LANSING (AP) — Michigan will have a new governor come January, and whether it’s Republican Bill Schuette or Democrat Gretchen Whitmer will signal if a state that Donald Trump won by the slimmest of margins will continue its move to the right or will change course.
Schuette, the state’s conservative attorney general, says he would push for an income tax cut and lower auto insurance rates. He has been urging voters to stick with a Republican to succeed the more moderate Gov. Rick Snyder, who has reached his two-term limit and has been at the helm during a sustained economic recovery.
Whitmer, a Democratic former legislative leader, casts herself as a bipartisan problem-solver who joined with Snyder to expand Medicaid to more than 600,000 adults. She says that as governor, she would push to fix the state’s deteriorating roads, lagging schools and drinking water infrastructure, which was exposed by Flint’s lead-tainted water.
A Schuette victory in Tuesday’s election would buck history: The last time Michigan consecutively elected governors from the same party was the 1960s and the party opposite the president has won nine of the last 10 gubernatorial races.
Recent polls showed Whitmer with an edge in the contest that Democrats were eager to win after having no power at the state level for eight years and narrowly losing Michigan to Trump two years ago. The governor has significant influence setting the state’s governing agenda and checking or accepting legislative priorities.
“We need change, drastic change,” said Mayla Lloyd, a 68-year-old retired phone company maintenance administrator from Lansing who voted for Whitmer. Lloyd said she and other Democrats stand for “what’s right, for the good of all people.”
Others backing Whitmer cited her pledge to improve roads, while people voting for Schuette pointed to his record as attorney general, specifically how he investigated Flint’s water crisis and the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal at Michigan State University.
“I was impressed by how he handled them,” said 38-year-old Jeff Burden, a writer from Westland. He said Whitmer was likely never going to get his vote because he leans conservative.
The 47-year-old Whitmer, of East Lansing, was a state lawmaker for 14 years — always in the minority — and served as Ingham County’s interim prosecutor before running for governor. As the top Democrat in the Senate, she spoke forcefully against GOP-backed laws that slashed business taxes while raising them on individuals, made union fees optional, and required residents or businesses wanting health insurance coverage for elective abortions to buy extra coverage.
Whitmer has attacked Schuette’s time as attorney general by criticizing his opposition to the federal health care law, his legal defense of the state’s gay marriage ban and other moves. She has pledged to “fix the damn roads” with a multibillion-dollar infrastructure plan aimed at saving drivers who pay to repair vehicles damaged by potholes.
Schuette — a 65-year-old former congressman, state senator, state Cabinet official and state appellate judge from Midland — has warned against going “backward” and likened Whitmer to Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who was at the helm during the state’s economic downturn and pushed through a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts to resolve major budget deficits.
He secured Trump’s backing in the primary but has mentioned the president less afterward and later softened his position on the Medicaid expansion. He has highlighted his office’s prosecution of serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar and accused Whitmer of failing to charge Nassar with assaults before Michigan State University police brought the case to him.
Schuette also brought charges against current and former state and city officials for the public health emergency in Flint, where the drinking water was tainted with lead and people died in a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. Whitmer has alleged that Schuette ignored complaints about the water and waited to investigate until the crisis attracted widespread media attention.
The Flint charges — which include manslaughter counts against two high-ranking members of the Snyder administration — were among various factors in the governor’s refusal to endorse Schuette.
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