Feb 2, 2023 - Politics

Progressives say key issues missing from top of Democratic priorities

House Speaker Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) answers questions from reporters following Whitmer's State of the State.

House Speaker Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) answers questions from reporters after Gov. Whitmer's State of the State address. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Progressive Democrats say a number of issues were missing from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's State of the State address last week, as the timeline for measures that will bring partisan fights remains unclear.

Why it matters: The governor's address focused on three groups of residents — working families, new graduates and children. "But when you try to fit everyone into just a few categories, you make a lot of people invisible," Michigan United executive director Ken Whittaker said in response to the governor’s speech.

  • The group did applaud Whitmer for highlighting proposals like universal pre-K and expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act..
  • Not mentioning labor issues "definitely scares me," Detroiter and lifelong Democratic voter Keith Malinowski tells Axios. "The Republicans had no reservations in passing Right to Work. Democrats seem lukewarm."

What they're saying: "No, absolutely not," House Speaker Rep. Joe Tate told Axios when asked whether there's a lack of momentum on repealing Right to Work, which gives all employees the rights and benefits of members in their company's bargaining unit

  • "We know that there's going to be a focus for us as Democrats on labor issues … Look at the bills House Democrats have already introduced."
  • Oakland County Commission Chair Dave Woodward, a former legislator, tells Axios that he expects hearings on those bills in the coming months.
  • "I have a whole laundry list of things I wish would be in the speech, but a State of the State Address sets the tenor, the governor throws out things where there was already a lot of action and lifts those things up that align with her priorities," Woodward said.

The big picture: While the governor mentioned an intention to continue funding law enforcement after investing $1 billion into policing during her first term, any discussion about public safety must center around people’s needs, Whittaker says. His group has been active in pushing for the restoration of what's known as "good time" credit for incarcerated people who turn their life around in prison.

  • The group also is pushing to bring back driver's licenses for all residents regardless of immigration status.

Zoom in: "For 15 years, undocumented Michiganders have had to live in fear because they’ve been barred from obtaining driver’s licenses," Whittaker says.

  • "We may have a shot of getting driver's licenses reinstated for undocumented people," says Detroit council member Gabriela Santiago-Romero, who told Axios last month she's "cautiously optimistic" about the Legislature's new makeup since "we see what it's like to have Democratic control and still nothing happens.”

Between the lines: Before becoming a city council member, Romero interned in Lansing for Sen. Stephanie Chang, who has been a leading voice in bringing solutions to the ongoing housing crisis.

  • Whitmer signed a $1.1 billion spending bill Tuesday that appropriates $275 million to increase affordable housing and address blight.
  • It invests $150 million in the Housing and Community Development Fund to build and refurbish housing and it will also fund the Missing Middle Housing Program which specifically aims to build and rehabilitate properties for middle class families.
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