Monday Profile: Gretchen Whitmer


Senator Gretchen Whitmer was born to two lawyers, Richard Whitmer and Sherry Whitmer, in Ingham County. She attended East Lansing Public Schools and  earned both her undergraduate and law degree, magna cum laude, from Michigan State University.

Whitmer served in the Michigan legislature for 14 years—six in the House of Representatives and eight in the Senate. She was the first woman elected to lead a senate caucus in Michigan history, and was the highest-ranking Democrat in state government during that term, serving as counterpoint to the governor, the speaker and the senate majority leader. 

Whitmer earned many accolades and awards for her public service throughout her tenure, and her advocacy for working people, women’s rights and bullying protections for Michigan kids frequently brought national news coverage.

Whitmer now practices law with Dickinson Wright PLLC in Lansing and is a Towsley Policymaker in Residence, teaching a class of her own design at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Whitmer lives in East Lansing with her husband Marc Mallory, her daughters Sherry and Sydney, and his sons Mason, Alex and Winston.

By Jo Mathis

Legal News
Favorite local hangouts: Crunchy’s, The Cosmos, El Azteco.
Favorite websites: TED, news outlets.
What is your most treasured material possession? Artwork I inherited when my mother passed away.
What was always written on your grade school report card?
  “She’s a tad too social in class” -- the same thing my daughters’ teachers said this past week in conferences.
What is your happiest childhood memory?
Being up north, fishing for perch with my sister and brother off the end of the dock in Onekama.
When you were considering law school, what was Plan B?
Sports broadcasting.  I wanted to be the first woman broadcaster on ESPN.
What would surprise people about your job?
That I spend a lot of time on the road.

What do you miss most—and least—about politics? Most: I miss the opportunity to help people.  Even serving in the minority my whole career, there were daily opportunities to help the people I served.  That was rewarding and always so very interesting to meet new people.

Least: I do not miss the petty partisanship that sometimes precludes easy solutions. Also, watching the Courser-Gamrat scandal, the Flint water crisis and the faux road fix, made me glad not to be in office right now. But it also reinforces that we deserve better from our government and to get that, we have to demand it.
What do you wish someone would invent?
Autonomous vehicles.
What has been your favorite year so far? This year. I say that every year, because I feel very grateful for the opportunities that I have had.
Do you prefer email, text, or a phone call?  Text!
When you look back into the past, what do you miss most? 
How simple life was before text. Ironic, eh?

What is one thing you would like to learn to do?
Speak Spanish.

What is your most typical mood?
Optimistic/curious. I love to meet and learn from new people.
Who is on your guest list for the ideal dinner party?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Obama, Jon Stewart, Shonda Rhimes

What question do you most often ask yourself? “What time is it?” I’m pathologically punctual, which means I am always early and thinking about the time.

What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been? I love to travel and am grateful to have had many amazing adventures,  including a three-generation family trip to the Galapagos Islands last year which was truly “awe-inspiring.” Travel also gives me greater appreciation for our state and I get to enjoy Lake Michigan and Elk Rapids a lot, which is a wonderful.
What’s something you changed your mind about recently?  Making hot yoga a regular part of my routine. Yes!
What is your proudest moment as a lawyer? Generally speaking, my advocacy in the Legislature. The legal training the few of us legislator-lawyers had ensured robust but professional debate and often empowered us to find bipartisan common ground I suspect would have otherwise been elusive on many issues. It also was very helpful in navigating the negotiation, discussion and education effort throughout the Detroit Grand Bargain aka Bankruptcy. That was a particularly difficult time dealing with extremely complex issues with a dicey political overlay. With only four lawyers in the 38-member senate, it was incumbent on us to work together and ensure all legislators had the information they needed to cast a thoughtful vote.
What word do you overuse? “Trajectory.”
What is something most people don't know about you? I am terribly klutzy. My father nicknamed me “Gravity Gretchen” when I knocked out my front teeth at church camp, right after the braces he paid for to correct the gap in those teeth were removed. That’s the worst chapter in a lengthy book of klutziness.
What is the best advice you ever received? Everybody’s important, no one is inherently more important than another person.  It’s my father's less religious riff off his mom’s belief God made us all, we should respect one another and there is something beautiful in everyone - even if it it is simply their smile, you should try to find it.