Ann Arbor's Jeff Irwin announcing candidacy for 53rd District state House seat
Jeff Irwin was 22 years old when he first was elected to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners as a student at the University of Michigan.
Ten years later, Irwin continues to serve on the county board and has made a name for himself throughout the state as an environmental activist.
Now he's looking to make the leap to a higher office: He's running for state representative.
Irwin, a 32-year-old Ann Arbor Democrat, plans to publicly announce his candidacy for the state House's 53rd District race at a campaign kickoff event Tuesday at the Arbor Brewing Co. in downtown Ann Arbor.
He said he wants to bring progressive ideas to Lansing and put Michigan back on track.
"I feel a calling to serve the community and it was a tough decision for me to decide to leave the county board," said Irwin, who was county board chairman in 2007 and 2008. "I was swayed by the opportunity to do some good for our state, which I think desperately needs it at this time."
Irwin said the current short-term solutions by state leaders in Lansing aren't cutting it. Some of Irwin's stated priorities include public education, clean air and water, social justice, equal rights, mass transit and affordable housing.
Tuesday's campaign kickoff event runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with public remarks from Irwin halfway through the evening. He also plans to hold a press conference at 4:45 p.m. and is encouraging the public to come with questions.
The son of a former state senator from the Upper Peninsula, Irwin grew up in Sault Ste. Marie exposed to state politics early on in life.
"As a little kid, I got to roll around the floor of the Legislature," Irwin recalled, adding that his interest in state politics continued to grow from there.
"That gave me a window into what happens in Lansing and how things get done," he said. "It's a benefit to be able to have watched state government play out over the course of my entire life."
Irwin moved with his family to East Lansing in the third grade and came to Ann Arbor in 1995 to study political science at U-M. He graduated in 2000.
Staying in Ann Arbor, he has spent a majority of his years since college working for nonprofit agencies involved in environmental advocacy, including the Washington, D.C.,-based League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. He also served as executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, a group working to get pro-environment lawmakers elected at the state level.
Irwin stepped down from his full-time environmental advocacy job in 2007 when he became chairman of the county board. Though being a county commissioner was the lesser-paying job (little more than $15,000 a year), he said he wanted to focus his energy on being a public servant.
At other points in his life, Irwin said he has worked in construction, waited tables and dabbled in freelance writing. He also was a legislative aide to former state Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith in 1998 while in college.
Irwin is the second person to announce his candidacy for the 53rd District state House seat that will be vacated next year by state Rep. Rebekah Warren. Warren, D-Ann Arbor, is running for the 18th District seat in the state Senate.
Irwin, who has Warren's endorsement, will square off against Ann Arbor's Ned Staebler in the Democratic primary next August. Staebler is a vice president at the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Rumors had been swirling that Mayor John Hieftje was considering a run for the 53rd District House seat, but Hieftje told AnnArbor.com this morning he will not run.