Calley coy as Schuette positions himself for gov’s race

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio — Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette are taking different approaches in their potential bids to succeed embattled Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

The 62-year-old Schuette appears be using the Republican National Convention to position himself for a gubernatorial run in 2018, while the 39-year-old Calley is more cautious about his aspirations.

In an interview with The Detroit News ahead of his speech Monday at the Cleveland convention, Schuette said Michigan needs “bold ideas” to lower its income tax burden and expand school choice options to remain competitive and regain residents. He emphasized that he wants to be “part of the conversation” in shaping the state’s economic future.

In a Sunday interview, Calley avoided talking about future plans and told The News he wants to stay focused on continuing the “tremendous progress” the state has made since he and Snyder first won election in 2010.

Calley touted private-sector job growth that has lowered Michigan’s jobless rate to 4.7 percent, the lowest mark in 15 years.

“We don’t really have to wait until 2018 to take the next steps and bring Michigan to the next level,” he said.

The convention offers the first high-profile opportunity for state and national Republicans to size up two of Michigan’s highest-ranked elected Republicans who may compete to lead the state in two years. Both Schuette and Calley will work the Cleveland convention floor for four days after wooing Michigan delegates with separate weekend parties.

Schuette is doing little to dispel the belief that he intends to run for governor in 2018.

“For us to go forward, we’ll need our fiercest, toughest, strongest warrior and I think that’s part of the equation,” Schuette told The News on Saturday.

Asked if he wants to be that warrior, Schuette replied: “We’ll talk about that after ’16.”

Calley, who is helping Snyder run the state, is more coy.

“We have a political system that keeps getting earlier and earlier ... now more than a whole election cycle ahead of time,” the lieutenant governor said.

“... For my part I feel much more comfortable staying focused on the work at hand, not just because it’s important work, but also because there’s tremendous opportunity,” he said.

The auto industry has roared back in recent years, and he said Michigan can position itself as a mobility leader with autonomous vehicle research and foster collaboration with the defense and aerospace industries.

“Think about where we are today and where we are positioned to go,” Calley said. “I don’t want to take my eye off that ball.”

Schuette is attending his eighth Republican National Convention this week and has landed a three-minute speaking slot Monday afternoon during the opening session. He is expected to take stage around 2:15 p.m.

The Midland Republican said he intends to speak about his optimistic outlook on “Michigan’s tomorrows.”

“Part of Michigan’s tomorrows will be about how you keep more of what you make and the government takes less,” Schuette said. “And I think the other issue for Michigan’s tomorrows will be about options for education and how parents are in charge of where they send their children to school.”

And does “Michigan’s tomorrows” sound like a campaign slogan?

“Sounds pretty good to me,” Schuette said.

Schuette is positioning himself at the convention in the absence of Gov. Rick Snyder, who is making a brief appearance for a Thursday brunch with the Michigan delegation. Schuette is staying all week, making himself visible as both Michigan’s chief law enforcement officer and chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association.

“If he wants to run for governor, he’ll have my full support,” said Tom Stroup, chairman of the Wayne County’s 11th Congressional District Republican Committee, as he attended Schuette’s Saturday night party.

Schuette’s trip to Cleveland is a bit of a homecoming since his parents grew up in Cleveland. He met with cousins and extended family Friday.

On Saturday night, Schuette held a street party in downtown Cleveland for delegates and Michigan Republican activists. Calley was set to host his own party Sunday night at Cleveland’s House of Blues.

“There’s a lot of positioning going on at this convention,” said Republican consultant Stu Sandler, who is not working for Schuette. “I think a lot of the potential candidates for governor are throwing down a marker at this convention and Schuette’s clearly one of them.”

On Friday, before Michigan delegates departed for Cleveland, Snyder touted Calley’s work as lieutenant governor in remarks at a fair in Ionia County, Michigan Information & Research Service reported.

“He’s one of the great up-and-comers of the next generation,” Snyder said. “It’s not about thinking of today, it’s about thinking of the next five, 15 or 20 years.”

Snyder has generally stayed away from politics while his administration has been engulfed in controversy over Flint’s water crisis, which Schuette is independently investigating. Schuette’s probe has caused friction between the two offices.

In recent weeks, Schuette has made several moves that suggest he’s distancing himself from Snyder and, by extension, the lieutenant governor. Schuette withdrew his representation of the governor in a Supreme Court appeal over a lower court’s ruling the state unconstitutionally confiscated $550 million from the paychecks of teachers to fund retirement benefits.

Schuette also pushed forward with a lawsuit battling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury pollution emissions rules, while joining other GOP attorneys general in challenging the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom guidelines. Snyder declined to participate in either lawsuit.

The attorney general’s intervention in lawsuits against President Barack Obama has endeared him with grassroots conservatives, said Glenn Clark, a GOP activist from Oakland County. “They are very appreciative of him standing up for constitution and the out-of-control Washington power machine,” Clark said Saturday night while attending Schuette’s party in Cleveland.

Schuette earlier this month changed his campaign committee name from “Bill Schuette for Attorney General” to “Bill Schuette for Michigan.”

The slight change — which mirrors Calley’s campaign committee name — suggests he may seek another statewide office.

“I’m not able to run for re-election as attorney general and sooner or later we needed to change that,” Schuette said during the interview Saturday morning. “And I just think it seemed like a good fit. ... I’m for Michigan.”

While Snyder has been hurt politically by Flint’s crisis, the 39-year-old Calley has marshaled on and has been the public face of state government in the Democrat-dominated city. He usually works in Flint three days a week and has delivered water, helped with home inspections of pipes and worked on urban redevelopment.

But Calley has continued to raise money through his candidate committee even though he and Snyder cannot seek a third term together – a sign he may be preparing for a gubernatorial run even if he is not discussing it.

“I know that my time in public service in one way, shape or form won’t end with the end of this term,” he said. “I don’t know what the future looks like, but I want to make sure that I don’t close any doors in the meantime.”

Schuette talked about the need for tax reform to generate “jobs and paychecks.” He pointed to states such as Texas, Florida and Nevada, which do not tax personal income, as a model of economic success.

“If you look across the country, where are the jobs and the paychecks? They’re in states where you get to keep more of what you earn and the government takes less,” said Schuette.

“We’ve come a long way, but we can’t run in place,” Schuette said. “We have to drive our state higher. And, of course, it’s how you get there and who helps.”