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Whitmer, Democrats set their agenda in her 5th State of the State address

Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her fifth State of the State address on January 25, 2023.
Whitmer Administration
Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her fifth State of the State address on January 25, 2023.
“I present to the governor of the great State of Michigan, the Honorable Gretchen Whitmer … (applause, cheers)"

Whitmer was announced by her lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist, and shook hands with House Speaker Joe Tate and Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks as she stepped to the rostrum.

“Isn’t it great?” (Laughs)

This was the first time in three years that Whitmer delivered the speech in person and in its traditional venue of the state House chamber. Democrats are in charge now in Lansing and it showed. Most of the governor’s proposals aren’t exactly new, but they have new prospects for success in a Legislature fully controlled by Democrats for the first time in four decades.

“We are eager to chase our bright future with hustle and grit. Michigan, the state of our state is strong and ready to go…” (applause)

The governor called for improved tutoring for struggling students and tuition-free pre-school for kids four and younger. She wants to restore tax exemptions for pension income and expand the state’s earned income tax credit for low and moderate wage-earners.

“Let’s expand the working families tax credit – delivering at least $3,000 refunds to 700,000 families." (applause)

Republicans, by and large, remained seated and stoic as Democrats rose to their feet and applauded. And that was before the governor’s words turned to guns, abortion and LGBTQ rights.

The governor framed abortion rights, protected now under a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution, as an economic issue.

“Now, the other half of attracting and retaining young people is standing up for their freedoms. A few months ago, Michiganders told us people should be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies. Let’s get to work." (applause)

Whitmer called on the Legislature to strike from the books the state’s dormant 1931 abortion ban, which, again, drew applause only from the Democratic side of the chamber. The same was true when the governor called for expanding the state’s civil rights law to offer LGBTQ legal protections.

The governor also called for tougher gun laws, including universal background checks as well as safe storage and red flag laws.

“We must do more so the world our kids inherit is not more violent than the one we inhabit now. The time for only thoughts and prayers is over.” (applause )

Republicans said the governor’s proposals were needlessly divisive and partisan or lacking in details. House Minority Leader Matt Hall.

“This was a lot of talking points. It was a very political speech, kind of spiking the football and, really, what we wanted to see something that was more inclusive and was more of a sign of working together between the parties and I don’t think she did that.”

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbittsaid Democrats have slim majorities and will have to bargain – at least on some questions—with Republicans.

“And so, I think they’re going to find they’re going to have to build some relationships across the aisle and actually work with us.”

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks said there are plenty of issues that can be resolved on a bipartisan basis, but Democrats will use their majority power while they have it.

“We are confident in our ability to get as much done as we can now. That is one of the reasons we won’t wait.”

Whitmer will next make a budget proposal to back up her policy plans. That’s expected to take place next month.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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