Ag Everywhere: Schuette, Wyant, and Creagh

Let's take a look at the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) in early 1991, and especially at who was already there when Bill Schuette arrived to direct the agency.

We’ve already seen that John Engler, the Republican long-shot candidate for Governor when he ran against James Blanchard in 1990, won that race, and was inaugurated on January 1, 1991. Nine days later, at the January 10th meeting of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture, four Commissioners newly appointed by Governor Engler showed up to replace four of the five existing Commissioners.  Bill Schuette also showed up to that meeting to replace the sitting Director of MDA, Robert Mitchell, who politely resigned; once that was out of the way the new Commissioners nominated and then unanimously approved Bill Schuette as the new Director, effective immediately.

Interestingly enough, Dan Wyant was also present at that January 1991 meeting.  It turns out that Mr. Wyant had previously worked in the office of State Senator Nick Smith, who also attended that meeting, and who would later become an early and vocal proponent of genetically modified crops.  But in January of 1991, Dan Wyant was present at the meeting of the Commission of Agriculture as a representative of the Senate Republican Staff.  This position was short-lived.

By March of 1991, Bill Schuette brought Mr. Wyant into the Michigan Department of Agriculture as his legislative liaison.  Mr. Wyant served in that position for the years that Bill Schuette directed the MDA (1991-1994), and into the first year that Gordon Guyer directed the agency (1994-1996).  In 1995 Dan Wyant left MDA to work in Legislative Affairs for Governor Engler, only to return to MDA in 1996 as its new Director.  It was a meteoric rise for Director Wyant, by any reckoning.

Dan Wyant was Director of the MDA from 1996 through 2005, under both Governor Engler (1991-2003) and Governor Granholm (2003-2011).  After leaving MDA Mr. Wyant became the President of the Edward Lowe Foundation (2005-2010).  Finally, when Rick Snyder took office in 2011, Dan Wyant was again appointed to lead a state agency in Michigan, this time the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, MDEQ, where he has been ever since.  Mr. Wyant also continues to serve as the Vice President of the Edward Lowe Foundation.

There is more to say about Mr. Wyant’s career, but first let’s go back to the Michigan Department of Agriculture in 1991, when Bill Schuette was Director, and Dan Wyant was the legislative liaison.  It turns out that Keigh Creagh was also at MDA at that time, working in the Pesticide and Plant Pest Management (PPPM) Division.  Mr. Creagh began his career at MDA in 1974, so had already been at MDA for 15 years when Bill Schuette arrived to direct the agency.  Mr. Creagh eventually became the Division Director for PPPM, and in 1995, under Director Gordon Guyer, became the Chief Deputy Director of MDA.  Mr. Creagh remained in that position until 2007, when he left state government to work for Neogen Corporation.  When Governor Snyder took office in 2011, Keith Creagh was brought back as Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture, which later that year was renamed the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).  Finally, in July 2012 Governor Snyder moved Keith Creagh to the leadership position at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the DNR, and brought Jamie Clover Adams in to lead MDARD.

One more brief historical fact from the early 1990’s, and then I’ll get to my larger point.

At the end of Governor Engler's first year in office, a summary of his accomplishments in Agriculture was created, and included this:

Governor Engler appointed port producer/sportsman Larry DeVuryst to the Natural Resources Commission.  Agriculture is impacted greatly by the Department of Natural Resources programs and policies. The Governor promised to put a farmer on the DNR Commission and he kept that promise.

What this means is that in 1991 the appointment of a farmer to the Natural Resources Commission was a thing to be remarked upon - probably because it was understood that farmers and the DNR had disparate agendas, and that each were valid and deserved their due; by appointing a farmer to the Natural Resources Commission, Engler permitted the line that separated the agendas to be crossed in one direction, but not the other.

And so here is my point.  In 2014 we have gone far beyond merely appointing farmers to the DNR Commission to try to nudge the DNR to consider the world from a farmer’s perspective.  Instead, in 2014 Michigan has two state agencies - two non-agricultural state agencies - that are led by men who built their careers in the Michigan Department of Agriculture; Governor Snyder named Dan Wyant as Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Keith Creagh as the Director of the Department of Natural Resources. Bill Schuette is a little different since he was elected to his current position as Attorney General, but the fact remains that Michigan currently has three men who all worked together in the Michigan Department of Agriculture in the early 1990s, and all of whom led that agency during important parts of their careers, now wielding control over our Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality, and our Attorney General's Office.  And Jamie Clover Adams, of course, is also working to advance  agriculture in Michigan from her office at MDARD.

I think this means a couple of things. First, it means that the interests of agriculture - especially corporate agriculture - currently dominate the executive branch of Michigan’s state government to an unprecedented degree.  I have no wish to cast doubt on the commitment of Dan Wyant or Keith Creagh to work for the benefit of our state, but given that Michigan has other individuals who have dedicated their lives to preserving our environment and natural resources, it seems fair to ask why we don’t have a world-class leader in Natural Resources heading the DNR, and another in Environmental Quality heading the DEQ.  Why, indeed to we fund those departments if we don’t select their directors from the very best in those fields that Michigan has to offer, so that those departments can accomplish the work that they are funded to do?

And the other thing that I think this means, unfortunately, is that regular citizens have to be wary of the motives of our current Directors of DNR and DEQ.  I am not a hog farmer, for example, but I have watched with dismay as Michigan's DNR, under Keith Creagh, has enforced an Invasive Species Order intended to outlaw the kinds of pigs in Michigan that can survive Michigan winters, and have wondered if that is really being done to protect our Natural Resources, or if instead it is being done to protect our pork producers. Fortunately this battle to maintain the right to grow hairy heritage pigs is already being ably fought, by Mark and Jill Baker of Baker’s Green Acres, and I count myself among the many who are grateful for their efforts.

And so here I am again, at the end of a long post, clamoring for a better state government in Michigan.  I think we have the right to expect Governor Snyder to appoint people who will fight for natural resources at the DNR and environmental quality at DEQ, unencumbered by previous commitments to agricultural interests.  I think we have the right to expect Attorney General Schuette to answer the 2012 request for his formal opinion on the 2012 GAAMPs, since the two previous opinions are based on information that we all now know is demonstrably false.  I think until that issue is settled, MDARD should refrain from behaving as if those Attorney General opinions from 2006 and 2011 are valid, and instead should go back to doing the work that the law requires them to do, and provide GAAMPs inspections for all farmers in Michigan who request one so those farmers can manage their operations well, and so they can earn the protection of Right to Farm.

 

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