After Iowa, Whitmer challenges presidential nominating schedule

The spin room after the second debate inn Detroit | Andrew Roth

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday declared that snafus for the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses should cause the political parties to rethink the presidential nominating process. 

“I think it speaks to why we need to have a real conversation about how we can improve this process,” Whitmer said to reporters after her presentation to the Detroit Economic Club in downtown Detroit. “You know, I’ve never liked the fact that there are three states [Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada] that call the field before any of the rest of us get an opportunity to weigh in. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Jan. 30, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

“And so, I do think that the system is ripe for change. I think that Michigan should have a stronger voice with how diverse we are. Does that make it even more important? I think it is important. I think that the reason that people want to know what’s going on in Michigan is because we are a bellwether for our nation. We are a diverse state.” 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) this week also renewed her call for a change in the nominating system. Monday’s Iowa caucuses were marked by incomplete results and technological failures. Dingell called the process a “disaster.”

As the Advance’s sister publication, the Iowa Capital Dispatch, reported Friday morning, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg squeaked out a win with 100% reporting, but U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was close on his heels.

Buttigieg hangs on to narrow lead with 100% of precincts reporting

Asked about the caucuses, Whitmer said, “I mean, as much as we’ve all heard about Iowa, can anyone here explain exactly how that process even works?”

Although Michigan’s primary isn’t until March 10, the state has been flooded with presidential hopefuls from both parties, as it’s considered a key swing state in 2020. Now-President Donald Trump carried the Mitten State in 2016, helping to put him over the top in the Electoral College. In July, Democrats held a two-night debate in Detroit for 20 candidates. 

Some pundits have considered Whitmer, a Democratic first-term governor, as a potential vice presidential nominee, but she has repeatedly said she’s not interested. 

On Tuesday, she had the high-profile role of giving the Democratic Party response to Trump’s State of the Union message. She outlined Democratic priorities and questioned the president’s claims that he had boosted the economy.

Whitmer positions Dems as party of action in response to Trump

“So when the President says the economy is strong, my question is: strong for whom?” Whitmer said. “Strong for the wealthy, who are reaping the rewards from tax cuts they don’t need? The American economy needs to be a different kind of strong. Strong for the science teacher spending her own money to buy supplies for her classroom. Strong for the single mom picking up extra hours so she can afford her daughter’s soccer cleats. Strong for the small business owner who has to make payroll at the end of the month.”

During her 20-minute presentation on Friday, Whitmer laid out key elements of her $61.9 billion Fiscal Year 2021 budget plan, which was delivered on Thursday to members of the state Legislature. Her main focus was on roads, jobs and the economy, closing the skills gap, education and health care.  

“We’re moving forward on an agenda that is really geared toward helping families and helping businesses be more successful here in Michigan,” Whitmer said. “I need your help to make sure we get this done.”

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.