The past year brought a pandemic, protests and political division during a contentious election. While many people are anticipating improvements in 2021, the question of whether we can do it together looms large.

In a December interview, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said 2021 would be a year of improvement.

“We’ve got challenges but I really believe in 2021 every month is going to be better than the last. Vaccines becoming more plentiful, us getting back to some normalcy, the weather getting warmer, I mean it’s just going to get better and better,” she said.

“And so I’m excited for 2021. We’ve got challenges, to be sure, but I also know we’re up to this.”

But for Michiganders to get on a similar page could be a heavy lift. MLive asked state political and business leaders a big question: is there anything that could unite Michianders in 2021?

Here are their answers.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

“Well I hope so, I really believe so. I’m very much looking forward to working with the Biden administration. I think that from the, from the go, from the jump we’re going to have a real ally in the White House. I know that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris care about infrastructure, I know that they care about closing the skills gap and educating our kids as well as making sure that we roll out our plan on COVID and get everyone healthy and get our economy healthy again as well. So, all of these are the dinner table issues Michiganders are, you know, worried about and so focused on and I think that’s why I’ve got great confidence in what this year is going to bring, and a great relationship with the white house is… to all of our benefit.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey

“There is far more that unites us as Michiganders than divides us. The holiday season reminds us all that we need to extend more grace to one another. 2020 has given us all more perspective and while we may disagree loudly, the tenor of our disagreement does not define us. Our shared experience unites us more than any conflict.”

Business Leaders of Michigan President and CEO Jeff Donofrio

“Ending the pandemic, winning the economic recovery and getting back to the long-term work of making Michigan a Top Ten state should unite all of us. The very first step will be making sure business, government and health care unite to ensure widespread and swift COVID-19 vaccinations. No doubt there will be challenges, but the health and wealth of our state depend on it.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel

“I don’t know. I hope so… I honestly believe that we need people to be able to separate themselves from Donald Trump. I think as long as he’s the titular head of the Republican party, it will be very, very hard. If you had more traditional Republicans, the Romneys, the McCains, the Bushes, I honestly think that it would be easier, and that there would be less partisanship. But as long as you have Republicans who cling to this man, and cling to his hatefulness, it can be very hard to do that. And I know that I’m not, you know, I’m not one to tell another party who their leader ought to be, but not this guy, man. I mean, he’s not helpful for the country, he’s not helpful for the state of Michigan. He has caused so much harm and he’s helped very little, in my opinion.”

… “I think that we need new leadership for the Republicans as well so we can get back to a time where we can at least collaborate together. Understanding that we’re always going to have our differences, but it’ll be easier to find our similarities if there’s not so much hatefulness.

“And I look at the Republicans who seemingly really oppose me, and I will tell you, I mean I’d sit down with some of the most vocal Republicans, my biggest critics, and I’d be happy to sit down and talk to them and say ‘where can we work together and how can we work together.’ But you know, Trump has made it very hard to do that.”

Detroit Regional Chamber President & CEO Sandy Baruah

“The unifying cause of 2021 is clear. We should, can, and must act urgently and collectively to distribute COVID vaccines and get Michigan inoculated. Regardless if you are focused on the public health aspect or the economic one, effective distribution of the vaccine is the elixir. Failure is not an option.”

House Speaker Jason Wentworth

“Nothing is more important than our health and it doesn’t take a pandemic to realize it. From parents concerned about having access to the best care for their children to teachers concerned about troubled students who aren’t able to get the help they need when crisis strikes, access to quality healthcare is a top priority we all share.

“The people we represent need improved options and access to care they can trust. That is why this legislature will focus on healthcare comprehensively and with a bipartisan spirit and approach. Our goal will be to ensure that every Michigander — no matter how much money they make, where they live, their race, gender or any other identifier — can access the physical and mental health care they need, when and where they need it.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

“The truth can… the truth can and should unite all of us. Number one, we have a virus, a pandemic, that is still challenging every person in the state. It isn’t discriminating based on geography, partisanship or any other qualification. It’s affecting all of us, it’s affecting every family. We have elected officials that are working every day sincerely to try to combat that virus, and people should take great faith in that and hopefully be a part of that work, as well, so that we can emerge out of this moment.

“Same with democracy. People have every reason to know and believe that their vote counted and that our elections are secure and that this year’s elections were a great success. That truth is something that people can get behind, even if they weren’t happy with the results of the election. People should be able to get behind it because it’s the truth.

“And leaders have a responsibility to embrace this, first and foremost, the same set of facts. And though we may disagree on how to solve the problems ahead of us, if we can at least operate from the same set of facts, acknowledge the truths that science and data would indicate are solid, and then have an actual deliberative conversation about solving problems together that affect the people of the state. If people see leaders doing that, and doing it effectively, I think it can bring more people together at the grassroots level.”

Read more on MLive:

Misinformation and conspiracies took starring role in Michigan’s political movements

Who’s new in the Michigan House of Representatives

Coronavirus changed everything in 2020. Will the pandemic wind down in 2021?

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