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LansingThe Board of State Canvassers on Tuesday postponed consideration of Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s petition for a part-time legislature amid conflicting claims the committee had requested the delay after new questions were raised by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office.

The board was set to review the form of the petition Wednesday but a Tuesday afternoon advisory from the Secretary of State’s Office indicated Calley’s committee had “withdrawn the petition pending additional changes.”

Attorney John Pirich disputed the claim, telling The Detroit News the Clean Michigan Committee did not withdraw its petition and has no plans to change the version it began circulating last week for signature.

“This came out of left field,” Pirich said.

The high-profile elections attorney retained by Calley’s committee said Schuette’s office is questioning whether petition language limiting the Michigan Legislature to meeting for 90 consecutive days could affect other provisions in the state constitution. The attorney general’s office has not talked to the committee directly, he said.

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Schuette “personally favors a part-time legislature, and his office did nothing to impede this process,” spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said in an email, noting political strategist John Yob circulated an initial statement from Pirich. “The fact that a political consultant is sending out statements on this tells you all you need to know.”

Asked if Schuette's office or staff had raised any questions about the petition, as Pirich claimed, Bitely repeatedly referenced her earlier comment that “no one in the Department of Attorney General did anything to impede the process.”

Schuette and Calley are each considering runs for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018. Both have been touting their support for a part-time legislature, a popular idea among conservative activists. Calley launched a petition drive last week in an attempt to put the issue before voters in 2018.

The potential ballot proposal would roughly halve legislator pay and generally limit the Legislature to meeting 90 session days a year, served consecutively rather than spread out over 12 months.

Pirich said he is “very confident” in the committee’s petition and is urging the Board of State Canvassers to meet as soon as possible to give it an optional stamp of approval.

“If there are discussions the Attorney General’s Office or staff wants to have with us, we’ll be more than glad to have them,” Pirich said. “In the meantime, we continue to circulate the petitions.”

Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams maintained Tuesday evening that Calley’s committee “requested that the petition not be discussed” by the Board of State Canvassers on Wednesday, prompting cancellation of the meeting.

“If counsel now wishes to have the board consider the petition for approval as to form, which is an optional step, elections staff will schedule another board meeting at the next opportunity,” he said.

Board approval is not required to begin circulating petitions, but ballot committees typically seek confirmation that their petitions meet all legal requirements to avoid potential challenges.

“Many groups do it to ensure the signatures can’t be invalidated later on because the petition form itself didn’t comply with technical requirements in state law,” Woodhams said.

It’s the second board-related delay in as many months for the ballot committee. The group, whose affiliation with Calley was not known at the time, withdrew its petition from consideration at a May 18 board meeting.

Pirich said he finds the latest delay “ironic” considering the Board of State Canvassers approved part-time petitions in 2014 that would have limited legislators to 60 session days. He urged the same action on the new 90-day version.

Calley formally unveiled the petition drive last week on Mackinac Island, framing it as a “grassroots movement” while he was surrounded by a young crowd wearing bright blue “Calley’s Clean Up Crew” T-shirts.

Liberal activist group Progress Michigan on Tuesday accused Calley’s committee of hiring the “supporters” from out of state for the announcement, pointing to an island photo of national staff with Young Americans for Liberty and social media posts advertising paid campaign work. The group also questioned whether those same individuals are now circulating petitions for Calley.

“The vast majority of the people collecting signatures for the petition are from in state but we have some students who go to college out of state helping out as well,” committee political strategist John Yob said in an email.

The Detroit News observed petitioners collecting signatures immediately after last week’s island announcement, and Calley boasted in a ballot committee email that “thousands of people” signed the petition the first weekend it was in circulation.

Organizers would need to collect more than 315,000 valid signatures to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot in 2018.

If the committee did change its petition — which Pirich said it has no intention of doing — any signatures already collected could not be applied to the new version of the petition, Woodhams said, speaking in general terms while declining to speculate on the specifics of the Clean MI committee.

The Secretary of State spokesman said “there are too many different scenarios to say something definitive” about other potential petition modifications, such as font size or capitalization adjustments.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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