Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer and running mate Garlin Gilchrist spoke to more than 120 students Monday night at Lorch Hall during a special meeting of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats.
Several local elected officials including U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and state Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, were in attendance as Whitmer and Gilchrist discussed issues ranging from infrastructure and clean drinking water to student voter turnout and the so-called “blue wave” — an anticipated influx of liberal candidates to elected office in November.
“To have a good life, you gotta be able to get into a good job, which means a solid education and skills, but also, you gotta be able to get there, whether it is through public transit or through affordable car insurance or through roads that will get you there safely,” Whitmer said. “…Regional transit is critical to us making this a state where not just businesses but where we have a good quality of life.”
Gilchrist, who runs the University’s Center for Social Media Responsibility, focused on student voter turnout. He said the key to winning the election lies in convincing students to show up to the polls.
“We don’t have a voter registration problem at the University of Michigan,” he said. “The problem we have is a voter turnout problem.”
Gilchrist urged students to vote and encouraged them to get others to vote as well, claiming 14 percent of students at the University voting in 2016 was “not acceptable.”
The University recently joined the Big 10 Voter Challenge in hopes of increasing voter turnout. The challenge tracks voter registration through TurboVote and will present the universities with the best registration rates and improvement compared to 2014 election rates with awards.
Dingell, who represents Michigan’s 12th congressional district, which includes Ann Arbor, introduced Whitmer at the beginning of the event and criticized the term “blue wave,” saying it assumed that Democrats would win in November without doing the necessary work in the lead up to the election.
“First of all, I hate that word, the ‘blue wave,’” Dingell said, gesturing to the phrase written on a blackboard behind her. “Now I like ‘Go Blue,’ and we’re going to go blue in November.”
Whitmer echoed Dingell’s comment later on.
“We have all the makings of a huge change election here, but like Congresswoman Dingell said, I don’t for one second want anyone to get caught up in the fact that they think there’s going to be a wave and it’s just about riding it in,” Whitmer said. “You are the wave.”
The event was hosted by the University’s College Democrats. Public Policy junior Katie Kelly, communications director of College Democrats, said they found out Whitmer and Gilchrist were coming to campus “just a couple days ago.” The group plans to volunteer to support Whitmer.
“This was our first official event for her, but we’ll be from now until the election canvassing on and off,” Kelly said. “For Fall Break we’ll be going to Grand Rapids, so we’ll be canvassing for (Sen.) Debbie Stabenow and state representatives and state Senate candidates there.”
Whitmer emphasized the role of students in her campaign and in the midterm elections.
“You are an incredibly important part of our success, and you’ve got the highest stakes in it,” she said. “Because I want to make this a state where you stay, where you choose to make your life here in Michigan.”