Exclusive: Gilchrist reflects on historic first bill signing as acting governor

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist at the Mackinac Policy Conference | Susan J. Demas

In his role as acting governor, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist on Thursday signed legislation that reverses the lifelong ban on felons who submit applications for insurance producer licenses.

The action made Gilchrist a history-maker as Michigan’s first Black lieutenant governor to sign a bill into law. He spoke with the Advance before the bill signing.   

“The administration’s goal is to break down as many barriers as possible,” said Gilchrist, who has focused on criminal justice reform during his first year in office.

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House Bill 4044 allows the Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) to issue licenses to people who have not been convicted of a felony in the last 10 years. Under current law, the state of Michigan does not grant insurance licenses to individuals with felony convictions. 

As a result, the state denied 61 applications due to prior felony convictions in 2018. The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton), will take effect immediately.

Gilchrist is serving as acting governor while Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is in Israel on a trade mission. 

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“What it really represents is the fact that our administration is about opening doors,” Gilchrist said of the bill signing “It’s about how we make sure that people not only see themselves reflected in leadership … But that our administration also reflects diversity in the strength and the talent of the people of Michigan.

“We have the most diverse cabinet — the most diverse leadership team in the history of Michigan of any administration. We know that talent exists in every community.”

Secretary of State Richard Austin was the first African American serving as acting governor to sign a bill into law. The opportunity in July 1988 presented itself when then-Gov. James Blanchard and Lt. Gov. Martha Griffiths were attending the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.

“I’m really proud to follow in the footsteps of Richard Austin,” said Gilchrist.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil 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.