LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Democrats ushered in a new era of legislative leadership Thursday by selecting Winnie Brinks as the Senate's first female majority leader and Joe Tate as the first Black House speaker, after midterm victories that will give the party full control at the state Capitol for the first time since 1983.
Democrats will take full control starting in January with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer being reelected Tuesday to a second four-year term and the new Senate and House majorities.
“Michigan voters gave us the opportunity to have the trifecta — to have the House and the Senate and the governor’s office. But I think this is just as historic for myself and the Senate majority leader,” Tate, of Detroit, told reporters Thursday after he was chosen as the first Black legislative leader in state history.
Brinks, of Grand Rapids, listed the economy, education and reproductive rights as some of the party's top priorities going forward and didn’t rule out rolling back key measures passed under Republican leadership.
“We’ve got 40 years of pent-up policy, if you will. There’s a lot of things that we’ve worked on over the last decade or so,” Brinks said. ”We’re going to talk to the House, we’re going to talk to the governor’s office and we’re going to put together a list of things that puts the people of Michigan first.”
Tate listed education, infrastructure, worker’s rights and reducing healthcare costs as the state House’s priorities.
Democrats are expected to look at the state's right-to-work law, which was passed in 2012 by the Republican Legislature and signed by former GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. Brinks and Tate didn't rule out the possibility of working to repeal the law, which says workers can’t be forced to support a union to keep their job, with Tate saying they would be “taking a long, hard look at” the law.
Brinks, who was reelected Tuesday to her second four-year term in the state Senate, will join other Michigan women in key leadership posts including Whitmer as governor, Jocelyn Benson as secretary of state, and Dana Nessel as attorney general. All of them were reelected in Tuesday's midterm.
“It's been hundreds of years that men have been in charge and it's high time that women have a seat at the table and in Michigan, women have lots of seats at the table,” Brinks said.
Tate is a former NFL player who was reelected for a third term in the state House. On Thursday, he made history after Detroit, a predominately Black city, lost Black representation in Congress in the midterms for the first time since the 1950s.
Democrats had resounding victories across the battleground state in Tuesday's midterms as they also passed two ballot proposals that will allow for extended early voting and enshrine abortion rights in the state's constitution.
Results from the election show that Democrats, to this point, control 19 seats in the Senate and have a tie-breaking vote with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II. In the House, Democrats have won the 56 seats needed for a House majority, with one still outstanding, according to race calls from The Associated Press.
In a statement, current Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said that while Tuesday's results were not what Republicans had hoped for, they would do their part to ensure “for a smooth transition.” Senate Republicans on Thursday selected Sen. Aric Nesbitt of Lawton to be their next leader and Rep. Matt Hall, of Comstock Township, was chosen to lead House Republicans.
The new legislative leaders and Whitmer have continued to emphasize their desire to work across the aisle even with full control. Whitmer said in her victory speech Wednesday that she would be a governor “for all of Michigan” and would work “with anyone that wants to get things done.”
Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.