"We hired a white guy once but he didn't work out, so we haven't hired any white guys since then."
You're probably not going to hear this statement in the upcoming gubernatorial race, but you're going to hear a version of it that attacks Gretchen Whitmer for being a woman... just like Jennifer Granholm.
I came upon this revealing bit of rhetoric during a multicultural seminar once. There was a case we discussed in which a white employer mentioned that he had hired a black guy who didn't work out, and he hadn't hired any black guys since. The response to that was, "Have you ever hired a white guy who didn't work out?"
Of course he has. Nearly every employer in America has. However, white women seem to be an exception.
"If you thought Jennifer Granholm was bad, well look out, Gretchen Whitmer would be worse," Bill Schuette said in his victory speech after winning the Republican primary — clearly marking his territory while waving his sausage around.
Out of Michigan's 48 governors, only one has been a woman. So it seems that it's a bit preemptive to start blaming substantial and built-up Michigan problems on the one woman in the pack. And there's nothing that even approaches the Flint water debacle on Granholm's resume. That happened while there was a white, Republican guy running things. Maybe we shouldn't hire one of them again.
A Google search for Michigan's worst governor revealed plenty of mentions of John Engler, Granholm, and Rick Snyder. In discussing Snyder's congressional testimony on the Flint water disaster, Forbes magazine called him one of the most disappointing leaders due to his handling of the situation, and gave him the "Don't Blame Me, I'm Just the Governor Award."
It's been a long time since we've had a competitive governor's race around here. Democrats Virg Bernero in 2010 and Mark Schauer in 2014 lost by wide margins.
As of now various polls have Whitmer ahead of Schuette by an average of about 6.5 points. Of course, it's still very early and that is not an insurmountable number by any means. But it does mean Democrats are in the game this year. Pretty much nobody else in the game is of any consequence: Libertarians, the Green Party, and other independent contenders have nearly no chance of winning. The latest polling shows about 80 percent of the vote committed to Democrats and Republicans, 12 percent undecided, and nine percent going to other candidates.
After the primary, Democrats quickly coalesced into a united front, with challengers Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar stepping up to endorse Whitmer.
On the Republican side, there was still a bit of grousing and hurt feelings from the primary, and Schuette reportedly didn't want a public endorsement from primary challenger Lt. Governor Brian Calley. Maybe he was feeling good with his Trump endorsement and a visit from Vice President Mike Pence in the afterglow of the primary. In the primary, Calley was endorsed by Snyder, and both sides have been slow to play nice with each other. Snyder hasn't come around and endorsed Schuette yet, and the bad blood over the Attorney General Schuette's indictments of state officials over Flint water still lingers.
The question of support for the Trump agenda will continue into the election as Schuette has fully endorsed the Trump administration, while Whitmer has showed her resistance to that in saying she wants to "build bridges instead of walls."
If Schuette wants to dismiss Democrat women, he'll have a whole host of them to insult. For Michigan Democrats, it's the year of the female candidate: Whitmer will lead a state ticket in a year when it seems that women are in all the highest profile races of consequence to southeast Michigan. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is running for re-election, state representative Rashida Tlaib is running for the federal District 13 seat once held by John Conyers, Haley Stevens is running for Congress in District 11, Rep. Debbie Dingell is running for reelection in District 12, as well as Rep. Brenda Lawrence in District 14. Meanwhile, Dana Nessel is running for state attorney general and Jocelyn Benson is the candidate for secretary of state.
They are part of a national 2018 slate representing a record number of female candidates for Congress and governors' offices, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University — and there are still more states that haven't had primaries yet. CAWP numbers show that Democrat women are winning more races than Republican women. There are at least 143 Democrat women running for Congress, surpassing the former total of 120, and this year's Republican total of 42 candidates falls short of 2004's total of 53.
Of course, we still don't know who Whitmer will choose as a running mate (or at least we didn't know at deadline for this piece), but conventional wisdom is that choice be part of an electoral balancing act to soothe some constituency or another. That balancing act would suggest perhaps a male running mate.
However, conventional politics aren't what they used to be, and I'm hoping for an all-women gubernatorial ticket in Michigan just for the historic impact it would make. That's probably not going to happen, but this is the time for dreams.
Even Schuette seems eager to cash in on this year of the woman. After his primary victory, when asked about his running mate, he told reporters, "I can't tell you what her name is right now." On Wednesday, he announced Lisa Posthumus Lyons as his lieutenant governor pick.
In the meantime, Whitmer has honed her tough gal credentials with that "fix the damn roads" campaign line. Democrats got themselves a woman who will say "damn." Let's see if she can win an election.
But most of all, don't let this election be about Granholm just because Whitmer is also a woman. If the albatross of tribal membership should hang around anyone's neck, let it be on Schuette for being just like the last two guys who were good for nothing around here. You know, we hired some white guys but they didn't work out. Not going to do that again.
Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.