When she is sworn in January of 2019, Gretchen Whitmer, will become the first Democratic governor in years who isn’t an offspring of the Edward McNamara political machine in Wayne County. That is a good thing because it means there will be less propensity for political patronage with the incoming administration and more seriousness about the people’s business.
Whitmer stands on the threshold of being a transformational governor if she keeps her campaign promises. Key among them is the creation of a cabinet-level position to deal with the issue of poverty, which is prevalent in both rural and urban Michigan. It is a promise she first made at a gubernatorial town hall on poverty, which I moderated during the heated primary. She later repeated that promise several times on the campaign trail.
If she follows through with such appointment, it will be historic and groundbreaking. It would represent the kind of outside-the-box thinking that Michigan needs in tackling the longstanding and structural inequities that have left many behind in a much-touted economic comeback. That also means the need for an economic promise for thousands of people across the state looking to change their stations in life, will get maximum attention at the highest levels of state government.
In Detroit, where Whitmer has campaigned vigorously to convince residents that she will fight for their issues if elected, income inequality is all too familiar to them. The city leads the nation among big cities on the poverty index at 35.7 percent, according to the Census.
“I think her administration is going to have to take job training, insurance redlining and other issues seriously because they are all connected to poverty,” said former Democratic floor leader Mary Waters, who worked with Whitmer in the Legislature in Lansing. “Wealth inequality is running rampant and it makes no sense. If we are able to lift people up and make sure that they are gainfully employed it goes back into the economy.”
What Whitmer has to do in her first term is to stretch the bounds of state government and do what Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “go where there is no path and leave a trail.” In doing so, she should have a laser-focused ground game that mobilizes existing commitments and talents in communities across the state and from groups like the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries that are in the trenches directly addressing poverty.
Inequality is holding Michigan’s progress hostage, and we need to debunk the idea that growing the economy runs contrary to addressing the social and economic conditions of the people who are at the bottom of the scale. An economy that works for everyone not just for some in certain income brackets, can also accelerate growth of the overall state economy.
That is why Whitmer should push for policies and common-sense approaches that would lead to real and genuine progress. In fact, she should insist that no child growing under her tenure should live below the poverty line.
Many of us are banking on Whitmer to do more for blacks than any other Democratic governor has done in years. That shouldnt be a high bar. On the campaign trail, Whitmer and I had several conversations about the resentment in the black community regarding the Democratic Party’s often callous indifference towards the needs of black voters in Detroit. She agreed that more needs to be done and vowed to be a difference maker.
The need to expand opportunities for a better life in the black community, which has been the saving grace for Democrats during elections has heightened now under the current political and racial climate in the nation. This charged climate laced with xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism is forcing some blacks to question their national identity in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is as if the nation is going through another Reconstruction, which harkens back to the one that led Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist, social reformer and writer to petition former President Abraham Lincoln on the Emancipation Proclamation.
Douglass observed that blacks must use their voice, pen and vote to demand their share of the American Dream. Tuesday’s vote reaffirmed that. Now it’s up to all of us to push Whitmer to keep to her word and do for Detroit and other urban cities including Flint in ways no other white liberal politician has done in recent memory.
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