Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > Oct. 28, 2022 | This Week in Government: Gov. Whitmer, Dixon Debate Gaffes May Not Affect Voters

Oct. 28, 2022 | This Week in Government: Gov. Whitmer, Dixon Debate Gaffes May Not Affect Voters

October 27, 2022
Detroit Regional Chamber Presents This Week in Government, powered by Gongwer, Michigan's home for Policy and Politics news since 1906

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

Gov. Whitmer, Dixon Debate Gaffes May Not Affect Voters

The final debate between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Tudor Dixon included a strong showing on both sides, several sources said Wednesday. While both had some gaffes, they weren’t so egregious to potentially turn away voters.

Those who spoke to Gongwer News Service for interviews Wednesday also said the tight timing of the program hosted by several news stations at Oakland University in Auburn Hills and its heavy focus on policy offered voters the kind of robust forum that they deserved, as opposed to the type of rhetoric slugfests the electorate has grown accustomed over the past few cycles.

Both candidates appeared polished and ready to pivot from policy mode to an attack or defensive stance, several sources said, but that’s not to say there weren’t a set of major gaffes committed by the respective candidates.

Notably, Whitmer appeared to get trapped by Dixon over who really made the decision to issue $400 refund checks out of the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association Fund – something the governor took credit for in campaign messaging throughout the year but said during the debate that it was something the governor had no control over.

Dixon also suffered a shot across the bow when the governor dunked on the challenger over her preoccupation with allegedly pornographic materials that she thinks should be banned from school libraries – with the governor landing a potential campaign soundbite as she accused Dixon of thinking books were more of a danger to students than guns and school shootings.

Despite those moments, however, some said that both candidates had such a strong showing that the gaffes may not affect undecided voters, if there are still undecideds left at this point in the race.

“It was one of the best debates I’ve seen. It was just pretty amazing to watch,” said John Truscott, Chief Executive Officer of the multiclient Truscott Rossman consulting firm. “I mean, they gave each other the punches, they took the punches, they turned it around. It was a really solid debate and what that tells me – this race is really close.”

Whitmer may be feeling that crunch as well as many of the recent polls show the race tightening with the incumbent governor just slightly ahead. Her performance in the first debate was more of a mixed bag, and she didn’t rise to the occasion by landing as many attacks on Dixon as, say, the challenger did in the first outing. Knowing the stakes, Whitmer came loaded for bear, so to speak, during the second showing, landing more attacks and pivoting – when necessary – back to messaging.

“It was clear to me that her strategy seemed to be to present a positive vision for Michigan,” said Brandon Dillon, former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and partner with the WinMatt Group. “And she also was, I think, trying to speak to swing voters, particularly independent women in southeast Michigan. I think she executed that strategy very well.”

That said, Whitmer was not shy to take shots at key moments and was more effective than she was in the first debate at landing attack lines, Dillon said.

“Gretchen’s first debate performance was not her strongest. And she came back here and showed people why they elected her governor in the first place,” he said. “She can get through tough times without coming across as negative. That was a really important thing that she portrayed last night with her body language. Gretchen seemed very effusive and energetic. That was a contrast from the last debate where she was a little bit stiffer and a little tight.”

Stephanie McLean, owner of GMT Strategies, said similarly of Whitmer’s performance, adding that her experience aided her.

“I think she performed admirably. She’s well-versed in these things, she’s been leading the state for four years, and I would say again I think she held her own,” McLean said. “She got some good points across. I was particularly struck when they were talking about violence in schools.”

McLean also eschewed the notion that Whitmer had more on the line with this debate than any other, adding that she stepped up to the plate and fought back more this time because that was the tenor of the debate.

“If you get slapped around at some point you have to stand up and say, ‘No,’” she said. “I don’t know how many millions of dollars have been spent attacking her. Mrs. Dixon can say what she wants, but you’re not going to take it on the chin. Nobody’s Gandhi anymore. She’s not going to stage a hunger strike to win the governorship. If you get attacked, you need to respond.”

As for Dixon’s performance, Truscott said it was clear why so many in the Michigan GOP saw her as the best chance it had to unseat Whitmer or, at the very least, give her a real run for her money – which is less of a catchy phrase and now more a reality as the governor and her allies have spent millions on the race, and Dixon has raised and spent little on her own.

“She proved that she belonged on that stage. She had a command of the issues,” he said. “When there was an incoming attack, she would pivot back to her talking points. She leveled some really good points. I don’t know how anybody could be anything but very impressed.”

The challengers’ apparent grasp of policy was brought into clearer focus through her polished messaging and ready-for-TV demeanor that Dixon forged from her time as a cable conservative news host – which ultimately worked in her favor as she was able to level attacks, messaging, and then parry Whitmer’s attacks with zip, Truscott said.

“In a debate, you can’t get into an extreme amount of detail. You just kind of cover the big picture and what you intend to do,” he said. “And I thought she did that very, very well. … She has matured as a candidate faster than anybody I’ve ever seen. I mean, when you look at the fact that she really didn’t have much of a campaign put together, an organization, until the primary and the fact that she has come this far so fast, it is extremely impressive.”

Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) was one of Dixon’s earlier supporters through the primary process. He said Wednesday that she’s lived up to the expectations of the party to give Whitmer a real race and that her debate performance solidified that.

“I don’t remember how long ago I endorsed her in the primary, but I thought that Tudor was our best candidate for a long time. So, it’s not as though I thought she was starting from without a lot of promise,” Fink said. “But I do think that any job of this scale, running for office in a state of eight to 10 million people, across two peninsulas, whatever framing you want to put on. It’s a huge job. I have to think that it’d be something you would get better at over the course of time. She has gotten better, although I thought she was a strong candidate the whole time.”

Fink also thought that Dixon’s strongest trait thus far and in this last debate was not her TV-ready sheen but her ability to communicate her ideas and platforms to Michigan residents.

“The thing that convinced me the support Tudor was her understanding of what the stakes are for the average Michigan family. And I think she did a good job of communicating that. She’s a mom of four school-aged daughters. I’m a dad of five school-aged kids,” he said. “When I think who understands what the pressure is on a family, maybe with two working parents and a bunch of kids in school are like, I thought Tudor was the person who understood that, and she does. … I thought she did a great job describing what that’s like. She’s got the experience that I want to see communicated, of what life is like out there and the ability to understand what policy buttons you have to push to improve the lives of Michigan families.”

The policy-driven debate naturally helped Whitmer stay above the fray of dirty politics, but it may have helped Dixon in that regard, as well.

“She didn’t take the bait, and neither did (Dixon), in fairness,” Dillon said. “There were a couple of times I think Tudor Dixon restrained from taking the bait. They were both disciplined.”

McLean similarly noted Dixon’s performance as showing her grit in what has been nothing but a gritty fight for the executive office.

“She’s a television person and that’s what makes her pretty good at this, as well,” she said. “She’s a tough opponent. I think people didn’t take her seriously over the summer, you know, at their own peril. She’s obviously an intelligent woman. She’s polished.”

That said, Whitmer and Dixon had their fair share of gaffes during the bait that the other pounced on almost immediately.

The governor’s biggest misstep in the debate came when the candidates were asked about victims of catastrophic traffic crashes who have lost care because of the 2019 auto insurance law changes passed by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by Whitmer.

That law cut rates and set a fee schedule on what health care providers could bill insurers. For some providers, the fee schedule cut rates by 45%. This has caused some providers to discharge patients.

Whitmer praised the rate cuts and said the fee schedule does need to be altered, and Dixon agreed the rates were too high and that sometimes laws have unintended consequences. But Dixon questioned Whitmer about her push for the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association to provide a $400 per vehicle refund to motorists because of a surplus in its fund that is meant to pay for care for catastrophic care victims.

The governor knew a pending lawsuit could strike down the fee schedule but pushed ahead with the refund call anyway, Dixon said. A judge this year struck down the fee schedule, and as a result, the MCCA is raising the catastrophic care fee by $48.

Whitmer has, throughout the campaign, taken credit for the move, but her response to Dixon’s attack that she sent out those checks too soon floundered as it was at odds with her own campaign messaging. The governor said that the executive doesn’t decide for the MCCA what checks are going to be sent out, with Dixon stating that she lied in her campaign messaging.

Truscott said Dixon handled the sequence of events deftly and exposed taking credit for the checks as a political maneuver.

“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take credit for giving the money back but then blame it on somebody else that the fees are going up,” Truscott said. “It was kind of like setting a little bit of a trap there. That was actually pretty impressive for an issue that’s fairly arcane.”

Whitmer had similarly said that schools were only closed for three months, but only by her own executive orders and later the Department of Health and Human Services’ health orders. The decision to keep schools closed longer than that came from a bipartisan deal with the Republican-led Legislature that let those districts choose if they would continue remote or in-person learning. Dixon pointed out that some schools were out for much longer than those three months.

To that, Truscott said it was unclear if the attack landed, especially for whatever undecided voters are still out there. However, he said it shows the subject is still a vulnerability for Whitmer.

“When you look at the numbers and how things have closed so quickly, I think there are a number of people who still remember it and are still upset,” he said. “And not only the school closings, but the business closings and everything else. It’s not out there as a discussion point right now, but I think people are still harboring some animosity, and it is showing up in the polls.”

For Dixon’s part, her biggest misstep of the night was attempting to call current Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II an election denier because he had, after losing his Detroit city clerk race against incumbent Janice Winfrey, believed there were election day issues. He later accepted the results.

Dixon has not said definitively whether she believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, who endorsed her in the primary and since. She has not said whether she would accept the results of the 2022 election but hasn’t laid the groundwork to refute them as Trump did in the final months of the 2020 election cycle.

As to whether that attack landed well, McLean said that it was clearly an attempt to take the heat off of Dixon’s own issues with election denialism.

“She does not believe that Joe Biden legitimately won the election, which he clearly did. She’s trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat and say, ‘Oh, well, Gilchrist challenged an election,’” she said. “Well, I challenged judicial election 20 years ago because the opponent won by two votes, and it turns out we won by 12 votes. I mean, these things matter. But Gilchrist accepted the results of the election. Clearly, Dixon does not.”

Former Elections Director Talks Benefits, Misconceptions of Proposal 2

Chris Thomas, who was the longtime state elections director, praised Proposal 22-2’s changes to state voting laws, saying Thursday many of the measures are working well in other states and pushing back on recent criticism of the measure from three former secretaries of state.

Thomas met with reporters days after former Secretaries of State Candice Miller, Terri Land, and now-Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly) urged voters to oppose the measure.

Thomas noted how even the U.S. Constitution does not contain a provision making voting a fundamental right, one of the key measures of Proposal 2, and said the proposal also makes it “very clear that harassment, threatening and intimidation is not permitted.”

Thomas went through a variety of misconceptions he has heard so far about the proposal, including that the proposal would allow incarcerated persons to vote and would make showing an ID an option.

“That is not the case and I think people who are saying that are really scaring people unnecessarily to say that our law would change dramatically … it would not change at all,” Thomas said. “It would continue a reasonable Michigan approach to voter ID there. There are people who don’t have IDs. There are people who stand in line for a long time, only realizing that the last minute they left their ID. So, this is a reasonable way to run an ID system.”

Many of the provisions, such as early in-person voting and additional days for absentee ballots overseas to have their ballots returned, are already implemented by other states, including Texas, Florida, and Tennessee, Thomas said.

The proposal would allow residents to apply for an absentee ballot and receive future ballots in the mail for upcoming elections without having to apply again.

“The ballot envelope has a signature,” Thomas said. “No ballot is processed without the signature being verified. So, there’s really no degrading of the security by this process.”

By placing the approximately 2.5 million people on a permanent absentee voter list, Thomas said costs would be reduced because clerks would no longer need to send out ballot applications twice in an election year – once before the primary and again before the general election.

Thomas was asked about security concerns related to voters applying once and receiving ballots for subsequent elections indefinitely, asking if there was legitimacy to concerns that this would increase opportunities for fraud. Miller recently condemned Proposal 2, calling this particular provision “a bad idea.”

Thomas replied, “no,” recalling that the ballot cannot be verified without a signature on the envelope.

“If a ballot is sent, it’s not forwardable,” Thomas said. “So, if somebody’s moved, even if they’ve got a forwarding address, that ballot is coming back to the clerk. So, every time they get a ballot back from the clerk, that goes into the cancellation countdown process, so they actually have cleaner voter registration files.”

Thomas stated that previously in 2006 and in 2020 when ballots were mailed out, both secretaries of state were able to clean hundreds of thousands of people off the list because of the cancellation process.

A reporter asked Thomas for his reaction to past election officials telling voters to vote against it.

“They’re politicians, they have their views,” Thomas answered.

“I don’t think we ever had a big problem with people trying to impersonate voters,” Thomas said of Johnson’s concerns over ID requirements. “And Terri Land, her issue was the charitable contributions as well. Right now, that’s legal and it’s not transparent and it can be dark money. That all changes under this proposal. It requires transparency. There won’t be any dark money.”

He added there was no “great urge” to make charitable donations for election purposes, saying it was done so in 2020 because of the transition to the no-reason absentee ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local governments, he said, also do not have to take charitable contributions and can decide for themselves whether they wish to do so.

“I always find the state so quick to pass laws and judgments about taking away local control, and then on the other hand they go out, they say, ‘oh we’re a great local control state.’ Now you’re (for) local control until somebody doesn’t like what you’re doing,” Thomas said.

Elections Officials Prepare for Problems, Seek To ‘Pre-Bunk’ False Claims

The complaints from some Republicans about the 2020 elections and continued claims without evidence that fraud decided the presidential election in Michigan have prompted elections officials to prepare for a potential repeat of such claims as the Nov. 8 election approaches.

A news conference sponsored by the Secure Democracy Foundation, All Voting Is Local, and Protect Democracy featured elections leaders in both parties emphasizing the current system works. Errors routinely happen in the unofficial results, but they said there is a long list of checks and crosschecks to catch those errors in the canvassing process before results are certified official.

The news conference included Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck, former state Elections director Chris Thomas, now an advisor to Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, Board of State Canvassers Chair Tony Daunt, and Board of State Canvassers Vice Chair Mary Ellen Gurewitz. Roebuck and Daunt are Republicans. Gurewitz is a Democrat. Thomas was known as a nonpartisan during his four decades as elections director but has endorsed some Democrats since retiring. In 2020, the elections apparatus was thrown on the defense when ardent supporters of former President Donald Trump questioned election results in some parts of the state, particularly in Antrim County and Detroit.

This time, Roebuck said clerks want to assure voters of the accuracy and security of their systems before Election Day.

“I think it is really, really critical for us to be able to communicate as much as we can in advance,” he said. “Again, you know, our whole process is built on trust relationships, ultimately. And when you think about how decentralized Michigan’s elections really are, it – really across the country, but it particularly in Michigan, with local municipal clerks – it’s so important to be able to build those trust relationships and be able to communicate what we’re doing. We need to be boldly transparent, and I think it’s something that we’ve taken seriously as criticisms come up or questions come up about the process. We want to engage with voters, and we want to kind of pre-bunk information as well and get the factual information out to people in a consistent way.”

One of the concerns going into this election is whether all 83 county boards of canvassers will certify their results. News outlets have documented that several Republicans who believe fraud tipped the 2020 election to President Joe Biden were appointed to their county board.

Thomas, however, said he is not expecting great difficulty.

“In 2021, there was a great deal of media attention paid to various canvassers appointed to county boards of canvassers who stated that they would not have certified the 2020 election, and that they may not certify the 2022 election or future elections,” he said. “However, the August primary this year was fully certified by the 83 county boards of canvassers and by the State Board of Canvassers.”

Should a county board of canvassers not certify its election, the Board of State Canvassers would do so by law.

Daunt and Gurewitz said they have spoken to Bureau of Elections staff about what is being done to prepare for the possibility.

“It probably depends on what county if any, fails to certify. It is possible that the Bureau of Elections staff and maybe canvassers would go to particular county to finish the work that has not been finished or the certification that has not been done,” Gurewitz said. “Or it may be that the county will in accordance with the statute, bring all of their material to Lansing, which is burdensome for a county and the statute also provides that if the state has to come in and do their county certification that’s done at the expense of the county, so I think that the county clerks encouraged, strongly encourage their canvassers to do the certification that is their obligation.”

Daunt said a county refusing to certify its vote would have the reverse effect of what it intends.

“You’re taking yourself out of the process, and you’re removing your ability to see those results and to participate, to make sure that everything is on the up and up to match the numbers,” he said.

Republicans raised a major stink about votes in Detroit in 2020 even though turnout in the city was identical to in 2016. Biden’s enormous improvement over 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s performance in the Detroit suburbs and the Grand Rapids region tipped the election, not some flood of new votes out of Detroit of questionable origins.

Thomas reiterated that anyone who doubts the accuracy of an election can ask for a recount.

Trump did not seek a recount in Michigan.

“We saw in 2020 that anybody could make an allegation there was something wrong with the count and we also saw in 2020 and 2021 that none of it was true,” he said. “So you’re not going … stop a canvass based on allegations. What was amazing about 2020 – given all the claims of fraud and all the terrible things that happened in Detroit and elsewhere, nobody asked for a recount.”


Regional Unemployment Rates Fall in September

Not seasonally adjusted unemployment rates fell in all 17 Michigan labor market regions in September, the Department of Technology, Management and Budget reported Thursday.

Regional rates for the month ranged from 3.2% to 5.5%. The largest decrease from August occurred in the Lansing region, where unemployment fell by 0.8 percentage point to 3.7%. Lansing also led the way in employment growth with an increase of 5,000 or 2.2%.

However, some regional declines in jobless rates appeared more a result of changes in the labor force because employment fell in 10 of the 17 regions (the labor force fell in 13 of the 17 regions). Employment fell the most in the Northwest Lower Michigan Region, with a decrease of 4,700 or 3.1%.

“Michigan regional labor markets exhibited typical workforce reductions during September,” said Wayne Rourke, associate director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, in a statement. “Payroll jobs advanced largely due to local schools and colleges re-opening for the fall.”

Seventy-nine of the state’s 83 counties saw a decrease in their unemployment rates. The lowest rates were in Livingston (2.1%), Oakland (2.5%), Mackinac (2.8%), and Ottawa (3%). The highest unemployment rates were in Roscommon (7.7%), Oscoda (7.7%), Montmorency (6.6%), and Ontonagon (6.2%).

Senate Candidates Buy Up More Ad Time In Final Weeks

As the clock winds down with several key Senate races being competitive affairs, candidates have continued to throw big money into television advertisements in their local markets.

Recent filings in the Federal Communications Commission’s public file show that Senate candidates are buying up what airtime they can, saturating the airwaves during the final two weeks of next month’s election.

Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) has bought more airtime on WOOD-TV in the Grand Rapids market. A recent set of ads in his 30th Senate District race with a gross cost of $105,125 ran from Oct. 19-25. He also purchased additional ad time for Oct. 26 through Nov.1 and from Nov. 2-8 on the station. The two buys had a gross cost of $100,125 and $94,250, respectively.

A recent ad buy from Huizenga’s opponent, Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), on WOOD-TV covers October 25-31 and has a gross cost of $124,125.

In the 32nd Senate District, Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-North Muskegon) made two small ad buys on WOOD-TV, one covering Oct. 24-30 with a gross cost of $6,250 and for Oct. 31 through Nov. 6 at a gross cost of $7,025. He also has two small ad buys on WZZM-TV, with gross costs of $5,260 apiece. The two buys are scheduled for Oct. 24-30 and Oct. 31 through Nov. 6, respectively.

Mid-Michigan residents will continue to see a steady stream of ads in the 35th Senate District race, with more being bought up to supplement previous ad buys.

Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland) had three additional buys on WJRT-TV covering the final weeks of the election. The first one ran from Oct. 19-25 and had a gross cost of $54,775. A second ad buy covers Oct. 26 through Nov. 1 at a gross cost of $56,950, and a final buy for Nov. 2-8 has a gross cost of $62,725. Glenn also had ads with a gross cost of $64,670 run from Oct. 19-25 on WNEM-TV.

On WJRT-TV, Democratic candidate Kristen McDonald Rivet had an ad buy listed for Oct. 25-31 with a gross cost of $65,075.

Ad buys by candidates in key races in the Detroit market are also swooping in to buy up shares of the remaining available airtime.

Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township) in the 4th Senate District has two ad buys on WDIV-TV covering Oct. 25-31, with a combined gross cost of $137,700 and two ad buys for Nov. 1-8 with a combined gross cost of $167,600. He also has an ad buy for Oct. 25-31 on WJBK-TV totaling $63,200.

In the 12th Senate District, Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) has two ad buys on WDIV-TV for Oct. 25-31, with a combined gross cost of $136,000.

His opponent, Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield), has two ad buys on WDIV-TV of her own. The first covers Oct. 26 through Nov. 1 and has a gross cost of $103,550. The second covers Nov. 2-8 and has a gross cost of $137,500.

Hornberger also has ad buys on WJBK-TV. The first covers Oct. 24 through Nov. 6 and has a gross cost of $85,300, and the other covers Oct. 31 through Nov. 8 and has a gross cost of $105,600.

In the 11th Senate District, Democratic candidate Veronica Klinefelt also reserved airtime on WDIV-TV, with ad buys for Oct. 25-31 and Nov. 1-8. The earlier ad buy has a gross cost of $59,800, and the latter has a gross cost of $57,600. On WJBK-TV, she has two ad buys for Oct. 25-31, one with a gross cost of $60,875 and the other with $34,750.

Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Keego Harbor) in the 13th Senate District also has two ad buys on WDIV-TV. The first covers Oct. 25-31 and has a gross cost of $44,100; the other covers Nov. 1-8 and has a gross cost of $45,360.

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