Emerging Political Career has Roots in Wittenberg Experience
“Your job is not always to be nice and loved, but always to be decent. I try to do that,” says Andy LaBarre of Ann Arbor, Michigan, '04, of his political role in Washtenaw County, Michigan.
LaBarre is executive vice president at the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as an elected Washtenaw County commissioner in his second term. Prior to accepting the position with the chamber, he was on the staff of Michigan congressman John Dingell.
LaBarre majored in political science and religion at Wittenberg. After graduation, he headed for Washington D.C.He says that working for congressman Dingell helped teach him "the value of process and the notion of pragmatism." While most local politicians rarely speak about faith, LaBarre identifies himself as a Christian. He is a member of the United Methodist Church, the same church he attended as a child with his parents. And he acknowledges that his passion for social justice is based in the Gospels, with the Bible being one of his favorite books.
LaBarre was hired as congressman John Dingell’s assistant at the age of 23 years and held the job for six years. LaBarre credits his time with congressman Dingell as setting the tone for his career. Dingell, says LaBarre, “is not someone I would describe who suffers fools kindly, but he’s a genuinely decent human being and somebody who I think really embodies this notion [that] you work hard to get good outcomes." In an interview with the Ann Arbor Observer, now retired congressman Dingell describes LaBarre as “ hardworking, honest, with a great deal of loyalty. No whining or complaining.”
LaBarre is now second in command to Diane Keller, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, directing government relations for the Chamber. Keller explains that LaBarre “helps make sure we are part of all the important decisions” in the area—a list that includes everything from economic development to mass transit to college affordability.
Most chambers of commerce are politically conservative, with business interests trumping social concerns. LaBarre says that the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber is the only one in the state where he would work, both because it’s “apolitical” and because its members understand that businesses need to be part of the larger community.
“The Ann Arbor Chamber is one of the most progressive I’ve ever encountered,” says county commissioner Yousef Rabhi. “A lot of it is due to [LaBarre’s] thinking.”
LaBarre met his future wife Megan Pugh '04, while at Wittenberg. Partly because of her job teaching special education at Dexter High School. LaBarre feels a special urgency about maintaining help for people with special needs. The state of Michigan continues to issue mandates for what the counties must do – while reducing funding for services like mental health. He’d like to increase those resources.
“We can’t let a desire to sock away money and to have a great bond rating number be the only force in setting budget priorities", he says. “We’ve got to remember people in the equation.”
LaBarre is among the talented younger Democrats mentioned when political watchers discuss future candidates for the Michigan state House and Senate. He says it would be “coy” to deny that he’d ever consider a higher office. But his priorities have shifted. Fourteen months ago Megan gave birth to their second child, Rowan, a month premature. Due to complications, he lived just three days. Now, LaBarre says, “there’s no question that being a dad is my most important job.”
Commissioner, District 7
2411 Meadowridge Court
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Email Andy LaBarre
Andy LaBarre was first elected to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners in 2012, representing District 7, located in the eastern half of the City of Ann Arbor. For 2021 he serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Commissioners, and previously served as Chair of the Board (2017-18), Chair of the Ways and Means Committee (2015-16), and Chair of the Working Session Committee (2013-14). Andy lives in northern Ann Arbor with his wife Megan (a teacher at Dexter Community Schools), son Declan, daughter Delaney, and dogs, Monster and Frankie.
Born in Ann Arbor, Andy is a lifelong Washtenaw resident and a Pioneer High School graduate. He earned his B.A. in Religion and Political Science from Wittenberg University and a Masters of Public Administration from Eastern Michigan University. Andy works at the A2Y Regional Chamber and previously served on staff for Congressman John D. Dingell from 2005 to 2011, most recently as his District Administrator, and previously as Press Assistant for U.S. Senator Carl Levin (2004).
On the Board of Commissioners Andy has given special focus to strengthening the County’s human service capacity, particularly within the Community Mental Health and Public Health departments and the Office of Community and Economic Development. He authored the 2017 Mental Health and Public Safety millage and led its passage through the Board, ultimately being approved by voters by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. Andy has also and led or supported other numerous efforts such as 10-year labor contracts, the proposed reuse of the County’s former juvenile detention facility adjacent to County Farm Park, and others. For 2021 he serves on the Washtenaw County Community Mental Health Board, Space Plan Committee, Emergency Telephone District Board.
Andy is honored and excited to serve, and committed to the protection of human services, promotion of greater racial equity, enhancement of environmental health and access, and efforts to make Washtenaw County a better place for its residents. He encourages constituents to email or call him directly for any needed assistance.
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by Eve Silberman
From the September, 2015 issue
Waiting nervously for his life-changing interview, Andy LaBarre was startled when "this great, big bear-like man comes out of his office." LaBarre's voice deepens as he quotes the man's words: "Andrew! How are you? I'm John Dingell!"
Fifteen minutes into the interview, LaBarre was even more startled when the legendary congressman boomed, "All right! You're hired."
Dingell's chief of staff protested, "Wait, boss, we've got a few more folks to interview." But the job--as Dingell's assistant--went to LaBarre, an Ann Arbor native then just twenty-three years old.
His six years with Dingell set the tone for his career. Dingell, says LaBarre, "is not someone I would describe who suffers fools kindly, but he's a genuinely decent human being and somebody who I think really embodies this notion [that] you work hard to get good outcomes."
Ten years after that interview, LaBarre is both executive vice president at the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber and an elected Washtenaw County commissioner in his second term. "The scales are so much different from Congress," he says of his political role. "But your job is not always to be nice and loved but always to be decent. I try to do that."
Dark haired and calm voiced, LaBarre, thirty-three, projects confidence without arrogance. "Andy's very pragmatic and articulate and does a good job of explaining issues to people," says Leigh Greden, a former city councilmember who himself has worked for both Dingells--John and his wife and successor, Debbie Dingell.
Hired to direct government relations, LaBarre is now essentially second in command to Diane Keller. In an email, Keller explains that LaBarre "helps make sure we are part of all the important discussions" in the area--a list that includes everything from economic development to mass transit to college affordability.
Most chambers of commerce are politically conservative, with business interests trumping social concerns. LaBarre says that the local chamber is the only one in the state where he would work, both because it's "apolitical" and because its members understand that
businesses need to be part of the larger community.
On his watch, the chamber stopped endorsing political candidates. But it's continued to take policy positions, including backing the successful AAATA transportation millage and an unsuccessful effort to annex Whitmore Lake's schools to Ann Arbor.
"The Ann Arbor Chamber is one of the most progressive I've ever encountered," says county commissioner Yousef Rabhi. "A lot of it is due to [LaBarre's] thinking."
On Sunday mornings, LaBarre experiences a sweet sense of deja vu as he walks his almost three-year-old son Declan to the nursery school at First United Methodist Church--where LaBarre's parents took him as a child.
A Pioneer grad, class of 2000 (student council, lacrosse star), LaBarre went on to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, majoring in political science and religion. Although Ann Arborites with political ambitions rarely speak about faith, LaBarre matter-of-factly identifies himself as a Christian and says his passion for social justice is based in the Gospels; favorite books on his Facebook page include both The Autobiography of Malcolm Xand the Bible.
LaBarre met his future wife, Megan Pugh, at Wittenberg; she now teaches special ed at Dexter High. After graduation, he headed for D.C., LaBarre says that working for Dingell helped teach him "the value of process, the notion of pragmatism." He remembers an angry meeting about Obamacare where Dingell was "excoriated for four hours by hundreds of people." LaBarre remembers the congressman's coolness under fire as he struggles with his most contentious issue to date--a plan to build housing on the site of the former county juvenile center on Platt Rd. It's in his district, which is essentially the eastern half of Ann Arbor (he lives in the Foxfire neighborhood off Dhu Varren Rd.). "I took a lot of heat on Platt Rd.," he says, for supporting the project--and when the next vote on it comes up this fall, he predicts, "I'll take more heat."
The county is sometimes described as the "invisible government." Carrying out services mandated by the state--including public health, the sheriff's office, and courts--doesn't usually generate the attention that city council does. But many locals were shocked this spring when the county announced it would close the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, the area's main provider of mental health and addiction services. It was deep in debt, and the county is now going to operate it directly as a county agency.
LaBarre sees more trouble ahead. "There's a perfect storm of bad coming," he warns. Essentially, he explains, the state has continued to issue mandates for what the counties must do--while reducing funding for services like mental health. Partly because of his wife's job, LaBarre feels a special urgency about maintaining help for people with special needs. He and another commissioner recently met with mental health caseworkers "just to hear their day-to-day concerns. These are front-line service providers. Forgive me, they don't make shit! They have too much demand and too little resources."
He'd like to increase those resources. "We can't let a desire to sock away money and to have a great bond rating number be the only force" in setting budget priorities, he says. "We've got to remember people in the equation."
LaBarre is among the talented younger Dems mentioned when political watchers discuss future candidates for the state house and senate. He says it would be "coy" to deny that he'd ever consider higher office. But his priorities have shifted. Fourteen months ago, Megan gave birth to their second child, Rowan, a month premature. Due to complications, he lived just three days. After his death, LaBarre had Rowan's name and a cross tattooed on his arm. Now, he says, "there's no question that being a dad is my most important job."
In a telephone interview, John Dingell describes LaBarre as "hardworking, honest, with a great deal of loyalty. No whining or complaining." As for the quickness with which he made his choice, Dingell, in an offhand reference to his nearly sixty years in Congress, replies, "You develop pretty good judgment over that time."
[Originally published in September, 2015.]
Andy LaBarre is a Washtenaw County commissioner who represents District 7 in Ann Arbor. He also is executive vice president and director of government relations for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Andy LaBarre at a May 8, 2014 working session of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. (Photo courtesy of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.)
In January 2015 he was elected by his board colleagues to serve as chair of the board's ways & means committee, where items are first reviewed and given initial approval.
LaBarre, a Democrat, was first elected to the nine-member Washtenaw County board of commissioners in November 2012, for a two-year term starting Jan. 1, 2013. District 7 was one of the new Ann Arbor districts created after a 2011 redistricting process, which shrank the number of districts from 11 to nine. District 7 covers the northern and eastern part of Ann Arbor, and includes parts of Ward 1, 2 and 3 in Ann Arbor. He defeated former commissioner Christina Montague in the August 2012 Democratic primary, and prevailed over Republican David Parker in November. There was no incumbent in that race.
From 2013 through 2014 he served as chair of the board's working sessions and as such was part of the leadership group that includes the board chair, vice chair, and chair of the board's ways & means committee.
LaBarre won re-election in 2014. He was unopposed in the August Democratic primary and defeated Republican Joe Miriani in November. LaBarre got 8,911 votes (77.14%) compared to 2,604 votes (22.54%) for Miriani.
Prior to his job at the chamber, LaBarre worked for U.S. Representative John Dingell (D-District 12) – first as a personal assistant/legislative correspondent (2005-2006), then as field representative (2006-2008) and finally as district administrator (2009-2011). In 2004 he worked briefly as a press assistant for U.S. Senator Carl Levin.
LaBarre grew up in Ann Arbor and graduated from Pioneer High School. He holds a bachelors degree in religion and political science from Wittenberg University, and a masters degree in public administration from Eastern Michigan University.
He is married to Megan LaBarre, a special education teacher. The couple has a young son, Declan. They live on Ann Arbor's north side near the Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area. Another son, Rowan David, died soon after he was born in July 2014.
LaBarre's campaign website
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