Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed education, jobs, health care and roads at her second State of the State address on Wednesday evening at the State Capitol in Lansing. This was her second state address since her swearing-in as the 49th Governor of Michigan in January 2019.
In her 2019 address, Whitmer discussed key issues including Michigan’s infrastructure and educational system, emphasizing her intention to garner bipartisan support to address these problems. On Wednesday, Whitmer revisited her solution for Michigan’s infrastructure, which she claims would have fixed the roads by 2030 if it had been accepted by the Michigan legislature.
“I am not giving up because the problem remains. In fact, it is worse because another year has passed. Cracked windshields, blown tires, busted rims,” Whitmer said. “That’s money that could go into your childcare budget, or your retirement fund or rent. And it’s also bad for business. We can’t ask businesses to invest in Michigan if we refuse to invest in ourselves.”
With a lack of bipartisan cooperation for her initial proposal and a disappointing gridlock, according to Whitmer, she vowed to pursue executive action with her “Plan B.”
“Tomorrow I will ask the State Transportation Commission to issue state road bonds so we can start fixing the roads,” Whitmer said. “Since it does not require the legislature to act, we can get started right away. That’s important.”
Whitmer reflected on progress made in 2019, mentioning bipartisan legislation that decreased the cost of car insurance after six years of Michigan having the highest auto insurance rates in the nation. She also highlighted collaboration with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to launch redistricting efforts, criminal justice reform and the creation of the environmental justice advisory council.
Whitmer detailed these accomplishments and tied them back to the importance of upholding Michigan’s diversity of thought, despite tension between political parties stemming from the national level.
“These firsts honor the beautiful diversity that is Michigan,” Whitmer said. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an uptick in hateful, harmful language in Michigan and across the country. A lot of it starts in Washington, D.C., and now it feels like it can work its way to Lansing. Whether it’s misogyny in the workplace, or threats of violence online, this is unacceptable. Let’s debate. Let’s disagree. But then, let everyone in this room live up to our responsibility to stand up to hate and harassment. Remember that our children are watching. In Michigan, diversity is our strength.”
Whitmer then moved to her next point of discussion — jobs. Though Michigan has boasted 10 years of economic growth, Whitmer said underskilled and overtime workers are still struggling to get ahead. Presenting her policies as part of the solution, she highlighted investment in the auto industry and collaboration with the Canadian government to construct the Gordie Howe International Bridge, a project which is projected to bring in thousands of jobs.
Alongside the creation of new jobs, Whitmer emphasized job security and worker rights as integral to creating a healthy workforce. To solve this, she has worked with the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to expand the right to overtime pay and cracked down on company regulation to pay employees.
“We should be able to take time off when our kids are born and afford childcare when we are ready to go back to work. We need employers who invest in a strong workforce,” Whitmer said. “When I was growing up if you worked more than 40 hours a week you were paid over. It was that simple. It should still be that simple.”
Whitmer then transitioned to the topic of education. She mentioned Michigan’s ranking at the bottom 10 states for overall literacy, and highlighted efforts to make pre-K universal for districts where test scores are low and providing better access to childcare. Expanding on this, she advocated for literacy coaches and organization partnerships in communities to help families navigate reading laws enacted by her predecessor Gov. Rick Snyder, and continue support through middle and high school by equitably funding schools.
“We can get ahead of this problem if we start early, but our work cannot stop with early literacy,” Whitmer said. “All Michigan students should have the opportunity to go to properly funded schools. The one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Any teacher can tell you that every student has potential, but their needs are often very different. This year, together, we move forward with an equitable funding formula.”
Whitmer’s final topic of the evening centered on affordable health care. She said while Michigan expanded Medicaid to cover more than 600,000 Michiganders in 2014, many residents still lack access because of a lack of insurance. She emphasized the importance of the Affordable Care Act to protect Michigan residents, highlighting an effort to eliminate disparities in the care of people of color, extending mental health services and addressing the opioid crisis.
“So here is the bottom line: the health of our state is only as good as the health of our residents,” Whitmer said. “I want to end where I began. Impatience is a virtue. Sure, it’s good to be patient when you’re waiting in the line of the grocery store, or when you are a Lions fan. But not now. Not when people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake.”
In addition to these main topics, Whitmer promised a Thursday follow-up on topics of climate change and protection of Michigan’s water in the coming weeks, addressing the issue of PFAS and rising lake levels’ impact on tourism, agriculture and infrastructure.
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, echoed the policy points in Whitmer’s address and the importance of her specific focus on the lives of working-class Michiganders, whether that be through the scope of job security, health care or roads. According to Rabhi, it was a notable shift in topics from those addressed during Snyder’s administration.
“She highlighted a bunch of the stuff that her administration is working on, but what I also liked is that she highlighted specific things that she is working with the House Democratic caucus on as well, that there are really cool initiatives that we’re all working together on to actually help move our state forward,” Rabhi said. “Policies that are very focused on everyday working Michiganders and fighting for working-class people, that is exactly the kind of stuff that I was hoping she’d talk about, and I’m really glad she touched on those things because we didn’t hear that for the last eight years from our Republican governor.”
Rabhi further commented on the division between Republicans and Democrats in Lansing, despite his belief that these should be universally supported issues.
“There was a very sharp division on the floor in terms of when she talked about that kind of stuff,” Rabhi said. “And many of the points that she made, we stood up, the Democrats stood up and said, ‘Yes, we support workers’ rights, we support what you’re saying about that.’ And the Republicans just didn’t. And it wasn’t controversial issues, we’re just trying to fight for everyday working-class Michiganders and make sure that people aren’t getting defrauded by employers, and that’s not something the Republicans can even stand up and support.”
Rabhi echoed the importance of the topics discussed and emphasized the need for further discussion regarding clean water contamination as a problem that is plaguing Michigan’s most valuable resource in all corners of the state. He mentioned his role in prioritizing clean water on the administration’s agenda, and noted green ooze that was discovered along a highway in southeast Michigan.
“Obviously with this green ooze in Oakland County, what I like to say, and what I think is true, is that every single state house district has a version of the green ooze,” Rabhi said. “In Ann Arbor, it’s PFAS, it’s dioxane, and we all have a massive contamination problem in our state, which is why we need laws like the one I introduced last year to make polluters pay to clean up their messes. And that’s a conversation that we need to continue to have, and highlight in the state because we also deserve to have clean water.”
The Republican response to Whitmer’s address, however, was far more critical. Laura Cox, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said Whitmer’s message of bipartisanship was far from the reality of her past year as governor.
“Tonight’s address is yet another reminder of Gretchen Whitmer's failed first year as governor, and even more of the same empty promises for the future,” Cox said. “Instead of committing to work with Republicans to find common sense solutions to Michigan’s problems, Governor Whitmer made it clear that she’ll go it alone without the legislature if they don’t agree with her tax and spend policies. From her support for impeachment and Medicare-for-all, and her unrealistic road proposal that raises taxes on hardworking Michiganders — Whitmer has proved that she is no different than the same out-of-touch liberal Democrats determined to sabotage the American dream.”
Next week, Whitmer will be one of two Democrats, alongside Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who will deliver the Democratic rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address. Her selection to deliver the rebuttal follows Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s praising of Whitmer’s progressive policies in Michigan, and national attention as a possible running mate to the Democratic presidential nominee.