Whitmer gives Calley a ride to work

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and businesswoman gather at the OST technology firm.

Grand Rapids — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s early efforts to work across the aisle extended Monday to the carpool lane.

The Democratic governor gave former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley a ride to a joint event in Grand Rapids and then back to Lansing, where the Portland Republican is now serving as president of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

“I gave him a lift over because we are serious about working together in every opportunity that we can to make sure we deliver results for people in this state,” Whitmer said, “and that we build bridges — bridges across party lines, bridges with business, bridges to a stronger economic future for everyone in our state.”

The East Lansing Democrat joined forces with Calley for a round-table discussion and press conference at OST, a technology company based in Grand Rapids, to highlight directives Whitmer signed earlier this month, including one to close any gender wage gap in state government. Another edict encourages the state to buy its goods and services from businesses in “geographically disadvantaged” regions of Michigan.

Helping companies that provide relevant good or services to work with the state has been one of the small business association’s “top objectives,” Calley said.

“The directive does not give smaller companies in the enterprise zones any kind of a preference when it comes to bidding — they still have to bid and compete,” he told The Detroit News after the event. “It’s the intentional work to remove the barriers that a smaller company would face in going through the bureaucratic process of doing business with the state.”

Calley then cut short the interview to rush to the door as Whitmer exited. “She’s my ride, I’m sorry,” he said.

The former lieutenant governor was something of an odd man out at the event, which primarily featured female business owners discussing Whitmer’s new directives.

“True innovation” happens when people or companies challenge the status quo, said OST President and CEO Meredith Bronk. “The governor has issued two directives aimed at just that — disrupting the way some of the business at the state has always been done.“

Whitmer’s equal pay directive does not affect the private sector, but the governor said she hopes to work with the Legislature “to make sure we’ve got these kind of protections for everyone in our state.”

The directive prohibits state departments from asking prospective hires how much they made at their previous job, which Whtimer said can perpetuate existing gender pay gaps.

For existing state workers, Whitmer said she hopes to improve transparency so one employee can compare his or her salary with a “similarly situated worker” in real time.

“But really I think that the greatest thing we’re doing is showing the world what we expect out of workplaces in Michigan. that women are not a separate group,” she said. “We are hard-working people who deserve to get paid what we should be making, what our colleagues who are male are making.”

Whitmer is stressing bipartisanship in her first month in office as she leads a state government divided by party for the first time in eight years. Democrats swept the top of the ticket but Republicans retained slimmer majorities in the state House and Senate.

While the Detroit Regional Chamber endorsed Whitmer’s gubernatorial bid, most major business groups backed Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, including the Small Business Association of Michigan now led by Calley, who also ran for governor last year but finished second to Schuette in the GOP primary.

Business groups are wary that Whitmer may try to undo or change a 2011 tax code overhaul done under GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder and Calley that created a new and lower Corporate Income Tax and exempted many small businesses.

Asked about the fears, Whitmer said she has “not put a plan on the table to change business taxation in our state.” Instead, “what I’ve done is set forth my priorities,” the governor said, noting she’ll discuss campaign pledges such as road funding in her Feb. 5 State of the State address and subsequent executive budget proposal.

“Potholes are neither Republican nor Democratic, but they’re tearing up our cars and compromising our ability to lure investment into the state of Michigan,” Whitmer added.

As she prepares to tour the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Tuesday, Whitmer said she has been studying up on mobility technology, including autonomous and connected vehicles.

“We have to build roads that can communicate with cars, not just roads that don’t tear up your car,” she said.

After riding back to Lansing with Whitmer after the Grand Rapids small business round table, Calley thanked the new governor on Twitter.

“Thanks for giving me a lift,” he wrote. “And thank you for taking action to provide small businesses more opportunity to do business with the state.”