With state Reps. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) and Pam Byrnes (D–Lyndon Twp.) vying for the seat currently held by state Senator Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) this November, the race for their seats is starting to heat up.
Looking to fill Warren’s position as House Rep. for the 53rd district are two Ann Arbor Democrats: Washtenaw County Commissioner Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) and Ned Staebler (D–Ann Arbor), the vice president of capital access and business acceleration at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
A University alum, Irwin said he studied political science as a student and throughout his time as county commissioner.
“I want to change the world, and this seems like a good place to continue my efforts in that regard,” he said.
Irwin said he believes that state-level politics are critical in addressing issues that will affect the lives of Michigan residents.
“Ever since I’ve started getting involved with politics, I’ve always been interested in issues at the state level because that’s where a lot of the most important decisions are made,” Irwin said. “Things such as funding allocation, enforcing environmental laws, criminal justice; all those key decisions about things that are important in our everyday lives.”
Irwin added that as part of his campaign he’s been making visits to the University and reaching out to students to discuss changes they would like to see in their community.
“It’s just a whole lot of personal contact, mostly going to meetings and calling people up on the phone and chatting with them about my ideal ballot and getting their ideas and talking about how we can improve our state,” he said.
Like Irwin, Staebler said he is also running to improve the quality of living for Michigan residents, especially for the younger generation that includes his son, Teddy.
“Teddy is the 7th generation of my family to live in Ann Arbor,” Staebler said. “I want to make sure that Michigan is the kind of place that he can get a world-class education, find a job, settle down, raise a family and maybe more importantly I want to make Michigan the kind of place he wants to do those things in.”
Staebler said throughout his career, he has worked extensively in economic policy, including four years in Lansing for the state’s economic development agency. The key to improving Michigan’s economy, he said, is to make tangible “long-term investments” in avenues of growth like alternative energy resources.
“Leadership is proactive, it’s about accomplishment,” he added. “And Michigan needs more leaders. And I think I’m a leader.”
Ann Arbor attorney Christine Green (D–Ann Arbor) is running against Vice-Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Mark Ouimet (R–Ann Arbor) for Pam Byrnes’s current position as State Rep. of Michigan’s 52nd district.
As an attorney, Green has worked for clients in the area of employment discrimination and civil rights. Green recently defended University graduate student and research assistant Robert McGee in a suit he filed against the University for wrongful termination last November — a case he ultimately lost.
Green said she has seen how the economy has negatively affected her clients and became inspired to do something to change their difficult situations.
“(My clients’) unemployment runs out, they don’t have health insurance, they find the jobs with much less pay and they’re affected for many years in some cases by the loss of their job,” Green said. “All of these things together have inspired me to get going and try to do something about it instead of just sitting back and complaining about it.”
Green said that while she lacks experience as a legislator, her fresh perspective and new insights would be an advantage for her in the race.
“I think that I’m relatively new to government and I think that I’ve had a lot of new ideas and I have a different kind of experience,” Green said. “I come with a lot of energy and a lot of ideas for change and I think that we need to be looking everywhere for our answers.
Green’s opponent Ouimet said the main reason he is running for the House seat is because he thinks Michigan legislators are too concerned with their party agendas.
“I think (the government’s) been far too partisan, and we’ve had people in Lansing who have had difficulty getting things accomplished, both in terms of understanding what the complex problems are and how to deal with them because they don’t have the background to do so,” he said.
Ouimet said if elected, he would like to work toward an initiative that establishes a budget system that would better care for schools that are damaged by the state’s struggling economy.
“I think we need to create a two-year budget and in that two-year budget we need to maintain and protect our educational systems, our K-12 and our university systems,” Ouimet said. “We must ensure that we’re a state of education and unfortunately we continue to penalize our school systems and our colleges and universities.”
Ouimet said his political experience will give him an edge over Green, adding that a lack of experience is one of the major issues plaguing the Michigan legislature.
“I think one of the issues that we have in government is that people wake up one morning and say ‘Gee, it’s a great idea to run for a political office,’ and not having any experience is really starting to show in the state,” Ouimet said. “And I have that experience.”