Gretchen Whitmer received her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in 1993. Twenty-five years later, she returned to campus as a candidate for governor.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer spoke to the Michigan State University College Democrats at Wells Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 18 along with running mate Garlin Gilchrist and democratic nominee for Michigan’s Eighth Congressional district, Elissa Slotkin.
Though the candidates addressed issues ranging from gun control to gerrymandering, political involvement was an overarching theme of the evening. “Be Spartans for Whitmer and use your voices,” she told students, encouraging them to phone bank, canvass, and vote.
Carter Oselett, events coordinator for the Michigan State University College Democrats, helped organize the event. He said, “It’s so important that we have college students engaged in the democratic process. We’re a weird, often forgotten about group of voters, since we move around so frequently and are so busy. But if you think about it, college students are the next generation of the workforce. We are the people that will be affected by the policies of the next governor, the next secretary of state, and of the next set of legislators elected this November. So as events coordinator, I try to make these candidates as accessible for students on campus. We invite them to our meetings, we engage them in a dialogue about education, the workforce, and how candidates hope to improve our lives in Michigan.”
Michigan State sophomore Jake Nessel wanted to learn more about Whitmer’s platforms and said he was pleased with what he heard. “I believe that every chance to hear from leaders in our community is a chance to learn. I was extremely impressed by Gretchen Whitmer, Garlin Gilchrist, and Elissa Slotkin,” he said. “They all expressed a genuine desire to support their constituents and help college students deal with the issue of student debt.”
Though the event was mostly attended by students, Whitmer said her message applies to Michiganders of all ages. “I think that we all want the same things. We want to be able to make a good life for ourselves in this state,” said the former state senator and Ingham County prosecutor, “Whether you’re 40 years old and need retraining, or you’re 18 years old and you’re worried about an affordable degree that can get you into a good job, those are similar concerns. Every one of us deserves clean drinking water and opportunity right here in Michigan. Certainly, when I talk about transit, that resonates more with younger voters, but I know that older voters are worried about how you get to jobs, too. I don’t think you change a message for a particular audience, it’s just a matter of making sure you’re talking about things they care about.”
But it may be more than specific policy goals motivating students. Nessel said he is excited, not only to vote for Whitmer, Gilchrist, and Slotkin, but to be a part of the democratic process in what he believes is a key year for American youth. “I am voting because we are experiencing a movement in Michigan and the United States. Young people are inspiring one another to rise up,” he says, “When I grow up, and when I tell people in future generations about the political struggles that we faced, I want to be able to say that I did not stand back. Rather, I worked to rebuild our future by voting and actively volunteering on campaigns.”
Oselett agreed the 2018 midterm elections are a big deal, describing them as a referendum on the Trump presidency, but said Whitmer herself is generating enthusiasm among the Michigan State University College Democrats. “I don’t think students would be as excited if Gretchen weren’t at the top of the ticket,” he explains, “Especially here at MSU, college students have a special connection with Gretchen who’s an East Lansing native… College students look at her resume, they see how successful she has been throughout her career, and that’s exciting to them.”
Whitmer is running against Republican nominee Attorney General Bill Schuette. Sergei Kelley, vice president of the Michigan State University College Republicans, said members support Schuette from a policy standpoint but do not feel the same personal relationship the College Democrats feel to Whitmer, saying there is a “disconnect.”
“Schuette, in contrast to Trump, does not have such an energetic side to him,” said Kelley, who views energy as the most important characteristic in a candidate appealing to young voters.
The Michigan State University College Republicans plan to host Bill Schuette on campus before the Nov. 6 election, but no date has been set.
Bill Gelineau, the Libertarian candidate for governor, visited campus on Sept. 26.