NewsBlack History Month

From MSU football, to Marines to Michigan House speaker, Joe Tate is making history

Posted at 5:51 PM, Feb 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-20 18:15:06-05

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — “One of the great parts about being in the Marine Corps is it is like they teach you how to be a leader,” said Joe Tate, Michigan speaker of the House, D-10 District.

Now for Tate, that word "leader" is synonymous with his title "speaker."

One could argue he was poised to be one long before people began uttering speaker when addressing him.

“It starts with my parents and my dad was a firefighter for the city of Detroit on the east side of Detroit. My mom was a public school teacher for the Detroit Public Schools,” Tate said.

Service, the 42-year-old says, was instilled in him early, accentuated by his father’s passing in the line of duty while Tate was just two months old.

“That always stuck with me just growing up with that and with my mother and family and friends teaching me, you know, in order to do your best, you have to give back to others. So that's how it started for me. I moved into athletics later,” Tate said.

WXYZ’s Brian Abel joked, “And I can't imagine why.”

“Right?” said Tate.

“Figure skating,” responding to the humor to Abel.

His humor and 6-foot-5 stature carried him through a successful football career. First at Michigan State. Then in the big leagues: Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams.

Afterward, he began as a service member with the Marines.

“I view the Marine Corps as one that aligned with where I could best fit and where I can best give back and I just took the plunge,” Tate said.

It would take him to Afghanistan.

“That's where that leadership was honed because, you know, as an infantry officer, as a Platoon Commander in Afghanistan, you know, I was responsible for the success or failure of my platoon. And I was in charge of Marines and sailors. So, I had to be able to make the right decisions on their behalf, not only for mission accomplishment but to take care of them as well,” Tate said.

Now, Tate leads Democrats as the first Black speaker of the Michigan House, an accomplishment that's not lost on him.

“Black History Month, when we talk about your ascension to your role as speaker, you're now part of that history. How does that weigh on you?” Abel asked.

“Well, it is exciting, but I think at top of mind for me is I stand on the shoulders of giants. So, there have been people that have come before me, men and women, Black and white, that have laid this path for me to have this opportunity,” Tate said.

“When you talk about those shoulders of others, who are you talking about? Who are your heroes?” Abel asked.

“Former representatives that served in this role. We think of them in the Detroit area. So, there's Tommy Stallworth, who was a state representative for a long time here. Buzz Thomas,” Tate said. “But, you know, those that we are we can definitely recognize easily. President Obama comes to mind. Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.”

In his third term, Tate says his leadership style is looking for the 70% solution. Building a coalition and with recent term limit changes, he has time on his side to make his mark on Michigan.

“Where do you see your future going?” Abel said.

“That is a great question. You know, in terms of what I'm doing, I'm keeping my head down right now. I love what I do. I think I have the best job in the state of Michigan right now,” Tate said.