Posted: September 28, 2022 8:21 AM
During his 44 years working in the Capitol, House Clerk Gary Randall has served with nearly 1,000 legislators and 14 speakers of the House, become the House's institutional memory, driven more than a million miles in 20-plus vehicles commuting to Lansing and helped assure the future of the Capitol itself as the home of the Legislature.
When he retires by the end of this year following 20 years as clerk, six years as assistant clerk and 18 years as a member of the House, Mr. Randall would prefer to step away quietly without fanfare.
That's not going to happen.
"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I don't think it reflects any unique talent or ability at all," he said in a comment that would be nearly universally disputed. "Just having been here is rewarding enough for me. It's been a great ride, and I'm ready to move on."
Mr. Randall has been working busily to assure a seamless handoff to his successor as the House clerk, Scott Starr. He will leave as a project of great importance to him, construction of Heritage Hall and rehabilitation of what was an ugly parking lot on the Capitol's west side back into a lawn, reached completion.
His distinct voice became the soundtrack to the House the last 26 years, whether as clerk or assistant clerk. Something will forever be different during the first reading of introduced bills when someone else says the words, "The people of the state of Michigan enact."
His knowledge was so deep that former Gongwer Vice President Larry Lee, when he created an account for Mr. Randall to use, put his name into the Gongwer system as "The All-Knowing Gary Randall."
"I'd say it was one of the most rewarding jobs I've had," Mr. Randall said. "Not too many people are fortunate enough to, after 44 years, say they are as excited about going to work on the first day as they are on the last."
Mr. Randall was first elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1978 and served for 18 years, retiring in 1997. Rather than run for what would have been his last opportunity under the new term limits law in 1996, he chose to retire from the House.
"I felt there would be a lot of people leaving. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny," he said.
He had considered various job opportunities, including lobbying, which he felt was not for him. Then, he was approached about becoming clerk and "thought it would be something to try."
The clerk is one of two positions filled by election in the House, the other being speaker, on the opening day of each two-year session. Mr. Randall has faced no opposition in his bids for the job.
"I never thought I would be here for 26 years, but it has been some of the most rewarding time of my 44 years in Lansing," he said.
"After 44 years, 18 of those as a representative, I have never really, truly come to grips with how great it has been. To have the trust put in me… I still have difficulty comprehending that," he said. "I have to pinch myself. I have been truly blessed."
A Republican when he was a member of the House, Mr. Randall has alternated in the nonpartisan clerk's office between being the clerk when the GOP controlled the chamber and the assistant clerk when Democrats had the majority. While he's been eligible to retire for a few years, those who have served under his guidance consider themselves lucky that he remained as clerk for as long as he did.
His impact on staff and members, particularly those in leadership positions, has been significant.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) attributes his personal success in leadership, and that of his predecessors, to Mr. Randall. He initially expected his relationship with Mr. Randall to be instructional, but "instead it has been more of a mentorship. He has been a supportive mentor from day one," he said.
Mr. Wentworth, the 14th speaker of the House with whom Mr. Randall has worked, said Mr. Randall has had the ability to assist each with the skill set and personality that they bring to the job.
"He figures out what that next speaker needs. Every speaker is different, but he is able to identify the strengths in each of them. He really knows how to facilitate that transition (between speakers). Speakers would not be as successful without someone like Clerk Randall," Mr. Wentworth said.
When then-Rep. Margaret O'Brien was associate speaker pro tempore, she admired how Mr. Randall ran the business of the House. When she was elected secretary of the Senate in 2019, she integrated what she learned into the Senate's business practices.
As the parliamentarian in the Senate, Ms. O'Brien often discusses procedural matters with Mr. Randall as bills move between the two chambers. They each recognize that the House and the Senate are different bodies with its own rules, despite both operating under Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, she said.
"He understands we (the House and the Senate) are both important but different chambers. Any difference we have doesn't have to be a conflict," she said. "Our fights are never disrespectful because we both want the same things."
Others who have worked with and for Mr. Randall credit his attitude and work ethic to their success. Doug Simon was a journal clerk in the House who later became director of the House committee clerks. As a boss, Mr. Randall was "the best" he's worked for, Mr. Simon said. Now, as chief operating officer of the House, the mutual respect they share has meant few, if any, disagreements.
"We both have our own areas, but we have to collaborate on a number of things. There have been certain situations where we've had a different position, but never an argument. We've always found a way to move forward," he said.
INSTITUTIONAL KNOWLEDGE, INTEGRITY: Few, if any, will argue with not only Mr. Randall's knowledge of the legislative process, but his love and dedication to the institution of the Legislature.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who served in the House from 2001 to 2006, called Mr. Randall a model of what someone in his position should be.
"He has integrity. He's a good person. He's not capricious. He's not partisan. He's vested in the institution. He is fair, thoughtful, wise – too rare in today's environment and incredibly important," she said. "He is the best of public service."
Mr. Wentworth concurred.
"He's got this institution and state at the core of what he does. It takes a special person to do that," he said. "Obviously it will be a great loss when he leaves – the institutional knowledge and framework he provides."
At the same time they acknowledge the void Mr. Randall's departure might create, legislators anticipate the smooth operation of the clerk's office will continue after he leaves.
"The work he is putting into the transition is real work. The consistency and focus are there. That will benefit us in the long run," Mr. Wentworth said. "He wants us to be successful"
House Minority Floor Leader Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) said Mr. Randall is working to assure he passes along key information.
"Gary Randall has done a good job in creating a team of people around him and has fostered an environment where some of that knowledge will be preserved. That's to his credit," he said.
Mr. Randall's current staff of 44 includes his office administration; the House sergeants; the committee clerks; the introduction and enrolling, bill and journal clerks, who make up the session staff; and the House Media Production team. When Mr. Randall officially vacates his position, Mr. Starr, a former legislative and gubernatorial staffer who has been doing on-the-job training since January 2021, will take on the role of clerk of the House and the management of the nonpartisan staff, once elected by the full House.
Following someone like Mr. Randall is daunting, Mr. Starr said.
"It is my absolute dream, but any time you lose a legend, the successor has a lot to live up to. They are enormous shoes to fill," he said. "I consider it a great honor, and I don't take it lightly."
Mr. Randall's foundation of institutional knowledge was laid when began his government career with his election to the House, representing all or parts of Clare, Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Ionia, Isabella, Montcalm and Shiawassee counties over 18 years.
"Forty-four years ago, in a representative office, your hope was that you'd fall in line to get a Selectric typewriter. That was big time," he said, noting how much the operation of the Legislature has evolved.
Mr. Randall considered himself lucky to have had several key pieces of legislation enacted into law, including a bill to prohibit body cavity searches and another that rewrote the horse racing law in 1995.
The integrity Mr. Randall is praised for as clerk also served him when he was a member of the House.
While some might not have agreed with how "Randall the legislator" voted on an issue, they never had a concern over "Randall the person," former Karoub Associates lobbyist Jack Schick said.
"He was always really good about trying to solve problems," Mr. Schick said. "He's got an impeccable reputation across the board. I can't think of anybody ever saying a bad thing about Gary. I don't think anybody could challenge him."
FROM REPUBLICAN LAWMAKER TO NONPARTISAN CLERK: Moving from being an elected Republican member of the House to the nonpartisan clerk "was a bit of a transition. It required quite a bit of self-discipline to remind yourself that you are a staffer, not a member," Mr. Randall said.
Mr. Wentworth said Mr. Randall always maintains that nonpartisan perspective. He knows Mason's Manual, the rule book by which many state legislatures operate, inside and out. He is often called upon to weigh in on procedural questions from the majority or the minority and is a by-the-book parliamentarian.
"He will answer your question. If you don't ask the right question, he does not guide you. He is not going to tell you how to maneuver around," Mr. Wentworth said. "He is very by the book, very centered on the role. People respect him for that. It breeds trust. It breeds confidence in his ability to run his area."
Mr. Randall has guided many a House speaker pro tempore, or associate speaker pro tempore, through the proceedings of the House. When someone stumbles, Mr. Randall can be seen turning around, guiding them in the right direction.
In his role as minority floor leader, Mr. Rabhi sometimes finds himself disagreeing with and challenging motions made by the majority party, but Mr. Rabhi said has fostered a positive relationship with the clerk, which has resulted in working things out in advance, before they "get to the boiling point.
"There have been moments where we have disagreed… with his interpretation, but we have been able to build a productive relationship," he said. "We've been able to bounce back and do the people's business.
"We are able to understand the roles that each of us plays."
Ms. Whitmer added that when she was serving in the House, members sometimes disagreed with Mr. Randall, but they always had confidence in him.
"We didn't always care for the ruling but still respected it," she said.
There was one notable occasion where one member publicly criticized Mr. Randall. During the 2011-12 term, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), then a member of the House, became unhappy with Mr. Randall's rulings, feeling they were partisan and in service of the Republican majority. In 2013, he voted no on Mr. Randall's election as clerk, the lone dissenter. It was unheard of for a member to vote against the clerk.
"Having spent 18 years as a member, I honestly respected his right to make that call," Mr. Randall said. "I disagreed. I think he thought I had far more influence in a partisan way than I ever had, but that was his determination. I respected it. Was I somewhat troubled? I'd be less than honest (if I didn't say) that I was perhaps perplexed."
Assistant Clerk Rich Brown, who has worked with Mr. Randall for 15 years, said there is never a place for favoritism on the part of the clerk.
"Gary does an excellent job of not being partisan. People respect Gary, respect his experience. They may not agree with him, but he is being fair. He would do everything he could to keep this institute respectful and effective," Mr. Brown said.
TERM LIMITS: With House members serving, at the most, six years, Mr. Randall has had a front row seat to how term limits have affected the institution of the Legislature and he has no qualms voicing his opposition to them.
"I think that most of the things that were promised (like less big money and new and fresh viewpoints) never happened," he said. "I haven't seen any evidence that that has happened because the issues have stayed the same." Citing perennial concerns like education and roads, Mr. Randall said, "There's very little that is new. They are the same issues as when I ran in 1978."
The concept that term limits would create "a 'citizen legislature' kind of defies me," he added.
"Everyone who serves is a citizen," he said, noting that each election cycle provides the opportunity for voters to choose a new person to represent them.
Mr. Randall said he sees how the restrictions, six years in the House and eight in the Senate, have impacted the legislative process.
"In looking back, the people I was able to work with and the issues we were able to seek resolution on bring a bit of regret that term limits have changed the way we do business here. I think on balance, the Legislature still represents a good cross section of society. Incoming legislators are good people coming here to do a good job," he said. "The problem is there is a six-year window that doesn't perhaps allow them to reach their full potential."
Some of the best legislation, he added, was the result of building relationships rooted in mutual trust and friendship, because "it is a lot easier to negotiate a good outcome" with that kind of foundation.
"I have seen some of that – the Detroit bankruptcy settlement, for example – that reflect the type of respect and compromise that need to be part of the process, but there is far more politics than should be the case," he said.
CAPITOL COMMISSION: While Mr. Randall is most visible as the clerk of the House, he is an integral part of the operation of the Capitol and its grounds. His experience as both a representative and clerk have contributed to his skill in managing the ongoing maintenance, oversight and preservation of Michigan's 143-year-old Capitol.
Mr. Randall was first a member of Friends of the Capitol, a nonprofit group that formed to preserve the Capitol and advocate on behalf of the building. Friends eventually morphed into the
Capitol Committee, which, among other things, oversaw the original $58.5 million restoration of the building from 1987 to 1992 and the celebration of the state's sesquicentennial in 1987. In 2014, the Capitol Commission was statutorily created to operate, manage, maintain, restore and improve the Michigan State Capitol and Capitol Square. Mr. Randall has been the Commission's only chair.
The Legislature conferred a wide range of responsibility on the commission, Mr. Randall said, including control over the Capitol Historic Site and its grounds. Mr. Randall credits the "remarkable staff," including the groundskeepers and decorative painters, for maintaining the integrity and beauty of a Michigan landmark.
A master gardener, Mr. Randall has watched as the annual planting of the flowers on the east lawn has gone from a volunteer effort where he would be among those digging and planting to a sophisticated operation with stunning designs. He gives all credit to the professionals at Capitol Facilities for how good the east lawn looks.
"It's always been a great effort to beautify the grounds, but we've gone from planting nice plants and hoping they survive to creating a master gardener approach to design species selection and color coordination," he said.
The majority of the commission's decisions, like maintenance, are noncontroversial, Mr. Randall said, but in 2019, when the Capitol was thrust into the national spotlight as photos of armed people in the legislative galleries and outside of the governor's office circulated around the country, the commission was faced with how to deal with guns in the building.
"It was an issue we never saw ourselves taking on. It became very controversial," he said.
There were different viewpoints among commissioners on the best solution and, while banning guns or installing magnetometers were among the options on the table, fellow Capitol Commissioner Bill Kandler said with Mr. Randall in the chair, commission members knew they were dealing with someone who would always be honest.
"That's a very important starting point for anyone's credibility," he said. "You don't have to worry about anyone pulling any punches."
Under current policy, openly carrying a weapon in the Capitol is prohibited.
"We have always taken pride in the fact that this is the people's building. This is your Capitol," Mr. Randall said. "We take security very seriously, but also our responsibility to maintain openness."
The newly opened Heritage Hall is another component under the direction of the Capitol Commission. For years, Mr. Randall championed a visitor/education center, initially proposed in 1992 as Phase III of the original restoration, citing the need for a facility that would do justice to the history and beauty of the Capitol while accommodating the 250,000-plus tourists who visit it each year. Since planning began in earnest, there have been several revisions and budget reductions, with the finished facility coming in at $40 million.
Mr. Randall is pleased that the work of many people over the years has finally come to fruition.
"I was in a position on the Capitol Commission to help facilitate getting it (Heritage Hall) across the finish line, but it has always been a group effort," he said. "I think ultimately the fact that it faced a lot of scrutiny was good.
"It is a very special place. The design lends itself to maintaining the significance of the Capitol building. It will complement but never compete with the Capitol," he said.
"It (Heritage Hall) is quite a capstone to a great career," Mr. Kandler said.
COLLEGE TEACHER: Mr. Randall holds a master's degree in public relations from Central Michigan University and a bachelor's degree in broadcasting from Michigan State University. He was appointed to the Robert Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government at CMU. From 2013 through 2017, he taught two different evening classes: campaigns and elections in the fall semester and development of public policy in the spring semester.
"That was a gratifying experience," he said. "It gave me an opportunity to talk about my first-hand experience as a legislator and a clerk. To talk about that in the classroom brought the whole thing to life for students."
Justin Easter, who majored in political science and graduated from CMU in 2017, took Mr. Randall's classes in the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016. He is now on the House Committee Clerks staff.
One of the best aspects of the class, Mr. Easter said, was that he brought in a wide range of speakers from both parties. Students were able to see that people in significant official and elected positions are "just like everybody else.
"When you're in a class, all you see is what is on TV. You think they are a higher class. They are just normal citizens who want to do good for the state of Michigan," he said.
"It was probably the best class I ever had because we were able to get different points of view," Mr. Easter added. "I remember more things about that class than any other class at CMU. Clerk Randall was very hands-on. He really wanted us to learn."
MAINTAINING BALANCE: Many legislators spend weeknights in Lansing in rented apartments or hotels, but as both a legislator and clerk, Mr. Randall has made the 120-mile round trip from his farm daily. Sometimes, that trip was made more than once in a day: If session ended at 5 or 6 a.m., for example, Mr. Randall would drive home and be back at the Capitol when session reconvened at noon. It was an extremely rare occurrence for him to stay in Lansing.
"We all have to define what's important. For me, the career was great, but the family was greater. I went home. That's where I belonged," he said.
Mr. Randall's wife of nearly 49 years, Brenda, said family has always been his number one priority.
"That's what matters most to him. He comes home every night because this is home," she said. "It was always important to me and the kids (Clif and Amy, now adults with their own families) that he came home every night. It gave us a chance to be together as a family and a couple. Even if he was only home a few minutes before bedtime, it gave them time to talk about their day and have Dad read to them before bed. It meant a lot to us to have him home each night. "
Mr. Randall's most important advice for an incoming legislator – or anyone about to enter the professional world, for that matter – is based on those values.
"Stay well-grounded and draw a line. It is really easy to come up here and get caught up in the trappings. Keep your family first and foremost and represent your constituents as well as you can," he said.
TIME TO TAKE IT EASY? While some anticipate slowing down in retirement, Mr. Randall has no such intentions.
"In the traditional definition, (retirement) is not in my vocabulary. I will be making some changes in my day-to-day life, but as traditionally defined, I don't see it having a place in my life," he said.
Mr. Randall has a full plate. He is an avid collector, with two Model Ts, nine antique tractors, five steam engines and 60 or so rare steam whistles, among other things. He anticipates working with son Clif, with whom he owns Randall's Old Mill Pet and Farm Center in Edmore.
He is also a farmer.
After a day at the Capitol, and sometimes before heading to Lansing in the morning, Mr. Randall tends to his three Gratiot County farms. Two, 80 acres each, are "old family farms." Mr. Randall and his wife live on the third farm, also 80 acres. He has 10 horses (standard-breds and quarterhorses), chickens and 13 Highland cattle. He plans to expand his herd of seven Randall cattle, a breed that had been on brink of extinction.
One of Mr. Randall's favorite side endeavors is beekeeping. He got his first beehive when he was 14 years old. As a freshman at Michigan State University at age 17, Mr. Randall's experience with bees prompted him to take a class in entomology, a subject that eventually became his minor. His interest was further enhanced when he took a job as a bee inspector for the Michigan Department of Agriculture to pay for college.
Mr. Randall now has 130 beehives that are on a busy schedule. In November, the hives are trucked from his farm to Georgia to escape Michigan's cold weather. In January, they are moved to California, where they play an integral role in pollinating that state's almond crop. At the end of that month, they are back to Georgia to pollinate the cantaloupe crop there. In May, the hives are back the Randalls' farm.
Mr. Randall is quick to emphasize the importance of bees. Citing man-made threats like pesticides and those brought about by nature like mites, he said, "It's a struggle for beekeepers.
"Honeybees are endangered and they play such an important role. If things don't change, mankind will suffer," he said.
Mr. Randall does not anticipate venturing too far from the farm in the coming years. Seeing new sights and vacationing are often at the top of the list for many retirees, but he doesn't consider himself much of a traveler.
"Brenda and I are homebodies. We enjoy being at home, being with our kids and grandkids (Clif, wife Niki and their daughter Molly, and Amy and her sons Eli and Charlie)," he said.
Considering family, collections, farming, bees and myriad other pastimes, Mr. Randall does not expect to be bored. Nor does his wife expect him to be.
"He will have enough to keep him busy and if not, he'll find something to do. He's not someone who likes to sit for too long," she said. "He always has a lot of irons in the fire."
He does concede that he will miss the Lansing scene.
"You don't spend 44 years doing something then just walk away without some feeling of loss, but I am looking forward to it," he said.
"I think he will definitely miss it," she said. He's enjoyed it all over the years, but Gary is someone who lives in the present. I think he'd say, 'I enjoyed it, I miss it but it's time to move on.' And he will."
This story was reported and written by Andi Brancato, a former Gongwer News Service staff writer who later worked communications in the House and now is an introduction and enrolling clerk in the House. It was edited by Gongwer News Service staff with additional reporting by Gongwer's Zach Gorchow.