Priority of duties is primary issue in AG contest

By Corey Williams
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Bill Schuette campaigned before his 2010 victory in the Michigan Attorney General race that he would use the office to fight crime across the state.

He has championed testing thousands of ignored rape evidence kits in Detroit, targeted human trafficking and pushed Michigan lawmakers to pass a school safety program.

“I’m tough as nails on crime,” Schuette said. “I do my job. Public safety is written in the Michigan Constitution.”

But some opponents in the upcoming Nov. 4 election say he’s been selective about which types of crime he goes after and who he defends.

“Crime ... also happens in corporate board rooms and on Wall Street,” said Democrat Mark Totten, who accuses Schuette of not being aggressive enough in pursuing predatory mortgage lenders. “We need an attorney general to protect pocket books, as well. Other attorney generals have gone all the way to Wall Street.”

In addition to Totten, who is a Michigan State University associate law professor and former special U.S. attorney, other candidates are the Green Party’s John Anthony La Pietra, Libertarian Justin Altman and Gerald
T. Van Sickle of the U.S. Taxpayers party.

They face one of the most recognized names in Michigan politics and a candidate with deep pockets, said TJ Bucholz, president and chief executive of Lansing-based Vanguard Public Affairs.

“Mark Totten is not a lightweight,” Bucholz said. But “Schuette is as well-liked and well-known as the sitting governor.”

Schuette, a former congressman, state lawmaker and state appeals judge, has been front and center in a number of high-profile legal cases. He appealed a federal judge’s ruling that Michigan’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional and supported a U.S. Supreme Court decision in April that upheld the state’s ban on using race as a factor in college admissions.

He also opposed cuts to Detroit employee pensions during the city’s historic bankruptcy on the grounds that they are protected by state law.

“An attorney general is not an optional exercise where you pick and choose like some salad bar,” Schuette said. “You defend the (state) constitution.

“On gay marriage ... the sooner the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision, I will honor respect and defend whatever decision the high court makes.”

Totten believes it’s clear that Michigan’s ban violates the U.S Constitution.

“There was nothing that required him to take that position,” Totten said of Schuette’s appeal.

It’s time to drop the appeal, said La Pietra, an attorney who unsuccessfully ran for Michigan secretary of state in 2010.

“Prosecutors at all levels do have some discretion over which cases they take on,” he said. “The incumbent’s priorities, and possibly his partisanship, may be seen from how much time, energy, and other scarce publicly-funded resources he has devoted — and is still devoting — to defending that ban.”

The top priority for Michigan’s attorney general should be “limiting and eliminating corruption from public officials and not getting in the way of free enterprise,” said Altman, an Ypsilanti attorney making his first run for public office.

“Schuette is interested in using the law to further his personal and political goals rather than what would be best for the people of Michigan,” Altman said.

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