MI gubernatorial candidates face off in final debate, local voters respond on issues


GVL / Meghan Tripp

Joseph Poulos, Staff Writer

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her Republican opponent Tudor Dixon battled in the second and final Michigan gubernatorial debate at Oakland University on Oct. 25.

After the candidates exchanged a preliminary handshake the debate began with contentious disagreement about Proposal 3, the statewide ballot proposal that would codify abortion rights if passed, and what it means for women’s reproductive rights.

Gov. Whitmer said, “Proposal 3 is absolutely necessary to preserve the rights we’ve had for 49 years under Roe v. Wade.”

Whitmer encouraged the audience to “enshrine Roe v. Wade into law.”

Dixon was quick to point out what she perceived as hypocrisy from the current governor.

“It’s unfortunate that we are not being honest… the Governor has just been dishonest in her very first answer,” Dixon said.

Dixon made the argument that abortion “up until the moment of birth for any reason, including sex selection,” would be legalized under Proposal 3.

While never once looking at each other, the two candidates fought on stage, both decrying one another’s integrity as nonexistent.

Other topics of the debate were Dixon’s election denial as well as gun control.

“I would like to comment on Gretchen Whitmer and her demeanor tonight,” Dixon said. “Coming after me, calling me an election denier, we know this is the way the evening is going to go.”

Dixon said that Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist was also an “election denier” as it pertains to the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Whitmer skirted this accusation, calling it “silly,” and turned her focus to abortion rights once more.

When things turned to gun control, Whitmer criticized Dixon for what she saw as Dixon and the Republican Party’s inattention and apathy towards gun control. This includes the Republicans’ blocking of gun control bills in the state legislature after the Oxford High School shooting.

While many observers considered the first debate a good showing for Dixon, others were quick to point out the massive difference in campaign fundraising between the two candidates. As it stands, Whitmer holds a sizeable fundraising advantage, with over $36 million raised compared to Dixon’s $6.8 million according to the latest campaign finance filings.

For many who watched the debate and have kept up with national happenings, the fight over abortion rights has been the major flashpoint of this election and has proven to be an effective rallying point for Democrats hoping to turn out midterm voters.

“I think we’re at a very vulnerable spot now with the overturn of Roe v. Wade,” said Robert Butler, a filmmaker from Clarkstown. “I don’t want to see us become another state where we hear about the young teenage girls who are sexually assaulted or impregnated via rape to have to go to another state or even another country to get an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy. It just violates a lot of privacy laws as well. It really should be between a woman and her doctor.”

Butler was also quick to stand firm with Whitmer’s accusation that Dixon is an election denier.

“The main reason I’m voting for Whitmer in this election is really to protect democracy,” Butler said. “We have people running that don’t believe in it, and they will only accept the results if they win. What happens when these people get into power? They’re going to build up any conspiracy theory they can and go against the will of the people.”

Others were more apathetic but still settled on abortion rights as the pivotal issue at stake.

“I don’t want either of them to be Governor,” said Chelsea Renee, a GVSU graduate who resides in Grand Rapids. “However, I’d vote for Whitmer because of her stance on women’s rights.”

Renee said she has focused on policies they like from candidates rather than the candidates themselves. In an era where politics can be confusing and the honesty behind candidates’ opinions is increasingly difficult to verify, many feel the same way.

“I dislike Tudor Dixon because she wants to get rid of women’s rights on abortion,” Renee said. “It is important to remember that these are rights that have existed for decades and have only recently been taken away.”

Still, others hold the opposite view, believing that adults should be responsible for their own actions.

“I believe there needs to be strong restrictions on abortions and not have it used just for convenience or fixing an accident,” said Skyler Brogger, a Grand Rapids resident. “It should only be allowed if there was incest or rape. There are plenty of adoption agencies that have people looking for a child because they can’t have one of their own. It’s very simple to wear a condom or be on birth control if you are engaging in physical acts with someone you wouldn’t want to have a kid with.”

Brogger was also dismissive of Whitmer’s experience, reasoning that tenure doesn’t matter if the incumbent is ineffective at their job.

“Experience does not make Whitmer a better candidate as she has continuously shown us her lack of ability to do her job while having experience,” Brogger said. “Politicians have shown us on both sides that experience means nothing if you’re bad at your job.”

On the other hand, Butler said he found Whitmer’s time as governor beneficial.

“Whitmer’s experience is a lot better than Tudor Dixon’s,” Butler said. “We’ve been down this road before with Rick Snyder and Donald Trump where we elect these candidates who have no experience like your typical politician, but they become even worse and divisive and polarizing.”

Issues other than abortion are at stake in this election as well. For Brogger, gender identity and transgender rights as it relates to children are big talking points.

“The biggest issue I’m focusing on is the candidates’ views on child laws with transitioning children to another sex,” Brogger said. “If you are 18, do whatever you want with your body, but castrating children and pumping them full of dangerous chemicals is insanity and morally wrong.”

With the nature of the debate as adversarial as it was, the confidence both parties’ candidates had in feeling justified in their stances was visible.

For her part, Dixon wished to focus on the everyman as she tried to be as relatable as possible.

“She’s pushed a radical progressive social agenda and she hasn’t listened to the problems you have every single day,” Dixon said of her opponent.

Dixon was also quick to reaffirm her professionalism and dedication to her potential role as a representative of the people and the state.

“The people will decide what they want to do on abortion rights in Michigan,” Dixon said. “She has no limits on abortion, there is no more extreme position than Gov. Whitmer’s on abortion.”

As it relates to Proposal 3, Whitmer questioned Dixon’s commitment to upholding the law, whether or not she believes in it.

“I will always accept the will of the people,” Whitmer said. “Mrs. Dixon will tell you here that she’ll abide by whatever happens with regard to ballot initiative 3. Behind closed doors, she tells her radical special interest groups she will do anything necessary to curtail abortion rights.”

On one occasion, Gov. Whitmer refused to get in the weeds with Dixon and restated her primary goal of helping secure abortion rights for the women of Michigan.

“I am going to stay focused on fighting to make sure that women in the state still have the ability to make our own decisions about our bodies and our futures,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Let’s be very clear, the right to have reproductive choice is important for women of all ages and walks of life.”

With the election only just over a week away, the two opponents of Michigan’s first gubernatorial race with two female primary candidates will continue to wage a war of words and ideas as voters come to their final decisions.