FHC alumna Senator Gretchen Whitmer is running for Governor

FHC alumna Senator Gretchen Whitmer is running for Governor

Reena Mathews, Staff Writer

Senator Gretchen Whitmer’s career has been quite impressive, and it is only growing. After practicing law, she served as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives for six years, then served as a member of the Michigan Senate for nine years. She also taught at the University of Michigan and served as an Ingham County Prosecutor for for six months. Furthermore, Whitmer recently announced that she would be running for State Governor in 2018.

And surprisingly enough, or perhaps not surprising at all, Whitmer graduated from FHC. She grew up within the district, and loved it here.

“Cascade was an amazing place to grow up,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer certainly has fond memories of Cascade and FHC and she is especially grateful for the teachers who guided her through adolescence and prepared her for her career.

“I definitely credit my teachers throughout my life with really having an enormous impact on the deductive reasoning that’s necessary that I use everyday,” Whitmer said.

FHC was certainly instrumental in Whitmer’s journey to the success she has found today. Besides

Gretchen Whitmer’s ninth grade school picture.

her teachers, Whitmer also learned a great deal from the sports she played, track and softball, during high school.

“I really believe that team sports are a great education in terms of how to work with others, how to get a group of people organized on a shared goal, and how to bolster one another,” Whitmer said.

And like many other FHC students, Whitmer found a love for broadcasting through participating in the morning announcements.

“I caught the broadcasting bug at FHC,” Whitmer said.

She was known as the “budding broadcaster” in high school, and she took away a lot from doing the morning announcements.

“It was something I remember that really gave me confidence, gave me a lot of skills, and I enjoyed it a lot,” Whitmer said.

Thus, Whitmer went to Michigan State University with plans of becoming a sports broadcaster. However, that all changed when she began to work at the capitol, where her interest in policy was born.

“[I] really got excited and passionate about what happens at the capitol,” Whitmer said, “and why it is important for us to be engaged.”

So, Whitmer went to law school at Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University. After graduating, she practiced law for a time, and then decided to work within the state legislature: first in the Michigan House of Representatives, then the Michigan Senate. Whitmer found that she preferred working with policy over law.

“Debating policy is building coalitions and trying to create a bold agenda helps people,” Whitmer said. “That’s really what I enjoy the most, and what I think I’m better at.”

Undoubtedly, Whitmer thoroughly enjoyed her time in the legislature.

“Every day is different in the legislature,” Whitmer said. “But that is where we debate school policy, where we debate school funding, where we debate everything from your infrastructure that moves the water underneath the ground, to the policy that impacts the environment above the ground. The day-to-day work is a debate where people propose new laws, but it’s also when people you represent have issues that they need help with and they call you. That’s the constituent work that occupies probably the majority of the time that a legislature spends at the capitol.”

We need leaders who are unafraid to level with the Michigan people, who aren’t going to just try to politicize our problems, but really try to solve them with as many people at the table as possible.”

— Senator Gretchen Whitmer

Moreover, Whitmer truly feels she was able to make a difference as a legislature.

“Whether it’s the individual constituent that I’ve helped,” Whitmer said, “or it’s the anti-bullying policy that is on the books for everyone in the state of Michigan, they’re both things that I’ve had a heavy hand in and [that] I’m proud of. I’m pleased that we were able to do some good.”

Nevertheless, Whitmer’s time at the capitol was not always easy. In 2013, Whitmer made the brave decision to open up about her rape in order to fight a bill being discussed in the legislature. Despite the honesty and courage she displayed in an effort to fight for what she believed in, her testimony was met with immediate backlash.

“It’s a really truly unfortunate thing that happens in our debate that people attack victims,” Whitmer said. “But it emboldens me even more, because if we’re ever going to fix the problem of sexual assault and sexual assault on campuses, we have to talk about it. Even when it’s hard, even when there’s a backlash, even when it’s painful, we have to talk about it, or we’re never going to solve it.”

Despite the negative times, Whitmer knew that at the end of the day, it was all in the name of helping those who needed it.

A recent picture of Senator Whitmer with one of her former FHC teachers, Ms. Hartsoe

“[The political world] can get to be very tough some days when there are debates that really cut close to home,” Whitmer said. “But the vast majority of the time I’m doing work on behalf of people who really just need some help from a legislature.”

However, Whitmer’s time in the legislature soon came to a close. Last year, upon a vacancy, Whitmer was selected to serve as the Ingham County Prosecutor from July to the end of the year. As a prosecutor, Whitmer was dealing with a vast assortment of criminals, including many who were being brought to trial for a variety of heinous crimes. This proved to be quite an eye-opening experience.

“When you really see [the violence] up close, it changes you,” Whitmer said. “And I don’t mean for the worst, I mean for the better, so that you maybe have a better understanding, and you can be a stronger advocate. It’s staggering, the level of violence that happens every day, that we may not see. I think it makes me less patient about raising my voice and being apart of the solution.”

In the end, just like with her work in the state legislature, Whitmer knew she was making a difference.

“I sat in court with victims as they gave their victim’s statements,” Whitmer said. “I sat with families who lost someone to violence. You can see when you talk to victims and their families why the work is so important.”

The new year has brought Whitmer’s term to an end. Now, she is focusing her energy on campaigning for governor. The prospect of the new leadership role excites Whitmer, and she is hopeful that if she wins, she can implement change in order to better our state. To Whitmer, that begins with education.

“Economic opportunity for everyone [is an important issue for me],” Whitmer said. “I think that starts with our education system. There was a time in our history when Michigan represented the best education available. People moved here because of our schools. And while we still have some great schools, even areas like Forest Hills Central could use more support, more flexibility, and certainly more support for the teachers and the educators.”

Education is undeniably a priority for Whitmer, especially when it comes to universal preschool, ensuring all students are prepared going into college, and “elevating the profession of educators” with respect and support.

“I think educators are doing one of the most important jobs in our society,” Whitmer said, “and that’s molding the next generation of leaders.”

Aside from education, the still pressing issue of Flint’s water supply is also important to Whitmer.

“What we know about Flint is that it was a man made crisis,” Whitmer said. “We also know that it is one in which the people in Flint still can’t drink their water. It was a failure of government at all levels, and so we, more than anything, need a state government that people can believe [in] and rely on to provide the most fundamental of functions, and that’s clean water. Until the people of Flint are drinking clean water, everyone in the state should be worried about it.”

No matter what the issue may be, Whitmer is prepared and eager to fight for the good of the state and its people if she is elected as governor.

“We need leaders who are unafraid to level with the Michigan people, who aren’t going to just try to politicize our problems, but really try to solve them with as many people at the table as possible,” Whitmer said. “I love the state of Michigan, I love the people of Michigan, but I believe you can’t claim to be a successful state until we are a state of successful people, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. Whether it’s ensuring that our schools are the best, or that our infrastructure works, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”