Work in Lansing, what’s ahead, racial justice, and COVID | a conversation with Rep. Donna Lasinski


| 5 min | by Doug Marrin |

Rep. Donna Lasinski believes she has accomplished some significant initiatives and reforms representing much of Washtenaw County in Lansing, but there is still plenty of work to do, more so now than ever during the difficult days of the pandemic and its fallout and emerging civil concerns.

Donna serves Michigan’s 52nd District (Western Wastenaw, part of Scio, Pittsfield, and Ann Arbor) in Lansing. First elected in 2016, she is seeking reelection this year for a third, and if reelected, final, term. I sat down with Donna in the parklette out in front of Riverview Café in Dexter to hear about what she’s accomplished, what has surprised her, racial justice, and, of course, COVID.

DM: Mask wearing is a hot topic these days. Most people wear them, but it seems to be a flashpoint for a few who don’t. I’ve heard stories about some people getting belligerent with business owners and their staff for enforcing what the Governor has ordered.

DL: “Unfortunately, I’ve heard those stories too. We’ve got to remind ourselves that wearing a mask is not to keep us safe from the coronavirus. The data shows that wearing a mask greatly reduces the chance of infecting those around you should you be infected but not yet showing symptoms. We don’t wear the mask for ourselves, but for our neighbors, the kids, for the people in stores serving us, for people we don’t know who may, or may not have a compromised health condition. Wearing a mask is a small, selfless act that that carries enormous ramifications for the population at large.

DM: You’ve been incredibly busy over the past three-and-a-half years. What are some of the things you feel you’ve accomplished for all your effort?

DL: “Over the last three and a half years that I’ve served, we have really been able to make some strong progress on clean water in our area and putting it at the top of the state’s agenda. I’ve cosponsored a number of legislative pieces lowering the allowable PFAS limit in our water. We have not been able to eat the fish out of the Huron River or from our local lakes, and that’s unacceptable for our communities.”

“Broadband service has been one of my key issues from the start. We are now going to see several million dollars coming into our communities over the next year from state and federal programs. Access to broadband has become one of the top issues for our Governor and the number one issue for our Lieutenant Governor. The pandemic is highlighting how much everyone needs to be online. The federal partnerships that I’ve been able to develop over the last few years are bringing again national attention to our need for broadband.

“We are really in a moment right now where the future of public education is really going to need a strong advocate. As we look at this moment at the lack of federal funding coming to support public education, we see the decline in tax revenues which have the potential to result in large cuts to public education if we don’t prioritize it in the state budget. We need someone in Lansing who continues to prioritize public education.

“Those are the things I look forward to continuing to work on. I hope that my service has shown that I prioritize and that it has made a difference in our communities.”

DM: Are there any things that have caught you by surprise, in a good way?

“One of the really interesting things about my first two terms is that my first term was with a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican Governor. My second term, now, has been with a Democratic Governor, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate. I truly believe this has been good for the State of Michigan. It’s been nice to have the door open, now, to a consideration of multiple viewpoints, and to have had much deeper discussions. I do believe that is resulting in better policy and legislation.

“You’re seeing many more packages move forward with bipartisan support and true bipartisan ideals contained in those packages. That has been a very rewarding process to participate in my second term.”

DM: Governor Whitmer has gotten a lot of national attention through this crisis, first for her executive orders being too draconian when other states were lenient. More recently, she has been lauded for flattening the curve, saving lives, and stemming the tide of new coronavirus cases in Michigan when other states are spiking. She’s taken a lot of heat. What’s she like to work with?

DL: “Governor Whitmer is an incredibly authentic person. She is as smart as a whip. She has legislative experience, which is something that neither of our past two governors had, so that does make a difference. She has a deep understanding of policy and she has a deep understanding of the levers of power that the government can use to accomplish policy and to accomplish budget priorities.

“Particularly in this crisis, her experience and understanding have really been to the benefit of every Michigander. We have to remember that this is the very first pandemic that we have gone through as a state. This is the first time our nation has faced this type of crisis. Information was coming in, rapidly and sometimes in a contradictory fashion, as we’ve seen health officials across the globe grapple with what is the fatality rate how contagious is it, how you contract it, and what are the measures that will halt it.

“We’ve seen our governor take a very scientific, epidemiological database approach to this and has been unapologetic in doing what it takes to keep Michiganders safe. We have to remember that Michigan has had a disproportionate number of deaths from the COVID virus, particularly in black communities and this is an unacceptable outcome. She has taken those issues head on, which has been critical to Michigan going from the fifth highest death rate in the nation to the third highest death rate, and then dropping down to where we are now one of only 10 states that has declining infection rates while 32 other states have accelerating infection rates.”

DM: What word do you have for your constituents as they continue to grabble and struggle with and through this pandemic?

“I’ve had many conversations with local business owners and with community leaders. Let’s keep those lines of communication open to understand the issues that are going on. It has just been a joy to work with the business owners who know their business, who place the safety of their customers as a priority.

“The second big part of this pandemic and crisis has been unemployment. We know we’re at record levels of unemployment right now. Unfortunately, the unemployment system was developed over the last decade with the primary purpose of detecting fraud, and that slowed the system down. To take that system and turn it on a dime to try and get benefits out to 1.2 million people has been an enormous challenge. We have handled hundreds of cases now through our office where we have worked to prioritize our constituents’ cases and get unemployment decisions. My staff has just done tremendous work in that area – having that connection to the community who feels very comfortable in knowing that if they called into my office, they will find the help that they need.

“As we move through this pandemic, we know there’s no vaccine yet. We are going to have to figure out this is not a short term crisis anymore This isn’t something that’s going to go away in two or three months. We’re going to be dealing with this for at least another year. We have to figure out how can we work together as a community to make sure we can return to as much of our normal activities as possible, and schools are really at the heart of that.

“Finally, there are the social and racial justice issues. We have seen in Chelsea, Dexter, Saline, and Manchester folks coming out to have those courageous conversations, to come together and really discuss their views and offer support to their friends and neighbors in a way that I don’t think any of us could have foreseen. It is a true moment of pride for me every time I am at a rally, every time I’m at a demonstration.

“You can see people growing and changing right there and understanding the true and valid experiences of their neighbors. That, again, is just another big part of the change that we’re experiencing right now as a community.”