As Michigan’s newly sworn-in secretary of state, Terri Land offers some of the old and a little of the new.
The former Kent County clerk says she wants to carry on the work of her predecessor, Candice Miller, by continuing to streamline Department of State operations. This allows Michiganders to conduct more of their business with the department online and keeps Michigan elections free of the type of problems Florida experienced in 2000.
In a recent interview with The Michigan Daily, Land said she is also working to implement the proposals on which she campaigned, even as the State Department expects cuts in funding due to the state’s $1 billion-plus budget deficit.
Prior to taking office, Land said, “I had quite a few of the department heads who Candice had take early retirement.” Also, she said the number of division directors within the department has been reduced from four to three.
Among her plans in the coming months: touring every branch office and meeting with employees to discuss problem areas and ways to improve the department.
Land, a Byron Center Republican and unsuccessful State Board of Education candidate in 2000, said she sees movement on making it easier for Michigan residents to obtain absentee voting ballots, one of her key issues.
Currently, those who desire absentee ballots must provide an excuse, such as being out of town on election day. Land wants to eliminate the need for such an excuse.
After meeting with Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Land said the two see eye-to-eye on the issue. “So I said, ‘Great! Let’s get the legislation moving on that.'”
Granholm also pledged to work with her in securing federal funds to purchase new voting equipment.
Another of her top campaign issues in 2002 was taking over from local police departments the responsibility for towing abandoned cars.
Land has met or plans to meet with the Democratic chief executives from the state’s largest city, Detroit, and county, Wayne, to discuss how her proposal could be implemented.
“First we need to talk about how it’s going to work for all three of us and then we can start talking to legislators,” Land said.
But while Land stresses bipartisan cooperation and civility, she said she will not shirk her responsibilities in speaking up for Republican values.
Land said she and Michigan’s other top elected Republicans – Attorney General Mike Cox, House Speaker Rick Johnson of LeRoy and Senate Majority Leader Kenneth Sikkema of Wyoming – “will be working very closely. We’ve already talked about that, how we’re a team.
“(Former GOP Gov. John) Engler downsized government and kept taxes low, and that’s something we’re going to be talking about,” she said.
“I’m very concerned with everything that happens because I’m a citizen of Michigan, too.”
In the interview, however, Land hinted that implementing one of her campaign proposals – taking over from county clerks the issuing of concealed weapons permits – may be more difficult than expected.
“It’s still there but we’re going to kind of wait and see how the budget issues go,” she said.
“We have to make sure the constituency groups and the local groups are comfortable with this idea.”