It is nearing 25 years since the fateful decision to take a position in Lansing. I never guessed it would be the first day of 17 years serving the citizens and taxpayers of Michigan. We tend to think success is the collision of preparation and opportunity. For me, there was also economic desperation.
For two years, I worked in Central Hall at little Hillsdale College in Michigan when I met the woman who would become my first wife. After I ran for Congress in Wisconsin in 1984, we moved back to her native Michigan. A Journalism graduate of Michigan State University, Sarah Michaelsen was pregnant with Jens Michaelsen, too. I had interviews for great jobs I was fortunate not to get in Cleveland, Flint and Toledo. We lived in poverty in Hillsdale while I worked at a gas station in Jonesville. After Jens was born, I took a job at an advertising agency in Jackson for more money and challenge.
What finally bore fruit were fan mail and a request to meet Michigan Republican Chairman E. Spencer Abraham. I was summoned to Lansing to meet with him. Suddenly, running for Congress was an advantage, not something to hide. I must have won him in 15 minutes because he sent me to meet with Political Director Jane Hershey, later Mrs. Abraham. She spent 30 minutes with me and offered me a job but it only paid what I was making in closer Jackson. I said no for the first time ever but she suggested I meet with Jerry Crandall, then leading Senate Republican media relations. She called him to say I was coming.
I went into the Farnum Building for the first time to meet Crandall. I must have won Crandall, who had nothing open, but called John Kost in Policy. I spent nearly a half hour with Kost. When I drove back to Hillsdale, I felt pretty good about four meetings in a day in Lansing.
Soon the telephone rang. It was Kost. He offered me a job. It was 50 percent more than I was paid in Jackson. I was glad to take the offer. Then the phone rang again. My beloved Grandpa Porter was nearing death. I went from euphoria to worry. The littleness of Jens, one week old, meant we could not drive 10 hours in hope of seeing him before he died.
I called his room at the hospital. My Grandma answered and said he was asleep. I mistily explained the situation and to let him know how much I love him. She said he knew but she would tell him I called. Her voice broke; it had never broken before so I knew his condition was grave. I hung up and then I sobbed. I quit at the advertising agency soon, starting the two weeks notice clock.
He died the next day, however. I called Kost to explain and to forestall my start date until October. Between the funeral in central Wisconsin, having to stop often to feed and change Jens both ways, progress would be slow. My cousins and I were pall-bearers.
I ascended rapidly through aptitude and desire in policy, even becoming coffee czar. I still think of state governments as 50 laboratories of democracy and it is not an empty phrase to me as it is to others. Friends I made during my almost five years at the Senate Republicans are still life-long friends, regardless of partisan affiliation. I remember the first time I met Saul Anuzis, John Arundel, Lisa Babcock, Dawson Bell, Anne Boomer, Jerry Crandall, Gale Cutler, Dave Doyle, Gary Garbarino, Vern Ehlers, John Engler, Heidi Grether, Jeff Holyfield, Carol Marcinkowski, Jeff McKelvey, George McManus, Anne Mervenne, Jill Murphy, Gary Naeyert, Rick Pluta, Gary Reed, Dennis Schornack, Joe Schwarz, Tom Shields, Norm Shinkle, Jurgen Skoppek, Jon Smalley, Marc Speiser, Dave Waymire and Dan Wyant. They are just a few I know personally in social media. I remember the first day I met John Reinemann, who was then a graduate student at the University of Michigan but from my native Wisconsin. Like me, he was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Eric Michaelsen was the first baby born under a new Senate Republican paternity leave. I so loved my job, I walked daily in all types of Michigan weather from my parking spot in the dirt lot by the Library of Michigan. I even took public transportation so Sarah could have our only car. Other cool jobs, friends, shocking suicides and better parking spots came later but I never regretted the fateful decision that first took me to Lansing.