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House Minority Leader reflects on her time in office

 Michigan Capitol building in Lansing, including a tree.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The state Capitol

Helping win a Democratic House majority, supporting economic development, and advocating for abortion rights.

Those are among highlights the outgoing Michigan House Minority Leader listed about her time in office. Representative Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp) spoke to reporters during a media roundtable Wednesday.

She said she had considered running for an open Senate seat but ultimately decided against it to focus on her role as leader.

“When my colleagues elected me as the Democratic caucus leader, I made a commitment that I would lead us to majority. I believed that it was possible, I believed that we had the talent in our caucus,” Lasinski said. “And that if I was seeking another office, I could not at the same time fulfill the commitment I had made.”

Ultimately, Democrats won both chambers of the Legislature and held the governor’s office during last month’s election.

That makes next session the first time in nearly 40 years Democrats will take charge of the trifecta.

Observers have wondered whether Democrats will take on their policy wish list right away or move slowly to avoid risking their newfound majority.

Lasinski acknowledged there are “a lot of tropes out there” about what Democratic control will look like.

She expects her successors to focus on economic growth and workforce readiness. That’s in addition to hitting priorities Republicans were reluctant to take up, like repealing Michigan’s dormant 1931 abortion ban or gun control.

“Background checks without gaps in them, safe gun storage: good gun owners do all of that and are open to that. So, I anticipate, based on the demand of Michiganders, we will see hopefully some improvement in safe gun laws in our state,” Lasinski said.

She said because of the transition between parties, it will probably take a couple months for new committee chairs to get up to speed. Lasinski predicts conversations around “regular, important legislation” will start around March or April.

Another possible priority is re-examining the state’s Right to Work law. It prevents the collection of union dues from becoming a condition of employment.

Opponents say it creates a freeriding problem where some can benefit from union negotiations without contributing to union costs.

Future House Republican leaders say Democrats should avoid policies they describe as too extreme. They argue a Right to Work repeal would make the state less attractive to workers and businesses.

With a slim majority, working together across the aisle will likely be vital to getting major economic development spending packages through.

During Wednesday’s discussion, Lasinski noted some bills only got through the Legislature because of Democratic support when chunks of Republicans voted against leadership.

Other times, however, Lasinski found herself at odds with Republican leadership in heated exchanges.

In September, she tried for several minutes to gain recognition to speak on the House floor in support of an amendment to a bill dealing with parental consent for non-emergency medical procedures. She hoped to add a provision for victims of child sex abuse when the parents are the suspected abuser.

When reflecting, she tied that moment back to the November election.

“What I think was so important in that moment and what I believe we saw voters react to was not being heard,” Lasinski said. “For over a decade, we have had a single reference point for policy in the State of Michigan. We have had voters across the state voices simply not heard.”

At the time, Speaker Pro Tempore Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp) said Lasinski was out of order. Republicans had dismissed the amendment as dilatory, meaning intended to cause a delay.

Lasinski lamented times when she felt her caucus didn’t have as strong a role in policy making as she would have preferred. But she said her part in things like beefing up education funding and winning the majority are accomplishments she’d “gladly stand by.”