Bankole: Whitmer has skill, strength to lead Michigan to bipartisan solutions
When he became prime minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill described his ascendancy this way: “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”
And of course, Churchill’s trial would be how he formed an alliance with the United States to save his nation and Europe from the deadly clutches of Adolf Hitler. He would later suggest that we leave the past to history, “especially as I propose to write that history myself.”
But unlike Churchill, history hasn’t been kind to many politicians for a number of reasons that include lack of courage and vision as well as broken promises.
The question is whether history will one day be kind to Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer as she takes the oath of office in January to begin governing with a divided Legislature? What kind of leader will she be when put to the test as the chief executive of the state?
“I worked closely with Gretchen when I was the Democratic leader in the House. She is very collaborative and witty, yet she is tough. She knows how to grab hold of words and phrases like ‘fix the damn roads.’ That was classic Gretchen,” said former state Rep. Dianne Byrum, now a Michigan State University trustee. “She was always talking about people over profits. I think she understands bipartisanship and because of her time in the Legislature, she has relationships across party lines. In that way she will be a very different governor.”
Byrum said while the incoming Democratic governor will work to find common ground with the Republican Legislature, “Gretchen will stand her ground on issues that are fundamental to her core and value system. You will see it in education.”
Former Republican Senate Majority leader Randy Richardville, who worked with Whitmer in the Senate said the governor-elect has the attributes to lead the state.
“We were able to work together to get some things done,” Richardville said. “She does have a very unique opportunity given the fact that the state and the country are looking for bipartisan leadership. She has the opportunity to do just that and she has the qualities that a lot of people are looking for right now.”
According to Richardville, the fact that both the Legislature and the executive branch are forced into the middle to work on issues would prove Whitmer’s administrative mettle.
“She has the unique opportunity to be one of the best governors in recent times. She is an articulate speaker and that’s part of what her strength is,” Richardville said. “She is able to communicate with people and has a good sense of humor.”
Former state Rep. Chris Kolb, who also served with Whitmer during her early years in Lansing, said she is consistent.
“With Gretchen what you see is what you get,” said Kolb, a Democrat. “When we came into the Legislature 18 years ago, she was definitely at the top of her class. She was smart, articulate and had an easy way about her. She cares about issues and is really about the outcomes.”
Whitmer served in the state House from 2001-2006 and then later in the state Senate from 2006-2015, where she was the minority leader. As the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee at the time according to Kolb, she fought hard against proposed cuts to the budget.
“She knows when to fight and when to compromise,” Kolb said. “She has been in divided government before.”
Detroiter Mary Waters served alongside Whitmer in the state House and recently spent hours with the future governor on the campaign trail galvanizing support including visits to churches across the city.
“When we worked together in the House she was a very efficient leader,” Waters said. “She fought very hard on behalf of the Democratic caucus. I think she knows what to do to be effective.”
Waters called Whitmer a consensus builder and says she will go the extra mile to get things done “Without compromising all the issues that are part of the core values of the Democratic Party.”
She added, “At the end of the day she will exercise the power of her pen when necessary.”
As with every new governor, there is a demand for issues that will get the most attention. But how Whitmer prepares to meet such challenges and keeps to her campaign promises will determine the kind of leader she will be.
As Churchill once noted, it is a tragedy when that special moment you are tapped to lead comes, and it finds you unprepared for what could be your finest hour.
This is Whitmer’s moment.
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