What's Different About Gretchen Whitmer, 'That Woman From Michigan'

What's Different About Gretchen Whitmer, 'That Woman From Michigan'

By Nick Fouriezos


Because "Big Gretch" isn't done cutting through the noise after an eventful year as governor of Michigan.

By Nick Fouriezos

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sat for a revealing interview with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show. The following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.

Regarding her COVID sanity routine

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: At the beginning of the pandemic, my daughters took up baking and I was eating my feelings, and that’s not a good long-term strategy. I’ve got a good exercise routine. I get up a little bit before 5 every morning. Honestly, it’s my favorite time of day because no one else is up, and I can do my coffee-drinking, a little bit of meditation, do some exercise before the whole rest of the world’s even stirring.

What’s different about “that woman from Michigan”?

Carlos Watson: There’s something, if I may say so, about Michigan women that I think is somehow distinctive. There’s a level of confidence — put your head down, we’re going to get to the work, we’re going to make it happen. I’ve talked to Gov. Jennifer Granholm before, and others. Is there something distinctive there as you’ve met with other political leaders around the country? Is there something about women in Michigan?

Whitmer: I think that because we’ve had so many women who have held important offices in Michigan that it’s really made it less unique and taking the mystique out of that and broken that glass ceiling and given more of us the ability to see ourselves in positions of leadership. Maybe confidence comes with being able to see that this is a real path. Jennifer Grantham was our first governor, I’m the second woman governor in Michigan. But when I won, our attorney general, Dana Nessel, was the first openly gay [and female] person.  

Jocelyn Benson won the secretary of state’s race, and Debbie Stabenow was reelected our U.S. senator. And each one of us had been told, “That’s too many women on the ballot. You can’t win with that many women on the ballot.” And every one of us just kind of grit our teeth and did the work and earned these opportunities and these spots. And I think with that maybe comes some level of confidence that maybe is unique.

Watson: I think the Republicans won Florida, my home state, by more than I expected. And Michigan, I feel like Biden won that more clearly than I somehow expected. Were you surprised by the outcome?

Whitmer: I take every election seriously, and I think all candidates need to run as though they’re behind. And so Joe Biden ran that way. He knew that you couldn’t make any assumptions about Michigan. He and Barack Obama were here just days before the election. Kamala Harris was here on Election Day. They made Michigan a priority, and I think it shows in the outcome. They certainly were in Florida too.

And so I think there’s some unique things that were happening here. No. 1, it does matter who governors are. I hope that people see in 2020 that who the governor is of a state really matters. Democrats flipped Nevada. We flipped Wisconsin. We flipped Michigan in 2018. Those are all states that people saw competent democratic leadership and turned out for Joe Biden as well. And so I do think that there’s something more there as well.

What She Would Like to See From the Biden Presidency

Whitmer: What is happening with regard to climate change is absolutely essential that the United States take a leadership role. It is undeniable that we, as a country, need to focus on, respect and follow the science.

And I think that it’s really important that that guides our policy and our practices and our innovation as we move forward as a country, because we want to lead the world in all things. And then I also think our education system: There is a major gap in this country, an opportunity gap, a wealth gap, an equity gap. And a lot of it stems from the very beginning of life, and that is our education system.

 I think they both relate to our homeland security and our economy as well. And it’s important that we look at it through that lens so that we can draw more people into our need to address these issues. And certainly I think the righteous demonstration around racial equity that we saw play out in 2020 is definitely going to inform the work that we have to do in front of us at the state level, at the national level. And I welcome that and [am] glad that so many people from so many different walks of life have come into this conversation, because it’s long overdue.

On What She Learned About Race in 2020

Whitmer: I have found whether it’s with the LGBTQ community or the Arab community here in Michigan, we’ve got this robust Arab population in Michigan, but it’s important to seek to understand so that we can be great allies and advocates and partners. In COVID, one of the things that came into sharp focus here for us in Michigan was the incredible disparity that this virus was having on the Black community and on all communities of color, but on the Black community in particular.

We were able to see that and highlight it because Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who’s my chief medical executive, is a Black woman who also is an ER doc. And she was the first one to look at the data and say, “This has a disparate impact on my community, and we need to get this information out.” And so Michigan was one of the first states to release our demographic data. It informed a lot of the work that’s happened across the country, and [we’ve] been focused on protecting communities of color. And we’re really proud of that.

And About Politics and Power?

Whitmer: I’m always thoughtful about how I communicate and what words I use, because I want to be accurate. But I also know that when a governor says something, good or bad, it has ripple effects that I maybe didn’t appreciate before I held this office.

So when I give someone a compliment, it’s the best compliment in the world. And if I give someone a little bit of critical feedback, it’s the worst criticism in the world. And it’s not because I’ve changed and it’s not because of what I’ve said is extreme. It’s simply because of the office that I hold, and it’s important that our leaders remember that. It’s a big responsibility. And so if someone’s using their platform to sow division or hatred, that’s a choice that they make, but one that can be really damaging. And so I think that’s maybe a lesson that we’ve all seen play out in 2020.