Michigan senate Republicans are accusing Governor Gretchen Whitmer of trying to cover up the initial news of her husband’s attempt at leveraging her position to get their boat in the water in time for Memorial Day weekend.
Whitmer’s husband, Marc Mallory, called NorthShore Dock in northern Michigan last week to see if his boat could be put in the water “before the weekend,” dock owner Tad Dowker wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post. When Mallory was told it was not possible, according to Dowker he said, “I am the husband to the governor, will this make a difference?”
After initially dismissing reports of her husband’s name-dropping as an internet conspiracy, Whitmer explained that the statement was a “failed attempt at humor” during a Tuesday press conference.
Last week, Whitmer — who owns a home with Mallory in the Elk Rapids area — announced that northern Michigan could begin to reopen bars and restaurants in time for Memorial Day weekend, while the southern part of the state remains under stricter lockdown orders. “Keep your wits about you,” Whitmer warned. “Let’s not all go rushing out and force a closure eventually. What we want to do is keep moving forward.”
One of Whitmer’s earlier lockdown provisions explicitly prohibited Michiganders from traveling between their primary residences and their vacation homes in the northern part of the state.
News of Dowker’s post, which was later deleted, was shared by state Republican Senator Tom Barrett on Friday. In an interview, Barrett told National Review that he posted the story after validating it through local contacts to highlight how Whitmer was “being hypocritical with the people, by telling us not to travel up to Traverse City when it appeared that she herself and her family were planning to do that.”
But Barrett later took down the story after he was contacted by Whitmer’s office through Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who relayed the governor’s claim that the story was “100 percent false.”
“Just as I was about to go to bed on Friday night, I was contacted by my chief of staff, who said the Governor’s office had reached out to the Senate Majority Leader’s office to get ahold of me to deny this story,” Barrett told National Review. “They were claiming it was 100 percent false, a total fabrication, it wasn’t true. And they were requesting that I take the post down because it was spreading misinformation.”
Barrett said he complied with the request “out of an abundance of caution,” but the next morning traced the story back to Dowker and was able to “verify the information and hear that he was standing by the claim.” On Saturday night, NorthShore Dock confirmed Dowker’s account in a follow-up on Facebook.
Whitmer’s office originally refused to comment on the post, saying Monday that it was “not going to make it a practice of addressing every rumor that is spread online.” In a statement, Whitmer’s spokeswoman Tiffany Brown warned that “there’s been a lot of wild misinformation spreading online attacking the governor and her family.” On Tuesday, after the story had widely circulated, Whitmer admitted her husband had mentioned the encounter to her.
“He thought it might get a laugh. It didn’t,” Whitmer said at a press conference, “and to be honest I wasn’t laughing either when it was relayed to me because I knew how it would be perceived.” The governor also said her family has been staying home “these last couple of months,” before admitting moments later that Mallory had been to their vacation home.
“My husband did go up to our place in Antrim County and rake some leaves and came home,” Whitmer said. “He was there. We did not pile all into the car to go and enjoy our second home, although that would have been permitted.”
Barrett said he’s not convinced by the admission. “Why did she deny it so hard to my office to pull the post down, saying it was false and fabricated, if in fact it was true the whole time?” he pointed out. “It was only after . . . me insisting on getting to the bottom of it that eventually the governor had to crack and admit that it was true.”
Shirkey backed up Barrett’s account in a statement on Michigan senate floor on Wednesday, saying that Whitmer’s staff had been “emphatic” that Barrett’s original post “was false and that it should be removed.”
“The governor lied. Not only did she lie, but she directed her staff to lie on her behalf in order to cover up her own lies,” he stated. “Yesterday, the governor went in front of cameras and admitted to the lie. She referenced the exchange as a ‘failed joke’ — it would be nice if this governor was as quick to identify failed leadership. How can we trust the governor? How can the citizens of Michigan trust the governor? What else is she willing to lie about, if she lied about putting a boat into water?”
In a statement to National Review, Brown admitted that Whitmer’s office attempted to silence Barrett, but said it was “taken on staff’s own initiative” and “the staff member called, explained, and apologized” after the story was reported elsewhere.
“The governor was surprised by the senate majority leader’s comments made on the floor today. His comments were incorrect and unfair, and frankly, he owes the governor an apology,” Brown said of Shirkey’s statement. “She has been completely honest about the situation and she never directed her staff to mislead anyone or to contact his office.”
Barrett said Whitmer should apologize over the whole affair.
“I think the governor owes an apology to the people in the state of Michigan on this, an apology to the boat dock owner, and owes an apology to me and my staff about how they duped us into covering up their story,” he stated.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated with a comment from Whitmer’s spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.