GVSU faculty runs for state rep

Ryan Jarvi

Grand Valley State University professor Donijo Robbins DeJonge announced last Tuesday that she will run for state representative in next year’s election.

DeJonge, who is running as a Republican, is seeking the 76th District House seat, currently occupied by Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). If elected, she would step down from her position of professor in the School of Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration at GVSU.

DeJonge served as comptroller for the city of Grand Rapids from November 2010 through December 2012, and that experience, she thinks, will help her in Lansing to tackle the primary issue for people of the district.

“Education and jobs,” she said. “Why ask others what is important to them—ask parents, and they say education; ask the workers and they say job security, ask the college students and they say affordable tuition and jobs. I believe that education and jobs—the economy and brain drain; college students leaving the state for jobs in other states—are the focus today and will continue to be when I am state representative.”

DeJonge said she believes Michigan’s government faces a number of problems, but the biggest issue is the divided opinions of legislators, specifically regarding funding and policy. The government’s habit of using old policies or funding models that no longer apply to the changing economy and tax base is one example.

“Consider road funding,” she said. “The revenue for roads comes mainly from the gas tax. As we buy cars with better MPG or simply park the car and take the bus, we consume less gas, which means fewer dollars to fund the roads. We have to find a new model. This is true not just for roads but for education, revenue sharing and the like.”

As state allocations to higher education have been decreasing, and though it might not always be fair, DeJonge said it forces colleges to think in new ways.

“In fact, GVSU is a model that should be applauded by the state,” she said. “We are lean and mean, effective, and we are the lowest funded in the state. With more money, we could do more, particularly charge lower tuition, but perhaps one way to think of it is that the low funding incentivizes GVSU to think outside the box to deliver a great service—education—while being one of the lowest funded universities.”

She compared GVSU to the Oakland Athletics in the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” by Michael Lewis.

In the book, the team had the third lowest payroll in the MLB. Because it didn’t have enough money to pay the big-name stars, it needed to find a different way to win. It developed a new model that focused on analyzing specific statistics of players, such as on-base percentages, rather than hitting or speed. The A’s ended up setting an American League record of 20 consecutive wins.

“Why?” DeJonge asked. “A new way of thinking.”

As comptroller of Grand Rapids, DeJonge attempted to have the position’s $72,000 salary cut in half, but a citizens panel, which determines salaries of the city’s elected officials, rejected her proposal and decreased the salary to $53,200 instead.

DeJonge resigned as comptroller after voters rejected her proposal to make the job an appointed position rather than an elected one. She said she believed a comptroller appointed by the city manager and approved by the City Commission would de-politicize and professionalize the position.