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As I’m now starting my fourth year on the island attending the Mackinac Policy Conference, I can tell you that most of the rumors you may have heard about this event are true.

1,700 or so leaders in various parts of metro Detroit’s business, political and nonprofit establishment have completed their annual migratory trip to the Grand Hotel, with the conference agenda officially starting tomorrow.

And without fail, the same annual criticisms are leveled by some, especially on the left, that it’s out of touch. Meanwhile, their fundraising arms simultaneously inundate attendees email boxes with pitches for pricey fundraisers.

There’s a mirror story, usually on the right of the political spectrum, where some espouse the virtues of the event as if this were a religious pilgrimage, all the while secretly wishing they could toss their admission badge into the lake and melt into a bar somewhere for a bit of non-business fun.

See, humans are complex. And usually, the things humans create are complex as well. They don’t fit well in a tweet. And so it is with this 37th iteration of this conference.

The Benefits:

You’re not going to get more movers and shakers in a small area than here. If you’re looking to advance a cause, throwing on a sport coat, hopping on a carriage and getting up to the Grand is your best bet to actually talk to decision-making people without navigating a maze of gatekeepers.

The topics here are fascinating to a policy nerd, and this is one of the few forums that the resources are actually invested in getting top-notch speakers and having some sort of dialog on issues we face.

A mentor of mine, Marge Sorge, taught me that many times the most important stories are the boring ones. She’s always been right, and it plays out here. There will be a lot of conversations that a reader who is used to the sports-like nature of most political coverage will find slow. But that’s the stuff that will impact us 10 or 25 years from now.

The Bourbon:

A side benefit of shoving everyone on a small rock in the middle of a lake isn’t necessarily the flow of bourbon (though, I do love a good Bulleit or Four Roses on the rocks) but the networking that happens and the connections made over said Bourbon.

That’s important. In this time of political division, the ability to come together over any issue – for any reason – is rare. We’re looking forward to getting a bunch of interviews, some that in years past turned out to be fabulously candid that just wouldn’t happen in Detroit.

The B.S.

“The magician and the politician have much in common: They both have to draw our attention away from what they are really doing.” – Ben Okri

The B.S. (or, since there are only horses as transportation on this island, the H.S.) is going to be turned to 11 as people are gearing up for election season.

Here’s one example, but don’t take the skepticism I have for this example to mean that the other party isn’t shoveling the remnants out the back of the same horse.

It doesn’t seem that a part-time legislature would improve the lives of Michiganders much, but of course, the idea is expected to be put up there by a man who wants to take “Lieutenant” out of his “Lieutenant Governor” title, Brian Calley.

Term limits has been mostly a disaster. The reality is all the practical policy experience lays with the lobbyists and special interests (and so do the power cards) as everyone in office is facing a hard limit with how long they can do their job. Michigan has a legislature full of people looking toward their next career move.

Making a part-time legislature will probably make this worse. There are already a ton of real issues the full time legislature can’t seem to get to. And maybe this is a distraction move to attempt to slow calls for the end of gerrymandering, where districts are drawn in crazy shapes to benefit the party in power.

Although the idea of smaller government is laudable, in the modern world in a state this large the people probably need full time representatives as some sort of balance to special interests that, as it says on the label, are wholly interested in their special cause.

There is going to be a lot of good that happens up here. And there also will be a lot that seems crazy or out of touch.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next few days bring, and we’re looking forward to serving it to you straight.

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