Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she and her husband regret what she described as his “failed attempt at humor” when he invoked her position while allegedly asking a dock manager to get the family boat ready before Memorial Day.
The conversation—which came to light when the dock manager posted about it on Facebook—was seized on by Whitmer’s opponents as an example of hypocrisy by a Democrat who has enforced stringent lockdown measures during the pandemic.
At a Tuesday briefing on the COVID-19 crisis, Whitmer said she would not be responding to every report about her and her family but wanted to address the uproar over her husband, Marc Mallory.
“My husband made a failed attempt at humor last week when checking in with the small business that helps with our boat and dock up north,” she said.
According to the Detroit News, Tad Dowker, the owner of NorthShore Docks, wrote on Facebook that his office told him Mallory called and “wanted his boat in the water before the weekend.”
“Being Memorial weekend and the fact that we started working three weeks late means there is no chance this is going to happen,” Dowker added. “Well our office personnel had explained this to the man and he replied, ‘I am the husband to the governor, will this make a difference?’”
Whitmer said her husband thought the remark would get a laugh—though she admits she didn’t find it funny when she heard about it “because I knew how it would be perceived.”
“He regrets it,” she said. “I wish it wouldn’t have happened. And that’s really all we have to say about it.”
A NorthShore Dock employee told The Daily Beast the company could not comment on the posts or resulting controversy, saying only, “We are extremely busy.”
Whitmer, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, has drawn praise, scorn and threats for her response to the coronavirus pandemic—with President Trump singling out “that woman from Michigan” for criticism.
Last week, she lifted some travel restrictions on all of northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, including the Traverse City area, which is 25 miles from her vacation home and boat, but she also warned people to “think long and hard” before flocking there.
Republicans were quick to point to that.
“Do as I say, not as I do,” tweeted Laura Cox, the chair of the Michigan Republican Party. “Being a public official should not make you exempt from your own rules—or grant you preferential treatments.”
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who also happens to be from Michigan, added: “Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is forcing all of us in Michigan to abide by her draconian stay-at-home order. But apparently it doesn’t apply to her own husband? The hypocrisy is astounding.”
U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) also chimed in, with Blackburn calling Whitmer a “socialist governor,” and Cotton quipping: “This is the same governor who banned selling garden seeds.”
Asked at the briefing whether her family had traveled, she said her husband had spent one or two nights at their northern property to do some raking. “He was there. We did not all pile into the car to enjoy our second home,” she said.
Whitmer also spoke about what her family has endured during fiery protests calling for an end to the lockdown. She said men with automatic weapons could be seen from the windows of her home, and her daughters have seen “the likeness of their mother hung from a noose in effigy.”
But, she said, she won’t lift restrictions if it will endanger public health.
“I’m not going to be bullied into ignoring the science and making political calculations,” she said.