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Establishment Republicans seem wary of Bill Schuette's bid for governor

The other night I was part of an informal dinner group that included a number of Republicans, some of whom have served in elected or appointed positions in Lansing.

I asked them if Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette would be their next candidate for governor. To my surprise, almost none thought so. Their choice was Candice Miller. They saw her as a practical, down-to-earth, no-nonsense conservative who could get the job done.

Nobody doubts that Schuette will go after the Republican nomination.

He is one of the most nakedly ambitious politicians I’ve ever seen. He turns 62 this week, and has been running for office since first elected a precinct delegate when he was 18.

Along the way he’s been a congressman, a state senator, an appeals court judge, and state director of agriculture.

Generally, as soon as he’s won one office, he seems to have had his eye on the next. He’s made one major miscalculation.

Twenty-five years ago, as a cocky young congressman, he took on U.S. Senator Carl Levin. That was a big year for Republicans in Michigan. John Engler defeated Governor Jim Blanchard in an historic upset.

Yet Levin crushed Schuette.

But Engler appointed Schuette to a cabinet position, and he was soon running again.

Yet, while I’m certain Schuette will be on the GOP primary ballot in August 2018, I am almost equally certain that one man will not vote for him: Governor Rick Snyder.

The governor has little love for the attorney general.

Normally attorneys general confine their specific political statements to matters having to do with their departments.

Not Bill Schuette.

Last March, he humiliated the governor, a fellow Republican, by denouncing Proposal One, the ballot proposal to fix the roads.

Last March, he humiliated the governor, a fellow Republican, by denouncing Proposal One, the ballot proposal to fix the roads.

Plenty of other Republicans were dubious about Proposal One, and it was clearly doomed, but they didn’t openly oppose it.

Snyder has other, less public problems with the attorney general. I’m told that Schuette, who has taken campaign contributions from Matty Moroun, seems to be dragging his feet on some necessary approvals needed before ground can be broken for the new Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Schuette seems to be more enthusiastic about taking positions that have nothing to do with his responsibilities than those which do. Back when he was still an appellate judge, he raised a few eyebrows by leading the campaign against legalizing medical marijuana.

This summer, he dragged his feet before opening an investigation into possible criminal violations by two former legislators, but was meanwhile bizarrely writing to the governors of every state, urging them to impose their own sanctions on Iran.

The attorney general, whose every action seems to be geared towards winning Tea Party support, has now angered legislative Republicans by opposing any attempt at sentencing reform or presumptive parole legislation aimed at safely reducing prison overcrowding.

This came during a week when his office had to pay out nearly $2 million in state funds to the lawyers for the two nurses in the same-sex adoption case that Schuette spectacularly lost, and during a growing scandal involving excessive fees for Freedom of Information Act requests.

This is not to say that the attorney general doesn’t still have support, but increasingly, even some fellow Republicans are uneasy with what seems like blatant overreach.

It will be interesting to see how things evolve.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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