Whitmer population council adds youth, lowers average age of members to 52
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer adds three younger lawmakers to Growing Michigan Together Council
- Additions bring the average age of members to roughly 52 years old
- Panel aims to jumpstart population growth, keep young people in state
LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new council tasked with growing the state’s population got a little younger and more bipartisan on Thursday as she announced new appointments for the group’s first major meeting.
Whitmer added three state lawmakers as voting members on the Growing Michigan Together Council, including 23-year-old Democratic Rep. Alabas Farhat of Dearborn; Republican Rep. Pauline Wendzel of Bainbridge Township and Democratic Sen. Darrin Camilleri of Trenton, who are both in their early 30s.
Co-chair John Rakolta, a 76-year-old Republican businessman, began Thursday’s meeting in Detroit with a call for unity.
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“We are aware of the challenges we face: population decline, stagnation, and to me, the toxic partisanship that has prevented us from realizing our full potential as a state,” Rakolta said.
“But today, we take a real step forward, driven by a shared belief that honesty, intellectual tension and open dialogue can bridge the divides that plague us.”
Whitmer’s new additions to the population council bring the average age of voting members down to about 52 years old, which is still well above the state’s average age of 40 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That could pose challenges for the council of 21 voting members, which is tasked with helping attract young people to the state and keep natives from leaving, among other things.
Michigan remains the 10th most populous state in the nation, with about 10 million residents, but it has ranked 49th out of 50 for population growth since 1990.
Officials and experts shared other sobering state population trends on Thursday, including a finding that 45 percent of Michiganders who left the state for work related reasons in recent years were between the ages of 18 and 34.
“Young people, and also folks that are more relatively educated, are the largest share that we're seeing leaving Michigan,” Hilary Doe, Michigan's new chief growth officer, told members.
“Our workforce is also getting much older,” added Bob Schneider, a senior research associate with the non-partisan Citizens Research Council, in his own presentation to the council.
Farhat, who on Thursday introduced himself as the youngest person in the room, is one of two council members under the age of 30, along with 28-year-old Ollie Howie of White Cloud, who is a Harvard University graduate and managing director at the New Community Transformation venture capital fund.
Whitmer still has one appointment to make: A Senate Republican, as required under her executive directive.
Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt last month recommended Whitmer appoint Sen. Jonathan Lindsey of Allen in Hillsdale County, to the commission. But Whitmer did not fill that slot Thursday as she announced other lawmakers.
A Whitmer spokesperson, Bobby Leddy, told Bridge "the administration has reached consensus with Speaker Tate, Minority Leader Hall, and Senate Majority Leader Brinks on legislators to serve on the council representing their respective caucuses. We remain hopeful that we can work together to reach a consensus candidate to represent the Senate Republican Caucus in this important, bipartisan effort to move our state forward."
The governor is tapping some other Republicans to serve in non-voting roles as chairpersons for council workgroups, she announced Thursday.
That includes former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land of Byron Center, who will co-chair an infrastructure committee, and former legislative aide Marty Fittante, who hails from the Upper Peninsula and will co-chair a "jobs, talent, people" workgroup.
Republican legislative leaders have criticized Whitmer’s council, predicting its potential recommendations would ultimately give the governor political cover to raise taxes to fund road repairs or increase spending in other areas.
“Although they’re outnumbered by a large cohort of Democrat insiders, the Republicans on the council have an opportunity to advocate for the people of Michigan against the Democrats’ transparent tax-hike agenda,” House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, said Thursday in a statement.
Rakolta, the council co-chair who served as an ambassador to the United Arab Emirates under former President Donald Trump, urged colleagues to work together without airing any grievances that may arise in the media.
“I believe this bipartisan commission can show a better pathway for the rest of the state of how we cannot get mired in politics,” Rakolta said.
Whitmer’s executive directive lays out an ambitious schedule for the population growth commission, which must finalize an initial report and recommendations by Dec. 1.
The council intends to add another 50 or 60 non-voting members to workgroup committees in coming months, Rakolta said. Those workgroups are expected to draft potential recommendations by September, ahead of council deliberations in October and public listening sessions in November.
Rakolta said he hopes the group will continue to meet beyond December, when their initial recommendations are due. For that first report, “we're really looking for top-line, one or two earth-shattering ideas — policy changes, constitutional changes, whatever has prevented Michigan from moving forward,” he said.
The goal, added co-chair Shirley Stancato, is to “help restore Michigan's reputation as an economic powerhouse, world-class educational center and a natural resource wonder.”
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