Whitmer announces key staff within hours after Lame Duck ends

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gretchen Whitmer | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer’s newly appointed budget chiefs signaled a willingness this morning to use state bonds as a method of funding key infrastructure priorities.

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

The cabinet announcements came within a couple hours of the Legislature ending its flurry of Lame Duck action, culminating in an all-night session, which included a tax shift away from Michigan schools for roads and environmental clean-up projects.

In a phone call with reporters, Rachael Eubanks, who will head the state’s Treasury Department, and Chris Kolb, Whitmer’s pick for budget director, said that taking on debt in a responsible manner could be a “smart way” to tackle the state’s beleaguered infrastructure.

“Debt has a place when it’s used thoughtfully and responsibly,” Eubanks said. “My goal certainly would be to have something that provides future investment for Michiganders through the use of longer-term instruments like debt. It’s not the solution to everything, but when used appropriately — like taking out a mortgage on your house — it can be a very smart way to finance long-term ongoing expenditures.”

Chris Kolb

Eubanks currently serves on the the Michigan Public Service Commission and has worked in bond financing for a number of the state’s institutions.

Kolb is a former Democratic House member from Ann Arbor who served on the Appropriations Committee. He currently works for the Michigan Environmental Council and co-chaired the Flint Water Advisory Task Force.

Incoming Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who’s also a Democrat, also announced this morning that Hillarie Chambers will serve as her chief of staff. Chambers was previously a Chief of Staff for retiring U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Royal Oak).

Whitmer announced that Liza Estlund Olson will head the Office of the State Employer. Previously, Estlund Olson was executive director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 517M.

Jocelyn Benson

That signals a big break from Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed a slew of anti-labor bills in his two terms, while his administration had an often terse relationship with state employee unions.

“From day one, I’ve made it clear I intend to surround myself with individuals who are reflective of our state and encompass the broad range of skills needed to chart the path forward,” Whitmer said in a statemen. “The team we have assembled to lead the executive office is a direct reflection of that commitment, and I am thrilled to hit the ground running with them on January 1.”

Kolb noted that he’s not yet had any direct conversations with the Governor-elect, but he did say that “her team is looking at different options for all her policy priorities. The budget we present will reflect a prioritization of those policy goals that she hopes to accomplish.”

Specifically, those priorities revolve around protecting the Great Lakes and “fixing the damn roads,” as Whitmer often said on the campaign trail.

Rachael Eubanks

Both Kolb and Eubanks said that they will be meeting with legislative leaders very soon after the inauguration on Jan. 1 to begin discussing budget priorities. The Advance previously reported that Whitmer plans to hold regular meetings with the four legislative leaders, known as the quadrant, upon taking office.

“I think quadrant meetings are really important,” Whitmer told the Advance this week. “I said that during the campaign, even before I knew that I’d have two Republican-led houses of the Legislature. So that’s something I am really looking forward to getting started as soon as the first of the year has passed.”

Here’s the full list of Whitmer’s announced appointments:

  • Chief of Staff: JoAnne Huls, Chief of Staff at Sterling Group
  • Chief Strategist: Mark Burton: CEO of Burton Strategies Inc. and chief of staff to then-Senate Democratic Leader Whitmer
  • Chief Legal Counsel: Mark Totten, Associate professor at MSU College of Law and former prosecutor and attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice
  • Chief Compliance Officer: Corina Peña Andorfer, attorney and former chief compliance officer at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority
  • Cabinet Secretary – Jay B. Rising, former state treasurer and retired executive vice president/chief financial officer of Detroit Medical Center
  • Chief of Staff to Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II – Shaquila Myers, legislative director for Senate Minority Leader Ananich
  • Communications Director – Zack Pohl, Whitmer for Governor communications director and former communications director at Michigan AFL-CIO
  • Public Affairs Director – Jen Flood, government policy advisor at Dykema
  • Community Affairs Director – Melanie Brown, director of public affairs and community engagement at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Nick Manes
Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.


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