Newsmaker: Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Senate Democratic Leader, House 2001-2006, Senate 2006-2014
Q: Tell us about you/your organization’s most notable accomplishment of 2014?
A: When you lead the minority caucus in the State Senate, it can be difficult to accomplish the goals you would ideally like to tackle. It is incumbent on us to find our opportunities when we can. A great example of that this year would be raising the minimum wage. We saw an opportunity to address that earlier this year and, with a great deal of work and negotiating, we were able to accomplish that in a bipartisan fashion with the support of the business and labor communities. Michigan’s minimum wage is going from $7.40 to $9.25/hr and that is going to make a big difference for a lot of people.
Q: What was the biggest change or challenge of 2014?
A: Road funding. It has been an issue the legislature has punted on for years, if not decades, now. Governor Snyder and I are really on the same page on this issue — the people of Michigan deserve a real solution. Unfortunately, to say it has been a challenge to get some legislators to agree to take the tough votes needed for a comprehensive road fix would be an understatement, but I am hopeful that by the time this is published we will have agreed on a responsible solution that has been signed into law.
Q: In your industry, what trends were adopted in 2014 and how do you see trends changing in 2015?
A: Politics often operates in its own world, but it also follows many of the same trends as other lines of work. Digital media really came into its own during the 2014 election cycle. Nearly every organized campaign, from the U.S. Senate race all the way down to local races, spent as much time planning and executing a digital media plan as they did a traditional advertising campaign. Social media has also given people a greater opportunity to see their government at work, and even participate in it. The anti-bullying speech I gave a few years ago went viral earning over 400,000 views on YouTube in just 72 hours. Overwhelming national attention and scrutiny leveled at the Senate version, ultimately changed the trajectory of the debate.
Q: What do you think the biggest Greater Lansing business story was in 2014?
A: I think the story is about optimism. As I talk to people throughout the area, they are more optimistic about our region’s future than they have been in years. The national economy continuing to grow is obviously playing a big role in that, but some of the investments we see companies large and small making here in the Greater Lansing area are making believers out of a lot of people.
Q: What has made it possible for you to get where you are today?
A: Fortunately, I have been mentored by many great leaders throughout my life. I count both of my parents among them. As a candidate for the House, I was extremely fortunate to have someone like Frank J Kelley, our former Attorney General, support me and advise me along the way. I know how a few words of encouragement can open up so much possibility. My friend Dan Loepp was the first to suggest that I think about running for office, and both my parents quickly voiced their support. Before that it had not really dawned on me and that is why I make such an effort to encourage people to engage in this process and to run for office.
Q: What do you think is the key to success?
A: Hard work and building a strong diverse team around you. Whether it is public service or private business, success obviously takes a tremendous personal effort. But if you assemble a team of talented people committed to the same goals, it breeds success. We have had that here in the Senate, and that has strengthened my role as the highest elected Democrat here in the Capitol.
Q: What would friends and family say is your biggest quirk?
A: I am fastidious flosser and tooth brusher — which is probably why my husband, who is also my dentist, appealed to me so.