Anthony seeks to ‘fill the gap’ for Michiganders as one of the Senate’s top leaders •

After a little more than a year in the Michigan Senate, where she chairs one of the Legislature’s most powerful committees, Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) describes the experience as a “whirlwind.” 

The state Senate had been led by Republicans since January 1984 — only weeks after Anthony was born. But that changed on Jan. 1, 2023, when she was among senators who were sworn into office under a Democratic majority.

Now as the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee — the first Black woman to serve in the role — Anthony was candid with the Advance during a 40-minute interview last month in her Capitol office. 

“I have had to learn to balance multiple things,” said Anthony, 40. “How to build up my own confidence. I’ve spoken pretty openly about imposter syndrome [defined as the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills] that I’ve had my whole life. The degrees, the credentials, all these different trophies and things. Some days, I just wake up and say, ‘Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I’m not supposed to be here.’” 

However, Anthony quickly adds that her faith, her family and her friends have helped to ground her, encourage her and empower her.  

“I’m walking through that and getting quite good at this job,” Anthony said. 

Senate Appropriations Chair Sarah Anthony stands alongside her new portrait that will hang in the State Capitol Photo Credit Jessica Case, Michigan Senate Democrats

And the Millennial leader is already leaving her mark in the Michigan Capitol.

Last month, Anthony was joined by legislative colleagues and staff, community members, and family and friends for the unveiling of her official portrait in her Capitol office.

“When we make the critical decisions about where our state’s resources are best spent to shape our collective future, for the first time we have the lived experience of a Black woman guiding that process,” said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). “It’s a significant and powerful moment for our state. Budgets are moral documents, and by bringing her lived experiences — whether personal or from her constituents — with her into this building, Senator Anthony has found a way to weave equity, empowerment, and justice into every page of it.”

Anthony said she prays her portrait “will inspire someone and helps pave a clearer path for the next generation of leaders.”

She is one of several African-American Democrats who have made history in Michigan recent years.

In October, Anthony joined at the Capitol Michigan’s first Black female Supreme Court justice, Kyra Bolden and Michigan’s first Black House speaker, Joe Tate (D-Detroit), for a photo in front of the portrait of Michigan’s first Black state legislator, William Webb Ferguson, a Republican who was elected to the state House in 1892. Bolden said that Ferguson’s “courage and commitment to equality that paved the way for the three of us to stand here today.”

And earlier this month, Anthony traveled to Washington, D.C., to be the invited guest of U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address before Congress. Anthony has endorsed Slotkin’s U.S. Senate. bid as she’s facing actor Hill Harper and businessman Nasser Beydoun in the August Democratic primary. 

“State Senator Sarah Anthony is one of our strong Michigan leaders and represents everything the new majority is accomplishing for Michiganders,” Slotkin said. “… Sarah is also a trailblazer for the state of Michigan, and represents a growing cadre of diverse leaders that’s leading our state into a bright future.”

Sen. Sarah Anthony and the NAACP Lansing Youth Council at the Michigan Capitol | Courtesy of Sen. Anthony

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (L) Sen. Sarah Anthony (C) and former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the 2024 State of the Union | Courtesy of Sen. Anthony

State Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) takes a selfie with a young admirer in the Michigan Capitol. | Photo courtesy of Sen. Sarah Anthony

Sen. Sarah Anthony, Justice Kyra Bolden and House Speaker Joe Tate | Shannon Schultz, Photographer/Digital Media Specialist for Michigan Senate

Sen. Sarah Anthony talks about the CROWN Act after legislation passed the Senate, May 23, 2023 | Anna Liz Nichols

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs Senate Bill 7 alongside state Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Lansing) and state Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), Jan. 31, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

Lansing roots

Anthony believes that her southside Lansing community has sometimes been neglected, but she says she fights for them everyday.  

“It informs the work that I champion now,” said Anthony, who helped support a Lansing Michigan Historical Marker for the former homesite of African-American leader Malcolm X. “I’m five minutes away from home. I can’t lose sight of my community.” 

Anthony graduated from Everett High School in the city before earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Central Michigan University and master’s degree in public administration from Western Michigan University. Afterward, she returned to Lansing to work for now-former state Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing), who told the Advance that Anthony shined on her staff over the course of four years.

“I had a boss once who said, ‘When you hire someone, hire someone who is better than yourself,’” Bauer said.

In 2013, Anthony began serving as an Ingham County commissioner, spending six years there before being elected to the Michigan House in 2018 and the Senate in 2022. 

She calls former state Rep. George Cushingberry, a Detroit Democrat who chaired the House Appropriations Committee in the early 2000s, one of her mentors. The lawmaker recalls organizing a presentation Cushingberry made to Lansing-area students nearly 20 years ago during her days as a state House staffer.

I had a boss once who said, ‘When you hire someone, hire someone who is better than yourself.’

– Former Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing) on hiring now-Sen. Sarah Anthony on her legislative staff

“He is a powerful, masterful orator,” Anthony said. “When you came to an Appropriations meeting and he was chairing, it was an experience.” 

Anthony said she still remembers a conversation she had with Cushingberry more than a decade ago.

“He said to me: ‘You can be someone important, someone who can fill the gap for people,’” she said.

Many years later, Anthony played a lead role in crafting the $82 billion Fiscal Year 2024 budget — the largest in state history.  

“We took the time to focus on issues in every corner of the state, while working alongside our Republican colleagues and independents across the state who are tired of partisan politics and instead [wanted] to make sure that we got this right,” Anthony said during a July 2023 press conference in Wyandotte where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the budget.

She’s also proud of funding in an FY 2024 budget supplemental that’s allowed local governments like Wayne County to erase medical debt for residents. 

“This isn’t gender or race — it’s across the board,” Anthony said. “It impacts everything.”

Former State Rep. George Cushingberry (D-Detroit) speaks to students during an event planned by Sarah Anthony, who was a state House staffer at the time. | Sarah Anthony photo

Pandemic protests leave a mark

Anthony entered the Legislature during a time of divided government. 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had been elected to her first term in 2018 and had to contend with an often-hostile GOP-majority Legislature.

Those tensions boiled over during the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through Michigan in early 2020.  

Anthony and many of her colleagues feared for their safety during and after a series of right-wing protests that spring over Whitmer’s health orders to stop the spread of the virus. The raucous demonstrations, which were carried out both in and outside the state Capitol building, made national headlines as they included members of extremist groups such as the Proud Boys. Many protesters were armed with semi-automatic weapons and signs like “Tyrants Get the Rope” and “Heil Whitmer.” 

Anthony brought her own armed security with her to the Capitol following a protest on April 30, 2023, when dozens of armed demonstrators stormed the building during legislative session.

“Never in a million years could you have told me that there would be a day when I’d be walking through an angry mob with nooses, Confederate flags and folks dancing around in blackface,” Anthony told the Advance in 2021. 

Many Democrats said that GOP leadership failed to take the concerns of BIPOC lawmakers seriously. And they drew parallels between those demonstrations and the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol after former President Donald Trump lost the election to Joe Biden.

“You look at the similarities of what happened in our U.S. Capitol and what happened in Michigan, and the most frustrating thing about this time is myself and other leaders in the House, particularly on the Democratic side, have been calling for increased safety procedures,” she said. “We have been highlighting the rise of these militia and white nationalist groups; it’s taken bloodshed at our nation’s Capitol to start to take some of these conversations seriously.”

Conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Gaining recognition

But now Democrats are in majority in the upper chamber for the first time in nearly 40 years. Last year, the Michigan Capitol Commission finally signed off on banning guns in the Capitol, with some exceptions, and installing metal detectors.

Anthony said some of her colleagues still need to get used to a Black woman chairing the Appropriations Committee, although she declined to give names. 

“Everything about this building doesn’t scream inclusion,” said Anthony. 

She pointed to portraits of former committee chairs in her large office, most of whom are white men, and said she’s had to teach “people how to treat me, and not just seeing my race, my gender or my race, but seeing me and respecting my position in the way that every other person on that wall out there.” 

Anthony represents the 21st District, which is composed of urban, suburban and rural communities in Ingham and Eaton counties, and said that her goal is to represent them all and identify “shared values.” Anthony worked to pass the first major piece of legislation under the new Democratic-majority Legislature: a big increase to the Working Families Tax Credit, along with the repeal of the retirement tax.

Anthony called her legislation that addressed public and corporate employer discrimination against people to have the freedom to wear hairstyles of choice one of her proudest accomplishments. 

Sen. Sarah Anthony speaks at the signing of the CROWN Act at Moneyball Sportswear in Lansing, Michigan on June 15, 2023. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

“It is convenient to slow down and to wait for issues that impact Black people. There will never be a time in which we will want to prioritize things that are unique to Black people and particularly Black women,” Anthony said at the 2023 signing of the CROWN Act. 

In December, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission awarded Anthony with the Elliott-Larsen Award for Public Service Leadership.

“Throughout her 20-year public service career, Senator Sarah Anthony has fought for equity and opportunity for all Michiganders, especially for Michigan’s most vulnerable residents,” the commission said in a statement. 

Anthony also is working on legislation to improve access to care for Michigan drivers severely injured in auto accidents following no-fault insurance reform signed in 2019. 

And the Senate this month approved her Senate Bill 632, which is designed to cap payday lending interest rates at 36%, which she said will address economic disparities. 

“Data shows that the payday lending industry targets the most vulnerable communities across our state, particularly those in rural areas and communities of color,” Anthony. “It is crucial for us as lawmakers to hear directly from residents on this issue, and champion fair financial practices that will empower Michiganders.”

Anthony also said that the state government’s effort to provide funding for minority-owned businesses is another point of pride for her. 

“They are doing great work, hiring people in our communities is really powerful. I’m excited about that. My fingerprints are all over that,” Anthony said.  

Sen. Sarah Anthony and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at the 2024 State of the Union | Courtesy of Sen. Anthony

After a little more than five years in the Legislature, Anthony is even getting attention at the national level.

EMILYs List, which supports women candidates who back abortion rights, announced that Anthony has been nominated for the 2024 Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award. Giffords, a Democrat, represented Arizona in the U.S. House before she was shot at a 2011 event in her district.   

“The award honors a woman who demonstrates the sort of commitment to community, dedication to women and families, and determination and civility that have been the highlights of Giffords’ career in Congress, in and out of office,” said organization president Jessica Mackler. 

“EMILYs List has been proud to stand by Anthony over the course of her career, and we are honored to nominate her for this award.”

Bauer, who hired Anthony as a state House staffer, said she’s not surprised by her political success. 

“I’m incredibly proud of her and thrilled for her,” Bauer said.  

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authored by Ken Coleman
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2024%2F03%2F31%2Fanthony-seeks-to-fill-the-gap-for-michiganders-as-one-of-the-senates-top-leaders%2F

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