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Gretchen Whitmer: What to know about Democratic Michigan governor

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was elected in 2018 and his waging her re-election campaign on so-called "kitchen table" issues. (Bridge file photo)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a first-term Democrat who has made waves the past four years, governing the state through multiple crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, historic floods and social justice protests.

Whitmer has made plenty of national news too, sparring with former President Donald Trump over pandemic policies and emerging as a favorite of now-President Joe Biden, who considered her as a running mate in 2020. 

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Whitmer stayed in Michigan, and she’s now up for re-election. She’ll square off against Republican challenger Tudor Dixon on Nov. 8. 

About

Whitmer, 51, is an attorney and former state lawmaker from East Lansing. She graduated from Michigan State University, but her daughters now both attend the University of Michigan. She is divorced but remarried and currently lives with her husband in the official governor's residence in Lansing. 

Whitmer grew up with personal connections to state government: Her dad led the commerce department under Gov. Bill Milliken, a Republican. Her mom worked for former Attorney General Frank Kelley, a Democrat.

Background

Whitmer was first elected to the Michigan House in 2000, and eventually rose the political ladder to become Democratic leader of the state Senate before term limits forced her out of office at the end of 2014. 

She served as interim Ingham County prosecutor for six months in 2016 before launching her gubernatorial campaign in early 2017. 

Issues

Whitmer won election four years ago on a promise to "fix the damn roads." She proposed a gas tax hike that was rejected by the Legislature and instead borrowed money through a $3.5 billion bond authorization for funds that can only be spent on state roads, not local ones.

She's worked with the GOP-led Legislature to boost funding for public education, signed an auto insurance reform law that led to $400 rebate checks and agreed on plans to spend billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief and stimulus funds.

Whitmer says she’ll “fight like hell” to protect abortion access in Michigan, which is in jeopardy after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down Roe v. Wade. The governor took county prosecutors to court to prevent them from enforcing a 1931 abortion ban and is asking the Michigan Supreme Court to declare that law unconstitutional. 

Despite a large state budget surplus, Whitmer has vetoed multiple GOP tax cut bills, including a $2.7 billion plan that would have cut the state's personal income tax rate from 4.25 percent to 4 percent and created a child tax credit. 

Whitmer has proposed her own tax relief plans, including one-time $500 rebate checks, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower income workers and broader exemptions for senior income.

Controversies

Whitmer imposed a series of aggressive COVID-19 restrictions early in the pandemic, including stay-home, school closure and nursing home orders blasted by Republicans and some business groups. When the Michigan Supreme Court struck down her authority to issue orders, her administration used health department orders instead. 

Whitmer campaigned on transparency, but her administration brokered confidentiality agreements with outgoing unemployment agency and health department directors that prohibited them from discussing billions of dollars in fraudulent benefit payments and thousands of nursing home deaths. 

Missteps during the pandemic caused opponents to accuse her of hypocrisy, including flying on a private jet to Florida to visit her sick father at a time when her administration urged people not to travel and violating COVID-19 protocols by gathering with a large group at a bar.

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