Things to Know About Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan Giving Democratic Response to Trump's State of the Union

Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer is set to respond to President Donald Trump's Tuesday State of the Union address, highlighting her role as leader of a state he won in 2016 and whose state legislature is controlled by Republicans.

The 48-year-old Michigan moderate took office in 2019 after defeating and denouncing the "nasty rhetoric" of her Republican opponent, Bill Schuette, who attempted to paint her as "extreme" and "the most left-wing ticket in Michigan history." Despite her repeated calls for bipartisan civility, Whitmer has engaged in a series of squabbles with the GOP-majority state Legislature but has focused on pragmatic approaches to improving roads, ensuring clean drinking water and Medicaid expansion. Whitmer gained national notoriety in the 2018 elections as a leading member of the so-called "Pink Wave" of women who were elected to Congress and state legislatures in record numbers.

On Tuesday morning, Whitmer acknowledged that she didn't win the governor's seat by taking on Washington's problems because she was too busy focusing on local issues.

"When I stay tethered to the dinner table issues I know it resonates with people all across our country ... People know that bullying people on Twitter doesn't build bridges," Whitmer said during a press conference ahead of the State of the Union address. "We all pay when that's what's happening in Washington D.C."

Strategists from both parties say Democrats chose Whitmer to deliver the State of the Union response because she governs a 2020 battleground state which Trump flipped in 2016 after Republican presidential candidates lost in every campaign since 1988.

Whitmer has nearly 20 years of public service experience, having been elected to the state House of Representatives in 2001 and then into the Michigan state senate in 2007. She was the first female leader of the Democrat caucus in the state senate and is a former prosecutor.

But Whitmer's selection is also indicative of her push for bipartisan solutions and repeated criticisms of divisive rhetoric espoused by Trump and others in Washington.

The Michigan Democrat has engaged in a series of spats with the state legislature, including a $947 million impasse at the end of last year which GOP-majority lawmakers responded to by restoring half of the funding she vetoed. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey blasted Whitmer and state Democrats as "on the bat-s**t crazy spectrum" in December, prompting Whitmer to respond diplomatically to the head of the GOP-controlled upper chamber.

"I'm sad to see the kind of rhetoric that's been used. I think that does a disservice to our ability to find some common ground," Whitmer responded. "It mirrors the ugly rhetoric that we're seeing in Washington, D.C., I ran against that and I'm not going to return in kind."

Whitmer's GOP gubernatorial challenger reportedly used her personal account of being raped in an attack ad during the 2018 election. In February, Whitmer responded to a local Fox news station which placed more concern on the clothes she wears than the policies she supports.

"Boys have teased me about my curves since 5th grade. My mom said 'hold your head high and don't let it bother you,'" Whitmer responded last year. "That @Fox2News story was way out of line. I'm tough, I can take it ... In an era when so many women are stepping up to lead, I'm hoping people will focus on our ideas and accomplishments instead of our appearance."

This week, Whitmer sent a letter to the Trump administration, urging them to end a scale-down on Medicaid in the wake of the Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation plan in November. "The president pledged to protect Medicare and Medicaid, but this is just another example of his Administration's ongoing effort to gut these life-saving programs," she told local news outlets.

During her gubernatorial primary run, Whitmer declined to join her Democratic rivals in embracing Medicare-for-All plans, although she later told the Associated Press she supports it in theory.

Whitmer drew controversy for her veto of $1.47 million in grants for autism programs and a hike on the state's gas tax by 45 cents despite campaign promises to the contrary.

Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams delivered the 2018 and 2019 State of the Union responses to Trump.

gretchen whitmer michigan democratic governor
The 48-year-old Michigan moderate took office in 2019 after denouncing the "nasty rhetoric" of her Republican opponent Bill Schuette, who attempted to paint her as an "extreme" leftist. BILL PUGLIANO/Getty Images