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Lawrence Glazer

Lawrence M. Glazer

Running for Governor

September 22, 2017

I. Bill Schuette

As another gubernatorial election year approaches,  I am reminded once again of the Attorney General’s first words to me when I came to Lansing for my job interview: “Hi, I’m Frank Kelley. Nice to meet you. They want me to run for governor, but it’s a [expletive deleted] job.”

Apparently he was the last attorney aeneral who felt that way. All of his successors have run for governor.

Democrat Jennifer Granholm made it all the way, serving two terms as governor.  Telegenic and well-informed, she has since transitioned to being a  professional talking head, both on her own, short-lived, cable show and as a guest on politically-oriented programs like “Real Time with Bill Maher”.

Our next Attorney General, Mike Cox, was less fortunate. His 2010 campaign for governor ended when he finished third behind Rick Snyder and Pete Hoekstra in the Republican primary. He has since founded his own law firm.

The current Attorney General, Bill Schuette, has now made it three out of three, declaring for governor on September 12. During his 6-1/2 years in office, Schuette has kept his name in the news by aggressively pushing the conservative agenda, e.g. opposing same-sex marriage in the U.S. Supreme Court and suing in local courts to close abortion clinics.

But agressiveness is a two-edged sword when not tempered with judgment.

This year Schuette injected himself into the Flint water disaster by bringing criminal charges against several state officials who appeared to have played no role in it.

Among those charged by Schuette was Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon (charged with involuntary manslaughter). A former director of that department and former Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Maura Corrigan, wrote in the Detroit Free Press that “The law just does not support such charges.” Maura Corrigan is a long-time activist of the Michigan Republican Party.

Frank Kelley,  a Democrat who served as Attorney General for 37 years, has generally refrained from criticizing his successors in office. But Kelley felt that he had a duty to speak out in this case. He told the Detroit Free Press, “People should not be charged with crimes to make a political statement,” and urged Schuette to drop the charges against Lyon.

Richard Mclellan, a widely respected attorney and Republican activist (and my U of M Law School classmate), writing in Domemagazine.com, called Schuette’s prosecutions “an over-criminalization of governmental administrative decisions” which “uses vague notions of ‘common law’ to punish state and local employees, and creates fear, risk aversion, and morale issues in the day-to-day conduct of government.”

Schuette’s main competition for the G.O.P. nomination is expected to be Michigan’s Lt. Governor, Brian Calley, who has not yet formally entered the race. Calley’s political personality is about as different from Schuette’s as it’s possible to be. He is soft-spoken, and offers constructive ideas on the issues. He has dived deeply into the nuts and bolts of State services to those with mental disabilities and has led efforts at reform of the system.

Also seeking the Republican nomination are Dr. Jim Hines of Saginaw Township and State Senator Patrick Colbeck of Canton.

That’s the Republican field; we’ll look at the Democratic contenders another day.

There have been 23 gubernatorial elections since World War II;   If Schuette wins, he will become the tenth Michigan governor (and the seventh lawyer) elected since then (Michigan’s governor had only a two-year term untill the 1966 election).*

II.  A little history

I thought it might be fun to look back at some of those past gubernatotial elections, and identify memorable outcomes, such as:

The biggest landslide

The closest election

The biggest upsets

The most elections won

The longest time in office

The incumbents who lost

So here they are:

Biggest landslide:  William Lucas had been elected Wayne County Executive as a Democrat, but then governed on low tax, low spending principles which endeared him to conservatives. So he switched parties to run for governor. These conservative actions plus Lucas’s African-American ethnicity (actually, he was Afro-Caribbean) convinced his backers that he could get the best of both worlds, combining conservative white Republican votes with votes from the black communities of the cities.

That didn’t happen.

In 1986, incumbent Democrat James Blanchard beat Republican William Lucas by 878,491, a margin of 36.66 percent. Lucas won one county.

Most elections won: G. Mennen Williams was elected governor six times (for two-year terms).

Longest time in office: Republican William Milliken served as governor of Michigan just short of 14 years.

Biggest upsets: This is, of course, somewhat subjective, so I selected three:

Going into the 1948 election, the Republican candidate had won 13 of the last 16 gubernatorial elections and incumbent Kim Sigler was seeking re-election against a Democrat who had not run for any office before and was almost completely unknown to the public. Sigler, though, had almost completely ignored local party leaders during his two years in office, and they decided to teach him a lesson by sitting on their hands during the 1948 campaign. They figured they’d get the governorship back easily in 1950. Thus G. Mennen Williams won his first election.

In 1990, Democrat James Blanchard was going for a third term. He was leading in most polls all the way through the campaign. But Detroit Mayor Coleman Young felt that Blanchard had not paid him proper attention while both were in office and so he decided to sit on HIS hands, letting his considerable campaign troops stay home. The shocking result: Blanchard was defeated by Republican State Senate leader John Engler by 7/10 of one percent.

The 1998 Democratic primary election found two well-known, experienced politicians and one first-timer competing for the nomination. The veterans were Doug Ross, a former State Senator and state Commerce Director, and Larry Owen, the former mayor of East Lansing. The rookie was a brash, high-energy attorney with a flair for publicity: Geoff Fieger. To the chagrin of the experts (and much of the Democratic party leadership) Fieger won the primary.  Fieger was somewhat unpredictable, sort of an early precursor to Donald Trump, except he didn’t get elected. Incumbent Republican Governor John Engler crushed Fieger in the general election, winning 62 percent of the vote to Fieger’s 38 percent.

Closest outcome: In 1950, Democrat G. Mennen Williams beat Republican Harry Kelly by 1,154 votes, a margin of 6/100 of one percent, after a recount. This was the election in which the G.O.P. Leadership expected to get the governor’s office back after lending it to Williams.

Incumbents who lost: Republican Kim Sigler lost to Democrat G. Mennen Williams in 1948. Democrat John B. Swainson lost to Republican George Romney in 1962. And Democrat James Blanchard lost to Republican John Engler in 1990.

One last note: 1946 was the last time an aggressive  prosecutor was elected governor. Kim Sigler had made headlines throughout the state by using a grand jury to go after corruption in the state legislature. In 1948, Sigler ran for re-election; Republican Thomas Dewey carried Michigan against Harry S Truman but Sigler, deserted by his own party’s leaders, lost to Soapy Williams. He never ran for office again.

* The non-lawyers elected since World War II were George Romney, William Milliken and Rick Snyder.

Lawrence M. Glazer is the author of Wounded Warrior, a recently published biography of former governor and Supreme Court justice John Swainson. He is also a retired Ingham County Circuit Court Judge and former legal advisor to Gov. James J. Blanchard.

September 21, 2017 · Filed under Glazer



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