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If you didn’t know Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you definitely know her now. The Democratic governor has earned praise for her steadfast response to the crisis and is thought to be on the short list of Joe Biden’s possible vice presidential candidates.
And President Trump has taken notice. He’s famously referred to her as “that woman from Michigan” and tweeted back in March that she was “way in over her head, she doesn’t have a clue.” But the first-term governor has held strong. Protesters have descended upon the Michigan Capitol, with people chanting, “Open up Michigan” and “Lock her up.” When Whitmer decided to allow some forms of work to resume, she made clear that she was not coerced into doing so. “I will not be making decisions based on an arbitrary timeline, or political pressure,” she wrote. “I’m not here to play games.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Whitmer went live on ELLE’s Facebook to answer 20 questions from her home in Lansing, Michigan, with a quick cameo from her dog Kevin. She spoke about leadership during the pandemic, including her go-to work from home outfit, the one word she’d use to describe Biden, and how her job has changed due to the crisis. Find an abridged version of the Q&A below, or watch the full video here:
What has been your #1 coping mechanism during this stressful time?
I’m sad to say it’s eating baked goods. My daughter Sherry is 18 and has become quite the baker. She’s also gotten pretty good at coloring my roots, so there’s that.
What is your go-to work from home outfit?
We’re calling it the professional mullet. It’s business up top and relaxing wear on the bottom. Kind of like a mullet: Business up front, party in the back. I’ll often wear a blazer and a top with sweats. I’m not going to lie to you.
What’s been the most dramatic change to your job since this crisis started?
I got into public service because I love people. Not being able to show up for people in a time of crisis has been really difficult. I know that if I go to the hospital to bring coffee to the doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists, which is what’s in my DNA to go do, and console family members who are worried about a loved one who’s ill, if I show up and do that, we’re utilizing PPE and I’m a distraction, and that’s how COVID-19 spreads. The other thing I would say is just how partisan everything has become in a way. We’re not one another’s enemy. The enemy is a virus, and we all need to remember that.
What was the first thing you thought when you saw the protesters at the Michigan Capitol?
Unbelievable. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and people were traveling from all different parts of the state and congregating and not wearing masks and not observing the six-feet-apart rule. I could see it playing out in real time, and my concern was not about the fact that there was a protest, but that people might get sick because of this. I’ve been in public office in Michigan for almost 20 years, and I’ve never seen a protest where there was so much vitriol. Confederate flags, that’s not something you usually see at the Michigan Capitol, or nooses or Nazi propaganda. It was unreal. But it’s not the vast majority of people in this state, and it’s not reflective of who we are.
What’s the best thing you’ve watched in quarantine?
My girls and I watched Killing Eve, which I think is fantastic. I love the two actresses who are the leads. And I’m going admit to it: We watched Tiger King.
What is the worst thing someone has said about you?
That’s a hard one and probably not something that I could share with you. But this week, my husband got a startling thing from someone at his workplace, and they referred to me with the C-word. I laugh because, you know, I understand people are stressed, and they’re going to direct their anger at me. I get that, and I don’t take it personally. My husband was rattled by it. I’ve explained to him it’s okay. I think that’s a pretty cruel thing to call someone who’s trying to save your life. But I respect their right. Just wear a mask when you’re out in public, that’s what I ask.
How would you describe Joe Biden in one word?
That is difficult to do. But capable is a word that comes to mind easily. Statesperson does as well. It’s hard to use just one word to describe him. But they would all be positive, trust me.
Who’s your top VP pick?
I think there are a lot of phenomenal women leaders in this country. I think that whomever Joe Biden picks to be his vice presidential candidate, I will be the most enthusiastic voice on their behalf here in Michigan.
Any ideas to help Cecily Strong improve her SNL impression of you?
Yeah, drink Michigan beer when you’re doing that. I love a good Michigan beer. Labatt’s Canadian. And I know Michigan is really far north for some people in this country, but we are still in the United States. But if it was an accurate portrayal, getting the accent a little bit better and drinking Michigan beer would be two improvements I would suggest.
What scares you the most about America’s near-term future?
I think the thing that I’m concerned about right now is that people might abandon the social distancing and all of the measures we’ve taken to flatten the curve. My concern is people see that [the curve might be going down] and think that we’re out of the woods. And we’re not. My biggest concern right now is that we are tired of this. And we are. I’m tired of it. But we have to remain vigilant so that we avoid that second wave and can get back to normal. Every step of the way depends on everyone continuing to do the right thing.