Legislators in the House and Senate were officially sworn in today to begin the work of the 100th state legislature, and among them were the fresh faces some women who ran, and won, in the wake of women being fed up with their elected officials, especially Donald Trump.
In the Senate, Democrats successfully increased their ranks to 16 senators from 10 in the previous term, half of whom are women. Those eight Democratic women will be joined be four Republican women for this term.
In the House, there are now 42 women (25 Democrats and 17 Republicans), up from 33 in the previous term.
The 12 women of the current state Senate sets a record the previous record being 11, and then 12 only after then-Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, now the state’s governor, won a special election in March 2006. However, by January 2007, the number of women serving in the state Senate decreased to just nine.
Among the record-setting women of 2018 is Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), who told Great Lakes Beacon in an interview that she never saw herself getting into politics. An industrial and automotive designer by trade, she held high-profile jobs for companies like Mattel, won a design competition for Mazda, and seemed to be moving higher and higher in other companies.
But then the election of Trump as president came too close for comfort in 2016, she said.
“My husband and I live in Royal Oak, and our polling place was the school (where students were) chanting ‘build that wall,’” McMorrow said of a local school whose story went national as questions lingered about what Trump’s America would be like. “It was disheartening to me to see a city as diverse as Royal Oak being torn apart.”
After that, McMorrow said she looked at how she could make a difference. Rep. Jim Ellison (D-Royal Oak) became a mentor for her, as did many of the activist groups created in the wake of the election of Trump.
“What I started to find is that, particularly a lot of middle-aged and older women in the district who may not have ever been politically active had the awakening to say, ‘This really matters and I need to pay attention to this,’” she said, adding that she connected with many women at the Women’s March Convention in October 2017. “We had a lot of women from Oakland County coming to Detroit, and every conversation I had with these women were all the fights women are facing for reproductive rights. The more women found out, the more they were horrified about it.”
She took that information back with her, as well as the commonalities over improving education, water quality and establishing equal pay.
“When I look at the state of Michigan, I’ve always seen a place that time and time again has changed the world. I think there is a process we use as industrial designers when we’re solving a problem that’s about putting the user first and … trying to come up with solutions, and a light kind of went off that, that process is sorely lacking our politics,” she said. “We have to start at home and at the state level.”
At 32, McMorrow is the youngest woman in the Senate Democratic caucus, and her election was in some ways representative of a larger movement that changed the tide for Democrats in 2018: The demographic shift of populous Oakland County. She also defeated an incumbent, former Sen. Marty Knollenberg, whose father, Joe, was a prominent figure in Oakland County politics as a U.S. House representative for nearly 15 years (Joe Knollenberg was unseated by then-U.S. Rep. Gary Peters in 2008).
“I knew intimately what we were going up against,” McMorrow said, noting that her husband’s first political volunteer experience was actually through Joe Knollenberg. “There were a lot of people who said you don’t have a chance … but get name recognition and you can run again.”
But McMorrow said she met more people who wanted leadership that was truly representative of them and felt that was lacking, than she did meet people content with the status quo.
“It was time for someone to take a run at it,” she said. “It was hard, for sure, but I knew what we were getting into, and I’m incredibly lucky to have found all the support we got in the community, through organizations, and the caucus.”
McMorrow said she expects to have a lot to learn and is going in “very open-eyed” about everything.
“I want to build relationships … across the aisle. I want to work on a lot of the things we ran on, change what it means to be legislators, and be more communicative,” she said. “I want to meet you where you are, and that’s what allowed me to connect with a lot of people. (Constituents) liked that it was me knocking on the door, making phone calls … I think there’s a longing for people to not bullshit people and just be who they are.”