One key lesson I brought to Michigan with me following my 11 1/2 years running government affairs at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, or TPPF, was how vital it is to establish relationships and credibility with new legislators early on.
Over four election cycles, nearly two-thirds of the House Republican Caucus went through our pre-election policy briefing programs. The philosophy and research we were able to provide lawmakers in these meetings completely redirected the legislative conversation toward a liberty direction on occupational licensure, criminal justice, environmental policy, property tax reform and other key issues.
While I did not arrive in Michigan in time to institute such a program before the 2018 elections, the Mackinac Center hosted our first Legislator Policy Briefing in Lansing on Friday, Dec. 7. Sixteen members of the 100th Michigan Legislature — senators and representatives, returning legislators and newcomers, Republicans and Democrats — spent the day with us in the Binsfeld Senate Office Building. They met our experts and received some of our recommendations for how they should address our state’s major challenges.
Beyond discussing policy, we had the exceedingly rare privilege of beginning our day with a conversation featuring Senate Majority Leader-elect Mike Shirkey and Speaker-elect Lee Chatfield. Neither is often found in Lansing on a nonsession day — Sen. Shirkey told the audience he could count on two hands the number of Fridays he’s come to Lansing during his eight years in the Legislature. We were, then, honored to hear from him and Rep. Chatfield on balancing home life with legislative service, and district needs with Lansing demands, and how new legislators can ensure their time in Lansing is successful.
The Mackinac Center augmented its team of local experts with allies from across the country. Former TPPF executive director Arlene Wohlgemuth flew up from Palm Springs, California, to share her advice on responsible budgeting and effective agency oversight. The Goldwater Institute’s Naomi Lopez Bauman and the Buckeye Institute’s Rea Hederman provided solutions to challenges in health care access and cost. Recovery Park CEO Gary Wozniak related his experience as a citizen returning to society from the criminal justice system and his ideas for improving prisoner re-entry. And NFIB-Michigan director Charles Owens helped the new legislators understand the essential changes that the outgoing Legislature had made to the initiated legislation on paid sick leave and the minimum wage.
There are a lot of demands on legislators’ time during the lame-duck session, and on new legislators transitioning to Lansing. But the enthusiastic reception from all of our inaugural participants gives me confidence that this program will become a must-attend event for more new legislators in the years to come.