(WXYZ) — The midterm election is Tuesday, and the most-watched statewide race is the one for governor. Incumbent Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is being challenged by Republican nominee Tudor Dixon, with the polls showing the race tightening.
Both candidates sat down with me for one-on-one interviews about the big issues and what they believe is at stake.
"Why should voters choose you?" I asked Dixon
"Well, coming from business and coming from manufacturing, I understand what it is to have a small business in the state of Michigan and how important right now it is for state government to come around our small businesses as a as a partner," she said.
"Why do you believe that they should elect you to a second term?" I asked Whitmer.
"Well, listen, this is an important election. And in the last four years, despite all the historic challenges we've had to navigate, we've made a lot of great progress," she said.
Despite many differences, Whitmer and Dixon both have something in common, as both said they would make education a top priority in the state.
"You know, education is the center of everything for me," Whitmer said.
"Education is certainly my top priority," Dixon said.
Their education goals also sound familiar.
"My goal is to get us to the top ten. We need to make sure that we have education as a top priority and we get our kids back from the pandemic," Dixon said.
"Hitting that top ten mark in literacy, I think is going to be absolutely fundamental to our kids, but also to our economy. And we've got to be thinking on both fronts," Whitmer said.
That's where the parallels end between the two. On Proposal 3, which aims to legally allow abortions and reproductive freedom in Michigan, they have some differences.
First, let me say this. I am going to be a yes vote for Prop three. I think it's important to lock in women's freedoms that we've had for 49 years that are very much at risk. When we hear kind of incendiary comments like, 'it promotes late-term abortion.' That's not true. If you read the text of the the proposal, it is very clear that this is simply locking in abortion rights for Michigan women and girls. There are still restrictions, they are still questions about viability and then what the rights look like beyond viability. That is a part of current law that will continue to be so. This is really, I think, a moment where the extreme position would be rejecting it and taking away these rights we've had for 49 years, making abortion a felony, no exceptions for rape or incest or health of the woman. I think that's the extreme position. We can pass proposal three, and if there are additional measures the legislature wants to take, they can still take that," Whitmer said.
"State law currently requires written consent by a parent for anybody that's under 18. Correct? Unless they petition a court. And there's many experts that say that that law will likely remain and Prop three until it's challenged in court. So when you make the argument that it removes parental consent. Is that disingenuous?" I asked Dixon.
"No. I mean, the experts that you're talking to are obviously different from me. It very clearly states in Prop three that all other laws regarding abortion will be null and void. That is the concern. Not only are you taking away those existing laws, and I've talked to many legal experts on this saying this is language that will be in the Constitution. That's what people need to understand. Language in the Constitution cannot be legislated around. So this takes those laws out of the books on it. In addition to that, you're talking about an individual now. You're no longer talking about an adult. This is calling out an individual, which means that a person of any age can do this without any other person consenting to this because that would be removed," Dixon said.
Much of the political rhetoric in this race revolves around the pandemic. We asked both candidates about the criticisms, and what they would have done differently. Whitmer has been accused of forcing nursing homes to house COVID-19 patients, leading to deaths.
"So nursing homes were never required to take patients who had COVID. They just weren't. Studies have been done over and over again. The Republican legislature came out and said there's no evidence that they were required," she said. "As I look back, if I could go back in time with the knowledge we have now about a virus we didn't know a lot about at the time, I would make Michigan the epicenter of manufacturing masks and PPE. We would be able to save lives and solve problems for a lot of other states as well as our own," Whitmer said.
The governor is also facing criticisms for a debate comment, saying schools were only closed for three months during the pandemic. She clarified that she was only referring to closures directly from her or the health department's orders.
"After a certain point of time into the pandemic, those became local decisions, school district decisions, not the governor's decision. Is that the case? Is that how you are viewing it?" i asked Dixon.
"No, I would say this was then handed once her her powers were taken away from her. She handed this down to the Department of Health and Human Services that reports to the governor. She appoints the director of Health and Human Services, and she on several occasions was saying, My choice is that you would keep kids out of school, that we would continue online. So she can say that now, but she's on the record then saying that she wanted kids to stay out of school," Dixon said.
"When during the pandemic, would you have brought kids back? What would have what would have led to that decision?" I asked Dixon.
"There was very a key report that came out in November of 2020 that schools in North Carolina had been in-person from August through November. And for about one day that was national news that they were saying it is safe for kids to go back to school. The teachers union pretty much crushed that story and it was removed from everywhere you could see. But you saw plenty of states like Florida, like Georgia, like Texas that said, 'look, the data is in. It is safe to have kids in school and it's crucial for their learning.' We can't afford the learning loss of our students. That would have been a moment for me to say this is time for our kids to be in-person learning," Dixon said.
You can watch both of their interviews below