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Community Advocacy Organization

MI-ACE Women’s Network announces 2023 Public Policy Pioneers

First Female State Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, Civil Rights Activist & Former State Representative Daisy Elliott


Graphic by Charity Treat


The Michigan American Council on Education (MI-ACE) Women’s Network today announced the selection of two notable leaders as its 2023 Public Policy Pioneer honorees.

  • State Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, Michigan’s First Female State Senate Majority Leader

  • Former State Representative Daisy Elliott, civil rights leader and co-sponsor of 1976 Elliott-Larsen Act

The nonpartisan Public Policy Pioneer recognition began in 2013 to champion Michigan women who have advocated the causes of equality, dignity and access as well as encouraged women’s voices in political decision-making. Both women will be formally recognized at the MI-ACE Women’s Network’s annual conference. Previous years’ honorees have included Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, First Lady Helen Milliken, Elly Peterson and State Sens. Alma Wheeler Smith and Lana Pollack. For more information about this year’s honorees and a list of all previous winners, visit the MI-ACE Women’s Network’s website. Winnie Brinks State Senator Winnie Brinks is Michigan’s 1st Female State Senate Majority Leader. In 2013, Brinks became the 1st woman to represent Grand Rapids in the Michigan Legislature since Eva McCall Hamilton in 1920, the first woman elected to the State Legislature. As Senate Majority Leader, she has demonstrated her collaborative and inclusive leadership skills, including her committee chair assignments and legislative priorities. In 2012, Winnie Brinks was recruited to run as a Democratic Primary write-in candidate in Grand Rapids after then State Representative Roy Schmidt switched from Democrat to Republican on the Primary filing deadline. She won the primary and went on to defeat Schmidt in the General Election. Brinks served two terms in the House before winning an open Senate seat in 2018. In November 2022, Brinks won re-election joining her Democratic colleagues to win majorities in the House and Senate. In January 2023, Brink’s Senate colleagues chose her as Senate Majority Leader, making her the first woman to ever lead the State Senate. Brinks made further history in January 2023 when she appointed Senator Sarah Anthony to serve as the first Black woman to lead the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate President Pro Tempore Jeremy Moss as the highest ranking openly gay official in Michigan legislative history. During an interview for a news magazine, Brinks said it was “great for everybody in our state to see themselves reflected in the highest offices of the state.” She stated it was not difficult choosing her leadership team given their “proven track record.” Brinks said she is big on collaboration and consensus and hearing differing points of view. She thinks it’s important to be able to “make a point without making an enemy.” In early 2023 year, Brinks worked with both chambers to pass and expand the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to include anti-discrimination protections for sexual and gender identity. Gun reform, also a top priority, was recently passed. Brinks grew up with four siblings of Dutch immigrant parents on a family dairy farm in Washington state. She attended Calvin University in Grand Rapids and remained in the community after graduation, working in education and nonprofit sectors until becoming a state legislator. Brinks and her husband, Steve, have three daughters. Daisy Elliott Daisy Elliott was a gracious and passionate civil rights leader, who opposed discrimination of any kind, and fought to improve the lives of Michigan African Americans and women. She brought her leadership to Lansing and left an indelible mark as a Michigan Constitutional Convention delegate, and Michigan State Representative, all leading to the establishment of the Civil Rights Commission and passage of the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act. Moving to Detroit in the 1950s, Daisy Elliott began a career in real estate while working at a local branch of the Secretary of State. She also took classes at Wayne State University. In 1960, Michigan voters approved a Constitutional Convention (Con Con), the first since 1908. Delegates were elected statewide to rewrite the constitution. Elliott, 42, ran and was elected a delegate. At the Con Con, Elliott lobbied for the establishment of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to investigate discrimination and civil rights violations as well as granting judgments for victims of discrimination. To this day, Michigan is the only state that has a civil rights commission protected in the 1963 Constitution still in place today. Following the Con Con, Elliott ran and served in the Michigan House of Representatives for Detroit from 1963-1978 and then 1981-1982. While a legislator, she proposed that the state establish an intermediate appellate court, that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Michigan Court of Appeals

Rep. Elliott (D) is most known for co-authoring legislation with Rep. Mel Larsen (R) that passed in 1976 as the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, was expanded in 2023 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender equity or expression. In 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer formally dedicated a state office building in honor of co-authors of the Elliott-Larsen Act, State Representatives Daisy Elliott (D), and Mel Larsen (R). The state-owned Lewis Cass Building in downtown Lansing was renamed the Elliott-Larsen Building.

Daisy Elliott died in 2015 at the age of 98. Fellow lawmakers remembered her as a quiet, gracious woman who fiercely opposed discrimination of any kind.

About the Michigan American Council on Education Women’s Network The Michigan American Council on Education Women’s Network (MI-ACE) is the professional network for Michigan women in higher education. We work in concert with the American Council on Education nationally to identify, develop, encourage, advance, link and support (IDEALS) women in higher education. The MI-ACE was formed in 1978, one year after the national program was inaugurated.

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