Chang talks pink wave and Lame Duck, stays mum on Scott

Rep. Stephanie Chang talks with constituents during her Dec. 14 coffee hour | Ken Coleman

Last week was a long one in Lansing.

As the two-year session ends, legislative Republicans have fired off dozens of bills, some of which are designed to usurp power from incoming Democratic executives. On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the House held a marathon session that actually ended at 3 a.m. the following morning.

And on Friday, state Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) hosted her final coffee hour of the year.  

The effort attracted about half-dozen fully engaged constituents at a small, but noisy donut shop on West Vernor Highway, a bustling business thoroughfare on Detroit’s culturally diverse Southwest side that includes African-Americans, Latinos and whites.

Chang, who is of Taiwanese descent, was elected on Nov. 6 to a state Senate seat. She was the first Asian-American woman to serve in the House and now she’ll have the same distinction in the upper chamber. Chang will be Senate minority floor leader, the No. 2 position in the caucus.

Bettie Cook Scott

In August, she won almost an outright majority in a six-way Democratic primary, setting her up for an easy general election win in the heavily blue seat. Chang trounced both former state Rep. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi (D-Detroit) and current Rep. Bettie Cook Scott (D-Detroit), who made the racist remark on the campaign trail about Chang, “Don’t vote for the ching-chong!”

At the time, Chang tweeted about her experiences with racism and appealed to actress Constance Wu to retweet her message. Chang also was interviewed on CNN. Several groups called for Scott to resign. She didn’t, but eventually apologized. Now she has mostly stopped coming in to work after her loss.

However, when the Advance asked Chang last week about Scott failing to show up to the Legislature, she said she had no comment.

At the coffee hour, Chang provided a brief update to attendees about the frenzied week that was at the Capitol. She answered questions fully and listened intently to concerns. It’s all in a day’s work for Chang, who has developed a reputation as being as tireless as she is thoughtful.

The Advance spoke with her after her coffee hour about housing, the watered-down minimum wage and sick leave bills and being part of an incoming caucus with women comprising half the membership.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Michigan Advance: In 2015, Wayne County government foreclosed on about 25,000 properties and more than 9,000 occupied properties for unpaid property taxes. The county reported earlier this year that is set to foreclose on 4,676 properties this year, with 1,499 of them occupied properties. So the numbers have fallen significantly, but a challenge still exists. The Detroit Justice Center, a nonprofit located in your district, recently announced that it is bringing on four staffers to help area residents who may be victim of tax foreclosure. What do you think about that?

Chang: There are a lot of groups that go door-to-door [to assist residents]. My office goes door-to-door after people are notified that they are facing tax foreclosure and letting people know about available options. So I think that this idea about actually getting to people earlier on — so that we’re preventing tax foreclosure and hopefully developing best practices — is such a great idea.

Stephanie Chang

Michigan Advance: There will be more women in both caucuses next year. Women won eight more seats in the House, going from 31 to 41; they won seven more seats in the Senate, going from four to 11. The Senate Democratic caucus will have eight female members, up from only one this term. Is that important?

Chang: I think that it’s a sign and a result of a lot of women realizing that this is an opportunity to build the leadership that they are already showing in their communities. They are making it happen. Some of it is certainly attributable to [President] Trump. … It shows that the voters want fresh faces.

Having women in the Legislature is good, not just because of the numbers, but what those numbers represent. Having more balanced representation means better outcomes and better policy, because we know that women are often well in-tune with what families need. We think about what legislation how it would impact vulnerable children and families. Many of us are collaborative and consensus builders. We like to get things done.

Michigan Advance: What’s your response to the GOP-led efforts to gut the citizen-led proposals regarding paid sick leave — Senate Bill 1175, sponsored by Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) — and minimum wage — SB 1171, sponsored by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell)?

Chang: I think some of us were holding out hope that [Gov. Rick Snyder] would not sign those bills into law. I’m obviously disappointed and I think that not only is this a slap in the face to the voters who overwhelming supported these policies, but it is also going to have a tremendous negative economic impact on our communities.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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