The first question the moderators posed was how each candidate would plan to legislate around Proposal 3 – the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal – if they were elected and the amendment was passed.
Whitmer said that ensuring abortion rights is one of her top priorities, and that she believes the proposal is necessary for reproductive healthcare in Michigan.
“The simple truth is the way to protect women and ensure that future generations have the same rights we've had for 49 years is by adopting Proposal 3,” Whitmer said. “And I will be a yes vote.”
Dixon said that Whitmer was being dishonest about the content and implications of Proposal 3, and that it would revoke parental consent for medical procedures like gender confirmation surgeries. Dixon also said it would allow people who aren’t doctors to perform abortions.
“It would be the most radical abortion law in the entire country,” Dixon said of Proposal 3. “The only place that has something similar is China or North Korea.”
Dixon, however, did say that if the voters approve Proposal 3, she’d accept their decision and enforce it as governor.
Concerns about inflation and the economy
Whitmer was next asked what she would do to help relieve the burden of inflation currently facing Michiganders, and if the current state of the economy marks the failure of what the moderators called the “Whitmer-Biden economic plan.”
Whitmer responded by citing her record on items like reducing costs for childcare and higher education and plans to implement tax credits.
“We know that there is global inflation. It is not unique to Michigan, it is not unique to the United States,” Whitmer said. “A governor cannot fix global inflation. But what I can do is put more money in your pockets.”
Dixon countered Whitmer’s assertions that the state had made strides against inflation, saying that Whitmer’s vetoes on a child tax credit and a gas tax holiday negated her claims of putting money back into the hands of citizens.
“This governor has not done anything to help inflation, but I would put money back in your pockets,” Dixon said. “I would make sure we have that child tax credit. I would make sure that we reduce the income tax and I would make sure that our seniors who are on a fixed income are not receiving more taxes than they should.”
The candidates were asked how they planned to make sure Michiganders would be able to afford costs of utilities, like heating their homes, come winter. Dixon said that keeping the controversial Line 5 pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac operating would be crucial to supplying the Upper Peninsula and much of the Lower Peninsula with propane.
“We know that there's a lawsuit out right now that Gretchen Whitmer would like to shut down Line 5 in the state of Michigan,” Dixon said. “That would be catastrophic and raise our energy costs in a time when we have people that are having trouble heating their homes.”
Whitmer said that to keep energy costs affordable, she wants Michigan to build out energy alternatives like wind and solar.
“Right now Michigan is the number one state for clean energy jobs in the country,” Whitmer said. “We are focused on building out alternatives, ensuring our energy independence, protecting you from spikes and protecting our Great Lakes. It's not one or the other. We must do all of it.”
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Different issues involving Michigan’s schools took up most of the debate time. The candidates answered questions on test scores, school safety and the issue of removing books from school libraries based on their content.
Both candidates acknowledged that Michigan ranks among the bottom of the 50 states in standardized test scores. Dixon placed blame on Whitmer for school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic as detrimental to students’ performance, while Whitmer defended her decision to close schools and said that she would continue to seek further resources for public schools, like literacy coaches and mental health support.
“This is something that has been a pillar of my campaign, to bring education back in the state of Michigan,” Dixon said. “Not only do we want to make sure that parents are involved in education, but we want to make sure that our kids are back on track from the pandemic.”
Whitmer rebutted Dixon’s claims that she was being dishonest about school closures, and said that Dixon’s policy on education as governor would be heavily influenced by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family. The DeVos family are financial supporters of various private school initiatives in the state, including legislation that would siphon public funding into religious schools.
Records released Tuesday show that Michigan Families United, a super PAC backed by the DeVos family, spent $6.3 million on advertisements promoting Dixon.
The candidates voiced opposing stances on school safety, with Whitmer calling for gun reforms like red flag laws and secure storage policies. Dixon voiced her commitment to “hardening” Michigan’s schools by placing armed officers in buildings, ensuring only one point of entry and a plan to help school faculty identify children who might show signs of mental health struggles.
Both candidates referenced the recent guilty plea of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, who said on Monday that his parents purchased the weapon he used to kill three of his classmates last year and kept it unlocked in their home. Whitmer said that the only way to prevent more tragedies like that in Oxford is to address gun laws in Michigan.
“It's time to try proven policies, background checks, secure storage, red flag laws,” Whitmer said. “I'm not talking about hunting, I'm just trying to keep our kids and communities safe.”
To close out the discussion on education, the candidates were asked how they would strike a balance between making sure students have access to the books they need while still addressing the concerns of parents who have taken issue with sexual content in school libraries.
Dixon has made family-friendliness, especially in public schools, a key part of her campaign message. She said that parents want to remove “pornographic books” from school libraries.
“What these parents are talking about are not textbooks that will help children learn about themselves,” Dixon said. “These are books that are describing to children how to have sex, and parents are outraged about it across the state. I stand with those parents that want to make sure we go back to the basics of reading, writing and math in our schools.”
Drugs and crime prevention
The opioid epidemic has been largely overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic in recent years, as noted by the debate’s moderators. They asked the candidates how they would address the influx of fentanyl and its impact on opioid addiction in Michigan.
Whitmer said her approach to the issue of drug addiction is through expanding access to medical care, citing her collaboration with her predecessor, Rick Snyder, on a Medicaid expansion that provided more people with access to addiction treatment.
“There is no question that we have got an opioid crisis in this country,” Whitmer said. “That's why the resources that we are putting into addiction treatment, the resources that we are putting into ensuring more people have access to health care is so incredibly important.”
Dixon said that drug overdoses could be attributed to President Joe Biden’s border policies and a lack of resources for law enforcement.
“We know that drugs are pouring across our border every day, we've seen overdoses rise since this administration took office,” Dixon said. “It's been devastating. And that's why I've presented my safe state plan to put a billion new dollars into policing to make sure we have enough police on the streets.”
Both candidates expressed their support for police officers. Both Whitmer and Dixon have been endorsed by different police organizations.
This debate, unlike the first meeting between the candidates, was televised statewide. For Dixon, it was one of the first times voters around the state were introduced to her stances. With only two weeks left until Election Day and polls tightening, it was clear that each candidate was sticking to a firm set of policy points.
Whitmer has been relying heavily on her record of public service and Michigan’s recovery from the pandemic, while Dixon has focused on trying to convince Michiganders that they’re worse off now than they were four years ago.
Each candidate has now had the opportunity to make their opinions known on some of the biggest issues facing the state – abortion, inflation, education and safety. It’s now up to voters to evaluate these positions as the campaign cycle draws to a close.
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