Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unleashed a list of progressive priorities Wednesday night — proposals that have a greater chance of becoming policy with Democrats controlling all levels of power in the state for the first time in 40 years.
“We spoke with a clear voice in November,” Whitmer said in her annual State of the State speech, which she delivered in person for the first time since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. “We want the ability to raise a family without breaking the bank. We want strong protections for our fundamental rights to vote and control our own bodies.”
Whitmer, whose party took control of the Legislature this year, vowed to further defend abortion rights in a state where voters last year codified them in their constitution after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade.
“Let’s repeal our extreme 1931 law banning abortion,” Whitmer said.
Michigan has emerged as one of the country’s premier electoral battlegrounds, with close presidential races in 2016 and 2020 and a Republican Party that has veered further right in response to former President Donald Trump’s politics. Whitmer, who was on President Joe Biden’s shortlist for vice president, is seen as a rising national star.
Whitmer, who was re-elected to a second term last year by a comfortable margin, on Wednesday set out in broad terms an agenda that would expand civil rights for LGBTQ people, enact stricter gun safety measures and “pursue climate action while creating jobs.”
Whitmer also appealed to bipartisanship, specifically on her proposal for free universal preschool, part of a larger plan to reduce costs for Michigan families.
“I know we might have different perspectives here, but I sure hope we can all get around supporting 4-year-olds across Michigan,” she said.
In a response video, state Senate GOP leader Aric Nesbitt suggested Whitmer’s desire for political collaboration is all talk.
“The governor says all the right things about working across the aisle,” Nesbitt said. “But the truth is that she set a record during her first term for vetoing bills, many which Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass.”
In several policy areas, Whitmer spoke more defiantly or struck more partisan tones.
“States with extreme laws are losing talent and investment, because, you know what? Bigotry is bad for business,” she said as she vowed to push for stronger laws prohibiting discrimination against Michigan’s LGBTQ residents.
“Our message is simple: We will fight for your freedom. And you know what? Let’s go on offense. I’ll go to any state that restricts people’s freedoms and win business and hard-working people from them. I’m looking at you, Ohio and Indiana.”
Those remarks drew a rebuke on social media from the Michigan Republican Party, which during the speech tweeted: “No. You know who is losing talent? Michigan. Here it is again, Gretch — more people moved OUT of Michigan in 2022 than in.”
On the issue of guns, Whitmer decried “a flood of illegal guns on our streets” and the rise of 3D printing technology that can turn semi-automatic guns into fully automatic weapons. She called for universal background checks and safe-storage laws.
“The time for only thoughts and prayers is over,” Whitmer said. “It’s time for commonsense action to reduce gun violence in our communities.”
“I want to be very clear,” she added a moment later. “I’m not talking about law-abiding citizens. Hunters and responsible gun owners from both sides of the aisle know that we need to get these commonsense safety proposals across the finish line.”
Whitmer, who has downplayed talk about her national prospects and ruled out running for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat next year, offered few hints about her political future. But in closing her hourlong speech, she presented herself as an optimistic leader of a state that is an example for the rest of the country. She spoke of how she keeps a gratitude journal and regularly quotes from “Ted Lasso,” the hit streaming TV series about an underdog soccer coach.
“Over the last four years, we’ve faced historic challenges and seen the visceral consequences of political division,” said Whitmer, who was the target of a 2020 kidnapping plot by men angered by the restrictions she imposed during the pandemic. “But the prevailing take now seems to be that things will get worse. Fatalism is in vogue as people wonder aloud whether America’s best days are behind her. I reject that. We cannot mistake pessimism for intelligence.”