By Vanessa Denha Garmo
Candidates were among hundreds of attendees at the Mackinac Policy Conference
On the Grand porch, in the dining room, parlor and even while walking down the hill from the Grand Hotel, candidates vying for several state and congressional seats were communicating, connecting and collaborating on the island at the Mackinac Policy Conference. It has been a premier networking event of who’s who in Michigan since its inception.
I have been attending this event since the mid-90s and have interviewed dozens of elected leaders and political candidates as a reporter for WJR and as Co-publisher and Editor in Chief for the Chaldean News. During an election year, the place is swarming with people — all of whom have a message as to why voters should elect them into office.
I have also been on the island working with candidates running for office so I have literally seen both sides and regardless of where I stand, the conference is an important one to attend for anyone wanting to garner support of any kind when running for office.
Some are there strictly to network. Others are there hanging out on media row and some are hosting fundraisers while a handful of repeat attendees are there doing all three.
This year I decided to ask some of those candidates why they decided to attend this year’s conference.
“A lot of politicians come up here to hob nob with corporate lobbyists; I don’t take corporate money. I’m interested more in how we build the kind of economy that centers on small businesses, like many that are owned by folks in the Chaldean community. My job is to reflect the conversations that I’ve gotten to share with hundreds of thousands of Michiganders across the cities I’ve visited and talk about what challenges they face because a lot of those folks don’t come up to places like this. That’s why I’m here, to have that conversation with folks who have perpetuated a system that has often sold our politics, our government, to big corporations.” – Abdul El-Sayed, Gubernatorial Candidate
“As a former chief of staff of President Obama’s US Auto Rescue – the initiative responsible for saving General Motors, Chrysler, and 200,000 Michigan jobs – I have long worked with a lot of mayors and community economic development professionals. We’re standing up here with Dan West, the president and CEO of the Livonia Chamber and people like him. Economic development is in my very bones and there is no better to be place than to be up on Mackinac Island with colleagues in this beautiful weather, getting your message out and talking to people.” – Haley Stevens, Congressional Candidate, 11th District
“I come up to this event, quite frankly, because it’s an opportunity to see everyone from around the state, for them to see you, and to listen and learn. I promise to listen and learn. The things that are in short supply in Washington is courage, imagination, and humility. I bring all of those, but also, I bring experience. National security experience as a combat veteran and business experience as a business leader – successful in both. Coming up here and listening and learning and also sharing a bit about how I was raised and the experience I have is why I attend.” – John James, U.S. Senate Candidate
“This is such an extraordinary gathering of people from all across our state, but especially in Southeast Michigan. People that are a part of making all kinds of important economic decisions, investment decisions, large employers to small employers and connecting with them, talking about the future and how we can create the type of environment they need to employ more people, to pay people higher wages, to thrive in our state so we can attract more in. It’s just an important place to develop those relationships and work together, bring people together and bring Michigan to the next level.” – Brian Calley, Lt Governor running for Governor
“To me, this conference has a lot of conversation about the future of Michigan. A lot is changing in Michigan, robotics, jobs are outsourced, technology is coming – whether it’s mobility or transportation – these changes are going to change jobs. Some jobs are going to leave, some jobs are going to be lost. We need to prepare our workforce for tomorrow’s jobs and that’s what we talk about here; we talk about the future of Michigan. Michigan is ready to succeed in 2020, 2030, and 2040. So, I enjoy these conversations. I like to exchange ideas and we all need to put our heads together to take Michigan to the next level.” Shri Thanedar, Gubernatorial Candidate
“We set policy, we legislate and you can get an opportunity to talk to the people who are dealing with healthcare issues, who are dealing with technology, who are dealing with keeping a workforce. There’s always a hum here because there’s so many conversations, where else can you go and sit down with so many leaders – industry leaders, philanthropic, and nonprofits.” – Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, 14th District
“Important issues are addressed every year at this policy conference. Mayors play a key role in the regional progress and the Mackinac Policy Conference is a must attend for the state’s top business and political leadership if you expect to be part of the conversation.” – William R. Wild, Congressional Candidate, 13th District
“I see it more as I want to share what I’m learning in the field when I’m going door-to-door and learning stories, what’s really happening on the ground in the 11th district and sharing with the people here in Mackinac. It’s important for them to hear the stories I’m hearing day-to-day. That’s where I’m grounded and I want them to be grounded in that as they come up with their policy solutions.” – Suneel Gupta, Congressional Candidate, 11th District