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Washington — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has hired a former lobbyist and Capitol Hill staffer to head the state of Michigan’s office in the nation's capital.

Patricia Readinger, who goes by Patty, started last month as director of the state's federal relations office.

Readinger essentially serves as a lobbyist for the state, advocating for issues before members of Congress, the Trump administration and executive branch agencies, as well as maintaining relations with other states. 

"I would call myself an advocate, above all else, for all things Michigan — making sure we’re doing what’s best by the state, the governor and the residents on the federal level," Readinger said.

"That runs the gamut from being aware of legislation to knowing what kind of rule-making is coming down that may impact bigger policies in the state. It's a lot to do, but hopefully we’re capable."

So far, she's been checking in with members of the Michigan delegation and their staffers, letting them know her office is a resource to be used. She's also met with staff at the White House and is getting to know the National Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association.

The issues she's focused on mirror Whitmer's priorities, including infrastructure investment, workforce needs and addressing drinking water contaminated by toxic fluorinated chemicals. Her office is also tracking legislation to overhaul the Higher Education Act, which governs colleges and universities.

Readinger also soon plans to sit down with a representative of Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, whose administration is key to a major waterway project aimed at keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. 

"I really do think part of the role here is to be that honest broker and, without question, to work in a bipartisan nature," Readinger said.

"That is very much the focus from the governor’s end in how we’re going to run things and certainly down here that’s how you get things done, as well."   

Readinger grew up in Bloomfield Township and, like Whitmer, is a graduate of Michigan State University.

Previously, she worked for another MSU grad — Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing. She started on Stabenow's first Senate campaign in 2000 and then joined her office as a legislative aide and later senior policy adviser on issues including appropriations, tribal matters and transportation, staying for more than a decade.  

“Patty was a talented and valuable member of my team and I know she will do a great job representing Governor Whitmer in Washington,” Stabenow said.

Readinger then served in the Obama administration in the Department of Transportation for five years, serving as deputy assistant secretary for governmental affairs. 

Most recently, Readinger worked as a lobbyist and policy analyst for Electrify America LLC, a unit of Volkswagen set up in 2017 as part of a court settlement over VW's excess diesel emissions. Electrify America is working to build out in a nationwide charging infrastructure network. 

One of Readinger's two deputies in Michigan's federal relations office is Jessica Brousseau, another former Stabenow staffer. Brousseau was previously a lobbyist at the firm Kent & O'Connor and worked on Whitmer's transition team. 

Dana Sherry is also deputy director in the D.C. office after serving as political director for Whitmer's campaign. She is also an alumna of campaigns for state Rep. Kristy Pagan and Gretchen Driskell, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, in 2016 and 2018.

Whitmer told The Detroit News editorial board last month she hadn't yet visited the Washington office. 

"I haven’t even seen the D.C. office yet. I was out in D.C., but I didn’t actually get over into the building," she said.

Whitmer was last in town in February and sat next to President Donald Trump during a dinner held during the winter meeting of the National Governors Association. She has been optimistic about making inroads with the Republican administration.

"He told me that he handpicks the people that sit at his table, and I said I would assume so, Mr. President. I said, I also assume I’m sitting here because Michigan is an important state in the Electoral College, and he said, 'You are correct,'" Whitmer recalled.

"So I would anticipate our office having quite a bit of conversations with the administration and work with them."

Whitmer has discussed "productive" conversations with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, as well as top officials in the Department of Health and Human Services.  

"Governor (Rick) Snyder was not particularly close to the president, and he was one of the first people to encourage me to make sure that our team in D.C. was saying close to the Congress, congressional delegation, and getting in, you know, in with the administration, the departments because he found them incredibly helpful regardless of the administration," Whitmer said.

Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed 

mburke@detroitnews.com 

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