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A former state legislative leader is Michigan State University’s Michigan Political Leadership Program new co-director.

Tonya Schuitmaker, who served in Michigan’s House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate, will step into MPLP’s GOP co-director position in 2022, announced Matt Grossmann, director of MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.

Veteran statewide and Republican Party leader Susy Avery will retire from the post at the end of this year, Grossmann said.

The Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) is campus home to MPLP in MSU’s College of Social Science.

IPPSR specializes in policy education, political leadership and survey research through its Public Policy Forums, Legislative Leadership Program, Office for Survey Research, State of the State Survey and policy and research databases valuable to students, faculty and scholars.

MPLP annually selects 24 people to earn an MSU certificate by completing 10 months of training focused on personal leadership, campaign operations, governing and communications.

“We’re sad to say a fond good-bye to Susy Avery, a leader at all levels across Michigan government,” said Grossmann. “We are grateful for her years of service to MPLP.”

“We’re also excited to welcome Tonya Schuitmaker’s mentoring skills and legislative experience in the House and Senate. We know her leadership will inspire new generations of leaders.”

A 1990 MSU graduate, Schuitmaker is looking forward to joining MPLP as co-director. She’ll be engaged in recruiting new fellows, building alumni relationships and reaching out to stakeholders and donors. 

“I’m so excited about sharing my legislative experience with MPLP Fellows and alumni,” said Schuitmaker, who ran winning campaigns for state House in 2004, 2006 and 2008. She served in the Michigan Senate from 2010 through 2018. “Plus, MPLP Co-Director Steve Tobocman and I have great experience working together.”

Tobocman, Democratic MPLP co-director since 2010, served in the Michigan House from 2003 to 2008. He was elected Majority Floor Leader, the chamber’s second-highest position, during his last term allowed under Michigan’s constitutional term limits.

“Congratulations to Tonya Schuitmaker,” Tobocman said. “I’ve seen her passion and interest in good government and her ability to work with civility and respect for reaching solutions for all. Civility and respect are critical in MPLP’s values of governing in the best interests of all citizens.”

Schuitmaker was chosen by colleagues to serve as the Senate’s President Pro Tempore, the second woman to hold the position. She served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and as Chairperson of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education. She was also a member of the Senate’s Judiciary, and Energy & Technology committees.

Schuitmaker earned her Juris Doctor and graduated Cum Laude from the Detroit College of Law/Michigan State University in 1993. She became a partner at the Paw Paw law firm Schuitmaker, Cooper and Schuitmaker, concentrating on family, estate, business, and municipal law.

Schuitmaker has served on the State of Michigan Board of Medicine, the Van Buren Community Mental Health Board and the Intercare Community Health Network.

Previously, she was a member of the Van Buren County Community Corrections Advisory Board, Paw Paw Rotary, the Paw Paw Optimist Club, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Van Buren County Farm Bureau.

She served as president of the Van Buren County Bar Association, the Van Buren County Republican Women and as Vice-Chair for Van Buren County Republicans. Schuitmaker was named a 2014 Aspen Institute Rodel Public Leadership Fellow. She currently is a Community Board member for Sturgis Bank & Trust Company.

She sought the GOP nomination for attorney general in 2018, and was a GOP nominee for the MSU Board of Trustees in 2020.

After months of meeting online during the COVID-19 pandemic, MPLP will shortly settle back into in-person sessions, Grossmann said.

Tobocman recalls the pandemic challenges of navigating personal relationships online and swapping good-natured, election stories with Avery.  

“Congratulations on your retirement, Susy,” he said. “I’ll be looking forward to hearing your high-spirited stories from every one of your future adventures.”

“Thanks for the memories,” Avery said in sharing news of her retirement. “I love the Fellows and will always miss my years as an MPLP Co-Director. Steve Tobocman has been a great partner and MSU is a wonderful place to build new leaders and inspire new talent.”

Avery has played a key role in Michigan policy and politics – from local through statewide office – throughout her career. She served as Chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Executive Director of the Michigan Women’s Commission, state Director of Travel and Tourism and Director of Public Affairs for Gov. John Engler.

She has been elected Wayne County Commissioner as well as Northville Township Supervisor. In addition to other roles, Susy has hosted her own two cable television programs as well as serving as a frequent panelist for various television and radio programs.

The three will work together this fall to select MPLP’s Class of 2022 and kick off MPLP’s annual fundraiser in the spring of 2022.

MPLP applications are available online at mplp.msu.edu. Applicants must be 21 years of age, a registered voter in Michigan and interested in seeking public office.  Applications are due Friday, Oct. 1, 2021.

MPLP’s annual fundraiser, to be hosted in Lansing next year, invites nationally known speakers to help mark the start of a new MPLP class. The fundraising date and keynoter are to be announced soon.

More than 700 people have completed MPLP training, and more than half have served in elected or appointed office. MPLP alumni include tribal leaders, school board members, mayors and executives in private and for-profit organizations. Eleven now serve together in the Michigan Legislature. MPLP alumni Jocelyn Benson is Michigan’s elected Secretary of State.

To date, eight different pairs of politically distinguished leaders have served as MPLP’s bipartisan co-directors. Anne Mervenne, a former executive in Engler’s administration, served MPLP from 1998 to 2017, with a year’s break in 2002, is the longest serving Republican Co-Director. Tobocman, who worked with Mervenne during her tenure, is the longest serving MPLP Democratic Co-Director.

Note: MPLP Fellows come from communities throughout the state. See the complete list of MPLP Fellows.

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