Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer stopped by the Michigan Press Association’s Annual Convention at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel on Friday to address Michigan journalists and sign an executive directive on Freedom of Information Act requests.
During her time on stage, Whitmer signed the directive and noted that it would change how state agencies respond to such requests, making the process more accessible and user-friendly.
The directive tackles extensions to FOIA requests – limiting them and requiring agencies to notify if the request will be prolonged – assigning a liaison between state departments to fulfil requests and requesting the Department of Technology, Management and Budget develop an online system where public notices and records can easily be accessed as well as livestreaming state public meetings.
“I think that Michigan has earned an ‘F’ when it comes to transparency and accountability for a reason, and it’s on us to work together to improve that,” Whitmer said during her time at Friday’s convention. “Today’s action and the other executive directives that I have done were what I could do unilaterally to ensure that the executive branch is living up to a higher standard. I hope that the legislature will follow suit.”
Whitmer has had a busy week tackling other issues as well like the massive winter storm passing through Michigan. On Monday she declared a state of emergency due to the severe weather conditions and pleaded with residents on Wednesday to turn down their heat in light of the storm. But the slick roads and below freezing temperatures did not keep Whitmer from attending the annual convention where she debated nearly a year ago as a candidate for her current position. After signing the executive directive, Whitmer talked about other issues plaguing Michigan residents and her plans to overcome them.
“We (have) some glaring issues that we have to tackle in the state whether it is closing the skills gap, educating our children, fixing the damn roads, cleaning up our drinking water,” Whitmer said. “These fundamentals are what voters told me for two years on the campaign trail that they wanted me to tackle and the beauty of those issues is that they really are not partisan issues.”
She addressed the $1.3 billion supplemental spending bill signed by then-governor Rick Snyder at the end of 2018 and stated her plans to handle those changes.
“(The spending bills) really compromises my ability to make sure that we live up to the expectations from this campaign that we saw in this election, and I’m not happy about it,” Whitmer said. “I think it is what it is, and I’m going to always abide by the law. But I’m always going to question and try to hold people and decisions accountable. One of the expenditures in that was $1 million to rename the Robert E. Lee River in Lowell, Michigan. Now, would the voters of the state prefer that we fix roads? Let’s ask them on Sunday when we have literally a hundred degree swing in temperature in this state. Our roads are going to be incredibly stressed by the freeze and thaw… It is going to create a huge problem and our ability to meet that problem with the current status in our state budget is severely compromised by decisions that were made on the last day of the last legislature.”
Whitmer was asked by one of the journalists in attendance if she saw an end to the struggle Republicans and Democrats face when trying to communicate with each other and how that struggle affects Michigan residents.
“I believe right now in a time where the federal government shut down for 36 days, I believe where they have a hard time even talking to one another, we in Michigan have a real opportunity to show the world what leadership looks like, what working together looks like,” Whitmer said. “It doesn’t mean that we will agree on everything, but we have a mandate to get back to building bridges and not be standing by building walls.”
She also addressed Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which was approved by a state panel in December to build an oil pipeline tunnel under the Great Lakes, and her plans for how best to handle the project.
“My first day in office, I asked the attorney general for a legal opinion so that I could understand what my ability is to ensure that we are protecting the Great Lakes and ensuring that people in the Upper Peninsula have affordable heating, and I expect that opinion to come back probably in the next three to four weeks,” Whitmer said. “And once that happens I will be able to tell you what I am going to do on that particular issue, but I gotta understand what my rights are. A lot of the last minute decisions and machinations produced a questionable product and that’s why I’ve asked for a legal opinion. And once I get it, I’ll share it with you and then I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.”