Michigan governor candidates Whitmer, Dixon spar over education, abortion, and more in debate

(The Center Square) – Education, abortion, energy and infrastructure were debated by Michigan gubernatorial candidates Tuesday night in the second of two debates with only a fortnight remaining…

(The Center Square) – Education, abortion, energy and infrastructure were debated by Michigan gubernatorial candidates Tuesday night in the second of two debates with only a fortnight remaining before Election Day.

Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s double-digit lead over Republican challenger Tudor Dixon has dwindled to the low single digits or even tied within polls’ respective margins of error since August.

Whitmer put viewers on notice they would hear divisive rhetoric from Dixon, while the GOP candidate noted Michigan was on the wrong track due to the radical agenda of her Democratic opponent.

On the topic of abortion – specifically Proposal 3 – Dixon responded to Whitmer’s claims the ballot proposal was “absolutely necessary” by saying it removes parental consent for a minor to receive an abortion. Dixon said the proposal would allow abortions to be performed by persons other than medical doctors. Dixon also refuted Whitmer’s claim Proposal 3 would restore women’s rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by saying the proposal would codify in the Michigan Constitution the most extreme abortion rights outside of North Korea and China.

When Dixon responded she would accept the will of the people as governor should Proposal 3 pass, Whitmer retorted her opponent wouldn’t accept the results of the 2020 national election and called Dixon an election denier. To this, Dixon reminded Whitmer her current Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist challenged the results of the 2016 presidential election.

Discussing inflation, Whitmer said it was a global problem not specific to Michigan or even the U.S. Dixon said Whitmer vetoed a gas tax holiday proposed by Republican legislators and has attempted to shutter Line 5. Whitmer stated there has been no change to the operation of Line 5 during her administration, and plans and permits for a replacement tunnel for Line 5 are currently before the Michigan Public Service Commission and federal government regulators. This prompted Dixon to answer that Canada had to block Whitmer’s legal attempts to shut down the hydrocarbon tunnel by invoking a 1977 international treaty.

Whitmer said her administration was focused on building out carbon-free energy alternatives such as wind and solar rather than looking to past technologies to combat climate change, which she blamed for such recent disasters in the state as the failure of the dams in Gladwin and Midland counties.

On education, Dixon noted the dismal scores of Michigan fourth and eighth graders on the Nation’s Report Card. She stated she would encourage parental involvement in their children’s education and noted Whitmer as governor kept schools closed during much of the pandemic.

Whitmer defended her actions by claiming schools in the state only were closed for three months in an attempt to navigate the historic challenges of the pandemic. Whitmer accused Dixon of seeking to take $500 million from Michigan’s public schools to appease her chief campaign donor, former U.S. Secretary of Education and Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, a devout school choice advocate.

On the subject of school violence, Whitmer said she was horrified as a former prosecutor and furious as a mother over the shooting at Oxford High School in 2021. She said she supported red-flag laws, background checks, and secure storage laws while asserting Dixon tweeted a photo of herself holding a weapon and declaring she supported two hands for gun control.

Dixon reminded her the tweet was posted 29 days prior to the Oxford shooting that took the lives of four students, and said she supported armed security and single entry points for schools. She reiterated her plan to establish an office for safe schools.

When asked about questionable content in public libraries, Dixon said Whitmer has been silent when an adult could be arrested for reading the same material to a child at a bus stop. Whitmer noted parents could opt-out of some material, and said it was more her duty as governor to protect children from gun violence.

“Are books more dangerous than guns?” she asked.

On infrastructure, Whitmer said her 2018 pledge to “fix the damn roads” was hindered by decades of disinvestment. Dixon rebutted that Whitmer attempted to raise the state’s gas tax by 45 cents to fix the roads, which would put gasoline prices near $5 a gallon. She also stated she endured a broken rim and five flat tires driving on Michigan roads during Whitmer’s administration.

The candidates went at it for about an hour from the stage at Oakland University, hosted by Oakland University’s Center for Civic Engagement, WXYZ-TV, WXMI-TV and WSYM-TV. Chuck Stokes of WXYZ, Elle Meyers of WSYM and Doug Reardon of WXMI were the debate moderators.

The first debate was held in Grand Rapids on Oct. 13, but was not televised statewide.