Who is Gretchen Whitmer?

Who is Gretchen Whitmer?
Source: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, reportedly met with Joe Biden in early July to discuss being his running mate. Biden has yet to announce his pick, but did confirm several months ago that he would choose a woman for the role.

There has been widespread speculation that Biden would pick a Black woman to be his running mate, although other non-Black women have been vetted for the position besides Whitmer, including Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth.

Whitmer, 48, is one of two other Democratic governors reportedly in the running for the position, including Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gina Raimondo from Rhode Island.

After winning Michigan’s governorship in 2018 and assuming office on New Year’s Day in 2019, Whitmer’s focus as governor has been on education, safe drinking water and repairing Michigan’s badly-potholed roads.

Whitmer also gained national attention amid the coronavirus crisis.

In April, as the coronavirus was becoming a serious concern in the United States, Whitmer mandated some of the strictest stay at home and economic shutdown orders in the country, prompting a backlash from some conservative residents in the state who thought the order went too far.

According to the COVID-19 Tracking Project, Whitmer’s decision to introduce measures to ease the severity of the health crisis saved lives. The coronavirus has officially infected over 96,000 people and killed just over 6,500 in Michigan. Cases continue to rise in the state but not as quickly as they had been rising in mid-to-late March.

Whitmer’s executive orders received pushback from the Republican-controlled legislature, but Whitmer has sought to use local law enforcement to ensure the state’s coronavirus restrictions are upheld.

Early life and rise to government

Whitmer was born and raised in Michigan to parents who both had careers in public service. Her father was a government lawyer and head of the state’s Department of Commerce and later the chief executive of Michigan’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, an insurance firm. Whitmer’s mother was an assistant attorney general in Michigan under a Democratic governor.

Whitmer’s parents divorced when she was six and her mother died of brain cancer in 2002.

After graduating from high school, Whitmer attended Michigan State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications and later a Juris Doctor law degree.

Whitmer won her first public election in 2000 for State Representative in the Michigan legislature, a post which she held for over five years. She was then elected to Michigan’s Senate in 2006, a role she held until 2015.

As a state representative for 14 years, some of her contributions included expanding Medicaid and protecting students from bullying. Whitmer was criticized by her opponent in the 2018 governor’s race for only passing three bills during her tenure.

Whitmer claimed she did a lot more behind the scenes, but did not feel the need to take credit. Records show she sponsored 190 bills during her time as representative.


Spending the first year of her term as governor focusing on education, infrastructure and the environment, Whitmer received plenty of pushback from her Republican colleagues in the Michigan legislature.

Even her ostensibly nonpolitical campaign promise to “Fix the Damn Roads” met with trouble after Whitmer and the Republican-controlled legislature sparred over how to pay for it.

Whitmer wanted to put an increased tax on gasoline to help pay for fixing and maintaining roads long term, but Republicans balked at the idea, instead proposing a one-time appropriation of US$400 million for the state’s roadways.

Comprehensive road repavement has yet to happen, but the coronavirus health crisis has since become the main focus of the administration.

Although some Michigan residents protested against Whitmer’s decision to mandate face masks, social distancing and shut down portions of the economy, Biden praised the state’s response to the virus, reportedly characterizing Whitmer as someone who is “capable of anything.”

During the controversy over the coronavirus mandates in Michigan earlier this year, President Donald Trump taunted the governor, tweeting that she was in “way over her head” in the role.

Whitmer said she did not want to argue with the federal government during the pandemic, but criticized the White House for lacking a clear and unified response to the virus.

According to a Washington Post/Ipsos poll released in May, 72% of Michigan residents approved of Whitmer’s response to the virus.

Right pick for VP?

Reports indicate that Biden had Governor Whitmer on his shortlist by early June. According to Doug Sosnik, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, Whitmer could bring benefits to Biden during the race given her status as a Washington outsider.

“What the country is looking for solution wise is not in Washington,” Sosnik said.

Others, like Henry Olsen, a conservative opinion columnist for The Washington Post, question Whitmer’s decision making abilities. Olsen criticized Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and her government’s inability to secure funding to fix the state’s roads.

“Talented politicians often make mistakes when they rise to new heights relatively quickly,” he wrote, adding that “the risk she won’t [recover from her political setbacks] could be too great for Biden to take.”

In April, when Whitmer was asked about the position by Politico, she suggested that she was staying focused on her job instead of trying to position herself for national office.

“I just know that, you know, you don’t run for that [vice president]. That is a selection of the top of the ticket, and everyone else should be just busy doing their jobs,” she said.

Whitmer claims her role as a mom is her most important job. She has two daughters with her husband and three stepsons from her husband’s previous marriage.

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