Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a debate Thursday night that voters “cannot trust” her Republican challenger, Tudor Dixon, to respect the outcome of a state referendum on abortion rights because Dixon has not accepted the outcome of the 2020 election.
Whitmer has put her support for abortion rights at the forefront of her bid for a second term in a state where Republicans control the legislature. She has also touted her financial efforts and increased funding for schools.
Dixon, who is backed by the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and won the GOP nomination after an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, has criticized Whitmer’s pandemic policies. She has also leaned into cultural battles, proposing a policy that would ban transgender girls from competing in sports with the gender they identify with, as well as a policy modeled after the controversial measure Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law earlier this year what critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Here are five takeaways from their first debate:
The governor’s race has largely revolved around the stark differences between Whitmer and Dixon over abortion rights, and Whitmer opened the debate by pointing to her lawsuit to halt enforcement of a 1931 law that banned abortion in virtually all cases in following the Supreme Court’s decision. to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this year.
“The only reason the law isn’t in effect right now is because of my lawsuit stopping it,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer also supported a referendum appearing on Michigan’s ballot this year that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.
Dixon responded by accusing Whitmer of opposing any restrictions on abortion rights. But she also played down her stance, saying she will respect the result of that referendum.
“I’m pro-life with exceptions for the life of the mother. But I understand that this will be decided by the people of the state of Michigan or by a judge,” Dixon said. “The governor doesn’t have the choice to override a judge or a constitutional amendment .”
Whitmer highlighted Dixon’s comment in a podcast interview, where she said that a 14-year-old child who is raped by a family member should not be allowed to get an abortion.
“To protect our rights, we cannot trust Ms. Dixon,” Whitmer said.
Dixon has repeatedly parroted Trump’s lies about Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory coming as a result of widespread fraud.
Whitmer sharply criticized Dixon for those comments early in Thursday night’s debate, as the Democratic governor sought to cast doubt on her Republican challenger’s claim that she would accept the results of the abortion referendum on this year’s ballot.
“This is a candidate who is still in denial about the outcome of the 2020 election,” Whitmer said.
“For her to stand here and say she’s going to respect the will of the people when she hasn’t even embraced the outcome of a last election or promised to embrace the outcome of a future election tells me that we can’t trust what you say,” Whitmer said.
Dixon did not respond to Whitmer on the issue or comment on whether she accepts the outcome of the 2020 election during the debate.
Dixon was critical of Whitmer’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying school and business closures were too far-reaching and prolonged.
“Not only did she make bad choices when she shut it down and refused to open our schools, but she hasn’t figured out how to recover,” Dixon said.
She said Whitmer kept children “locked out of schools and wouldn’t listen to parents when they begged her to let them play.”
Whitmer, meanwhile, defended her actions amid the crisis, saying “we made tough decisions because lives were on the line,” though she admitted she would have done some things differently in retrospect.
Whitmer said 35,000 people in Michigan died during the pandemic. “They may not mean anything to some. But they mean something to me, every single one of them,” Whitmer said.
“If I could go back in time with the knowledge we have now, of course I would have made some different decisions. But we were working in the middle of a crisis and lives were at stake,” she said.
Whitmer’s memorable 2018 campaign slogan — “fix the damn roads” — was among the reasons she won the governor’s office.
On Thursday night, Dixon took aim at one way Whitmer tried to pay for those road improvements: increasing Michigan’s gas tax by 27 cents per gallon. gallon at 45 cents per gallon.
Dixon said Whitmer “failed to deliver on his promise,” citing a Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council report warning that roads continue to deteriorate.
Whitmer touted a bonding program and measures approved by the Legislature that she said total $4.8 billion in transportation funding. She also credited Biden and the Democratic-led Congress for its infrastructure bill, which she said “sent us billions.”
“There are orange cones and barrels all over the state because we’re fixing the damn roads,” Whitmer said.
She added: “We fix the damn roads. We move dirt. We use the right mix and materials and they’re built to last. But you don’t overcome decades of disinvestment overnight.”
Recognizing that a shift to electric vehicles will reduce gas tax revenue over time, Dixon said Michigan will need to pursue “public-private partnerships” to fund road construction. She did not detail what they would include, but such partnerships typically involve tolls.
“We will have to find a way to finance the roads. This will require public-private partnerships in the future. But it will be a way out, because the whole country is not going to switch to electric cars overnight,” she said.
Among the starkest differences in Thursday’s debate was over gun rights, with Whitmer favoring a number of restrictions while Dixon said she opposed policies she said would “take guns away from law-abiding citizens.”
Whitmer said she supports background checks and “red flag” laws. She also criticized Dixon for opposing gun-free zones in places like schools and for supporting permit-free carry.
Dixon’s positions would lead to “more weapons, less oversight, less training,” Whitmer said.
Dixon responded that Michigan should respond to gun crimes by being “tough on crime in this state.”
“This idea that you’re going to take guns away from law-abiding citizens and somehow that’s going to keep them out of the hands of criminals? That’s never going to work,” Dixon said. “When we find someone who commits a gun crime, they must be put away.”