Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette officially joined the Republican race for Michigan governor Tuesday night, promising that if elected he would cut state income taxes, push Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and bring the state more and better-paying jobs.
"Michigan needs leaders who are laser-focused on jobs," Schuette said in a hall at the Midland County Fairgrounds. "More jobs, more paychecks, and more people."
He said the November 2018 election will present Michigan voters with a choice of continuing economic recovery or a return to the "lost decade" of the lengthy recession that ended late in 2009, which Schuette associated with the leadership of former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
"We must have a governor who won't accept the fate assigned to us by the liberal elite, who look down on manufacturing," Schuette said.
John Haggard of Charlevoix, who owns a plumbing and heating business and is active in the leadership of the 1st Congressional District, was among several hundred people who attended Tuesday's barbecue and fund-raiser. He said he is confident Schuette will do "a fabulous job" leading Michigan and helping to ensure the re-election of Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.
"In my opinion, Michigan is doing a lot better than some of the other states," said Haggard, but "we need some more industry, mainly up north."
Schuette, clad in blue jeans and a red golf shirt, was joined at the announcement by his wife, Cynthia, and their children, Bill and Heidi. He wants to succeed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is term-limited, and who has had an increasingly chilly relationship with Schuette.
Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden, who also attended Tuesday's barbecue, said she is a long-term supporter of Schuette and "he has the experience that nobody else has."
Polls suggest Schuette is the Republican front runner.
Schuette's announcement was greeted with attacks from both the left, where critics describe the veteran Michigan politiician as a puppet of corporate interests such as drug companies and industrial polluters, and the right, where some opponents question his conservative credentials.
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The liberal group Progress Michigan hosted a rally near the fairgrounds to protest Schuette, and the Democratic Governors Association launched a "Schuette's Off Duty" website, attacking his record as state attorney general.
“Bill Schuette is asking Michigan for a promotion, but he’s failed the state as attorney general,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the governors association.
Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said at the Midland protest that "corporate polluters have certainly had a friend in the AG's office," while working families have not.
Schuette supported court action to block restrictions on emissions from coal-fired power plants introduced by former President Barack Obama.
Schuette also faces criticism from the right, partly because of his longstanding and close relationship with the Bush family and his work for former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Schuette chaired Jeb Bush's Michigan presidential campaign in 2016 before enthusiastically throwing his support to Trump once Trump secured the GOP nomination.
Norm Hughes, a Tea Party activist from Metamora who worked in the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s, said he bristles when he hears Schuette invoke Reagan's name.
Schuette campaigned against Reagan on behalf of George H.W. Bush in 1980, Hughes noted, and as a congressman opposed extra funding for Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. He also voted to override several Reagan vetoes, including Reagan's vetoes in 1987 of a budget bill re-authorizing the Clean Water Act, which Hughes saw as "budget-busting," and highway funding legislation that Hughes saw as loaded with pork.
When in Congress, "he was pretty liberal," and "I don't know that he's changed since then," Hughes, who sought the state party chairmanship in 2015, told the Free Press Monday, ahead of Schuette's announcement.
But another Michigan conservative, Detroit charter school founder Clark Durant, who opposed Schuette for the 1990 Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, disagrees.
"Bill and I had a very rugged primary campaign," but later made peace, said Durant, who did not attend Tuesday's announcement.
Schuette is against abortion, in favor of gun rights and a supporter of traditional marriage, and "I would say Bill is a conservative," Durant said.
Though not yet making an endorsement, Durant said Schuette would make a good governor.
He said Schuette's decision to charge Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Flint water crisis seems "a little bit of an over-reach," but he believes Schuette came to the decision honestly and not for improper motives.
About a dozen Republican state lawmakers attended the event, including House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt.
In addition to three terms in Congress, Schuette, 63, has held posts in every branch of state government.
He first served in the executive as Gov. John Engler’s director of agriculture from 1991-94, then in the Legislature as a state senator from 1995-2002, followed by a stint in the judiciary as a Michigan Court of Appeals judge from 2002-09, before he won election to his current post in 2010.
Schuette joins declared Republican candidates Dr. Jim Hines, a Saginaw physician; Sen. Patrick Colbeck, a Canton aerospace engineer; insurance agent Joseph DeRose of Williamston, private investigator Mark McFarrlin of Pinconning, and Evan Space, a Lansing student and small business owner.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is also expected to join the Republican race to replace Snyder, who can't run again because of term limits.