Calley plans town halls as Schuette preps barbecue

Jonathan Oosting

Lansing — Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will host town hall meetings across Michigan in October and November before making a final decision on whether he’ll run for governor.

Plans for the town hall tour are taking shape amid speculation that Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette is preparing to announce his campaign for governor, potentially as early as Tuesday night at his annual mid-Michigan barbecue in Midland.

Calley, a Portland Republican, is framing the town halls as a way to engage with citizens and hear from people across “the political and geographic divide,” including Democrats and independents.

“The meetings will help me to understand where the people of the state of Michigan want to go in the future,” Calley said Monday. “At that point, I can match that up to what I think I can do. It’s really about finding a current and real-time picture and insight into where people are at.”

State Sen. Pat Colbeck of Canton Township and Dr. Jim Hines of Saginaw are among Republicans already seeking the 2018 nomination to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Snyder.

Former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed, Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar and former Xerox executive Bill Cobbs headline the Democratic field.

Calley has been flirting with a gubernatorial run for months and continues to raise funds through his existing lieutenant governor candidate committee. He’s also attempted to bolster his conservative credentials by leading a statewide petition drive to make Michigan’s Legislature a part-time body, an effort he restarted in early July after early organizational struggles.

While Calley continues to say he’s considering a run for governor, he said Monday he wants to hear directly from voters before deciding whether he’ll run.

“I want to make it very clear – what I’m talking about is not barbecues, and I’m not talking about getting together with my supporters and talking about where Michigan can go,” he said. “I have a good sense of where my friends and supporters are. I know what they think, and so this is really about seeking out a wider audience.”

Schuette is set to host his annual barbecue Tuesday evening at the county fairgrounds in his hometown of Midland.

While Republican insiders believe he could use the venue to announce his campaign for governor, Schuette’s political team has not divulged any details beyond a a generic media advisory inviting reporters to the event.

“Bill’s BBQ is a fun night every year, and this year promises to be the best night yet,” spokesman John Sellek told The News last week. He did not return calls Monday.

Republican consultant John Truscott said the barbecue would be a logical venue for Schuette to announce a gubernatorial campaign.

“It clearly makes sense how big this barbecue is,” Truscott said. “You do it with your biggest supporters.”

Schuette is asking attendees to contribute to his attorney general candidate committee even though term limits prevent him from seeking re-election to that post. Suggested contributions start at $50 per family, $500 for a “grill master” and $1,000 for an “On Duty” donor, according to an invitation.

Calley said a potential Schuette announcement would not affect his own timeline. Venue rental and other expenses for the town hall tour will be paid for by his existing lieutenant governor campaign fund or an exploratory committee, not the state, Calley said.

“I know that town halls these days can look contentious and messy, but democracy is a messy thing,” he said.

Nationally, Republicans are “retreating to venues” where they’re only talking to Republicans, he added, and Democrats are too often talking only to Democrats.

“People that are serious about leadership need to engage across that spectrum, because whether they’re talking about somebody at the state or local or federal level, you need to be in a position to represent all of the people.”

Delaying a decision until after his town hall tour means Calley will not be a declared candidate at this month’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, an upcoming island confab that GOP candidates often use to court primary voters and donors.

But the town halls will give Calley an opportunity to generate media attention while he mingles with citizens, activists and local officials, Truscott said. He’ll still have plenty of time to court voters if he declares a run for governor at a later date.

“You get your hardcore partisans who make up their minds and line up early, but most voters aren’t starting to focus until late summer or early fall,” Truscott said.