years. I estimated a couple of ages based on people’s high school or college graduation years, because it was tough to track down information on some of these folks. How old is 54.7 years? Well, it’s about 20 years older than me, for one, but it’s also 37.5% older than the average age in the state of Michigan (39.8 years), which itself is barely older than the US average (38.1 years). States that are growing have younger populations because people make babies and immigrants and transplants move there in search of opportunity. People are more mobile when they’re younger. Ergo, you want your state to be able to take care of old people by relying on young people for growth.

Michigan frankly sucks at taking care of old people as it sucks at attracting young people. Why does it suck at attracting or retaining young people? Because the politics are regressive, the air is dirty and the industry unregulated, and the roads are falling apart– but you have to own a car to get around, which costs up to 25% of your income (the “car tax”).

Michigan Growth Strategy: Gretchen Whitmer Needs To Step Up Her Politics, Not Her Leadership.


So, the list!

Here’s the list in all of its lackluster glory:

John Rakolta, 76. Runs a construction company. Probably wears a MUSIC BAND shirt and is very in touch with the needs of young people.

Bill Parfet, 76. Wealthy business person, no notes.

Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, 67. A lifelong public sector bureaucrat.

Maha Freij, 61. Works for an Arab-American community organization.

Santa Ono, 60. Immunologist and president of the University of Michigan.

JoAnn Chavez, ~59. Look, we achieved #equity and #diversity by appointing a Latina! Wait a minute– she’s the top lawyer at DTE? Oh. #girlboss

Sandy Baruah, 58. Republican political strategist who came to Detroit years ago to run the Detroit Regional Chamber and hasn’t left. Not clear that he’s accomplished since then.

Brian Calley, 46. Former Lieutenant Governor. Presided, with Rick Snyder, over the Flint Water Crisis. We’ll give him credit because he actually gave me a really good interview when I was asking about the future of the state’s transportation paradigm.

Jeffrey Donofio, 44-ish (?), who has been on a few of these Young People Making A Fuck Load Of Money lists. No clue what he actually does.

Robert Coppersmith, ~53. Transportation something, works for an organization neither I nor any of my transportation colleagues have ever even heard of.

Anika Goss-Foster, 52. Detroit Future City. There are some valid critiques of DFC, but I at least appreciate having some capital-D Detroit Representation on this board.

Linda Apsey, 52. ITC Holdings, the company that manages long-distance power transmission for much of DTE and Consumers. It is not clear to me what the purpose of this person is on the board. I didn’t even know ITC existed until I had lived in Michigan for a few years, suggesting that the company– whose headquarters are located in some distant suburb in the middle of nowhere- has very little public presence. It definitely has no public presence in Detroit, which may be because Detroit doesn’t really have transmission infrastructure. But it seems like maybe a utility-related company should be more part of this dialogue? I don’t know.

Nikolai Vitti, 46. Detroit Public Schools. Pros? Won an award. Not as old as everyone else.

Jennifer Root, ~44. Organized labor. Surprised there isn’t anyone from the UAW (but that’s probably for the best).

Ollie Howie, 27. No clue who this dude is but I guess he’s got a lot of money, so that’s probably why he was attractive to the governor. He’s also young, Black, a Harvard graduate, and a transplant, which is the exact target demographic for recruitment for fancy jobs in, say, the Duggan Administration, or the state government. (Note that there are no young Black native Michiganders).

michigan governor gretchen whitmer
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has a respectable war chest of political capital, but she’s spending it on things like appointing wealthy old people to a board to try and figure out how to attract and retain young people in the state.


Anyway, there are some silver linings in this list. It’s not dominated by auto executives, which speaks well for the governor. 

Similar to treating illness or other affliction, there are a lot of different ways to treat economic deterioration. When you’re sick, you take a number of different approaches to get better. You probably try and rest more, which means going to bed early, perhaps taking more naps, perhaps sleeping in, perhaps taking off work for a day or two. You might take guaifenisin when you get up in the morning. You might put a hot compress on your face. You might engage a classic home remedy of chicken noodle soup, whether it’s your granny’s recipe or Campbell’s (surprisingly there is perhaps some science behind this).

One thing you don’t do, though? Open a whole bottle of cough syrup and pour it over your head and wait for the “trickle-down” effect. The Whitmer Administration (and the Duggan Administration, too!) should start embracing this holistic approach rather than relying on Reaganomics. This could come with revisiting how MEDC approaches economic development, a.k.a. enlisting second-rate public sector bureaucrats to craft lavish corporate welfare packages behind closed doors. Packages that have no clawbacks, no accountability, no transparency, and that never pan out to create a rising tide of economic benefit. Finally, this might well also come with enlisting some young people to talk about the things that young people want to talk about. Can we make it happen?

(This article was updated on July 11th to fix a tagging error).

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

Leave a Reply