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The American Society for Public Administration, Michigan Capital Area Chapter invites you to attend its statewide conference on November 13, 2015. This conference is intended for public administrators interested in expanding their networks and knowledge base. City managers, public service professionals, non-profit managers, department directors, legislators, legislative staff, executive staff, academics and students are encouraged to attend. This conference will feature interesting speakers and panelists from academia and public service who will discuss what Michigan public administrators are doing to improve their communities. We want you to be part of this important discussion. The conference will be held at the Grand Valley State University Eberhard Center.
To register for the conference visit the webpage at mipaforum.org
The Michigan Political Leadership Program (MPLP) of Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR)hosts an annual fundraising event, which I was honored by the Chapter to be able to attend. The Fundraiser is actually two events, the 20th Fundraising Dinner was held at Laurel Manor in Livonia on February 26th, and then the speakers headed up to Grand Rapids for the 13 Annual Fundraising Breakfast at the J.W. Marriott on February 27th. The programs were identical; I attended the breakfast.
Since 1992, MPLP “…has recruited, trained, and inspired public policy leaders, offering them the vision, commitment and skills necessary to govern effectively.” Two current Chapter Board members, Dion’trae Hays and John Kaczinski, are alumni.
About 600 people attended the dinner and 400 attended the breakfast. The speakers are always nationally known political figures, one Democrat and one Republican. This year’s speakers were Doug Sosnik, former advisor to President Bill Clinton, and Nicolle Wallace, former Director of Communications for President George W. Bush, who had to cancel due to complications from surgery. She was replaced by Tucker Carlson, Political News Correspondent and Conservative Commentator, Fox News Channel (whose wife is from Grand Rapids). Each speaker spoke for 10-15 minutes, and then took written questions from the audience.
One common theme by both speakers is that we live in a world that has radically changed in the past few decades, and will continue to change, but the political institutions have not changed, nor in many cases, has the political leadership of both parties.
The program also paid tribute to IPPSR’s Director, Dr. Douglas B. Roberts, who is retiring after 12 years of leadership. Prior to directing IPPSR, Doug Roberts was one of the State of Michigan’s most distinguished public servants, serving as State Treasurer, Deputy Director of DMB, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Director of the Senate Fiscal Agency, among others I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with Doug for over 30 years, and can and the highest respect and admiration for his enormous talent, dedication, capability and integrity.
The governor of Michigan is the most powerful figure in Michigan state government, and this chief executive is also the focal point for state politics. Through his or her ability to influence other political actors and command media attention, Michigan’s governor is able to advocate new policies and often see them enacted into law. Governor Snyder, for example, has been able to reduce business taxes with the goal of creating a more inviting business climate in the state. Since the chief executive is sometimes confronted by a legislative chamber held by a majority of the opposing party, the governor is also sometimes frustrated in his or her efforts to break new policy ground. The governor also has great influence in the budget process and can make many important appointments (with Senate advice and consent) in state government. What routes have various people taken to hold this high office?
In order to discover trends in the previous government service of Michigan’s governors, the prior-office experience of the twenty-four Michigan chief executives who have served since 1900 is examined. The data for this study was available through the National Governors’ Association (2015) website, using a link to “former Governor’s Bios,” supplemented by George Weeks’ (1987) book, Stewards of the State. This effort to trace the pathways to the Michigan governorship fits within a broader field of “ambition theory” in political science, mainly developed by Joseph Schlesinger (1966) in his book, Ambition and Politics. Since studies of common routes to the governorship have also been done on a national basis, there will be some basis for placing the upward movement of Michigan’s politicians to the top position in context.
This study looks at the office routes of 24 governors, beginning with Governor Pingree and ending with Governor Snyder. The main focus is on the “penultimate office,” as Schlesinger (1966) calls it, the one that for each individual served as the final stepping stone to the governorship. The penultimate office is especially important because even though a candidate may have held previous positions, in most cases the voter will associate the penultimate office with the particular candidate when voting for him or her. In Michigan, it appears that one type of office is a stronger “recommendation” for candidates than the others. Among the 24 Michigan governors, 10 (42%) held a statewide elective position as the penultimate office. These ten Michigan chief executives stepped up to governor from the following positions: three (including Jennifer Granholm) from attorney general, three (including Governor Milliken) from lieutenant governor, three (including Frank Fitzgerald) from secretary of state, and one from state treasurer. Why is statewide elective office the most common office to precede election as governor? The most self-evident answer is that the statewide constituency is the same for both offices. The pool of voters for secretary of state or attorney general is very similar to the pool of voters for a gubernatorial campaign. In all these cases, the campaign involves organization to reach out statewide. Most of the statewide officers are involved in executive leadership of a more limited scope than the governor’s executive function, and this similarity in the work may appeal to voters as better training than, for example, legislative service.
After statewide elective office, the next most common penultimate office, for seven governors or 29% of them, includes administrative positions. For example, Governor Van Wagoner (1941-1943) was Michigan’s Highway Commissioner. For most governors, their service is shown as ending in the odd year, even though they may only have served a few days in January before yielding to their successor. Governor Snyder’s service as chair of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the service of two governors appointed as Regents of the University of Michigan (Comstock and Osborn) are classified in this administrative category. Two Michigan governors, including James Blanchard (1983-1991), stepped up from the U.S. House of Representatives to governor. The U.S. Congress category makes up 8% of the penultimate offices. This is a significant shift, from a national legislative position to a state-level executive position. Blanchard’s role as a Congressman who pushed for the Chrysler bailout may have put him in as strong position to win the governorship. Two Michigan governors moved up from local elective positions, which make up another 8% of the penultimate offices. George Romney (1963-1969) had no previous government post. He managed to translate his executive-level experience in the automobile industry into an appealing career history for voters. One governor, Kim Sigler (1947-1949) moved up from a law enforcement background, and since 1900 only John Engler, one of Michigan’s longest-tenured governors, moved directly up from a Michigan legislative position.
Michigan’s distribution of penultimate offices is unusual, when compared to national patterns for advancing to the governorship. In looking at penultimate offices nationally in the 1900-2011 period, Margaret Ferguson (2013) found that the three biggest stepping-stone offices were statewide elective (23%), legislative (18%), and law enforcement (17%). Ferguson included state attorneys general in the “law enforcement” category rather than putting attorneys general in the “statewide elective” category as was done in this Michigan study. For comparison purposes, if we temporarily move the three Michigan state attorneys general who moved up to governor in Michigan into a “law enforcement” category, Michigan still has a higher share of statewide elected officers in the penultimate office before becoming governor than is the case nationally. The big difference from Ferguson’s national figures is that legislative category for penultimate office is a much smaller percentage in Michigan (4%) than it is nationally (18%). It is worth noting that although only John Engler (1991-2003) came from the state legislature as the penultimate office, six other Michigan governors in my study had been state legislators at some point in their careers. In Michigan the legislature is more of a stop along the way than an immediate launching pad to governor. One possible reason for the low percentage in the legislative category is the prevalence of divided government in Michigan since about 1950. With legislative leaders usually facing a governor of the other party, it makes it more difficult for legislators to show leadership in passing major new policies and programs, because often less is being accomplished.
Another striking tendency in this later period (starting around 1950 until the present) is that incumbent governors were very successful in gaining re-election. Only Governor Swainson (1961-1963) failed to win re-election in over 60 years within this period. Since 1949 when G. Mennen Williams took office, this situation created a lack of openings for all candidates to run for an open-seat governorship.
The biggest finding in looking at the penultimate offices in Michigan is that more governors have come from statewide elective office than from any other category. If history is any guide, those who want to be governor of Michigan and can win a statewide elective office have real grounds for optimism about their political careers.
Ferguson, Margaret. 2013. “Governors and the Executive Branch.” In Politics In the American States. ed. Viriginia Gray, Russell L. Hanson, and Thad Kousser. Los Angeles, CQ Press.
National Governor’s Association. “Former Governor’s Bios.” http://www.nga.org/cms/home/governors/ past-governors-bios/page_mi… (accessed January 2015).
Schlesinger, Joseph A. 1966. Ambition and Politics. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally & Company.
Weeks, George. 1987. Stewards of the State. Ann Arbor, MI: The Detroit News and the Historical Society of Michigan.