As Right-Wing Twitter went into its usual self-righteous convulsions Friday after a court decision acquitted two defendants of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Whitmer herself was making national headlines for asking her state’s Supreme Court to permanently protect Michiganders right to safe and legal abortion. As described in this piece by the Washington Post, Whitmer used “powers specific to her office that allow her to leapfrog normal legal processes, [and] filed a lawsuit to put the question of whether abortion is a protected right under the Michigan Constitution directly to the state Supreme Court, an elected body with a slight Democratic majority.” Whitmer herself described her action as “putting a stop to” the threat posed by an impending US Supreme Court case to national abortion rights. That case, Dobbs v. Jackson, could effectively reverse Roe v. Wade, the case which has protected national access to abortion since the 1970s.
But, stepping back from the immediate legal or policy implications of either event, it’s tempting to see both as evidence that culture war issues like abortion and free speech will continue to be most front and center in this year’s midterm elections.
In keeping abortion rights in the public eye in Michigan, Whitmer is hoping to build off recent opinion polling showing that nearly 70% of Michigan voters support Roe v. Wade. Again, according to the Post, “I think it’s very clear: The assault on women’s privacy rights, health rights, and bodily autonomy is not theoretical. It is a very real and present danger,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) told me. Given that both chambers of the Michigan legislature are controlled by Republicans, Whitmer says there is no chance they would vote to get rid of the old law.”
Yet while Whitmer should be commended for her courage in continuing to champion a woman’s right to choose, it may be more bread and butter issues like infrastructure which decide Michigan’s voters in 2022. Whitmer famously ran for governor in 2018 by pitching constituents on her infrastructure priorities. She even made “Just fix the damn roads” a catchy campaign slogan.
But, once elected in a heavily polarized state, her priorities immediately ran into trouble:
And that trouble hasn’t eased in the post-pandemic world of inflationary conditions and rising prices at the pump. The tool she’d hoped to use to raise money for the road improvements was Michigan’s gas tax.
But Michigan GOP’s obstructionism during the pre-pandemic portion of Whitmer’s tenure hasn’t stopped them from hammering her now re: those roads. According to this piece from Governing.com, “She’s going to be hit for sure on not fixing the damn roads,” says Zach Gorchow, executive editor and publisher of Gongwer Michigan, a news service.” And she has been, with hard-hitting slogans like “Broken Roads, Broken Promises.” (Which slogan this particular writer cannot help mentally hearing as a Sam Elliot voice over, both gravelly and grave.)
Still, as further noted by the Governing.com piece, “Whitmer’s greatest strength may be the lack of a formidable opponent. Plenty of people are running but unlike in Kansas and Wisconsin, Michigan Republicans were unable to recruit a statewide official to run against her. […] “She won’t have nearly the favorable environment she had in 2018 and her team knows that,” Gorchow says. Still, he adds, “Right now, she’s a slight favorite to win a second term.”