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U.S. Election 2016

Clinton's Canadian warrior: A conversation with Jennifer Granholm

Jennifer Granholm walks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July 2016.

Jennifer Granholm walks on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July 2016.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/The Associated Press

This Canada-born politician is a power player in the U.S. presidential race and a key Clinton insider. Jennifer Granholm talks to Affan Chowdhry about the rise of Donald Trump, how Hillary Clinton has changed and the Granholm family's Canadian ties

Vancouver-born Jennifer Granholm is part of the Hillary Clinton power circle – a group of loyal friends and surrogates dedicated to putting Ms. Clinton in the White House in November and making history.

She is also the subject of regular Washington chatter.

The savvy TV commentator and two-term former Michigan governor who championed a clean-energy agenda could easily serve in a Clinton cabinet that is expected to send a strong message on gender parity.

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A connection going back to the 1990s: Jennifer Granholm and Hillary Clinton first met when Ms. Granholm visited Washington D.C. as Michigan's attorney general and met the first lady. PHOTO: HANDOUT

Ms. Granholm is crucial to the elect-Clinton effort.

She is a senior adviser to a rapid-response Clinton Super PAC (political action committee) that spent nearly $6-million (U.S.) by the end of June trying to tear down Donald Trump.

Her affiliation with Correct The Record means that she is not allowed to co-ordinate efforts with the official Clinton campaign team – even if they sometimes appear to be working in tandem.

On Tuesday, the morning after Labour Day – when the presidential race historically kicks into high gear – the campaign and Super PAC delivered a one-two punch.

While the Clinton campaign showcased the power of letting Mr. Trump's words on the military speak for themselves as veterans and families watched on in a new ad, the Super PAC Correct The Record went after Mr. Trump's business record.

"We make three dollars below what other employees make along the [Las Vegas] strip," said Trump hotel employee Eleuteria Blanco in a web ad.

Hillary Clinton and then-Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm attend a rally in support of presidential nominee Barack Obama in September 2008 in Michigan. PHOTOS: BILL PUGLIANO/GETTY IMAGES

Ms. Granholm also regularly goes toe-to-toe with Republican rivals on Twitter and cable networks, trying to box in the Trump campaign any time there is a suggestion that Mr. Trump is softening his immigration stance. When Team Clinton needs some strong on-air spinning, Ms. Granholm is often there.

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There is no question that the former federal prosecutor and current University of California, Berkeley, faculty – currently on leave – is already looking beyond election day.

Ms. Granholm is a co-chair of the transition team that is vetting people who will fill the spots around the Clinton cabinet table and in the army of White House operatives tasked with implementing Ms. Clinton's vision.

In early September, she spoke with The Globe and Mail about the perplexing appeal of Mr. Trump, her friendship with Ms. Clinton going back to her first lady days, and the Granholm family's Canadian roots.


In conversation: Jennifer Granholm, Clinton ally

Jennifer Granholm’s rousing 2012 speech at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina put her on the radar party supporters.

Jennifer Granholm’s rousing 2012 speech at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina put her on the radar party supporters.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/The Associated Press

A lot of Canadians are still looking for a good explanation for the rise of Donald Trump. What's yours?

It is a mystery to me, as well. But I do think, coming from Michigan – and there are pockets of this obviously in the provinces across Canada too – there is a real sense that globalization has left the everyday citizens behind.
And when he speaks about NAFTA and speaks about the loss of jobs, that has real resonance – particularly in states like Michigan and the industrial Midwest. But there’s no doubt that that element of feeling like it’s my job, my identity, is lost – and it wasn’t my fault – and there’s nothing that anybody in positions of power seems to be doing about it. That has real resonance, and I think that’s really what has propelled him.
Now, he’s taking it to the next level when he talks about immigration. The kernel of his success really started with that, with the economy – and now he has gone right through to exploiting peoples’ fears and talking about America first and immigration and the immigrants being a threat to your job. … So it started it with a kernel of truth and now has blown up in to a completely, in my opinion, hateful philosophy.
A chain-locked gate keeps visitors out of what was once a sprawling industrial complex known as Buick City near downtown Flint, Michigan.

A chain-locked gate keeps visitors out of what was once a sprawling industrial complex known as Buick City near downtown Flint, Michigan.

REBECCA COOK/REUTERS

The challenge for someone like Ms. Clinton is: How do you do something similar but without what is called a hateful philosophy?

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I think she can. She talks about America first, she talks about American exceptionalism. But she defines it in a way that is inclusive.
For Donald Trump – who doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism anyway – he just believes in America first-ism and that means American only-ism and that means put up the borders and we’re the only ones that are going benefit from any of our stuff, which is not realistic.
So her thrust on this whole issue of how the U.S. interacts with the globe is that it makes us stronger, including our economy. She is going to negotiate trade agreements that benefit us but that allow for products that are stamped Made in America to be sold to our allies as long our allies have the same standards that we have and that we are not aiding and abetting the continual loss of jobs.
Then-U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm participate in a forum in 2005 on the impact proposed cuts to Medicaid would have on states and ordinary people.

Then-U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm participate in a forum in 2005 on the impact proposed cuts to Medicaid would have on states and ordinary people.

CHIP SOMODEVILLA/Getty Images

You were a strong backer of Hillary Clinton's first presidential bid. Watching her now, talking with her and spending time with her, how do you think she's changed?

In her first bid, she did not as clearly embrace, for example, the feeling that women are viewing this as a historic election. She said, “I’m running.” But she didn’t talk about being a woman running. She’s doing more of that this time. And she’s being fearless about it.
She’s fearlessly making the case that when she says Stronger Together, she really is talking about this incredible diversity which makes us stronger and being very aggressive about going after the populations that may feel like they have been left behind. And that’s true, I would say, as well with the industrial worker who feels definitely left behind.

Why do you think Hillary Clinton is still the subject of so much vitriol?

Because it is true that the Republicans have spent the last 30 years trying to vilify her and that continues obviously unabated to this day.
But you’ll notice that she is peeling off an awful lot of Republicans. Whilst her favourability numbers are not high and nor are his, she has really positioned herself to say: “You may not like all of my policies but I will be president for all of you and I will be a safe and sane and smart and knowledgeable commander in chief and he is risky.”
Despite the fact that millions of millions of dollars have been spent to try to tear her down, you remember when she was secretary of state she had among the highest approval ratings of any political figure in the United States. But of course during an election those kinds of numbers are not sustainable no matter who you are.

In some ways, she has to take some responsibility doesn't she?

Of course she has said that too in terms of the e-mail [server] and the decisions made with that. She said: “There is no excuse, I should not have done it. I have learned and it will not happen again.”
Four years later, with Hillary Clinton set to make history, Jennifer Granholm is (once again) the subject of chatter. This time, in a Clinton administration.

Hillary Clinton takes a selfie with supporters at a rally in San Francisco in May. Jennifer Granholm is (once again) the subject of chatter as possible Clinton cabinet appointee.

JOHN LOCHER/AP

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton talks with then-Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm at a rally in 2006 at Wayne State University to support Michigan Democrats.

Ms. Granholm and the Clintons regularly campaign for each other. Bill Clinton talks with then-Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm at an election rally in 2006 at Wayne State University.

BILL PUGLIANO/Getty Images

You have an understanding of U.S.-Canada ties. What is one area where the two countries could really ramp up co-operation in a Clinton presidency?

I think a regional approach on clean energy is really ripe. Whether it’s in biofuels or offshore wind, even on bilateral co-operation on technology.
One of the things she’s put forward is the $60-billion clean-energy challenge which is really a flexible federalism play. This means she would be challenging the governors to go above and beyond the U.S.’s clean power plants.
Part of that means [emulating] states like New York and California, which already have a carbon market, some of which are [already] in partnership with Canadian provinces. Are there places like that where you could see states partnering with provinces to be able to have markets that facilitate the growth of clean energy economies? That I think is a possibility for sure.

Help me picture this co-operation a little more. Are we talking about the evolution or expansion of some kind of cross-border supply chain when it comes to clean energy?

Yes, this is what I would imagine. Again, this still has to be fleshed out. So for example, Michigan built car 1.0, Michigan can build car 2.0 which is the electric vehicle, then the batteries, the guts to that vehicle.
All that requires a supply chain and what that looks like in terms of the policy Michigan might be able to adapt to make it the place which makes it irresistible for those global companies as well as U.S. companies to be expert in it.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm join a rally with GM employees at at the North American International Auto Show in 2009. The Global economic downturn hit the audo industry hard and became a focus of Mr. Granholm's tenure as governor.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm join a rally with GM employees at at the North American International Auto Show in 2009. The Global economic downturn hit the auto industry hard and became a focus of Mr. Granholm's tenure as governor.

PAUL SANCYA/The Associated Press

You left Canada when you were 4. Do you even remember Canada?

Oh sure, because my brother just retired from the Canadian military. He’s up there with his family. I go up to visit them all the time. My aunt, my uncle – obviously my grandparents were from there, but they passed away. I spend a lot of time in the Vancouver area, and in B.C. mostly.
My parents are in California, and we all moved down. But my brother moved back and married a Canadian woman. All of my nieces on that side of the family are in British Columbia.

What is the story of your parents coming to Canada? Were they born in Canada?

My parents were both born in Canada. My mother was a Newfie, so she was born in Newfoundland. My dad was born in Penny, which is a tiny, tiny town of 50 in British Columbia near Prince George. He lived in a cabin with no running water. He was dirt poor. It was a railway stop; it was a logging town.
My grandfather came from Sweden, my grandmother came from Norway and settled in Penny. And my grandfather died when my father was three years old, so my dad was raised by a single mom who could barely speak English. And they were poor as poor could be.
So he ended up going to Vancouver. My parents didn’t go to college. But they met as tellers at Toronto-Dominion Bank in Vancouver. That teller experience launched his career. He stayed with banking his entire life and ended up getting an offer at Security Pacific National Bank which brought him to California.

You have that Canadian connection. What does being Canadian mean to you at this stage?

Well, I still have great respect for Canada, often calling it a kinder, gentler nation. And I can understand why many Canadians are perplexed, to say the least, about our election and its lengths, its costs, and its candidates on the Republican side. But you know I am fully an American now.
I was the first person in my family to gain American citizenship. I applied when I was 16 on my own, which is the earliest that you could have applied. Five years later, I became a citizen when I was 21. And I feel fully like an American citizen. So on Twitter you’ll see a lot of people tell me to go back to Canada.

Here's a multiple choice question: For your experience, qualifications and steadfast commitment to the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, you will be awarded with any one of the following:

  1. ambassadorship to Canada;
  2. Clinton cabinet secretary post;
  3. Head of the Democratic National Committee;
  4. Supreme Court Justice nomination;

What is your pick?

I am not even going there. I am working to get her elected because it’s good for the country and good for the world. That will be a reward in and of itself.
From California, Jennifer Granholm attended Harvard law school and worked as a federal prosecutor. She was elected Michigan attorney general in 1998 and won her second term as governor in 2006.

From California, Jennifer Granholm attended Harvard law school and worked as a federal prosecutor. She was elected Michigan attorney general in 1998 and won her second term as governor in 2006.

BECKY SHINK/AP


Revving-up the base: Granholm's speeches

Jennifer Granholm is known for electrifying the Democratic base with speeches that are more late-night comedy than political oratory. The Democratic National Convention offers a big stage for politicians to get their names out, and Ms. Granholm made the most of it: grabbing the attention of Democrats in 2012 and then going after Donald Trump in 2016.

‘In Romney’s world, the cars get the elevators and the workers get the shaft’

‘Donald, Donald, you’re so vain. You probably think this speech is about you. Don’t you now?’

Jennifer Granholm will be part of the Munk Debates on the 2016 U.S. election on Sept. 30 in Toronto. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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