A more diverse state House on tap for 2017

LANSING - When the 110 members of the Michigan House of Representatives are sworn into office before the 2017-18 legislative session starts next year, they will be a group that is among the most diverse in the state’s history.

More women, young people, gays, ethnic minorities and African Americans will start their public service when they’re sworn in Jan. 11.

“We now have a record number of women representing their communities in the Republican caucus, the west side of the state re-elected a Hispanic woman … the east side of the state elected a Hispanic man, and the people of Oakland County selected a Chaldean Republican to represent them for the third straight election,” said state Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, the chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee. “This is one of the most diverse teams we have ever put together. And it truly represents people from all across this great state.”

The legislative black caucus will grow by three members when 12 African-American Democrats take their seats next year; and for the first time since 1999, the number of women in the state House will grow by five and return to the high water mark of 31 members — 16 Republicans and 15 Democrats. One of those women, Rep. Laura Cox, R-Livonia, will be the first woman to become the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“This means that the Michigan Legislature is increasingly looking like the population of the state and that’s a good thing,” said Lansing political consultant Kelly Rossman of Truscott Rossman. “Every group brings its own set of experiences. Not everyone thinks like a white male. It’s important to have the thoughts and experiences of people who are more reflective of society.”

There also are three members of Middle Eastern descent — Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, and Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor; three Hispanics — Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, Daniela Garcia, R-Holland, and Vanessa Guerra, D-Bridgeport; an Indian — Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing; a Taiwan native — Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit; and three openly gay representatives — Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, and Tim Sneller, D-Burton.

“I think that it’s reflective of the changing demographics of the state and in different areas of the state,” said former state Rep. Steve Tobocman, who is the executive director of Global Detroit, a group that looks at how to use immigration as an economic development tool.

“I’ve done a lot of reading about how increased diversity affects the private sector, and it’s been shown that it improves productivity and innovation, and I’d like to think that will be true in the public sector as well,” he added.

Such diversity becomes increasingly important during times of crisis. Tobocman recalled that the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened while he was serving in the Legislature.

"We didn’t have a Muslim American in the Legislature. And when we were dealing with security issues, we really didn’t have a member who had personally experienced those types of issues," he said.

The number of young members also is on the rise with at least 24 members younger than 35 — and 10 of those members younger than 30, including 21-year-old Jewell Jones, D-Inkster and 23-year-old Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain. They’ll be led by Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, who at 35 will be one of the youngest speakers.

“The energy is good, the enthusiasm is good and you have to bring something to the table to even get there,” said Chris Arndt, chairman of the Michigan Young Republicans. “Even though one might be hesitant about their youth and inexperience, they got there by working really hard.”

Term limits were supposed to create a legislative body that was populated by people at the end of their careers, who had the time to serve.

"But now we're going to have some very young people without a whole lot of life experience serving with people at the other end of the spectrum," Rossman said. "Like they say, we live in interesting times."

Lansing State Journal


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