Tom Leonard: Vows to be ‘rule-of-law’ Michigan Attorney General

Republican Tom Leonard is Michigan’s current Speaker of the House. He previously worked as an assistant state Attorney General and as a drug prosecutor in Genesee County. (Photo courtesy of Tom Leonard)

Update: Here’s who has endorsed the 2018 Michigan Attorney General candidates

Michigan Republican Attorney General candidate Tom Leonard says bringing more accountability to state and local governments, providing resources to prosecute elder abuse and improving mental health treatment for offenders are his priorities should he become Attorney General.

Leonard currently serves as the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. He spent six years in the state legislature after working as an assistant Attorney General under Mike Cox. Before that, he worked as a drug prosecutor in Genesee County.

Who is Tom Leonard

Affiliation: Republican

Age: 37

Residence: DeWitt Charter Township

Current job: Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives

Philosophy: “I am going to be a rule-of-law attorney general. I will ensure that the U.S. and the state constitution are both being upheld, but also the laws of this state as they are passed by our legislature and signed by our governor.”

Leonard spoke with Bridge Magazine about what his first order of business would be if elected to follow Bill Schuette as Attorney General and how he’d choose whether to join lawsuits against the federal government. He also responds to criticism over his friendship with rocker and conservative provocateur Ted Nugent. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Bridge: What do you see as your top two or three priorities as Attorney General?

Leonard: In no particular order, first, Attorney General Schuette has put a Public Integrity unit within the attorney general's office. This is something that I want to see expanded, and I want to appoint a state integrity officer that would oversee this unit. That Public Integrity unit would continue to prosecute corrupt politicians, but I want to see it expanded (so it) is holding government on all levels accountable.

Related: Republicans outraise Democrats in bids for Michigan statewide offices

For instance, there’ll be times during my coffee hours that I hear from constituents that feel like their local government is stonewalling them on FOIA (the state Freedom of Information Act) or they are violating the Open Meetings Act. I want to make certain that there is a state integrity officer that they can come to to hold government accountable.

Second, when I was in the prosecutor's office in Genesee County, we started a first-of-its-kind elder abuse task force. It had one prosecutor, two investigators, we had support staff, we had a hotline put in place and it was very, very successful. I want to put something like that within the Attorney General's office. I want to see something like that go statewide. I want to make certain that any prosecutor in the state of Michigan, if they have (an elder abuse case) that they feel should be prosecuted, they've got an avenue or they got somewhere to go to, and that those cases are not falling through the cracks.

And then third, I want to continue the focus we have had on mental health in the state of Michigan. I believe it's way too important. Nearly 25 percent of our prison population suffers from mental illness. And when they do, the cost of that inmate goes from about $38,000 per year to well over $100,000 per year. (Many local prosecutors are) fans of treatment courts, I believe we need to continue to expand treatment courts. I want to be there to assist our local prosecutors to ensure that we are never in a situation where we can’t expand these treatment courts throughout the state. I think by doing that it's not only the right thing to do, but I think in the long run, it will cut down on prison costs.

Bridge: Attorney General Schuette devoted much his office's resources to contesting policies of the Obama administration. Dana Nessel has talked about aggressively doing the same against the Trump administration. What's your view on deciding when to sue, or join in a suit, against the federal government? What kind of process would you use to make those decisions?

Leonard: I am going to be a rule-of-law attorney general. I will ensure that the U.S. and the state constitution are both being upheld, but also the laws of this state as they are passed by our legislature and signed by our governor. If I were to get involved in a lawsuit to contradict what the federal government's doing, that would be my litmus test. Has the federal government put something in place that is violating the laws of this state or violating the state or U.S. Constitution?

Bridge: Can you give an example of a suit you would join?

Leonard: Obviously this is a big hypothetical, but let me give you an example. Several months ago, the Trump administration and Jeff Sessions had said that they were going to come down hard on federal prosecuting marijuana cases. If the Trump administration decided to do that, and by doing so they were going to violate or put into jeopardy our Medical Marijuana Act as it was passed by this legislature, certainly that is something that I would have to consider stepping in. Because the federal government would be coming in to do something that was going to violate a state law that was passed by the legislature. Certainly that is something that you'd have to consider bringing a lawsuit in federal court.

Bridge: Who is a state Attorney General, either here or in another state, that you most admire and why?

Leonard: There's a few that I've known and I've gotten to respect them as people. Leslie Rutledge from Arkansas. I've only met her a couple times, but this is one of the toughest people you'll ever meet. She's not only the Attorney General of Arkansas, she's not only doing a great job, but she also chairs the Republican Attorney General's Association. She also just recently had her first child and this is somebody who is just tough. She's doing a great job for Arkansas. She's out there. She's working hard every day. Certainly somebody I admire and respect.

Bridge: What would you say to Democratic voters as to why you would also represent their interests in the Attorney General's office?

Leonard: The Attorney General's office is no place for politics. You need a rule-of-law attorney general, and that is what I intend to do. There was a very contentious election back in 1990 and John Engler, the Republican, became governor, ousted a sitting Democrat. And there was a current Democrat Attorney General by the name of Frank Kelley that had been there for a couple decades. Obviously they were on opposite sides of the aisle.

Within days of Governor Engler becoming governor, he walked over to the Attorney General's office to meet Attorney General Kelley. Attorney General Kelley walked up, extended his hand and said, ‘Governor, we’re from different parties, we may not agree on issues, I may have worked against you. But from this day forward, I am your attorney. And I don't ever want you to be afraid to call me for help, because that's what I intend to do. I intend to do the same thing as the state's next Attorney General, whether or not there's a Republican or a Democrat in that office.’  

Bridge: Frank Kelley was someone who was known for having this consumer protection angle in office. Is that something that you feel like would be important to bring back as a priority?

Leonard: Absolutely, consumer protection has to be a top priority. You know, it seems like every AG that goes out, they've put their footprint on the office. With AG Kelley, it was consumer protection. With Attorney General Cox, it was going after deadbeat dads. When you look at Attorney General Schuette, he's put a big focus on human trafficking. There are so many issues that are important with the Attorney General's office, and they're all going to be strong priorities. But when I go out, I want folks to look at me and say, this is somebody that stepped up and was an advocate for the mentally ill.

Bridge: If Roe v. Wade is overturned at the federal level, would you as the top law enforcement officer enforce the current abortion laws in Michigan?

Leonard: I will be a rule-of-law Attorney General and whatever law is on the books, I will enforce it. So if Roe v. Wade is overturned and the current law is still there, it will be enforced. If the legislature and the governor decide to amend that law or change it, then that new law will be enforced.

Bridge: Line 5 and the Flint water crisis are two issues that would likely fall into the lap of the next Attorney General. How would you tackle these issues?

Leonard: We have a plan in place (for how to approach Line 5) and there will be something that will be coming that will become public very soon. Editor’s note: That plan was released by Gov. Rick Snyder on Oct. 3, one week after this interview took place. Here is Leonard’s statement on the plan.

The Attorney General has to protect our natural resources, and there is no resource that we have that is more precious to the state of Michigan than our Great Lakes. So we need to do something with Line 5. We need to tell Enbridge the time for excuses is over.

However, coming in and saying that we're going to shut this thing down in one day to me is dangerous. Nearly 70 percent of the Michiganders in the Upper Peninsula draw their propane off of this line. We cannot come in just to score political talking points and say we're going to shut something down and leave tens of thousands of our residents without the ability to heat their homes. So certainly, we've got to put a plan in place, which will be announced very soon.

We're going a little bit out of the scope of the Attorney General, but I believe the answer would be putting a tunnel in place. Making certain that we've got something there that will keep that line secure.

In terms of Flint, the last thing I want to do as a former prosecutor is say what a current prosecutor should or shouldn't be doing when there's an ongoing and pending litigation. Clearly the independent prosecutor Todd Flood, the current Attorney General, they likely have information in front of them that you and I are not privy to, that may not come out until later. What I will tell you is this: When I become the state's next Attorney General, within days I will be sitting down with my top deputies, I will be combing through those files, learning everything that they have in front of them right now, and taking what I believe is the best course of action forward to resolve this.

Bridge: We talked earlier about civility in Michigan politics. You have talked about your opponent's (Democrat Dana Nessel’s) ad about being able to prosecute sexual harassment better because she doesn't have a penis. One concern Democrats have raised about you is your relationship with Ted Nugent. Can you respond to people's concern about receiving an endorsement from someone who has threatened to kill former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?

Leonard: Ted Nugent is a friend of mine. This is somebody that I truly believe loves the state. I believe he loves the Constitution. I'm not going to answer to everything that every one of my friends does or says. What I can tell you is the difference between the first argument and the second is: With the first, Dana Nessel has said it directly, and she's the one that wants to be the state's next Attorney General. Ted Nugent's not running to be the state's Attorney General. When you look at my past and my history and the way that I've treated people, the way I've conducted myself, it is much differently than that of Dana Nessel.

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Kim Laforet
Fri, 10/05/2018 - 9:10am

So, what is the truth? Nessel says 95% of the gas in Line 5 goes to Canada. Leonard says 70% of Michigan’s UP residents use it. What are the actual facts?

Joel Kurth
Fri, 10/05/2018 - 9:18am

Hi. Thanks for reading. They're both sort of right. 

Enbridge points to studies saying they supply propane to 65 percent of UP residents,about 200,000 people.

But most of the oil in the pipeline passes through Michigan and goes to Canada, and a report this spring says shutting down the line would have no economic impact on the state, as propane could be trucked to UP. Thanks for reading.

Dave, Royal Oak
Fri, 10/05/2018 - 12:17pm

"no economic impact on the state"??? "Propane could be trucked to the UP." Soooooooooo, the report says that propane can be trucked to the UP as cheaply as a pipeline? What happened to common sense? Trucking propane to 200,000 people in the UP will cost a whole lot more and have a huge impact on our state.

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 7:37pm

I don't know the facts, but those 2 statements are not incompatible. 95% of the gas goes to Canada; of the 5% that does NOT go to Canada, the UP draws 70% of the propane it uses, a tiny fraction of the total gas going through the line.

Alex Sagady
Sun, 10/21/2018 - 10:14pm

>>>> 95% of the gas goes to Canada

Line 5 does not carry any "gas" at all. It is wholly for liquids-only transport for
crude oil and natural gas liquids.

The claim that 95% of the crude oil transported by Line 5 is delivered to Canada
as claimed by Dana Nessel and the environmental group, FLOW, is false.
This false claim ignores the fact that a Sunoco pipeline beginning at Marysville, MI
at a Line 5 pump station has the capacity to draw off 190,000 barrels per day of
crude oil that is directed to petroleum refineries in Detroit and Toledo.

This means about 30-35% of the crude oil flowing through Line 5 is delivered to
points here in the USA.

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 9:26am

Republicans rule of law is put ,ore people into prison to make money for ther companies that controll the priaons in MI and in other states!!!!! BUT a rich republicans can rape and rape and rape and nothong happens to them they get a sit on the Federal Sperm Court!!!

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 9:35am

Calm down. Give your brain time to reconnect with your typing fingers.

Stephen Reinhardt
Sun, 10/07/2018 - 11:19am

We need law enforcement officials in this state who understand the concept of innocent until proven guilty. An accusation does not mean an automatic assumption of guilt. It is most certainly true that men can be capable of great evil. An evil man can rape. But do not be fooled into believing that women are not just as capable of great evil. An evil woman can accuse an innocent man of rape and destroy him if it serves her interests.
I wasn't there to see what did or did not happen to Kavanaugh's accuser. Were you?
Without evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt we must presume that he is innocent.

Sun, 10/28/2018 - 5:25pm

Please provide, other than false testimony, any corroborating evidence of such. After you make it up, I will supply pages of exculpatory evidence that shows there is more evidence than not that Ford et al perjured themselves.

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 9:36am

Law and order AG is dog whistle for social conservative right wing go after the LGBTQ community. As far as Nugent is concerned as I have told my children and grands: "You are known by the company you keep".

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 10:14am

I took it as more of a 'continue suppressing the Black community' dog whistle; Nixon's ghost haunts us yet

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 1:45pm

Law and order. Let's crack down on anyone who disagrees with us. Dogs, fire hoses, tasers, etc.
The next step after gerrymandering, lies and threats.
The police state - a militarized one at that.
Thanks but we'll resist and vote these idiots out of office. While and if we can.

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 10:57pm

gerrymandering was alive and well long before the gop got majority control just like lies and threats. antifa is the ones cracking down via violence. many a church suffers the physical destruction caused by the left as well. now churches are getting harrassed and bankrupted by leftist politicians. gop certainly isn't blameless, but the hypocrisy of democrats makes them look not so bad.

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 12:19pm

Facing the choice between Leonard and Nessel, I've opted to vote for neither. I'm voting for Graveline. I also hope whoever is elected Attorney General doesnt follow Schuette's example of using his office as a platform to spout off his political views on the internet.

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 2:56pm

I fully realize it's your right to do so, but you must know you're wasting your vote, right?

Melany Mack
Fri, 10/05/2018 - 8:34pm

One thing we do not need in this state is an ideologue who toes the party line or caters to deep-pocketed donors instead of representing the interests of the people who elected him. Tom Leonard proved repeatedly during his years in the state house that he is an ideologue. He talks a good game, but look at his record. You'll find plenty of evidence of his adhering to a partisan line instead of acting in the best interest of constituents. In his role as Speaker of the House, he didn't serve the broader state population either. Rather than fix our roads, he wanted to cut taxes which might have resulted in an extra $15 in our pockets. We paid far more than that repairing our car from damage caused by potholes. We need fresh thinking and an attorney general who is open to new ideas. Tom Leonard is not that person.

Sun, 11/04/2018 - 4:26pm

Yes. Just a 'political hack' like Schuette and hoping to run for governor. Zero respect for our state, its laws and Constitution and its citizens. It's just the wealthy and big business (DeVos, Koch and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce). Whatever they want Tom will deliver.

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 5:46am

You cannot have multiple "top priorities".

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 5:46am

You cannot have multiple "top priorities".

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 4:07pm

It's a bad sign for Michigan that Leonard admires Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge. She frequently tries to help polluters by filing suits against federal water and air pollution laws. She files suits to stop health care expansions associated with Obamacare. She's the first AG in Arkansas history to be ordered by the state supreme court to "stop violating the law", in that she routinely and illegally blocks citizen-generated ballot initiatives.