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LANSING — While Gov. Jennifer Granholm prepares for her second term, her openly gay chief of staff, John Burchett, will be packing up his bags.
“I did what I set out to do,” Burchett said of his 15-month tenure as the nation’s first openly gay chief of staff. “I came to Lansing to help the governor direct government through what we knew would be a year of great challenge and opportunity.”
Granholm issued a statement saying her administration will miss his leadership.
“Though I knew John intended his tenture to be shortlived, it will be no less painful to see him leave our team,” Granholm said.
Before working as Granholm’s chief of staff, Burchett, 44, ran the governor’s Washington, D.C., office.
Burchett says he is returning to Washington D.C., which has become “like a second home,” but he does not yet know what he will do.
He will be succeeded by the governor’s current director, Mary A. Lannoye. She served as budget director for former Gov. John Engler from 1998 to 2001, when she was appointed to Granholm’s administration. She is the longest serving member of the governor’s cabinet.
As chief of staff, Burchett managed 50,000 employees. He also controlled access to the governor. He says he will miss the people, the issues and the excitement of the job, but mostly he will miss the governor.
“I’ve known her for 20 years and worked with her or for her for the last eight or nine years,” he said during a phone interview on Monday.
And he says his role as an openly gay man had a large impact on the state. “We appointed some of the first openly gay appointees in Michigan history,” he says. “The governor issued an executive directive banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in state hiring. We changed the way birth certificates are filled out so a same-sex parent could get on the birth certificate.”
He also says it wasn’t all proactive work. “We played defense, too. The right wing knew that they could not get anti-gay legislation passed because we would veto it.
“And we did this with a Republican legislature,” he points out.
The former Detroit activist, and BTL editorial advisor, says even with his absence the community is well situated in this state.
“The community has a friend in the governor and the administration – that’s the governor,” he says.
The former co-chair of the Michigan Campaign for Human Dignity says he cut his political teeth in the ’90s on LBGT issues in the state. During the time, the state was facing a potential Constitutional Amendment similar to one passed in Colorado that would have banned local government from barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
But he says the LBGT community is no less energized now that 10 years ago. “I think it is more sophisticated,” he says. “I think there are a lot more political thinkers.”
He also has high praise for both Michigan Equality and Sean Kosofsky from Triangle Foundation. “Sean is a very effective lobbyist for this community,” he says. “And Michigan Equality is doing some great work to get this community out and active.”
“The gay community has been a substantial player at the table,” he says. “People now know the gay community is a player at all levels. We are infinitely stronger than we have ever been in this state.”