Candidate Profile: Irwin brings experience to 18th District senate race


Jeff Irwin says his experience is the best defense voters in Washtenaw County’s 18th District have against cuts to public services, and he says he’ll call on that experience if elected to the State Senate.

“I’ve learned a lot in 17 years of public service,” said Irwin, one of a handful of candidates running for the 18th District seat. “I know how to fight when cuts are proposed. I’ve been to the schools. I’ve been to the group homes, I’ve talked to the people who live there. Experience counts.”

Indeed, Irwin has plenty of government experience upon which to call as he squares off against other candidates for the seat currently held by Democrat Rebekah Warren, who is being term-limited. He was a Washtenaw County Commissioner from 1999-2010 and was a State Representative in the 53rd District for six years before being term-limited himself in 2016.

Irwin is vying for the 18th District seat against Washtenaw County Commissioner Michelle Deatrick, a Democrat; and Anuja Rajendra, an Ann Arbor entrepreneur and social activist, also a Democratic candidate. Current State Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) – while not yet officially a candidate – is expected to run. The primary election will be in August and the general will be in November.

The 18th District is composed of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, Milan, Ann Arbor Township, Augusta Township, Pittsfield Township, Salem Township, Superior Township, York Township and Ypsilanti Township.

Irwin was well known during his time in Lansing for being a steward for the environment. He kept a close eye on the Pall-Gelman dioxane plume, which contaminated three square miles of drinking water under the city of Ann Arbor. He pushed hard to toughen standards for dioxane levels in drinking water, helping to lower acceptable levels from 85 parts per million to 7.2 parts per million.

As part of his environmental efforts as a State Representative, Irwin developed the “green tea” coalition to promote community solar and Energy Freedom legislation. The legislation was essential in protecting net metering, a policy that allows homeowners and business owners to get a fair price for the excess energy they produce.

Irwin says his environmental work in Lansing is just one example of how he “works hard to represent our progressive values and to communicate an alternative vision of what Michigan can be.”

Irwin has lived in Ann Arbor since 1995, now residing near the intersection of Packard and Platt. He and his wife, Kathryn, have two children, who both attend Pittsfield Elementary School. He has lived in Washtenaw County for 22 years, arriving in the area to attend the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. While Irwin was still a student, he took an organizing job with the League of Conservation Voters and then won a seat on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

Irwin lists the “human dignity of all people” among his top priorities as a public servant.

“We have to fight against cutting basic human services that are necessary for many of our citizens,” Irwin said. “People with health problems, with mental health problems need a voice; someone in Lansing who is going to look out for their interests when Republicans want to cut services.”

Irwin points to his ability to work with Republicans, but isn’t shy when decrying some of their policies. And he has a message for constituents who are fed up with government because of the deluge of negativity in the current political arena.

“The headlines are scary, I realize that,” he said. “But just because we have a dangerously incompetent person at the head of the nation doesn’t mean there aren’t important decisions to be made. And many of those decisions are at the state level.

“State government is a $56 billion a year business. We need people with experience and passion for human dignity to make the decisions. I’ve proven since a young age, by my fights in human rights, a fairer economy, the environment … that I’m in this for the right reasons.”

Irwin says education is another priority, not only for the state of Michigan, but particularly for the people of the 18th District.

“It starts with school funding,” he said. “We have to realize that schools fuel our future prosperity, good schools create good incomes, good-paying jobs, our foundation is the schools. If a community is growing, you can count on it having successful schools.

“The 18th District is a prime example of an area where education is so important, with our universities, colleges, and even our K-12. We need to leverage our educational assets, and not just for the basics.

“We need art, career tech, music; these are the kinds of programs that help people live happy lives.”

Irwin has been active in advocating for the legalization and regulation of marijuana in Michigan, calling the money spent on arresting marijuana offenders “a waste.”
“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year arresting and trying people for marijuana possession,” Irwin said. “We could use that money in far more productive ways.. And if we legalize and regulate cannabis, we not only make it safer but we bring in revenue.”

Irwin calls the right to represent people and fight for them “a wonderful, special opportunity.”

“These are important issues, but you should enjoy what you’re doing,” he said. “You should have a passion for it, and I do.”

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