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Once again, GRIID was denied the opportunity to report on the West Michigan Policy Forum Conference happening this Thursday.

October 16, 2022

It seems that those who are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure do not want the presence of independent news media, particularly media that will not just act as a lapdog to power. 

On Wednesday, September 21st, I submitted a request the West Michigan Policy Forum for a Media Pass to attend their 2022 Conference. One week later I received the following response – Thank you for your email. After reviewing your request, we are unable to provide you a media pass to the upcoming conference. WMPF Communications Team. I responded to this message by saying, “Can you provide me with a reason for not providing a media pass? I have attended numerous conferences in the past and was always provided a media pass.” The West MI Policy Forum Communications Team did not reply.

This was not the first time I was denied a Media Pass to a West MI Policy Forum Conference. In 2018, the same thing happened and you can read the ridiculous game they played back then by going to this link.

Of course, none of this is surprising, since systems of power and oppression do not want anyone to shine the light on their activities. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean I can’t write something about the event and the speakers they have invited. This is the first conference the WMPF has held since the beginning of the pandemic, and this year’s conference is the shortest one since they began in 2008, then it was a 2-day event.

As you can see from the image above, there is a lineup of speakers, with the theme being, Reimagining Michigan’s Failing Education System and Making Michigan a Top 10 State. Having a main theme is consistent with previous WMPF conferences and this year’s theme will address two aspects of the so-called failed education system. First, the speakers will discuss how to move Michigan more in the direction of what Betsy DeVos has been advocating for over the past 3 decades, a more privatized educational system with charter schools, religious schools and private elite schools. The second aspect of the education-themed conference is to discuss the need to gear education in such a way as to generate talent, specifically labor talent, which is why there are several business people speaking.

The WMPF Conference will go from 8:30am until noon. The first speaker will be Doug DeVos, talking about the WMPF’s Historic Wins for Competitiveness. DeVos will no doubt be talking about previous “victories” for the West Michigan Policy Forum, which you can read here. The list includes items like making Michigan a Right to Work state, repealing the MI Business tax, repeal of the prevailing wage mandate, Require funding for state economic development and workforce agencies to align more closely with private sector efforts in talent development initiative, etc. Always good to start out the day bragging about how those in power have imposed their will on civil society.

At 8:36am, people will hear from Christopher D. Lloyd, with McGuireWoods Consulting LLC. McGuireWoods Consulting LLC is a firm that assists groups like WMPF on how to work with – read manipulate – government agencies. Lloyd specializes in site selection and economic development incentives negotiations, which is essentially how to get governments to use public money to underwrite or subsidize private development projects.

At 8:55am, Dr. Stan Veuger, Senior Fellow at American Enterprise Institute will address the conference crowd. Veuger will be talking on the theme of, “What’s Keeping Michigan From Being a Top 10 State.” Based on Veuger’s work, this will no doubt be about how the business class can leverage government to use public money to bolster the private sector and attract more talent, making Michigan more appealing for members of the professional and business class.

At 9:30am, there will be a panel of three business people, who will respond to what Veuger had to say. This panel will be moderated by Doug DeVos and will include: Matt Haworth, Haworth, Inc., Randy Thelen, The Right Place, and  Chelsea Keeton, with Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing. Haworth is a Vice Chair of WMPF and is a major contributor to the Republican Party and Republican candidates. Randy Thelen, with the Right Place Inc, which works with West Michigan municipal governments to attract businesses, often at the public expense. The Board of Directors at the Right Place Inc. consists of many of the same people who sit on the Board of the West MI Policy Forum. Chelsea Keeton is a senior marketing and public relations leader at Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing. Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing recently received $120 Million in funding from the US Government, along with a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Defense. 

At 10:35am there will be a presentation entitled, A Game Plan for K-12 Transformation in Michigan, Next steps for Education Transformation in Michigan. This presentation will be given by Don Nielsen, with the American Center for Transforming Education. The American Center for Transforming Education is part of the Discovery Institute, which advocates for Public Education Reform. What they mean by Public Education Reform is to push School Choice, to change education policy, make schools places that work with the business community to meet market demands through talent creation.

At 11:05am, there will be another panel to react to the comments by Don Nielsen. The panel will consist of Rep. Pamela Hornberger, John Kennedy, Autocam Medical and Kelley Williams-BolarSchool of Choice Advocate. Rep. Hornberger is the Chair of the House Education Committee, and three weeks ago she introduced a House resolution on Wednesday condemning the Michigan Department of Education’s teacher training videos on student gender orientation and reaffirming the fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children. John Kennedy is part of the Executive Board with the WMPF and has been one of the most consisted WMPF members to speak out against Public Teacher Unions. Lastly, Kelley Williams-Bolar, an African American parent, went to jail for sending her kids to a highly ranked school near where her father lives, which was out of her home school district. Now, the far right is using her to push their own education agenda. 

If the West Michigan Policy Forum gets their way, they will radically alter education policy in Michigan and effectively undermine public education for decades to come. We all need to know about their policy work and there needs to be a significant effort, even a social movement, to prevent them from achieving their goals for public education in Michigan. Unfortunately, the work of the West Michigan Policy Forum is under-reported and operates outside of the view of the public. This underscores their decision to not allow me to attend this conference as media. 

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