In many ways, Democratic State Rep. Harvey Santana who represents Michigan's 10th House District is not your typical politician.
The duties he performs on a daily basis aren't generally what most people serving on the state legislature find themselves doing.
|Representative Harvey Santana-D, Detroit, appearing on Off the Record with Tim Skubick at WKAR studios. He’s currently running for state representative in the 9th house district . Photo: WKAR/MSU|
Santana said that being a state representative in Detroit takes more than just focusing on a budget or public policy.
"To be a state representative in Detroit you have to learn how to visit the home of a mother whose child was just gunned down…and walking with the Detroit 300 at 3 a.m. looking for a rapist…This is what I do. This is the job," Santana said.
The district Santana represents is comprised solely of Detroit. The city's residents have become so frustrated with local government that most of the calls Santana's office responds to involve municipal services.
"People don't associate you with the state government, they associate you with the ability to get a problem solved. All those things that the city should be dealing with, I get those calls," he said.
Because of the redistricting process Santana is running for re-election in the 9th House District. He's being challenged by Dearborn School Board member Hussein Berry. The new district includes a small portion of Dearborn.
Santana can relate to the challenges people in his district face, after all, he grew up in the city of Detroit, and faced much of the same obstacles as them.
While Santana was able to overcome those obstacles, many people he grew up with were not as fortunate. "I had to learn to navigate myself through very difficult situations. It's a part of who I am," he said. Santana often takes time to speak to young men about their promise and potential, and encourages them not to waste it, by getting consumed by the violence plaguing Detroit. "I share my story with kids to show them this is where you live, this is not who you are, or what you're supposed to become," he said.
While the students he lectures may not understand much about what Santana does, they know he's a politician that sincerely cares about them. Santana speaks at graduation ceremonies to give motivational speeches to young men, and visits schools to read to children, and "give them words of wisdom."
He's Puerto Rican, but often gets mistaken for being an Arab American. "I've been racially profiled because people thought that I was Arab American, and people have not provided me service because they thought that I was Arab American. To that extent, I think I understand what it's like to be an Arab American," Santana said.
In his first term of serving on the state legislature, Santana has fought for Arab and Muslim Americans. When an anti-Sharia bill was proposed in Michigan, Santana spoke out against it publically during a press conference saying the bill would target minorities, and cast suspicion on them.
"I knew right away that this was just an attack on Muslims, and the Arab community and something that was driven by hate, and fear with the goal of dividing people, and creating an unnecessary conversation," he said.
He's also spoke out against the e-verify legislation that was proposed by republicans in the state, and would require all employers to check the legal status of employees before hiring them.
When Florida Pastor Terry Jones made a visit to Dearborn protesting against Islam, Santana joined Arab Americans to stand up against bigotry. He's been outspoken about the attacks on minorities and profiling by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement officers and Border Patrol.
He opposed the Arizona style immigration bill that was introduced in Michigan.
"When there is anti-immigrant language or sentiment we are there on the frontline." "I get very passionate about it because the story of this country has always been about immigrants…they come here to start businesses and to be successful." Santana says he attends events in the Arab American community to build bridges. "Building those bridges goes well beyond just showing up at a dinner and saying 'hey I am here,' no you have to be involved. You just have to be there to let people know, if you need me, I'm here for you, so what do you want me to do?" he said.
Santana is prepared to make changes to cater to the needs of the Arab American community in the 9th district. About 5 percent of the new district is comprised of Dearborn.
Santana is a veteran of the United States Navy. He graduated from Eastern Michigan University where he received a Masters degree in public administration.
Santana has introduced two very important bills and had them signed into law. Santana's House Bill 4624 raises $50 million a year to keep police officers on the streets in Detroit. Without this legislation, officers would have been laid off and the safety of Detroiters placed at risk. It was signed into law on June 14, 2011.
Detroit was in danger of losing several tax abatements for industrial properties in the city of Detroit. The Plant Rehabilitation and Industrial Development Act needed to be adjusted to protect the status of various buildings in Detroit, most notably the Federal Reserve Bank and the much needed jobs. Santana authored House Bill 4788 and it was signed into law on Sep. 27.
He is currently working on a bill that would expand the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA) from the current age of 21 up to age 26. Non-violent first time offenders could avoid expensive prison time by performing community service: cleaning vacant lots, tearing down abandoned homes and other needed work.
Santana isn't afraid to challenge the governor or republicans. In 2011 the Michigan legislature pushed to eliminate the law requiring stores to place prices on all items. Supporters claimed Michigan businesses would save $2.2 billion annually, and by removing the sticker corporations would lower costs and create jobs.
After doing research and comparing the prices, of 165 different items in two major chain stores in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana he discovered Michigan's prices were cheaper than Ohio and Indiana's.
When Republicans cut $1 billion from education, and a piece of legislation was introduced that would make regulations for pig hunting stronger Santana stood up.
He was sitting on the agriculture committee at the time. The legislation would have required game hunting ranches in the state to have electronic fences. The cost of the initiative would have impacted taxpayers. When it got to the senate he was able to lobby a bunch of senators, and kill it. "You want to subsidize pig hunting, but you cut a billion dollars out of education?" Santana said.
"This job takes so much from you, but if your heart is in the right place, you'll keep going and going," he said.
For more information on State Representative Harvey Santana visit www.votesantana.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org .