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Meet Your Michigan Legislators: 2021 Key Lawmakers to Watch

How to best accelerate an economy still reeling amid COVID-19? How should federal relief funds be allocated? What policy changes are needed to reduce barriers to employment and offset learning loss in schools? What support do small businesses need most? What is the path to address long-standing infrastructure problems?

Those are big questions that will impact business and economic development for years to come and likely be debated in the coming weeks and months at the Capitol. The November election brought many new faces and leadership changes to the House of Representatives (Senate elections are in gubernatorial years).

With the dust having settled on committee assignments and the Governor’s budget likely to kick-off debate and supplemental budget work, here are twelve state representatives to watch.


Speaker Jason Wentworth (R – Clare)

Entering his third and final term, the new Speaker has a track record as a pragmatic and humble leader stemming from his military and law enforcement background and rapport among his legislative colleagues. With all leadership changes, Speaker Wentworth has the opportunity to put his own stamp on the position as he approaches what has been a hyper-partisan and divisive political environment over the past two years. All eyes will be on the relationship between Republican leadership and the Governor as the state tries to move beyond the pandemic, particularly as differences in how to distribute federal aid remain and budget priorities are set.


Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D – Ann Arbor)

The new Democratic Leader is well respected within her caucus and across the aisle, although it remains to be seen how the newly configured quadrant leadership will interact amid policy debates. Minority Leader Lasinski has an extensive education and small business background as Lansing grapples with how to jumpstart the economy and support schools returning to in-person learning while dealing with the realities of two interrupted academic years. Her unique experience as president of a K-12 education company founded to emphasize summer learning and retention across 38 states gives her a critical perspective on conversations about offsetting the learning loss caused by COVID-19.


Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D – Brownstown)

Not yet 30, Rep. Camilleri enters his third term pairing youthful energy with poise earned over the past four years. He’s helped broker a deal between local, state, and federal governments to fund a critical infrastructure project that will eliminate chronic train-crossing traffic delays that have hampered the Downriver economic corridor for years. A strong proponent of education, his role as Minority Vice Chair of the Education Committee gives him a platform in what will surely be a robust debate around how best to support schools moving forward.


Rep. Mary Cavanagh (D – Redford)

Continuing her family’s history of public service, she takes the seat in the 10th District, which covers Redford Charter Township and part of Northwest Detroit. Rep. Cavanagh brings many years of civic engagement and community organizing alongside labor, school, and community leaders at a time when collaboration is more important than ever. Sitting on the Tax Policy and Local Government and Municipal Finance committees, she will be part of important discussions about greater equity in education, strengthened economic opportunities, and environmental policy – key issues given how COVID-19 exacerbated existing inequities.


Rep. T.C. Clements (R – Bedford Township)

A first-term legislator, Rep. Clements comes from a border district spanning most of Monroe County with his background and perspective as a small business owner in a local economy that competes directly with other Michigan businesses, but also those in nearby Ohio. Considering that any comprehensive effort to boost Michigan’s economy will include helping small businesses recover, his local economic perspective will be an important one as Vice Chair of the Rules and Competitiveness Committee, which will consider legislation impacting the competitiveness of businesses of all sizes. Having assembled a veteran staff and receiving a leadership post as a freshman on such an important committee is notable.


Rep. Graham Filler (R – DeWitt)

A respected second-term lawmaker, Rep. Filler served as policy lead for the incoming House leadership class giving him an influential voice as the new speaker sets his agenda. With experience as an assistant attorney general, Rep. Filler supported several criminal justice reforms, including deeply impactful expungement legislation supported by the Detroit Regional Chamber. The legislation had wide bipartisan support and is a critical step to creating pathways for returning citizens to rejoin the workforce and create new talent pools for businesses. Rep. Filler now chairs the Judiciary Committee, which would have a say in any additional criminal justice reform policy to emerge this session.


Rep. Ben Frederick (R – Owosso)

Rep. Frederick is recognized as an innovative thinker, a reputation earned in his two decades of service in Lansing that spans all the way from intern to the new Majority Floor leader in his third and final House term. He championed the Chamber-backed Michigan Reconnect program which provides a tuition-free pathway for adults looking to upskill and earn a postsecondary certificate or associate degree. With the pandemic threatening prolonged economic hardship, employers are looking for lawmakers ready to take substantive steps to accelerate the economy and address talent shortfalls in the years ahead.


Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R – Chesterfield Twp.)

Returning as Speaker Pro Tempore for her final term, Rep. Hornberger will be a significant voice on many issues impacting the Chamber’s 2030 policy plan. She is also uniquely positioned as Chair of the Education Committee and Vice Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and Department of Education. This former educator will be at the center of all things education with a voice in policy and funding. Her influence will be critical as the state considers how to address the impact of the pandemic on education, in-person instruction, and learning loss. Rep. Hornberger also recently secured the Chamber PAC’s endorsement as she runs to fill the vacant seat in the Senate’s 8th District.


Rep. Jim Lilly (R – Park Township)

Another third-termer, Rep. Lilly is a key Republican caucus leader and chairs the newly formed Rules and Competitiveness Committee, which was designed to improve efficiency in the legislation moving to the full House for consideration. The committee is charged with reviewing legislation that impacts Michigan’s economic competitiveness. In addition to his experience as a banking executive, Lilly has a proven track record of pro-business problem-solving making him a good fit to lead the conversation and ensure policy designed to accelerate the economy moves efficiently to the House floor.


Rep. Joe Tate (D – Detroit)

As Minority Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee, he will interject his voice into key spending decisions to bolster public and economic health, not to mention the investments needed in infrastructure and education to increase long-term business competitiveness. Known as a problem-solver with business acumen, the former Marine enters his second term as a key leader at the state level as Detroit moves toward the post-COVID-19 era of its revitalization. Rep. Tate also previously served as a program manager for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., lending important perspective on how to best support small businesses.


Rep. Mark Tisdel (R – Rochester Hills)

Another freshman lawmaker to keep an eye on, Rep. Tisdel is a long-time community leader and former president of the Rochester Hills City Council who now serves as Vice Chair of the all-important Tax Policy Committee. Currently principal at Backus Payne & Associates, which specializes in medical liability insurance, Rep. Tisdel has an extensive background in the health care and insurance industries that he brings to the Health Policy, Insurance, and Families, Children, and Seniors committees – all sure to be involved in key COVID-19-related policy discussions.


Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D – Detroit)

The new House Dems Detroit Caucus chair enters her third term as the Minority Vice Chair of the Tax Committee and also sits on the Regulatory Reform Committee. Both committees are likely to factor heavily into policy discussions stemming from the pandemic on everything from offsetting revenue losses for local municipalities to how cannabis should be regulated. Rep. Yancey’s experience as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Wayne County also will help inform criminal justice reform conversations coming before the Judiciary Committee.