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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

As MI Democrats move on party priorities, House Speaker Joe Tate plans for what's next

 Michigan's Speaker of the House of Representatives, Joe Tate, speaking to an audience.
Joe Tate
Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Joe Tate has worked with Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (l) and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (r) to enact new measures on gun safety and abortion access, while repealing the state's right-to-work law.

Democrats in Lansing have had control of both chambers of the legislature and the executive office since January. They've moved quickly on new policies, including gun safety measures and the repeal of Michigan's right-to-work law.

Joe Tate is the Speaker of the Michigan House and represents the 10th District in Wayne County. Tate joined Michigan Radio's Doug Tribou on Morning Edition.

Doug Tribou: The legislature has passed a number of gun safety measures this year, one for universal background checks, another for safe storage requirements, and a third establishes a so-called red flag law that would allow a court to temporarily take away someone's guns when the person is deemed to be a risk to themselves or others. What other gun safety bills are you considering?
Joe Tate: I think for us, the gun violence prevention bills that we passed really sets the foundation to lower gun violence across the state of Michigan. I think there are other opportunities. This is certainly the start and not the finish of it. And those deliberations are going to continue throughout the rest of the legislative session.

"The gun violence prevention bills that we passed really sets the foundation to lower gun violence across the state of Michigan. I think there are other opportunities. This is certainly the start and not the finish of it."
Joe Tate, Michigan's Speaker of the House of Representatives

DT: You served in the Marine Corps. You were deployed to Afghanistan twice. You've had weapons training, been around guns. What's your personal view of the ongoing debate about gun rights and personal safety?

JT: You know, what really drives me the most is ensuring that we do have safe communities and we are doing things in Lansing. The last thing that I want to do is hear from a parent that has been impacted by gun violence, whose child has been impacted by gun violence, and comes to ask me, "What have you done?"

DT: If you were to have that conversation with someone affected by gun violence, do you feel like the measures that have been taken now would be enough for that person?

JT: I don't think that these are just one-time solutions, but we know that there's more that can be done. Obviously, supports around mental health as well as public safety. How are we supporting our public safety organizations? Another factor, too, is ensuring that people across the state have access to opportunities and being able to raise a family and having good jobs. I think that that all plays into this. I think there's more that can be done and we can take a more holistic approach as as we continue to work on this.

DT: Do you currently own a gun?

JT: I do not.

DT: The legislature recently passed a bill package that would require employer health plans that cover pregnancy care to also cover abortion services. Democrats have said it's part of the process of implementing the new abortion rights amendment that voters passed in November. What other bills do you expect related to abortion rights?

JT: The voters, they expressed their support at the ballot box last year, and it is up to the legislature to be able to identify what legislation has to go hand-in-hand with that to ensure that the intent of of the ballot initiative is met. So I think you'll see more of that and ensuring that there are lower barriers in terms of reproductive health. We want to make sure that there is access because reproductive health is a part of health care.

DT: In 2022, Democrats had their most successful state elections in a couple of generations, and it would be easy to see that as a mandate for your party's priorities. But as we've discussed, abortion was on the ballot in Michigan — a huge issue that contributed to turnout across the political spectrum. With all of that in mind, what kind of mandate do you see in the results of last year's elections?

JT: There are a couple of things. One is residents of Michigan want to see their government functioning and working, and us moving to provide solutions, whether it's around targeted tax relief, which we did with the earned income tax credit expansion and repealing the retirement tax.

Also, making investments in economic development for job creation, making sure that people have opportunities to raise their families. I think that's what people want to see at the end of the day: "Are you working with my interests in mind and putting people first?" That's kind of our basic principle in our philosophy.

DT: I take your point. I think the Republican counterpoint would be that the government is functioning in much the same way it has in in other eras, say when there was a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature. Some of your Republican colleagues have complained that legislation is being pushed through with your very slim majority. Do you see a difference in the way you're governing now?

"We knew that in order for us to continue to build trust with the residents of Michigan, that we have to show that we are governing."
Joe Tate, Michigan's Speaker of the House of Representatives

JT: Yes, I think we are seeing a difference, Doug, in terms of legislation that that we have been moving out of the House and deliberations there. And I'll use gun violence reduction as an example. You know, that's an issue that bills have been introduced for almost a decade and there were no hearings on it when Republicans were in control. You saw with the issues around gun violence, that we saw across the state, and there was no action taken on it.

And we knew that in order for us to continue to build trust with the residents of Michigan, that we have to show that we are governing. And I think that's the contrast in terms of what Democrats have been doing with what you've seen in prior majorities in the recent past.

DT: The state is in the midst of the budget process. The two chambers are now beginning to reconcile their versions of the budget. In your view, what are the top two or three highlights from the version of the budget that the House has passed?

JT: I think for us, when you look at the investments in schools, that's incredibly important. We want to have a world-class education system in our state. Also, the investments that we're looking at around both mental health and public safety. And then finally, I'll touch on job growth and how are we supporting opportunities to expand job growth.

DT: What's your view of the situation with the Gotion proposal for Big Rapids, which would have some state investment? There are concerns about Gotion being a subsidiary of a Chinese company and some security concerns there. What is your view of the state supporting that project and the process that went into that?

JT: There has been a significant amount of time that has gone into, you know, locals and also state officials looking at, "Where's this opportunity? Is this opportunity feasible?" And and from what we've seen, it is.

DT: Do you share the concerns about security with the involvement of China?

JT: I do not share that concern. If you look, just for example, with our auto heritage and our supply chains, I think we have to be able to work together and to compete, in not only other states, but other countries as well. And this is something that we have done for for a number of decades. So, no.

DT: Speaker Tate, I want thank you very much for your time today.

JT: Thank you so much, Doug. Have a great day.

Editor's notes: Some quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Katheryne Friske is the weekend morning host and producer for All Things Considered.
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