Detroit News columnist Charlie LeDuff, who until recently was a contributor to Deadline Detroit where I also regularly post commentaries, is a legacy from Detroit’s bygone days when journalists viewed themselves as the public’s watchdogs over Michigan’s political and business leaders. LeDuff, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize when he worked at the New York Times, routinely calls out the political shenanigans of Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan but the gumshoe journalist also knows many of the homeless rooted on the Motor City’s streets. LeDuff’s humility is underscored by his moonlighting at a local Coney Island, which is what Detroiters call eateries serving hotdogs slathered with all meat chili, onions, and mustard.
As befits a journalist who hosts a podcast called the “No Bullshit News Hour,” LeDuff doesn’t mince words when reporters who know nothing about Michigan engage in drive-by journalism and celebrate politicians unworthy of any applause. As LeDuff knows way more about Michigan than I do, I thought it fitting to post a screen shot of his tweet commenting on the Washington Post’s gushing opus on Governor Gretchen Whitmer the publication posted on Sunday.
I admire LeDuff’s restraint not linking to the Post article, a shameful opinion piece packaged as a news story. Compounding the Post’s disgrace, the publication labeled its smoocher an “exclusive.” The author, Ruby Cramer, is the Post’s newly hired national political enterprise reporter; in announcing Cramer’s hiring, the Post’s political editors said Cramer’s previous work at Politico and BuzzFeed “distinguished her as one of her generation’s dynamic talents.”
Mmm. I thought Taylor Lorenz had claimed that distinction.
Michigan’s sorry state
To appreciate how Whitmer played Cramer and her editors for fools, some background is required.
Michigan is an ailing state, one where even longstanding companies like GM and Ford have been significantly reducing their footprint in recent years. It’s possible these companies would have been long gone were it not for the billions in taxpayers’ grants and subsidies Michigan gives them to stick around.
GM’s policy of allowing employees to work from home means that in a few years it might be debatable whether the company’s headquarters will truly be based in Detroit. GM’s nominal headquarters in the downtown Detroit RenCen skyscraper is a ghost town. In short order, I expect Ford will relocate its electric vehicle operations to a state with more favorable business conditions and more readily available technology talent.
Unlike Texas, Ohio, Florida, and Tennessee, Michigan’s economic development people can’t even get on base, let alone score any home runs. Michigan’s roads and schools are among the worst in the country. Underscoring Michigan’s declining influence, the state has lost a Congressional seat every census since 1980.
Admittedly, Michigan’s decline was well advanced when Whitmer was first elected governor, but she insisted she could improve things. “Fix the damn roads” was her campaign slogan. Michigan ranks dead last for ethics and transparency, so politicians instinctively think they can get away telling bald-faced lies like Whitmer did a year ago when she insisted being in Michigan throughout the pandemic when in fact, she had taken a trip to Florida in March.
The trip was significant because Whitmer’s pandemic lockdowns were among the harshest in the country. Whitmer also lied that taxpayers didn’t pay for her trip, a fib that LeDuff made public. The reason for Whitmer’s trip was quite relevant, which I will get to shortly.
Whitmer’s daughters as props
The Post’s Cramer makes no mention of Michigan’s decline or even a passing reference to it. All that matters to Cramer is that Whitmer claims to be a fierce advocate of abortion rights, although so far there’s no evidence the governor has made any material strides promoting her position, save for her regular television appearances. The Post was disingenuous labeling its Whitmer interview an exclusive; Whitmer will gladly speak with any publication or broadcast outlet with a liberal bent or in need of someone to publicly bash Donald Trump or Republicans.
It speaks to Whitmer’s poor judgement that she used her college-aged daughters as props to champion her support of abortion rights. It’s well known to most Michiganders that Whitmer is divorced and has two daughters from a previous marriage. What’s news is that the eldest, Sherry, 20, is a lesbian.
Explained Cramer: “Sherry is out to family and friends but not on ‘the national scene,’ as her mom puts it.”
Well, now the whole world potentially knows.
One must question the judgment of a politician who was the target of a violent kidnapping plot allowing a reporter to feature her daughters, replete with photos and other valuable family information, in a political profile story. We learn that Whitmer’s eldest is named Sherry and she’s 20; Sherry and Sydney both attend University of Michigan where Sherry lives on the college campus; their paternal father’s name is named Gary Shrewsbury and he’s a photographer; their stepfather is Marc Mallory, a dentist who recently retired; and the family dogs are two merle-colored Aussiedoodles, Kevin and Doug.
Oh, and if you are looking to find the Whitmer clan, their summer home is on Mackinac Island.
Whitmer’s daughters, particularly the disclosure that Sherry is a lesbian, provide a valuable purpose.
From Cramer’s story:
The Whitmer family has been in Michigan for five generations. But if her daughters don’t have the same choices — if they don’t have full reproductive rights, the governor said; if Sherry doesn’t have full marriage rights, she said — they will probably settle their lives elsewhere. “And it breaks my heart to even say that.”
They didn’t want to leave, they said, but they would.
“I always see myself coming back here and settling down. It’s where my family is,” Sydney said.
“I want to be here with you,” Sherry said to her mother. “I would be really sad if I couldn’t — if I would have to make that choice.”
Seated between the two girls, Whitmer put an arm around each daughter.
As a governor, she said, “I want them to consider Michigan.”
“And as a parent — not as a governor — I would encourage them to go where they can live their fullest, truest lives.”
Unless they plan on living off their presumed trust accounts, as University of Michigan grads Sherry and Sydney statistically are most likely to leave Michigan to find meaningful employment, much like Cramer didn’t remain in Poughkeepsie after graduating from Vassar. Michigan has been suffering a brain drain for quite some time, particularly with new college grads.
According to this 2017 report issued by the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State & Urban Policy, Michigan’s “human capital flight” is “serious threat” to the state’s future causing “multi-faceted economic damage by hindering the functionality of important social services, and creating a static state of income distribution.”
Only nine percent of graduates of U of M’s undergraduate business school graduates remain in Michigan, while only 35 percent of the school’s arts and sciences students stay rooted in the state.
Whitmer promised to reverse the brain drain.
“And right now I look around at the Michigan that you’re in, that I’m in, that my kids are growing up in and I see a state that ranks 41st in fourth grade literacy in our country because of 25 years of Betsy Devos agenda by the way,” Whitmer told U of M students in 2017. “I am proud of having been the leader of the resistance for all 14 … but I’m tired of being the leader of the resistance. It is time for us to start setting the agenda.”
Among those who have decamped from Michigan are the daughter of a high-profile Detroit automotive executive who teaches middle school math in Nashville and the daughter of a well-known Michigan mayor who took a job with Chase in New York City.
Fifth generation Michigander
As for being a fifth-generation Michigander, Whitmer’s father moved to Florida more than a decade ago, which is why the governor made the secret trip to the Sunshine State last year. Whitmer led the press to believe her father was at death’s door, but there was a report that he was spotted in Lansing shortly thereafter.
It’s possible that the elder Mr. Whitmer still has a home in Michigan, but for tax purposes my guess is he’s officially a Florida resident. Whitmer’s father was a respected healthcare executive who achieved great wealth as the former head of Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Cramer has a double standard when it comes to sexism. She says that Whitmer “is a woman but she is also an attractive woman” and “her use of executive power, when wielded broadly, seems to deeply trigger her male antagonists.” I mistakenly thought that characterizing a professional woman as “attractive” was sexist and demeaning, particularly someone in public service where beauty supposedly isn’t a qualifying or relevant factor.
I imagine some will accuse my criticism of Whitmer as sexist, so here’s a recent critical commentary I posted about California governor Gavin Newsom. I’m progressive in that I view all inept politicians and business leaders as being non-binary.
Cramer’s profile generated more than 2,000 mostly favorable reader comments, many suggesting that Whitmer would make a great president. Another example of why Americans shouldn’t make political determinations and judgements based on what they read in the legacy media.