By Kennedy Mapes
On the evening of Jan. 27, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her third State of the State address.
She began the address by explaining why this year’s address is different from the two she has done in the past.
“Like much of the last year, the State of the State is different, because it has to be. Tonight, it’s just me and a few people in my capitol office,” Whitmer said. “And while it’s different, it’s an opportunity to speak directly to you, the people of Michigan, about the past year and our priorities in 2021.”
Whitmer attributed the Latin phrase “Annus horribilis,” meaning “a year of horribles,” to the year 2020. She also told the viewers to take comfort in the fact that difficult years, like the one we have faced, are often followed by great years.
“…and yes, there’s a Latin phrase for that too: annus mirabilis,” Whitmer said.
She also explained that even though she has faced incredibly hard decisions as well as several dangerous threats, she is aware that her burden is still less than that of many others. Whitmer continued by saying that because 2020 was so different than anyone could have expected, it required “compassion, strength, and a lot of Michigan grit.”
Whitmer then turned the focus of the address to those we have lost to the pandemic.
“Every day, I think about the people who lost loved ones to this virus,” said Whitmer. “Those who said goodbye to their parents over Zoom because it was too dangerous to go to the hospital. The spouses who sleep alone for the first time in years. The Michiganders who still haven’t properly mourned.”
She discussed the immense loss of life experienced in Michigan. More than 14,000 lives have been lost due to COVID-19 in Michigan since the pandemic began almost a full year ago. Whitmer said that throughout the course of the pandemic, Michiganders have channeled their courage and empathy to make the state of our state resilient.
She then explained the things that have been done to flatten the curve and save as many lives as possible in the process. The guidance of health experts was taken seriously and a “fact-based approach” was taken to fight COVID-19. Whitmer then applauded businesses like Detroit Sewn, for manufacturing ventilators, hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks, as well as frontline workers for risking their lives, every single day, to protect the lives of others. She also noted the efforts of state correction officers and sanitation workers for providing critical services, and “the vast majority” of Michiganders for doing their part.
Whitmer continued to show her appreciation for the people of Michigan. She pointed out all of the things the state had to overcome in 2020 on top of a pandemic.
“This past year, we confronted a historic converging crisis – a worldwide pandemic, the recession it caused, a 500-year flooding event, a nationwide call against racial inequity, and a deeply divisive election. And together, we took action.
Whitmer congratulated the newly elected leaders of the Michigan House of Representatives and then shifted focus to the political environment of Michigan.
The governor also touched on the divisive political year Michigan has experienced and then explained how our Republican and Democratic state legislatures worked together to take bipartisan action on the pressing issues Michigan has faced.
Whitmer signed two balanced, bipartisan budgets this year that prioritize public health and safety as well as public schools. The state legislature worked together to produce the Michigan Reconnect Program, which provides tuition-free job training and community college to adults looking to earn an associate degree or postsecondary certificate. Clean slate legislation was also mentioned, which is legislation that broadens opportunities for those who have served time and also works to make Michigan’s criminal justice system more fair and equal.
Whitmer asked that the people of Michigan tap into that bipartisanship to end this pandemic together. She expressed her eagerness to work with the Biden administration who is “deeply committed to following science, protecting public health, and building our economy back better.” Whitmer said that she would continue to reach out to Michigan’s Republican legislators.
The governor stated that even though common ground seems difficult to reach after the year Michigan just experienced, it is more important than ever to work toward it.
“I know you’re used to hearing me say ‘fix the damn roads,’” Whitmer said. “This year, let’s also fix the damn road ahead- let’s find common ground to grow our economy. Get families and businesses back on their feet. It starts by ending the pandemic.”
Whitmer explained that the health of Michigan’s economy is indisputably linked to the health of its people and to build up the economy, protecting public health must be the priority. She then mentioned that her primary responsibility as governor is to keep the people of her state safe. She continued by describing some of the things she has done to protect and expand healthcare in Michigan. She mentioned the legislature that ended surprise medical billing, addressing the incredibly high cost of prescription drugs, as well as the Prescription Task Force Whitmer announced last year and their plan to lower costs and increase drug price transparency.
Whitmer said that just like World War II, when Michigan was the “arsenal of Democracy,” Michigan stepped up as the “arsenal of health” over the course of the pandemic by manufacturing ventilators, masks, and personal protective equipment, as well as the Pfizer vaccine rollout in Portage, Michigan.
Due to the state partnering with health insurance providers, they were able to find a way to waive the costs of testing and treatment. Because of this, Michigan is seventh in the nation for the most COVID-19 tests with 9.6 million tests performed. Whitmer used this opportunity to thank the National Guard for their service and help with COVID-19, floods, and safety threats.
Whitmer also pointed out that Michigan leads the nation in reducing racial disparities of this pandemic.
“Early on, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, or “Dr. J” as you’ve heard me call her, saw the disparate impact COVID-19 was having on communities of color. By acknowledging this, we not only saved lives in Michigan but around the country as other states learned from us. Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist chaired the Michigan COVID Task Force on Racial Disparities, focusing on education, testing and outreach that further saved lives,” said Whitmer.
The Governor then began to talk about the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and how the roll-out occurred. Whitmer said that in the first wave of the vaccine distribution, the state first prioritized healthcare workers, educators, seniors, and those populations most at risk. Michigan is the sixth in the nation for administered vaccines with over 800,000 administered vaccines and that number has now surpassed the amount of recorded positive COVID-19 cases.
Michigan is now in the second wave of distributing COVID-19 vaccines and Whitmer said that she knows people are anxious to get the vaccine, but Michigan does not yet have the supply needed to provide vaccines to everybody, but the state has a plan to administer 50,000 vaccinations per day when the supply is readily available.
“Every eligible Michigander who wants a vaccine will get one. This process is like a locomotive – it will be cumbersome and slow in the beginning, but it will get faster and smoother as we go. I just ask for patience as our frontline workers work around the clock to get shots in arms,” Whitmer said. “Our medical objective is to vaccinate at least 70% of our population age 16 and up as soon as possible. The quicker we do this, the quicker we’ll have the normalcy we all crave: family gatherings, travel, graduations, concerts, and more.”
Whitmer then said that the vaccine will be available to the general public in the coming months, but until it is, the people of Michigan must continue to wear their masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
“The coming months will determine the strength of our economic recovery. Let’s end this pandemic. Make your plan to get vaccinated, and keep wearing your mask until this pandemic is over. Let’s join forces to jumpstart our economy,” Whitmer said.
Governor Whitmer followed this by acknowledging the massive toll that this pandemic has taken on Michigan small businesses and those who work for these businesses. She said that the places in which the federal government failed, the states stepped up to achieve. She then mentioned the $106 million relief bill she introduced last month that allowed $55 million to be directed to the small businesses that have been drastically impacted by the pandemic. She also explained the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan she announced last week.
The plan includes distributing vaccines, getting education back on track, supporting small businesses, and rebooting the economy. Her plan also calls on the state legislature to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks to provide financial relief and security to struggling families and workers.
In talking about how COVID-19 has affected education systems, Whitmer has set a goal for all schools to offer an in-person learning opportunity by March 1.
“I’m reconvening the members of the Return to School Advisory Council. By Spring, this group will provide guidance to policymakers, districts and schools about how to best promote comprehensive recovery. And my budget will fund academic recovery, school infrastructure improvements, and support for students’ physical and mental health,” Whitmer said.
She then thanked Michigan educators and administrators for their continued dedication to their students and announced that next month, MI Classroom Heroes will be rewarded grants up to $500 to acknowledge the efforts of teachers and support staff as well as to help offset expenses.
Governor Whitmer then, once again, discussed the importance of our frontline workers and the appreciation owed to them for risking their own lives and continuing to work so the rest of us could stay safe and at home. She mentioned the Futures for Frontliners program that provides tuition-free post-secondary education to our frontline workers and she highlighted that over 82,000 of Michigan’s brave frontline workers have been accepted into the program.
Following this, Whitmer discussed job creation in Michigan. Whitmer said that creating more, and better, jobs for Michigan workers is one of the tasks at the top of her priority list.
“Today, I’m announcing Michigan Back to Work: my plan to help us grow our economy and get Michiganders back on their feet,” Whitmer said. “We’re gonna leverage all of the resources of state government to rebuild our economy back better. Working with leaders in state and federal government, business, and beyond to grow good-paying Michigan jobs. Over the next year, we will announce initiatives and projects big and small, from tech, mobility, manufacturing growth, to clean energy and road construction. This will protect, grow, and create more good-paying jobs.”
Whitmer also said that it is time for the legislature to extend the Good Jobs for Michigan legislation to benefit families, businesses, and the economy by creating more jobs.
The governor then directed the conversation toward infrastructure, saying that to grow the economy, the focus must first be on our state’s infrastructure. The condition of the roads in Michigan has contributed to financial struggle as people have had to spend hundreds of dollars each year on vehicle repair due to the poor condition of infrastructure. She explained that even with having to prioritize an unexpected virus, things were still able to get done.
The I-496 Rebuilding Michigan project was completed and hundreds more projects are to come. Also, thanks to union construction workers, a much-needed bridge was quickly built, in the midst of a pandemic, on US-10 following the May flood in Midland.
Whitmer plans to continue to put a focus on rebuilding roads to keep families safe and “keep more money in Michiganders’ pockets.”
Whitmer discussed the progress that has been made on water infrastructure. She called on the legislature to work towards passing the necessary bills to rebuild this infrastructure and to ensure clean, safe water for all of the people of Michigan.
She then thanked Joslyn Benson, Secretary of State, and the State Attorney General, Dana Nessel for their contributions to the historic, fair, and secure election. She noted the divisiveness the election caused and the divide that is still occurring. To combat that and to create unity, Whitmer announced a “Fixing the Damn Road Ahead” tour in which she will travel to listen to the voices of all Michigan people, regardless of age, party affiliation, location. Her goal is to listen to everybody who wants to be heard.
Whitmer stated that this tour will focus on what unites us and to figure out how we can move forward together and come out of this crisis together, stronger than ever before.
Whitmer acknowledged that 2020 was a year filled with terrible, unexpected things that nobody ever wanted to experience and that it is easy to look at the past year and focus on the worst of it, however, she doesn’t want anyone to lose sight of the actions we all took as Michiganders to keep ourselves, our families, and everyone else safe. She thanked those that did their part– the ones who listened to health care professionals, wore their masks, stayed home, and socially distanced as much as possible.
She then spoke directly to the legislative leaders who were watching the address and told them it is time for them to come together to get us out of this crisis and into a better place than we were before.
“Let’s commit to the strong bipartisan action we took last year and focus that same energy to end the pandemic, grow our economy and get our kids back on track,” Whitmer said. “The people of Michigan are counting on us. Here’s to an annus mirabilis – a great year. Let’s get it done.”