LANSING, Mich. (AP) — 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.
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 and many have experience in state government. 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. Other leaders announced Thursday include:
- Joe Gasper of Grand Rapids to oversee the Michigan State Police. A 20-year veteran of the force, the captain currently commands the special operations division. Whitmer defended her decision to promote from within the agency, which has faced criticism for not recruiting enough minority troopers and an incident in which a white trooper used a stun gun on a black Detroit teenager before the teen was killed in an all-terrain vehicle crash. The current director apologized after sharing a meme on Facebook that called NFL players who kneel during the national anthem "anti-American degenerates."
"I've got confidence that Capt. Gasper is going to use this opportunity to help rectify some of the diversity challenges we have in the state police and in law enforcement everywhere frankly," Whitmer said. "I think he's got a thoughtful plan to do that and to change some of the cultural challenges that are in the MSP."
- 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.