Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a list of progressive priorities Wednesday night — proposals that have the best chance of becoming policy with Democrats controlling every level of power in the state for the first time in 40 years.
“We spoke with a clear voice in November,” Whitmer said in his annual State of the State address, which he delivered in person for the first time since the start 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 continue to defend abortion rights in a state where voters codified it into its constitution last year after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
“Let’s repeal our extreme 1931 law banning abortion,” Whitmer said.
Michigan has become one of the country’s main electoral battlegrounds, with close presidential races in 2016 and 2020 and a Republican Party that has veered further to the right in response to the policies of former President Donald Trump. Whitmer, who was on President Joe Biden’s shortlist for vice president, is seen as a rising national star.
Re-elected to a second term last year by a comfortable margin, Whitmer outlined Wednesday an agenda that would expand civil rights for LGBTQ people, enact stronger gun safety measures and “pursue climate action while creating jobs.” .
Whitmer also appealed to bipartisanship, specifically in his proposal for universal free preschool, part of a larger plan aimed at lowering costs for Michigan families.
“I know we might have different perspectives here, but I hope we can all support 4-year-olds across Michigan,” Whitmer said.
In a response video, State Senate Republican Leader Aric Nesbitt suggested that 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, he set a first-term record for vetoing bills, many of which Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass.”
In several policy areas, Whitmer spoke more defiantly or took a more partisan tone.
“States with extreme laws are losing talent and investment because, you know what, bigotry is bad for business,” he said as he vowed to push for stronger laws banning discrimination against Michigan’s LGBTQ residents. “Our message is simple: we will fight for your freedom. And you know what? We go on the offensive. I will go into any state that restricts people’s liberties and I will win over businesses and hard working people. I’m looking at you, Ohio and Indiana.”
Those comments prompted a rebuke on social media from the Michigan Republican Party, which during the speech tweeted: “No. You know who’s losing talent? Michigan. Here it is again, Gretch: more people moved OUT of Michigan in 2022 than in.”
On the issue of guns, Whitmer denounced “an avalanche of illegal guns on our streets” and the rise of 3D-printed technology that can turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons. He called for universal background checks and secure storage laws.
“The time for just thoughts and prayers is over,” Whitmer said. “It is time to act with common sense to reduce gun violence in our communities.”
“I want to be very clear,” Whitmer added a moment later. “I’m not talking about law-abiding citizens. Responsible hunters and gun owners on both sides of the aisle know we need to bring these common sense safety propositions to the finish line.”
Whitmer, who has downplayed talk of his national prospects and ruled out running for the open US Senate from Michigan next year, offered few clues about his political future. But closing her hour-long speech, she presented herself as an optimistic leader of a state that is an example to the rest of the country. She talked about how she keeps a gratitude journal and regularly quotes “Ted Lasso,” the hit TV show about an underdog football coach.
“Over the last four years, we have faced historic challenges and seen the visceral consequences of political division,” said Whitmer, who in 2020 was the target of a kidnapping plot by men angry at restrictions she imposed during the pandemic. “But the prevailing opinion now seems to be that things will get worse. Fatalism is in vogue as people wonder aloud if America’s best days are behind it. I reject that. We cannot confuse pessimism with intelligence”.