Former House Minority Leader Sam Singh, the Democratic nominee for Michigan’s new 28th Senate District, speaks at a canvass kickoff with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Lansing on Nov. 1, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)
Updated, 5:14 p.m., 11/30/22
Sam Singh is no stranger to making history.
At 24, he became one of Michigan’s youngest City Council members. Then he became the youngest and first person of color to serve as East Lansing’s mayor in 2006. After serving as president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, he was then elected to the Michigan House in 2012 and later served as minority leader of that chamber — the second person of color to do so in Michigan, and the first Indian American to serve in Michigan’s state House.
And, come Jan. 1, he will be the first person of color to hold the title of Michigan Senate majority floor leader and the first Indian American elected to the upper chamber.
Democrats have made several historic choices in leadership next year with diversity in race, gender, religion and sexual orientation after sweeping the Legislature and top offices.
“What’s so exciting about this upcoming legislative session is that you’ll have the diversity of Michigan represented within the Legislature,” Singh told the Advance in an interview last week.
His counterpart in the House, state Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck), will be the first Muslim to serve as that chamber’s majority floor leader.
State Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) will be the Senate majority leader, making her the first woman to lead either chamber, and state Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) will be the first African American to be House speaker (and first person of color to lead either chamber).
State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) is set to become the first openly bisexual speaker pro tempore in the House; in the Senate, state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) will be that chamber’s first openly gay president pro tempore.
For Singh, having real diversity among Democratic leadership and caucuses will make the Legislature better suited to serve a wide breadth of Michigan constituents.
The Democratic victories on Nov. 8 that made that possible, he said, were won by a combination of fairer district lines and because “Democrats were talking about bread and butter issues — things that impact the day-to-day lives of Michiganders.”
“Unfortunately, the Republicans were trying to fight a culture war,” Singh said, while the average Michiganders weren’t seeing their issues addressed by the party.
“I thought that was a shame, that the Republican Party that I used to grow up knowing has changed so dramatically. They continue down that path, which is why I think across the country Republicans did so poorly,” he said.
Given that Michigan has some of the country’s most restrictive term limits, Singh will enter his new office in January as a relatively rare example of an already-experienced politician coming into the role.
He said that his legislative experience, combined with his time working in the nonprofit sector outside of the Lansing bubble, makes him a “stronger leader.”
(Michigan) is a diverse state and has different interests from the city of Detroit all the way to the Upper Peninsula. And when you take a look at the leadership, it reflects that.
– Senate Majority Floor Leader-elect Sam Singh
“I always want to be in the middle of the discussion of how we can make our state better,” Singh said, no matter what that looks like.
For a Democrat whose entire state House career was spent with his party in the minority, the 102nd Legislature will be an entirely different experience for Singh. He expects that his party will take up long-dormant legislation that had been pushed aside by Republican leadership, but with thoughtfulness rather than a rush to pass it all at once.
“To me, a session is not a sprint, but it’s a marathon,” Singh said. “ … We don’t have to get everything done in the first quarter. We have two years here where we can make that change.”
Singh discussed what he’s excited to see in a state budget negotiated by Democratic-led chambers and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, his top priorities going into the new Legislature and more.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Michigan Advance: With you and Aiyash being chosen as the incoming majority floor leaders, along with Brinks and Tate set to lead their chambers, these are all historic choices for leading the Michigan Legislature. What is it like being part of that?
Singh: The Democratic leadership for the Legislature is really what makes Michigan great. It is a diverse state and has different interests from the city of Detroit all the way to the Upper Peninsula. And when you take a look at the leadership, it reflects that. And actually both chambers reflect that. And I think that’s what’s so exciting about this upcoming legislative session, is that you’ll have the diversity of Michigan represented within the Legislature.
… I’m just honored that my colleagues asked me in my first term to serve in a leadership position. I’m excited about the opportunity to take a lot of good ideas that the citizens have been demanding — that unfortunately haven’t been given a chance to get heard in the legislative process — the opportunity to move those ideas forward.
Michigan Advance: You spent some time outside of the Legislature and outside of government before running for Senate. How do you think spending time outside before coming back has impacted you?
Singh: I’ve always done that throughout my career. I always think having different experiences makes you a stronger leader, makes you more effective when you’re trying to make change. And so in between the mayor of the city of East Lansing and running for the State House, I had a five-year gap. Here between the state House and State Senate, I had three years and nine months, so it’ll be a four-year gap during there. To me, it’s about trying to make change and trying to make an impact, [like] the work I was doing most recently as the CEO of a policy, research and evaluation firm called Public Policy Associates. I always want to be in the middle of the discussion of how we can make our state better.
Michigan Advance: Going into this next Legislature, what are your top legislative priorities?
Singh: I’m excited about the opportunity to see the governor’s first budget with a Democratic Legislature. For us, a budget is really the values that you place on the citizens that you represent. And so to me, it’s really going to be receiving the governor’s budget, but then the Legislature will put its perspective on it as well. And so I see some great opportunities to take a look at our K-12 and higher education funding, taking a look at how we support talent and economic development throughout the state. So to me, it’s a real focus on making sure that the budget really reflects our values.
Michigan Advance: On that note, what are the top three things you’d like to see in next year’s budget?
Singh: I want to make sure that we are positioning Michigan with the changing economy that we have in our country. We want to make sure that we are investing in talent, making sure that we are positioning workers so they can get good-paying jobs, want to make sure that we continue some of the great work that has been done about making sure that college and the trades are open to all Michigan students.
I want to make sure that we are taking a look at behavioral health and ensuring that we’re providing health care to all Michiganders. So I think there’s some really big issues that we will be grappling with as a Legislature that will be some of the foundations placed within the budget.
I thought that was a shame, that the Republican Party that I used to grow up knowing has changed so dramatically. They continue down that path, which is why I think across the country Republicans did so poorly.
– Senate Majority Floor Leader-elect Sam Singh
Michigan Advance: What can we expect from a Democratic-led Senate? Will the first few months be busier than in the past, taking up legislation that’s been dormant for years?
Singh: I think there’s definitely a lot of ideas that we have proposed as Democrats that we will have brought forward in this upcoming session. To me, a session is not a sprint, but it’s a marathon. And I think we just have to be thoughtful on how we take a look at issues. We don’t have to get everything done in the first quarter. We have two years here where we can make that change.
And so we want to make sure that we’re working with our partners in the House, making sure that we’re working with our partners in the executive branch. We obviously want to make sure that we are hearing from our citizens, hearing from constituency groups and making sure their voices are heard.
I think there will be a lot of issues that Democrats have talked about over the years that, unfortunately, were not even given hearings under the previous Republican-led Legislature. We’ll do that. But to me, it should be done in a thoughtful way so we can make sure that we make change that is going to positively impact the residents of our state.
Michigan Advance: How do you think Democrats were able to win the Legislature and top offices on Nov. 8?
Singh: When you take a look at the campaigns and you take a look at the issues, Democrats were talking about bread and butter issues, things that impact the day-to-day lives of Michiganders. Unfortunately, the Republicans were trying to fight a culture war. … The average person who’s just wanting to make sure that they can afford to send their kids to college, or somebody who’s just trying to make sure that they can move up into a career that has a good paying job — they weren’t being talked to by the Republicans.
And I thought that was a shame, that the Republican Party that I used to grow up knowing has changed so dramatically. They continue down that path, which is why I think across the country Republicans did so poorly. Obviously because of the redistricting commission, we’ve had the first time in a couple of decades [with] fair lines that were drawn, so that allowed for these diverse candidates to run and be successful. But I do think it’s because we talked about issues that impacted Michiganders on a day-to-day basis.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Singh was the second person of color to serve as Michigan House Minority Leader.
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