I had a chance to sit down with Dexter’s State Representative, Donna Lasinski, at Joe and Rosie’s to ask her a few questions about her first year in Lansing.
“Politics seems awfully frustrating and time consuming to me,” I began. “It’s a topic where people jump right into their anger. I’m curious why you, or anyone would subject themselves into that kind of atmosphere. Why are you seeking re-election?”
“It is a tough arena and I had a lot of ice-baths my first year,” Donna said. “My second year has gone much better. But to answer your question I have to lay down a little context first.”
Donna talked about her advocacy for early childhood education. She has advocated for high quality preschool education since her days on the Ann Arbor Board of Education. The challenge is to find that balance between having instructors with strong educational background in early childhood development and also making that affordable to the parent.
“If parents want to pay fifty-dollars an hour to send their children to preschool or high quality daycare, sure we could afford lots of great instructors and resources,” explains Donna. “But parents can only afford eight or maybe ten dollars an hour for daycare, and that’s an awful lot out of the family budget to send your child to early childhood.”
Donna went on to explain that to help that situation, the State of Michigan has a scholarship program that pays a stipend to cover tuition and fees for early childhood care workers or preschool workers who want to earn a degree in early childhood development. In this year’s state budget, the boiler plate (the fine writing at the bottom of the budget) left out the mandate that a million dollars in community block grants be allocated for these preschool stipends. It was brought to Donna’s attention and together with representatives of both parties rewrote the boilerplate to include the money. She was recently notified that the provision has been restored to the budget.
“That is what makes me feel really good,” Donna says. “It’s not passing a law. It’s not doing the glamorous things that get your name out there in the news but rather following through on the values of our community and treating all of our children well with a good education.”
“I’m having more and more of these moments in my second year,” she adds. “This is what compels me to run for a second term.”
Donna’s description of the bipartisan effort to get back the stipend for childcare workers led me to my next question. “Is partisanship as big a problem as we see on TV?” I ask. “It seems like you would never get anything done.”
“Well, for example, when I’m working on broadband internet access, I don’t walk up to a representative and ask ‘Are you a Democrat or Republican?’” she explains. “I walk up to them and say, ‘I have a report that shows that only twenty-seven percent of the people in your district have access to broadband. Would you be willing to work with me on increasing broadband access in the State of Michigan?’”
“I’d like to say partisan doesn’t matter at all, but it does,” she adds. “It’s my daily ice-bath. I can really be taken aback by it sometimes. Sometimes when I ask the question, ‘Hey I know your community is in need, so will you work with me?’ the answer makes no rational sense but makes partisan sense and that is my shocking ice-bath when I’m in Lansing.”
But having said that, Donna also went on to say that she felt partisanship increases as you go up the political ladder. Washington DC is an extremely partisan environment. Donna, a Democrat, has worked on a Republican bill that would eliminate partisanship at the township level which would then give townships the choice of running non-partisan elections. People could focus on where candidates stand on the concerns of the community without the distraction of party affiliation.
Donna represents 90,000 people in 14 of the 20 townships in Washtenaw County including Dexter, Chelsea, Manchester, Saline, and Whitmore Lake among others. Donna’s district is split almost exactly 50/50 Republicans and Democrats.
“And that’s already the beauty of where we live,” says Donna. “We don’t get anything done in our townships unless we work together. Party affiliation is indistinguishable when we’re working on our community projects. That’s a hallmark of where we live and it’s unique and honorable.”
“Your comments on better broadband remind me of Dexter Township Trustee Mike Compton’s efforts to get better internet service for rural areas,” I say. “When FCC Chair Ajit Pai deregulated the internet last December, one of his assurances was that it would provide better broadband for our rural areas. Any thoughts on that?
“Working on broadband access out in the district is proven to be much more difficult than I thought it would be,” she said. “We hear that there are federal programs that are going to improve broadband access but it’s really a rearranging of current dollars that are there. Probably the area where I’m most frustrated right now is that as a state, we need to have hard investment in infrastructure – broadband, roads, and water. We’re just not able to make that investment in ourselves. Instead, we’re constantly talking about how to put ten, fifteen, twenty dollars into tax refunds when in real, measurable ways we are already paying a tax of sorts for poor infrastructure.”
“When I look at the home values of people that don’t have internet access, they’re paying a real tax in the form of home value loss,” Donna said. “When I look at students who have to spend their evenings in McDonald’s parking lot and parents who are running their cars to keep them warm after the library closes, we’re paying real taxes out of our quality of life by not having strong infrastructure in Michigan.”
“We’re really short-changing ourselves in so many layers,” Donna continued. “For me, that discussion about real dollar investment that needs to be made in Michigan infrastructure is very frustrating because it’s easy for lawmakers to go straight to their ideologies about taxes, money, and politics rather than talk about the need and what it would mean for people to substantially address that need.”
“The FCC deregulation is not helping rural internet access,” Donna said. “Bringing better internet to rural areas is all about profitability. I absolutely respect that it is a high cost to lay a line where there are not many people to hook up and pay.”
Donna’s solution would be the creation of public/private partnerships – government working with the telecommunications industry to provide good internet access to everyone. “The industry is standing in the way of such partnerships because they don’t want any sense of government interference which is yet another ideological corner that people run to and so won’t allow the innovation to proceed,” she says.
“And in the meanwhile,” she adds, “you have an entire community unserved. You’ve got school children without the ability to do their homework. You’ve got homes with lower property values. You’ve got entrepreneurs without the ability to start or run a business. This is what’s left behind when everyone hides behind political ideology.”
And on that, it was time for us to wrap up this interview. Donna encourages people to make their voices heard. You can learn more about Donna and contact her on her page.
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