Politics & Prejudices: Scary Bill Schuette 

I've been watching Michigan politics for a very long time, and I can't remember anyone more potentially dangerous than Bill Schuette, our demagogue of an attorney general.

Not that we haven't had a cast of crooks and characters. Yes, there was Kwame Kilpatrick the greedy man-boy mayor, who thought the city of Detroit was his candy store, bank, and harem, and who is now guest No. 44678-039 of the federal government, with a room booked till August 2037.

We've got the two comic-opera defrocked state legislators, at least three more who should probably be in the slam, plus a past passel of crooked prosecutors and penny-ante racists. There was Diane Hathaway, the felonious Democratic state Supreme Court justice who went on the bench in 2009 and into a cell in 2013. And all that's just scratching the recent surface.

But none of those birds had national pretensions. Schuette does. He serves the worst right-wing elements of his party, and seems willing to do anything to please them to try to win as much power as he possibly can.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has accused Schuette of a crime. Not the kind you can go to jail for, anyway.

But he is guilty of using and misusing his office to pander to the far right, in his continuing effort to win support for his expected run for governor three years from now.

Every move he makes seems to be politically calculated. He dragged his feet disgracefully on launching any investigation as to whether Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser had themselves misused state resources and violated Michigan law.

But he's very quick to take stands on issues that have nothing at all to do with his office — something most previous attorney generals have avoided. In perhaps his most bizarre and blatantly partisan move, he wrote to governors across the nation, urging them to impose their own sanctions on Iran.

He stabbed Gov. Rick Snyder — his fellow Republican — in the back last winter by denouncing Proposal 1, the governor's attempt to get voters to raise the sales tax to fix the roads, something that even the conservative Detroit News saw as disgraceful pandering to win Tea Party support.

Schuette, who has an estimated net worth of about $13 million, has never been poor. He grew up in Midland, where his mother helped the family bottom line by managing to marry, in turn, not one, but two top Dow Chemical executives.

Presumably her son could have had a career there, but from the start, he was more intrigued by Nixon than napalm. Now 62, Schuette's been running for every office he could since he was 18, when he was elected a Republican precinct delegate.

Since then, he's been a Congressman, a state senator, a Court of Appeals judge, and is now Michigan's attorney general. Seemingly, he sets his eyes on the next prize the moment he gets elected to any office.

Once, and only once, he miscalculated. Too impressed with his early success, he took on U.S. Senator Carl Levin in 1990, six years after Schuette knocked off a GOP congressman.

Levin cleaned Schuette's clock, beating him in a landslide. Schuette licked his wounds and reprogrammed himself. No longer on Washington's eligible young bachelor lists, he got married, and attached himself to the newly elected John Engler, who made him director of the Agriculture Department.

Four years later, he got back in the game, winning a seat in the state Senate. From there it was on to the Michigan Court of Appeals, where he had utterly no qualms about leading the fight to prevent medical marijuana from being legalized.

He lost that one too, but had a new target on his horizon, and successfully ran for and was elected attorney general.

Back when Frank Kelley was Michigan's attorney general, the office's top priorities were consumer protection, the environment, and civil rights. Schuette appears to have two:

First, he fought so hard and so unintelligently against same-sex marriage that he is commonly believed to have made a champion horse's ass out of himself.

Arguing that gay marriage should be illegal because the state's voters had passed a constitutional amendment to that effect would have been perfectly legitimate.

Instead, he staged a performance in federal court that was beyond bizarre, arguing that same-sex marriage should be forbidden because it couldn't lead to pregnancy, and because children do better in heterosexual unions.

Not only did he fail to prove his points, the judge disqualified one of his "expert witnesses" as totally unqualified.

Speaking of wasting state resources, Schuette quietly ended up agreeing to pay $1.9 million in legal bills for the lawyers who argued in favor of the nurses April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, whose desire to jointly adopt three children the attorney general fought savagely against.

That's taxpayer money he wasted, folks. Schuette, however, seems incapable of embarrassment.

Now, his main cause seems to be doing anything to prevent any prisoners from being released early or any other move to reduce Michigan's bloated and costly prison population, even when they are clearly no threat to society.

Last year, he managed to use his influence to largely kill criminal sentencing reform. Now, he is attempting to kill a Republican "presumptive parole" bill that would make it much easier for inmates who have behaved in jail to be released after they've served their minimum time.

Schuette told a TV audience that the bill "endangers the safety of our communities," and seemed to say it stemmed from "anti-cop sentiment, anti-law enforcement sentiment."

That didn't fly with State Rep. Kurt Heise, (R-Plymouth) the chair of the House Criminal Justice committee. He told the MLive news service he was "very offended by that remark."

There are increasing signs that responsible Republicans are getting sick of the attorney general. Two weeks ago, I was at a dinner where several prominent Republicans said they strongly hoped Candice Miller, who is stepping down from Congress, would be the next governor.

Schuette is running too, of course; he was the day he took his current office. What nobody knows is the extent to which he believes his outrageous positions; or whether he merely takes these stands in the belief it will be politically expedient.

But it doesn't matter.

Schuette simply needs to be stopped.


Not Much of a Hero

Remember Josh Cline, the former aide to disgraced Michigan legislators Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser? He was seen as a hero for resigning before the scandal broke, later saying he chose "integrity" over a paycheck, and was unwilling to "turn a blind eye to unethical behavior."

Well, it would appear that Cline's vision has weakened since then: He has resurfaced as the campaign manager for one Aaron Tobin, who is running for mayor of tiny Oak Park against incumbent Marian McClellan, who is running for a third term.

The Tobin campaign mailed out a flier to residents that was so full of false information it was attacked in a long story on the online community newspaper Oakland County 115.

Publisher Crystal Proxmire ripped the flier for being filled with falsehoods, including a phony quote from her newspaper. (Plus one from The Detroit News.)

When she talked to Tobin, he said two rather interesting things. First, he actually seems to believe it's all right to lie if you don't put quotation marks around the words.

Second, he told the paper that his boy Josh Cline was the man who had written the false flier. My guess is that the Tobin campaign will get unanimous support from those Oak Park residents sorry they can't have Richard Nixon instead.


Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism program at Wayne State University and the senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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