Whitmer seeks to ‘build bridges’ in inaugural address

By: - January 1, 2019 9:10 pm

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaking at her inauguration at the Capitol, Jan. 1, 2019 | Nick Manes

Updated at 5:41 p.m.

Members of Michigan’s newly inaugurated, all-Democratic executive branch sought to offer a conciliatory tone following a contentious Lame Duck legislative session filled with multiple bills aimed at stripping their power.

The 100th Legislature will once again be controlled by Republicans, led by House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan’s 49th governor, Gretchen Whitmer, spoke directly to legislative leaders at the inauguration this morning attended by more than 1,000. The Democrat said that she, along with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, would work closely with the state GOP to “build bridges” in the state.

“We may belong to different parties, but we are all here for the same reason,” Whitmer said on the steps of the state Capitol, where she served for 14 years in both the House and Senate.

“We are proud Michiganders, first and foremost,” Whitmer said. “And we owe it to the people we serve to cast partisanship aside. To roll up our sleeves. To build bridges together.”

Whitmer’s swearing in already attracted national attention, with CNN reporter Eric Bradner tweeting to “keep an eye” on the new governor, ending with #veepstakes. In an exclusive interview with the Advance last month, Whitmer, who is now the second female governor in Michigan history, said she was not interested in being on the 2020 presidential ticket.

Whitmer has repeatedly pledged to reinstate the so-called “quadrant” meetings between the governor’s office and the four legislative leaders, Chatfield, Shirkey, House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint).

The new governor previously told the Advance that she believes regular meetings between the executive and legislative branches are “really important” and will commence soon after taking office.

Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat who served as Senate minority leader from 2011 to 2015, used her inaugural address to tout a number of campaign goals, namely, “fixing the damn roads.”

“Potholes are not political. Neither is clean water,” Whitmer said. “Or better skills. Or great schools for our kids. I will be a governor for everyone.”

Whitmer’s strokes at bipartisanship were similar in nature to messages delivered by Gilchrist, Nessel and Benson.

Today, Gilchrist became the first African-American lieutenant governor in Michigan history, something he called an “exciting and humbling opportunity” in an interview with the Advance last week.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist speaking at the inauguration at the Capitol, Jan. 1, 2019 | Nick Manes

“Yes, we have specific problems to solve and specific issues to address,” Gilchrist said. “Regardless of our political affiliations or sensibilities, it is up to all of us to participate in leadership and governance in Michigan.”

Benson vowed to uphold voting rights as secretary of state.

“I began my career in Montgomery, Ala. investigating hate groups and hate crimes throughout the country,” Benson said.  “It was there, standing at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. where I was instilled with a deep commitment to do everything I could — wherever I was — to continue the work of those leaders in 1965 who sacrificed everything to protect our sacred right to vote.”

Until last week’s veto by GOP now-former Gov. Rick Snyder, Nessel was faced with the possibility that the GOP-led Legislature could intervene in any state court case, largely seen as means of stripping her power.

In her address, Nessel stated that she would fight on behalf of everyone in Michigan.

Crowds gathered for the inauguration at the Capitol, Jan. 1, 2019 | Nick Manes

“I want a government that cares about all the people of the state, irrespective of income, race, geography, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity,” Nessel said. “We are all Michiganders and we are all entitled to equal protection under the law. Every one of us, no matter who we are [have] the belief and understanding than the wealthiest CEO from the most powerful corporation doesn’t deserve any more rights than the smallest child in the poorest neighborhood.”

Among those attending today’s festivities were Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who posted a number of effusive tweets. Noticeably absent was Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who lost to Whitmer in the November gubernatorial election. Calls to Schuette’s staff were not immediately returned.

An inaugural celebration is slated tonight at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

Setting up for the inauguration at the Capitol, Jan. 1, 2019 | Nick Manes

Leading up to today’s inauguration, Whitmer’s transition team on Monday announced a number of executive office appointments, having announced most of her cabinet appointments in the previous weeks.

Joining Whitmer’s executive team are:

  • Legislative director: Greg Bird, director of state relations at Wayne State University, former press secretary to former House Speaker Andy Dillon.
  • Policy director: Emily Laidlaw, associate at Karoub Associates and former director of government relations at the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators.
  • Appointments director: Ghida Dagher, director of government partnerships and Community Affairs for United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
  • Constituent services director: Scottie Barton, Whitmer for Governor committee liaison, former executive assistant to Whitmer as Ingham County prosecutor.
  • Scheduling director: Mary Hannaford, Whitmer for governor scheduler, former interim chief of staff to Sen. Rebekah Warren.
  • Press secretary: Tiffany Brown, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, former public information officer for the Michigan State Police, and former deputy press secretary for Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.