GRAND RAPIDS — In the first of two live, televised debates, Michigan’s two gubernatorial candidates went toe-to-toe in Grand Rapids.
Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, and former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, tried to woo voters that their plans were best for education, roads, immigration and more at the live debate at WOOD-TV 8 studios.
The first question: that 1989 video of Schuette, apparently making lewd comments to a woman who does not appear on camera. Both candidates wanted to toss that aside during the Oct. 12 debate. The video was released Oct. 11 by Democratic PAC American Bridge.
Schuette called it a “Planned Parenthood, Democrat hit job,” saying he’s embarrassed about what was said. He deflected to his “paycheck agenda.” Whitmer did much of the same, saying she “doesn’t care” about the video, only the issues.
After the debate, the attorney general’s wife, Cynthia Schuette, addressed questions about the video.
“He does not sexually harass women, and he wouldn’t. He respects women, and he has good judgment,” she said. “I would not call him being creepy, but I think he was being flirtatious and silly and stupid. Most of us, if you look back 30 years, there would be something that you wouldn’t want to have played on the air."
Schuette frequently stated Whitmer has done “nothing” in her years in state government — she served five years in the House of Representatives and nine years in the Senate, including four years as the Senate minority leader — criticizing her “extreme agenda."
Whitmer repeatedly emphasized going across the aisle and didn't need to seek credit for her work.
Funding for K-12 education, in a state with some of the lowest reading scores, came up quickly. If elected, Schuette said he wants to hold schools accountable by giving them letter grades, then give grant funding to schools that score the highest.
“When I’m governor, Michigan’s children will read, and there will be more options for parents,” he said.
Schuette served in the state House for six years and the state Senate for seven years. He also was tapped to helm the state's Department of Agriculture under Gov. John Engler. He was a judge for six years in the Michigan Court of Appeals Fourth District and was elected as the state attorney general in 2010 (and re-elected in 2014).
Whitmer said her plan is to support students “from cradle to career,” increasing the numbers of literacy coaches and ensure everyone has a path to a high-wage job.
With a low unemployment rate and companies in West Michigan desperately seeking talent, both candidates presented plans for getting people into skilled trades.
Whitmer stated she would open the opportunities for students to pursue certificates in the trades while in high school. Schuette said there needs to be opportunities for welders and plumbers, “important jobs.”
Both candidates had ideas on funding Michigan’s roads. Schuette said there needs to be an audit of the Michigan Department of Transportation on how it allocates funding, and have more money coming in from the federal government.
“We have $1.2 billion planned to invest in roads until 2021,” he said.
Whitmer said $3 billion would be given to roads — $2 billion from the state and $1 billion from the federal government.
“We’ll get to work fixing the roads right away and put people to work doing it,” she said.
On immigration, Schuette said no city in Michigan would be a sanctuary city — cities that limit their cooperation with the national government's effort to enforce immigration law — and that he would make sure “everyone plays by the rules.”
Whitmer fired back, saying the problem is in the White House.
“As a governor, I will never sit by and watch Donald Trump rip mothers and children apart,” she said. “He [Schuette] did not stand up to Donald Trump. When Donald Trump says ‘jump,’ Bill Schuette says ‘how high?’”
The candidates will debate again at 8 p.m. Oct. 24 in at WDIC studios in Detroit.
— Follow this reporter on Twitter @SentinelSydney.
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