House Speaker Tom Leonard and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker are battling to succeed term-limited Bill Schuette, the GOP nominee for governor. Both lawyers point to their career backgrounds to argue they are best prepared for the job, while citing different reasons why they are best positioned to win in November.
The nominee selected Saturday at a convention in Lansing will try to extend a 16-year run in which a Republican has served as the state's top lawyer and law enforcement official. The 500-person department handles an array of work ranging from criminal prosecutions and consumer protection to health care fraud and defending the state against lawsuits.
Schuette's tenure has included two of highest-profile investigations in the office's history, which led to charges against former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics sports doctor Larry Nassar and government officials involved in the Flint water crisis.
The 37-year-old Leonard, who lives in DeWitt Township outside Lansing, began leading the House in 2017 and is in his sixth and final year there under term limits. He previously worked as an assistant attorney general defending the Corrections Department in lawsuits and as an assistant prosecutor in Genesee County.
He is emphasizing his prosecutorial and management experience and his conservative credentials. He cited his anti-abortion stance, his opposition to Common Core education standards and his legislative fights — albeit unsuccessful ones — to lower the state income tax and auto insurance premiums.
Probably most importantly, he said, is that "we have the only team in place that's able to take it to Dana Nessel and the Democrats in the fall." As of Aug. 9, his campaign had raised nearly $1.2 million and had $910,000 on hand. Schuitmaker had raised about $600,000 (including $200,000 she loaned her campaign) and had $328,000 on hand.
"She does not have the finances or the resources in place to put together a statewide election," Leonard said. "When you look at what's resonating with the delegates right now, they are focused on who can win in November. There's no doubt that we've made that case."
The 50-year-old Schuitmaker, who lives in Lawton west of Kalamazoo, is in her 14th and last year in the Legislature. She also boasted of her own conservative credentials, including her opposition to abortion and sanctuary cities, and said she is a "proven vote-getter." She pointed to her past victories in counties where Barack Obama won and, on her website, says she can neutralize Democrats' attempt to play the "gender card" with Nessel — a former prosecutor-turned-civil rights and defense attorney who won a hotly contested fight at an April endorsement convention. Democrats will officially nominate her at their own convention on Sunday.
"Money doesn't buy elections. I think it's more about the quality of the candidate and the experience and the record. I'm happy to let my record speak for itself. I have way more experience than he does," said Schuitmaker, citing her decade of work in private practice and her time spent on the House and Senate judiciary committees.
The candidates have spent months wooing delegates with mail and phone calls. Both call various accusations against them "lies and half-truths."
Schuitmaker has directly criticized Leonard in mailers for setbacks in the House, donating to the campaign of Democratic Genesee County prosecutor and 2010 attorney general nominee David Leyton — his boss at the time — and backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 presidential primary. Leonard said he endorsed Donald Trump after Kasich dropped out and said Schuitmaker never formally endorsed Trump.
Leonard touted his support for banning law enforcement from taking ownership of property seized in cases that do not result in convictions. He also said he has "real results" in the House that "affect everyday citizens" — pointing to the passage of laws to change the mental health system, eliminate driver responsibility fees and prod more teachers into 401(k)-only retirement plans.
Schuitmaker said she helped spearhead legislation requiring the collection of DNA samples when people are arrested, which has helped to solve cold cases. If she were elected attorney general, she said she would prioritize re-opening 1,000 cold homicide cases in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, possibly with help from retired police officers.