First elected to the Michigan House in 2006, State Rep. Andy Coulouris, D-Saginaw, has quickly earned a reputation as a friend of credit unions in the Legislature and a rising star in the Michigan Democratic Party. Significantly for credit unions, he chairs the House Banking and Financial Services Committee and also serves as vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Michigan credit union people had an opportunity to meet and hear from Rep. Coulouris in person last May when he was guest speaker at the 2007 MCUL Annual Convention and Exposition in Detroit.
A 1996 graduate of Saginaw’s Arthur Hill High School, Rep. Coulouris earned a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan. Prior to his service in the Legislature, Rep. Coulouris was for three years an assistant prosecuting attorney for Saginaw County.
Active in the Saginaw community, Rep. Coulouris served on the Saginaw City Council for three years and is a member of the Saginaw County Domestic Assault Response Team, the Bridge Center for Racial Harmony and the Saginaw County Bar Association. He is the former vice chairman of the Saginaw Downtown Development Authority and is also a Vestry Member at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Saginaw.
Born Aug. 10, 1978, Rep. Coulouris and his wife, Natasha, have one daughter, Alexandra. The family makes their home in Saginaw.
Q: To begin, are you a credit union member? If so, what has your experience with credit unions been like?
A: Though I am not currently a member of a credit union I have, at various times in my life, been a credit union member — most notably while I was a student at the University of Michigan. Credit unions have always played an important role in my family’s financial well-being. During most of my childhood, my family struggled among the working-poor, trying to make ends meet living paycheck to paycheck. I know how important it was for my mother, especially, to have a relationship with our credit union during those times. The credit union really was a life raft of sorts — allowing my mother to take out loans for cars and other necessities when we needed help the most.
Q: You represent the city of Saginaw in the House of Representatives and are completing your first year. What has the experience been like? Prior to your election to the House, what was your background and how did this background shape your politics?
A: Like any other big undertaking in life, my time in the House has consisted of ups and downs. Sometimes I am disappointed in the policymaking atmosphere Lansing presents: term-limited legislators in a highly partisan environment where good public policy often takes a back seat to sound-bite-worthy legislation. That being said, some really important things are happening in the Capitol right now — major changes in business taxation, a substantial restructuring of the way the state government operates, and a lot of attention being paid to the question of how we will regain our economic footing while boosting the quality of life for Michigan’s citizens.
Before I came to the House I was an assistant prosecuting attorney in Saginaw County. In that role I was exposed to the effects of not only the economic downturn we have experienced, but also to the devastation our core cities — like Saginaw — have experienced in the last two decades. Crime, concentrated poverty and economic decline have all wrought despair on our communities. I am definitely committed to economic and social policies that re-orient our attention to core cities. I think our state’s economic outlook is almost wholly dependent on whether we can turn cities like Detroit, Flint and Saginaw around.
Q: In an urban district like the one you represent, how important is access to capital in ensuring continued urban revitalization? In your view, how have credit unions performed in their commitment to lending in those communities?
A: Credit unions are absolutely vital in this area. Access to capital is extremely important in economically distressed communities such as mine where, quite frankly, one might be hard pressed to find capital — other than from predatory lenders — but for a credit union. I am very thankful to credit unions for continuing to helping fill this void.
Q: You serve as chairman of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee. Currently before the Committee is legislation concerning predatory lending. Home foreclosures have been in the news recently, as well as, sub prime lending. What are your thoughts on these issues?
A: Well, from a policy-making perspective, the predatory lending issue is very nuanced and complex. A lot of reforms advocated by some groups might have a whole range of unintended consequences that, at the end of the day, actually harm consumers. We have to be very careful that we do not regulate the mortgage market in such a way that Michigan becomes an island among the states and the capital markets ignore us. This would not be a good thing for Michigan consumers.
I want us to be smart about how we proceed in this area. We need to see the whole board — not just the borrower and lender, but also the bankers, credit unions, appraisers and the whole secondary market. My committee has begun hearings on the predatory lending bills and it is my commitment that we give the issue all of the thoughtful deliberation it deserves. I really want to get it right. I think we have the chance to do some good by going after the bad actors — the predators — in the mortgage market. But there is great risk, I believe, in creating public policy that is not thought through well enough. We must protect consumers while at the same time promoting a capital market that gives all of us adequate access to capital — particularly for those who are hoping to become first-time homeowners.
Q: You attended the MCUL Capitol Day in October and had the opportunity to interact with more than 130 credit union officials and volunteers in attendance. How much value do find in this type of grassroots advocacy?
A: I have said many times since taking office that the MCUL is the most effective advocacy group that I interact with. The grassroots nature of the organization — hearing from my local credit union constituents — is extremely helpful to both your interests at the MCUL and my work in the Legislature. It is important to me that I know the MCUL’s position on the myriad policies before my Committee, and it is nice to hear not just from your fantastic lobbying team, but also from my credit union friends from back home and across the state.
Q: In Michigan, state-chartered credit unions are regulated by the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation, or OFIR. The OFIR budget is generated solely by the fees that credit unions and others pay. Should legislation be introduced to affirm that the OFIR budget is restricted — in other words, that its funds cannot be diverted to other budget areas?
A: We are definitely exploring this idea. I am stunned at how little resources OFIR has been afforded to enforce, for example, our existing mortgage fraud laws. We can write all the laws we want but without enough resources at the regulatory agency charged with enforcing those laws — well, you know the story. I am looking forward to working on this issue in the next fiscal year budget.
Q: As we approach 2008, what are some of your priorities for the Banking & Financial Services Committee?
A: Clearly, predatory lending will be front and center. In that vein we are also looking at some appraisal fraud bills, which I think will play a key role in prospectively addressing the ills of the housing market.
Q: During the budget crisis this year, one of the issues that emerged was term limits. Some suggested that term limits contributed to the impasse while others disagreed. What is your view on term limits?
A: I think term limits are bad public policy. But I also recognize that a lot of people might think that’s a self-serving statement coming from an incumbent legislator. My belief is that we should vote to change the law in such a way that current legislators would not “benefit.” In other words, if you were elected under term limits you will leave under term limits. It’s the right thing to do. But term limits have made bureaucrats and lobbyists more powerful than the elected officials. That’s unfortunate for our democracy.