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Michigan's 100th legislature gains women, scientists


Women and scientists are making gains in the Michigan legislature in the new session starting January 1. Women are going from 34 seats to 42 in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, women gain seven seats, going from four to eleven.

Each chamber is picking up at least three new members with a science, medical, or engineering background. Laurie Pohutsky is a microbiologist and the incoming Democratic representative from Livonia. She says her science knowledge will inform her work on issues like the environment and women's health. "Just someone to advocate for evidence-based policy I think is very, very important. So I'm really excited to have a chance to do that," says Pohutsky.

Julie Brixie (D-East Lansing) has a background in environmental toxicology. She was elected to represent Michigan's 69th House district covering East Lansing and Okemos.

"Being what happened in lame duck here in Michigan, I think that the importance of science and the role of science in decision-making at the legislative level is really something that shouldn't be under stated," says Brixie. She says her background will help in particular to inform policy around PFAS contamination in Michigan.

Brixie and Pohutsky both say that their disappointment with the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election was a motivating factor for them in choosing to run for the House of Representatives.

"In all honesty, I saw a lot of things I didn't like that I didn't like in the 2016 Presidential election," says Pohutsky. "I'd been a longtime activist. I got more involved with activist groups following November 2016, but I felt there was more I could be doing. I thought the most important thing and the most meaningful thing I could do in that moment was to run for office."

"I'm so excited to be part of this really groundbreaking revolution of women that's coming in. We have Gretchen Whitmer coming in as governor, Dana Nessel, attorney general, Jocelyn Benson as our secretary of state, and we have a record number of women lawmakers coming in at the same time," says Brixie.

Other new members of the House and Senate whose biographies list a science- or technology-related background include Representative-elect Padma Kuppa (D-Troy), Senator-elect Rosemary Bayer (D-Pontiac), Senator-elect John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), and Senator-elect Lana Theis (R-Brighton). 

Kuppa has a degree in mechanical engineering. Bayer is a computer engineer and co-founder of ardentCause L3C, a database technology company. Bizon is an ear, nose, and throat doctor. And Theis has a bachelor's degree in biology.

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.