LANSING — Gretchen Whitmer has been sworn in as Michigan's 49th governor, promising to cast partisanship aside to fix the roads and other problems facing the state in an era of newly divided government.
The 47-year-old former lawmaker took the oath of office yesterday in a ceremony outside the Capitol.
"We might live in divisive times, but Michigan's problems are not partisan," she told a crowd of roughly 1,500. "Potholes are not political – or better skills or great schools for our kids. I will be a governor for everyone. And I am committed to working across party lines to ensure that all Michiganders have opportunity."
While Democrats jointly took charge of the top four statewide offices for the first time in 32 years, Republicans will continue to control the Legislature, albeit with smaller margins. Whitmer renewed her call for "building bridges" at a time when "too many people want to separate and divide us by building walls." Without mentioning President Donald Trump or the partial federal government shutdown, she said Michigan must not be "paralyzed by partisanship" and its leaders should work together to provide a national blueprint for rebuilding infrastructure and addressing America's literacy crisis.
"None of us can afford to compromise Michigan's economic future because we won't compromise with one another," she said after being sworn in by state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement, a fellow East Lansing resident.
It was a cold but celebratory day for perhaps the most diverse political ticket in state history.
Whitmer is the state's second female governor, succeeding term-limited Republican Rick Snyder. Garlin Gilchrist II is the first black lieutenant governor. Attorney General Dana Nessel, Michigan's first openly gay statewide officeholder, is the first Democrat to lead office since Jennifer Granholm left 16 years ago and became governor. And Jocelyn Benson is the first Democrat to be secretary of state in 24 years.
Nessel, co-counsel in the historic lawsuit that led to same-sex marriage in Michigan, took the oath from U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, who struck down the gay marriage ban in 2014. Nessel, who recalled standing on the same Capitol steps two years ago for the Women's March on Lansing, said it "worked out pretty well" now that women are leading state offices.
"Sometimes I will fail. But this I will promise: I will always try to do the best I possibly can to bring justice to those who need it most," said Nessel, 49, of Plymouth.
The 41-year-old Benson, of Detroit, was sworn in by Senior Judge Damon Keith of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for whom she clerked. She said she began her career in Alabama investigating hate crimes and hate groups across the country, and was instilled with a responsibility to continue the work of civil rights leaders who sacrificed to protect the right to vote.
"As your secretary of state, I will work every day to bring that same commitment as our state's chief election officer to protect your vote, your voice and your democracy," she said.
Gilchrist, a 36-year-old also from Detroit, told the crowd to leave "no cry for help unheard, no call for empathy unanswered and no opportunity for collaboration on the table."
Supreme Court justices, appellate judges and members of the State Board of Education and three university boards who won election in November also were sworn in.
After Whitmer took the oath, the Michigan National Guard honored her with a 19-gun salute and a flyover. The inaugural theme was "Building Bridges Together," a continuation of Whitmer's campaign commitment to work in a bipartisan way to address the priorities most important to residents.
Whitmer's 12-minute speech touched on many of the same "kitchen table" issues she focused on during the race against Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette: smoothing the roads, cleaning up contaminated drinking water, and improving youth literacy and people's job skills.
Snyder attended the ceremony along with GOP and Democratic legislative leaders. Granholm and former Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Democrat, also were there.
Ex-legislator Bruce Patterson, a Republican, served with Whitmer in the House and Senate and played a role in the inauguration, acknowledging the new leaders who will consider her legislative agenda. He said she is "intelligent, thoughtful, determined, has grit and is honest and trustworthy."