Whitmer appoints most cabinet members, with one Snyder holdover

By: - December 27, 2018 9:56 pm

Gretchen Whitmer

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday announced 10 key appointments to her administration, including new directors in charge of regulating the environment, roads and state police. There is one holdover from the GOP Gov. Rick Snyder administration.

After campaigning on a promise to “fix the damn roads” and clean up Michigan water as it struggles with PFAS contamination across the state, Whitmer has named new directors to lead the Michigan Department of Environmental Resources (MDEQ) and the Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Paul Ajegba

Paul Ajegba, who worked at MDOT for 28 years, will lead the state transportation department in its quest to “fix the damn roads.”

“Michigan residents have made loud and clear their concern over the state’s crumbling infrastructure, and no one understands those issues better than Paul,” said Whitmer, a Democrat. “His technical expertise and years of experience mean that we can get to work fixing the roads, and fixing them right.”

Liesl Eichler Clark will be the DEQ’s new director. Clark has worked in the renewable energy industry in the past, for the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council and as deputy director for energy programs at the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Whitmer said today Clark will help find “real and lasting solutions” to protect state water and resources.

“She brings an acute understanding of the critical intersection between environmental safety and business innovation, which will be essential in moving Michigan’s environmental stewardship forward,” the governor-elect said.

Liesl Eichler Clark

Clark comes to the department amid widespread concern over contamination from a suite of chemicals abbreviated as PFAS and at a time when state officials still struggle to rebuild trust in Flint, where residents’ water supply was contaminated with lead during Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure.

Snyder’s DEQ director, Heidi Grether, had also been a lobbyist and manager for BP during its 2010 oil spill — the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Grether took over amid the political fallout from the Flint water crisis. Clark said she plans to “do a whole lot of listening” when she takes over leadership of the department.

“My approach is very much collaborative and communicative,” Clark said.

Clark added, “I don’t have all the answers,” and said she’s coming into her new role with the idea that taking over requires a “strategic process” involving lots of meetings and conversations rather than a firm game plan.

She did not say whether she has a plan in place yet to address PFAS that is different from current efforts to study and regulate the chemicals under Snyder’s administration.

Whitmer has also named a new director to helm the Michigan State Police on the heels of outrage over current Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue’s social media comments calling NFL players who kneel for the national anthem “degenerates.”

Whitmer has named longtime state trooper Capt. Joe Gasper, who is white, the department director. That comes amid ongoing scrutiny over the department’s lack of racial diversity.

Heidi Washington

The current head of the Department of Corrections under Snyder, Heidi Washington, will continue as director. Whitmer said that under Washington’s leadership, MDOC has “seen a significant decrease in its prison population” and helped prepare prisoners better to find jobs upon release.

Whitmer also named new directors to the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and more.

Daniel Eichinger, currently executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, will serve as DNR director. Gary McDowell, a farmer and Democratic former state representative, will lead MDARD.

Brigadier Gen. Paul Rogers, a commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom who was most recently deputy commander of the 46th Military Police Command, will direct the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Orlene Hawks will helm the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, while Anita Fox leads the Department of Insurance and Financial Services.

Gary McDowell

Long-time criminal prosecutor Lisa McCormick, who worked as chief assistant prosecutor for the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office, will lead the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. Whitmer served as county prosecutor in 2016.

Whitmer has not yet announced who will lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Talent and Economic Development and the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

She has also not yet named appointments to the Department of Civil Rights, Michigan Civil Service Commission or the Department of Education.

On Friday, Whitmer announced Rachael Eubanks as state treasurer and Chris Kolb as budget director. She also named senior staff, including Chief of Staff JoAnne Huls, Chief Strategist Mark Burton, Chief Legal Counsel Mark Totten and Communications Director Zack Pohl.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.