As Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer prepares for her inauguration, she has already laid out an agenda focusing on improved schools, clean water and better roads.
Her fellow Democrats, citing Whitmer as leader of the “Blue Wave” of Dem victories in November, confidently assert that the new governor steps into office with a mandate from the people.
Of course, to have the people on your side, first they have to know a little bit about you. That’s no sure thing.
A national survey released earlier this month by Johns Hopkins University found that 1 out of 3 people can’t name their governor. That certainly suggests a new governor who has yet to take office such as Whitmer, who struggled throughout much of the 2018 campaign with low name identification, cannot assume much about her personal popularity.
Voters in November clearly favored Democrats, especially women Democrats, for state offices. But Whitmer still faces a state House and Senate controlled by Republicans for the next two years.
Then again, those GOP lawmakers individually carry no currency with the public. The Johns Hopkins survey found that four out of five people cannot name their state representative or senator. That lack of recognition certainly extends to the new Republican leadership in Lansing.
How many Michiganders know that Mike Shirkey is the incoming Senate Majority Leader? Or that Lee Chatfield will be the new Speaker of the House in a few days? In this age of term limits, Chatfield is a 30-year-old with just four years of government experience.
The public, at least the curious among us, must be asking, “Who are these guys?” That was a question that came up a lot during the wild lame duck session when a GOP group of relative unknowns took a bulldozer approach by adopting roughly 400 bills in the final two weeks of the legislative calendar.
Democrats remain shell shocked from the beating they took in the lame duck, where the mission was to accomplish a wide-ranging agenda of GOP obstructionism and conservatism before Whitmer can take her seat as Gov. Rick Snyder’s successor.
The resulting fury among many voters and the national media certainly left the Lansing Republicans with a PR problem. But GOP loyalists are urging Chatfield and Shirkey to stand their ground in 2019, aggressively utilize their legislative majority, and avoid any urges to engage in bipartisanship during this new era led by a Democratic governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
In contrast, Whitmer certainly appears ready to engage. She offered measured responses to the lame duck onslaught. And when she announced her Cabinet, the moderate choices were such that they earned high praise from outgoing Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
If Republican leadership pushes too hard in the early days of the new session, they may soon be reminded by Whitmer that it was she who was chosen by the voters to occupy the bully pulpit.
The governor-elect begins without the status of a household name, but she can hold more sway than the new House speaker, young Mr. what’s-his-name.