Michigan voters had their first chance to compare gubernatorial candidates Oct. 12, as Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer came face-to-face in the first of two televised debates. The candidates faced questions on a wide range of topics, from the candidates' roles in prosecuting Larry Nassar to how each would fix Michigan’s roads. Here are the key points from the debate.
Candidates face heat over October surprises
Both campaigns entered the debate with controversies looming over their heads.
On Thursday, a Democratic group posted a video to Twitter from 1989 in which Schuette tells an unidentified female that he would “do anything” she wanted, saying “some things I may not let you run the camera on.” Schuette was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time.
“It was bizarre. I don’t know what else to say about it,” Whitmer said. “I don’t care about that video. I care about getting to the issues that really matter to the people of this state, like healthcare, like protecting women’s rights, moving forward on repealing the retirement tax that Bill Schuette praised.”
Schuette called the video a "Planned Parenthood, Democrat hit job,” before pivoting to a report that Whitmer running mate Garlin Gilchrist II purchased a dilapidated rental property in 2016 from the city of Detroit under an agreement that he would restore the property but failed to do so.
Gilchrist said in a statement that he has made progress on and remains committed to fixing up the property, but has exhausted his personal resources and has been unable to secure a loan thus far.
Healthcare key talking point for Whitmer
Whitmer, the former state Senate Minority Leader, brought up healthcare during her opening remarks and frequently revisited the issue throughout the debate.
“Because of our bipartisan work, 680,000 people in our state have healthcare today who didn’t before," Whitmer said. "$2.3 billion of economic activity to our state because of that work and 30,000 new jobs. I’m proud of that work. But make no mistake; healthcare is on this ballot for governor.”
Schuette said that while he opposed the Affordable Care Act, he always made it clear that he was in favor of protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
“Obamacare didn’t work; taxes went up, the exchanges failed, so I filed lawsuits because of its unconstitutionality. But every time I did that, I said I was in favor of maintaining coverage for pre-existing conditions, covering children until they're 26,” Schuette said. “You have the audacity to go on TV and say that you’re fighting big insurance, but you’ve been captive to big insurance. Even a Democratic colleague says you were bought off.”
“If Bill Schuette is our next governor, we should believe what he has done, not what he says,” Whitmer said. “What he has done is file nine lawsuits to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”
Schuette slams Whitmer as establishment
Throughout the debate, Schuette frequently characterized Whitmer as a return to the policies of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and as a career politician who represents more of the same in Lansing.
“Gretchen Whitmer only passed three bills in 14 years. Now she wants to be governor? That just doesn’t work,” Schuette said.
Schuette has been a public official since 1985 when he was first elected to Congress, and Republicans have maintained a majority in the state Senate since 1992.
Whitmer says Snyder understands the importance of clean drinking water
After discussing the Flint water crisis, Whitmer and Schuette’s conversation turned to PFAS contamination in Michigan's water supplies and the replacement of Enbridge Energy's Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac. In response, Schuette began discussing various recreational activities, such as line fishing.
“This isn’t about recreation, Bill, this is about drinking water; this is about people’s lives,” Whitmer said. “Governor Snyder understands how imperative this is that we move swiftly. He asked you to file a lawsuit back in July, and you still haven’t done it.”
Diverging plans on ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana
Michigan voters will decide the fate of three ballot proposals this year. One would legalize recreational use of marijuana; another would create an independent redistricting committee to draw district lines in an attempt to curb gerrymandering and the last would expand voting rights.
Whitmer said that she will vote yes on all three proposals, and will “promulgate rules so that product does not get in the hands of our kids, make sure that we collect the taxes and put the money into infrastructure, education and healthcare — the way that it is supposed to be.”
Schuette responded by discussing America’s opioid addiction, concluding that he will vote against the marijuana proposal because he doesn’t think “we should put more drugs in the hands of children.” If the proposal were to pass, however, Schuette said that he would implement it fully.
Fix the damn roads; raise the darn taxes
Go to any event with Whitmer, and you’re likely to hear chants of “fix the damn roads.” But that’s more than a slogan for Whitmer, she said during the debate – it’s a real plan, which will cost $3 billion. She said she will raise the funds by creating an infrastructure bank.
“To say you’re just going to find the dollars and cents in the budget is phony,” Whitmer said. “One economist said you’d have to hope he has magic because he described (Schuette's) plan as BS — and I don’t think he was talking about his initials.”
Schuette fired back that when Whitmer promises to fix the damn roads, she means "she’s going to raise your darn taxes.”
Dispute over Nassar prosecution continues
Last month, Whitmer and Schuette sparred over the other's role in prosecuting former MSU doctor Larry Nassar. That dispute spilled over into the first gubernatorial debate, when the candidates were asked what could be done to make college campuses safer in the future.
“I prosecuted Larry Nassar and put him behind bars for life, and we’re in the middle of an investigation to make sure that those who were a part of that whole situation, that they’re on trial as well,” Schuette said. “Gretchen Whitmer failed to do her job; she did not file charges against Larry Nassar, and she did not refer them to me.”
“I was one of the first people to call for an independent investigation into what happened at Michigan State University. I was the Ingham County prosecutor when the calls started coming in,” Whitmer said. “We worked 24/7 to execute warrants, and because of our work we were able to find the evidence that put Larry Nassar away for his first 60 days."
Whitmer has previously said that she referred the case to the Attorney General’s office because prosecuting the case at a lower level would have crossed into multiple jurisdictions.
“It was best for the victims, and I stand by that position,” Whitmer said. “I did my job, and I did not put my political future ahead of the interests of survivors.”
Watch the full debate:
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