Advance Notice: Briefs

African-Americans want Whitmer to tackle jobs, health care before roads

By: - February 25, 2019 6:19 pm

African-American workers dodge potholes on the way to work in Greektown | Ken Coleman

Michigan African-Americans support Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but they want her to address job creation and health care before fixing infrastructure.

That’s according to a new statewide survey commissioned by the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus. The poll captures their responses to several questions including how to rate Whitmer’s first 30 days in office; how much she’ll be able to eradicate poverty; and how much she’ll help Black businesses.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her first State of the State address | Casey Hull

For policy priorities, job creation and health care were the highest-rated responses at 20 percent each. Only 9 percent — the lowest-rated response — said fixing the roads, which was the centerpiece of the Democrat’s gubernatorial campaign platform.

“We just want people to know that our issues are different than other people’s issues,” said Keith Williams, caucus chair. “I want to make sure that we are relevant.”

The 14-question statewide poll was conducted by Target Insyght on Jan. 22 to 24. The automated survey was of 400 African-American respondents, but did include cell phones.

When asked, “How much does Governor Whitmer really care about the quality of Black families in Michigan?,” 44 percent responded with “cares very much.”

When asked, “Will Gretchen Whitmer as governor make a positive difference in the lives of Black families in Michigan?,” the top response was “make a difference” at 43 percent. It significantly outpaced “some difference,” which was the second-highest response at 26 percent.  

Federal workers rallied in Detroit to end the government shutdown, Jan. 10, 2019 | Ken Coleman

As for how they would rate Whitmer’s first 30 days in office (which was taken before she hit that milestone), one-third said “excellent,” followed by 38 percent who said “good.” That gives her a combined positive rating of 71 percent with African-Americans. Six percent gave her a negative rating, with 23 percent were undecided or had no opinion.

Ed Sarpolus, who conducted the survey, said the bottom line is that African-American Michigan residents overwhelmingly supported Whitmer in the general election. They want her to do well, but are taking a “wait-to-see” approach, he said. 

Whitmer offered several policy priorities in addition to fixing the roads during her Feb. 12 State of the State address, as the Advance reported. They included education, climate change, equal pay and LGBTQ rights. Both chambers of the state Legislature have Republican majorities.

During her message, Whitmer acknowledged Marla Williams, an African-American special educator teacher from Detroit’s Davison Elementary who sat in the gallery as a special guest. The governor also spoke about addressing the skills gap that causes some available jobs to go unfilled.

Earlier this month, Whitmer announced she wants to work with the Legislature to reform Medicaid work requirements after a report came out showing almost 200,000 Michigan residents could lose health care benefits.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.