An hour northeast of Ann Arbor, at Oakland University, incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon met to defend their platforms in front of Michigan voters for the second and final time before the Nov. 8 election.
During the first debate, held at the WOOD-TV studio in Grand Rapids on Oct. 13, the two gubernatorial candidates discussed their approaches to hot topic issues like abortion, Proposal 3, gun control and public education.
Libertarian candidates for Congress, secretary of state and governor gathered outside to raise awareness for their campaigns and engage passersby about their platforms.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Mary Buzuma highlighted her support for student opportunity scholarship programs and reducing government regulations on healthcare. She also said she feels the debate should have included third-party candidates like herself.
“You need more voices — and not just (in) politics, but in government, period,” Buzuma said. “Because if not, you’ve just got two groups that are just going to stay in their own echo chambers.”
The debate was moderated by Chuck Stokes, editorial and public affairs director of WXYZ, Elle Meyers, political reporter for Fox 47, and Doug Reardon, anchor and reporter for Fox 17. Candidates answered questions submitted by Michigan residents ahead of time and addressed issues including inflation, abortion, taxes and education.
In her opening remarks, Whitmer stressed the importance of bipartisan collaboration and highlighted her legislative achievements in public education, supporting the auto industry and protecting reproductive rights.
“Tonight, I think you’ll hear a lot of divisive rhetoric and misinformation and focus on the past from my opponent,” Whitmer said. “I’ll try to stay focused on our shared future. I know that we have (a) real opportunity in front of us, but the big question is this: Are we going to go backwards or are we going to drive together in the future? I say ‘Let’s step on the accelerator.’”
After the debate, Dixon criticized Whitmer’s emphasis on her record of bipartisan collaboration and claimed Whitmer has not met with every member of the state legislature. Dixon told The Daily that, if elected governor, she would increase communication with the state legislature.
“It’s interesting that she talks about that because there are actually legislators that she’s never met,” Dixon said. “I would sit down with our legislators and meet with them regularly.”
In her opening remarks, Dixon also criticized Whitmer’s approach to combating the COVID-19 pandemic and said she feels Whitmer has let Michiganders down on public safety, infrastructure and education.
“In 14 days, you can change course,” Dixon said. “You can put Michigan back on the right track. I’ve traveled the state and from day one, I’ve been focused on my family-friendly plan for Michigan. Tonight, I’ll share that plan, and I hope to earn your vote on Nov. 8.”
The opening questions referenced Proposal 3 — the Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative — and abortion, asking the candidates to share their positions on the issue and how they plan to legislate in response to the outcome of Proposal 3.
Whitmer said she supports Proposal 3 because it reinstates the protections of Roe v. Wade, which were in place for nearly 50 years before Roe’s reversal in June.
“We have an opportunity to enshrine Roe into law by supporting ballot initiative three,” Whitmer said. “The simple truth is the way to protect women and ensure that future generations have the same rights we’ve had for 49 years is by adopting Proposal 3 — and I will be a ‘yes’ vote.”
In her response, Dixon criticized Whitmer, claiming the provisions of Proposal 3 are too extreme and go beyond the protections previously in place under Roe v. Wade.
“When Governor Whitmer tells you that this is going to be Roe, it’s not even close to Roe,” Dixon said. “It’s not codifying Roe in our Constitution, but it would be the most radical abortion law in the entire country.”
Proposal 3 guarantees access to abortion up until fetal viability, typically around 24 weeks, and allows elected officials to regulate abortion past the point of viability. It also ensures access to birth control and other forms of reproductive healthcare and prevents the criminalization of anyone who has an abortion or miscarriage.
Stokes shared questions submitted by Michigan residents on inflation, asking the candidates what steps they will take with state legislators to relieve the weight of inflation on Michiganders.
Dixon vowed to cut taxes to lessen the impact of inflation, saying the Child Tax Credit — which provides monthly checks to households with children under the age of 17 — limits taxes for residents on a fixed income.
“This governor has not done anything to help inflation, but I would put money back in your pockets,” Dixon said. “I would make sure we have that child tax credit, I would make sure that we reduce the income tax, and I would make sure that our seniors who are on a fixed income are not receiving more taxes than they should and we put more money back in their pockets.”
In her rebuttal, Whitmer criticized Dixon’s claims that gas taxes rose under her administration, saying Michigan’s Republican legislature passed a bill that would not have implemented tax cuts until 2023.
“I don’t have time for games, and I don’t think you all do either,” Whitmer said. “What I would like to know is how Mrs. Dixon plans to balance a budget giving $12 billion away and not shifting costs onto you — that’s where I would be most concerned as we think about the cost shift onto people.”
The candidates were also asked about their plans to make gas more affordable amid global inflation while also considering broader energy transitions.
Dixon criticized Whitmer for calling on Enbridge Energy to shut down Line 5, an oil pipeline traveling from Canada to Wisconsin that crosses the Straits of Mackinac, after a state report found it at risk of contaminating the Great Lakes. She also referenced Whitmer’s decision to veto a gas tax holiday in March of this year.
“Gretchen Whitmer would like to shut down Line 5 in the state of Michigan — that would be catastrophic,” Dixon said. “Another way to lower energy would have been to pass a gas tax holiday so that people don’t have to pay as much on their gas bill when they fill up their car. We need to make sure we do everything possible in the state of Michigan to lower the cost of energy for our people.”
Whitmer criticized Dixon’s focus on nonrenewable energy sources and said she hopes to make Michigan a leader in clean energy transitions.
“Mrs. Dixon wants to do things the way they’ve always been done,” Whitmer said. “I want to make sure that we are expanding our energy alternatives and clean energy and being good stewards of our water. We know that climate change is already having a huge impact — whether it’s a tornado in Gaylord or the flooding in Midland.”
The candidates discussed their positions on public education, with Dixon stressing her belief that any content on gender and sexuality should be removed from school curricula.
“What I’ve heard from parents across the state is (concern about) inappropriate content in school libraries,” Dixon said. “I stand with those parents that want to make sure we go back to the basics of reading, writing and math in our schools.”
After the debate, The Daily asked Dixon what specific content she would like removed from schools, and the candidate emphasized that she is looking to ban “pornographic” materials.
Dixon has previously spoken about banning materials she considers “pornographic,” including young-adult book “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto”, where Queer Black author George Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence and college years in a collection of essays. Dixon has also unveiled a plan called the Age Appropriate Classroom Instruction Act — a Michigan version of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which has been referred to by its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — which would ban teachers from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity with K-3 students.
Whitmer said while she encourages parents to share their opinions on their children’s public school curricula, censoring educational content is not the best method to address parental concerns.
“Parents can attend parent-teacher conferences, take part in the debate that is happening — and these are happening at the local level, where they should be — so that parents can be involved,” Whitmer said. “We also have a duty to make sure that all children feel accepted and safe and can learn and play when they’re in school. I reject the false choice that it has to be one or the other.”
When asked about plans to curb the opioid crisis in Michigan, Whitmer highlighted the importance of increasing access to healthcare to curb the epidemic.
“There is no question that we have got an opioid crisis in this country,” Whitmer said. “That’s why the resources that we are putting into addiction treatment, the resources that we are putting into ensuring more people have access to healthcare is so incredibly important. This is a space where we’ve got more good work to do, but we are making progress.”
Dixon stressed the importance of increasing law enforcement presence and securing the southern border to prevent the distribution of illicit drugs.
“If we had more officers on the streets, we could be preventing a lot more overdose deaths,” Dixon said. “I want to make sure that we have the backs of our cops and we invest in our cops and we make sure they have what they need to fight this horrible scourge on our country.”
The final question of the debate addressed the suggestion by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to add COVID-19 vaccinations to the 2023 recommended immunization schedules. Reardon asked the candidates if they planned to adopt the recommendation and require the COVID-19 vaccine for school attendance each year.
Dixon, who said she has received the COVID-19 vaccine herself, said she will not require any child to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination at any time.
“I want to be very clear about this: this is a parent’s decision,” Dixon said. “There will never be a mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine for children to go to school in a Dixon administration. I want you to know that I will never push the COVID-19 vaccine on your children, but it is your choice, and it will always be your choice.”
Dixon also said she believes Whitmer would be in favor of requiring the vaccination given her MI Vacc to Normal plan to have 70% of Michigan residents vaccinated. Whitmer disputed this claim and drew attention to the impact COVID-19 had on Michigan.
“I do not support requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for children,” Whitmer said. “But let’s talk about COVID-19 — it hit our state hard; it hit us incredibly hard. While I was getting death threats, saving lives during COVID-19, my opponent was sowing conspiracy theories. She was saying that kids couldn’t get impacted … It’s that kind of foolishness that actually endangers people, and if she had been governor during COVID-19, thousands more people would have died.”
In her closing statement, Whitmer said she plans to use her second term to bolster the state’s economy, improve public schools and advance civil and reproductive rights.
“I can’t help but think of my own kids and all the young people in their generation,” Whitmer said. “They’re going to be making decisions about where to build lives, and I sure hope it’s in Michigan. In a second term, I’m gonna stay focused on building a Michigan where every person can get a good paying job with a secure retirement, send their kids to great schools with great teachers, feel like they’re going to be safe in their community, free from discrimination and hate and (to) make their own decisions about their bodies.”
Dixon concluded the debate by stressing her plans for a “family-friendly” Michigan that focuses on bolstering public safety and advancing parental rights.
“If you choose me as your governor, I will put cops over criminals,” Dixon said. “I will put parents over politics. I will put a student over systems, and I will make sure that we put money back into your pocket, and we do a better job with the money that we have.”
After the debate, Whitmer told reporters she believes these debates were important to inform voters about the candidates. Following the first debate, Whitmer’s lead on Dixon shrank from 16 points to 11 points.
“We always knew that this would be a close race,” Whitmer said. “This is a great state, but it is a divided state at times. And so I take no person, no vote or no community for granted. I work for all the people of Michigan and I’m hopeful that I’ll get an opportunity to continue to serve them for four more years.”