2011-09-03 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Allen a ‘Must-hire’ Power Behind Lansing Leaders
By George Weeks

Over the decades, many Up North politicians have had powerful roles in all three branches of state government.

There was the brief flash of 1911-12 feisty Republican Governor Chase S. Osborn of Sault Ste. Marie, and the 1969- 82 reign of Michigan’s longestserving governor, Republican William G. Milliken of Traverse City.

Chief justices of the Michigan Supreme Court included Republicans James H. Brickley of Traverse City and Betty Weaver of Glen Arbor.

Paul Adams of Sault Ste. Marie was twice elected attorney general and served 10 years on the Supreme Court.

In the Legislature, memorable 20th century powers included Representatives Dominic Jacobetti (D-Negaunee) and Arnell Engstrom (R-Traverse City)—both czars on appropriations.

At the staff level, there is the remarkable career of Republican Suzanne Miller Allen of Traverse City, the first woman chief of staff to a Michigan House speaker, and the first person to serve as chief of staff for both a state Senate majority leader and House speaker.

Allen, 46, chief of staff for current House Speaker Jase Bolger and 1990s Speaker Paul Hillegonds also was top aide for Senators Dick Posthumus of Alto (later lieutenant governor) and Majority Leader Ken Sikkema of Wyoming, and House Minority Leader Kevin Elsenheimer of Bellaire.

“For decades she’s been a must-hire for Republicans in the legislature,” Susan J. Demas, the savvy political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service and frequent panelist on the weekly PBS-TV “Off the Record” show, writes on domemagazine.com.

Demas said: “Allen oozes a calm confidence. After spending a few minutes with her, it’s easy to forget that her husband is a political power in his own right.

“Jason Allen was termed out of the Senate in 2011 after eight years, and he had spent four in the House. He came within 15 votes of winning the GOP congressional nomination in the sprawling 1st congressional district last year and is now working for the Snyder administration in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.”

Considering problems facing vets these days, especially those returning from recent service, Jason Allen may be facing his biggest challenge as a public servant.

The Allens split their time between Traverse City and the Lansing area with their three children: Meredith, 12, Amanda, 6, and two-month-old Mark, who they just adopted.

“That was a silver lining of Senator Allen losing his congressional bid,” said Demas. (He lost in the GOP primary to now-Congressman Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls.)

“Things happen for a reason,” Suzanne Allen told Demas. “That’s way more important than Jason serving in Congress.”

She calls Mark “an absolute blessing and delight”—made all the more so because their first son, Jack, was stillborn in 2003. The Allens have established a scholarship for Eagle Scouts in his honor.

Senate Race

At a meeting Monday in Southfield, Governor Rick Snyder endorsed ex-U.S. Repesentative Pete Hoekstra of Holland for the GOP nomination to oppose Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Snyder said: “We need the best. That is why I’m proud to be here today to endorse Pete Hoekstra. From his experience in Washington being a leader as a fiscal conservative to his business experience, it’s a great combination.” In an e-mail statement even before the Hoekstra campaign released Snyder’s statement, Democratic State Chairman Mark Brewer said: “It is going to take a lot more than an endorsement from one of the most unpopular Governors in the country to make the people in Michigan support a Congressman turned lobbyist like Pete Hoekstra.”

Also seeking the nomination were Detroit charter school executive Clark Durant (who unsuccessfully sought the nomination in 1990), ex-Kent County Probate Judge Randy Hekman, Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy, and Gary Glenn of Midland, president of the American Family Association of Michigan.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing Bureau Chief and foreign editor in Washington, D.C. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2011-09-03 digital edition