State's AG race pits reformers vs. reformers

By David Runk

Associated Press Writer

DETROIT (AP) -- Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton and former Court of Appeals Judge Bill Schuette see themselves as reformers ready to fight crime and take aim at public corruption if elected Michigan's next attorney general.

But Leyton, the Democratic nominee, and Schuette, his Republican opponent, both say there are major differences in how they would do the job.

For Schuette, public safety is key to the state's economic recovery, and he blames Democrats in Lansing for supporting changes that would let more prison inmates out on parole and cut funding for police. He would continue the efforts of Republican Attorney General Mike Cox to use the federal courts to oppose federal health care changes and support Arizona's immigration law.

"There is a Grand Canyon of philosophical differences that separate David Leyton and me," Schuette says.

For Leyton, the only prosecutor in the race, the focus should be on Michigan instead of what he describes as Cox's "crass political lawsuits." He says he has the credentials to be the state's top law enforcer, earned by putting criminals behind bars.

"I am a prosecutor with 20,000 cases prosecuted over the last 5 years. Ninety-five percent conviction rate," says Leyton, who is at the forefront of a high-profile case against a suspected serial slasher accused of attacking men in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. "My opponent never has been a prosecutor. Zero cases handled."

With no incumbents in the race for attorney general, governor or secretary of state, Craig Ruff of the nonpartisan Lansing think tank Public Sector Consultants said Michigan voters could split their tickets Nov. 2. They may vote one way for governor, while choosing a candidate from a different party for attorney general, for instance. Most voters are still learning who the candidates are.

The others on the ballot for attorney general are U.S. Taxpayers Party candidate Gerald T. Van Sickle of Wellston and Libertarian candidate Daniel W. Grow, a 42-year-old lawyer in private practice who lives and works in St. Joseph. The winner will replace Cox, who can't run again after eight years because of term limits.

Cox ran for governor this year, hoping to repeat the success of attorney general-turned-governor Jennifer Granholm. He lost in the Republican primary to Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder.

Schuette's campaign has taken aim at Leyton's work as a prosecutor in Genesee County, which includes the high-crime city of Flint. Schuette was joined at a campaign event in Lansing in September by Brenda Simpson, who criticized Leyton for not bringing charges in the 1985 cold case killing of her 11-year-old son.

"Here you have a woman, her son poisoned and murdered, and she cannot get justice from local prosecutors from Flint," Schuette said of the case, which ended up being handled by Cox's office and led to convictions. "The door of justice was slammed in her face."

In response, Leyton said he worked with the state attorney general's office on the case to get the conviction, and that's what matters. He said he has a proven track record of being on the side of crime victims.

Leyton has painted Schuette, a lawyer with a Lansing law firm who has served in the U.S. House, the state Senate and as state agricultural director, as a political insider. Leyton has outlined plans to use the attorney general's office to reform Michigan government by cracking down on corruption, as well as supporting policies that would cut politicians' pay by 10 percent and eliminate free lifetime health benefits for lawmakers.

"It's clear. We need serious reform," Leyton said. "We need somebody who is independent, to come in and make changes."

Schuette won the GOP's attorney general nomination at the party's state convention in August, beating out state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. Leyton, meanwhile, has been running a six-month campaign after getting the nod at the Democrats' April nominating convention. He picked up the official nomination in August.

Grow, the Libertarian candidate, said his more than 15 years of real-world experience have made him familiar with the issues he would encounter as attorney general. He's a strong advocate for property rights. And being a third-party candidate, he said, means he owes nothing to the Democrats or Republicans in Lansing.

"I'm someone who is really going to be keeping an eye, not only on the opposing party ... but on all elected officials," Grow said.

Published: Wed, Oct 6, 2010