Mich.’s Senate Dem leader to attend White House summit

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich is among a delegation of 17 Democratic lawmakers attending a half-day White House summit Friday about state-level priorities.

Ananich of Flint and other state legislators traveled to Washington at the invitation of the advocacy group, State Innovation Exchange, or SiX, whose agenda includes increasing the minimum wage, family leave benefits, criminal sentencing reform and protection of collective bargaining.

The meetings are part of a broader initiative by Democrats to build a state policy network for sharing model legislation and countering efforts coordinated by groups like the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

The legislators are expected to meet with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and members of the Obama administration including U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“I really want to listen and hear what other people are doing, what’s working in their states and ways we can ensure that our voices are heard,” Ananich said.

Launched last fall, SiX was founded by Democratic strategist Nick Rathod, Obama’s former liaison to the states. His vision includes mounting multistate campaigns to promote progressive issues and training lawmakers on “how to govern a progressive state,” he said.

“One of the things we heard over and over from (state lawmakers) was they felt they were on an island,” Rathod said. “They felt they weren’t part of a national program or agenda, and felt they didn’t get the equivalent or even close to equivalent training as their conservative counterparts.”

His group will also play defense, since Republicans control two-thirds of the chambers of state legislatures nationally.

“Considering that conservatives now control more state chambers than they have since the 1900s, we know there’s not going to be all these flowers blooming all of a sudden,” Rathod said.

“For the last 40 years or so, conservatives have spent a great deal of time, energy and resources in the states that allows them to move policy quickly.”

SiX is developing an information exchange for legislators to prepare them to boost and defend their causes, and connecting them with legislators who have dealt with those bills in another state, so they understand the opposition they face.”

Rathod hopes to raise $2 million to $3 million in SiX’s first year, and as much as $10 million in subsequent years.

Ananich was among 200 legislators at the group’s first major conference in Washington in December. “I was interested in hearing how we could incorporate progressive issues into our agenda back home,” he said.

Ananich doesn’t expect SiX’s agenda to be embraced by Michigan Republicans, who enjoy a 27-11 majority in the state Senate.

“We’re in a pretty deep minority. But we’re obviously going to try to keep advocating for the things we believe in, and try to work with Republicans when we can,” Ananich said, “but still be a loud, vocal voice for what we believe is important.”