Five takeaways from the Michigan gubernatorial debate between Gretchen Whitmer and Tudor Dixon


Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her Republican challenger, conservative commentator Tudor Dixon, squared off in their first debate Thursday night in Grand Rapids.

Whitmer has put her support for abortion rights at the forefront of her bid for a second term in a state where Republicans control the legislature. She also touted her economic efforts and increased funding for schools.

Dixon, who is backed by the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and won the GOP nomination after former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, criticized Whitmer’s pandemic policies. She also delved into cultural battles, proposing a policy that would ban transgender girls from participating in sports with the gender they identify with, as well as a policy inspired by the controversial measure by Florida’s GOP governor, Ron DeSantis, signed into law earlier this year, which critics have dubbed the « Don’t Say Gay » law.

Here are five takeaways from their debate:

The governor’s race has largely revolved around stark differences between Whitmer and Dixon over abortion rights, and Whitmer opened the debate by highlighting his lawsuit to end enforcement of a 1931 law banning abortion. in virtually all cases as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision. to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this year.

« The only reason the law isn’t in effect right now is because my lawsuit stopped it, » Whitmer said.

Whitmer also backed a referendum appearing on Michigan ballots this year that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

Dixon responded by accusing Whitmer of opposing any restrictions on the right to abortion. But she also downplayed her position, saying she would respect the outcome of that referendum.

“I am pro-life with exceptions for mother’s life. But I understand it’s going to be decided by the people of the state of Michigan or by a judge,” Dixon said. « The governor has no choice but to override a judge or a constitutional amendment. »

Whitmer pointed to Dixon’s comment in a podcast interview in which she said a 14-year-old child who is raped by a family member should not be allowed to have an abortion.

« To protect our rights, we cannot trust Ms. Dixon, » Whitmer said.

Dixon has repeatedly repeated Trump’s lies about Joe Biden winning the 2020 presidential election following widespread fraud.

Whitmer sharply criticized Dixon for the comments at the start of Thursday night’s debate, as the Democratic governor sought to cast doubt on her Republican opponent’s claim that she would accept the results of the abortion referendum on this ballot. year.

« He’s a candidate who still denies the 2020 election outcome, » Whitmer said.

« For her to stand here and say that she will respect the will of the people, when she has not even adopted the result of a last election or committed to accepting the result of a future election, tells me we can’t trust anything you say, » Whitmer said.

Dixon did not respond to Whitmer on the issue, or comment on whether she accepts the 2020 election result, during the debate.

Dixon criticized Whitmer’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the school and business closures were too deep and long-lasting.

« Not only did she make bad choices when she closed and refused to open our schools, she couldn’t figure out how to recover, » Dixon said.

She said Whitmer kept children « locked out of schools and didn’t listen to parents when they begged her to let them play. »

Whitmer, meanwhile, defended her actions amid the crisis, saying ‘we made tough decisions because lives were at stake’, although she admitted she would have done some things differently in hindsight. .

Whitmer said 35,000 people in Michigan have died during the pandemic. “They may not matter to some. But they matter to me, every single one of them,” Whitmer said.

“If I could go back in time with the knowledge we have now, of course I would have made different decisions. But we were working in the midst of a crisis and lives were at stake,” she said. .

Whitmer’s memorable 2018 campaign slogan — « fix the fucking roads » — was one of the reasons she won the governorship.

On Thursday night, Dixon took aim at one way Whitmer tried to pay for those road improvements: raising Michigan’s 27-cent-per-gallon gas tax to 45 cents per gallon.

Dixon said Whitmer « didn’t deliver on his promise, » citing a Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council report warning that roads continue to deteriorate.

Whitmer touted a bail program and legislature-approved measures that she says amount to $4.8 billion in transportation funding. She also credited Biden and the Democratic-led Congress for his infrastructure bill, which she said « sent us billions. »

« There’s orange cones and barrels all over the state because we’re fixing these fucking roads, » Whitmer said.

She added: “We fix the fucking roads. We are moving earth. We use the right mix and materials, and they’re built to last. But you don’t overcome decades of divestment overnight.

Dixon, acknowledging that the shift to electric vehicles will reduce gas tax revenue over time, said Michigan will need to pursue “public-private partnerships” to fund road construction. She didn’t specify what that would include, but such partnerships usually come with tolls.

“We will have to find a way to finance the roads. Public-private partnerships will be needed in the future. But it will be a way out, because the whole country will not switch to electric vehicles overnight,” she said.

One of the clearest differences in Thursday night’s debate concerned gun rights, with Whitmer advocating a series of restrictions while Dixon said she opposed policies that she said would « take guns away law-abiding citizens ».

Whitmer said she supports background checks and « red flag » laws. She also criticized Dixon for opposing gun-free zones in places like schools and for supporting unlicensed transportation.

Dixon’s positions would lead to « more guns, less surveillance, less training, » Whitmer said.

Dixon responded that Michigan should respond to gun crime by being « tough on crime in this state ».

“This idea that you’re going to take guns away from law-abiding citizens and somehow that’s going to keep them out of the hands of criminals? It will never work,” Dixon said. « When we find someone committing a crime with a gun, they should be put away. »

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