POLITICS
01/03/2017 07:51 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2017

First Major Candidate Leaps Into Michigan's 2018 Governor's Race

Former lawmaker Gretchen Whitmer made a name for herself with a couple memorable appeals for women’s rights.
Former Michigan lawmaker Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announced her plans to run for governor in 2018. 
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Former Michigan lawmaker Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announced her plans to run for governor in 2018. 

Michigan won’t elect a new governor until 2018, but the race is already heating up.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer announced Tuesday that she had filed paperwork to run for governor, making her the first major candidate for the open seat. Whitmer most recently had a brief stint as interim Ingham County prosecutor and previously held the position of minority leader in the state Senate, where she served from 2006 to 2014. 

“For too long, our leaders have been content to manage our decline. We went from leading the nation to lagging,” Whitmer said in a statement published on Medium and emailed to supporters. “If we want change, we can’t wait for Washington to solve our problems. And we can’t elect the same old politicians, on the same old platforms and expect a different result. We can do better. We deserve better.”

Current Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was re-elected in 2014 and can’t run again due to term limits. Competition will likely be fierce for the open seat.  

Several candidates with less name recognition previously filed to open candidate committees to raise funds for a campaign, including Jim Hines, a Republican doctor, and Dwain Reynolds, a teacher who is a member of the Green Party. A spokesman for the Michigan secretary of state told The Huffington Post that no candidate “has filed signatures yet to make the ballot for the 2018 election.”

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, both Republicans, have left open the possibility of a run, as has U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint Township).

The list of possible candidates suggests that the Flint water crisis, a widespread source of outrage in the state, could still be a major issue once campaigning actually begins. Kildee has been a vocal advocate for residents in his district dealing with undrinkable tap water. Schuette, too, has been outspoken in his condemnation of state-appointed officials who oversaw the Flint scandal, and criminally charged a couple of them. And Whitmer recently criticized Schuette and other Republicans for their role in the crisis.

As a lawmaker, one of Whitmer’s most memorable acts was an impassioned appeal for women’s rights as the Republican majority prepared to vote for a 2013 bill prohibiting insurance carriers from providing abortion coverage as part of their standard plans, even in the case of rape or incest. As she objected to the legislation on the Senate floor, Whitmer went off script to recall her own rape.  

“The thought and the memory of that still haunts me,” she said. “It’s something I’ve hidden for a long time. But I think you need to see the face of the women that you are impacting by this vote today. I think you need to think of the girls that we’re raising and what kind of a state we want to be where you would put your approval on something this extreme.”

In 2012, she took part in a reading of “The Vagina Monologues” on the capitol steps, a protest performance after Republican leadership silenced two of Whitmer’s female colleagues who had objected to an anti-abortion bill.

Whitmer’s Tuesday announcement didn’t reveal many specific plans, but she did make a passing reference to her earlier battles.  

“I’m no stranger to fights,” she wrote. “No matter the outcome, the fight was always worth it for what it said to the people we were fighting for,” including “women whose access to health care is threatened.” 

Whitmer spent the last seven months filling in as county prosecutor, a temporary appointment after her predecessor was charged with a number of prostitution-related crimes.  

She briefly weighed running against Snyder last election, but said at the time that she wasn’t able to both be the mom she wanted to be and fully commit to a campaign.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article indicated Whitmer was the first candidate to officially enter the 2018 Michigan governor’s race. Several other candidates filed paperwork before her in 2016 and 2015.  

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