WATCH: 52 Questions with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sits down for a 52-question interview with The 'Gander. (Lisa Hayes/Courier Newsroom)

By Kyle Kaminski
August 23, 2023

The governor prefers Faygo Rock N’ Rye to Red Pop, Detroit to Flint-style coney dogs, and knows the definitive point at which “Up North” begins in Michigan. Oh, and she puts ketchup on her pasties. 

MICHIGAN—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is celebrating her 52nd birthday this week. And to recognize the occasion, she sat down with The ‘Gander Newsroom for a wide-ranging, rapid-fire interview filled with exactly 52 questions. 

The only ground rule: Let’s put politics aside, if only for a moment, and have some fun.

Here’s the full interview:

And here’s a full transcript of the interview:

Governor, thank you for taking the time. In celebration of your 52nd birthday, we at The ‘Gander wanted to get you something extra special: 52 questions. Are you ready to get started?

Let’s rock and roll.

Alright. Let’s start by going back a bit. Can you remember the first time you thought to yourself: “You know, I might be pretty good at this whole politics thing?”

I still question myself day to day. No. You know, I think when I first ran, I cared about my community, I didn’t see another candidate coming forward. And I thought, you know, I can do this job. So that’s been the assessment at every stage. And I’m grateful.

Tell us a memory from middle or high school that might surprise people.

I used to mow lawns when I was in middle school, and I think that probably surprises people.

Flashback to 1987: What car did 16-year-old Gretchen Whitmer want to drive?

Gretchen wanted to drive like a cool convertible, but got her step-grandmother’s hand-me-down Buick.

If you hadn’t gotten into law or elected office, what would your day job be today?

I was going to be a sports broadcaster.

What’s your favorite tradition or annual event in Michigan?

Oh, that’s a good question. Well, I think the Michigan/Michigan State football game.

When your kids were younger, were there any Michigan rites of passage that you were especially excited about experiencing with them?

Bonfires by a lake, cooking s’mores.

When you think about your children, what makes you the most proud?

That they’re kind people, that they’re smart, and that they work hard. And they’re prompt, they’re punctual.

Every year, thousands of students take field trips to the (state) Capitol. You had to have had time to explore the place by now. What hidden gem should they go see?

You know, I think looking up at the ceiling and identifying all the states in the order that they came into the Union is kind of cool when you’re on the Senate side of the Capitol.

All right. Now we’re going to have some fun. What’s the weirdest rumor you’ve ever heard about yourself?

I’ve heard all sorts of rumors. So I don’t believe anything that I hear when it comes to people talking about other people’s personal lives.

Any secret talents that most people don’t know about?

I love to play cards, and I’m not bad at it.

Any particular games?

My family plays “Oh, Hell.”

Any favorite hobbies or pastimes that you’d like to spend more time doing?

Yeah. I mean, I like getting outdoors. I like, you know, doing 5Ks and walking with friends. So, I’d love to do more of that.

What does a slow weekend look like for the governor of Michigan?

I don’t know. I would love to find out one of these days.

What’s your favorite board game to play with your family?

We play “Scattergories.”

What’s your go-to comfort food after a long day of politics?

Oh, gosh. You know, sometimes I just get home and grab a handful of nuts or a glass of, you know, an adult beverage.

What’s a movie you’ve watched so many times that you’ve memorized the lines?

“The Big Lebowski.”

What’s the best line?

“The Dude abides.”

They’re making a movie about Michigan. Which actor would you like to have playing Gretchen Whitmer?

Well, Cecily Strong, but we need to give her a little coaching on the Michigan accent.

Is there one book that’s impacted your perspective more than others?

“To Kill a Mockingbird.”

What’s one thing that keeps you motivated during challenging times in office?

I like to always make plans. And so, something to look forward to in the next week or the next six months. It’s always good to have something positive on the horizon. During the tough times, it helps.

Ever do anything that makes your staff nervous?

Oh yeah, every interview.

You ever had any funny “ope” moments on the job?

Oh, sure. You know, I’m kind of a klutzy person, and I have knocked microphones off of stands as I go to address someone.

What’s the one Michigan town that you hear mispronounced the most?

There are so many. I think Dequindre [Street] in Detroit is one. Houghton County in the Upper Peninsula is another. And there’s Ypsilanti and many others.

Have you ever tripped up and mispronounced any of those?

I don’t think so.

Michigan is known for its beautiful lakeshores. Do you have a favorite beach spot where you like to unwind?

I’m partial to, you know, Lake Superior. I just jumped off of Black Rocks in Marquette with my daughter, and that was a blast.

Where is the single best place in Michigan to wake up in the morning?

Anywhere in Michigan is a good place to wake up in the morning.

Do you collect anything from your travels around the state?

My husband collects rocks, so we’ve got quite the rock collection.

Michigan’s weather can be a bit unpredictable. What’s the perfect Michigan weather day in your mind?

75 and sunny and a fall day for football season.

Tell me about your (Wildcat Vibes) sweatshirt.

We were up in Marquette and (Northern Michigan University) gave us a couple of sweatshirts. I had just jumped off Black Rocks and I was a little chilly, threw the sweatshirt on, and I haven’t taken it off since. It’s really comfortable. Wildcat vibes for NMU.

If you could have a friendly competition with governors from other states, what event would you challenge them to to best showcase Michigan pride?

Oh, that’s a great question. I just hosted the governors of Wisconsin [and] Minnesota, and I proudly wore my T-shirt that says, “Four Out of Five Lakes Prefer Michigan,” which kind of irritated them. And I’m good with that.

We know you’re a proud Michigander, but if you could live in any other state for one year, which one would you pick and why?

Oh, goodness. You know, we’ll see where my kids are living. My sister’s in New York, so I guess I might live there, but I don’t want to ever live anywhere other than Michigan.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate your birthday?

Just having some downtime, being with my friends and family, and someone making me a good homemade cake. I hope my children are paying attention.

Let’s settle a couple debates. Where does Up North officially begin? Show me on your hand?

I think it begins right here.

(Faygo) Red Pop or Rock N’ Rye?

Rock N’ Rye.

Detroit- or Flint-Style Coney Dogs? 


Pasties: Ketchup, gravy, or plain? 


Olive burgers: Yum or yum? 


We know you appreciate Oberon. What’s another local craft beer in your fridge?

There’s so many good ones. But I think soft parade by Short’s.

What’s the best game to watch? Red Wings, Tigers, Lions, or Pistons?

I love them all, but, you know, we’re closing in on football season, and I’m super excited about the Lions this year.

Speaking of that, do you think the Lions are going to make the playoffs this year?

Oh, hell yeah.

Do you still have your honorary pair of Buffs?

I do not. I actually couldn’t keep the Buffs. They were too expensive. So they donated the money that they raised for something else—a good cause.

Do you still keep in touch with Gmac Cash?

I do.

Name another Michigan musician or band that’s on your playlist right now.

Oh man. You know, everyone from Bob Seger to Madonna to Eminem. I’m loving it. And, of course, Motown.

What’s a Motown song that always gets you going, no matter what?

That’s a hard question to answer. But, you know, I love Stevie Wonder.

You want to sing us a verse?

No, because I’d like to keep my job.

All right, back to the job. Fix the Damn Roads is pretty catchy. Tell me about a slogan that got left behind.

They were even more colorful than that. So I can’t say it.

It’s been a busy year since Democrats took charge of both chambers of the state legislature. What’s the energy like in Lansing compared to your first term?

Oh, man, it’s so much better. I got more people that are willing to work with me, roll up their sleeves. So it’s a very positive energy and we’re moving fast and getting lots of good stuff done.

What do you want to say to younger adults who may be considering running for office?

Do it. Don’t tell yourself that there is some artificial thing you have to achieve, like a certain level of education or electoral experience. You could do it right now if you’re well motivated, you can work with people, and you care about your community. Run.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self before entering politics?

Show up as you are. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Embrace who you are and be it.

What’s the single best part about being the governor of Michigan right now?

Well, right now, I would say, you know, having that second place up on Mackinac Island. That’s a pretty beautiful place to get out of town.

Politics aside, what’s something you challenge more Michiganders to do right now that will help their communities get stronger?

Pursue opportunities to enhance skill sets and open up doors for other people to do that, too. Closing the skills gap gets people into better paying jobs, helps us lure more investment in Michigan, and it’s a high quality of life that’s available to everyone.

The final question and I have to ask: have you thought about what you’re going to do when you’re done being governor?

I don’t have time to think (about) what I’m doing next week. So no.

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.


  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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