Schuette: Democrats' Flint attack ad 'nonsense'

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette

Lansing — Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Schuette is dismissing a new Democratic attack ad alleging he ignored Flint water contamination complaints until it became politically advantageous for him to file criminal charges.

It’s “just nonsense,” said Schuette, the attorney general whose office is prosecuting several state and local officials for alleged crimes related to the Flint crisis. “People won’t buy that.”

The television ad, paid for by the Democratic Governors Association and authorized by candidate Gretchen Whitmer, cites a Detroit News article detailing 15 separate complaints over water quality in Flint sent to Schuette’s office between April 2014 and February 2015, some sent a full year before Schuette announced his investigation.

The commercial also suggests Schuette “OK’d the disastrous Flint water plan” when his office signed a March 2014 administrative consent “as to form.” The document facilitated what special prosecutor Todd Flood later called a “sham transaction” by state-appointed emergency managers to pay for the city’s ill-fated switch off Detroit water.

“When Flint residents needed help the most, Bill Schuette ignored them and let them drink poisoned water,” said David Turner, spokesman for the DGA’s issue ad organization A Stronger Michigan.

Schuette on Wednesday defended his record in responding to the Flint crisis and said he makes “no apologies” for it. He launched an investigation in January 2016 that resulted in involuntary manslaughter charges against Health and Human Services department Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells.

“I was the guy who fought for families of Flint,” Schuette said. “I was the guy who provided accountability for the families of Flint. When 12 people died and kids were poisoned, the political thing would have been to ignore it, to sweep it under the rug. But I took an oath.”

Schuette’s office said last year it receives about 9,000 complaints annually and routs each to appropriate divisions. Early Flint complaints, including those detailing bad smells and discoloration, prompted contact with the state Department of Environmental Quality, a spokeswoman said at the time.

State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, had asked Schuette’s office to open an investigation into the Flint water crisis in September 2015, about four months before the Midland Republican announced his probe.

Whitmer, the former state Senate minority leader from East Lansing, defended the Democratic ad Wednesday in an interview with The Detroit News editorial board.

“Bill Schuette was asleep at the wheel for two and a half years while kids were brushing their teeth with water that had lead in it,” she said. “It’s an ad based on the facts and people should know what the facts are.”

Schuette also faced criticism over his Flint water crisis investigation in the Republican primary. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley argued the attorney general’s charges against Lyon and Wells were politically motivated and a “gross abuse of power.”

A group of former GOP officials backing Whitmer in the governor’s race cited Schuette’s ongoing prosecution of Lyon as a factor in their endorsement decision. Lyon, accused of failing to alert the public about deadly Legionnaire’s disease outbreaks, has been bound over for trial.

“I stood up for families of Flint,” Schuette said. “I know people in Flint today that still only drink water from a plastic bottle. Do you do that when you wash your vegetables? No, I don’t think you do, but that happens to families in Flint.”