Advancing a Black Agenda in a Democratic-Controlled Michigan Gov’t

Michigan is currently in a unique political space. For the first time in four decades, the state is experiencing something called a Democratic trifecta and a Democratic triplex. This means that the Democratic Party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and both chambers of the state legislature.


The Democratic party has touted itself as a champion of civil rights and, in doing so, has had an overwhelming and unwavering support of the Black voting block for years. But in the wake of an important upcoming election year, where the presidential election, State House, and Michigan Supreme Court seats are up for grabs in 2024, some leaders in the political arena are asking what a Democratic-led state has meant for constituents, and what this means for the party’s obligations to its most faithful demographic of voters.


“In the last 20 or 30 years in Lansing, we’ve seen in every legislative session where there’s been laws put in place to take away local power and benefits from Black people. From that standpoint, we currently haven’t seen an anti-black legislature in place making it harder for us to vote, making it harder for us to obtain certain housing, and other rights and benefits,” said Jonathan Kinloch, Wayne County Commissioner, District 2. “(Historically, we’re talking about 400 years of history associated with a lot of roadblocks that have disadvantaged a lot of people. People who are non-Black don’t really understand.”


“When it comes to legislative policy in general, it’s always going to be not fast enough or enough in my opinion, but we are seeing movement.”


And that’s a movement in the right direction, as there is a concerted effort to focus on policies that advance and have real meaning for Black people.


Yet, Commissioner Kinloch sets a reminder of the past and how we arrived at where the state government sits today.


Kinloch says it’s a stark contrast compared to how Republican-led legislatures have governed in years past. He also recalls a time in years past when more Black officials had a seat at the table, and now that there is less, as he referred to changes in redistricting, even with Democratic control, he doesn’t want to see elected officials ease the gas on fighting for Black policy today.


“We saw a much larger presence of Black people elected to the legislature, but they just had bodies there,” Kinloch says. “We saw a lot of reluctance or inability to be able to really put laws that have benefitted us in a space of economic policies.”


No matter how big or small, or political party, there is a group focused on ensuring that there is an agenda that elevates Black voices and politics for Black constituents in Michigan.


“There is an opportunity to do more,” says Chris Jackson, Executive Director of Michigan Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC), a non-partisan organization that describes itself as being at the “forefront of the fight for social and economic justice for Michigan’s Black people.”


“I would elect to say our members have done more given the opportunity to do so. Michigan has just passed the Blackest budget it has had in the state’s history.


Jackson says MLBC played a crucial role in ensuring that the budget addressed the priorities of the Black community. With a strong focus on equity and social justice, MLBC advocated for increased funding for education, healthcare, economic development, and criminal justice reform.


Here are the highlights Jackson points out as priorities the MBLC has fought for in the current budget:


  • Largest increase ever in funding to the Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights (46.8% increase)
  • Funding for Racial Disparities Task Force recommendations to improve health equity
  • Funding for Minority-owned food & agriculture ventures
  • Increase in School Aid Fund (SAF) for at-risk students, the opportunity index, full special education funding, and full funding of school meals
  • Increase to the minority supplier council – $2.5M
  • $10M for Minority-owned businesses
  • Funding for Ferris State Jim Crow Museum, Charles H. Wright Museum & Detroit Historical Society
  • Funding for equity in education/teaching history accurately
  • Adding DEI officers and requiring metrics from departments that historically have not had such deliverables
  • Violence prevention funding
  • Community-based crisis response grants
  • Providing training to local Police Departments focusing on cultural awareness, tolerance, diversity, implicit bias, conflict management, de-escalation, and reduction of trauma to victims and use of force on vulnerable people.


Currently, Jackson says MBLC is advocating law enforcement and education and protecting Black history as short-term items; it looks too advance as priorities in the short term while black business and more resources for the black community or more long-term goals, and it’s working relationship with the state government.


“We can always make sure that our priorities are known and we can leverage our position to ensure that our friends in the Democratic caucus and the other side of the aisle recognize it’s important that we do includes Black issues in policy and implement them.”


At the state level during this trifecta, the state has made substantial strides in the areas of reproductive freedoms for women, protections for gender identity and sexual orientation, repealing the Right-To-Work law, repealing the state’s retirement tax, repealing the “Read-Or-Flunk” provision of Michigan Read’s Grade Three requirement, expanding the earned income tax credit, introducing safe storage and background check and red flag laws into the Michigan legislature for gun safety, and several other laws aimed at protecting the state’s most vulnerable citizens. But when it comes to the passing of laws at the state level that would be a direct benefit to the party’s most loyal voter demographic, many Black people are still waiting on the payoff that comes along with the unwavering support they’ve shown in the polls – and many others are left wondering if 2024 is the year to change where their loyalties lie.

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