Born in Syria, Martini grew up with banned books and rigged elections. Now, the Democratic House Rep. candidate for southeastern Michigan is worried that the US is falling into similar authoritarian traps.
On Election Day, Nov. 8, Michiganders will be voting on a number of policies and candidates—including governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and state Supreme Court, plus three ballot proposals about term limits, voting rights, and reproductive freedom.
MICHIGAN—Meet Shadia Martini, a Democrat running for her first term in the Michigan House of Representatives. Her district—the 54th House District—includes Bloomfield Hills, Orion Township and parts of Auburn Hills, as well as Bloomfield and Oakland townships.
Martini was born in Aleppo, Syria, and was among the only women in her class to graduate from the University of Aleppo with an engineering degree. She later received her MBA from the University of Michigan, and owns both a real estate brokerage and construction company.
In August, Martini became the first Syrian American woman to win a party’s nomination to the Michigan Legislature.
3 Things to Know About Shadia Martini
- Martini wants to defend democracy.
She may be new to state politics, but Martini has been involved in advocacy work for more than a decade. After the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011, Martini pushed for a bill to prosecute human rights abuse. She also volunteered to help resettle refugees into Michigan communities.
Martini told The ‘Gander that she fears for the future of democracy in the US—pointing to former President Donald Trump’s peddling of conspiracy theories about the election, and many other candidates following in his stead.
“Democracy is fragile, and it’s hard,” Martini said. “You have to have a consensus in democracy, and you have to allow for all voices to be heard. This is the beauty of democracy, but it’s also the fragility of democracy.”
In the current legislative session, Republicans in the state Legislature passed restrictive voting measures that would require new forms of ID and eliminate popular polling places. But the bills were stonewalled with a swift veto from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Now, right-wing activists have pushed those same measures in other forms.
If elected in November, Martini wants to protect access to voting.
Michigan has already made strides on this front, after Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson debuted a new initiative in 2019 to sign up voters when they renew driver’s licenses and ID cards—something voters, including Martini, supported during the 2018 election.
There are other ways to register even more citizens, like signing them up when they interact with other government offices. Those changes would require a majority vote in the Legislature, and sign-off from the governor.
Other Democrats have already lobbied for more inclusive voting procedures with a new constitutional amendment that would create a right to early voting, among other initiatives. Martini said she is prepared to defend the right to vote in Lansing next year.
- Martini wants to look out for your pocketbook.
As a small business owner, Martini said that she wants to find more ways to save workers money in Michigan. She also said that she is in favor of cutting taxes for everyday Michiganders—not raising them.
Specifically, Martini wants to suspend the state’s gas tax and return the surplus money to Michigan residents—a move which would save drivers an immediate 27 cents per gallon. A package to suspend the gas tax earlier this year was proposed by Republicans, but Whitmer opted instead to take aim at the state’s 6% sales tax on gas purchases. Neither plan made it into law.
Cutting gas taxes would be one way to help people brace the current peak of inflation, Martini said. While state government in Michigan can’t lower prices by itself, Martini said, it can help people deal with them.
“We’re not federal, and we’re not the central bank,” Martini said. “So, dealing with inflation is not something that we can really meaningfully work with realistically. However, we can try to alleviate the effect of inflation, especially on retirees—because retirees’ income is limited.”
Martini has also taken aim at the retirement tax that was reintroduced under former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, and which Whitmer has sought—without cooperation from the Republican-led Legislature—to repeal.
- Martini wants to watch our environmental footprint.
Michigan is undertaking an energy revolution as it continues to transition to clean energy jobs and electric vehicle manufacturing. To that end, Martini said her background in construction and engineering will help her shape policies that fit the state’s energy plan, while bringing jobs to the state and stoking innovation.
As a real estate broker, Martini has incorporated alternative forms of energy into many of her projects—from energy-star homes to insulating concrete forms, a form of construction designed to trap hot and cold air inside the building in order to improve energy efficiency.
Martini said she wants to apply these same principles to Michigan to help protect the local environment, and also help lessen the state’s dependence on foreign power sources.
“I’ve been really very interested in alternative energy,” Martini said. “I think this is where the future is. We need to push for alternative energy as a government, because this is not a fully developed field. It’s much better than it used to be, but it can still go a lot further.”