LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday named much of her Cabinet, including officials who will be involved in two of her top priorities — cleaning up drinking water and improving roads.
Liesl Eichler Clark, who worked in former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration before co-founding a policy consulting firm that helps businesses and others transition to cleaner energy, will lead the embattled Department of Environmental Quality. The agency came under fire for its role in the Flint water crisis and is grappling with the emergence of pollution from man-made chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
Paul Ajegba, the top official in the Department of Transportation’s Detroit region, will head the agency at a time Whitmer is expected to seek a multibillion-dollar influx of spending on road and bridge work. He has worked at MDOT for 28 years.
Additionally, Whitmer has chosen Grand Rapids native Joe Gasper to oversee the Michigan State Police. A 20-year veteran of the force, Capt. Gasper currently serves as emergency manager for the MSP.
“Captain Gasper brings both extensive experience and a fresh perspective to this critical position. He is dedicated to protecting our citizens and will be instrumental in ushering in a new generation of leadership at the Michigan State Police,” Whitmer stated in a tweet.
Whitmer, who takes office next week, said her Cabinet is diverse, has an “incredible level of experience and expertise” and will be “absolutely instrumental” in accomplishing her goals.
She has appointed 11 Cabinet members in the last week along with top aides in her executive office. She echoed past comments from outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder about rebuilding morale among DEQ employees and earning the public’s trust following the scandal in Flint, where a switch in the water source led the supply to become tainted with lead from old pipes .
“These are essential to us being able to get our job done,” Whitmer said, later adding: “DEQ is a department that is going to be fundamental to making sure that we clean up our drinking water in the state of Michigan and that we protect this resource.”
There is some uncertainty over how water regulation will be managed because Whitmer is expected to soon create a new Department of Great Lakes and Fresh Water.
“We’re pretty excited about how a different structure could better enable the governor’s policy priorities, and we look forward to sharing that more publicly shortly,” said Clark, a Howell resident who has overseen policy work for Whitmer during the transition.
Of the 13 people appointed to lead departments or key offices, seven are women. Three are black: Ajegba, of Ann Arbor; Orlene Hawks of Okemos, Snyder’s director of the Office of Children’s Ombudsman who will head the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs; and Rachael Eubanks, who will be state treasurer.
Whitmer kept Heidi Washington of East Lansing on as director of the Corrections Department, citing her work to implement a unique program to help prisoners find work upon release. Others announced Thursday include:
- Daniel Eichinger of Lake Isabella to direct the Department of Natural Resources. He now is executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and previously worked at the DNR and as a policy adviser to former Lt. Gov. John Cherry.
- Gary McDowell of Rudyard to lead the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The former state lawmaker owns and operates a farm with his brothers.
- Paul Rogers of Farmington Hills to lead the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The brigadier general most recently was deputy commander of the Michigan National Guard’s 46th Military Police Command. He served as a battalion commander in Iraq in 2005.
- Anita Fox of Okemos to head the Department of Insurance and Financial Services. The veteran attorney is an expert in insurance coverage, according to her firm’s website, has served in a staff advisory role on several presidential campaigns and was appointed by Granholm to serve on a number of charitable foundations.
- Lisa McCormick of Grand Ledge to lead the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. She worked 21 years at the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, which Whitmer led on an interim basis in 2016.