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Former Washtenaw County Commissioner Yousef Rabhi Now Fighting For Local Issues In Lansing

Yousef Rabhi, representing the 53rd District, is one of three new State House Representatives from Washtenaw County.  We sent WEMU’s Jorge Avellan to spend a day with Rabhi and report on the work he’s doing on your behalf in Lansing.

"Hello, this is State Representative Yousef Rabhi. How are you?"

The view from his office window has changed.  Now, YousefRabhi looks out over the Capitol building in Lansing while chatting on the phone with concerned constituents. 

"I think, you know, that's one of the things I really identified as one of the major problems over at the DEQ is that there is no real process for citizens to be involved and to have some oversight over the decisions that the DEQ is making."

He made the move from county politics to state politics, but his priorities remain similar.  Rabhi has worked for years to find a solution to the1,4Dioxane plume in Ann Arbor.  His first action as State Representative - introducing House Bill 4123

"Basically, the way it would look is when the liable party is identified by the DEQ instead of sort of allowing them to get away with just creating a containment plan, a plan that limits human exposure it would actually require that liable party to clean-up the pollution from where they contaminated. In the case of Ann Arbor, Dioxane is pretty treatable in terms of removing the pollutant from the water. It’s not a very expensive process, the main issue is that you need to pump the water out. That’s one of the main expenses getting the water out of the ground and then pumping it back once it’s been treated."

Next on Rabhi’s schedule was a meeting with two members of the Michigan Association of Counties.

"Hello, how are you?"

He sits on the opposite side of the conversation now as the group speaks with him about concerns from a county government perspective.  DeenaBosworth, the Director of Governmental Affairs, brings up the tax revenue struggles some counties, like Washtenaw, are still facing.

"When property values dropped, property taxable values dropped, local revenue dropped significantly, 30% somewhere, 40%, some 50% depending on where you were, and it takes decades to get back to where we were."

Between 2007 and 2013, Washtenaw County homes experienced a 19% decline in taxable value.  The drop in Ypsilanti was even more severe – 43% compared to Ann Arbor’s 9%.

Bosworth explains why they met with the newly minted state representative.

"As a former local government official, he understands it. He actually knows what it’s like to balance a budget and to provide the services at the county level and he knows what it takes. So, somebody who really understands local government finance and local government revenue can help carry out that message to the rest of the legislatures for us)

The Speaker of the House bangs the gavel during a session on the House floor.  Rabhi’s seat is at the very front of the room on the Democrat side.  From there, he plans to fight another issue important to his constituents - immigrants’ rights.  

"Their reaction in Lansing here is that folks on the other side if the aisle, the Republicans side have been talking about it and actually introduced one piece of legislation to impose a penalty on communities that have adopted a sanctuary city status, and I think that’s absolutely regressive, and I obviously will not be supporting it, and I think I’ll be doing everything I can to work against it. Particularly, a provision of that house bill that specifically targets law enforcement and penalizes communities where law enforcement isn’t cooperating with ICE."

Ann Arbor is one of the cities in Michigan that has passed city council resolutions to support the immigrant community.   YousefRabhi knows that local support for issues like this will help him find success with his new job in Lansing.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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