38th State House District candidate Joey Andrews is on a mission to get the word out about Southwest Michigan. Despite a general sentiment he sees coming out of Lansing, the area is not strictly an “ultra-rural farming area,” he said. “There’s a lot of diversity here; there’s a lot of different communities here, and they need their voices heard.”
Andrews, who lives in St. Joseph and is a fifth-generation southwest Michigan native, may just be what the region needs to get more attention in the legislature. Mark LaChey, the openly gay first vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP), met the candidate when Andrews was assisting the MDP in the redistricting process. “I was impressed by his command of a myriad of facts, his intellect and his passion for fairness,” said LaChey, who lives in Saugatuck, a municipality in the new district.
While only a few miles wide, each of the municipalities in the new 38th touch the Lake Michigan shore. From Saugatuck/Douglas in the north down to about New Buffalo in the south on the Indiana border, “each of these small towns deals with a lot of the same issues around shoreline erosion, water quality, impermanent vacation-based economies — all sorts of things that are very unique to these communities that if you go a few miles inland is not the case so much anymore,” Andrews said. “So, a little strange-looking, but I think very sensible once you recognize what all these communities are like and how closely tied they are.”
With the Lake Michigan shoreline and the campaign trail one and the same, it seems natural that Andrews is billed as a “Lakeshore Democrat.”
“Obviously, water quality issues is a huge thing here,” Andrews said. “All these communities are very tourist-centric, but the tourism exists because of how beautiful the beaches and the dunes and this coastal environment is. But with that tourist economy comes an impermanence in the local economy. It’s a very feast or famine situation between the on-season and the off-season.” He listed other common lakeshore issues like the vacation rental industry driving up the cost of housing and the lack of good-paying, year-round jobs.
Andrews is also concerned that not all constituents in his district have had their voices heard in Lansing. He pointed to Benton Harbor and Benton Harbor Township, areas with large African American populations that he says have long been neglected. At the same time, Andrews believes Saugatuck/Douglas, with a large LGBTQ+ population, often goes “unnoticed and underrepresented.” Previously, the area was drawn into a district that was much more rural and conservative.
“I’ve found even talking to other Democrats in the legislature, that they’re not even aware of Saugatuck’s status as a major LGBTQ hub,” Andrews said.
Andrews often talks about equity. He said it’s something he became more aware of following the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Andrews remembers being glued to the TV at 1 a.m.
“In a lot of ways, I think it broke down the perceptions that I had about race and equity in America, and reframed that for me in a pretty serious way,” Andrews said. “And it really opened my eyes to a lot of the inequality in my own community.”
But well before Ferguson, Andrews experienced inequality in his own family. For years, his godmother couldn’t legally marry her girlfriend. For that reason, he said his family has always felt a connection to the LGBTQ+ community. He said it was wonderful finally seeing the wedding come to fruition.
Perhaps with this election, west Michigan will turn a bit bluer. LaChey sounded confident that it’s possible and said that Andrews is the right ally for the job.
“Joey Andrews is exactly the type of pro-equality candidate who will demonstrate that Democrats can win anywhere in our state on our values and issues,” LaChey said.
Andrews’ commitment to fairness is reflected in his day job, too. As a policy analyst for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), his work focuses on an initiative to improve life for workers where they live, something he likened to the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index or the ACLU’s ratings.
“We wanted to have a way to present policy that was labor-friendly, worker-friendly, working families-friendly and inclusive,” said Andrews, “and sort of a way to give municipalities the ability to pass these laws, some sample legislation, sample proposals, and then be able to turn around and tell the state which municipalities are making the most progress on these issues and have a consolidated grading system.”
When he’s not at his day job or campaigning these days, Andrews might be found at home with his fiancé and three litter-trained house bunnies: Ali, Loki and Thor. A (human) baby is on the way.
With a law degree from Wayne State University and undergraduate degrees from Carson-Newman University in history and music, Andrews at one time considered a career as a studio musician. He plays the electric bass and writes music.
“It’s a pretty core part of my identity,” Andrews said. “I think it’s one that always surprises people in the political world when it comes up, because there’s not a whole lot of musicians-to-politicians in the pipeline.”
The 38th State House District includes the following communities:
Berrien County: Benton Harbor, Benton Harbor Township, Bridgman, Chikaming Township, Hagar Township, Lake Charter Township, Lincoln Township, New Buffalo, New Buffalo Township, Saint Joseph, Saint Joseph Township
Van Buren County: Covert Township, South Haven, South Haven Township
Allegan County: Casco Township, Douglas, Ganges Township, Saugatuck, Saugatuck Township
Early voting is happening now. Election Day is Nov. 8. Check out the Pride Source Election Guide, and make a plan to vote.