Several awards are presented at State Policy Network’s annual meeting, but one has a specific tie-in to the Mackinac Center: the Overton Award. It’s named after Joe Overton, the Mackinac Center’s former senior vice president who died at an early age in 2003. The award is given to executive vice presidents and chief operating officers who, in the words of SPN, “fully occupy the space which Joe Overton filled: a leader serving as a bridge from vision to reality, from ambition to implementation.”
Unlike other SPN awards, the Overton Award has only been given out a handful of times since its inception in 2003, the last time being in 2018. Rather than honor someone with this award at each meeting, State Policy Network has chosen to wait until the right person comes along — someone who would make Joe Overton proud.
We are proud to announce that this year’s recipient of the Overton Award is our own executive vice president, Mike Reitz, who offers this reflection on the award’s namesake.
If you spend any time talking to long-time Mackinac Center donors, they will tell you their Joe Overton story. It might be an interaction they had with him, a speech he gave, or something he wrote, but the picture of the man is entirely consistent, no matter who you speak with. Joe Overton was a man of integrity, excellence and action. He held a sincere faith and a passion about ideas and liberty. Overton understood the idea of addressing the major drivers of culture, policy and politics. One of his favorite quotes came from Henry David Thoreau: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
My colleagues who worked with Joe Overton before his death will tell you he was intense, brilliant, perhaps a little intimidating. And also considerate: One year the organization’s finances were tight, and he paid a colleague’s bonus out of his own pocket. Overton helped people reach their potential by setting high expectations. In 2001 he wanted to launch a service that would describe every bill and every vote in the Michigan Legislature. A colleague told him “Joe, that’s impossible! That’s thousands of bills and amendments! Impossible!” Overton asked him, “Okay, but what would it take?” And they got it done. The right team with the right vision can do the impossible.
Joe Overton was tragically taken from this earth 18 years ago, but friends of the Mackinac Center can be proud that his legacy is honored by the State Policy Network’s Overton Award.
I am grateful to work with my colleagues at the Mackinac Center. We enjoy strong leadership from our board of directors and Joe Lehman. And the Mackinac team is the best in the business. This team, along with our friends and allies, made Michigan a right-to-work state, secured historic pension reform, expanded educational options for students, eliminated wasteful corporate subsidies, killed the abhorrent SEIU dues skim in Michigan and ended Gov. Whitmer’s attempt to govern by emergency indefinitely. Working with these fine people — it’s the best job I ever had.
Joe Lehman, the Mackinac Center’s current president, worked with Joe Overton for 17 years. He offered this observation: “Mike’s influence and leadership, like Joe’s, are felt nearly everywhere in Michigan public policy and throughout the entire State Policy Network.”