By Celeste Kanpurwala
State Senator Jeff Irwin wants to fight for the underdog. Says Irwin, “I like to talk a lot – I have a lot to say.”
That is just what Irwin did at RoosRoast on Saturday, Feb. 16, where about 25 of his constituents gathered over the course of two hours to discuss the current issues affecting our city and state.
Irwin began by speaking about the committees he serves on in the Senate, starting with the oversight committee, which addresses the plights in our veterans homes and the “many problems” in our prison system. He is also on the appropriations committee that determines where we spend our money, which includes the subcommittee of general government that Irwin explains is a “fun grab bag of all the things that don’t fit anywhere else.”
His other two subcommittees are universities & community colleges and community health & human services. His last two committees include the judiciary & public safety committee and the joint committee on administrative rules (JCAR for short).
After introducing his many committees (when Irwin was asked by Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich which committees he wanted to be on, his answer was all), Irwin spoke about the Polluter Pay Bill that he just introduced on Thursday with State Representative Yousef Rabhi, with the goal of forcing polluters to clean up their messes and “restore the environment to the way it was before.”
Irwin is especially concerned with the “little guys in Detroit” who are breathing in polluted air and suffering from asthma as a result. He complains that almost all permits requested from the Department of Environmental Quality are granted, with little repercussion when the end result is more pollution of our air and water.
Irwin is also proud to support Governor Whitmer’s executive order to protect our clean water. While the Senate recently voted to overturn her executive order, Irwin is hoping that the governor “has a giant stack of these on her desk.” He suggested that she make her order effective immediately instead of in 60 days. This would allow for the changes to take effect before the House or Senate could vote against it. Irwin mentioned that the House quickly passed her executive order, but the Senate kept it for a week before finally voting against it, despite various environmental groups speaking out.
Next, Irwin addressed his proposal for a graduated income tax bill, which makes a change to our state constitution and would reduce taxes for 95 percent of the population. It would equalize the tax rate for all Michiganders and give more money to the state for education (although Irwin admitted that it is difficult to allocate money towards specific purposes and keep the money away from special interest groups). While Irwin stated that he doesn’t think it has a chance to go through the legislature, he is trying to get interest groups to put his tax proposal on the ballot.
While Irwin said that the Democratic-Republican split in the Senate is “a lot less bad” than it was, with 16 Democrats to 22 Republicans (formerly 12 and 26), he gave the audience the unfair fact that in the state of Michigan, Senate Republicans are allocated 5 staffers while the Democrats only get 3 staffers (although he mentions that it is equal in Congress and not as unbalanced in the State House). Irwin is hopeful that we can get this changed in the budget this year. He did state that Michigan Senators were allocated an extra $10,000 this year, which is given to them from the leaders of the parties who distribute the funds.
One way that Irwin addresses how he can exert more influence in the Senate while being a minority is to know more. He does his research and he “really cares about the details.” He demonstrated this during his tenure as State Representative for 6 years, and before that as county commissioner for 11 years. Irwin says that the biggest struggle is a “dearth of information,” so his goal is to give people the straight information.
Irwin spoke about the political climate in Michigan and how certain counties are switching parties. He said that while Oakland County is leaning more Democratic, the counties of Macomb and Monroe, as well as the Upper Peninsula, are leaning more and more Republican. He warns against “the orange menace” in our presidential office – to watch these counties (and help them if at all possible) so that they don’t continue to keep Michigan a red state. According to Irwin, Michigan could be the top state in the country for spending and campaigning for Trump in 2020.
Speaking of Trump and some of his work in the oval office, an audience member expressed concern about the protection of Roe vs Wade. Irwin explained that in Michigan, abortion is illegal. However, because Roe vs Wade is in force on a national level, it trumps the state law and protects a woman’s right to choose. However, if there were a Supreme Court decision to overturn it or weaken this federal law, it could make abortion a “felony” in our great state. Irwin has introduced a bill to make it legal.
There are other bills being worked on to protect women’s rights, specifically a few that would protect women from domestic abusers. Irwin is working with some state representatives across the state to essentially create a red flag law in the state of Michigan that would keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers and those with prior offenses. In fact, there is a bill that will likely be proposed this week addressing this.
One of the last topics talked about was we can make our voices heard in the legislature. Irwin encouraged the audience to visit his office and call him. After all, he wants to fight for us.