Whitmer speaks at MPA conference
By Ashlee Buhler
Editor in Chief
The freezing temperature outside was not enough to keep Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from attending the annual Michigan Press Association Convention in Grand Rapids.
During a luncheon on Friday, Feb. 1, Whitmer addressed a room full of journalists and signed an executive directive that she said would strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws and make them more user friendly.
The directive included designating a liaison within state departments to facilitate public-record requests. It also encourages those requests to be fulfilled before or by the deadline.
While speaking to the crowd, Whitmer said the state government must be open, transparent and accountable to taxpayers.
“(This is) an important step to (holding the government) to a high standard and starting the process of earning back the public’s trust,” Whitmer said.
After signing the directive, Whitmer opened the floor for a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Whitmer was asked to speak about the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline that was approved by a state panel in December.
“In my first day in office I asked the attorney general for a legal opinion so that I could understand what my ability is to ensure that we are protecting the Great Lakes, and ensuring that people in the Upper Peninsula have affordable heating,” Whitmer said. “I expect that opinion to come back probably in the next three to four weeks. And once that happens I will be able to tell you what I’m going to do on that particular issue, but I’ve got to understand what my rights are.”
Tristan Cole, a Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives, said he looks forward to seeing what comes of the decision.
“Line 5 is very impactful to my district,” Cole said. “I’m very much looking for solutions to move forward with the tunnel project to make sure that we can get that underway. The oil production in Otsego County, which is a part of the 105th district, flows into Line 5, so any interruption there disrupts an entire economic sector of my district — so it’s a big deal.”
Kellen Voss, sports editor at the Lanthorn at Grand Valley State University, asked Whitmer how she plans to expand FOIA rights and keep companies accountable for giving journalists the information that they seek. He said he was pleased with her response.
“The thing I noticed right away was that she’s very personable,” Voss said. “She made eye contact with me, not only for the majority of my question, but her response as well. She’s very well worded with her responses. I thought she did a really good job today and honestly I’m excited to see what the future holds in our government because of her.”
Kara Hope, a Democratic state representative for Michigan’s 67th district, said she supports Whitmer’s plan to create a more transparent government.
“I fully support efforts to make our state government more transparent and more ethical,” Hope said. “One of the questions from the audience was about financial disclosures and compliance for legislators and I fully support that, too. I think if we could build bipartisan support for that it would be really good.”re