Exactly a year away from Michigan’s 2022 gubernatorial election, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will be up for reelection, about fifty students crowded into a classroom in East Quad Residence Hall Monday night to launch Students for Whitmer, a new on-campus organization. All of the desks quickly filled, leaving students sitting on the floor or window sills. A lucky fraction of the students arrived before the pizza ran out.
LSA junior Andrew Schaeffler, former president of Students for Biden, and LSA sophomore Eva Hale are co-presidents of the Students for Whitmer organization. Schaeffler began the group’s first meeting at 6:08 p.m., noting that “in one year and 52 minutes, polls in Michigan will be closed.”
Students for Whitmer was also joined by FlipBlue — the student-led Democratic organizing group that oversees Students for Whitmer — detailed the plan to re-elect Whitmer and Lieutenant Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II in 2022.
Schaeffler said the organization plans to engage in traditional grassroots organizing such as tabling across the U-M campus, phone banking and canvassing on behalf of the Governor’s campaign.
Leaders in the organization have been in touch with Whitmer’s campaign throughout the summer, according to Schaeffler. While Students for Whitmer is an independent campus organization, Schaeffler said all of their efforts have been guided by Whitmer’s campaign.
“We’ve been working with (her campaign) really on all fronts,” Schaeffler said.
While the Students for Whitmer officially launched on Monday, efforts to organize began well before. According to Schaeffler, members of the organization have been at tables in Mason Hall and around the Diag collecting names of people interested in joining the group and gathering petition signatures for Whitmer to get on the ballot.
A major party candidate running for governor in Michigan must receive a minimum of 15,000 signatures from qualified and registered voters to get their name on the ballot.
Many of the leaders of Students for Whitmer were formerly part of Students for Biden, an organization started in early 2020 to support then-presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign at the University and in surrounding areas.
“Myself and a few other people who are going to be leading Students for Whitmer and are leading FlipBlue led Students for Biden during the 2020 election cycle,” Schaeffler said. “After that there was a lot of energy that we really wanted to harness, which is why we founded FlipBlue and within that we were very excited to get going and get organizing for Governor Whitmer.”
Hale said she was also involved in Students for Biden last year and wanted to carry that energy into another campaign. Hale said that those involved with Students for Biden are very passionate about getting Whitmer re-elected as well.
“We need someone who is going to treat power responsibly, and I think (Whitmer) is that person,” Hale said. “Throughout her tenure as governor, there have been some hectic moments … but I think she has been a very stabilizing force.”
Schaeffler also saidhe believed Whitmer’s re-election was important for the state of Michigan.
“Largely what’s at stake is the future of Michigan,” Schaeffler said. “The (Republican candidates) would be both dangerous in terms of their policies but also dangerous for democracy. We’ve seen James Craig, who’s the frontrunner in the race, call for a forensic audit of the election in 2020 (and) not necessarily accepting the results … I think that when you have someone who’s in such a high position in our state pretty much abandoning democracy, that’s not very good for the future of our state.”
In contrast, LSA senior Ryan Fisher, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, expressed optimism aboutCraig’s campaign.
“Down at the Mackinac Republican Conference which is a prominent, certainly Republican conference in Michigan, James Craig seemed like he had a lot of steam,” Fisher said. “We are big fans of James Craig.”
Fisher said College Republicans are still observing the field of Republican candidates who might run in opposition to Whitmer and have not yet officially decided on a candidate to endorse.
“We certainly intend to put our weight behind a Republican candidate for governor,” Fisher said. “We aren’t 100% sure about who that is just yet; there’s still several different candidates.”
Hale and Schaeffler also referenced the governor’s role in implementing COVID-19 policies, noting that they supported Whitmer’s response to the pandemic so far. Whitmer’s strong COVID-19 policies at the beginning of the pandemic drew criticism from Republicans in the state legislature, with the Michigan Supreme Court ruling that she did not have the authority to extend emergency orders in Oct. 2020.
“The background of all of this is COVID and the, I would say, great response that Governor Whitmer’s administration had that countless studies show saved thousands of lives,” Schaeffler said.
According to Schaeffler, efforts to campaign for Whitmer’s re-election have also reached other campuses like Michigan State University. The U-M Students for Whitmer is having a competition with the MSU College Democrats during the week of Nov. 8 to see which student group can collect the most signatures to get Whitmer on the ballot. The winner between the two organizations will earn a visit from either Whitmer or Gilchrist to their respective campus.
It might still be early in the election process, but the leaders of Students for Whitmer indicated that following the launch event, the group is ready to begin fighting for Whitmer’s re-election.
“We’ve got a lot of people involved, we’re ramping things up with petitioning, and I’m really excited to see where this goes,” Hale said.
Daily Staff Reporter Audrey Clayton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.