Opinion: Posthumus served as mentor to governor
In public, Gov. Rick Snyder has called his chief of staff, Dick Posthumus, one of his mentors. That description says a great deal about both men; it shows that the governor is comfortable enough in his own skin to admit he has mentors, and it shows what a force Posthumus has been working with the governor.
Snyder has provided bold, visionary leadership for Michigan during the past eight years because he possesses the key traits all strong leaders need to achieve great things: Have a vision, hire the strongest staff possible, delegate authority, provide input on an as-needed basis, and share credit with those that help in reaching the shared goals.
The governor had a vision, but he needed to find someone who could help provide strategic advice and help shepherd his visionary ideas through the Legislature. His guru on hiring, Rich Baird, reached out to Posthumus in the weeks after Snyder was elected.
The selection was brilliant. Under the radar, he became one of the critical components for getting things accomplished in the Snyder administration. Posthumus was elected a state senator at 32 and served for 16 years; he was Michigan’s longest serving Senate majority leader during the eight years of Gov. John Engler’s first two terms; he was lieutenant governor for four years during Engler’s final term, and he narrowly lost to Gov. Jennifer Granholm by just 3 ½ percentage points in 2002. Outside of Engler, there was no one in Michigan better prepared to help Snyder than Posthumus.
When Baird inquired, it was not a good time for Posthumus. His wife Pam had died of lung cancer, and he had left a furniture manufacturing company he had been running to take care of her during her final months. But he finally decided to take the job with an office only two doors away from Snyder’s.
Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle would admit that it was Posthumus’ leadership and understanding of the legislative process that was critical to passage of the governor’s most important and most controversial bills. Without him, some of those bills may not have been passed, including:
1. Healthy Michigan, the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act that now provides health insurance coverage for nearly 700,000 Michigan residents. It passed by a single vote in both the House and Senate.
2. The grand bargain, bringing Detroit into and out of bankruptcy. The grand bargain has many fathers, but without Posthumus’ savvy in getting passage by a conservative Republican-controlled Legislature, with many members who live outside Metro Detroit, the grand bargain does not happen.
3. Energy reform, providing for renewed investment in Michigan from DTE Energy and Consumers Energy while maintaining competition from new providers. It does not happen without Posthumus’ negotiating skills to close the deal.
4. Right to work. Because of the mutual trust between Posthumus and Snyder, and Posthumus' understanding of the Republicans in the Legislature, he was able to help forge a package and strategy that was acceptable to both.
Two years ago, Snyder’s chief of staff, Jared Agen, resigned to work with Vice President Mike Pence. After five years of strong leadership under Dennis Muchmore, and a year with Agen, Snyder needed to find someone with credibility and gravitas to become his new chief. There was probably only one person who could provide the leadership Snyder needed to assure his agenda would not get bogged down as his administration went into the final two years.
So he tapped Posthumus. As chief of staff, Posthumus created a positive visionary approach uniting the executive team; a team Posthumus says made major legislative and non-legislative accomplishments possible right to the end, including:
1. Getting everything done to ensure construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge between the United States and Canada.
2. Securing passage of the legislation to build a new tunnel under the Mackinac Straits to protect its waters, while assuring energy to Michigan through a new pipeline.
3. Securing the money to help ensure construction for the new Soo Lock.
4. Having the vision to see the manifold problems associated with PFAS contamination and implementing a multi-departmental approach to mitigate problems associated with the chemical contamination. The development of MPART (Michigan PFAS Alert Response Team) is being used as a model by other states in fighting this problem.
Snyder and Posthumus have developed a real friendship based on mutual respect and trust. Both are similar personalities in looking for results but being shy to take credit. Snyder has been a very consequential leader of Michigan because he picked a great team. One of the leaders of that team was an unassuming, self-confident man who was good enough to be Snyder’s mentor, Dick Posthumus.
Steve Mitchell is president of Mitchell Research & Communications, an East Lansing-based polling, consulting and public affairs company.