Calley, the lieutenant governor for nearly seven years, announced his plans in an interview with The Associated Press and later released a video.
Michigan's unemployment rate hit a 17-year low this year and the state leads the Midwest in job creation, ranking sixth-best nationally and first in new manufacturing jobs — "things that have transformed people's lives," Calley said. He also pointed to large improvements in business climate and corporate tax ratings.
"These statistics represent a trajectory and a growth that suggest that Michigan is the comeback state. I'm running for governor to ensure that we not only continue the comeback, but we capitalize on the strong foundation we've laid and make Michigan the most prosperous state in the nation," Calley said in a phone interview.
He is the fourth man to enter the GOP primary and the second with both a high profile and the money to run, joining Attorney General Bill Schuette.
On Monday, second-term Gov. Rick Snyder appeared with Calley in Detroit to tout him as a "wonderful partner" and was the special guest at a Calley campaign fundraiser at a home in Oakland County. Snyder cannot run a third time in 2018 because of term limits.
Calley, 40, is a former community banker from Portland who specialized in tax issues as a lawmaker in the state House from 2007 through 2010. As lieutenant governor, he has helped to cut business taxes and government regulations and has advocated for special education, autism insurance, mental health and prescription drug abuse reforms. This year, he spearheaded a ballot drive to make the Legislature a part-time body.
If elected, Calley said he would make Michigan the "best state" for pre-K-12 education, fill 100,000 trades jobs, better help welfare recipients find work, eradicate the opioid addiction epidemic and bring civility to public service.
Schuette, who entered the race in September by promising to be a "jobs governor," has been trumpeting proposed cuts in the state income tax and auto premiums along with his endorsement from President Donald Trump, who has low approval ratings but remains popular among Republicans. A month before Trump's narrow 2016 victory in Michigan, Calley withdrew his support for Trump due to an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women.
Trump "knows who was with him and who wasn't," Schuette said at a GOP conference in September. A pro-Schuette super PAC quickly launched a website Tuesday criticizing Calley for "abandoning" Trump, a move the PAC's executive director Stu Sandler said could have "led to President Hillary Clinton."
Calley downplayed Trump's backing of Schuette, telling the AP that voters do not like to be told who they should vote for — "especially by politicians."
"Ultimately the choice before voters, whether we're talking about August or November of 2018, is: Do you like the direction of 500,000 new jobs and a 17-year low in unemployment, No. 1 state in the nation in manufacturing job growth and No. 6 in overall job growth or do you want to go in a different direction? I think that's a really powerful argument that goes way beyond endorsements," Calley said.
Asked about Schuette's call to lower the income tax, Calley said he supports cutting taxes and his agenda would "make that more possible and not just in a modest way" by transforming the social services system into a pipeline to employment — which he said would free up revenue to reduce taxes, fix roads and bridges, and fund education.
"I've got a record of not just tax cuts, but historic tax cuts," he said. In 2011, Calley cast the tie-breaking vote for a major GOP-written tax overhaul in which business taxes were slashed while tax exemptions and credits were scaled back for pensioners, homeowners, low-income earners and taxpayers with children.
In 2016, Calley spent many days in Flint — including going door to door — to help with initiatives such as identifying homes with lead pipes in the wake of the city's water crisis. He said he was there so much that he filed a city income tax return.
The man-made disaster, which has primarily been blamed on the Snyder administration, has resulted in Schuette criminally charging 15 current and former government officials, including two members of the governor's cabinet. Calley said Schuette's probe has "obviously been very politicized," citing what he said have been lengthy delays in court proceedings when compared to traditional investigations.
Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said "those who were poisoned or even died in Flint deserve their day in court and that is why (he) has taken their case. This is his duty, and he won't stand down."
Calley's campaign fund, which can be used for his gubernatorial run, had nearly $1.2 million as of October. An independent political action committee with ties to Calley, MIPAC, also has spent roughly $315,000 this year on the part-time Legislature initiative and a pro-Calley online ad campaign.
Schuette's campaign had $2.3 million. Other Republican candidates include conservative state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Saginaw-area Dr. Jim Hines. On the Democratic side, the candidates are former legislative leader Gretchen Whitmer, ex-Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed, businessman Shri Thanedar and former business executive Bill Cobbs.
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said the GOP primary "is a choice between the ineffectual cheerleader of a failed Snyder administration and a glory hound attorney general whose political ambitions are his only priority."