Gretchen Whitmer, former Democratic minority leader in the Michigan state Senate and lecturer at the Ford School of Public Policy, addressed the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats Thursday night about her candidacy for Michigan governor in 2018.
Whitmer officially filed paperwork for the upcoming gubernatorial race in January, becoming the first candidate to officially enter.
Previously, Whitmer served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 2001 to 2006, the Michigan Senate from 2006 to 2014 and most recently served as the Ingham County prosecutor until her term expired on Dec. 31, 2016.
Whitmer cited the Flint Water Crisis as one of the chief reasons why she decided to run for governor in 2018, saying if elected, she will strive to ensure that a government failure of that proportion will never happen again.
“The Flint Water Crisis is maybe what put me over the top,” Whitmer said. “To see such a spectacular failure of government hurt so many people and still not be fixed … it’s been 1,000 days since the people in one of our cities have been able to turn on their taps with any assurance (of clean water).”
Whitmer also stressed the need for the future leadership of the Democratic Party to understand people who voted for President Donald Trump and to work to pull voters back into the party.
“We cannot demonize Trump voters, and that’s a hard thing to tell people who are passionate Democrats,” Whitmer said. “But we can’t win if we don’t start pulling people back into the party that really is focused on helping people throughout our state.”
Additionally, Whitmer emphasized Democrats should not assume large voter turnout and traditionally blue voters, such as union members, will always persist.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” she said. “You can’t assume that (the) Democratic Party is a machine that will naturally turn out 45 percent of the vote,” Whitmer said. “We can’t assume that everyone in the city of Detroit is going to vote Democrat, we can’t assume that if you have the (United Auto Workers’) endorsement it means every one of their members is going to vote for you.”
Whitmer said she is embarking on a 21-month campaign and emphasized she will focus on visiting college campuses in the state to address the concerns of the younger generation.
“I’m going to make sure that at the campuses — all the campuses — I’m stopping and engaging students at that level,” Whitmer said. “If we had left the election up to the millennial generation, it would have been a totally different result, so I think there’s a lot we can learn about young minds.”
Whitmer also fielded policy questions and spoke about the future of health care in Michigan, saying she hopes the Healthy Michigan Medicaid Plan, which receives funding from former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, will continue to provide care for Michigan residents. However, she is unsure about its future, given the current focus of the U.S. Congress on repealing “Obamacare.” She also claimed she was influential in Gov. Rick Snyder’s support of the plan in 2014.
“It’s my hope that the Healthy Michigan Plan is intact by the time this election comes around,” Whitmer said. “I worked very hard to expand Medicaid through ‘Obamacare.’ I have been a chief critic of Governor Snyder, but there were a couple of things we worked on together that he could’ve accomplished without me and my caucus — and that’s one of them.”
Snyder also said he anticipates forthcoming changes to health care in his State of the State address last month and would like to see Healthy Michigan serve as a model policy for the rest of the country.
“There’s going to be changes in health care,” he said. “The important thing is we need to let them know that Healthy Michigan is a model that can work for the rest of the country. We look forward to reimagining health care for all Michiganders and our entire country with Michigan being a leader in that dialogue.”
LSA junior Collin Kelly, chair of College Democrats, said he believes Whitmer is a strong candidate with experience and was honored she chose the University’s College Democrats chapter as the first college campus visit in her campaign.
“It’s nice to see a vision for Michigan that is hopeful, that things can look up in the future,” Kelly said. “This will give her almost two years to make sure people in the state have a voice through her — that’s awesome. We’re excited and happy she made the time to come out here.”