Finley and Jacques: As AG, Tom Leonard's priority is Michigan

Editor's Note: The Detroit News is making recommendations in a number of state and local races on the Nov. 6 election ballot. To maximize our resources and give our readers a more balanced and comprehensive view of the candidates and issues, The News is using a different approach this year. Some of the selections will bear the traditional endorsement of the newspaper’s editorial board. In other races, we'll offer the personal recommendations of our editorial columnists, Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques, along with columns from an alternative viewpoint. As always, our mission is to provide our readers with the resources to help them make informed choices on Election Day.

An attorney general should have one mission: representing the legal interests of all the citizens of Michigan and of their state government.

Michigan State GOP  Attorney General candidate Tom Leonard, speaks at the conclusion of the 2018 Republican State Convention in Lansing Saturday August 25, 2018.

The AG shouldn't use the office to press a personal agenda or to delve into national political and social activism.

Of the two candidates seeking the attorney general's post in Michigan, we believe Republican Tom Leonard can be most trusted to stay in the office's appropriate lane.

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His main opponent, Democrat Dana Nessel, should she win, hopes to pursue a number of left wing causes. The former Wayne County assistant prosecutor lists as her priorities protecting undocumented immigrants from the reach of the federal government, pursuing lawsuits against corporations, aggressively prosecuting hate crimes and shutting down the Line 5 pipeline across the Straits of Mackinac.

Leonard, the current speaker of the Michigan House, by contrast, places his emphasis on protecting senior citizens from scams and abuse -- the first bill he introduced as a lawmaker increased penalties on elder abusers -- and other critical issues that directly impact citizens.

In the Legislature, Leonard championed reform of civil asset forfeiture laws, which amount to little more than legal theft by the police. He says he will continue that work if elected attorney general. 

He also acknowledges the consequences of not adequately serving the state's mentally ill population. A quarter of the state's prisoners suffer from mental illness; they belong in treatment facilities, not behind bars. As a lawmaker he authored a mental health reform bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. 

Leonard, who was among the first elected officials to call for the resignation of Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon for mishandling the Larry Nassar scandal, says he will also better enforce laws dealing with sexual abuse, wherever it occurs.

He promises as well to use his office to combat those responsible for the opioid addiction epidemic, without criminalizing those who are addicted.

We are impressed by Leonard's embrace of criminal justice reform. Michigan locks up too many of its citizens and keeps them behind bars for too long. Leonard is part of a new wave of conservatives pushing for policies emphasizing rehabilitation rather than punishment. Leonard recognizes he might be serving a Michigan government controlled fully or partly by Democrats.

He pledges to set aside his partisan leanings and represent the government even on issues that run against his personal beliefs. That's an essential commitment.

Leonard has the experience necessary for the position. Before coming to the Legislature, he was an assistant Genesee County prosecutor and an assistant state attorney general. He understands the demands and the responsibilities of the AG's office.

As House speaker, Leonard was not a grand-stander. He ran his caucus efficiently, and worked well with Snyder. 

He has considerable potential as a leader in this state, but we don't get the sense that he would be going into this job looking springboard into a higher office.

His style is to focus on his assignment and get it done well. 

Tom Leonard has proved his effectiveness as a lawmaker, and we think he is the best choice for Michigan's next attorney general.