Irwin at Large
"I've seen it time and time again," says former state rep Jeff Irwin.
From the March, 2017 issue
"Lobbyists will lie to a legislator about what something does, or what the impact of it is, or what the bill really says, and trick somebody into a terrible vote," says the former Ann Arbor state rep. And they get away with it, he says, because legislators are term-limited: "It doesn't matter, because the next year that person's gone, and the lobbyist has a new public servant to hoodwink."
Irwin himself was term-limited out of office last year after six years in Lansing--barely half the eleven years his father, Mitch Irwin, served in the state senate. "I was a young kid when he was in the legislature," Irwin recalls. "I was rolling around the floor of the house while people like [former Ann Arbor state senator] Lana Pollack were working ... Legislators would come in and learn and eventually they would become genuine experts in certain subjects. That knowledge could be used to make positive changes or to stop bad things from happening." That expertise was lost when Michigan voters amended the constitution to impose term limits in 1992.
The ability to trick inexperienced legislators isn't the only thing that's changed. When Irwin's father served in the 1980s, most state legislators were Democrats. When he was elected in 2011, "the Republicans had just won big. For the first time in a long time they had a Republican governor, a Republican senate, and a Republican house. They were surprised and elated and had a long list of bad ideas they were really excited to enact.
"They wanted to go after tax policy in a huge way, and they did," Irwin continues, still disgusted years later. "They cut taxes for businesses by $1.8 billion and raised taxes on the poor and middle class by $1.3 billion and cut $500 million out of the budget, mostly in schools and higher ed.
"They did a tremendous amount," Irwin says. "They passed right to work. They attacked labor rights. They passed laws
to blanket abortion providers with unnecessary and costly regulations and insurance requirements just to put them out of business. They put the emergency manager law on steroids and blew away any semblance of local control."
The closest thing to good news that Irwin sees is that "at this point it looks like they are out of things to do. After that was all done, they're trying to figure out the next step."
When they do, the burden of resisting them will fall on Irwin's successor, Yousef Rabhi. But Irwin doesn't plan to be out of the fight for long. "Obviously the next logical step would be to run for state senate," he says. "We've got a great state senator now in Rebekah Warren, but she'll be termed out in 2018."
What will he do till then? "My wife has always been very supportive of me," he says. His wife is Kathryn Loomis, Reporter of Decisions at the Michigan Supreme Court. When he was in the legislature, "she's picked up the slack. [Now] I'll pick up some of that slack" caring for their elementary-age children, daughter Sylvia and son Mackinac (who goes by Mack).
On the side, he's hoping to do someconsulting: "Maybe what I've learned and the skills I have could be useful to somebody who wants to fight for clean air and clean water or women's rights or LGBT rights or civil rights."
[Originally published in March, 2017.]
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