A potential presidential candidate, a nationally known crusader for education reform and members of Michigan's business and political elite will be on hand this week for the Detroit Regional Chamber's policy conference on Mackinac Island.
More than 1,000 people regularly attend the annual conference, which this year runs from Wednesday through Friday. It features speeches and panel discussions about the economy, schools, health care and other issues as well as forums for politicians hoping to line up support and donations. Most sessions are held at the historic Grand Hotel, where lobbies, meeting rooms and the 660-foot front porch overlooking the sparkling Straits of Mackinac are abuzz with impromptu gatherings.
"It's just a good, concentrated opportunity for people to make their case, whether it's about a policy issue, a politician or whatever," said Ken Brock, an adviser to former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, who is expected to seek the Democratic nomination for governor next year and will make the rounds on the island.
Schauer might well cross paths with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who's had a high profile at the first two Mackinac conferences since his 2010 election and is all but certain to run for re-election. He is scheduled to deliver welcoming remarks Wednesday and a keynote speech Friday and participate in a panel on education reform in Detroit.
The 2016 presidential election is a long way off, but among Republicans often mentioned as possible contenders is Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is the son of one ex-president and brother of another. He will deliver the opening-day speech Wednesday, focusing on topics such as education and immigration reform. Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. commerce secretary and former CEO of Kellogg Co., also will deliver a speech on immigration.
Closer to home, the focus will be on the race for mayor of Detroit. Incumbent Dave Bing announced this month he will not seek a second term in this year's election, making no secret of his unhappiness with Snyder's decision to appoint an emergency manager for the financially troubled city and the Republican-dominated Legislature's decision to authorize the move.
The Detroit Regional Chamber's political action committee is sponsoring a forum for mayoral candidates. Among those scheduled to take part are Mike Duggan, former CEO of the Detroit Medical Center; Democratic state Rep. Fred Durhal Jr., former state Rep. Lisa Howze, and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.
Among policy issues on the agenda is the longstanding debate over improving education. Michelle Rhee, one of the nation's most visible crusaders for reform, will deliver a speech at the conference. As chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C., she clashed with unions and some parent groups over her proposals to close schools, abolish tenure and fire underperforming teachers.
Among several education panels will be one hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, focusing on the need for better preschool and other early-childhood programs.
"If you make investments in the lives of kids from the very start ... you greatly increase the odds of developing a talented, globally competitive future work force," said Joanne Krell, spokeswoman for the foundation. "You've got to put this issue in front of people and this is a perfect place to do that."
A panel on issues facing the state Legislature will feature House Speaker Jase Bolger, House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.