Gretchen Whitmer becomes Michigan’s 49th governor
Newly-sworn in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer examined the possibilities of working together on nonpartisan issues like roads and education in her inaugural address on New Year’s Day.
She became the 49th Governor of Michigan when she took the oath of office in front of hundreds on the steps of the Michigan Capitol Building.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson were also sworn-in to their positions.
In the 47-year-old’s inaugural address, Whitmer thanked her successful campaign and talked about “building bridges” in the state of Michigan.
“We may belong to different parties, but we are all here today for the same reason. We are proud Michiganders,” the former Senate Majority Leader said. “We owe it to the people we serve to cast partisanship aside, to roll up our sleeves and to build bridges together.”
Whitmer said she was inspired to have such a nonpartisan outlook on Michigan issues from former Michigan Governor Gerhard Mennan Williams, a democrat who was in office while the Mackinac Bridge was constructed.
“A democrat worked with the republican legislature and built the Mackinac Bridge,” Whitmer said. “At that time people believed that building a suspension bridge that long was not possible. Others thought politicians wouldn’t be able to put their differences aside and get it done. But leaders from both parties proved them all wrong.”
On Nov. 1, 1957, the Mackinac Bridge opened. Now, it is the longest suspension bridge with two towers between anchorages in the Western Hemisphere.
“Most of all, (the Mackinac Bridge) sent a powerful message around the world: Don’t ever bet against Michigan,” she said.
Whitmer grew up in Grand Rapids and received a bachelor’s degree in communication from Michigan State University.
Whitmer’s parents Richard and Sherry, both lawyers, showed Whitmer governmental processes early on. Her father Richard served as the head of the Department of Commerce and her mother Sherry was assistant attorney general under Frank Kelley.
With her two parents in attendance at the inauguration, Whitmer took a moment to thank each of her family members for their continued support.
“I feel lucky to have called Michigan home my whole life,” Whitmer said. “After law school I wanted to make my home in East Lansing near my parents. I knew this was the place I wanted to raise my family. Because to me, Michigan is more than just a place, Michigan is a way of life.”
Just 731 days ago, Whitmer announced she would run in the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial race. She won all 83 counties in the state to become the Democratic nominee. Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette, the former Michigan Attorney General during the Nov. 6 election.
Whitmer’s campaign was highlighted by her “fix the damn roads” slogan. During her inaugural speech, she explained that she didn’t come up with it, but it worked. A working mom at a hospital in Detroit told Whitmer, “I just need you to fix the damn roads.”
“We might live in divisive times, but potholes are not political,” Whitmer said. “I will be a Governor for everyone. I am committed to working across party lines.”
Gilchrist took the oath of office on the steps of the capitol building just minutes before Whitmer. He took a unique path to the office of lieutenant governor.
“(These steps) are more than the pathway to the chambers of lawmaking and halls of collaboration,” Gilchrist said. “They are the stopping points that we as Michiganders gather upon every few years to define the goals and promises our state will pursue.”
From Detroit, Gilchrist grew up as an only child while his parents strived to set him up for success as a middle-class family. He moved away to work as a software engineer and started in politics with MoveOn.org, an “American progressive public policy advocacy group and political action committee” that raises money for left-wing candidates.
The tech-savvy University of Michigan graduate returned to the city of Detroit in 2014 and was named Whitmer’s running mate on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018.
“Let us choose to leave no cry for help unheard, no call for empathy unanswered and no opportunity for collaboration on the table,” Gilchrist said “Thank you to the millions of people who stepped up to participate in our democratic process by voting, volunteering, conversing and caring about our state.
“We are all here thanks to you.”
Nessel and Benson were the first two state legislators to take the oath of office and make a speech. At the inauguration, Nessel became the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected to a statewide office.
“I ran for this office for one simple reason: I wanted the people of Michigan to feel like they truly have a government that really cared about them again … irrespective of income, race, geography, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity,” Nessel said.
Benson excited the crowd with speak about how nobody should have to stay at a Secretary of State branch for more than 30 minutes.
“It is a new day for democracy here in the state of Michigan,” Benson said. “I will protect your vote, your voice and your democracy.”