Stephanie Chang, Bridget Mary McCormack, Brenda Lawrence, Rashida Tlaib and Laurie Pohutsky.
Stephanie Chang, Bridget Mary McCormack, Brenda Lawrence, Rashida Tlaib and Laurie Pohutsky.

Those women from Michigan continue to be decisive voices in policy both in Lansing and across the nation. Here are five leading ladies to watch next year.

LANSING, Mich.—From the Governor to the Attorney General, Michigan’s leaders are a who’s who of progressive women. And five powerful progressive voices in particular got re-elected in 2020.

With a new year, January will also bring a new legislative term to Michigan and Washington both. Looking ahead at those new terms tackling familiar problems, a few leaders stand out as people to watch in 2021.

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From state representatives to the Supreme Court of Michigan, here are the movers and shakers that will help craft a new year.

Bridget Mary McCormack, Chief Justice of Michigan’s Supreme Court

Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack is a remarkably popular jurist in Michigan, handily obtaining her re-election in November. Seizing on the coronavirus pandemic as a chance to give the Michigan court system the leap into the 21st century it needed, McCormack modernized Michigan’s courts in the past year. 

McCormack has an advantage in this that she didn’t have in 2020, and that is Elizabeth Welch. Welch herself is dedicated to making courts more accessible for Michiganders who don’t need or can’t afford lawyers. But Welch offered McCormack another advantage—she swung the court ideologically closer to McCormack.

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Judges rarely talk about the possible cases they may have to eventually divide, but given the current focus on voting rights, coronavirus protections and criminal justice reform in the cultural atmosphere, cases on these topics are likely to reach Welch and McCormack in the next year. And the shift in the court’s ideology toward a more progressive view of law means that the outcome of those cases might be starkly different to what Michigan has seen before.

In particular, the October decision striking down the law on which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer chose to pin her emergency authority still left the door open for other legal arguments to justify that authority. Those other legal arguments may be settled by a very different court.

Keep up with McCormack and the Michigan Supreme Court by watching court proceedings on YouTube.

Stephanie Chang, State Senator from Detroit

Sen. Stephanie Chang is the minority floor leader in the state’s Senate and served as the chair and Executive Committee Liaison for the Michigan Progressive Women’s Caucus. She’s also the first Asian American woman elected to the state senate.  She also served as state director for NextGen Climate Michigan, alumni engagement and evaluation coordinator for the Center for Progressive Leadership in Michigan, deputy director for the Campaign for Justice and as an organizer for Michigan United/One United Michigan.

All to say, Chang is tireless in her pursuit of progressive causes. 

Chang has also been deeply conscious of how the coronavirus pandemic has made things harder for those already facing challenging situations like poverty, disability or marginalization. 

“For people with disabilities, limited English proficiency, lower incomes or lacking health insurance, this is a crisis upon a crisis,” Chang wrote back in April. “I am concerned that when our healthcare system becomes overwhelmed, our friends with chronic health conditions or disabilities diagnosed with COVID-19 will not get care they deserve—unless our state and hospital systems put in place clear policies that ensure everyone has a chance.”

Keep up with Chang and the rest of the Progressive Women’s Caucus on their website.

Laurie Pohutsky, State Representative from Livonia

Not only is Rep. Laurie Pohutsky a determined and fiery representative in Lansing, but she’s a microbiologist. During a pandemic, that background is more important than ever. She regularly has taken to the floor of the House to discuss realities of the coronavirus, explaining to other elected officials how things like nursing homes actually address the virus and helping craft policy with Gov. Whitmer.

Pohutsky is also an influential voice. Now in her second term, she plans to use that voice championing issues like closing loopholes permitting spousal sexual assault and making access to health, including mental health, easier for Michiganders. 

Pohutsky has been a tireless advocate for science, education, health and women’s issues in Lansing, and has been one of the most ardently progressive people in the legislature. Where she leads, interesting things are bound to follow. 

Follow Pohutsky on her official House Democrats page.

Rashida Tlaib, Congressional Representative from Detroit

The four young, progressive women of color elected to Congress in 2018 are known as “the Squad.” And among their number is Rep Rashida Tlaib from Detroit. As, on a national level, Democrats struggle between the various identities making up their political party, the role of that squad in articulating a passionate vision of progressive policy is crucially important. 

Tlaib’s criticism of outgoing President Donald Trump propelled her rapidly into the spotlight following her election, but her broader advocacy for progressive policy is still critical to the ongoing discussion of the ultimate direction the Democratic party takes.

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Tlaib is also a forward-thinking legislator, turning her eye to the less chaotic cousin of bitcoin, so-called ‘stablecoins’ like Facebook’s Libra, and how they ought to be treated by the government. Congress has been notorious for being behind the curve on emerging technologies, so this proactive approach could yield some interesting outcomes. 

You can follow Tlaib on Twitter to keep updated on her work.

Brenda Lawrence, Congressional Representative from Detroit

The problems with the post office are far from over. No one in Congress is likely better positioned to tackle those problems than Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Lawrence is a veteran of the Postal Service and has been acting as a passionate defender of mail carriers through the current postal crisis. 

Nationwide, the continuing slowdown of the Postal Service has prompted workers to encourage mailing holiday gifts well in advance. Even if the impact of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on slowing the service down and overworking employees was addressed, the troubles facing the post office have much longer roots. An effort to save the Postal Service needs a broader focus, and someone who has been at the heart of its operations is likely to take a large role in shaping that effort.

To keep an eye on the Postal Service, like Lawrence’s Facebook page.