By this time next week, Michiganders will have already voted in the Aug. 7 primaries. However, in anticipation of that vote, Between The Lines reached out to each of the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates — Gretchen Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar — to get their thoughts on LGBTQ issues and their priorities in the social justice arena as a last-minute update to undecided voters.
Below are the answers Whitmer provided in her interview with BTL.
You have the most direct political experience of the three Democrats running for governor this year. Do you feel that this gives you an edge over your competition?
I think it’s really important that we get to work on day one. Being able to cross the aisle, knowing how to write a state budget, understanding how important a quadrant meeting is or even what a quadrant meeting is, the appointment of a cabinet ensuring that it is representative of our state that it’s stocked full of experts … that is the agenda. I mean, there are so many levers of power in the executive office and having someone who can go in on day one knowing how to use them but also is fearless about doing that, is what sets me apart from anyone else that’s running. I think that one of the things that Rick Snyder did early on in his first term was (that) he signed a ban on partnership benefits at university. And it was something that the legislature wanted but it was not something that he wanted, but he signed it anyway. He forfeited a lot of his power that day on that issue and I always looked at that and thought, ‘What a terrible thing he’s just done.’ Losing the ability to get his agenda accomplished, sacrificing so many couples and health care for people in our state and letting this close-minded anti-LGBT Republican legislature set the agenda. And I think because he didn’t have any state government experience he didn’t understand what a dumb idea that was and I think he paid a price for it throughout his term, frankly. And we know couples who lost health care certainly did.
Why do you think it’s vital for Michiganders outside of the LGBTQ community to care about amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity?
One of the critical pieces I worked so hard to try and get done but I was always in the minority and that’s why I’m done leading the resistance. It’s time for us to set the agenda. That’s why I’m running for governor. When we amend our Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to give protections to the LGBT community, we make Michigan a more competitive place, we make Michigan a better place to live, to draw talent to. Every day on the campaign trail there are conversations that stay with me, and one of the ones that I often tell is that I have a friend who moved out to Oregon not long ago. He was heartsick about leaving Michigan. This is where he’s lived his whole life. He loves this state, but both his kids lives in Portland. One of them is gay and he said that Michigan is an intolerant state and doesn’t want to come back here. The other has children of her own and knows what the DeVos family has done to our schools and doesn’t want to come back. He said, ‘I want to be near my kids and grandkids so I’m leaving.’ That’s one of those heartbreaking things that tells you that this lack of protection hurts us as a state and the people of course.
Why should LGBTQ voters choose you over the other candidates who have also put forth progressive platforms?
I think that we all share our values. The fact that I’ve been on the front lines for a long time and I have the receipts for a long fight. When I had the chance to get real anti-bullying protections done, I was the one that gave the speech that changed the whole debate and got the attention of, and ultimately got the chance to negotiate with, the governor to get protections for kids in school. I think that having someone who has been there, who has the background, the understanding and the ability to get things done is what is so critically different in this. And I’ll also say this: I’ve gotten attacked by the Koch brothers, by the DeVos family and by my fellow Democrats and I’ve stayed on a campaign message that is focused on fixing problems. Because I’m tired of the politics of division. It is time for us to build a progressive agenda and build a coalition that wins. And I know that I’m the one person that can do that. And I think the Koch brothers and the DeVos family knows it too because that’s why they’re attacking me already.
If elected how will you ensure that women can continue to get the services offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood?
First, I’ll say that I’m really proud to have Planned Parenthood’s endorsement as someone who got health services at Planned Parenthood at one point in my life and as the mom of two girls. It’s an organization that is critical for basic health care for so many women and men and families across our state. So, I’m absolutely committed to ensuring that Planned Parenthood functions and thrives in the state of Michigan, and one of the things that we know with this upcoming appointment to the United States Supreme Court is that we have to change our laws in Michigan to protect a women’s right to choose. That’s something that I’ve already put a plan out about how to ensure we do that, and that women have access to contraceptive care and family planning and the ability to exercise their choice.
With regard to highly contested issues like bathroom use for the transgender community, what are your plans on ensuring that there is proper legislation put in place to protect those communities?
I would be very interested in working with young transgender transitioning students and their parents to make sure that where there are opportunities in state law to improve on that we do that. That’s something that I certainly wouldn’t want to dictate. I would want to partner with people in the community to make sure that we do it right and that it’s thoughtful. And I can work the strategy and use every lever of power to get it done, but I want it to be driven by people in the community. With regard to bathrooms, I gave a speech at pride a couple of years ago and I said, “I don’t care what bathrooms you use, just so long as you wash your hands.”
In a debate you had several weeks earlier, one of your opponents and current Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette mentioned that your term as governor will be one with, “more taxes, rules and regulations.” Outside of a 60-second time limit, what is your rebuttal to that?
Schuette’s whole strategy is to not talk about issues that matter to people and to scare the heck out of people and compare me to Jennifer Granholm and say it’s going to be lots of taxes. And that’s just gamesmanship. I think that’s old. I don’t think people buy that superficial talking point anymore. You know, as I get across our state, whether I’m in rural Michigan or downtown Detroit or on the west side of the state, what I find is that Michiganders are hardworking people who just want a level playing field, and they want a governor who does her job. That’s what I find everywhere I go. People, I think, are very interested in that our kids have clean drinking water, good schools, that every one of us has a path to a good-paying job and as I think about the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, I mean, that’s what it’s about. Ensuring that you have equality in housing and a good-paying job. Those are economic issues and I think that resonates with the vast majority of people. I look forward to having a more direct debate with Schuette, but I’ve got to win my primary first.
You’re a mom. Do you feel that that has influenced the way in which you do politics? And if so, do you think this influence will change you will govern if elected?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t accept excuses in my house and I don’t accept them in my government either (laughs). I think that I’m always tethered to my family and I’m going to be fierce to protect my family and I’m going to be fierce as governor and all of Michigan’s people will be my kids. I want to model the behavior that I want to see of my kids and of young people who are watching. I think that my role as a mom does impact a lot of what I do, and as a mom of two girls it drives a lot of the work that I’ve done. Standing up and telling my stories as a sexual assault survivor was not something that I ever anticipated doing and it was certainly not something that was easy, but I know that my girls need me to stand up and speak up and hopefully, they’ll never have to.