Gretchen Whitmer took the oath of office Tuesday morning to become the 49th governor of the state of Michigan, marking history as the state’s second-ever female governor.
Whitmer’s inauguration, held on the lawn of Lansing’s Capitol building, drew hundreds of observers. Former governors Rick Snyder and Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters attended.
Whitmer — a Lansing native, Michigan State alumna and Democrat — defeated Republican challenger and former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in the November 2018 midterm elections, which she won by a 53-44 percent margin. She's the state's second female governor after Granholm, who served from 2003 to 2011.
Garlin Gilchrist II — Whitmer’s running mate — also took the oath of office to become the state's new lieutenant governor. Whitmer and Gilchrist were preceded by the swearing-in of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who succeeds Bill Schuette; and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who succeeds Ruth Johnson.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement administered the oath of office to Whitmer.
Whitmer addressed the audience on the Capitol lawn, who gathered to witness her inauguration despite overcast weather and temperatures that hovered around the freezing mark.
"It is an incredible honor to be here with you today as the 49th governor of the great state of Michigan," Whitmer began.
She acknowledged her family — her husband, children, father, stepsons and siblings.
"I am honored to be joined by Governor Snyder, Governor Granholm and Governor Blanchard," she said. "Each of them knows the incredible opportunity and sacrifice in holding this office and we owe each of them a debt of gratitude and appreciation for their service and for being here today."
Whitmer spoke of another governor — G. Mennen Williams, who years before her had campaigned for the Mackinac Bridge to be constructed.
She talked about how Williams, a Democrat, had worked with a Republican legislature to fund and build the bridge. She likened her leadership tasks ahead as governor to that of Williams. In her remarks, she called for bipartisanship between the state's top officials and Michigan's legislative body.
"In the spirit of that great legacy, I want to recognize the incoming legislative leadership ... I am so looking forward to working with you over the next weeks and months and years," Whitmer said. "We may belong to different parties, but we are all here today for the same reason — we are proud Michiganders, first and foremost."
She said leaders owed to to the people of Michigan to put side their partisanship and "build bridges together."
In her address, Whitmer also echoed key issues highlighted on her two-year-long campaign trail — stabilization of Michigan's economy, improving the state's infrastructure and increasing literacy in Michigan schools.
She talked about the origin of her "fix the damn roads" slogan, which she said came from a mother working in a Detroit hospital.
"We must be clear-eyed about the challenges we face, now is the time to confront our problems head-on and say in one voice: 'Let's get it done,'" Whitmer said.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II
Garlin Gilchrist II took the oath of office before Whitmer, marking history as Michigan's first-ever African-American lieutenant governor.
Gilchrist opened by talking about his grandmother, a social studies teacher from Detroit, whom he said was the first to teach him about democracy. She had walked him through the corridors of the Michigan Capitol building years before he'd run for office.
"I think about her as we stand upon these steps this morning," Gilchrist said. "They are more than the pathway to the chambers of lawmaking and the halls of collaboration. They are the standing points that we as Michiganders gather upon every few years to define the goals and promises our state will pursue."
Gilchrist said he stood on the Capitol steps due in part to predecessors who had planted seeds for his success.
"[We are] lifted by the dreams of grandparents like mine, who traveled here from Alabama, and Arkansas, and all across the world in search of opportunity," Gilchrist said. "Lifted here, in Michigan, where they came and found our pleasant peninsula that marks God's handprint. Lifted by the sweat of parents like mine, who as the first of their generation to go to college sacrificed to make real the promise of a middle-class life that could position their only child for success."
Gilchrist thanked his wife and children for both inspiring and motivating him. He also addressed constituents, saying it was their responsibility to participate in democracy despite their political affiliations.
"Regardless of our political affiliations or sensibilities, it is up to all of us to participate in leadership and governance in Michigan," Gilchrist said.
Attorney General Dana Nessel
Attorney General Dana Nessel was the first to give inaugural remarks.
"It is impossible for me to overstate how honored and privileged I am to be standing before you today as attorney general of this incredible state, which I have called home throughout all my life," Nessel said.
Nessel talked about how she'd stood in front of the Capitol building two years prior to the inauguration after joining thousands in the 2017 Women's March. She said her goal then was to demand equality and representation and pledge for a state government that would "hear and understand the voices of women in Michigan."
"I'd say that worked out pretty well," Nessel said, referencing the women about to be sworn in after her.
Nessel said she ran for the office for multiple reasons, but one stood out above all.
"I wanted the people of Michigan to feel like they truly had a government that really cared about them again, and I wanted a government that cared equally about all the people of our state, irrespective of income, race, geography, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity," Nessel said. "We are all Michiganders, and we are all entitled to equal protection under the law."
Nessel thanked her wife, Alana, and her two sons, Alex and Zach, for their support while she was running for office. She also thanked her grandparents. Lastly, she thanked the people of Michigan.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
After taking the oath of office, Jocelyn Benson took to the podium to address the politicians and constituents around her.
"It is a new day for democracy here in the state of Michigan," Benson said. "Now, as your secretary of state, I will work every day to bring that same commitment as our state's chief election officer to protect your vote, your voice and your democracy."
Benson said she would be ready to work to ensure fair and accessible elections with districts drawn by citizens in a non-partisan manner and increase customer service efficiency of Michigan's secretary of state office branches. Benson, a military spouse, called for strengthening protections of veterans and military service members.
Benson ended her remarks by saying that serving as Michigan's 43rd secretary of state is "the greatest honor" of her life.
Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott
In MSU-related news, Democrats Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott were sworn in to the MSU Board of Trustees.
They're joined in their duties by former Henry Ford Health CEO Nancy Schlichting, appointed Dec. 21 by outgoing Governor Snyder to replace George Perles. Perles resigned in November due to health issues.