with video: Jeff Irwin and Rebekah Warren will represent Ann Arbor in Michigan House and Senate
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
Democrats Jeff Irwin and Rebekah Warren jointly declared victory moments ago in their respective state House and Senate races, telling a crowd of cheering supporters at Arbor Brewing Co. they look forward to going to work in Lansing.
Both Irwin and Warren were heavily favored to win heading into tonight's elections, and Ann Arbor voters delivered the verdicts most expected.
Irwin is poised to be Ann Arbor's next state representative, taking over the 53rd District House seat currently held by Warren, who moves on to Lansing's upper chamber.
Warren, D-Ann Arbor, will take over the 18th District state Senate seat being vacated by Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor. Warren beat Republican John Hochstetler with 65 percent of the vote to win a four-year term in the Senate.
Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, defeated Republican Chase Ingersoll with 80 percent of the vote to win a two-year term in the House.
The 53rd House District closely follows Ann Arbor's city limits, while the 18th Senate District includes Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and several Washtenaw County townships.
The two Democrats say they're eager to get to work in January on moving Michigan's economy forward, though tonight showed they'll have to do it working with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, as well as Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
"What I hope I can say after four years in the Senate is that we have put Michigan's economy back on track," Warren said, "that we did that without leaving a single person behind, that we looked at not only investments in education and higher education, but also job training for folks who might need some additional skills but might not be going for a four-year degree."
Irwin, who has been a Washtenaw County commissioner representing Ann Arbor for the last 11 years, said he expects some resistance to his agenda from Republicans.
"With respect to school funding, it's going to be difficult to get Republicans to agree to any sort of revenue or any sort of investment in the future," he said. "So the strategy, I think, has to change to how can we give give school districts and local governments more tools to invest in their communities."
Irwin said having Republicans in control of state government likely means "the state is going into a period of more disinvestment" in programs he considers important.
"It's going to be harder for us to find ways to fund our schools and fund our infrastructure and make this state continue to be the kind of place where you want to live," he said, though he thinks there are issues the Democrats still can make progress on.
"You've got a number of issues in environmental protection that I think are ripe for action regardless of who's in power because they're just such good ideas," he said. "One of them would be trying to bring back the PACE legislation, trying to extend energy efficiency financing to individual homeowners, and items like working on stopping invasive species in the future."
Irwin said he has other worries, though.
"Will we be able to fund the type of environmental enforcement we need by making the polluters pay fees that really fund the kind of programs and the monitoring that we need?" he said. "That's going to be very hard in an environment where the Republicans have a lot of control and where they see being pro-business and being anti-regulation as being the same thing."
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
Warren said she's ready to work with Republicans and Democrats alike to implement new policies that will drive Michigan forward.
"My record is really clear that, even being as progressive-minded as I am as a Democrat, I've been able to get pretty significant pieces of legislation through a divided legislature," she said. "So I have good relationships with people on both sides of the aisle. I think what it takes to move Michigan forward is going to be the ability for us to work with folks from both parties. I'm ready to do it, I've proven that I can do, and I'm going to keep doing it."
Warren, who has served four years in the House and has taken on a lead role in environmental legislation, said she wants to continue advocating for protection of the state's natural resources. But she said she's also looking to get involved in committees on education and health care.
Irwin said he's interested in joining policy committees like Judiciary and Great Lakes and the Environment. But given his experience with county government and working with tough budgets, he thinks his skills would be best placed on the Appropriations Committee.
"I'd like to try to get there," he said. "I think that Washtenaw County really ought to have somebody at the appropriations table. The most important thing that the state government does is spend our money, and that's where it happens, so that's where I'd like to be."
Irwin and Warren both say they're interested in reevaluating the state's current tax structure and implementing a graduated income tax.
"We have an antiquated tax system, we have a structural deficit, and it's like we're headed for a train wreck," Warren said. "So it's really time to come together to take a look at our tax code to make the fixes that need to happen so we can put this budget back in order."
Irwin said he will push for changes on how the state funds transportation infrastructure. He said there needs to be more balance in terms of how dollars are spent.
"Right now how we spend those dollars is we keep digging ourselves a deeper and deeper hole, with respect to our infrastructure needs, by building more and more pavement," he said. "At the same time, that crowds out investments in transit, it crowds out investments in non-motorized transportation, and it also is unsustainable financially."
Irwin said he'll advocate for a strong "fix it first" policy in terms of transportation infrastructure. He said a gas tax increase is not off the table, but the state first needs to take a sober look at what its needs are and what it's going to take to fund them.
"Everything I'm talking about is on the jobs and economy front," Irwin said. "The best economic development and jobs investment we can make is to invest in our educational system, and so education is economic development. Transportation infrastructure is economic development."