Governor Whitmer and Democrats show new power in Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a list of progressive priorities Wednesday night — proposals that stand a better chance of becoming policy when Democrats control all levels of power in the state for the first time in 40 years.

“We spoke with a clear voice in November,” Whitmer said in her annual state of the state address, which she delivered in person for the first time since the start of the Covid pandemic. “We want to be able to start a family without breaking the bank. We want strong protections for our fundamental rights to choose and control our own bodies.”

Whitmer, whose party took control of the legislature this year, vowed to continue to defend abortion rights in a state where voters enshrined it in their constitution last year after the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade had lifted.

“Let’s repeal our extreme 1931 law that bans abortion,” Whitmer said.

Michigan has emerged as one of the country’s most important electoral battlegrounds, with close presidential races in 2016 and 2020 and a Republican Party that has swung further to the right in response to former President Donald Trump’s policies. Whitmer, who was on President Joe Biden’s shortlist for vice president, is considered a rising national star.

Whitmer was re-elected to a second term by a comfortable margin last year and on Wednesday outlined an agenda that would expand civil rights for LGBTQ people, enact stricter gun safety measures and “advance climate protection while creating jobs.”

Whitmer also appealed for bipartisanship, particularly regarding her proposal for a free universal preschool, part of a larger plan aimed at bringing down costs for Michigan families.

“I know we may have different perspectives here, but I really hope we can all handle supporting 4-year-olds across Michigan,” Whitmer said.

In a response video, State Senate GOP leader Aric Nesbitt suggested that Whitmer’s desire for political cooperation was all talk.

“The governor says all the right things about working across the aisle,” Nesbitt said. “But the truth is, in her first term, she set a record for vetoing bills that many Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass.”

In several policy areas, Whitmer spoke more defiantly or took more partisan tones.

“States with extreme laws are losing talent and investment because, you know what, bigotry is bad for business,” she said, as she vowed to push for tougher laws outlawing discrimination against Michigan’s LGBTQ residents. “Our message is simple: we will fight for your freedom. And you know what? Let’s go on the offensive. I will go to any state that restricts people’s freedoms and win business and hardworking people from them. I’m looking at you, Ohio and Indiana.”

These remarks led to a rebuke from the Michigan Republican Party on social media, which during the speech tweeted: “No. You know who’s losing talent? Michigan. Here it is again, Gretch — in 2022, more people were moving out of Michigan than in.”

On guns, Whitmer lamented “a flood of illegal guns onto our streets” and the rise of 3-D printing technology that can turn semi-automatic guns into fully automatic guns. She called for universal background checks and safe-keeping laws.

“The time for thoughts and prayers is over,” Whitmer said. “It’s time to use common sense to reduce gun violence in our communities.”

“I want to be very clear,” Whitmer added a moment later. “I’m not talking about law-abiding citizens. Hunters and responsible gun owners on both sides of the aisle know we need to get these common sense safety proposals across the finish line.”

Whitmer, who has downplayed talks about her national prospects and ruled out running for Michigan’s open US Senate next year, offered few clues about her political future. But at the end of her hour-long speech, she presented herself as an optimistic leader of a state that is setting an example for the rest of the country. She spoke about keeping a gratitude journal and regularly quoting from “Ted Lasso,” the hit streaming TV series about an underdog football coach.

“Over the past four years we have faced historic challenges and seen the visceral fallout of political division,” said Whitmer, who in 2020 was the target of a kidnapping plot by men angry at the restrictions she imposed during the pandemic. “But the prevailing view now seems to be that things are about to get worse. Fatalism is in fashion as people wonder aloud if America’s best days are behind her. I refuse. We cannot confuse pessimism with intelligence.”

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