- Was elected Governor of Michigan in 2018
- Previously served as a member of both the Michigan State House of Representatives and the Michigan State Senate
Born on August 23, 1971 in Lansing, Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer earned a BA degree in communications from Michigan State University in 1993, and a JD from Detroit College of Law in 1998. After completing her education, she worked as an associate attorney at the Detroit-based law firm of Dickinson Wright from 1998-2000.
Whitmer then served, as a Democrat, in the Michigan State House of Representatives from 2000-06, and in the Michigan State Senate from 2006-15. In 2010, she received support from the People For the American Way Action Fund.
In 2015 Whitmer was hired by Michigan State University as a lecturer on Gender and the Law. The following year, she became a prosecutor in Ingham County, Michigan.
In 2018 Whitmer ran for governor of Michigan. Her running mate as lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist, became a center of controversy during the campaign when it was reported that a number of years earlier, he had posted some pro-Hamas, anti-Israel tweets on the Internet. For example, in 2007 he wrote: “Why would the West punish the Palestinian people for voting for Hamas into power when Hamas provided goods and services that Fatah could not or was not providing?” And in 2009, he tweeted support for Hamas as “a legitimately elected party that only rose to power b/c of Israeli aggression & Western complicity/enablement,” while he derided “politicians and Evangelicals” who, by his telling, were busy “kissing Israel’s ass.”
Notwithstanding the Gilchrist controversy, Whitmer won Michigan’s gubernatorial election in November 2018. She quickly developed a reputation as a Democrat rising star and was chosen to give her party’s rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s State Of the Union address on February 4, 2020. In the course of her remarks that night, she portrayed the booming U.S. economy as one that was useless to everyone except the very wealthy, and she subtly called for the establishment of a new type of economy based on wealth redistribution:
“In fact, many have jobs that don’t even pay enough to cover their monthly expenses. Doesn’t matter what the President says about the stock market. What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don’t have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans or prescription drugs. American workers are hurting. In my own state, our neighbors in Wisconsin and Ohio, Pennsylvania and all over the country, wages have stagnated while CEO pay has skyrocketed. So when the President says the economy is strong, my question is, strong for whom? Strong for the wealthy, who are reaping 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 the coronavirus pandemic that spread the contagious disease known as COVID-19 to more than 180 countries around the world in early 2020, Whitmer on March 23 issued an executive order mandating a “temporary requirement to suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.” Specifically, the order included: (a) strict stay-at-home regulations, the violation of which could result in a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail; (b) a ban on all public or private gatherings “of any size”; (c) the prohibition of any non-essential travel “between residences”; and (d) the suspension of all businesses and organizations deemed “not necessary.” The “not necessary” designation encompassed many types of business establishments — e.g., furniture delivery services; golf courses; law firms; real estate offices; tobacco stores and cigar bars; hunting clubs and gun ranges; camping and sporting-goods stores; craft and hobby stores; and outdoor landscaping/lawn-maintenance services. It also prohibited the recreational use of motorboats, jet skis, and other watercraft.
Whitmer’s executive order was replete with inconsistency, ambiguity, and double standards. For example:
- Car dealerships were shut down, but auto repair shops were allowed to remain open.
- Pest-control workers were permitted to do only jobs that were deemed necessary for a home’s “safety, sanitation, and essential operations” – a highly subjective standard.
- Bicycle repair shops were closed for the most part, but were allowed to fix bikes for people deemed to be “critical infrastructure workers” who needed their bikes to commute to work.
- Most childcare workers likewise lost their jobs, but not those who cared for the children of those same “critical infrastructure workers.”
Certain large stores were permitted to remain open under Whitmer’s executive order, but they were required to cordon off any “non-essential” departments and areas, including those dedicated to plants/gardening, carpeting, flooring, furniture, appliances, and paint. Meanwhile, such establishments were permitted to advertise nothing other than groceries, medical supplies, and other “items necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and basic operations of residences.”
Moreover, Whitmer’s executive order outlawed in-person public meetings of all types; required medical and dental facilities to postpone all “non-essential procedures”; limited attendance at funerals to ten people; and
authorized early criminal releases, on the theory that this would help limit the spread of coronavirus inside U.S. prisons.
One item that Whitmer did classify as “essential” was access to abortion services. In a podcast interview with former Barack Obama political strategist David Alexrod, the governor said: “We stopped elective surgeries here in Michigan [because of the pandemic], and some people have tried to say that that type of a procedure [abortion] is considered the same [as elective surgeries], and that’s ridiculous. A woman’s health care, her whole future, her ability to decide if and when she starts a family, is not an election, it is a fundamental to her life. It is life-sustaining, and it’s something that government should not be getting in the middle of.”
After President Trump in March 2020 voiced optimism that the well-established anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine might prove to be “a game-changer” with regard to the treatment of COVID-19, Whitmer banned the drug’s use for COVID-19 patients in her state. In compliance with the ban, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (DLRA) threatened doctors with “administrative action” if they chose to give the drug to such patients. “Prescribing hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine [a related medication] without further proof of efficacy for treating COVID-19 or with the intent to stockpile the drug may create a shortage for patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or other ailments for which chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are proven treatments,” said the DLRA. But when increasing numbers of reports subsequently emerged showing that hydroxychloroquine, combined with azithromycin and zinc, appeared to be highly effective at short-circuiting the coronavirus in its early stages, Whitmer removed the ban. In fact, the governor went so far as to ask the federal government to supply her state with large quantities of hydroxychloroquine.
As the month of March progressed, many Michiganders became increasingly vexed by Whitmer’s heavy-handed, arbitrary decrees which had shut down most of the state’s economy. For example, in late March a group of Michigan residents initiated a petition on the website Change.org demanding that the governor be recalled from office. By mid-April, the petition had amassed more than 270,000 signatures.
In mid-April as well, some 10,000 Michigan residents carried out “Operation Gridlock,” whereby they surrounded the Michigan statehouse in their cars to protest the governor’s edicts. Whitmer, in response, suggested that the demonstrators were creating a public-health danger by congregating in that manner, even though they were mostly inside their vehicles. “We might have to actually think about extending stay-at-home orders, which is supposedly what they were protesting,” she said, characterizing the protest as “a political rally” carried out by Trump supporters.
Further, Michigan residents filed at least two federal lawsuits accusing Whitmer of violating their constitutional rights. In a similar spirit, four Michigan sheriffs announced that they would not enforce portions of the governor’s executive order, on grounds that: (a) “some restrictions that she has imposed” had “created a vague framework of emergency laws that only confuse Michigan citizens,” and (b) those restrictions had “overstepp[ed] her executive authority.”
On April 6, Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden brought Whitmer onto his podcast and praised her as “an outstanding governor,” “a good friend,” and “one of the most talented people in the country.” “She also is a supporter,” Biden added. “She was also a co-chair of my campaign.” At that time, Whitmer was known to be one of several candidates – all women – whom Biden was considering for the role of his vice presidential running mate.
On April 8, Whitmer posted an online video in which she addressed Michigan’s children and assured them that the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy would be exempt from her newly expanded stay-at-home order. “We heard there were kids in Michigan who had a few concerns,” said the governor in the video, “so I wanted to let you know that I spoke with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy to let them know that they are essential workers and they can keep doing their jobs even though the rest of us are staying home.”
In early April as well, Whitmer appeared on Fox News Sunday and complained about President Trump “not having a national [coronavirus] strategy where there is one policy for the country as opposed to a patchwork [of different policies] based on who the governor is.” This, said the governor, “is creating a more porous situation where COVID-19 will go longer, and more people will get sick [and] more lives may get lost.”
On May 1, 2020, Whitmer announced that her stay-at-home order would remain in effect through May 15, and she also declared a new 28-day state of emergency for her state. When hundreds of demonstrators subsequently gathered in Lansing to protest the governor’s ongoing emergency measures, the governor characterized the demonstrators as racists, neo-Nazis, and vigilantes:
“So, unfortunately right now in Michigan we see a small number of people – it looks large on television. But when you think about this is a state of 10 million people, this is a small contingent that came out and made political statements. They carried nooses and confederate flags and swastikas. And yet, while we’re focusing on their carrying – their open carrying automatic rifles, that is legal in Michigan. It is not advisable…. [T]he fact of the matter is, that kind of rhetoric, that kind of ugly political rallying is only making it harder for us to re-engage, which is the sad irony, is that demonstrations like that create the need to continue this aggressive stance that we’ve had to take to save lives.”
On May 7, Whitmer extended her stay-at-home order until May 28.
On May 22, Whitmer announced that she was extending her stay-at-home order for a fourth time, to June 12.
On May 25, 2020, the Detroit News reported that during the previous week, Whitmer’s husband, Marc Mallory, had urged the dock company NorthShore Dock LLC to place his boat in the water before the Memorial Day weekend — even as Governor Whitmer was instructing residents not to rush to the region. When Mallory was told that, because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there would be no way to get his boat into the water ahead of other boats that had already been scheduled, he said: ‘I am the husband to the governor, will this make a difference?’” When asked about the incident, Whitmer’s spokeswoman, Tiffany Brown, said that the governor’s administration would not address “every rumor that is spread online.”
On June 4, 2020 in downtown Detroit, Whitmer participated in a protest over the recent death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who had died soon after an incident of police abuse against him. Though the governor had instructed protesters to wear masks and stay six feet apart in order to avoid spreading the coronavirus, she violated her own rule. Whitmer marched as part of a closely packed large group that chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
Also on June 4, a host of the radio show Mojo In The Morning asked Whitmer about the “Defund Police” sentiment that many young people were pushing on social media in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “What would the world be like without police?” the host asked. Whitmer replied, “I understand the frustration and the sentiment,” adding that “the youth of our country are going to take up the lead soon.” To address the issue of allegedly widespread racism in law enforcement, Whitmer endorsed the enactment of quotas in the Michigan State Police. She also boasted that she had created an “equity and inclusion office” that would increase minority applicants for the police force to “at least” 25 percent, and would increase the female trooper pool by 20 percent.
Also in June 2020, The Root reporter Terrell Jermaine Starr asked Whitmer: “What is your response to the defunding the police campaigns?” The governor answered: “The spirit is really about reprioritizing, rebuilding communities, not just policing.” Moreover, she said that budgets had become “overwhelmingly focused on policing and corrections systems and the criminal justice system,” with insufficient attention to social programs and “the education of our population.” At that point, Starr, defining “defunding” as “taking money from police departments,” pressed: “So do you support the defunding?” And Whitmer replied: “I think you do all those other things, you don’t need all the money that’s going into police departments. So, yeah, I mean, the spirit of it, I do support that spirit of it.” Later that day, Whitmer told the Detroit Free Press: “Perhaps the words that I used on The Root were maybe a little confusing, but they have never been other than I support rebuilding communities and rebuilding them in a way that creates real opportunity in an equitable and just manner. I don’t believe police should be defunded.”
In the same interview, Terrell Jermaine Starr spoke to Whitmer about the “mostly white” armed protesters who had recently entered the state capitol while legislators were in session. “It is lawful to bring a gun into the capitol,” said the governor, though she indicated that she would like that law to be changed. “How do you respond to people who say that if there were a group of black men who stormed the state capitol that they would have been dead?” Starr asked. “I understand why people would say that,” Whitmer replied. “And I don’t disagree.”
On July 22, 2020, Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-155, which cut $115.07 million from the Michigan State Police budget as well as $392.67 million from the Department of Corrections. The cut to the State Police equaled approximately one-fourth of the agency’s funding. replacing a portion of the cut funds — $107 million — with funds from the federal coronavirus stimulus bill. The real hurt will likely be felt in 2021, when the MSP cuts remain and the additional federal funds are not available to fill the gap.