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Girls & Women

Meet the Woman Running to Become Michigan’s Next Governor

Around the world, fewer than one-quarter of lawmakers are women — an imbalance in representation that affects how laws are crafted and passed and how equality is created in societies. This year, Global Citizen’s new series, “Who Run The Gov? Girls!” will chronicle the massive uptick in women running for office, regardless of political party, in the US and around the world, highlighting the candidates and the groups helping them to run, the challenges they face, advice & tips for running, and the results.

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“We in the Midwest have grit,” Gretchen Whitmer, one of Michigan’s leading candidates for governor, told Global Citizen.

Whitmer knows the Midwest as well as anyone.

The East Lansing, Michigan, native earned both her bachelor’s and law degrees from Michigan State University, then went on to teach at MSU’s rival, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Whitmer is truly rooted in the rust belt — and she’s never questioned her dedication to the state that raised her.

“I think it [being raised in the midwest] is one of the best things, and one of the things that informs everything I do, and who I am,” she said.

Two years after she finished law school, Whitmer was elected to and served from 2000 to 2006 in the Michigan House of Representatives, and continued on to the state senate after that. In 2010, she was unanimously elected to serve as the Senate Democratic Leader, solidifying herself as the first woman to lead a party caucus in the senate.

Read More: Meet the Woman Trying to Become the First Female African American Mayor of Cincinnati

She’s no stranger to assuming big roles. In 2016, she was appointed to finish out the remaining six months of Stuart Dunning’s term as County Prosecutor after Dunnings was arrested for prostitution-related charges.

This year, Whitmer was eager to take her career — and her service to the state of Michigan — one step further. In January, she became what the Detroit News called the  “first high-profile, official major party candidate in the 2018 gubernatorial race.”

“I’m taking this election very seriously,” she said. “We need someone who remembers the people in the small towns as well as business people in bigger cities, that children in every school district need a champion in the governor’s mansion.”

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Along with promoting economic opportunity and upholding Medicaid’s expansion in her state, Whitmer puts a heavy emphasis on the value of education from all angles. She envisions a Michigan that offers equal opportunity for all of its residents to earn a quality education, and a state that offers teachers salaries that reflect the importance of their work.

She referenced a story she heard about a first year teacher from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who “is paid so little she qualifies for the Bridge Card,” the state’s equivalent to food stamps.

“It's so important that we support young people who want to go into education and make sure that is a profession they can raise a family on,” she said. “And make sure that children are getting the skills they need.”

Read More: This First-Generation American Is the First Muslim-Jew to Run for Office

Whitmer’s focus on education reform doesn’t come as a surprise — Detroit schools have experienced a troubling trend of closures, low scores, and decreases in attendance.

The state adopted charter schools in 1993 as an alternate choice to public school for families. More than 20 years later, some residents think that what they received was quantity, rather than quality, in school choices, according to Whitmer. A federal review of grant applications for Michigan charter schools reported an “unreasonably high” amount of charter schools were among the worst-performing public schools statewide.

Some Detroiters don’t have choices at all. A NAACP study released this month cites “actual education deserts in Detroit," where there are neither public nor charter schools in certain residential areas, causing students to have to find a way to travel long distances if they want to attend school.

Whitmer is aware of the magnitude of issues like education that she would inherit as governor, and she’s already hitting the ground running to try to build a base of supporters.

Read More: A Trans Female Candidate Just Made History in Virginia

“At the end of the day, people what to know that their government is accountable to them and not paying attention to those who bankroll their campaigns,” she said.

“It’s the stories of the people I engage with that drive what the platform looks like,” Whitmer said. “I really think that engaging with people in every community is important.”

As far as being a woman in politics, she sees her gender as an asset when it comes to establishing herself as an engaging and trustworthy leader, because of the many barriers and pressures she has had to overcome. She joked that some men, “come out of the womb feeling like they should be the leaders of the free world.”

“They [men] don’t question if they have the experience or the time or the resources, and I think we [women] need to encourage one another to run,” she said. “We have a tendency to hold ourselves to hold ourselves to higher standards than men do.”

When asked what advice she would give to women considering running for political office, Whitmer’s advice rang clear: trust yourself, and don’t think twice.

Read More: This 26-Year-Old Political Newcomer Ran for Office, Lost, and Won’t Give Up

“Run. Run,” she said. “Our questioning ourselves as women is something that we uniquely do and I think it does make us better, but the fact is that we don’t need to do that because you could walk in there right now and do as good a job or better.”

“So my words of wisdom to any woman who is thinking about running is to do it – and anyone who knows a woman who is thinking about running, tell her to do it. We need to encourage each other.”