LANSING (Great Lakes News) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s joint announcement with Republican leadership reversed her repeated promise to veto any budget that did not include a “real” plan to fix Michigan’s damaged roads. The reversal came as a genuine surprise to many commentators and represented a break with Whitmer’s political posturing leading up to the budget’s October 1st deadline.
Over the course of the last few months, Whitmer used her online platforms to present herself as pushing against Republican inaction while in a position of power. Her Twitter page routinely posted content related to the budget and counting how many days had elapsed since she presented her version of the budget. The tweets ranged from simple reminders to snarky admonishments of Republican graphic design. Her social media battling reached its peak in early July when she posted a thread of increasingly elaborate statistical comparisons between the time taken by the Republicans to pass her budget and other things that take a long time to complete. Some highlights included:
How long it takes to climb Mt. Everest,
how long it takes to visit the moon,
and how long it took prog-rock band Queen to record their influential hit Bohemian Rhapsody.
While these posts might just be the result of an especially creative social media director, they are in line with Whitmer’s recent messaging. In public appearances and interviews with reporters Whitmer exhibited her ‘tough on Republicans’ attitude. Two weeks ago the governor responded to a question about her communication with Republicans by saying:
“You should ask the Republican leadership to show you their plan. It’s time for them to offer up something that is a legitimate alternative. Stop screwing around and get it done.”
Whitmer maintained this no-nonsense attitude up until her meeting with Republicans over the weekend. The governor scheduled a press conference to discuss the budget before the meeting, and then canceled the meeting the morning of the joint announcement. Whitmer then attempted to continue her antagonism with Republicans by painting their closed-door meeting as entirely within her control.
“I don’t view a shutdown as a game, I don’t view it as something that is just a leverage point.
I view it as something that’s very serious, that would have ramifications for people of our state,” she said to a group of reporters after a speech at the Grand Rapids Economics Club. “And that’s why, you know, as the adult in the room, I said, ‘It’s time to focus on getting a good budget done and continue that.’ So in one way or another, we’re going to fix the roads in Michigan.”
Whether or not a dissonance exists between her claims of being the “adult in the room” and the actual political reality of the situation remains to be seen, but a reversal is consistent with Whitmer’s track record.
During the 2018 gubernatorial election Whitmer made a similar statement regarding her position on a large gas tax hike. During a debate between her and then Attorney General Bill Schutte, Whitmer called Schutte’s claim that she would raise the Michigan gas tax by 20 cents “ridiculous.” Five months later she introduced her much-maligned 45-cent gas tax. In May, the governor received backlash from literacy advocacy groups after she failed to comment on making literacy a constitutional right, an issue she campaigned before she was elected.
“I think it diminishes her ‘luster’ somewhat, but Whitmer has a habit of braggadocio that she winds up ‘walking back,’” said former Michigan Senator and political commentator Bill Ballenger. “On the o other really big issue earlier this year — auto insurance rate reform — she threatened to veto what the Republican Legislature was going to send her, but then wound up signing it after the lawmakers made a few face-saving changes.”
The question lies in whether Whitmer will suffer for this perceived mixed messaging come reelection in 2022.
“Ultimately, there’s a lot of time left between now and when she may want to seek re-election in 2022, and the bottom line is whether she gets something done on “roads” between now and then,” Ballenger said. “What just happened was a battle, but it’s not the whole war.”
Whether Whitmer can enact her proposed changes to road funding without the leverage of a government shutdown remains to be seen.