Chris Kolb (D)
Born October 6, 1958
State Representative, District 53
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Elected to the City Council November 1993
Re-elected 1995, 1997, 1999
Mayor Pro Tem 1994-2000
Elected to the House of Representatives November 2000
Re-elected 2002, 2004
In 1999, the Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously to add “gender identity” to its non-discrimination policy. Chris Kolb initiated the legislation, which included language defined gender identity as “a person’s actual or perceived gender.” He was term limited out of his House of Representatives office in 2007.
Interview with Chris Kolb for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: In your role as a City Councilor, you had a reputation as a coalition builder. How has that play out as a councilor, and what is it like now that you are in the House of Representatives?
A: I think I’ve always tried to focus first on getting something accomplished, so I’ve looked at situations from where I wanted to end up and then figured out how to get there. In many ways it is understanding that a single individual needs to find others to work with to get that accomplished. And then working on issues important to other people to get them involved with issues I felt were important as well. It’s really about relationship building more than anything else. A case in point is that the City Council was a strong supporter of our downtown area and that means lots of things to do with people. Where I really made a connection was with the business owners and people living downtown. I made a personal investment to keep the downtown a very vital area. So it was meeting with them, listening to their concerns and then acting upon those concerns. That built strong relationships to address difficult issues as they arose in town down the road. I could almost always count on local businesses to be very supportive of the campaign I was working on. You had to have a certain report with them when there were differences of opinion among decision-makers. I was able to build up a relationship with them and they knew I was trying to help them. And that is a group I didn’t naturally have a relationship with before I got into elected office.
That was sort of carried over at the State House – I try to do the same thing, especially now that I’m in the minority. When I was on the City Council I was in the majority, and was actually Majority Caucus Leader, and could really do a lot of things. When you’re in the minority, it means trying to find out how you can be relevant to the decision-makers who have the majority. That is building a relationship with them. Finding out what their needs are and where you can be of some assistance to them. That, then, builds up a relationship as someone who is willing to work with others, is willing to focus on getting something done. And that means when I need something, they are much more willing to listen to what I am trying to do, versus if all I did was oppose what they are trying to do. I can try to offer constructive criticism, to compromise on a bill of mine that’s stuck – I was actually able to do that. It paid off in that even though I have yet to pass my first bill, I have a law that got signed into effect by the governor even though it doesn’t have my name on it. It’s something that is very important relating to cities and the “sunset” provision to the historic preservation tax credit program. Because revenues are down, there is no way that a bill was going to get passed that cut off that revenue. So, we were able, in a substitute bill, to do it (laughing). It was a situation where I had built up a good relationship with my committee chair, a Republican form northern Michigan, and I just approached him with this idea. I said we either do it in a new bill, which I knew he wouldn’t go for, or we can do it as a substitute for this one in front of us. And we chose to substitute. He did it with his name on it, but it got signed into law. It was one of those – we had built such a good relationship. I’d helped him out a couple of time at committee and on the House floor, and he was willing to work with me on this.
It’s not as big as going out and meeting with different neighborhood groups, but it is the same sort of philosophy – to listen, to know when you can help and when you can’t. When you can’t help, be up front and say, “You know, I just can’t go there.” It’s all personal. It’s all about listening, being open, and being helpful when you can.
Q: What do you see as your shorter and longer term goals in the Legislature?
A: I think they are both sort of the same. We are in the midst of, probably, a leadership change in our caucus because our caucus leader is running for becoming the Mayor of Detroit and appears to be in the lead. And thus, we will have to chose a new leader. If that happens, it will be in November, a year before we’d like to. Or if not, if he looses, he’ll be there for another year, but a group of us incoming legislators are looking at how we can enhance the leadership of our caucus. In doing that, our main goal is one, to become the majority, but two, to have a heavy focus on policy in passing legislation. That is my focus both short and in the long term – to get some legislation moving in areas that I’m working real hard in, which includes land use and environmental issues. But, then also to build up the report where we can start to address issues that have been real difficult in the pas to move on – like hate crimes and non-discrimination laws that will include sexual orientation and repealing sodomy laws. It won’t be done just by putting up the bill and hoping the votes are there. It will take long-term relationship building both in my own caucus and the Republican caucus. It’s why I focus on relationships. It’s the only way to get something done.
For information on a touring exhibit version of Out and Elected in the USA: 1974-2004, contact Ron Schlittler at firstname.lastname@example.org.