Whitmer, Klobuchar, Shirkey and more: The Advance’s top interviews of 2019

Amash, Chatfield and Tlaib among other one-on-ones

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, Mackinac Island, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Quotable of the Year:

“As we go into 2020, I say, ‘May the best woman win.’”

— Presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) at a May speech in Detroit

Susan J. Demas graphic

In the last days of 2019, the Advance ran a series of our best stories from a few of the many issues we cover, from the environment to the 2020 election. With more than 2,000 stories to choose from, it was hard to pare the list down. We’ve also done dozens of interviews and profiles with notable figures in Michigan and national politics.

Here’s our roundup of our top interviews of 2019:

In an exclusive interview with the Advance last December before she was inaugurated, then-Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer waved away the possibility of being on the Democrats’ 2020 ticket. When the Advance caught up with her again in May after a parade of presidential hopefuls had paraded through Michigan, Whitmer again demurred about VP.

Whitmer: Still no interest in VP, why she’s met with female presidential candidates

In May, the Advance had an exclusive one-on-one with presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who talked about how she’s been able to win red districts in another Upper Midwest state and she appears on Fox News because she believes Dems need to go “not just where it’s comfortable, but where it’s uncomfortable.”

Advance Exclusive: Presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar on why Dems should do Fox News town halls

After the U.S. House kicked off impeachment proceedings against President Trump, we talked with the chamber’s lone independent, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township, who bolted from the GOP over his support for an inquiry. Yes, Darth Vader makes a cameo.

Amash, enjoying freedom from GOP, says Trump will lose Michigan in ’20

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist in November became Michigan’s first Black lieutenant governor to sign a bill into law. He told the Advance, “The administration’s goal is to break down as many barriers as possible.”

Exclusive: Gilchrist reflects on historic first bill signing as acting governor

On the Veterans Day, Southeast Michigan was pounded by its first major snowstorm of the year, and reporter Laina G. Stebbins tried to keep up with U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) during a cold, packed day of events.

4 events, 24 hours and 1 blizzard: My Veterans Day with Rep. Slotkin

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) talked about defending the previous GOP-led Legislature’s conservative actions, like Medicaid work requirements, amid opposition from Whitmer and Democrats.

Shirkey talks divided government, touts Medicaid work rules

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, who was nominated by Democrats, but was elected to lead the GOP-majority body, talked about how she’s been able to bring about more consensus on a once-fractured court.

McCormack: No ‘witchcraft’ in winning over GOP colleagues on High Court

Perhaps the most well-known proponent of impeachment, freshman U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) this fall talked about what’s at stake.

Tlaib feels a ‘sense of urgency’ on impeachment

President Donald Trump kicked off his campaign in Michigan and March and Democrats brought in someone who voted for him and now regrets it — retired Army Major Richard Ojeda, a former West Virginia state senator who briefly ran for president as a Democrat.

Ojeda is looking for ‘Real Democrats’ in Michigan — and across the country

State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) has appeared at both of Trump’s rallies in Michigan and even invited him to give his State of the Union address at Michigan’s Capitol amid a dispute with the Democratic-led U.S. House. But he told the Advance his priorities in an era of divided government are mostly nonpartisan.

After Trump invite, Chatfield stresses nonpartisan agenda this term

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has gotten some blowback over her 2018 campaign promise to move customers in and out of offices in 30 minutes or less for most services, but she told the Advance she doesn’t regret her pledge.

Benson: No regrets on 30-minute Secretary of State office guarantee

On the day that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — a West Michigan native — took a shot at a conservative conference at American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, the Advance was covering the union head at a U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) presidential campaign event in Detroit. We sat down with Weingarten, who was all too happy to fire back at the billionaire.

Exclusive: Weingarten fires back at DeVos, says we ‘wouldn’t even need 1 of your yachts’ to raise teacher pay

Before he was elected mayor of Flint, we interviewed then-state Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) on the tense election and the aftermath of the city’s water crisis.

Neeley cites ‘frustration, anger, disappointment’ in Flint investigation as he seeks mayor’s office

Republicans are heavily targeting freshman U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) in the upcoming election and we followed him during a day of his annual motorcycle tour across Michigan, asking him about impeachment, the Democratic presidential debates in Detroit, gun violence and more.

Up for reelection in 2020, Peters declares he’s a ‘workhorse, not a show horse’ during motorcycle tour

The Advance caught up with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) on Capitol Hill following Trump’s campaign kickoff in Michigan, which he didn’t attend, although some of his GOP colleagues did. The dean of Michigan’s delegation is a top Democratic target in 2020.

Upton: ‘It didn’t make sense’ to attend Trump rally

Attorney General Dana Nessel isn’t one to hold back, and she told the Advance that she believes the strong right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court could put landmark decisions on contraception and same-sex marriage on the chopping block.

Nessel: SCOTUS could overturn same-sex marriage, birth control decisions

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) decided not to run for governor in 2018 and instead has ascended the ranks of congressional leadership. He discussed what’s changed with Democrats taking control of the U.S. House.

Kildee embraces role as dean of Michigan House Dem delegation

As the UAW’s six-week strike against General Motors dragged on this fall, the Advance talked with AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler about how workers were getting by and what they were fighting for.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Shuler on UAW strike: ‘We’re ready to fight’


Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley didn’t leave Lansing after being termed out of office in 2018 — he now heads up the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM). The Republican has been a key ally for Whitmer on some initiatives, although they still have plenty of ideological differences.

Calley emerges as Whitmer’s favorite Republican

Freshman U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) flipped a key Southeast Michigan seat last cycle. The millennial hit the ground running and was elected co-president of the freshman class.

Not everyone recognizes Stevens, but she’s making moves in Congress

Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.