Dana Nessel’s full-speed-ahead schedule, trying not to burn out
It might not be an unanimous opinion, but you could make a strong case for declaring the new Democratic attorney general as the most prolific newsmaker in this town so far this year.
From her staging a first-ever news conference with the GOP speaker of the House in front of the state House chambers, to her protracted back-and-forth with former governor and then-Michigan State University president John Engler over his stubbornness over granting an interview in the Larry Nassar/MSU probe, Ms. Nessel seems to be everywhere.
Recently the AG took a rare 12-minute chunk out of her hectic schedule to talk about Dana Nessel the person and how she is, by her own admission, “sort of plugged in 24 hours a day.”
So what does she say when she is unplugged?
Sitting down in the Frank Kelley conference room just down the hall from her personal office and surrounded by two media aides who keep track of the time, Ms.Nessel was asked how many hours a week was she grinding out?
First she laughed: “It depends on what your definition is,” the former trial lawyer proceeded cautiously into uncharted interview waters.
“We have 38,000 cases,” she said. “I can’t read all of them” — but you get the impression should would if she could — “but all of the major cases, I’ve read those briefs. I’ve had discussions with our attorneys and had thoughtful deliberations on how to pursue those cases.”
A former insider in the AG’s office reflected: “She’ll figure it out that you can’t” keep up that pace.
But, if that is true, she for sure is not there, yet, as she finally answers the question that she is clocking about 80 hours a week. That includes the in-office day-to-day stuff, including “trying to get into the mix on strategies,” but also trying “to get a mix of getting out to the public about the work that we’re doing.”
On that front, she is spending her summer time not at the beach but in the car with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan Kavanaugh as they travel around the state, discussing elder abuse and other issues.
Asked if she was taking a pause to do some fishing on that soujourn, she brushed that aside with a good ad-lib: “What we’re fishing for is information from our constituents and Michiganders about how we can be of the most help.”
That’s a theme she comes back to time and time again.
Five minutes into the exchange, it is clear — if it wasn’t before — that this attorney general is driven, but is she so driven that she cannot stop working?
“Oh. That’s tough,” she confesses, and part of the reason she cannot stop has to do with her phone.
“Since we live in an age and time where we are attached to and tethered to our electronics, I always have my phone in my hand,” she said.
But during the interview, the phone is not in her hand. It’s on the table as she notes, “It’s about a foot away.” She motions with her head in that direction.
“Are you nervous that you can’t get to it?”
No duh, as she sounds like every young kid in the world who can’t put their phone down, either.,
“Yeah. Every time my phone is out of my hand, I feel like something is going to blow up,” she admits.
“Are you taking something for that?”
She laughs and quietly concedes, “I don’t know. Maybe I should.”
So, while she is waiting for something to “blow up,” you have to wonder what makes her tick.
Well, turns out, inside of her, she hears a tick-tock that hangs over her every day.
“I have at most eight years in this office. Possibly four. You don’t know how much time you are going to have, and I’m not anticipating anything beyond my initial term, so I’m trying to get the most out of every single day that I have to serve.”
That “got-to-get-everything-done-yesterday” syndrome, some might call it a disease, is not unique to her. Every governor who has walked into the capitol has carried the same baggage, feeling like there’s not enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done. Keep in mind, that is the huge public service gene that those folks possess, and it is not about making themselves look good for the history books.
It’s a deeply honorable gene, but it comes at a cost.
Former governor Bill Milliken bemoans the fact that he shuttled his two children off to boarding school out of state so that he could devote more time to his job. In retrospect, he says, that was wrong.
Former governor Jennifer Granholm, who came into office with three young kids in tow, left office feeling guilty about “all the events I missed with my kids.”
Former governor Rick Snyder admitted when his eight-year tour of duty was over that it was time to devote time to his family again.
So, is Ms. Nessel feeling the same pangs? Is she burned out?
She made one decision to live in Plymouth, rather than move to Lansing, which former AG Frank Kelley advised her to do.
“The thing is, I have children that are still in school whom I actually still enjoy seeing,” she talks like a mom.
And the burn out?
“Not so far,” she reflects, which is an answer that suggests that, at some points she will get there.
But, in the meantime, damn the torpedoes and it’s full speed ahead for her.