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Schuette, Whitmer Take Off Gloves In Spirited First Debate

October 16, 2018

(GRAND RAPIDS) – Bill Schuette and Gretchen Whitmer verbally battered each other in Friday’s first general election gubernatorial debate, with familiar charges of the Democrat’s alleged “extreme agenda” and the Republican’s perceived tendency of only doing his job when the “cameras are rolling.”

The two skilled debaters quickly pivoted off of WOOD-TV moderator Rick Albin’s plea for specifics to well-trodden, vague plans to fix roads and reduce auto insurance rates. 

A question about a 38-second video clip of a seemingly flirtatious Schuette 30 years ago — ridiculed on social media as “creepy” — was quickly pushed aside by the GOP nominee as being a “Planned Parenthood, Democratic hit job.” He moved swiftly into talking about Friday’s news about how Whitmer’s running mate let a dilapidated Detroit apartment building he purchased two years ago stain a neighborhood. 

Whitmer linked Schuette and fellow “establishment” ally U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos almost as much as Schuette paired up former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her “disciple,” Whitmer. 

Both repeatedly went back to the well on specific numbers. For Schuette, it was Whitmer passing three bills in her 14 years in the legislature. For Whitmer, it was that Schuette’s Attorney General office seemingly ignored 15 complaints on Flint’s foul water over a two-year span before he did anything about it. 

For Whitmer, it was the nine lawsuits his office signed on to against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

“He apparently didn’t think eight lawsuits were enough. He filed nine,” she said. 

For Schuette, it was the 12 people who died in Flint from the drinking water and how he’s holding the alleged culprits accountable with criminal charges. 

Schuette returned to claiming Whitmer didn’t do her job as Ingham County Prosecutor by not prosecuting Michigan State University serial sexual assailant Larry Nassar. Whitmer called on Schuette to quit “weaponizing” the Nassar issue. She says she did her job and that being effective sometimes means not necessarily being recognized for doing the right thing. 

“You can get a lot done if you don’t care about credit,” Whitmer said. “I know he doesn’t understand that concept, but I do.” 

When it came to Healthy Michigan, Schuette said Whitmer is overstating her role in seeing the state’s expanded Medicaid plan pass the Legislature. 

“You worked with every Democratic colleague who wanted Obamacare, so that’s really not strenuous activity,” Schuette said. 

Whitmer said that Schuette has “never done a darn thing to expand health care in Michigan.” Rather, he tried to remove the Attorney General’s authority for Medicaid and continues to fundraise off trying to destroy the ACA, often referred to as “Obamacare.” 

On the issues, neither necessarily broke new ground. Whitmer talked about raising $3 billion in new money for the roads. Schuette scoffed that this was code for Whitmer wanting to “raise your darn taxes” as part of her “economic collapse plan.” His plans consisted of a Department of Transportation audit, road guarantees and more D.C. money. 

Schuette described Whitmer as a “captive” of big insurance companies, a reference to a new line of Republican attack dubbed “Blue Cross Blue Whitmer” that keys in on the large amount of campaign contributions she’s received from Blue Cross Blue Shield officials. 

The Republican took a swipe at Whitmer for her support of the mutualization of Blue Cross Blue Shield, which phased out Medigap coverage. The Democrats turned around and noted that Schuette’s running mate, Lisa Posthumus Lyons, and most Republicans supported the same bill. 

Whitmer squeezed in a mention for her proposed two-year Michigan Opportunity Scholarships to community colleges. She called for expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Acts to the LGBT community because “bigotry is bad for business.” 

Schuette repeated an assertion that Whitmer supports eliminating the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and that he’ll get rid of sanctuary cities. Whitmer running mate Garlin Gilchrist’s past support of Hamas, he said, was “extreme and shameful.” 

Whitmer thought these charges were rich coming from someone who buddies up to Ted Nugent, who’s had his own string of “anti-Semitic” and otherwise insulting comments. 

At one point, Whitmer boiled down his position to, “Bill Schuette’s plan is two steps: Get elected and figure it out.” 

Whitmer supports legalizing marijuana while Schuette is opposed. 

On the environment, Schuette said while he was prosecuting people in Flint, Whitmer passed a bill about swimming pools. “That’s the water she cares about, not the citizens in Flint,” he said. 

The two did agree on some issues. Whitmer and Schuette both vowed to bring back the income tax exemption on pension income (eliminate the pension tax) and protect medical coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. 

But with each consistently lobbing bombs at the other, the viewer was forced to wave off the smoke to see the similarities. 

“Whitmer carried the day, no question,” said Jen Eyer of Vanguard Public Affairs. “She had a vision that she articulated with specifics to back it up . . . (Schuette) looked tired, not up to the task, robotic, canned. He repeated the same hits over and over again. He was kind of like a mannequin and his answers were not very convincing.” 

Matt Resch of Resch Strategies saw it much differently. “Bill was on message, as he always is, and did a really solid job of bringing a contrast between him and Gretchen on every question . . . Whitmer was much less sure of herself than I expected she would be. This is her thing. And I’ve never understood her boasting about securing votes for Medicaid expansion while leading a caucus you could squeeze into a couple sedans.” 

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