Whitmer breaks mold with early, often veto threats

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is lobbing veto threats early and often as she seeks leverage in negotiations with the Republican-led Legislature, breaking with recent predecessors who rarely telegraphed their intentions in public.

In her first five months in office, Whitmer has promised to reject anti-abortion legislation, budget bills she says lack a “real” plan to "fix the damn roads" and sweeping no-fault auto insurance reform she argued would preserve "a corrupt system" allowing insurers to discriminate through rates.

The governor served a combined 14 years in the state House and Senate before term limits forced her out of office at the end of 2014. Her experience shows, said Jen Eyer, a Democratic strategist with Vanguard Public Affairs who worked on Whitmer’s gubernatorial campaign in 2017.

“She knows how the process works and she knows how legislators are going to approach negotiations,” Eyer said. “I see (her veto threats) as a sign of strength. … She’s showing she’s going to be a strong leader, and they need to come to the table.”

The governor turned heads this month with her first line-item veto, rejecting a $10 million appropriation to compensate wrongfully convicted inmates because it was tucked into a policy bill, which would make it immune from voter referendum. Her administration wants the funding in a separate supplemental budget measure.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, called the veto “disgraceful.” But the governor was honoring her campaign pledge to reject an increasingly common GOP maneuver to make more controversial legislation referendum-proof, Eyer said.

“It’s the principle of the matter,” Eyer said of Whitmer’s veto. “She made it very clear by doing so on a bill that everyone basically agrees on that she’s sure as heck going to do it on a bill that’s more controversial.”

Billionaire Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert is also considering a petition drive to reform the state’s auto insurance laws if Whitmer and GOP leaders do not agree on a plan to drive down high rates.

Gilbert’s threat is “every bit as much” of a negotiation ploy as Whitmer’s threat of a veto, Eyer said. “It’s good for everybody to have these discussions out in public so people know where everyone stands.”


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