Lansing, Michigan, USA - March 14, 2012: Low angle view of people inside of the public Capitol building in Lansing, the capital city of the state of Michigan.
Lansing, Michigan, USA - March 14, 2012: Low angle view of people inside of the public Capitol building in Lansing, the capital city of the state of Michigan.

Conversations with Michigan’s candidates for governor.

Jackie Headapohl  Managing Editor

During the last month, gubernatorial candidates Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette each visited the JN office where we discussed topics of concern to Michiganders and the Jewish community. Here are highlights from those conversations.

Gretchen Whitmer

Gretchen Whitmer, one of the Michigan gubernatorial candidates
Gretchen Whitmer Newsroom

DOB: Aug. 23, 1971 (age 47)

Hometown: Lansing

Education: Michigan State University (BA, JD)

Background: Member of Michigan House of Representatives (2001-2006), member of the Michigan Senate (2006-2015), Minority Leader of the Senate (2011-2015), prosecutor of Ingham County (July 2, 2016 – Dec. 31, 2016).

Q: What are your top priorities, if elected?

GW: Our infrastructure crisis. We’re all paying a price for roads that are falling apart. We have water that’s not clean enough to drink and rural communities that are not connected to high-speed broadband. There are 71 communities that have higher lead in their water than Flint does today. There are 1.5 million people who probably shouldn’t be drinking the water coming out of their taps because of PFAs contamination leaching into our drinking water.

If elected, I’m going to create a Department of the Great Lakes and Fresh Water and have a drinking water ombudsman in a cabinet level position. I want to create a “Blue Academy” here in Michigan. We’ve got water and research universities. We should be a place where people learn how to clean up drinking water, and we’ve got a crisis that demands that we get it right.

Q: How would you pay for the roads to get fixed?

GW: The infrastructure package I put on the table is a three-year, $3 billion package. The first year, I will write a budget that has $2 billion of state revenue into it and draws down another billion from the federal government, all running through the Rebuild Michigan Infrastructure Bank so that the public has confidence that every dime is going into the roads. I’m also prepared to go straight to the public and pass a bond to get it done. It’s not ideal, but we have got to start fixing our roads because we’re paying a road tax right now. It’s just in the form of new wheels and new windshields, and it doesn’t fix the problem.

Q: Will you raise taxes to pay for the roads?

GW: Metropolitan Detroiters are paying more than $800 a year to fix their cars. Meanwhile, the roads get worse because we’re not rebuilding them the right way.

We can keep fixing our cars or we can get serious about a real infrastructure plan. And that’s what I put on the table, a real plan to fix problems.

Q: Do you support privatization of mental health care?

GW: I’m skeptical of privatization. We’ve seen that experiment play out in our criminal justice system, veterans’ affairs and education. I just hate to see us experiment with a for-profit model.

We don’t have a mental health expert at the cabinet level now, which is something that I think is important.

Q: If you were governor and the Senate and the House passed a bill that expanded the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act to provide identical protections for the LGBTQ community, would you sign it?

GW: Not only would I sign it, but I’ll be a proponent of it and push for the legislation to get to my desk. For me, it’s simply the right thing to do and long overdue. Frankly, not doing so is hurting our ability to lure talent into the state of Michigan. People look at us and think that we’re backward in a lot of ways, that we don’t have basic civil rights protections for everyone who calls Michigan home.

Q: What ideas do you have to retain and attract people to the state?

GW: The great legacy of Michigan is that this was where people came to for a good path into the middle class, where you could find a good job, raise a family and retire. You knew your kids would have great schools; you knew the water was safe to drink, and you could drive on the roads. We’re dangerously behind on all these measurements. By addressing those gaps, we”ll make Michigan a place where people will come for opportunity.

There are some good things going on in the state. [Detroit] Mayor Duggan’s seen a lot of people wanting to move into the city of Detroit and that’s exciting, but until we have mass transit or safe roads or affordable car insurance, it’s going to be harder to get the kind of concentration of people we want to see in this state.

Q: If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, what would be your strategy as governor when it comes to Michigan women’s reproductive freedom?

GW: If Roe v. Wade is rolled back, I would lead the effort to change the [state] law, on the books since 1931, which would revert Michigan to a state that outlaws abortion and criminalizes medical providers.

I will need a legislature to work with me, and I’ll use every ounce of leverage I have as the governor to do that. I also want to make sure we continue to fund Planned Parenthood and comprehensive sex education for young people and ensure that birth control is accessible.

Q: What are your plans related to healthcare?

GW: We made great strides with Medicaid expansion and I’m proud to have worked with Gov. Snyder to get that done. Step one is protecting it.

I’m hopeful that we can bring down the cost of prescription drugs by negotiating with pharmaceutical companies and eliminating the law that prohibits Michigan citizens from suing pharmaceutical companies when they are hurt by a drug. Michigan is the only state that has such a law.

Q: What about the opioid epidemic?

GW: Michigan’s far behind what other states are doing. The National Governors Association has promulgated a boiler plate set of policies that all states should have embraced by now.

We need to declare a state of emergency and marshal the resources to attack this problem. We need a statewide database that is routinely checked by the writers of prescriptions. We need to ensure that there’s treatment for people who have substance abuse problems, that there are alternatives for pain management that are affordable and covered, and that we have a robust mental health support system.

“We can keep fixing our cars or we can get serious about a real infrastructure plan … And that’s what I put on the table.”

— Gretchen Whitmer

Q: Can you share the vetting process you used for selecting your running mate Garlin Gilchrist?

GW: I asked four people to help me in that process: Mark Bernstein, Warren Evans, Barbara McQuade and former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. They suggested potential running mates to me that they had vetted, and an outside professional group ran background checks.

Garlin has some tweets from nine years ago that created a lot of consternation — legitimately so — in the Jewish community. As a youthful Twitter user, he waded into geopolitical issues in which he was not particularly well versed.

I know him as the man he is today, and we’ve talked a lot about this. I know where his heart and mind are. Those tweets from nine years ago, as offensive as they are to so many people, are not reflective of who he is now.

He’s recognized the stress he has created and has reached out to make sure people know who he is and where his mind and heart are today.

Israel is important to me, too. I’m proud of my unwavering support for the state of Israel as a legislator. I look forward to building on some of the great things that Gov. Snyder has done in creating partnerships with Israel. There’s so much potential there — especially around water — and I’m excited about that. There’s not a finer manager, innovator or steward of water than Israel.

Q: Can you speak to the recent controversy at University of Michigan, where a BDS-supporting professor refused a student a recommendation letter solely because she wanted to study in Israel?

GW: I’d be very upset as a parent if that happened to my child. Frankly, I think the BDS movement is an affront to the work that we’ve done here in Michigan. I supported the legislation that the governor signed into law [in 2017, which prohibits boycotts against individuals or a public entity of a foreign state]. It’s unfortunate that this professor’s views are standing in the way of an academic opportunity for a student at U-M.

Q: Final thoughts?

GW: I don’t want to just win an election here. I want to govern. I want to set an agenda that fixes problems, and we need to bring everyone to the table to be successful. We need to elect a governor who knows how to cross the aisle and build coalitions to solve problems. I did that as the Democratic leader in the Senate with Gov. Snyder when it came to Medicaid expansion.

I worked very hard during my time in the legislature to stay true to my values but always seek to work with anyone who wanted to solve a problem. I believe that we have to get to a place where we can have different people sitting around a table, Republicans and Democrats, to work through the problems we confront as a state and make this a place where people come for opportunity again.

In a political environment where there are so many people quick to demonize one another and talk about dividing us through building walls, we’ve got to get back to building bridges, and that’s why I chose the Mackinac Bridge as a symbol for my campaign.

Bill Schuette

Bill Schuette, one of the Michigan gubernatorial candidates
Bill Schuette Newsroom

DOB: Oct. 13, 1953 (age 65)

Hometown: Midland

Education: Georgetown University (BS), University of San Francisco School of Law (JD)

Background: Member of U.S. House of Representatives from Michigan’s 10th congressional district (1985-1991), director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture (1991-1994), member of Michigan Senate (1994-2001), judge on the Michigan Fourth District Court of Appeals (2003-2009), Michigan Attorney General (2011-current).

Q: Describe your plans to fix Michigan’s ailing roads?

BS: Roads will be a priority for me. We cannot be a first-class world economic power if we have Third-World roads. My opponent’s plan is to raise taxes, period. My plan is first we need to have a full and complete review of how MDOT allocates its road funding, so we get more miles paved per gallon. No. 2, we need to have guarantees and warranties for the roads and bridges we build. Third, we need to have more federal funds coming back to Michigan. I’ll go to the White House to get more money for Michigan roads and advocate for an infrastructure bill passed for the country. No. 4, in addition to the federal funding, Michigan has a $58 billion budget that we need to look at to find funds for roads.

Q: Where will you cut from the budget to pay for roads?

BS: All aspects of the budget are going to have to chip in.

Q: If you were governor and the Senate and the House passed a bill expanding the Elliot Larson Civil Rights to provide identical protections for the LGBTQ community, would you sign it?

BS: First, I’d like to say that as attorney general, I was asked by the Civil Rights Commission to offer a legal opinion on whether eight unelected individuals could expand the law. And the answer was no. Our constitution is clear that the law can only be expanded by the legislature passing a bill and the governor signing it. That action has been misrepresented.

My dad died when I was 6. I was raised by a single mom with my two older sisters, and we were taught to treat people with grace and dignity and respect, and I do. That’s what I will do as governor. If an expansion of the Elliot Larsen Act has these principles — that we don’t discriminate against anybody, period, whether it’s ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or gender — that’s the spirit in which I would sign a bill.

Q: If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, what would be your strategy as governor when it comes to Michigan women’s reproductive freedom?

BS: First, I think that is a long way down the road. Legally, I’ll decide when that happens. I am pro-life. That’s what I am. I don’t believe that women should be punished or penalized for choosing abortion; but that would be up to the legislature to pass a law. Again, we’ll see what happens. You’ve got to take this step by step.

Q: Describe your plans for healthcare? Mental health care?

BS: Our No. 1 goal is to have affordable and accessible healthcare for citizens of Michigan. The federal government hasn’t quite done the job. We’ve seen the failures of the Affordable Care Act when you couldn’t choose your doctor and premiums went up.

The Healthy Michigan [Medicaid expansion] law is not going anywhere. It’s here to stay. I’ve always been in favor of covering pre-existing conditions, covering children until they’re 26 years of age and portability of insurance across state lines. These are important. So is the right of people to choose their own doctors. I think we ought to have a private sector injection in healthcare to manage it better.

I believe in a work requirement for Medicaid so that we encourage able-bodied individuals to get a job and a paycheck. The Medicaid budget is a significant portion of the state budget, about a quarter of it roughly. It [a work requirement] also frees up money for those who have chronic illnesses, mental health problems and behavioral health problems.

There’s a mental health crisis in the state and this country, but I think it needs to be solved locally, not by Lansing or Washington, D.C. I think the federal government should provide federal block grant funds to the states and let the states decide how to use it.

Q: How would you address the opioid epidemic?

BS: I’ve been engaged in the taskforce on the opioid issue and have looked at how we can accelerate and modernize Michigan’s automated prescription system. I’ve gone to recovery groups and know the opioid crisis does not discriminate. Yes, we should crack down on heroin dealers, but we can’t arrest our way out of this. This is about education, treatment and awareness. It’s a genuine, serious issue.

“Michigan needs to broaden and deepen our pool of talent, which means growing our population.”

— Bill Schuette

Q: Early in your candidacy, you touted being the only Donald Trump-endorsed candidate among the Republicans in the primary. Will you be inviting Donald Trump to come to Michigan to campaign with you prior to Nov. 6?

BS: I’m going to welcome every Republican to the state to help me. If President Trump wants to come in and help me, I would appreciate it. Perhaps he could come to the Warren truck plant so we can talk about bringing production back from Mexico.

Q: During a recent automotive conference, it was said that tariffs could cost the industry 200,000 jobs. What do you think about tariffs?

BS: First, let me say the tax cuts of the administration have been a great economic booster for Michigan. The fact that we have our lowest unemployment rate in decades reflects that. Tax cuts mean more jobs, which has resulted in Ram truck production coming from Mexico to Michigan.

The Trump administration is trying to rebalance trading relationships with tariffs. I believe the president’s trying to fight for manufacturing jobs in this state and across the Midwest. It’s a delicate process, and I’m watching.

Q: How would you retain and attract people to our state?

BS: Michigan needs to broaden and deepen our pool of talent, which means growing our population. To continue on this path [losing population] is not sustainable. I’m an optimist about Michigan’s future. But the fact is we have an aging demographic. We don’t have enough young people coming here. If we don’t improve our economic climate, our population will continue to shrink; we’ll lose representatives in Congress; and Michigan will become a less significant state. Every county will need to have a growth plan in terms of building jobs.

We need to cut auto insurance rates, crackdown on insurance fraud and give people in Michigan a real choice. We have the highest auto insurance rates in America, $1,000 more than anywhere else. That has to end.

We also have to improve our schools. Only about 35 percent of Michigan’s third-graders are proficient in reading. We should be up in arms about that! I’m going to have a literacy director in the governor’s office. We’ll grade our schools and reward those showing improvement in reading with grants.

We also need a greater emphasis on skilled trades and apprenticeship. We have to be competitive in every aspect of economic development. The economic climate will grow our state.

Q: Can you speak to the recent controversy at University of Michigan, where a BDS-supporting professor refused a student a recommendation letter solely because she wanted to study in Israel?

BS: Michigan has a responsibility in terms of disavowing BDS. I appreciated how Gov. Snyder and the Michigan legislature passed anti-BDS legislation. That was a positive step.

Free speech is one of the cornerstones of what this country was built on; but this professor did it solely because of his animus toward Israel. It’s disturbing, shameful and wrong. People can do and say what they want — this is America. But the way that he handled this issue, I think, is wrong. Leaders must set an example, whether you’re at an institution like the University of Michigan or an elected leader.

I lead by example, such as choosing my lieutenant governor Lisa Lyons, who has great experience in the legislature, is solid on education, and really smart and dynamic.

Q: Final thoughts?

The next governor of Michigan sets an example of leadership and judgment on making the economic policy decisions needed so our state can grow. That’s why I’m running for governor. I want to grow our state.

I’ve been to Israel when I was a congressman, and I had a perfect AIPAC score. The strategic relationship between the United States and Israel, our most reliable and most strategically important ally, is important. I’ve been a strong supporter of moving the capital to Jerusalem since I was in the federal government, and I was opposed to the Iran treaty. I’m also alarmed by the rise of anti-Semitism we’re experiencing in this country. We’ve seen it here in Michigan. It’s disturbing. It’s wrong.

Michigan has rebounded, but we are still 300,000 jobs short of where we were before the Great Recession. I want more jobs and bigger paychecks, and I’m for cutting taxes.

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