Not much, unless she reveals traits and talents of which heretofore there has been no evidence.
Whitmer has one chance to surprise us, and that almost certainly won’t happen — she and the Michigan Democratic Party will have to “run the table” on Nov. 6 and wind up controlling not only the governorship but also the state Senate and House of Representatives.
Short of that, it will be gridlock reminiscent of 2007-2011, with an unsteady hand at the tiller.
Whitmer compares herself with former Republican Gov. William G. Milliken and contends she would govern the same way. Not unless she undergoes a personality transplant. The two couldn’t be more different, either personally or in political style.
As Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette flounders in his campaign to deny Whitmer the governorship, he might consider Democrat Mike Dukakis’s presidential campaign theme in 1988 (“Competence”), even though it didn’t work against Republican George H.W. Bush. For one thing, Bush 41 didn’t lack competence. Whitmer does. Her public record is marked by non-achievement.
To be sure, Whitmer hails from an illustrious political family, even if none of them were ever elected to anything. Her grandfather, Dana Whitmer, was Pontiac’s longest-tenured K-12 public school superintendent, serving a record 24 years by the time he retired in 1978. He was one of Metro Detroit’s most prominent educational leaders during the turbulent times of the 1970s school desegregation. The Whitmer Resource Center in Pontiac is named for him. Dana’s wife, Esther, Gretchen’s grandmother, was a longtime public school teacher and was known as the “Flower Lady” because of the immaculate yard and gardens she maintained in the Indian Village residential section in northwest Pontiac, where the senior Whitmers lived for half a century. Dana died in 2002 at age 89, and Esther survived until 2014, when she died at age 100.
Gretchen’s father, Richard E. “Dick” Whitmer, as a young attorney was director of Milliken’s Commerce Dept. and later became legal counsel and then, for 18 years, president of the giant insurance company, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan (from 1988-2006). BC/BS’s 130,000 square-foot flagship headquarters, at the corner of Lafayette Blvd. and Beaubien in downtown Detroit, was renamed in his honor in 2007. Gretchen’s mother, Sherry, whom the candidate has featured in an avalanche of TV ads, was an assistant Attorney General under Frank Kelley before she died prematurely after a long, agonizing battle with brain cancer. Despite her father’s prominence, Gretchen argues that she had to fight to get health insurance for her mother’s condition (Dick and Sherry had divorced in 1981 when Gretchen was 10 years old). Gretchen and her second husband, East Lansing dentist Marc Mallory, are the parents of a blended family of five (two girls by her first husband and his three sons).
So Whitmer is descended from a line of achievers, but in her case the apple has fallen a considerable distance from the tree.
Let’s start with her legislative career. In 14 years (six in the state House, eight in the Senate), Whitmer managed to get only three bills signed into law: 1) Eliminating the prohibition against getting prescriptions through the mail; 2) Revising licensing fees for state campgrounds and public swimming pools; and 3) Increasing the calculations for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
By contrast, two other current state senators whose service overlapped with Whitmer, and who also served three terms in the House, managed to get more than 300 bills between them enacted into law over the same period of time as Whitmer’s. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), who will be jettisoned from office at the end of the year because of term limits, has had more than 170 bills become statutes, and his colleague, Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Paw Paw), has gotten 129 signed into law.
True, Whitmer had the misfortune of serving all 14 years of her term-limited House and Senate career with her Democrats mired in the minority, whereas Jones and Schuitmaker could count on a Republican governor, Rick Snyder, to ink their bills during most of their tenures. But even Jones and Schuitmaker had to endure being in the minority and/or divided government — it was Democrat Jennifer Granholm in the governor’s chair when they were first elected in 2004, and Democrats controlled the state House from 2007-2011. That didn’t stop the duo from getting bills they sponsored through both chambers and signed by the governor, regardless of party. Fact is, more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers during this time got more bills signed into law than Whitmer did, regardless of which party was in control of the process.
The best explanation of why Whitmer was so ineffective comes from former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), who has been considered friendly to Whitmer. The Detroit Free Press’s Kathleen Gray quoted Richardville this way: “(Whitmer) was the mouthpiece, the spokesperson for the Left, for the Democrats, and if you’ve got somebody saying every day what a bad job you’re doing, the (majority party) is not going to reward that.” Other Republicans have been less diplomatic than their leader: “She was a bombastic bomb thrower,” says one, who knows that Whitmer ignored or played down unethical behavior by members of her own party while obsessively berating Republicans.
Whitmer repeatedly makes the claim that she deserves as much credit as anyone for the passage of “Healthy Michigan,” which expanded Medicaid to some 680,000 Michiganders five years ago under Obamacare. “(Medicaid expansion) never would have happened without the work that I did,” says Whitmer today. That’s because, she says, she “reached across the aisle” to garner votes for the measure not only from her fellow Democrats but from her Republican adversaries. This boast is one of the great whoppers of recent Michigan legislative politics — it’s not even close to being true. All 10 of Whitmer’s fellow Senate minority Democrats were ready to vote for Gov. Rick Snyder’s initiative from the word “Go!” and every Democrat in the state House but one supported it. The idea that Whitmer could have persuaded even ONE reluctant Republican to vote for Medicaid expansion when they would not have otherwise is, in the words of one solon, “laughable.” Says another: “No matter what she was talking about, we just tuned her out.”
After Whitmer was forced out of state office by term limits, she was appointed by the cabal of Democrats who control every facet of Ingham Co. government (including most of the judges) to fill out the six-month portion of the unexpired term of disgraced prosecutor Stuart J. Dunnings III, who had managed to make former New York Gov. Eliot “Socks” Spitzer look like a eunuch.
Dunnings was convicted of misconduct in office (a five-year felony) and a misdemeanor count of engaging a prostitute. He accepted a plea deal from, ironically, Attorney General Bill Schuette that dismissed a total of 14 charges related to prostitution, including pandering. Dunnings was disbarred and served a year in the Clinton Co. jail plus two more years of probation. Ironically, Dunnings had served on the state Bar of Michigan’s “Character and Fitness” committee and had built a reputation, like New York’s Spitzer, on cracking down on prostitution, sexual assault, domestic abuse and sex trafficking. His wife divorced him in the midst of the proceedings against him.
One of Whitmer’s challenges in her new assignment was to find out what everyone wanted to know — how could Dunnings have gotten away with his outrageous criminal behavior for so long? But what if Whitmer reached conclusions that could draw embarrassment and shame to her local party, which was ready to support her impending bid for governor?
No worries. Twenty days after being appointed acting Ingham Co. Prosecuting Attorney, Whitmer issued an 11-page “hear-no-evil, see-no-evil” report that made Spitzer blush. Whitmer contended that Dunnings’s crimes “did not infect the office,” and none of the subordinates there were aware of Dunnings’s transgressions. In any event, she said, none of what public employees might have seen over the years rose to the level of “criminal activity.” It was just “inappropriate,” said Whitmer. This was great news for the Lansing-area Democrats, but not so great for the general public, which wanted the truth.
Whitmer’s mantra of “Just Fix the Damned Roads” has been a winning clarion call on the 2018 campaign trail for her candidacy, but what did she herself do to solve the problem of Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure when she had a chance to in the Legislature? She not only failed, she made it worse. She and her House Minority Leader colleague, Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills), as a condition for obtaining Democratic support for the necessary 2/3 majority to put the infamous Proposal 1 on the ballot, insisted on loading up the measure with a “Christmas tree” of Dem nostrums that doomed the question to defeat five months later.
Proposal 1 turned out to be one of the most complicated and confusing questions ever to appear on a statewide ballot. It would have hiked the sales tax from six to seven cents while removing it from fuel. Yet it still hiked taxes on gasoline. It would have raised nearly $1.3 million for roads but also $200 million more for K-12 schools; $116 million for transit and rail; some $111 more to local governments; plus a $260 million tax break to low and moderate income families through the EITC.
The record shows a higher percentage of Democratic legislators than Republicans in both chambers supported Proposal 1. Whitmer and the Democrats “owned” the ballot language that received a bigger rebuke from voters than anything that had been on the ballot in nearly 70 years — it got bombed by 80%-20%. In the interim, waiting for the referendum result, the Legislature did nothing to fix the roads.
Many Whitmer apologists argue that, with the Democrats in such a deep hole in Senate membership, she really had no choice other than to make herself a vocal critic of GOP rule. That begs the question of why she didn’t do a better job making sure her party emerged from their abyss during her tenure. But that was one of Whitmer’s most startling failures — her inability to dig her Democratic minority out of their modern-record deficit of 12 seats in a 38-member chamber. Nobody thought it could get worse for Democrats in the 2014 election, yet on Whitmer’s watch it did. After four years of candidate recruitment, fund-raising and electioneering, Democrats actually managed to LOSE another seat to make it a 27-11 R/D Senate chamber as Whitmer left office. This was despite the fact that 2014 was nowhere near the terrible year for Democrats that 2010 had been — the party’s lackluster nominee for governor, Mark Schauer, managed to come within four points of knocking off incumbent Republican Snyder, and the Dems’ U.S. Senate nominee, Gary Peters, crushed his opponent at the top of the ticket. Contrast this with the performance of House Speaker Chuck Perricone in the 2000 election. A controversial, in many ways unpopular Republican leader, Perricone nevertheless managed to retain the GOP’s 58-52 majority despite 2000 being a far worse year for Republicans in Michigan than 2014 was for Democrats.
What’s worse, on the way to 2014, Whitmer actually contributed to House Dems’ LOSING seats in 2012 that they might have won but for her meddling in a campaign to oust Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger. Bolger was complicit in a switch of party affiliation by state Rep. Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids from Democrat to Republican at the 2012 filing deadline. With Whitmer egging them on, House Democrats squandered tens of thousands of dollars trying to defeat Bolger in a strongly Republican Albion-area district. Bolger survived easily, but crucial dollars that could have been spent in a half-dozen other House districts were wasted on trying to defeat Bolger instead — seats that Democrats in a handful of close races elsewhere in the state might have been able to flip if they had had had the campaign cash. Democrats came up short in the race for the House, 59-51, in a year when President Barack Obama carried Michigan by nearly 10%. If Democrats had won just four more seats, they could have attained “shared power” with the GOP.
One thing more: When Whitmer rose on the Senate floor in 2013 to oppose the majority Republicans’ enactment of an initiated law to ban insurance coverage of abortion services, even in cases of rape and incest, except in a separate rider, she announced she herself had been raped while an undergraduate at Michigan State University some two decades earlier. But she provided no other details, and no one in the news media has pursued specificity and reported it. That may have been acceptable in 2013, but today, in the era of #MeToo, Brett Kavanaugh, and Dr. Larry Nassar, why is there no curiosity by the Fourth Estate about this bombshell involving a woman who could be Michigan’s next governor? If a female U.S. Senator or U.S Representative revealed such information on the floor of either chamber of Congress, would it not be pursued?
In any event, even though Whitmer’s speech was a diatribe against what she perceived as a Republican male-dominated Senate, the two GOP female senators in the chamber didn’t agree; they voted for the new law.
The mainstream news media probably did Whitmer a favor by giving her announcement little coverage after her original statement, although she still brings the subject up periodically. It’s questionable whether presenting herself as the subject of male abuse actually advanced her goals in 2013. Any politician faces a certain plausibility hurdle in getting the public to see them as a figure of gubernatorial stature. That barrier is higher for women than for men. On the left, demonstrating that you have suffered rape can attract support from liberal activists, but the public as a whole views the dynamic differently. Most voters don’t want to be asked to cast their ballots for a candidate who needs to be taken care of. Emphasis on a politician’s suffering may undercut their ability to project an image of strength and competence. Invoking victimhood may capture attention from progressive activists on social media, but it’s not the shortest way to the governor’s residence.
In any event, the news media has spared Whitmer the problem for the time being — beyond initial reportage of her speech (which can be seen online) there has been little conversation about Whitmer as a “survivor.”
But if Whitmer has cast herself as a defender of women who have endured sexual assault, why did she seem to waffle on pursuing sexual assault cases against Dr. Larry Nassar when she had a chance to as Ingham Co. prosecutor? Instead, she wanted to focus only on charges against Nassar involving child pornography, according to MSU police Chief James Dunlop. Whitmer vehemently denies Dunlop’s characterization of what appeared to be her bureaucratic dithering. Whitmer says she never received reports documenting police investigations into Nassar’s conduct, although she could have demanded them. Indeed, one of Nassar’s first victims, Rachel Denhollander, also an attorney for Nassar survivors, supports Dunlop’s argument and has lauded Schuette for taking the case when Whitmer didn’t.
It was Schuette who secured convictions.