With 13 days until the general election, tensions were high as Michigan’s gubernatorial hopefuls convened for their final debate Wednesday night. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, former state Senate minority leader, and Republican Bill Schuette, state attorney general, exchanged blows over immigration, higher education, environmental issues and infrastructure.
Schuette’s critique of Whitmer centered around her time in the political “establishment.” Schuette repeated Whitmer’s political career in the state Senate multiple times, saying she only passed three bills in 14 years –– a report card “not good enough for Michigan.” He also emphasized he sees Whitmer’s policies as “extreme,” painting her platform as an “economic collapse plan.” Throughout the debate, he circled back to his “Paycheck Plan” for economic growth.
“I want Michigan to be a jobs state, a growth state and a paycheck state.”
Whitmer focused on her social policies rather than economic policies and restated Schuette’s ties to the Flint water crisis and lawsuits he filed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. She promised to work across the aisle, citing a turbulent political climate.
“Bill Schuette and I couldn’t be more different.”
Water policy issues such as the Flint water crisis, the Detroit Public Schools water crisis, the Line 5 deal in the Straits of Mackinac, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance issues and the Nestlé water deal saturated the debate on protecting Michigan’s largest natural resource.
Whitmer promised to create a department that would oversee contaminants and use of the natural resource and denounced the deal with Nestlé Waters North America, which would allow the company to pump 76,000 gallons of water per day from Michigan for $200 a year. She said Schuette is confusing recreational water policy with the fundamental right to clean drinking water –– a right she promised to uphold.
“It is appalling the state of water and the lack of safety in our water,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer also vowed to enter Michigan into an alternate climate alliance until the Trump administration enters the nation back into the Paris climate accord, and said it’s time for Michigan to lean into renewable energy sources.
Schuette said the government needs to make sure “solid science” is being used before formulating policy. Whitmer said Schuette’s views on the legitimacy climate change are different when the “cameras are off,” but Schuette expressed otherwise.
“Climate change is real and Earth is getting warmer and we need to make sure every nation is part of the solution,” she said.
Schuette said he plans to “grade” schools on a scale of A through F to give families more transparency in school quality, reward schools with incentive grants and create a literacy director to create a “culture of reading in Michigan.”
“When I’m governor, Michigan’s children will read,” he said.
Whitmer, who Schuette contended is captive to the “education establishment,” said she wants universal early childhood education, improving treatment of educators and to triple the number of literacy coaches. She said Michigan teachers are demoralized.
“It’s no wonder teachers support me,” Whitmer said. “You know why? Because I support teachers.”
In terms of tuition, both candidates agreed high education is currently too costly. But while Whitmer proposed solving this issue by creating a scholarship plan that would provide a debt-free two-year degree, Schuette promised to focus on building up trade schools and apprenticeships. He said workers with trade skills are needed in Michigan, and their success can be bolstered by a stronger economy.
“The best approach for high school and college is a strong economy,” Schuette said. “We need to make sure that high school graduates are career-ready and workforce-ready.”
Whitmer also touched on the lack of workers in skilled trades and said Michigan’s “talent gap” contributed to Detroit not making the short list of locations for Amazon to build a second headquarters.
“We have to prioritize meeting the skills gap by making sure everyone has a path to a skill,” she said.
Recently, the Trump administration announced a possible legal definiton of sex that excludes transgender Americans, bolstering the debate regarding whether or not Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act should be expanded to make LGBTQ people a protected class.
Schuette said he will make sure Michigan is a state free from discrimination, and that the best way to assist in creating equality is by making sure Michigan has a strong economy, reiterating his economic goals.
Whitmer said she supports amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Citing lawsuits Schuette brought forth against gay marriage, Whitmer said Schuette would be the “most anti-LGBTQ governor Michigan has ever had.”
“I believe that it is time for Michigan to get on the right side of history –– this is 2018,” she said.
Since the Trump administration took office, Michigan has seen a 75 percent decrease in legal refugee arrivals –– a national low. Whitmer said she sees this statistic as a negative product of fear mongering from Schuette and Trump. She expressed heartbreak over the family separation policy that was in effect over the summer and said she is running to combat the “nasty rhetoric” coming from Schuette.
“Michigan was built by immigrants,” she said. “It’s a strength that we have.”
Schuette emphasized border security, saying if he were elected, he would not allow sanctuary cities. He said Whitmer’s immigration views are extreme, and that if she were elected, Michigan would become a sanctuary state and that she would work to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement.