Promises made, how many kept? Comparing Whitmer’s speeches to results

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stood at the rostrum of the Michigan House of Representatives for her State of the State address, she did so for the first time alongside members of her own party.

This year was Michigan’s first in decades with united Democratic government: a liberal governor plus majorities in the House and Senate.

Major priorities that Whitmer laid out in her State of the State in February and a “What’s Next” speech in August have become reality, but some are still unfinished. Here’s a breakdown:

Gun violence

Promise: In February, Whitmer specifically promised three gun reforms: universal background checks, safe storage laws and extreme risk protection orders (a.k.a. red flag orders).

Result: She signed all three into law in May. Here’s what they do:

  • Red flag orders: People can request these from a judge to have a relative or friend’s guns temporarily taken away if the person is at risk of using them in a crime.
  • Universal background checks: Before, a check was only required for pistol licenses. Now, everyone buying a gun in Michigan will undergo a background check.
  • Safe storage laws: Gun owners with minors in their home must lock up their guns. If the minor obtains such a gun and hurts another person, the owner could go to prison.

Clean energy and manufacturing

Promise: “Let’s keep bringing supply chains of cars and chips home,” Whitmer said in February. “And let’s increase domestic clean energy production, like wind and solar, so we can produce more energy in America instead of overseas.”

Result: The latter goal was realized Tuesday when the governor signed two landmark bill packages that require all Michigan energy be “clean” by 2040 and allow the state approval control of large solar, wind and energy storage projects instead of local governments.

Regarding auto supply chains, work has begun on future electric vehicle battery plants in Big Rapids and Marshall. But the Marshall plant, a partnership between Ford and a Chinese battery maker, announced last week its capacity will be 43% less than announced.

It will also create 1,700 jobs instead of the 2,500 originally planned.

Reproductive and civil rights

Promise: In her State of the State, Whitmer promised the repeal of Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban and “other dangerous laws prohibiting people from accessing reproductive health care or shaming them for seeking it in the first place.”

Result: She signed a repeal of the ban in March, although it was mostly symbolic. Michigan’s new constitutional right to an abortion had essentially rendered it moot.

Regarding the other laws limiting abortion, the result is mixed. In signing the legislature’s Reproductive Health Act earlier this month, laws like these — which Democrats argue were politically motivated — are repealed:

  • Facility requirements like hallway width and procedure room size.
  • A requirement that patients be given state-mandated materials on alternatives like adoption.
  • A ban on colleges referring abortion services to students.

But negotiations with the lone Democratic defector in the narrowly-divided House, Detroit Rep. Karen Whitsett, meant the Act does not repeal Michigan’s 24-hour waiting period or allow Medicaid to cover abortions.

“The governor has accomplished nearly everything she laid out in her State of the State address earlier this year,” Stacey LaRouche, Whitmer’s press secretary, told MLive.

LaRouche also noted expanded workers’ rights and increased investment in K-12 schools and law enforcement.

On the related topic of civil rights, Whitmer’s goal of expanding the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexuality and gender identity was realized in March.

And further regarding health care, the governor made good on a “What’s Next” address promise by signing the Affordable Care Act’s (Obamacare) major protections into state law in October.

Saving people money

Promise: The governor promised in February to roll back a 2011 tax on pension income and to increase Michigan’s match of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

Result: She signed both pieces into law in March.

Voting rights

Promise: In her State of the State, Whitmer promised to “expand voting rights, protect election workers, and build on last year’s bipartisan law to help military members and their families overseas have their votes counted.”

Result: These goals are mostly realized. In July, the governor signed bills implementing last year’s Proposal 2 to expand voting rights and access, including nine days of early in-person voting.

Going beyond what voters approved, however, included a new law allowing clerks to count absentee ballots eight days before Election Day instead of the day before.

The legislature also passed a bill enhancing penalties for harassing election workers. It awaits Whitmer’s signature.

But on military voting, results are mixed. Whitmer signed a bill in May giving overseas voters more time to return ballots. But House Bill 4120, which would allow overseas military members and their spouses to vote over the internet has only passed the House.

Election security and cybersecurity experts have testified that it unnecessarily risks the integrity of Michigan’s voting system.

Still on the agenda

Included in a broad promise to lower costs for consumers, Whitmer said leaders will tackle prescription drug prices. Senate bills to create a drug price cap board still need to pass the House next year before landing on her desk.

“The governor looks forward to continuing this momentum in the next legislative session to deliver on these kitchen table issues for Michiganders,” LaRouche told MLive.

Paid family and medical leave, as well as streamlining permitting for advanced manufacturing, infrastructure and housing, are other things from Whitmer’s August address that will have to wait until next year.


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