Whitmer makes campaign stop in Ironwood


Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

GRETCHEN WHITMER, left, who is running for govenor in 2018, talks to Cheryl and Doug Olsen Wednesday at a campaign event in Ironwood.



Ironwood - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer visited Ironwood Wednesday, part of a swing through the Upper Peninsula as she campaigns for governor in the 2018 election.

Whitmer visited the Daily Globe, after which she attended a Gogebic County Democratic Party event.

"I wanted to make sure people know I'm very concerned about the U.P., and I want to be a voice for everybody in the state," Whitmer said. "So it was important to spend some time in the U.P., early on."

A Michigan native, Whitmer was born in Lansing and grew up in Grand Rapids before returning to Lansing - where she lives now - for college.

She has served in the state legislature for 14 years, including four years as the Democratic leader of the senate. Following being term-limited out, she returned to her work as a lawyer, and began teaching at the University of Michigan.

"I'm someone who really cares about the state of Michigan," Whitmer said. "I love this state, I love the people of this state, and I think we deserve better from our leaders."

She credits being a life-long Michigander for inspiring her to run for Governor.

"I think about the Michigan in which I grew up in," Whitmer said. "We used to be leaders in education, where our K-12 schools were the finest in the country. People could afford to go to these great universities that we have throughout the state of Michigan. You could get a good job, and pay your bills, and raise a family in Michigan. I see all three of those things as not as accessible as they were.

"We can't move Michigan forward if we have so many people struggling just to get by."

This is why Whitmer is making education a focus of her campaign.

"Education and economic development go hand-in-hand," she said. "If we're going to ensure people have careers they can survive on, they can thrive in, that they can raise their families in; it starts with ensuring we have the skills necessary - and I think that starts with education."

Whitmer said she is a "huge proponent" of universal early childhood education, and also advocates skills training for those who don't pursue a two- or four-year degree.

Whitmer is also fed up with many of the state's leaders and their failure to serve the people.

"I'm so frustrated with leaders that don't tell the truth," Whitmer said. "I think that's something we deserve - someone who is going to level with us and just be very plain about the challenges we face and come up with some honest solutions to them."

Whitmer said the 2016 election and Donald Trump's win showed the importance of "not taking anyone for granted.

"We have to engage with people, that's why I got into this race as early as I did. I think not only does the Democratic Party need to be rebuilt, the state of Michigan needs to be rebuilt in a lot of fundamental, important ways," she said.

Voter dissatisfaction may be one reason Trump and Sanders carried Michigan in the 2016, Whitmer said.

"I suspect a lot people who voted for Bernie Sanders, and a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump, were so frustrated that they didn't feel their leaders were looking out for them they wanted to go in a bold, new direction," she said. "I get that. I share that frustration, and that's really what's pushed me into (running) ... I can't sit by and watch these leaders, who do political dancing and don't solve problems, anymore. We deserve better."

Surprisingly, despite the loss, Whitmer feels the 2016 election has galvanized local Democrats.

"Every event we've gone to, there have been bigger crowds than we anticipated and than we were prepped for - which is a great problem to have," Whitmer said.

Whitmer realizes the state's rural voters traditionally aren't Democrats, which is why she said she has started her campaign so early. With Gov. Rick Snyder prevented for seeking another term due to term limits, Whitmer is one of the first to enter the race.

"I think half the job is showing up, and that's why I'm here. That's why I'm going to spend the better of the next two years traveling the state and engaging with people," Whitmer said. "And I'm going to listen. I'm going to ask questions so I'm better prepared to be a voice for the people of this state. Our leaders have been putting politics, or putting corporate interests, ahead of the people for too long and we can't move this state forward if we continue to do that."

While voters around the state have brought up issues like the economy and importance of eduction, Whitmer said there are some issues that are specific to U.P., voters - such as the need for increased broadband service.

She used the example of a realtor in St. Ignace who couldn't close a deal to relocate a business - which Whitmer said was expected to produce 50 jobs at roughly $50,000-a-year - to the state due to the lack of broadband availability.

"That's a quality of life issue," she said. "You can have all the land in the world and the beauty, but if you're not able to get your business connected you can't locate there."

Following her stop in Ironwood, Whitmer will continue to Houghton and Marquette - visiting 11 out of 15 counties above the bridge by the time the trip is complete.

Having visited the Gogebic Range before, Whitmer said she is a big fan of Marty's Goldenaires - having even arranged to have the group play at the state capitol. Whitmer joked if she wins, the group may make a second appearance in Lansing.

"Wouldn't that be great, have a U.P. band play at the inauguration. We know they're tough enough to play in the winter," she said laughing.


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