Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer launched her second term Sunday, promising in her inaugural speech to reduce taxes for retirees, continue record spending on K-12 education, make Michigan a center for clean energy and electric vehicles, and pass “common sense” gun control legislation.
“We must do everything we can to lower costs so families have more money in their pockets to pay the bills and put food on the table,” Whitmer said in her speech. She pledged to “grow our economy so every person can get the skills to land a good-paying job.” Whitmer also pledged to reach across the aisle and work with anyone willing to get things done.
The speech was short on specifics. Whitmer said those will come in her State of the State address later this month and state budget presentation in February. Instead, Whitmer used her brief remarks to talk about what she thinks makes Michigan and its residents unique. She referenced Stormy Kromer hats, the late abolitionist, former slave, and Battle Creek resident Sojourner Truth, and got in a Detroit Lions shout-out on a day when the state’s hard-luck NFL team was fighting for it slim chance to make the playoffs.
Gun measures expected to be tackled by Democrats include “red flag” laws intended to keep guns out of the hands of individuals deemed dangerous, increased background checks, and laws to require safe gun storage at home. On taxes, Whitmer has previously pledged to restore exemptions on certain retiree income that were removed under her predecessor, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
Though early-morning rain at the Michigan Capitol in Lansing stopped in time for the outdoor ceremony, Whitmer took her oath on a gray and damp day much like New Year’s Day in 2019, when she first became Michigan’s 49th governor.
But looking beyond the weather, the change in conditions for Whitmer between her two inaugurations was remarkable.
Four years ago, Whitmer took the oath knowing she would begin her term with Republicans in control of both chambers of the Legislature and Republican-nominated justices holding a 4-3 edge on the state’s highest court.
On Sunday, she looked forward to slim Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate and a Michigan Supreme Court in which the 4-3 split had been in her party’s favor since the 2020 vote.
And in Michigan, where Democrats in the 2022 campaign highlighted continued access to both abortion and the ballot box as major threats, Whitmer starts the year with strengthened rights in both areas newly enshrined in the state constitution, as a result of measures voters approved Nov. 8.
Though Whitmer can’t say the pandemic that began in 2020 is over for Michigan, the state has learned to live with the COVID-19 scourge linked to more than 40,000 state deaths, as evidenced by mostly mask-less parties held across Michigan on New Year’s Eve, including a Lansing inaugural event attended by Whitmer and hundreds of paying guests at the Michigan Library and Historical Center. A surprising legacy of the pandemic is billions of dollars in surplus state funds — largely a byproduct of massive federal stimulus spending in 2020 and 2021 — that puts Whitmer and her legislative allies in a stronger position to advance an agenda that includes improving schools, roads and social services.
Whitmer’s early response to the pandemic, which included massive closures of schools and businesses, sparked resistance, demonstrations, attacks from former President Donald Trump, and even a deranged plot to kidnap Whitmer and put her on trial. But Whitmer, who in 2018 defeated Republican Bill Schuette by nine percentage points, saw her margin of victory over Republican nominee Tudor Dixon grow to nearly 11 percentage points. The attacks from Trump served mostly to raise Whitmer’s national profile and boost her campaign fund-raising. And in the kidnap plot, which some ridiculed as a scheme egged along by FBI plants and informants, Whitmer last week saw the two ringleaders sentenced to federal prison terms of 16 years and more than 19 years, respectively.
Still, many challenges face Whitmer as she begins her second four-year term, including what many economists see as a looming recession and razor-thin legislative majorities that are expected to make it difficult to pass many measures without some Republican votes since the Democratic caucuses are unlikely to consistently vote as a bloc.
“Michiganders are smart,” Whitmer said in her speech. “We know we face a lot of immediate and long-term challenges. By working together, we can tackle those challenges.”
Many other state officials took their oaths Sunday, including Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Both are Democrats who, like Whitmer, were elected to second and final four-year terms on Nov. 8.
In that election, “Michiganders spoke with a clear voice,” Whitmer said. “They want the ability to raise a family without breaking the bank, strong protections for constitutional rights, and leaders focused on the fundamental issues that matter most to their lives. They expect us to embody the values they live up to every day — grit and grace. They deserve practical problem solvers who get things done.”