Whitmer softening her edge; Nessel sharpening hers


It’s the Tuesday after Martin Luther King Day and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is sitting in front of a fireplace, praising a beautiful drawing of a Byron Center eighth grader’s depiction of a stone arch.

The governor is naming the winner for her State of the State program cover contest. This young woman didn’t end up winning. A Hemlock seventh grader did, but that’s really beside the point.

For the last few months, this has been Whitmer. Relaxed. Smiles. Calm voice. It’s a kinder, gentler governor. 

This isn’t the governor who went to war with the Republican Legislature over the budget in 2019. She’s not in a back-and-forth with President Trump like in the spring 2020. 

Whitmer is no longer on the national talk show circuit. She’s no longer on the defense. No talk of government shutdown on COVID. Her message about COVID these days is fairly succinct. 

The state did the best it could to prevent COVID spread before vaccinations. Folks should vaccinate. If a local community has a COVID problem, it’s up to them to shut down a school or mandate mask wearing, if necessary.

Next question.

In December, Whitmer had her first public bill signing, ever, with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Jason Wentworth. She chatted up Shirkey as if the two hadn’t had a mini-Cold War for the better part of two years.

Her Christmas card features her dogs with silly Santa hats drawn on their heads.

The governor smiled so much in her “Evening With the Governor” interview on PBS her face must have hurt afterward. But it didn’t feel fake or forced. It felt genuine. The edge, for now at least, is off.

Is she simply more relaxed after taking so many slings and arrows from her COVID-lockdowns? Did she see how Democrat Terry McAuliffe got his hat handed to him last November for trying to make the Virginia governor’s race about hating Trump? 

Is she trying to butter up the Legislature as they begin carving up more than $15 billion in extra federal money and state revenues? Did she see polling that showed her favorable/unfavorable numbers at just about even?

The Republican Governors Association is making her a central focus of their 2022 efforts. Knocking out Whitmer now effectively would take her out of the 2024 presidential sweepstakes.

Maybe it’s a combination of factors. Regardless, the people like it. Richard Czuba from Glengariff reported this week that Whitmer’s job approval rating has improved to 56% positive and 39% negative, her best mark since Oct. 2020.

At some point, Whitmer may be back to firing rhetorical bombs. She is running for reelection this year, after all. 

For now, handshakes and hugs are what we’re getting … from the governor, at least. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel is taking a different approach. Maybe she’s emboldened by the possibility of beating a perceived weak Republican nominee (Matt DePerno) or a Republican she has beat before (Tom Leonard), but she’s blasting away.

Last week, Nessel announced she’s turning over to the federal authorities her investigation as to whether laws were broken when the 16 Michigan Republican electors sent their official certification for Donald Trump to Washington. Of course, Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,188 votes.

Nessel’s action made statewide headlines. It tore open an old wound from a year ago when Trump won’t shut up about claiming how he felt the election was “stolen” from him when there was no tangible proof this occurred.

Also last week, the attorney general opined on the sordid Lee Chatfield affair with his sister-in-law by tweeting, “From now on, let’s just all assume that anyone who labels themselves a ‘family values’ candidate is probably having sex with someone in their family besides their spouse.”

One public relations professional told me it a “poor choice of words,” but she didn’t take it down. Shoot, she got more than 2,000 Twitter likes on it, for whatever that’s worth.

Good cop, bad cop? We’ll see which approach, or both, works.

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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