Mistrust, disinformation and political rhetoric are dividing Michigan and the country, and it falls upon everyone to ease societal tension with compassion and hope, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday in remarks delivered at the Mackinac Policy Conference.
During a speech filled with messaging frequently espoused on a campaign trail, Whitmer called on business leaders and others in the state to find common ground in an effort to dismantle toxic divisiveness.
“Healing our divide will take a long time. But it is the most critical thing we must do. And the way to close that gap is for all of us to do the hard work of being uncomfortable,” Whitmer said.
“Now I know it is easy to think that the things that are happening in Lansing or DC don’t impact my life or my bottom line. But in this case, the disengaged perpetuate the problem. And sitting on the sidelines is not an option. If we believe, as most of us do I think, that disagreeing without being disagreeable is a strength, we have to embrace it. We must live it.”
More:New Michigan budget deal targets roads, bridges and adds more than $1B for child care
More:Michigan surpasses 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases since start of pandemic
Whitmer did not provide specific steps for how she planned to achieve broad policy goals she outlined earlier in the week. Instead, the roughly 40-minute speech focused on Michigan’s ongoing economic recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how working together is crucial to moving forward.
Her comments came hours after Republican and Democratic state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved nearly $70 billion state budget deals, averting a partial state shutdown and crafting a bipartisan plan Whitmer has vowed to sign.
Those lawmakers deserve a pat on the back, Whitmer said. She highlighted the billions in the budget aimed at expanding child care services, higher education opportunities and improving infrastructure.
But everyone needs to do more to increase civility and reduce rage, she said. She used her memory of watching the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to describe the disturbing escalation that continues to plague Michigan communities.
“We saw brutal attacks on law enforcement and the culmination of so many issues: disinformation, partisan rancor, and political violence came together on that day. It was tragic. And that day, we all saw the clearest, most visceral manifestation of the fundamental issue that everyone of us faces: our political divide,” Whitmer said.
“We see that divide in our state. It appears that we live, increasingly, in two Michigans. There are countless studies and articles and data points that demonstrate this. The contributing factors are multifaceted and I’m not here to diagnose. I’m here to focus on how we move forward, how we get things done in this environment.”
More:President Trump blasts Gov. Whitmer over comments on kidnapping plot
More:Trump calls Whitmer a ‘dictator,’ misleads about Michigan COVID-19 orders
This is not the first time Whitmer has called for calmer heads to prevail. Last fall, ahead of the presidential election, she repeatedly argued President Donald Trump ratcheted up his base with an unhealthy fervor and unpatriotic zeal.
She also referenced her own response several years ago to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, making a derogatory comment about her.
“I’ll keep sitting at tables with people who disagree with me, hear them out, learn. I’ll strive to see the humanity, even in those who fail to that I’m a real person, too. And I’ll infuse kindness and humor, wherever I can, to defuse tension. Heck, I even sent a birthday cake to Mike Shirkey a few days after he called me batshit crazy,” Whitmer said to laughs.
“Now, I can’t afford to send a cake to everyone who’s disagreed with me but the point is I’ll always roll up my sleeves and work with anyone, anywhere.”
Trump, Republicans and other critics have said Whitmer is the one who readily launches partisan barbs. Some also argue she’s she has followed political science instead of the advice of health experts in making decisions on how to battle the pandemic.
Speaking on Mackinac Island, Whitmer did not directly discuss any COVID-19 health and safety orders or the fact Michigan recorded the 1 millionth confirmed case of the disease caused by the coronavirus on Wednesday. Instead, she pointed to the state’s dropping unemployment rate, increasing gross domestic product and a projected $3.5 billion state surplus.
“I also know, however, there are Michiganders who aren’t yet feeling the positive economic momentum in their lives yet. And that’s why the work we do in this space is so important,” Whitmer said.
“That is the real work of state government — bringing together people, communities, and small businesses so we get things done.”
Whitmer is expected to sign the state budget later this week or early next week, before the financial year ends Sept. 30. After that date, the focus shifts to allocating billions of federal pandemic relief dollars Congress sent to the state months ago.
Contact Dave Boucher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.