Ex-AG Frank Kelley decries gerrymandering

 ‘Eternal General’ is respected as groundbreaking champion of consumer and environmental protection 

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Frank Kelley quips that seeing his name along a walkway near where he served a record 37 years as Michigan’s attorney general is like reading his own obituary.

“Most of this stuff is done posthumously. I’m just lucky to have lived to the ripe old age,” he said.

The 88-year-old “eternal general,” a Democrat who was youngest and oldest attorney general in state history who left office in 1998, remains respected by both sides of the aisle as a groundbreaking champion of consumer and environmental protection. Yet he is frustrated that some long-standing legal precedents he laid down or defended in the courts have been reversed in recent years.

The Michigan Supreme Court upheld a law requiring voters to show photo ID 10 years after Kelley ruled it was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court overruled limits on independent corporate political spending 20 years after it upheld a Michigan law backed by Kelley’s office.

“Where’s the revulsion? Where’s the reaction from the public? They’re so uninformed that they don’t know how to react unfortunately,” Kelley told The Associated Press in an interview.

While the public is not well informed, he said, “to say that they should have spent more time studying and being more informed about government and so on, I can’t judge them.”

Kelley still closely tracks government actions and says the biggest problem with politics today can be blamed on gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts. Republicans represent a “minority of the people” who vote in presidential election years in Michigan, he said, but control redistricting because they do well in midterm years when fewer Democrats vote and the governor and state senators are elected.

“A majority doesn’t know what to do about it and they just get mad, and getting mad doesn’t do you much good,” Kelley said.

He is critical of lawmakers who he says are tied up with “minutia” and not focused on concerns of average families such as wages and jobs. When asked to evaluate first-term Gov. Rick Snyder, Kelley, who represented five governors when he was attorney general, says it would not be proper and would come off as sour grapes.

“Here you got five people with entirely different political philosophies and different attitudes as to what the government should do and should not do, but at the same time all of them were honest,” he said, citing former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who recently was sentenced to 28 years in prison for racketeering conspiracy and other major crimes.

“Michigan’s very fortunate in my lifetime, since I became attorney general in 1961, we’ve never had any corruption at that level in the executive branch of government. ... It’s one thing to have political differences that could take you one way or another, but the worst thing that could happen to you is to have people who are corrupt because that’s demoralizing.”

Snyder, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, Democratic lawmakers, friends and former staffers turned up Oct. 23 to rename a pedestrian walkway in Kelley’s honor that stretches two-plus blocks between the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings. He says it is something about which his parents would have been proud.

At his age, Kelley — the longest-serving state attorney general in U.S. history — says he is thankful for his health and no aches and pains.

“I’ve had a very good life, and I’m very grateful,” he said.

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