On Tuesday, January 3, former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer became the first candidate to announce her intention to run for the office of Governor of Michigan. Since that time she has been campaigning hard across the state in an effort to get a head start on the process and to become a familiar face and presence to a larger number of Michigan voters. Last week, Whitmer visited the Michigan Chronicle to talk more about her background, her positions on the issues, and why she believes she is best suited to be Michigan’s chief executive.
What made you decide to run?
I remember when Michigan led the world. The best schools in the country, the best job opportunities. You could make a good living and have a nice retirement. Put your kids in a position to be better off than you were. I think we deserve better from our leaders.
[But] there are three things that put me over the top: the scandal at the State House between two legislators that put Michigan on the national news in the most embarrassing light again [referring to the highly-publicized affair between former Michigan State Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, that led to a fabricated sex scandal invented by Courser as a clumsy way to try and hide their indiscretions in 2015], the fake road plan that the Governor and the legislature patted themselves on the back and pretended like they fixed the infrastructure in Michigan when they haven’t, and finally, the Flint water crisis. It was all those things that made me look at where we are as a state, and I thought we need somebody who’s going to fight for the people.
What are the impediments to getting a workable infrastructure/roads repair plan done?
Well it comes with a huge price tag. The governor’s commission on infrastructure came back and said in order to really fix the problem that we have, it’s going to cost $4 billion a year for, like, 20 years. So the governor, even though he’s got a super majority in the legislature, can’t seem to get the Republicans to agree to figure out how to pay for that. We haven’t seen a meaningful plan put on the table that looks like they can get it passed. Now, President Trump is talking infrastructure, but what does that mean in terms of the reality of money coming back to Michigan so that we can put it into our roads? And how do we have confidence that that’s where the money will ultimately go?
As Governor, what would be the priority items for Detroit?
I really believe that a strong governor can do a lot of things to help with the school system in Detroit. Putting some accountability into charter schools. I understand that choice makes sense for a lot of families, but they better be working. Too many charter schools are not working for students. And so it’s not really a quality choice. Choice, in and of itself, is not accessible. You want to have a good choice, and accessible choice, to ensure that we’re not closing schools that don’t work, but that we’re fixing them to make sure that they do. Charter schools in Michigan? 84 percent are for profit. The next highest percentage of for profit schools is 12 percent. So that tells you how backward our policy is in Michigan. And a strong governor can change that. You don’t need to go through the legislature like Governor Snyder chose to. And I think that might be because of relationships with the [Dick and Betsy] DeVos crowd out on the west side of the state.
How will you handle the overwhelmingly Republican legislature?
I think that 2018 represents a real opportunity to infuse some balance back into our government. The governor’s office, the Secretary of State’s office, the Attorney General’s office, the whole House and the whole Senate are on the ballot. Now the way gerrymandering is done in Michigan, the Senate’s not gonna change. It’s going to be Republican-controlled until we take gerrymandering and the ability to draw their own lines away from the legislature. But I will say that the House will be in play, I believe. … And having state government experience goes a long way to understanding how to use the power of the office and to building those relationships. I have served with three different governors, and I think not having government experience was a real hindrance, and I think that Gov. Snyder struggled with that, as did Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
What would you list as your top three priorities once elected to office?
I think one of the first things we’ve got to do is fix what’s going on with the people of Flint. It’s absolutely unconscionable that in the Great Lakes State, where we’re lucky to be in this geography where we have 20 % of the world’s fresh water, we got a city that still can’t drink the water. I talked to a woman who used 58 bottles of water to make Thanksgiving dinner. That’s one meal. Can you imagine?
I don’t believe that we should be putting money in a savings account when we have a city that can’t drink the water. And that’s what we’re seeing out of our leaders in Lansing right now.
What would you do about Flint?
I think you pull out the pipes and you put in new ones. You give people the wrap-around services and the children the nutrition that they need.
But It’s been languishing so long that I’m very worried about it.
What we do there impacts everyone. …We’re all paying the price for a city that’s being left behind. There’s no question, as we think about how we move this state forward, we are underskilled and under-educated as a population across the state. It may be felt more acutely by ids in the urban centers, but it’s a problem everywhere in the state. We have to make some massive strides on that front.
Where are you on emergency management?
I fought against the emergency management bill in the first place. I was the chief critic of it. It passed, voters rejected it, it passed again. I’ll tell you first of all that bill never would have passed if I was governor. Secondly, we never would have made an end run around the electorate. And I have made this commitment as I have traveled the state; if the legislature ever sent me a bill with money in it to avoid the peoples’ right to referendum, it will get vetoed. Period. It’s undemocratic that the legislature uses these gimmicks to avoid the peoples’ right to weigh in.
The people are the power of a check on the legislature, and we need to respect that and protect it.
We need to re-write the emergency management law, absolutely. We’ve always had one on the books, because there are times of crisis where it’s important for that oversight to come in. But what the governor and the legislature did was emergency management on steroids because they had an agenda.
How about car insurance?
The redlining problem is huge. We have to fix that. My fear when you see some of the proposals that are out there is we don’t want to also give people of the city less coverage, by that same token, to be treated as if they’re not as valuable as the rest of the people across the state. We all have an interest in solving this. What all the answers are, that’s the messy part, right? How do we navigate this so that we do infuse some sanity. Your credit rating shouldn’t impact how much you pay on your insurance. It should be about your driving, it shouldn’t be about your zip code. It’s about personal responsibility, not where you live.