When the Trump administration announced that it was eliminated an Obama-era policy to protect the rights of transgender students, Betsy Devos was already working behind the scenes to assure her employees in the Education Department that she was on their side of the issue. It was a small battle that she had lost, but she deftly handled the fallout in order to continue to influence future policies.
It was just one example of Devos’s political acumen developed during her years as an advocate for public education reform in Michigan. She learned how to choose when and why to publicly fight opponents and when to bide her time. Many people who know her from her time in Michigan politics don’t expect Betsy to let temporary defeats to discourage her from being a player in the Trump administration.
Indeed, those who know Betsy Devos well believe she has been given a bad rap by observers in the early days after her appointment as Secretary of Education because of her conservative efforts to expand charter school in Michigan. Despite the characterizations of her leadership style as “unprepared” or “insulated,” Michigan sources say she is an astute leader known to be practical and giving even by her opponents there.
Devos is no stranger to elite politics, having been born into the wealthy and conservative Prince family and marrying Dick Devos, the heir to the Amway empire. The couple rose to take the lead in the business community of Grand Rapids during the 1990s and worked to rein in local and state government excesses. Their efforts to expand school choice was just one of the many political causes they championed. They also worked to ensure that local government decisions about economic development were prudent.
That hasn’t stopped the Devos family from being generous philanthropists. Their family foundation has invested as much as $139 million to charitable causes. This is far larger than any of the political contributions they made to political causes or electoral campaigns. They’ve been the driving force behind innovative alternative schools, a children’s hospital, and numerous community programs designed to teach leadership and life skills to those in need of uplift.
Time will tell, but Betsy Devos’s local allies in Michigan expect that she’ll weather the public scrutiny, and her true character for political strategy and generosity will shine through.
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