When Michiganders hear the name DeVos, a shiver runs down our collective spine. The DeVos family, including heir to the Amway fortune Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy, current nominee to the Secretary of Education position in Trump’s cabinet, have long been notorious in the Mitten State for using their money (and there’s a lot of it) to put pressure on Michigan politicians. The DeVoses and their money were behind Michigan’s “Right to Work” laws pushed through in December 2012. Described by Mother Jones in a 2014 expose as one of the “founding families of the modern conservative movement,” and with a full 34.4% of the campaign contributions to Republicans in the state House and over 40% in the state Senate coming from this family alone, it’s widely understood that what the DeVoses want, the DeVoses get.*
What do they want? At the top of the agenda is the full privatization of public schools, largely by funding charter schools with minimal regulations. Betsy DeVos has also gone on record, as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, stating that high wages are to blame for the state’s unemployment crisis precipitated by the collapse of industry. Hand in hand with the lax regulation of charter schools in Michigan, which has some of the loosest oversight in the country, is the EAA, legislation that allows the state to “take over” a city or school district that it deems failing, replace democratically-elected officials with governor appointees, and nullify collective bargaining agreements. And it’s no coincidence that nearly every city or district taken over by the state has a much higher than average percentage of residents who are from ethnic and racial minorities. In fact, the Emergency Manager system has largely been blamed for the Flint water crisis – which, if you didn’t know, has not yet been resolved.
Michigan never really recovered from the recession of a few years ago. On a recent flight home for the holidays, in fact, I noticed that most of my flight was young folks (twenty- or thirty-somethings) traveling back home on their own from Seattle and Portland. As an academic, I heard from many of my students who wanted to stay in state, but the jobs just weren’t there. Of course deindustrialization is to blame for many of Michigan’s problems, but the DeVoses have swooped in, disaster-capitalism style, to make sure that the state’s recovery would keep money and power in the hands of the few.
The good news is that it’s not too late – as of writing this, only three more NO votes are needed to stop DeVos’s confirmation as Secretary of Ed. Keep up the pressure – don’t give her a chance to do to the country what she has done so far to Michigan.