Sept. 23 2015 12:54 AM

It's three years away, but with Gov. Rick Snyder termed out in 2018, no notable public official wants his or her name left out of the discussion when the natural discussion turns to "What's next?"

Count former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, the East Lansing Democrat, as being among that group.

Described on her Facebook page as a "public figure," Whitmer was in the Upper Peninsula this summer where she was asked, "Are you running for governor?" Her response continues to be, "I'm seriously looking at it."

Reached by phone recently, she has not changed her tune.

Some will interpret her visit to the U.P. as a sure-fire sign of her desire to run in 2018, but she is not ready to make any formal announcement either way.

Whitmer, 44, doesn't have a public office or official platform from which to run, but she is still sharing her feelings on public policy issues on her Facebook page, such as more public funding for higher education, Michigan's crumbling infrastructure and redistricting reform.

Unlike other potential Democratic contenders, Whitmer, who was term-limited out of the Legislature last year, does not have to seek reelection. Others do between now and then. That list includes U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, and perhaps even former Lt. Gov. candidate Lisa Brown, the current Oakland County clerk, among other possibles.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's name continues to pop up as well, despite his repeated assertions that he's not interested. Last May, Duggan got particularly feisty about the subject when asked by TV reporter Carol Cain at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce Policy Conference.

"I will not be a candidate for governor, so stop asking me," he said. "I wouldn't have left DMC (Detroit Medical Center) to run for governor. It doesn't look like a fun job."

Whitmer, meanwhile, is already taking on state Attorney General Bill Schuette, considered a leading contender for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Referring to same-sex marriage, she predicted in what could be a preview of the campaign: "Attorney General Bill Schuette's politically driven fight against equality will only leave him on the wrong side of history.”

When Whitmer was mentioned for statewide office in 2014, 2012 and even 2010, Whitmer demurred because her children were in elementary school.

A check of the record shows her two daughters would be in high school if and when she decides to take a shot at being the second female governor in state history, after Jennifer Granholm. Her professionally done website, www.gretchenwhitmer.com, features a picture of her leading a Capitol rally. It doesn't suggest she is leaving the public spotlight since leaving office Dec. 31.

The attorney by trade took a position at Dickinson Wright starting Sept. 8 as a litigator. She worked for the firm before beginning her legislative service after her successful 2000 run.

She's a lecturer in public policy for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and remains outspoken on such issues as redistricting reform. When asked this summer what ballot question she'd like most on the Nov. 2016 ballot, Whitmer responded that she wants to change how legislative and congressional boundaries are redrawn every 10 years.

Michigan has one of the country's most partisan drawing processes, because the party in power draws the maps to make sure they stay in power, she said. It's worked for the Republicans the last few cycles, anyway.

"That means many of us don't have a voice at the Capitol much less a voice that is reflective and representative of us as a state," she told MIRS. "How do we have Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow representing us on the federal level, and yet a Tea Party-controlled Legislature setting an agenda that continues to cut from our schools and give tax breaks to big, out-of-state corporations?"

She is hardly being retiring when it comes to politics. For example, she recently defended the appointment of Brandon Dillon, a former legislative colleague, as the state Democratic Party chairman, calling him an "outstanding leader for the Democratic Party." Others have criticized his appointment as being forced on the party.

Kildee hasn't been shying away from publicity outside of his Flint media market either. Earlier this year, he came to Lansing to hold a press conference on his push to get political prisoner U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati released from Iran. It was at least the second he's done this year with Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich and other state lawmakers.

Over on the Republican side, it wasn't hard to see the subtle ways Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller and others made sure to stay in the public's eye at the GOP get-together with presidential candidates on Mackinac Island over the weekend.

Schuette held his biennial "shish-ka-bash" that sparked an out-the-door line. Calley's keyboarding performance Friday night kept Ohio Gov. John Kasich dancing at the Gatehouse. Miller's gathering at Horn's attracted Carly Fiorina, an overflow crowd and, ultimately, the fire marshal.

As of today, nobody will formally say they're in.

They're politically smart to at least wait until the presidential race is settled next November. But be assured Whitmer is among those thinking about that next political rung. We haven't seen or heard the last of her or a few others.

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