Building bridges: Democrats take charge after Midterm Election victories


To the tune of U2's 2000 hit "Beautiful Day," Michigan's 49th governor stepped onto the stage at the Motor City Casino in Detroit on Nov. 6 to speak to a crowd of her new constituents.  

"This victory belongs to you," Gretchen Whitmer told the crowd. "We may have all gone to the polls for very different reasons, but today we as Michiganders came out because we all love this state, and because we want a Michigan that works for every one of us."

For the Lansing-born "lifelong Michigander," Whitmer's victory over Republican Bill Schuette in the Nov. 6 gubernatorial election marks a new milestone in a 12-year political career.

Born in 1971 in Lansing, Whitmer was the eldest of three children for Richard and Sherry Whitmer, both lawyers. According to her website, Whitmer learned the importance of respecting everyone from the mixture of political views in her household -- Sherry was a Democrat and assistant attorney general under Frank Kelley, while Richard served as head of the Department of Commerce under Gov. William Milliken and later became CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Whitmer studied communications at Michigan State University, earning her bachelors degree in 1993, and her Juris Doctorate from Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University in 1998. She began her path toward the governor's seat in 2000, when she was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives.  

She served as a state Senator from 2006 to 2015. On May 11, 2016, Whitmer was appointed as the interim Ingham County Prosecutor after her predecessor Stuart Dunnings III was arrested and charged with 11 counts of involvement with a prostitute and four counts of willful neglect of duty. 

Serving in the position for six months, Whitmer left an impact on the office by establishing a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit that went after abusers and sped up the rehabilitation of non-violent first-time offenders, among other things.

Race for governor

Whitmer announced her candidacy for the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial election on Jan. 3, 2017. She won the Democratic Primary in Isabella County with 3,175 votes, beating out runner-up Abdul El-Sayed with 1,823 votes.  

Fixing "the damn roads" quickly became an important slogan in her campaign, and one of the many points she focus on with her proposed 'Getting it Done: Rebuild Michigan' plan for the state's infrastructure. Whitmer's education plan aims to reform public education by providing support "quality education from cradle to career." 

Whitmer has also declared herself an active women's rights advocate and has made it clear throughout her campaign that equality will be a priority in her role as governor. Whitmer plans to turn Michigan "into a model state for equality."

Early in her campaign, Whitmer took the image of the Mackinac Bridge to be a symbol of her candidacy, saying that the "Mighty Mack" represents the legacy of hard work and problem-solving by Michigan citizens when they come together. 

"At a time where we see too many people who want to divide us through building walls, I think we in Michigan need to get back to building bridges," Whitmer said during her inauguration.

Whitmer will be joined in office by her running mate and now Lt. Governor, Garlin Gilchrist II. A progressive political activist with a background in computer programming, the 35-year-old worked as an organizer for the and managed social media for Barack Obama's first presidential campaign.

"Tonight is a statement that we can accomplish anything we set our hearts to," Gilchrist said during the inauguration. "We can accomplish everything we set our imaginations to, and if history has not yet been made, then we can make it."

A Detroit native and father of twins, Gilchrist began working as the first ever director of Innovation & Emerging Technology in Detroit in 2014. He said he hopes to improve Michigan's public schools, job market and infrastructure while in office, as well as bringing the people of the state together.

"We have people who do not want to be discriminated against based on how they present, based on who they love, based and where they live and what people think they can accomplish," Gilchrist said.

The new face of Michigan 

The Central Michigan University College Democrats hosted a joint party with the Isabella County Democratic Party on election night at the Riverwood Resort. For Port Huron senior Clara Alderman, the group's president, watching Whitmer's nomination was a groundbreaking moment.

"I am completely ecstatic (about Whitmer winning)," Alderman said. "She worked very hard for it, she's very experienced and I have no doubt that she's going to do an amazing job." 

Alderman said the College Democrats, and Democrats in general, are very happy with the four top positions in Michigan government being taken not only by their candidates, but all women as well.

On the other side of the spectrum, the CMU College Republicans are happy with gains made by their party on a national level, though they would have liked to see more progress in Michigan, said Flushing sophomore Jacob McCullough. 

"(Whitmer) has a lot of good things she wants to do — I found that her and Schuette wanted to do a lot of the same things, but the way they want to implement them is very different," McCullough said.

College Republican president Jeff Malear said while its upsetting Michigan Republicans did not win more, he hopes Whitmer does a great job in her role.

"At the end of the day, she still is my governor," Malear said. "Whether she has 'Republican' or 'Democrat' next to her name, I hope she's successful."

For both organizations, the next couple of months will be a time to relax and regroup after the past months of hectic campaigning. Malear said the College Republicans will be focusing on thanking its members for their hard work, while the College Democrats are aiming to keep the momentum going and grow their membership.

"Voting registration never ends — its a 24-hour commitment," Alderman said. "Getting people registered is important, not only in elections, but especially on college campuses."