In wrapping up the Mackinac Policy Conference, longtime conference attendees and journalists Nancy Kaffer and Chad Livengood reflect on the obvious and more subtle differences in the conference this year compared with years past. Aside from fewer people on the island, the agenda items and also the conspicuously absent topics this year garnered the attention of both Livengood and Kaffer.
Listen: Reporters react to what was and wasn’t talked about at the Mackinac Policy Conference this year.
Nancy Kaffer is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Kaffer’s first impression of the conference this year is that “there aren’t a lot of people here … it’s really interesting to walk through this hotel and notice how sparse it is … it’s relieving but I wonder how much networking is actually taking place,” Kaffer remarks. In noticing the issues being taken up at the conference this year, Kaffer is paying attention to what’s missing from the list. “COVID really took the wind out of the transit conversation’s sails … That conversation really stalled out last year, but it needs to be picked up,” she says.
The lack of coverage of the climate crisis is also noteworthy. “Climate change is not a focus of this year’s conference … It’s really hard to deny that this isn’t playing an increasing role in our weather events,” says Kaffer. Education is another issue she was hoping would have taken a more central role in the discussions on the island. “I’d like to see some meaningful interaction about our children’s future … When our school systems are failing our children, it’s kind of pointless to talk about jobs,” she says.
Chad Livengood is a senior editor at Crain’s Detroit Business. Livengood says his initial thoughts when arriving to the island this year had to do with the lack of public officials. “I think it’s the strangest thing that this is a policy conference without policymakers,” says Livengood. He echoes Kaffer’s sentiments about the lack of transit-related discourse on the agenda. “I don’t think there’s any more equity-related issue, at least in terms of economic equity, than transit,” says Livengood, who notes that race and equity is one of the pillars of this year’s conference.
In discussing the lack of substantive discussion on education at the conference, Livengood notes that “by all estimates, we’re underfunding public education by about $3 to 4 billion each year in this state.”