Kildee, Whitmer eye 2018 campaigns for governor

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday they are both actively considering campaigns for governor in 2018 in what could lead to a highly competitive Democratic primary.

Kildee

Whitmer of East Lansing and Kildee of Flint Township were meeting with influential business and civic leaders attending the annual Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel, which can be a springboard for launching campaigns for statewide offices and raising campaign cash.

Kildee, a second-term congressman, said his consideration of running for governor is being fueled by what he views as a slow response by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration to the Flint water crisis.

“I probably don’t think about it as much as people think I do, except to say that in the last several months there have been sort of moments of realization that it really makes a huge difference who sits in that chair for places like Flint, Saginaw, communities of people who feel marginalized,” Kildee said in a interview at the Grand Hotel.

Whitmer said she is “seriously looking at” running for governor and would decide by the end of March 2017.

“If it’s something I do, I want to govern, I want to have a real vision of where we go that I can talk about on the campaign trail and that we can deploy,” Whitmer said in an interview. “That’s really going to be important to have fleshed out. So that’s something I’m putting some thought into.”

Whitmer, an attorney, has been teaching part-time at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and working part-time at the Dickinson Wright law firm since being term-limited and leaving the Senate at the end of 2014.

Next month, Whitmer will begin a temporary six-month assignment as the interim prosecutor of Ingham County, replacing outgoing Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III as he fights criminal charges of engaging with prostitutes, pandering and willful neglect of duty.

But she is not running for the open prosecutor’s seat this fall, freeing up her time for launching a statewide campaign in early 2017.

“Three months ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I would be jumping into the prosecutor’s office, so to imagine what happens seven months from now is very difficult for someone like me,” Whitmer said.

Kildee’s political and job calculations are different. He would have to give up a congressional seat in the 5th District that he has held for two terms and his uncle, Dale Kildee, held for 36 years before that.

“I have a very strong feeling about what needs to happen, and I’m going to have to ask myself in a few months whether or not there’s someone else who can pursue those things or I feel like this is on me, I have to do this,” Kildee told The News. “I’ve had a few mornings when I woke up and I said to myself, ‘You know, Dan, you have to do this.’ ”

Kildee and Whitmer’s political decisions also could hinge on what Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan does.

Whitmer

Duggan, who is up for his first re-election as mayor in 2017, has repeatedly said he’s not running for governor and chided reporters at last year’s Mackinac Policy Conference for speculating that he covets a key to the governor’s mansion.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township are routinely mentioned by GOP activists as the most likely gubernatorial candidates in 2018.

But none of the Republican prospects has been as public as Kildee and Whitmer have recently been when asked if they are even privately studying the race.

“It’s a question that I get asked on a fairly regular basis and I’d love to make you feel special, but I’m going to give you the same answer I give everybody, which is one election cycle at a time and we’ll get through this one and then decide what to do about the next,” Calley said in a Thursday interview.

Schuette also sidestepped a question about whether he is gearing up for a widely expected gubernatorial campaign.

Instead, Schuette talked about how he is going to spend the next five months helping keep the Michigan House in GOP hands while getting Republicans elected to the Supreme Court and attorneys general posts in other states.

“In ’17, we’ll talk about ’18,” he said.

Miller is leaving Congress at year’s end and running this fall for Macomb County public works commissioner. Miller has said she is focused on unseating longtime Democratic incumbent Anthony Marrocco.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and former House Speaker Jase Bolger’s names have been floated in Republican circles as potential gubernatorial candidates.

Meekhof, R-West Olive, said he’s flattered to hear his name bandied about but focused on pressing issues on the Legislature’s plate, such as overhauling Detroit schools, updating the state’s energy policy and dealing with the on-going water crisis in Flint.

“The things we have in front of us now, if we do them well, we will have solved some very, very significant problems,” Meekhof said Wednesday.

Even with the 2016 election five months away, 2018 gubernatorial rumblings were making their way around the island resort town.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans swatted down speculation among conference attendees that he’s testing the waters for a gubernatorial campaign as he begins a statewide tour studying municipal finance issues.

“Think about: It’s counter-intuitive that I would be going around the state trying to figure out how to get more of the state money back to local municipalities and then I want to be governor,” Evans said. “You never rule out anything ... but that is no focus of mine.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

Twitter: @ChadLivengood