AG Schuette, ex-lawmaker Whitmer vie to be Michigan governor
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democrat Gretchen Whitmer says Michigan “deserves better” from the next governor — improved schools, smoother roads, healthier drinking water — and her legislative vote to expand health coverage to low-income adults is proof that she can fix long-unaddressed problems.
For Republican Bill Schuette, it is about people’s paychecks — growing them, the economy and the population with what the state attorney general calls long-overdue income tax cut and auto insurance plans that he can finally deliver.
Not only will the candidates’ contrasting visions and political records help determine the winner of an election that has seen no shortage of negative TV ads and attacks during a pair of televised debates. So too will the political climate, one that has favored the party opposite a first-term president.
That bodes well for Whitmer, as does Michigan voters’ inclination to flip the governorship. The last time the state consecutively elected governors from the same party? The 1960s. Most polls have shown Whitmer to be in control of the race that Democrats are hungry to win after having no power in Lansing for nearly eight years and losing the state to Donald Trump two years ago.
It is an era in which a rebounding state economy saw the addition of more than a half-million jobs, Detroit’s nascent revival post-bankruptcy but also the water crisis in Flint. Term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, like governors before him, is leaving with low approval ratings.
Whitmer, 47, of East Lansing, worked as a lawyer at a Lansing firm for two years before being elected to the state House in 2000 and the Senate in 2006. She was in a minority caucus the entire time and, when Snyder and the GOP had control, criticized their agenda that included slashing business taxes while raising them on individuals and passing right-to-work laws to curb the power of unions.
She has praised Snyder, however, for the expansion of Medicaid to 660,000 people despite opposition from within his own party to a key tenant of the Obama-area federal health law. She voted for the expansion program.
She casts herself as a bipartisan leader who can resolve some of Michigan’s longstanding problems while criticizing many of Schuette’s moves as attorney general. Her common campaign refrain: “fix the damn roads” with $2 billion in additional spending, which may be funded with higher fuel taxes or government borrowing.
“We are paying for bad roads. We’re paying a road tax every time you have an alignment, you fix your tires, you replace your windshield,” she said.
Schuette, 65, of Midland, opposed the Medicaid expansion but now says it would stay intact if he were governor. He has been on the defensive over his support for repealing Obama’s law, as Democrats seek to flip the script on Republicans over health care.
He contends Whitmer achieved little as a legislator and would take the state “backwards” with tax increases. He calls her a “disciple” of Jennifer Granholm, the Democrat who served as governor when the state had a prolonged economic downturn that led to budget-balancing moves such as income and business tax hikes and spending cuts. Schuette’s centerpiece proposal: cutting the 4.25 percent income tax to 3.9 percent, where it was more than a decade ago.
“This cost Michigan families $8 billion, and this ought to be in people’s pockets,” he said.
Like Whitmer, Schuette jumped into politics early. After law school, he worked on George H.W. Bush’s 1980 presidential campaign before joining a private practice. He has been a congressman, a state senator, the state’s agriculture director, a state appellate judge and, since 2011, attorney general. He has led criminal investigations into the lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint and the serial sexual abuse committed by disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar.
Schuette is emphasizing his prosecutorial record and arguing that he has the experience to build upon the state’s positive momentum that began under GOP leadership.
“Do you want to go forward or do you want to go backwards? We’re not going backwards with the extreme economic-collapse policy of Sen. Whitmer,” he said. “And the question is, ‘Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?’ We are better off today than we were eight years ago.”
Schuette rarely mentions Snyder, who has refused to endorse him after manslaughter charges were filed against two cabinet members accused of mishandling Flint’s health emergency.
Whitmer is openly reaching out to Republicans and independents, much like the outsider businessman Snyder appealed to Democrats and independents eight years ago.
“I praised Gov. Snyder over and over again and all he did was hit Jennifer Granholm. I think that tells you everything you need to know,” she said after a recent debate. “I’m the type of person that can build coalitions. He’s the type of person that can’t even mend the rift in his own party. This is about having a leader and getting things done.”
Whitmer has outraised and outspent Schuette. She spent $4.6 million to his $2.9 million between the primary and Oct. 20. Whitmer had raised $12 million for the cycle, Schuette more than $8 million. She also had more cash on hand for the closing stretch.
Republican strategist Tom Shields said voters have a negative perception of Schuette following a GOP primary that was markedly more bruising than the Democratic contest. Whitmer is viewed more positively, he said, and Schuette — who has welcomed the backing of Trump — so far has been unable to make her “unacceptable” to women and independents favoring Whitmer by substantial margins.
Shields said if Democrats can solve their midterm turnout problem by getting less-frequent voters to cast ballots, Whitmer will be positioned well “because I don’t know how you win this state (as a Republican) without winning a majority of those independent votes.”