Schuette, grasping for duty

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You might think the mere idea that we might elect pandering career politician and current Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette governor next year is hard to believe. He's one of the most shopworn items in Lansing.

His biggest moment in the sun came when he made an utter fool of himself in the DeBoer v. Snyder same-sex marriage and same sex adoption case in federal court in Detroit in 2014. You can make an argument that he did have a legal obligation to at least technically defend the 2004 amendment to Michigan's constitution outlawing same-sex marriage.

But in a craven attempt to please the religious right, Schuette waged a noisy, vulgar, and gay-bashing battle that included bringing in wacky "expert witnesses," at taxpayers' expense — at least one of whom was not even allowed to testify because, Judge Bernard Friedman ruled, he knew nothing of any relevance to the case.

Another, a Canadian economist, explained that those who engaged in homosexual acts and don't repent would go to hell.

"Schuette made Michigan the laughingstock of the nation," said Dana Nessel, the lead attorney for the two nurses, who won the case. Schuette suffered a humiliating defeat, and the judge's decision was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"State defendants," Friedman wrote in a clear dig at Schuette, "lost sight of what this case is truly about: people."

Schuette, of course, only cares about people who can put him in power. Since he assumed office on Jan. 1, 2011, he has spent much of his time as attorney general essentially running for governor.

Bashing gay rights did help him with the religious right, and his only potential real opponent for the GOP nomination is Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who besides being ineffectual and essentially invisible, is Rick Snyder's heir.

So it is hard to imagine Schuette, the trust fund boy from Dow Chemical (his father and stepfather were both big shots there), losing the GOP nomination for governor next year.

But it's a nomination that ought to be fairly worthless, for a variety of factors. Since 1982, whenever a governor has retired, Michigan voters have elected one from the other party.

Add to this the little fact that the term-limited Rick Snyder is the man who raised taxes on pensions and whose minions poisoned Flint, and is one of the most unpopular governors in state history. Plus there's this: Nationally, voters in midterm elections almost always turn against the party holding the White House.

All that should mean that next year's gubernatorial election should look a lot like 2010, when — with a Democrat in the White House and the entire state disillusioned over the ineffectiveness of Jennifer Granholm — Snyder won by a landslide over plucky but hapless Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

That still may happen. But for a number of reasons, don't count Schuette out. He is wily, slippery, and experienced, and has been running for office since before Gretchen Whitmer, his most likely Democratic opponent, was a teenager.

Frank Kelley, the state's longest-serving and best-respected attorney general, told me that Schuette was a perfect political chameleon. "Watch him," he says. "He's moving to the right now to get the nomination, then he'll move back to the center for the general election." Indeed, that's been his pattern.

Float like a liberal and sting like a hard right Republican. One moment he's pandering to the right on issues like same-sex marriage; the next, he's a tribune of the people, righteously bashing Snyder's decision to tax state pensions.

Those who have been Michigan's attorney general traditionally stay out of matters not in their jurisdiction. Not Schuette; he went out of his way to oppose Snyder's plan to raise the sales tax to fix the roads.

But can Schuette win? Not if voters next year turn out to be looking for a new face. When he finally made the formal announcement that he was indeed running, he bizarrely told reporters that Republicans needed their "strongest, toughest Jedi Knight. I'm like Obi-Wan Kenobi; I'm our only hope."

He then added, "The point here is that I'm not of the established group in Lansing," words that must have been hard to say with a straight face. Poor little outsider Schuette has been a congressman for six years, a state senator for seven, director of the state Department of Agriculture, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge, and, since 2011, attorney general.

He's spent nearly all his life on the public payroll. He miscalculated once, and only once, arrogantly challenging U.S. Sen. Carl Levin in 1990. Levin crushed him in a landslide, but John Engler, elected governor the night Schuette lost, soon gave the Midland flash a job, and he was back in business.

For Schuette to be elected governor depends on his ability to do two things. First, separate himself from his tainted fellow Republican, Rick Snyder. That he has largely done.

Schuette has gone after Snyder aides over the Flint scandal; when asked if he might indict the governor, he purred only "we're not filing charges at this time."

What will likely determine the governor's race, however, is whether Schuette can define Whitmer as another tax-and-spend, Granholm-style liberal.

Whitmer, a lawyer and skilled legislator who has spent nearly all of her life in Lansing, is still unknown to most state voters, and hasn't succeeded in seizing their imaginations — which has some Democrats worried. There's still a chance that a nationwide revulsion against the chaos of the Trump administration will sweep Schuette away. But nobody should count on that.

Scum of the Earth

Michigan Republicans not only believe that corporations should be allowed to give all they want to influence political campaigns, which is what the infamous 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision said.

They believe that candidates and special interests should have the right to keep such spending secret, so that you can never find out who is buying your leaders. Worse, by the time you read this, they may have passed a bill to do just that.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a Republican from Ottawa County, has repeatedly blocked every attempt to expand the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and any move to make it easier for people to vote. But he happily shoved a bill through earlier this month that would allow a candidate to ask people and corporations to give as much money as possible to "independent expenditure committees" working for them.

Then those committees could hide the sources of the money and use it on their candidate's behalf. Meekhof said this was a matter of "free speech for all people, including corporations," and sent it to the House, where there's little doubt it will pass, if it hasn't already.

Governor Snyder could, of course, do the right thing and veto it, but that seems about as likely as pigs flying.

I spent the afternoon with a translation of Dante, trying to figure out what circle of hell these people belong in, but none seemed quite hot enough.

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