With four months to the GOP primary for governor, Attorney General Bill Schuette is sharpening his attack on Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in a campaign that is shaping up as a referendum on President Trump.
Trump tweeted his endorsement of Schuette in September, saying he “will be a fantastic governor for the great state of Michigan.” Calley denounced Trump a month before the 2016 election, following the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about groping women.
Schuette slams Calley for the decision in an ad released in late March called “Mattered Most.” The ad connects the lieutenant governor’s repudiation of Trump with his votes that supported policies from former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and President Barack Obama.
While the ad accurately portrays Calley’s votes, it’s half accurate because it overstates their impact and neglects key parts of his record.
“When it mattered most, Brian Calley failed the test. Calley voted for Jennifer Granholm’s job killing Michigan Business Tax, leading to 15 percent unemployment. Calley fought to bring more Obamacare to Michigan. With the White House and Supreme Court hanging on the line, Brian Calley deserted Donald Trump, helping Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Jennifer Granholm, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton – when it mattered most, Brian Calley stood with them, not us.”
In June 2007, Calley, then a state representative, voted in favor of the Michigan Business Tax, backed by Granholm, which replaced the state’s unpopular Single Business Tax.
Calley served on a conference committee that crafted a final version of the legislation and was the lone Republican present when Granholm signed it.
But the replacement tax proved even more unpopular. The Business Leaders for Michigan said the tax was a major reason the cost of doing business in the state was 4 percent above the national average, and pushed for its reform, including the elimination of the 22 percent MBT surcharge.
In 2011, the Legislature replaced the MBT with a $1.7 billion tax cut that set corporate taxes at 6 percent, with Calley casting the tie-breaking vote in the Senate as lieutenant governor.
As the Great Recession began in December 2007, Michigan’s unemployment rate stood at 7.2 percent. By the summer of 2009, it had soared to nearly 15 percent.
But to blame that on the MBT is ridiculous. On top of the national recession, and massive home foreclosures, Michigan was hit particularly hard by the collapse of the auto industry, as the state shed nearly 430,000 manufacturing jobs from 1999 to 2009.
That, more than anything, explains the state’s soaring unemployment rate at that time.
The Calley campaign pointed out to Truth Squad that the Small Business Association of Michigan named Calley its 2008 Legislator of the Year, in part for his efforts to make the MBT more fair to small business.
As the ad notes, Calley did indeed support expansion of Medicaid, or in the parlance of this ad, “more Obamacare.” Approved by the Legislature in 2013, it has since expanded to provide health care coverage to nearly 700,000 residents.
In October 2016, Calley became the first Michigan Republican leader to renounce Trump after the release of “Access Hollywood” footage in which Trump was heard bragging about groping women. “Grab them by the (expletive),” Trump said. “You can do anything.”
Calley called for Trump to withdraw from the campaign and “allow a replacement to provide the kind of option America could believe in.”
Despite that declaration, Calley spokesman Mike Schrimpf now says Calley voted for Trump just a few weeks later. He said Calley “supports” the president, noting his backing in December of Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package.
“Brian voted for President Trump because he was a far better choice than Clinton,” Schrimpf said.
Calley’s vote for the MBT is a matter of record. So too is his support for the expansion of Medicaid and public censure of Trump.
But the ad’s attempt to connect those votes to Michigan’s unemployment woes – or insinuate that Calley is a fair-weather conservative – strains credibility.
Calley was joined by 16 House Republicans in a bipartisan vote for the MBT. Another Republican – Gov. Rick Snyder – took the lead backing the Medicaid expansion.
And there is no evidence Calley “stood” with Clinton, especially since his statement at the time urged Trump to withdraw because she was “a disastrous alternative.”