Come the Aug. 3 state primary elections, Ann Arbor voters will see two familiar names on the ballot.
State Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) will be forced to step down from her current position next year due to term limits, allowing contenders State House Speaker Pro Tempore Pam Byrnes (D–Lyndon Twp.) and State Rep. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) to vie for the State Senate’s 18th district seat this November.
Byrnes said that if elected to the Senate seat, she will expand on initiatives that she has pushed for in the House but didn’t have enough time to come to fruition.
“With term limits, we just get started with various policy issues and then we’re cut off,” Byrnes said. “And there’s just so many more things that I want to see accomplished with my vision for what I’d like to see for Michigan to be back on the right track. We need to have this long-term vision about the quality of life here at Michigan.”
Warren echoed Byrnes’s sentiment of hoping to be a member of the state Senate as a way to expand on legislation she worked on in the House. She noted that during her time in the House, she has worked extensively on many environmental initiatives that were successfully passed in the House, and would like to see similar legislation make it to the Senate during the upcoming term.
“I’ve been able to work pretty successfully on some important bill packages that were done in a bipartisan way and were able to become law,” Warren said. “There were a number of others that went to the Senate and just languished in committee. I want to run for the Senate so that I can go to the other side of the dome and help work on those pieces of legislation that haven’t gotten the light of day in the Senate yet.”
Byrnes said she will continue to advocate for issues like transportation infrastructure, education and reversing the state’s brain drain.
“We need to keep our young people here and retain the talent that we have here and make sure that we have the quality of life that keeps the young people here,” Byrnes said. “And that’s all related to jobs and the economy and making sure that we are encouraging the goals of businesses that will keep our talented young people here in Michigan.”
The current chair of the House Transportation Committee, Byrnes said she would like to change the “terrible roads” of Michigan because it forces businesses in the state to use additional resources to safely transport employees and goods.
“Why would a company want to come to Michigan with those kinds of conditions when they have to move people and their goods in a safe and efficient manner?” Byrnes said. “They want to have their employees get to work on time; they want to have them commute there safely.”
Byrnes also noted that Michigan has been lacking in improving its public transportation systems, and said that she would like to work toward establishing better transportation alternatives in the state.
“Michigan has been behind in those efforts, whether it’s commuter rail, whether it’s the bus, whether it’s high-speed rail,” she said. “We need to be working on enhancing our multi-modal transportation infrastructure.”
Byrnes also said she’s always been passionate about improving early childhood education in the state and finds it imperative to continue to try to find ways to fund education, especially at the elementary level.
“We need to continue finding ways to fund that properly and to make sure we put as much emphasis on early childhood education as we do post-secondary,” Byrnes said.
Warren said she, too, is a strong proponent of supporting education at all levels and feels it’s crucial to helping the state grow amidst difficult economic conditions.
“I really strongly feel that the only way we’re going to turn Michigan around is to invest in education,” Warren said. “So I want to continue to work on making sure we have our citizens ready for the 21st century jobs that are here today and definitely going to be here tomorrow.”
Election reform and voter rights are other issues Warren said she’s passionate about. She said she has been working on repealing Michigan’s Rogers’ Law — which requires the address on a voter’s registration card to be the same as the address on the voter’s driver’s license.
Warren said this legislation hinders college students from voting for candidates and issues in the district of their universities.
“I’m making sure that our first-time voters, our young people, who are just registering to vote and going off to college, have access to the ballot,” Warren said.
Byrnes said she believes her diverse work experience in Ann Arbor will be an advantage over Warren. Byrnes — who previously worked as an attorney — has lived in Washtenaw County since 1975. She said she feels she has a deep understanding of the strengths of the county and how she can develop these assets in a way that will benefit the state.
“I’ve had contact in the community for 30-plus years,” Byrnes said. “So I think that gives me the understanding of knowing the diversity in Washtenaw County, as well some of the strengths in Washtenaw County. And I think I know the people.”
Warren said her main campaigning strategy is to personalize herself and allow her potential constituents to get to know her and her policies.
“It’s always been my style to run a pretty strong feel-focused campaign,” Warren said. “I’ve always believed that the best way for me to win over someone’s vote or their support for the race that I’m running in, is to get as personal as I can.”
Warren said her voting record and her strong ability to negotiate to get things accomplished for the people of Washtenaw County is what distinguishes her from Byrnes.
“I have found that unique ability to work across the aisle and across the dome to get important legislation passed,” Warren said. “And I think that record just speaks for itself, being able to negotiate in a very politicized world up here and actually get important things accomplished for the residents of Washtenaw County.”