Governor Gretchen Whitmer spent four hours listening to constituents in Benton Harbor. They do not want her to close their high school.

She has backed away from earlier deadlines and is seeking a compromise.

This shows that she is different from Governor Rick Snyder. She listens. He never did.

Late afternoon turned to early evening in the crowded pews of Brotherhood of All Nations Church of God in Christ in Benton Harbor.

Angry residents pummeled Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with questions earlier this month. She answered and kept answering, staying in the church for almost four hours trying to explain why she believed it was in the best interest of Benton Harbor children to close the impoverished community’s lone high school and send those students elsewhere.

“I can see (my plan) is not being met with a lot of enthusiasm with many people in this room,” Whitmer said at one point. Before she made the two-hour trek back to the governor’s mansion in Lansing, she promised to extend the deadline to work out a deal with the Benton Harbor School Board.

The meeting between the Democratic governor and residents of this Democratic stronghold didn’t change many minds. But it did crystalize a governing style that at times risks alienating the governor’s supporters in an effort to resolve the state’s long-standing problems.

Her approach ‒ announcing bold plans and then asking critics to come up with something better ‒ was also on display when Whitmer agreed to a compromise on no-fault auto insurance that had stymied Lansing for years, and in promoting a 45-cent gas tax – a plan that at minimum got Republican leadership in the Legislature to the table to trade ideas on a long-term fix for Michigan’s crumbling roads.

How that style pans out in Benton Harbor is yet to be determined. After first threatening to dissolve the district if board members didn’t agree to close its low-achieving high school, Whitmer was barraged with vociferous and sustained criticism from residents and leaders of the city, which cast 95 percent of its ballots in her favor last November.

The protest was soon joined by fellow Democrats including legislators from Detroit and the two Democratic African-American members of the state school board. Whitmer has since taken a more measured tone publicly, and is negotiating the fate of Benton Harbor schools with the local board behind closed doors.

The governor could still try to dissolve the entire school district, either by asking the Republican-led Legislature to take the step or by trying to use a 2013 law that allows the state treasurer and state school superintendent to dissolve a district under certain circumstances.

To ward that off, the local board presented Whitmer with a plan that would keep Benton Harbor High School open in exchange for agreements to pay down district debt and address low academic achievement in part through enhanced teacher recruitment and retention.

My view: When a district is poor and can’t tax itself enough to pay for good schools, the state has an obligation to provide the needed resources.