Michigan Governed by 'Political Careerists'

Just before the 2010 election, an article published here predicted that 88 percent of newly elected state legislators could fairly be described as “political careerists.” In that article a “political careerist” was in-part defined as someone who had been immersed in government before running for the Legislature. Follow-up research put the final tally at 86 percent: 70 of the 81 new lawmakers elected fit the “political careerist” definition.

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That analysis focused on the previous experiences of new lawmakers, but a “political careerist” can also be identified by the path they take after holding elective office. It’s not surprising that many who get accustomed to being on the government payroll would try to avoid the demands of a "real job" in the private sector. What’s most telling, however, is the degree to which they succeed at continuing their reliance on taxpayer dollars.

A quick look at the post-Senate careers of the 29 state Senators forced from office by term limits two years ago reinforces the findings of the original analysis. Of the 20 termed-out former Senators for whom their current employment status could be quickly discovered, only one appears to have returned to a private sector job that is unrelated to government.

(In fairness, the lack of information about the remaining nine may indicate that they too have returned to private sector employment, or have retired. However, at least three of these are known to still be active politically.)

Of the 20 for whom information was found, at least 12 are currently on government payrolls. Six ran for and won another elective office. Four ran unsuccessfully for another office, and one (non-incumbent) is a current candidate.

Five were appointed to Michigan executive branch positions or to a paid position on a government commission. Three are lobbyists or political consultants. Two became directors of statewide special interest groups. One became a legislative staffer. Note: There is some overlap between these categories.

Here are the details:


  • Jason Allen, R-Traverse City

Currently employed by the Michigan Department of Military and Veteran Affairs as “Senior Deputy Director for Veterans Affairs”

  • James Barcia, D-Bay City

Lobbyist, employed by a joint venture of the Washington-based Livingston Group and the Lansing-based Karoub Associates

  • Ray Basham, D-Taylor

Wayne County Commissioner, 15th district

  • Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck

Director, Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

  • Mike Bishop, R-Rochester

Running for Oakland County Prosecutor

  • Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor

No information on current employment

  • Cameron Brown, R-Fawn River Township

Ran for Secretary of State in 2010, No information on current employment.

  • Nancy Cassis, R-Novi

In 2012, recruited by members of the Oakland County Republican establishment to challenge Kerry Bentivolio in a GOP congressional primary election after former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter resigned. This write-in candidacy was not successful.

  • Deb Cherry, D-Burton

Genesee County Treasurer

  • Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit

Wayne County Commissioner, 6th District

  • Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit

U.S. House of Representatives, 1st District

  • Allen Cropsey, R-Dewitt

Director of Legislative Relations, Michigan Attorney General

  • Valde Garcia, R-Howell

“Senior Manager, Business Development for Army Sustainment,” Wyle Aerospace Group (a Defense and Homeland Security Consultant); consultant at Five Star Security Solutions, LLC.

  • Tom George, R-Kalamazoo

Ran for Governor in 2010. Reportedly has returned to private medical practice.

  • Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac

Serving a final state House term allowed by term limits, 81st District

  • Bill Hardiman, R-Kentwood

Currently employed as “Director for Inter-Agency Collaboration and Reengineering,” Michigan Department of Human Services; unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2010

  • Gilda Jacobs, D–Huntington Woods

President and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services

  • Ron Jelenik, R-Three Oaks

No information on current employment

  • Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland

Executive Director of Energy Choice Now, an interest group seeking to restore electricity market competition

  • Michelle McManus, R-Lake Leelenau

No information on current employment

  • Dennis Olshove, D-Warren

Appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission

  • Bruce Patterson, R-Canton

No information on current employment

  • Mike Prusi, D-Marquette

No information on current employment

  • Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond

No information on current employment

  • Martha Scott, D-Detroit

Wayne County Commission, Third District

  • Tony Stamas, R-Midland

Chief of Staff, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richarville

  • Mickey Switalski, D-Roseville

No information on current employment

  • Samuel “Buzz” Thomas, D-Detroit

Thomas Group Consulting, Inc., Public Affairs Counsel (a lobbyist and political consultant firm)

  • Gerald Van Woerkam, R-Muskegon

No information on current employment


When legislative term limits were approved by 59 percent of Michigan voters in 1992, it was hoped they would lead to government by “citizen legislators.” That didn’t happen, but by converting legislative elections into a political version of “musical chairs” the measure has given citizens a clearer view of the true nature of this state’s political class. 

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