By Tatiana Diaz and Lillian Linscott
Gubernatorial candidates Bill Schuette and Gretchen Whitmer gathered for a televised gubernatorial debate at WOOD TV 8 studios in Grand Rapids ahead of Michigan’s midterm elections on Nov. 6 and expanded on their plans for the state.
The debate was moderated by WOOD TV 8 political reporter Rick Ablin. The candidates debated over issues including health care, K-12 education funding, the Michigan water crisis, Michigan roads, Larry Nassar, immigration reform, the legalization of marijuana and taxes.
Albin kicked off the debate with questions about a recent video that surfaced from 1989 where candidate Bill Schuette appears to flirt with a woman who was off camera while preparing for an interview. Albin asked when and how did each candidate find out about the video and how they predicted the video would affect the race. Schuette responded during the debate that the video was a ploy from his opponents to embarrass him.
“I was apparently trying to be funny and obviously I’m embarrassed about it,” Schuette said. “The real issues for Michigan is about whether we move forward or (go) back. I have a paycheck agenda to make sure that we cut income taxes, we lower auto insurance rates and improve our schools. And Gretchen Whitmer she… was in the legislature for 14 years, only passed three bills and she has done nothing.”
Whitmer responded to the question about the video, focused her answer on her plans for Michigan and what she plans on focusing on after the election.
“I saw the video a couple of days ago and it was bizarre,” Whitmer responded. “I don’t know what to say about it… The fact of the matter is, I don’t care about that video. I care about getting the issues that really matter to the people of this state like healthcare, like protecting women’s rights, moving forward on repealing the retirement tax that Bill Schuette praised when he said that the tax changes the Republicans passed were good news for taxpayers.”
Citizens who were not present at the debate had a chance to submit questions before the debate and Albin shared two of their questions. The first was from a viewer named Martha regarding K-12 education in Michigan and each candidate’s plan to fund programs. Schuette was first up to answer the question and gave his take on Michigan’s current education crisis.
“My wife and I and our children went to public schools, and we had a great education,” Schuette said. “But today in Michigan too many schools are failing. And when you see that our third grade reading scores are among the lowest in the nation that’s outrageous and it needs to be changed. As governor I’m going to grade our schools A through F, provide grants to those schools that are showing improvement and appoint a literacy director… because of the significance of reading. I’ll have a Michigan reading foundation as well so that we can provide transportation scholarships.”
Whitmer also proposed a plan to fund public education for K-12 students in Michigan and to improve reading levels across the state.
“Right now in our state we rank in the bottom 10 in education in our country,” Whitmer said. “It is unacceptable and that’s why the education plan that I put on the table is a plan from cradle to career to improve our skills, tripling the number of literacy coaches, universal early childhood education, supporting people who go into education and ensuring that every child graduating has a path to a skill that leads them to a high wage job. My opponent on the other hand is the guy who used our taxpayer dollars to go to court and argue that our kids don’t have a constitutional right to read. He thinks Betsy DeVos is doing a great job. Bottom 10 is not a great job and it’s not acceptable.”
Albin also touched on the Flint water crisis and the latest discoveries of contaminated water throughout West Michigan. “Where are we in Flint?” Albin asked. “What has been accomplished? What remains to be done? And, as governor, how will you address the rest of the underground issues that will come with a multi-billion dollar price tag?”
Schuette responded with his observations on the current ongoing crisis in Flint and what he did after the news broke about the high lead levels in Flint’s water.
“Flint is a city where too many people play politics with the people who live there and I know families in Flint today that only drink water from plastic bottles, they wash their fruits and vegetables only with a plastic bottle. Gretchen doesn’t do that, I don’t do that but people in Flint do and that’s why I had an independent investigation so we could determine what laws if any were broken… I make no apologies to those people who complain that I filed charges in Flint. You know why? Because 12 people died and thousands of kids were poisoned. And I’m going to make sure that there’s accountability and justice for those in Flint.”
Whitmer responded with her plan to fix the water crisis in Flint if she were to win the gubernatorial position.
“My plan to fix the problem in Flint starts with expediting the replacement of the pipes, refurbishing the replacement of bottled water until every pipe is replaced and real wraparound supports for the children of Flint. Eight thousand children in Flint brushed their teeth every night with water that had lead on it. They called the Attorney General. They asked 15 times, they filed complaints in the course of two years and were ignored. He signed off on the initial order that prevented the switch to the Flint river.”
The candidates were posed a question pertaining to auto insurance reforms and what actions they planned on taking.
“We still have to make sure we are protecting people that are tragically hurt in auto accidents, but one of the most crushing things that people are confronting is redlining,” Whitmer responded. “This is the discriminatory practice that insurance companies use to decide rates based on non-driving factors, like your education level, your marital status, your zip code, they should not be allowed to do that and when we take that ability away, that’s when we will see rates drop.”
Schuette’s response began with a story at a memorial day parade where a man pleaded with him to lower auto insurance costs.
“We need to stop insurance fraud, second we need to stop the frivolous lawsuits of the trial lawyers and give people across the state options and choices for coverage.” Schuette stated. “…this comes down to this contrast of which vision you want to have for Michigan, an extreme agenda of Gretchen Whitmer or the paycheck agenda of Bill Schuette, which means cutting our taxes, lowering our insurance rates and driving Michigan forward.”
The next question referred to the statewide proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. Each candidate was asked where they stood in regard to the proposal and why. This proposal follows the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program approved by Michigan voters on Nov. 4, 2008.
“…I am opposed to proposal one cause I don’t think we should put more drugs in the hands of children.” Schuette said. “…if anyone of these three ballot proposals pass then I’d be duty bound and I will make sure that we implement and to the full spirit and letter of the law.”
Whitmer had an opposing view on the issue and proposed a different plan to handle the situation.
“I’m going to be a yes vote,” Whitmer said. “And as governor I’m going to promulgate rules so that that product doesn’t get into the hands of our kids and make sure that we collect the taxes, put the money into infrastructure and education and health care the way that it’s supposed to be.”
To watch the full debate, click here. The Michigan Midterm Elections are set for Tuesday, Nov. 6.