Political Roundup: Mackinac Policy Conference (audio)

Jun 2, 2011

This week lawmakers and business leaders from around the state are attending the annual Mackinac Policy Conference. It’s touted as a time when political deals are made and politicians have a chance to set agendas.

To give us the lowdown on the conference Michigan Radio's Jenn White talks with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service and Ken Sikkema, former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

Former Republican state Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema is familiar with what goes on at the conference. Are there really any useful conversations that come out of this event? Sikkema:

I do think useful conversations are conducted up there, but that's a far cry from saying that fundamental solutions get agreed to, or that deals get made.

The Mackinac Policy Conference is sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and is known to be a lavish event. Considering that businesses are paying for the event, is there a conflict of interest at play for lawmakers? Susan Demas doesn't think so. Lawmakers pay their own way. But there are some paid-for events and open bars. Demas:

But in a way it's not all together that different than how business is conducted in Lansing every night. The bars and the restaurants are filled with lobbyists who meet with lawmakers, this is nothing new.  But I certainly don't think anybody is violating any ethics laws that we have on the books here in Michigan.

Governor Rick Snyder gave the keynote address at the conference and used it as an opportunity to push for a new bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Demas says there's been some talk about the Governor's education reform plan, "but for the most part it's all bridge, all the time."

Sikkema says passing legislation on the river crossing is still an uphill climb for the governor, but he says:

He (Governor Snyder) has some very significant accomplishments under his belt. A budget is done, tax restructuring is done and item pricing has been repealed. So he's got some momentum, and that might just be enough to ride that wave and get this one done too.