Election season in Michigan is heating up, even if the weather isn’t. With four months before the August primaries, and a state Democratic convention this weekend, Stateside decided it was a good time to check in with the 2018 gubernatorial candidates.
Gretchen Whitmer served in the Michigan House from 2001-2006 and then the state Senate from 2006-2015, including some time as Senate minority leader.
Whitmer sat down with Stateside’s Cynthia Canty to discuss the latest news in the political race, as well as her stand on issues ranging from guns to health care.
Listen to the full interview above, or read highlights below.
There’s a growing movement on the left to expand even further into a single-payer healthcare system, so-called “Medicare For All.” Are you for that?
“Well, I know that there are a lot of things that are going to be debated on the federal level, and of course my goal is to make sure that every person has access to affordable, quality health care. That’s my goal. Anyone who can get that done on the federal level, I’m gonna embrace it.
But at this point in time, I think I'm not gonna wait for Washington, D.C. to fix this problem. It’s incumbent on us as Michiganders to say, ‘Health care is a right. And we are going to expand the ability for everyone to get health care in our state and not wait on Washington, D.C.’”
There was some hubbub a couple of months ago around a fundraising letter that your campaign sent out signed by four Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Michigan executives who run its political action committee. And it encouraged Blue Cross employees to donate to your campaign. Everything was legal about that, but should people be concerned that you’re too close to the status quo?
“No, and anyone who challenges whether or not...my interests are on behalf of the working people of Michigan or some business isn’t familiar with my record. I am proud to have been the one on the frontline to negotiate and expand Medicaid in Michigan. I am proud to be the woman who stood up and told my story as a survivor of sexual assault on MSU’s campus when women’s access to health care was being compromised.
I’ve got a record on behalf of people in this state — a record that shows that I will work with anyone to make sure we expand access, and I’m proud of that record.”
Insurance companies did benefit from the Medicaid expansion.
“You know what, we all benefited from that expansion. Our economy benefited from it, we’ve got more people employed in the healthcare sector, and you know who else benefited? The 680,000 Michiganders, many of whom saw a doctor for the first time because of the work that we did.
I spoke to a man who was describing his first visit to the doctor because of Medicaid expansion. I talked to another person up north who was telling me that Medicaid expansion saved his mom’s life. So, we’ve all benefited from i,t and I think that’s why everyone was supportive of it when it came down to it.”
Let’s talk politics. For a Democrat, it’s imperative to get Detroit voters to turn out and there’s concern among some Democrats - in fact, Detroit News columnist Bankole Thompson wrote about this a couple of weeks ago - that you’ve got a ways to go when it comes to name recognition in Detroit. How do you plan to get Detroit voters excited and whipped up about you as a candidate for governor?
“Well, I don’t take anything for granted. We are doing the groundwork. I have been to 61 out of the 83 counties today. We are turning in our petitions, and guess what? We’re turning in over 31,000 signatures collected from all 83 counties by an all-volunteer army of people that support me and want to win this election.
We’ve moved our campaign headquarters to the city of Detroit. And endorsements like the mayor of Detroit, Mayor Duggan, as well as Brenda Lawrence and other congressional delegation — that’s all great and I’m grateful for that. But we’ve got work to do. We are on the ground, and we’ll be at the doors talking directly with voters. Every time I have the ability to actually look eye-to-eye with a voter, we find that they become activists and become volunteers. So, I’ll be spending more and more time there. I recognize we’ve got more work to do, but we’re also in April.”
Michigan’s next governor may well preside over an economic downturn, perhaps even a recession. If that happens and hard decisions need to be made in your first budget, what would remain your utmost priority?
“Well, we’ve gotta educate our kids. I mean, first and foremost, the education of our children is the thing that is the foundation of our state, the backbone of our economy. There’s no question though, that if you don’t have clean water, you can’t survive. And so, I quickly think about the fact that Governor Snyder cut off bottled water to people in Flint just last week, in the same week that he permits Nestle to take another 60 percent, you know, increase their withdrawal by 60 percent and not pay a dime for it. So it’s those fundamentals, I think, that I’m going to be completely occupied with. It’s the dinner table issues that are keeping Michigan families up at night: the education of your kids, the water coming out of your tap, and the ability to get into a good-paying job."