State AG pays a visit

HANCOCK – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette spoke to business leaders at the Finnish American Heritage Center Tuesday, and later visited Portage Health. The events were part of a multi-stop U.P. tour as Schuette, a Republican, looks toward a November bid for re-election against likely Democratic challenger Mark Totten.

At Finlandia, Schuette received a Finlandia hat and sweatshirt from university president Dr. Philip Johnson, before outlining what he sees as the responsibilities of his job and some of the highlights of his time in office so far.

“Today I want to talk about my job, which is defending the constitution,” he said. “Some AGs see the constitution as an optional document. Some AGs see some issues as too hot. I don’t view defending the constitution as a pick and choose operation. If people change the constitution, it’s my job to defend that.”

The Attorney General’s office, he noted, has 275 attorneys and handles 40,000 cases a year.

“We’re Michigan’s biggest and best law firm,” he said.

Schuette has recently been in the news leading the state’s court battle against the legalization of same-sex marriage, defending Detroit police officers’ and firefighters’ guaranteed pensions during the city’s “grand bargain” bankruptcy proceedings, and winning a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that disallows affirmative action racial preference in state university admissions.

That university admissions decision, he said, was one of the highlights of his career, the finale of a process that began in 2006, “when voters made the decision to emblazon the concept that it’s wrong to treat people differently in regard to the color of their skin for admission to our great public universities.”

When the court handed down their decision confirming the legality of the state constitutional amendment, he saw it as “a victory for the rule of law and participation by the people of our state.”

The same-sex marriage fight is another legal battle currently rising through the courts. Shuette has vigorously defended a state constitutional amendment wherein voters defined marriage as only between a man and a women. So far, that amendment has been found unconstitutional, but Schuette successfully asked for that decision to be put on hold pending appeal, after about 300 same-sex couples had married.

In a brief press conference after his speech, Schuette said he expects the same-sex marriage issue to be eventually decided by a Utah case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will likely be heard before Michigan’s case reaches that level.

“I’ll honor whatever decision the court makes,” he said.

In all cases, he told the audience in Hancock, he’s always done his best to uphold Michigan’s constitution and laws.

Most recently, he noted during the press conference, that’s meant leading an investigation into two propane companies, Ferrellgas and AmeriGas, accused of gouging customers by charging in some cases as much as double the statewide average cost for propane, which could put them in violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

So far, Schuette said, the state has filed subpoenas seeking information from the companies, but no charges.

“Part of my job is to be a fighter for consumer protection,” he said. “The price spikes were unacceptable. We received over 400 complaints.”

Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean, in attendance at Finlandia, said he enjoyed hearing what Schuette had to say, though the speech didn’t change his thoughts on November’s election.

“He’s always a consummate gentleman,” McLean said.

Donna Cole, a Hancock Rotary member, said she hasn’t done a lot of thinking about the upcoming election, but that her experience student-teaching in Detroit put her at odds with Schuette’s college admissions victory.

“I don’t agree with the voters,” she said. “Until kids have equal treatment until they apply for college, I’m for affirmative action.”