Detroit Chamber Backs Whitmer

October 18, 2018


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer picked up her first major business endorsement Wednesday when the Detroit Regional Chamber political action committee said she had a better record and a better plan on issues important to its members.

The communications chief for Ms. Whitmer crowed on Facebook after the endorsement that Ms. Whitmer had been endorsed by the Detroit Chamber and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). “Let that sink in,” said Zack Pohl.

In a statement, Ms. Whitmer said she was, “so proud to have this endorsement because we need a governor who can bring both parties together to solve problems and get things done for the people of Michigan. I’ve got real plans to help our business grow and attract talent to Michigan by fixing our roads and infrastructure, making health care more affordable and ensuring every Michigander has a path to a high wage skill.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Bill Schuette had run the table so far on business endorsements, winning the backing of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Rapids Regional Chamber, the Small Business Association, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, Business Leaders of Michigan, National Federation of Independent Business-Michigan and others.

Brad Williams with the Detroit Chamber said the endorsement had to be approved by two-thirds of the PAC board so that it showed a true consensus. The last time the chamber endorsed a Democrat for governor was in 1990 when it endorsed then Governor James Blanchard (who, of course, lost a tight election to then-Sen. John Engler). The chamber did not endorse for governor in the 2002 and 2006 elections and endorsed Mr. Engler in 1994 and 1998 and Governor Rick Snyder in his two elections.

Mr. Williams said Ms. Whitmer had shown she could reach across the aisle and work on a bipartisan basis, which the chamber is counting on in ensuring the Gordie Howe International Bridge is completed and that a major effort is undertaken on road improvement.

He said Ms. Whitmer had shown bipartisan ability in working on getting support for the Howe Bridge, on securing the Grand Bargain to help Detroit work through its bankruptcy filing and on winning passage of the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion.

Mr. Williams emphasized several times Ms. Whitmer’s commitment to getting the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, built. Asked if the chamber was not confident Mr. Schuette would also work to seeing the bridge completed, Mr. Williams said Mr. Schuette said he wanted to see “multiple bridges” across the Detroit River, which was “an acceptable opinion.”

But, Mr. Williams said, the “first thing is to get a modern bridge built with a modern customs plaza” at the point where it would best take advantage of the Detroit area freeways.

Once the Gordie Howe Bridge is built then the chamber could support building a new span for the Ambassador Bridge – the family owning the Ambassador Bridge (which still has not stopped its opposition to the Howe Bridge) has gotten clearance from Canada to build a new span so long as it demolishes the old bridge once the new one is complete – Mr. Williams said.

But, “only the Gordie Howe satisfies the need” for businesses in the region, he said.
Asked about Ms. Whitmer’s vote against Mr. Snyder’s plan to replace the Michigan Business Tax with the Corporate Income Tax in 2011 (which the chamber supported), Mr. Williams said there were several issues in context with the tax proposal including the large budget cuts and the offsetting tax on pension income which could have influenced decisions on the tax vote.

And Mr. Williams said, “This endorsement was about Sen. Whitmer, not about Attorney General Schuette who has served the state honorably for the last 34, 35 years. He is certainly qualified to be governor. We made a decision based on who would be the best candidate for governor.”

A spokesperson for Mr. Schuette said he had been endorsed by most business groups because he is the “{best hope for continuing growth” that followed tax cuts enacted after policies Ms. Whitmer supported.
The Schuette campaign also on social media repeatedly posted the long list of business endorsements it had received.

CONGRESSIONAL RACES: The chamber, with one exception, backed incumbents in the 11 races where it weighed in.

In the competitive races, the chamber backed U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) in the 8th District but stayed out of the 11th District.

“Mike Bishop has been representing the people of Michigan honorably for decades,” Mr. Williams said in a statement. “His service in Congress has been exemplary and the Chamber encourages voters to return him to Washington to continue his leadership on smart taxation and regulation, protecting the Great Lakes, and lowering the costs of college education.”

“Throughout my time in public service I have been proud to work with the Detroit Regional Chamber to move our economy forward and support our community,” Mr. Bishop said in a statement. “I am honored to once again earn the support of more than the (two-thirds) of the men and women of the Chamber PAC board required to earn this endorsement, and I am ready to continue to work with them toward a brighter for future for our region.”

Elissa Slotkin campaign spokesperson Laura Epstein said the lack of endorsement did not speak to her commitment to business.
“Elissa Slotkin is proud to have the support of local leaders and community groups, including Democrats and Republicans, and if elected, she will work hard in Congress on behalf of all Michigan small-business owners,” Ms. Epstein said.

Mr. Williams said the chamber stayed out of the competitive 11th District race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. David Trott (R-Birmingham) because it had not endorsed Republican Lena Epstein or Democrat Haley Stevens in the primary and did not have the two-thirds majority of its board to back either for the general.

In the 7th District, where Democrats have been gunning for U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) but where Democrat Gretchen Driskell has an uphill battle, the chamber backed Mr. Walberg.

“Rep. Walberg’s position on both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Education and Workforce Committee, have allowed him to have a laser focus on the issues most pressing to business in our region,” Mr. Williams said.

In the other open seats, the chamber backed Andy Levin to succeed his father, retiring U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak), but stayed out of the 13th District, where Rashida Tlaib has an open path to replace resigned U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.

In the rest of the seats, the chamber endorsed U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell(R-Dryden Township), U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield).

The chamber made no endorsement in the 3rd District where U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) is seeking re-election.

OTHER ENDORSEMENTS: The Detroit Chamber also announced it was endorsing House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt Township) for attorney general, saying he had consistently worked to put away criminals and to ensure an environment for growth.

The chamber also announced it was endorsing both Republican-nominated candidates for the Supreme Court, Justice Elizabeth Clement and Justice Kurtis Wilder, saying it was critical that jurists who know the rule of law “prevail” to ensure stability and “common sense justice that allows our economy to thrive.”

The chamber did not reach a decision on an endorsement for the secretary of state position sought by Democrat Jocelyn Benson and Republican Mary Treder Lang.

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Legislative Update: Brownfield TIF Act, Gov. Snyder Budget Proposal

Transformational Brownfield Bills Can Spur Development

Last week, the Michigan Senate re-introduced legislation to expand Michigan’s Brownfield TIF Act (Senate Bills 111-115) to provide gap financing for large, transformational projects. Michigan’s growth and prosperity depends on attracting and retaining talent who seek vibrant urban places to live and work.  Development projects in our urban cores continue to face significant economic gaps, as market rents fail to support major ground-up construction or rehabilitation of large, distressed historic structures.

The Chamber’s advocacy team continues to actively engage lawmakers on this issue and serves as a leading member of the MI Thrive coalition, supporting this key component of Detroit’s continued revitalization. The coalition consists of 40 community and economic development leaders and chambers of commerce across the state.

Education a Top Priority in Gov. Snyder’s Proposed State Budget

Gov. Rick Snyder has released his proposed fiscal year 2017-18 budget, and the Detroit Regional Chamber continues to advocate for pro-business priorities that support quality education, affordable health care and a talented workforce. Key takeaways impacting business in Southeast Michigan include:

  • An increase of $10 million for the Skilled Trades Training Fund
  • An increase of $213 milliion for road infrastructure
  • Continued support for the Healthy Michigan Initiative
  • An increase of 3.4 percent in higher education funding
  • Increased funding for at-risk K-12 students

The Chamber continues to engage with administrative and legislative leaders in support of a competitive tax climate while also supporting investments in essential programs and services for Michigan’s residents and businesses.

For more information, contact Jason Puscas at, or learn more about the Chamber’s 2017 Legislative Priorities.