After State Of The Union, Spotlight Will Turn To Michigan's Democratic Governor Democrats chose Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to give the English response to the State of the Union Address. But in Michigan, some wonder if she can live up to expectations.
NPR logo

After State Of The Union, Spotlight Will Turn To Michigan's Democratic Governor

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/801995368/801995369" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
After State Of The Union, Spotlight Will Turn To Michigan's Democratic Governor

After State Of The Union, Spotlight Will Turn To Michigan's Democratic Governor

After State Of The Union, Spotlight Will Turn To Michigan's Democratic Governor

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/801995368/801995369" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Democrats chose Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to give the English response to the State of the Union Address. But in Michigan, some wonder if she can live up to expectations.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Democrats are turning to Michigan's governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to deliver the English-language response to President Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night. The choice highlights the central role Michigan and the industrial Midwest are expected to play in the presidential election this year. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta breaks it down.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Trump won Michigan by a fraction of a percentage point, but that was enough to put the state's 16 electoral votes in the Republican column. It was also the first time the GOP candidate won the state since 1988. The president did not forget that last December when he was in the city of Battle Creek for a rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Michigan - thank you, Michigan. What a victory we had in Michigan. What a victory. Was that one of the greats?

PLUTA: Polls show once again the president could face a tight race in a state that's politically divided and emblematic of the challenges facing working-class Americans. When congressional Democrats were looking for someone to deliver the response Tuesday night, Governor Whitmer says it's no surprise they cast their eyes toward Michigan.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: I think everyone knows how important Michigan is in this election.

PLUTA: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer announced Whitmer will deliver the response and described her as a model to be emulated. Their statement praised Whitmer's work for clean drinking water in the wake of the Flint water crisis - also, her still-unfulfilled campaign promise to fix the damn roads in a state where underinvestment and freeze-and-thaw weather cycles wreak havoc on asphalt and concrete.

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell says there was a political component to the decision, especially since it's widely expected President Trump's speech will serve as the launch of his reelection campaign.

DEBBIE DINGELL: Gretchen Whitmer is a talented, dedicated governor in the Midwest. And let's be blunt. All roads for the presidential in November go through Michigan.

PLUTA: Whitmer was a veteran of the Legislature when she ran for and was elected governor. That includes time as the Democratic leader of the state Senate. As minority leader, she put her skills to work to bedevil Republicans, but she never got to serve as a leader in the majority. She plays something of the same role now since the Michigan Legislature is controlled by Republicans. And Republicans have refused her demand to raise the state tax on fuel sales to pay for roads and infrastructure.

WHITMER: I know people weren't excited about a gas tax. No one is, even me. But the fact of the matter is, I've inherited an incredibly serious infrastructure crisis, and I'm trying to fix it.

PLUTA: Her efforts to force Republicans to adopt her ideas led to a standoff that delayed adopting a state budget by the constitutional deadline. There are still hard feelings, but the governor has not given up on her efforts to raise the fuel tax.

The president, in his Battle Creek visit, referred to Whitmer's at-home political troubles as she continues to fight with Republicans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: It was all about roads, and they want to raise those gasoline taxes on you. We don't want to do that.

PLUTA: Whitmer says she's glad to serve as Trump's State of the Union bete noire. She expects she may be rewriting her response until the last minute.

WHITMER: Responding to something that is totally unpredictable, especially with an impeachment trial going on, is very difficult - and doing so in just 10 minutes.

PLUTA: Whitmer's rising profile may make her an emerging force in national Democratic politics, but it could also make it harder to make deals back home with Republicans and keep the still-unkept promises that got her elected.

For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.