Joe Tate has a college and professional football record, military service, two master’s degrees and two terms in the Michigan House under his belt. He’ll soon be adding the title of speaker of the House to his résumé.
Tate, 42, a Detroit Democrat, will make history as Michigan’s first Black House speaker on Jan. 2. He’ll hold the gavel and set House priorities in a legislative session where Democrats hold majority control in both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in decades.
It’s a goal realized for many Democrats used to operating in the minority — but it also means there’s a lot of pressure on Tate and Senate Majority Leader-elect Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, to deliver on progressive priorities while protecting the party’s new legislative advantage.
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Tate hopes to do all of the above while maintaining bipartisan camaraderie, telling Bridge Michigan in a recent interview that he plans to bring “a very thoughtful and deliberate approach” to determining what a Democratic-led House looks like.
He said he recognizes that members of his caucus were independently elected and may not agree on every issue, but he believes House Democrats will be a “united front” on common goals.
“For me, my style has been working together in a bipartisan fashion — that’s how I’ve operated through my legislative career,” he said. “We are a consensus-building institution, and I want to continue that. But I also know that the voters expressed their power by giving us the majority in the House.”
Prior to his legislative career, Tate was on Michigan State University’s football team from 1999-2003, graduating with a degree in public policy. He was in the National Football League for two seasons before leaving to serve two tours in Afghanistan as a Marine.
After that, Tate earned a master’s of business administration and a master’s of science in environmental policy and planning from the University of Michigan, graduating in 2017.
Elected in 2018 to the Legislature, Tate specialized in helping craft the state budget, serving as the minority vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee in his second term.
Tate said his parents — a firefighter and public school teacher — taught him from a young age to give back to his community through public service. Running for office seemed like a natural “second service” to his community after the military, Tate said.
As speaker, some of Tate’s priorities include seeking commonsense solutions to addressing gun violence, defending labor rights and repealing a dormant state statute that bans abortion in the aftermath of the Proposal 3 vote enshrining abortion rights into the Michigan Constitution.
On the budget front, Tate said he’s proud of the work that lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have accomplished in the last several budget cycles, including boosting investments in K-12 education, economic development and infrastructure.
But “we know that there can be more” investment in those and other key priorities, Tate said, noting more road and water infrastructure funding, additional funding for environmental protection and contamination cleanup and boosting job creation through additional economic development initiatives are at the top of his list.
As he looks ahead to the new session, Tate said he is excited for the challenge.
“We have a significant opportunity to really impact Michigan residents in a positive way for the next decade,” Tate said. “Democrats leading is really exciting, but we know that’s sort of a responsibility as well.”