Jocelyn Benson is running for Michigan Secretary of State. We caught up with her over the phone to learn about her campaign.
Takeaway: the woman is a force. She’s the kind of thoughtful that is quick and direct and produces results like being a CEO while running for political office while being a mother while finding time to run marathons while . . . .and she took less time to answer our questions than it took us to compose them.
Whatever your political leanings, Jocelyn Benson is a person who gets it done. All of it.
If you are eligible to vote, November 6th, please do.
CV Henriette: What does a Secretary of State do?
Jocelyn Benson: A Secretary of State oversees all the elections and all the driving issues in the state of Michigan, and, in doing so, interacts with more citizens than any other state agency. It’s a tremendous opportunity to serve citizens directly, serve them well and ensure that they’re getting the most from their state government—by protecting their vote and their voice through the democratic process.
CVh: The “30 minute guarantee.” What’s the larger political impact beyond a shorter wait?
JB: It’s the concept that we want to value citizens’ time, save them money and protect their vote and their voice. That’s really what the hallmark of my administration will be about: valuing citizens’ time and saving them time.
The 30-Minute Guarantee is a way to succinctly talk about what we envision the results being of a number of reforms that I have planned and have talked about throughout the course of this campaign, all of which are geared towards decreasing wait times, in the rare event that you have to go into the Secretary of State office at all. It’s also a standard I believe citizens should expect from state government—that I will work every day with our team, with our employees, to meet. It’s one that captures how I believe state government can effectively and efficiently serve its citizens.
CVh: How will this move impact people who work at the Secretary of State?
JB: I’m going to be working in partnership and in tandem with our Secretary of State branch employees to implement this, including doing a time study, which they’ve requested for a number of years. That study would document efficiencies that we could replicate in the offices, inefficiencies we need to eliminate and also make sure that employees are valued and know how important the work they do is to all the citizens of our state. I see this as a collaborative effort, providing the leadership to set goals and expectations and working with our team to support the implementation.
CVh: Could this mean more jobs?
JB: I’m thinking “how can we cut wait times in our branch offices” which I see to approach in three ways:
Increasing efficiencies in the offices themselves.
Reduce the number of times you even need to go into a branch office. Whether it’s putting more services online or creating an app, like I’ve talked about for many years, or issuing multi-year license plates. Another piece is for you to virtually interact with Secretary of State employees online.
Extending opportunities for you to interact with the office by partnering with local business to, for example, make it so you can renew your tabs while grocery shopping. In my view that is how we can most importantly increase efficiencies. I look forward to working with our existing branch office workforce to do that.
CVh: To clarify, you’re still holding down a CEO position while campaigning. As a CEO, a mother, and a political candidate, how do you manage work/life balance?
JB: It’s important to be efficient and prioritize everything you do. To me the balance is helpful because there are days when I can talk to voters about my vision for the Secretary of State’s office, and then come home at night and be a mom to a great little kid, so it’s enriching to juggle multiple things. It also gives me a window into what so many of our families struggle and deal with every day. Moms who are single parents working multiple jobs—those are the real champions, the heroines of multi-tasking.
CVh: Sounds like you’re the perfect person to eliminate useless bureaucracy.
JB: Yeah. I don’t have time or patience. I just want to get through the day and get things done. And you also need creative and innovative solutions. In that regard, it’s helpful that I don’t come at this as someone who’s been in politics or comes to this position from another position. I believe in this office.
CVh: Your background has spanned executive, teaching and leadership positions in sports, education, Veterans affairs and law. How did you find your way into politics? How have your previous careers and interests shaped your position?
JB: Everyone should look at the political arena, and democracy really, as something that needs everyone’s voice at the table. I’ve always seen it as an avenue of enacting change and, again, anyone who’s serious about ensuring their career has an impact serving and helping others, should consider running for office.
Certainly, this office is important for me because it interacts with more citizens than any other office. Because of that, I see myself as a job applicant, putting myself before the voters of Michigan for something I really want to do has been part of my career trajectory for a long time: to be the Secretary of State.
CVh: Banning “fee increases” sounds nice. Can you cite some examples? Again, what’s the larger impact?
JB: When I was Dean at Wayne State Law School I froze tuition and cut an $11 million budget by $1 million dollars. At the same time I expanded our services, expanded our clinics through public-private partnerships and expanded job opportunities, passing on the benefits to students. The law school went up in rankings during my tenure so I have a track record of leading an institution successfully. With that, I bring the experience of how to do that while freezing incoming revenue.
Vehicle fees have gone up 20 percent in recent years, and we haven’t really seen a return on our investment in better roads here in Michigan.
CVh: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the State of Michigan?
JB: The biggest challenge facing the State of Michigan is that a lot of our young people are leaving our state. Without their ideas and energy we miss out on a lot of great leadership. Part of making the Secretary of State office work better—modernizing our elections and modernizing how we deliver services is important if we’re going to demonstrate to talented individuals across the country, including our young people here in Michigan, that Michigan is the place to be—and certainly geographically, with a third of the world’s fresh water, it is. We are an attractive place to live. I hope that our state government is a part of that and our leadership will embrace our young people, their ideas and their voices, so that they feel this is a state that is welcoming to all people, inclusive and provides opportunities for a high quality of life and a great career.
CVh: How do we attract and retain young people in Michigan?
JB: Making things more efficient in our state government is going to be a piece of that. Making them feel that they’re part of our government—that their voices are heard as well as responded to. Their interests are important. I’ve been living in the city [Detroit] for 15 years. Certainly the state’s largest urban centers are evolving in a way that are places where the quality of life is valued. I think we’re on our way to being a state where we’re seeing a reversal in the population, from decrease to increase.
But a lot of it is modernizing how we do things here in Michigan. We’re at the bottom of all states in our ethics and transparency laws, based on the Center for Public Integrity, and I’d like to see us turn that around, to have a transparent state where we know exactly who’s doing what on our behalf in leadership in Lansing.
Those types of things can send a message to all citizens that government is on their side and make Michigan a more welcoming and inclusive place to live.