Schuette: No direct talks with Nessel, no regrets on election loss

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Term limited Attorney General Bill Schuette speaks with reporters on Dec. 17, 2018.

Lansing — Term-limited Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette has not spoken directly with his incoming successor Dana Nessel in the more than 40 days since the Nov. 6 election, he told reporters Monday.

Schuette, who lost his own bid for governor in the general election, said his office has had “thorough discussions” with Nessel’s team. But with two weeks left until the Plymouth Township Democrat takes office, they have not been able to personally connect.

“I traded a message with her,” Schuette said during a year-end media round table. “I have not” spoken with her, “but I’m sure we will. We just haven’t had a chance. Her schedule, my schedule, the holidays and all that.”

The Midland Republican noted that Nessel has spent time out of state at a National Association of Attorneys General Conference in South Carolina and said he took some time off after the election, including a deer hunting trip in which he “got a buck.”

“I got that deer in the heart. That deer’s not going anywhere,” Schuette said, recalling a conversation with a hunting buddy and joking about how he got “a lot of aggression” out of his system.

The lack of contact between Schuette and Nessel is unique this cycle. Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer has had weekly conversations with term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley gave Lt. Gov-elect Garlin Gilchrist a tour of his office and the state Capitol last month. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson met in Lansing two weeks ago. 

Nessel transition team spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said Nessel and members of her transition team have met with "many" members of Schuette's staff and "all have been wonderfully accessible, cooperative and helpful."

The transition team did not request a meeting with Schuette, "nor is one needed," Rossman-McKinney said, later adding that it is Nessel's goal to meet with "every division and each and every employee" in the attorney general's office. 

"As far as we're concerned (the lack of direct meeting with Schuette) is not a concern at all nor is it a hindrance to our transition. We're mindful of the smooth succession of power and authority and are looking forward to Jan. 1."

Schuette told reporters he had no regrets about his campaign for governor, which ended with a 10-point loss to Whitmer.

“We always knew it was going to be tough,” he said. “Michigan, this is how we rock. A couple terms of a Democrat, a couple terms of a Republican. ...We knew we always had to face that.”

Schuette declined to attribute his gubernatorial election loss to voter dissatisfaction with Republican President Donald Trump, who endorsed him. Echoing a joke from the late John McCain, who twice ran for president but lost, Schuette said he has been "sleeping like a baby."

“I sleep for a couple hours, wake up and cry.”

As he prepares to leave office, Schuette touted his office's ongoing investigations and prosecutions over the Flint water crisis and fallout from the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal at Michigan State University.

Schuette acknowledged that Nessel could decide to change course on major investigations he’s spent months or years on but declined to make a public plea that she continue the current trajectory.

“Our team here is very determined, very directed, and we’ve accomplished a lot,” Schuette said. “But I’m also a realist. I’m not going to dictate to (Nessel) or put pressure on her. That’s not professional.”

Schuette said Nessel will be able to inspect investigation files once she is sworn in on Jan. 1.

“I’m going to make sure we do this in a professional fashion, open and cooperative here,” Schuette said. “I’m sure she’ll find the people who work here are really quality folks no matter what their philosophy is, what their political background may or may not be.”

While Schuette has spent more than three decades in public office and had competed to be the state’s chief executive, he said he is “not a legacy guy” and compared himself to a football quarterback.

"When I throw an interception, I get up, dust myself off and get prepared to throw more touchdowns,” he said. “That’s kind of how I’m built. ... I’ve had a lifetime of service. I’m going to continue to be engaged and involved.”