Michigan’s youngest-ever lawmaker sworn in

As Michigan’s 99th House of Representatives kicked off a new year on Wednesday, Jan. 11, the Capitol welcomed the youngest legislator in Michigan history.

Rep. Jewell Jones, D-Dearborn Heights, is 21 years old. Jones is studying political science and business at University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Despite his age, Jones is not a complete political rookie. He served as the youngest-ever Inkster city council member last year at the age of 20, and two years ago he campaigned for Sen. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights, who was elected as the state’s youngest Michigan senator at age 28.

The Detroit News reports that as a councilman, Jones focused on the failed education system in Inkster, which had to be dissolved in 2013 due to a budget crisis.

His goals as a state representative include relieving his district of its financial crisis, with a particular focus on economic development and income equality.

“A lot of people don’t work, so they’re struggling,” Jones told the Detroit News. “That’s something I want to focus on: strengthening families and empowering individuals — how we can get them resources that can get them on their feet and then sustain them.”

Jones joins the 110-member House of Representatives along with 41 other new lawmakers. The representatives were sworn into office on Jan. 11 by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Markman.

Jones, a Democrat, faces the uphill battle of Democrats in the Republican-controlled capitol, in which Republicans currently have the majority in both the House and the Senate, as well as the top office of governor, held by Republican Rick Snyder.

In an interview with Urban Faith, however, Jones was optimistic that despite the divisive, combative current political climate, party gaps can be bridged.

“We need to begin working together, lay it all out on the table and bring the diversity of opinion and ideas to the forefront to make sure we are truly working for the betterment of society,” Jones said. “We need to have more conversations, listening to understand rather than listening to respond.”

During his campaign, Jones nicknamed himself the “neighborhood hope dealer.” He describes his campaign, which was run by a 22-year-old friend, as an example of the kind of grassroots effort that he believes can propel real change in a community.

“There are plenty of opportunities [to be involved] — one can become a precinct delegate, or just a concerned citizen/community organizer with some sort of community organization, or simply behind an issue that they’re passionate about,” Jones explains. “Really, all it takes is getting off the sidelines. Start talking to people, and the door will be opened.”

Jones plans to graduate from the University of Michigan this spring. In the meantime, he will be making Michigan’s laws, starting with the House’s first day in session on Friday, Jan. 13.