Former Ann Arbor rep launches campaign for Michigan Senate

Sunday, October 22, 2017 - 6:16pm

Former Michigan House Rep. Jeff Irwin is launching his campaign for Michigan Senate, running in the 18th District. State Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, currently holds the seat, but is term limited and is unable to run again in 2018.

Irwin served in the House from 2011 to 2016 in the 53rd District, which comprises the southern part of Ann Arbor and most of the University of Michigan’s campus. State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, succeeded Irwin earlier this year.

Irwin, known for his strong advocacy for public education, plans to continue to push for increased funding for public education, as well as addressing the criminal justice system, environmental concerns and the issues in Flint, among other issues.

“I want to fight for tangible improvements to the quality of life for the people in Michigan,” Irwin said. “Democrats have been a minority, and a deep minority, for a long time, so I think it’s inextricably linked with the bad choices that Michigan has been making over the course of the last decades, particularly with respect to education and education funding.”

In recent years, the funding for public education in the state of Michigan has declined. Irwin said one way he plans to address that is through proposing a graduated income tax, similar to the one at the national level. In addition to generating revenue that can go toward education, Irwin said, a graduated income tax would create a more equitable taxation system in the state.

“The first bill I ever introduced when I got to Lansing was to create a graduated income tax for Michigan,” Irwin said. “That would allow us to, like the federal rate is graduated, charge a higher rate on individuals who are doing very well. That alone would be a huge revenue option. We could bring in $700 million a year, which is 7 percent of the general fund, just with equalizing the tax burden as a percentage of income between low-income and high-income individuals.”

Public Policy senior Rowan Conybeare, ​chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said she looks forward to the ideas Irwin and other candidates for Senate put forward in coming months.

"We're incredibly excited to see so many incredible candidates running for this seat in 2018,” Conybeare said. “Jeff has been a great advocate of College Democrats in the past, and we look forward to hearing his — and other candidates' — vision for Michigan."

Irwin has been a strong advocate for the legalization of marijuana and is currently the political director of a ballot committee, led by the Marijuana Policy Project, to put the legalization of marijuana on the 2018 ballot.

“I also think we have a broken and racist criminal justice system, and when we have a system where we arrest young Black men at 3.3 times the rate that we arrest young white men for the same crime, which is marijuana possession, when those groups use at roughly the same rate, is wrong,” Irwin said. “I think it’s a huge problem socially and there’s a lot of reasons to do it (legalize marijuana).”

Irwin believes the money the state spends on trying and incarcerating individuals for marijuana, along with the potential the tax revenues the state would earn from marijuana sales, could go toward public education funding.

“There’s also a revenue opportunity. Right now, in the state of Michigan, we spend about a couple hundred million dollars on arresting and trying and locking up the 23,000 people we arrest on an annual basis for marijuana possession,” Irwin said. “We could redirect those resources to other, more important criminal activity to shut down, there’s a lot of opportunities there. … But also, we could put a tax on the product and the proposal that we’re currently gathering signatures for, and hope to get on the ballot next November, would do just that.”

Engineering sophomore Lincoln Merrill, press correspondent for the University's chapter of College Republicans, said nationally, Republicans may be able to win seats from Democratic incumbents where Trump won, but regarding the 12th congressional district in Michigan, it remains to be seen if Republicans can flip it.

“I’m not sure Republicans can flip Michigan’s 12th congressional district, which Ann Arbor is in, but overall the House race should end in the Republicans’ favor,” Merrill said.

Similarly, Residential College senior Leah Schneck said she has grown to admire Irwin in her work with him.

"I'm always struck by his integrity and dedication," Schneck said. "He is known mostly for working to protect our environment and to "regulate marijuana like alcohol", but I've always appreciated how vocal he is about women's access to comprehensive heathcare and economic justice issues. At his campaign kickoff this past weekend he told a story about a time while he was a State Rep. when a new law significantly decreased food stamp payments for many Michiganders, and how his staff did research to figure out what specific provision had caused the decrease. He then got a bill passed to rectify the disparity. He's the kind of representative who works really hard to find commonground with other legislators in order to pass bills that not only benefit his constituents, but Michiganders across the state."

While there are many Democrats who have declared candidacy for the gubernatorial race in Michigan, Irwin hasn’t endorsed any of them yet. He said what he’s looking for is someone who has experience and knows how to get things done.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see Gretchen Whitmer as a senator. I’ve had the opportunity to see what she did when the Republicans brought up bad legislation that wasn’t in the interest of Michigan citizens. … I know that with her, it’s not just words and a sales pitch. So I like that about her,” Irwin said. “I like her experience in government because I also know that one of the reasons why Rick Snyder has been such an enormous failure is because he came into the job not knowing anything about how state government operates.”

Irwin continued, adding that from what he’s seen, the other Democratic candidates don’t have the experience Irwin believes is necessary to be successful in government.

“And I think that experience and a body of information on the issues that you’re dealing with is really important to make the right decision for the right reasons and in the right way,” Irwin said. “And I’m afraid that some of these other candidates, while they have good values, at least what I’ve seen so far, don’t have the body of experience or the depth of knowledge on the specific issues that state government’s dealing with.”