Gubernatorial Race

Whitmer to focus on ‘fundamentals’ like roads



By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democrat Gretchen Whitmer said she is focused on fixing Michigan’s “fundamentals” like roads, water systems and schools in her run for governor, contending that not spending enough on core services under Republican leadership has still left residents paying more out of pocket for car repairs and other unexpected expenses.

She said her polling lead over GOP rival Bill Schuette since last month’s primary shows the problem-solving message is resonating, but “not for one second” will she let up less than two months until Election Day. She dismissed as “phony political talking points” Schuette’s warning that she would be the next Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who was governor during the state’s protracted economic decline.

“It’s not working. Maybe they’re going to figure that out at some point during this campaign, that people want solutions to problems,” Whitmer told The Associated Press in an interview.

She said she is running against potholes and low-performing schools — not President Donald Trump, whose low favorability with likely voters may boost Democratic candidates and hurt Republicans in the midterm election. About two-thirds of those surveyed in a recent Detroit News/WDIV poll, which showed her up by 14 percentage points, said Trump would play a major factor in their vote.

Whitmer, who was a state lawmaker across three governorships, has come under criticism from Schuette for supporting Granholm-era business and income tax increases to help balance the budget during the recession — moves she notes were not blocked by the GOP-led Senate in which she served at the time. When Republican Gov. Rick Snyder took office, he and the GOP-led Legislature slashed business taxes but increased individual taxes through the elimination or reduction of various exemptions and largely left the income tax hike intact. They later raised fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees to boost spending on roads and bridges.

“Under the last eight years, the burden of running government has shifted onto people who can bear it the least — working people and the working poor,” Whitmer said.

She said people are paying a “road tax” each time they are forced to fix their cars because of shoddy roads. They are paying a “water tax” whenever they buy bottled water because they cannot trust the water from their taps, she said, adding that parents pay an “education tax” when they hire tutors because of overcrowded classrooms

“We are paying all of these Republican taxes in our everyday life,” said Whitmer, who is proposing a $3 billion spending plan for road construction and lead pipe replacements. Asked if her proposal would require additional increases in fuel taxes or registration fees, she said she took “tough votes” for such bills as a legislator and as governor she would be “willing to do the right thing to actually solve problems even if it’s the tough thing to do.”

She said she would ask voters to pass an infrastructure bond if her plan met legislative resistance.

“Bill Schuette wants to tell you, ‘You can buy less gas and travel further.’ And you know what? No one’s buying it,” she said.

Whitmer has been critical of Snyder’s tenure but said she gives him “enormous praise” for pushing through an expansion of Medicaid to 663,000 lower-income adults despite resistance within his own party. While Democrats are attacking Schuette over health care, Republicans are accusing Whitmer of wanting to abolish U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, or ICE — which has been thrust into a political debate over the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents after they illegally crossed the Mexico border.

Whitmer said the GOP is twisting comments she made to a Republican tracker at a protest against the separations, and what ICE has done is “fundamentally undemocratic and outrageous. But they are an extension of the Trump administration, so just abolishing a department does not fix the problem.”

She said if voters remain energized like they were for the primary, it is “very possible” that Democrats could gain control not only of the House but also the Senate despite facing gerrymandered maps.

“It’s an environment like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Whitmer said.


‘Underdog’ Schuette pushes tax cut, AG record


By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican Bill Schuette said he will not distance himself from Donald Trump despite the president’s unpopularity with Michigan voters and will win them over with a pro-tax cut message and his record as attorney general of helping victims of human trafficking and sexual assault.

The gubernatorial nominee has trailed Democrat Gretchen Whitmer in polling conducted since they won their primary contests last month. And with less than two months until Nov. 6, he knows he must appeal to more of the electorate, particularly crucial independents who favored Whitmer by nearly 14 percentage points in a Detroit News/WDIV poll released in recent days.

Schuette already is calling himself an “underdog” and harkening back 28 years to when Republican John Engler narrowly upset Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard despite one poll showing him well behind just days before his election.

“I’m going to win ... because of this real fundamental question, ‘Are we going forward or are we going backwards?” he told The Associated Press in an interview, saying his pro-growth “paycheck agenda” would cut the state income tax, lower auto insurance premiums and put a greater emphasis on student apprenticeships.

Schuette continued his criticism of Whitmer as the next Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who served as governor when the state had a prolonged economic downturn that led to budget-balancing moves such as income and business tax hikes and spending cuts. Whitmer, a state lawmaker during three governorships, backed the tax increases and is now proposing a $3 billion infrastructure plan to improve the roads and water systems — funded most likely with additional fuel taxes or other fees.

Michigan was already struggling economically years before the 2007 tax hikes, and then the Great Recession brought the auto industry to the brink of collapse. But Schuette contends that higher taxes contributed to high unemployment and job losses, and that Whitmer’s “high-tax, big-government” agenda is “extreme.”

“That’s the difference, and that’s how we win,” said Schuette, who wants to reduce the 4.25 percent personal income tax to 3.9 percent, where it was previously.

Schuette also pointed to his achievements as attorney general: pushing anti-human trafficking laws so women forced to have sex are treated as victims — not criminals — prosecuting serial sex abuser Larry Nassar and securing funding to process a backlog of untested rape kit evidence.

“For the rest of his life, he is behind bars. I think that has great connection with people all across this state — whether you’re a Republican, independent, Democrat, what have you. That record of accomplishment is significant,” he said.

Schuette said he will not “run away” from Trump, who endorsed him in the primary but has a low favorability rating among likely voters, particularly women. He credited federal tax cuts enacted by the president and the GOP-led Congress with bringing jobs from Mexico to Michigan.

Schuette has softened his stance on one major issue since the primary, telling the AP that the expansion of Medicaid coverage to 663,000 lower-income adults is “the law” and is “not going anywhere” despite his opposition to the federal health care law that authorized it. He said the federal government will eventually change the Affordable Care Act, and he wants to ensure that people are provided coverage and do not “slip through the cracks.” He said he supports work requirements so able-bodied recipients are encouraged to get a job.

Democrats are not buying his shift after he spent years opposing the health law championed by President Barack Obama. They have made health care a big topic in the race, and a new TV ad being run by the Democratic Governors Association accuses Schuette of wanting to take away protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Schuette said the attack is false. He said that “from day one” he has said that any overhaul of the federal law should retain coverage for pre-existing conditions, allow children to be on a parent’s plan until age 26 and make health insurance more portable.