Schwarz: Why Whitmer should be our next leader

Joe Schwarz

With just under four weeks remaining in the 2018 gubernatorial race, Michiganians are confronted with a choice between two experienced and qualified candidates. There are, however, a sufficient number of differences in policy and approach to issues that separate them and provide voters with a clear option, one way or the other.

Democratic candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer had a nearly 14-percentage-point lead in the Sept. 5-7 Detroit News/WDIV poll.

Earlier this year, a group of Independents and Republicans, all of whom had been active in the Michigan political scene for years, chose to support the candidacy of Gretchen Whitmer. This was not a decision made easily or taken lightly by our group.  Most of us are friends with both candidates and want those friendships to continue long after the 2018 election is history. The political process can sometimes be difficult, this was no exception.  

Whitmer had a full and productive career in the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate, where she served as minority leader during her last term.  She then served as Interim Ingham County prosecutor.  She is a political moderate, part of that ever shrinking category of moderates in both Democratic and Republican parties who can communicate across the aisle, seek and find solutions to policy issues, big and small.  Partisan, immovable, and non-negotiable positions on important issues may play well with the base, both left and right, but they accomplish nothing and bring legislative bodies (and Congress) to a standstill. 

In my 18 years in the Michigan Senate and U.S. House and, earlier, as mayor of Battle Creek, I fully realized that that the old adage "there ain't no free lunch" is an absolute truth. I believe Whitmer recognizes and believes this as well.  She has spelled out some clearly defined goals for her governorship, should she win.  She has set these goals with full knowledge that if improvements are to be made, they must be paid for.  To maintain that our crumbling infrastructure can be maintained and upgraded, the educational needs of our children can be met, and that the state can fulfill its revenue sharing commitments to local units of government (counties, cities, townships), without additional sources of revenue, is to live in a dream world.  The Snyder administration found earlier this year that the state needs $4 billion more per year for roads, pipelines, utilities, and internet construction and improvement. These are absolute necessities if our state is to keep pace with its neighbors and the country as a whole.

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The Whitmer campaign has proposed approximately $2 billion in infrastructure spending, to "fix the damn roads."  The idea that the required funding for infrastructure can be found in the existing state budget and revenue composition just won't wash. Funds cannot be taken from K-12 education, from health and human services programs, from natural resources programs and regulation, from agriculture, and from higher education.

Another major issue is the funding or our state universities.  State appropriations for higher education are down 32 percent in the past 16 years, in inflation adjusted dollars. We are pricing our young Michigan women and men out of a college education at their own public university campuses. Whitmer, a Michigan State University graduate, is fully aware of the critical importance of college availability at an affordable  cost for Michigan students at Michigan universities, and the issue of proper and adequate funding for our universities and community colleges will be addressed by a Whitmer administration. 

Former office holders at all levels are called upon to support candidates each and every election year. Our group, Independents and Republicans for Whitmer, thought long and hard, even agonized in some cases over our choice in the governor's race. In the final analysis, I felt and I know my colleagues felt, that Whitmer, all things considered, would be the best choice for governor in 2018. 

The issues she feels most strongly about -- infrastructure, affordable and accessible health care, a quality education for our children and grandchildren through college -- are our issues. We have the utmost respect and admiration for all who have the courage to put their name on the ballot in this very rough political era. 

And, speaking for myself, I have thrown my support behind Gretchen Whitmer to be our next governor. She'll be a good one.

Joe Schwarz is a former congressman from Michigan's 7th district. He is currently a member of the Voters Not Politicians board.