LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer clashed often Wednesday in their final debate before the election of Michigan’s next governor, as he warned against going “backward” with her “extreme” agenda and she blamed his “nasty rhetoric” for contributing to a political environment in which pipe bombs were mailed to prominent public servants.
Schuette, who has trailed in polls, repeatedly said Whitmer, a former legislative leader, would raise taxes for her priorities such as fixing the roads.
“If her economic plans go forward, let me put a warning label on everything — your job is in jeopardy because higher taxes, more mandates would stop growth and take us back to the lost decade,” he said during the hourlong debate hosted by WDIV-TV in Detroit. At one point, he called Whitmer “Jennifer” — a reference to former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who served from 2003 to 2010 — saying “it’s easy to get them confused.”
Whitmer called Schuette’s allegations “nonsense” after he accused her of wanting to disband U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to make Michigan a sanctuary state.
“This is a desperate campaign that is flailing to stay alive,” she said, noting the sudden wave of pipe bombs targeting prominent Democrats and CNN. “For this guy to stand here and call me extreme and imply all sorts of things is ridiculous, and that’s the kind of rhetoric that has created this ugly environment in this country. I am running against that, too.”
Schuette and Whitmer met for their first head-to-head debate 12 days ago . They are vying on Nov. 6 to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is term-limited.
Whitmer said drivers are paying a “Republican road tax” to repair vehicle damages caused by potholes, and she pledged as governor to ask voters to pass a multibillion-dollar bond if lawmakers next year do not vote to boost road spending. She has signaled a willingness to increase fuel taxes but did not mention the option during the debate.
Schuette said he would advocate for more federal road funding and expand a $1.2 billion plan from 2015 that is still being phased in, suggesting he would divert more money from other parts of the budget to the roads.
“Her infrastructure bank, it’s going to be filled with your taxes,” he said.
Countered Whitmer: “I put a real solution on the table. No more of this baloney. I am tired of politicians that just give you talking points instead of real solutions. Saying you’re going to walk through the front door of the Trump White House doesn’t fix a single pothole in this state, and I’m tired of traveling roads that are falling apart.”
Citing her work with Snyder to expand Medicaid, she said she is the only candidate who can work across the aisle to combat high auto insurance premiums. Schuette said only he has a plan and Whitmer, a part of the Lansing “establishment,” did “nothing” in her 14-year legislative career to stop rates from rising.
She responded that the attorney general has not sued once to stop “price gouging” from auto insurers, nor has he moved to crack down on fraud.
“I don’t believe that the attorney general can say with a straight face that I’m a part of the establishment. He has literally been in office for 33 years,” Whitmer said.
On climate change, she said she would join Michigan with a bipartisan coalition of states to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The U.S. Climate Alliance was formed in 2017 after President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the climate accord.
“What I won’t do is pretend that climate change isn’t real,” she said.
Schuette said “climate change is real and the Earth is getting warmer,” but he stopped short of committing to enter the alliance, which involves 17 governors.
Asked about the country’s divisiveness on a day explosives targeting multiple Democrats were discovered, Whitmer said “we deserve better” and it is time for “robust but civil debate.” Schuette agreed that polarization must cease but did not back down from saying her positions are “extreme.”