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Stateside Podcast: Bipartisan aspirations and election year realities

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
In her State of the State address Wednesday evening, Governor Gretchen Whitmer struck a friendly tone with GOP state lawmakers. But with an upcoming gubernatorial election, Republicans are working to draw a clear distinction between their party and the governor's policies.

Wednesday night, Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivered her fourth annual State of the State address.

And in it, she struck a—dare we say—friendly tone aimed at Republican state lawmakers.

"If you hadn't been paying attention at all over the past two years to Michigan politics and you turn into this speech, you would suddenly think that, you know, Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican Legislature were just like besties and getting stuff done," said Zoe Clark, program director at Michigan Radio.

If you have been paying attention, though, you know that's not really the case. The past two years, in particular, have put a strain on relations between Whitmer and GOP lawmakers as they took starkly different approaches to the pandemic response.

Still, Whitmer spent the bulk of her speech outlining bipartisan efforts her administration has worked on, and the need to continue to work on broad statewide issues like the pandemic economic recovery, and open and safe schools. The focus was very much on "kitchen table" politics, Stateside executive producer Laura Weber Davis said.

"She not only said the phrase "kitchen table" several times," Weber Davis explained. "But you know she wants to address directly what feels comfortable and normal for the people she was looking at through the camera or speaking to through the radio, rather than, you know, getting applause lines from from one party or the other."

With a reelection campaign looming in the background, it’s probably safe to say this speech was a sort of campaign pitch to Michiganders that she should be elected for another term. And as part of that pitch, Whitmer announced that she wants to expand the state's earned income tax credit—or EITC. That's a tax break for low-income workers.

Social service advocates have been trying to restore it to 20% of the federal tax credit since former Governor Rick Snyder made significant cuts in 2011.

Monique Stanton, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, says the pandemic may have given some new energy to that effort.

"I think that the pandemic blew open to so many needs that every day families that are working in Michigan are facing," she explained.

Stanton noted that some Republican lawmakers, including State Senator Wayne Schmidt, have voiced their support for boosting the EITC. She also said it's a policy that would benefit families across every part of the state.

So, could making progress on some bipartisan goals deliver Whitmer a win this November?

"Whether or not Michiganders want somebody who is centrist right now or who is making the appeal to both sides is really the open question," said Weber Davis. "If people are feeling more dug in or tired of being dug in will be the fascinating thing to watch come the election."

Additional music byBlue Dot Sessions.

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April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.