“The test of a civilization is the way it cares for its most vulnerable.” These words, written by novelist Pearl Buck, provide the ultimate lense through which we should view politics.
When evaluating candidates, the most important thing to look for is accountability. In some countries, politicians reflect the citizenry attitude; in the United States, however, our political system follows demands of the wealthy and politically engaged class. This aristocracy controls vast amounts of capital and have much to gain through influencing electoral politics, often at the expense of the most vulnerable. While no Michigan gubernatorial candidate completely reflects the public and their interests, Democratic candidate Gretchen Whitmer’s proposals offer more relief than Republican Bill Schuette’s.
If Schuette and the Republicans successfully defend right-to-work legislation, which bans certain union contracts, the woking class will continue to become more vulnerable. Wages among blue-collar workers will continue to fall as union strength does.
Unions have played a large part in American politics and the economy for over 100 years, and since their conception, establishment politicians have made an effort to undermine or destroy them. Right-to-work laws — adopted by 27 states, including Michigan — are just the latest attempt. But by now, it’s overwhelmingly clear that right-to-work results in lower pay across the board.
Schuette has also failed to protect the minority rights of LGBT citizens. In July, after the Michigan Civil Rights Commission voted to expand the interpretation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Schuette, as Michigan’s Attorney General, issued an opinion invalidating the ruling.
Since then, LGBT activists and politicians alike have continued to ask the state legislature to amend the Elliott-Larsen Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Whitmer has endorsed and speaks frequently about this idea; Schuette, on the other hand, has been virtually silent.
Unlike Schuette, Whitmer has defended the rights of immigrants, albeit, not as strongly as other gubernatorial candidates, like Democrat Abdul El-Sayed, who lost to Whitmer in the primary. When President Trump’s wildly controversial child separation policy took effect, El-Sayed called for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and encouraged local law enforcement not to cooperate with federal agents. Whitmer isn’t nearly as hard-line. Her response to the controversy was: “I’m not going to let the Trump administration come in and militarize any of our police forces.”
But even this is better than Schuette’s blatant defense of ICE. He commended the agency’s efforts to thwart violent immigrants, even though 98 percent of those stopped by Customs and Border Protection in the state of Michigan do not have criminal records, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Regardless, Schuette has said: “As governor, I will enforce our immigration laws, ban sanctuary cities, and support the police and [ICE] officials who are putting their lives on the line each day to protect Michigan.”
It’s important for Michigan to elect a candidate who will stand up to the federal government on immigration. The state’s unique geography places the entire state in a “border zone.” This classification gives CBP extra-constitutional power to set up checkpoints and conduct operations without warrants. On Greyhound buses, a popular transportation company in Michigan, customers reported several incidents in which CBP agents either boarded a bus or waited at train stations to make arrests. ABC-13 reported that CBP agents boarded a bus in May and asked every passenger to prove their citizenship, without probable cause. Those who didn’t were immediately taken into custody. This is a fascistic policy the state of Michigan should not tolerate.
This year, Michigan residents will vote on a marijuana legalization ballot initiative. Whitmer supports it; Schuette does not. Whitmer seems to understand that marijuana legalization isn’t really about giving people the freedom to smoke pot, but rather ending the prison pipeline for poor communities of color. By regulating marijuana, Michigan can keep the substance safe and out of the hands of youth while eliminating violent gang activity associated with the drug trade.
As Attorney General, Schuette proved himself an ineffective leader. He oversaw the Flint water crisis and the prosecution of those who caused it, but his department was responsible for signing off on a “sham” administrative consent order that could have averted the disaster entirely. He only indicted Flint and state officials after tremendous public pressure and failed to hold current Republican Gov. Rick Snyder accountable for his role in the scandal. Whitmer would be a competent leader and take action to help the city of Flint. She plans to speed up the replacement of Flint’s lead pipelines, which, as of now, won’t be completed until after 2020.
Whitmer isn’t perfect by a longshot. Both her and Schuette failed to endorse single-payer healthcare and instead support expanding or maintaining Obamacare, respectively. (Both candidates received sizable donations from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Michigan’s biggest health insurer, which could have been a contributing reason).
Whitmer also refused to sign a pledge against accepting donations from the fossil fuel industry. This is a topic Whitmer should take seriously: In Detroit, air pollution presents a particularly challenging problem for a city with an already struggling and unhealthy population. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, in 2013, asthma rates in Detroit are nearly 50 percent higher than throughout Michigan, and even greater in zip codes with petroleum refineries.
Schuette, as Attorney General, went even further, backing some of the world’s biggest polluters, namely, writing an amicus curiae brief in August defending Exxon Mobil against the accusation that it knowingly lied to shareholders and consumers about the effects of its business.
In politics, we take what we can get. Whitmer has her flaws, but Schuette has all of them and many more. Should Schuette get elected, the implications for our vulnerable citizens would be devastating.
Cal Abbo is a sophomore studying the liberal arts.