Historically, attorney general campaigns in Michigan have revolved around law enforcement.
The 2010 match-up between Democratic Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton and former appellate judge Bill Schuette is not an exception. Both have taken pains to puff up their law enforcement credentials while thrashing the others’.
Leyton, 57, a two-term prosecutor, boasts his 20,000 he’s handled and his 95 percent conviction rate. His opponent, he contends, has never prosecuted one person and it’s questionable how much time he’s actually ever spent in a courtroom.
Schuette, also 57, contends Leyton has dropped the ball on such cases as one involving Adam McIntosh, where his team pledged to the victim’s family to prosecute accomplices to murder but never did. Rather, Schuette said he was "one tough judge" during his term (2003-2009) on the state Court of Appeals.
"When you talk to families in Michigan, in Flint ... (crime) is the No. 1 priority for families," said Schuette, adding that the department needs a victims’ rights task force.
Leyton isn’t as difficult to get off his law enforcement schtick. Since the Democratic convention, Leyton has adopted a "government reform" plank that pushes an end to lifetime health benefits for lawmakers, among other reforms that can only be accomplished through legislative action.
The former civil litigator pledges to be the "people’s attorney" in the spirit of Frank Kelley. He wants to beef up the Medicaid fraud unit, for starters.
Leyton said he’s about “fighting for the ordinary citizen, being for the folks who need a voice in the attorney general’s office” and “not being a lawyer for the insurance companies, the banks and the credit card companies who have funded my opponent’s campaign."
Asked if he plans on being as tough on Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan as Cox, Schuette said he intends to use the office’s broad oversight power "to the fullest" to ensure that health care rates are as reasonable as possible.
"And I want to encourage as much competition as possible among health insurers, because robust competition in the health care market will help offer more choices to consumers and will work to keep costs down," Schuette said.
It’s not hard to find differences between the two. Schuette supports a brief Cox filed in support of the appeal of the California ruling allowing for same-sex marriage, saying he believes "marriage is between one man and one woman." Leyton said he would not be a party to discriminatory lawsuits such as this.
Leyton said legal efforts by attorneys general like Cox to overturn the national health care reform package signed into law this year is "clearly driven by politics and not policy." He said Cox doesn’t understand the need for health care across the country nor the good things in the package, like allowing parents to keep their children on their policy until age 26. If elected "I would move to dismiss" the lawsuit.
Schuette, a former congressman, called "Obamacare" a massive intrusion and a "federal takeover" of the state’s health care system.
"This is a big-spending government boondoggle that inserts the government between a patient and his or her doctor," he said. "I will continue Attorney General Mike Cox’s lawsuit against Obamacare.
On the issue of Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, who made national news for running an cyber-bullying website against the gay student body president of the University of Michigan, Schuette has become a bit more aggressive. Originally, the former state agriculture director only said state employees should be civil and use sensitivity when expressing their First Amendment right to free speech.
Asked again last week, Schuette said the First Amendment does not protect stalkers nor "prevent stupidity." For that reason, he says Shirvell should be suspended pending disciplinary hearings. Leyton called on the employee to be fired outright.
Leyton labels Schuette a "career politician" who has bounced around various federal and state offices since 1984. Schuette doesn’t shy away from his experience in government, but he makes it a point to mention that of the two, he is the only candidate coming out of the private sector.
The two do agree on one point. They have no opinion on the state’s item-pricing law other than to say they would enforce the law.