As the 2020 election cycle heats up in Michigan, state House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) stands confident that Democrats will win back control of the state’s lower chamber next year.
At the same time, Greig says that the bipartisan goodwill espoused so far this term by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her Republican legislative counterparts — state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) — is indeed genuine and bolstered by regular private meetings.
Now in her third and final House term, Greig says that the party’s focus on “people first” policy is resonating with people around the state and will lead to a windfall next year for Democrats in the state House.
In her second term, Greig served as the House Democratic floor leader. Prior to entering politics, she had extensive history in business and worked closely with Farmington Hills area education groups, including a stint as president of the Farmington Area’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Council.
In an exclusive interview this week in her Capitol office, Greig acknowledged that should Democrats take back the House for the first time since 2010, she won’t be there to experience it. But she said she plans to stay close to Michigan politics.
Greig, who is pro-choice, shared a similar sentiment during a Planned Parenthood conference on Tuesday. During the wide-ranging interview with the Advance, she also touched on the rise of women in Michigan politics and what Democrats need to do to help Flint get past the water crisis.
The following are excerpts from that interview:
Michigan Advance: What strategy do you believe Democrats need to utilize to take back the House of Representatives?
Greig: I think we continue to do what we’re doing. I think you saw in 2018 that 54 percent of people across the state voted for House Democrats in the state House races. Clearly, our values are resonating across the entire state. We’re fighting headwinds, of course.
We still have gerrymandered districts, but I think we continue talking about our values, talking about plans of putting people first in all our policies and working together.
In particular, you see Oakland County, where I’m from, and you’ve seen the big change. We’d already seen it trending Democrat in the past, but ever since the 2016 election, that trend has accelerated. I think you’re going to see a lot of activity in Oakland County from all levels of the state and I think that’s going to be the heart [of the 2020 campaign].
Michigan Advance: What do you see as the potential implications or consequences of another two years of Republicans controlling the whole Legislature?
Greig: I don’t even want to think about that, because we’re going to take back the House in 2020 (laughs). I mean, I have every confidence that we will. We got more than halfway there in 2018, we got so close. There were five races in total that in total were less than 2,800 votes.
I completely look at 2020 as finishing the job that we started. What it means is all of these bills that we’ve put forth, that we continue to talk about, actually will be heard in the public arena.
To me, that’s what is important … is to be able to be more proactive with policy in the government arena. We take them out to the public, we know that they have great support out there, but until they have hearings here, then they don’t get as much traction.
The journalists don’t cover as much, either. To me, that’s what’s at stake right now, is moving that policy. Then, of course, in 2022 we’ll tackle the [state] Senate [when it’s up for re-election again].
Michigan Advance: What role do you think Gov. Whitmer should play in helping Democrats win the House?
Greig: As the governor, she’s the standard-bearer of our party at the state level, so I’m expecting her to be fully engaged in supporting us, because when she has a House that shares [her priorities] and values, then that’s going to move the needle forward even faster in Michigan. I see her as being a great supporter of ours and helping us out.
Michigan Advance: What has the relationship and the dynamics been like so far between the governor and the House Democratic caucus?
Greig: It’s been very strong. I have to say, it’s very refreshing. We haven’t been in this position in a very long time and so she immediately reached out to us, established regular meetings and invited not only Democrats, but Republicans, too. We had a nice event with all the women there.
The quadrant meetings [with the governor and legislative leaders] that she started have been really good. It’s really given us an opportunity to get to know each other as people. She kind of set the stage on that when she did her State of the State at the end [when Whitmer talked about the leaders’ families.]
Michigan Advance: How regular have the quadrant meetings been?
Greig: In general, we schedule them every two weeks and there have been a few [weeks off] when we had [a] break and I think the State of the State was on one of those days. But they have been regularly scheduled and we’ve had them, so they’ve been nice.
Michigan Advance: What have been the tangible results that the meetings have led to?
Greig: Getting to know each other, because we’re going to be facing some really tough issues. And if we know each other as people first, I think it just helps with that process when you have to have those really tough discussions. To me, that’s probably the best thing.
Michigan Advance: So in your relationship with say, Speaker Chatfield, what has attending these meetings helped with in terms of policy discussions?
Greig: Speaker Chatfield and I came in [to the House] at the same time, so we have an established relationship, so I would say the quadrant meetings are more bringing in the Senate and a partnership, as well, so that we can talk about some of these tough issues.
The other things that’s really great about the quadrant meetings: It’s just the five of us in the room. Sometimes we’re joined by Lt. Gov. [Garlin] Gilchrist. There’s no staff in there, so what we talk about is confidential. And holding that trust is what’s going to be really important when we start digging into the policy issues.
Michigan Advance: There’s been a lot of nods toward bipartisanship so far this term. Do you think it’s actually been more than that?
Greig: I do and you know, I take the speaker at his word when he said on his swearing-in day remarks that he wants to set Michigan apart from some of the antics going on in Washington, D.C. While we’ve had some of that happen, primarily at the committee level with resolutions, I feel as though we’ve taken a good approach in that the bulk of what we’re spending time on is on these big issues to move Michigan forward on transparency, on civil asset reform.
The fact that the focus has been on that, when we start spending time and resources and public energy talking about these divisive issues that primarily play out at the federal level, that’s where I would have a problem and so far we have not spent [time doing that], at least on the House floor.
I’m, of course, very upset that we’ve done some bills and some resolutions in the committees as well and spent any time on that. But overall, I’ve been pretty satisfied with what we’re doing on a bipartisan basis. You’ve seen a lot more bipartisan bill packages, as well [than in past terms].
Michigan Advance: You mentioned that the quadrant meetings have helped with getting to know the Senate leadership. How has that helped with what’s so far transpired over the last four months?
Greig: I think it’s leading up to [fiscal year 2020] budget negotiations, right? That’s the big thing. We’re going to be sitting down and really hammering out a budget. That’s where knowing a person a little bit better, knowing where they’re coming from —- their perspective — is really important. I think that’s what the quadrant meetings have really helped with.
Michigan Advance: What steps should the Democratic House caucus be taking on Flint’s water crisis?
Greig: We have to make sure they’re getting the resources they need to make sure that those who were impacted by the water … we’ve seen a lot of that allocated with schools getting additional support. We have to rebuild the city, as well, so we have to look at any kind of incentives we can get there with housing, with businesses, anything like that.
But overall, it’s like we have to make sure that everyone across the state has the trust that when they turn on the tap, it’s clean water. We’ve got to get a handle on PFAS [chemicals in drinking water]. That’s everyone across the state.
I’ve been very encouraged that the governor is looking at that, putting in additional resources in her budget proposals and really making sure that what we learned from Flint and what we’re fixing from Flint is going to be a model on how to address any kind of water issues across the state.
Michigan Advance: Do you believe your Republican counterparts see that as a top priority?
Greig: I hope so. I mean, we’ll find out when we start hammering out the details, but anyone that says it’s not a priority to make sure that everyone across the state can turn on the water and that we have justice for Flint, I would hope that would be a priority.
Michigan Advance: What does justice for Flint look like to you?
Greig: Making sure that we have the resources to bring that city back and make sure that … it’s building public trust. Think about trying to sell your house in Flint or buying a house in Flint. All these extra levels of concern that are going into that. And if we don’t stabilize the whole area and make people confident to live there and send their kids to school there, then we’re not supporting the city like we should be.
Michigan Advance: Looking ahead to 2020, women made big gains in state government in 2018. Is that a trend you see continuing?
Greig: I think during this 100th Legislature, I think a lot of eyes around the country are on Michigan. What does female leadership look like? We have all these statewide positions filled by women. The chief justice of the Supreme Court [Bridget McCormack], the House [minority] leader [Greig], the Senate Floor Leader [Stephanie Chang] — all eyes will be on us.
And I welcome that, because I think what you’ll see is a higher priority on talking about these kitchen-table issues. Women that have traditionally been that lead parent that’s worried about taking their kids to school, working in churches. I think. in general, women tend to talk about health care and education and other issues like that more … frequently and more passionately.
We’ve traditionally been the caregivers and you’re going to see that translate into policy priorities. I think you’re going to see that’s what resonates with men, women, old, young, across the state and that’s going to probably translate into even more women getting elected in 2020.
Michigan Advance: So should Democrats take the House back, due to term limits, you won’t be here to experience that. What’s next for you?
Greig: Well, throughout my entire career — and I’ve worn a lot of different hats — my No. 1 priority has always been to leave something stronger than when you came in. So having this as my No. 1 priority is where my focus is.
After that, I have just immensely enjoyed being in the center of the political discussions and problem-solving here in the state, so I’ll look to see what opportunities are available after that in or out of elected office. But I’ll continue to be at the center of the discussion and making sure that elected officials are being held accountable and that we are continuing to find great candidates that are going to champion these policies.
And we’ll see what happens when the lines are redrawn [with redistricting] in 2022 (laughs). We just don’t know what 2022 will look like, so I think I have a lot of options from that angle.