The two candidates for Michigan Attorney General squared at Michigan State University, during their only scheduled debate. Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat David Leyton spent most of Friday’s 30-minute showdown portraying each other as soft on crime.
“At one point in this debate, the two of them talked at one another for a solid forty seconds. I tried to get in between them and referee — they just would not stop talking,” said WWJ’s Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick, who served as moderator.
Sitting across from each other at a table in the WKAR television studio, the opponents lashed at each other’s records and accused the other of failing the people they’re supposed to protect.
“You, sitting on the appellate bench, have been a soft-on-crime judge,” said Leyton, the Democratic Genesee County prosecutor. “You have continuously ruled for murderers and rapists and child sexual predators, throwing out their convictions, vacating their sentences and throwing out confessions on technicalities.”
“That is absolute nonsense and poppycock,” said Schuette, a Republican who sat on the Court of Appeals from 2003-08.
He didn’t give specific rebuttals to the cases Leyton cited, including one where the sentence of a man who raped his granddaughter was reduced on a technicality. Instead, Schuette accused Leyton of not helping Genesee County families whose loved ones were murdered, noting one woman had to go to state Attorney General Mike Cox’s Cold Case Unit to get her 11-year-old son’s death investigated.
Leyton said murder convictions were obtained in the cases Schuette cited. He noted he exhumed the boy’s body and worked with Cox to get the killer convicted even though he didn’t become prosecutor until two decades after the boy’s 1985 death.
Schuette said Leyton should have met with the mother when she asked that the case be reopened.
“If you can’t get the job done at home, you can’t be promoted to be the chief legal officer of Michigan,” the Republican said.
Schuette served as a congressman, state senator and state agriculture director before joining the bench and said his record showed he was a tough judge who has the all-around experience to be a good attorney general.
Leyton said he has a 95 percent conviction rate for the 20,000 cases he has handled over the past five-and-a-half years and is the best qualified to be the state’s top law enforcement officer.
Two other candidates also are running but were not invited to the debate: U.S. Taxpayers Party candidate Gerald Van Sickle of Wellston and Libertarian candidate Daniel Grow. The four men are running on the Nov. 2 ballot to replace Cox, a Republican who can’t run again because of term limits.
Schuette and Leyton both oppose holding a constitutional convention, and both support efforts to allow roadside drug testing.
But while Schuette would continue Cox’s efforts to support Arizona in its fight to hold onto an immigration law being challenged in the courts by the federal government, Leyton said Cox is missing the point.
“The real problem in Michigan is employers hiring illegal immigrants to take jobs away from our Michigan citizens. What I would do is crack down on those employers,” Leyton said.
Schuette thinks Michigan should pass a law similar to Arizona’s and criticized the federal suit.
“We ought to have a United States attorney general that fights terrorists instead of suing the state of Arizona,” he said.
Schuette supports keeping Michigan’s toughest-in-the-country drug immunity law. The law allows legal damages only if plaintiffs prove a company withheld or misrepresented information about a drug that would cause the Food and Drug Administration to not give or to withdraw its approval.
Leyton said he opposes the law, which Democratic lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to eliminate for years.
A mid-September poll by EPIC-MRA showed Schuette is better known and currently leads the race. But Leyton is getting national publicity for bringing murder charges tied to a stabbing spree in Michigan and two other states that left five men dead and more than a dozen injured.
The half-hour show will air over the weekend on public television stations statewide and be available at http://wkar.org.
(Copyright 2010 by WWJ Radio. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)