Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer became a household name across the nation this year, due to media coverage of her response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, her public sparring with U.S. President Donald Trump and her position on Joe Biden’s shortlist for a vice presidential candidate in the upcoming election.
Her most recent national feature is in a New York Times magazine article titled “A Governor on Her Own, With Everything at Stake,” which details Whitmer’s experience as Michigan governor during an unprecedented time.
During a series of interviews with author Jonathan Mahler, Whitmer described how the state was grappling with the health crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic, which then led to an economic crisis for the state -- in addition to catastrophic dam failures and increasing unrest of the recent killings of Black Americans.
Mahler depicts Whitmer as a leader who strategized and executed a strict response to the COVID-19 pandemic without the help of the federal government, who reportedly did not offer much guidance or support -- literally or figuratively.
In the article Whitmer says that she knew she was on her own to fend for Michigan after a call with Trump in mid-March.
Whitmer had asked the federal government to supply Michigan with needed N95 masks from the national stockpile, and Trump reportedly declined and insisted states acquire their own supplies.
“That’s when it became clear that there’s no bigger plan,” Whitmer told Mahler. “We are just going to have to put our heads down and do what we have to do here in Michigan.”
Whitmer’s response to the pandemic has drawn criticism from some, especially as many Michigan residents face unemployment and financial hardships due to closures and stay-at-home orders. Demonstrators gathered in Lansing on multiple occasions to protest the governor’s stay-at-home orders that they felt were unnecessarily restrictive. Whitmer has since stood by her executive orders and is currently reopening the state’s economy in phases.
A study by Imperial College London and Oxford University found that Whitmer’s rapid and aggressive response to the COVID-19 pandemic could have saved tens of thousands of lives. Michigan is seeing a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations this week, however, in alignment with a number of states experiencing recent spikes as economies reopen.
While an unprecedented number of Michiganders struggle financially amid the pandemic, the state is in the same boat: Michigan is reportedly facing a budget gap of about $6.3 billion over the next two years, affecting Whitmer’s pre-pandemic plans to fix the water infrastructure in Flint and invest in education and economically disadvantaged students, according to Mahler. While the federal government can potentially offer financial support to states as they rebuild from the pandemic’s economic devastation, it is unclear how and if they will do so.
Mahler expresses that Michigan’s priorities and infrastructure have actually been “crumbling for decades” before Whitmer stepped into office, indicating that she had a lot on her plate before this year’s many crises took center stage. The author does say that based on the many conversations they’ve had over the last few months, Whitmer has kept a practical mind-set while addressing the state’s challenges.