Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, sworn in for a second term Sunday, called the sentencing last week of two men convicted of plotting to kidnap her “just,” while urging both parties to confront threats and violent rhetoric.
“Whether it is someone harassing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh or Congressman Fred Upton here in Michigan, or me, or our attorney general, or secretary of state, it’s unacceptable,” she told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in an interview the day she was sworn in. “But I do think it’s important that people on both sides of the aisle, who care more about our democracy than their political agenda, stand up and take it on.”
Thirteen people were charged in the kidnapping plot, with the group discussing sending a bomb to the governor. The co-leaders of the plot were sentenced last week to 16 years and nearly 20 years in federal prison, respectively, after prosecutors had sought a life sentence in both their cases.
Whitmer, who had dealt with an unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic and issued stay-at-home orders that made her a target, expressed concern over how the plot has been described, saying, “There’s a tendency to minimize some of these threats.”
“They weren’t planning to ransom me, they weren’t going to keep me, they were planning to assassinate me. And the plot has been covered as a kidnapping plot,” she said. “There was one person who showed up on, you know, on a Supreme Court justice’s lawn and turned himself in, and it was covered as an assassination attempt. And so I think that when you look at the facts of both of those, and you see how differently they’re covered, I do, you know, have concern about the language that we use, especially when women are a target as opposed to men.”
The Justice Department charged the man who was arrested near Kavanaugh’s house in Maryland with attempting or threatening to kidnap or murder a US judge.
Whitmer, first elected governor in 2018, said the threat against her had “changed how I assess going into situations” and “changed my concern for all the people around me.”
“I would be lying if I told you I was unfazed,” she said, adding, “I think it’s important to understand, I’m an ordinary person. I’ve got an extraordinary job and have served in extraordinary times. I’m a mom. I’m a daughter.”
After the challenges of the past few years, Whitmer said she’s “excited” about starting a new term.
“There was so much chaos, politically and in the environment, I didn’t know if I would, you know, get an opportunity to serve for four more years,” the Democratic governor said. “I never imagined I’d win by almost 11 points and come in with a whole new legislature.”
Whitmer sailed to a resounding victory in November, beating her Republican challenger Tudor Dixon 55% to 44%, while Democrats also won a majority in the Michigan legislature – giving them control of both chambers and the governorship for the first time in nearly four decades. Among her top priorities, Whitmer listed public education, economic development, protecting the Great Lakes and ensuring people have access to safe drinking water and high-speed internet. She also mentioned repealing the retirement tax that Republicans passed last legislature and getting a 1931 state law banning abortion “off the books.”
With her reelection in a pivotal swing state, Whitmer has furthered cemented her status as a national figure in the Democratic Party, but she has brushed off speculation about a 2024 White House bid while not completely closing the door to running for something else down the line.
“I think doing my job well is the best way that I can contribute to the national Democratic Party – is to be able to be someone that they can point to and say, ‘This is what happens when you elect Democrats,’” she said, reflecting on how her 2022 campaign “talked about abortion in the most personal terms” and how she thinks that contributed to Democrats’ success.
She anticipates President Joe Biden running for the White House again in 2024, telling CNN that he would have her “enthusiastic support” if he does.
“I do not have plans to run for anything other than to spend the next four years serving this state as governor with a majority Democratic legislature for the first time in a long time,” Whitmer said, while also noting that she felt similarly when she left the state legislature in 2015, only later to run for governor in 2018.
“I know enough about myself to know if there is something that needs to get done, and if there’s a role I can play, I will want to play it,” she said.
But regardless of whether she runs for something again or not, Whitmer said she “will stay engaged one way or another,” reflecting on what’s to come after the governor’s mansion. “Michigan will always play an outsized role in the national politics, so I look forward to making sure that our voices are impactful and Michigan gets what we need and we’ve got leaders who serve every person.”