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Truth Squad | Fact-checking Michigan’s second, and final, governor’s debate

November 6: Gretchen Whitmer projected winner in Michigan governor race

In their second and final debate of the 2018 Michigan campaign for governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette rehashed attack ads and campaign talking points over now-familiar battlelines.

The one-hour debate, at the WDIV-Channel 4 television studio in Detroit, did not cover much new ground. And despite the moderators’ efforts, it failed to deepen voters’ insight into how the candidates might pay for ambitious plans to improve roads and schools, create opportunities for young job seekers, or heal the state’s political divide.  

Related: Truth Squad | Fact-checking the first Michigan governor’s debate

As with the first debate earlier in October, Bridge will skip the zingers and focus on the accuracy of statements and policy points made by the candidates. For viewers who soldiered through both events, some accusations carried a familiar ring. Schuette, for instance, again accused Whitmer of refusing to prosecute sex predator Larry Nassar (not true, as Truth Squad has repeatedly pointed out), and Whitmer accused Schuette of ignoring the complaints of Flint residents about their water for two years before taking action (it’s more complicated than that).

What follows are four additional claims leveled at Wednesday night’s debate that Bridge has fact checked:

CLAIM: Whitmer voted against strengthening skilled trades education while in the Legislature.

SCHUETTE: Gretchen Whitmer “voted against further enhancements for skilled trades and apprenticeships.”

CONTEXT: Whitmer and Schuette both vow to create more pathways for students interested in the skilled trades should either candidate become governor. The moderator asked how Michigan can “build the workforce of the 21st century” in light of robots and other technology that will likely replace some workers. That’s when Schuette accused Whitmer of voting against boosting skilled trade education in high schools.  

FACTS: In a press release before Wednesday’s debate, Schuette’s campaign leveled the same claim: “In 2014, Whitmer voted against the two biggest pro-skilled trades, pro-vocational education bills that have passed the Legislature since 2006, HB 4465 and HB 4466.”  

Whitmer — and all senate Democrats — voted against these bills. The law expanded opportunities for students interested in career and technical education programs. But the bills also made changes to the Merit Standard Curriculum that weakened algebra II and foreign language requirements for high school graduates, which several education groups opposed.

CLAIM: Schuette went to court for years to keep teachers from getting their full paychecks.

WHITMER: “I’m not the attorney general who went to court for years and kept (teachers) from getting the three percent that should have been in their paychecks.”

CONTEXT: The state’s public K-12 education system has been on a rocky road for years, when compared with most other states. “Michigan’s public education system is dramatically failing our children,” according to one report. The candidates were asked how they would fix the state’s deteriorating system. Whitmer raised this attack while noting that teachers’ and education groups largely support her.

FACTS: Whitmer was referring to a seven-year legal dispute stemming from a 2010 law that required school employees to contribute three percent from their own paychecks to retiree health benefits. As attorney general during the court proceedings, Schuette’s office represented the state. Late last year, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional and ordered the state to return the money (which had grown to $550 million) to the teachers.

Whitmer is correct that Schuette’s office defended the law for years. But she failed to mention that more than a year before the Supreme Court’s decision Schuette had ended his own office’s defense of the law after an adverse ruling from a state appeals court. It was Gov. Snyder, not Schuette, who insisted on taking the case to the Supreme Court.   

Related: 2018 Bridge Michigan Voter Guide: Links to our relevant election coverage

CLAIM: Schuette voted in favor of drilling for oil in the Great Lakes when he was in the Legislature.

WHITMER: “Bill Schuette is going to try to rewrite his record… When he was in the Legislature, he voted in favor of drilling for oil in the Great Lakes. Part of the problem are the policies that Bill Schuette has pushed.”

CONTEXT: Clean, safe water for drinking and recreation is a major issue in Michigan and in the governor’s campaign in the wake of the Flint water crisis, groundwater contamination and aging infrastructure worries, and how to resolve lingering concerns about the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.   

FACTS: As a state senator representing his hometown of Midland, Schuette supported expansion of slant drilling for oil and gas in the Great Lakes nearly two decades ago. However, Schuette’s plan also included setback requirements and excluding wetlands from drilling that he contended would help protect the environment.

CLAIM: Whitmer passed only three bills while she was in the Legislature.

SCHUETTE: “Gretchen Whitmer has been a part of the establishment for 14 years in Lansing, only passed three bills and did nothing.”

CONTEXT: Schuette took nearly every opportunity possible — from talking about how he’d reduce the cost of car insurance to how he’d shore up mental health resources — to cite this number to illustrate how ineffective Whitmer was during her time in the state Legislature.

FACTS: Whitmer is indeed listed as the lead sponsor for only three bills eventually signed by the governor over the course of her 14 years in the state House and Senate. One dealt with construction permits for campgrounds and swimming pools, one ended sanctions against some mail-order pharmacists, and one would have increased the Earned Income Tax Credit and the state’s homestead property tax credit (however, that one tanked after voters shot down the 2015 road repair funding initiative it was tied to.)

However, that criticism overlooks the fact that Whitmer’s entire legislative lifespan was spent in the minority party. Any Democratic-sponsored bill would live or die by Republican support. The majority party chairs all committees, which act as gatekeepers for which bills get a hearing and which get sent to the floor for discussion. According to Michigan Legislature records, Whitmer sponsored 190 bills during her time in the Legislature.

Watch the full debate here.

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