Starting his tenth year in public service, the only Jewish and LGBTQ state Senator in Michigan opens up about the rise in political violence.
SOUTHFIELD, Mich.—The only openly LGBTQ member of the Michigan Senate and one of only a handful of LGBTQ leaders in the Legislature, as well as the only Jewish state senator, Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) is aware of the importance he has in serving a community as well as his constituency.
Grappling With 2021
Moss spoke with The ‘Gander the day after a bomb threat evacuated the Capitol Building in Lansing, and two days after the attempted coup that seized Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 6. Watching the scene unfold in Washington, it wasn’t the Civil War or the War of 1812 Moss thought about—it was April 30, 2020.
Over the spring of last year, Michigan’s capitol was host to a number of protests. The most dramatic of which, April 30, saw armed gunmen storm the Capitol Building. They forced their way past officers and demanded to be let in to see House proceedings. Others, armed with assault rifles, stood overlooking the Senate, where Moss serves. Under Michigan law and policies of the Capitol Building itself, their actions were not criminal.
“I’m the only LBGT member of the Michigan Senate. I’m the only Jewish member of the Michigan Senate,” Moss told The ‘Gander. “So to watch these protests unfold and to look out the window of the Michigan capitol as it’s happening and see Confederate and Nazi paraphenalia flying around along with Trump signs was very distressing.”
Moss wasn’t the only one to draw that comparison. Following the pro-Trump assault on Capitol Hill, Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel encouraged the legislature to reignite discussion about banning guns inside our own capitol in Lansing. That’s an issue Moss said Michigan leaders are continuing to grapple with.
“Bringing a gun into the capitol is not a safe expression of the Second Amendment,” Moss said. “It is only an expression of intimidation, to disrupt our ability to govern and fulfill our constitutional obligations of the constituents that sent us there.”
Working Safely in a Pandemic World
One of the major things Moss sees as a 2021 priority is workplace safety during the home stretch of the pandemic. Reaching the target percentage of vaccination will take months, if not most of the year, and as the economic freeze cast over America continues to thaw, returning to work safely will become the next frontier of the coronavirus crisis.
Moss sees this struggle to work safely every day in Lansing.
“There was a complaint filed by a staffer in the Michigan House of Representatives to MIOSHA [the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration] about how even our Republican majority is not putting forward the best safety and health protocols to ensure that legislators and our staff remain safe,” Moss explained. “We have to first, obviously, address those issues in our own workplace, but ensure that every workplace is operating safely in this time where we are still mitigating an infectious virus.”
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If even the Michigan Legislature, which is well-informed by state medical leaders about proper mitigation protocols used by both the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention falls short, Moss argues, there needs to be action to ensure workplace safety across the state.
That’s been borne out by the number of Michigan legislators who have caught the coronavirus and exposed colleagues or forced delays to the legislative agenda. But the lessons have gone unlearned—despite an incident as early as August, the MIOSHA investigation Moss cited began after coronavirus protocol violations in December.
“I’ve heard from a multitude of constituents,” Moss said, “‘I need to make a paycheck, but I also need to make sure as I’m working my family and I am safe.’ So that’s something we’re going to be grappling with into 2021.”
Seeking a Transparent Government
A long-held goal of Moss’ has been improving government transparency so that the people of Michigan can truly assess their elected officials. At present, both the Office of the Governor and the Legislature are immune from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and changing that has been a project Moss spent more than five years fighting for.
“We have been ranked dead last out of all 50 states in the country in terms of ethics, transparency and accountability,” said Moss. “So every year I have introduced legislation with partners across the aisle to apply the open records law to the state legislature and to the governor’s office.”
When he started, he had marginal support, but in the years he has worked on it since Moss has built a stronger coalition, including the support of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He also stressed that the importance of government transparency isn’t an abstract notion, but one that has prevented Michiganders from getting justice just in his time in the Legislature.
“Citizens and journalists sought out information to uncover the Flint Water Crisis and the most important tool that they didn’t have was the Freedom of Information Act,” Moss explained. “They could not request the records of our former governor. They could not request the records within our state legislature. And time and time again as crisis after crisis has come out of the Michigan Capitol Building, citizens just don’t have the ability to scrutinize the decisions that led to these crises.”
So Moss is ready to redouble his efforts in 2021 to pass the transparency legislation he’s spent so many years fighting for. But the newer problem also looms large in his mind.
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It’s been nearly a decade that Moss has dedicated himself to public service.
Moss has championed issues from revisions to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 that would cover discrimination against LGBTQ Michiganders to recognizing Pride Month formally, which Michigan currently doesn’t, Moss has fought for the disenfranchised. But that isn’t the only way he’s done so—Moss is also a member of the boards of the Martin Luther King Task Force Advisory and Congregation Beth Ahm. He also has worked to reverse cuts to local government funding that have hurt retirees and schools.
He says he’s starting 2021 looking back at that legacy, and forward at what next challenges he’s going to tackle.
“This has just been a journey for me and the constituents who have supported me along the way,” Moss told The ‘Gander. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in our society. Some progress, some not. But I’m happy to continue my service here on behalf of my community.”