WASHINGTON — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer doesn’t mince her words when she talks about President Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos and Republicans in the Michigan Legislature.
The Michigan Democrat on Friday described all of them as hurdles she’s facing in achieving some of her top policy goals on issues like health care, trade, infrastructure and education. Whitmer spoke at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a liberal policy group based in Washington, D.C.
Following Trump’s 2016 win in what had long been considered a blue state, Whitmer said she’s working to make sure come 2020, “That we are prepared, that we ensure that people turn out to vote, their votes get counted and that we never see an outcome like we saw in the last presidential [election].”
She pointed to low voter turnout in 2016 as a critical factor in Trump winning the state.
“It wasn’t that Michigan went from supporting Barack Obama in two successive elections to embracing Donald Trump,” she said. “It’s that people didn’t turn out and vote. They didn’t turn out and vote in communities across the state.”
Trump won the state by 10,704 votes, less than one percentage point.
“It was not an overwhelming victory,” Whitmer said Friday. “But I do think he had more enthusiasm on his side of the ledger. People, I think, found him to be genuine and I think the way that he communicated gave people a sense of comfort that he was going to be fighting for them. And for whatever reason, that did not translate from [Democrat] Hillary Clinton to our voters.”
But Whitmer pointed to Trump policies she believes will hurt him with Michigan voters in the next election, like health care and trade.
“I think that Donald Trump made a lot of promises to farmers, and we know that deciding international policy of trade by tweet is dumb, to put it lightly, but it’s also incredibly destructive,” she said.
She said she isn’t expecting depressed voter turnout in 2020 “because people understand the consequences of not voting or voting for someone that they didn’t really know. So no matter who the Democratic nominee turns out to be, I do believe we’ll have a much higher engagement.”
‘Are you kidding me right now?’
When Whitmer was running in the 2018 gubernatorial election, she didn’t campaign against Trump, she said. She did, however, campaign against his education secretary.
West Michigan native Betsy DeVos, who hails from the most powerful Republican political family in the state, “is the least popular political person in the state, has been for a couple of years now and continues to be,” Whitmer said.
“The world, unfortunately, has gotten to know Betsy DeVos,” she added. “When she was being nominated for Department of Education, everyone in Michigan was like, ‘Are you kidding me right now?’ Because it’s the DeVos policies that created such a discrepancy in funding in public schools and has undermined our ability to ensure that we’re giving every child a great public school education.”
The Michigan governor also blamed partisan gerrymandering and her state’s GOP-controlled Legislature for blocking some of her top priorities.
“We have gerrymandering unfortunately, so despite winning more votes for governor than anyone who had ever run for governor in Michigan beforehand, I still have an overwhelmingly Republican Legislature to work with.”
She said she’s attempting to work a GOP Legislature that “has for decades accepted the status quo on dangerous roads or unclean drinking water or failing schools.”
Those lawmakers have blocked her plan, for example, to pay for infrastructure improvements by boosting the gas tax.
In some areas where she can’t work with the Legislature, she pledged to use executive action.
“We have certain challenges that I’m going to have to go right around or right over the Legislature on some issues in order to live up to the things that the people of our state want and need to see.”
It would help, she added, if Michigan flips the state House to Democratic control in 2020. (Senators won’t be up for re-election until 2022).
“This next election matters,” Whitmer said. “Who’s in the White House matters. Who’s in the state House matters.”
Whitmer was asked about which team — the University of Michigan or Michigan State University — would win on Saturday when the rivals go head-to-head in their annual football showdown.
“I am a Spartan so I gotta say, ‘Go green,’” she said. She added, “I love the U of M every day but Saturday. … Michigan’s had a great season, so we won’t talk too much more about football.”