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Truth Squad | Ads unfairly attack Whitmer on healthcare, missed votes

November 6: Gretchen Whitmer projected winner in Michigan governor race

The Republican Governors Association has released two ads attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, paid for by its Michigan super PAC, RGA Michigan 2018.

In one ad, horror film atonal piano plays under shadowy photos of Whitmer while a narrator tells viewers she wants a “radical government takeover of your healthcare.”

In the other, Whitmer is accused  of missing votes and accepting lobbyist perks.

Both ads call her “the worst kind of politician.”

We call the first ad foul and the second misleading.


The healthcare-related ad, entitled “Takeover,” claims Whitmer wants a “radical government takeover of your healthcare,” in which “your employer-provided insurance plan would be illegal” and “you could lose your doctor and your taxes would double.”

The lobbying-related ad, “Perks,” claims Whitmer skipped more than 1,000 votes in the legislature and took thousands of dollars of gifts from lobbyists.


“Takeover”: The RGA told Bridge the “radical government takeover” of healthcare referred to is the group’s claim that Whitmer supports a single-payer healthcare system. The RGA supported its claim with a YouTube clip showing a still photo of Whitmer on a stage over audio of someone asking Whitmer whether she would support a single-payer healthcare bill. Here’s how she responds:

“I mean, I’d love for the feds to do the right thing and get there, and I think that they will and hope they will, at some point.”

The 12-second clip doesn’t give much context, but the response has almost nothing to do with political reality — if Whitmer becomes the next governor of Michigan, she would have no influence over a federal single-payer healthcare bill.

She could, however, influence state level healthcare policy, and on that she has been consistently clear: She does not support a single-payer state healthcare system.

In fact, her refusal to back single-payer was a main point of attack by her Democratic primary foes, former Detroit Health Director Abdul El-Sayed and Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar, who both said they would implement such a system. Whitmer has proposed implementing a reinsurance program for high-risk patients and a variety of other policies for expanding access to medical care, but not single-payer healthcare.

“Perks”: According to, a website from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that tracks Michigan legislation, Whitmer missed 1,051 votes in 14 years in the legislature. She also accepted $12,795.45 in gifts (food, beverage, travel and lodging) from lobbyists over that time, according to state lobbying records.

Whitmer campaign spokesman Zack Pohl calls the missed votes claim “a new low.” He said many of the missed votes came when Whitmer was on maternity leave (in spring of 2002 and fall of 2003, following the birth of her daughters), attending to her mother as she battled brain cancer in 2002,  and times when Republicans “intentionally (held) votes while Whitmer was negotiating legislation with Governor Snyder.”

According to Pohl, nearly 700 of Whitmer’s missed votes were related to childbirth and maternity leave, and carrying for her terminally ill mother. He broke it down:

  • 450 votes missed from March to July 2002 for maternity leave and to care for her mother.
  • 224 votes from October to December 2003 after the birth of her second daughter.
  • 60 votes missed during her time as state Senate minority leader when “Republicans intentionally held votes while Whitmer was negotiating legislation with Governor Snyder.”


“Takeover”: An ambiguous clip hinting at Whitmer’s support for federal single-payer does not override months of clear, public opposition to single-payer healthcare at the state level.

The “Takeover” ad rates a foul.

“Perks”: The RGA ad clearly tries to convey to voters that Whitmer is more corrupt and more absent than other politicians (hence, “the worst kind of politician.”)

It’s true that Whitmer took more than $12,000 in “perks” from lobbyists during 14 years in the legislature. But that’s hardly abnormal, particularly for state lawmakers in leadership positions. In his eight years in office, current Senate Minority Leader and fellow Democrat Jim Ananich has accepted $7,877.54. Former Sen. Tupac Hunter, Minority Floor Leader while Whitmer led the Senate Democrats, took $10,325.11 over 12 years.

On the Republican side, former Sen. Randy Richardville, Majority Leader while Whitmer served, accepted $44,029 in gifts from lobbyists during his 14 years in service, nearly four times what Whitmer accepted.

It’s also true that Whitmer missed more than 1,000 votes. But that total misses some crucial context: Whitmer took maternity leave after giving birth to two daughters and she was the primary caregiver for her mother, who passed away from brain cancer, while she was serving in the legislature.

As Michigan Votes notes: “Missed votes by legislators may be due to illness, family emergencies, or other good reasons. In addition, members of the House and Senate majority and minority leadership teams are sometimes required to be off the floor during votes. Users of this report should always ask before jumping to conclusions about a lawmaker's missed votes record.”

Data from shows that, over her career, Whitmer missed 8.5 percent of the total votes cast. But when votes missed due to the cited family events are removed, Pohl said, Whitmer missed around 3 percent of votes taken — which is around the middle of the pack.  

Both claims are numerically true: Whitmer did miss more than 1,000 votes and accepted thousands of dollars from lobbyists in her 14 years in office. But the numbers cited leave out important context voters should know before determining their impressions of Whitmer’s time in office.

The “Perks” ad is misleading.

Related: What Michigan schools will look like under Governor Whitmer or Schuette
Related: 2018 Bridge Michigan Voter Guide: Links to our relevant election coverage

Truth Squad rating categories

Truth Squad has reduced the number of rating categories to the following:

  • FAIR: The ad or statement is generally accurate and fairly and credibly presents the speaker’s position on the issue at hand.     
  • MISLEADING: While individual parts of the ad or statement may be accurate, it reaches a conclusion or leaves an impression about an issue or candidate that is misleading in important respects
  • FOUL: The ad or statement contains one or more material factual errors

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