FLINT, MI – Listening to the results of Flint students enrolled in the Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates program, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer said at a roundtable discussion Thursday that similar programs need to be expanded throughout the state.

The program, offered by Mott Community College in partnership with Jobs for America’s Graduates and Michigan Works, helps students at risk of dropping out or who have already dropped out develop life skills and connects them with prospective employers and educational institutions.

One program specialist at Flint’s Northwestern High School, Mary Ann Kost, spoke to Whitmer and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich during the event.

“The one thing that I’m really excited about is that I get to have freedom in the classroom to do what I want. Yes, we have things that we have to teach; no problem, that’s easy,” she said. “But the freedom I have in the classroom… I see the needs of my students and I get to teach to them, with them, and for them.”

Kost was named Specialist of the Year at the Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates’ annual conference in 2017, an award given to those who “exhibit outstanding performance and commitment to student success.”

Over two years working with the program, Kost was able to assist students in receiving $200,000 in scholarships and raised over $3,000 in grant funding for the program.

“The passion about the work that you do is just awesome,” Whitmer said to Kost.

“One of the greatest challenges for us in Michigan is making sure that we’ve got more people with the skills to get into high wage jobs,” Whitmer said. “This is phenomenal, you can’t hear the stories of these young people and not want to do more, and not want to expand this opportunity to more people. When we know that employers are looking for talent, this is the kind of thing that makes a big difference and fills those gaps.”

Following the roundtable discussion, Whitmer held a labor rally with Congressman Dan Kildee (D, MI-05) and Teamsters President James P. Hoffa.

Congressman Dan Kildee (D, MI-05) speaks at a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday, Aug. 2. (Andrew Roth | Flint Beat)

“We’ve had eight years of failed leadership in Lansing, and we cannot have another four years or eight years of the same thing. We know that government can’t solve every problem. But at the very least, we ought not have a state government that takes sides against us,” Kildee said. “We need leadership that really understands the challenges we face. We need leadership that can do more than give a speech. We need leaders who can roll up their sleeves and get things done for the people of this state.”

“I was in a church here in Flint not long ago and was speaking with a mom who pulled up her sleeve and showed me a rash on her arm. She explained that she doesn’t bathe her children that often because every time she does they break out,” Whitmer said. “We need a leader who isn’t going to make decisions based on dollars and cents, that thinks about the costs of people’s lives.”

Polling conducted Jul. 21 and Jul. 22 by EPIC-MRA shows Whitmer maintaining her lead in the primary with 42% support, followed by entrepreneur Shri Thanedar at 19% and former director of the Detroit Health Department Abdul El-Sayed at 15%.

Voters were surveyed before the effect of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders endorsing El-Sayed and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand endorsing Whitmer could be measured.

One of four Republican candidates for governor will face the Democratic nominee in the general election. Polling conducted by EPIC-MRA concurrently to the Democratic primary survey shows Attorney General Bill Schuette in the lead with 33% of surveyed voters supporting his campaign, followed by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley at 18%, state Senator Patrick Colbeck at 10%, and Dr. Jim Hines at 6%.

Whitmer is the front-runner in a hypothetical general election matchup with Schuette, according to polling from Emerson College, which shows the race at 43% to 36%.

Michigan will hold its primary election Aug. 7, followed by the general election on Nov. 6.

Andrew Roth is a reporter and photographer covering politics and policy in Michigan, as well technology, culture and their convergence. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first...