Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will use her State of the State speech Wednesday night to call out the problems of workplace and online harassment.
The governor this month at an event in Saginaw praised Michigan Advance reporter Allison Donahue’s first-person story on Jan. 15 about sexist comments state Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) made to her at the Capitol, calling her “incredibly brave.”
Donahue was trying to interview Lucido about a violent anti-Whitmer Facebook group he belonged to and made several posts to before it was taken down. Lucido distanced himself from posts with anti-Muslim rhetoric and misogynistic comments, saying, “The fact that people talk crap back and forth on that page, that’s their crap, not mine.”
Whitmer wrote a letter on Jan. 16 to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the “violent and hateful speech” on Facebook puts individual safety and election security at risk.
“Users have been allowed to call for certain Michigan congressional leaders to be ‘be hung and raped,’ needing of ‘a bullet between her eyes,’ or instead, just ‘set…on fire.’ This is disgusting. This is immoral. This is unacceptable,” Whitmer wrote.
The Advance asked Whitmer in a sitdown interview Tuesday if she was planning to raise these issues in her second State of the State address.
“Yeah, I will be talking about that early on in the speech,” she said. “I’ll be focused on workplace harassment, as well as online vitriol and threats of violence.”
Asked if she’s received any response from Facebook yet, Whitmer said, “They have reached out and have offered to come and meet with me.”
Whitmer talked to the Advance about a variety of issues in a wide-ranging interview.
Democrats have tapped Whitmer for the coveted role of delivering the official response after President Donald Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday.
The Advance asked her what has been the biggest problem with the president’s first term.
“Oh, that’s a hard question to answer,” she said. “In my State of the State, when I talk about treating people with respect, fighting workplace harassment, or online vitriol as threatening, I think that this is a culture that stems out of Washington, D.C., frankly. I think people with this kind of behavior and beliefs are now feeling empowered to take action on them. And it’s made workplaces less hospitable and it’s made life online downright dangerous.”
Whitmer was asked if there are specific impacts of hostile rhetoric and behavior for children.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I’m always focused on the kids of our country — and obviously mostly focused on kids of Michigan and my own kids, frankly. And I think that sometimes, in the name of winning [political] points, people forget that we’re teaching a generation of children at the same time and they’re watching and they’re learning and they’re emulating.
“And the uptick of ugliness just in our schools and bullying is real,” Whitmer continued. “And [it’s] unacceptable that anyone with a platform contributes to this hostile environment.”
The minority party’s SOTU response is usually reserved for a rising star.
Whitmer also hails from Michigan, which Trump flipped in 2016 and has been a highly targeted 2020 state by both parties. Her almost 10-point gubernatorial victory in 2018 — when Democrats swept all top statewide offices — also garnered national attention.
Although Whitmer’s name has been floated as a vice presidential nominee by national political observers, she has twice told the Advance that she’s not interested. She first said that in December before being sworn into office and again in May, after she’d met with several presidential hopefuls traversing the state.
The Advance asked Whitmer on Tuesday if anyone has approached her to be their vice presidential pick.
Whitmer gave a one-word answer: “No.”
Asked if she was interested in the job, the governor’s answer was the same: “No.”
Next year’s budget deal
Negotiating the current Fiscal Year 2020 budget with the GOP-led Legislature was an almost all-year affair in 2019.
Leaders failed to reach a negotiated budget deal before the Sept. 30 deadline or a comprehensive roads deal, resulting in Whitmer handing down $1 billion in vetoes and shifting funds via the State Administrative Board. The governor and GOP leaders and only somewhat put a bow on the budget by agreeing to a major supplemental spending bill in December, as well as process changes.
Whitmer is slated to present her FY 2021 budget recommendations to the Legislature on Thursday, Feb. 6.
The Advance asked Whitmer how confident she is that the upcoming FY 2021 budget process will be less contentious than it was in 2019, especially given that it’s an election year.
She noted that in concert with final supplemental budget negotiations in December, she signed a bill stating that the Legislature will send the governor negotiated budgets by July 1 — well in advance of the deadline, which is roughly a month before the 2020 general election.
“So that will help us avoid a repeat of last year,” Whitmer said. “I believe all of the leaders have acknowledged that they don’t want to have a repeat — and I can tell you, I don’t either. And so I would anticipate that the House, in particular, would probably like to finish this up earlier this year for political reasons.”
All 110 state House seats are on the ballot this year. The Senate doesn’t stand for reelection until 2022.
“And so all of these [factors] contribute to my assumption that we’ll get it done better and hopefully less contentiously [and] earlier,” Whitmer said.
For her FY 2020 budget, Whitmer proposed a $500 million increase for K-12 schools, as well as with weighted funding to take into account students with more expensive education needs like special education and economically disadvantaged students.
Whitmer told the Advance Tuesday that she is planning to push for weighted funding in her next budget plan, as well as a funding boost.
“Unfortunately, the Legislature didn’t come up with any funding [for her priorities] last year,” Whitmer said. “And so we’re working with what we have, but trying to prioritize the things that really are evidence-based and are going to level the playing field for kids.”