Gov. Whitmer asks Detroit business leaders to 'lean in' on promoting civility

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a direct appeal to Detroit business leaders Friday morning, asking them to get more involved in promoting civility in state politics.

"I think that it's really important in this moment that the chamber and the members of the chamber lean in and hold people who espouse rhetoric that is dangerous accountable, and play a real role here," Whitmer said.

She made the comment during a virtual "address for the business community" held by the Detroit Regional Chamber. The Democratic governor spoke for about 15 minutes before taking questions from Sandy Baruah, the chamber's president and CEO.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her State of the State address in January 2020.

At one point, Baruah asked what Whitmer's "strategy" was for making her relationship with the GOP-controlled Legislature smoother. The question came three days after a video of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, made national headlines.

In the video, Shirkey described the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as a hoax and said Republican lawmakers had "spanked" Whitmer in multiple political battles. Shirkey later apologized for "my insensitive comments."

"I have tried to continue a conversation with the Legislature," Whitmer said on Friday. "I hold quadrant meetings every other week, even, even just this past week, which has been another tumultuous week from the Senate leadership."

Whitmer never mentioned Shirkey by name but referenced a column in Crain's Detroit Business this week. The publication ran a commentary on Wednesday entitled, "Business leaders want political civility? Show Mike Shirkey the door."

"I hope that some of you will take a look at it," Whitmer said.

When Whitmer finished discussing her call for business leaders to help promote civility in state politics, Baruah replied that the Detroit Regional Chamber, which has previously embraced the subject, accepted the challenge.

"The attacks that have been directed towards you and your family with the language that has been used and obviously, the serious crimes that have been committed against you are completely appalling and have no place in civil society," Baruah said.

However, it's unclear whether he was including Shirkey's comments in his statement, as he did not mention the Senate majority leader by name.

Whitmer has faced demonstrations, including one in front of her house that featured protesters carrying firearms, violent rhetoric and an alleged kidnapping plot over the last year as her administration responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October, federal authorities said they had halted a plot to overthrow the government and harm Whitmer.

On Thursday, the governor specifically asked the Detroit Regional Chamber to help get a supplemental spending measure that would distribute federal relief dollars passed.

The supplemental, upon which Republican lawmakers and Whitmer have disagreed, is "crucial," Whitmer said. She also referenced the chamber's annual gathering on Mackinac Island.

"If you want to meet in September on Mackinac Island and if you want to get our kids back in school, if we want businesses to be re-enaged fully and get these resources into our economy, this chamber needs to lean in," Whitmer said.