State Senator Jeff Irwin will serve another term in office for Michigan's new 15th district
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and our post-election coverage continues, as it will throughout the day. When district lines were redrawn in Michigan, representation in Washtenaw County in the state Senate went from one district to two. I'm David Fair, and I can tell you that Jeff Irwin is going to serve another four years in the state Senate. The Ann Arbor Democrat easily won reelection, but he'll move from the current 18th state Senate District to the newly drawn 15th district. Representative Irwin, thanks for the time after what I'm sure was a long night. And congratulations on your win.
Jeff Irwin: Yeah, thank you. And good morning, David.
David Fair: It is, by all appearances, going to be a change in Lansing and how the shape of the state Legislature looks. Governor Whitmer has won reelection, and if things hold through the certification project, it just might be the Democrats will have control of both the state Senate and the state House. How might that change how you approach your legislative duties?
Jeff Irwin: Well, it's a big change, David. Republicans have controlled the Michigan State Senate continuously for almost 40 years now, since 1983. And that's had a big impact on our schools and on our roads and, you know, on a variety of issues. And so, I think what you're going to see is Democrats will roll up our sleeves and work with everybody to try to reinvest in our schools, rebuild our mental health system, and, you know, just focus on trying to make a better Michigan.
David Fair: I certainly don't have to tell you that polarization is an issue at the state level, as well as the federal level. And while Democrats may assume control and be able to pass some legislation, it didn't before. The margins are going to be very narrow. So, bipartisanship and working together will be important. What do you anticipating needing to accomplish to get that part of your duties done?
Jeff Irwin: Well, there's a couple of things to say about that. One, I really agree with what Governor Whitmer has been saying for the last four years and what she repeated throughout her campaign, which is that Democrats are willing to roll up our sleeves and work with anybody who wants to focus on a better Michigan and who wants to talk seriously about our future and how we work on it together. You know, what I'll also say, though, is that I think this election was a real rebuke of the polarization and really the nastiness and negativity that the Republican Party has thrown in more and more with as the Trump faction has taken over the Republican Party. And so, you know, we've seen that here in Michigan. The extreme right wing--the Trump group within the Republican Party--has really taken over. And we saw that with campaigns across the state. We saw that with their statewide candidates who were election deniers and frankly, not talking about the serious issues that most Michiganders care about. And, you know, we saw it in the legislative races where a lot of the campaigns on the other side were just highly negative, and, you know, a lot of distortions and a lot of distractions from those core issues like health care and affordability and infrastructure and education. And so, you know, hopefully, this election would seem to be a real rebuke of that negative strategy. We will hopefully cause the Republicans to, you know, be more willing to talk about these serious issues that are important to our future.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with Jeff Irwin, the winner of the 15th District State Senate seat in the November general election. Now, voters in your hometown of Ann Arbor have passed a 20-year, one-mill tax to fund the Community Climate Action Plan that will take A2Zero to another level. Washtenaw County working on its own series of climate goals. I know you are in support of those measures. Are there components contained within that you will put forth in Lansing with greater hopes that they'll be enacted now?
Jeff Irwin: Well, I think that there are some opportunities in Lansing to make it easier for people and business owners to become part of our clean energy future. Right now, the rules in Michigan make it very difficult for people to, you know, plug in, you know, a system of their choosing. There are restrictions on the size of the system you can put on your house or your business. And there are additional fees that people who are attempting to put clean energy under the grid have to pay. And so, I think that maybe we'll get a closer look at some of those rules that have really been put in place to benefit the utilities and make it harder for us to transition to clean energy and also make it harder for citizens and business owners to be part of that solution. And so, the passage of the A2 climate millage into Ann Arbor and the change in the state Legislature, I think, gives us greater hope that we can make some of those rules that govern how utilities and customers interact a little more fair.
David Fair: As we headed into the election, Republicans continued to say, as did much of the media, that surveys showed more people were concerned with inflation and cost of living than they were any other issue. I don't have to tell you, there are folks hurting here in Michigan. Homelessness, housing and food insecurity are up, inflation pushing people out of the consumer market. What role might the state Legislature now better address as we try to tackle those issues?
Jeff Irwin: Yeah, well, people are struggling with higher costs. And, you know, the state needs to look at a variety of ways to help people meet those costs. One of them is to continue our path of fixing these roads. One of the things that's really a big tax on drivers is when they blow a tire or bend the rim. It can really set people back. I think we can also look at some tax policy changes. One of the things that's happened really aggressively during the Snyder administration was increasing taxes on low and middle-class taxpayers and lowering taxes on high-income earners. I think you can expect to see Democrats try to flip that script and say, "No! The people who are benefiting most from our system need to pay in a greater percentage. And the people who are on the margins and people who are struggling most with those high milk prices or gas prices are the ones who need a little break."
David Fair: And might you try and dedicate some of that additional tax revenue to issues that address social, racial, and environmental inequity?
Jeff Irwin: Well, I think we will. You know, and as I said earlier, I think we need to get really serious about rebuilding our mental health system here in the state of Michigan. That's important to people all over the state. But, you know, it's particularly important to people in poverty. I think we need to continue to improve our system for child care and for elder care. Those are issues that affect every part of the state but tend to also affect people who are in poverty even more.
David Fair: What are you most optimistic about as you head into your second and final term in the state Senate?
Jeff Irwin: Well, one of the things I'm most optimistic about is what we can do with education and with college affordability. One of the things that was really exciting in the last budget is that we created a new state scholarship program that was hard fought and very controversial that will provide, you know, young, smart, hardworking people an opportunity to get some support from the state to go to either college or into a skilled trades program. And before this change, Michigan was one of the worst states in the country in terms of need-based financial aid. And this is going to catapult us up the rankings pretty significantly. So, I'm hopeful that we can protect that and build on that. I'm also really hopeful that we can improve our system of care for our seniors. This is an issue that affects everyone, and families across the state are struggling with, you know, how to care for their loved ones, how to make sure that people can age in place, and stay happy and healthy. And, you know, I think that there's a lot of good bipartisan work that we can do on that as well.
David Fair: Well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your perspective this morning. And congratulations on the win.
Jeff Irwin: Thank you so much.
David Fair: That is Ann Arbor Democrat Jeff Irwin, who won another four years in Lansing by winning the 15th District State Senate race. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU.
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