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Top Michigan Senate Democrat: ‘Really pleased with results’ in 2023

winnie brinks speaking into a microphone
Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, says Democrats have a good track record as they seek re-election in 2024. (Courtesy photo via Senate Democrats)
  • Winnie Brinks says Democrats’ record speaks for itself during first year in power of House and Senate for decades
  • Transparency issues like public records reform will be tops on agenda in 2024
  • She shrugs off criticisms from Republicans over adjourning early: ‘We were incredibly productive’

As the first Democratic Senate majority leader in decades, Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, felt pressure to deliver in 2023. 

From January through November, Brinks and the rest of top Democrats — House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — steamrolled priorities through the Legislature, from repealing Right-to-Work and Republican-backed abortion restrictions to adding protections for LGBTQ residents and rewriting the state’s energy policy.


Brinks, also the first female Senate majority leader in Michigan history, says the record speaks for itself.

“We came out of the gate just at a full sprint,” Brinks told Bridge Michigan. “It was a ton of work, but we were really pleased with the results.” 

Bridge Michigan met with Brinks and other legislative leaders for interviews reflecting on what was accomplished, what fell through the cracks and what’s ahead in 2024. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Talk about the Legislature's work in 2023, and how things went in the first year of Democratic control in decades.

Brinks: We were really excited to be able to get the trifecta, obviously, so we got ready to work on a long list of priorities that had been languishing for so long. We were really happy to be able to get as much done as we could. 

The first half of the year was very intense, but we felt really good about all those big policy priorities that we were able to tick off the list, in addition to just an incredible budget process, and all of that during a time where we were really learning the new job of being in the majority. 

It was a ton of work, but we were really pleased with the results.

What would you say you personally are most proud of Democrats accomplishing?

Most recently, the energy package was a huge accomplishment. That’s something we've been hearing from our constituents for years and years about — the urgency of the need to address global warming, but also really make changes to where we get our energy from so that it's more sustainable and more responsive to customers’ needs. I think there's more that we could do on that latter end of things, but to be able to get that policy done was really gratifying. 

The budget itself was a huge accomplishment…putting dollars in many, many communities that have been ignored for so long.

Reproductive health was really important to me as a woman, as a mom of three women in their 20s. At a time like this, in the national environment around this topic, it felt really, really important for us to be able to get that done. That one, for me, is personal. 

And then I would say (updating the) Elliott Larsen amendment (to include LGBTQ protections.) That day on the floor of the Senate was just an incredibly moving moment. To be able to finally get that over the line was really gratifying…not just in our caucus, but in the entire Democratic establishment and the establishment of folks who had been working for decades to improve the situation for LGBTQ folks in our state.

Considering Democrats won't have a House majority for at least the first few months of next year, are there any specific goals that you think could get addressed during this time? Do you see any obvious areas where Democrats can work with Republicans next year?

There are a lot of opportunities to finish up some conversations that we've already started on economic development. There's opportunities to make a difference with prescription medication costs. We'll have an opportunity to really see who's really willing to work on a bipartisan basis. 

On economic and community development, those are things that have already been in conversation and on a bipartisan basis, so I anticipate that that will continue. Certainly the budget — we worked hard to incorporate some of the concerns of Republicans, and were able to pass that in the Senate with a lot of bipartisan support.

Job gains from Michigan's largest incentive awards in the last two years are in flux. How should that influence publicly-funded incentives and is there any reconfiguring of strategy going on as you look ahead? 

You'll see us pursue some changes to what was known as the SOAR fund (a $2 billion fund to attract big-ticket investments), now the Make it in Michigan fund, so that it reflects some of the values that the Democrats would like to infuse into the conversation. The SOAR legislation was passed under the previous Legislature when Republicans were in control. And so as we have seen things move this year, it became clear very early on that we had some ideas that we would like to incorporate into how Michigan does economic and community development. 

Related Q&As:

We are adding community development to economic development, because we believe that those two things need to go hand in hand. So you'll see us pursue the continuing reshaping of what that specific program looks like. But you also will see bipartisan support — or at least there's been bipartisan conversation about it to this point — for different things like a (research and development) tax credit, for taking a new look at renaissance zones, for looking at things like the Good Jobs program. We believe that there's a more holistic approach to take.

    How soon can you act on Freedom of Information Act reform, since Michigan is one of only two states that exempts the governor and Legislature from records requests? 

    We intend to get (FOIA) going immediately. We've been talking about that for a long time. We feel like that was in a good position to get introduced, and we'll get that on the docket in terms of committee hearings and start that process right away. 

    Are you concerned about complaints that new rules for lawmakers to disclose their finances don’t go far enough? The disclosures are mandated by a ballot issue but leave many loopholes.

    I’m certainly willing to have that conversation. When we talked about the implementation of what was passed on the ballot regarding personal financial disclosure, I think some folks had an impression that that covered a lot more than then it did. There are some things that were raised on the ballot language that I think deserve attention, but will be in different sections of the law or are already addressed in certain sections of the law. 


    I feel with the personal financial disclosure bills that we did pass, they met the bar of what was asked of us in the Constitution, that doesn't mean that that is sufficient for what a lot of folks would like to see us address. So stay tuned on that, but I'm certainly interested in figuring out some of those things, and more transparency and more disclosure is warranted in many cases. 

    Any reaction to Republicans who have been very critical about adjourning early this year?

    That says a lot more about them and how they spend their time away from Lansing than it does about Democrats, I think. 

    We were incredibly productive. We had a very dense policy agenda for the entire year, so we're very proud of all the things that we were able to get done. I would point out that in the last year of the previous session, the last half year or so, we only had five or six session days at all. And so it's ironic that with such a busy schedule this year, they feel the need to be critical of us.

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