Whitmer’s Pit Crew: Meet the Leaders Tasked with Keeping our State Beautiful and Safe

Last December Michigan’s governor-elect, Gretchen Whitmer, named the 10 cabinet members who would head departments focused on infrastructure, environment, public safety and consumer protections. These new directors boast an impressive array of diverse experiences and ideals, all coming together to aid the new governor in her moves to keep Michigan great and make it greater.

Former state Rep. Gary McDowell heads the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development under Whitmer. “I am a lifelong devotee to Michigan’s food and ag community,” McDowell said. “I was born and raised on a farm in Rudyard, Michigan.” McDowell described his vision for the department as three-fold: “(We want to) continue to provide a high level of customer service, educate before regulate and continue our employee engagement efforts.”

Hailing from Grand Ledge, Lisa McCormick serves as the director of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. Prior to holding this new position, McCormick served an impressive 21 years as Ingham County chief assistant prosecutor. This coupled with her two-year stint as an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics in correctional facilities at Baker College of Owosso qualifies her nicely to navigate the complicated world of Michigan’s child welfare system.

Whitmer appointed Liesl Clark to direct the Department of Environmental Quality. Clark stated that in her time as director she will be “committed to protecting public health and the environment while implementing Governor Whitmer’s vision for cleaning up our drinking water, conserving our natural resources, improving our outdoor quality of life and growing the state’s economy.”

After almost 30 years within the Michigan Department of Transportation, Paul Ajegba now sits as its director. Having overseen projects like the America’s Transportation Award-nominated U.S. 23 Flex Route in Washtenaw and Livingston counties, Ajegba was the obvious choice for Whitmer, who pushed to “fix the damn roads” on the campaign trail.

Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers will direct Michigan’s Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. “As Maj. Gen. Rogers engages statewide with the airmen, soldiers, veterans and civilians of the Michigan National Guard. he is emphasizing that readiness is his No. 1 priority,” said department representative John C. Hall. “This means that we take a holistic and adaptive approach that sets objectives, prioritizes resources and focuses efforts at all levels.”

Anita Fox now heads the Department of Insurance and Financial Services. “I’m ready to hit the ground running,” Fox said. “I look forward to discussing key issues that impact the insurance and financial services sectors with department staff and stakeholders and ensuring that the department remains committed to protecting consumers and growing industries that are so important to Michigan’s economy.”

Whitmer named Daniel Eichinger as director of the Department of Natural Resources. According to Ed Golder, the department’s public information officer, Eichinger will be primarily focused on fish and wildlife diseases, invasive species, engagement with the department’s base, legacy infrastructure and management of public lands.

The Michigan Department of Corrections is led by Heidi Washington. “Director Washington plans to continue the department’s focus on recruiting and retaining the next generation of corrections employees,” said Holly Kramer, a department spokesperson. “The department will be doing that through enhanced recruitment strategies to attract highly qualified staff, through an emphasis on staff well-being with our new Wellness Unit and the development of a formal mentoring program for new employees.”

Col. Joe Gasper will serve as director of the Michigan State Police. According to Shanon Banner, the department’s public affairs director, Gasper will be focused on meeting with as many State Police department members as possible to learn about their issues and gain insight into their daily responsibilities. He completed a one-week tour of our Upper Peninsula work sites during the first week in February.

Former Children’s Ombudsman Orlene Hawks has been appointed director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Concerning Hawks’ plans for Michigan’s upcoming “green boom,” Matthew Erickson of LARA said: “As the medical marijuana industry takes shape and LARA plans for the oversight of adult-use marijuana later this year, Director Hawks will be focused on educating business customers and implementing regulations that are administered fairly, efficiently, consistently and transparently.”


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