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Detroit —  The Rev. Jim Holley,  a prominent Detroit  pastor,  on Saturday endorsed Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard for Michigan's next attorney general.

"It's my pleasure to endorse a man who has worked with us in the past and will continue to look out for those who can't look out for themselves," said Holley, senior pastor at the Little Rock Baptist Church on Woodward Avenue. 

Holley said he favored Leonard because of his previous work on driver's responsibility fees and as House speaker. 

"I like the work he did with us to get the auto insurance passed, his work with the city and bipartisan represented at the table," said Holley. "Mostly, I like his energy and how he thinks."

Leonard said the endorsement is pivotal to his campaign not just in Detroit, but throughout the state.  

"Reverand Holley is an icon here in the city of Detroit and he's not just one of the most respected pastors in the city, but one of the most respected pastors in the state of Michigan," said Leonard. "For him to understand the hard work we've done in the state addressing mental health, getting rid of driver responsibility fees, getting to lower our auto insurance rates... says a lot and I couldn't be more excited to have his endorsement."

As House speaker, Leonard worked on eliminating driver responsibility fees, lowering auto insurance and wants to continue to work on mental health reform. 

"I want people to remember me as a voice for the most vulnerable, those who suffer from mental illness," he said. "I believe many of these individuals we are currently incarcerating that suffer from mental illness probably wouldn't be there if we had gotten them the help they needed before they committed that violent crime."

If elected, Leonard says he also plans to implement an elder abuse task force and appoint a state integrity officer to oversee the attorney general office to "go after corrupt politicians and hold government accountable on all levels," he said. 

The attorney general's race between Democrat Dana Nessel and Leonard appears to be tightening, providing another spot of optimism for the GOP. Nessel leads by 7 points, down from 13 points a month ago, according to The Detroit News and WDIV poll of 600 likely voters.

Leonard says unlike his opponent, he will be a "rule of law attorney general." 

"I will be one that enforces laws as written by our legislature and signed by our governor, I'm not going to pick and choose which laws will be upheld," he said. "Unfortunately, Dana Nessel has campaigned saying that she will choose which laws will be enforced in the state of Michigan. That's not the role of the attorney general... I'm running to uphold laws, not to be the emperor of Lansing like she is in choosing which laws will or will not be enforced."

Read more:Both attorney general candidates launch dueling Michigan ad campaigns

Nessel, a former assistant prosecutor in Wayne County and founder of the Fair Michigan Foundation, responded to Leonard's comment Saturday saying, "It is ridiculous for Tom Leonard to talk about defending the law when he will refuse to defend the ACA mandate which requires insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions, as I have pledged to do.

"Tom Leonard will act as Attorney General just as he has in the state legislature - defending drug companies and the insurance industry special interests who fund his political career at the expense of Michigan families," said Nessel.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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