Oct. 14, 2022 | This Week in Government: First Dixon Vs. Whitmer Debate Heavy on Attacks, Some PolicyOctober 14, 2022
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
First Dixon Vs. Whitmer Debate Heavy on Attacks, Some Policy
GRAND RAPIDS – Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in the 2022 race’s first debate, worked to defend her record while defining her opponent as too dangerous and too extreme for Michigan voters, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon threw plenty of punches at the incumbent’s tenure while introducing herself to the electorate.
And although the debate was heavy on the policy topics residents appear to care most about – including abortion and the economy – the event was punctuated by the bevy of attacks the candidates threw at one another. The debate was hosted by WOOD-TV at its studio in Grand Rapids and broadcast in most of the state’s media markets but notably not the Detroit media market and its 5 million people. It was the first of two showdowns between the gubernatorial candidates, with the next debate scheduled for Oct. 25, and that one will be carried on one of the Detroit commercial stations.
Longtime WOOD-TV political reporter Rick Albin moderated with wide-ranging topics that had both Whitmer and Dixon taking after each other.
Dixon, trailing in the polls and far behind the incumbent governor in terms of fundraising and spending, took the opportunity to swing for the fences on Whitmer, attempting to not only increase her name recognition with voters but also to hold the governor accountable for policies with which she took umbrage. Dixon, in her opening remarks, said that she was excited to debate the governor because, for many, it was the first time that voters watching had heard from her directly. Dixon has lacked the funds to pay for commercials.
Whitmer, on the other hand, needed the platform to extoll the upsides of her previous term, reaffirm her vision for Michigan’s future, and bat away the criticisms leveled against her over the past three-plus years from Republicans of all stripes, including Dixon.
The showdown was also historic as it marked the first time in state history that the major parties had two women up for the Executive Office.
It was a frenetic debate, both candidates appearing well-prepared and armed with zingers deployed in response to nearly every question.
The word “ridiculous” was thrown around more than one could count as the two teed up on one another in rebuttals. There were also plenty of instances when the governor and the challenger both accused each other of lying about their positions and promises.
Top of mind for many voters in the election is abortion, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade having unique consequences for Michigan voters. The state’s once dormant 1931 law banning all abortions unless to preserve the life of the mother would have been reactivated if Whitmer and Planned Parenthood hadn’t sued to have the law deemed unconstitutional.
But the fate of abortion is two-fold this year, with either a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court, of which the Democratic Party-nominated majority would likely side with Whitmer, and Proposal 22-3, which would expand reproductive rights by enshrining access to that care in the Michigan Constitution.
When explaining her position on abortion, the governor doubled down on the fact that her party and others of the same mind feel that the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center tore away a fundamental right and that the reenactment of the 1931 ban could further jeopardize women’s health care, which is why she acted to stop it. Seeing an opening to slam Dixon on her stance, she said that Dixon celebrated the ruling and that she wanted to criminalize abortions in the state – a move she said was evidence of Dixon’s allegedly extreme view on the matter.
Dixon countered by saying the governor “was already being dishonest,” claiming that she never said she wants to criminalize people for having the procedure. As the only candidate in the GOP primary to receive an endorsement from Right to Life Michigan, Dixon reiterated her anti-abortion stance but added she supports an exception for the life of the mother. She further stated that the governor doesn’t have much say over the high court nor the will of a constitutional amendment approved by the electorate and chalked Whitmer’s involvement in the case as meddling that was outside the scope of her powers.
“I understand that this is going to be decided by the people of the state of Michigan or by a judge. As the governor has already stated, a judge has already ruled in this case,” she said. “Please understand that the governor doesn’t have the choice to go around a judge or a constitutional amendment. She will lie to you tonight and tell you that the governor can do something about a constitutional amendment. But you need to understand that it’s very, very clearly written, and you should understand her position. It’s extremely radical.”
To that, the governor said Dixon was either “woefully under informed about the office she’s running for or she’s lying to you,” noting that the governor absolutely can impact these rights or lack thereof.
“This is a candidate who said a 14-year-old child raped by a family member is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t have abortion rights,” Whitmer said. “I’ve been fighting to maintain the law as it is. That’s what I support. Here’s the facts of the matter: To protect our rights we cannot trust Dixon.”
Dixon said she would respect the outcome if voters approved Proposal 3.
“I don’t believe that there are laws that I’m above, unlike the governor here who said on multiple occasions that if there’s a law out there that I don’t agree with, I think I should be able to go around it,” she said. “And Dana Nessel, who has also decided to go around laws. I don’t believe in that. I believe in our Constitution, and I believe in the people’s right to decide.”
Whitmer said the same but noted that the lawsuit she initiated would ultimately end up before the high court, and that, too would have to be decided. She countered, however, by noting her belief that Dixon ironically stood on the debate stage extolling the will of the people when she has said she thinks then-President Donald Trump won. In Michigan, Biden won over Trump by some 154,000 votes.
“For her to stand her say she will respect the will of the people when she has not even embraced the outcome of the last election or pledged to embrace the outcome of a future election tells me we cannot trust what she’s saying,” the governor said. “These are fundamental rights. We cannot make any assumption that a Dixon administration would fight to protect women’s rights, women’s access to health care, and families who are trying to grow their family through IVF.”
Education policy was the next big debate hurdle. The candidates were asked how they would support mental health in schools, given the increasing rash of gun violence that has rocked the nation over the past 25 years and its growing frequency in K-12 schools.
Whitmer touted her administration’s investments in wraparound supports for mental health, saying they were paramount to helping solve those problems. She said that the number one killer of children now is gun violence and that the state needed to act in that regard. That’s why she’s supported secured storage, background checks, and red flag laws that could remove guns from those who show signs of mental instability or have a possible predilection for acting out violently after a court hearing.
She continued by saying Dixon claimed not to even know what safe storage was, and that shows she’s out of touch with the rest of the state on the issue.
The challenger, however, noted a 2018 Department of State Police report on school safety that, aside from focusing on improved mental health services and markers, suggested hardening schools against attacks and infiltrators like school shooters. Dixon also attempted to say that schools were hiding instances of danger that occurred during class time and that parents were living in scary times.
Switching to attack mode, Whitmer said the same month of the deadly Oxford High School shooting, Dixon posted on social media a picture of her shooting a gun with the caption, “gun control means using both hands.”
“She is too dangerous and too out of touch to be trusted with protecting your kids,” Whitmer said. “She’ll put the 2nd Amendment before second graders every time. We cannot let that happen.”
As a rebuttal, Dixon claimed Whitmer’s support of red flag laws meant that she wants to take away the gun rights of average citizens and by proxy, wants to take away their mode of protecting against such public acts of violence.
Touching more on education, each candidate was asked to talk about their views on the best ways to run the state’s public school system and what they would do to fix Michigan’s lagging literacy scores.
Dixon focused on the learning loss during the pandemic, saying that she would implement a tutoring plan that she claimed Whitmer has ignored in her own work as the state executive. The challenger, however, turned to the sex and gender education discussion that has become a major facet of the GOP culture war. She said that schools should focus less on those aspects of education, especially before third grade, noting that third grade was the point when children should be reading to learn and that many across the state weren’t even there yet.
Whitmer also relished in the question, noting she has worked in a bipartisan fashion with the oft at odds with her Republican Legislature to make historic investments in public education. The governor said they together closed the literacy gap – tripling the number of literacy coaches – and educational gaps between several districts. Those budget negotiations also included mental health funding.
Dixon swung back that when the governor said she closed the gap, what she really did was close schools for an extended period of time. Of note, Whitmer did order schools closed at the beginning of the pandemic but later shifted the onus to the individual school districts to make those decisions. She did close high schools briefly around the time of the winter break in the 2020-21 school year.
One of the moments that Dixon had likely been waiting for were questions regarding the COVID pandemic and the policies that got Michigan out of the woods, as Whitmer liked to say, but also had devastating impacts on businesses and workers across the state.
Asked if she would have done anything differently in response to the pandemic, Whitmer said if she knew then what she knows now, she would make some different decisions but did not name them. She did, however, reiterate the danger the state faced with a novel virus that spread like wildfire, full hospitals, thousands dying, and a severe lack of personal protection equipment for those providing care.
“We were working in the middle of a crisis and lives were on the line,” she said.
Dixon said if she were governor during the pandemic, she would have listened to those same experts but would have listened more carefully, namely to the Health Care Association of Michigan when it signaled that placing COVID-sick patients could have catastrophic consequences for the population already living there.
As a rebuttal, Whitmer said the claim that she did not listen to expert advice nor the voices of the public were untruths. She also accused Dixon of spreading conspiracy theories on COVID, which she said didn’t help and that a Gov. Dixon would have only furthered the crisis.
Much talk in the campaign has focused on the business environment of the state, if it is welcoming to key industries from a tax structure standpoint and if Michigan’s leaders were doing enough to attract more business. The state is also sitting on a massive budget surplus and federal COVID relief money that has yet to be allocated.
On allocation, Dixon said she would put much of that money back into schools, particularly making them safer against attacks. She also reiterated her tutoring plan.
Whitmer said that Michigan’s COVID-19 recovery was one of the fastest in the nation and that small business growth was outpacing metrics over the last few decades. She mentioned several businesses that have either committed to Michigan or are eyeing the state.
However, Dixon said the recovery was clearly slower than what Whitmer had alluded to, as she claimed that Michigan was tied with New York in the number of small businesses lost during the pandemic and Michigan’s loss of 82,000 jobs over that period. She also accused Whitmer of saving face with those other attractions because she was so caught off guard by Ford choosing other states for new factories.
Whitmer, of course, called that ridiculous.
Policing also came up, which was prime fodder for Dixon as she has made support for police officers a cornerstone of her campaign. Whitmer had previously said she supported the spirit of the defund the police movement, which Dixon noted, but the governor has also put large investments into the Department of State Police in her budget – accepted, too, by the Legislature – and just this week signed a bill expanding road patrols.
Whitmer accused Dixon of being long on rhetoric but short on facts regarding her support for law enforcement, saying that she, too, put $1 billion forward to train and recruit officers but also to shore up pensions and benefits. The governor also noted that police and prosecutor associations historically align themselves with GOP gubernatorial candidates, a sign that Dixon doesn’t have all of their support.
Racial bias in policing was also a highlight in this round, as well as gun laws and what either candidate would do to strengthen or weaken them.
On the bias question, Whitmer said while she supports law enforcement, she was acutely aware of the consequences of over-policing, having worked with prosecutors, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and legislators on broadening expungement options and other criminal justice reforms. She also said the state could support both police and the public from negative interactions by deploying more mental health experts to scenes or departments to ensure “everyone goes home at the end of the day.”
Dixon said a focus of her administration would be to try and recruit law enforcement to patrol the neighborhoods they grew up in, which has been halted, in her view, by Whitmer’s and other Democratic Party leaders who have leaned toward the defund rhetoric. Dixon also attempted to say Whitmer was marching with those activists over the last few years, signaling that she does not support the police in her stead.
The governor said her role sometimes was also being a “healer-in-chief,” a line ripped from the 2020 Biden playbook, throwing the onus back on Dixon and claiming she jumped the gun, so to speak, on the police shooting of Grand Rapids resident Patrick Lyoya. Dixon was the only primary candidate at the time who said she supported the officer prior to the completion of the criminal investigation and before the officer involved was charged in Lyoya’s death.
Whitmer Signs Supplemental Outlining $250M Scholarship Program
The parameters for the $250 million scholarship program included in the 2022-23 budget became law on Tuesday when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the second supplemental passed by the Legislature last month.
SB 842 included details for the scholarship program created in the regular fiscal year budget, which took effect Oct. 1.
Starting with the class of 2023, high school graduates will be eligible for more financial aid from the state. Community college students will be eligible for $2,750 per year, public university students will be eligible for $5,500 per year, and private college or university students will be eligible for $4,000 per year.
Students must fill out a FAFSA to determine their financial needs. Whitmer’s administration said the Michigan Achievement Scholarship will cover 94% of community college students, 76% of public university students, and 79% of private college or university students.
“Today, I am proud to sign a bipartisan bill to establish the Michigan Achievement Scholarship and lower the cost of college for the vast majority of Michiganders,” Whitmer said in a statement. “These scholarships will build on the success of the Michigan Reconnect program and save the vast majority of high school graduates thousands of dollars a year as they pursue higher education at community college, private college, or a public university.”
Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Niles), a key voice on the program as chair of the Senate Appropriations Universities and Community Colleges Subcommittee, said the program will allow more families and students to pay for career training at the school that best fits their needs.
“Expanding the eligibility of this scholarship to cover traditional classroom education, as well as hands-on training at a skilled trades academy, is a great way to both strengthen and diversify Michigan’s workforce,” she said.
Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso), chair of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee, called the scholarship program “truly transformational.”
And Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills), minority vice chair of the House panel, said the bill represents a significant step forward for higher education in the state.
“While our state still has some catching up to do, Gov. Whitmer and I remain in lockstep agreement that we must invest in Michigan’s students and our higher education institutions to achieve global leadership and put our students on the course for global competitiveness,” she said.
The spending bill also includes $12 million for literacy tutoring services through the 2024-25 fiscal year and $200,000 for Square One to host robotics programs and competitions for students in public and nonpublic schools.
Big Money, Ground Game Key to Victory In 11th, 12th Senate Races
ST. CLAIR SHORES – A key path on the road to the majority in the Senate runs through southeast Michigan, where millions of dollars are being pumped into the races by both parties to score wins in districts largely centered in Macomb County.
In two critical races for both Republicans and Democrats, the 11th and 12th Senate Districts look to be decided by who has the best ground game and can best drive turnout through their respective messages.
Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield) faces Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) in what appears to be a slugfest in the 12th Senate District. In the neighboring 11th Senate District, Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb Township) is facing Democratic Macomb County Commissioner Veronica Klinefelt of Eastpointe. Gongwer News Service rates both districts as being tossups.
The Republicans hold a 22-16 majority in the Senate and have held the chamber since 1984. Following the work of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, there are more competitive districts than in the past.
Huge money is being spent with so much on the line. Data compiled by AdImpact Politics shows in the 12th District about $4 million being spent so far by Democrats on behalf of Hertel to $1.44 million for Hornberger. In the 11th District, Democrats have poured about $4 million into Klinefelt’s race to about $400,000 for MacDonald by Republicans.
12TH SENATE DISTRICT IS ABOUT ECONOMY, EDUCATION, ABORTION: The 12th Senate District, as drawn slightly favors Republican and includes Chesterfield Township, combining the Gross Pointes, Harper Woods, Harrison Township, Mount Clemens, St. Clair Shores, and southern St. Clair County. The northern part of the district is the GOP base, with the Grosse Pointes, Harper Woods, and Mt. Clemens being more Democratic turf. St. Clair Shores is competitive, but Hertel living there gives him a slight advantage.
While Hornberger said she did not have time to walk doors with Gongwer News Service for this story, in a Sept. 29 interview, she said her campaign is going strong.
She described it as “shocking” that she does not get a ton of questions from voters, but when residents find out she is a Republican, they are receptive.
With the new district lines, she finds it interesting visiting areas where people have not seen Republicans knocking on doors in the past. People are appreciative of the outreach, she said.
“It’s been different, but it’s good. It’s a beautiful district,” Hornberger said.
She said the economy is at the top of people’s minds, adding in late September, when the Legislature last met, gasoline prices spiked about 20 cents per gallon and have increased further.
The representative cited her college-aged daughter, who stated that while someone her age does not have investments, people in her age group gas up and go out to eat frequently and are impacted. She called it an example of people being squeezed by high gas prices and high inflation.
She said she tells people concerned about inflation and gas prices what she, as a lawmaker, can do, mainly through tax cuts or the gas tax.
When asked whether abortion is an issue on the campaign trail, she said no.
“We’re not hearing that on the ground, we’re not seeing that on the ground,” Hornberger said. “It’s very working-class. They’re worried about the economy.”
As to Proposal 22-3, which would enshrine abortion rights into the state Constitution, she said she thinks it likely will pass in November.
Hornberger has previously introduced legislation to ban telemedicine abortion services and a partial-birth abortion ban. On issues such as abortion, she said they are divisive topics, but they shouldn’t be.
If the measure fails and the existing 1931 abortion ban were to go into effect, she said, “we need to be able to have those conversations” as to where the state goes from there.
She said while it may be difficult to chart a course, it would be worth going through that process.
Hertel, by comparison, said abortion has been an issue at doors.
“A lot of doors that’s the first thing that somebody’s going to ask you about,” Hertel said. “They’re enthusiastic about voting because of that issue, and they feel like their rights are being taken away, and we have an opportunity in this election to make sure we protect those rights.”
He added that both the economy and reproductive rights are important and hit home for people statewide.
“In government, you’ve got to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Hertel said. “There’s never one thing we should only be focusing on. I think we have to focus on all the issues that are impacting people across these communities.”
While knocking doors, he said he has encountered a few people who have said they absolutely would never consider voting for him.
He shared an example of a man in Grosse Pointe who said he would never vote for a Democrat again. But, after a 15-minute conversation, he said the man told him he would consider giving him his support.
“That’s why the doors are so important to me, it’s because you can actually have those very difficult conversations,” Hertel said. “There are people who are just voting strictly on party line, but when you’re able to talk to them and share a vision of what you’re actually working towards and show the differences between myself and my opponent, you’re able to attract some of those voters to looking at something a little differently.”
Hertel said he feels the campaign has put itself in a strong position. Voters at the doors, he said, are connecting with what he said is his problem-solving emphasis.
“People are sick of politics, on both sides, they’re sick of the nonsense and the noise and they want to see people that can come together, find common ground and actually move issues or policy forward that benefits our communities,” Hertel said.
He said people see his track record and believe that he is someone who can deliver results.
“I’ve brought back real resources to this community, over $80 million over the five-and-a-half years I’ve been in the Legislature,” Hertel said.
Priorities include ensuring safe drinking water is available in communities, reducing basement flooding, and protecting the Lake St. Clair shoreline.
While he supports the governor’s proposal for a $500 rebate to certain residents, he said he also voted to suspend the gas tax and lower the income tax, which were proposals put forward by legislative Republicans but vetoed by the governor.
“This is a district of really hardworking people that just want to see results,” Hertel said. “It’s really important to me personally that we have representation that is focused on the things that people need in this district.”
With the Senate up for grabs, he said his race’s importance is huge this cycle.
“Every little thing you do can possibly move the needle, and so that’s why we have been very focused and targeted in the work that we’ve done,” Hertel said. “We want to make sure we’re doing all of those little things; we can’t leave anything to chance.”
Heavy doses of attack ads from campaigns, party caucuses, or outside groups have begun to air, along with numerous pieces of literature attacking the candidates. Both candidates called them disgusting.
One ad from the Michigan Democratic Party that began airing in September attacks Hornberger for a vote against HB 4374 during the 2019-20 term after the Larry Nassar abuse scandal at Michigan State University. The bill would have made it a crime for those using their professional position of authority over another person to prevent them from reporting child abuse or sexual assault. Hornberger initially voted against the bill, but when the vote was reconsidered, she voted in favor. She sponsored a bill that prohibited nonconsensual pelvic examinations inspired by the Nassar scandal. She is also a sponsor of similar legislation this term.
“People see that stuff and it’s disgusting,” Hornberger said. “But if it didn’t work politicians wouldn’t do it.”
A recent anti-Hertel ad states he voted to allow coronavirus patients to be transferred to nursing homes. It references a July 2020 vote against SB 956, which would have required the state to set up regional facilities to house and treat COVID-19 patients and require the Department of Health and Human Services to operate a central facility in each of Michigan’s eight health care regions to take patients. The bill passed with Hertel voting no. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed the bill later that month.
A compromise bill, now PA 231 of 2020, was later introduced and signed into law later that fall, amending the nursing home policy. The House voted 101-0 on that bill, including Hertel.
Hertel said that few people have mentioned that ad while out knocking on doors.
“Obviously they’re spending a lot of money on those ads and a lot of mail, so they must be pretty nervous about winning this seat,” Hertel said. “I think that’s because of the work we put in. They’re trying to spend money now in order to try to counteract all that work that we’ve done, and frankly, I don’t think it works.”
Being a former teacher, school board member, and parent, Hornberger said education would be her long-term top priority in the Senate.
“We need to overhaul education in the state of Michigan,” Hornberger said.
She said the profession needs to be made more attractive for teachers and prospective teachers, adding teacher reviews need to be less punitive and there should be more of a focus on mentoring younger teachers.
She said more of a partnership between teachers and parents needs to be developed. Further, testing requirements need to not be as punitive, and she believes the MERIT curriculum needs to be overhauled. She also would support changing the school calendar for year-round schooling, stating the summer break leads to learning loss.
She said that learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic is also a huge concern.
“I would have focused that money on literacy,” Hornberger said of federal COVID-19 funding for schools.
Following an Oct. 10 afternoon interview, Hertel let Gongwer News Service observe him knocking doors. Few people opened their doors in the neighborhood he was walking, about one mile from his campaign office in St. Clair Shores.
One of the first to do so was a man who told the representative if he were to win to make sure that he did the job right.
“I know all the Hertels. I’m with you,” the man added.
Hertel, in-between doors, pointed out how, within the district, there are many voters who know him or members of his family, many of whom have held elected office.
Further up the street, a longer conversation ensued with an older man, an automobile worker who was willing to put up a yard sign. The man said when he was a child, he used to play with Hertel’s uncles.
During the conversation, the man walked with Hertel over to his driveway, uncovered, and showed him a classic car parked in the driveway: a 1916 Dodge Brothers truck that he had purchased from someone out-of-state.
After parting ways with the man, Hertel remarked how you never know who or what you will come across when out knocking doors.
A few doors further up the street, a Democratic voter asked Hertel to outline his platform. The voter then expressed dismay at what he considered to be a slide toward fascism in the country. He also expressed economic concerns.
Winding down this stretch of doors, Hertel spoke with a couple of Democratic voters in their driveway. The three spent some time talking about education, skilled trades, and college debt before parting ways. They agreed to take a yard sign.
11TH DISTRICT A MIX OF LOCAL, NATIONAL ISSUES: The same dynamic of national issues is playing out in the 11th Senate District, with the candidates hearing about education, the economy, and abortion. Both candidates also expressed their desire to provide results and resources for local communities.
As drawn, the new 11th Senate District contains parts of Clinton Township, Eastpointe, Fraser, Macomb Township, and Roseville along with a small slice of Detroit at the southern end. MacDonald has incumbency on his side. Klinefelt has lengthy experience in local government, including on the county commission, the Eastpointe City Council, and the East Detroit School Board.
“It’s going to be close,” MacDonald said in an Oct. 6 interview.
His campaign declined to have Gongwer News Service join him while out knocking doors for this story.
MacDonald said the campaign has been going well, and he has spent about six hours per day most days knocking on doors, saying making inroads with voters across the new parts of the district will be critical.
He said he grew up in Mount Clemens and has enjoyed getting to better know the communities in the surrounding area and building relationships with community leaders and organizations.
“They’re blown away that the actual candidate himself is there,” MacDonald said of door knocking.
He often said people are glad to see a Republican visiting them, which is uncommon in some areas of the district.
MacDonald added with the district, including a sliver of Detroit, he would be the first Senate Republican in about 50 years to represent part of Detroit if he wins.
When at doors, he said many people have local concerns. One example was a man not being able to get a trash container from the local government. In another case, a man complained about unsafe driving by people going through his street to nearby roads. MacDonald said he put in calls to county officials to have them look into the issue.
Voters more plugged in on politics have mentioned the economy and inflation, he said.
“They’re very excited for Republicans to win,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald said he prefers to listen to people’s concerns at the doors.
“People like what you have to say, but people like what they have to say more,” MacDonald said.
The senator said if one listens on the campaign trail, even if the person might not agree politically, you tend to be able to gain their respect for having a conversation, and potentially even their vote.
Klinefelt, in a Sept. 30 interview, said while out at least five days a week knocking doors, the response has been positive, and people just want to be heard.
When people bring up inflation, she said there is a growing awareness that there is not a lot that can be done on the state level.
“Folks just want to tell you what’s going on in their life. They’re all different types of struggles,” Klinefelt said. “One house is maybe struggling with somebody that they have in the family that’s special needs. Another house may have a transportation issue.”
While talking to people, she said she mainly is gathering information to see what their concerns are.
“Surprisingly very few people bring up the gas prices,” Klinefelt said. “You’re going to hit doors that are strong Dem and doors that are strong Republican, and they have their minds made up. The folks in the center don’t seem to be assessing blame.”
She added her campaign literature has included her home phone number to allow for accessibility.
“I feel like we’re doing all the right things, and we’ve got a winning plan and I feel very good about it,” Klinefelt said.
The environment on the campaign trail she described as being a mixed bag. Some residents are hesitant to talk, while others are happy to have candidate outreach.
A major difference compared to her past campaigns is the sheer scale of running a Senate campaign, she said, and the fundraising and organization required. Outside money and attack ads are another major difference, she said.
“I recognize how significant this is, compared to my races in the past where I didn’t think as much was riding on them and if I lost, I lost, it was okay,” Klinefelt said. “This is more important. If I lose in this race, there are a lot of personal freedoms at risk. There is the type of investment that goes into communities and how communities thrive at risk, and I think I’m taking it a lot more seriously.”
In the 11th district, the candidates were in line with those of the 11th district as to abortion or the economy being talked about most.
MacDonald said the economy is tops on people’s minds.
“I can count the examples on one hand,” MacDonald said of voters talking about abortion.
He said the national issues are not resonating at the doors like they appear as doing in national publications such as The New York Times.
Klinefelt said there has been a noticeable impact when speaking to voters following the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
“The rollback of Roe has got some folks really passionate about that, and they’re not under any illusion as to who’s responsible,” Klinefelt said. “Even the folks that consider themselves pro-life have been telling me at the doors that they’ve always considered themselves pro-life, but they never envisioned the extent of the rollbacks that different states are doing, and that that was not what they ever were buying into.”
On what makes him the best fit for the district, MacDonald explained that his developing strong relationships on the local level and helping direct state resources to Macomb County is a huge asset.
Local officials, he said, have told him Macomb County has previously been a county where state resources have not been secured for the area on a significant level.
While in the Senate, MacDonald said he has changed that, directing about $200 million in resources during his four years for water infrastructure, helping secure funding for the Mound Road rebuild project, and more. He said in a second term, he could use his seniority to build on that progress.
“To have to start over … would be a step backward,” MacDonald said.
He said there are also opportunities for helping get state funding to assist potential projects in Eastpointe, Roseville, and other areas.
The senator also pointed to legislation he has sponsored and helped get to the governor’s desk, including bills dealing with access and use of epi-pens for treating overdoses and charity gaming legislation.
“I’m more of a listener than a talker,” MacDonald said, adding he prefers to work with people behind the scenes to build relationships and get things done.
This approach, he said, has allowed him to develop good bipartisan relationships on the state and local levels.
That work ethic and a strong ground game during the campaign are key reasons he said he is confident he can win.
MacDonald said he had put his name in the hat for chairing the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee if he wins a second term, given his health care industry background.
He also has put his name up for consideration for chair of the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee. MacDonald said as chair of that committee, he could ramp up his efforts to build up the aerospace and space industry in the state. He said Michigan has a lot of potential to be a leader in industries like in Florida and Colorado.
The senator said a Texas official with ties to the space industry once told him Michigan would be a goldmine for the industry, given its manufacturing base and location.
“We suck at marketing ourselves,” MacDonald said he was told of Michigan of its marketing skills as viewed by outsiders.
Having served in local government, Klinefelt touted her long experience in a nonpartisan office as an asset.
“Having worked across the aisle my entire life, working with folks that I knew were Republican, I don’t see politics as there’s always got to be a winner and a loser,” Klinefelt said. “Sometimes everybody can win as long as you can reach across the aisle and talk to each other. So I’m not going to have any problem doing that as long as I’m working with folks that feel the same way.”
One perspective Klinefelt said she could bring to the Senate is knowledge of the impacts of state policy on local governments.
“There are an awful lot of bills that start with ‘A bill to prohibit local units of government … ‘” she said. “The folks that are up there making those decisions to prohibit local units of government, the vast majority of them have never served at the local level, and so they don’t necessarily know the impact of the bills that they’re passing.”
Infrastructure is a major priority for Klinefelt, which she said has been badly neglected and underfunded for years. Early childhood education is another priority.
“If you invest in a child before kindergarten, they’re going to cost you less money going through the rest of school,” Klinefelt said. “Regardless of income, they’re properly prepared before kindergarten, we are far more likely on the other end to be putting out a qualified workforce, and that’s what our businesses are looking for.”
She said that improving the educational opportunities for people in the state will help attract businesses.
Following her Sept. 30 interview, Gongwer News Service observed Klinefelt knocking doors in a neighborhood on the edge of Eastpointe, near the city line of Roseville.
In this neighborhood, several blocks from her own home, the door response was mixed.
One of the first doors she knocked on was a Democratic supporter who agreed to put up a yard sign. At this home, the voter was firmly in Klinefelt’s camp, saying the election stakes were high in November.
Proposal 3 came up multiple times, with one woman calling the measure “real important” and signaling support for Klinefelt’s candidacy.
At some doors she would also tout important local measures on the ballot, urging people to review the ballot from top to bottom.
She also spoke with a supporter who already had a yard sign for her, along with signs for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Further up the street, she knocked on the door and handed several pieces of campaign literature to a woman who was one of the people featured in the literature she was handing out. The two had a brief conversation about the literature and caught up for a couple minutes before Klinefelt left.
After her time knocking doors, Klinefelt set off for her next interview and round of door-knocking, which was to be with a national reporter. It was just another part of another busy day on the campaign trail in the chase for control of the Senate.
Michigan Tops the Nation in Spending for State Legislative Races
Michigan has seen more ad spending in the races for state House and Senate than any other in the nation this year, according to data compiled by AdImpact Politics, with 11 different contests seeing $500,000 in total spending.
Across the state, 11 different races have spent at least $500,000. Democrats hold a strong spending advantage, with candidates shelling out $22.4 million compared to $6.6 million from Republicans, AdImpact data shows.
In the Senate, candidates have spent a total of $22 million ahead of the general election.
The most expensive race is in the 12th Senate District, located in St. Clair County, between Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) and Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield). Hertel’s campaign has $4.77 million in general election spending and reserves, and Hornberger has $1.44 million, AdImpact notes.
Directly east in the 11th Senate District, Democratic candidate Veronica Klinefelt of Eastpointe has spent $3.81 million for her campaign to challenge incumbent candidate Sen. Michael MacDonald (R- Macomb), who currently represents the 10th District. AdImpact data shows MacDonald has spent about $400,000
The race between Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) and Sen. Mark Huizenga (R- Walker) also has cost around $3.5 million so far, AdImpact noted. LaGrand has spent about $2.5 million, and Huizenga has spent nearly $1 million.
The Downriver senate race in the 4th District between Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown) and Republican candidate Houston James of Flat Rock has cost nearly $3 million so far. Camilleri has spent $2.4 million, and James has spent about $440,000.
Democratic candidate Kristen McDonald Rivet has spent $2.41 million to take on Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland) in the race for the 35th Senate District.
The 13th Senate District race between incumbent Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D- Keego Harbor) and Northville Township Treasurer Jason Rhines is the sixth most expensive Senate race in the state, coming in at about a half-million dollars in spending on the Democratic side.
Spending on the House side has yet to reach the same heights as spending on the Senate, but candidates and caucuses aren’t shying away from investing in campaigns.
In the 103rd House District, spending is nearly neck-and-neck between Democratic candidate Betsy Coffia of Traverse City and Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), AdImpact data shows. O’Malley has spent just more than $390,000 compared to Coffia’s $424,400.
District 83 in the Grand Rapids area has seen the most spending from any one candidate, with Democratic candidate John Fitzgerald of Wyoming spending $661,400. His Republican opponent Lisa DeKryger of Wyoming has spent considerably less.
Democrats have far outspent Republicans in the race for the 84th District, too. Democratic Rep. Carol Glanville of Grand Rapids has spent $649,500 on her campaign, AdImpact detailed. Her opponent Mike Milanowski has spent a fraction of that amount.
Another race in the Grand Rapids area also has seen high spending. Rep. Rachel Hood (D- Grand Rapids) has spent $485,000 on her campaign for the 83rd House District. Her opponent, former state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis has spent nearly $37,000.
The 109th District is potentially the last Democratic stronghold in the Upper Peninsula, meaning there has been significant ad investment for Jenn Hill of Marquette’s campaign. She’s spent $309,500, according to AdImpact. But Republicans aren’t sitting back in this race, with $194,000 in spending for Melody Wagner of Gwinn.
In the 76th and 68th House Districts, spending has been fairly one-sided. For example, Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) has spent nearly $416,000 to defend her seat from challenger Jeremy Whittum of Eaton Rapids. In the 68th House District, Rep. David Martin (R- Davison) has been doing the spending, investing nearly $400,000 to defend his seat from challenger Cheri Hardmon of Grand Blanc.
Whitmer Quietly Signs Glenn Parental Rights Bill
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill with little fanfare this week that requires parental rights as outlined in state law and the Constitution to be posted in schools.
Whitmer signed HB 5703 (PA 213) late Tuesday afternoon. However, she did not issue a press release about the bill signing.
The bill passed the House 84-20 and the Senate 28-5.
School groups and the Department of Education did not take a position on the bill when it saw a brief hearing and a vote the following week in the House Education Committee. As a result, the bill was discharged to the Senate floor last month.
Under the bill, the following from the Constitution would need to be posted in specified places and training manuals: “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
From state law, the following passage would also need to be posted: “It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil’s parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil’s intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.”
Under the bill, those passages would need to be posted in the following areas in a manner easily accessible by the public:
- The room or rooms in which the board or board of directors conducts its meetings.
- An office in the school district’s, ISD’s, or PSA’s administrative building.
- The principal’s or chief administrator’s office at each school operated by the board or board of directors, as applicable.
- Each building operated by the Department of Education.
- Each room where the State Board of Education meets.
Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland), sponsor of the bill, noted in a statement she renewed her call for the bill to see final approval last month before the Senate acted.
“This will serve as a visible and valuable reminder that parents have a fundamental right to direct the education of their children,” she said. “It isn’t debatable, and it shouldn’t be political. The law is clear, and it has been in statute in Michigan for many years.”
A spokesperson for Whitmer reiterated her efforts to promote parental rights in education.
“As a parent of daughters who attended Michigan public schools, Gov. Whitmer embraces and deeply values parents’ perspectives to ensure Michigan kids have the best education possible. This is why she established the first-ever Michigan Parents’ Council, so parents have a direct seat at the table of government to inform education policy, among other issues,” Bobby Leddy said. “Now, through this new legislation, Gov. Whitmer is reaffirming that parents are welcomed in classrooms across the state. It was important for us to show that Michigan will always be a place where parents are respected and valued.”
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