Whitmer, Dixon on offensive as they make pitch to Michigan voters in final debate

GOP challenger falsely claims Gilchrist is ‘election denier,’ governor says opponent ‘stokes violence’

By: - October 26, 2022 3:46 pm

Supporters of Republican nominee for governor Tudor Dixon and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rally outside the second and final gubernatorial debate at Oakland University on Oct. 25, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

Updated, 8:51 a.m., 10/26/22

Just two weeks out from the Nov. 8 election, the second and final debate between Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and GOP challenger Tudor Dixon saw both nominees on the offensive about issues from gun control to election denial.

“When she’s not scripted and on stage, she stokes violence,” Whitmer said of her right-wing opponent, while Dixon emphasized Whitmer’s “failures” in office, “broken promises” to voters and “radical” agenda.

On the topic of Proposal 3, which seeks to codify state reproductive rights that were lost with the toppling of Roe v. Wade months ago, both candidates said they would “accept the will of the people” whether the measure is adopted or rejected — regardless of their personal stances on abortion.

Whitmer is vehemently supportive of reproductive rights, while Dixon has said she opposes abortion without any exceptions except the life of the mother.

But Whitmer rebuffed Dixon’s claim that she would accept the outcome of Prop 3, noting that the Republican has herself denied the results of the 2020 presidential election that saw President Joe Biden score a victory over former President Donald Trump.

Dixon has repeatedly expressed doubt in the 2020 election results by accusing Democrats of “sloppy and obvious” voter fraud after the election, tweeting in November 2021 that Democrats “st[ole] an election” and has publicly and falsely claimed that Trump won in Michigan as recently as May of this year.

“Would [Dixon] sign laws that are abridging that right?” Whitmer asked.

Dixon responded with a claim that Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist III is himself an “election denier.” Whitmer’s now-running mate sought a recount of the 2017 county clerk election in Detroit that he lost by 1,482 votes.

“That’s silly,” Whitmer retorted.

Gilchrist had requested the recount after he heard that a number of residents experienced issues while trying to vote. His margin of loss was magnitudes smaller than the margin between Biden and Trump, who lost Michigan by 154,000 votes.

While speaking with reporters after the debate, Gilchrist — alongside state Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Waterford Twp.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan — addressed the claim when asked how his recount request differed from Dixon denying election results.

“It differs because I accepted the results and she doesn’t,” Gilchrist said.

Dixon brought up the Canadian-owned Line 5 oil pipeline when asked about energy costs during the debate, repeating her claim that it would be “catastrophic” to decommission the pipeline as both Whitmer and Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel have sought to do. She also characterized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “the most radical environmentalist in the entire world.”

Whitmer voluntarily dismissed her lawsuit to shut down the nearly 70-year-old Line 5 last year, while Nessel’s lawsuit continues in federal court. Whitmer also noted that Enbridge’s proposal to replace Line 5 with a new, tunnel-encased pipeline is moving forward and has received the greenlight from one of three agencies so far.

Emphasizing a push for clean, renewable energy, Whitmer said: “Protecting you from [energy price] spikes and protecting the Great Lakes — it’s not one or the other. We must do all of it.”

On repealing the retirement tax and other campaign issues that Whitmer has yet to follow through on, the Democrat noted that the GOP-led Legislature is the roadblock “standing in the way.”

On the likelihood that a second term would also see Whitmer working with a Republican majority, she hinted that bipartisanship might be more attainable after the election.

“I think we will have a much more reasonable Legislature because we just went through … redistricting. I’m hopeful that we will actually get legislators who are representative of the communities they serve,” Whitmer said.

Dixon hit Whitmer on several pieces of legislation offered to her by Republicans that would have helped achieve her campaign goals, but Whitmer noted that many were not serious about solving the problem. Some contained “poison pills” with GOP efforts to strip Whitmer’s executive powers and enact other policies that Whitmer opposes.

Dixon also criticized Whitmer for the state’s unfavorable math and reading test scores, and for keeping students out of schools for longer than necessary during the early stages of COVID-19.

“The reason kids were out of school during the pandemic was because we were working off of knowledge from 1918, when kids died,” Whitmer said. “… As a mom, all I was thinking about was saving the lives of our kids.”

Despite the state of Michigan not having any vaccine mandates, Dixon doubled down on her claims that Whitmer is “forcing the vaccines on people” and said she “will likely push this on your children” in order to attend schools.

Whitmer shut down the claim and said her actions saved lives during COVID-19.

“While I was getting death threats, saving lives during COVID-19, my opponent was sowing conspiracy theories. … If she would have been governor during COVID, thousands more people would have died,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer also warned that Trump’s former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime GOP contributor and avid school choice proponent, supports Dixon and would be “writing the education budget” if the Republican is elected.

The DeVos family is based in Grand Rapids and has contributed a significant amount of funds to Dixon’s campaign for governor. Whitmer accused them of planning to “drain” resources of public schools and put those into private schools.

“Ask yourself: who’s going to keep your kids safe? The former prosecutor with plans, or the candidate with thoughts and prayers?”* Whitmer asked while speaking on gun safety in schools.

Dixon stated that she would “harden” schools from gun violence using tactics like more armed security and a single entry point in the building. But Whitmer noted that a school shooting Monday in Missouri had those precautions — but “people are dead.”

She also criticized Dixon for her 2021 post of a woman shooting a gun with the caption, “gun control is using both hands.” Dixon called the remark “manipulative.”

Again on the topic of schools, Dixon and Whitmer were both quizzed on the recent right-wing backlash against certain books in school libraries. Dixon has made claims of “pornography in schools” a cornerstone of her platform, although her campaign has not provided any specific titles to the Advance when asked.

She has also fought back against the idea of LGBTQ+ issues, including gender identity and sexuality, being mentioned in schools.

Whitmer emphasized that all students should feel included at school, adding that Dixon “thinks books are more dangerous than guns.”

The lone moment of camaraderie between the nominees came after a moderator questioned what each admired about the other.

Both complimented the other’s emphasis on being a mother and ability to campaign while raising children.

Whitmer has “always fought for women, and I love that about her,” Dixon said.

Correction: This story has been updated with a corrected quote from Whitmer on school safety.

This story was published earlier by the Michigan Advance, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice at the Michigan Advance, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.