“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.”