Born Yooper/Leader: Mike Prusi

By on February 7th, 2019

He was born in a part of Michigan many of us think of as being as close to heaven as you can get without entering the pearly gates: Ishpeming, in the great North Country we call the UPHis grandparents on both sides emigrated from Finland in the early 20th century. 

Former State Senator Mike Prusi (photo courtesy of WLUC)

One of Lansing’s truly good and decent leaders gets a coveted gubernatorial appointment, especially if you are a Yooper.  Former State Senator Mike Prusi has been selected by newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer to serve as the director of the governor’s northern Michigan office. The former Michigan Senator will be the primary ambassador to the region and collaborate with business, education and community leaders to achieve the Whitmer administration’s strategic priorities.

The position has been historically dubbed, “The UP Governor.” Yet, humble Mike is very clear his role is to be the conduit of the needs of the people of the UP and to represent Governor Whitmer and her policies.  Mike is the quintessential public servant and there is no place in the world he would want to represent and advocate for more than his beloved UP.  Governor Whitmer has assembled an impressive team of pros to serve in her cabinet, and Mike Prusi is no exception.

The Northern portion of our state—especially the UP—has often been overlooked by Lansing.  Our new Governor has made it a point during her campaign to visit all Michigan counties from the Wisconsin border to Monroe. She will be good for, and not forget, the UP that turned out big for her.  Having Mike in her corner—who knows the UP and understands Lansing—will serve the Governor well. 

Prusi served in the Michigan House of Representatives for 5 years prior to entering the Senate where he served for 8 years. Prusi represented Michigan Senate District 38. District 38 includes a majority of Michigan’s Upper Penisula including Iron Mountain, Escanaba, and Menominee, along with Michigan Tech University in Houghton county. He was preceeded by Don Koivisto and succeeded by Tom Casperson. 

As Governor Whitmer’s representative in the UP, Prusi will be responsible for communicating the wants and needs of Michigan’s sprawling northern prestige area directly back to the Governor and her team working under the Capitol Dome.

In appointing the former Senator, Governor Whitmer said, “Mike Prusi is a lifelong champion for hardworking families in Northern Michigan.” She continued, “I was proud to serve alongside him in the legislature and I know that he’ll continue to get things done for Michigan workers, families, and businesses in our Marquette office.”

He is a proud, retired Iron Ore Miner and served as President of Steelworkers Local Union 4950 in 1988.

Praise Pours In 

Praise for his appointment was bipartisan and flowed as rich and colorful as the Tahquamenon Falls:

Steve Mitchell, a Yooper born in Ishpeming, an Ishpeming High School and NMU grad and now president of Mitchell Research & Communications, as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of Northern Michigan University, had this to say about the appointment: “Mike is a perfect choice, as a long-time legislator he understands the UP/Northern Michigan and he knows its people.  Mike served with the governor in the Senate and they have a great relationship.  Because of that close relationship, Mike (and therefore the UP/Northern Michigan) will have clout within the governor’s office.”

David S. Haynes, Former NMU President and Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy reflects, “Mike Prusi brings some very deep knowledge of how Lansing works, state budgeting experience and legislative leadership.  Combine that with his vast knowledge of the Upper Peninsula developed over a lifetime of UP life, he brings to this new position what very few could bring to the table.  Mike brings that perfect combination of policy, politics, and empathy to this job.  Also, to do this job you have to have immediate access to the Governor and her senior staff and Mike Prusi has worked with Governor Whitmer in Lansing for years and years and they have remained very close personal friends. 

Haynes went on to reflect, “I have talked to many folks since Mike’s appointment about this job and the folks who filled it over the last 50 years or so.  What I heard most is the two giants in the past to have filled this job were Tom Baldini (Governor Blanchard) and Dave Nyberg (Governor Snyder). All agreed that Mike will join these two names as one of the ‘great ones’ when he completes his work in this position.”

Joseph Kheder, President of J. Kheder Associates stated, “I think Governor Whitmer is on target by tapping Mike Prusi to be her UP representative. The spot is critical for the region and Mike fits perfect.”  He continues, “Prusi had big shoes to fill when he first came to the House in 1995, winning a special election after a UP legend, Representative D. J. Jacobetti passed away. Jake, as he was known to most, served in that seat for 40 years, the longest serving legislator in the state’s history. Kheder, who spent 12 years working for Jacobetti, added “I know Jake would be proud of the job Mike has done for the UP over the years, and real glad to see him in this new role today.”

Former House Speaker, Craig M. DeRoche (R-Novi) who is, now Sr. Vice President of Advocacy for Prison Fellowship adds this, “Mike was always one of the most competent and reliable people you could talk to in Lansing. He had the pulse of where the Republicans and Democrats were and knew where there was room to make a deal.” He added, “he will serve Governor Whitmer and the citizens of Michigan well.”

Former State Senator Mitch Irwin, who represented Northern Michigan and the UP chimed in, “Gretchen Whitmer has always been close to the UP. Her best allies as a House Member and Senate Leader were the Yooper legislators. Her appointment of former Senate Leader Mike Prussi (retired) has been applauded throughout the Peninsulas. Gretchen has sent a loud and clear message: The UP and northern Michigan will have top priority in the Whitmer Administration.” He continued, “Mike is smart and experienced, and knows how to get things done. Mike represents the heart and soul of the UP, and all of Michigan will benefit from his service in this new position.”

Former State Senator Bruce Patterson (R-Canton Twp), a bear of a man with a smile to match, reminisced that he and Senator Prusi remain friends a decade after leaving office. “He’s a Democrat; I’m a Republican!”  He continues, “One interaction with my UP friend that was memorable took place because of the Legislative Chamber’s collegial tradition. Mike gave colleagues a trademark Stormy Kromer cap upon passage of their first Bill.  The cap is a hallmark of the Upper Peninsula, eh. I love my Cap. Indeed, I wore it today, as I did January 1, 2019 while on the Dais for Gov. Whitmer’s Inauguration.”  He continues, “Governor Whitmer chose well in selecting my friend, the good Senator, Mike Prusi.”

“Successful Governors in Michigan have traditionally had a strong presence in the Upper Peninsula and I’d say the selection of Mike Prusi as the region’s director sends a critical message to residents that says that Gretchen Whitmer is serious about the UP and its issues,” says TJ Bucholz, President and Managing Partner Vanguard Public Affairs.

Rick Wiener, an attorney and former Chief of Staff to Governor Jennifer Granholm, weighed in, “I first met Mike Prusi after he was first elected to the Michigan Legislature over two decades ago. Three things struck me about him. First, he took public service seriously but didn’t take himself overly seriously. Second, he cared deeply about working men and women. Third, he loved the U.P. All are still true. How wonderful it is to have him in public service!”

Ken Sikkema, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants and a former Michigan Senate (Republican) Majority Leader known for seeking effective policy solutions rooted in evidence-based research, touted Mikes value, “I served with Mike Prusi in both the Michigan House and Senate. Although we had different party affiliations and political philosophies, I never found Mike to approach challenging issues in a rigidly doctrinaire or ideological way. He was ‘old school’ in the good sense of the phrase—staying true to his party and philosophy, but at the same time able to reach consensus on solving tough problems.”      

Dave Nyberg, a  Gladstone native who served admirably in the same role for Governor Snyder and who now is director of corporate engagement at Northern Michigan University and a Commissioner on the Michigan Natural Resources Commission closed out the praise for Mike and his appointment this way: “The governor’s Northern Michigan Office director is a regional ambassador for the governor, but the role also carries somewhat of a bilateral responsibility to advocate on behalf of certain region-specific matters that are otherwise far removed from the machinations of state government. This unique role within the Executive Office is perfectly fitting for Mike Prusi given his long track record as an effective advocate for the Upper Peninsula.”  

Nyberg added, “As a compliment to the U.P. legislative delegation’s growing reputation of bi-partisan collaboration, Mike’s extensive experience, broad network, and trust-built relationship with Governor Whitmer will provide tremendous leadership value on behalf of the governor to northern Michigan.” He then said, “I am thrilled that Governor Whitmer has entrusted Mike with this position and know through his leadership our governor and her administration will carry forward a meaningful focus on northern Michigan and the tremendous opportunities within our region.”

Focus On What Matters 

Governor Whitmer and Mike Prusi

Prusi says his primary focus will be ensuring adequate funding for K-12 and higher education in the U.P., as well as economic development for small business, job creation, and job retention. He will work closely with organizations like the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to achieve these goals.

Mike is married to Sandy Prusi. They have two daughters, Heather and Holly, five grandchildren and still calls Ishpeming, Michigan home.  Mike would tell you the UP isn’t just a majestic place, or God’s country, it has, like our new Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a can-do spirit and attitude.  The people of the Upper Peninsula, the State of Michigan and Governor Whitmer are well served by Mike Prusi.

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in both the public and private sectors. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and director of the department of mental health. He has held leadership positions in higher education, business and behavioral health. Watkins has a interest and passion in all things China and has written hundreds of article on the value of this most important bilateral relationship in the world today.

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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Just discovered this exceptional quote from a great guy, Pat Gagliardi State Representative 107th District (Both sides of the Staits of Mackinac) 16 years 1983-1999 went to my spam- hence was not included in the article — want to share it here: “Mike has great leadership abilities as witnessed by his years as State Senate Democratic Leader. A member of his caucus and close ally Governor Whitmer. She became Democratic Leader when Mike retired. Much like Representative Dom Jacobetti or Congressman Bart Stupak, Mike has a great ability to bring divergent groups together. Helping to solve tough problems. Mike’s love… Read more »

Craig Douglas
Craig Douglas

Great article; I am hopeful as I read about leaders like Mike who are joining the Governor’s new team.


Great Choice! ~ Reminds me of the Love that Representative Jacobetti had for the UP. Jake always made me promise that whatever I did for the kids Under the Bridge I would do for the kids over the bridge! I kept that promise until the day I retired. People kept asking me why? Jake had long been deceased. The answer was simple, Because I promised Jake! My YOOPER family always embraced me with love and Appreciation.~ I treasure my blanket given to me by my Northern Michigan University family declaring me an Honorary YOOPER!!~ The TIP Lady

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