The Michigan leader is showing us all how to “keep going” with her decades’ long commitment to public service.
MICHIGAN—She’s walking confidently, yet humbly, into her fourth term as a US Representative, bringing voices from a swathe of southeastern Michigan that includes Wayne and Oakland counties to Washington DC.
Brenda Lawrence says education, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, and correcting its effect on the US economy are her top priorities for her next term. And they’re because of Michiganders who call her office to let her know what’s needed in the community.
The ‘Gander spoke exclusively to Michigan’s highest-voted representative to get an understanding for how she plans to enter her 33rd year of public service.
Addressing the Pandemic. Competently.
The coronavirus is highlighting disparities in Michigan’s 14th Congressional District that mirrors that of the state overall. The access to quality and affordable health care in the neighboring counties creates a deep chasm between haves and have nots.
Lawrence says she wants to see equitable access for all Michiganders to both timely testing and treatment.
“It’s the data. During the first peak that we had earlier in the year, the majority of the people who died were in my district,” Lawrence said.
The Wayne County portion of Lawrence’s district includes Harper Woods, the Grosse Pointes, and part of Detroit.
The coronavirus has ravaged the city with more than 18,500 cases confirmed as of Saturday. Wayne County is reporting well over 50,000 confirmed cases overall.
“We already had the foreclosure crisis that decimated our community, but [as the pandemic hit Michigan] people were beginning to go back to work and moving into better housing,” Lawrence said.
The Congress member said she remembers the constant ringing of her office telephone; first with calls from constituents who couldn’t pay their rent, then from those who said a single $1,200 stimulus payment was insufficient.
“It allowed people to pay their rent and stay in their homes, and without it, it was one of the scariest times,” she said.
Southfield—a small, central portion of the S-shaped district—boasts a strong economy with a mix of working-class and white collar residents. The average home is worth nearly $150,000 and the poverty rate is barely 11%, despite population ebbs and flows since white flight began driving white residents farther westward into the district to suburbs like Farmington Hills.
By comparison, more than 36% of Detroit residents live at or below the poverty line, according to data published by Deloitte.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in Oakland County reached 34,966 by Saturday, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) records.
“One thing Biden is doing a good job of is tying our economic recovery to fighting this pandemic,” Lawrence said. “And it’s so true.”
MI Money-Making Moves
Before the coronavirus rerouted traditional business pathways, new construction and industry was preparing the start in Lawrence’s district. Most was halted while state leaders worked out a plan to reduce the spread of the virus.
Detroit is no stranger to economic strife or controversy. The city infamously filed bankruptcy in 2013, a move that economists, academics, and the media alike scrutinized.
Today, essential workers of the 14th Congressional District report being fearful to return to work as the virus continues to move through the state’s population, but Lawrence says the future of Michigan’s economy is bright.
With both Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and President-elect Joe Biden pledging to bring their respective jurisdictions to 100% clean emissions by 2050, breakthroughs with either technology could lead to major funding for the state.
Meaningful Educational Investment
The coronavirus continues to shed light on the ways Michigan’s education systems can innovate and improve for the digital era. Lawrence wants to see a fresh face at the helm, ensuring American children are equally and equitably educated.
“We’ll have a new Secretary of Education, so I’m looking forward to solidifying our ,” she said, adding that current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has done “great damage.”
DeVos received her appointment despite having no educational administrative background and barely an understanding of the nation’s public schools systems, thanks in part to her family’s billions that ensured DeVos received the best education money could buy.
The goal is to make strides in education that eventually lead to more robust economies, and Lawrence wants to see considerable investments in Michigan’s economy. Now.
Lawrence began learning the value of future investment during her time with the US Postal Service.
Positioning USPS for a Successful Future
With more than 30 years of USPS experience, Lawrence concedes that the nation’s next Postmaster General needn’t have any similar tenure with the institution—or any employment history with the Postal Service at all.
“Logistics,” the Detroit native told The ‘Gander. “You don’t have to be from the Post Office to understand the logistics of moving mail and packages. I think we can do better.”
Lawrence credited the Amazon facility in her district with opening her up to people outside of the USPS to lead it going forward.
“That’s why [the House Oversight Committee] always asked if [Postmaster General Louis DeJoy] was instructed to make the changes he was implementing to have this massive removal of processing equipment right before an election—It just didn’t have common sense to it,” she said.
Lawrence has been fighting to protect what remains of Postal Service’s infrastructure in her district. Despite his own logistical experience as CEO of New Breed, the Trump-appointed Postmaster Generalhas only added confusion, destruction, and delays to the delivery network.
Some critics thought his billionaire status may have kept him too far removed from daily operations to be effective at the help of the Postal Service or understand its relationship to the American working class.
Lawrence reflected on the House Oversight Committee—of which she is a member—hearing in which DeJoy testified to the rationale behind his operational changes that resulted in unprecedented mail delays in the months leading up to the general election.
Moving forward into her next term, she says that she hopes to help the next presidential administration select someone who can restore order to operations.
A Bridge for the Next Administration
As a re-elect to the US US House of Representatives, Lawrence will be among the group of Democratic congressional leaders to pave the way for the Biden-Harris administration, working through the lame duck session.
Michigan itself is key in the country’s reunification after the turbulence of the Trump administration.
“We are uniquely situated to be a leader in the discussion on trade because of our relationship to Canada,” she said, noting that Michigan is one of the highest trade points in the country.
As the year closes and we approach the dawn of a new presidential administration, Lawrence can reflect back on her support of the nation’s first woman vice president. And she’s a biracial woman of color.
“I endorsed Kamala Harris when she ran for president, and although she ended up being selected as vice president, it’s transformational,” Lawrence said.
She recalls feeling similarly with the election of President Barack Obama.
“We have an opportunity to continue to push for inclusion and to wipe away stereotypes,” Lawrence said of the potential she sees in the Biden-Harris administration.
“Joe Biden is a person who can finally start to put this country at ease, and to add to that, this amazing Black woman to be his vice president, is just an amazing thing [to witness].”