By Jan Worth-Nelson
Declaring “Michigan deserves better” than a GOP-led regime she said has created a state which “hardly resembles the Michigan I think of when I talk about my Michigan pride,” Democratic candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer introduced herself to about 25 Flint students, retirees, educators, activists and assorted Democrats Tuesday afternoon in the East Village home of Flint entrepreneur Andy Watchorn.
A lifelong Michigander, Whitmer, 46, said she remembers a time in the state when, “You could have a great job; you could afford to buy the car you were making, Your kids could have a great public education.” But what she called “25 years of the DeVos agenda” — referencing the influential dynastic GOP founders of Amway and their offspring and relatives, including current U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos — “has absolutely undermined the stability of our public school system, devastating and decimating” the ranks of educators and making it harder for students to afford higher education or pursue a path to the skilled trades.
Consumer protection v. indictments
Speaking to Flint’s specific concerns, in the past, she said, “Everyone knew that in a Great Lakes state if you turned on your tap you could have confidence that you were going to get clean, fresh water for your family.”
Asked to describe her case against Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, her likely GOP opponent, she said, “He didn’t care [about Flint] until the cameras started showing up,” as he pursued criminal indictments, adding “not one of those pursuits is fixing a single drop of water for families of Flint.” Instead, she said, the AG should have concentrated on consumer protection, “descending on the city with a team of consumer protection lawyers,” and stayed here “until the water situation was clean and healthy.”
“Emergency manager law undermines local control”
Whitmer bemoaned how the state’s emergency manager law has “undermined local control,” specifically in Flint.
“As governor, I will not use the EM law, particularly in communities of color,” she said. “Two, I’ll push to make sure that no governor after me has this act in their back pocket. Three, I’ll work to assure long-term resources are dedicated for the health and wellbeing of the children of Flint Four, we’ve got to make sure that infrastructure in the homes needs to be replaced — the state needs to be a partner in that.”
Asked about bringing in jobs, she said bolstering support for education and “throwing a shovel in the ground” every week–starting in Flint– for infrastructure projects would add good jobs for the state.
Whitmer, a Lansing native, served 14 years in the Michigan legislature — first in the House of Representatives, and then in the State Senate, where she was elected as minority leader in 2010 — the first woman elected to that position. It’s a job now held by Flint’s Jim Ananich.
“An unprecedented coalition” in answer to Duggan’s doubts
Asked by Andy Watchorn her response to a recent report in Bridge Magazine that a group of Detroit Democrats led by Mayor Mike Duggan were looking for other people to run for governor, “because you’re out state and you’re not going to be able to mobilize Detroit,” Whitmer responded quickly.
“For anyone to say that there’s not enthusiasm, they’re not paying attention — Mayor Duggan is going to be on board in short order,” she said. She noted a new poll reported in the Detroit News shows her up by seven percentage points against Schuette. In particular, poll results showed her up 42 percent to 29 percent among women, with 28 percent undecided.
Noting that she has been a full-time candidate for governor for 13 months, she said she has “built an unprecedented coalition” including a $3 million treasury collected “from zero” in 2017, with endorsements from the Michigan Education Association, Emily’s List, the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, the Michigan State Utility Workers Council, among others. Responding to Watchorn’s request for “reassurance that you’ve got the tactical skill to win,” she said the campaign is opening eight regional offices in March and moving its headquarters to Detroit.
“This is earlier and bigger than anyone’s ever done before,” she said. “This is not just about one mayor, but about the people of the state–we need leaders focused on fixing problems rather than demonizing everyone who doesn’t see the world the same way.”
“We change our country by changing leadership”
Resident Mary Williams, a community outreach coordinator, asked Whitmer how she would address the many divides in the country to restore hope and bring the nation back together. “We change our country by changing our leadership,” she responded, noting that her opponent, Schuette, often sides with Trump. She also said she would change things by the appointments she would make and her budget priorities.
She noted she had battled with Governor Snyder on many issues, but knew that he supported Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act. Starting there, she said she was able to work through the Democratic caucus to get the votes legislatively to make it happen. She said the emphasis has to be on action, not “demonizing those who have a different view of the world.”
Lashaya Darisaw, a community activist and Democratic candidate for 49th district state representative, quizzed Whitmer about potential followup with Flint children impacted by the water crisis, in particular how some of those children “will now be on a direct path to the ‘school to prison pipeline’ due to the negligence of our elected officials and appointments from the state.” Darisaw said afterwards she did not get an answer — and that “This is quite disappointing because she stated that someone had already spoken with her about this. However she seemed to be very open to dialogue about it. I look forward to creating that dialogue and working with her in the future on the topic.”
Before she was ushered out to her next appearance, Whitmer concluded, “I was the top Democrat in a lot of state fights. I’m not afraid to fight. We’ve got some tough issues we gotta tackle — they’re urgent, and they’re serious.” She then repeated her opening line, “Michigan deserves better.”
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.