Former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer spoke to students and answered their questions during an event at the University of Michigan on Thursday night at an event sponsored by the University’s chapter of College Democrats.
In January, Whitmer declared her candidacy for governor, following 14 years in Michigan legislature. She previously served in the Michigan House of Representatives and in the Michigan Senate. Whitmer spoke briefly about why she decided to run, reminiscing on the state she knew when she was growing up and what she hopes to rebuild. Some of her areas of concern are public education, repealing the emergency manager law and getting rid of gerrymandering in the state of Michigan.
“And right now I look around at the Michigan that you’re in, that I’m in, that my kids are growing up in and I see a state that ranks 41st in fourth grade literacy in our country because of 25 years of Betsy Devos agenda by the way,” Whitmer said. “I am proud of having been the leader of the resistance for all 14 … but I’m tired of being the leader of the resistance. It is time for us to start setting the agenda.”
Rowan Conybeare, a Public Policy senior and the chair of College Democrats, said the attendance at recent events for gubernatorial candidates is encouraging and could be a sign that Democrats will win back seats in 2018.
“I’m really excited that the various gubernatorial candidates have wanted to come speak with us. She is our third,” Conybeare said. “I think we need to be careful, but I think it could be indicative of the democratic wave that everyone is talking about in 2018. I do not think it is a given. I think that students, Democrats and Michigan as a whole need to work just as hard as we would have if we had won in 2016.”
An issue at the center of the race is preventing post college brain drain. In an interview with the Daily, Whitmer discussed the importance of making college more affordable and, at some point, free.
“One of the things that I worked on as a senate Democratic leader, I authored a plan that I called the Michigan 2020 plan which would’ve provided free four-year college for every Michigan student,” Whitmer said. “That was something that I’ve always been a champion of and I know what that means for young people pursuing their dreams. … I think if we create those opportunities here, that’s one of the most important things we can do to keeping young talent in Michigan.”
Following the monologue, Whitmer spent majority of the event answering questions from the audience. In many of the questions, especially when compared to Democratic candidate Abdul El-Sayed, Whitmer emphasized the amount of experience she has in state government and how that gives her a leg up on other candidates.
“When you look at all the Democrats … all of our platforms look very similar. Here’s what I know though: After 14 years in the Michigan legislature, I was on the front lines for a lot of tough fights,” Whitmer said. “I think right now after seven years of Rick Snyder and 10 months of Donald Trump, we (have to) go in on day one ready to work to get things done.”
LSA sophomore Olivia Anderson, a resident of the Upper Peninsula, asked Whitmer about how she will address issues of poverty in the U.P. Whitmer responded saying she plans on continuing to travel to the U.P. to learn more about the issues residents there are facing, such as a lack of access to internet, and addressing them.
“I thought she did a really good job of addressing questions within the room and involving students … and the public in the discussion, not just talking about herself and her own ideas,” Anderson said. “I think she would be a great candidate for Michigan as a whole and especially the Upper Peninsula.”
Regarding marijuana legalization and gun regulation, Whitmer’s plans matched those of other Democrats; she hopes to legalize marijuana, with taxation and regulation and implementing more strict gun control laws. One of Whitmer's opponents, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is running for the Republican nomination, and on the flipside, has emphasized improving the economy through tax cuts and increasing jobs.
One student asked Whitmer about how she will address the bias and racist incidents that have occurred at universities in the state and more specifically at the University of Michigan.
"I know that in order for me to build a platform that’s not just going to get me elected but that’s going to make a difference to make our agenda a reality,” Whitmer said. “I (have to) make sure that I’m empowering and listening to and including people with all different issues across our state.”