Guest View: My Day as State Rep. Robert Wittenberg’s Shadow
(Sherry A. Wells, Dec. 9, 2019)
At one of Rep. Robert Wittenberg’s Conversations, which he regularly holds in each of the seven municipalities in our 27th District, alternating day times and evenings, he gave the invitation to shadow him for a day as he works for us in the legislature in Lansing.
On Wednesday, November 6, I did that. Liam Bagley, his legislative director and former intern, had tried to find a day in which I could attend a meeting of one of the committees that he is on, but when we couldn’t, I went to three that morning on my own.
The House Committee meetings and the Representatives’ offices are all in the Anderson House Office Building. I was surprised to see the portrait of the person honored by its name. Cora Reynolds Anderson was the first Native American woman to be elected as a state representative. She represented four Upper Peninsula counties from 1925 to 1926. Nearly all other buildings, statues and portraits honor white males.
The Families, Children and Seniors Committee heard a presentation by three spokesmen for an Area Agency on Aging. The Corrections Committee heard about the need for more corrections officers and medical and mental health workers. The Elections and Ethics Committee met for five minutes to present HB 4703 to amend the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.
At noon, I met Wittenberg in his office. He showed me the view, explaining that the building was designed for each office to have a window. Each office is designated for a specific district. His was for the 27th District, so he’s been able to stay in the same office for all three terms.
It will be interesting to see how redistricting changes district numbers and consequently who’s the representative in each. It might, for the first term, be such that two representatives live in the new district and must run against one another. That happened when the Oakland County Commission reduced from 25 districts to 21.
I had researched Wittenberg’s website and sites such as Ballotpedia.org. I was astounded that his committee assignments had fit his background very well from the first.
“When we get here, we fill out a form with our experience and education. The Committee on Committees does the best it can to match them,” he said.
He earned a degree in Business Management. With that, he had been a sales manager and supervisor and an insurance agent; he still holds a life and health insurance license. In 2015, he was on the Health Policy and Insurance Committees and even minority vice-chair of Financial Liability, in both 2015 and 2017. In 2017, he was still on Insurance but placed on Law and Justice for his third one (which he found fascinating). This term, he remains on Insurance, as minority vice-chair and is on Tax Policy and Financial Services.
“How did you become interested in being a State Rep.?” I asked.
“I’ve always been involved. In high school and university student government, but other volunteer work, too. I like helping people.”
Which is why he looks at the position as “public servant” rather than “politician.”
“When I told my friends I was planning to run, they all asked, ‘What took you so long?’”
Being a public servant to him includes helping individual residents with problems, helping them navigate various governments and agencies for needed services.
Wittenberg, who grew up in Huntington Woods and graduated from Berkley High, serves Berkley, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak Township.
He has held annual Town Halls to inform his constituents. They have included Income and Tax Inequality–he’s working towards the fairness of a graduated income tax, and Preventing Gun Violence–he initiated a Red Flag bill. He invited Attorney General Dana Nessel to talk about Elder Abuse after her having several successes in investigating it.
The House session began at 1:30. He said it usually goes to somewhere between 3 and 6 p.m. but it’s not been unusual to go to 3:00 A.M. Roll call is accomplished by the list being projected onto front walls. The members press the buttons on their desks to sign in. That same method handles voting.
Then, the clerk first reads the bills reported out from the Senate. Then, proposed House Bills get a “First Reading” that includes the bill number (HBxxxx), bill title and the committee to which it has been assigned by the Speaker of the House. Then there are Second Readings of bills reported out of committee. I noticed some bills also had a Third Reading that same afternoon.
“Those are ones that have been discussed in the caucuses–Democrat and Republican, which are usually held on Tuesday afternoons–and have been okayed for both Second and Third Readings,” Wittenberg said.
If there is voting to amend the proposed bill, and it’s one for which the Senate has a counterpart, a conference committee will work to finalize the amendments. If the House passes a bill, it will go to the Senate. Similarly if a bill passes in the Senate it comes next to the House.
It can be a tedious process, but it’s one Wittenberg and his staff enjoy.
“Because this is your last term, what’s next?” was a logical question given that Lansing has term limits.
He recently announced that he’s running for Oakland County Treasurer.
For more information he provides–too many and too good to name: