Opinion: Historic leadership creates historic results
When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and I took the oath of office to begin our first term, we knew it was an historic moment for our state. But, more importantly, we knew it was a unique opportunity to bring something that had been missing to the governor’s office: representative, responsive leadership.
For the first time in our state’s history, our leadership is made up of people who share the same experiences that make us Michiganians in the first place. The top offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state are all held by women. We have an openly gay attorney general delivering protections for all people. And I am proud to serve as Michigan’s first-ever black lieutenant governor. We built the most diverse administration this state has ever seen, with more people of color, more women, and more members of the LGBTQ+ community because everyone should have a seat at the table.
In our first month in office, Gov. Whitmer signed executive directives to secure equal pay for equal work in state government, ban discrimination in state government based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and widen the pathways for small and disadvantaged businesses to work with state government. These executive actions helped to ensure that people are rewarded for what they bring to the table, not discriminated against.
In May, Whitmer proved that she could deliver historic reforms when she negotiated with Republicans in the legislature to lower Michigan’s highest-in-the-nation auto insurance rates. The new law will save drivers money by guaranteeing lower auto insurance rates for eight years and prohibiting insurance companies from using discriminatory non-driving factors when setting rates.
Starting in Detroit and stretching to Marquette, I led a 19-stop tour called Thriving Cities to listen to people and lay a foundation for improving quality of life in areas such as affordable housing, environmental quality and justice, and kids in cities. The No. 1 thing we heard on the tour was that we must work together to fight poverty and create generational economic opportunity. We took actions this fall in response, including changing the asset limit test for receiving public assistance, beginning to expand eligibility for overtime pay, and establishing a poverty task force.
And throughout the year, we made major improvements to our criminal justice system. I serve as co-chair of the Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration in partnership with the PEW Charitable Trust, which has initiated an in-depth review of the county jails to understand how we can reduce the jail population and treat people with dignity. Whitmer signed bipartisan bills to end the practice of civil asset forfeiture for those who have not been convicted of a crime. She went on to sign a bipartisan package of bills to raise the age of who is considered an adult to ensure that anyone under 18 years old will be treated as a minor in juvenile court and receive the rehabilitation services that are offered in the juvenile justice system.
Whitmer became the first governor to fly the pride flag on a government building and host a Ramadan dinner at the governor’s residence in Lansing. I was humbled to become the first black lieutenant governor in Michigan history to sign a bill into law in November.
For too long, our state was governed by people who put their own self interests and partisanship before solving problems for the people of Michigan. I can safely say that this is no longer an issue in our administration because we immediately got to work on behalf of all Michiganians, addressing the issues that most directly affect you each and every day.
Garlin Gilchrist II is the lieutenant governor of the state of Michigan.