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Gov. Whitmer’s (almost) ties to Nixon, her bipartisan lineage

A year or so ago, had anybody written about Richard Whitmer, you would have gone, “Richard who?”

Nowadays, you might not know who he is, but you certainly recognize the last name, and what follows is a journey with the daddy of the 49th governor of the State of Michigan.

As fate would have it, Dick Whitmer could have been a key player in the President Richard Nixon White House. Could have been. There is a God.

Student Richard Whitmer was moving across the campus at the University of Michigan when he saw a note posted on one of those job bulletin boards that dot the serene Ann Arbor turf. A lawyer, Richard Nixon, was on campus recruting for his law office in New York.

“I thought, ‘What the heck?'” father of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tells the story.

“He gave me a 90-minute interview. He was joking, he was engaging, and I enjoyed it,” he recalls.

Afterward, he got a free ticket to New York, where he was offered a job.

“At the time, I was looking to work for somebody who might be president,” Mr. Whitmer reveals, “and I knew, back home in Michigan, George Romney was thinking about running. So I turned down the job (with the future president of the United States) for a job with Gov. Romney.”

Romney, of course, ran, but failed miserably to win the GOP presidential nomination. Think “brain-washed.”

Now, Dick Whitmer laughs about fate, as he should file the exchange with Mr. Nixon under the heading, “little did I know.”

The young Mr. Whitmer joined the Romney administration in Lansing and, when Mr. Nixon was elected president, he called Mr. Romney to run the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mr. Whitmer, now with a growing family in East Lansing, stayed on to work for some gentle soul named Milliken.

Eventually, Gov. Bill Milliken picked Mr. Whitmer to run the state Commerce Department, which he did for three years. He eventually landed in a lucrative position running Blue Cross Blue Shield.

However, his experience in state government constructed a perfect political bipartisan incubator for the young Gretchen Whitmer. Her daddy was a Milliken GOP moderate and her mom labored in the vineyards of the attorney general’s office under the watchful eye of Democrat Frank Kelley.

So, when the current governor talks about fashioning a bipartisan relationship with the R’s who control the Legislature, her roots go deep on seeing that in action at her family dinner table as a kid.

Now, quietly in retirement and speaking from the sunny climes of Florida, Mr. Whitmer reflects on the first speech he heard from his offspring. He finds himself sitting in the back of a fourth-grade classroom in East Grand Rapids. There, at the front of the room, stood his daughter who was making her first stab at elective office. He watched in wonderment.

“It was an impromptu speech. I was amazed. She was poised. She connected with the audience and she nailed it,” he fondly recalls a memory from way back when.

“She was good,” he says as he puts a ribbon on his analysis of that first — but not last — foray into the political arena.

He had the same reaction on Feb. 12 of this year as he sat in the front of the room, watching his daughter, the governor, deliver her first State of the State in the Michigan House chamber. He flew back from Florida to be an eyewitness as he soaked it all in, sitting next to his two granddaughters, who were watching Mom do her thing.

“It was good to see someone who had talent, had worked and studied hard throughout her life. I was very proud of her (again) and here’s the results,” he said, as she waded through her 60-minute address to the state House and state Senate.

The day before the address, the new governor remembered some wisdom her mom shared with her many years ago: “Always look out for the little guy.”

Dad Whitmer would say he saw that early on in his daughter’s life.

After the family separated, with Mom moving to East Grand Rapids, Gretchen moved into junior high. As he tells the story, the faculty was looking for someone to talk to other students dealing with the trials and teenage tribulation of divorce. Teachers picked her for the important task.

One might say it was her first chance to bring Mom’s words to life.

Now, she pursues the same objective of “taking care of the little guy,” this time as governor of the state of Michigan.

It’s been quite the journey for both daughter and dad.

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